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The Book Beat - February 7, 2021

Happy snowy Sunday, book friends! I hope that if you're in a snowy part of the country like me, you're taking advantage of this day to curl up with a good book. I'm thisclose to being done with The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson. I'm really enjoying it! It's 2008 and Ruth, a Black Ivy-League-educated engineer in Chicago, is hopeful that with the election of Barack Obama, things will change for her family who still lives in her hometown of Ganton, Indiana. Her brother has lost his job now that the main auto-parts plant in Ganton has shut down. Ruth heads home to reconcile with her past, after she finally reveals to her anxious-to-have-kids husband that she had a child at 17 and gave him up, so she could pursue her Ivy-League dreams. While back in Ganton, she forms a friendship with Midnight, a young white boy who has dreams of being a scientist. This book is smart, perceptive, topical, and engaging. I highly recommend it!

One more book-blog-related note before we get to bookish news. I'm going to undertake a new challenge for the month of February, since it's Black History Month. Below you'll find the first in a four-week feature on trailblazing Black librarians. This month, you'll see many Black History listicles (a form of writing in list form, thanks for that word/creation, Buzzfeed!), so I wanted to switch it up and do something not-so mainstream. I do want to give credit to Tracie D. Hall, the Executive Director of the American Library Association, who started this on Twitter. I'm using her first choice below, but will branch out and do my own research to pick who I feature for the remaining three weeks.

I hope you are all, as always, staying healthy and safe. Keep learning, keep smiling, and, as always, keep reading!

Yay, YA!

Any adult out there love teen shows? Come on, don't be shy! I'll start. I LOVED The Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl, and I still watch Riverdale. I used to think it was odd to enjoy what are traditionally viewed as teen shows, but they're just so juicy and dramatic, AND they conveniently use older men from my teen years as the parents (RIP Luke Perry, the ultimate 90s dreamboat). Enjoying them has also led me to YA/teen novels. Now, don't get my wrong, the books that both TVD and GG (those are their social media abbreviations, don't I sound cool?! :)) were based on are ones I haven't heard great things about and haven't read. But there IS a crop of terrifically engaging young-adult novels out now that impress with their innovation; easily digestible, yet serious storylines; and vivid characters. Those pictured above are just a few of the ones I have on my TBR pile and the link below lists some upcoming ones. Always embrace your inner kid, even when reading.

(Book) Knowledge is Power

I try to steer clear of politics on here, but when it involves censorship or curtailing what types of books are available to people in libraries across this country, my thoughts are pretty basic: Let the people read...and learn from what they read. If you've read this blog for any amount of time, you know I want as many people to read and learn and experience all facets of life through books (fiction and nonfiction) as possible.

This past week, the Lafayette Parish Library in Louisiana was in the news for rejecting a $2,700 grant from a humanities group to fund a series of discussions about "Who Gets to Vote?" featuring the books pictured here and presentations by their authors.

A majority of the library's board said that the books and speakers were "too far left," and didn't think the books chosen showed "the other side." The board members who rejected the grant said that as a traditionally conservative area, Lafayette isn't the audience for this content. Just for context, 63% of Lafayette is white and 30% is Black.

My take: In the United States, Black Americans and women didn't get the right to vote until much later than white men. The voting rights of Black Americans IS part of this country's history and shouldn't be considered one side or the other. It should be considered American history and it should be worthy of a program, especially when 30% of your population is Black. Below is an article about this story and another webpage that highlights the timeline of voting rights in this country. Some of the information was even eye-opening for me, which I think shows, in the end, that everyone can benefit from learning more about the history of voting in America, especially about the groups who had to fight long and hard to get it.

By George, Listen to Him!

One of the greatest short-story writers of modern times (and ever), George Saunders, gives his take on what are the best short stories YOU should read. I've only read one ("Bullet in the Brain" by Tobias Wolf, which IS terrific), so now I have some reading to do. As for his short stories you should read? Every single one you can get your hands on, but my faves are...

"The Semplica-Girl Diaries"

"Sea Oak"


"Tenth of December"

Below is a list of ten of his stories you can read online for free:

Black History Month Librarian Showcase:

Spencer G. Shaw (1916 - 2010)

As of 2008, only 0.5% of librarians in America were Black men. As of 2019, 5.3% of American librarians identified as African-American. So you can just imagine how rare it was for a Black man like Spencer Shaw to be the branch manager at the Hartford Public Library in Connecticut in 1941.

Until he retired in 1986, Shaw was a librarian, a professor, and, most importantly, an expert in storytelling and children's services at the library. A lifelong advocate for children's storytelling, Shaw even had a yearly lecture series named after him at the Information School of the University of Washington where he taught. The Spencer G. Shaw Lecture Series continues to this day and features a leading figure in children's literature who speaks to students, librarians, and faculty. Last year's lecturer was Brian Selznick, author of Hugo.

Please click on the below link and read Mr. Shaw's full story. A trailblazer and a lover of books and reading to children, he's an icon bookish people AND others can admire.

Final Pages...

Who knew "fictophilia" was actually a thing? Sounds pretty intense, huh? :) I have many literary characters I adore, but in keeping with the listicle idea, I've picked five (in no particular order). Who are yours? Share below in a comments!

  1. Fitzwilliam Darcy, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - Yes, I love Lizzy Bennett, but what woman doesn't love a man who falls for a strong, vivacious woman after she tells him off? Darcy is hard and stuffy on the outside and gooey and shy on the inside...sigh. And when he professes his love? No literary hero says it better. “You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged; but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever.”

  2. Eleanor Oliphant in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman - As an introvert, I'm drawn to the quiet-but-powerful heroines of novels...Jane Eyre and Anne Elliot to name two. The social misfits who find it hard to fit in and, by the end of the novel, find a way to stand out on their own terms. I love rooting for the underdogs, and I love it even more when they win. Eleanor is a social misfit whose obsession with a rock star starts to bring her out of her shell. She's damaged, for sure, but the way she blossoms during this novel is just lovely to see. She's one of those characters that you want to revisit in 10 years just to see what greatness she is up to.

  3. Sam Starrett in Suzanne Brockmann's Troubleshooters romance series - When he's introduced, Navy Seal Sam is a racist, sexist, homophobic good 'ol boy from Texas who may be gorgeous, but is, frankly, an ass. You wonder why any woman would want anything to do with him. Yet as his love story with half-Black sniper Alyssa Locke plays out over several of the Troubleshooter romance novels, a beautiful thing happens. He reexamines his prejudices and through finding love and triumphing over personal struggles, he changes and grows in his personal ability to love and to be loved. Sam's growth is one of the best character arcs I've read in any book series. And, when he does mature into a doting husband and father, it is great that he's a hot Navy Seal.

  4. Henry and Clare in The Time-Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger - This book is one of my top five favorite books. I love it and was floored the first time I read it by how good it was and how affected I was by the story. Henry and Clare--together and separate--are characters for the ages and their romance is one of my favorite literary romances of all time.

  5. Polly Cameron in Living Dangerously by Katie Fforde - Katie Fforde is a big-time romance author in the UK. This was her first book, published way back in 1996. Loosely based on Pride and Prejudice, it features the adorably grumpy and stuck-in-her-ways Polly, who is perfectly fine with her cat, her pottery, her Rayburn heater, and she doesn't need a man, thank you very much. I loved this when I read it way back when and still love it now (especially since I'm now older than 35-year-old Polly and can relate more to her grumpiness). Polly's romance with the rich and stuffy David is funny, sweet, and as cozy and warm as a good cup of tea.

I hope you all have a great week and that, as always, it includes a good book (or three!).

Cover of the Week:

Four Hundred Souls

Edited By Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

Thanks to this blog feature, I'm quickly becoming a fangirl of book-cover artists and designers (yes, they ARE differ jobs!). I'm going to feature some commentary on these geniuses and the covers they create in an upcoming blog post, but for now, I wanted to highlight this gorgeous addition to my book collection.

A timely release for Black History Month, this book is a collection of essays from 90 writers, each taking a piece of the 400-year history of African Americans, beginning in 1619.

Artist Bayo Iribhogbe created the stunning art on this cover, a collection of nondescript Black people interspersed with bright blues, purples, red and all on a yellow-ish background. The bold, white type stands out, too. I love how the image reiterates the goal of the book shared in the inside flap of the cover: that of a community of voices speaking separately but together forming a 400-year history of information. Startling, mesmerizing, and eye-catching, it's truly a gorgeous cover. Michael Morris is recognized as the designer of the cover. I cannot wait to read this (I'll be taking my time, since it's a big book!). More information about it is below:

The story begins in 1619—a year before the Mayflower—when the White Lion disgorges “some 20-and-odd Negroes” onto the shores of Virginia, inaugurating the African presence in what would become the United States. It takes us to the present, when African Americans, descendants of those on the White Lion and a thousand other routes to this country, continue a journey defined by inhuman oppression, visionary struggles, stunning achievements, and millions of ordinary lives passing through extraordinary history.

Four Hundred Souls is a unique one-volume “community” history of African Americans. The editors, Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain, have assembled ninety brilliant writers, each of whom takes on a five-year period of that four-hundred-year span. The writers explore their periods through a variety of techniques: historical essays, short stories, personal vignettes, and fiery polemics. They approach history from various perspectives: through the eyes of towering historical icons or the untold stories of ordinary people; through places, laws, and objects. While themes of resistance and struggle, of hope and reinvention, course through the book, this collection of diverse pieces from ninety different minds, reflecting ninety different perspectives, fundamentally deconstructs the idea that Africans in America are a monolith—instead it unlocks the startling range of experiences and ideas that have always existed within the community of Blackness.

This is a history that illuminates our past and gives us new ways of thinking about our future, written by the most vital and essential voices of our present.

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