It’s Reading Without Walls week at ShelfTalker! As my colleagues have been writing all week, we collectively decided to take Gene Luen Yang’s Reading Without Walls challenge and blog about it. I’m so glad we did because I am a huge fan of this initiative. It provides a welcome push to hit pause and look past the books on our (always too long) must-read lists to try to see which ones aren’t there, and maybe ask ourselves why.
Like all booksellers, I try to be an omnivorous reader, with various books stashed in my purse, diaper bag, and glove compartment at any given time. While I love mixing up genres, themes, characters, and voices, I have reading gaps just like anyone else. I admit that I don’t read enough sports stories, and that romance-heavy novels aren’t always my first choice. But I ultimately decided to focus on the graphic novel. And that’s for very selfish reasons. Honestly, I really want to understand the world of graphic novels better than I do.
Don’t get me wrong. I love looking through graphic novels when they come in, and I recommend them all the time. But I rarely read them all the way through. I appreciate the way the genre brings together words and art into one cohesive, immersive storytelling experience, but I’ve never quite trained my brain to smoothly process the boxes in the right order. I can almost feel my gray matter resisting the process as I go. Really, though? I think those reading muscles just need a little more exercise to push them outside their lazy comfort zone and get them in shape.
The proposition is threefold, so I decided to choose three books that all brought something different to the table and were published by houses outside the big five or six.
Cynthia Compton got me started, recommending Afar by Leila del Duca and Kit Seaton. She pitched it as YA graphic sci-fi dystopian starring a protagonist with killer earrings. I love a good earring, and I dove right into Boetema’s story. Seemingly about a dangerous desert crossing undertaken with her younger brother, Boetema’s journey slowly morphs into a planet-hopping, astral projection adventure that I completely didn’t see coming. Set in a futuristic world heavily influenced by pre-colonial Africa, the illustrations of Boetema’s home reality are truly striking, but the really cool thing is that with each planet jump, the art style and color palette transform as well, creating a kaleidoscopic cosmic tour that I really enjoyed.
Next up? Lowriders to the Center of the Earth by Cathy Camper and Raúl the Third. I chose this partly because I am not drawn to car culture. Honestly, I barely know the difference between a lowrider and a monster truck. But I love a good pun. (“You’ve gato be kitten me!”) And there’s zany adventure galore between giant corn mazes, hot magma, and Mictlantechhtli, Lord of the Underworld — who, FYI, does not like the name Miclanty-tanty-cootybooty, which is an excellent safety tip unless you want to end up in a lucha libre throwdown. Oh, and you’ve got to love a big orange gato with a few tricks up its sleeve.
Speaking of tricks, I wanted to find a book that qualified as exploring a new topic (aside from learning the definition of a lowrider), so I landed on Trickster: Native American Tales in which 21 Native American writers tell traditional trickster tales. I don’t know as much about First Nations cultures as I would like to, and I really enjoyed these mischievous tales that range from silly to pensive to tragic to sly. Brought to life by 21 different artists, the best thing was the sheer multitude of trickster types in here—probably a reflection of all the different tribal traditions that created them. Some tricksters get too tricksy for their own good, some get their just desserts, and some get away with it all, living to trick another day.
I have to say that after my adventure into the graphic universe, I can feel myself getting into the rhythm, and I want to keep going. Next up? 5 Worlds: The Sand Warrior. Of course there’s no end to a challenge like this. It simply gives us a little push to get moving. Tag, you’re it!