Picking Apart Picka Pocketoni

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I thought Picka Pocketoni (Me Talk Pretty One Day, 219-227) was hilarious and, as usual, David Sedaris had me laughing out loud time and time again. I even picked it (no pun intended) because I knew it would be funny. I could tell by the title and more so by the writer. Sedaris, in my limited experience of him, is almost always funny and his POV usually interests me. But while I found this story just as funny and interesting as the rest, I simply didn’t find it believable.

It’s not that I don’t think it could’ve happened. And, in fact, I more than believe something happened that inspired this essay, but the story itself in its entirety, and the way Sedaris tells it, felt exaggerated and in moments even entirely fabricated to me. It’s a great story in that it kept my attention from start to finish but it didn’t feel real to me. It didn’t seem true.

Part of a writer’s mission, whether he or she is writing fiction or nonfiction, is to write in such a way as to suspend disbelief—to make us believe. In other words, even the craziest things should have us believing. Even when reading fantasy, we start to believe, at least for the sake of the story, in things we wouldn’t typically believe in like, say, aliens or zombies or unicorns. In nonfiction, this should be a no brainer—since the things, the writer’s stories and experiences, allegedly really happened. Right? Well, I’m no longer sure that’s the case since, basically, while I enjoyed the story, I don’t believe it happened—or at least I don’t believe it happened like this.

I’m disappointed, too, because I wanted to believe. I rode the subway in NYC for years, through most of my 20s, and have quite a few stories of my own brewing in my brain since some crazy stuff happens on trains but my issue isn’t with the probability of the occurrence itself it’s in the believability of the telling of the story. Sedaris set the story up well. I could picture this train. Hell, I could smell it. The story about the obnoxious Texas college kids was believable but it was also short and not so breathtaking. It was more of an observation than a complete story. I’m wondering if Sedaris decided to make up the second part to fill out the story. Perhaps if the story wasn’t already about those Texan kids, had Sedaris focused specifically on the couple instead, or entirely on either one or the other, it might have been more believable to me. I don’t know.

Have you ever people watched and then made up stories about those people? This felt like that to me. I don’t doubt he spotted an American couple on the train or even that they were rude and obnoxious. Maybe they were even talking about this particular topic of being robbed on a train. But that’s about as far as my faith goes on this particular story. I question the likelihood of Sedaris’s reaction or lack of reaction to being the topic of this couple’s false accusations, fear and anger. The words and actions of the couple, in particular the man, seemed farfetched to me. But Sedaris’s thoughts and reactions, or lack of reaction, is what really had me scratching my head. Based on what Sedaris has shared about himself in this story and in other stories, I think if this had happened he’d have moved to another part of the train, closer to Hugh, perhaps.

The fact that he was previously buying burlap for no apparent reason made me wonder if that was his way of saying he was about to sell us a bag of goods. There’s just something about the burlap. I mean, why burlap? There are many uses for burlap but he doesn’t tell us why “he’d hoped to buy a good deal of burlap.” He could have said it was for painting or to make a sack or mask, for example. But he skips the explanation. And by mentioning it and then never returning to it like this it somehow drew my attention to the burlap. And suddenly I’m obsessing over burlap and I’m not sure why. Was the burlap a distraction, like one a magician might use in a slight of hand trick? It may be a stretch but burlap is also a tough, resilient fabric so maybe Sedaris was making a point about people needing to be tough to deal with other people. Either way, something about the burlap had me wondering if this experience even really happened.

In so many of his stories, Sedaris seems determined to put two elements before everything else: humor and some sort of moral message or lesson. But while his other stories managed to grab and keep my attention, and more importantly suspend my disbelief, while simultaneously making me laugh, think and feel something, this one didn’t. His humor kept my attention but, at times, I found myself laughing at him, as well as at the ridiculousness of certain elements of this story, more often than I was laughing with him. So much felt exaggerated, even fabricated, for the sake of the joke. There was a moment when I actually rolled my eyes and that’s never a good thing. The moment when Sedaris writes: “Now I was a stinkpot and a thief. It occurred to me to say something, but I thought it might be better to wait and see what he came up with next.” I rolled my eyes at this because Sedaris himself says he’s not the type of person who would have said something, or even think quickly enough on his feet to say something in the moment, so the claim that he’d considered doing so plays false to me, but also the line “see what he came up with next” made me stop and wonder what Sedaris would come up with next.

Even the dialogue seems fake to me. It’s more comical than believable. “Golly, Pete?” Really? Did she really say that? Maybe, but this seems more like a caricature he’s painting than a reenactment of an actual memory which makes me wonder if maybe he’s the one doing the discriminating here. This dialogue feels so fabricated, forced and false to me that if it really had happened just like this then I’d probably recommend changing it in the story anyway to make it seem more believable. Just the fact that a story is true isn’t always enough to make it believable.

Sedaris admits “I was now licensed to hate this couple as much as I wanted. This made me happy, as I’d wanted to hate them from the moment I’d entered the subway car and seen them hugging the pole.” It seems to me that it was his reaction to the Texas college kids that upset him. I think he made up the story about the couple because the story about the Texas kids wasn’t enough to fill the essay. Later, after picking the couple apart and mentally mocking them, Sedaris says: “In disliking them, I was forced to recognize my own pretension, and that made me hate them even more.” Immediately after this, as if given a gift from the karma gods Sedaris was given a reason to hate the couple as if he hadn’t already made up his mind to do so. This felt a bit too convenient and for me was the turning point when I lost my faith entirely in the story.

Sedaris gives us several clues that may imply he’s making this story up. Again there was the burlap, which I can’t seem to let go of, and there’s also the memory of his sister shouting: “Good luck beating that rape charge.” Also, the fact that Sedaris seems to have taken all of this as a compliment, like he let it go in his imagination a bit too far to the point he was enjoying the implication that he could have been a sly thief, leads me to think he was too busy daydreaming on that train to have absorbed such a detailed and dialogue filled recap of actual events.

On my first read I was already feeling skeptical of the story and I found myself wondering how much was true versus how much was made up simply for the sake of the “don’t judge a book by its cover” theme. Sedaris seemed hell bent on teaching this lesson. But after reading it again, letting it sit for a bit and looking back, I think the lesson goes a step further. Perhaps Sedaris is also saying: “Don’t believe everything you hear.” Or, in this case, read.

Unit 3’s lecture on Character says: “As you begin to develop in your writing character sketches, remember that you have precious little time to convey a life of a person to a reader, and so finding (and, if need be, altering or creating) these moments can be key; if you can create a strong, visual, memorable image of a person, where a distinct personality is conveyed through a line, an exchange, or an action, you can really do wonders to unlock the power of a story.”

Sedaris took this lesson to heart as he described the characters in his story. He painted vivid pictures of these people, perhaps too vivid and overly detailed. Details are good, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes when a story has too many details, if any one detail starts to seem even slightly off, even just a tad BS-ish, then the rest of the story quickly falls down like dominoes.

My brother is a horrible liar. When he lies, he has a few “tells.” For one, he smirks when he lies, like his body knows he’s a horrible liar and is laughing at his brain for even attempting such a thing. But, in addition to the smirk, he just flat out says too much. When he’s telling the truth, he gets to the point quicker and doesn’t take a bunch of detours. But when he lies, he piles on the details like he’s hoping one of them (or the combination of so many perhaps) will be the one that convinces me he’s telling the truth. Instead, more often than not, the opposite happens. Somewhere in the abundance of details he loses me altogether. And this is what Sedaris did.

A few paragraphs before the American couple acted scared of him Sedaris says: “People are often frightened of Parisians…” It’s like he was setting up his story—or setting up his joke. This could be seen as foreshadowing, I guess, but then there was just something about the way Sedaris continuously changes his reasoning for not speaking up. Every few paragraphs or so, Sedaris offers a new reason why he isn’t reacting. At first, insulted by the couple’s comments, he says he stayed quiet so he could criticize them in his head. Then when they accuse him of stealing, Sedaris still doesn’t say anything because he wants to see what they’ll “come up with next,” then because he doesn’t want to risk receiving an awkward apology that would result in an uncomfortable handshake, then because he’s trying to come up with a witty response or he’s daydreaming about the big scene with the cops. I wonder if he had simply stuck to that first reason, my mind might not have shifted so much and that shifting, I think, in the end caused me to stop focusing on his characters and start looking at him and his thoughts and actions instead.

In Picka Pocketoni, there was a moment when Sedaris saw and took an opportunity to pretend to be someone else and he let his imagination take him to another place. His intention was to take us with him on the journey and while he achieved this to a degree, especially through his humor, his characters and the story he told about his alleged experience on the train in Paris that particular day came across instead as exaggerated, fabricated, preachy and contrived.

Although I laughed a lot along the way, rather than pull me into his world and inspire me to feel connected to him and to his story and experiences, Sedaris lost me on this one.

Works Cited:

Sedaris, David. Me Talk Pretty One Day. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2001.

Character in Creative Nonfiction

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To explore character and its importance in creative nonfiction, my focus is on the following four essays: Absences (Literary Nonfiction, 34-42) by James Conaway and Giant Dreams, Midget Possibilities (Me Talk Pretty One Day, 16-31), The Youth in Asia, (Me Talk Pretty One Day, 69-82) and Picka Pocketoni (Me Talk Pretty One Day, 219-227) by David Sedaris.

I chose these particular four stories because I believe they exemplify the use of character well but I also chose them for both personal and, in reaction to the personal, sort of emotionally strategic reasons, too. I read Absences and it hit me so hard emotionally, as my father was very recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Dementia and I could see him and what he’s been going through as well as me and my family in this story. I was so affected emotionally that I had to read it twice—both times crying my way through the pages. I selected the other three essays (all three by Sedaris) more so “strategically” because they each made me laugh so hard that the sadness and some of the pain finally subsided. These four essays combined somehow balanced each other out allowing my emotions to balance, too, in the end.

This week’s lecture on Character says: “As you begin to develop in your writing character sketches, remember that you have precious little time to convey a life of a person to a reader, and so finding (and, if need be, altering or creating) these moments can be key; if you can create a strong, visual, memorable image of a person, where a distinct personality is conveyed through a line, an exchange, or an action, you can really do wonders to unlock the power of a story.”

All four of these essays exemplified this brilliantly but each reveals something different.

In the blurb on Conaway that introduces Absences in Literary Nonfiction, Patsy Sims writes: Conaway himself believes that good memoir should capture both a person and a time vital to the author. “The best approach to autobiography is, paradoxically, a story about someone else to whom the writer is attached emotionally, as I was to my father,” he says.

Absences is a story about love, loss, mourning and healing. It’s about learning to move on and let go of the sadness, confusion and pain associated with illness and death of our loved ones. Through his personal story about losing his father to Alzheimer’s, mentally at first and later physically, too, and his mother, perhaps more tragically still, to a stroke which came while she was dealing with the stress of her husband’s disease, the essay highlights Conaway and his family’s experiences, and in doing so the disease itself becomes a critical character, as well.

This part hit home for me and I felt Conaway, while speaking of his mother and father, could have easily been speaking about my parents: “It fell on my mother, also in her seventies, to care for an invalid who increasingly failed to remember the most potent pharmacopeia to keep her awake, dribbled his food, railed at her for the loss of his right to drive and other frustrations, and eventually threatened violence if the increasingly phantasmagoric landscape would not hold still. Yet she refused to entomb him in a nursing home.”

By sharing his own experiences, as well as his confusion and pain, Conaway allows us to go through it with him, to go beyond sympathy but rather to suffer alongside of him (and his family), as he mourns the loss of his father’s mind and later his body. By joining him on this journey, we empathize with him. There is a certain self-discovery which can sometimes be cathartic with a story like this and, for me, it manifested itself as a colossal coming-to-terms event as I, in many ways, felt Conaway was giving me a glimpse at my own future. This is why, I believe, this essay affected me so deeply. And while I don’t necessarily think a reader needs to relate personally to the topic or characters, or even in this case the specific disease of Alzheimer’s Dementia, it seems this essay was therapeutic for Conaway, and in turn it was therapeutic for me and I imagine for others like me who find themselves or a loved one in similar circumstances. The essay actually goes beyond the specifics of the disease it discusses by speaking in larger terms to the circle of life in which most can, or most likely will someday, relate on some level to growing up and having to care for and eventually bury our parents.

After reading Absences, I needed a break, one I knew Sedaris would provide. The three Sedaris essays were lighter while also discussing some heavy themes (maybe not as heavy as Conaway’s Absences, but still on the darker side). But it’s Sedaris’s comedic approach and his humor that I knew would not disappoint me. Somehow he can be discussing the most depressing topic and still make me laugh. As predicted, he didn’t let me down.

In The Youth in Asia Sedaris takes us on a journey through his family history by focusing on their seemingly endless list of pets. Through their deaths specifically, he shows us how his parents viewed their pets and in a way expressed their love in general and how their feelings of love and attachment changed and grew over time. The fact that the love and attachment to their pets seemed to grow once the children grew up and left home was also poignant. Previously the family had the motto “another day another collar,” but once the nest had been emptied the parents started obsessing over the pets as if they were family members. It was like they needed to fill that emotional hole, the one that had been left by their grown children leaving home.

In his essay, Sedaris effectively uses pets to define moments and milestones in his life and to show us how, in a way, we all do this. In discussing the death of his own cat, Neil, Sedaris says something important here: “The cat’s death struck me as the end of an era. It was, of course, the end of her era, but with the death of a pet there’s always that urge to string black crepe over an entire ten- or twenty-year period.”

I had a white and gray cat named Gullie who I found as a kitten when I was 17-years-old while walking on the beach in Cape May, NJ. I took that cat with me to college, moved with it to New York City after graduation and had it while I worked my way up in my career there. She moved with me and my then boyfriend (now he’s my husband) to Dallas and then back to New York when we got married. She died at the age of 17 (I was 34, so I had her half my life at this point) on the Monday after I returned home from the hospital after the birth of my daughter. She was there with me while I grew up and, to me, she represented by late teens, 20s and early 30s.

I loved this story but it wasn’t simply because of the funny and even touching stories Sedaris shared about his pets or what those stories said about Sedaris and his family, but more so for how it made me take a look at myself and for what it taught me about me and my own family.

Though I found them enjoyable, Sedaris’s other two essays, Giant Dreams, Midget Possibilities and Picka Pocketoni, didn’t have the same effect on me. Both are twists on the classic “you can’t judge a book by its cover” story. The two stories have a lot in common and in a way for me it was almost like reading two versions of the same thing. While I liked both stories, I liked them best for their humor over the lessons they seemed set on teaching.

In Giant Dreams, Midget Possibilities, Sedaris gives us another sneak peek into the relationship he had with his father and it delves deeper into his struggles with his own sexuality. While taking guitar lessons only to please his father, Sedaris connected with his teacher because he could relate to the fact that he was “different” but he was jealous of him too because, small in stature, “Mr. Mancini could hide just about anywhere.” Sedaris, uncomfortable in his own skin and with his sexuality, wished he could hide away from the world. Sedaris becomes fascinated by his instructor Mr. Mancini, a little person who Sedaris puts up on a proverbial pedestal until one day Mr. Mancini shuns Sedaris for being homosexual. Sedaris loses all interest and faith in Mr. Mancini and the class altogether and even gives up what was left of his musical interest.

Picka Pocketoni adds to this idea that you can’t judge a book by its cover, which seems to be an important theme to Sedaris as he discusses his life, by telling a story of how a stranger on a train in France once thought he was a French pick pocket. It was by all accounts a hilarious story but in moments it struck me as unbelievable and as I looked back at it and compared and contrasted it to Giant Dreams, Midget Possibilities, I could hardly peel them apart. In both stories, Sedaris was misunderstood, shunned and afraid to speak up. In both stories, there was a moment when Sedaris saw and took an opportunity to pretend to be someone else, in both stories there was a character who we don’t know much about playing the role of the accidental villain and in the end Sedaris walked away feeling sad that he didn’t do more to stand up for himself.

In all three of his essays, Sedaris uses humor to deal with dark and maybe even painful personal topics and relationships. His comedic style makes me think of the way in which my father and I always get the giggles and start telling inappropriate jokes at funerals. It’s our way of dealing with the discomfort and pain. Of course, some folks might find the humor distasteful or maybe even feel more uncomfortable because of it. I think humor is a great way to deal with pain. It doesn’t diminish or take away the pain but for people like me it certainly helps manage it.

While all four of these essays teach lessons on character, specifically how to establish character and how to use characters to spark emotion and create connections and maybe even a sense of empathy with the reader, they do so in different ways and to different degrees.

I felt most connected to and, in turn, I think I learned the most about myself as a person and as a writer from Absences and The Youth in Asia. These two came across as honest portrayals of very personal stories with well-developed characters while the other two essays, Giant Dreams, Midget Possibilities and Picka Pocketoni, and their characters seemed, at times, fabricated, exaggerated and rather than cause me to feel connected they came across as preachy.

I enjoyed all four but my natural reaction to Absences and The Youth in Asia was to fall deeper and deeper into the stories and characters while my reaction to Giant Dreams, Midget Possibilities and Picka Pocketoni was to laugh at the jokes while dismissing the messages.

Works Cited:

Sedaris, David. Me Talk Pretty One Day. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2001.

Sims, Patsy. Literary Nonfiction. New York: Oxford, 2002.

“On Going Home” by Joan Didion (response)

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In On Going Home, Didion tackles themes such as belonging, family and home by telling the story of a time when, without her husband, she took her daughter “home” to celebrate her first birthday to the hometown where Didion grew up in the house where she lived with her mother and premarital family. The essay deals with Didion’s personal issues as she compares and contrasts her current life with her husband and their child versus her life and experiences growing up. The essay speaks to the internal conflict many of us feel as adults once we leave the nest, so to speak, and go out into the world to find new “homes” while always looking back to our pasts. I felt connected to this piece and that connection inspired me to want to dive deeper.

This essay spoke to me on various levels but the main reason why I chose it is because I could see myself in it. Both as a mother of a young child and as a married woman who has chosen to live far from “home,” I felt connected to this piece and to Didion as its writer.

I have traveled with my daughter, now age four, back to visit my family in Philadelphia numerous times since she was born. When we lived in New York, I made the drive three to four times per year and now that I live in Iowa, the frequency has diminished to an annual flight but she and I still find ourselves making the trip without my husband, due to his work schedule.

Our recent two lectures discussed the importance of “place” and its meaning in our writing. Unit One discussed place as a specific location and Unit Two took the discussion to another level by looking at “place” in a broader sense as culture. In “On Going Home” Didion uses place in both ways. She discusses her childhood home, in the Central Valley of California, the specific place where she grew up and where her mother resides, and as she shares her memories and experiences with the location itself, she also gives up insight into her history, culture, what her family is/was like and how that place affected and still affects her emotionally and how it compares to the home she’s made with her husband and daughter in Los Angeles.

This week’s lecture states: “What emerges in essays like these is the way in which paying attention to one’s culture or geographic surroundings can be key to building a compelling essay, one which engages your reader on multiple levels. At its best, writing about place challenges us to rethink the way in which we view our own place—what we take for granted, how we choose to define ourselves, and what we mean to others.”

Didion’s essay had a profound effect on me. It caused me to reflect on my own life and to think about where I came from versus where I am now and where I’m going. I’ve lived in various places and have considered each one my “home” at one time or another. Although Didion was talking about her own life, I felt as though she might as well have been talking about me and mine even though I no longer think of the house I grew up in as my home. While the elements were different, there were so many similarities. It was like meeting someone at a party and realizing you and he or she have so much in common that you can literally talk for hours.

Didion’s tone is sad and frustrated, tinged with bitterness, and her language throughout reflected that. I think this is where we as writers can learn the most from Didion in this essay. Her tone is consistent and by using words like “uneasy, troublesome, difficult, oblique, degradation, condemnation, fragmentation, rejection, dread, graveyard, abandoned, ambushes…” throughout she keeps us firmly rooted beneath her tone the entire time. Even when discussing happier elements, for example the idea that this homecoming is for a birthday celebration for her child, Didion continues to use words that keep reminding us that this is not a happy story. Through her language and descriptions, it is like she’s telling us she is unhappy in both places.

I think while “place” itself is important in writing and in many ways is highlighted in this essay, as Didion compares and contrasts the two places she calls “home,” in a way Didion is showing us that it’s not about the place itself but more so the people who make a home. Both the people from our past and our present mold us into who we are. Didion longs to unite her two families and she expresses the desire for each to love the other, as they love her. She seems to want everyone to cohabitate happily and, yet, she has resigned herself to the fact that that will never happen. I sometimes compare my biological family with my marital family. Don’t we all? I can’t help it; they are so different and, yet, I love them both. Both sides of my family get along well, thankfully, despite their many differences. That’s not to say there aren’t moments when one irritates, misunderstands or maybe even wants to strangle the other. That’s life. And life, as well as relationships, takes work, communication and compromise. Didion doesn’t speak of these things. She focuses most of her essay on the differences, the issues and the problems without taking action or attempting to find resolution. She seems satisfied in separating her two “homes.”

Didion shares vivid details to make her points about the differences between her current life/family and her background and in doing so she reveals some positive but mostly negative qualities about both. It is as though she’s saying she’s unhappy in both places. I loved the story about the dust. By telling us that it was so dusty that her husband could literally write the word “dust” in it, it shows how unkempt the house is while also showing the condescending and pretentious qualities of her husband. The dust speaks negatively about both sides of Didion’s life.

I loved this essay so much, I think, because I could relate to it. The story connects so well to the feeling many, including myself, get when they grow up, marry or enter a commitment with someone from a wildly different background. It’s so easy to see the differences, both positive and negative, between the families we are given and the families we choose. For example, I grew up in the inner city in Philadelphia while my husband grew up on a farm in Iowa (keeping in mind that while I grew up in Philly, I currently live in Iowa with my husband and daughter). It’s impossible to ignore the many glaring differences between the two that I often find myself loving and hating one over the other and shifting back and forth between which one wins or loses the individual battles of comparison. For example, while I love that my husband comes from a large laid back family with so many cousins all living nearby and the fun and festivities which come naturally with that, I hate that everyone knows each other’s business. Of course, there are also things I love and hate about my own premarital family, too, like the faster paced life of the city and the way that we, as a small family, all truly seem to “get each other.” But while I love “going home,” when I do there are moments when I feel like Didion as she revealed in her essay.

My favorite aspect of this essay is how Didion lets us in. She welcomes us into a very personal part of herself and does so in such a casual way that we feel like we belong there, like we’re not snooping around in someone else’s business. And the surroundings are familiar, like when a good friend invites you over and doesn’t bother to clean up. It was like she was saying “my home is your home” and “good, bad, or indifferent, I have nothing to hide from you.”

Didion is obviously conflicted between her childhood family life and her new family life as an adult. It doesn’t help that her husband looks down on her premarital family and how they live and how she acts around them. Personally, I wish Didion would have gone deeper into this aspect of her struggle. While her husband’s discomfort was obvious through his absence and through her recollection of his experiences there and his negative, snarky, condescending attitude toward Didion’s family’s “inarticulate” ways as well as the dust that disgusted him and mementos which confused him and though the essay seems to point to issues in the marriage, Didion never quite fully admits or commits to them. On page 3, she says “I come to dread my husband’s evening call…” and I wonder if there’s more here that isn’t being said or revealed.

The essay, especially the ending where Didion is reflecting on all the things she cannot give her daughter in her current “home,” made me wonder more and more what her current life, and in particular her marriage, is like by comparison. Structurally, I wondered if this was perhaps part of the reason the essay was so short—did Didion not want to get into that part?

Personally, I think if you are happy where you are and with whom you are with, then you consider that place home and its people your family—whether they’re blood or marriage related family or friends. While I look back at my family and the place where I grew up happily and love visiting, for example, I’m perfectly happy where I am now. It’s not that I don’t look back fondly, but I spend more time looking forward. In this instance, it is as though suddenly the concept of “place” isn’t all that important anymore—at least not by comparison to the people.

There were so many things about this story which I found relatable, but I also loved it for the parts I found unrelatable. For example, while I can certainly relate on so many levels to Didion’s story and her struggles, a part of me felt sorry for her because she seemed to be lost in the in between place between her past and her present. Even though she has family who she loves and who love her back, in a strange way, it was like she was homeless. To bring this back to our lecture on place, it was as if Didion was admitting she didn’t know where she belonged. Instead of embracing the differences between the home where she was raised and the home where she lived currently with her husband and daughter, Didion seems consumed by conflict. This made me sad. I couldn’t escape the feeling that Didion had chosen to be unhappy and alone.

My husband, Jason, and I, since we’ve been together, have lived together in New Jersey, Texas, New York (twice) and now Iowa. Add those to places he and I’ve lived on our own prior to meeting and we also have Pennsylvania, Florida, Oklahoma, Nebraska, California, Connecticut and even China.

As the saying goes, “Home is where the heart is…” and I love him and our daughter so much that it really doesn’t matter to me where we live. In this case, place doesn’t matter because they are my family and they have my heart so this—wherever this may be—is our home.

Works Cited:

Didion, Joan. Slouching Towards Bethlehem. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.

Creative Nonfiction: Didion and Sedaris

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My focus for this reading response is on the following four essays: Joan Didion’s Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream (Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 3-28), California Dreaming (Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 73-78), On Going Home (Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 164-168) and David Sedaris’s Go Carolina (Me Talk Pretty One Day, 3-15).

I enjoyed all four essays but to different extents and for different reasons. While I appreciated the first two (Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream and California Dreaming) primarily from a stylistic standpoint and because they gave insights which sparked my curiosity, I connected on a more personal level to the other two (On Going Home and Go Carolina).

In Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream (Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 3-28), Didion tells the story of “Lucille Marie Maxwell Miller” (AKA: Lucille Miller) who allegedly murdered her husband, Gordon “Cork” Miller by setting his car on fire with him still alive in it late one night on Banyan Street nearby their home in the San Bernardino Mountains in California. While Lucille Miller eventually gets convicted and sentenced for this crime, Didion never seems to pass judgment on her or settle on any particular conclusion of guilt or innocence in the story she tells. Instead, Didion seems to use this particular story as commentary on this place and the type of people who live there, as well as food for thought on the case, our legal system and society itself.

Stylistically, this essay struck me as both beautiful and functional. Didion’s transitions worked especially well as they allowed her to move the essay masterfully back and forth between the facts of the case and the illusions of opinion. Transitions like “Of course she came from somewhere else” (7) and “Unhappy marriages so resemble one another that we do not need to know about the course of this one” (8) gave Didion the ability and flexibility to weave in and out of the information she wanted to share and leave out things she deemed unimportant to her essay. These transitions allowed Didion to tell an otherwise tangled tale in an easy-to-digest way.

Didion’s California Dreaming, a much shorter essay though equally revealing story, is about the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, “the current mutation of the Fund for the Republic.” It’s in the little details where we as readers learn the most. For example, by choosing to use the word “mutation” here Didion is able to make a subtle though still poignant statement. In this essay, Didion takes what’s on the surface, or otherwise known as public knowledge,” and adds details, like the nepotistic aspects of the society for example, and even makes a few cult-like parallels, to make us curious about what is really going on here. Though Didion herself avoids making accusations and seems to almost dance around what she really thinks, she gives enough information so we, as readers, can come to our own conclusions.

In both essays, Didion take news stories and public information and dives deeper into them to reveal the aspects anyone not paying close attention may have missed. In doing so, she provides a unique insight into California culture while showing an uglier side of the so-called “American Dream.” In both essays, Didion uses imagery and description exceptionally to add layer after layer, while transitioning smoothly between those layers, to build toward climax. I felt myself being pulled so deeply into these stories that I was itching to know what would be revealed at every turn. And, even though neither essay provided a sense of closure, both gave me so much to think about that I could happily chew for days on certain paragraphs in an effort to try to figure out what Didion really thought about the people and events she was writing about.

On the downside, both Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream and California Dreaming struck me as a bit rushed, perhaps due to the sheer quantity of information being shared. And by rushing and squeezing so much in, I think, both essays also dismissed a sense of human connection and feeling. These essays, while profoundly interesting and stylistically beautiful, struck me at times as a collection of informative facts and quotes with little to no emotion.

The final two essays, Didion’s On Going Home (Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 164-168) and David Sedaris’s Go Carolina (Me Talk Pretty One Day, 3-15), also made good choices stylistically but they didn’t make those choices at the expense of emotion and in doing so they were able to reach the next level by making the personal connections the other two essays missed. Both relied more heavily on opinion and feelings over “just the facts” and gave very personal accounts of the writers’ lives to give insight into perhaps why they are who they are.

In On Going Home, Didion tells the story of a time when, without her husband, she took her daughter “home” to celebrate her first birthday in the home where Didion grew up and with her premarital family. The essay deals with Didion’s personal issues as she compares and contrasts her current life with her husband and their child versus her life and experiences growing up. Didion shares vivid details to make her points about the differences between her current life/family and her background and in doing so she reveals positive and negative qualities about both. For example, I loved the story about the dust. By telling us that it was so dusty that her husband could literally write the word “dust” in it, it shows how unkempt the house is while also showing the condescending and pretentious qualities of her husband.

I really loved this story, and will likely use it as my second reading response later this week. I loved it so much, I think, because I could relate to it. It connects so well to the feeling many, including myself, get when they grow up, marry or enter a commitment with someone from a wildly different background. It’s so easy to see the differences, both positive and negative, between the families we are given and the families we choose. For example, I grew up in the inner city in Philadelphia while my husband grew up on a farm in Iowa (keeping in mind that while I grew up in Philly, I currently live in Iowa with my husband and daughter). It’s impossible to ignore the many glaring differences between the two that I often find myself loving and hating one over the other and shifting back and forth between which one wins or loses the individual battles of comparison. For example, while I love that my husband comes from a large laid back family with so many cousins all living nearby and the fun and festivities which come naturally with that, I hate that everyone knows each other’s business. Of course, there are also things I love, especially by comparison, about my own premarital family, too, like the faster paced life of the city and the way that how we, as a small family, act in times of struggle like it’s us against the world and how we all truly seem to “get each other.” But while I love “going home,” when I do there are moments when I feel like Didion as she revealed in her essay.

Not only was this story far more personal and emotional than Didion’s other two essays, in the other two she goes to great efforts to set up her stories before revealing the underlying issues and elements, while in this one she gets to the main points almost immediately and was far more conversational and raw, both personally and emotionally, than the other two.

Go Carolina (Me Talk Pretty One Day, 3-15) by David Sedaris made similar emotional connections for me as Didion’s On Going Home but while it had some similarities to Didion’s other two essays it maintained a style of its own. Like Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream and California Dreaming by Didion, Sedaris goes to great efforts to set up his story before jumping into its true themes and getting to the good stuff, so to speak. I liked his quirkier style and specifically how he used elements from a young boy’s imagination, like referring to the speech therapist as “Agent Samson” and his younger self’s creative problem solving, like avoiding the Ss. But what I really liked about this particular essay was the smart humor throughout and the way in which Sedaris set up this story—how he leads us to believe that this is a story about a boy who battled a speech impediment, but as the story builds the story behind the story is revealed and this is where Sedaris shares a far more personal journey and his issues with his sexuality.

Like Didion’s On Going Home, my favorite aspect of this essay is how Sedaris lets us in. He welcomes us into a very personal part of himself and does so in such a way where we feel like we belong there, like we’re not snooping around in someone else’s business.

Didion’s Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream, California Dreaming, On Going Home, and Sedaris’s Go Carolina are exceptional examples of how to weave a story that will grab and maintain a reader’s attention from start to finish. In all four of these essays, Didion and Sedaris use dark humor to deal with dark topics and some intense issues as they lead us down various well detailed paths in what felt to me, at times, like layered labyrinths. But none of them strolled too far down any particular path long enough for me to nod off, stop reading or skip ahead.

What I admire most and aspire toward, as a writer and writing student, is how Didion and Sedaris masterfully set up and paced their stories, as well as how they grabbed and kept my attention from start to finish by revealing just what I needed to know just when I needed to know it. Each told unique stories in his and her own unique ways and in reading them I feel satisfied by what I’ve consumed and yet I am still left thinking and wondering and wanting more.

Works Cited:

Didion, Joan. Slouching Towards Bethlehem. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.

Sedaris, David. Me Talk Pretty One Day. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2001.

Go Ask Alice (a personal PS)

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I first read Go Ask Alice at age 12 and it was so powerful that it’s stayed with me. It was one of my favorite books back then and reading it again at 37, it was still powerful but it was also nostalgic. I remember once I read it back then wanting all of my friends to read it, too. It felt important. And honestly I still believe every teen girl should read it. What an awesome book.

I love to write in the margins as I read. I fully intend to share this book someday with my daughter so this time I wrote notes to her in the margins. Every time “Alice” wished she had someone to talk to, I wrote a little note reminding my daughter that she can always talk to me. And each time “Alice” failed and felt badly about herself, I wrote a note telling my daughter that I will always love her no matter what.

Go Ask Alice: An awesome YA novel (if you ask me)

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Go Ask Alice is the “diary” of an “anonymous” teenage girl whose life, documented from age 15 to 17, is dominated by her downward spiral into drug addiction. Published in 1971, this realistic, young adult problem novel remains one of the most popular YA books of all time.

Although the book was originally marketed as the true diary of an actual teenage girl, it has since been revealed to be a work of fiction. It opens: Go Ask Alice is based on the actual diary of a fifteen-year-old drug user. It is not a definitive statement on the middle-class, teenage drug world. It does not offer any solutions. It is, however, a highly personal and specific chronicle. As such, we hope it will provide insights into the increasingly complicated world in which we live. Names, dates, places and certain events have been changed in accordance with the wishes of those concerned. ~ The Editors

Like many teen girls, the protagonist confides her inner most thoughts and secrets to her diary. In terms of craft, since the story is written in first person and in diary form, “Alice” is presented to us as her life unfolds naturally, with observations both dramatic and insignificant. She speaks directly to the reader and her relaxed, sometimes exaggerated, adolescent tone makes her experiences, while at times foreign to many readers, seem authentic, truthful and realistic.

The protagonist’s language plays a big part in her authenticity. It stayed consistently teen-like from the very first page when she writes: “I thought I’d literally and completely die with happiness” all the way to her final entry two years later when she writes: “Diaries are great when you’re young. In fact, you’ve saved my sanity a hundred, thousand, million times.”

The protagonist’s name is never actually revealed in the book. According to Wikipedia, it is believed that Go Ask Alice got its name from the 1967 Jefferson Airplane song White Rabbit which includes the lyrics: “Go ask Alice when she’s ten feet tall.” Grace Slick, one of the band’s lead singers, wrote the song after noticing possible drug references in Lewis Carroll’s classic novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (AKA: Alice in Wonderland), first published in 1865. The connection is spelled out for us on page 36 of Go Ask Alice, when in Alice’s July 14th entry, she writes: “I feel like Alice in Wonderland. Maybe Lewis G. Carroll was on drugs, too.”

Though the byline says “Anonymous,” the US Copyright Office lists Beatrice Sparks as the sole author, although her name is found nowhere on the book itself. According to Wikipedia, “Beatrice Sparks (1917–2012) was an American therapist and Mormon youth counselor who was known for producing books purporting to be the ‘real diaries’ of troubled teenagers.”

In Wild Ink: How to Write Fiction for Young Adults, Victoria Handley identifies and defines the following common characteristics of YA literature: Age of Protagonist, Coming of Age, Passion, Honesty, Independence, Wild Exploration and Breakdown/Breakthrough. There is no question that Go Ask Alice contains each of these qualities, or that the story itself as well as its messages are clearly driven by Alice’s wild exploration and her breakdowns/breakthroughs.

The protagonist predominantly explores the world of drugs and through a string of breakdowns the reader is able to see the damage the drugs are doing to her mentally and physically. On page 163, after she vowed again to never touch drugs, while babysitting Alice eats some chocolate covered peanuts which we learn later were laced with acid. After going into a fit of rage, she is locked in a closet where she self-mutilates. She is hospitalized and later institutionalized. She writes: “The whole ends of my fingers have been torn off and two nails have been pulled out completely and the others torn down almost in half.” In addition to the physical breakdown, she is experiencing a mental breakdown, as well: “The worms are eating away at my female parts first. They have almost entirely eaten away at my vagina and my breasts and now they are working their way to my mouth and throat. I wish the doctors and nurses would let my soul die, but they are still experimenting with trying to reunite the body and the spirit.”

Alice’s breakthroughs are few and far between but her intentions to stop doing drugs are made clear multiple times in the novel. Sadly, each time she succumbs to her addiction.

On page 14 of In Writing and Selling the YA Novel, K.L. Going writes: “Writing for teens isn’t easy. It’s a balancing act—weighing what’s relevant with what’s timeless—but if you can do this, you can succeed in any genre.”

Go Ask Alice was published in 1971 and some of references in the book suggest a timeline from 1968 until 1970, yet today’s teens are still reaching for it, reading it and talking to their friends about it. With well over a million copies in print, it has become a classic piece of YA literature. It addresses difficult themes and it successfully makes its points. This powerful realistic faux-diary of a teenager’s struggle with the seductive and often fatal world of drugs and addiction tells the truth about drugs in an authentic, never preachy voice. The book is influential and it challenges the conceptions of YA literature by tackling powerful young adult themes, like drug addiction and sex, without bothering to sugar coat consequences. Drugs and sex have always been and will always be hot topics for teens and will probably always be considered taboo topics by many adults. Through its no-holds-barred, realistic depiction of one teen’s journey into drug addiction and sex, Go Ask Alice has advanced the field of YA lit.

On page 531 of Literature for Adolescents—Pap or Protein? Frank G. Jennings writes: “Here are young people, trembling on the threshold of adulthood. They want to know what it is like to hope and fail, to suffer, to die, to love wastefully. They want to have spelled out some of the awful consequences of going against society’s grain. They want to dare greatly.”

I first read Go Ask Alice as an eighth grader attending a Catholic elementary school in inner city Philadelphia. My best friend Nicole talked it up and then finally lent me her copy when she was finished with it. I remember being anxious to get my hands on it. To me, it was exciting and scandalous, since the book was not available in our school’s library and I knew the content was pretty much off limits for someone my age. While my parents weren’t typically the types to censor my reading, I assumed they wouldn’t approve if they knew so I snuck around to read it.

On page 42 of Writing & Selling the YA Novel, Going writes: “W.H. Auden said, ‘Some books are undeservedly forgotten; none are undeservedly remembered.’”

I remember being blown away by this young girl’s diary, which at the time I truly believed to be real. I related to Alice’s desire to fit in and her issues with her body. Most teenage girls would. I was captivated by her firsthand account of how she first got introduced to drugs and sex and how both spiraled out of control until she was addicted to various drugs and having casual sex with complete strangers. Alice’s experiences fascinated and scared me.

When Alice is sober, she writes almost every day about her life and her goals but when she’s on drugs, there are large gaps between entries and many entries are undated. Alice goes from writing about normal teen girl things like friendships and boys to documenting in a broken matter-of-fact way her recollection of being raped and how good the drugs made her feel.

In addition to being a cautionary tale about the evils of drugs, Go Ask Alice is also a book about loneliness, depression, fitting in and finding one’s place in the world. As Alice’s family moved around, young Alice started at a new school in the middle of the year and she struggled to make and keep friends. Like many young adults, she felt insecure and struggled with her weight and appearance. She perceived her siblings to be more attractive and popular and because of this she believed her parents loved them more. She felt alone and like an outcast at school and at home. In multiple entries, Alice writes: “I wish I had someone to talk to.”

Whether or not teens can relate to Alice’s world and circumstances, most are able to relate to her mindset and her emotions. At twelve, I was curious about drugs and sex. While I hadn’t yet done either, some of my friends had and I was aware that I could if I’d wanted to. Living in the city, in a densely populated neighborhood, I certainly had access if I’d wanted to try either. But, unlike Alice, I knew I had people to talk to. I could talk to my parents—though like many teens in my situation, I didn’t always take advantage of that and more often than not I got my information from my friends. Still I knew I was loved and that my family was there for me if and when I needed them. But even with a good family and friends, there were still plenty of times when I felt alone, lonely and different, and when I struggled to fit in just like Alice. Every teen feels this way and some of the things that happened to Alice could happen to anyone.

This book made a huge impact on me as an adolescent. I remember how I felt when Alice’s life began to unravel and how scared I was for her when she ran away. I was so happy when her parents welcomed her back only to be devastated again when she wound up institutionalized. I believed her when she vowed to never touch drugs again in her final journal entry. And I cried when I read the epilogue and learned she died from an overdose three weeks later.

Because of its explicit drug and sex references, Go Ask Alice has been banned from many school libraries. According to Wikipedia: “The American Library Association listed Go Ask Alice as number 23 on its list of the 100 most frequently challenged books of the 1990s. The book was number 8 on the most challenged list in 2001 and up to number 6 in 2003. The dispute over the book’s authorship does not seem to have played any role in these censorship battles.”

This is a book that has the ability to make a difference with young readers. Even though it was written in the 1960s and much of the language and plot reflects those times, the protagonist’s story is still relevant today.
Addiction, drugs, sex, rebellion and fitting in are timeless young adult topics. And while I understand some parents may not want their teens to read it because of its mature themes and language, teenagers are who need to read Go Ask Alice.

Twelve-year-old me read this book and was totally freaked out! I did not want to be like Alice. Reading it again at 37, the book still affected me. Sure, I’m an adult now and as such my perspective is entirely different. But I still cried for Alice. And now, I can look back over my life and see how her story influenced me. I definitely had Alice in the back of my mind when I encountered similar situations in my teen years to those she faced in the book, and I proceeded with caution. Seeing what happened to her positively influenced me to walk a different path.

Even though I believed the book to be a real diary written by a real girl back when I first read it, I’m not sure it would’ve been any less impactful had I known it had actually been written by an adult. Rereading the story as an adult I still found Alice’s voice authentic and even knowing what I know now, that the book was written by Beatrice Sparks, I still pictured a young girl in my head. The protagonist, whether or not she was based on a real person, still felt real to me and her thoughts and actions grabbed and kept my attention. On page 59 of Writing & Selling the YA Novel, Going writes: “Active characters are endlessly fascinating because we’re always wondering what they’ll do next. It’s easy to feel as though we know them well, and when a reader feels like they know a character in the same way they know a real person, they’ll invest in loving him, hating him, rooting for him, or laughing with him. Active characters shape the plot through the choices they make, and their desires create mirrored desires in the audience.”

Like most teens, Alice knows she shouldn’t do drugs. But once she tries them she immediately wants more and she becomes increasingly more curious about different drugs. As her appetite grows, so does her addiction. Soon she goes from dabbling to dealing. Not only can the reader see the effects of drugs through Alice’s deterioration as the book progresses but after each drug relapse she goes on and on about the dangers of drugs and promises herself each time that this time will be her last. But the addiction overpowers her and the drugs win every time.

On page 53 of Writing & Selling the YA Novel, Going writes: “Watching what a character does or does not do can reveal what she wants and help create a fuller sense of who she is both physically and emotionally. This is especially true when we reveal the reasons behind her actions.” After a string of horrific experiences, Alice reveals her desire to become a social worker and someday counsel kids about the evils of drugs. She wants to do better but the drugs are too powerful and her addiction to them keeps sucking her back in.

Above all else, Go Ask Alice is an effective cautionary tale. Rather than lecture the reader about the perils of addiction, it draws our attention to the protagonist and through her internal dialogue, her thoughts, feelings, actions and experiences, it screams: “Don’t do drugs!”

On page 52 of Writing & Selling the YA Novel, Going writes: “In Nancy Lamb’s The Writer’s Guide to Crafting stories for Children, she writes: ‘What happens to characters—how they suffer and celebrate, how they meet challenges, overcome obstacles and find redemption—is the heart and soul and spirit of story.’”

Alice’s battle with drugs and her journey through addiction, saturated with repeated mistakes and painful suffering, made her a sympathetic and, at times, frustrating character. She knew what she was doing was wrong and yet she just couldn’t seem to stay straight long enough to save herself. Still Alice’s most redeeming quality was her desire to overcome her own addictions so that she could someday become a social worker and help others to avoid making the mistakes she’d made. In a heartbreaking twist, Alice never actually reaches that goal.

When I look back at my youth and think about some of the choices I made and the lessons I learned from reading Go Ask Alice, I truly believe, in some profound way, Alice fulfilled her destiny to help others. Her story certainly helped me.

Works Cited:
Anonymous. Go Ask Alice. Simon Pulse. New York. Print. 1971.
Going, K.L. Writing & Selling the YA Novel. Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books. 2008.
Handley, Victoria. Wild Ink: How to Write Fiction for Young Adults. Prufrock Press. 2010.
Jennings. Frank., Literature for Adolescents–Pap or Protein? Source: The English Journal, Vol. 45, No. 9. (526-531). National Council of Teachers of English. 1956.
Wikipedia. Web site. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beatrice_Sparks
Wikipedia. Web site. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Go_Ask_Alice

American Born Chinese

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In his graphic young adult novel, American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang tells three unique stories with three unique protagonists but each story shares a single message: Be yourself. To make his point crystal clear, Yang brings together various elements, including illustrations, to highlight the idea of wanting to become someone you’re not just for the sake of fitting in.

The first story is about the Monkey King who was “a deity in his own right” and “monkeys from the four corners of the world flocked to him” but when he is refused admission to a dinner party outside his kingdom for not wearing shoes (a human trait), he loses his mind, kills everyone at the party and decides he no longer wants to be a monkey. Angry and embarrassed, he goes to great lengths to become the Great Sage Equal of Heaven instead. As the story unfolds, as punishment for what he did, the Monkey King is inevitably banished by Tze-Yo-Tzuh, creator of all existence, and forced to live under a mountain of rock. He eventually realizes the only way to free himself from his self-induced prison is to embrace who he is and accept being a monkey.

The second story is about Jin Wang, the son of Chinese immigrants, who just wants to fit in and is willing to go to great lengths to do so. Even as a young boy, when the herbalist’s wife asks him what he wants to be when he grows up, he says he wants to be a Transformer, a kid’s toy that is symbolic to the story. The old woman replies, “It’s easy to become anything you wish so long as you’re willing to forfeit your soul.” When Jin enters middle school and notices the cute blond, Amelia Harris, from that point on Jin transforms himself hoping she’ll fall in love with him. He even dyes and perms his hair to look more like Amelia’s (platonic) male friend in an attempt to win her over. That’s ironic not only because Amelia and the boy were just friends but later the boy makes it clear that he looks down on Jin when he asks him to stop dating Amelia for the sake of her reputation. Basically Jin started out disliking himself and being ashamed of his culture and he transformed himself into someone who also disliked him and his culture.

The third story brings the other two stories together. It features a white kid named Danny and his Chinese “cousin” Chin-Kee. Not only is Chin-Kee’s name a racist slang term but Chin-Kee, the character, is the epitome of every Chinese stereotype. Danny is embarrassed of Chin-Kee and tries to get rid of him but Chin-Kee refuses to leave and turns out to be stronger physically and spiritually. As this story progresses, we learn that Danny is the transformed version of Jin Wang from story #2 and we learn that Chin-Kee is the Monkey King from story #1. We also learn that Jin Wang’s friend Wei-Chen is in fact the Monkey King’s son being tested in human form. On page 217, the Monkey King even gives his son a Transformer toy and says “Let it remind you of who you are.” As this tale progresses Wei-Chen turns his back on his culture, too. And in the end it becomes Jin Wan’s responsibility to find Wei-Chen so each can embrace who they really are.

American Born Chinese is an insightful story about discrimination and transformation. It teaches us that one of the worst forms of discrimination is when we discriminate against ourselves.

In American Born Chinese, Yang uses pictures to get his points across to the reader. With so many confusing spiritual and religious themes and unfamiliar multicultural perspectives, without pictures many young readers may have found themselves confused. The pictures help the reader better understand the content of the story and, in turn, reinforces the author’s messages.

On page 93 of Writing & Selling the YA Novel, K.L. Going writes: “You’ll want to choose the very best descriptions so your setting seems real and has the most impact possible… settings can shape our stories and create a tone that helps an author achieve his or her goals.”

In this case, graphic novelists have the advantage because rather than finding the best descriptions in the hopes that readers will see what authors want them to see, the graphic novelist can literally draw the picture he or she wants the reader to see instead.

There’s truth to the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.” By adding visuals, graphic novels open new possibilities in storytelling. If a writer is able to offer words with illustrations, his or her points and messages are far less likely to be misconstrued or missed altogether.

While I think Yang was successful in general with his graphic novel, in some ways I think the pictures held him back. There were moments when the illustrations were so over the top that some readers may miss a message because they’re busy laughing. Or because they are hyper-focused on one element they may miss the surrounding elements. There were also moments when the characters were so cartoonish that it was challenging at times to take them seriously.

Personally, I struggled to get through this book. In fact, I lost count of how many times I put it down and procrastinated finishing it. It gave me the same feeling of exhaustion I get when I watch a movie with subtitles. Maybe it was all the multitasking that made reading American Born Chinese feel more like work than art to me. Or maybe it was the simple fact that as an active reader one of my favorite things about reading is picturing the story in my mind. There were times when I felt like the images were being forced down my throat and other times when I felt like I had to study every picture to fully understand the story.

Still I can’t imagine this book without the illustrations and even though they weren’t exactly my cup of tea, I think they served a valuable purpose. From an author’s POV, what a great way to “show” rather than “tell” our stories while underlining the points we are trying to make. That said; I can see why so many people, and young adults in particular, enjoy reading them. Pictures are fun and illustrations are a great way to connect with those young adults who dislike books or those who struggle with reading. In this way, graphic novels are able to reach people which other novels cannot. And if they spark a love for reading, then graphic novels are okay in my book!

Works Cited:

Going, K.L. Writing & Selling the YA Novel. Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books. 2008. Print.

Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese. New York: Square Fish. 2006. Print.