Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Controlled Chaos – Lucy Knisley (2019)

As an ongoing reading fan of Lucy Knisley’s graphic novel/sequential art work, I was happy to discover that she had recently released an update to her autobiographical books with the latest news about her getting pregnant and then successfully having that offspring.

What I really appreciate about Knisley is that she has no pretensions about being anything but normal – her perspective on her own life is refreshingly down-to-earth and, unusually for a graphic novel of this genre, she is not writing to heal a personal or familial trauma (apart from this getting-pregnant thing).

Plus, Knisley seems to be a very curious person (similar to how I am) and so you never quite now what to expect for inclusion in her graphic novels. (Question: is a graphic novel still a graphic “novel” if it’s true and autobiographical? Or does it then become a “graphic autobiography”? …)

At this point in her life, Knisley has now been married for a few years and she and her husband, John, decide that now is the time to start a family. It’s this topic around which the book revolves, from the overall preparation for it (she researches in much the same over-the-top-but-fascinating-to-me levels) and her work is as honest as she can be in how much she tells the reader about herself and about her life. (When I have finished one of her books, I feel as though I’ve just been having an enjoyable conversation with a good friend at a coffee shop or similar. She’s that relatable.)

So, in this particular volume, Knisley not only tracks her various attempts to get pregnant (not as easy as it sounds) while also relating a connected and wide-ranging litany of background info about women’s reproductive health, including its history and some of the science behind it as well as recounting the more personal side of things. It’s an effective mix of personal and impersonal and it’s a recipe that really works.

This blend of personal perspectives and more objective information also enables the reader to feel invested in Knisley’s reproductive life – when they have difficulty getting (and staying) pregnant, my heart went out to them at how heart-broken they were. How could something so “easy” as getting pregnant become so difficult for these two people (and others)? It’s actually a riveting story and one that I read through all in one go. (I had to know how things concluded in the end!)

Knisley presents scientific facts and debunks superstitions in a respectful manner, really saving the emotional approach for her own personal side of life, and so this makes her an effective and credible teacher for this information, some of which was new to me (and may be for you too). In fact, I really think Knisley would be a good writer for a sequential art-take on some harder science topics, if she ever decides to travel in that direction. I’d read that work, for certain. (Are you reading this, Lucy? You know. In all your spare time! Ha.)

So, much like her other reads, Knisley’s latest volume is an excellent addition to her ever-growing oeuvre. I hope the fact that she now has a toddler doesn’t signal the end of her graphic-novel days, but fortunately, there was a hint at the end of this book that there may be more to come: “It all ends right now, with a new beginning…”

Fingers crossed that Knisley continues to refreshingly document those early days of motherhood that lay ahead of her!

Other (highly recommended) Lucy Knisley reads include the following. Your best bet would be to start at the beginning and read them chronologically:

Reading Review: May 2019

The reads for May 2019 included:

So — to the numbers:

  • Total number of books read in May 2019: 10. (Hooray for summer break.)
  • Total number of pages read 3,330 pages (av. 333). 
  • Fiction/Non-Fictionfiction / non-fiction.
  • DiversityPOC. 4+ books by women. (The + is because I read an anthology which included both male and female authors.) 
  • Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): library books, owned books and e-books.

Plans for June include continuing the POC author/topic focus and my focus on my own TBR.  And a trip to Vancouver… 🙂

Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, a Tale of Love and Fallout – Laurie Redniss (2011)

An intriguing mix of art and science, Radioactive is a fascinating biography of Marie Curie, who (along with husband Pierre) was famous for her work on radioactivity. Except this book is much more than a straightforward telling on Curie’s life (interesting though it was) – it also encompasses the history of the atomic and nuclear bombs, the invention of x-rays, women’s role in science, love, revenge and even a few duels.

Using a mix of sources and presenting these sources in a variety of ways (photocopies of actual documents, letters, interviews with weapons experts and survivors of bombs etc.), author Redniss leads us through the life of the Curies and how their research eventually led to horrible events like Hiroshima, Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island. But, as with most things, bad can be balanced with good and their research also led to x-rays (meaning more accurate surgery) and radiation (in the ongoing treatment of cancer) and more effective battlefield medical treatment (through the invention of portable x-ray machines).

Redniss used a artistic technique called cyanotype print which is a photographic image created in white on a blue background, which through a mix of sunlight and other chemicals, produces a ghostly, almost ethereal image. Redniss explains in the afterword that she wanted to use this process to reflect the nature of x-rays and it seems very appropriate as you read the book.

This was a really interesting reading experience for both the scientist and those of an artistic nature about a brilliant and complicated researcher who changed the world. If you want a straightforward reading experience, this volume is not for you. But if you’re willing to view Curie through an artistic lens and through several layers of time, then you will like this. I am not a scientist in any way, and in fact, know very little about a lot of it, but this info was presented in such a way that even I, the non-science person, found it really interesting. No small achievement, methinks.

(She was also awarded two Nobel Peace Prizes in different years for different fields of research. She was the first woman to become a professor at the Sorbonne. Since they knew little about safety concerns with radiation when they were researching, all the Curie’s papers from the 1890s are considered too dangerous to handle. (Even her cookbook is highly radioactive.) Documents are kept in a lead-line box and can only be handled by those wearing protective clothing.

2011 has been declared the Year of Marie Curie by both France and Poland.

Monique and the Mango Rains – Kris Holloway (2007)

This was a good fast read for me. It is a memoir detailing the friendship that develops between a young idealistic Peace Corps volunteer and a village midwife in Mali (a country in West Africa), a place where childbirth had a high mortality rate.

What I thought really made this strong was that the author (the Peace Corp volunteer) has written it in a sensitive way so that Monique comes across as the expert (which she is) instead of the incoming Peace Corps volunteer being the Great White Colonial Person here to save the day.  Obviously, both people have a lot to learn from each other, but I really appreciated the tenderness that the author feels for her friends in the African village.

The story takes place over the two years that Kris Holloway and boyfriend John spent as volunteers with the Peace Corps in a smallish village that is miles out in the African bush, and as I read the descriptions of where they lived and what they ate and their day-to-day encounters, it was clear that you would have to be a special kind of person to live in that environment. (I am not one of them. I like all the modern conveniences, I am afraid. Plus I am bit picky about food. <Massive understatement there.>)

Monique is a specially trained health worker and midwife, so she is vital in the health and care of the village children and their mothers. By  holding regular clinic hours and weighing babies on a regular schedule, Monique is able to ensure that any health problems that turn up could easily be handled by her (very basic health care) or shipped to the larger town nearby for further treatment.

As a big public health believer, I was impressed that the villagers embraced the health clinic on the whole, with the mothers and their young families coming for shots or medicine or whatever they may have been needing. It wasn’t a big operation by any means, and probably did not require a lot of investment to start (or keep it going), which meant that it was replicable in other villages. Presumably, there were other “Moniques” in Mali doing something very similar to her clinic.

Monique was notable, as well, for fighting for her beliefs, despite the traditional cultural expectations which could have quite easily squashed everything she wanted, both for herself but mostly for the other women in the village: education for girls and boys, effective birth control, safe water… It cannot have been easy for Monique to buck the trends in this small insular world.

What was most interesting to me was the friendship between the two women. Their backgrounds were very different, there were language difficulties, cultural differences, and yet throughout the assignment, they became good friends, so much so that when they finished their assignment, both Kris and John invite Monique to visit them in the US the following year. Helping Monique to plan her travel, the author handled Monique’s lack of experience in long-distance traveling in a respectful way – still pretty funny in places, but in a respectful tone which I loved.

There were good descriptions of life in the village and how the events turned on a seasonal calendar: the rainy season, the unexpected “Mango Rains”, the passing of human milestones (death, for example). Since it’s highly unlikely that I will ever get to a small village in Mali, this gave me the feeling that I at least had experienced vicariously.

Bought from Amazon.