Tag Archives: awesomeness

Marching Toward a National Book Award

It’s a nice day indeed when you get a library notice that your desired book is waiting for you on the hold shelf, and two hours later you learn the same book has been shortlisted for the National Book Award!

Would March: Book Three live up to the hype? I was pretty stirred up by the end of the second book. As I saw it at the time either Book Two would be the height of the story arc, or they could make Book Three even more interesting and exciting. At the time, that didn’t seem possible.

But it was!

If you’re not familiar with the series, the March trilogy is a set of graphic novels based on the first-person experiences of Representative John Lewis (Georgia) during the Civil Rights era. He’s born to sharecropper parents in Alabama, and when he attends seminary school in Nashville he starts working with others on lunch counter sit-ins. He soon meets Martin Luther King, Jr., and cinches his place in the inner circle of the civil rights movement. He ends up in several scary situations, he is beaten and screamed at, but he never gives up his faith in the power non-violence and the civil rights struggle.

I had never read a first-person account of the movement in long form, and I also wasn’t very familiar with John Lewis before reading this series. (He recently made headlines with his sit-in for gun control.) What the series really gave me was a sense of detail about certain events that I hadn’t had before.

John Lewis spoke at the March on Washington, for example. This sequence during Book Two revealed much conversation that happened about Lewis’ speech in the hours before he gave it, with various organizations and representatives wanting him to take out certain phrases. Through the series, Lewis’ association with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) changes, from being a key member to being slightly at odds with the direction the organization was going in. The March on Washington seems to be a pivotal point in this relationship.

Book Three was the longest of the series, and dense with information. As I was reading it just a few weeks before a really important election, the sequence about Fannie Lou Hamer really spoke to me. If you are not familiar, blacks were attempting to register to vote in Alabama and encountering roadblocks galore, from ‘tests’ to jailing and harassment. Sharecropper Fannie Lou Hamer testified on live television about her experiences trying to register to vote, and President Lyndon Baines Johnson was so threatened by what she might say that he invented a reason for a press conference so television stations would cut over to him. (Here’s her full testimony, much of which makes it into Book Three.)

To me, the LBJ episode says a lot about the importance of exercising one’s right to vote. People in this country have fought long and hard just to be able to vote! Don’t take the privilege lightly, friends.

Back to the book. Book Three starts honing in on activity in Selma, Alabama, and the serious voter suppression going on there. The climax of the book is a planned march from Selma to Montgomery, a symbolic march to present their case on the steps of the state capitol.

Perhaps you’ve seen the movie Selma, but the first outing doesn’t go too well. Participants have gathered from across the US, and they are met on the opposite side of the Edmund Pettus Bridge by a litany of cops and unsupportive citizens. It’s a bloodbath, and the nightly news broadcasts it across the US.

Perhaps you know what happens next, but Book Three is still a page-turner. This book in particular lends itself to a graphic novel treatment, and illustrator Nate Powell has done a fabulous job. Famous people depicted in the series may not be an exact likeness, but we know who they are—the action and emotion of the illustrative choices more than makes up for what I believe was a deliberate choice on the illustrator’s part. I really hope this does win the National Book Award.

In addition to learning a lot of details I didn’t already know about the civil rights movement, this book gave me a lot of hope. Reading it sparked my brain to meditate about voting, yes; but also how far we have come in the 50 years since the events in the book. We have societal woes today that are akin to those depicted in the series, but if there’s one big idea I took from the series, it’s that losing a battle doesn’t mean losing a war. Just keep marching on.


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A Library to Take Your Breath Away

You thought that this blog perhaps should have been named “bikey” instead of “bookish,” right? Well let me tell you about my trip to the Vancouver Public Library today. It still makes me a little misty-eyed thinking about it.

Today I decided to try biking the seawall up to Stanley Park, and possibly a little additional exploration as well. I asked my hosts about if there was a nearby library branch I could check out, and they suggested I just head to the main branch–”it looks like a giant coliseum.” After navigating the sunny day congestion along the seawall and trying to make my way toward the library, I was stopped at a light, casually looking around, and I gasped in realization. It was right in front of me, and it really does look like a giant coliseum!

Coliseum-er, I Mean Vancouver Public Library
Giant Coliseum-er, I Mean Vancouver Public Library

After locking up my bike I discovered a recessed fountain, and then a crevice-like path to follow to access the interior. Next, the atrium:

VPL Atrium
VPL Atrium

At this point you’re not inside the library, but the building offers a warm area with coffee shops and cafe seating, which both protects visitors from Pacific Northwest rain as well as taking full advantage when the sun makes a cameo appearance.

Once inside the library, I instantly found the information desk, thanks to some really clear signage (signage is really hard to do well!). The man I spoke with was very friendly and gave me just the right amount of introductory information, and didn’t seem too put out as I expressed my awe of the amazing building. A short conversation later, I had taken a couple of brochures, and was on my way up to the special collections room on the seventh floor.

Two display cases flanked the entrance of the special collections room: one displaying many antique-to-modern copies of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, the other with many antique-to-vintage copies of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. 

Alice Speaks with the Cheshire Cat
Alice Speaks with the Cheshire Cat

In addition to the library’s collection of antique children’s books, they boast a photographic archive of first nations and Vancouver history. I took away several pamphlets to use as reference in my future photograph research.

As I explored the room, I eventually came to the window that overlooked that gigantic atrium. While looking over and seeing so many using the reading desks on floors below gave a sense of humanity to what is often seen as a cold and anti-social place, having an entire wall made of glass meant it was rather dizzying to look all the way to the ground.


Doesn’t it figure that the Canadians would build the best and coolest public library building ever? Once again, they totally win out in terms of funding for important community centers, not to mention arts and humanities. But there’s hope! My hosts mentioned that Salt Lake City copied this building for their own library a couple of years ago. Let’s hope other US cities don’t just continue to copy this building, but will soon start uniting form and function for the good of the people. This building proves that it can be done.


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My Little Sweetpea

Sweetpea Agate
Sweetpea Agate (NOT MINE!)

After many months of salivating and fantasizing, last May I decided to get on the waiting list for a Sweetpea Bicycle, lovingly handmade here in Portland by Natalie Ramsland. Natalie is one of only a few women framebuilders in the US, and one of only two that only make bikes specifically for women. Besides my desire to support a local woman builder, I had also agreed to be the guinea pig for my credit union’s bike loan program. In the end, both Sweetpea and Unitus got some good press out of the deal, and I didn’t do too poorly either.

As for my bike, as soon as I got on the list Natalie asked me to tell her about my hopes and dreams, and we continue to develop the vision every time I bump into her around town. Right now I’m hoping the bike will end up looking a little like an old school Raleigh cruiser, with upright bars and a luxurious Brooks saddle*. I’m hoping it will be dark purple, either sparkly or with a green candy coat, providing a little drama on sunny days. It will be outfitted for my serious commute, sturdy but swift, with racks. As for accessories, I see it with one of the beautiful brass bells from my collection, sweet hammered aluminum fenders, and capable of holding an on-bike sound system so I can listen to James Brown during my hour-long commute each way. Chris King components in a complementary color, of course, possibly green. 

A little something like Elly’s “Farmers Market,” and yet nothing like it at all.

At last estimate, it looks like I won’t be getting my bike until around August. Probably later. This is why they ask you to start practicing your zen calm as soon as possible.

I will keep you posted as things develop, but in the meantime you can check out some of the other bikes Natalie has made here.

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Filed under bicycles, sweetpea, Uncategorized