Law and Conversation

November 29, 2010

Read This: Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita In Tehran

On Mondays I’ve chosen to highlight a book or a story told in another medium that I really, really want everyone in the world to read.  Today I’m returning to a book I’ve referenced in several other posts.

As I was thinking over the books I’ve read this year, my husband wondered which I thought was the best.  It took me only a few seconds to decide:  “Reading Lolita In Tehran,” by Azar Nafisi, I answered.

In her memoir, which focuses on her life as a literature professor during and after the Iranian revolution of 1979, Nafisi writes of the meaning she found in literature, particularly literature written in English, and provides an illuminating perspective on why totalitarian governments such as Iran’s, and ideologues everywhere, typically focus on controlling and suppressing artistic expression:

“One of the most wonderful things about ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is the variety of voices it embodies.  There are so many different forms of dialogue:  between several people, between two people, internal dialogue and dialogue through letters.  All tensions are created and resolved through dialogue.  Austen’s ability to create such multivocality, such diverse voices and intonations in relation and in confrontation within a cohesive structure, is one of the best examples of the democratic aspect of the novel.  In Austen’s novels, there are spaces for oppositions that do not need to eliminate each other in order to exist.  There is also space—not just space but a necessity—for self-reflection and self-criticism….All we needed was to read and appreciate the cacophony of voices to understand its democratic imperative.  This was where Austen’s danger lay.

“It is not accidental that the most unsympathetic characters in Austen’s novels are those who are incapable of genuine dialogue with others.  They rant.  They lecture.  They scold.  This incapacity for true dialogue implies an incapacity for tolerance, self-reflection and empathy.  Later, in Nabokov, this incapacity takes on monstrous forms in characters such as Humbert Humbert in Lolita and Kinbote in Pale Fire.”

It’s not often that I find a book transformative, but Nafisi’s provided me with a new dimension of appreciation for story and literature.

What’s the best book you’ve read in 2010?

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November 26, 2010

More on story from Lynda Barry and Harvey Pekar

I thought I’d exhausted my postings on artist Lynda J. Barry, but another subscriber has alerted the Yahoo! discussion group for Lynda to a Thanksgiving Day announcement from her publisher, Drawn And Quarterly of Montreal, that it will publish *ALL* of her comics, starting next fall.  Above the publisher’s announcement is the very first comic of Barry’s that I remember reading as a college student, which instantly intrigued me and remains among my all-time favorites.  The D&Q announcement is wonderful news for all of us who love Barry’s cartoons.

Today, Barry conducts workshops and has published books such as “Picture This!” aimed at encouraging people to rediscover their creativity and tell their stories through writing and drawing.  Harvey Pekar, about whom I posted last week, wrote of his growing fascination with comics and story during the 1960s, after he met comic book artist R. Crumb.  In his graphic memoir, “Quitter,” Pekar said he observed that underground comics frequently took the bohemian life style as their subject and started wondering why no one had written about subjects more ambitious than hippies and superheroes.  Comics, he wrote, which were simply words and pictures, “were as good an art form as any that existed….Why couldn’t comics be about the lives of working stiffs?  We’re as interesting and funny as anyone else.” 

Pekar held onto his idea and ultimately made it a reality in his “American Splendor” comic books, which acquired a cult following.  By telling his story, Pekar, a career file clerk who had acquired a habit of quitting things in his youth, achieved greatness.

November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Filed under: Books and writing — Helen Gunnarsson @ 1:34 pm
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What a good idea someone had so many years ago to dedicate a day to giving thanks.  I’m reflecting on a few things for which I’m very thankful today:

1) My wonderful family.

2) Amazing friends from every phase of my life who have stayed or gotten back in touch with me, including some who found me through this blog and others who found me or whom I found through the magic of other social media.  My friends support me, challenge me, and open my mind.

3) Interesting and challenging work that helps others:  writing practice-oriented articles for the Illinois Bar Journal.  I love feeling useful to others, using my education and experience and exercising my mind in order to be able to learn about, understand, and write intelligently about a diversity of topics, and meeting neat people whose stories I get to listen to and then write about.

4) Much-loved pets–cats and a dog–with huge hearts and personalities who add so much to our family.

5) Great literature that speaks to us across time, distance, and cultures.

6) Art and music, and being able to continue playing the piano and studying with a terrific teacher.

7) Having a place to live and enough to eat.

8) The internet, which makes it possible for me to write and connect with interesting people all over the world through this blog and other media.

9) Garrison Keillor, whose depth and humor I never fail to appreciate, and whose CD comedy collection “English Majors” I’m listening to as I write this and prepare my family’s Thanksgiving meal.

Happy Thanksgiving to all who read this, and please come back and leave a comment now and then.

November 24, 2010

3 graphic travel memoirs

Filed under: Books and writing,graphic novels,memoirs,travel — Helen Gunnarsson @ 10:23 am
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A week after I decided to dedicate Wednesdays to posts recommending three stories linked together by some common theme, I noticed that NPR is doing the same thing.  There are some great themes:  gossip, family secrets, and France, to name just a few.

To continue my recent series of posts on graphic novels, I’m focusing on graphic travel memoirs today.  Each book below is beautifully drawn and enables you to see the country as the author did.

1) Pyongyang, by Guy DeLisle.  Account of the author’s trip to the North Korean capital.  DeLisle blogs here in French.

2) Carnet de Voyage, by Craig Thompson.  Travel diary of the author’s trip to Europe, with a side trip to Morocco, to promote his graphic memoir, Blankets.

3) Burma Chronicles, also by Guy DeLisle.

What travel books, graphic or not, do you recommend?

November 23, 2010

A Lynda Barry Roundup!

Filed under: Books and writing,graphic novels — Helen Gunnarsson @ 9:24 am
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Such a pleasure to discover so many other fans of cartoonist Lynda J. Barry, some of whom contacted me after I posted about her work here and sent a message to a Yahoo! discussion group dedicated to news about her and her work.

One commenter noted that the audio of Lynda’s recent interview on NPR’s Talk of the Nation has been posted online.  Newark, NJ artist Kerry Dennehy sent me a link to a neat collage of drawings he combined from Barry and another artist, Robert Fludd.  And when I posted that the colors and motion in Barry’s work in “What It Is” remind me of William Blake’s illustrations for his “Songs Of Innocence And Experience,” it occurred to me that readers might think my view was really “out there,” but it turns out that I’m not the first one to make that comparison.

If you follow the links on my recent posts, you’ll find other links to good stuff about Lynda, including my own list of three wonderful Lynda Barry books.  I hope that those of you who have surfed on over here from the Yahoo! discussion group will stay a while, leave a comment if you’d like, and come back.  That goes for anyone who found this blog in some other manner, too, of course.

UPDATED:  Kerry Dennehy has now posted his comparison of pictures by Lynda Barry and William Blake.

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