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For cartoonist Lynda Barry, creativity is a slippery, vaguely intimidating thing, so it’s fitting that drawings of squids and octopuses float throughout her gorgeously illustrated book What It Is. Part memoir, part writing guide, part scrapbook, the collection is her attempt to gather up the anxieties of her youth and interrogate them, looking for answers to questions both abstract (“What is realization?”) and concrete (“When did you first notice you were bad at something?”). Many of the book’s exercises will be familiar to anybody who’s taken a creative writing course—write without stopping for five minutes; quick, think of your first telephone number—but tutorials are rarely so eye-popping. Those who know Barry from black-and-white works like Ernie Pook’s Comeek might be surprised at the colorful collages in which her writings are nested, with imagery as folksy yet uncanny as a Joseph Cornell shadow box.
BARRY DISCUSSES AND SIGNS COPIES OF HER WORK AT 7 P.M. AT POLITICS AND PROSE, 5015 CONNECTICUT AVE. NW. FREE. (202) 364-1919.