Translating the Classics, Graphically

What’s on your to-read list?

If you’re anything like us, your to-read list is ever-expanding, as exciting new books jump the queue over hulking classics you’re a little embarrassed you haven’t read by now.

The internet is replete with articles like “Classic Novels Everyone Should Read” and “30 Classics You Should Read Before You Die.” These lists are populated by novels like Great Expectations, Moby Dick, and Animal Farm. Intimidating lists like these can discourage even the most intrepid reader.

Some people give up on the classics before they’ve truly started them, intimidated by their length or density. Others are skeptical of their relevance to modern life. Many more simply lack the time and energy to wade through “the great books.”

But while there is no required reading list for life, who among us would not like to know these classics? Or at least know them well enough to understand what’s so very “great” about them?

A page from Tim Hamilton’s graphic adaption of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451

This is where the graphic adaptation comes in. This increasingly popular format blends words, panels, and illustrations to create a highly readable and accessible new work. Some of these graphic interpretations are so innovative and beautiful they could qualify as literary masterpieces in their own right.

A quick internet search will reveal that an astonishing number of literary classics have been adapted in this way. Everything from The Great Gatsby to Paradise Lost to The Stranger has received the graphic novel treatment.

And why not? Because they distill stories into essential dialogue and visuals, graphic novels are quick reads. They can thus provide fascinating introductions to topics, ideas, and even genres of literature a reader might have otherwise discounted as out of reach. In this way, a graphic adaptation can provide a point of entry to a whole new world of stories.

Have you read any great graphic adaptations of literary classics? If not, we’ve included 3 of our favorites below to help you get you started.

Thoreau at Walden, adapted by John Porcellino

 Each artist has their own interpretation of the text, and some books are more suited to the graphic treatment than others.  As in any adaptation, sometimes sacrifices have to be made to fit the new format.

John Porcellino’s Thoreau at Walden, for example, distills Henry David Thoreau’s sojourn at Walden Pond into its most essential lessons, telling the rest of the story through deceptively simple illustrations.



Meg, Jo Beth, and Amy, adapted by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo 

Some artists use graphic adaptations to put a modern spin on a much-beloved classic. Jo, Beth, Meg and Amy, for example, reimagines the March sisters as part of a multi-ethnic blended family coming up, and coming out, in modern-day New York City. It’s hard to imagine, Louisa May Alcott, a staunch abolitionist and feminist, would object to this adaptation of Little Women.


To Kill A Mockingbird, adapted by Fred Fordham

 In 2018, PBS launched an eight-part series called The Great American Read. The series was designed to get Americans reading and talking passionately about books, and encouraged viewers to cast their votes in determining America’s top 100 best-loved novels. The results were a fascinating mix of classic and modern titles included on many people’s to-read lists.

But America’s number one best-loved novel proved to be Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, a coming-of-age story told against the backdrop of simmering racial tensions in small town Alabama. If this classic is on your to-read list, check out Fred Fordham’s graphic adaptation, available in the Literatures and Languages Library’s very own collection.


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More Fiction to Read at Home

Happy summer!

With the weather warming up, classes ending, and summertime starting, there’s no better time to find a new book. I understand, though, that finding a new book to read can be tough, so the library is here to help! If you’ve been struggling to pick up a book or can’t decide what to read, here are some great recommendations to start off the summer. All books can be accessed through the library as ebooks or audiobooks. Click titles for catalog access.

Slumberland, Paul Beatty

Booker Award-winning author Paul Beatty’s 2008 novel, Slumberland, tells the story of a Los Angeles DJ who travels to Berlin in search of the perfect person to accompany his latest masterpiece. His journey takes him through the streets of Berlin, where he begins to search for meaning and identity in the world around him. Slumberland is insightful, thoughtful, and, at times, hilarious. Beatty is an incredible writer, and Slumberland is just one novel in an entire catalog of impressive work.

To see other novels by Paul Beatty, click here


Machines Like Me, Ian McEwan

McEwan sets his latest novel in an alternate 1980’s London, where England lost the Falklands War, Alan Turing is still alive, and the internet and social media already exist. The story follows Adam–a synthetic human, or android–as he’s acquired by a man named Charlie, who then programs him with the help of a woman named Miranda. McEwan’s novel asks, among several other questions, just what makes us human, and whether machines are capable of understanding human emotion.

To see other novels by Ian McEwan, click here



All Grown Up, Jami Attenberg

Andrea Bern doesn’t know who she is. Sure, she knows what to tell her therapist, but behind closed doors, she is alone, a drinker, a former artist, and more. While those around her are growing up and having children, she wonders what it really means to be an adult, as she is on a different path than the rest of her siblings and friends. When Andrea’s niece is born with a life-threatening condition, she and her family must come together and reexamine their priorities. Told in a series of vignettes, All Grown Up is a clear demonstration of Attenberg’s skills as a storyteller.

To see other novels by Jami Attenberg, click here


Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan

After feeling the effects of the Great Recession, Clay Jannon begins working at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, though he soon learns that there is more to this store than books. Customers are rare, and instead of buying anything, they simply check-out various books from odd corners of the store. Curious, Clay devises a plan to research these folks, but when he eventually brings his findings to Mr. Penumbra himself, Clay learns that more secrets await him in the mysterious bookstore.

To see other novels by Robin Sloan, click here.

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Congratulations to the 2020 Pulitzer Prize Winners for Fiction & Poetry!

After being delayed due to Covid-19, the winners of the Pulitzer Prize were announced via livestream on May 5th, 2020. The winner for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction was Colson Whitehead, for his work The Nickel Boys, and the winner for Poetry was Jericho Brown, for his poetry collection The Tradition.

In addition to the 2020 Pulitzer Prize, Whitehead was awarded the Prize once before in 2017 for his novel, The Underground Railroad. Many of Whitehead’s works can be found in the library, plenty of which are available as ebooks and audiobooks. For more information about Colson Whitehead and his works, you can visit his website and twitter page.

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Book. The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead. Click for catalog link.

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E-Audiobook. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. Click for catalog link.









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E-Audiobook. The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead. Click for catalog link.

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E-Audiobook. John Henry Days, by Colson Whitehead. Click for catalog link.










Jericho Brown is an American poet and professor at Emory University. In addition to winning the Pulitzer Prize, he has also been awarded the American Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award. For more information on Brown, you can visit his website and twitter page.

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Book. The Tradition, by Jericho Brown. Click for catalog link.

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Book. Please, by Jericho Brown. Click for catalog link.









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Book. The New Testaments, by Jericho Brown. Click for catalog link.



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Literary Fiction to Read at Home

Even though the library’s closed, there are an abundance of resources you can still access online, including ebooks and audiobooks. Below, you’ll find recommendations of award-winning and entertaining works of literary fiction, all of which can be accessed as an ebook or audiobook through the library catalog.

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr (Audiobook)

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All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. Click for catalog link.


A Pulitzer Prize winning book, All The Light We Cannot See follows a French girl and a German boy as they each try to survive WWII. When the Nazis occupy Paris, Marie-Laure and her father flee to Saint-Malo, hoping to find some sort of safety. Werner Pfennig is an orphan living in Germany and has a knack for building and fixing radios. When he’s enlisted by the Nazis to track down the enemy, he finds himself struggling to support the cause. Beautifully written, Doerr weaves the lives of Marie and Werner together with powerful prose and moving imagery.



Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward (Audiobook)

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Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward. Click for catalog link.

Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction, Salvage the Bones tells the story of a rural, working-class family who must survive hurricane Katrina. In the town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, hurricane season can mean destruction. When a hurricane begins to form over the Gulf of Mexico, Esch and her family must prepare for the potential danger while also facing their own personal struggles. Esch’s father is mostly absent and only concerned about the looming hurricane. Esch is pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is trying to sneak food to a litter of puppies, and her other brothers Randall and Junior are trying to find their place in the family. Following the week leading up to Hurricane Katrina, Jesmyn Ward’s award-winning novel is a powerful and revelatory story.


Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders (Ebook)

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Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders. Click for catalog link.

A Booker Prize-winning book, Lincoln in the Bardo takes place in February of 1862. The Civil War has just begun, and Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie is deathly ill. When he passes away a mere few days later, he’s buried in a Georgetown cemetery, which Lincoln has reportedly visited several times. From this, Saunders weaves a story with an astounding cast of characters, including Lincoln’s own son, who finds himself in a bardo, or a place of purgatory. There, ghosts and spirits mingle and communicate with one another, ultimately seeking to help both Willie Lincoln and his father find peace. A moving exploration of love, death, and grief, Lincoln in the Bardo is an utterly captivating story.


The Overstory, Richard Powers (Audiobook)

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The Overstory, by Richard Powers. Click for catalog link.


Written by an alumnus of the University of Illinois and a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, The Overstory is a story about the power of activism and the natural world. Following a cast of characters who each have a special relationship to trees and nature, Powers interweaves their individual stories as they try to fight for the survival of the Redwoods. Their stories show the world beyond ours–a world of beauty, nature, and magnificence.




Women Talking, Miriam Toews (Audiobook) 

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Women Talking, by Miriam Toews. Click for catalog link.


When a group of Mennonite women learn that they’ve been drugged and attacked by men from their own community, they come together in an attempt to protect one another and their daughters from further harm. While the men are away, these women meet to make a difficult choice: do they stay in the community, or do they risk the danger of running away?  Women Talking is a story of women reclaiming their power despite the odds being stacked against them.




The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead (Audiobook) 

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The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. Click for catalog link.


Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for Fiction, The Underground Railroad follows the story of a woman named Cora, who learns about the Underground Railroad through a man named Cesar. In Whitehead’s novel, though, the Underground Railroad is an actual railroad, with a network of stations, trains, and tracks. Together Cora and Cesar risk escape, fleeing from state to state trying to avoid a slave catcher named Ridgeway. The Underground Railroad is a powerful narrative about the terrors faced by slaves in the pre-Civil War era, and one woman’s fierce determination to escape bondage.

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