Over the last couple of months, I have read several books by Lucy Knisley, but for one reason or another didn’t feel like they were right for The Lois Level. But then I realized that since I KEEP READING them, there must be something there.
Basically, her work gets on my nerves a little bit here and there because I think she sometimes sounds a little bit bratty or entitled. But I am going to chalk that up to my being “slightly middle aged” and crotchety. And you know, she is honest. She’s just putting it all out there. And I would be grumpy if she sounded too perfect too.
Her books are entertaining, and her life is interesting but not completely out there. I recommend these books for times that you want something quick and not too heavy…but also with enough to it that you aren’t wasting your time.
Women don’t always get the respect for things that we write about: you know the old drill, men write fiction and women’s write “women’s fiction” or “women’s interest”. ????
When actually, Knisely is writing about things that pretty much happen to all of us, or to many of us anyway.
So here is a basic rundown of her books in chronological order of publication. They are autobiographical, but she didn’t write them in the order that she lived them.
The story of a trip to Paris with her mother. This is the only one that I have been unable to get through the library, so I haven’t read it.
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen
Relish is a memoir of Knisley’s childhood as it relates to food. It reminds me of Like Water for Chocolate, except in LWFC, you can’t make the recipes because they always include a dose of magic realism. The recipes in Relish are very simple and very delicious; just the way more people should cook. They aren’t really recipes as much as “the way Knisely makes things”. Which is kind of how I cook…I don’t make “recipes” that often.
The slightly confusing thing is that while the events in Relish occurred in Knisely’s childhood, Relish was written and published between French Milk and An Age of License. Or maybe in some other order.
An Age of License: A Travelogue
When I saw the title of this book, I though was a play on The Age of Innocence. I need to remember that comics nerds are not necessarily English nerds. Actually, it’s a translation of a French phrase for a time in life when you can kind of question yourself and mess around. You know, “bum” in American. But really, Knisely is not in her Age of License. She’s just on a nice trip to Europe after being invited…and having expenses paid…to appear at a comic con in Norway. Because she’s on a semi-work trip and also because she knows people in Europe, her experiences are a bit more interesting than the average traveler, especially because one of her friends works for a FRENCH VINTER (winemaker) so she gets to actually help out with the winemaking process…oh, and drink a lot of wine too.
Always try to meet up with anyone you know…or even friends of friends…when you travel because the experiences are always so much more interesting that way. Even when they’re bad.
Displacement: A Travelogue
Except for a few whiney spots (which ironically, could have been helped a little with wine), this is a lovely book, and the fact is, it’s about a topic you don’t see too many graphics about: aging. Lucy’s grandparents have signed up for a cruise. Since they are in their 90’s, and one has a bit of dementia and the other is shaky in both the seeing and hearing departments, the family is a bit nervous, so Lucy volunteers to go with them. I actually really admire her for doing this, which is why I have forgiven her the whininess. Taking care of her grandparents all day, in that type of situation, is a challenge, and she definitely has a few moments of “no good deed goes unpunished” when her dad, aunts, and uncles won’t even give her the little bit of help that she asks for.
Interspersed with these experiences, and what really makes the book, are excerpts from her grandfather’s World War 2 diary. So at night, she rereads bits of and reflects on her grandfather as a young man.
As the Baby Boomers continue to move into old age, I’m sure that aging will become chic, but seriously it is something that is hidden too much, and it shouldn’t be. I mean, if it happens to you, Thank God! Because that means you didn’t die young!
At first I thought I wasn’t going to make it through Something New. I was never particularly into weddings…mine own was very small…and thank goodness I’m way past the age for them now, but Something New is surprisingly engaging. First, we finally find out how Lucy’s love life turned out. I had some clue since I read Kid Gloves before Something New, but here she tells the entire story. She includes a few references in her book that are factual and should have been cited, but most of the time she does cite “The Knot”, which even I can live with (see rant below).
This book is a great engagement gift because it’s a fast and fun read, and because Knisely does not get too deeply sucked into the Bridezilla vortex, it’s also good food for thought. Basically, her point is that it’s good to make it a nice day, it’s good to celebrate marriage as the meaningful event that it is, and it’s good to include your friends…but don’t take it too seriously. Don’t overspend, and don’t be too frugal. Figure out what you care about, and spend on that. Which is actually pretty good advice for life in general.
Between her own career as an artist and her mother’s as a caterer, she is actually pretty well qualified to give wedding advice. Between the food and the crafts, she’s pretty much got it covered.
Out of all her books, except possibly French Milk, Knisely is most open about her identification as bisexual, which gives a meaningful subtext to the book as she struggles a bit to align her bisexual/gay identity with her heterosexual marriage…because what could be more straight than a woman marrying a man? It’s an interesting point of view, to say the least. If you are in a heterosexual marriage, does that mean you can no longer identify as gay? Discuss.
She intercuts the text with a few photos of the festivities, and don’t miss the sketch she includes, drawn at age 10, of her ideal alternative ending to The Little Mermaid. I was distracted by her depiction of the man’s abs…pretty hot and that kid could draw, even then…so it took me a few minutes to get her point.
She might be bisexual, but even at 10 she had a pretty good appreciation of the male physique happening.
Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos
Such an awesome name for a book about having a baby! Knisely takes us through her experiences of trying to conceive, conceiving, having a miscarriage, and finally becoming a mother. It is intense at times. And she doesn’t just have the baby and come home, no…she nearly dies in the hospital.
Suddenly it’s 1899…seriously, she almost dies of preeclampsia, which is what killed a lot of women. No offense to women who have gone through it because it’s awful, and it’s scary…I was just shocked that her doctors didn’t catch it sooner.
So this book is like a lot of things that happen to us: not good, not bad, but somewhere in the middle.
I also appreciate that she doesn’t share the name of her child: his comic name is “Pal”. I have strong feelings about keeping children’s privacy for them until they are old enough to make their own decisions.
Knisely includes a lot of background information in this book, which is one of its fatal flaws for me: she doesn’t cite her information. I’m not expecting a detailed Note section (although that wouldn’t upset me), but the list of books she read would be nice. Without it, I feel nervous paying attention to what she has to say.
Yes, I know I can Google it, but she put it in her book, she’s supposed to say where she got it. That’s her job.
Graphics are really taking off, but if they want to be taken seriously, they have to cite their sources. Did no one pay attention in high school English?
Ok, rant over. Just take those parts with a grain of salt. Overall, it’s a good book about birthin’ babies.
Lucy Knisely Books as Gifts: When to give them…and when you shouldn’t
Age of License: High school or college graduation, anyone traveling
Displacement: anyone struggling with ill or aging family members. It’s a little bit sad, a lot more funny and also meaningful. Possibly someone ill or aging.
Relish: Anyone. Who eats and who was ever a kid. Foodies will love the story about food, but the simple, easy to remember recipes (and easy to follow) are great for the non-foodie. To me, this is the way you cook…from knowing the processes and putting it together with fairly simple ingredients. I don’t like food that is too tarted up or doesn’t taste like what it is.
Kid Gloves: NOT SOMEONE HAVING THEIR FIRST BABY UNTIL THE BABY HAS ARRIVED AND ALL IS WELL. Then you can give it because the new mom will be so relieved that she didn’t go through what Knisely did. Expecting parents should be forbidden to read this book. It kind of freaked me out, and I’ve been through a challenging birth, and my daughter is an adult.
Something New: Definitely give it to the newly engaged or anyone involved in a wedding. Great for the parents of the couple too.
More books by Knisely:
Go to Sleep (I Miss You)
Go to Sleep (I Miss You) looks like it would be great for a new parent…it has just come out in early 2020.
You Are New is for the baby.
In Something New, Knisely shares how interested she was in babies as a child…at one point, she seemed headed to a career as an OB/GYN, so it makes sense that she’s really into this!
Stepping Stones is drawn from Knisely’s own childhood experiences.
You can find Lucy Knisely’s open source material at her website, Lucy Knisely.com
Cover Photo Credit
The art in the cover photo is NOT by Lucy Knisely, since that’s under copyright. This images shows how far comics by (for?) women have come…and I think it’s kind of funny, since the woman on the right resembles Knisley a tiny bit.