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Kristen Radtke: Reading as an antidote to loneliness

Kristen Radtke is a cartoonist and the art director for Believer magazine.Amy Ritter

Kristen Radtke’s graphic novel “Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness” couldn’t be more timely given one of the pandemic’s lingering side effects — isolation. Part essay, part science journalism, and part autobiography, the book is a finalist for the Kirkus 2021 Prize in nonfiction. Radtke is a cartoonist and the art director for Believer magazine. The Wisconsin native lives in Brooklyn.

BOOKS: What are you reading?

RADTKE: I’m reading books about linguistics and about gossip for my next project. This is the most fun part of a project, when I get to read dozens of books about a subject. This is why I’m drawn to nonfiction. You get to engage with other people’s ideas.


BOOKS: What would you recommend from your research?

RADTKE: Sherry Turkle’s “Reclaiming Conversation,” which is about how technology has changed the way we talk. There’s this great book, “Witches, Witch-Hunting, and Women,” by Silvia Federici. She writes that one of the reasons witch hunts happened was because women were getting together to talk and people in power didn’t like that. I also loved “Talk” by Linda Rosenkrantz, which is a book of transcribed and edited conversations from this summer these friends spent together. When it came out it in the ‘60s reviewers panned it because they thought it didn’t sound like people talking, which is hilarious because it was actual people talking.

BOOKS: When the last time you read just for pleasure?

RADTKE: I would say six months ago. I love reading essays. The most recent collection I loved is Larissa Pham’s “Pop Song.” It’s gorgeous and fun, and weaves together culture criticism, art and art history with personal narrative. Jordan Kisner’s “Thin Places” does that as well.

BOOKS: Do you read largely current essay collections?

RADTKE: I probably mostly read things that have come out in the past couple of years. If I go back to old stuff it’s because I’m interested in the subject or I’ve read recent work by an author and want to read their back catalog. I did that with Maggie Nelson many years ago. I’ve done that with graphic novelists, like Nick Drnaso, who wrote “Sabrina,” a terrifying, weird graphic novel.


BOOKS: Who is your favorite essayist?

RADTKE: Joan Didion. My favorite is “The White Album.” I think it’s interesting to read her older works next to her current books. She wrote about culture for so long we get to see the whole arc of her life, which is a rare gift for a reader.

BOOKS: Is there a graphic novelist who you’ve read everything they wrote?

RADTKE: Adrian Tomine. He’s a great storyteller with words and images. His prose is as sharp as it would be in a novel. He doesn’t use narration, everything happens in the dialogue, so it has to be super sharp.

BOOKS: When did you start reading graphic novels?

RADTKE: I read Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis” my sophomore year in college and loved it. When I started working in graphic forms I had her books and Alison Bechdel’s open on my desk. I kept rereading them to see how they made a story work.

BOOKS: Is there a graphic novel you wish were better known?

RADTKE: “Grass” by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim. It’s about Korean comfort women and its gorgeous. More people should read that for sure.


BOOKS: What other kind of books do you reads?

RADTKE: I love novels, but if I’m writing essays I only want to read essays. I did go on a huge novel kick the year before the pandemic. I loved Megha Majumdar’s “A Burning,” Julie Buntin’s “Marlena,” and Bryan Washington’s “Memorial.”

BOOKS: How did the pandemic affect your reading?

RADTKE: It became harder for me to read because I became so busy and the world felt so upside down. It felt absurd to engage in a book about suburban ennui.

BOOKS: Do you think reading can ease loneliness?

RADTKE: Definitely. Reading brings you access to other ways of thinking. It helps you see yourself in someone else’s story, which is a huge antidote to loneliness. The problem with loneliness is that you feel no one else has felt that way you do before. Books show you that isn’t true.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane” and she can be reached at amysutherland@mac.com.