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Graphic Medicine

2021-22: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

This Year's Common Book

2020-21: How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

This Year's Common Book

2018-19: Marbles by Ellen Forney

Questions for Discussions

In 2018-2019, the Health Sciences Common Book was Marbles, by Ellen Forney. This is from the NNLM Mental Health Graphic Medicine Discussion Guide. They are making it freely available but ask that this be credited to them.

  1. In Marbles we see Ellen riding the “rollercoaster” of mania and depression and through the power of her illustrations, we are able to live it with her. How did you find the experience of living these major ups and major downs?
  2. Did you appreciate the visual aspects of this book? Do you think the format of a graphic novel is more or less effective for a memoir than for a fictional account? How is it different than a memoir written in prose?
  3. Does the book remind you of an aspect of your own life? A particular event? A person – like a friend, family member, co-worker, etc.?
  4. Can you point to specific passages/panels that struck you personally? Why?
  5. Did Marbles change your perspective on bipolar disorder and/or mental illness generally? If so, how? If not, why not?
  6. Most of us have a mental image of what therapy IS in a normative sense. How did Marbles challenge (or reaffirm) your personal image of what therapy is supposed to look like?
  7. Ellen spends a great deal of time exploring the connection between her art and her illness – in fact, it is in some ways the central theme of the book. What do you make of this exploration? Do you think there is a connection between great art and mental illness?
  8. Ellen gave a powerful description of the long, lengthy, and expensive process of finding the best management for her bipolar disease. It is also clear that she is lucky to have strong family ties and sound financial standing. How might her story have been different if she weren’t in such a supported position?
  9. Have you read other memoirs or stories about bipolar disorder (or mental illness generally)? How does Marbles compare to them?
  10. Ellen has been accused of being an “oversharer” in reviews of this book. Do you agree? Why or why not?
  11. Would you share Marbles with people in your life? Why or why not?