Review: The Slanted Life of Emily Dickinson, Rosanna Bruno

I ordered this book on a whim after coming across it in an article posted on Facebook (which is appropriate, given the subject matter of the book). The article, entitled “Why Moody Teenagers Love Emily Dickinson” (BBC), quotes the author of The Slanted Life of Emily Dickinson, Rosanna Bruno:

“We were taught that she was this reclusive spinster who lived with her family, dressed all in white, and wrote in her room all day”, recalls artist Rosanna Bruno of her high school introduction to the poet in the 1980s. Even then, Bruno felt that the mythology of the poet didn’t really mesh with the poems. “It seemed so incongruous to what she wrote”, she says. “Have you ever heard Helen Mirren reading Wild Nights!? You really have to rethink Dickinson as a reclusive spinster after that rendition.”

Indeed, Bruno has hit on something here. Dickinson is one of those writers, like Poe or the Brontës, whose lives—or should I say whose “images”—come dangerously close to eclipsing their work. I, too, have been guilty of trying to sell Emily Dickinson to teenagers by telling them intrigues about her life. But as I have learned more about her, I have learned more about her humorous side, her playful side, her wicked side, for lack of a better word. And she is way more interesting than our portrait of her as the recluse in a white dress. Rosanna Bruno captures in cartoons what Emily Dickinson’s life might have been like with some of our twenty-first century concerns (and social media accounts). The result is a funny graphic novel that I think Emily Dickinson herself might have enjoyed.

You might need to click on this for the full image to enjoy the effect, but anyone whose tried out writing up classic literature with emojis (that is a thing), will enjoy this:

The Slanted Life of Emily Dickinson
From The Slanted Life of Emily Dickinson © Rosanna Bruno, used under fair use for the purpose of critique

I enjoyed the juxtaposition of one of my favorite books and my favorite poet:

The Slanted Life of Emily Dickinson
From The Slanted Life of Emily Dickinson © Rosanna Bruno, used under fair use for the purpose of critique

But my favorite might be her OK Cupid profile, though the Yelp reviews were pretty awesome, too.

The Slanted Life of Emily Dickinson
From The Slanted Life of Emily Dickinson © Rosanna Bruno, used under fair use for the purpose of critique

Bruno has clearly researched Dickinson’s life, and there are plenty of Easter eggs for those who know a lot about the poet’s life. The artistic renderings of Dickinson’s home and environment are done with a careful eye as well. What shines through most clearly is that Bruno is a fan of Emily Dickinson’s and she had a lot of fun with Dickinson’s poetry as she wrote this book.

Anyone who is a fan of Emily Dickinson’s will probably enjoy this book, and it also has an audience with folks who enjoy Roz Chast’s cartoons (both Chast and Alison Bechdel get fan shout-outs in this book).

Check out Bruno’s website for more images from the book.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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Review: March: Book Two, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

I read and reviewed the first volume of John Lewis’s civil rights graphic memoir March: Book One. It took me a little while to get around to reading Book Two, but I picked it up today.

March: Book Two picks up where Book One left off after successful sit-ins in Nashville. In this volume, Lewis becomes more involved with SNCC and becomes increasingly involved in the Civil Rights Movement. He describes participation in several protests, namely attempting to integrate a movie theater in Nashville and testing the Boynton v. Virginia Supreme Court decision through participation the Freedom Rides. He rises to Chairman of the SNCC and describes his role in the March on Washington. He also mentions the Children’s Crusade in Birmingham as a pivotal moment that convinced Kennedy he needed to act (of course, he was assassinated before the Civil Rights Act could be passed). The book ends as the 16th Street Baptist Church is bombed.

Graphic memoir is the perfect medium for telling this story. As much as I have read about it and heard about it and even seen some pictures, these drawings of the frequent violence convey the danger and menace in ways that other media cannot. Cameras could not always go the same places as the soldiers on the frontline of the Civil Rights Movement went, but their memories can be brought to life through this artistic medium.

As with the first volume, this volume flashes back and forth between Barack Obama’s inauguration and Lewis’s memories of the Civil Rights Movement. If anything, the device works even better in this volume. It easy to see how the experiences Lewis had in the 1960’s would have been on his mind as he watched America’s first African-American president be sworn into office.

As in the previous volume, this volume taught me some things I didn’t realize. I didn’t know that Lewis knew Stokely Carmichael. I guess I should have known they knew each other because Lewis has talked about being sent to Parchman Farm with the Freedom Riders, and Carmichael was sent there for the same reason. I guess we tend to compartmentalize and organize people who participated in the Movement without the understanding that at first, they were working side by side (at least a little bit). Carmichael succeeded Lewis as chairman of SNCC. Like I said, I didn’t put it together somehow. I am also a bit embarrassed to admit that though I knew Lewis was there at the March on Washington and at Selma, I didn’t realize he was a Freedom Rider. Lewis has said that he wanted to write his memoir in this way to share his remembrances of the Civil Rights Movement because he thought children would learn from it. Not that this book is just for children or could necessarily be considered a children’s book. However, I think Lewis was on to something with this idea. Here are some tweets with images of Lewis at the San Diego Comic Con, dressed in cosplay as himself—as he dressed for the Selma March.

 

Yes, I think Lewis gets it about the way to tell his story.

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Review: March: Book One, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

Congressman and Civil Rights Movement legend John Lewis teamed up with his Digital Director & Policy Advisor Andrew Aydin and graphic novelist Nate Powell to write his memoir in the form of a graphic novel. The first part of this memoir, March: Book One, tells Lewis’s story from his beginnings as the son of sharecroppers to his days as a student leading lunch-counter sit-ins in Nashville. The second volume of the memoir, March: Book Two, was published in January.

I became intrigued by the memoir after seeing Rep. Lewis talking about it on his Facebook page. I have to admit he is one of my own personal heroes. He has displayed bravery that I am not sure I’d be capable of. I had the good fortune to meet him when he visited my previous school upon the dedication of an art installation. He said very kind things about the artwork, and I was able to meet him and shake his hand and tell him how much I admired him. I do remember crying. It was amazing. He was so kind and so generous with his time, which is how he comes across in this memoir as well. The story opens as Lewis awakens on the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration and goes to his office. He meets two young boys, and he begins telling them the story of his life, starting with the story of his father purchasing his own farm and Lewis caring for the chickens, through his experiences going to school and yearning to learn, his introduction to Martin Luther King, Jr., and his lunch-counter protests while a college student in Nashville.

My school is considering several books as an all-school summer read, and March: Book One is one of the books under consideration. I loved it. It tells the story of the Civil Rights Movement in an engaging way. Reluctant readers and voracious readers alike will appreciate the way it brings the struggles of the Civil Rights movement to life. Many teenagers are not aware of what African Americans suffered when protesting for their basic civil rights. This book would fit in quite well with our American literature course’s units on social justice and civil disobedience.

The device of the flashback works well as a means for telling Lewis’s story as well. One quibble I have is that some of the speech bubbles are difficult to read. I think it was purposeful because I believe that the indecipherable speech bubbles were supposed to represent speech that was not completely heard or took place a “offstage,” if that makes sense. Still, I wanted to read them and see what was being said.

I liked the artwork, and I loved the concept of casting Lewis in the role of a superhero (a little bit). Lewis’s personality shines through the pages, too. He comes across as warm and intelligent—he’s serious, but he also knows when to use his sense of humor. I learned some things reading the book as well. I didn’t realize, for instance, that Thurgood Marshall encouraged the African-American students to pay bail or to get out of jail.

Graphic novels aren’t for everyone. Despite the success of books like Maus and Persepolis, graphic novels are still not accepted by all as a legitimate medium. If you are one of those folks who do not see graphic novels as legitimate literature, you might not like this book… but if you are one of those folks, I would urge you to give them a try with an open mind.

Rating: ★★★★★

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