The Book Beat - January 25, 2020
Sorry for the delay! I'm happy to report I made it out of the indoor waterpark happy, home safe (I was in a blizzard in the Poconos years ago and it was terrifying), and one book closer to my GoodReads 2020 goal (Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid is really good!). So let's get to some of this week's book news!
RIP, Nancy Drew?
I get wanting to update a character to appeal to modern audiences (there's a CW Nancy Drew-as-millennial show and my daughter has copies of the newish Nancy Drew diaries). I get wanting to switch things up when your character is 90 and you want to reinvent her to shake up the status quo. But killing her off (or pretending like she's dead) so two other characters can find her killer as a way to celebrate her 90th birthday? Eh, I'm not sold on that. A new "birthday celebration" Nancy Drew comic was announced this week. The full details are in the link below.
First, an admission. I'm beyond tired of the "death" narrative being used in TV, books, etc. to manipulate an audience's emotions. Emotions that, due to the prevalence of fictional deaths, are more anger than sadness. Early on, it was a great way to shock your audience and make them emotional because they'd invested so much in the characters. 15-year-old me was a blubbering, snotty mess in front of her rabbit-earred TV (with NO remote, the horror) when, just as Nancy was pronounced clear of cancer, Michael Steadman gets the call that Gary was hit and killed while riding his ever-present bike on the PA Turnpike and no, thirtysomething, NO. Shocked? Yes. But that was 28 years ago.
And in 28 years, many (many) fictional characters have met an untimely and emotionally manipulative demise. I know writers are in a tough spot when the actor who plays a beloved character is ready to leave the show (McDreamy!) and they feel they have no other choice than to kill them off. But when your audience is more mad than sad, isn't that a problem? And it's sometimes like the Grim Reaper is a character on the show itself! ER loved to off characters. I think the Mark Green death was done well, but Romano's helicopter drop? And Grey's. They just love to rip your heart out by offing numerous characters at almost the same time! (McSteamy, Little Grey, George, McDreamy...). I do understand long-time shows that need to rotate out casts, but death seems to me to be an easy narrative choice nowadays.
It's done in books, too. Did you know that the third book installment of Bridget Jones's Diary killed off Mark Darcy (not the movie version, thank goodness). Go Set a Watchman, the problematic sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird? Not only is Atticus now a racist, but Jem is dead. (Sorry if I spoiled it, but seriously, don't read it. Keep your love of TKAM untainted. It's better, trust me).
Which brings us to the supposed death of Nancy Drew on her 90th birthday. A new comic advertises that Nancy's dead and the Hardy Boys are going to solve the case. But they're kind of cagey about it, too. Did she fake her death? You know what's worse than the "shocking" death of a beloved character? The Jon Snow narrative! Is he/she dead or not dead? We won't tell yet but we will torture you for months until our show comes back on or until the next book in the series is published.
I'm not too thrilled about this. I guess we'll have to wait and see what the comic truly does, but dangling this storyline as an incentive to buy a comic doesn't sit well with me. Particularly since it seems like it's a case of the woman getting murdered (both in the fictional story and the literary narrative) so the men can get the glory. I know Nancy was originally an offshoot of the Hardy Boys, but still. Let's hope I'm wrong and this comic makes Nancy more of a heroine than she already is to me and all those girls who adore her.
Writers to Watch
Here's a great list by Publishers Weekly of info about writers to watch in 2020.
The American Dirt Controversy
Oprah's most recent book club pick, American Dirt, has gotten its fair share of both praise (Oprah, Stephen King) and criticism in less than a week since it's been out. Written by Jeanine Cummins, a white Latina author, it chronicles a mother and son who flee a drug cartel in Mexico and attempt to make it to the United States. This book has been described two ways: First, as a harrowing story about the horrific experience Mexican immigrants endure as they try to flee violence to reach the United States; and, second, as a stereotype-laden story that uses a white-person gaze to sensationalize the immigrant experience and portray America as a bastion of freedom and hope that in today's world it no longer is. I included an article below about the book. I also have it and will hopefully be reading it soon and give you my take.
A Short Story a Day
I'm doing well with my 2020 challenge. I listed below some of the ones I've really loved. The best so far? "Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu. It's AMAZING. I put the link to it below. Read it and weep and think, "How can someone write such a perfect story?" It's that good. Others I really enjoyed include:
"The Knowers" by Helen Phillips
"In the Gloaming" by Alice Elliot Dark (thanks, Patty, for the rec!)
"The Husband Stitch" by Carmen Maria Machato
Cover of the Week:
The Stationary Shop by Marjan Kamali
Isn't it just gorgeous?! This book has been on my TBR pile for a while now (it was praised on my bookstagram feed) and although I haven't read it, the stunning cover taunts me. The bright colors; the shiny, gold accents; the texture on top. It's a beauty! The story is about a romance between an Indian woman and man who meet at a stationary shop in Tehran in the 1950s. Separated by political turmoil, they reconnect years later and finally get a chance to see just what happened. It sounds terrific! I hope I get to it soon.