LYNDA BARRY event in The Chicago Reader

Critic's Choice: Lynda Barry

Chicago Reader    |    Kathie Bergquist    |    June 12, 2008

"There are happy childhoods and unhappy childhoods, but most fall somewhere in between, swinging sometimes up or dragging sometimes low," says Lynda Barry in her new writing how-to, What It Is (Drawn & Quarterly). Cartoonist and novelist (and Reader contributor) Barry has chronicled childhood through its minutiae -- its flagrant injustices and small triumphs -- in her comics, novels, and graphic novels. In her new book she encourages would-be writers to "follow the wandering mind," paying close attention to images from their childhoods and emphasizing the connections between image, memory, and imagination. What It Is begins with a series of meditative questions ("What is the past made of?" "What makes something meaningful?") and concludes with a series of practical writing exercises that could function equally well as conversation starters for a dull party ("Make a list of the first ten cars that come to you from early in your life"). Along the way Barry interjects her own narrative about becoming a writer and artist, her swirling, dizzying collage art summoning readers into the depths of the subconscious and treating them to a cast of characters from Barry's personal iconography -- a winking cat, a black-sheathed ghost, various undersea creatures, meditating monkeys, and Abraham Lincoln, to name a few.

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