If you were to gauge my love of particular books by how often I give a copy as a gift, it’d be a close match between Susan Sontag’s The Volcano Lover and Lynda Barry’s Cruddy. When I see copies at bookstores I buy them out of habit, under the assumption that sooner or later I will want someone else to have them. As a whole, I thought I liked Sontag’s other works of fiction a bit better than Barry’s, but that kind of came undone when I read Picture This. It probably helps that I read Picture This entirely on the NYC subway while commuting from the East Village to where I live in Brooklyn. At times I noticed I was eliciting strange looks from other passengers. This happened, I presume, because I could not fight off the impulse to stroke certain illustrations in Picture This. Repeatedly. For minutes and minutes.
Like Cruddy, Picture This draws on themes of loneliness, resilience, and the weird way that relationships are sometimes forged in spite of the fact that you can’t explain what keeps you together, and yet those relationships sometimes save your life. Unlike Cruddy (Barry has written other books, but these are my favorites), Picture This draws more explicitly on Barry’s frustrations as an artist, with flashes that I found earnest, eerie and endearing. I liked this book. It’s weird and sweet and creepy. I’m adding it to the list of gifts I buy out of habit, particularly as a way of saying thanks to people whose relationship to me is impossible to explain, but sometimes saves my life. Or perhaps just for people who like creepy things that creep people out on subways.