The Book Beat - February 14, 2021
Happy Valentine's Day, book friends! Although this day may be considered a Hallmark-manufactured holiday, I love it. I mean a day that's all about love can't be bad, right? And since books are one of the loves of my life, I took part in my first #Bookstagram #stackchallenge and shared this #RedHeartsAndPinkSpines pic. I really loved going through my totes (and totes and totes) of books and finding these to share. First, I will someday have a library with enough bookshelves (and a ladder, natch) to hold all of my books so I don't have a crazy amount of totes and two, I'm already working on my stack of green spines for St. Patrick's Day. Stay tuned!
I finished two books this week (reviews below) and am still working my way through the amazingly informative Four Hundred Souls. I'm also in the midst of a twisty, odd book called A Children's Bible by Lydia Millet. I honestly don't know just how I feel about it yet. I'll keep you posted!
As far as book news goes, I have some intriguing stories this week, including the second installment in my Black History Month series about trailblazing Black librarians you need to know about. I also share one of my favorite Cover of the Weeks ever to research/write. I'm really enjoying doing a deeper dive into the history of book-cover design and learning more about the artists and designers who create these works of art.
And, before we get to the news, I want to wish you all a relaxing and chocolate-and-love-filled Valentine's Day! Don't be shy, embrace its cheesiness for all it is!
Rom-Com/Romance Novel Pairings
Vulture does us all the great service of sharing which romance novels you should read based on what rom-coms you adore. Romance novels are known for taking popular tropes (fake dating; enemies to lovers; wait, I had a one-night stand with you and now you're my boss!, etc.) and innovating them with new characters, new twists, new settings, and more. Sounds veeeery similar to rom-coms! I love this list, especially since it includes my favorite romance novel of all time, Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie. Check out this list and get reading!
A Tale of Two Articles: Romance Nay vs. Yay!
Go, ahead. I give you permission to skip ahead a bit as I once again trot out my usual defense of romance novels. Really. Stop reading at the end of this sentence and skip ahead for two sentences. Ahem, I wrote my master's thesis about how women's fiction, including romance, is just as valid as literary fiction and other forms of literature. The publishing power of romance novels holds the rest of the publishing industry on its back and deserves some damn respect.
So, after reading ANOTHER article that was seemingly pitched and written just to denigrate the entire genre with the same old refrain--it's cheesy, unbelievable, Fabio-covered nonsense--got me and a lot of other #romancelandia ladies on Twitter all fired up. It's a story we've read countless times before. It's a story non-romance readers have read countless times before. So, why again? Was the amazing success of the Bridgerton Netflix adaptation just too much for the romance naysayers at Slate to take, so they had to respond by trashing romance (again)? Based on two romance-novel virgins reading one book? And with nothing original to say? It's 2021. Even "Fabio" covers have been changed with subsequent editions (below left, 1989; below right, 2006). Isn't it time we tried writing a fresh, new story?
What was especially disappointing was one of the "romance newbies" admitting that as a queer woman, she was annoyed by what the novel and the Netflix series say about the state of straight-themed pop culture. Um, it can be sexy, romantic, fun, and (shocker) ends happily? Also, if she'd done mere minutes of research, she'd have seen that the romance genre is THE genre for LGBTQ-themed books. It's teeming with them (more than any other genre, as far as I have seen). I get it, these reporters were tasked with reading and commenting on one book. But the whole thing felt like a rehash of the usual disrespect and condescension--with nothing new to add to the conversation.
Bridgerton on Netflix isn't popular because it stinks, right? What about the adaptation--one of the few attempts to bring traditional romance novels to the screen--made it resonate with so many? After reading the Slate article below, cleanse your palette with the next article from CNN. This one gives a critical take, while also asking, "What will be the effect of this adaptation's popularity?" What IS the future of romance novels on the screen? My hope: more mainstream success (and more shirtless dukes...yum). Everyone deserves to experience the real-life pick-me-up of reading/seeing a fictional happy ending.
A Character Actor Has His Say
You know Danny Trejo, don't you? We've all definitely seen him in something, whether it's Con Air, Sons of Anarchy, The Young and the Restless, Brooklyn 99, and many more, plus a ton of voice roles (King of the Hill, Simpsons). He's been in over 300 movies/shows and still books 10-20 roles a year!
Atira Books is publishing his memoir on July 6. Co-written with his best friend and fellow actor Donal Logue, the book details his rise from addict, criminal, and inmate to sought-after actor and all-around cultural icon. He's 76, too!
I love listening to audiobook memoirs read by the subject, and am definitely going to listen to this fascinating man tell us about his busy life. Here's an article about the memoir and an article that speaks to Danny's expansive career. I also included the link to Pete Davidson's hilarious Danny Trejo song video from SNL.
"Equity Book Bundles" on Hold in Utah
After reading just a few of my blog entries, it's probably pretty clear what my opinion is regarding children reading about what can be considered controversial subjects (Here's a hint: Let them read and learn!). So I will just share the below links and let you make your own estimation about if what happened at a school district in Utah is appropriate or not.
Black History Month:
Trailblazing Black Librarians
Clara Stanton Jones
Clara Stanton Jones was blessed with 99 years of life and in that time she did much to break barriers, as an African-American, a librarian, and, especially, as both.
Born in a highly segregated neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri, Clara loved to visit the library and was often one of the smallest kids enraptured by the books. With hopes of becoming a teacher like her mother, Clara eschewed attending the local, Black-only, tuition-free college, and instead enrolled in Milwaukee State Teacher's College. She was one of only six students there. She then transferred to Spelman College in Atlanta and earned her Bachelor of Arts in 1934. In 1938, she graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Library Science.
After working at various libraries throughout the years, Clara became the Director of the Detroit Public Library in 1970. This made her the first African-American and woman to be director of a major library system in America. Even through there was opposition to her appointment--a high-ranking administrator and two commissioners quit in protest and the Friends of the Library withdrew their offer to supplement the director's salary--she still rose above the racist rancor to distinguish herself as a powerful voice for the work of libraries and the power of reading.
In 1975, Clara became the first African-American president of the American Library Association. In the middle of 1976, when the ALA head its annual convention, the group debated adopting the ALA's "Resolution on Racism and Sexism Awareness." By splitting up the debate into four sections, Clara was able to help encourage its passage. At the following year's convention, she spoke out again in support of the resolution when the ALA's Intellectual Freedom Committee tried to have it rescinded. She wrote in support of it, saying, "The spirit of the 'Resolution on Racism and Sexism Awareness' is not burdened with repression; it is liberating." The resolution was not rescinded and is still active today (linked below).
In 1978, Clara was appointed by President Carter to be the Commissioner to the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. She served in that role until 1982. Clara passed away peacefully in her sleep in 2012 at 99 years old.
As a proponent of both libraries and civil rights, Clara was a pioneer whose grace, intelligence, and tenacity led her to live a life of distinction and excellence. Her son Kenneth summed her up best: "Please think of Clara Stanton Jones as a pioneer, leader, and intellectual power, but also think of her as a loving wife and mother who taught strength-of-character."
What I Read This Week
The Kindest Lie
by Nancy Johnson - 4/5
It's 2008 and Ruth Tuttle, a Black engineer, is celebrating Barack Obama's election with her husband, Xavier. They live a middle-class life in Chicago. Xaviar is anxious to start a family, yet Ruth has never told him about the baby boy she gave up when she was 17. Ruth travels back to Ganton, Indiana, to search for her son and discovers a town in despair--racism, unemployment, heartache, and economic depression permeate the town and its people, including Midnight, a young white boy Ruth grows close to. Ruth's reconciling with her past and what she wants in the future make for an engrossing story of family, race, and the disparity between white and Black communities during the 2008 economic crisis.
Love is a Revolution by Renee Watson - 4/5
This YA was a fun, romantic story that spoke to self-esteem and social issues. Nala is a 17-year-old girl of Jamaican descent who lives in Harlem. She wants to spend the summer before her senior year having fun and, hopefully, falling in love. When she meets an activist in her cousin's Inspire Harlem group named Tye, she is smitten. If only he'd stop giving her reusable water bottles as gifts and making her feel less-than because she wants to eat meat, use plastic water bottles, and not "save the world" 24/7. While working through her relationship with Tye, Nala learns how to not only love herself for who she is, but also speak her mind on her own terms. This is a great book for young girls who are working on finding their own voice.
What I'm Reading Now
A Children's Bible by Lydia Millet
There's a lakeside mansion, frivolous parents, freakishly mature kids, an unrelenting storm, and serious Biblical undertones. So far, this one is an eerie one yet definitely unique. I'll let you know what I think next week! (Props to my mom for the "mug rug" with my fave animal, a moose!)
Much Ado About You
by Samantha Young
The anglophile in me is a smitten kitten. A bookish girl who needs a vacation? A quaint bookstore in a quaint English village? A hot farmer with a British accent? Lots of talk of Shakespeare and pints and tea? I mean, it's like this book was written for me. I'm especially loving reading it while wearing my London-themed PJs!
Who's Zooming Who?
Have you seen a background suspiciously like this behind Zoomers on TV or during your own personal calls? Are you impressed by the placement of the books and the colors of their spines? Well, it's a FAKE bookshelf background, folks! You can order it on Amazon. First, how dare these people not have a bookshelf in their house?! And instead of getting one, they buy a fake backdrop?! For shame!
Bring on the Duke!
The Duke of Hastings himself is hosting Saturday Night Live on February 20! I hope he's hydrating and getting ready for live TV (I know that sentence is a stretch, but I had to use this GIF, OK?). And there BETTER be a Bridgerton spoof. Fabio might be free!
Book to Movie/TV adaptations announced this week:
The Power by Naomi Alderman (3/5 rating from me) and Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore (4/5 rating from me) are becoming limited-series at Amazon.
Here's an article that details many books getting the small/big screen treatment this year. https://www.oprahmag.com/entertainment/g34863788/books-being-made-into-movies-2021/
Cover of the Week:
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
“For Christs sake don’t give anyone that jacket you’re saving for me. I’ve written it into the book.” --F. Scott Fitzgerald
As readers, I know you all love stories, and boy, do I have a riveting one for you! When you see the above image, I'm sure you know exactly where you've seen it before...high school English class, of course! It's on the cover of the book Among the Ash Heaps and Millionaires by F. Scott Fitzgerald. What book, you say?! Thank goodness, he didn't go with his original idea for the title!
We set our scene with a man named George Shieffelin, the Chairman of the Board of Scribers' Sons Publishing Company. One day, he finds a gouache painting in a trash can of publishing "dead matter." He takes the painting home, hangs it up for his enjoyment, and eventually bequeaths it to Charles Scribner III. The painting? "Celestial Eyes" by Francis Cugat, or, more commonly known as the iconic image on the cover of the original 1925 dust jacket for The Great Gatsby.
Artist Francis Cugat was paid $100 (!!!!) for the artwork. Unlike most book covers, which are done after the book is written, this one was painted while Fitzgerald was still writing the book. There's quite a few articles (including by Scribner himself) contending that there was a subtle collaboration between Cugat and Fitzgerald and that collaboration made this cover resonate with so many readers. The quote from the end of chapter four is pretty explicit...
Nick says, "Unlike Gatsby and Tom Buchanan, I had no girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs..."
As I was researching this cover, I learned so many interesting things, including that if you look closely, you can see two "nudes" in the irises of Daisy's eyes. The lines (and circles that look like jewels) around her eyes resemble the elaborate, elegant headbands worn by the Daisy character in the numerous movie adaptations. And then there's the splotch of green that looks like a perfectly placed tear. Crying over her materially rich but emotionally bereft life, perhaps? The eyes, tear, and overall "look" of this cover are a lovely representation of a book cover perfectly encapsulating the novel's themes.
Scribner donated the painting to the Princeton University Library. For more info on this cover, check out the links below.