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Imagine Wanting Only This
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Imagine Wanting Only This

3.40  ·  Rating details ·  2,685 ratings  ·  525 reviews
A gorgeous graphic memoir about loss, love, and confronting grief

When Kristen Radtke was in college, the sudden death of a beloved uncle and the sight of an abandoned mining town after his funeral marked the beginning moments of a lifelong fascination with ruins and with people and places left behind. Over time, this fascination deepened until it triggered a journey around
Hardcover, 278 pages
Published April 18th 2017 by Pantheon Books
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Average rating 3.40  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,685 ratings  ·  525 reviews

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David Schaafsma
Aug 24, 2017 rated it did not like it
I added something at th need from my original review, of August 2017:

“Nothing but the dead and dying in my little town”—Paul Simon

“I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”—U2

I read this, a graphic memoir by a young woman in her twenties, in one sitting today. Then looked more carefully through it. It made me think about myself a bit. This is the story of a woman whose uncle died, who broke up with her boyfriend, went traveling to see ruins all over the planet, got into the premier MFA non-fic
Susan Thomas
Oct 18, 2017 rated it did not like it
Who does that? Who steals pictures and re-draws, steals a story without knowing someone and not asking, steals a true art that the author obviously just doesn't get?

My son was portrayed in this book. The author didn't even know him. My son was Seth Thomas - the one this author became obsessed with after she stole pictures of him and pictures that he had taken that his family and friends had left to memorialize him at Gary Methodist Church. His friends, sister and cousin often went back looking
Aug 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: comics
This is a beautiful and haunting book about life, death, and the places we leave behind.

Kristen Radtke has traveled around the United States and the world looking at ruins and abandoned towns, including Colorado, Indiana, Iceland, and the Philippines. This work is a blend of stories of her trips and of her personal history, illustrated with evocative black-and-white drawings.

"I felt like I had to see everything, as if it was the only way my life would count or matter. I didn't care where we wer
I was expecting something introspective, but not this blatantly pretentious. I really appreciate the pacing, the carefully chosen bits of life Radtke shows, balancing the mundane with the profound quite well, but there's not much you can do when you don't like the main character. The version of herself Radtke puts out there is one of a privileged intellectual who imagines herself as deep, but is, in actuality, contributing nothing new. This turned me off as with each new chapter I grew more anno ...more
Cristina Monica
Oct 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: graphic-memoir
I have a strong love-hate relationship with this graphic memoir.

The graphics are lovely. It is beautiful. It is quiet and reflective. The reader feels as though he is privy to what few people in Kristen Radtke’s life are. The visuals are in black and white, which emphasises the mysterious components in this book.

It’s about twenty-something-year-old Kristen Radtke who becomes fascinated with ruins and travels around the world to heal from her uncle’s death, find herself—what she wants and needs—,
May 18, 2017 rated it it was ok
I went into this with too much expectation and excitement. I thought it was going to be a visually beautiful memoir and it was but it was also empty. The author is obsessed with ruin and decay and tells us nothing else. I walk away with the feeling she has nothing to say but wrote a book anyway with interesting graphics to fill in the gaps.
Jun 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
To abandon something beautiful is where the crime rests.

If this quote from the book is true, then the author is guilty of this crime, both when speaking as the main character in this book and as its writer and illustrator. Because this book was on the edge of becoming something beautiful if only the author had gone further, beyond honesty to the truth. Maybe that sounds odd since shouldn't honesty and the truth be one and the same? Not necessarily. Honesty comes from an individual and is colored
Julie Ehlers
In Imagine Wanting Only This, Kristen Radtke attempts to grapple with her grief over the death of her beloved uncle, her uncertainties about her own health, and her general restlessness by examining large-scale ruins: the abandonment and decay of entire towns; a horrific firestorm in Wisconsin; an erupting volcano in Iceland that buries a town in lava; the possibility of the complete submergence of New York City as a result of global warming. Connecting your own struggles to things much larger t ...more
Sean Kottke
May 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: graphic-novel, 2017
Please note, my feelings about this book are out of step with the critical and popular consensus. First, the image on the cover (which appears in the narrative) isn't possible. There's no spot inside Detroit Metro airport that yields a view of the Detroit skyline, and to get this particular arrangement of buildings, one has to be across the river in Windsor. Minor complaint? Yeah, maybe, but given that the book is so sincerely grounded in documentary and a strong sense of place - particularly ab ...more
Jul 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
A depressed young white woman moves from location to location and picks up local culture--sometimes literally stealing it, sometimes wandering through as an ill-equipped, uninformed tourist. She sees her own story and problems everywhere and makes representations of her problems out of other people's places and practices. The book would be an indictment of white women's obliviousness and tendency for appropriation, if only the protagonist/author were aware that she were doing those things.

The a
Rod Brown
May 21, 2017 rated it did not like it
Even though the memoirist only does a couple of middling-bad awful things, I spent each page I read hating her more and more. Her endless navel-gazing and crap profundity make her narcissistic and shallow in my eyes.
Krista Regester
Aug 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
A truly beautiful memoir – the title, Imagine Wanting Only This, is haunting enough to carry you through on its own.
Aug 14, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: graphic-novel, memoir
I'm not sure what put me off this one.

Was it the author's obvious dissatisfaction, or lack of enthusiasm for her own life, or the fact that she really doesn't have much of a story to tell?

Who knows . . . but it was the most BLAH graphic memoir I've ever read.
Kyle Minor
Mar 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
My favorite book of 2017 so far. A must-read for fans of Adrian Tomine, Danica Novgorodoff, Craig Thompson, Daniel Clowes, etc.
Apr 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I don't really even know how to begin this to be honest. I'm just going to sort of ramble.

I feel like Radtke took something I hesitantly think about too often (how temporary mankind's time on earth is both individual and societal, what is left behind) and made me stare at it head on with no sunglasses and nothing to distract me. And instead of doing what many other writers may do where they find ways to comfort you, she just was like... Yep. So there's that. And we all keep going on, because tha
Aug 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
The death of the author's youngest uncle propels her to explore ruins.

It's not good. She goes on these ruminations about what we've done or how we react or search for the past. I don't relate to it at all. The first place she explores is Gary, Indiana. It's not abandoned, but much like Detroit and the other ruins she talks about, it's more about the absence of white people. Gary, Indiana has a black population over 80%. White people left in the 1960s as steel industry declined and now young whi
Sep 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
1.5 stars. This was a huge disappointment. Radtke is clearly a gifted artist, and has the makings of a talented writer. Her mash-up of memoir, family medical history and historical/social commentary has received accolades in the comics world but I found that her lack of self-awareness and inability to examine and critique her privileged white, middle-class upbringing made her treatment of the subject of urban ruin and decay in contemporary America pretty superficial. She mentions "ruin porn" dis ...more
Hannah Garden
So the two ways I'm seeing this reviewed are: "It's a beautiful meditation on existential angst," and "It's pretentious navel-gazing by a privileged white woman." I don't know that its being the latter necessarily cancels out its being the former, though. And there is the additional issue of how sticky it feels to read particularly venomous take-downs of this kind of emotionally naked work, especially when it's by women, especially when that work is explicitly the memoir of someone who was quite ...more
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
I read this last night all in one sitting. The art was OK, but the story didn’t seem to fit together very well. Was it about her uncle or the man whose memorial they found? Was it about the decay of middle America or mining towns out West? The family history about the woman who saved people from the Peshtigo Fire? All of these are interesting on their own, but she didn’t get them to fit together into a cohesive narrative.
Book Riot Community
A gorgeous graphic memoir about life, loss, architecture, ruins, history, and humans. When her uncle dies, Kristen Radtke sees a deserted city and becomes obsessed. She journeys across the globe looking for places that people came, saw, conquered, and left behind. Life is impermanent. Our footprints are only around for a little while. Imagine Wanting Only This is the tale of those places.

— Ashley Holstrom

from The Best Books We Read In May 2017:
May 12, 2017 rated it liked it
I somehow can't resist my own catty retort to the title's directive: I wanted this book to be more than it was, so I was left with the dissatisfaction of not having imagined wanting only this but then getting just that.

It held such promise: the illustrations were appealing, and I was responsive to the mental space of the main character even though her mobility without reference to any socioeconomic friction wasn't relatable to me. The main problem I had was with the ending, how it just sort of
Vincent Scarpa
Feb 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Edit/update: my interview with Kristen for Electric Literature:

Sundered by the sudden passing of a cherished uncle — his death the result of an inscrutable and genetically inherited heart defect — Radtke develops an acute awareness of impermanence twinned with an interest in the ways in which abstractions like decay, rot, and ruin are made actual in deserted cities and abandoned mining towns. Imagine Wanting Only This adumbrates Radtke’s literal expedition
Dec 29, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: yikes, beans-reviews
I'm not sure where to begin. I think a fellow Goodreads user captures a lot of my feelings in the first line of their review: "A depressed young white woman moves from location to location and picks up local culture--sometimes literally stealing it, sometimes wandering through as an ill-equipped, uninformed tourist." I also felt like I was reading "a self-absorbed, joyless tomb raid" (literally. The author's theft of items from Seth Thomas' memorial, plus her repeated invocation of his memory ba ...more
Elizabeth A
Sep 19, 2017 rated it it was ok
The thing about navel gazing is that it's only interesting to the person with the navel being gazed at.

This is a graphic memoir about a twenty-something woman who is mourning the death of a beloved uncle. She somehow connects ruins and dilapidated places with this loss, and the book is her working through all her feelings. The art is really good, but the book itself felt pointless, almost like a final project for her MFA. If not for the art I would have bailed on this one, so for the art alone
It's really pretty and thoughtful relating to grief and death and loss and impermanence. I love the way Radtke connects feeling disconnected from place to feeling that sort of great loss and working through it.

But the Seth plot line. . . felt weirdly extraneous and uncomfortable. I get what was going on with it, and I appreciated how it gives us a glimpse into what sort of mindset Radtke worked through in her early 20s, but it almost feels as though the book would have been stronger without it.
Dec 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
My last finished book of 2017 (which makes 201 books)!

This is a moving and thought provoking graphic memoir about a young woman’s meditation on permanence and memory. What determines how a place is remembered as it decays into picturesque ruins or a rotted blight? What are we, as impermanent residents of this earth, supposed to leave behind? Radtke’s journey in this book through ruins both physical and metaphorical is riveting.
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Jul 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: photography
(If you are a huge graphic novels fan, you may want to disregard this entire review.)

I'm not, as a rule, crazy about graphic novels. They tend, in my view, to be beautifully illustrated, yes, but text-wise quite disappointing.

This graphic novel is different. The text is rich, and thoughtful, and brilliant, and the illustrations are wonderful, too.

The story is a meditation on Radtke's own life, and it centers on her experiences with a site where a fellow who was obsessed with decay found his own
My favorite part about this was the urban exploration stuff (urbex, UE, etc.).
It's unsettling to me how many unused ruins amerika has left by the wayside, even in our relatively short history. It feels like a waste. To build a building, use it for a few decades, then leave it empty, while cutting down more of the natural environment to build a different building - the cycle makes me sad.

So I liked that this story brought that phenomenon into relief.

That said, I found the book itself to be rela
Apr 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Not exactly a memoir but more a rumination on the impermanence of our lives and what we've built around ourselves, told through black and white, impressively line-drawn illustrations and narrative. The narrative is almost more like caption for the drawing, which tends toward darkness. This fits the tone of Radtke's descriptions of the ruins she has encountered and endured in her formative years and beyond. Absolutely stunning and unique.
Dec 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
The power of this graphic memoir expands as the story unfolds. It is about family, love, land, and ruin. And the art style is fantastic. Video review to come.
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Kristen Radtke is a writer and illustrator based in Brooklyn. Her graphic memoir, Imagine Wanting Only This, is forthcoming from Pantheon Books in April.

She is the managing editor of Sarabande Books and the film & video editor of TriQuarterly magazine. She has an MFA from the University of Iowa's Nonfiction Writing Program.

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