Monday, February 27, 2017

Book Review - Like One of the Family by Alice Childress

Paul Robeson, born in 1989, was an African American man who became a highly successful and well-known actor and singer.  Living most of his adult life in the Bronx, New York, he was a part of a vital and active African American community.  His performance of Othello was, at the time, the longest-running play on Broadway.  He was invited to visit the Soviet Union in 1934 and, upon his return to the USA, he became more politically aware and politicized.  He felt that, in the USSR, he was treated not as a Negro but as a human being with dignity and respect.  He was a deeply involved and vocal supporter of the Civil Rights Movement in America from then on.  In 1950, he began publication of a civil rights-themed newspaper, called FREEDOM.  Included in these newspapers were brief fictional stories written by Alice Childress - conversations between a domestic worker named Mildred and her friend Marge.  FREEDOM was discontinued in 1955, and in 1956 Childress' vignettes were first collected and published as Like One of the Family.  It was republished in 1986 and then most recently in January of 2017.

In the book's 221 pages, there are 62 individual stories, each only a few pages long.  In each and every one of them, Mildred is telling Marge about an experience she had working in a white person's household.  In most of the stories, the employer has specific expectations for their relationship for the duration of Mildred's employment.  This includes what days/hours she will be expected to work, what she will wear while working, how she and her employer will interact, and other expectations for her work.  In all of these scenarios, the employer expects Mildred to bend to those wishes and demands without demur.  What they find, however, is a woman willing and able to stand up for herself and insist on being treated fairly and with respect.  She refuses to be viewed as anything other than a paid worker.  Even when she encounters a housewife who wants to only pay her two times a month (so as to get a free week of work every few months) and give her half-days off,  Mildred rebukes the woman and sets her straight with what her requirements are.  She is not a woman to be treated as anything close to a slave!

What the author does brilliantly in these stories is to not only to shine a light on the situations that may plague domestic workers, but to use these vignettes as vehicles to justify the many progressive aims of the Civil Rights Movement.  In the story, "Ridin' the Bus", Mildred and Marge are riding a city bus, taking seats in the very back of the bus.  This inspires Mildred to talk about how different it is to ride a bus in New York than it was anywhere in the South, because people can sit wherever they want and nobody pays any attention.  What was important was, "...that when we took this seat it simply showed which one we had picked out and not which one was picked for us" (pg. 13).  Mildred also notes that the segregated bus-riding laws restrict white people as much as black.  "Some people still think we want to sit with white people when they hear us talkin' about that Jim Crow ridin' and what they seem to forget is that there was never nothin' equal about those separate seats even though they were all on the same bus" (pg. 15).  Through this story, Childress is demonstrating that the Jim Crow laws of segregation, and any that restrict the freedoms one group, restrict the freedoms of all.  By granting full civil rights and citizenship to all peoples, regardless of the color of their skin, the entire population will be happier and more liberated.

Like One of the Family is a remarkable collection of brief vignettes about domestic work in particular and the Civil Rights Movement aims in general.  While the topics may be controversial, the writing is completely approachable.  It would be readable for people of all levels of education.  I believe that it was republished at a very appropriate time, because there are real political issues at play that may move this country back toward the era when these stories were written.  Perhaps this book will inspire a new generation of readers to take action and work for equality.

Librorum annis

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Coffee Book Tag

I recently came across a long-existing Booktube tag called the Coffee Book Tag, created by BangadyBangz.  You can watch the original tag here.  I'm a die-hard, life-long coffee lover, so although I wasn't tagged by anyone, I knew that I must do it.  It's inspired by coffee and its ephemera, so what could be better?!!  In fact, as I'm writing this post, I've got a cup of coffee next to me!   With that, let's dive into the questions!

Exhibit 1: My current view

Question 1:  Black - Name a book that was hard to get into at first, but has a lot of die-hard fans

For me, this book would be Difficult Women by Roxane Gay.  This author has a lot of ravenous, dedicated, passionate fans who love her work and extol its virtues far and wide across the interwebs.  I had picked up her most recent work, this collection of short stores, from the library because I wanted to give it a try, to see what all the fuss was about.  Difficult Women wasn't difficult to get into in the sense that the language was too academic or the plots were overly complicated.  It was difficult to get into because of the subject matter.  Each of the stories contain abuses and graphic events that are troubling to read about.  However, as I reflected on the stories after I had read them, I started to unpack the layers of reality that the characters are, in fact, facing.  It was during this process that I felt that I understood why Roxane Gay is such a beloved author, for her prowess in not shying away from the unspeakable.

Question 2: Peppermint Mocha - Name a Book That Seems to Get Popular In/Around the Holiday Season

There are a lot of books to choose from here.  In fact, once December rolls around there are all kinds of list of "must-read books" for the holiday season.  The book I'm choosing is actually a series - Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" series - The Golden Compass/Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass.  There is a wintery/Christmassy theme throughout the books, and there seems to be an uptick in interest and publicity about the trilogy during the last month of the year.  But I suppose any book that (at least here in the Northern Hemisphere) contains scenes of wintery weather would get a little more popular during the holiday time.

Question 3: Hot Chocolate - Name Your Favorite Children's Book

As I've been out of childhood for a very long time, I don't have a lot of memories of my early reading.  One book that has stuck with me, and that I still have a copy (signed by the author!) and read occasionally is The Giver by Lois Lowry.  It's part of a quartet with Gathering Blue, Messenger, and The Son - none of which I have read.  There's also a recent movie adaptation of the book, but I have yet to get around to watching it.

Question 4: Double Shot of Espresso - Name a Book that Keeps You on the Edge of Your Seat 

This was a toughie, because I don't often read thriller-type books.  The most recent read I could think of that kept me at all on the edge of my seat was the graphic memoir March Trilogy by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell.  The books tell the story of John Lewis, a Georgia politician and renowned civil rights leader, from his childhood as the son of Alabama sharecroppers, through his education and work with the Civil Rights Movement, and ending with the inauguration of President Barack Obama.  There are so many harrowing and fearful moments, and I found myself on the edge of my seat more than once.

Question 5: Starbucks - Name a Book That You See Everywhere

This book would have to be Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly.   It's everywhere for two reasons: 1. A movie adaptation was released in 2016 and is nominated for a whole lot of awards.  2. It focuses on a little-known aspect of events (space exploration) that have become part of American national identity and pride.  3. It adds a voice to the chorus of countless others who demand equality and recognition in American society.  While the movie directs its attention on three specific women - Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan - and their unique stories and contributions to aeronautics, physics, and math - the book relaxes its attention to how their stories play into the American story of reconstruction, segregation, the Civil Rights Movement, and beyond.  This book deserves to be everywhere, because it has important things to say about where we are now as Americans, and where we came from, and how we might progress in the future of race relations and racial-gender equality.  I'm listening to it as an audiobook right now, and it's fantastically written and researched.  I highly recommend it!

Question 6: The Hipster Coffee Shop - Name a Book by an Indie Author That You Really Like

In 2016, I read a Tin House Press book Glaciers, by Alexis M. Smith.  It follows one day in the life of Isabel, a woman in her late 20's, who works as a damaged book librarian in a library in Portland, Oregon.  You follow her as she wakes up, goes to work, eats, interacts with her coworkers (including a man nicknamed Spoke, on whom she has a huge crush), goes shopping for vintage clothes, and attends a literary party.  It doesn't sound like much fodder for a novel (and this is a short one, at only 174 pages), but it grows into much more when the author explores the depths below Isabel's surface - her childhood and experiences that have shaped her.  In this way, Isabel is like the glaciers that surrounded her in her native Alaska.  The author does a tremendous job with evoking emotion and a sense of place in so few pages.  I know that she published another book, Marrow Island, in 2016 that I have on my TBR.  I hope to love it just as much as Glaciers.

Question 7: Ooops! I Accidentally Got Decaf - Name a Book From Which You Were Expecting More

I desperately wanted to love Three Things You Need to Know About Rockets by Jessica A. Fox.  Leaving everything behind and starting a new life in a remote Scottish town...what's not to like?  It sounds lovely and romantic!  However, I found the protagonist (Jessica) to be completely insufferable.  Being that this is essentially a romance story, you should want Jessica and the love interest (Euan) to live happily ever after.  However, I found myself rooting for see how selfish, privileged, demanding, and insecure she really was; to realize that all of her emotional baggage just wasn't worth it.  Jessica wanted to live her life as a fairy tale, without regard for reality or the feelings of others.  I wanted to love this book, but in the end I just couldn't.

Question 8: The Perfect Blend - Name a Book That Has the Perfect Combination of Bitter and Sweet

Having only read it for the first time a few weeks ago, White Teeth by Zadie Smith has the perfect blend of everything I like in a book.  It's a multi-generational family saga, a book about the immigrant experience, an exploration of what makes a national identity, and so much more wrapped up in just under 500 pages.  It's a masterpiece!

Question 9: Green Tea - Name a Book That is Quietly Beautiful

Marilynne signing my copy of Housekeeping at 2016 National Book Festival!
I didn't even have to think about this.  Any of Marilynne Robinson's fiction would be appropriate, but I'm choosing her debut novel Housekeeping.  It envelops the reader in its quiet, dreamlike prose as if you're being bundled up in an infinitely soft, handmade blanket.  The ethereal way that the author describes the people and surrounds of Fingerbone, Idaho imbues them with a quiet, palpable power.  Although there is conflict and tragedy throughout the novel, there is also a grace that permeates throughout Housekeeping.  It is truly a novel of quiet, beautiful brilliance.

Question 10: Chai Tea - Name a Book that Makes You Dream of Far-Off Places

I'm actually picking a series, instead of a single book, because throughout all four books in the Neapolitan Novels quartet, I was dreaming of Naples and the Italian Coast.  It's far-off from where I live, but I could close my eyes and feel the stifling heat of inner-city Neapolitan summer, the soft sand and vivid blue waters of vacation spots, the hectic transportation, and the food.  My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child  didn't necessarily inspire me to make immediately travel plans, but I was completely drawn into the location throughout the reading experience.  There's so much heat on the pages that I don't think I could read the quartet at any other time than summer...whether I'm at home or in Italy.

And that's the Coffee Book Tag!  If you're interested in exploring these questions, consider yourself tagged!

Librorum annis

Monday, February 20, 2017

Book Review - Love Is Love

Love Is Love was created in response to the mass shooting that took place inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida on June 12, 2016.  49 people were killed, and 53 others were wounded in the attack.  The proceeds from sales of the book are donated to the victims, survivors, and their families through the organization Equality Florida.  Over 35 writers, artists, activists, and others contributed to this collaborative comic book, making it one of the most diverse and creative comics I've ever read. 

There are some depictions of violence and mature themes, so this may not be a comic for younger readers.  However, because Love Is Love comments on current issues of consent, equality, tolerance, acceptance, and empathy it is an important piece of art and social justice.  It could easily be used as a way to engage in discussion about these topics with friends and family. 

As this is an anthology instead of a traditional comic, each artist/writer contributed a standalone piece, between one and  Some well-known superheroes make appearances in the book, including Batman and Wonder Woman, and characters from Harry Potter, but most feature human interactions and realist situations.  The pieces range from joyous celebrations of love and life, to graphic depictions of the fear, hate, and devastation that surrounded the tragedy.  In one entry, called "Hand Me Down", two young children are called to their respective homes for dinner, and their families are watching the same news coverage of the Pulse shooting.  One's family reacts with empathy and sorrow, while the other's family uses slurs and other hateful language.  It demonstrates how children pick up on the attitudes of their families, and can carry those attitudes forward into their own lives. 

While many of the pieces in Love Is Love are heartbreaking, others are inspiring and function as a call to action.  There is a great mixture of familiar characters and real-world humans depicted on these pages, reminding us that we all have a responsibility to do what is right, and not let hate and intolerance win.  It's not just the superheroes who fight for justice and equality, it's all of us.

Librorum annis

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Little Book Haul

Do you ever find yourself in the situation where you have a decent number of unread books on your shelves, books that you are thrilled to own and cannot wait to read, yet you cannot resist the siren call of the bookshop?  No?  Well, this happens to me all. the. time.  And it's not as though my shelf space is infinite at home either.  I have an Ikea Kallax wall shelf, and although its square shape is not ideal for holding books, it actually can contain a large amount of them.  Since I have a not-small collection of books, all of my cubes are double-stacked.  It's not the most photogenic of configurations, but it works.

But back to my poor self-restraint.  If I'm in the area, I can hardly resist stopping in to my favorite, local bookstore The Midtown Scholar.  They not only have a huge selection in their physical store, but they also maintain a warehouse of even more titles that you can order online and have shipped anywhere, or locals can have books delivered right to the store for easy pickup.  That's what I did.  I have been scouring library book sales and other booksellers for a copy of Tony Kushner's full play Angels in America for a long time, but so far had only acquired "Part 2 - Perestroika".  Low and behold, The Midtown Scholar had the full script for less than $5!  An author I've discovered, thanks to Persephone Books and Virago Modern Classics republishing her, is Mollie Panter-Downes.  I own all of her books from those two presses, but The Midtown Scholar had another of her works, At the Pines, so I couldn't not pick that up.  I felt so pleased with myself for finding these two gems, and didn't mind the fact that I'd have to squeeze them in on my shelves.

I maintain my library digitally, via the site LibraryThing, and they offer a monthly program where their members can sign up to receive an advanced reader copy of a forthcoming book for free, in exchange for an honest review.  Because the books come in very haphazardly, depending on the distance of shipping and the publisher, I ended up receiving three of them within a few days of each other.  Like One of the Family is a republished collection of short fiction pieces, by Alice Childress, written as a series of conversations between Marge and her friend Mildred, who is a black domestic worker.  They were first published sequentially in a Harlem newspaper called Freedom, and discuss overt and micro aggressions against black women.  Tell Me How This Ends Well, by David Samuel Levinson, is a near-future road trip adventure with three siblings of the Jacobson family returning home to confront their abusive father and reconcile their past.  I'm currently reading Like One of the Family and finding it really interesting - perhaps an influence on Claudia Rankine?  One of the benefits of ARCs is that, after I finish them, I pass them along to readerly friends who might enjoy them, so they don't take up permanent residence on my shelves.

One shelf that I'm never upset about squeezing more books onto is my Persephone Books shelf.  I love ordering directly from the publisher, and happily support them and their mission.  However, because they're located in London, shipping requires trans-Atlantic postage, so it can be quite cost prohibitive.  I know that Three Lives & Company carries Persephone Books, but there's no online ordering available.  Since I don't live in NYC, that doesn't work for me.  What does work for me is Strand Books, which often has secondhand copies of Persephone books available.  I tend to check their site frequently, and I snagged copies of The Wise Virgins by Leonard Woolf, The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, and To Bed with Grand Music by Marghanita Laski.  My Persephone shelf is looking very happy indeed.

The last book that I've added to my shelves is my February pick from Book of the Month Club.  Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee, is a family saga of four generations of a Korean family who immigrate to Japan. I'm familiar with pachinko, which is a type of Japanese pinball game, so I'm intrigued to see how it is interwoven into the story.  As with most "family saga" books, this one is a bit of a chunker; it would be lovely to tuck into Pachinko for an entire weekend, and savor each and every of its 500 pages.  This big book will take a bit of finagling to fit onto my shelves, but it'll be much worth it.

So that's it for this book haul.  I'm grateful to have space to keep bookshelves and books, and I'm thankful for the books that I have.  Have you brought any new or new-to-you books to roost on your shelves recently, or are you on a book buying ban?  I'd love to hear all about it.

Librorum annis

Monday, February 13, 2017

Book Review - White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith's first novel is a complex masterpiece.  Told primarily through generations of two families living in the borough of Brent in North-West London, White Teeth explores a wide array of complex topics facing modern society.  The novel is also the story of who we are, those who (whether ourselves or generations before us) left our homeland and traveled to a new life.  White Teeth is just as relevant now as it was 17 years ago, especially in the context of current political sentiments about immigration and refugees.

The first two characters we meet are Archibald Jones and Samad Iqbal, who have known each other since they served together in WW2.  Archie is a native Anglo-Saxon, completely indecisive (uses a coin flip to decide most things), docile, and obsessed with DIY.  He meets and marries Clara, a British-born woman, less than half his age, of Jamaican descent.  They have a mixed-race daughter named Irie.  Samad immigrated to England from Bangladesh with his wife, by an arranged-marriage, Alsana.  They are both fiery tempered (prone to yelling and physically abusing each other), of varying degrees of Muslim faith, and Alsana is significantly younger than Samad.  They have twin sons, Millat and Magid.  The twins are the same age as Irie, and the three maintain a friendship throughout their early years.  Archie and Samad spend most of their time reminiscing about their experiences during WW2 at a local pub, called O'Connell's Pool House.

Most of the clientele in O'Connell's are older men, who spend most of their time reliving the glory days of their youth, making fun of each other, generally complaining, and ordering traditional British fare from the owner, an Arab.  A customer (no women are ever noted as having ventured inside O'Connell's) must earn his place in the pub, and once he does so, is welcomed there for life.  As such, it is a place where time can seem to stand still, and a man is seen as just who he is, without pretension or particular prejudice.  A place that caters to people of all faiths equally, as long as they prove themselves to be worthy.  As such, it is a safe haven compared to the life that awaits outside its doors.

Brent is a very diverse borough, and with that mixture there are ever-present tensions between members of different religions, races, and classes.  Shopkeepers and businesses are targeted for violent crimes and robberies.  Street gangs have an increasing presence.  One group that grows exponentially during the course of the novel is the fundamentalist Muslim brotherhood known as Keepers of the Eternal and Victorious Islamic Nation (KEVIN).  KEVIN eventually plays a large role in the lives of all of the main characters.

Samad is constantly at odds between the traditional, Muslim beliefs he wants to uphold and the secular society he is living amongst in London.  He leans toward a more conservative approach, including wanting to remove any secular holiday celebrations from his children's school calendar.  He is influenced by modernism, but eschews it to anyone who will listen.  He looks upon modern British culture with disdain, and fears that his children will grow up forgetting their heritage and completely assimilating.  In a fit of crisis, and without his wife's knowledge or consent, Samad decides to split up his two sons - Magid is hastily flown to Bangladesh to spend the rest of his childhood with relatives.  Magid is seen as the more promising son, and Samad believes that he will embody the traditional Muslim ideals that Samad is unable to fulfill.

Millat remains in London with his parents, but struggles to find his own identity.  One day at school, Millat falls in with some young Muslim men who call themselves KEVIN, and he begins to feel a sense of belonging and power that he had never experienced before.  Despite not initially agreeing with the group's fundamentalist and militant ways, he eventually grows to accept and embody them.  Meanwhile, Magid grows up in the primarily Muslim Bangladesh but comes to identify with secular, atheistic, science-based ideals.  When the brothers are eventually reunited, they find that they have very little in common, and cannot reconcile their beliefs and build a relationship.  Through these two characters, the author is exploring the effects that upbringing and religious influence have on development and sense of self, as well as the impact of immigration and assimilation on a person.

Irie and Millat come to spend time at the home of the a fellow classmate, Joshua Chalfen.  The Chalfens are a liberal, middle class, British family who are rather insular and interested in science.  Mrs. Chalfen is an avid gardener and horticulturalist, and Mr. Chalfen is a university professor and scientist working on a controversial project involving genetic engineering.  While initially in support of his father's work, Joshua eventually joins an activist animal rights group.  Irie grows interested in a career in sciences, due to her time spent with The Chalfens, and eventually works as Mr. Chalfen's secretary and publicist as his project gains more and more public attention and criticism.  The culmination of all this work is a years-long public showing of Mr. Chalfen's project at a public forum, which brings all of the main characters, and their affiliated religious/animal rights/scientific groups  together on a single night at the end of that year.  What happens next is something almost as madcap as anything, and the author gives some closure to each of the major characters' lives.

One of the other recurring themes is reflected in the novel's title.  Teeth are used as both a unifying and diversifying feature throughout.  Clara has an accident in her youth, loses all of her upper teeth, and lives her life wearing dentures.  During a pivotal argument, teenaged Irie is horrified to learn that her mother's teeth are fake.  Irie, herself, desires to pursue a career in dentistry.  When characters discuss their dark-skinned, immigrant neighbors, they often remark on how white the dark-skinned people's teeth are.  In this regard, teeth are used as almost a racial micro-slur.  Because everyone has teeth, it is a common thread connecting all of the characters, but the differences in teeth can be as vast as the differences between the characters themselves.

White Teeth is an ambitious, wide-ranging, and completely engaging read.  All of the characters are "unlikable", in that they are deeply flawed and make disastrous life choices, but you can't help but want them to succeed - or at least find out what happens to them.  Throughout the novel, Zadie Smith takes on important topics like colonization, immigration, assimilation, conservatism, classism, racism, religious extremism, education, friendship, and war.  She does so with a deft hand and great skill at creating and encouraging empathy for her characters.  Hopefully, readers will be able to increase empathy in their own lives after spending time with the characters in White Teeth.  I truly enjoyed the novel, and am looking forward to reading more of her works.

Librorum annis

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Bookish Tourism - New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans is known as The Big Easy, and for good reason.  There is so much to see, do, and eat, but there's never a rush.  Explore.  Stroll around.  Take it easy.  New Orleans has a burgeoning literary culture, partly rooted in its history, but firmly planted in modern day.  This is shown through the many amazing bookstores, the authors writing in and about the area, and the committed people publishing the books.  On my most recent trip, I spent a lovely few days soaking up as much of the literary as I could, while still taking it easy.  Here are a few of the highlights -

Faulkner House Books

Located in the building where William Faulkner lived and wrote his first novel, Soldier's Pay, Faulkner House Books is a treasure trove of amazing literature of all types.  Upon entering this compact, elegant, charming space you immediately feel transported to another world.  There are plenty of Faulkner tomes here, as well as some rare and antiquarian finds; everything is thoughtfully curated.  I ended up leaving with a copy of Soldier's Pay (it seemed wrong not to, considering) and a collection of essays called Southern Bound: A Gulf Coast Journalist on Books, Writers, and Literary Pilgrimages of the Heart by John S. Sledge.  I have since read the Faulkner and, while I didn't love the story, I will always have the memories of buying the book in the space where it was written.  You can find more about them here.

Arcadian Books & Prints

About a block north of Faulkner House Books stands Arcadian Books & Prints, a bookshop that also invokes feelings of being transported to another world.  This world, however, is much more haphazard and...magical.  Books are stacked floor to ceiling, in mismatched cabinets, on rickety tables.  It was a literary labyrinth to navigate, finding antique and new books alike.  I was almost afraid to pick up some for fear that a whole shelf might collapse around me, in a dramatic avalanche.  What a way to go!  This didn't happen, but I did get the sense that the shop itself was being held up by books and magic, rather than walls.  The shopkeeper's desk also seemed to be made of books, and he would happily (if not a bit crankily) discuss anything New Orleans and literature with the patrons.  And the bookshop has the most amazing, Rory Gilmore-smelling-a-book scent!  I ended up choosing the essay collection Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedeker.

Librairie Bookshop

A more quaint and austere New Orleans bookshop, yet not without character, is Librairie Bookshop. Well-lit and spacious, yet very much a treasured hole-in-the-wall institution, this bookstore has a wide array of titles, but focuses on New Orleans-area literature and maps.  The aisles are filled with literary quotes handwritten on note cards, giving shoppers inspiration.  I left with a copy of New Orleans Jazz by Edward J. Branley.

Crescent City Books

At the time I visited, Crescent City Books had just completed a move into its new home on Baronne Street.  While very bright and open, especially compared to Arcadian Books, this shop is deceivingly full of great books, maps, and prints.  It's also the southern outpost of Black Widow Press, a micropress focusing on translated and contemporary poetry.  The bookshop also has a delightful resident cat, named Isabelle.  After receiving belly skritches, she was happy to recommend me her favorite books by rubbing her head on them.  Read more about the bookshop, and see extensive photos of the building (including the airplane body doorway here.  I ended up with Errata by Michael Allen Zell and City Without People: The Katrina Poems by Niyi Osundare.

Garden District Bookshop

Nestled in the gloriously air-conditioned and homey Rink Shopping Center, Garden District Bookshop is a spacious and beautifully cozy space.  Anne Rice is a local author, and there is a large space devoted to her work, so any fan would do well to make a stop here.  There are frequent author events, and information about them, as well as the shop itself, can be found on their website.  None were happening when I was in town, but I hope to be able to coordinate a trip so that I can attend one!  Most of the stock in this delightful shop were new releases, and significant space is made for signed copies.  My partner, a John Grisham fan, was delighted to find a signed, first edition of his book Rogue Lawyer.  I came away with a signed copy of Joseph Boyden's The Orenda

There were so many other bookish places I wanted to visit, but just didn't have the time - Maple Street Book Shop, the New Orleans Literary Festival, the Backspace Bar & Kitchen, touring Anne Rice's home, exploring Hotel Monteleone, and more.  There are so many reasons for me to trek back for another holiday!  If you haven't been there yet, I hope that I've inspired you to make a bookish trip to the Big Easy.  If there are other literary events or locations that I should check out on a future vacation, please let me know!

Librorum annis

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Netflix Book Tag

While I absolutely love to read books (probably a requirement of someone keeping a book blog), I also enjoy binge watching shows and movies on Netflix.  And YouTube.  A Booktuber whose videos I really enjoy is ABookOlive, and she recently published a tag video called "The Netflix Book Tag", which I've decided to attempt here.  I hope you enjoy, and if you feel so inspired to create a blog post

Recently Watched (the last book you finished reading)

The Closed Door and Other Stories by Dorothy Whipple is the book I most recently finished, as part of the 24 in 48 Readathon.  

Top Picks (books that have been recommended to you based on a book you've already read)

One of my favorite childhood books was The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank.  It was my first introduction to WW2 and the Holocaust; the endearing words of that young girl have remained with me my whole life.  That's why I am so interested to read the Persephone Books reprint of An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum.  Etty was a woman in her mid-twenties, living in Amsterdam, and keeping a diary - just like Anne Frank.  In the description, Persephone makes the comparison between Etty Hillesum and Anne Frank, so I totally consider that a recommendation! 

Recently Added (the last book you bought/received)

US cover on the left, current UK paperback cover on the right.
My last-purchased book was a copy of the UK edition of Han Kang's historical fiction novel Human Acts.  I love the story, and first read it as an ARC, but I don't get on with the US cover at all.  There's something provocative yet tender about the UK cover.  It's really beautifully written, and a lovely cover, and I was happy to wait the 20 days that it took to travel across the pond.

Popular on Netflix (books that everyone knows about...books that you've read and  books that you haven't/don't plan to read)

Two incredibly popular books are Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and The Mothers by Britt Bennett.  I've read Wild a few times and found it both deeply sad and incredibly hilarious.  I didn't get around to reading The Mothers, which seemed to be The Book of 2016, when the buzz was at its height.  I hope to get to it sometime in 2017, though!

Comedies (funny book)

While I prefer reading serious and darker books (not quite sure what that says about me...oh well), I do enjoy reading humor books, especially personal essays.  Two of my absolute favorites are the classic short story and essay collection Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, and the essay collection I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley.    

Dramas (character who is a drama king/queen)

The ultimate drama queen, from my shelves, is Julie Powell from Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously.  She's a character that you grow to love, but she has some serious meltdowns over not-so-important things!

Animated (book with cartoons on the cover)

I have to choose my absolute favorite graphic memoir series, March by John Lewis.  It's the harrowing and truly inspiring story of the Georgia Congressman's life growing up the son of sharecroppers in the American South and his involvement in the Civil Rights movement, including work with Martin Luther King, Jr., all framed by the inauguration of President Barack Obama.  Illustrated by Nate Powell, the drawings are incredibly evocative and descriptive.  

Watch It Again (book/series you want to re-read)  

It's been a few years since I first read the Gilead series, and I'm feeling like it's time to go back to Gilead, Iowa and spend time with Rev. John Ames, his wife Lila and young son, and his friend and fellow ecclesiastic Rev. Robert Boughton's family. 

Documentaries (non-fiction book you'd recommend

I would highly recommend the book The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck.  Not only is this one of the greatest author names of all time, but the book itself is an intriguing look at America's history, past and present.  It's also hilarious, which doesn't hurt.

Action and Adventure (action-packed book

This is the author signing my copy of the book, at an event in a local bookstore

I don't generally read a lot of books full of plot and action, and so I had a hard time trying to pick out a book to highlight.  One of the first time come to mind is Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa.  It's not entirely plot-driven, but there are lots of action-packed scenes of protesters, police, bystanders, and representatives in Seattle for the World Trade Organization meeting in 1999.

New Releases (a book that just came out, or are coming out soon)

Image from PRH
I am a big fan of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, and am eagerly anticipating the latest addition: A retelling of Othello by Tracy Chevalier called New Boy.  It has a release date of May 16, 2017 so I guess I'll have to sit tight until then.

So that's it for the Netflix Book Tag.  If you're at all interested in thinking about your reading life in terms of a streaming video service, then consider yourself tagged!

Librorum annis

Thursday, February 2, 2017

January 2017 Reading Wrapup

January was a surprising reading month for me.  I didn't expect to get much reading done, because I knew I would be busy at my day job.  In addition I am teaching a class at the local university, and that course started on the second week of January.  Between course prep, business at work, evenings spent teaching, and general life events, I didn't think I'd read more than a handful of books this month.

It turns out that I was very, very wrong!  In fact, I read 15 books this month, in a variety of formats. I've continued with my #WinterOfWomen17 project, and all of these books (except one) are written by women.  One event that helped my reading total reach such heights was my participation in the 24in48 Readathon.  I finished 4 books and read through 75% of a fifth one in the 24 hour challenge.  Another important component was audiobooks. I can read/listen to them as I'm working my day job, so I get through a few extra books that I might otherwise not.

I can only hope that my February will be equally prolific, but with teaching another university course that month, I don't expect it to be so.  Here are the books I read in January, in order of their completion (blog reviews are linked):

  1. A London Child of the 1870s by Molly Hughes (paper book)
  2. Unmentionable by Therese O'Neill (ebook) - Nonfiction about what day-to-day life was like for women in the Victorian period...hygiene, clothing, relationships, civil rights, housekeeping, and more.  A real eye-opener that makes you appreciate modern life!
  3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (paper book) - The classic of social comedy, romance, misunderstandings, and class in Regency era England.
  4. Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham (audiobook) - Graham's memoir of growing up and her experiences in theater, TV, and movie roles.  Her role in the original and reboot of Gilmore Girls is the focus of the book.  Graham narrates the book, and is hilarious and poignant.
  5. M Train by Patti Smith (paper book)
  6. Difficult Women by Roxane Gay (paper book)
  7. The Grownup by Gillian Flynn (paper book)
  8. The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt (paper book)
  9. Other Stories and Other Stories by Ali Smith (paper book)
  10. The Closed Door and Other Stories by Dorothy Whipple (paper book)
  11. Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh (paper book)
  12. The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking (paper book) - Hygge is a Danish term for the feeling of safety, cosiness, contentment, and warmth.  This little book, written by the CEO of the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, explores hygge in all its applications, without focusing on retail pursuits.
  13. Sad Animal Facts by Brooke Barker (paper book) - A sweet book of interesting facts on 152 animals, paired with cartoonish drawings and funny comments.
  14. The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher (audiobook) - Fisher narrates this memoir of her early acting experiences, but focuses on the romantic relationship she had with Harrison Ford during their time together filming the Star Wars movies.  At time it feels a bit voyeuristic, but overall a fascinating read.
  15. Ms. Marvel Volume 1 by G. Willow Wilson (graphic novel) - A 16 year old Muslim girl from Jersey City, NJ becomes the recipient of superpowers and fights evildoers in her community.  She also has to navigate life as a modern, American teenager with her parents, who are traditionalists.  

As for February, I have a sneaking suspicion that I won't be reading nearly as many books as I did this month.  Differences in work schedules and other commitments that take place during February will probably impact the quantity of books I can read.  But I won't let quantity affect quality!  I'll be honoring both Black History Month and my #WinterOfWomen17 project in my reading choices next month.  I will be reading only books authored by Black women during the month of February.  I'm not designating a particular TBR, but instead focusing on certain authors: Toni Morrison, Zadie Smith, Zora Neale Hurston, among many others.  I look forward to sharing my reading with you in the coming month!

 Librorum annis