Posted September 22, 2014 by in Literary Prizes

Why Roz Chast Deserves Our Attention

Doesn’t it make you happy when people get what is rightly theirs? Doesn’t it make you crack a smile—you know, the kind where your gleaming teeth actually appear from underneath those seemingly permanently pursed lips—when what people deserve is something actually good? We all love a story of triumph and success. And, my friends, something noteworthy happened last week: a woman made literary history.

On Wednesday, Roz Chast went from “Roz Chast the New Yorker Cartoonist” to “Roz Chast the National Book Award Nominee.” She is the only woman nominated in the nonfiction category this year (how is that possible in 2014?). Her nomination for Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? seems nice and commendable, but it’s more than a gesture to a worthy artist. Ms. Chast’s nomination represents a milestone in the literary world. She is now the first cartoonist to gain a National Book Award nomination in the nonfiction category, and the accolades could not come at a better time.

Since the Kindle’s arrival during the holiday season of 2007, print books have, for some reason, become a target of extinction. E-books, many critics and consumers, alike, argued, were the way of the future. They will take up less spaceThey will be lighter for travelingThey will be cheaper. I’ve heard it all, but there are things these futuristic minds fail to see. First of all, print books are personal. When we hold them, they become ours. We remember where we are and have been as we fight to turn that sticky page. Sometimes, we have to pick the tiny grains of sand from the spine. Aren’t those fun memories? Imagine you have several favorite authors. After a couple of signings, that poor Kindle screen is going to be covered in ink.

There’s another problem with e-book devices: they can’t translate comics in ways that even come close to the print form. The pages mush together, and the words are hardly recognizable—much less readable. The colors don’t come through. In a print book, the vibrancy is like the comic intended. Print allows us to view the entire spread of an open book. We can see the connections and notice the consistency of the artist’s flow. Print allows us to fully escape into unique worlds.

My friends, Ms. Chast’s recognition as a National Book Award nominee puts faith back into the need for print books. When I hold my signed copy of Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, I feel like I’m truly immersed inside Ms. Chast’s world—the one that seems so personal and important. I can touch the thick pages, and I can run my fingers along the colors to trace the outline of the scenes. When I leave it open, I can sit back and admire how the pages interact with one another. The colors work together, and the words take on a new form.

Let’s not forget how wonderful her book about her parents’ slow fall into old age and death is. It’s not just the best graphic memoir or nonfiction books of the year; Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is one of the very best books of the year across all genres. Ms. Chast uses humor to ease life’s sad but inevitable moments. She paints her own personality as one that is complex, being honest and even occasionally harsh. Her work delicately balances all that is life.

Graphic memoirs are nothing new, but their acceptance as true literature is something entirely revolutionary. Hopefully, Roz Chast the National Book Award Nominee is only a temporary name. Maybe she’ll become Roz Chast the National Book Award Winner. We need her—and other cartoonists like her—more than ever.



Bradley Sides

Bradley Sides is a graduate of the M. A. in English program from the University of North Alabama. His fiction appears in Belle Rêve Literary Journal, Birmingham Arts Journal, Boston Literary Magazine, Freedom Fiction Journal, Inwood Indiana, Literary Orphans, and Used Gravitrons. He is a staff writer for Bookkaholic. He resides in Florence, Alabama, with his wife, and he is actively seeking representation for his debut middle-grade novel.