Now that the summer semester I was teaching is over, and given recent events in the United States — What the hell is happening? I mean, I know what’s happening, but WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING? — I thought it would be a good time to catch up on some reviews that I never got around to. And what better books to start with than John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell’s award-winning graphic memoir series, March?
Told in stark black and white panels, the series centers around John Lewis’s remarkable life. Lewis, who organized alongside Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil rights figureheads in his young and has gone on to fight for civil rights as a Congressman, grew up on a sharecropper’s farm in Alabama. He originally wanted to be a preacher and get away from working in the fields. He fought to attend school, and upon graduation, felt called to higher education away from the South. Still, the Jim Crow South was his life, and as he gained a better understanding of the world, he felt compelled to join the fight for civil rights. March: Book One charts his commitment to education as well as his entry into the civil rights movement, including his first encounter with Dr. King. It recounts behind-the-scenes, nonviolent strategizing among the student movement and culminates with the fight to desegregate lunch counters.
Ètienne Davodeau’s The Initiates is a graphic memoir about the time when he and established vintner Richard Leroy worked closely together to learn about each other’s professions. Davodeau knows nothing about wine or winemaking; Leroy doesn’t read comic books. The two work in strikingly different worlds, but as they get hands-on experience in the other’s field, the parallels in their lives become apparent. Each is an artist in his own right.
Over a period of about a year, Davodeau shadows Leroy at his vineyard. Rain, snow, or shine, he participates in all of the backbreaking work that goes into organic winemaking. During downtime, Leroy teaches Davodeau all about wine tasting — everything from cheap bottles to wines that cost hundreds of dollars. He takes Davodeau along on business trips, and the two visit other vineyards in the French countryside. The vintner community is small and obsessed with their craft, and long, animated discussions about winemaking often ensue.
Growing up, Roz Chast knew her family was a little different from the other families in her Brooklyn neighborhood. Her parents were much older than all the other children’s parents. Her grandparents lived in much hardship in Russia before immigrating to New York, so Chast’s parents were a always little strange and old-fashioned; she couldn’t wait to grow up and get out of there. As an adult, she found much success as a New Yorker cartoonist, and as time passed, she pointedly stayed away from her quirky parents and childhood home.
Her parents’ advancing age changed everything. Though they were in denial about the inevitable health issues that come with age (they were in their 90s), Chast could clearly see that it was probably time to have The Talk and make plans in the event that they needed special care. She’s immediately shot down by her mother, an argumentative and domineering woman who has taken control of situations all her life: she announces that she and her husband will live to be 100, and that’s that. Her father is the complete opposite: he’s becoming increasingly senile and has always acquiesced to his wife’s orders; having The Talk is just too overwhelming to think about.