Finding Me by Viola Davis
This memoir was a recent audiobook listen. Wow, wow, wow. What a woman. What a book. Viola takes readers / listeners through her difficult childhood marked by racism, poverty, and countless traumas, through her years as a journeyman actor on stage, her time at Julliard (where she was able to grow as an actor despite her education), to her experiences in movies and television, and family, family, family. As I listened, the phrase that kept coming to mind was “generosity of spirit.” Don’t get me wrong: there is raw, ugly truth in this book, and she’s not afraid to call it out. Yet she has risen above bitterness. She has chosen to acknowledge hard things and still see joy and beauty.
I love reading about artists of all sorts and always find parallels to the writing life. Viola writes of the transformative power of art in the artist’s life, of her experiences informing her ability to fully become various characters, of the joy and the power and spark that exist in the midst of creating. To that I say right on! The statistics she shared about actors was sobering. Less than one percent earn over $50,000 a year, if I remember correctly, which sounds exactly like the writing world. I really recommend listening to this one. The voice! The presence!
Sandra Dallas books
I’ve been on a Sandra Dallas spree the last few months, and the reading has been so good. Sandra writes historical fiction all set in the American west, primarily in Colorado. I found three of her books at my library and know I will hunt down more.
The first I read, True Sisters, is about emigrants on the Mormon Trail. It’s a multi-pov story about four different women and how their lives intersect as they travel to Utah with The Martin Handcart Company. The book recounts the most deadly Overland Trail passage in the history of the trails. It’s pretty brutal and sad, but it’s beautiful, too. Imagine walking 2,000 miles pushing a handcart to find your new home!
The second, The Last Midwife, is about a hardscrabble Colorado mining town and the local midwife, a stalwart part of the community, who is accused of murdering a newborn. As someone invited into so many homes, she carries many of the town’s secrets (and a few of her own). Proving her innocence will put her in a dangerous position, as there are some who don’t want her exposing what she knows.
Like True Sisters, Westering Women is about women traveling across the country, this time to find husbands in a California mining town. Reading two Overland Trail stories almost back to back meant I encountered some similar events and locations, but the books were very distinct. Main character Maggie Kaiser is fleeing an abusive husband — a man she may or may not have killed. She’s not the only one in the train running from secrets. An interesting aside: my library copy had its own adventure, traveling with me to a teaching conference in Phoenix and coming back in the mail. 🙂
If You Find a Leaf by Aimee Sicuro
What a beautiful picture book! Author / illustrator Aimee Sicuro imagines a child who dreams of all the things she could do with various leaves — make a hat or a parachute, a hammock or a mask, or celebrate with a “leafy parade.” Endpapers identity the leaves in the illustrations, and an author’s note shows how to preserve leaves. This playful, happy book is conceptually reminiscent of A House Is a House for Me, which is an all-time favorite of mine.