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The Book Beat - February 21, 2021

It's late on Sunday and I'm just putting the finishing touches on this, so I apologize that you'll get it on Monday morning. It's been a week! I didn't make much of a dent in my TBR pile (A Children's Bible was meh), but I did finish four memoirs for an independent book contest that I critique. Those books, in addition to This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger, made me think about storytelling. It's amazing how many people feel compelled to tell stories and how storytelling has evolved throughout civilization.

Now while I prefer my "storytelling" done on typed pages between two gorgeously designed covers, there are so many avenues for storytelling and it's such a pertinent part of our lives. I think it's been especially important over the last year when the real-life "stories" many of us have been living, have been confined to limited space with the same people (love ya, kids, but Mommy's going to need a vacation after this!). I mean, there's only so much I can share about trying to find a new meal for the rotation and emptying (and filling and emptying and filling) the dishwasher.

With the lack of "lived" stories, we've turned to fiction and nonfiction told through our modern storytelling greats: books, Netflix, film, non-Netflix streaming services, eBooks, music, articles, and (yes) even video games. [FYI: Fortnite is released as "seasons," and literally has a whole backstory. I mean, it's not traversing a network of barrel-laden ladders to save a damsel in distress from a gorilla over and over again, but I guess it's fun.] We've gravitated toward stories to keep our minds churning, to keep our spirits buoyed, and to keep ourselves entertained. Thank goodness for storytelling, right?

I'm sharing two cool storytelling articles below. The first is Pixar's "22 Rules of Storytelling." I mean the movie studio that causes a grown woman to bawl like a baby over a cartoon toy cowboy being shared with a new child after their original child grows up must know something about a good story, right? The second is a great article that explores why humans need stories. I'll leave you with a quote from it, which does not speak about me...I'm much higher! Oh, the life of a bookworm!

"Today, we may not gather around the camp fire, but the average adult is still thought to spend at least 6% of the waking day engrossed in fictional stories on our various screens."

Book Talk with George Saunders

I know you know I love the writing of George Saunders. In my opinion, he's one of the greatest writers living today and basically short-story-writing royalty. So any article that has him talking books--his favorites, which has had the most influence on his writing, etc.--I will read. I'm very interested in his latest book, A Swim in the Pond in the Rain, a nonfiction endeavor that shares iconic short stories by Russian writers and offers seven essays of commentary about how these short stories teach us about writing, human behavior, and life itself. It sounds fascinating and, again, I'd read him writing about the phonebook, so I'm sure I'll read this book, too!

Talking Lit

As a Bibliolater, I am both a Bibliophagist and a Bookarazzi. At night, I become a Librocubicularist and during the day, I'm Book-Bosomed. I never suffer from Abibliophobia because of my affliction for Tsundoku. I am also a Logophile, which is why I love this article about bookish words so much. And, yes, it was tough to write those sentences! Enjoy a recent Book Shelfie with my favorite book of all time...and read this article. It's fun!

Trash Into Treasure

This article is a few years old, but it still warmed my heart. Trash collectors in Turkey took books they found in the trash and created an entire library! In addition to the books they found in the trash (Throwing away books?! Sacrilege!), they've received a bunch through donations, too. The library is housed in an old, brick factory in the city's sanitation department. It has a seating area--including chess boards--and also lends out books to schools. I love this!

The Healing Words of Mary Oliver

Like George Saunders for the short story literary form, I think Mary Oliver was a master at poetry and has more than earned her legacy as one of the greatest poets of all time. This article moved me more than words can really say. A newly minted oncology nurse in Philadelphia shares how she used the words and wisdom of Mary's poetry to deal with the first death of a patient. It's devastating yet life-affirming, sad yet hopeful, bold yet calm. Read this and revel in an aspiring writer finding beauty and solace in Mary's poetry. I've also included one of the poems Nina speaks about in this piece. It's a wonderful balm for these tough times.

Don't Hesitate

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,

don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty

of lives and whole towns destroyed or about

to be. We are not wise, and not very often

kind. And much can never be redeemed.

Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this

is its way of fighting back, that sometimes

something happens better than all the riches

or power in the world. It could be anything,

but very likely you notice it in the instant

when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case.

Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid

of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

Black History Month:

Trailblazing Black Librarians

Edward C. Williams

Edward C. Williams is widely considered the first professionally trained Black librarian. After graduating from Adelbert College of Western Reserve University in 1892, he because the Assistant Librarian of their Hatch Library. After two years, he was promoted to Library Director, and he's been credited with doubling their collection. He took a sabbatical in 1898 to earn his master's degree in librarianship from New York State Library. He completed the course in one year, instead of the expected two. He went back to continue his work at Hatch Library.

In 1909, Edward resigned from the library to become a principal of a high school in Washington, D.C. In 1916, he began his 13-year tenure as the University Librarian of Howard University. Since segregation was the social norm of the time, Edward because a vocal social activist who continually advocated for the need for professional library personnel and improvements to the quality of the library's resources. In 1929, he took a sabbatical to work on his doctorate in library studies at Columbia University, but sadly died unexpectedly before completing his studies.

In addition to being a librarian, Edward was also an author and translator. He excelled at five languages and almost became a professional translator, but chose library science instead. As an author, Edward wrote numerous pieces, most importantly a novel entitled The Letters of Davey Carr. Scholar Adam McKible published this novel as When Washington Was in Vogue in 2004. Williams is now considered part of the canon of Harlem Renaissance authors.

Smart, hardworking, and determined to make his mark--both in the library and in teaching future generations of librarians--Edward C. Williams was a leader whose work and achievements should not be forgotten.

Cover of the Week:

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Who hasn't seen this movie? Who hasn't read this book? Who hasn't seen this seemingly simple black and white image splashed on books, movie posters, kids' toys, shirts, games, etc.?

The story behind this iconic cover is fantastic and as much as I'd love to write about it, the designer, Chip Kidd, does a fabulous job telling it in his 2012 Ted Talk about book cover design (link below). It's 17 minutes and includes much more than just the story of Jurassic Park. It's very much worth your time. He's hilarious and his impact on book-cover design is legendary. I'll give you some tidbits below, but please, watch it. You won't be sorry.

Chip's motto: "A book designer gives form to content."

  • To get inspiration for the cover, he went to the Museum of Natural History and bought a book about dinoasaurs in the gift shop. He traced an illustration of a tyrannosaurus and started filling it out with black ink.

  • He wanted to reflect humans seeing the dinosaur coming into being. He put some typography on it and viola, an iconic image was born.

  • Michael Crichton's comment about the cover: "Wow! Fucking fantastic jacket!"

I'm once again amazed at all that goes into book-cover design...and, in this case, how simplicity made an everlasting impression. I'm so excited to keep learning more and more about how art and books combine to create covers that reflect the story within the designs.

Until next week! Keep safe, healthy, and--as always--keep reading!

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