Whatcha Reading, Jessixa Bagley

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Jessixa Bagley is an award-winning, Seattle based illustrator and children's book author. Her books include Boats for Papa, Before I Leave, Laundry Day, and most recently, Vincent Comes Home, which was a collaboration with her husband, Aaron (whose work you may recognize).

What are you reading now?

I am currently reading a book I feel simultaneously everybody is reading and also not enough people are reading, Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race. It’s about having effective conversations about race. This book really says it all. I don’t use Twitter much, but as I’m reading this book, I feel like I should be live tweeting every line I read. If you are a person of color, I guarantee you’ve have more awkward conversations about race than you care to recall. And if you are a person of "non-color," then I guarantee you have questions or thoughts about race you just aren’t sure how to express or maybe you need some help in the most appropriate way to express them. And yes, as Ijeoma states very upfront in the beginning that if you are white, parts of this book will probably make you feel uncomfortable. We'll I’ve been personally uncomfortable with regards to my race my whole life, including situations with family and close friends, so I think feeling uncomfortable while reading a book is nothing by comparison. I think this book is just what we need right now. If we don't start talking productively and respectfully about race we won't ever really get anywhere. And our kids won't get anywhere. We need to get better at these conversations so eventually they can stop happening all together and we can just talk about Netflix guilt-free.

What did you read last?

I just recently finished reading, Widow Basquiat by Jennifer Clement. I ADORED this book. It was like taking a time machine (probably a Delorean) back to the New York City art scene in the early 80's. The book is about about the famous graffiti artist/expressionist painter Jean-Michel Basquiat and his relationship with his "girlfriend" Suzanne Mallouk. The book is from Suzanne's perspective and written by a mutual friend. It painted such a vivid picture of the experience of what it was like to know Basquiat and understand the ideas and process for paintings. While reading, you really feel like you are there seeing the intense electricity (and sometimes bizarreness) of the highs and the lows of their love and lifestyle. Stylistically, it is one of the most beautifully written books I've ever come across. Each chapter reads like a gorgeous poem (also in length) and ends with detailed background information about what was happening at that point in their relationship explained by Suzanne. The best part is that throughout the book they'll talk about some incident that happened (like the time Suzanne attacked Madonna in a club in a jealous rage) and Basquiat painted a painting about the incident. On my own I would look up the paintings as a read so I could get a richer understanding of Basquiat's work. This book invites you into the most elite, intimate, cool kids party ever. You feel like you know Jean and Suzanne after reading. It's real and beautiful and ultimately very sad. Even if you don't know much about Basquait or his artwork, I think anyone who appreciates exquisite writing and art at all would love this book.

What are you reading next?

I make the "mistake" of enjoying re-reading books. I can't help it. I know my book reading time is limited, but I really like it. I'm part of the re-run generation. Every book makes you feel different things and some books I want to experience the feelings of all over again. So my next read is a re-read of This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki. I have to be honest, I don't remember much about this graphic novel. (Parent brain tends to erase 90% of the details in my memories lately.) But I remember LOVING this book. The art, the adolescent coming of age story, the teen feels... I remember it's very beautiful and really captures the awkwardness of being an almost-teen and how you fit (or don't fit) in the world. I think it will be a perfect transitional book into summer and probably leave me feeling very insecure, melancholy, and heartbroken.