The Mueller Report: 3 graphic novels

I was certainly never going to read the actual 400+ page report, so I was intrigued with the idea of a graphic novel that breaks it all down. Then, when I saw there were three different versions, I clearly had to compare and contrast!

The Mueller Report

By Shannon Wheeler and Steve Duin

I read this one first because the illustrations are fun and cartoony, if not exactly true to life (I very much appreciated the authors including footnotes identifying key actors on each page and an illustrated index, since there are so many, and middle-aged white men in suits tend to all look alike anyway).

In 200 pages the graphic novel gives an impressively comprehensive overview of the entire report, breaking down the two different probes and the final conclusion that managed to disappoint and anger pretty much everyone. Because they have so much territory to cover, it moves quickly from event to event without delving into any one of them deeply.

The Mueller Report Illustrated: The Obstruction Investigation

By The Washington Post

This is the one I was most anticipating, with the most realistic graphics and the heaviest hitting analysts, but I was a little disappointed when I realized that it only delves into the second probe (which I only knew to distinguish because of Wheeler and Duin’s graphic novel). It does, however, give more nuance to events that I then realized had been compressed in the previous comic, and provides some of the supporting evidence in reproduced memos and articles. That said, this being The Washington Post, their own articles are heavily featured, of course.

However, if you, like me, think this is basically the only way you are going to be able to review the Mueller report, this is available free online with a scrollable layout here, so I recommend checking it out.

The Mueller Report Graphic Novel

By Barbara Slate

This Mueller Report went back even further than the first one, setting the stage in 2014 with Russia’s Internet Research Agency and the initial plans for Trump Tower Moscow. It is also the shortest of them all at just 107 pages, so it whizzes through everything at a brisk pace, occasionally leaving me a little lost among all the names, even after having the read the other two. The illustration style, too, was sketchy and inconsistent enough that I struggled to match the figures to the real life people.

That said, I think Slate really shined best in the occasional, isolated full-page graphics each dedicated to one specific issue, such as Russia’s approach to organizing political rallies in America and the search for Hillary’s emails.


All in all, I found them all interesting and entertaining, and while I didn’t grasp everything, I’m much better informed than I was before. What I found particularly interesting was seeing what scenes all three decided to emphasize (Trump’s unorthodox one-on-one dinner with James Comey, Chris Christie’s prescient warning that Flynn would be an on-going scandal, Trump keeping Session’s resignation letter even after asking him to stay) and where they diverged.

Here For It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America

By R. Eric Thomas

Here_For_ItWhew, this book! I’m a big fan of R. Eric Thomas’ weekly e-newsletter,* and figured this would be a similar collection of essays: a combination of very funny personal anecdotes and political/social commentary. And it was, but just…even better: deeper, more complex, shockingly poignant. I was in awe of how he balanced humor and gravity, and how artistically he threaded themes through his personal life into reflections of our country as a whole.

One sentence, I’ll be laughing out loud, and the next will stop me short:

“The fact that I sometimes enjoyed dating a boy was, to say the least, discomfirming information for a Christian, black-esque straight person who spent his free time carefully curating an Audra McDonald fan page on the internet. And it didn’t feel like there were two sides of me fighting for dominance; it felt like I was coming apart at some basic level, like I was becoming diffuse, like water becomes mist.”

… “like water becomes mist.” Whew!

Thomas has had hard times, as he struggled with what it meant to be black, gay, and deeply Christian in America, but he finds such reflective truths and ultimate optimism that it was an ideal read right now. In his introduction, Thomas talks about his childhood love for Sesame Street’s The Monster At the End of This Book. It’s a funny, light-hearted critique of a children’s book through the retrospective adult lens. By the end, he ties this all into how difficult life seems now, but how important it is to forge ahead (as a very skilled professional writer, he of course does this much more meaningfully than I can). The title of his book comes from his conclusion that he is “here for it,” it being his life, with all its ups and downs, and that is how you save your soul in America.

*I have to plug his analysis of Governor Cuomo’s covid-themed poster, which had me howling!

Red, White, and Royal Blue

By Casey McQuiston

Royal_BlueOstensibly a romance novel (the first son of the United States falls into an affair with the second prince of England), Red, White, and Royal Blue is charming enough to lure the reader into some truly heart-wrenching looks at our current political climate.

Though the politics represented here are much improved over our current situation – the first female president is facing her reelection with a conservative but politically savvy Republican opponent – it still holds a mirror to how twisted our politics have gotten: where polls, focus groups, and image are everything, having completely superseded personal ethos.

This is a lot for a supposed romance novel, but it asks how much sacrifice can be demanded of individuals for a greater societal good? Is there a tipping point where the sacrifice becomes so big that it degrades the society around it? For me, it explored how asking people to hide who they truly are – sexuality in this book, but also ethnicity, religion, gender and countless other things – is not only poisonously corrosive to the individuals but weakens our entire society.

I had been looking forward to a fluffy romance to pass the time while I self-isolate in order to avoid being an additional contagion vector (how is our world like this right now?!), and was a bit grumpy to not actually get precisely that, but it is so moving, heartfelt, and ultimately optimistic that I couldn’t stay mad.

The 1619 Project

I wasn’t planning to borrow from Kinsey’s occasional tendency of reviewing something that everyone has already read and talked about, but Rebecca assured me that it hadn’t crossed her path until I told her about it.

So…the 1619 Project:

In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the British colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed. On the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is finally time to tell our story truthfully.

The more I read as an adult, the more I realize just how sanitized the history I was taught was, and most particularly when it comes to slavery. This project is a collection of writing looking at the history of slavery, how it has roots in every sector of our country, and the ongoing harm it does today. It includes over a dozen pieces – mostly written essays but also poems, short works of fiction, and photo essays. It is large in scope, both in size and range of topics, and it is a daunting read that I honestly wasn’t sure I could manage.*

Then I started seeing some of the buckwild responses from conservatives who very clearly had not read any of it, and decided that I had to read it, out of spite if nothing else (for proof of what I’ll read out of spite, see Atlas Shrugged). And no lie, it is a hard read, though I suspect less difficult for black readers, who may mostly feel relieved to see published acknowledgement of what they already knew. I’ve set myself to read just one of the entries each day, so I’m only four in at the point of this review, but I feel like every sentence hits me like a ton of bricks:

This violence was meant to terrify and control black people, but perhaps just as important, it served as a psychological balm for white supremacy: You would not treat human beings this way. The extremity of the violence was a symptom of the psychological mechanism necessary to absolve white Americans of their country’s original sin.

— from “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true.” by Nikole Hannah-Jones

Continue reading


I promise that I’m going to review an actual book eventually, but in the meantime, here’s some more links!

We’ve all mourned the closing of The Toast on this blog (though thank god for the archive!), and before it closed, the editors tried multiple ways to make it financially sustainable but not exclusive without success. E-newsletters may be the answer! Both Nicole Cliffe and Daniel Mallory Ortberg, founding editors of The Toast, have ones that mirror their respective writing styles. Both newsletters are primarily for a paid subscription, though include periodic public posts for people who either cannot afford the subscription or want to read some samples first.

Nicole Cliffe’s daily newsletter, Nicole Knows, lists interesting reads from around the web, including long-form articles, YouTube videos, tweets, advice column letters, and my favorite, particularly juicy reddit posts. She also recently published an interview with Alanis Morissette in Self Magazine, and I’ve never been a huge fan of Morissette’s music, but reading these two smart and compassionate women talk about feminism and motherhood and individuality was a real inspiration.

Daniel Mallory Ortberg’s newsletter, The Shatner Chatner, is not as regular as daily, but several times a week, and my best idea is that it spans whatever he happens to be thinking of that day. It is often very funny, often very insightful, and sometimes so educational on trans issues that I’m scrambling to keep up.

And finally, this isn’t really a newsletter in the same way as the above, but R. Eric Thomas, an incredibly funny writer for, writes a weekly tinyletter, in which he collects his 3-4 articles for with some additional commentary or personal anecdote. They are free to subscribe to, and I look forward to them every Sunday as the only thing making current politics even remotely bearable.


Great Literary Takedowns

HunterSThompsonI can’t remember what social media recommended this, but a while ago, someone linked to this truly incredible ‘eulogy’ that Hunter S. Thompson wrote for Nixon on his death:

Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism — which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place. He looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so all-American, so much like Horatio Alger, that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see Nixon clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful.

It is also shockingly reflective of the current president, as well. In these terrible times, I’ve been really missing the political writers like Molly Ivins, who could make me laugh while exposing the most outrageous politics, and we need more of them. I hope to God someone writes something similar about Trump on his demise (or sooner).

* * * * * * * * *

MarkTwainWhen I was relating this to my mom as perhaps the best literary take-down I’d ever read, she reminded me of Mark Twain’s savaging of Fenimore Cooper, which if you haven’t read, you need to go do right now:

We must be a little wary when Brander Matthews tells us that Cooper’s books “reveal an extraordinary fullness of invention.” As a rule, I am quite willing to accept Brander Matthews’s literary judgments and applaud his lucid and graceful phrasing of them; but that particular statement needs to be taken with a few tons of salt. Bless you heart, Cooper hadn’t any more invention than a horse; and don’t mean a high-class horse, either; I mean a clothes- horse. It would be very difficult to find a really clever “situation” in Cooper’s books, and still more difficult to find one of any kind which has failed to render absurd by his handling of it.

Honestly, is there anything better than a truly skilled author using their gifts for maximum snark?

* * * * * * * * *

Unrelated, but since I’m linking to things, I’ve been obsessed with this tweet all week:


Some good samaritan put together a spotify list that I’ve been listening to all week, and just mulling over how hard it is to feel vulnerable in your teens, trying to make meaningful connections with other people. And, of course, it is just a total shot of pure 90s teenage longing!

— Anna

Simpson Testimony and Steele Dossier

Oh, man! I’ve been on a kick of most excellent period-piece mysteries, but I had to interrupt it to focus on the latest, most crazy political controversy from the past couple weeks. After Senator Feinstein released the transcript of testimony from Fusion GPS CEO Glenn Simpson, I read two fascinating (and lengthy) twitter threads analyzing the transcript.

Elizabeth McLaughlin is a lawyer and CEO, and has a 60-tweet thread of her reading here:

Seth Abramson is a former criminal defense attorney and journalist, and his 200-tweet thread is here:

The analyses are fascinating, and the quotes from both Simpson and Steele are completely bonkers! So, a quick rehash, which I’m going to put after a break, because it gets a bit involved. Continue reading

The Handmaild’s Tale

By Margaret Atwood

Book cover: The Handmaid's TaleWarning: this is going to be a blatantly and quite politically biased post. As everyone, left- and right-leaning, has been saying, Tuesday is going to be quite a deciding factor for our country, and will take us in one of two very different directions. (I’m feeling a bit guilty myself for having moved my vote away from a key swing state this year.)

Early on in the campaigns, I was so taken aback by the backlash against Sandra Fluke and the willingness of conservative women to outrageously slut-shame other women with no awareness of how such language could eventually come back to bite them as well. In discussing this very fact, I read the below comment on Videogum, one of the blogs I read daily:

Has everyone read “The Handmaid’s Tale”? It’s a. GREAT, and b. set in a future America where a very repressive regime that is pretty shitty to women has taken over. There is a passing moment where the narrator talks about how a woman she knows used to be a great big televangelist who would always talk about how a woman’s place should be at home is turned into a chattel slave like every other lady once the new regime takes over, and how she seems mad that someone “took her at her word”.

After reading this comment, I thought perhaps The Handmaiden’s Tale could give me more insight into this kind of mindset.

This book is terrifying, far scarier than any horror story I could have picked for Halloween. My only comfort was that it seems unrealistic that such a drastic change could happen all within one generation. In the novel, the narrator went to college, got married, and had a daughter, all before she was restricted to being a “handmaiden,” a fertile woman supplied to couples unable to have children in order to surrogate for them by government orders, in her mid-30s. Although maybe Atwood’s point is that if you aren’t paying attention or participating in politics, it could run right over you before you even notice.

In addition to terrifying, though, the book is enthralling; I couldn’t put it down. I’d worried that it would be painful to read, but the narrator takes such a matter-of-fact tone that even the most stressful scenes had a comfortably numb tone that both made them easier to read and reflected the mental state one would have to be in to survive. I’d thought about ‘live-blogging’ my progress through it, but I devoured it in a matter of days, and then spent the next couple of weeks trying to write a post that encapsulates all of my feelings about it, which turns out to be impossible. Instead I’ve compiled a little game for you – it will be fun!

Here is a list of quotes, some from The Handmaid’s Tale and some from a variety of political leaders and pundits; can you tell the difference?

  1. “If you look at the Scriptures, I believe it’s clear that God has designed men to exercise authority in the home, in the church, in society, and in government.“
  2. “Our country might have been better off if it was still just men voting. There is nothing worse than a bunch of mean, hateful women. They are diabolical in how than can skewer a person.”
  3. “Money was the only measure of worth, for everyone, they got no respect as mothers. No wonder they were giving up on the whole business. This way they’re protected, they can fulfill their biological destinies in peace. With full support and encouragement.”
  4. “Nature demands variety, for men. It stands to reason, it’s part of the procreational strategy. It’s Nature’s plan. Women know that instinctively.”
  5. “The problem with women voting is that women have no capacity to understand how money is earned. They have a lot of ideas on how to spend it. And when they take these polls, it’s always more money on education, more money on child care, more money on day care.”
  6. “What we’re aiming for is a spirit of camaraderie among women. We must all pull together.”

Answers after the break.

Continue reading

Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime

By John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

I know I haven’t posted in a while, and it is because I’ve been hauling my way through a large and very unusual book for me—political nonfiction—so I’m writing a very long post to compensate.

I checked this book out from the library the day after seeing the HBO movie of the same name, which was just a narrow slice of the full scope of the book*. I enjoyed the movie; I knew all the public politics already, but it was fascinating seeing all the behind-the-scenes shuffling, like peering backstage at a show. I wanted to know more about it, so I checked out the book.

And very quickly realized that I did not want to know more about it. Politics isn’t a Broadway show, it’s a sausage factory**, and if I wanted to still enjoy sausage, I damn sure didn’t want to see how it is made. Now, I’m a democrat and the book reads somewhat democrat-leaning, though the authors are political correspondents and journalists who I am sure pride themselves on their unbiased stance. However, every single person comes across as single-mindedly, self-centeredly ambitious in a microcosm of politics that not only doesn’t seem to have much relevance to the rest of the nation, but seems to disdain the rest of the nation a bit. So, I guess that, at least, is something bipartisan.

I will give Game Change this: it is so minutely, exhaustively researched that it sort of boggles the mind. It is written in a narrative structure, following the various candidates like protagonists in a story. When tracking Obama in 2006, well before he was in the national consciousness, they extrapolate his frame of mind from a note he passed to another senator in a committee meeting and a hand gesture (not the one you are thinking of right now) he made in the hallway of the Capitol. I imagine the two authors scouring every building he ever set foot in and asking everybody and anybody there, “Did you ever see President Obama? What was he doing? Did he say anything—anything at all?!”

The best part is reading about the events that I actually remember from the race, but reading them in context with everything else that came between. The oddest part, though, is reading about pivotal, influential events about which I had no idea here in the midlands of America. (ex. Apparently, Maureen Dowd wrote an article in which she interviewed David Geffen about his disillusionment with the Clintons? It was a big moment where democrats felt free to criticize the Clintons and support Obama instead? I mean, I know who Maureen Dowd is, though I’ve never read anything by her. I initially thought David Geffen might be Liza Minnelli’s most recent husband, until it quickly became clear that wasn’t right.)

I guess I can kind of see where politicians get their contempt for all the rest of us, but I think that contempt comes from a very ignorant place—they have no idea how we think and how we make decisions. And because they don’t understand it, they disdain it. I imagine that it is stories like my own that drive politicians crazy: I saw the campaign ads, read articles, and still couldn’t make up my mind between Clinton and Obama. Then, I read a post on a small blog that I regularly check out where the author commented that if Clinton gets elected, two families would have been running the White House for 24 years and that is some disconcerting dynasty-building right there. And that’s what did it for me—that one post made my decision.

Later, it occurred to me that this phenomena kind of highlights how insular the political world is, at least for the active players. For myself, only the largest of political events break into my brain space that is otherwise occupied with my daily office work, what I’m making for dinner, how to balance this month’s budget, etc. For the people in this book, though, this is their entire life.

When the HBO movie came out, Palin understandable objected to it, and HBO tried to argue that it wasn’t necessarily an unflattering portrait, which of course it is. The book is not truly flattering either, but it is a lot more balanced in assigning blame equally on McCain’s people.

The vast majority of the book is spent on the democratic primaries, to the point where it gets a little bogged down, but then it rushes through the general race at breakneck speed, making me feel like I was missing things that they simply weren’t discussing.

This is perhaps the best compliment: Game Change already has me looking at the 2012 race in a different light.

A couple of random concluding thoughts:

  • The book does a great job of humanizing the politicians. It is a little embarrassing to admit, but it had not occurred to me that politicians could actually be sad or get their feelings hurt while on the campaign. I guess I just thought that so much of the discourse was overblown wind-bagging, that it all was. I was kind of shocked how many of them break down into tears at one point or another.
  • Hillary Clinton’s political career so far could almost be a Greek play (I’m not sure yet whether a tragedy or comedy): her husband is the one that initially gives her the political clout and name-recognition to run for president, but he was also her biggest obstacle in the campaign and probably the strongest reason she lost.

*A VERY narrow slice – the book breaks down as follows:

  • Pages 1-267: the race for the Democratic nomination, focusing on the Obama and Clinton campaigns, with some discussion of Edwards (which has been very informative in light of the current trial)
  • Pages 268-319: the race for the Republican nomination, focusing almost entirely on McCain with a few pages about Giuliani
  • Pages 320-436: the general election (the events of the HBO movie are all contained within pages 353-416)

**The 12-year-old in me says, “YEAH, it is!” (sorry)