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The Book Beat - What's the Date Again?

Hello, book friends! I hope you all had a Happy Easter, Chag Sameach, or just a relaxing Sunday filled with good food and heartwarming time with family and friends on Zoom. I also hope you’re hanging in there during this crisis and finding a little more stability than a few weeks ago. Anyone? I’m trying to stay positive and get my schedule a little more concrete now that homeschooling has fully kicked in, but, I’ll be honest, it’s still a struggle. I remember all those times I said, “Oh, if I only had some time at home” and now I do and I swear I look at the clock at 9 and then four seconds later it’s 5. 

Thankfully, I finished the fabulous Untamed by Glennon Doyle this week (which I’ll talk more about below) and it truly helped soothe my emotional psyche during this tough time. I also re-read the intro to Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (Glennon talks about it in her book). Once again I was shocked by how much more resonance it--like other things I read in college--have now that I’m older and more mature. College Diana enjoyed it, but spent more time obsessing over her handsome Professor Saracino reading Whitman’s works (“When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d…” oh, my), than the actual content. Now that I’m more experienced in the heartaches of life, it definitely makes me feel more and appreciate Whitman's brilliance. Here's a snippet that stuck with me...

“This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men—go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers of families—re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body.”

Words to live by, right?

Here are some fun and interesting book stories from the last two weeks. Another highlight of quarantine? Free livestreams of interviews with authors and even more authors reading from their works. I could get used to this!

Livestreaming with Authors

Here are links to upcoming author chats and readings (quite a few literary festivals are going partially online). Two I'm definitely going to check out are Christine Baker Kline and Julia Phillips. I've loved all of Baker Kline's books. They take a historical event or time and build a fictional story around it. As a resident of southeastern PA near the home of Andrew Wyeth (and the Brandywine River Museum, which houses many of his paintings), I especially loved A Piece of the World. It imagines the life of Christina, the girl pictured in his famous Christina's World painting. Kline will be speaking with Erik Larson, author of The Splendid and the Vile.

(Irish author Marian Keyes already did hers, but the link to the replay is on here).

Video of an interview with the author of Call Me By My Name, Andre Aciman.

Here you can sign up for a Zoom through Books are Magic independent bookstore in Brooklyn, to listen to Julia Phillips speak about her book Disappearing Earth. I read this last year and it is wonderful. The paperback is out now. Seriously, read this book!

Lots of authors participating in readings through this hashtag: #athomewithpenguin

What's Hot at Independent Bookstores

This article shares what titles are flying off the shelves and into people's cars through curbside pick-up at four independent bookstores across the country. Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi, is using the dinosaur costume they use doing storytime to greet customers and give them their books. Dino Delivery...I love it! If you want to support your local independent bookstore during this time, check out their main site or go to (I wrote about it a while back), where independent bookstores curate "stores" and the profits go directly to your bookstore. It's great.

Book Review: Untamed by Glennon Doyle

If you don't know who Glennon is, you may have heard about her by her unofficial title: Christian Mommy Blogger. Glennon started writing about her life as a mom and Christian years ago and she has taken readers on a ride of self-discovery and amazing public service since then.

Untamed chronicles her journey of liberation from the institutional strictures and cultural conditioning that prevent women from being their true selves. She shares how she learned to listen to the voice inside herself and follow that, instead of doing what others or society expected her to do. Through stories, she tells of deciding to divorce her husband (her trying to make it work after finding out he had committed adultery was the subject of her last book, Love Warrior) and marry a woman, soccer star Abby Wambaugh, who she instantly fell in love with. As you can imagine, this wasn't easy (particularly since it was happening while she was promoting her last book, an Oprah book club choice). She talks about religion, life in America, family, sexuality, motherhood, feminism, and so much more. It's a tour-de-force of soulful insights, spiritual guidance, and how to follow your personal instincts instead of molding your life to please others. It's wonderful and I highly recommend it. Here's a sample of her brilliance:

"Over time, I walked away from my cages. I slowly built a new marriage, a new faith, a new worldview, a new purpose, a new family, and a new identity by design instead of default. From my imagination instead of indoctrination. From my wild instead of my training."

Also, check out her nonprofit, Together Rising at She started it with her sister and others to "transform collective heartbreak into effective action." Since 2012 they've raised over $20 million dollars for various causes, including most recently getting PPEs to healthcare workers.

A Short Story a Day Roundup

So far I've read 107 short stories this year. I'm having a blast. I've discovered so many "classics" I've never read, re-read some classics and got much more out of them this time around, and discovered some modern sure-to-be-classics. Here are recent ones that knocked my socks off.

"Ghosts and Empties" by Lauren Groff

The female narrator walks through her Florida neighborhood at night while her husband is putting their kids to bed. As she speed-walks, she comments on what she sees, the people’s lives she glimpses through their windows, and the stresses of her own life. It's a slice-of-life story that reveals the hurt, pain, joy, and mundanity of the human existence.

"To Build a Fire" by Jack London

This "new to me" classic is the fascinating tale of man's relationship with nature and animals. For all his advanced brain power, the male narrator is too ignorant to survive in the snowy Yukon terrain, while the dog that accompanies him knows what to do. The dog thinks of him as his protector and the man thinks of the dog as his slave. It's a suspenseful story that showcases London's amazing skills writing about our natural world and human nature.

"Go, Team" by Samantha Hunt

In almost all dialogue, a group of literal soccer moms discuss seeing a woman walking into the woods during their kids’ soccer game and never coming back out. The main character, J (no character is ever given a full name) shares how she thought, for a moment, how liberating it would be to stay in the woods forever by becoming one with nature. The moms are, at turns, disgusted, intrigued, curious, and unconcerned. It's another slice-of-life tale that reveals the familiarities and complexities of suburban-mom life.

"Bartleby the Scrivener" by Herman Melville

I'm sure we all read this in high school or college, right? The popular story of transcriber Bartleby, who drives others crazy with his insistence on "preferring not to." I loved this as much now as I did back then. Poor, Bartleby. Rendered soulless by the job of dealing with dead letters.

"The Veldt" by Ray Bradbury

OMG. Read this if you never have. It's a terrifying (but amazing) tale of how technology just might drive kids to become monsters. Just a friendly note that it might be hard to read this now as you try to limit your kids' screen time during quarantine, but this story is a revelation...of Bradbury's prescience and talent at imagining and writing about a technology-driven future. This was written in 1950!

"A Perfect Day for Bananafish" by JD Salinger

Another "new to me" classic, this terrific but harrowing story tells the tale of Seymour and Muriel Glass, who are vacationing in Florida. Through a master class of showing not telling, Salinger indicates that something's not quite right with Seymour. I was riveted from start to finish.

Cover of the Week:

Afterlife by Julia Alvarez

I've never read anything by Julia, but I really want to read this one. I bought it through an independent bookstore (still trying to do my part to help!) and it was delivered this week. I love this cover! It made me think of the daffodils that are popping up all over our yard. I also love how the tree branches on the cover form the shape of a woman's face.

A tale about Antonia Vega, a Dominican-American woman who is dealing with grief, it speaks to sisterhood, migration, isolation, and how to find your place in the world as you get older and start to lose things. I can't wait to dig in.

Here's a link to a great article with Julia. She unfortunately had to cancel her tour to promote this, so check out what she has to say here.

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