Getting Into Graphic Novels

I spent an hour talking books last week with Mykl Roventine for the Social Media Breakfast Minneapolis-St. Paul podcast. One of the topics that came up was trends in my 2015 reading and I think graphic novels were a huge trend.

I read a lot of graphic novels.

It’s an interesting medium that really takes some time to find your footing as a reader. I tend to read too fast because there are so few words. While graphic novels are quick reads, if you go too fast you tend to miss a lot.

So a few thoughts on the trend of graphic novels, at least within my reading from the last year:

Comic Books

It starts with comic books. Certainly not all graphic novels are comic books, but they get lumped together (for good reason), so deal with it.

I think comic books are a weird industry. They have an exceptionally high barrier to entry. It’s really hard for newbies to figure out how to get into comics.

But one approach I’ve discovered is to forget the weekly one-off comics and wait for the trade paperbacks. This is when they gather up half a dozen comics and print them in one book. You get the benefit of a longer story arc and don’t have to hunt down each individual comic. And many libraries will stock these.

In 2015 I really enjoyed Ms. Marvel, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Serenity: Leaves on the Wind and Princeless.

Historic Graphic Novels

Lately there seems to be a mini-trend of historic graphic novels. I don’t know if this is some attempt to get those pesky kids interested in books again, as if graphic novels are some kind of gateway drug. I don’t think it works that way.

But graphic novels about history are pretty cool. It’s a gateway drug to history. See March Book One and Two by John Lewis, Harlem Hellfighters and the Boxers/Saints two-part set by Gene Luen Yang as examples.

Graphic Memoirs

Then there’s this oddly new trend of memoir in graphic novel form. I don’t know if it started with Blankets by Craig Thompson, but that’s certainly an early one that got a lot of attention. El Deafo and Honor Girl are more recent ones. All three are sort of coming of age stories, dealing with a fundamental faith, deafness and same sex attraction respectively.

I think the genre can be an engaging way to tell the deeply personal story that is memoir.

Straight Up Graphic Novels

Finally, there are a lot of just interesting stories told in a graphic format. It really frees up the narrative structure and allows for some interesting things, without being too literary and weird.

Gene Luen Yang is perhaps my favorite. His American-Born Chinese is just a mind-bending riff on race in America. It would definitely benefit from multiple readings.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson is another favorite. It’s got a reluctant super-villain, quirky humor and an original story. Good stuff.

Top 5 Nonfiction of 2015

Another year of big reading and I’ve got some favorite nonfiction to share.

  1. Kid President’s Guide to Being Awesome by Robby Novak and Brad Montague
    He’s good in videos and he’s good in book form.
  2. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
    I generally don’t like poetry, but this was great. An honest and challenging look at racism.
  3. Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Chuang
    This memoir has such a fresh voice and gives a great perspective.
  4. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving & Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans
    So many echoes of my own journey here.
  5. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
    This book has been on a lot of lists this year and rightly so. It’s a challenging book and needs multiple reads. Perhaps if I’d done that it’d be higher on the list.

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

Top 10 Fiction of 2015

After another big year of reading I present my favorite fiction reads for 2015.

  1. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Garbrielle Zevin
    A story about a dad who runs a bookstore. What could be better?
  2. Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
    I read this with my daughter and really enjoyed the unique perspective of the main character.
  3. How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon
    This book confronts racism with a mutli-perspective approach that was just great. The audiobook with a huge cast was great.
  4. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
    A graphic novel FTW. I really like the unique and fun storytelling approach in this one.
  5. Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
    Another story with a really unique voice.
  6. Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick
    This YA novel hits so many of my buttons—a unique voice, homelessness, Jesus.
  7. A Gift Upon the Shore by M.K. Wren
    Here’s this year’s post-apocalyptic story.  I loved the emphasis on women and confrontation with religion.
  8. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
    The issues of Black Lives Matter in a book.
  9. The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman
    What a fun time travel yarn.
  10. Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata
    I haven’t read many international adoption stories and this one really dove into the complexities with honesty.

I usually do a list of 15 nonfiction reads, but this year I had too many 4 out of 5 star reads—books that were good, but not amazing enough to add to the list. So we’ll stick with 10.

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

2015 Racial & Gender Diversity in My Reading

Last year I started tracking diversity in the books I read. It wasn’t exactly good news.

It became apparent that race and gender diversity only happen when you’re intentional about it.

I tracked both the gender and race this year. I base gender simply on the author, counting a book if any contributor is a woman. For race I count a book if a contributor or main character is a person of color.

Here are the results for 2015:

  • 54% POC books
  • 56% female authors.

Here’s how diverse my reading has been since 2001:

Diversity and gender in my 2015 reading

And here are the actual numbers:

Reading diversity since 2001

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

2015 Reading List

Lots of good reading this year. Another year of ridiculous numbers—149 this year.

One of the benefits of reading is an increased sense of empathy. You can understand someone different from you a lot better if you can see from their perspective. If there was one theme this year, it was understanding different perspectives.

Some of the various perspectives that could use some understanding this year cropped up again and again in my books this year. Themes such as racism, disability, transgender and Islam.

I also read a lot of graphic novels.

And I’m continuing to pursue diversity of race and gender in my reading. I’ll post about that separately. I’ll also post my best fiction and nonfiction lists for the year.

For a more visual look, you can check out my Year in Books from Goodreads.

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

You can also check out my previous reading lists: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002 and 2001. Continue reading 2015 Reading List

Reading & Loving It

I read 164 books in 2015 and tracked them all in a spreadsheet. Here’s what I learned.

Now that’s a headline I can get behind.

This is an awesome article from Vox by a librarian who read a whole bunch in 2015, tracked it and learned some lessons.

Sounds a lot like me, right?

I read more than a hundred books each year and have cataloged them for years. I’ve even examined the racial and gender diversity in my reading, just like the author. Good stuff.

The author even has this awesome spreadsheet for all the books she read this year. Pretty freakin’ great.

The article has some great lines:

  • Reading is amazing; it shouldn’t be a chore, and when it became one, I stopped doing it.
  • There will never ever be enough time to read every worthwhile book.
  • Deliberately seeking out new literary voices expands my perspective and pushes me out of my comfort zone. Ultimately, I hear more stories, and my life is richer for it.

It’s good to see I’m not the only book nerd cataloging all my books to glory in the joy of reading.

Star Wars The Force Awakens: Post-Movie Thoughts

I’ve now seen Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens twice and I so want to talk about it!

I’ll start out spoiler-free, but then we’ll dive heavy into the spoilers. I’ll warn you when it’s coming in case you want to jump ship.

I don’t even know where to start. Being a writer, I want to craft the perfect essay about this experience. But I also need to process and just get my thoughts down. So this is probably going to be a mess. It’s a blog, not a polished essay.

Spoiler-Free Stuff

Wow. What a great movie.

I’ve seen it twice and I want to go back for more. It was just a super fun thrill ride.

Now I’ve been caught up in Star Wars nostalgia before. I said this in my expectations—it’s Star Wars, and I’ll love the adventure. And I totally did. I’m so wrapped up in the excitement of the moment that I have absolutely no objective judgment.

That’s how I walked out of The Phantom Menace excited. But when the childhood wonder and excitement wore off, objectivity came back and I realized how ridiculous that movie was.

That could maybe happen here, but I doubt it. I need to give it some time for the wonder of the moment to pass. But at this point I’m pretty confident it’s going to be one of my favorite Star Wars movies.

So a few fun (non-spoiler) thoughts about the experience of watching the movie:

  • The first thing I did after seeing the movie ? Stop at Target at 9:50 p.m. to buy Star Wars toys. The merchandising is strong with this one. And I love it!
  • After my dad saw it we spent an hour and a half on the phone talking nothing but Star Wars (OK, we maybe gave five minutes on the Captain America trailer).
  • My screening plan of seeing it before I took my kids worked out really well. The movie is intense and I had to prepare my kids. My almost 10-year-old still hid her face, and my 7-year-old buried his face in my chest a couple times and outright sobbed at one point. We didn’t have to leave the theater, but it was pretty distracting. I was glad I knew what to expect when and didn’t miss anything because I’d already seen it.
  • Unfortunately, I think preparing my kid with a half spoiler made him think that half spoiler wasn’t a real spoiler. So while getting supper at Panera after the movie he’s jumping around with his light saber and tells some stranger that half spoiler. The guy slapped his hands to his ears and says, “No spoilers! No spoilers!” Sorry man. We had another talk about spoilers. 10 minutes later another guy asked us if we’d just seen the movie (OK, we’ve got a light saber in the restaurant and we’re all wearing Star Wars shirts… nerd central), asked if it was another Phantom Menace (“Absolutely not!”) and then quickly said, “OK, don’t tell me anything else” and covered his ears.
  • While preparing the children for the movie, I showed them a picture of the bad guy, Kylo Ren. They had seen the trailers, but these masked men in black can be frightening in a big, loud, dark theater, so I wanted them to see what Kylo Ren looked like before he was big and scary. They took one look at his mask and dubbed him “Kylo Duckface.”
  • At the beginning of the movie I leaned over to my son and read the opening crawl to him. I’ve done that for both kids as we’ve watched all the earlier movies. But doing it in the theater? That was pretty cool. I didn’t expect that to be a moment.
  • One of the first things my daughter asked me this morning was, “Can we go see the Star Wars movie again?” That’s my girl.

Such a great movie-going experience.

Now let’s talk about the actual movie. Which means spoilers.

Continue reading Star Wars The Force Awakens: Post-Movie Thoughts

Star Wars The Force Awakens: Pre-Movie Thoughts

Han Solo, Chewie, Rey, BB8 & Finn.The hype has been building up forever, and tonight I’m going to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Yes!

I’m also going tomorrow.

But I’m not a crazy nerd or anything, I’m doing it for my kids. Yeah, that’s it. I’m screening it tonight to make sure there’s nothing too intense for my 7-year-old. Also if the kids do need to step out or ask ten thousand questions, I’ll have seen it once already and (hopefully) won’t be as annoyed by the distractions.

It’s a happy accident that I’ll get to see it twice in 24 hours.

Plus, unlike my dad and brother, I think the best part of seeing a movie like this is seeing it early with the die-hard fans who clap and cheer. Part of the fun of going to the movies is the atmosphere, and you couldn’t ask for better energy than a theater crammed full of excited fans.

My wife and I saw the Hunger Games on opening night, not because we loved the series but because we happened to have a babysitter. The theater was full of teen girls with Catniss braids who were super excited. Made the whole experience more fun. Also saw one of the Potter movies that way, with a crowd full of teens who had grown up on Potter. Way fun.

So anyway, I’ll be there tonight with my nerds. Continue reading Star Wars The Force Awakens: Pre-Movie Thoughts

Suicide on the High Bridge

You know what sucks? Having to explain to your kids why there are ribbons decorating the High Bridge in St. Paul. It’s not exactly a festive occasion—it’s because of the high rate of suicides.

Lots of people are jumping off the bridge to kill themselves, and the ribbons are an attempt at suicide prevention.

Another person jumped today.

In 2008 the City Pages called the bridge a “suicide hot spot,” and offers the chilling detail that some of the people who jump from the bridge actually survive.

In terms of statistics, the most common method of suicide is firearms. But the public nature of jumping seems to capture the public conscience.

If you are thinking about committing suicide, please talk to someone. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.8255 to get help.

A work-at-home dad wrestles with faith, social justice & story.