In contrast to Throwback Thursday, I like to use Fridays to look forward to upcoming releases I’m excited about! Today’s book is This is My America by Kim Johnson, which feels remarkably appropriate for the way society is here in the US right now. Expected release: July 28, 2020
Why wait on this one?
On the fiction side of this, we have the mystery at its heart. Why is Tracy’s brother being accused of murder? What role did he actually play in the event, if any? Will Tracy ever succeed in helping acquit her father as an innocent man?
On the more real side of this, we have the painful realism of how Black people in America are treated by law enforcement and the government in general. This book sounds like it will bluntly face the injustices and blatantly shitty things that are handed to Black people. I’m always trying to learn more about the reality of all people, and reading is one way I do so.
I fully expect this book to make me feel lots and lots of emotions. I know I will probably cry. And rage. And end feeling exhausted. But those are important things to feel, because for others (too many others) it’s their daily existence and not just a novel they can turn the last page on.
Summary: Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time—her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?
Summary: Iceland in the 1960s. Hekla is a budding female novelist who was born in the remote district of Dalir. After packing her few belongings, including James Joyces’s Ulysses and a Remington typewriter, she heads for Reykjavik with a manuscript buried in her bags. There, she intends to become a writer. Sharing an apartment with her childhood and queer friend Jón John, Hekla comes to learn that she will have to stand alone in a small male dominated community that would rather see her win a pageant than be a professional artist. As the two friends find themselves increasingly on the outside, their bond shapes and strengthens them artistically in the most moving of ways.
Recommended: sure for a different style of romance, for complex family betrayal and love, for a comforting quick read
Summary: Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast. They’re polar opposites. In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block. Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.
Thoughts: First things first: I don’t think I’d consider this a beach read. Those are usually fluffier and light with the main issue the old trope where the characters just don’t talk to each other and misunderstand something stupid. This book is not that. In fact, I was delighted that, for the most part, when they were hurt or angry or confused they did address it and talk to each other instead of letting idiocy fester. THANK YOU, EMILY HENRY.
The other day I stopped short went I noticed a ton of books with the words “a novel” tucked away on their cover design. I had no idea why some do this, and some don’t, despite them all being novels. Why even include it in the first place? I had to look into the mystery from my original post.
My confusion stemmed from the fact that it seems fairly obvious when a book is a novel. From the title, location we find it (shelved under fiction…), or just from the fact that novels are sort of the default in writing now, I could not figure out why this was included so irregularly.
I FOUND THE ANSWERS!
Or, at least, I found several possible reasons.
The first, original reason is historical. Novels haven’t actually been a thing for very long. Writing used to be primarily nonfiction: travelogues, letters, play manuscripts, essays. English stories that were not actually true (aka our good friend fiction) were not very common until the 17th century or so. At that point, authors had to tell readers that their book was a novel because otherwise they might get confused.
I was looking through the lineup of Booksparks’ Summer Reading Camp selection when a familiar question hit me again in force: why do books have “a novel” on their cover?
So many fiction works will have the title, the author, maybe a tagline, all the usual fare for a book cover. But then many will also shove the words “a novel” onto the cover. Some are bold and obvious about it, almost as if it’s a secondary part of the title:
Only slightly smaller than the title itself, with a design drawing attention to it
Others will still have it on there, but make it seem like a fun game of hide-and-seek. You might not even notice it; you get a free game of i-Spy with your novel!
And yet others will modestly slip the words below everything else, or off to the side, or in a style designed to make it hardly noticeable — but still there.
Honestly, this wouldn’t matter at all if it weren’t for this next issue. Some books are fiction like the others above and yet don’t have that little appendix of “a novel.” I have no idea why. As far as I can tell, there’s no difference in their presented format or content.
My primary reaction to this little addition is “duh.” Why does it even exist? I don’t walk around with a label that says “a human” on me. We’re not in Westworld yet. A book is usually pretty clearly a book. SO why bother? Why waste the cover space?
Every time I see it I mentally roll my eyes a bit. If I really think about it, I feel like I also tend to judge those books as being a touch pretentious or condescending. It’s pretty clear you’re a novel; you really don’t have to spell it out.
Additionally, some books will have a special designation, like when they are a memoir or biography. I don’t think we see this on nonfiction very often, though.
A mystery of the publishing world?
I know, I know, maybe this is just a small thing that doesn’t matter at all, and is just preference. There is, however, also the chance that this is some really particular precise delineation of status from the publishing world that is shady and hidden from our view, with the only clue the appended “a novel.”
I hope it’s that second one. Seriously. So if any of you know why these differ, or know any publishing people who might know why these differ, please send them my way!! I am so curious!
PS – all the books in this post are in Booksparks’ #SRC2020. Check out their full lineup and if you see any books you’d like to read and chat about with others, sign on up! 🙂
This was a short read packed with so much. This is a great example of what can be done in ~100 pages. This is something you have to think about, and savor, and should not read passively.
Recommended: yes For a short read that packs a punch, for beautifully lyrical writing, for a story that emerges through clues and fog and whispers, for a surprisingly gorgeous depiction of a life through objects
Summary: With the heart of an Atwood tale and the visuals of a classic Asian period drama The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a tightly and lushly written narrative about empire, storytelling, and the anger of women. A young royal from the far north is sent south for a political marriage. Alone and sometimes reviled, she has only her servants on her side. This evocative debut chronicles her rise to power through the eyes of her handmaiden, at once feminist high fantasy and a thrilling indictment of monarchy.
Thoughts: Do not make the mistake of thinking that since this is just over 100 pages that it is sparse in detail or not much happens or you would not have time to learn the characters. We get all of that and more, and in such an elegant way, that it’s stunning to think how few times you actually need to turn the page.
Twenty-one Truths About Love by Matthew Dicks – 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 Crying & heart squeezes combined with a unique and successful format = five stars! Also, this was the 100th book of 2019!!! That was a huge and unplanned accomplishment for me. 🙂
Recommended: yes! For a unique format, for an intimate way to learn one man’s heart and fears
Summary: Daniel Mayrock’s life is at a crossroads. He knows the following to be true: 1. He loves his wife Jill… more than anything. 2. He only regrets quitting his job and opening a bookshop a little (maybe more than a little) 3. Jill is ready to have a baby. 4. The bookshop isn’t doing well. Financial crisis is imminent. Dan doesn’t know how to fix it. 5. Dan hasn’t told Jill about their financial trouble. 6. Then Jill gets pregnant.
This heartfelt story is about the lengths one man will go to and the risks he will take to save his family. But Dan doesn’t just want to save his failing bookstore and his family’s finances: 1. Dan wants to do something special. 2. He’s a man who is tired of feeling ordinary. 3. He’s sick of feeling like a failure. 4. He doesn’t want to live in the shadow of his wife’s deceased first husband.
Dan is also an obsessive list maker; his story unfolds entirely in his lists, which are brimming with Dan’s hilarious sense of humor, unique world-view, and deeply personal thoughts. When read in full, his lists paint a picture of a man struggling to be a man, a man who has reached a point where he’s willing to do anything for the love (and soon-to-be new love) of his life.
Thoughts:This was a featured release book! This is going to be a pretty mixed review for a five star rating, and I really debated what to give it for a while. Ultimately I went for five stars, because the depth the author was able to give through such a simplistic format was impressive. He thrived in a limitation, and created something unique and well done. Despite some of my nitpicky feelings on other elements within the story, I’m overall celebrating this as a fantastic accomplishment and worthy addition to my shelf.
The lists make this look deceptively simple, but the story itself involves a conflicted and twisting heart the whole way through. Dan reveals bits and pieces of himself through his lists, from the mundane to the secretive to the humiliating. The intimacy with which we learn to see him comes from the format, as his lists are explained as partly a therapist-ordered journaling method.
Recommended: yeah! For a how-to-read guide, for an amusing idea of a story, for a book that embraces cliches by giving them a tongue-in-cheek twist
Summary: Nashville Legends second baseman Gavin Scott’s marriage is in major league trouble. He’s recently discovered a humiliating secret: his wife Thea has always faked the Big O. When he loses his cool at the revelation, it’s the final straw on their already strained relationship. Thea asks for a divorce, and Gavin realizes he’s let his pride and fear get the better of him. Distraught and desperate, Gavin finds help from an unlikely source: a secret romance book club made up of Nashville’s top alpha men. With the help of their current read, a steamy Regency titled Courting the Countess, the guys coach Gavin on saving his marriage. But it’ll take a lot more than flowery words and grand gestures for this hapless Romeo to find his inner hero and win back the trust of his wife.
Thoughts: I’d been looking forward to this release for a while, and had been planning to buddy-read it with a friend. Note – a good friend who I’m comfortable with, because holy sex scenes! But we’ll get to that. It was even better than I anticipated, in part because it was done a bit differently than I expected. I laughed a lot, and blushed a time or two as well. The cast of characters all work so well together, and the technical aspects of how it was set up worked perfectly in making you love each of them.
Every now and then, you have a moment where you realize your tastes have changed. Your a kid and you absolutely loathe strawberries, but now as an adult you’re baffled by ever not loving them. Or you love Will Ferrell movies, and then you actually watch one and realize it’s awful.
One of my most drastic flips like that was with Virginia Woolf. It all started years ago in a classroom… (Please imagine a hazy wavering dream sequence intro…)
My one refusal
I was a pretty rule-abiding kid growing up, and particularly in school. I enjoy learning, so I didn’t usually have an issue with being there and doing whatever things were assigned. The one exception arose in a Women’s History class that I ended up in by a fluke; technically it was only for upperclassmen, so I’m still not sure why I was in there.
The class went okay, and I enjoyed it for the most part, until one fateful day. Our assignment was to read Virginia Woolf’s signature stream of consciousness essay, A Room of One’s Own. If you’ve never read a stream of consciousness work you should really consider yourself lucky because MY GOD is it confusing i mean theres minimal punctuation and her thoughts just scramble in every direction as she starts with a walk through the park droning on about policemen and ducks and whatever else happens to catch her eye until it all becomes one page entirely full of text with absolutely no breaks and its almost impossible to follow because its just her unfiltered thoughts with seemingly no editing.
And there’s a little example, though even that is pretty coherent. So if it’s not clear, I very much disliked reading it, as it’s very theoretical and about people’s rights and whatnot, but delivered in a very rambling format. The style is the complete antithesis of “concise.”
I finished that book, and I thought it might kill me. Or at least kill my love of reading. In the end we finished discussing it in class and our teacher assigned an essay on it as part of the final project for the quarter.
Which I flat out refused to do.
I don’t remember now what I did do, if anything, but I told my teacher I would not be writing that essay, and I didn’t. It was completely out of character for me, and even thinking back on it now I’m mildly surprised by myself! But hey, stick to your guns, right?
And yet she re-emerges
I probably should have known that as an English major I would have to read something else by Virginia Woolf while I was at university. That said, I did make it until my final year before she strode back into my life. Unfortunately that also meant she was a candidate for what I had to use in my senior thesis to graduate which… was not ideal, based on past experience.
This time, she emerged in the form of To The Lighthouse, which is an actual novel instead of the unfiltered thoughts I’d read before. We worked through it in the class, and reading this one was significantly easier. It wasn’t exactly a pleasure, like a decadent chocolate cake, but it was satisfying in its own way, like a bowl of salmon and farro.
I had to stop and think about it frequently, both while reading and while discussing it in my class of about six other people. And in talking about it so much, I came to really appreciate the subtleties of the writing and the layers of each character.
In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I wrote my entire lengthy senior thesis on it and gave several presentations. (And yeah, I nailed it.) I came to really enjoy that book, and the work I did on it only increased that. I’m also really proud of what I created from it, so it holds a lot of positive feelings now.
What are your top book flip-flops?
Maybe yours don’t span over the course of years, but have you ever loved the first work by an author that you read, and then been bitterly disappointed by the rest of their works? Or maybe even in the course of one book: you started it out and were feeling a bit lukewarm, when that one plot twist or character introduction totally spun you into loving it? Love to hear about them — and any related experiences with Virginia Woolf. 😁
Recommended: YES YES YES!!! For fans of shamelessly dark plots and characters, for those who can appreciate difficult moments (think Game of Thrones), for a fascinating new perspective on the story of Frankenstein and his monster
Summary: Elizabeth Lavenza is on the verge of being thrown into the streets from her abusive caretakers, until she is sold to the home of Victor Frankenstein, an unsmiling, solitary boy who has everything–except a friend. Victor is her escape from misery. Elizabeth does everything she can to make herself indispensable–and it works. She is taken in by the Frankenstein family and rewarded with a warm bed, delicious food, and dresses of the finest silk. Soon she and Victor are inseparable. But her new life comes at a price. As the years pass, Elizabeth’s survival depends on managing Victor’s dangerous temper and entertaining his every whim, no matter how depraved. Behind her blue eyes and sweet smile lies the calculating heart of a girl determined to stay alive no matter the cost . . . as the world she knows is consumed by darkness.
Thoughts: Well clearly I loved it. This was a fantastic spontaneous October find, as it fit the “spooky” theme for the month perfectly. I’ve been really enjoying tales with darker tones lately (like Foul Is Fair), and this really hit the spot perfectly. The mysteries within the book twist and churn like a living things, reflecting the shadows that plague Elizabeth and Victor along the way.