Review: What It Is by Lynda Barry

Lynda Barry - What It Is coverMaster cartoonist Lynda Barry gives us an unforgettable memoir/creative workbook brimming with breathtaking collages that merge paint, ink, and word. This unforgettable work delights the eye and inspires the imagination to movement. Rather than tell, she shows the power of images to speak to and through us.

Guided by a magical cephalopod, we follow Barry through a tapestry of memoir, scenes from her lifelong struggle to retain a sense of wonder and openness, into a sea of unconscious where we confront such important questions as What is an image? (14) and What and where is your imagination? (20). But the food for thought….erm, imagination… does not stop there. In fact, the whole first two-thirds of the book ponders questions about memory (33), time (18), looking (24), mood (57), meaning (96), and our perennial need for monsters (57-63).

Through the often surreal associations created in her colorful picture word collages, Barry invites readers to investigate further connections, considering, for example, the relationship between thinking (68) and imagining. I’ll let you guess which of those she finds more alive and most helpful for feeding the activities of composing (41) and playing (45). As I read, I imagine myself projecting individual pages of this book as writing prompts for my high school students. Barry packs such a feast of possible connections and illuminations into every yellow legal pad page.

Lynda Barry - What It Is - PlayingThe last third of the book, a writing workbook, promises to be useful in a different way. Barry guides the reader through her own tried-and-true creative process, emphasizing the necessity of beginning with an image. She includes a series of activities for adding details to this image, visualizing it from different points of view, and helping it finds its way into a story in motion. In addition to creative writing exercises and strategies (creating word lists [178] and picture bags [185]), she offers some tips I think I need to try. In addition to a a glass of water, two timers, a little time and space, and a three-ring binder of fresh loose-leaf notebook paper, Barry insists on another pad of paper on which to draw spirals, or the alphabet or whatever else will keep your pen moving. The goal: to draw, slowly and deliberately, until the next image comes to you. Do this and believe, she repeats. And, try not to think. Not too hard or too much, anyway.

This entry was posted in Book Review, Differentiation, English Education, Lesson Ideas, Planning, Reading Resources, Secondary Education, Visual Arts, Writing Education and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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