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Friday, January 29, 2016

I actually read two graphic novels - Can't we talk about something more PLEASANT? and Displacement...what I thought...



I am not much of a graphic novel reader.  I've read a few - mostly YA type.  I did spend a big portion of my growing up years reading comics (what they were called then).  They all belonged to my little brother and were Archie and Spiderman and Flintstones and Fantastic 4, for example.  I have been encouraged to read today's graphic novels many times by others.  Recently, I decided to try two that told the stories of 'dealing with older people'.  Both had been recommended by many bloggers and I have certainly spent my years 'dealing with older people'.  There was a special display at my library and there they were - the two books - Displacement and Can't we talk about something more PLEASANT? - side by side.  I checked them out.  (And forgive me, because this may be a little long.)

First, let's talk about Displacement - a graphic novel by Lucy Knisley.  Only 168 pages, it can be read in a very short period of time.  It's the story of Lucy, who volunteers to accompany her 90+-year-old grandparents on a cruise to the Caribbean.  Lucy herself was in her 20's.  OK, to start our little discussion, let me talk about Kay and motion sickness.  I have it.  It's horrible.  When I travel, I am drugged.  It's particularly bad on boats.  (I got sick one time on a tour of a boat permanently docked in Astoria, Oregon.  There were no windows.  I quickly exited before things got too awful.).  So, honestly, a cruise with grandparents????

Anyway, Lucy and her grandparents fly to Florida and board a cruise ship.  The grandparents have a pretty decent room.  Hers has no windows.  She learns on this trip how much care her grandparents actually need.  She thinks about aging and dying and mortality.  The grandparents seem to have a fairly good time.  Lucy is a nervous wreck most of the time (welcome to caregiving).  In the end, she's glad she went.  And in the end, I was glad I read this book.  Thumbs up.

On to graphic novel #2, Roz Chast's memoir of a late-in-life only child and her aging parents - both parents living into their mid-to-late 90's.  It's called Can't we talk about something more PLEASANT? and is Chast's no-holds-barred book about parents who didn't want to talk about aging, death, dying, getting sick, going to the hospital, going to the doctor, preparing for any of this, etc.  And a daughter who had to deal with all of these things by herself.

I have two dear friends who both read this book and wrote about it on their blogs.  One is Les at Prairie Horizons.  Les was not a fan of this book at all and said so in her review.  The other friend is Nan at Letters From A Hill Farm.  Nan was a fan and also said so in her review.  I thought about reading this book, decided against it, and now have read it.  What do I think?  Well, let me tell you...

I actually liked it very much - very much.  It was honest and brutal and shocking - Roz's thoughts about her parents and the bother and worry and tiresomeness of everything.  It was hard to read without cringing.  It also had some very sweet and poignant moments.  There were actual pictures of the author and her folks.  There were pictures of the apartment the folks lived in and the stuff...oh, the stuff.  There were stories about dementia and illness and ickiness.  About kindness and caring and grief.  Descriptions of assisted-living and sad tales of parents who saved and scrimped and did not indulge themselves at all and a daughter who worried constantly that the money would run out.  Because end-of-life care is so, so very expensive.

I think that one of the most important books I've ever read is Atul Gawande's Being Mortal.  I read this last year and it talks about medicine and doctors and end-of-life decisions and how long is too long and hospice and care  centers.  And planning.  I think that a companion book to the non-fiction Being Mortal could be this one - Chast's memoir - brutal as it might be - shocking and sad.

So, lastly what I want to say is that I liked this book and I hated it a little too.  Why?  I've lived this book.  I've thought virtually every thought that Roz Chast shared.  My relationship with my parents was much better than hers - with my mother especially.  However, caring for aging parents with Alzheimer's or other types of dementia as well as other tragic health problems is hard, hard work.  Whether they live with you or not.  Even if there is what seems like enough money to help them and keep them comfortable.  It is soul-sucking and it will almost bring you to your knees.  I see Chast's memoir as her therapy.  I did my therapy in another manner, with a counselor and a flood of tears and grief and anger-acknowledgment.  My care for my parents was a privilege and an honor and it was horrible and took over my life for several years.  I loved them dearly and I sometimes wanted to run away and never look back.  I think this book could say to the reader 'you're not a horrible person if you have some or all of these feelings'.  You can still love them and feel a very heavy burden.  I loved my parents and I miss them every day, but I don't miss that stress and worry.

Well, I'll stop now.  I've read two graphic novels.  I've been so touched by both of them.  Graphic novels are certainly not the comic books of my youth.  I'm glad I read them.  Who could imagine that a book of cartoons could be so gripping?  Last thing - do you have other suggestions for 'must read' graphic novels for me?  Maybe not ones about aging parents, but other topics?  Please leave me some recommendations.  I'm willing to try them.  And thanks.

49 comments:

  1. I don't have any recs for graphic novels as I've never read any. But I just wanted to tell you what an amazing review of these two books you've written, Kay. Amazing. I haven't had any experiences like the books or you describe, both my parents died fairly suddenly without needing long term care. Although, a first cousin is currently going through it with her 96 year old father (my uncle) so I am seeing the reality of it. My worry is that my children will have to go through it with myself or my husband though. Unfortunately there's not much to be done to influence matters, just keep your fingers crossed. A very thought provoking post, Kay, thank you.

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    1. I think we all worry about that, Cath. I know I thought about my only child as I was reading this. However, she's a nurse by profession, so she knows more about medical things anyway. And thanks for the kind words.

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  2. I read both of these (and Being Mortal is on my TBR list). Chast's book is my favorite of the two probably because I could relate to it more. But I liked Displacement because of the granddaughter's perspective. So glad I read them. Wish I could rec more but I haven't read any. Great post, Kay.

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    1. Good to know that these worked well for you too, Mary. And you really must read Being Mortal. It's quite, quite interesting. Thanks!

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  3. Excellent reviews, Kay! I haven't read Displacement and I'm not sure I will. I've only read a few graphic novels and I'm still not sure if I care for them. Being Mortal was such a powerful, thought-provoking read. Again, this is a beautifully written post. Hugs to you, my friend.

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    1. Les, you are so sweet. Hugs right back at you. You know, when you wrote your review, I was pretty sure that I didn't want to read Roz Chast's book, but it actually was very poignant and emotional for me. I'm not sure I'll ever be over my parent-care time. All I can hope is that somehow I can ease someone else's pain as they deal with this. And thanks for the kind words.

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    2. Well, since both of my parents are still alive and well, it may be a long while before I need your help & advice, but I will ask, trust me!

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  4. Great reviews, Kay. I've read several of Lucy Knisley's other books, but will probably skip this one. Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? was my first book of 2015 and I read Being Mortal shortly afterwards... definitely a perfect pairing! It's hard to say I enjoyed either one, but the Chast book was very good and Being Mortal was excellent!

    I haven't read a lot of graphic works, but can recommend Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

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    1. Yes, I'm glad you understood what I meant when I said that the Chast book could be paired with Being Mortal. Or maybe if a person couldn't manage one, the other would work. Oh, and I picked up Persepolis at the library this morning. I'm going to try to read several more graphic novels this year.

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  5. OMG Kay, I haven't heard of either of these books but they sound amazing! Welcome to the wonderful world of Graphic Novels. I am a genuine addict. I have a blog devoted to them and run the Graphic Novel Reading Challenge (we are in our 9th year!) If you want to get into non-fiction graphics there are literally books on any topic you can imagine and there are a lot of hard-hitting literary fiction titles too. It's hard to just start throwing titles around as there are soooo many, but to get started google top ten or must read lists. Throw me some specific topics and I can give you some titles but for one title of a book that really impressed me early on in my graphic novel reading I'm going to give you "The Photographer: Into War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders" by Emmanuel Guibert. Check out my profile it should take you to my comics blog and from there a link to the reading challenge where you will find thousands of links to reviews people have posted.

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    1. Nicola, first of all, I wanted to say 'Hello!!!'. I'm sorry, but I just figured out that I 'knew' you from way back. Silly me. Anyway, thanks so much for all the good info about graphic novels. I'll take a look at the lists you talked about. And I picked up The Photographer at the library this morning. What a big book - as in 'coffee-table' size. Ha! I'm so happy to 'see' you again!!

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  6. Thanks for your great reviews Kay. I never read much in terms of graphic novels. I know someone who is not fond of reading, but loves graphic novels. Being Mortal is on my to read list. I've kind of been avoiding it because it might make me sad.

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    1. Pat, I do understand about worrying about the sadness in Being Mortal. And I guess there is a bit of that, but there's also a lot of good information and thought-provoking themes there. Perhaps it will appeal at some point.

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  7. I don't know why I turn away from graphic novels, since I loved comics as a kid, including the "funny papers," as we called them. They were the first thing I looked at in the newspaper, especially the Sunday ones in color.

    Thanks for sharing....and thanks for visiting my blog.

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    1. I know, Laurel-Rain - the funny papers indeed. I loved them and miss all those 'old' comic strips. These two were quite good and very quick reads. Just saying....LOL.

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  8. I've never read a graphic novel. Every year I tell myself this will be the year....but I never quite get there. Maybe in 2016???

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    1. Kim, I totally understand. That's been me too. Well, I'm going to try to read a few this year and maybe do reports on them a few at a time - like this one. You might see one that would appeal to you.

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  9. I read Relish by Lucy Kinsley and loved it but I have a hard time wrapping my head around the genre as a whole and am not desperately wanting to read another. I am glad you enjoyed these two. They sound interesting. I'm on the fence about Being Mortal. It sounds like the issues were very well handled but it's not something that's leaping at me as I need to read it.

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    1. It may not be the right time of your life to read it, Katherine. Do keep it in mind for later though. And I checked out Relish from the library today.

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  10. I've been curious about these particular graphic novels for a while now, but had them on the back burner. After reading your thoughts, I immediately placed library holds for both. Now I'm looking forward to their arrival.

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    1. Hope you like them - they might not be for everyone, but they were meaningful to me.

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  11. Both of these sound good, Kay. I have a copy of "Can't we talk about something more PLEASANT?" I will make a note to read Being Mortal around the same time. I can see why the two might compliment each other. I like that Chast's book is brutal and honest. As I age and I watch my parents and in-laws age, these issues are so much more relevant than they felt when I was younger. Definitely worth reading.

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    1. I think they would compliment each other. Will be watching for your thoughts when you get around to them, Wendy.

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  12. Though I haven't read Chast's book yet, I love the thought of pairing it with Being Mortal (which I loved). I can definitely see how both could be difficult if you're living it, though - glad you were still able to appreciate it. I'll second the recommendation for Persepolis and also throw in suggestions for anything by Lauren Redniss, who writes graphic nonfiction (I especially loved Radioactive).

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    1. Thanks for the suggestion for an additional author, Shannon! I appreciate it. I think that I could appreciate these books more because of the fact that I've already experienced this type of situation. I want to encourage everyone to read Being Mortal.

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  13. This was really wonderful to read. Roz Chast has other books that you may like - not sad or gloomy. She is the most wonderful cartoonist. I've loved her work for a long time. I read that her work is considered graphic nonfiction. There's another book you might like called Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs, the man who did The Snowman. It is also graphic nonfiction. I was never a comic book fan until Calvin & Hobbes, and For Better or For Worse.

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    1. Nan, thanks for the recommendations. I think that JoAnn also recommended Ethel & Ernest. I'll have to search the bigger library for that one. The smaller one that I go to doesn't seem to have it.

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    2. Worth buying if you can't get it in library. Don't libraries all offer interlibrary loan?

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    3. The Austin library has it and I've put it on hold. The library I use mostly does have interlibrary loan, but you have to pay $2.50 for each item. Austin does still have it but they are very restrictive on what you can get and only one thing at a time.

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  14. So glad you are discovering graphic novels. I haven't read too many but I really do enjoy them. Lucy Knisely is a favorite although I haven't read this book yet. I would recommend her book French Milk.

    With regards to Being Mortal, wow, that was a great book. I worked for a nursing home a few years ago and every day I was stressed out and I wasn't even in a care position (I work in HR). But I'm an only child and did have to care for my dad when he was dying of cancer. Now I've been caring for my mom who is getting older and only has me to rely on. It is exhausting, emotional but our parents cared for us and now it's my turn to offer love and support. I really want to read the Chast book but I am a bit apprehensive about it.

    Anyway sorry for going on and on. Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

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    1. Go 'on and on' all you please, Iliana. I remember you telling me about working in a nursing home. I think the thing about Roz Chast is that she said the things that people think but don't voice aloud all that much. At least not to others outside their own family or circle or whatever. It was definitely an honest portrayal.

      Oh, and I checked out French Milk yesterday at the library.

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  15. I've actually never read a graphic novel. I've heard good things about Reina Tragemeier's books for middle graders/teens and one called MAUS (can't remember the author). The ones you read sound intriguing, too. I'll have to check them out.

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    1. Yes, I've got MAUS checked out from the library too. I went and did a little binge-checkout from the library yesterday. Brought several home to consider reading.

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  16. I used to read comics, especial the Archie ones, but I don't feel the need to read graphic novels. Hope that doesn't sound like a snob. ANY form of books are for ANY person, regardless, I get that. It's just linked to why I read my books and don't enjoy audio. Reading is my lifeline, though I've meandered into e-book reading these past few years also. It's what gives me pleasure and I don't feel the urge to read graphics. I have enough print books on my wish list to last several lifetimes. (My eldest daughter reads graphics occasionally, but usually ones made from written stories she's read, and is constantly trying to interest me).

    With all that being said, I have seen both books reviewed on blogs I respect and understand that some readers enjoy branching out and trying other storytelling styles. Glad you enjoyed your experience and want to read more-- yay for trying new things!

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    1. I totally understand, Rita. And that's been my feeling as well. I think these two just spoke to me in a special way. You know, it's funny, when I worked at the library and we heard about e-books originally, I was very vocal in saying that I'd not read them - I'd never give up books - 'real' books. Well, here I am, years later, reading more e-books than books in any other format. And then there's the audiobooks, which I have come to love so much. Trying new things is a good thing now and then. For me anyway.

      I went to the library and checked out quite a stack of graphic novels yesterday, just to try. This was after doing a bit of research. I suspect I won't be reading a ton of them, but now and then would be OK with me. I was surprised at the depth of emotion I could feel from what I used to call a 'comic' book. Which just goes to show - never say never. LOL

      Have a good weekend, Rita!

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  17. Yeah, I can see how Roz Chast's book can be a very painful one to read. I don't know if I can manage it but I will try - it is high on my list. Being Mortal is also on my list - that one does sound like a tough read.

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    1. Might not be quite the time of your life to read books like this yet, but one day perhaps. You're busy with your little one and that's a very special time.

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  18. I'm not a huge reader of graphic novels myself (I've only read maybe two or three in total) but I actually was pleasantly surprised by them - definitely enjoyed them more than I thought I would. I'm glad you gave a couple a shot as well - there are wonderful stories hidden in all sorts of different genres and formats, and a lot of people totally miss out on them simply because they don't try stepping out of their comfort zone once in a while.

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    1. I agree and now I'll be more likely to pick one up, probably based on what I hear from others.

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  19. Beautiful post. I have yet to read these but I want to.

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    1. Thanks! I think both are worth your time.

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  20. I wish I read more graphic novels. I'd read a few in the past and they're quite good; one title comes to mind - "Blankets" and I enjoyed it so much. I've another in my pile which I've yet to read but heard it's good too - The Sculptor by Scott McCloud.

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    1. Thanks for the suggestions, Melody. I'll have to look for both of those. :-)

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  21. I read Relish by Lucy Knisley and loved it. I should check out her other books too!

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    1. You'd probably like Displacement, Vicki. It's a quick read.

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  22. I just marked all of my Feedly as read in an effort for a clean start, so I'm glad you mentioned this post in your comment this morning. I love Knisley--haven't read Displacement but I LOVED Relish. This is my third year reading comics in February and some of my favorites include Blankets (which I think you said you're currently reading), Boxers and Saints by Yang, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, A Game for Swallows (Arichibald? I'm too lazy to look it up), Perspolis by Satrapi, and Maus (this one is amazing). OMG and so many more. You've just opened Pandora's Box! Hope you enjoy!! (I'm reading The Sculptor now...should go open it up before that baby wakes up!)

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    1. I can't imagine why you would mark your Feedly 'all read', Trish!! LOL

      Thanks for the further suggestions for more GN. I've got a few more that I want to read and then I'll likely take a break and maybe just read one now and then. I now have a very long list to go from. And I think The Sculptor cover looks so interesting.

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  23. Marisa @ The Daily Dosage
    I saw Roz Chast's book on the side of your blog and had to see what you thought of it. I loved that you paired that with Being Mortal. I loved both so, so much. I am dealing with a little bit of caring for an elderly parent. My father was much older when he became a Dad (now 85) and my uncle (88) doesn't have kids. Anyway, we've had to make these very difficult decisions on their behalf and I believe both books are brutally honest and insightful so I appreciate them and want everyone to read them. Even my friends who don't think the books are for them, I think it also builds empathy for those older people in our lives. Even at the library I help many elders and both books helped me become more patient. Great reviews!

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    1. I love your comment here and am so glad that these books have spoken to you as well and helped you in your life and your work. I agree that everyone should read them. I know many think they are too sad, but that time will touch all of us. Sadly. Better to be prepared.

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Thanks for stopping by! I am so happy to hear your thoughts and will respond as soon as I can. Happy Reading!