The best memoir-based graphic novels

Conrad Wesselhoeft Author Of Adios, Nirvana
By Conrad Wesselhoeft

The Books I Picked & Why

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir

By Thi Bui

Book cover of The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir

Why this book?

This is a superb personal memoir about the Vietnam War and its impact on four generations of one South Vietnamese family. Unlike the legion of memoirs told from the U.S. perspective, Vietnam-born American author Thi Bui gives us the harrowing local view. By compressing her sprawling story into a tight, gripping, intimate tale, she demonstrates the storytelling power of the graphic-novel form. Here hope triumphs and tragedy is merely a runner-up. 


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Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History

By Art Spiegelman

Book cover of Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History

Why this book?

Variations of the Holocaust story have been told countless times, but Spiegelman’s tale about how his father survived the Nazi terror is as fresh and important as any. I especially love how he captures his father's Polish-English accent. With the mangling of syntax is born a new kind of poetry. This is widely—and justifiably—regarded as one of the greatest graphic novels ever written. 


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March: Book One

By John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

Book cover of March: Book One

Why this book?

This is the stunning opening salvo of John Lewis’ brilliant trilogy tracking his lifelong struggle for civil and human rights. We follow Lewis’ upbringing in rural Alabama during which young John honed his preaching skills before an audience of barnyard chickens, his transformative meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., and the birth of the Nashville Student Movement. In shedding light on our country’s racist history, Lewis rakes you raw, holds no punches, and yet offers hope. 


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Pedro and Me: Friendship, Loss, and What I Learned

By Judd Winick

Book cover of Pedro and Me: Friendship, Loss, and What I Learned

Why this book?

I loved this story of the extraordinary friendship between a young, gay, HIV-positive Cuban American activist and a young, struggling Jewish cartoonist who became roommates on an MTV reality show called The Real World. For good reason, UCLA chose Pedro & Me as its 2013-2014 "Common Book" with the goal of providing incoming freshmen with a "platform to discuss relationships, sexual orientation, health education, loss, love, and other topics." Winick’s story is timeless in its themes of friendship, loss, and hope.


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Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

By Guy Delisle, Helge Dascher

Book cover of Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

Why this book?

The Canadian animator offers a revealing account of his two-month trip to North Korea to oversee a cartooning project. In deceptively simple words and drawings, Delisle gives us a front-row view of this complex, enigmatic totalitarian society. Everyday life in Pyongyang is rich fodder for this hilariously grumpy author. What’s it really like living in North Korea? Read this book and weep—and laugh. 


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