The Private Lives of the Impressionists

Hello everyone! I hope you all have been having a great summer week filled with ice cream, sunshine, and lots of free time for reading. I’m back home from vacation in Wisconsin now, but one of the best things about taking a break in the countryside (besides seeing family) was undoubtedly being able to sit in the sun and just lose myself in a book. In this case, that book was The Private Lives of the Impressionists, by Sue Roe.

I read Roe’s book In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and the Birth of Modernist Art a few months ago, and immediately wanted to read her earlier work on the Impressionist movement and its makers, an art period that I’m especially fond of (by which I mean that I love it to pieces). I fell in love with Claude Monet’s waterlily paintings at a young age, as well as the works of Renoir and Mary Cassatt, and the chance to learn more about these artists and the world they worked in was just too good to pass up.

The book begins in the year 1860, before the Franco-Prussian War, before the formation of the Impressionists, before Paris was anything close to the city it is today. It follows each of the original group of Impressionists–Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Alfred Sisley, Frédéric Bazille, Berthe Morisot, and Edouard Manet–as they develop their own styles and cope with their own struggles (many of which, unsurprisingly, were financial). Roe seeks to inform the reader not only about her subjects’ art and the role it played in the late-19th century, but also about who they really were—from their personalities to their relationships to their smallest idiosyncrasies. What results is an extraordinarily researched, masterfully written overview of how both the Impressionists and their work changed in the years leading up to the 1900s, and I absolutely loved diving into it.

Arguably what I enjoyed most about Private Lives was how real and vibrant each of its players felt. Through the use of letters and journal entries, Roe is able to present these men and women in all their complexity, and she does it wonderfully. The reader learns that Edouard Manet was a ladies’ man on top of being a ladies’ painter, and that while Claude Monet created some of the most beautiful, amazing works of his time, he wasn’t exactly a responsible husband or father (shattering all of my seven-year-old self’s illusions—Linnea in Monet’s Garden taught me none of this). I loved reading about Renoir and his devotion to the poor children of Montmartre, as well as about Pissarro and his mentoring of other artists, including Cézanne and, later, the young Paul Gauguin. I particularly relished the chance to learn more about Berthe Morisot, the only woman in the original, principal group of Impressionists (eventually to be joined by the amazing Mary Cassatt). (Seriously, if you haven’t heard of her, look her up.) Roe’s research and writing made me feel as if I truly knew some of these artists and their personalities, and it only made it harder to put the book down.

However, I was also captivated by Roe’s descriptions of the world of the Impressionists itself, especially of the places in which they lived. Her language portrays each place in just such a way that it isn’t hard to see what attracted the artists in the first place, and each new description made me want to visit them more. From Poissy to Giverny to Paris itself, each one feels as real as the paintings themselves, and it made it all too easy to get lost in the pages.

But The Private Lives is a far cry from focusing solely on the artists themselves, as if they existed in a vacuum. One of the best things about the book is that it gives more than enough context regarding the times the artists lived in, from their conflicts with the Académie des Beaux-Arts to what they did during the Franco-Prussian War. I’ll admit that I was somewhat less interested in the complex ins and outs of French politics (some sections of which were a little confusing), but these passages are important to understanding the Impressionists’ time period, and did not really negate from my enjoyment of the book overall. And besides, some of the less art-focused passages are just as interesting as the lives of the artists themselves (the Ernest Hoschedé bankruptcy and subsequent merging of the Monet-Hoschedé families comes to mind—to me, that was just wild).

As someone who already loves learning about art history, particularly when that history involves Impressionism, it certainly isn’t surprising that I loved The Private Lives as much as I did. But I would argue that the thoroughness and intimacy of the work makes it a great read for anyone who is interested in art, and maybe even for those who aren’t. While the lives of the artists are the main focus of the book, there is also ample room for the actual beauty of their works to shine through. Many of them were often penniless, ridiculed, and almost always at odds with the artistic establishment, but their work stands apart—waterlilies and all.

That’s it for me today. Hope you all have a wonderful rest of your weekend, and stay hydrated!

Nora

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately (I’m Back!)

Hello everyone!

So, that was quite the long, unofficial hiatus. My senior year of high school is getting closer and closer to being done (I finished a year-long project and I swear, I can’t remember the last time I felt so relieved), and while there is still work to do (AP exams, deciding on a college, etc.), I’ve really been enjoying the little extra bits of free time that have been cropping up.

One of the things I’ve been having a lot of fun getting back into is, of course, reading. Reading books separate from school is something I never get to do as much as I’d like, but it’s been pretty wonderful to have been working through some here and there. So, as a little back-to-blogging update, here are a few of the books I’ve been diving into lately:

1. Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns

I got this as a Christmas present and was immediately interested by that lovely, old-fashioned cover. Why does the woman look so sad? What about the man through the window?

The woman, as I quickly found out, is naïve Sophia Fairclough, recently married to young painter Charles, to the immense chagrin of everyone in his family. Unfortunately, Sophia’s marriage dreams are soon compromised by poverty, unexpected babies, and a husband who is horrified at the thought of getting a job. She eventually becomes the mistress of an art critic named Peregrine, but finds that that only leads to more problems.

While Sophia is indeed naïve and doesn’t always make the best decisions, I found her unguarded, candid narrative easy to fall into, and I couldn’t help but feel for her as she tried to make a life in a world that seems especially tailored to make it difficult. I seethed at the harsh nature of some of the other characters, and felt relieved whenever something went right for once. All in all, Our Spoons Came from Woolworths is a book that held my attention from start to finish, and often left me holding my breath in the hope that maybe, just maybe, things would look up.

2. In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse, and the Birth of Modernist Art by Sue Roe

It took quite a long time for me to work my way through this one, but oh, was it worth it. I began taking an AP Art History course this year because I was so interested in the stories behind some of the pieces in museums, and reading Roe’s account of the group of artists and Bohemians that gave rise to cubism and other new artistic techniques only cemented my interest. The book begins with Pablo Picasso’s first visit to Paris in 1900, and ends after the emergence of new, dramatic forms of expression that had already changed the art world in ways few would have expected. It is obvious that everything was meticulously researched, and anecdotes about some of the key figures of the time (Picasso, Matisse, Gertrude Stein, etc.) made me laugh multiple times. While some of the more philosophical ideas regarding art took some time to absorb at first, I have always loved reading about the lives of the people behind the masterpieces, and In Montmartre definitely delivered. I think I’d like to the dive into The Private Lives of the Impressionists next.

3. the princess saves herself in this one by Amanda Lovelacethe princess saves herself in this one

This one feels a little bit like cheating since I actually read it at the end of last year, but it was so good that it’s showing up on this list nonetheless. I read this captivating poetry collection in one night and was instantly sucked in. Amanda Lovelace’s poems are fantastic and cutting–they’re about abuse, fat-shaming, love, and learning to value yourself. I loved the blend of feminism and allusions to fairytales, evident even in the four parts that make up the whole book: The princess, the damsel, the queen, and you. By turns angry, hurt, comforting, and full of joy, the princess saves herself in this one is one of those books that I finished quickly and immediately wanted to read all over again.

4. Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen

Continuing with the feminism theme, I was overjoyed when my copy of Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World was delivered early back in January (even before the official release date!). Here We Are is an utterly amazing anthology on feminism and all its forms, covering everything from mental illness, to body image, to intersectionality. There are over fifty pieces in all, and they are all just as diverse and wonderful as the contributors themselves. I was constantly struck by just how much is covered by the book, and how many different stories and issues are contained within. They made me angry, they made me rage, they made me feel ready to dismantle the patriarchy piece by piece. They also made me think about my own privilege as a white, straight, cisgender girl, and how my experience varies so much from those of other girls. However, one of the feelings I hadn’t expected to feel as much before I opened the pages was the feeling of being comforted. There is a sheer respect and love for all women and girls, especially young ones, that radiates from every page, and it is hard to describe just how much of a strong connection that creates between the book and the reader. If I ever have a daughter, I cannot wait to give her a copy of Here We Are for her birthday. It is without a doubt one of the best books of the year.

5. The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson

I actually just started reading The Star Side of Bird Hill a few days ago, so I haven’t gotten very far, but I am already enjoying it. It focuses on two sisters, sixteen-year-old Dionne and ten-year-old Phaedra, who are spending the summer in Barbados with their grandmother since their mother can no longer care for them back in Brooklyn. Jackson’s writing is lovely, and I am truly loving getting to know each of the characters. Dionne and Phaedra are both different but complex, as is their mother, Agnes, and the ways in which Jackson gives the reader a look into the minds of each of them is wonderful. I can’t wait to finish it, and I hope I have enough time within the next couple of weeks to do just that.

One the things that has been best about finally getting back into reading things outside of school is remembering just how comforting falling into a good book can be, especially when every New York Times alert that pops up on my phone fills me with an unpleasant mix of weariness and dread. Staying informed is so important, now more than ever, but being kind to yourself is important too. I’ve been trying to work on finding that balance, and I’m not always good at it, but reading helps ❤

Take care of yourselves, and hopefully I’ll be back soon (or at least within a reasonable amount of time).

Nora

P.S. If you’re wondering how you can help people in Syria, especially after the chemical attack and military strike this week, here is an article that gives several ways to help out–whether it’s donating money or helping out refugees in your own area. There are also many, many other options if you just google “how to help Syria.”

My Favorite Books of 2015

Oh my god, it’s winter break. So much sleep. So much reading. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Now that the year is drawing to a close, it seems only right to tally up some of the best books I read this year and decide which ones were my absolute favorites, and oh my goodness were there some really amazing ones. To make it a little bit easier, I’ve split them up by genre this time around.

Fantasy

I really gravitated towards contemporaries this year, meaning that I also really stepped back from fantasy for awhile, which is a little strange considering fantasy books are a large part of what made me fall in love with reading and start this blog in the first place. (Hence the first review being about The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale.) But that does not at all mean that I don’t still adore great fantasy books, and oh my god were there some fantastic ones.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa TahirAn Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes was the first fantasy I read after a looong stretch of mostly reading contemporaries, and it was the best re-introduction into the genre I could have asked for. This story of two very different characters living under the rule of the brutal Martial Empire–Laia, a slave girl, and Elias, an extremely accomplished soldier–is absolutely captivating, filled with complex characters and a plot that makes you feel like you’re constantly holding your breath as you turn the pages. There’s magic, an amazing setting, and some of the highest stakes I’ve ever read about, and it is fantastic. This is the kind of book I want to throw into people’s faces just so they’ll read it and can freak out about it with me. Especially Helene, because oh my god Helene. (I also went to a book event featuring Ms. Tahir at Politics and Prose in D.C., and she is absolutely lovely, not to mention hilarious.) (Full review here.)

The Wrath and the DawnThe Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

The Wrath and the Dawn is another fantasy that grabbed me, pulled me in, and refused to let go. Renée Ahdieh’s retelling of One Thousand and One Nights is so full of talent and skill that it still makes my head spin, and its story of Shahrzad and Khalid swept me up and made it near-impossible to put the book down for even a second. Shahrzad and Khalid are both so amazing and complex, not to mention all the other characters, and I fell in love with them so completely that I think I’m still recovering. Ahdieh’s writing is downright gorgeous, and she paints the world of Khorasan so masterfully that it only absorbed me even more. I loved so many things about this book–the plot, the characters, and especially the friendship between Shahrzad and her handmaiden Despina, because yes to awesome female friendship in books. Not to mention the romance, which made me fall in love so completely that it’s arguably the best ship I read about all year. This book made me forget lunch, guys. It’s so good. (Full review here.)

White is for Witching by Helen OyeyemiWhite is for Witching 2

White is for Witching is the most recent fantasy I read, and it’s also one of the most interesting things I picked up all year, nightmares and fairy tales mixed with the very real dangers of the world into a captivating cocktail. Helen Oyeyemi’s tale about Miranda Silver, and the lives of the Silver women who came before her, is something like labyrinth, weaving together what is real and what is not, what is light and what is dark, and and what the reader can and cannot trust. She writes in a way that draws the reader in and then doesn’t let them go, and uses the magic and darkness of her story to also touch on the very real issues of our world. Miranda and the other characters are drawn in a way that makes them feel real and human, despite the supernatural voices that haunt their lives, and the narration is done in such an interesting way that I was caught almost from the beginning. It’s the kind of story that you just can’t look away from, and I loved being swept up in it. (Full review here.)

Contemporary

This year led to me realizing that contemporary is one of my favorite genres in pretty much ever–I love reading about characters in high school, going to work, carrying out their lives in the very same times we live in. While there likely isn’t going to be any pixie dust or dragons, contemporaries can have some amazing stories, and falling headlong into some of them this year led to a lot of great discoveries.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao 2The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

If I had to name one book I read this year that was closest to my favorite, it would be The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz. I’d been meaning to read this book for ages, and when I received it as a present at the start of the summer, it wasn’t long before I finally tried it. Junot Díaz writes in a way that I fell in love with, and I adored learning about Oscar’s life and those of the people around him, especially the unnamed narrator that we finally meet more than halfway through the book. He narrates in a voice that draws the reader in and makes it incredibly hard to escape, and the characters are all so human and flawed that by the end I felt as if I really knew them. The plot covers generations of Oscar’s family, taking the reader from his home in New Jersey to the Dominican Republic and back again, and it’s filled with conflict, romance, and tons and tons of stories. I loved it so much that I bought the short story collections Drown and This Is How You Lose Her right afterward, which were just as amazing, and my only regret is that I sped through them so quickly that now I don’t have anything else new from Díaz to read. Let the rereading commence.

Purple Hibiscus 2Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple Hibiscus is another contemporary I read this year that I became completely absorbed in and absolutely loved. I’d never read anything by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie before, and her first novel was more than enough to convince me to read anything else by her that I can get my hands on. Purple Hibiscus focuses on the lives of Kambili and Jaja, two children living in the household of their fanatically religious father, and Adichie tells the story of their growth and education (particularly while visiting their aunt’s family in Nsukka) in a way that makes it all seem so real and vibrant that I was totally drawn in. She paints the picture of Kambili’s family’s lives in a way that makes the reader feel as if they actually know them, and each of the characters is incredibly real, with their own complex emotions and desires. I loved getting to read about all their conflicts, both internal and external, and part of me wishes that the book had gone on much longer just so I could have read more.

To All the Boys I've Loved BeforeTo All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is one of the many great books of 2014 that I missed out on, but I absolutely adored falling into it this past spring. The story of Lara Jean Song and her hidden (and then not-so-hidden) love letters totally drew me in, full of cookie-baking, fake dating, and sisterly love. I loved getting to know these characters, especially Lara Jean and Peter K, and it was so much fun to see the way they bounced off each other and interacted. Han’s writing and Lara Jean’s narration was as addicting as the cookies Lara Jean bakes, and I loved reading about her family’s interactions and her friendship with her sisters. This is the kind of book that I started reading and just couldn’t stop, and when everything was mixed together–the characters, the details, the romance–it made my little reader heart so very happy 🙂 Not to mention more than a little hungry.

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih AlameddineAn Unnecssary Woman

An Unnecessary Woman follows a plot that is just about as far away from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before as possible, but that doesn’t stop me from loving it just as much. Rabih Alameddine’s story of a 72-year-old woman working as a translator in her book-filled apartment in modern Beirut was incredibly hard to put down, especially because of the amazing narration of Aaliya, the main character. Aaliya’s voice is one that I fell completely in love with, telling her own stories and those of other characters in a way that made her almost irresistible. She has the best way of putting things, full of wry and cutting remarks, and describes them in a way that made my weakness for amazing descriptions all the more apparent. She paints a picture of Beirut that made it seem so real I could almost reach out and touch it, a city wracked by the Lebanese Civil War and home to everything she loves. I loved seeing everything through Aaliya’s eyes, and the other characters were just as much fun to read about, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, and always interesting. What made it even better was Aaliya’s deep and abiding love of books, written in a way that made it seem as if it was almost a living thing, radiating from the pages. It’s yet another one of my weaknesses, and for that I adored the book all the more.

Historical Fiction

When I came to this category, I realized that I read very little historical fiction this year, which is a definite lamentable fact. Historical fiction can be so extremely well done (see: Ann Rinaldi), and I’m not entirely sure how I ended up reading so little of it these past 12 months. Hopefully I’ll get to some really amazing reads in 2016, but for now, there is one book that totally bowled me over in a way that only the best books can.

The Valley of AmazementThe Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

I finished The Valley of Amazement about two days ago, and I think a part of me is still reeling. It’s the first Amy Tan book I’ve ever read (I know I’m disappointed too), and after finishing it late at night it took me forever to finally fall asleep, because oh my god feelings everywhere. Tan tells the story of Violet Minturn, a young girl growing up in her mother’s courtesan house in Shanghai during the early 20th century. But when a web of lies ends with Violet being forced to become a virgin courtesan, it sends her on an entirely different track in life, one that Tan captures with so much mastery it left me wondering what to do with myself after I was finished. Tan’s writing is amazing, and the story of Violet’s life, interspersed with those of the myriad of other characters, made it near-impossible to put the book down. Each of the characters is original and flawed, and by the end I felt as if they had actually existed, wondering what happened to them after the pages were closed. The writing itself only drew me in more, capturing the expansiveness of the story and switching capably between different points of view. It tackles feelings of love, hate, and abandonment, and I loved it so much that my only problem now is moving on from it and picking which of Tan’s books to read next.

Nonfiction

Like historical fiction, nonfiction is not a genre that I focused on very much this year, despite my newfound love of historical musicals about Alexander Hamilton (seriously, don’t get me started because I could ramble on about Hamilton for literally hours without pausing) (>resists the urge to start singing<). But of course, there is one book that stands out as one of my favorite nonfiction books of the year, and also ever.

March: Book Two by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate March--Book TwoPowell

I adored the first book in Congressman John Lewis’s March series for many reasons–the illustrations, how vibrantly it tells the story of his childhood, the look it gives into the Civil Rights Movement. And I was just as captivated by March: Book Two, if not more so. It’s true that it’s very different from the first book–it’s more violent, more mature, and it gives a much deeper look into the people of the movement and the challenges they faced. Lewis writes unapologetically about these challenges, describing in detail the vicious brutality with which the protests were met, as well as the conflict within the movement itself. Powell’s illustrations only make the book more absorbing and striking, stark black-and-white images accompanying each of Lewis’s words. It brings the racism and brutal history of our country–one built on the genocide and exploitation of black people–to terrifying life, in a way that made me more furious than any other book this year. It’s the kind of book that I want everyone to read, especially in times when the racism of the United States is still alive and well and affecting people in a million ways. It tells a story that’s wholly human and that needs to be told, and if there’s one book people read from this list, I hope it’s this one. (Full review here.)

And that’s about it for my favorite books of 2015. I’m hoping I’ll find myself reading many more in the next year, and hopefully (>crosses fingers<) writing about them as much as I can. It’s true that I didn’t read as much as I would have liked to this year, but many of the books I did get to were absolutely fantastic, and I can’t recommend them enough. And now I’m going to go make Christmas cookies, because it doesn’t need to be the actual holiday to use copious amounts of decorative sugar.

Hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season, and Happy New Year!

–Nora

P.S. I feel like it says something that the little blurbs I write for books are now just about as long as the first reviews on the blog. A master of brevity I am not.

March: Book Two

Hi everybody! As you can probably see, the book of the day is March: Book Two, written by Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, with art by Nathan Powell. And I’m already sure it’s one of the best books of the year.

As I’m typing this, Congressman John Lewis is in Selma, Alabama, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday civil rights march, in which protestors marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge were assaulted by Alabama State troopers and police. The protestors were attacked with tear gas and night sticks, many injured and seventeen sent to the hospital. Congressman Lewis, one of the leaders of the march, was sent to the hospital with a head wound.

But Bloody Sunday isn’t the only march Lewis participated in, not in the least. Lewis got his start in the Civil Rights Movement by participating in sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters in Nashville, and also served as the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). March, a graphic memoir told in three parts, tells the story of those experiences.

While Book One is closer to the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement and focuses partly on Lewis’s childhood, Book Two is both longer and more violent, getting to the heart of the protests and the brutality they were met with. It focuses largely on the Freedom Rides of 1961, the protests against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, and the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. And Lewis and his peers are in the thick of it all.

Part of me felt like I couldn’t look away from this book. Lewis and Aydin’s writing is straightforward and eloquent, and it almost feels like Lewis is sitting in front of you, telling the story of his life. Powell’s illustrations make it even harder to put the book down–they’re striking and hard to forget, complementing the writing in a way that makes the book even better.

March also offers a look at history that you just can’t get anywhere else–from a textbook, a classroom, or Wikipedia. Lewis shows the behind-the-scenes work of the movement, from arguments over methods of protest to the orchestration of the March on Washington. He introduces the reader to other leaders and protestors, such as A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, showing the work that had to be done in order for these protests to go on. It’s absolutely fascinating to see the conflicts and discussions that went into the fight, and I already can’t wait to read more about it.

One of the main things I remember about reading this book is being angry. So, incredibly angry. It still makes me angry to think about some of the things that are described–mobs of people screaming the n-word, police setting dogs on unarmed protestors, fire hoses being turned on children. People looking at these protestors and automatically thinking of them as “less than,” and then not even understanding why that’s wrong. I’m furious that our country didn’t stop it, that these people were brutally attacked, that this racial inequality was allowed to happen in the first place. That it still happens today.

March is one of those books that you cannot forget about easily, nor do you want to. It’s hard, and brutal, and tough. It stays with the reader almost from the first page, forcing us to acknowledge the awful things that our country has done. And while reading it left me crying and furious and upset, it’s not a story about hopelessness. It’s not a story about giving up.

It’s a story about the men, women and children who fought for human dignity and the right to be treated as equals. It’s a story about marches, bus rides, and speeches given to scores of people gathered at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It’s a story about facing injustice and fighting for what is right, even when those efforts are met with cruelty. It’s about history, courage, and determination. It’s about love.

But most of all, March is human. And that’s all anyone could ask for.

Bookish Quote of the Day:

“We will march through the South, through the streets of Jackson, through the streets of Danville, through the streets of Cambridge, through the streets of Birmingham. But we will march with the spirit of love and with the spirit of dignity that we have shown here today.

By the force of our demands, our determination and our numbers, we shall splinter the segregated South into a thousand pieces and put them back together in the image of God and democracy.

We must say, ‘Wake up, America. Wake up!!!’ For we cannot stop, and we will not be patient.” –John Lewis’s speech to the March on Washington, March: Book Two, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

P.S. You can also watch Lewis speak about the events of Bloody Sunday here.

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! 🙂

My Favorite Books of 2014

Well, it’s that time of year again (and has been for quite some time, but I’m late as always). Cookies have been baked, trees have been decorated, menorahs have been lit, and that means that the end of the year is nigh. However, as of right now it is still December 30th, 2014, and that means I still have time to post my favorite books of the year. And oh gosh, they were so good. So before I get distracted. . .

This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl by Esther Earl, with Lori and Wayne Earl

There are some books that I feel like everyone should read at some point, and This Star Won’t Go Out is one of them. Esther Grace Earl may be best known for helping to inspire John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, but she was also a remarkable young lady all on her own. TSWGO is a collection of her artwork, diary entries, and writing, allowing the reader to get an up-close look at Esther and her life. Esther’s voice is so distinctive that I could still hear it in my head even when I wasn’t reading, and the amount of love she had for her family and friends is apparent throughout. TSWGO isn’t just about Esther the Harry Potter Fan, or Esther the Cancer Patient, or Esther the Catitude Member. It’s about Esther in all her entirety, and it’s without a doubt one of my favorite books of the year, and one of the ones I loved the most. (Review here.)

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

If I were to compile a list of the books that blew my mind in 2014, We Were Liars would be at the top of it. It tells the story of Cadence, the oldest grandchild of the elegant and wealthy Sinclair family. Every summer the family gathers on Beechwood, their private island not too far from Martha’s Vineyard. But when an accident on Beechwood changes almost everything about Cady’s life, she’s left with no memory of what happened, and no one seems to want to enlighten her. Even the Liars, a group comprised of two of her cousins and their friend Gat, are being secretive. E. Lockhart paints the picture of her story in a way that’s hard to forget, slipping between prose, poetry, and clever retellings of fairy tales in a way I’ve never seen before. Even the writing itself is shocking, and as for what actually happened. . .well. You’ll have to find that out for yourself. (Review here.)

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

The fact that I immediately thought of rereading this as soon as I typed the title should give you an idea of how much I absolutely loved this book. It tells the story of a teenage girl living as part of Hitler’s inner circle in Munich in the 1930s, and how drastically her life changes in the time leading up to Hitler’s election as chancellor of Germany. Blankman’s plot and characters are incredibly well done, and she handles the heavy subject matter in a way that is both mind-blowing and so, so good to read. Definitely one of my favorite historical fictions ever, let alone from just this year. (Review here.)

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Set in 1959 Virginia, Lies We Tell Ourselves is about what happens when two very different girls (with two very different worldviews) are forced to interact. Sarah Dunbar is one of the African American students integrating all-white Jefferson High School, while Linda Hairston is the white daughter of the one of the town’s most vocal segregationists. When the girls have to work on a school project together, they find themselves each developing feelings for the other, in ways they never wanted to. Robin Talley writes her characters in a way that sucks the reader in, and I kept wanting to know what happened next, even after the pages were closed. Part of me sincerely hopes for a sequel, but in the meantime, definitely give Lies We Tell Ourselves a look. I’m looking forward to whatever Talley has coming out next.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

>mind blown all over again<

If Prisoner of Night and Fog was one of the best historical novels of the year, I’ll Give You the Sun is one of the best contemporaries. Jandy Nelson portrays the messy, complicated, art-infused relationship between twins Noah and Jude with considerable talent, hopping between two different time periods of their lives and pulling it off very well. The characters are one of the shining stars of the novel, and the writing is fantastic. I couldn’t put it down, and when I finally did, I kept reeling over how good it is. (Review here.)

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

All the books listed before this have been fiction, but Brown Girl Dreaming (by the talented Jacqueline Woodson) is far from it. This is Woodson’s memoir in verse, taking the reader through her childhood, from Ohio to South Carolina to New York. She makes even the most everyday activities become lyrical and beautiful, and she touches on everything from her love of writing to the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panthers. Brown Girl Dreaming is the story of how Jackie Woodson became Jackie Woodson, yes, but it’s also a story with many important points to make, and a beautiful book of poetry to boot. It’s definitely one of the best books of the year, as well as a National Book Award winner! (Review here.)

Well, that’s about it (although I could very well think of more after I post this). I didn’t get as much reading done this year as I would have liked to, but 2014 brought some seriously amazing reads to the shelves, and introduced me to several authors I can’t wait to read more of. I hope you all have had a wonderful holiday season so far, and an absolutely marvelous 2015. 🙂 Happy New Year!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” –Dr. Seuss

P.S. And thank you so much for visiting the blog this year. For liking, commenting, subscribing, putting up with my crazy rants and my lack of caps lock self-control. Thank you just for taking the time to read. It means a lot and I’m grateful for it all 🙂 Have a great holiday, and read some good books! (And eat candy!)

Brown Girl Dreaming (AKA a National Book Award Winner!)

Hi everyone!

So apparently, because I live in a cave and am not good at keeping up with current events, and also because I am just generally not a super up-to-date person, I missed all the stories about the National Book Awards. Namely, that JACQUELINE WOODSON WON.

Yes, good job me. >pats self on back<

Anyway, considering I’ve been planning on reviewing said award-winning book for ages, I figured now is as good a time as any. So let’s begin, shall we?

I’ve previously only read one book by Jacqueline Woodson, her excellent novel After Tupac and D Foster. However, Brown Girl Dreaming is something a little different–it’s an autobiography in verse, taking the reader through the author’s childhood.

The book takes in a lot of young Jacqueline’s life, from her birth in Columbus, Ohio, to her mother’s childhood home of Greenville, to New York City. Woodson encompasses her family’s history, her awareness of the Civil Rights Movement, her discovery of writing, and it all adds up to an intimate portrait of her childhood and what she thought and felt at the time.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the one covering the period of time when Woodson lived in Greenville, South Carolina, with her grandparents, mother, and sister and brother. This was one of the sections that I could most strongly see in my head, from the red dirt of her grandfather’s garden to the way her grandmother would do the girls’ hair on Saturday nights. I love it when an author paints a vivid picture of his or her story, and Woodson delivers in a way that is both entertaining and oh-so-fun to read. She depicts everything from her childhood activities to the civil rights protests taking place downtown, writing:

“Even my mother joins the fight.

When she thinks our grandmother

isn’t watching she sneaks out

to join the cousins downtown, but just as she’s stepping through the door,

her good dress and gloves on, my grandmother says,

Now don’t go getting arrested.

And Mama sounds like a little girl when she says,

I won’t.”

I love the way Jacqueline Woodson writes. I love her prose, but this book proves that she can write amazing poetry as well. Her words flow wonderfully, and she brings so much to life for the reader–the setting, her family, the everyday rituals that fill up our lives. She invites the reader in and makes seemingly mundane subjects bloom into lyrical images of her life, all pieced together in an endeavor to show how Jacqueline Woodson became Jacqueline Woodson. But she also touches on the bigger changes that were taking place in the U.S. as well, writing about Martin Luther King, Jr., the Black Panthers, and more. Brown Girl Dreaming isn’t just a wonderfully written look into the author’s childhood; it’s also an important look at the issues that were relevant then, many of which are still relevant today.

All in all, Brown Girl Dreaming is honestly a joy to read, and it deserves the National Book Award so very much. So I’m a little late with this, but: Congrats Jacqueline Woodson!!! The book deserves all of this and more. It’s definitely one of the best books of the year.

And now, because it is a Friday night and I am exhausted, I shall leave you to roam the Internet. And maybe eat a cupcake. Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “I believe in one day and someday and this perfect moment called Now.” –Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson