Book Report — How the Word Is Passed; It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth

How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith

Nonfiction, 2021

David knows that some visitors to Monticello arrive with an understanding of history that is not only misguided but also harmful. He has a difficult time disentangling this from the current political moment. “That’s not the story of who we are,” he said, referencing the language of Make America Great Again, “but some people really, for whatever reason, they want to believe that and they want to go back there, right? They want to go back to something that never existed.”

To make sense of the broken ways U.S. citizens make sense of their own history, specifically the stain of slavery that has never been properly reckoned with, Clint Smith visits several different locations burdened by that weight. He goes to Monticello, the Texas island where the proclamation commemorated by Juneteenth was made, and an African location that is notorious as one of the primary departure points for human beings bound for abusive servitude in North America.

In How the Word Is Passed, Smith considers the history of these places. More poignantly and tellingly, he speaks to his fellow travelers who have arrived as tourists and measures their willful obliviousness to the crimes against humanity perpetrated as cornerstones of the nation’s founding. Over and over, supposedly educated citizens are startled by the basic facts put before them, and their urgency to turn away from their resulting discomforting goes a long way towards explaining the current spate of hateful book banning in the U.S. Smith’s writing has a directness that enhances the moral clarity of the work.

It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth by Zoe Thorogood

Graphic Novel, 2022

It was then that Zoe had yet another awful realisation. If the people who read her last book were real, it meant that the people reading this book were real too.

Part memoir, part confessional, part meta-narrative about the creative process, and one hundred percent tour de force, Zoe Thorogood’s graphic novel It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth essentially traces her own journey in the stretch of months when she worked on this book as a follow-up to her well-regarded debut, The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott. Dealing frankly with the waves of depression that threaten to submerge her whole being, Thorogood’s writing is piercing and fiercely truthful. It’s also relentlessly inventive as Thorogood exploits the pliability of comics as a storytelling form, always in a manner that adds depth and meaning. Her art might be even stronger. Thorogood’s require requires versatility from her visuals, and she meets the demand, vividly and dynamically. Comics aren’t just a conveniently vehicle for Thorogood. Like other great, highly personal achievements of the form — Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home come to mind — panel by panel is the only conceivable way for the storytelling to work. It’s tremendous.

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