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Monday, November 03, 2014

Reader's Diary #1083- Lynda Barry: What It Is

I don't often know where I fit in the artistic community. I say I love creative types. I think cutting arts funding from schools is as bad as cutting gym or math funding. I've taken drawing classes and attended poetry writing workshops. And then, suddenly, I'll find myself offending some artist because I've said I don't believe in magic, but I find science magical. I too often suspect artistic fraud whenever I encounter something I don't understand.

I don't know what Lynda Barry's What It Is is. At least, I don't know how to classify it. It's published by Drawn and Quarterly who typically publish graphic novels, my library has it classified as such, so we'll go with that. But it's not a novel. There's no story here (though you'll find an anecdote or two) and if you go with Scott McCloud's definition of comic"Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the reader"— it's barely that. Sure there are loads of pictures, and given that they're on the pages of a book they're juxtaposed, but I'm not even sure the book is sequential. Perhaps Barry or others would disagree, but I think you could tear out all the pages, put them in random order, and it would barely make a difference. 

But rather than say I got hung up on semantics and classification and therefore missed Barry's points, I actually think such questions work in the book's favour. As a book about honing and honouring one's creativity in order to write (or writing in order to hone and honour one's creativity), I think struggling to fit something into a box is a great place to start. 

Initially my inner-artistic fraud detector was on high alert. Seeming to be random doodles of cats, monkeys, and octopuses, interjected with philosophical questions that had no hard answers, I began to wonder why it was published. Sure, I thought there was value in for Barry, there's a lot of personal reflection here that any writer must consider if they want to be any good, but it felt at first like being dropped into someone else's brain without a guide. Interesting for a few seconds, then just confusing. Eventually, however, it won me over. How to publish a book was never the message. But how to improve one's writing is, and those doodles? Wonderful examples of Barry's own writing. That probably doesn't make a lot of sense, I can't do the book justice. What is it? is What It Is (as is when is it? and where is it?). Once you embrace that confusion, it's a wholly inspirational book for any writer, and actually provides a lot of practical tips. This should be a textbook.

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