Shelf life: An ode to the Honnold Mudd graphic novel collection

A hand reaches towards a book on a bookshelf. It has a bike on its spine and it is labelled Davis. Above the shelf it reads "Honnold Mudd Graphic Novels."
(Jadyn Lee • The Student Life)

On a slow Tuesday afternoon, while wandering Honnold Mudd Library and desperately procrastinating an essay, I selected “You & A Bike & A Road” by Eleanor Davis from the library’s graphic novel collection. The second floor was practically empty, save me and two other dubiously-studious students seated socially-acceptable distances away from each other. In “You & A Bike & A Road,” I expected to find a distraction — something pretty, maybe, but not impactful. Fifty minutes later, I was sitting in the corner of the library, trying to suppress my tears so as to not disturb the students around me. 

“You & A Bike & A Road” tells the story of Davis’ attempt to bike from her parents’ home in Tucson, Arizona, to her home in Athens, Georgia. It’s a crushingly long bike ride — when I looked it up, Google Maps informed me that it’s 1892 miles in total — but for Davis, it’s worth it. (“I was having trouble with wanting to not be alive,” she writes in the very beginning of the book. “But I feel good when I’m bicycling.”) And, with this premise, the reader follows Davis on her journey of recovery, of perseverance. 

The story is presented like a diary, sketched out fluidly and casually in pencil and ink. Though her characters are all a little blob-like, ghostly and half-formed, she manages to convey incredible emotion. Biking alone is a lonely thing, an act with an incredible physical toll on the body. It’s an impressive feat, but what is more impressive is what Davis pays attention to beyond the bike ride. Ants crawling along the blades of grass by her feet, the cold and brutal omnipresence of border patrol officers, the ebb and flow of pain in her knees and her body and just some of the things she catalogs in this book. Davis finds beauty and solace in the world outside herself, drawing these things so the reader can experience them, too. 

These moments of attention and appreciation in the face of physical and emotional pain build up, they magnify each other. “You & A Bike & A Road” is a triumph. Davis takes the brutal and relentless challenges of life, and turns them into art.

Fellow bikers wave at Davis on her path, a passer-by allows her to stay with his family until her knees heal. I was amazed at the empathy of these strangers. Davis breaks down on the phone with her husband, fearing that she won’t make it. I was amazed at the unconditional support provided by loved ones. Davis crests a hill, panting, and finds herself facing the smooth line of the horizon. I was amazed at the sheer expanse of the desert, the sky, the world. 

Towards the end of the book, there’s an illustration of Davis’ outstretched hands, about to touch her husband’s face as they’re reunited. Towards the end of the book, I was weeping on the floor of Mudd 2. 

This semester I’ve begun a love affair with Honnold Mudd. Not for its academic resources, no; I know frustratingly little about how to navigate its online databases and to be entirely honest, the continuous multi-tier stacks of nonfiction on the Mudd side frighten me. 

No, I’m in love with Honnold Mudd Library for a single row of shelves tucked away on the second floor. Here, in a library composed of white walls, fluorescent lights and primary color-blocked furniture, is a lush ecosystem of indie comics and Marvel classics. It’s not an exaggeration when I say that the Honnold Mudd graphic novel collection is saving my semester. 

I’ll admit it: I often end up in the library when I’m bored, homesick or lonely. While this semester, these emotions have arisen all too often, I’ve found that the library’s graphic novel collection is their antidote. There, I find reminders of home in the graphic novels I’ve left behind, such as Jillian Tamaki’s “Boundless” and Shaun Tan’s “Tales from Outer Suburbia.” I find endless interest in the form of books that I’ve always meant to read, like Drawn & Quarterly’s absolutely massive 25th anniversary collection and “What It Is” by Lynda Barry. And, on that slow, sunny Tuesday afternoon, “You & A Bike & A Road” momentarily healed my loneliness. It is a reminder to slow down, to pay attention, to wonder at our capacity for empathy. It asserts that, even in sadness, we can create and share beautiful things. 

If you’re struggling with loneliness, boredom, homesickness or overwhelm, I urge you to stop by the Honnold Mudd graphic novel collection. “You & A Bike & A Road” will be there, if you want to check it out. 

Kate Jones PO ’24 is from Seattle, Washington. Her favorite comic of all time is SuperMutant Magic Academy, by Jillian Tamaki.

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