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You’re Enjoying Springtime in the Garden
Still remember reading ‘Go Ask Alice’ or believe in the power of a cup of tea
Great news: We are just a few weeks out from the third annual What To Read If Summer Reading Bingo Game!
For new subscribers, each summer, I make a Bingo card with reading prompts. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, update the card with your reading. If you get Bingo and submit your card, you’ll be entered in a raffle to win a prize. I already have some AMAZING prizes lined up for this year and am excited to share.
If you have ideas for what should be on the card or would like to contribute a prize, please let me know!
And, now, what to read if…
You’re Spending a Lot of Time in the Garden
I’m trying my hand at gardening for the first time this year. My neighbor and I share a little plot, and I have some window boxes and pots on my front step. Each day, I eagerly check to see if my newly-planted clematis has a bloom or if dahlia tubers have sprouted. Progress is slow, but I’ve found I enjoy these quiet moments examining the plants. If springtime is bringing you into the garden or just outside, consider reading Devotions, a collection of poems spanning Mary Oliver’s 50-year career.
Oliver is known for her love of the natural world. Her poems celebrate everything from peonies and beans to wild geese and blue heron. I especially love her poems about her dogs (I dare any dog owner to read this one and not feel something). Each of her poems reminds us to take the time to appreciate the world around us — from weeds in the parking lot to the rising sun.
I wrote a few weeks back about my reading slump, and Devotions is one of the things helping me pull myself out of it. I’m not a poetry expert (I’m about as far as anyone can be from one), but I find her work both accessible and mature. It challenges me to be a more mindful and spend my “one wild and precious life” doing the things I love.
Go Ask Alice Scarred You as a Kid
I vividly remember the copy of Go Ask Alice in my local library growing up. It was black with the shadow of a pale, hollowed-out girl on the front. The author was listed as “anonymous.” I skimmed it once, assuming it was part of my beloved Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, only to discover it was something very different. Go Ask Alice was the diary of a teen struggling with drug addiction. It details her harrowing experiences with sex work and prostitution before she dies of an overdose. The book was published as a cautionary tale and sold more than 5 million copies worldwide. The only problem? As Rick Emerson documents in Unmask Alice, it was all made up.
Beatrice Sparks had multiple failed attempts at publishing a book when she claimed to have “found” scraps of a journal about a teen girl’s self-destruction that she edited into a book. It was the first of countless lies that followed in Sparks’ publishing career. Later, she claimed Alice had given her the journal; other times she suggested it was based on an interview. After Go Ask Alice’s explosive popularity, she published Jay’s Journal, which was loosely based on a real teen’s diary. Without permission from Jay’s family, she edited his tale of depression — which sadly ended in suicide — into a bizarre tale about the dangers of devil worship.
Rick Emerson, a longtime radio journalist, shows how Sparks’s books both profited from and fueled the War on Drugs and the Satanic Panic. He also demonstrates that dozens of people knew or at least had suspicions about the veracity of her books but chose not to say anything. Unmask Alice is a wild ride of a book — with multiple diversions about the history of LSD, the Nixon White House and even Dungeons and Dragons — but Emerson ties together all the threads admirably. A fascinating read for anyone who wants to know more about how moral panics start and spread.
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You’re Pretty Sure There’s Nothing a Cup of Tea Can’t Make Better
Vera Wong, teashop owner and protagonist of a new humorous mystery from Dial A for Aunties author Jesse Q. Sutanto, loves nothing more than making personalized brews, sensing just what they need to feel better. It’s one of the many things that makes her friends wonder if she might just be a little magic.
When Vera finds a body on the floor of her teashop, she expects the police will want her help in solving the case. Instead, they largely ignore her and even seem annoyed that she assisted by drawing a Sharpie outline around the man’s corpse before they arrived. When the authorities declare the man died of an allergic reaction, Vera sets out to conduct her own investigation. She has an ace up her sleeve — a flash drive she stole off the body she’s sure the killer will want back. As new customers come into the tea shop, Vera brews them a cuppa, attempts to suss out their possible motives and, in a complicated move, comes to befriend the people she expects committed a murder.
I wrote a few weeks back about how much I love books that feature quirky groups of people coming together to form unlikely communities, and Vera Wong fits that bill. (In factsuggested it in the comments that week!). It’s charming — and despite the subject matter — cozy. Vera is an unforgettable, loveable, yet deeply flawed character who I hope we’ll see more of.
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