The book group I’m a member of had a good time a couple of nights ago discussing graphic novels – a discussion that somehow morphed into the proposal that we should put on a play (possibly improvised on the spot) at our next meeting.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, whose work I first got to know through her excellent Dykes To Watch Out For comic strips, was the book officially under discussion. We have our best discussions when there’s a range of opinions about the book in question – as there was this time; some of us loved it, others weren’t so sure. It had been a little while since I read it, and I didn’t get to do so again before the group met, but I enjoyed it very much that first time. It’s darker and more obviously personal than the DTWOF books, and cuts deeply into family traumas.
We then got on to talking about graphic novels & comics we had known, all the was from The Trigan Empire to Maus by way of Buffy Season 8 (now up to Volume 3: Wolves at the Gate) and Watchmen.
When most of us in the group were young, comics were at best tolerated by most adults as fodder for the children. I remember the fuss when I was at high school over the Classics Illustrated versions of Shakespeare’s plays – how dare they associate the master playwright with speech bubbles and illustrations. While there are many comics that don’t interest me at all, I’m glad that they are now considered on their merits, rather than on their format.
I’m a member of a book group. Nothing unusual in that, I suppose. Our book group formed in early 2004. The group was formed by several parents of children in the same class at Kilbirnie School, plus friends, and though people have come and gone over the years, three of the founding members are still involved.
We’re much like any other book group in many respects. We meet each month in the lovely house of one of our members – with occasional forays to other members’ places – have a glass of wine or a cuppa, a piece of cake, and discuss that month’s book, plus what else we’ve been doing, reading and watching. Books we all like, or books we all hate, don’t provoke as much discussion as books we have mixed feelings, or a variety of opinions, about.
There’s some things about our group that are a little different, though. For one, we’ve always had a roughly equal balance of women and men: at the moment, when all of us are in the room, there are four men and three women. For another, we read widely, in both genre and time. We’ve been back to the 19th century with Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and further back to the roots of the novel with Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote; then all the way forward to Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. We’ve had excursions to Russia, Poland, and recently the Dominican Republic with Junot Diaz and his Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Although we mainly read novels, we’ve also read short stories by Jorge Luis Borges and Dorothy Parker, and a little biography and poetry.
And I know all this because one of our members, Richard, has kept a list of what we’ve read since 2004 (and what we’ve watched as well: there are many copies, and we have a plan). We’ve read many fine books, but of all of them, I think the best has been Plumb by Maurice Gee. I think it might be that legendary beast, the great New Zealand novel.