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Friday, February 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 15.0° F  Fair
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A Book A Week: Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History by Harvey Pekar

Sometimes people ask me how I choose books. I usually answer something like "Oh, I have a lot of writers whose work I like, so just keeping up with their new books can fill my time." Or I'll tell them that I regularly read the newspaper book review pages and make my choices based on that advice.

But the sad truth is, sometimes I read a book because it's been left on the breakfast table by someone else and I pick it up to read while I eat my oatmeal. That's how I began Students for a Democratic Society by Harvey Pekar, my first (and probably my only) foray into the graphic format. My son checked this out of the library when he was home from college on winter break and left it there one morning.

Did I like it? To my surprise, I liked a lot of it, though after a while I couldn't stick with it. I discovered something that maybe graphic-format readers already know: that when you read these kinds of books, the story's facts come from the prose, but the emotions come from the illustrations.

Because I am so oriented toward print instead of illustration I found myself just reading the prose and skipping the pictures and feeling like the stories were too flat. When I realized what I was doing I went back and looked at the pictures more closely and picked up more of the nuance. Still, it seemed like a lot of work, and eventually I gave up.

Students for a Democratic Society is a graphic history of this movement from its origins in the labor movement of the late 1950s up through its disintegration in the early 1970s. The book mostly consists of a series of reminiscences by and about members of the SDS. It's certainly not a complete history, nor does it claim to be. But it held my interest long enough to provide me with a good introduction to the format, and it inspired me to learn more about Harvey Pekar, who died a few months ago.

Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book A Week.

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