Friday, October 26, 2007

MAUS by Art Spiegelman

The Book: Art Spiegelman, MAUS: A Survivor's Tale. Pantheon Books softcover, 1986. Very good condition, except for some cat-related damage (ironic!) at the top of the spine.
First read: 1986
Owned since: 1986

More and more mystery authors are writing graphic novels these days, and this week I read the book that many say launched the new generation of the medium. MAUS came first, though, and I'd still argue that it was the breakout book of the genre.

How do you tell a story too terrible to imagine, which is also a story we all think we know? By putting it into pictures instead of into words, and making the main characters animal instead of human. MAUS is the story of how cartoonist Art Spiegelman's parents survived the Nazi Holocaust. Spiegelman's father tells the story in the present day, and the cartoonist writes it down. The Jews are mice, Nazis are cats, and the collaborating Poles are pigs. It is austere and elegant, sometimes funny, often shocking, heartbreaking and hopeful. "This is a new kind of literature," reads the blurb on the back, and it's true.

I am suffering from more than my usual distraction this week, juggling one too many projects and staying up too late to watch the Red Sox. I wish the games started a little earlier.

What I Read This Week

Steve Almond, NOT THAT YOU ASKED: Rants, Exploits and Obsessions. Steve Almond gave a reading last week at Books Etc. in Portland, and I met up with a friend to see him. The reading and the book were funny, insightful and a little self-absorbed, which I think Almond himself would admit. About a third of this book is a tribute to Kurt Vonnegut, which made me want to go back to his work.

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, WATCHMEN. Originally published as a series of 12 comic books in 1986-87, this is the book that defines the new generation of graphic novels. Chris was shocked that I hadn't read it; my brother Ed gave me his copy when I was in Richmond earlier this month. It's an extraordinary work, and almost as timely now as it would have been in Ronald Reagan's America. It imagines a parallel universe in which masked superheroes were once so powerful they challenged traditional law enforcement, and one hero in particular -- the nuclear marvel Dr. Manhattan -- is so powerful that his presence alone is enough to keep an uneasy peace between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. It mixes traditional comic book storytelling with "excerpts" from fictional memoirs, academic papers and news reports, works on many levels, and raises many questions.


Moira said...

Art Spiegelman's children's book "Open Me. I'm a Dog" is one of my niece Layla's (and Clair's second cousin's (?)) favorite books. It is soon to make an appearance on Layla's Dog Book Christmas Picks on my blog. Will keep you posted. She has great taste.

AnswerGirl said...

That is a great book -- and one I don't currently own, but have given as a gift!

Layla is my first cousin once removed. Chris and Claire are her second cousins...

Lefty said...

This confirms my long-held suspicion--cats hate books.

JIM LAMB said...

Your grandmothers were the ones who knew all of that. They could tell you the whole family, the cousins, second cousins through the nephews and neices and relatives I never met. It was all too complicated for me when I was young and my mother wasn't interested in talking about it when I was mature.

Love, Dad

AnswerGirl said...

I explained the difference between first cousins once removed and second cousins in a blog post last year -- here: