Books are uniquely suited to helping us change our relationship to the rhythms and habits of daily life in this world of endless connectivity. We can’t interrupt books; we can only interrupt ourselves while reading them. They are the expression of an individual or a group of individuals, not of a hive mind or collective consciousness. They speak to us, thoughtfully, one at a time. They demand our attention. And they demand that we briefly put aside our own beliefs and prejudices and listen to someone else’s. You can rant against a book, scribble in the margin or even chuck it out the window. Still, you won’t change the words on the page.
Books remain one of the strongest bulwarks we have against tyranny—but only as long as people are free to read all different kinds of books, and only as long as they actually do so. The right to read whatever you want whenever you want is one of the fundamental rights that helps preserve all the other rights. It’s a right we need to guard with unwavering diligence. But it’s also a right we can guard with pleasure. Reading isn’t just a strike against narrowness, mind control and domination: It’s one of the world’s great joys.
Trauma writing heals: published words serve as the rungs of a ladder to recovery, leading readers up and out of a dark, painful place and into a world of veracity, validation, grief, comfort, love, growth, and even humor. When I set out to write about my own personal trauma, I first read the memoirs of authors who’d successfully published their stories, including Half the House, by Richard Hoffman, a book about more than the child sexual abuse story described on the jacket cover—this is a story of overcoming not one but many traumatic losses.
This willingness to recount hardship as unflinchingly as success allows the book to function as more than an aside that “many women were there.” But it also means that no matter how persuasively Scelfo makes the case for her subjects’ achievements, a deeply depressing question remains: What more would have been accomplished if circumstances were different?
The most cinematic story in “Sequential Drawings,” titled “Touched,” depicts an apology through a series of fingertips. After tracing one finger’s journey from iPhone app to the buzzer of an apartment, the narrative switches perspectives to reveal the finger’s owner: a baseball-capped delivery person with roses for the apartment’s resident. She signs for them, discovers the “I’m sorry” note inside and is moved to email its sender. The last panel shows her finger on the “return” key of her laptop. There is no narrative or dialogue — everything is purely conveyed through visual language.
Such is the conceptual simplicity behind the little moments throughout Richard McGuire’s charming “Sequential Drawings.” Collecting over a decade’s worth of spot illustrations for The New Yorker, the art book showcases McGuire’s mastery of form and economy along with his knack for highlighting the often overlooked bits of our daily lives.
I’ve smoked well over a hundred thousand cigarettes in my life, and each one of those cigarettes meant something to me. I even enjoyed a few of them.
I am at once horrified and relieved to know that my life has been so cleanly compartmentalized from their past, that the rest of my family exists in a doubled reality. I am often forgetful that this life, in the humid Georgia winter, is not the only one my mother contains. And when I think to ask questions about what came before me, before democracy, before English, before baked potatoes and canned whipped cream, when I learn about the despair but also the beauty of the past, it feels as though I am uselessly pressing my face up against glass. Ma reached up to hang an ornament from a recent vacation in Myrtle Beach, an iridescent sphere filled with loose sand and tiny seashells.