Nonfiction Roundup Part One

Just as this has been a year of grief and tough topics in fiction, nonfiction has been similarly focused on emotionally draining subject. (Or perhaps it’s my personal exhaustion with the state of the world combined with the difficult reads? Hard to say.) Today Sarah and I are reviewing two very different books about the […]

Just as this has been a year of grief and tough topics in fiction, nonfiction has been similarly focused on emotionally draining subject. (Or perhaps it’s my personal exhaustion with the state of the world combined with the difficult reads? Hard to say.) Today Sarah and I are reviewing two very different books about the fight for racial equality. Ann Bausum’s book is a straightforward historical account of a protest that took on a life of its own while Loving Vs Virginia is narrative nonfiction using poetry and primary source material. What are the chances that either of these will turn up as contenders this winter?

The March Against Fear

March Against Fear, Ann Bausum
National Geographic Society, January 2017
Reviewed from final copy
Three stars

James Meredith’s 1966 march is a fascinating story that gives insight into the speed with which the civil rights movement moved as well as the ways in which personal narratives got swept up into the collective. Ann Bausum helps to refocus on Meredith and his original intention, which quickly becomes swallowed up by the larger movement after he was shot early in his walk. Civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. started mobilizing to pick up where Meredith fell. What had been intended as a solitary protest for voters rights became a symbolic march that was equally about the right to protest. Bausum moves chronologically while giving details of walk and the key players.

While the design of the book is quite striking–the simple white lines to evoke road lines along with the compelling quotes of contrasting opinions–the voice lacks balance in presenting Stokely Carmichael and the genesis of the term “black power.” Bausum is clearly more sympathetic to the ideas and methods of Martin Luther King, Jr. and in displaying this small bias, the book seems to imply that “black power” was a negative part of the civil rights movement. The various ideologies and personalities of the movement are so integral to the telling of Meredith’s story that it strikes an odd note to take a biased tone against one of the leaders. More detailed backmatter would have been useful in helping to explain the intricacies of “the big five” civil rights groups and could’ve balanced out the tilt toward King in the text.

While its flaws may keep it out of final contention for a prize, James Meredith’s story is worth reading and still bears huge significance on the way protest and movements evolve today. — Joy Piedmont

loving virginiaLoving Vs Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case by Patricia Hruby Powell, Illustrated by Shadra Strickland
Chronicle Books, January 2017
Reviewed from an ARC

This is a polished narrative nonfiction title. Powell’s poetry alternates between Mildred and Richard Loving’s voices. This alternation and the efficient poetry creates a tick-tock metronomic rhythm that marches the reader through to the end. The choice to tell this story through poetry is bold; Powell has to cover a lot of ground — the factual “what happened” pieces as well as the emotional, personal journey that these people experienced.

The book is at its best when she can highlight the emotion; sometimes, though, the poetry focuses a little too much on what happened. This information is crucial to our understanding of the story, but isn’t always the engaging reading experience a Printz candidate needs.

The writing is at its best in depicting Mildred and Richard’s quiet, internal moments. Mildred’s voice sings when she describes her feelings for her close-knit community, country life, and familial bonds. Richard has fewer poems, and they’re all shorter. We get a sense of a taciturn character who shows fleeting humor. (“The lawyers sure are excited/ for losing.”)

There is a great deal of primary source material sprinkled through the text, allowing readers to get further understanding of the national historical context that touched these lives. The chosen images and quotes feel a bit standard and expected; they give information but don’t necessarily elevate the book. However, Strickland’s original art is evocative, organic, and fantastic. I was reading an advance copy and so haven’t seen the final, colorful art. Even in rough form, her art’s impact is superb: powerful and personal. There’s also helpful backmatter, including a bibliography and timeline to help readers put all the pieces together.

I suspect that this title will get careful reads from RealCommittee; there are great moments. However, I am not convinced that it will go the distance at the table. — Sarah Couri

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