The Book Beat - May 17, 2021
Happy new week, book friends! I hope you all were able to enjoy some outside reading this past week. I spent some time at a local spot called Bondsville Mill Park. The wooden tables with tree stump seats are situated along Beaver Creek and there are hiking trails, the remnants of an old mill, and even a butterfly garden. I enjoyed about a half hour of reading before the shower of bugs forced me away, but while I was there, it was relaxing. 🤣 I finished this lovely book so you'll find a review for that below, along with an audiobook I finished while cleaning the house. All in all, two books were a success this past week. On tap this week are The Dearly Beloved for my church book club and finishing the audiobook of Firekeeper's Daughter. I'm at five books so far this month, so I want to keep the momentum going.
This week there was a decent amount of book news, and more releases of movies/shows based on books. Amazon has The Underground Railroad limited series based on Colson Whitehead's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. It's a heart-rending but absorbing read. I can't wait to check out the show.
Hulu has the third and final season of Shrill, loosely based on the book by Lindy West. It stars the terrific Aidy Bryant as Annie, a writer who's trying to find not only her voice in her work, but also in her life (especially with men). I love this show--it's a quiet but important and fun one. It explores a bunch of themes, including body positivity (the plus-size swim party in season one is a joy), LGBTQ+ relationships, diversity, inclusivity, family life, and more. I've watched all three seasons, and I really enjoyed them all. I can't wait to see what Aidy does next.
Netflix released the movie The Woman in the Window based on the book by A.J. Finn. Thrillers are not my fave book genre, so I didn't read this one. If you did, email me and let me know what you think! A Shadow and Bone series is also on Netflix based on the trilogy of YA novels. I haven't read those either. If I NEED to read any of these, please let me know. My TBR pile is out of control, but you know I love adding more to it.
And, this is a great segue to our first article. Book acronyms! Do you know what TBR, etc. stand for? If not, read on.
I Didn't DNF This Week, Which Didn't
Help Me Decrease My TBR!
We Bookstagrammers love to save Insta space by abbreviating words/concepts and, because of that, the bookish world has a TON of acronyms and abbreviations for bookish things. Here, I use TBR A LOT. It's one of the most common and means "to-be-read" as in "TBR pile" (or it can be used by itself to refer to your TBR pile for short). Below are a few Bookish Acronyms and you'll find even more in this blog post. I love using bookish abbreviations. It's like a whole fun language for you and your bookish friends that only bookworms know.
DNF - Did Not Finish
This abbreviation is one of the most dreaded in the literary world, and one I hope not to use often. If I DNF a book, I was so bored or uninterested in it, I put it aside without getting to the last page. I used to never DNF books (Internal monologue "Although I'm thoroughly annoyed by Plum Kettle and outwardly loathe Kitty Montgomery, I still don't want to not finish this book. Maybe it'll get better? Argh, how can I not finish a book?").
But as I got older and the time I had to read was shortened and I traveled over the hill age-wise and am now going down it, I realize that life is too short to read bad books or books you really don't like. So, go ahead, DNF!
OTP - One True Pairing
When it comes to books, I have many OTPs. Lizzie and Darcy. Anne and Wentworth. Ross and Demelza. Sam and Alyssa. Cal and Min. And more. These aren't just couples you love reading about as they fall in love, you read hoping against hope that they not only get together, but are a happily-after-ever (another acronym, HEA) for ever and ever and ever. 🤣 There are a lot of OTPs having HEAs in romance novels (heck, it's a MUST for any true romance novel).
BookTube - natch, a YouTube channel where bookworms talk all things books.
TSTL - too stupid to live. You know the hero or heroine. Annoying. Eye-roll-inducing. Let's put it this way, the TSTL character is the one who is being chased by a serial killer and runs UPSTAIRS. I love character-driven stories, so books with TSTL main characters are usually a DNF for me.
Stacey Abrams: Author to Activist To Author
Last week I spoke about several virtual author discussions I've signed up for recently. Apparently I'm hooked. I loved Brit Bennett's The Mothers and The Vanishing Half, so when I read that she was talking to Stacey Abrams about her new book While Justice Sleeps and her activism, I knew I had to join.
Mahogany Books in D.C. hosted the event, and it was wonderful. I haven't read the book yet, but it's near the top of my TBR, so I hope to soon. Stacey's insight about politics--including how her work influenced the storyline of her fictional book-- was fascinating. She recently spoke to NPR about the inspiration for the book.
Long story sort-of short: The lifetime job of a Supreme Court justice has little, if any, oversight. Justices's potential conflicts of interests, standards of conduct, and adherence to legal and ethical rules are hard to control and, essentially, self-enforced. Add to that the quirk of Article III of the Constitution where there's no provision for what essentially happens if the justice is physically unable to do the job. All that comes into play in her latest thriller. Years-in-the-making, this novel sounds like a riveting mash-up of real-life inspiration and fictional verve.
Also, as a romance-novel fan, I adore that she used to write traditional romance novels. I mean, Harlequin author (and tax lawyer) to political powerhouse (and novel author)? Amazing.
Fixer Upper: Jane Austen Edition
I think I mentioned this here before--during the pandemic, I donated to help keep Jane Austen's House Museum in Chawton Hampshire stay open and continue educating/entertaining the public with Austen lore. It was in this house Queen Jane wrote, edited, and had published all six of her completed novels. It's on my bucket list to visit this charming place someday. In fact, the sweet and fun novel, The Jane Austen Society, is a fictionalized account of a group of Chawton residents and friends working together to save this cottage and Austen's legacy. I really enjoyed it.
Austen's House Museum recently revealed plans to revamp some of the displays and decorations in the house, which would include adding information about the colonialism and empire that influenced Austen's Regency life. Unfortunately, the news was met with some resistance. Historical romance author Vanessa Riley (who wrote an article I previously shared about how there were Black Dukes in Regency England) wrote this historically researched opinion piece, which shares why this inclusion is not only honest to history, but also in line with what we know about Austen's views on and experience with slavery as a member of a well-to-do Regency family. A complete picture of Jane--her life, her work, her creativity--is pertinent to truly understanding the background and continued relevance of her literary genius.
More Austen News! It was revealed last week that the PBS Masterpiece production of Austen's last unfinished novel, Sandition, has been revived from almost-certain death to earn a Season 2. However, the main hero played by Theo James won't be returning. Why? He's actually playing Henry in the in-production series of Audrey Niffenegger's novel, The Time-Traveler's Wife (one of my top five novels of all time). Sandition fans were devastated (it's Regs-Jean Page leaving Bridgerton, Part 2!).
I'll be honest, I resisted watching Sandition knowing it was not the HEA this Austen fan is used to! I'm not sure if I'll watch it now, considering it's reeeeeeally not going to be an HEA (news is they are not re-casting Theo's role). So we'll have to see how it all plays out. I AM thrilled about The Time-Traveler's Wife though! The team behind one of my absolute favorite shows, Sherlock, is producing it.
What I Read/Listened To This Week...
📖The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
This book speaks to so much of what I love about reading, writing, and life that it was hard for me to put down. What an emotional, captivating read!
Esme is the daughter of a lexicographer who is working on compiling the words for the first-ever Oxford English Dictionary. From a young age, she joins her father in the Scriptorium, a garden shed/work area where the editor of the dictionary, James Murray, works with his staff of "dictionary men."
Young Esme stays quiet and out of the way on the floor beneath the word-sorting table. One day a slip with the word "bondmaid" falls and she picks it up, curious about what it means. This one word sets the stage for Esme's lifelong quest to discover and record words used by women. Words that, unfortunately, were often misplaced, partially defined, or outright discarded by the male staff. Esme's life, with its joys, tragedies, heartbreaks, and challenges, are all in some way affected by her love of words and her goal of making sure the words of women became part of history.
While a little slow at the beginning, this story really started to cook about 100 pages in. There are so many themes explored in the narrative and it's a credit to Pip Williams how well they all gel together and enhance the main coming-of-age tale.
First, there's the idea that the dictionary was developed through what we'd now call the "male gaze." Instead of using the male-authored literary quotes for reference or the determinations of the male lexicographers to decide which words were included, Esme relies on her friends from all walks of life--aunt Ditte, maid Lizzie, or the unkempt Mabel at the town market--to supply words to research. "Knackered," doesn't just mean tired. It also means what a lifelong servant like Lizzie feels when she's working, from sunup to sun down, in service of others.
Second, there are Esme's roles as daughter, mother, wife, and friend and how she navigates these to grow from an inquisitive child into a strong, powerful woman. This plot point also speaks to Esme's growth as a feminist. She becomes involved in both England's suffragist movement in the early 1900s and activities related to WWI. Her character wrestles with her strong beliefs and what she is able and willing to do to help further these causes. I appreciated the idea that although hesitant in some respects, Esme expressed her beliefs and her passions in her own subdued way. Unlike her friend Tilda, who took part in violent suffragette protests, Esme's were more low-key. The exploration of the various forms of protest--both loud and aggressive versus organized and vocal--made me think of the various racial equality demonstrations from last summer.
I loved reading about Esme's life, her passion for the words of women, and the way she made her distinct mark on the issues that stirred her soul. If you're a fan of female-centered coming-of-age stories that entice with themes of literature, romance, feminism, history, and friendship, give this book a try. I think you'll love it as much as I did.
P.S. The author's note at the end also reveals what parts of this fictional tale are based on historical fact. It's intriguing to see how many tidbits are pulled from real life.
🎧 You'll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar - ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5/5
This borrow from the Libby app was so worth it. Eye-opening, infuriating, educational, and hilarious, this book is a must for any white person hoping to learn more about the microaggressions (and major transgressions) of racism that Black people experience day in and day out in our country.
Amber is a comedian and host of her own show on Peacock TV AND a writer for Late Night with Seth Meyers. She lives and works in New York City, but is from Omaha, Nebraska. Her sister, Lacey Lamar, still lives and works in Omaha. After years of the Ruffin family regaling friends and family with stories about the many (MANY) instances of racism Lacey has experienced, Amber and Lacey thought it would be helpful to put them into a book. Thanks to Lacey's copious note-taking, she had a packed journal to pull from. As she and Amber mention many times throughout the book, the stories in the book are just the tip of the iceberg. And what a tip it is.
Whether it's Lacey dealing with outright hostility by white storeowners while trying to buy donuts to being used by her elementary school art teacher as the model for "how to draw negros," each story is, at turns, funny (Amber's a hilarious narrator) and enraging. And, as a white woman, I will admit, some were educational as well. Location is definitely part of the issue, as the racism that Lacey experiences in Omaha is much worst than what Amber experiences in New York. Yet, the throughline is the same--it's 2021 and racial stereotypes and the racism they engender are thriving in America, especially Omaha, the 44th largest city in the United States.
At only five+ hours, this is a quick listen and yes, even with such a serious subject, very funny at times. Whether you're a white ally looking to expand your worldview or someone who thinks racism isn't as prevalent as you're hearing in the news, this book is essential. Racism won't be eradicated until all of us learn more about what Black Americans deal with every day and how inaccurate stereotypes are. This book is a good place to start.
📸 Book Snaps of the Week 📸
Cover of the Week:
The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave
I've heard great things about this thriller. I signed up for a reading/discussion with its author in a few weeks (moderated by the fabulous Connie Schultz), which I'm also looking forward to. I hope to read this by then.
Pete Garceau designed this moody cover with imagery from Getty Images, including photographer Elena Volkova. The imagery on front of houseboats and the one of a bridge on back inject a bit of color into the hazy skies and waters depicted. Sausalito, CA, the setting of the novel, is known for its large number of houseboats since part of the community is on an expanse of shoreline.
Also, I've learned a ton from researching these covers and one thing that may seem insignificant but really isn't is typography. Here, in white with flecks of see-through spots, it overpowers the imagery. And considering the actual title is a major plot point in the story (see synopsis below), that juxtoposition makes sense. I also like the harsh-looking font. It's similar to what someone would use to dash off an urgent note (another plot point in the novel).
One more observation: I found it funny that the usual inclusion of "A Novel" is literally put on the side of a houseboat. I'm forever amused about the convention of putting "a novel" on, um, a novel to help with the marketing and selling of the book. I Googled to see if there are any articles that researched why, and this interesting one came up. While it's mostly marketing, I think at this point it's convention, too. Anyway, props to Pete for deciding to put it on the side of the houseboat here. Brings some levity to the book theme. The publisher's write-up for the book is below.
Before Owen Michaels disappears, he smuggles a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her. Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall knows exactly to whom the note refers—Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey, who lost her mother tragically as a child. Bailey, who wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother.
As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered, as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss, as a US marshal and federal agents arrive at her Sausalito home unannounced, Hannah quickly realizes her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity—and why he really disappeared.
Hannah and Bailey set out to discover the truth. But as they start putting together the pieces of Owen’s past, they soon realize they’re also building a new future—one neither of them could have anticipated.
With its breakneck pacing, dizzying plot twists, and evocative family drama, The Last Thing He Told Meis a riveting mystery, certain to shock you with its final, heartbreaking turn.
Have a GREAT week! I hope you get to read outside!