books and cleverness

I read books of all sorts, but mostly kids' lit and young adult literature and speculative fiction for all ages—usually from a feminist perspective. 


I've adopted a personalized version of the CHOICE reviews approach to recommendations/star ratings:

***** = Essential, a.k.a. truly love, absolute must-read, buy it now
**** = Highly Recommended, a.k.a. this is a really good book; I would buy it as a gift
*** = Recommended, a.k.a. pretty good; worth reading
** = Optional, a.k.a. meh
* = Not Recommended; a.k.a. this is not a good book

No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller

No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller -

What is there to like?

     The subject, Lewis Michaux, and the role he and his bookstore played in the civil rights movement and 20th-century black culture and history are well worth learning about, and this book does a fine job of bringing greater attention to Michaux's work, presenting it in an easy-to-read package. The inclusion of federal documents, newspaper clippings, and photographs from the time are an interesting glimpse through history, and bring it to life.


What's not to like?

     Considered as a book in its own right, apart from the worthiness of its subject and ultimate purpose (which is difficult to do), I find it to be a bit flat. What I mean is this: it's constructed as a sort of scrapbook, with short diary-type passages written by the author from the perspective of Michaux and the people who moved through his life, interspersed with the photos and documents mentioned above. While the scrapbook structure is entertaining and I very much like the idea of including perspectives from many people to help create a sense of the true extent of Michaux's influence, the text of the book, unfortunately, is rather flat. The voices are fairly undifferentiated, consistent almost to uniformity in expression and even sentiment. And while the text does inform, the segments are so brief that they don't really engross the reader.

     So, overall, considering that the book bills itself as "a documentary novel," I would sum up my response to it by saying that as a documentary it's great, but as a novel it is just so-so.


What made me pick it up?

It appeared on Elizabeth Bluemle's Shelftalker post, 2012 Starred Reviews (which is a great resource and you should definitely check it out if you are interested in finding out more of the great kids' and YA books that came out last year), and for personal reasons I'm in the process of checking out books from Carolrhoda Lab's list.


Overall recommendation: Recommended