Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and March by John Lewis

Hi everybody!

As most of you probably know, today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. And while I think in past years today has largely been a day to simply remember the civil rights leader and what he did, this year it’s a day of both protest and tribute–especially in the wake of the murders of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and many other African Americans by police.

Just as it’s important to understand things like the Revolutionary War or World War II, it’s also important to understand the struggles people of color have faced throughout U.S. history, especially when many of these struggles still exist today. It’s not just African American history–it’s American history, something everyone should know about. And probably one of the best books I’ve read that helps in this understanding is March: Book One.

One of the most noteworthy things about March is that it’s written by someone who not only lived through the Civil Rights Movement, but was a prominent leader of it as well. Congressman John Lewis served as Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, participated in the Freedom Rides of 1961, and spoke at the 1963 March on Washington. March is a graphic memoir, and the first of three books focusing on Lewis’s experiences in the movement. And it is amazing.

Written by Lewis with the help of his employee Andrew Aydin, and accompanied by the illustrations of Nate Powell, March begins with Lewis’s childhood and moves forward from there. He gives the reader a unique and detailed look at what his life was like, in a way that is both eye-opening and interesting. He encompasses everything from his love of the Bible, to his dedication to school, to the way he would preach to the chicken coop at night and run for the school bus in the morning. He also takes the reader through his adolescence and into college, during which he was introduced to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And then Lewis describes his growing involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, and the way he became immersed in the ways of nonviolence.

March is one of those books that I can’t help but want everyone to read. Lewis is a wonderful writer, and presents the movement in a unique way that you just can’t get from a textbook. He shows so many different facets of it–from the racism he saw all around him as a child, to the nonviolent workshops he participated in, to the brutal violence and backlash the protesters faced. So many parts of the book stand out in my mind, especially the trip Lewis took as a boy to the North with his uncle, and the shock he felt at seeing that there were white people living next to black people–on both sides. And Nate Powell’s illustrations only enhance the story, providing striking pictures that suit Lewis’s words perfectly.

I don’t think I could ever do March justice simply by describing it in a single post. But during a time when African Americans and other minorities are still faced with a system that continuously gives preference to white people, when racism is still alive and well in America, March is important. It’s important to know about what happened during the Civil Rights Movement and what progress was made, especially when there is still so much to be done. And that’s why it’s heartening to see the protests taking place today–because that shows that things can change. And I think Dr. King would be pretty proud of that.

Bookish Quote of the Day: “Then, one Sunday morning in early 1955, I was listening to WRMA out of Montgomery when I heard a sermon by someone unknown to me–a young preacher from Atlanta. I didn’t catch his name until the very end.” —March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

P.S. And if you like March, there’s terrific news–the sequel is officially out January 20th, 2015. Which happens to be tomorrow! 🙂

I Was Here

Hi everybody! Good Lord, it is 2015. I still can’t get used to this.

As you can probably tell, the book of the day is I Was Here by Gayle Forman. I’m still very new to Gayle Forman, to be honest. I did read If I Stay, but that was aggeesss ago, and I can’t remember much about the experience (please please please don’t throw things at me). But I was excited to give I Was Here a try, especially after all the wonderful things I’ve heard about Forman’s work.

(Please note: Trigger warning for suicide.)

I Was Here is the story of Cody Reynolds, living in a small town in eastern Washington, population fifteen hundred and seventy-three. Cody graduated from high school the year before, and spends most of her time either at the library, at home with her mother, or cleaning her clients’ houses. But Cody’s small world is permanently changed when she receives an email from her best friend, Meg. That email is Meg’s suicide note.

In the wake of Meg’s death, Cody ends up going to the town where Meg attended college to collect her things before the term ends. Cody doesn’t want to be there any longer than she has to. She wants to grab what she needs, pack everything up, and get out of there. But she soon finds herself learning more about what Meg’s life in college had been, and meeting the people who were a part of it. This includes Ben McAllister, a “Tragic Guitar Hero” who broke Meg’s heart. And soon, having discovered an encrypted computer file that has something to do with Meg’s death, Cody is in deeper than she ever planned.

I tore through this book very, very quickly. It is definitely one of those books that can grab you and never let go, and thank god I didn’t have very much homework that weekend because that could have been a very painful experience. But while I did like many things about this book, my feelings are still rather mixed. There were things I loved, but there were also some things that I couldn’t help but be bothered by.

A lot of my mixed feelings centered on Cody herself. Possibly the number one thing that stands out in my mind about Cody is that she is very, very bitter. And I mean bitter. But of course, she really does have a lot to be bitter about–not only has she just lost her best friend, but she’s also not happy in the life she has. She’s stuck in the same town she’s lived in for years, her dreams seem to have gone up in smoke, and her best friend went away to a prestigious college with a full scholarship. Whilst Cody is cleaning houses for a living. So yes, she definitely has good reason to be bitter.

I think one of the things that bothered me about Cody, despite how much I felt for her, was that she had this incredibly prickly, hard exterior. And while that isn’t a bad thing, this exterior was so constantly there that it felt like for the longest time I didn’t get to see her real feelings. Several times she would be outright rude and mean to other characters, and while I knew that she had to be going through tremendous pain, the kind that is paralyzing to think about, at those moments I couldn’t help but feel a little angry (as horrible as it feels to type that). I understand that this is probably how she copes with grief, but that’s how I felt sometimes as I was reading. And while Cody does develop by the end of the book, she made several decisions towards the end that just left me confused and a little bit frustrated. (Particularly one involving an airport and the phrase “Have a good life.”)

While Cody’s character did bother me sometimes, I loved the side characters of I Was Here. Cody gets the chance to meet several of Meg’s housemates in Tacoma, and I really liked each of them. Richard (who Cody calls “Stoner Richard” in her head) is genuinely well-intentioned and likable despite the stoner aspects of his personality. And Alice. I really loved Alice, who is without a doubt the sweetest character in the whole book, but never to the point where it feels unrealistic or annoying. And while I did like Harry Kang, I’m also really disappointed that the one Asian character in the book (or at least, the only character that it is apparent is Asian) happened to be super smart and a computer whiz. It just strikes me as stereotypical, and Harry is never really developed enough to rise above that. Which is unfortunate, because he is a very cool guy who I wouldn’t have minded reading more about.

I also really liked the writing. It was so hard to put this book down, and it can capture you in a way that is very difficult to escape. There were a lot of little details and segments that I loved. The part where Cody tells Alice a bunch of stories about Meg and what she did was so much fun to read, and I loved reading about their history together. I loved that Cody could just walk into Meg’s house and feel like it was her own, and that she was practically part of the family. Forman really makes clear how close these two girls were, not to mention how much they loved each other.

This book also got considerably darker than I was expecting. Of course, I was expecting it to be heavy, having read the synopsis, but it delves more deeply into suicide and what thoughts can lead a person there in a way that isn’t completely apparent from the summary. This didn’t necessarily lessen my enjoyment while reading it, but I did feel that it was much darker than I thought it would be, and could possibly be triggering for people who have had similar thoughts.

All in all, I did really like I Was Here. I love it when you can just tear through a book and are totally sucked into the story and the characters, and that’s what this book did for me. So while I was bothered by several things about it, I may pick up some more of Forman’s books in the future. And I have to say, if she ever comes out with another book about Cody and Ben (and ALICE), I’ll pick that one up, too.

Hope you’re having a great weekend! It’s a three-day one, and that is useful, because the Midterms Season is upon us. Me writing this post is probably just another form of procrastination. Shhh.

Bookish Quote of the Day: “I am tempted to inhale those sheets. If I do, maybe it will be enough to erase everything. But you can only hold your breath for so long. Eventually, I’ll have to exhale her, and then it’ll be like those mornings, when I wake up, forgetting before remembering.” —I Was Here by Gayle Forman

P.S. I also really like the UK cover for some reason. Not sure why, but I do.

P.P.S. And it’s almost Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday! See Selma if you can guys. Mom and Dad and I saw it a couple weeks ago, and, while brutal, it was also freaking amazing.