EL本棚紹介(12) Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi

[Welcome to the EL Book Introductions series. These posts are all short (<180 words) introductions/reviews of books in the EL library. They focus on telling you what we think will be interesting for you, a college student and English learner, so use them to help you find the right book for you. You can also use the tags to find books about topics you might be interested in.]

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Following Maus, Persepolis is a big name in modern graphic novels (comic books). It tells the story of Marjane Satrapi’s life growing up in Iran and Austria during the 1970s through 1990s. Her experiences teach us what it is like to grow up during a war and major social change. The Iran she grows up in and the one she returns to after going to high school in Austria are very different places.

This is a book to read if you are interested in the history of the Middle East. Or if you are interested in culture clash/culture shock. Or if you are interested in women’s rights. The strength of this book is that it offers an inside look on life in Iran. Satrapi’s perspective is quite different from what you read in the news, even though she narrates some of the same historical events that ended up in newspapers. Satrapi’s love of punk culture also shows in the punk/zine style art.

Check out the trailer for the movie version here: U.S. trailer: Persepolis (imdb.com)

Warning: There are a few pages discussing suicide and depression.

My two cents: This is a very long book, and I think the first part might be difficult to get into. I suggest skipping to the middle of the story and reading just a chapter or two from her time in Austria to try it out.

EL本棚紹介(11)They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker

[Welcome to the EL Book Introductions series. These posts are all short (<180 words) introductions/reviews of books in the EL library. They focus on telling you what we think will be interesting for you, a college student and English learner, so use them to help you find the right book for you. You can also use the tags to find books about topics you might be interested in.]

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There is a famous saying that “history is shaped by the winners.” That’s not exactly true: I think that “history is shaped by the strong.” And so, when powerful people or institutions don’t want a story told, it can be silenced. They Called Us Enemy tells an important story that I never learned about in the US school system.

In this book, Takei narrates his experiences as a Japanese American, born in the US, during World War II. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese and Japanese Americans living in the US were considered enemies. At least 120,000 were captured and forced to live in “internment camps” for up to four years until the end of the war. Similar to Spiegelman’s book about the holocaust, Takei writes about good memories and bad, with both smiles and tears. But, as you read this book, it should be clear that this was a massive historical crime against an innocent population.

My two cents: Takei intentionally connects his experiences in the 1940s to events as recent as 2019. The past lives with us, and it is our responsibility to learn from it.

EL本棚紹介(10)Beautiful Darkness, by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoet

[Welcome to the EL Book Introductions series. These posts are all short (<180 words) introductions/reviews of books in the EL library. They focus on telling you what we think will be interesting for you, a college student and English learner, so use them to help you find the right book for you. You can also use the tags to find books about topics you might be interested in.]

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Beautiful Darkness: the title says it all. Every page of this book is full of beautiful bright watercolor backgrounds and fairytale characters. On the other hand, the story itself takes many dark turns. Imagine The Secret World of Arrietty 『借りぐらしのアリエッティ』, where the whole family is surviving out in the wilderness. And everyone who the main character, Aurora, meets is dangerous, selfish, and willing to kill.

Part of the beauty of this book is the freedom to interpret it however you like. Is it about mental illness or trauma? Is it a story about society and human nature, like William Golding’s Lord of the Flies『蠅の王』? Or is it just a weird little fantasy story about some elf people?

Note: There are a few grotesque (グロい) pictures, so don’t read if you dislike that kind of thing.

My two cents: This is a book I will keep thinking about, and it is a (weird!) book I want to share!

EL本棚紹介(9)Black Hole, by Charles Burns

[Welcome to the EL Book Introductions series. These posts are all short (<180 words) introductions/reviews of books in the EL library. They focus on telling you what we think will be interesting for you, a college student and English learner, so use them to help you find the right book for you. You can also use the tags to find books about topics you might be interested in.]

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Black Hole takes place in the 1970s United States, where free love and drugs lead to horrific results—like body mutation. Clearly a metaphor for STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), characters who have sex with infected people grow extra mouths or tails, or their face and skin simply start rotting off like zombies.

The real strength of this book is what happens to those people. Who can hide their mutation and “pass” as “normal”? Who must flee society and live in the woods with the other mutants? Black Hole may appear to be about STDs, but it is really about stigma, isolation, prejudice, and a whole lot of other things.

Note: Black Hole is one long story broken up into chapters. Some chapters retell the same events from a different character’s point of view, so it can be a little confusing. I recommend just reading the first chapter, which is like a horror short story. Then decide if you want to continue.

My two cents: Sometimes metaphors don’t need to be subtle. Black Hole is really weird, and that’s okay.

English Lounge Opens October 1st!

We are open from 10/1! Seminars begin on 10/8
Check out our new schedule.
Come and join us during the autumn season – join a seminar, practice your conversation in the conversation circle, find an interesting book, or just stop by and say “Hi”!

EL本棚紹介(8)Pregnant Butch: Nine Long Months Spent in Drag, by A.K. Summers

[Welcome to the EL Book Introductions series. These posts are all short (<180 words) introductions/reviews of books in the EL library. They focus on telling you what we think will be interesting for you, a college student and English learner, so use them to help you find the right book for you. You can also use the tags to find books about topics you might be interested in.]

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One of the strengths of comics and manga is their ability to show instead of just tell. Sometimes we cannot use words to express how we feel, so we can use pictures. This is exactly how Summers tells the story of her pregnancy, as a gay, butch (masculine-presenting) woman. And she tells that very personal story with a great sense of humor!

Pregnant Butch is written and drawn like a zine. “Zines” are handmade subculture magazines with a punk style. This is a good match with Summers’ experience as an “outsider”: few people around her even understood how a lesbian could get pregnant!

Note: While there are a few jokes and cultural references that you will probably not understand, there is a lot of information here about medical culture, pregnancy, LGBTQ culture, and more.

My two cents: One thing I appreciate from reading this book is Summers’ struggle with her identity as “butch” in a world where more and more people are coming out as transgender. This is a perspective you don’t often hear from, but it is important, too!

EL本棚紹介(7) Adrian and the Tree of Secrets, by Hubert and Marie Caillou

[Welcome to the EL Book Introductions series. These posts are all short (<180 words) introductions/reviews of books in the EL library. They focus on telling you what we think will be interesting for you, a college student and English learner, so use them to help you find the right book for you. You can also use the tags to find books about topics you might be interested in.]

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Meet Adrian, a teenager trapped in a boring town with strict parents and catholic schooling. Like many young people, he struggles to find out who he is. He experiences rejection by his mother, classmates, and even his best friend as he explores a hidden romance with another boy at his school.

There are relatable themes here, but this book may also be a window into the heart and mind of someone who is very little like you. With very few people who accept him for who he is and nobody to listen to his story, Adrian is pushed to his emotional limits. The story climaxes with an homage to Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, reminding us that these themes are nothing new.

My two cents: The gentle art style reflects the “perfect” surface of Adrian’s life, hiding imperfections just as he hides his inner struggle.

EL本棚紹介(6) Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

[Welcome to the EL Book Introductions series. These posts are all short (<180 words) introductions/reviews of books in the EL library. They focus on telling you what we think will be interesting for you, a college student and English learner, so use them to help you find the right book for you. You can also use the tags to find books about topics you might be interested in.]

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Ghost stories are often allegories: they use ghosts to represent the past or about characters’ hidden feelings. Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft is the first book in a series which does just that. After the horrible murder of their father, the Locke family moves away to live in a giant mysterious house. The house has a long history and contains many deadly secrets.

This first volume of Locke & Key is really about Tyler, the oldest boy, mourning the death of his father. But much of it also follows Bode, the youngest child, as he explores the strange place. He discovers the first of many magical Keys. This Key turns you into a ghost. Bode has fun with it, but there is something more dangerous waiting for him…

Netflix made a Locke & Key show. You can check out the trailer here: ロック&キー | Netflix (ネットフリックス) 公式サイト

My two cents: This is the best volume of the series that I have read, and I highly recommend it!

EL本棚紹介(5) Through the Woods, by Emily Carroll

[Welcome to the EL Book Introductions series. These posts are all short (<180 words) introductions/reviews of books in the EL library. They focus on telling you what we think will be interesting for you, a college student and English learner, so use them to help you find the right book for you. You can also use the tags to find books about topics you might be interested in.]

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Emily Carroll tells five scary stories (plus an introduction and conclusion), each one weirder than the last. The stories remind me of old-fashioned fairytales which were meant to protect children by teaching them to fear the unknown. In these stories, the forest is unknown, and there is always something strange and dangerous waiting there for you.

The art in this book makes it stand out. The woods are dark and dangerous, so many pages are covered with black, dark blue shadows, and red. Many of the panels have few words, so you can follow the story by looking at the pictures.

My two cents: Read the last story, “The Nesting Place,” if you have ever felt something was strange about someone you met who was “too perfect.”

EL本棚紹介(4) Criminal: Lawless, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

[Welcome to the EL Book Introductions series. These posts are all short (<180 words) introductions/reviews of books in the EL library. They focus on telling you what we think will be interesting for you, a college student and English learner, so use them to help you find the right book for you. You can also use the tags to find books about topics you might be interested in.]

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Lawless is the story of Tracy Lawless and his family. When Tracy is released from the army after committing war crimes in Iraq, he discovers that his brother has been murdered and he makes it his mission to discover who the killer is. He uses a fake identity to join his brother’s old gang and help them plan a robbery…and then he discovers the truth.

This book is much uglier and crueler than Coward, and it contains more emotionally difficult themes. Tracy’s father was abusive, his brother is corrupted by his environment, and Tracy himself is controlled by both the military and the criminal world. There is a scene where Tracy tortures and old man for information and another where soldiers tell a racist and homophobic story. Be warned before reading.

My two cents: While much of Lawless may be uncomfortable to read, Brubaker and Phillips again tell a difficult story about family. Not as good as Coward, but still a good read.