Reviews & More: Outside the Box

“Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins”

When you hear the words “graphic novel,” do you scoff and think (or say) to yourself, “Fancy name for comic books”? Or do you think of it as a genre in the same formulaic way we think of mysteries or romance or biographies? If either of these applies to you, allow me to offer this perspective: The best graphic novels are a medium unto themselves; they combine original art and graphics, dialog and prose, philosophy, humor and insight into the human condition. Take, for example, “Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversation” by Mira Jacob. In fact, do, please, take it, buy it, read it, discuss it with friends. It will change your entire perspective on not just graphic novels, but also the “what is art?” discussion. In its pages, mostly in dialogue, are topics like racism in society in general and within each stratum—or caste—of societies all over the world; mixed marriages, biracial children and how to talk to young children and not sound like a blithering fool; coping in the era of Trump; and coping with oddball family members. While the themes are serious, it’s also very funny, sweet and gut-wrenchingly honest.

“Good Talk” is the author’s memoir of growing up as the child of immigrants from India. Born in the 1970s, Jacob recounts various periods in her life from childhood till the present and how her heritage made her both an outsider and turned her into an award-winning writer. Incidentally, here’s what I found out about the book after I read it: It was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award, longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award, named a New York Times Notable Book, as well as a best book of the year by Time, Esquire, Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal. I was not alone in my enthusiasm. Now that you’re convinced, I recommend you buy the actual book to read it—not on an e-reader, if possible; the dialogue and art will be clearer in book form. “Good Talk” will be a keeper, I promise.

Book review over, let’s turn to two documentaries of interest. If you know who journalist Molly Ivins (1944-2007) was, you will be delighted to check out “Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins,” now streaming on Hulu. Here is a full recounting of her outrageousness, pugnaciousness and her gift of gab, Texas-style. If you have not heard of her, bask in her huge personality and her brilliant and funny skewering of those in power. She was ruthless in her assessments of corrupt politicians and greedy billionaires. Starting small, she used her verbal skills to attack local governments in Texas, counting herself a liberal in enemy territory. She both adored and disliked her home state but she never strayed far from home; in fact, her recounting of her three years at the venerated New York Times is a hoot—they didn’t know what to do with her free-wheeling style. She finally left after she’d written an article about a day in a southern state where all the chickens were gathered up, slaughtered and plucked, while everyone had a great old time drinking and visiting. She’s called it a “cluster pluck.” Her recounting of her final conversation about that phrase with horrified managing editor Abe Rosenthal is hilarious. Talking heads ranging from family members, friends and news anchors Rachel Maddow and Dan Rather bring excellent analysis of this once-in-a-lifetime and sorely missed pundit.

The other documentary I watched this week was “Howard” on Disney+. Howard Ashman was a brilliant playwright and lyricist who died way too early, at age 39, of AIDS. Musical comedy buffs will know the name and be eager to see this faithful, if not particularly innovative, rendering of his life. I’m not sure how much the general public will be interested, but if the book and lyrics of the musical version of “Little Shop of Horrors” and the lyrics he wrote (music by Alan Mencken) from the animated films “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin” pique one’s interest, then there will be an audience.