Editor’s note: With the observance of Martin Luther King Day on January 21, this post by Empish Thomas is particularly relevant. It is part of VisionAware’s ongoing book review series.
Caption: Book Cover of March Book One
I don’t typically read graphic novels. As a matter of fact, the book that I am reviewing is my very first. For those who are not familiar with the genre, a graphic novel is a written story presented with cartoon-type drawings in a panel format. These novels are similar to a comic book but much longer and with more text. I have been told they are very popular and many people love to read them. The Library of Congress National Library Service (NLS) recorded their first one entitled “The March Trilogy” by Congressman John Lewis. Although Lewis has published an autobiography in the past, the idea to make his story a graphic novel came from the time he was 15 years old when he first learned about Martin Luther King through reading a comic book on King’s life.
Initially Excited to Read the Book
I was excited to read this book because it is about the life of US Congressman John Lewis. He is an icon in the civil rights movement, more popularly known for his beating while trying to cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge during the March to Montgomery in 1965. Moreover, he is an outspoken politician in my hometown of Atlanta. These reasons made me even more interested in reading this book.
The overall story of Lewis’s life was educational and fascinating. Without giving too much away, I learned a great deal about his life that I didn’t know and was inspired by his passion and zeal to create change despite some incredible difficulties. His childhood growing up with parents who were sharecroppers gave him firsthand exposure to racial inequality. He attended college while participating in sit-ins at lunch counters and bus boycotts. He later extended his civil rights activities into a career in politics.
Challenges to Reading the Book
Unfortunately, after I downloaded the book and started to play it on my NLS talking book player, the challenges and some disappointment began.
- The first challenge I noticed is that my mind began to wander from the story and I had to rewind my player. I realized this was because I was having a hard time figuring out when the description of the graphic started and stopped, not because the story was not interesting or that I was tired, sleepy or distracted! Terminology and phrasing such as “zoom in,” “zoom out,” “next panel,” “we see,” “in the frame,” and “the next three panels show” give you an indication that the reader is describing what is in the panel and then going back to the text. However, if you are not listening carefully, you can miss what is going on. The cues are done very seamlessly. This is not necessarily a bad thing but just an observation. For years I have tuned my ears and my brain to read an audio book and thought that I had become quite proficient, but reading this graphic novel challenged my audio reading ability. I had to really pay attention to visualize the scene and pictures to keep them separate from the actual text. There were times when I thought I might be trying too hard and should just let the story flow and not be concerned about it. Perhaps that is the best way to read an audio format of a graphic novel?
- The second challenge I had with reading this book was the detailed audio description. I love audio description and have written about it many times on the VisionAware site, but I found it to be a little overwhelming in this book. The description of the illustrations were very detailed and lengthy. I shared my thoughts with a sighted friend who had a printed copy of this book. She listened to the NLS version and we reviewed it together. She understood my concerns and thought that in some ways the descriptions could have been shortend. But perhaps that is just personal preference. Some people like a lot of information when it comes to audio description and some like less.
I appreciated the sound effects of the reader that were made within the audio description. That brought the book to life more and made the story even more interesting. For example when John was a child, he had to feed the chickens on the farm. The reader actually makes clucking sounds as John is doing this task. Some other sounds are phones ringing and an alarm clock buzzing. The reader also changed the inflections in his voice which I also enjoyed.
Despite these enhancements, I have to conclude that a graphic novel is probably not my type of book to read. I found the story itself to be a good one but the illustrations to be a distraction. It was just too much for me to digest in an audio format and it took away from the overall story I was trying to read and enjoy. Perhaps you will read this book and have a totally different experience.
About the Book
For more information here is the book title and NLS book number:
Title: “The March Trilogy”
Authors: John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
Art by Nate Powell
Book Number: DB87098
It is also available on Amazon.