From the Shelf
True Stories with Staying Power
When Tracy Kidder won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award in 1982 for The Soul of a New Machine, he was launched on a career that now spans nearly four decades, featuring books about an assortment of fascinating people. These three are my favorites from an impressive body of work.
In House (Mariner, $18.99), Kidder embedded himself with Judith and Jonathan Souweine, a young couple from Amherst, Mass., as they embarked on the construction of their first house with a small company of unconventional craftsmen whimsically named Apple Corps. From negotiating the contract to the dwelling's completion, Kidder provides a comprehensive account of the pleasures and pains of the undertaking that's as intimate as it is informative.
Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World (Random House, $18) is Kidder's profile of the founder of Partners in Health, a physician and anthropologist who's devoted his life to fighting tuberculosis and AIDS in impoverished countries like Haiti. Over the course of a year, Kidder follows Farmer from his base in Boston on exhausting trips to Cuba, Siberia and elsewhere, exploring the values that fuel his relentless commitment to public health, and revealing how this talented and driven man surmounts the obstacles that stand between him and his lofty goals.
The life Kidder describes in Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness (Random House, $18) would seem almost impossible to believe were it not for its author's scrupulous reputation for accuracy. Deo is a young man who flees the genocidal terror of his native Burundi, arriving in New York in 1994 with $200 to his name, and eventually graduates from Dartmouth Medical School. Kidder's description of his subject's return to Burundi to establish a clinic recounts an inspiring journey of memory and reconciliation. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer
In this Issue...
by Gabriel Byrne
In this intimate, emotionally evocative memoir, the lauded Irish actor reveals the demons he's battled while plying his craft.
by Nnedi Okorafor
A little girl receives the ability to destroy life instantly, bringing her both tragedy and independence in this enthralling Afrofuturist story from a World Fantasy Award winner.
Ensnared in the Wolf's Lair: Inside the 1944 Plot to Kill Hitler and the Ghost Children of His Revenge
by Ann Bausum
Hitler quelled German resistance with family punishments that included young children, several of whom recount their detainment during World War II in this engrossing middle-grade history.
Review by Subjects:
From Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe
01/25/2021 - 7:00PMJoin host and Malaprop's Bookseller Allison to dive into the wreck of the wily and wonderful world of science fiction, fantasy, weird fiction, speculative fiction, and literary horror with a healthy mix of underappreciated classic and contemporary books. Meets the last Monday of every month at 7pm on Zoom. Also meets the second Monday of every month at 7pm to discuss the film adaptations of the books we read. Click here to see a full schedule of what the club is reading. Club...
01/27/2021 - 6:00PMWhat You Don’t Know: A Story of Liberated Childhood (Dottir Press, JAN 26, 2021), is Higginbotham’s latest book about being young. It illustrates how families, teachers, counselors, and other “stars” are already beaming love at queer, gender nonconforming, and trans children, to protect and bless them as they are. The Roller-skating Party Collage Workshop lets kids put their community in the rink with them—real life people they know and trust, as well as strangers or historical figures...
Books Featuring Black Athletes
"Cultural Passport: 44 books featuring Black athletes" were recommended by Troy Belle, JBH Research and Reference Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
Every writer wants to know "the reason your cat loves to sit on your computer keyboard," and Mental Floss has the answer.
"Check out these vintage pulp covers for classic Patricia Highsmith novels," Lit Hub suggested.
Usage notes: Merriam-Webster on Feign, Feint, and Faint.
Atlas Obscura explained "why 1920s L.A. went wild for an 18th-century Scottish novelist."
Author Louise Candlish picked her "top 10 most dislikable characters in fiction" for the Guardian.
Rediscover: Ida Cook
Ida Cook (1904-1986), a British author who wrote 112 romance novels under the name Mary Burchell, also helped 29 Jewish refugees escape Nazi Germany in the 1930s. She and her sister, Mary Louise Cook, used their love of opera as cover to travel in Germany, and they smuggled out valuables that allowed Jewish refugees meet Britain's financial security requirements for immigration. Cook funded these operations with proceeds from her romance novels. The sisters were named as Righteous among the Nations by the Yad Vashem Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority in Israel in 1965. In 2010 they were both honored as a British Hero of the Holocaust by Britain.
Ida Cook's first novel written as Mary Burchell was published in 1936. The most famous of her many works is the Warrender Saga, which heavily incorporates concert halls and operas. Cook co-founded the Romantic Novelists' Association and served as president from 1966 to 1986. In 1950, she wrote a memoir under her real name titled We Followed Our Stars, which was later revised and expanded as Safe Passage. On January 19, 2021, Park Row published another revamped version of Cook's memoir, The Bravest Voices: A Memoir of Two Sisters' Heroism During the Nazi Era ($17.99). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Reading with... Michelle Gallen
|photo: Declan Gallen|
Michelle Gallen was born in County Tyrone in the mid 1970s and grew up during the Troubles a few miles from the border between what she was told was the "Free" State and the "United" Kingdom. She studied English literature at Trinity College Dublin and won several prestigious prizes as a young writer. Following a devastating brain injury in her mid-20s, she co-founded three companies and won international recognition for digital innovation. She lives in Dublin with her husband and kids. Big Girl, Small Town (Algonquin, December 1, 2020) is her first novel.
On your nightstand now:
I usually read myself to sleep, and then read some more when I wake in the middle of the night. I'm bouncing between two books. I'm reviewing a final draft of my second novel in reader, rather than writer, mode, trying to tighten up the manuscript before I submit it to my agent. When this melts my brain, I take refuge in the 2019 Booker Prize-winning novel Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. It's a funny, smart and energetic book that makes me miss London, the theatre, pubs and people. But it's also a comfort. The book transports me to pre-lockdown days, when I used to magic my way into a conversation with strangers who sometimes spilled their secrets and adventures as I listened, rapt. I try not to contrast my current manuscript to this work of genius!
Favorite book when you were a child:
I was a voracious and precocious reader as a child. I was 11 when I plucked Down All the Days from my mother's bookshelf. When she caught me reading it, she told me I was too young to read the likes of Christy Brown, and she confiscated the novel. Because nothing is as alluring as a forbidden book, I smuggled Down All the Days back off the shelf and read it in secret. This riotous, filthy, lyrical and heartbreaking book--written by someone almost completely paralyzed by cerebral palsy--seared itself into my consciousness and taught me lessons about endurance, joy and resilience that have helped me navigate my darkest days. Flawed, bawdy and brilliant--it's most definitely not a children's book--but I love the characters' zest for life despite incredibly tough circumstances.
Your top five authors:
Oh, I hate this question. Naming a top 5,000 authors wouldn't do the world of words justice. But if I must:
Marieke Lucas Rijneveld
Book you've faked reading:
I am horrified by this question. People fake reading books?!? The closest I've come to that was when my book group voted on our next book after I'd sunk several glasses of wine. I woke the next day, fuzzy on which book we'd agreed on, but too embarrassed to admit I'd forgotten. I knew the title was 'American Something to Do with Weddings,' so I did a quick search and found An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. It seemed to tick all the boxes, so I quickly read it. Growing up, injustices such as the wrongful imprisonment of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four by the British were powerful reminders that Irish citizens could not rely on justice to be blind, so An American Marriage resonated with me. I bumped into a book group friend the day before our meet up. We then had an enormously strange conversation in which her opinion of An American Marriage was entirely different to mine. Towards the end of the conversation I realized that I'd read the wrong book--they were reading American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld! I had to speed read American Wife overnight. I guess I temporarily faked reading American Wife, but I did read it in the end. Fast.
Book you're an evangelist for:
I absolutely love Oona by Irish-American poet Alice Lyons. It's an account of a first-generation immigrant girl, growing up in an affluent New Jersey suburb. She loses her mother at an early age, and this void shapes her journey through adolescence and her development as an artist. Oona engages with white privilege and the conspicuous consumption of 1950s America in contrast with a much poorer, though culturally rich Ireland. The book is written without using the letter "O"--a technical feat that makes "normal" texts look oddly fat by comparison.
Book you've bought for the cover:
I read the e-book of Crissy Van Meter's gorgeous debut, Creatures, and because the cover was so beautiful, I had to buy a copy for my bookshelf. It's one of those rare covers that manages to capture the book's atmosphere. I suspect that if I licked the jacket, I'd taste salt.
Book you hid from your parents:
My uncle, a nurse, gave me I'm Done Crying by Louanne Ferris when I was around 12 years old. I kept it hidden because I'm Done Crying is an eye-opening account of Louanne's experience as a Black woman working as a nurse's aide in a hospital in Birmingham, Ala. The author was married at 15 years old to a rather feckless man, and raises her children in condemned housing while working at a hospital staffed by burnt out, indifferent medical staff. I will forever remember the scene where the narrator spots that her baby has something in his mouth. She hooks a finger inside to extract the object, and pulls out a live cockroach. The level of poverty and deprivation detailed in I'm Done Crying--as well as Louanne's dignity and devotion to others--reminds me of mother's stories of teaching in a deprived part of Derry city in the late 1960s.
Book that changed your life:
The summer before I started college, I read Robert McLiam Wilson's Ripley Bogle in one sitting. It was the first time I read a Northern Irish book that wasn't a cheap soap opera involving the IRA, the British army and a bomb or gun attack. The book unfurls over four days, during which a homeless former Cambridge student tramps London, remembering his childhood and education in West Belfast. Angry, funny, obscene and insistent--Ripley Bogle showed me that oddball narrators and the ordinary horror of Northern Irish life--are compelling.
Favorite line from a book:
"Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader, not the fact that it's raining, but the feeling of being rained upon." --E.L. Doctorow
Five books you'll never part with:
The Art of the Glimpse, edited by Sinéad Gleeson--a door-stopping collection of over 100 Irish short stories.
The Rattlebag, edited by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney--an eclectic and wide-ranging collection of Hughes and Heaney's favorite poems.
Milkman by Anna Burns--I was taken hostage by this 2018 Booker Prize-winning novel. I could read it 10 times over and still find something extraordinary to mull over.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys--a feminist and anti-colonial riposte to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre that gives a voice, history and dignity to the madwoman in the attic.
Not Now, Bernard by David McKee--a children's classic that reminds me of the chasm between my kids' wild and precious world view and my own blinkered experience.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
I wish I could experience A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving for the first time again. I've never fallen so deeply in love with a character, and I've never cried so hard at a book's conclusion. I can't wait until my kids are old enough to read it.
Mystery & Thriller
by Anders Roslund
At the start of Knock Knock, a heart-pounding thriller by Ander Roslund (co-author of Box 21), young Stockholm police officer Ewert Grens responds to a residential noise complaint. A disheveled five-year-old girl answers the door and Grens discovers a macabre murder scene. The child witness is too young to explain what happened to her family, and the killers were too smart to leave behind any clues. The police place the girl in witness protection, and the murder eventually becomes a cold case. Seventeen years later, a break-in occurs at the house where the murder happened, but the new tenant reports nothing stolen. When Detective Superintendent Grens delves into police archives for the old case file, the folder is missing.
Across town, on the same day as the break-in, the son of businessman Piet Hoffman receives an odd toy in the mail. Upon closer inspection, Hoffman realizes it's a hand grenade. Then, a ringing burner phone arrives on his doorstep. A voice on the phone threatens to reveal his previous life as a police informant, which would result in the almost certain deaths of Hoffman and his family at the hands of the weapons cartels he once infiltrated. The voice says Hoffman's only out is to start a turf war between the cartels. Hoffman and Grens begin a deadly race to expose police corruption and save Hoffmann's family, as well as finally solve the cold-case murder.
Roslund's serpentine plot and visceral character development brings each cliffhanging chapter to a staggering revelation on how tasty a dish of cold, karmic revenge can be. From the first Knock Knock on the door of a murder scene to discovering the killers behind it, this novel is a breathless, suspenseful read. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer
Discover: An ex-informant and an about-to-retire police inspector are forced to team up in this edgy Scandinavian thriller.
Sleep Well, My Lady
by Kwei Quartey
Kwei Quartey continues his PI Emma Djan series (The Missing American) in Sleep Well, My Lady, an intriguing mystery that centers on the murder of a famous Ghanaian designer. Lady Araba, the mogul of her own fashion label, has had a tumultuous on-and-off affair with talk show host Augustus Seeza for several years. When her body is found in her bed the day before an important runway show, many people are immediately suspicious that Augustus, an alcoholic, was involved.
But Augustus has influential parents--a doctor and a judge--and when Lady Araba's driver signed a confession under duress, the largely ineffective Ghanaian police were content to let the driver go to prison, without ever testing the evidence from the scene for DNA.
A year after Araba's death, her aunt Dele comes to the private detective agency where Emma Djan works, seeking the truth about Araba's death. Dele is sure that the driver, who loyally served Araba for years, could not have been involved. As Emma and the other investigators at the agency start digging, they discover that nothing in Araba's life was as glamorous as it seemed. Araba had been hiding a dark secret since her childhood, and competitors in the cutthroat fashion industry could also have wanted her dead.
Vividly invoking the noisy world of Accra, Ghana, Quartey has created a delightful character in Emma Djan, and a satisfyingly twisty mystery in Sleep Well, My Lady. Fans of Andrea Camilleri or Colin Cotterill are sure to enjoy Quartey's talented writing. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this fascinating Ghanaian mystery, PI Emma Djan investigates the murder of fashion designer Lady Araba.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Nnedi Okorafor
World Fantasy Award-winning Nigerian-American sci-fi master Nnedi Okorafor (Binti: Home; Akata Witch) will enthrall readers with this Afrofuturist novella about a Ghanaian girl cursed with mysterious, deadly powers.
Before Ghana comes to know her as Sankofa, the Adopted Daughter of Death, she is Fatima, a malaria-prone five-year-old nicknamed "Starwriter" because she draws constellations and imaginary "sky words" in the soil. After a mysterious meteor shower, Fatima finds a glowing green seed beneath her favorite shea tree. Her father sells it, but it has already given Fatima the ability to destroy all life in her vicinity with a corona of green light. After a tragic accident, Fatima renames herself Sankofa and takes to the road alone, at age seven, to search for the seed. Strangers fear her power, though the terminally ill see her as an angel of mercy who "shined like a moon who knew it was a sun." As she grows, Sankofa must reckon with the source and scope of her power and those who want it for themselves.
Okorafor's dark parable is the bittersweet coming-of-age tale of a gentle soul thrust into an impossible crucible. While set in a futuristic Ghana with police robots and stretch-gel television sets, Sankofa's journey has the bones of a fairy tale: an orphaned hero, a terrible curse and an impossible quest. Her power brings her freedom and isolation in equal measure as she struggles to reconcile her peaceful heart with her deadly nature. Okorafor's star continues to blaze brightly. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: A little girl receives the ability to destroy life instantly, bringing her both tragedy and independence in this enthralling Afrofuturist story from a World Fantasy Award winner.
Someday My Duke Will Come
by Christina Britton
Christina Britton (A Good Duke Is Hard to Find) proves she has mastered the craft of engaging Regency romance with Someday My Duke Will Come. The second in the Isle of Synne series, this novel (which is dreadfully shocking by Regency standards) can be enjoyed as a standalone, and features Lady Clara Ashford, a determined single woman in her early 30s.
Clara means to never marry. Fifteen years earlier, a rogue took advantage of her innocence, and since then a remorseful Clara has devoted her life to caring for her younger siblings. But when Quincy Nesbitt, a family friend, unexpectedly discovers that all three of his elder brothers have passed away, and he is now a duke, Clara finds herself pretending to be engaged to Quincy, in order to spare him the eager advances of matchmaking mamas--including his own predatory mother. To her surprise, Clara discovers she enjoys the pretense, and feels extremely conflicted at the thought of ending her fake engagement.
Charming and sweet, Someday My Duke Will Come is a lovely romance, sure to be appreciated by Regency readers. Quincy's and Clara's friends and relatives make for a quirky, opinionated backdrop to their romance, and the Isle of Synne is clearly a beautiful place to fall in love. Fans of Eloisa James and Sophie Jordan will enjoy Clara and Quincy's story and the vivid, amusing way in which Britton conjures upper-class Regency life. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this charming romance, a spinster finds herself in a fake engagement with a handsome young duke.
by Angie Hockman
Angie Hockman's first novel, Shipped, is a smart, crackling romantic comedy narrated by the driven and self-deprecating Henley Rose Evans. The 28-year-old shares her single life and one-bedroom Belltown, Seattle, apartment with a gray tabby. Henley had designs on seeing the whole world until "life happened," and adult bill-paying became her priority. A job at Seaquest Adventures--a boutique cruise ship line--seemed right up her alley and inspired her "big dreams for a shiny, successful career." After three years of hard work, while pursuing her MBA at night, she's on track to being named director of digital marketing.
But her smooth sail up the corporate ladder is stalled when a promotional marketing video Henley creates is co-opted and undermined by a "virtual" coworker: Graeme Crawford-Collins from Michigan. Graeme, with the company for only a year, is suddenly minted the new social media manager. Henley deems handsome Graeme "the bane of my professional existence... a sneaky, entitled user." This suspicion is further confirmed when Henley's video goes viral and their boss gives Graeme all the credit. In shock, neither Graeme nor Henley corrects the faux pas. This raises the stakes between the coworkers as they are suddenly forced to compete for the directorship position. A cruise to the Galápagos Islands pits them--and their individual creative visions for the company--against each other as part of the final selection process.
What ensues is a host of madcap, flirty adventures set in beautiful locales and featuring clever, breezy banter, sarcastic wit and an endearing supporting cast. Hockman offers readers a fun literary escape with undercurrents of deeper truths. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: This madcap escapade pits a driven workaholic for a cruise line against her handsome professional nemesis while sailing to the Galápagos Islands.
Biography & Memoir
Walking with Ghosts
by Gabriel Byrne
Irish actor Gabriel Byrne has maintained a lauded and diverse career on stage and screen for 40 years. And the story of his life--especially his formative years as the oldest child in a poor, hardworking family at a time when Ireland was struggling to find a place in the modern world and the twisty roads he's traveled as a performer--is as fascinating as his long list of credits.
Byrne was born in Dublin in 1950, a time when the Catholic Church anchored the lives of many in Ireland. The church's presence looms large in his story, as Byrne was determined from boyhood to become a priest. In seminary, he endured sexual abuse by a learned member of the clergy. The violations shape and haunt Byrne throughout his life, as he ultimately gave up his religious training and stumbled to find his way toward acting in his 30s. Along the way of his ascendant, storied career, alcoholism as a means of escape plagued him until he finally stopped drinking in his 50s.
With fearless courage and moving candor, Byrne's well-drawn, stream-of-conscious narrative reveals intimate moments and memories that shaped his life--for better and for worse. Victories and challenges, colorful characters and moments of levity and wit permeate this thoughtful, moving memoir. Byrne, an introverted, insightful man of great sensitivity and intellect, found a constructive and creative way ultimately to transcend the demons of his life. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: In this intimate, emotionally evocative memoir, the lauded Irish actor reveals the demons he's battled while plying his craft.
With Her Fist Raised: Dorothy Pitman Hughes and the Transformative Power of Black Community Activism
by Laura L. Lovett
The 1971 photo is famous: Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes stare unsmilingly at the camera, suffering exactly no fools, while giving the Black Power salute. In With Her Fist Raised, Laura L. Lovett writes of the less famous of the two women, a take-charge force for change and a harbinger of the intersectional feminism to come.
Born in 1938, Hughes was raised in a sprawling, loving household in Charles Junction, Ga. Knowing that her horizons were limited in the South, Hughes moved to New York in 1958. She sang in nightclubs, augmented her earnings with domestic work and still managed to clock hours for the Congress of Racial Equality. It was at CORE that she had a feminist awakening: "I established funding contracts, opened up a store, organized a benefit at the Lincoln Center... yet I never received an ounce of credit for this work and my salary was a fraction of my male co-workers'."
Lovett, an associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, interviewed her subject for the book, and charts Hughes's decades of activism, which influenced her business ventures: she founded a community-oriented childcare center, briefly owned the Miss Black America pageant ("I had as many nationalities as I could get in that pageant") and ran a copy shop in Harlem. As Lovett puts it, "When a community need was identified, Dorothy sought to create a resource." With Her Fist Raised ends rather abruptly and is somewhat omissive (for one thing, there's no mention that Hughes's niece is the celebrated actress Gabourey Sidibe), but it's a vigorous, vivifying portrait nonetheless. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: This biography of a firebrand best known for her activism during the second wave of U.S. feminism captures the fervor of the woman and her time.
by Danielle Geller
That Danielle Geller survived to write Dog Flowers seems miraculous. Her raw debut might need a content warning: abandonment, alcoholism, attempted suicide, domestic violence, parental incarcerations, family deaths--much of which is intrinsically linked to her enigmatic, missing mother. In bearing elegiac witness to aching losses, Geller finds surprising paths toward healing rewards.
Laureen "Tweety" Lee was homeless before dying alone of alcohol withdrawal at 49 in a Florida hospital. Geller, her eldest daughter, was the only family to visit; she died while Geller was on her return flight. Geller took home Laureen's suitcase filled with diaries, photos, letters, jewelry--the intimate leftovers from which Geller began to piece together her elusive parent. Born to the Tsi'naajinii of the Navajo Nation, Laureen fled at 19, married an abusive alcoholic and had two children she abandoned.
Geller was tossed between a violent father who was in and out of jail, an aging 17-years-sober grandmother and drug-addicted sister Eileen. Caught in cycles of familial manipulation as an adult, Geller moved through isolation and disappointing affairs. With Laureen's death, in confronting her troubled, truncated life, Geller gleans hard-won understanding as a daughter, a Native woman, her whole self.
Geller, who has a master's in library science, uses her archival training intriguingly to enhance her non-linear narrative, interrupting her writing with annotated photos and decades-old art, and inserting footnotes that reveal Laureen's journal entries, which often contradict Geller's memories. So many of Geller's own torments and misfortunes are inseparable from her mother's tragedy. Exposing that intertwined trauma onto the page enables Geller to begin her own recovery. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: By confronting her elusive, late mother through letters, photographs, diaries and her own memories, Danielle Geller embarks on a difficult journey toward self-understanding.
Psychology & Self-Help
Laziness Does Not Exist
by Devon Price
There's a reason that revelatory ideas seem to arrive when completing idle tasks like driving a car or taking a shower. In Laziness Does Not Exist, social psychologist Devon Price convincingly argues that people's brains work best when they step away from the constant barrage of notifications, unanswered e-mails and other obligations--in other words, when they allow themselves to be a little bit lazy. Doing this is harder than it sounds. In the United States, much of life is dictated by what Price calls the "laziness lie," which refers to the social, cultural and economic forces that compel people to work 70-hour weeks and otherwise overextend themselves in the relentless pursuit of "more" (or, in many cases, survival). Frequently this behavior proves unsustainable, causing people to become mentally and physically exhausted and ill.
Through interviews with experts, researchers and a diverse array of worn-out overachievers, Price links the laziness lie to nearly every aspect of modern life, including social media, parenting, weight loss, housework, activism and even watching or reading the news. Price knows the dangers of doing too much firsthand--Price became dangerously ill after years of placing productivity and success ahead of their health. In their conversational and engaging first book, Price offers science-backed suggestions to help sever the link between productivity and self-worth, including taking a phone-free "digital Sabbath," practicing empathy and learning truly how to savor a moment. Most important of all, Price encourages viewing "laziness" for what it is: a sign that the mind and body need some time off. --Angela Lutz, freelance reviewer
Discover: Social psychologist Devon Price makes the thoughtful and science-backed case for why laziness is not only acceptable but necessary.
Reference & Writing
Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping
by Matthew Salesses
"Why do we believe there is any such thing as 'pure craft'?" writes novelist Matthew Salesses. "When writers identify race and gender and sexuality, etc., as central concerns of writing, it isn't because they have nothing to say about pacing or space breaks. They are doing the hard work other writers avoid, in order to shed light on the nature of craft itself."
Salesses shows that one can teach the finer points of writing by using them to call attention to what is left unsaid: questions about one's positions and biases, acknowledging difference over valuing similarities, and the ability to read between the lines. In fact, in this text, Salesses suggests that many cardinal rules of fiction writing are shorthand for encoded cultural and historical patterns. He deftly challenges writers to examine problems of identity to strengthen their writing, rather than turn away from them.
While the author concentrates on the act of writing, there is much in this book to challenge readers to question more deeply how they read. Essentially, Craft in the Real World offers a reorientation of how to write well by being aware of the many layered expectations of who might be reading a book after it is written, because "craft tells us how to see the world," and Salesses is asking writers and workshop participants to be more aware of the many ways to see the world. He does this by offering concrete examples of new and different ways "the workshop" might be approached, and exercises to accompany such workshops.
Salesses (Disappear Doppelgänger Disappear) presents a timely, forceful examination of the notion of craft, and how the idea of neutrality, or "pure craft," as it exists in many writing workshops, can be deconstructed to challenge biases that have often made the publishing world inaccessible to people of various marginalized backgrounds. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer
Discover: An eye-opening examination of the idea of craft in the writing workshop from novelist and essayist Matthew Salesses.
Children's & Young Adult
Ensnared in the Wolf's Lair: Inside the 1944 Plot to Kill Hitler and the Ghost Children of His Revenge
by Ann Bausum
Ann Bausum's engrossing Ensnared in the Wolf's Lair details Adolf Hitler's sweeping revenge against participants (and their families) in a failed coup and assassination attempt.
Bausum charts Hitler's rise to power and the subsequent resistance by German dissidents that culminated in a failed attack on Hitler at his isolated military outpost, the Wolf's Lair. Trusted associates and community leaders banded together against the regime to mount an assault code-named Operation Valkyrie. When the plot deployed on July 20, 1944, it was only a series of coincidences that saved Hitler's life. The vast reach of Valkyrie fueled Hitler's mounting paranoia. His policy of Sippenhaft--or "family punishment"--implicated relatives in anti-Nazi conspiracies and demonstrated Hitler's merciless commitment to retaining political control. Within weeks, the investigators held some 700 extended family members, and Gestapo agents seized detractors' youngest children, holding them in a secluded rural facility. Through primary resources, emphasizing four detainees who offered her their first-person accounts, Bausum recounts the heartbreaking months of isolation and anxiety suffered by the young prisoners, who became known as "the ghost children."
Bausum's writing is uncomplicated and respectfully frames the ghost children's shared experience of trauma for a middle-grade audience. Supporting photographs humanize the Valkyrie participants, and rich primary resources feature journal entries from Christa von Hofacker, who kept a diary while detained as a 12-year-old. Extensive back matter includes a full listing of families ensnared by Sippenhaft, an author's note, bibliography and much more. As with her previous work, Bausum (The March Against Fear; Viral) excels at tackling thorny issues with frankness and approachability. This gripping insight into German dissidence and Valkyrie should fascinate and inform history enthusiasts and modern upstanders alike. --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf
Discover: Hitler quelled German resistance with family punishments that included young children, several of whom recount their detainment during World War II in this engrossing middle-grade history.
This Small Blue Dot
by Zeno Sworder
Zeno Sworder's debut, This Small Blue Dot, a welcome-to-the-world picture book, is funny and serious, uplifting and humbling, visionary and earthy. And sometimes that's on just one page.
The book begins with a girl who looks and sounds about eight addressing a baby (an awfully cute stand-in for the reader): "Welcome to Earth./ There's a lot of strange stuff going on out there, but here are some of the things I've worked out so far." She proceeds to supply some facts and opinions, which are variously cosmic ("It turns out we're living on a small blue dot"), practical ("We only have this one, so we need to take care of it") and gustatory ("The best Indian dessert is a jalebi"). Her seemingly free-associated thoughts lead to a big finish: "Before us, there were our ancestors," the girl tells the baby. "You are the very newest in this long line of people.... What will you add to our story?"
At one point, the girl remarks that having a "wild imagination" lets people "create worlds with only a crayon and a piece of paper." For his part, Sworder uses both crayon and pencil to present the girl in a color-blasted orbit. She floats around in the galaxy, stands in a swirl of her favorite things ("Elephants and dung beetles! Pears and butterflies!") and dances while wearing the O in the word "POW" like a Hula-Hoop. She's depicted in black and white throughout This Small Blue Dot--as are, indeed, all the story's "real" elements--but readers may be too dazzled by her life-affirming good cheer to notice. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: In this welcome-to-the-world picture book, a girl dispenses all sorts of good advice to a newborn baby (a super-cute proxy for an older reader).
Starla Jean: Which Came First: The Chicken or the Friendship?
by Elana K. Arnold , illust. by A.N. Kang
A wide-eyed and determined child finds a peckish new friend at the park (much to her family's chagrin) in this playful beginning chapter book from Elana K. Arnold (Red Hood; What Riley Wore) and A.N. Kang (My Big Bad Monster).
A bicycle ride through the neighborhood with her father leads young Starla Jean to discover a chicken scritch-scratching among some trees. "If you can catch it, you can keep it!" her father declares cavalierly. The resolute Starla Jean surprises "the skinniest, ugliest chicken I had ever seen!"--not to mention her bewildered father--when she triumphantly carries home the captured feathered friend. With good-natured humor and copious BAWKing, Starla Jean and the skeptical subject of her admiration, dubbed Opal Egg, settle into family introductions and exploits that lay the scene for subsequent books in the series.
Cheery first-person text conveys Starla Jean's sprightly personality, her confiding tone peppered with dialogue that includes her parents and neighbors. Boisterous illustrations on each spread accompany minimal text on most pages, and page layouts and perspectives vary pleasingly throughout four well-paced chapters. Soft lines and the muted palette of the artwork are lightened further by substantial white space and generous margins, a thoughtful overall design that should suit emerging readers.
Versatile author Arnold capably expands her reach into yet another format, while Kang's work lends a comical exuberance to Starla Jean's steely resolve. "Starla Jean can do anything she puts her mind to," says a neighbor--it will be a treat to see what adventures Starla Jean and Opal Egg scratch up next. --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf
Discover: Plucky Starla Jean captures an errant chicken along with the hearts of early readers in the first volume of a delightfully illustrated chapter book series.