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The Book Beat - February 28, 2020

Happy weekend! You know what's great about a leap year? Getting an extra day to read! There's not a ton of news this week and I don't have anything as cool as book toilets, but there are still some cool things going on in the world of books. Let's dig in!

NYPL Hearts 125 Books

The New York Public Library is continuing to celebrate its 125th anniversary with a list of 125 "books we love." You can order a free PDF, but lucky for you, you know a book nerd who already did that. Email me at and I'll send it to you. It's an interesting list, but fun to see what's on there and what was snubbed (Pride and Prejudice sacrilege!).

Frozen Scribes Go Graphic

Kristen and Bobby Lopez, the husband-and-wife duo who wrote the songs for Coco and Frozen 1 & 2 (yes, you can thank them for your kids singing "Let It Go" over and over again) are using their talents to bring the graphic novel, The Prince and the Dressmaker to life. The story follows Prince Sebastian who leads a secret life as Paris fashion socialite Lady Christallia. While he wants to keep this hidden, his best friend and dressmaker Frances wants her stellar fashion work recognized. It's an exploration of how two teenagers are navigating the waters of self expression, self identity, and becoming the people they truly want to be. I have it and it's terrific.

The First Mommy Blogger?

This neat article talks about Margery Kempe, a mother in 15th-century medieval England who had 14 (!!!!!) kids and also wrote about her life. She's widely considered to be the first author of the memoir, but her entire story is fascinating. After a religious awakening she traveled extensively using her "mothering" instinct in a pastoral role. You've heard me lament here about the challenges women have faced and still face getting their stories to be taken as seriously as men's and this seems like a lady who broke down that barrier in her own way. Seriously, read this article. I am definitely going to read more about this woman who wrote and lived outside the box.

Very Short Short Stories

I'm still moving along with my A Short Story a Day challenge and I needed a super short story to read the other day when I didn't have much time. The link below has some really (really) cool super-short stories (possibly flash fiction?). The one I read and wrote about for the challenge was wonderful. "Likeable" by Deb Olin Unferth.

It features a 41-year-old female narrator debating why she has become unlikeable. As a 45-year-old lady myself, this subject interested me, particularly because of the various debates in contemporary politics about female candidates being “unlikeable” while male candidates don’t seem to be viewed that way.

This story is an anthem for a woman who has no more f*cks left to give. You can feel her exhaustion in the writing. I particularly related to her aside about how she’s never liked herself. While there’s been some strides in our culture, there’s still unrealistic expectations thrust upon women regarding how they should look, act, and feel. And this lady seems to have suffocated from those for most of her life and is finally ready to be done. As she says at the end, she’s proudly unlikeable now. Yet, at the same time, the point of the story is her trying to figure out why she is this way. So, although she projects the facade that she’s proudly unlikeable, maybe she really isn’t?

The part that really got me was at the end when she says, “Why couldn’t she be more likable? What was the problem?” I think Unferth using “the” instead of “her” says a lot. She implies that what’s making her unlikeable isn’t a personal issue, it’s caused by the world and people around her. Would we consider this her not taking personal responsibility? I don’t think so. I think it’s fair to say that after years of self-recriminations and acting against her true self, she’s finally ready to be done. It’s her trying to fit into a “role” that society might want her to play, but that’s just not her being her true self. So, she’s going to remain unlikeable until she dies, or as she says “she will have to be shoved into a hole and left there.”

I loved this one. I read a few of the others (George Saunders!) and they're really good. Definitely check them out.

As for my challenge, I forgot how damn good "In a Penal Colony" by Franz Kafka is! If you haven't read it since high school like me, definitely do a re-read.

Cover of the Week:

Oona Out of Order

by Margarita Montimore

Some might think that I buy a lot of books with teal covers. Some are 100% right! Still, the story for this one sounded terrific (and I love a good time-travel tale). On New Year's Eve in 1982, 18-year-old Oona celebrates the dawn of 1983, but ends up waking up in 2015. Still 18 on the inside but 51 on the outside, she has to navigate a whole year before she "leaps" again to a new time. She gets help from her mother and her assistant and also her future self, who has left notes/instructions for her in the various timelines. I'm 200-ish pages in and loving it. And this cover is fabulous! One quibble. Oona's a red-head, so I'm not sure why her hair is brown/black in this pic. Still, it's a damn cool cover (and book!).

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