leon’s story

Oh, hi! I’m still here. I’m still reading. I’m still saying fuck and shit a lot on Twitter and talking about social justice. But I also started my PhD in children’s and young adult literature, and one of my first semester courses is Critical Content Analysis of Children’s Literature. The first children’s book we’ve read is Leon’s Story by Leon Walter Tillage as told to Susan L. Roth, and I have Thoughts.

This is young middle grade, maybe for third graders or so, and it’s basically The Circuit or The Big Lie but about sharecropping and the South in the 1930s and 40s. It reads like somebody talking and giving an oral history, and the afterword says that yes, it’s basically a straight transcript of this guy talking, so points to me, I guess. It doesn’t hold back and very openly talks about random violence for sport enacted by whites, like the time some people came out with dogs and tried to Most Dangerous Game him, and he says “nigger” all over because that’s what people were saying to him all over, and non-black child readers shouldn’t be coddled or protected from that word, frankly. So yeah, the point-blank statement that back when he was a kid, people called black people “nigger” is on the first page, and I give him all the props. This book came out in 1997. Good luck getting publishers to get behind that now.

Each chapter is a vignette or ramble about whatever the title says, like going to school or running away from Klansmen. For what is likely to be a kid of any color’s first book about this corner of American history, which most people like to gloss over as if it was just a blip on the way to white America’s favorite dead black person, Saint MLK, it does a good job describing stuff. The conversational tone works for awhile until it starts to get real transcript-y, with all of the fillers and disfluencies that any journalist would delete out of courtesy and in the name of clarity. Sure, in some cases those things add authenticity and character, but in this book I think all they do is make what is already an unconventional (for a person who, based on their time spent on earth, has read fewer books than others of us) text hard to understand.

I am of two minds when it comes to books like these Continue reading


memoirists are amazing

I just finished Lucy Knisley’s latest comics memoir/travelogue, Displacement [IndieBound]. I’ve been having a lot of trouble reading lately, both because of time (traveling from the Bay Area to Tucson and making stops to see people along the way) and just general inability to focus. So I went to my childhood neighborhood library yesterday and picked up her book and Audrey Niffenegger’s Raven Girl [IB] and found that her colorful, quick illustrations that I think live somewhere in between illustration and comics, tbh, was the remedy I needed. I really hate people who view certain types of formats, audience designations, and genres (coughYAcough coughcomicscough) as “palate refreshers” or “light reads” because they’re pretending to respect them while really insulting them and reducing them to one thing. But it’s true that this book was refreshing; I’m just not sure if it was because I’m just not connecting with the other book I’m reading or a new place demands a fresh book or what.

I saw Knisley in person a few years ago when Relish [IB] came out and she did a presentation at Brookline Booksmith. She’s really awesome. But I also felt really jealous and inadequate, since she’s all of a year or two older than I am but has accomplished and produced so much more in her life than I have. Y’know, the usual for me, bemoaning my lack of success while being lazy about doing the things that could make me successful. Gifted child who became an underachieving adult, that’s me.

Displacement may be my favorite of her memoirs so far, which is probably because the shades of introspection and deepness that started happening in An Age of License [IB] (whereas I see French Milk [IB] and Relish as slices of life that are interesting but pretty light) come out even more, and it’s really a lot deeper and thoughtful than previous works. Continue reading