The Book Beat - March 15, 2021
Happy Monday, book friends! I hope if, like me, you're in the northeast US or somewhere where it's always warm, you got out to enjoy the gorgeous, warm weather this week. And, if it was with a book, that's even better!
I wrote about the passing of author Norton Juster on my personal FB and my Instagram, but I wanted to share it here, too.
I credit an odd mix of literature, TV, people, etc. for encouraging my love of reading and writing. It ranges from actual books to moments of being affected by the power of the written word (at times mixed with TV/film production), like Juster's book The Phantom Tollbooth to the time I realized how emotional I could get from mere type on a page (damn you, Where the Red Fern Grows!).
Other things that affected and encouraged me, in no particular order: 90s TV show, Northern Exposure; my high-school English teacher, Mrs. Hansen; when Thirty Something killed off Gary and when My Girl killed of Thomas J. (in these moments I realized that fiction could manipulate a viewers' emotions with very specific writing and production); the book series of my teens, Sweet Valley High, Junior High, and Christopher Pike, plus Little Women, and Jane Austen's books; The Guiding Light and Another World (I will never knock soap operas. My Grandma babysat us after school and we watched her "stories" with her. Yes, there was melodrama, soap-opera stares, characters coming back from the dead, and steamy scenes. There was also interracial marriages; LGBTQ characters; women who were cardiologists, police chiefs, lawyers--these "stories" were much more inclusive and progressive than the mainstream TV of the time); the poetry of Robert Frost, Mary Oliver, and "Somewhere" by Sir Edwin Arnold; My So-Called Life; "The Rose" by Bette Midler; A River Runs Through It, Before Sunrise, A Room with a View, and the WH Auden poem from Four Weddings and a Funeral...and on and on and on.
What pieces of writing--in book, movie, TV, or art form--shaped your love of reading?
Now, on to the book news!
Relationship Status with Amazon: It's Complicated
Where do you buy your books? Amazon? Independent bookstores? Both?
This article is chockfull of fascinating information about how independent bookstores make a profit. That it's written by author Casey Cep is just icing on the cake. FYI: Her book, Furious Hours, about Harper Lee's attempts to write a follow-up to Mockingbird, is a must-read.
I've talked before about how hard it is for indie bookstores to survive, but during the pandemic it's been waaaaay worse. The owner of Kansas's The Raven Bookstore, Danny Caine, revealed it all in a 'zine last year that has now been expanded into a book. One independent bookstore closed every week in 2020. Independent bookstores would last 6 days if they charged what Amazon charges. I get it. Amazon's fast, cheap, and easy. But does Amazon have bookcases with rolling ladders? I think not!
Spring's Buzzed-About Books
I love reading articles about soon-to-be-released books. Of course, I have GoodReads open at the same time and I go on a "Want to Read" clicking spree. I know I always say this, but spring 2021 looks like an AH-mazing time for books! I found four different articles listing spring's hot, new books, so read one, read them all, but most importantly, make your list of what you want to read!
Zelda Fitzgerald: Muse for the Ages
Imagine a resume like this: Icon of the Jazz Age, the first flapper, wife of F.Scott Fitzgerald, inspiration for The Great Gatsby's Daisy Buchanan, muse for the Eagles's song "Witchy Woman," and namesake for Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda video game.
Yes! This awesome LitHub article gives you that fun video-game scoop. They wanted the wife of a famous American author and a woman who was a classical beautiful. On the right, I picture Zelda in her glory. Perfect, no?
As the article says, in this game Zelda is the princess in distress or a helper to the hero, an elf-like dude. Sigh. Still, it's impressive to learn how many things were inspired by Zelda, the woman.
Lore Olympus: Romance Series/Greek Mythology Web Comic
I'll be honest. I'm not a comic book fan. (I know! I know! Sorry comic fans!). Yet, I have recently become hooked on a web cartoon. For those who aren't comic fans, please don't skip this section thinking that I'm talking about something that's for kids. This is a web comic for grown-ups and it's phenomenal.
Rachel Smythe, illustrator and writer, has been cranking out weekly episodes of this comic since 2018. It hit 148 episodes this weekend. What's it about? It's a clever, romantic, visually stunning, modern retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth (my fave). Actually, it's filled with a ton of Greek Gods and Goddesses falling in love, scheming, living, and basically doing the melodramatic stuff they do, but in modern times. They engage in social media through Fatesbook. Zeus is a womanizing jerk who cares more about his ego than his wife, Hera. Hades, the misunderstood God of the Underworld, pines for Persephone, the ditzy but delightful Goddess of Spring, who's a breath of fresh air in his dreary world.
As I said, it's adult. Meaning, it touches upon real-life issues, particularly sexual assault, which is explored and discussed in a sensitive-yet-effective way. Underneath it all, though, is the swoon-worthy romance between Hades and Persephone and some truly stunning art. It's like a comic book soap opera, if you will. For a world that's hooked on binging, it's refreshing (and frustrating, but in a good way) to have to wait for the next episode. But, starting to read it 3 years in, you have 148 of them just waiting for you to read/enjoy. Totally free! Check it out! I promise, you won't be sorry.
What I Read...
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton - 5/5
Five big stars for this one. The main character, Opal Jewel, jumps off the page, with her larger than life personality, her shrewd sense of self, and her glorious wardrobe! My full review is on GoodReads, but suffice it to say, if you like provocative, engrossing novels that address the politicized issues of today (racism, sexism, excesses of fame, etc.), this one is for you. It's a page-turner, for sure. Thanks for Net Galley & Book of the Month Club for the early copies. It releases on 3/30.
Infinite Country by Patricia Engel - 5/5
I don't have a full review written yet, but this is another engrossing book that addresses a hot-button issue of the moment. The narrative follows the members of a mixed-status family from Colombia. After being deported, Mauro and his daughter Talia live in Bogota, while Elena and their other two children are still in America. It's enlightening and humanizes a divisive political topic. I loved it.
What I'm Reading...
It's Been a Pleasure Noni Blake by Claire Christian
Carnegie's Maid by Marie Benedict
The Invisible Husband of Frick Island by Colleen Oakley
Listening to: Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas
Book Snaps of the Week
Women's History Month Spotlight:
"What happens to a dream deferred?"
You've all most certainly heard that line. It's the most quoted dialogue of the play, A Raisin in the Sun, an essential part of any American high-school English class curriculum. The play took the line from the poem "Harlem" by Langston Hughes.
Written by Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun became the first play written by a Black woman to be performed on Broadway. For those who don't know the narrative: A Black family gets a $10,000 insurance check and considers moving into a white neighborhood, to improve their lives.
Although Lorraine Hansberry only lived for 35 years, she packed an impressive amount of "life," into that short time span. As the daughter of Carl Augustus Hansberry, a prominent real estate broker, she experienced the situation that inspired her play while she was a child. In 1937, her family moved into Woodlawn, a white-only neighborhood near the University of Chicago. The residents sued the family, based on a concept called "restrictive covenant." The legality of this agreement--that no Black family could move onto a certain span of real-estate that conveniently featured the Hansberry's new house--was determined in a previous case. In 1940, Lorraine's family appealed their case to the United States Supreme Court in Hansberry vs. Lee. SCOTUS negated the lower courts' rulings, saying that since the Hansberrys weren't a party in the previous case, it did not apply to them. Still, these covenants were only ruled completely unconstitutional in 1948.
Hansberry continued to challenge racism with her writing and civil rights activism. Aside from being the youngest person ever, the fifth woman, and the first Black woman to win the New York Drama Critic's Circle Award in 1959 for Raisin, she wrote for the Pan-Africanist newspaper Freedom; wrote an autobiographical play, To Be Young, Gifted, and Black; and also wrote some letters for a lesbian magazine called The Ladder using just her initials. Although she was married to Robert Nemiroff, Lorraine was a closeted lesbian for most of her life. After she died at 34 of pancreatic cancer, Robert donated all of her personal writings to The New York Public Library; however, he blocked the release of any writing related to her sexual identity. In 2013, Nemiroff's daughter released the papers to a writer who shared them with the public.
Cover of the Week:
How Beautiful We Were
By: Imbolo Mbue
Wow, right? This cover is STUNNING. It takes the art/photography of Daniel Arsham--a veritable Renaissance man (IG: @danielarsham). He's an artist, newly hired creative director for the Cleveland Cavaliers, filmmaker, choreographer, contributor to the Snarkitecture design form, and has over 1 million Instagram followers.
This cover uses his work, "Holding Hands." According to his Instagram, he used molds of his and his significant other, Steph's hands to create various forms of this sculpture. His IG is filled with similar, life-like sculptures that show signs of deterioration. Fascinating stuff! Here's a screenshot of one of his IG photos that shows another variation of this sculpture.
Jaya Miceli (IG: @jayaam66) is the designer for this cover. The stark white background, simple and crisp black type, and the bold shadows make this piece truly stand out. It definitely evokes the narrative of the book: A fictional African town and its people are devastated by a corporation that comes in and destroys its land for profit. I cannot wait to read it! Full synopsis below...
We should have known the end was near.So begins Imbolo Mbue’s powerful second novel, How Beautiful We Were. Set in the fictional African village of Kosawa, it tells of a people living in fear amid environmental degradation wrought by an American oil company. Pipeline spills have rendered farmlands infertile. Children are dying from drinking toxic water. Promises of cleanup and financial reparations to the villagers are made—and ignored. The country’s government, led by a brazen dictator, exists to serve its own interests. Left with few choices, the people of Kosawa decide to fight back. Their struggle will last for decades and come at a steep price.
Told from the perspective of a generation of children and the family of a girl named Thula who grows up to become a revolutionary, How Beautiful We Were is a masterful exploration of what happens when the reckless drive for profit, coupled with the ghost of colonialism, comes up against one community’s determination to hold on to its ancestral land and a young woman’s willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of her people’s freedom.
Have a fun, safe, happy week! Keep reading!