Old Dogs and New Tricks

Graphic novels have always been a tough sell for me. It’s not that I think the format is less worthy than novels; it’s just the simple fact that my aging brain has trouble figuring out what’s going on. I find myself puzzling over which panel I’m supposed to look at next, which seriously breaks the spell of the narrative. Luckily though, I have found a genre of graphic novel that works for me: the memoir. It is probably the linear storytelling, plus the fact that they are often text heavy, that makes it easier for me to digest and understand. I’ve recently read two excellent examples that I would highly recommend. Both for those who are, like me, Graphic Novel ‘challenged’ as well as the aficionado.

On the surface, Everything is Teeth by Evie Wyld is about the author’s recollections of her summer visits with relatives in Australia during her childhood. Lurking underneath, however, is Wyld’s obsession with sharks; a trait she first developed in Australia and brought back to her family home in England. Her unending fascination with their power, ruthlessness and seeming indifference, blend with her first realizations concerning family relationships and her place in the world. The illustrator, Joe Sumner, effectively conveys the shark’s influence on the author’s feelings with his illustrations. The humans are drawn in a simple and straightforward way. The sharks, however, are drawn in an almost photorealistic style that makes them jump off the page, conveying their importance and danger. Wyld is an excellent novelist, All the Birds Singing is superb, and her hypnotic and disturbing use of language is on display here with every panel.

Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home by Nora Krug is also a memoir about understanding your past, but in this case, it concerns family history and national identity. Far removed from the wartime generation of her grandparents, Krug grew up in 1970s West Germany. While developing a love for her country and a fond sense of Germanness, she always felt there was a piece of the puzzle missing. Mainly, her family’s wartime past. After moving to New York and marrying a man of Jewish heritage, this need to know becomes a burning issue and she begins to investigate. In addition to writing the story, Krug also illustrates this work. The result looks very much like a family scrapbook, complete with photos and relevant documents. While this graphic memoir definitely deals with some heavy issues, Krug also peppers it throughout with interesting and entertaining digressions on what she misses from the land of her birth. Surprising examples include mushroom picking, hot water bottles and bandages.

So unlike an old dog, it seems I have learned a new trick: an appreciation for graphic novels.

Real Friends

Some things in life come easy to me. I’m excellent at pattern recognition, reading way past my bedtime, functioning on very little sleep (could these two things be related?) falling up the stairs instead of down (always fall up), and having reflexes that work way faster than my brain. I didn’t have to work too hard at honing these skills and I’ve probably always taken it for granted that I don’t have to think about the process when I’m using them. There’s no concentration involved and things just seem to magically fall into place.

That’s never been the case with making friends. That’s always been something I’ve struggled with. If you met me today you probably wouldn’t guess that I was an extremely shy child. I didn’t approach strangers, would sometimes not even approach extended family members, and preferred to hide in my older brother’s shadow while he made things happen for me. However, he was never able to make friends for me; that was definitely a solo-Carol job, so when I did stumble into a friendship I held fast even if, in hindsight, it was unhealthy.

Reading Real Friends by Shannon Hale slammed me right back to that playground where I made my first friend who also later turned out to be the most unhealthy thing for me.

Real Friends is the story of a young Shannon, who recounts the series of friendships she had growing up and the impacts each made on her life. I was surprised to open the book and discover it’s not a graphic novel but actually a graphic memoir. As Shannon recounts her early school years through a series of friends she had, I was thrown back in time to the mid-late 80s when I was going through the same things Shannon did in the late 70s/early 80s. Some things are just universal. While this book is aimed at middle-grade readers I think anyone can find relatable moments.

I found myself in different friend roles growing up. Sometimes I was an Adrienne. My family would move or I would change schools and I would lose touch with my friends and have to start over again. Sometimes I was a Jen, although I never made people line up and be ranked in the order of who I liked the best (what a cruel thing to do!). Once or twice I’m sure I was a Wendy. I was the only girl in my family and sometimes I just couldn’t take the nonsense and would totally snap and lash out at my brothers. Then there was exactly one time I was a Jenny. To this day I regret acting the way I did, but nothing can change what’s in the past. We can only move forward and learn to choose kind.

But for the majority of my childhood I was a Shannon: shy, quiet, not sure how to make friends but knowing that I really, truly wanted someone to talk to and experience life with. I also made up games and was sometimes bossy or just oblivious when others were bored or left out completely when I became self-absorbed in the creative process.

I realize the name-dropping I’m doing here isn’t very helpful if you haven’t yet read the book, but it does illustrate the vastly different characters, aka real friends from Shannon’s past, that leap off the pages of this book. It’s amazing to me that within just a few panels the reader can get a deep sense of what kind of friend each girl was and the reader has a chance to see a bit of herself (or not) in each, too.

You’re gonna get the feels and if you’re lucky enough to still have a bestie from childhood you’re gonna want to call them as soon as you’ve finished reading.

Embracing the Stereotype: The Modern Cat Lady

Growing up I had zero love for cats. In my defense I had every reason to keep my distance. None of my extended family had cats, and all my cat-loving friends tended to house whatever the feline equivalent of Cujo is. One friend in particular seemed to have an aversion to cleaning the litter box, so as a result the house just reeked. I thought that was how all cats smelled. I thought that was how all cats behaved. All of that changed in 2007 when in one afternoon I found myself with two kittens of my very own.

Over the ensuing years the number of cats in my house has fluctuated. Now my husband and I share our home with three, yes three darn cats:

  • The Dude, his name a blatant The Big Lebowski reference meant to win over my father-in-law, does indeed abide, though he can be a total spaz, too.
  • Tonks, named after my favorite Harry Potter character, is fiercely obsessed with all humans.
  • Gypsy, who was named after the squeaking heroine of MST3K, is the stereotypical ‘fraidy cat.

And stereotypes are what we’re talking about today, people. For one day I woke up and realized one giant truth about myself: I’m a cardigan-wearing, library-working, crazy cat lady. And I’m totally owning it! If you, like me, want to embrace the crazy cat lady stereotype, you’ll want to check out these books stat.

67 ReasonsFirst, let’s establish that cats are better than dogs. Don’t believe me? You definitely need to read 67 Reasons Why Cats are Better than Dogs by Jack Shepherd, who is responsible for launching the Animals section of BuzzFeed. Did you know that cats are better engineers, won’t eat your baby, comfort the afflicted, face their adversaries head-on, and are extremely hard workers? It’s true! Much like the website, this book is packed with imagery that proves point after point.

CHNA7291*catlady_case_1stPROOFS.inddat Lady Chic by Diane Lovejoy showcases dozens of glamorous, stylish, and posh women and their cats. These portraits range from classical paintings to iconic black-and-whites from Hollywood’s heyday to full-color photographs from the last few years. Marilyn Monroe, Ali MacGraw, Lana Del Rey, Lauren Bacall, Keira Knightly, Eartha Kitt, Twiggy, Ursula Andress, Eva Longoria, and of course Lee Meriwether dressed as Catwoman. These women embrace the stereotype and challenge it at the same time.

Cat PersonCat Person by Seo Kim is a collection of comics that started out as the author’s challenge to herself to create one new comic each day. I can tell she’s a true cat lady at heart because her cat, Jimmy, is featured in many comics in the front and back of the book. My favorites include the ways to hug a cat, different cat charades (imagine what chicken nugget and slug look like; if you have a cat this should be easy), and the horrible fate of unattended food left in front of a computer screen, Skype call in progress. Sometimes the panels so reflect my own life that I do a double-take. I’ve definitely found a kindred spirit in Seo Kim.

CatificationOnce I realized that being a cat lady isn’t so bad, I decided to see what more I could do to make life as a cat under my roof more enjoyable. That’s when I picked up Catification: Designing a Happy and Stylish Home for your Cat (and You!) by Jackson Galaxy and Kate Benjamin. I don’t have TV any more, so I hadn’t heard of Jackson Galaxy or his TV show, My Cat from Hell. But now I realize that Jackson is a genius. Yes, this book is packed with projects you can make to keep your cats happy and healthy inside your home. But it’s also got some great tips on recognizing your cat’s mood. You’ll also learn how to ensure your indoor-only cat can still have his animal instincts met (hunting, climbing, and so on). A happy cat is a happy cat lady. If this isn’t already a saying, I’m making it one.

PetcamSo what holiday gifts do you buy the modern cat lady in your life? Start with Petcam: The World Through the Lens of Our Four-Legged Friends by Chris Keeney. Any cat lady will appreciate all the trouble the three cats in this book went to in order to take some snazzy pics of their daily lives. Botty, Fritz, and Xander each wore small cameras around their necks and took photos of the places they traveled, the things they did, and the faces they saw along the way. If you think you’d like to get your cat lady a pet camera for her furry friend you may want to check out the back of the book before wrapping it. There are all kinds of tips and resources that will get you started.

Does your modern cat lady also work with customer service and/or social media? She’ll appreciate opening up QR Codes Kill Kittens by Scott Stratten. Scott was named one of the top five social media influencers in the world by Forbes, and his author photo on the dust jacket includes an adorable black cat. Consider:

If you knew that your terrible business decisions could cost a kitten its life, would you still do it? Of course not. No one wants to hurt a kitten, and no one wants to damage their own business through easily avoidable mistakes. But the trick is knowing which things are the wrong things to do.QR Codes

That’s where this book shines. Using real-life examples and plenty of illustrations, your modern cat lady will learn just what ideas that might seem great are actually hurting her image, both online and in real life, or IRL if you’re nerdy like me. Give your modern cat lady this book and she’ll thank you. In hashtags.

This year we at the library are participating in a Secret Santa game. Whoever is my Secret Santa knows me pretty well. I’m still not sure if this is a coincidence or killer intuition. But on the day I planned to write this post I received this little gift.

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You don’t have to live life avoiding the cat lady stereotype. Embrace it. Own it. Be it. Love it. You can thank me in hashtags and/or catnip.