The Book Beat - February 28, 2021
Happy Sunday, book friends! Another week, more books to buy, read, and talk about! It's been a busy week for book news (yay!) and a decent week for me, reading-wise. I also finally figured out how to put links directly into the blog, so hallelujah for that! All my recent book/short story reviews will be part of the blog in the Review Roundup section, but also available by clicking on the title-links, which will take you to my reviews on GoodReads. Not friends with me on GoodReads, yet? "Friend" me and we can attack our yearly Reading Challenge goals together! This week, let's start with a question...
Do you miss traveling? I know I do! While others may scour YouTube for videos of majestic castles, lands far away, Kylie Jenner home tours (SO MANY HANDBAGS!), or just a sunny vista for while you're dealing with snow and ice, I--being the booknerd I am--search for libraries. This video features the "world's most magnificent libraries," including an Alaskan library where you can borrow stuffed birds and tusks (What would Ben Franklin think?!) and the amazing collections of the world's largest library, The Library of Congress. One item housed there?
The original of this iconic image, The Migrant Mother, featuring Florence Owens Thompkins, a mother of seven who lived during the Great Depression. Click away from the Eiffel Tower tour (it's not going anywhere) and check out the fun, unique, and expansive collections of these book homes.
As for what I've read, what I'm reading, and what I hope to read...I finished two books this past week. This Tender Land (5/5) and The Echo Wife (4/5). I also re-read the thought-provoking short story, "Fatherland" by Viet Thanh Nguyen. His new book, The Committed is being released this week. It's a sequel to his 2016 Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel, The Sympathizer. I haven't read either, but they are both on my list (story of my life!).
Right now I'm reading The Upstairs House by Julia Fine (while sitting outside since it's been a bit warmer than usual this week!). It's about a new mother whose postpartum depression "reveals" itself as her seeing the ghost of Goodnight Moon author Margaret Wise Brown. I'm enjoying it so far! I'm also hoping to work my way through more of Four Hundred Souls and read at least one more, either Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers or Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour. Both are in the image below, and I also included my Kindle version of The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo since the Kindle/eBook version was on sale this week. Unfortunately, it's not on sale anymore (sign up on BookBub to get a daily eBook sale email), but I do include a few other eBook steals below. Yes, I load up my Kindle with books in addition to buying hardcovers and paperbacks because...well, have you met me? I love books and a good sale and supporting local bookstores. Now, onto some book news...
Margaret Has Been Found!
The film adaptation of the iconic Judy Blume young-adult novel, Are You There God, It's Me Margaret has found the young actress who is going to play the puberty-plagued 6th grader. Abby Ryder Fortson will play the lead role. She's been in the Ant-Man movies and one of the few movies that make my hubby cry, A Dog's Purpose. It took Judy 50 years to agree to a movie version, so get ready for some long-awaited greatness. Rachel McAdams will be play Margaret's mom, Barbara.
Literacy Legend: LeVar Burton
The man, the myth, the literacy legend, Reading Rainbow's LeVar Burton, has been named the inaugural PEN/Faulkner Literary Champion. This annual commendation was created in conjunction with the PEN/Faulkner Foundation's 40th anniversary. It recognizes reading/literacy superstars who have advocated for reading and inspired generations of readers...so, of course, LeVar is the first one! As the beloved host of Reading Rainbow, LeVar's been reading to kids for forever. He also hosts a Podcast called LeVar Burton Reads where he reads short-fiction to adults. It's as wonderful as you would think it is. I highly recommend it, especially since he reads one of my favorite short stories of all time, "The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu. You all know how I loathe emptying and filling the dishwasher (since I mention it almost every week!), right? It goes by much faster with LeVar reading me a good story.
Helping Texas, Bookworm Style
I know you've heard about the devastation experienced by many in Texas due to the cold weather and storms of the past few weeks. For those looking to help out, there are many organizations in need of donations. If you want to put a bookish-spin on your help, Kelly Jensen at Bookriot is keeping a running list of libraries, schools, etc. that are in need of financial aid. A library collection destroyed by a burst pipe. School kids who need snacks. A GoFundMe for a family who lost all of their belongings, including their books. And much more.
Also, if you want to experience the Lone Star state through books, here's a list of the 30 Best Texas books.
Blondie Tells Their Story...Through Comics
I'm dating myself, but I was a HUGE Blondie fan. The first piece of music I ever owned? The 45 record (A RECORD!) of "Call Me." Blondie has joined up with comic-book royalty (artist John McCrea and writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti) to tell the story of their rise in the 1970s New York art and fashion worlds in the comic Against the Odds. I'm not as into graphic novels as I am regular books, but this one looks amazing. I also have Debbie Harry's memoir Face It in my Audible library still waiting for a listen. I'm so excited to see them using this not-often-used literary format for memoir/nonfiction...but I wouldn't expect any less from the epitome of cool.
(FYI: There are spoilers in the reviews.)
What I Read:
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger - 5/5
This book is epic in every sense of the word. I'm late to reading it, but I just finished it for my church bookclub and am so glad I did. Using American history, author William Kent Krueger weaves a majestic and emotionally resonant fictional tale. It's a page-turner that touches on many themes, including the power of storytelling, the horrors of American history, love in all its forms, the concepts of God/faith, and the search for home. I loved it.
A quick summary: It's 1932, and four orphans escape from an "Indian training school" and end up on the run by canoeing along Minnesota's Gilead River. While trying to stay ahead of their pursuers, the evil people who treated them horribly at the school, they meet many people and experience so much along the way. The narrator, Odie, tells their engrossing story.
First, I loved the framing of the novel. In the beginning, we immediately know Odie is an elderly man "telling" the readers this story from his life. So right away the storytelling aspect of the book comes into play. It's a powerful and neat way to speak to the power of story, both as a real-life narrative tool to educate about our history using fiction but also how important of a role it plays in the book. Odie is a storyteller and uses the tool throughout the book to charm, entertain, and educate other characters, particularly one of his companions, little Emmy. His ability to tell a good story is showcased frequently and builds in the reader an appreciation for how many aspects of life storytelling touches.
It's through this storytelling that readers learn about a horrific feature of American history: The "Indian training schools," that took Native children away from their parents and worked to erase their Native culture and "train" them in the culture and religion of white Americans. It also reveals the hunger, economic struggles, and other harsh realities that many Americans faced due to the horrors of the Great Depression. The pain and struggles suffered by the characters due to these are palpable thanks to Krueger's riveting description.
With love, we see it in many forms. Familial, friendship, romantic, and just the basic human decency of being kind and helpful to strangers. This exploration of love is tied to the theme of God/spirituality that runs through the entire novel. Odie's faith changes throughout the book: It starts with the idea of "The Tornado God" or a God that only brings destruction and pain. As his experiences with various people and places grow, his view of God changes, too. The exploration of faith and spirituality in this book is done in such an authentic and amazing way. It offers a complex view of God/religion that's realistic and speaks to the expansiveness of it...how different people believe different things, but how underlying all spirituality is a common theme: hope. Hope for good to triumph over bad, hope for love over hate, hope for a decent life filled with love for all humans.
I could go on and on about this book, but do yourself a favor and read it. It's an epic story of struggle, faith, history, human connection, and, most importantly, the power of love and hope. I know you'll love it as much as I did.
The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey - 4/5
Talk about a compelling, semi-creepy, twisty sci-fi novel! Evelyn Caldwell is a whip-smart scientist who has just won a coveted award. Why? She figured out how to take an adult clone and map their personality into their neurological framework. Yet, Evelyn doesn't have anyone to celebrate with. Why? It seems her ex-husband Nathan has stolen her research to make himself an Evelyn clone named Martine, cheated on Evelyn with the clone, and jilted Evelyn for the clone.
And that's just in the first twenty pages! I loved the female characters in this story, especially Evelyn. She's emotionally damaged (her upbringing is dysfunctional to say the least), strong-willed, ruthlessly driven, and unapologetically puts her ambition above all else. She knows what she wants, and she's going to get it. She also knows what she doesn't want: motherhood. Nathan is not thrilled about that (or her elevated status in her field of study), so he creates Martine, who's the docile, malleable, impregnable wife (clone) he's looking for. Yet, when he's found dead, Martine and Evelyn are forced to team up and, in doing so, take the reader on a fast-paced, twisty ride.
I certainly was kept guessing throughout this book and especially enjoyed the unique relationship between Martine and Evelyn. The trajectory of their relationship--from enemies to frenemies to co-conspirators to sort-of friends was as compelling as the storyline of the novel. If you're a fan of sci-fi, mysteries, or novels with female leads who growl more than charm, this one is for you.
"Fatherland" by Viet Thanh Nguyen - 4.5/5
A man lives in Saigon with his second family. His ex-wife and her three children moved to America after she found out about his mistress (who became his second wife). He named his second three kids the same names as his first three kids. His first daughter Phuong (or her American name, Vivien) is coming to visit and her Saigonese namesake is anxious to meet her. When Vivien arrives, she gives tons of money and gifts to Phuong’s family and says she’s a doctor. Phuong is jealous of Vivien and her father’s close relationship.
Phuong admits to Vivien that she wants to be like her and go to America and build a new life for herself. She can’t bear to stay in Saigon and follow the life prescribed to her by her family. After learning that Vivien is not all she seems to be, Phuong is upset but still seems determined to change her place in both her family and her life.
Themes of family, ethnicity, and female empowerment are explored in the story. Phuong is jealous of her sister, but at the same time seems to be stronger than her sister in the end. Phuong’s father’s infidelity is considered as more acceptable than I would think it would be, but maybe that’s a cultural thing. Still, I felt for Phuong as he blatantly showed his preference for her sister over her. I do wish this was a little longer, actually. I’d love to get the full story of Phuong’s future and how her life goes after the powerful action at the end.
New Month, New Books!
Barnes and Noble shares the books they're most looking forward to in March. Who do I see? Local author extraordinaire, Lisa Scottoline! I've met her before and she's as amazing, cool, and hilarious as you'd expect her to be. It looks like she's venturing into historical fiction. Sounds intriguing!
Also, it's not on the B&N list, but I received an advance copy of The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton (pub date: 3/30/21) [ETA: And it was just revealed to be one of the selections for #BookOfTheMonthClub!], so I should have an early review of that one for you in a week or two. I started last night and it's good so far!
Also, there are some can't-miss eBook deals on three of my favorite books of the last few years. I've linked them below. Check them out!
Know My Name by Chanel Miller - $1.99!
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne - $0.99!
Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin - $1.99!
Virtual Reading Fest!
Here's the link for the South Florida Reading Fest, which starts today! Lots of virtual author events, including Julie Clark, author of The Last Flight, an Amazon Book of the Year for 2020. Thanks for the scoop, Linda!
And, Of Course, Bridgerton!
And, because I can't seem to write a blog post without mentioning Bridgerton...those steamy scenes don't just happen. Here's what the the show's "intimacy coordinator" had to say about her unique occupation!
Black History Month
Trailblazing Black Librarians:
Dorothy B. Porter
In this final entry of our Black History Month segment featuring trailblazing Black librarians, I'm going to talk about Dorothy B. Porter, the first African-American to graduate from Columbia's Library School. While this achievement was groundbreaking in and of itself, Porter's true significance in the field was in how she changed the way literary works by Black authors were classified and how she grew a truly impressive international collection of Black/Africana research materials at Howard University.
But before we get to that, a timeframe. In 1928, Porter graduated from Howard University with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Next, she attended Columbia and earned her B.S. and M.S. After graduating, she became the librarian at Howard University. Her accomplishments during her 40-year career are truly legendary.
Before we extol Porter's excellence, a bit about The Dewey Decimal Classification System (it was this system she is credited with decolonizing). Melvin Dewey created this classification system (that's still used in 200,000 libraries across 135 countries) with the "white gaze." Meaning, it was created by a white man whose knowledge and experience reflected the racist beliefs of many white people of the time (more about Melvin Dewey's OTHER controversies here). Due to that limited view, the classification of works by Black authors were categorized under just two numbers--325 for slavery and 326 for colonization. So a book of poems by Black poet James Weldon Johnson was classified under 325. Porter's take: "...that was stupid to me."
Instead, Porter classified works at Howard University by author and genre. This system recognized the varied literary achievements of Black writers across many subjects, while combatting racist stereotypes and false narratives.
Her other amazing accomplishment was her creation of an expansive research collection of Black/Africana history and culture called the Moorland-Springarn Research Center. Porter appealed directly to book dealers and publishers to gather donations, creating an impressive international network of connections. The result? One of the world's most comprehensive collections for the documentation of the history and culture of people of African descent in Africa, the Americas, and other parts of the world.
Fun tidbit: When Arthur B. Springarn, the NAACP’s legal committee chairman and self-professed bibliophile, agreed to sell his private collection to Howard University, the university's treasurer told Porter she had to get an external entity to assess its value. He believed she would value it at higher cost than it truly was worth. Porter asked the Library of Congress to appraise it; however, no one there had the subject-matter expertise to do so. Porter ended up determining a value and the Library of Congress signed on to her assessment. This experience set a new standard for literary-acquisition appraisals, particularly works by Black authors and about Black people.
Dorothy Porter was a true trailblazer. Not only did she deconolize the antiquated (and problematic) Dewey classification system, she also gave Black authors a louder voice and deserved respect in the literary world. She's a wonderful example of Black excellence--both in reflecting it and elevating it.
Note: Since I had so much fun doing this segment, I'm going to keep it up. For March, I'll be chronicling four trailblazing women involved in publishing/writing/reading/books for Women's History Month. I can't wait!
Cover of the Week:
All Girls by Emily Layden
Wow! This book cover looks amazingly lifelike, doesn't it? You just want to reach out and touch it, because you just know it's going to have that grainy, slightly abrasive woven texture of tartan fabric. The typography even has the same texture as the fabric. Well, unfortunately, this cover is not a "touch-and-learn" book like we used to read as kids. This cover is as sleek and glossy as any, old book jacket.
This cover's design defines the book's theme: An accusation of sexual misconduct at a prestigious New England all-girls boarding school rocks the students' faith in an educational setting that's supposed to be helping them grow their ability to use their intellectual power to speak up and change the world. This symbol of prestigious all-girl private schools--a school uniform skirt made of tartan fabric--is crisp and textured, yet rips are marring its perfection. The rips are slow-moving, gradual cracks that are destroying the picture-perfect facade.
What's it about?
A keenly perceptive coming of age novel for fans of Sally Rooney, Curtis Sittenfeld, and J. Courtney Sullivan, All Girls follows nine young women as they navigate their ambitions and fears at a prestigious New England prep school, all pitched against the backdrop of a scandal the administration wants silenced.
But as the months unfold, and the school's efforts to control the ensuing crisis fall short, these extraordinary girls are forced to discover their voices, and their power.
A tender and unflinching portrait of modern adolescence told through the shifting perspectives of an unforgettable cast of female students, Emily Layden's All Girls explores what it means to grow up in a place that promises you the world––when the world still isn't yours for the taking.
You grow to love a place... and then you grow up.
It's the perfect cover, no? If you want to see more book covers by this designer--Kerri Resnick--follow her on Instagram @kerriresnick. You should also follow @wednesdaybooks and @wednesday_design. There's an entire community of book cover designers on Insta and they reveal upcoming covers...which, of course, makes me want to buy books based on the covers alone!
Have a great week! Happy reading!