Book Choice: ‘Marbles,’ on Mental Health

Nominations Sought for ’21-22 Theme of Social Justice

Cartoon of woman's face, from book cover.
From the cover of cartoonist Ellen Forney’s book “Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me.”

The Campus Community Book Project has two big announcements: the title of the book on mental health we will all be encouraged to read in 2020-21, and the theme for the year after that, along with a call for nominations.


Top portion of book cover, rainbow-colored graphic over "Marb;es" in comic type


Book project organizers welcome volunteers for the 2020-21 program planning committee, for Marbles; and the selection committee for 2021-22. Sign up here.

The graphic memoir Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me is next year’s selection. Author-cartoonist Ellen Forney is scheduled to give a talk on March 1, hopefully in-person.

The Marbles schedule will commence in the fall, with programs such as lectures and panels, films and exhibitions, and as part of class curricula if instructors so choose.

The Campus Community Book Project, for students, staff, faculty and the Davis community at large, began in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, as a means of encouraging respectful dialogue around common topics, as reflected in the theme that changes from year to year.

Marbles was published in 2012 (it was a New York Times bestseller), but the topic is timely. “It stands alongside efforts to prioritize mental health as a basic need at UC Davis and in our communities,” said Megan Macklin, book project coordinator in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Forney is no stranger to the Campus Community Book Project: She illustrated the 2011-12 book selection, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie.

‘Popular concept of the crazy artist’

Forney was diagnosed with bipolar disorder shortly before her 30th birthday, according to Marbles publisher Gotham/Penguin Books. “Flagrantly manic and terrified that medications would cause her to lose creativity and her livelihood, she began a years-long struggle to find mental stability while retaining her passion and creativity,” the publisher states on its website.

Ellen Forney mugshot

“Searching to make sense of the popular concept of the crazy artist, she finds inspiration from the lives and work of other artists and writers who suffered from mood disorders, including Vincent van Gogh, Georgia O’Keeffe, William Styron and Sylvia Plath.

“She also researches the clinical aspects of bipolar disorder, including the strengths and limitations of various treatments and medications, and what studies tell us about the conundrum of attempting to ‘cure’ an otherwise brilliant mind.”

Other accolades for Marbles included designation by The Washington Post as a “best book” of 2012 and picked by Time as the best graphic novel of 2012.

From a review by National Public Radio’s Myla Goldberg: “Is it weird to call a memoir about bipolar disorder entertaining? Well, this one is, thanks to the ease with which Forney translates her vivacious, fearless personality to the page …. Forney has a virtuosic understanding of what words and images can do in congress, playing them off one another in ways that allow her pages to be more than the sum of their parts.”

Macklin said the book project’s focus on “mental health” over “mental illness” is intentional, adding: “We especially look forward to planning a program that embeds opportunities for self-care resources, and for critical self-reflection in combating stigma.”

Call for book nominations for 2021-22

The council recently decided on next year’s theme: “social justice in practice.” “It holds the potential to engage our campus and community in scholarship and learning that ventures beyond the ‘what’ — the reality of our diverse experiences — into the ‘how’ of practicing and promoting concepts like equity and inclusion,” Macklin said.

The nomination and selection process is outlined here. Nominations are being accepted through Friday, July 24. Send them to Sunny Dosanjh by email.

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