From Read With Me Bookshop
VIRTUAL SPECIAL EVENT-A Shot at Normal with author Marisa Reichardt THIS WEDNESDAY!
We are so excited to be hosting a free virtual event for Marisa Reichardt's new book, A SHOT AT NORMAL! Marisa's new book is both powerful and timely about vaccines, health, love and growing up. Come listen to more about it!
We know many of you really enjoyed her last book, AFTERSHOCKS. Here's a great change to say HELLO!
We'll be having the event via Zoom and will send the link information out the morning of the event. Please email Christine@readwithme.us to register.
We hope you can join us!
Event Time: 7:30pm EST
Event Day: Wednesday, February 24
In this Issue...
by Robbie Arnott
Robbie Arnott's dark fairy tale of climate change and human greed pits a soldier and a fugitive against one another over a bird that brings rain.
by Sara Horowitz
Organizer Sara Horowitz makes a persuasive case for how the model she calls mutualism can bring about economic and social change in the U.S.
by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Sixteen outstanding Indigenous authors, including Joseph Bruchac, Rebecca Roanhorse and Traci Sorell, imagine the lives of contemporary Indigenous kids attending an intertribal powwow.
Review by Subjects:
Children's Poetry by Black Authors
"Poetry for children written by Black authors" was featured by the New York Public Library.
Inspired by a recent social media fad, Merriam-Webster looked up where we get "chanteys" (and "shanties") from.
"What we can learn from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's years in lockdown?" the Guardian wondered.
Mental Floss shared "8 pioneering facts about Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Bookshelf showcased Federico Peri's Biblioteca Itinerante (Travelling Library).
Rediscover: My Salinger Year
In 1996 at age 23, Joanna Rakoff began working for Harold Ober Associates, a New York literary agency that managed reclusive author J.D. Salinger. Her responsibilities included responding to the large amount of fan mail addressed to Salinger, who never read a word of it. Tired of returning the same canned response to so many earnest messages, Rakoff began replying on her own. Meanwhile, between workdays spent in luxurious offices amid agents enjoying three-martini lunches, Rakoff returned to a dingy Brooklyn apartment with no sink that she shared with a socialist boyfriend. Her time at the agency coincided with the attempted publication of Salinger's short story "Hapworth 16, 1924," which had previously been printed in the New Yorker decades prior. She even attended a meeting between the small publisher interested in reprinting the story and Salinger himself.
My Salinger Year (2014) is a memoir about Rakoff's experience at Harold Ober Associates that also captures a glamorous lost age of the pre-digital literary world. A film adaptation of Rakoff's book, written and directed by Philippe Falardeau, premiered at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival and will be released by IFC Films on March 5. It stars Margaret Qualley as Rakoff and Sigourney Weaver as her boss. My Salinger Year is available in paperback from Vintage ($15.95). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Jacqueline Woodson: 2021 Coretta Scott King Author Award Winner
Jacqueline Woodson is the recipient of a 2020 MacArthur Fellowship and the 2020 Hans Christian Andersen Award, and she was the 2018-2019 National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. Her memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming, won the National Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, a Newbery Honor and the NAACP Image Award. She also wrote the adult books Red at the Bone and Another Brooklyn. Her dozens of books for young readers include The Day You Begin and Harbor Me; Newbery Honor winners Feathers, Show Way and After Tupac and D Foster; and the picture book Each Kindness. Recently, Woodson won the 2021 Coretta Scott King Author Award--her third--for Before the Ever After, published by Nancy Paulsen Books.
You have been a CSK Author Award honoree five times and, now, an Author Award Winner three times. You've won so many awards and received so many accolades--is there anything special / different / exciting / affecting about winning this award this year?
What's special is this award is for this book. And yes, even though I've won a number of awards, each book I write is different so that the awards that came before have nothing to do with it. The CSK for Miracle's Boys is very different from the CSK for Before the Ever After. In terms of this moment in time--Wow! I don't even know what to say. I've sadly had lots of experience with winning awards during tumultuous times so... Well, I guess this isn't new. It's part of a continuum. :)
Few authors are able to write bittersweet the way you do. What inspired you to write Before the Ever After? And for this age group?
It was time. I think one of the biggest inspirations was my friend Toshi Reagon, who could tell you every stat about most football players and watched every game. I mean, she's brilliant anyway, but on the subject of football, she was off the hook. And then, she stopped. She was done. She couldn't do it anymore. The racism, the demolition of Black and Brown bodies, the selling and trading of Black and Brown bodies... And it started me to thinking deeper about the game. And in that deeper thinking, I wanted to really investigate what it means to deeply love a thing, to have that thing allow you to be a certain way in the world and then...
Was there anything about the experience of writing this book that was new to you? Anything that surprised you, excited you, worried you?
I worried that I wouldn't be able to tell the story with a deep empathy. I didn't want what I knew to get in the way of my seeing the many dimensions of what it meant to dream of being and then to become Zachariah 44.
You've had more than enough experience in publishing to know the system--what was it like to have this book published in 2020? How was it different?
Jeez--I'm an author a lot of people know so I can't even imagine what it's like to be a new author publishing in 2020. It's rough. I mean, 2020 was a HUGE year for me. And a very, very quiet one for me in the world.
A thing I have always loved is, when I've heard you speak, is that your focus is always on children and you are completely dedicated to the child reader. How do you hope this book touches the middle-grade reader?
I truly hope they read it and see some part of themselves in it and also get a sense of what I'm trying to say with Before the Ever After. I think they will. Young people are so whip-smart. I think it may take a while to settle with some but in the end, I hope/think it will be a long-term conversation. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
The Rain Heron
by Robbie Arnott
In this lush, brutal fairy tale, Tasmanian author Robbie Arnott (Flames) imagines a new mythical creature inspired by climate change and vulnerable to human greed.
Five years after fleeing into the mountains to outrun a coup, Ren lives off the land and trades with locals who ask no questions. Her solitude breaks when a band of soldiers come to the mountain and ask her to lead them to the fabled rain heron, "a bird made of water" described in legends with "cold rain spraying from its wings, the moon shining clear and bright through its feathers." Fearing for the bird's safety, Ren refuses, but harsh young Lieutenant Harker has her own cruel methods of persuasion. In a time before the coup, a girl named Zoe learns to lure squid with her blood for their valuable ink, but when an outsider arrives wanting the secrets of the ink trade, tragedy ensues. Ren's and Zoe's stories intersect in surprising ways in this struggle of conservation versus exploitation.
Drenched in natural imagery, Arnott's vivid descriptive passages give readers a realistic world with enough wonder left to make a fit home for a creature out of a fable. While the heron is Arnott's original creation, it feels as ancient and established as a unicorn. Ren's painful but heroic efforts to protect it will win readers' sympathies, and the unexpected notes of hope and redemption for multiple characters in the finale bring a memorable and satisfying sense of closure. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: Robbie Arnott's dark fairy tale of climate change and human greed pits a soldier and a fugitive against one another over a bird that brings rain.
In the Company of Men
by Véronique Tadjo
Côte d'Ivoire author Véronique Tadjo (Far from My Father) could not have known how prescient her novel, originally published in France in 2017, would be just a few years later when it was translated for English readers. In the Company of Men gives polyphonic voice to those affected by the 2014-2016 West African Ebola outbreak that ravaged populations in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
In an unnamed village, a girl is sent away to the city with her father's ominous warning, "Don't ever come back here," which proves to be both a death sentence and the chance to be her family's sole survivor. Just a month before, "two mischievous young boys"--her brothers--went hunting, shot and roasted their prey, not realizing the consequences of eating bats infected with an insatiable virus. Disease spreads, and the whispering tree--the "Baobab, the first tree, the everlasting tree"--observes as it has done for centuries, bearing witness to humans' history of need and joy, celebration and rage, greed and kindness, birth and death. As Ebola rages, the tree watches the horrific devastation, with the promise, "I want to tell their stories."
Tadjo highlights healers, the sickened, parents, orphans, pariahs. Most die, but some survive; in these most desperate situations, some retain their humanity, others do not. Beyond "the company of men," Tadjo allows even the virus itself, the contagion-carrying bats and, once more, the whispering tree to speak. She interweaves history, myth and poetry with real life-inspired testimony. While her novel might be light in page count, its lingering significance highlights the human(e) reactions in the face of impossible, fatal situations. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Véronique Tadjo's stark novel exposing the Ebola crisis in West Africa resonates amidst the worldwide pandemic.
We Play Ourselves
by Jen Silverman
In an engrossing novel that subverts all preconceptions of feminism, ambition and success, Jen Silverman (The Island Dwellers) masterfully steers a flawed narrator to a revelatory conclusion--one that, miraculously, never bends to tropes.
In We Play Ourselves, Cass is the Next Big Thing in the theater world, a young queer playwright on the cusp of enormous success. After winning the prestigious--and well-paying--Lansing Award, all she needs is a good review in the New York Times for her absurdist feminist play to soar. But putting together an Off-Broadway show proves more spellbinding than she'd anticipated, and she falls in love with not only her co-creator but also with the glimmer of power her career has finally unearthed. When the Times review comes out and it's blistering, Cass finds herself embroiled in a bitter and humiliating scandal, and she runs away to Los Angeles to hide out till things cool off. Instead, she meets filmmaker Caroline, whose upcoming quasi-documentary on a female fight club might just be Cass's ticket back into the spotlight. But as Cass gets to know the girls at the heart of the film, she starts to understand the cost of success--and the strength of starting over. When one of the girls disappears, she can no longer ignore her moral obligation to the truth.
We Play Ourselves ends with a tremendous redemption scene, one so bizarre and brilliant it will leave readers puzzling over it for weeks. This is a funny, heart-warming, yet deeply unexpected story that deserves attention. --Lauren Puckett, freelance writer
Discover: A young queer playwright escapes to Los Angeles after enduring a scorching scandal and tries for a second shot at fame in this smart, captivating novel.
Mystery & Thriller
The Power Couple
by Alex Berenson
The Power Couple by Alex Berenson is an intriguing marriage drama embedded within an international thriller. It spotlights the kidnapping of an FBI agent's daughter in Barcelona by a handsome French stranger with possible connections to the Russians.
Rebecca and Brian Unsworth, married for 20 rocky years, both fantasize about terminating their turbulent union while keeping up appearances for the sake of their teenage children, Kira and Toby. Rebecca's all-consuming job as a counterterrorism agent for the FBI gives her more financial clout in the marriage until Brian, working as a coder for the National Security Administration, sells his casino app for $2 million. The windfall irons out some of the creases in their relationship, but the real test comes when Kira is abducted during a family vacation in Barcelona. In their efforts to find Kira--an international operation involving Spain's intelligence agency--the Unsworths worry that their high-profile jobs have left their children vulnerable to malevolent foreign actors. The truth will challenge them beyond anything they could have imagined.
A celebrated veteran of the thriller genre, Berenson (The Shadow Patrol; The Deceivers) is masterful at shifting the story's narration between Rebecca, Brian and Kira, building tantalizing suspense amid observations of how a promising marriage became weighed down by secrets and hostility. The chapters narrated by Kira capture her terrifying days in captivity with fast-paced, heart-thumping energy.
Bursting with tension, The Power Couple picks up speed and hurtles toward a shocking conclusion. --Shahina Piyarali, reviewer
Discover: A spectacular saga of espionage and betrayal featuring a dysfunctional husband and wife and their race to rescue their kidnapped daughter.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
The Absolute Book
by Elizabeth Knox
Award-winning novelist Elizabeth Knox's 17th title is genre-bending, full of action and sometimes hard to pin down, but, ultimately, The Absolute Book is an epic fantasy for the current moment, crossing continents and worlds.
The story opens with the murder of Taryn Cornick's sister and a mysterious revenge, and follows Taryn--now the author of an esteemed book about threats to libraries and the things they hold--on a journey to track down a mysterious scroll box known as the Firestarter, blamed for many library fires, including one in her own grandparents' library. But Taryn never dreamed that the events set off by her grief and anger at losing her sister would lead her beyond the edges of the world itself.
With a cold case, an undiagnosable illness, several mysteries, a detective who cannot let past events stay in the past, and a strong but simultaneously subtle bent toward ecocriticism, Knox (The Vintner's Luck) presents a thriller hybrid, a cop drama woven through a literary and historical mystery. She threads the contemporary present into a new take on the world of the Sidhe with hints of Norse mythology, and a hodgepodge of other legends and stories thrown into the mix. Yet the power Knox plays with most is the idea of writing things down, of books, the inherent power in different kinds of knowledge, and who is allowed to speak through it. The Absolute Book is a layered, fascinating, alluring mediation in the genre of epic fantasy, crafted by a master storyteller. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer
Discover: An arcane thriller from Elizabeth Knox that, with its particular blend of fantasy, mystery and literary history, is sure to keep readers guessing until the end.
Speculative Los Angeles
by Denise Hamilton, editor
The Akashic Noir series, begun in 2004, collected noir short stories set in cities around the world. Now Akashic has launched a series of speculative fiction anthologies similarly set in specific cities, beginning with Speculative Los Angeles, edited by Denise Hamilton, author of the Eve Diamond series.
Each of the 14 stories in Speculative Los Angeles is based in a particular neighborhood, and the stories are organized around four themes: "Changelings, Ghosts, and Parallel Worlds," "Steampunks, Alchemists, and Memory Artists," "A Tear in the Fabric of Reality" and "Cops and Robots in the Future Ruins of LA." While the overall setting ties the collection together, the range of approaches is broad. In the first story, "Antonia and the Stranger Who Came to Rancho Los Feliz" by Lisa Morton, an idyllic, pastoral alternate-future L.A. is invaded by refugees from an apocalyptic high-tech parallel universe. In Aimee Bender's "Maintenance," the woolly mammoths displayed outside the La Brea Tar Pits mysteriously vanish. Of course, some stories riff on L.A.'s most iconic industry: in "Walk of Fame" by Duane Swierczynski, psychic terrorists target celebrities, and in "Peak TV" by Ben H. Winters, the showrunner of a controversial hit show about teenage suicide is the victim of ghostly revenge.
As with the Noir series, the stories have added resonance for readers familiar with the locations, but Los Angeles is a particularly appropriate and broadly appealing place to begin the series, given its outsized role in the American imagination. --Linda Lombardi, writer and editor
Discover: This appealing and varied collection offers 14 speculative stories set in neighborhoods around Los Angeles, but with interests that go beyond the local.
Biography & Memoir
A Shape in the Dark: Living and Dying with Brown Bears
by Bjorn Dihle
Bjorn Dihle was born and raised in the outdoors of Alaska, where he has worked for years as a brown (or grizzly) bear viewing guide. A Shape in the Dark: Living and Dying with Brown Bears is his lovely, thoughtful study of the relationship between humans and this evocative, storied species.
"There have been times I almost hated bears," he writes. "Like most feelings of hostility, mine were rooted in fear. Yet, there is no place I love more than grizzly country, and no animal has intrigued and challenged me more than the bear." Moving around in time, Dihle tells his own stories of encounters, from the first brown bear he ever saw--a carcass in a salmon stream when the author was four or five years old--through early trailside meetings and learning how to relate to bears, into his career seeking them out, especially on Alaska's Admiralty Island.
A Shape in the Dark is an appealing, accessible memoir and a history of the interplay of bears and humans in the American West. Dihle intersperses his own and his friends' bear encounters with those of Grizzly Adams and Teddy Roosevelt, outlining the evolution of attitudes and policy toward grizzlies. He writes of famous and less famous maulings, the complexities of bear hunting, the role of grizzly bears in native cultures and the impact of climate change on Alaska and its greatest predator.
Quiet, meditative, wise, well informed, A Shape in the Dark is memoir, history and philosophy in one. Dihle's love for his subject is contagious and beautifully conveyed. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: A lifelong Alaskan inspires awe with his beautifully written, expert portrait of the grizzly bear.
Business & Economics
Mutualism: Building the Next Economy from the Ground Up
by Sara Horowitz
Founder of the Freelancers Union and recipient of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant, lawyer and organizer Sara Horowitz makes a persuasive case in Mutualism: Building the Next Economy from the Ground Up for a new constellation of social and economic relationships she hopes will help transform American society.
According to Horowitz (The Freelancer's Bible), tens of millions of Americans have been "working harder than ever, and yet they've been asked to bear both the burden of and blame for their precarity." The result of "neglect on the left and sabotage on the right," these developments have left too many people without what were once mainstays of American working life--employer-provided health insurance or income security in retirement--a situation that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Her solution is "mutualism," a set of social and economic relationships grounded in "community institutions that deliver decision-making power directly to citizens." The percentage of unionized workers has shrunk from 35% to 6.2% in the private sector in the past 65 years, and some 57 million Americans, including many highly educated professionals, work outside a traditional employer-employee relationship. Offering an assortment of historical and contemporary examples, Horowitz explains how mutualist organizations--hybrid entities that are neither socialist nor capitalist and include the cooperative movement--can begin to mend some of the tears that have been rent in the social safety net.
Horowitz's argument is both concrete and visionary. Enlightened political and business leaders and thoughtful Americans in general will find a useful collection of ideas and a wealth of supporting data here to guide them on a new path to help shape the economy that will emerge when the coronavirus is a distant memory. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer
Discover: Organizer Sara Horowitz makes a persuasive case for how the model she calls mutualism can bring about economic and social change in the U.S.
Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age
by Annalee Newitz
In Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age, science journalist and science fiction novelist Annalee Newitz (The Future of Another Timeline) leads readers on a fascinating exploration of the rise and fall of cities that were abandoned by their inhabitants, focusing on four of the most spectacular examples: the Neolithic city of Çatalhöyük in central Turkey; Roman Pompeii; Angkor Wat in Cambodia; and the pre-Columbian city Cahokia in modern Illinois near the Mississippi River. In the process, Newitz considers why cities fall, the powerful trope of the "lost city," and what we can learn from the failure of these cities.
The exploration is literal: Newitz visits the ruins of the four cities and meets with archeologists involved in cutting-edge work related to each. Some of the most interesting sections of the book deal with archeologists using new technologies and asking new questions of familiar sources to look beyond the spectacular remains and the leaders who ordered their construction and study the lives of each city's general population.
Newitz makes a convincing argument that while the four cities were very different culturally, they shared common failures resulting from prolonged periods of political instability coupled with environmental crisis--failures that speak to our present. But Four Lost Cities is not a dystopian warning for an age of global warming. Instead, Newitz offers an appealing combination of travel account, historical narrative, hard science and hope. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins
Discover: Four Lost Cities offers a fascinating look to the past for clues about how cities grow and fail.
Nature & Environment
Earth's Wild Music: Celebrating and Defending the Songs of the Natural World
by Kathleen Dean Moore
Essayist, climate activist and nature philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore has spent three decades celebrating the natural world in her writing. Earth's Wild Music, a collection of vivid, lyrical essays, renders her love for nature in striking detail, and urgently calls for its protection against fossil fuels, overdevelopment and other ills.
Moore (Wild Comfort; Great Tide Rising) begins by quoting Mary Oliver, who wrote, "My work is loving the world." Moore notes that "loving the world became more complicated, and rejoicing got harder" as she witnessed the destruction of habitats and the disappearance of wildlife. But Moore, like Oliver, keeps on loving the world, and working for its preservation and flourishing. She divides her narrative into four sections: "Tremble," "Weep," "Awaken" and finally "Sing Out." Each section contains essays highlighting what she loves about marsh and lake and mountain, and elegies for those species or places that have faded out or been destroyed.
Having spent her life hiking, canoeing and otherwise enjoying the natural world, Moore has seen both gradual and sudden changes. She reports on climate change and wildfires, cold nights in sleeping bags, forest walks with her grandsons and years of adventures with her husband, Frank. Many of her essays pick up the theme of music from the book's title: not only birdsong, but ocean waves and glaciers melting and the songs of humpback whales.
Passionate and thoughtful, Moore's essays transport readers to the particular places she loves and urge them to pay attention. Hers is a thoughtful, insistent, necessary voice in the ongoing conversations about how to treat the natural world. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Climate activist and essayist Kathleen Dean Moore celebrates the natural world and calls urgently for its preservation.
Children's & Young Adult
Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids
by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Sixteen of today's most skilled Indigenous children's authors join forces in this anthology of richly varied, loosely interconnected stories all centered on an intertribal powwow "where our hearts beat as one/ to the thump of the drum."
From as far away as La Conner, Wash., and Durant, Okla., kids make the trip to Ann Arbor, Mich., for the Dance for Mother Earth Powwow. They are Cree and Choctaw, Ojibwe and Navajo, Coast Salish and Cherokee. They come with parents, stepparents, foster parents, grandparents, uncles, even a bus filled with Elders. Most of them will dance at the powwow, some building on years of practice, some stepping onto the floor for the first time. Despite their disparate backgrounds, each of them finds meaning and belonging as the powwow inspires deep thought about family and culture.
The stories' broad assortment of family makeups, backgrounds and conflicts underscores the diversity of the Indigenous experience, proving the assertion "I don't think there's one way to be Native" in Dawn Quigley's "Joey Reads the Sky." Even so, overarching themes emerge around the importance of family, the solace of tradition and community, and growing personally through supporting others. Characters slip in and out of each other's eyesight across stories, giving the overall work a graceful feeling of connection. Backmatter includes a glossary of terms from First Nations languages used by the authors. Bookended by two poems--the gorgeous "What Is a Powwow?" by Kim Rogers and Carole Lindstrom's moving, transcendent "Circles"--this uplifting assembly affirms the vitality of Indigenous life today and offers accessible situations and characters to all young readers. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library
Discover: Sixteen outstanding Indigenous authors, including Joseph Bruchac, Rebecca Roanhorse and Traci Sorell, imagine the lives of contemporary Indigenous kids attending an intertribal powwow.
The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. (as Told to His Brother)
by David Levithan
In David Levithan's absorbing The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S., not only does 11-year-old Lucas not know where his older brother went, he doesn't know why Aidan disappeared at all. There have been no sibling quarrels, no instability in the home, no school bullying... Aidan just vanished.
And then the 12-year-old returns as mysteriously as he left. Lucas finds him in the attic of their home, passed out next to a dresser, with nothing amiss save for a single leaf in Aidan's hair--a leaf that is diamond-shaped, bright blue and surely not of this world. Lucas pockets it and says nothing. The police question the unharmed tween about his whereabouts and receive a baffling answer: Aidan felt a breeze coming from the dresser, peeked inside and found "somewhere else." The police make Narnia jokes, but Aidan is serious--it was another world, there were creatures and languages unfamiliar to him, and he was there about a month by their calendar (six days by ours). The more he's pushed, the more he's made fun of and the more Aidan doubles down on his story.
As with some of his earlier works (Every Day; Boy Meets Boy), Levithan masterfully puts a light speculative touch on this work of (mostly) realistic fiction. Aidan's having to retell his experience moves him to concoct more banal explanations, and his anguish is achingly palpable. But the parents and other adult characters that make up his earthly family are warm, loving and funny--no caricatures or clichés to be found in this portal fantasy set in our side of the portal. --Sarah Hannah Gómez, freelance critic and doctoral candidate, University of Arizona
Discover: This gentle work of somewhat-realism suggests that being transported to a fantasy land may be fun for the traveler while asking what happens to the people left behind.