By Crystal Hicks, Adult Services Librarian
Memoir graphic novels form a backbone of alternative comics, from Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis to Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Ellen Forney’s Marbles. The comics format is uniquely suited to detailing the inner thoughts of artists through the synthesis of words and images, making this a format well worth digging into. Among the many comics memoirists, thirty-one-year-old Lucy Knisley is one of my favorites. Knisley’s art style is simple and easily digestible, and her worries and anxieties resonate with new adults figuring out where they want to go in life and how best to get there.
Knisley’s memoirs begin with a trip to Paris as a twenty-three-year-old, lovingly detailed in French Milk. Knisley and her mother rent a flat for six weeks and take their time exploring Paris, visiting friends, and, for Knisley’s part, recording her thoughts in comics form. Knisley adds to the resulting travelogue with photos and later thoughts, but largely French Milk reads as a diary of her time in a foreign city. As always, food takes a front seat in this book, with not only descriptions that will make mouths water, but also Knisley declaring her love for delicious French milk.
Knisley develops her talent for food writing further in Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, which is her love letter to food of all sorts. Growing up surrounded by chefs and bakers, Knisley has a deep appreciation for food and eagerly wants to share it. Relish is divided into chapters focusing on different foods, from pesto to huevos rancheros, and in each she explores the memories that connect her to food, as well as describing each food delectably. Best of all, she has recipes throughout the book. Trust me, try them—they’ve yielded the best chocolate chip cookies of my life!
In An Age of License, Knisley returns to the travelogue format and to Europe, on a travel-expenses-paid trip for a book tour. Despite the success of her professional life, Knisley’s personal life is in shambles, and she uses the trip to puzzle out her thoughts and try new experiences in hopes of moving on. Alongside the self-reflection, Knisley reminds readers of the pleasures of good food and foreign travel, even if traveling alone. An Age of License is a book for anyone who has wished they could shed their skin and become someone new, even if just for a few hours.
Displacement is a companion book to An Age of License, which document Knisley’s time on a cruise for the elderly with her grandparents. Where An Age of License lingers on the freedoms of being an untethered twenty-something, Displacement ponders the aging process and how the elderly fit into our society. As her grandparents’ sole caregiver on the cruise, Knisley grapples with their mortality and struggles to find a sense of who her grandparents are, despite the ravages of old age. By turns sobering and heartwarming, this book looks thoughtfully at how people age, and it will strike a chord with many younger adults.
If you, like me, have strong memories of pulling your hair out while wedding planning, you will relate to Knisley’s newest book, Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride. Unexpectedly engaged and planning a wedding in under a year, Knisley details her exploits in creating the perfect-but-still-personal wedding. From picking a dress to fighting over the reception and DIY-ing everything, Knisley covers it all from the perspective of a bride blindsided by years of tradition and the bridal industry. Rest assured, this book is not all wedding doldrums—Knisley sprinkles in funny asides and bizarre trivia, like the real reason brides carry flowers down the aisle (to ward away trolls!), which make Something New a joy to read. Readers will root for Knisley and her fiancé and breathe a sigh of relief when everything works out in the end. After all, the most important part of a wedding is celebrating a new marriage, which Knisley reminds the reader (and herself) of throughout the book. Something New provides an informative look into the wedding-planning process, with a nice dose of levity to balance out the inherent chaos of weddings.
No matter which of Knisley’s books you pick up, you’ll find food to drool over and thoughtful observations on becoming an adult. If you’re interested in more memoir graphic novels, fill out a personalized reading list at www.mhklibrary.org or in person, or ask a librarian for a recommendation. Manhattan Public Library has a great selection to choose from!