WHAT IT IS reviewed by the Chicago Tribune

What you ought to be reading

Chicago Tribune    |    Julia Keller    |    June 1, 2008

There is no Nobel Prize for cartoonists, which irks me. (There also is no Nobel Prize for mathematicians, but I can live with that.) When and if the Nobel folks wake up and do the right thing, I am ready with my nomination: Lynda Barry.

In her new book, "What It Is" (Drawn & Quarterly), Barry spins around and around and bumps into so many touchstones that you get dizzy right along with her. It's a heavenly hodgepodge of philosophical speculations, biographical musings, funny observations, pointed interrogations and poignant recollections, all wrapped up in the funky, colorful, eclectic artwork that has made the former Chicago resident famous.

"Do memories have mass?" she asks. "Do they have motion? Do they have inertia? Why do we say, 'It came to me?' " And just when you're thinking dreamily about the abstractions, she head-butts you right in the belly with something such as this: "My parents were not reading people. They worked, shouted, drank, slapped and belted and were broke. They had affairs and secret lives my two brothers and I had no part in, and if they could have turned back time to the days before we were born, I believe they would have. But there we were."

"What It Is" is part diary, part showcase, part manifesto for the power of the imagination. It's bold and beautiful; angry and sad; joyful and loving and nervous. Memo to the members of the Nobel Committee: You could do worse.

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