The Book Beat - October 23, 2020
Hello, book friends! I know it’s been ages. I apologize. I hope you're all staying healthy, enjoying a gorgeous fall, and gearing up for a holiday season unlike we’ve ever seen. I’m happy my kids have been all virtual schooling for the first few months of school and am a mix of happy and leery about them starting back part-time next week. Still, their school is doing its best to make everything as safe as possible, and I'm going to do my best to do the same. It's tough, this mix of being scared, bored, busy, etc. all at once and all while confined mostly to home. I know we'll all get through it, but I am hoping that, at least for myself, I hold on to some of the lessons and thoughts I've learned and had through the last seven months and live my life more fully engaged (with my family, my friends, my books(!), and myself) after we're truly past this tough year.
Now, one more thing before I get to books. Some self-reflection (if you'll indulge me)...
Not too long ago, I hit the one-year anniversary of when I was laid off from my job, a job I held for 13 years. Before that, it was a string of jobs dating all the way back to right after graduating college. I hadn't had any time off, save weekends, vacation, and maternity leaves. Do I miss my job? No. Do I miss the people I worked with? Very (very) much. What do I miss the least? That constant feeling of pressure to stick to a schedule and a schedule that didn't allow me to enjoy my family, time with friends, the natural world, literature, creativity, and the treasure trove of art and beauty that surrounded me. My tunnel vision was a blur of road, beige cubicle walls, filling and emptying the dishwasher, and getting my kids up for school. Not so anymore. Even though it wasn't my choice, I still have to say it was for my own personal good. I've "seen" more, spent more time with loved ones/friends, read more, learned more, and enjoyed more (even with Covid craziness) in the last year than I ever have before. So, thanks Covid and corporate America? That'll be the last time I say that. :)
I have a ton of really fun, cool, and interesting “bookish” stories for you spanning the last few months. I also have a list of the books I've read and some book commentary about the cultural conversations that have been dominating the news recently. I realized about five years ago that I prioritized romance books written by women. As lovely and soul-soothing as a romance novel can be, I needed to branch out. And I contend that by being more informed and knowledgeable and living in someone else’s shoes through reading (both fiction and nonfiction), you can better live a life of learning, empathy, progress, and personal growth. And, frankly, some of these messy, intense stories make GREAT movies/limited series (e.g. Little Fires Everywhere).
So, without further ado, here we go…
Margaret Turns 50
First, how did I not know Judy Blume owns and literally works in (!!!) her own bookstore in Florida! ReadingWhileMommying field trip post COVID? The classic Judy Blume novel turns 50 and Blume has finally shared the rights so it'll actually become a movie. Yay! Here's a bit more about Blume, the book, and its legacy as a banned book.
Normal People Reading List
I'll be honest, I couldn't get through the book Normal People by Sally Rooney (sacrilege, I know!). I may try again in the future. Interestingly, I loved the limited series on Hulu. Here's an article about the books featured in the series. If you haven't watched it, give it a try.
A Love Letter in the Time of Covid
Rodrigo Garcia writes a lovely letter to his late father, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the author of Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude. I have both but haven't yet read either. This wonderful, warm letter has definitely encouraged me to read them sooner-rather-than-later, though! Also, interestingly, there's a bit of a debate about Love in the Time of Cholera, particularly because of its subject matter and its relation to the #metoo movement. If anyone's read it and enjoyed it, let me know why. I'm interested in hearing your perspective on the main male character.
Parachutes and Kelly Yang's Triumph Over Injustice
I read the below article and knew I wanted to support Kelly's career as a writer, so I got her latest novel, Parachutes. It's YA (which I don't read that often) but it's really good and a look (even through fiction) into the lives of "parachutes," well--off Chinese teens who come to America to pursue an education at private high schools. In an effort to come to terms with her own sexual assault, she wrote this great book that explores this issue and more. It's a quick, important read.
RIP Brian Dennehy
This article relates to books indirectly, but it's still a lovely remembrance of one of my favorite actors, Brian Dennehy, from his daughter, Liz, an actress. That's me on the right with him after I saw "Death of a Salesman" on Broadway in 1999! He was lovely. If you didn't see it then, it's streaming on Playbill.com now.
Brian got his first big gig when 36, so if you're over 35 and still have big dreams, don't give up!
Oprah's Reading Room
Non-affiliated pitch here. If you're a book lover, O Magazine has some of the best book reviews in the biz. In a section entitled Reading Room, the magazine features long-form reviews and short ones. Each issue gives you the scoop on at least 10 books. It's a wonderful way to see what new books are being released every month. One of the most recent issues actually has a whole feature on the best books of summer written by women. If you don't want to get the mag, the oprahmag site has bookish features, too, including an occasional new short story.
Book Beat Bonus: If you have either Kindle Unlimited or Audible, you can get the Out of Line short story collection for free. It's a collection of brand-new short stories by popular female writers. Read it on Amazon or listen to actresses read them on Audible. Authors and actors featured include Roxane Gay/Samira Wiley, Cheryl Strayed/Kristen Bell, and more.
The Covid Renaissance?
Are you a creative who is actually getting work done during COVID? If so, more props to you! I've been trying but it hasn't gone as well as I had hoped (hence this blog being months late). But I will keep trying. A "writing retreat" in the mountains this past weekend got the ball rolling. And November is right around the corner. What happens in November? NaNoWriMo. What on Earth is that? National Novel Writing Month. The idea is that you write 1,000 words a day and by the end of the 30 days, you have a 30,000 word novella. I've tried a few years to do this and have never succeeded but am DETERMINED to do it this year. Below is an article about a renaissance of creativity during the challenging time of the French Revolution and a link with the scoop on NaNoWriMo! Join me?
Disabled Authors Have Their Say
This interesting article explores how three writers revealed their disabilities to their families or loved ones. In revealing their truths, they were able to create spaces to normalize their differences by finding solace through connections with others. And, most importantly, by recounting their stories, they educate those of us who aren't disabled about their challenges. I liked this article because it addresses something I talk more about below when I extol the virtues of reading (no spoilers here, you have to keep reading!). I've read two of Helen Hoang's romance novels. Hoang has Asberger's and both of her books feature autistic characters. Not only were they swoon-worthy romances, they also made me more aware of the challenges people with autism face. Romantic and insightful? Sign me up.
Congrats, Octavia Butler!
During my Short Story a Day challenge this year*, I read three of Octavia's stories and bought both her short-story collection Blood Child and her novel Parable of the Sower. I'm reading Parable now. It's SO GOOD and eerily prescient of the social and political situations our country finds itself in today. And with its renewed prominence, Ms. Butler (who died in 2006) finally achieved one of her goals...to get on The New York Times Best Seller List! She deserves it. As a Black, female writer, Ms. Butler explored themes of feminism, racism, social injustice, global warming and more through the realm of science fiction. Her work blazed a trail for other Black, female authors in the traditionally white-male-dominated genre of science fiction. Her short story "Speech Sounds" is one of the best that I read this year. Read it and check out all of her books. She's definitely deserving of the renewed interest and attention to her work. Hollywood's bringing some of her stories to the screen, too.
*Note: I had to bail on my a challenge on 9/11 after reading 255 stories. I tried to keep up, but just wasn't able to with all the other craziness of this year. I might try again in 2021 when, you know, it's not 2020! My latest shirt says it all...
Bridgerton on the Small Screen
As I've written about before, romance novels have always been a wonderful balm for my stressed, tired, and weary soul. And whose soul isn't in 2020?! The Bridgerton series by Julia Quinn was one that I have loved forever and, thanks to the always-amazing Netflix, it's coming to the small screen as a series. Honestly, it wasn't too long ago that I thought traditional romance books would never get the Hollywood treatment due to the stigma that's still attached to them years after Hawthorne bemoaned the "damned mob of scribbling women." You've heard it: They're cheesy, not serious, about frivolous "female" things, and unrealistic because of the guaranteed HEA (happily-ever-after in romance speak). Well, I don't agree with that and am so happy that Hollywood is starting to get it, too. All that to say, if you love historical romance, Shonda Rhimes, or just romance in general, mark your calendars for 12/25/2020! And definitely read up beforehand. They're that good!
Book Beat Bonus: Author Julia Quinn received some not-so-nice comments from readers when the cast for this was announced, and the "book" Duke Simon Bassett, who was white, was cast with Black actor, Rege-Jean Page. One common refrain: "There were no Black Dukes in Regency England." Actually, there were. Author Vanessa Riley has a great write-up about it. The more you know, right?
Nobel Prize in Literature: Poet Louise Gluck
The Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to American poet Louise Gluck. I'll admit, I haven't read any of her poetry, but have added her to my list to check out. The below link has her reading some of her poems. Congrats, Louise!
The Summer of Our Discontent--
Racial Reckoning In America...With Books
In light of current events in our country, I, like many white Americans (see right), am trying to read more about the Black experience in our country, past and present; how to be a more proactive and effective ally; and also address my own unconscious biases and position of privilege. As much I adore reading, it’s a passive act, and, while informative, enlightening, and transformative, it doesn’t put my mouth where my mind/heart are striving to be. I vow to read more, while also loudening my voice for racial equality and an end to racial injustice, and, ultimately doing my part to help make our country one that truly stands by its democratic ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. I'm a reader, but also a lover of history and politics, so mixing the three together seems like the best way for me to grow.
Although my TBR pile is always bursting, I have added some of this summer's most popular books to it in an effort to achieve this goal. I can't say I'll get to them all RIGHT NOW, but I will do my best to get to them soon. Think of it this way: How many books have you read where reading was the gateway for growth of knowledge, the capacity for critical thinking, social acceptance, empathy, cultural understanding, and personal and professional success? So many books portray access to books and reading as a way to become a more fully realized human being. Where the Crawdads Sing, Because of Winn-Dixie, Educated, Little Women, Harry Potter, Matilda, etc. I love it when I read a book and the character is a fan of reading. As my girl Jane Austen said, "A fondness for reading, properly directed, must be an education in itself."
Here are some articles that address books on racism and more information related to this important social issue..
Diversifying Your Book Shelf:
Anti-Racist Reading Lists:
Radical Copy Editor:
And lastly, supporting independent bookstores is so important during this time, so if you're doing that, please make sure to include Black-owned bookstores in your plan. One of Philadelphia's newest, Harriet's Bookshop, is on my list to visit in person when I can, but I've already supported them by buying through www.bookshop.org. Through their Instagram and Facebook accounts, I've seen string quartets playing in their space, a newly renovated reading room out back, and amazing events hosted outside. Recently they held a sit-in protest in response to being one of 10 Black-one Philly bookstores to receive racist emails this summer. Check out the below articles to learn more and, if you're able, head to their page or www.bookshop.org and order a book or two.
Harriett's Bookshop in Fishtown:
And, Finally...What Have I Been Reading?
Unfortunately, my reading has slowed down A LOT the last few months since homeschooling-while-working began. I'll be honest....I'm behind on my GoodReads yearly goal and I'm not happy about it at all. I also critique self-published books for Publisher's Weekly, so those have been a priority over my own TBR pile. I haven't stopped buying books though! I mean 2020's a mess, but let's not go crazy. :) Here are Bookstagram pics of what I've read and what I've bought. I hope you call have read some good ones this summer, too!
Cover of the Week:
Leave The World Behind by Rumaan Alam
I just started this one, so I can't speak to it just yet, but I loved the cover! Described as "suspenseful and provocative," this book definitely has the cover to match the mood. Dark, creepy, and moody. The first thing I thought when I saw it was Barb getting taken by the Demogorgan in the first season of Stranger Things. :) I'll keep you posted on what I think. It's already been adapted into a Netflix movie starring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington, that's supposed to come out soon. I won't miss that!