You’re Ready for St. Patrick’s Day
Want to recognize Small Press Month or are thinking about three years of Covid-19
Hope you’re doing well. I feel like I’ve been on the run a lot lately, so I enjoyed a lazy weekend. Took long walks with the dog, made a pot of soup, watched “Miss Scarlett and the Duke” — all great things.
Two announcements for those who love love:
- , the essay collection about rom-coms I’m editing, launches Tuesday with an essay from about Jane Austen, Will Shakespeare and the history of the rom-com. Subscribe now, so you don’t miss it!
My book club is hosting a romance author/reader happy hour on 3/31 in D.C. Special guests include — but aren’t limited to — Jayce Ellis, Avery Flynn, Tracey Livesay, Taj McCoy and Mia Sosa. RSVP here. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll join us!
And, now, what to read if…
You’re Planning a Corn Beef and Cabbage Feast for Friday
Friday is St. Patrick’s day, the annual celebration of Ireland’s patron saint. (Shout-out to my mom and aunts, who are in Ireland right now.) If you’re looking to add a literary element to your celebration — instead of simply donning green and drinking dyed beer — grab a copy of Did Ye Hear Mammy Died, journalist Seamus O’Reilly’s memoir of growing up with his ten (10!) siblings in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
The book’s title stems from one of the first anecdotes O’Reilly shares. His mother died when he was five. At the wake, still not fully understanding what was happening around him, he approached mourners and asked, “Did ye hear mammy died?” It’s a story that perfectly encapsulates the book as a whole — funny and sad all at once.
The book’s hero is O’Reilly’s father, Joe, a widower who adores dogs, priests and his children. (Did Ye Hear Mammy Died includes a whole chapter on dogs and priests as a tribute to Joe). Raising eleven children alone couldn’t be easy, but it’s clear the O’Reilly house was one filled with love.
Over the course of the memoir, O’Reilly describes road trips in the family’s 26-foot minibus, complete with a caravan blessed by a priest, the complex chore division that pitted the elder and younger siblings against each other, their insanely large collection of homemade VHS tapes and raucous family dinners that reminded me of evenings spent with my cousins. Blessed with the gift of gab (perhaps he visited the Blarney Stone?), these stories are side-splittingly funny and show the ways humor and grief are intertwined.
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You Want to Celebrate Small Press Month
I recently learned March is Small Press Month, a time to celebrate independent publishers. These businesses are critical parts of the publishing ecosystem, often taking risks on new authors or unusual books that bigger, traditional publishing houses overlook. As Anne Trubek, founder of Belt Publishing, explained to me, “I like to use beer as an analogy. Budweiser and Coors are one kind of beer company and then there’s the craft brew that you have at your local bar.”
If you’re looking for a book from an independent publisher to mark March with, consider Morgan Talty’s Night of the Living Rez, from Tin House, one of my favorite small presses. This gritty interconnected short story collection set on the Penobscot Nation in Maine, where Talty grew up, follows protagonist David and his family over decades as they struggle with addiction, abuse, loss and more. Rather than using a chronological order, the stories jump throughout David’s life, peeling back aspects of his past — and personality — in each installment.
As the topics covered imply, Night of the Living Rez is dark — the word I used to describe it at a recent book club discussion was “visceral” — with a layer of sorrow always strumming just below the surface, even as stories relay childhood hijinks. These characters have stayed with me for months after finishing the book, and I’m eager to see what Talty does next.
Bonus recommendations: I have three bonus recommendations from three friends! Destinee Hodge interviewed Talty for the American Booksellers Association’s blog. Eman Quotah’s Bride of the Sea was also published by Tin House. And,does a great job highlighting fabulous books from small presses.
You’re Reflecting on the Pandemic Anniversary
Saturday marked three years since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson announced they had tested positive for the respiratory disease and the NBA cancelled its season. I was talking with a few neighbors last week, and we agreed that it feels like that was both years ago and yesterday at the same time. As a coworker once told me, “It’s been a weird pandemic.”
Joan is Okay takes place in the months leading up to the novel coronavirus arriving in the United States. The titular Joan is a thirtysomething ICU doctor at a busy New York City hospital. She loves her job, finds meaning in treating patients and avoids taking time away. When her father dies in his native China in the book’s opening pages, she takes just two days off to attend his funeral on the other side of the world. His death sparks a series of events that force Joan to break her beloved routine, just as the world is starting to see the threat caused by Covid-19.
I love Joan. She’s a character who so distinctly herself — even as her bosses, colleagues, neighbors and family all tell her to change. Yes, Joan is quirky (she has so little furniture in her apartment that her neighbor assumes she’s been robbed) and, at times, awkward (she tells the same neighbor she’s not sure if she’s supposed to ask the questions or he is when he visits), but Weike Wang never paints her too broad or as a stereotype. Joan reminds me a bit of Casey from Lily King’s Writers & Lovers, flawed, yes, yet so loveable that I want to hang out with both of them.
Thanks, as always, for letting me into your inbox. I have one more link for you. If you’re tired this morning because you stayed up way too late watching the Oscars (on top of the time change), check out this list of movie/Hollywood books I pulled together for Parade.
What to Read If is a free weekly book recommendation newsletter. Need a rec? Want to gush about a book? Reply to this email, leave a comment or find me on Twitter @elizabethheld.
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