I love reading memoirs. Whether it’s a celebrity or a regular person you’ve never heard of, there’s something unique in the reading experience when someone shares their life story with you. When a memoir is really well-written, you come away not only entertained, but having gained a deeper understanding of the complexity of human experience. Memoirs aren’t just good reading; they also build empathy.
Graphic memoirs hold an extra special place in the bookshelf in my heart. They have all the things I love about memoirs in general, with the added bonus of gorgeous or funny art that helps convey the story. Interested in trying out this genre for the first time? Check out one of these hand-picked suggestions.
This two-volume memoir recounts the author’s experiences growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution of 1979. It’s a powerful book that depicts the mingling of the political and the personal during a turbulent time and flawlessly recreates the confusion of a child’s perception of war and politics. The clean lines of the stark, black-and-white artwork make for perfect accompaniment to Satrapi’s experiences.
Blankets by Craig Thompson
Blankets is a story of sharp contrasts: the experience of childhood abuse and stifling religious orthodoxy, and the experience of falling in love for the first time. Thompson grew up in rural Wisconsin, sharing a bed with his younger brother, attending church with his family, and drawing. When he falls in love with a girl at church camp, the experience profoundly challenges and alters his worldview. Thompson’s storytelling and his artwork are equally matched in elegance and in their ability to break your heart. If you’re a coming-of-age aficionado, do not miss this one. It’s a huge tome, but you’ll fly through the pages.
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosch
You might have seen Brosch’s hilarious comics online, where they originally appeared and enjoy a wide readership. This volume collects Brosch’s misadventures, with episodes detailing adopting a problematic dog, struggling when the world does not conform to one’s arbitrary rules of how things should be, being literally lost in the woods, coping with depression, and more. The artwork isn’t beautiful; in fact, it’s as crabbed and awkward as Brosch’s experiences. Which, I think, is all part of the charm.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
If you’ve heard of the Bechdel Test (a method of determining the quality of depictions of women in film), but haven’t read anything by the woman who invented it, try Fun Home. This memoir focuses on Bechdel’s experiences with her father, a closeted gay man. This book is both sad and funny, which is, I guess, what you can expect from an author who grew up in the family funeral home. (Get the title now?) If you like Fun Home, you'll also want to check out Are You My Mother?, which turns the lens on Bechdel's mother. Still not sold? Bechdel just won a MacArthur Foundation genius grant. Yeah, she's good.
Calling Dr. Laura by Nicole J. GeorgesGeorges grew up believing that her father was dead. (After all, that’s what her mother told her.) When she’s in her twenties, she receives a prediction from a psychic that challenges this knowledge. Although it comes from an unlikely source, this revelation prompts Georges to discover the truth about her past. This memoir also deals with Georges’s emerging awareness of her sexual identity, and with her relationship with dogs. (As a dog lover and a fan of LGBTQ narratives, I adored this book!)The artwork alternates between a simpler style for childhood scenes and a more complex style for adult scenes. Sometimes our early memories are fallible and seem almost unreal and cartoonish, so I thought this contrast was really appropriate and clever.