Review by Frank Plowright
Considering the comics form is so intimately connected to reading, it’s surprising that no previous creator has actually considered the subject using the form. It’s not about graphic novels, though, but books and reading in general, almost fetishising the process in places. What prevents it being dull and judgemental is Grant Snider’s self-awareness, intelligence and an ability to let his imagination fly. There’s a poetic beauty to the sample page’s combination of simple and engaging illustration, smart visual jokes and school lit-crit phrases, and Snider continues to find appropriate visual analogies or comparisons to accompany his thoughts. A statement of intent about a forthcoming poem over sixteen panels is accompanied by illustrations of rabbits, he creates Heath Robinson-style contraptions to illustrate literary devices, and savagely dissects the procrastinating writer. Comparing story to a rollercoaster ride isn’t an original thought, but Snider injects originality by his imaginative illustration.
Snider deals with reading and writing largely in the abstract or concerning the process, although there is a witty Haruki Murakami bingo page and a Shakespeare doughnut tragedy. You won’t find appreciations of Ernest Hemingway or Danielle Steel, but an acknowledgement that any book that’s right for you is a good book, although Snider will be the final arbiter of quality. He sorts the strips into loosely connected groups separated by full page statements of intent, or personal truths, or confessions, their presentation in large type on coloured backgrounds resembling a t-shirt slogan. He also constantly lays bare matters we’ve not considered as we should. Why are pangolins and tapirs never featured in children’s books? Who controls the Canon of Literature?
More than anything Snider is clever. Is it the result of all that reading? Not only does the second sample page list forms of poetry, it constructs a nine panel story from the titles. Observational strips are constructed in rhyming couplets, and equivalent forms of verbal and visual wit abound to be admired, yet there’s a self-effacing mood to other strips that avoids any accusations of smugness that the title might suggest. The cover’s lovely also, not seen best on screen, which doesn’t properly display the cut out section of the person peering through the shelf.
I Will Judge you by Your Bookshelf will resonate with anyone who really loves a good book, and comfort can be taken by the complete absence of the word ‘bibliophile’.