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The Book Beat - April 14, 2022

I’ve been exhausted lately with work/home/life, so my reading has been slow and sporadic. It makes me sad to not read as much as I normally do, but most nights all I have the energy to do it sit in my reading chair & fall asleep.

I don’t think it’s just my body that’s exhausted, it’s my spirit/mind, too. It seems like one of those times when the worries of the world are overwhelming. And as much as I try to think “big picture,” and be thankful for all I have and remember those who are truly suffering (Ukraine 🇺🇦), the little and the big worries of the day gang up and overwhelm me.

In this pic you get a book that’s near the top of my TBR that I really (really) want to start soon (as soon as I finish the many others I’m reading) and me in the pose that happens when I fall asleep in my reading chair. Book on face, funky hair, Christmas PJs, “Covid” uniform (the comfiest sweater ever), and me marking the pages with smeared makeup.

I'm hoping that this spring—during the season of rebirth and renewal—I can try to perk up and get back to reading as much as I usually do and just feel less exhausted and more rested. If anything can do it, warmer weather for more front-porch reading can! I'm hoping you feel revived by this new season, too!

P.S. The official @readwithjenna reposted the above pic! Yay!

Happy National Poetry Month!

I tend to read poetry online as opposed to buying poetry books, but when I really love a poet, I indulge and grab the book. I've shared my love of all things Mary Oliver on here before. She's the GOAT of poetry, as far as I'm concerned. Other poets who catch my ear are Kate Baer, Jericho Brown, Sharon Olds, Galway Kinnell, Maya Angelou, Maggie Smith, Amanda Gorman, and Langston Hughes.

Lately (maybe to match my mood), I've been immersing myself in poetry that speaks to the nitty-gritty experiences of life, particularly for women and mothers. A good friend gifted me two books by Kate Baer, a writer who started with "mommy blogging" but moved into poetry. Her collection What Kind of Woman openly and honestly speaks to the mothering/wife/woman experience, and is pretty funny to boot! Jericho Brown's The Tradition was a "One Book, One City" title I picked up for a Philly readathon. It examines how we've become accustomed to terror. It also showcases Brown's poetic invention, the duplex poem. A mix of sonnet, the ghazal, and the blues.

Any of these collections are a great way to spend some time reading and relishing the ability of poets to use words and literary devices to communicate emotion and paint word-portraits of life and its joys and tragedies.

Book News!

Goodbye Late Fees, Hello Book Returns!

When the NYPL system stopped collecting late fees last year, something interesting happened: Over 100,000 books were returned! The libraries nixed late fees to encourage patrons to return to the libraries after the pandemic. Not only did attendance pick up, many books were returned, some with notes of apology. This article tells the sweet story in full. One book had even been checked out since 1970!

LGBTQ+ Romance

Book Sales are Booming!

Here's another eye-popping number for you: In the last five years, the sales of LGBTQ+ romances have gone up by over 740%. Yes. 740%! This article is a joyous celebration of the amazing success of LGBTQ+ romance books. It's obvious LGBTQ+ people are thrilled to see themselves and their love stories represented in books that are published by mainstream outlets. So even though some state legislatures would have us believe that LGBTQ+ people don't deserve the respect and rights (or basic human decency) afforded cisgender people, they're clearly in the minority. Thank goodness. Love, in all its forms, is love and books about love are the most beloved books of all (don't take my word for it, check out the sales numbers!). Speaking of the success of romance books...

It's Time to Amp Up the Romance-Novel Adaptations!

What's the deal, Hollywood?! It's obvious you have a rabid audience for adaptations of these much-loved books but adaptations are still few and far in between. This article makes the case for MORE romance-book adaptations, and I agree whole-heartedly. We romance readers are waiting for the next beloved series, aka Bridgerton, to hit the screen. Speaking of which...

I am still not over this! 😍

Small in Size But

Mighty in Purpose

Twenty-two miles off of the coast of Maine, sits Matinicus Island, a remote enclave that's home to about 100 people—and a truly one-of-a-kind library. As unique in structure (two sheds) as in operation (a staff of volunteers and an honor borrowing system), this library is a symbol of inclusivity and hope in a dark time of rampant book banning. Matinicus Island is on a mission to collect as many banned books as possible. It's truly a labor of love, as most books have to be transported from the mainland. For more of this heartwarming story, go here.

Book Reviews!

In a New York Minute by Kate Spencer - ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A charming confection of social-media savvy, NYC references, and sweet chemistry, this romance from Kate Spencer is an escapist delight. It was refreshing to read a romance that skips overly wrought drama in favor of romance fueled by cute and clever repartee.

I listened to the audiobook, which is a standout, particularly Amanda Dolan as Franny. Her narration of the bubbly, quick-talking heroine is terrific. Neil Hellegers does a great job as Hayes, too. The juxtaposition of Amanda's spirited reading and Neil's calm narration perfectly portrays the characters' yin-and-yang dynamic.

Stoic, numbers-oriented, and shy, Hayes Montgomery III rescues Franny on one of the worst days of her life. On the way home after getting laid off, she gets her dress caught in the subway doors. Hayes gives her his (Gucci) jacket as a cover-up. Franny thinks their meet-cute is merely that, but, thanks to social media, their encounter is witnessed and shared by a bystander on Instagram, and the hashtag #subwaycuties is born.

Hayes and Franny keep meeting up, and each new encounter strengthens their growing love. Spencer has done a wonderful job creating a couple that has different personalities, but bond through sharp, humorous dialogue. Instead of a huge conflict or miscommunication derailing Franny and Hayes's journey to their HEA, Spencer injects small conflicts within strong character arcs: Franny's search for professional success and Hayes's yearning to not let his work destroy his chance for love. Even a dramatic event that happens near the end of the novel didn't stop me from rooting for these two. Their chemistry is too strong, fun, and attractive to be weighed down by unnecessary drama.

I usually prefer steamy romances but this novel is a fade-to-black one, and I didn't mind it a bit. The chemistry between Franny and Hayes is so good, it didn't need explicit sex scenes to show their strong connection. If you're looking for a romantic, fun escape, this is the romance for you!

Much thanks to @hachetteaudio for the gifted @librofm copy in exchange for an honest review!

Probably Ruby by Lisa Bird-Wilson - ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This #ownvoices novel from Métis and nēhiyaw (Cree) writer Lisa Bird-Wilson is a moving exploration of the trauma the Canadian foster system and adoption inflicts on the protagonist, Ruby Valentine. Born to a white teen mother and Metis/Cree father, the adopted Ruby's searching not only for a connection to her birth families, but also her Indigenous heritage.

Told in short chapters focused on a web of various people from Ruby's life and Ruby herself, the novel paints a disjointed yet vivid picture of a resilient woman whose life seems to hold more tragedy than joy. Your heart breaks for Ruby as she tries to navigate the issues of love, sexuality, addiction (alcoholism), racism, and self-identity that bombard her in a world seemingly built to work against her at every turn. Real and raw, Ruby's story is hard to read at times, yet still draws you in, and bonds you to this distinct character.

While Ruby's character is fully realized, the narratives of others that influence or interact with Ruby are merely teased with stories that are confined to one or, at most, two chapters. These truncated stories made me want to read more about their relationships with Ruby and a get bit more closure. The sweet bond Ruby forms with her paternal grandmother shines in its limited narrative space, but you don't find out how it resolves. I think Ruby's story—and the larger issues that affect her life—would have been made richer and more resonant with more narrative space given to the supporting characters. The overall narrative was confusing at time dues to chapters being out of chronological order.

If you enjoy strong character studies and are especially interested in or want to learn more about the experiences of Indigenous people in our society, this novel is a great choice. Ruby is a character you won't soon forget.

Much thanks to editor David Ebershoff at @hogarthbooks for an early copy of this book.

Book Banning Update & Comments

Below are some stories about the continued increase in book-banning incidents across our country. Unfortunately, the disingenuous "reasons" for these bans & the disgusting and dishonest narratives that are emerging to justify them have just gotten worse. One school in PA even nixed doing Rent as their musical. This (well-funded) effort to stifle intellectual freedom seems to now be expanding beyond just books.

As I've always said—and will reiterate here—the intent is key. How does one parent get a book banned from all? How do legislators who refuse to pass any kind of gun-control bills after 20 elementary students were massacred at school (and so many more kids have died since) claim to care about children so much that they're taking away opportunities for learning, growing, and reading (in public spheres, no less)? Why are almost all of the banned books about Black history, people of color, or LGBTQ+ people?

I'm in the middle of reading the often banned book, All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson. It's his memoir about growing up Black and queer in America. Within the first few pages, George shares two truths that are, unfortunately, too often drowned out by lies, bad-faith arguments, and disingenuous narratives.

#1: “That being different didn’t mean something was wrong with me, but that something was wrong with my cultural environment, which forced me to live my life as something I wasn’t.”

#2: “The fact that I couldn’t see my full self in Black heroes or the history books was more about the changing of history to spare white guilt than it ever was about me knowing the whole truth."

These kind of say it all, don’t they? Love, in all its forms, is love and we should just let people be who they are and let them love who they love. Why does the religious beliefs of some in a country that claims to promote the separation of church and state and freedom of religion become the deciding factor here? And in 2022, it's way past time to truly reckon with the sins of our country’s past. We need to openly and honestly discuss them (books are GREAT for this), examine how they’ve bled into our present, and work to eradicate them once and for all. When has supressing things or refusing to openly engage and discuss tough issues ever made things better?

We're all humans. Why has humanity and empathy taken a backseat to hate, bigotry, and ignorance? Loving others, letting them be who they know they are, letting them love who they love, and embracing the multicultural, multigender, and multi-faith melting pot that is America strengthens us all. Not doing so keeps America mired in the past and unable to grow stronger for a prosperous future.

As you can tell, I'm an emotional mix of disgusted, angry, sad, heartbroken, and frustrated. But writing about my feelings helps, as does sharing the below articles with you. I encourage you to read them and think about what you can do to reverse this horrible trend and stand for progress and growth, not the short-sightedness and stagnancy of the status quo (or even, shockingly, as some of these laws and rules suggest, the blatant misogyny, racism, and homophobia of the mid-1900s and earlier).

Articles to Read:

The New York Public Library is offering several banned books free (in eBook form) for anyone, not just NY citizens. I love this! Go here to get the info.

George M. Johnson discusses the banning of his book here.

Here's an intriguing history of book burning by the Nazis.

An article about librarians from across the country who are fighting book bans.

Some suburbs are becoming the central spot for those fighting against book bans.

And finally, Pen America is one of the best if not THE best place to get info about banned books. This extensive study and treasure trove of articles and information looks at this issue from top-to-bottom.

Cover of the Week:

Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow

You know I love bright colors and they don't get much brighter than this bold and beautiful cover! The illustration is by Sabrena Kahdija (@sabrenakhadija) and the overall design is by Donna Cheng. A description of this book is below (I'm liking it so far!).

Summer 1995: Ten-year-old Joan, her mother, and her younger sister flee her father’s explosive temper and seek refuge at her mother’s ancestral home in Memphis. This is not the first time violence has altered the course of the family’s trajectory. Half a century earlier, Joan’s grandfather built this majestic house in the historic Black neighborhood of Douglass—only to be lynched days after becoming the first Black detective in the city. Joan tries to settle into her new life, but family secrets cast a longer shadow than any of them expected.

As she grows up, Joan finds relief in her artwork, painting portraits of the community in Memphis. One of her subjects is their enigmatic neighbor Miss Dawn, who claims to know something about curses, and whose stories about the past help Joan see how her passion, imagination, and relentless hope are, in fact, the continuation of a long matrilineal tradition. Joan begins to understand that her mother, her mother’s mother, and the mothers before them persevered, made impossible choices, and put their dreams on hold so that her life would not have to be defined by loss and anger—that the sole instrument she needs for healing is her paintbrush.

Unfolding over seventy years through a chorus of unforgettable voices that move back and forth in time, Memphis paints an indelible portrait of inheritance, celebrating the full complexity of what we pass down, in a family and as a country: brutality and justice, faith and forgiveness, sacrifice and love.

Happy Ramadan, Passover, Easter, and spring break to all!

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