You Love a Bar Story

Are following the R.Kelly Trial or are trying to get rid of your tomatoes

Hi friends,

This is a big week for my family: My brother is getting married! We’re so excited to officially welcome his fiancée into the family.

So that I can enjoy the festivities, I’ll be sharing a guest post from Andromeda Romano-Lax, author of the fabulous Annie and the Wolves next Monday. Annie and the Wolves is a genre-bending tale — part historical fiction, part science fiction — about revenge, trauma and even time travel. I’m looking forward to seeing what her picks are.

In other news, I’ve been on a bit of a YA kick lately and eagerly dove into Time Magazine’s new list of the 100 Best YA books. It includes some of my favorites — Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak and The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. Do you read YA now? What are some of your favorite titles?

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And now, what to read if…

You’ve Spent Hours Listening to a Stranger at a Bar 

The Greatest Beer Run Ever by John “Chick” Donohue and J.T. Molloy

This one is for my brother, who excels at getting strangers in bars to tell him amazing stories, although none quite as good as the tale told in The Greatest Beer Run Ever. (Shout out to subscriber Scott, who loaned this book to my parents. And to my parents for letting me read it first.) 

In the memoir, Donohue recounts a trip he took to Vietnam in 1967 to deliver beer to friends serving in the war. He wanted his pals to know they weren’t forgotten, even as anti-war protests erupted across the U.S. What Donohue thought would be a four-day foray into the war zone turned into a months-long stay in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive.

The Greatest Beer Run Ever is written in a casual, conversational tone. It feels like Chick is sitting next to you at a bar telling this wild story. It’s a moving testament to the power of friendship and community while simultaneously offering a clear-eyed assessment of the U.S.’s involvement in Vietnam. I’ve been thinking about it a lot the past few days as I watch the footage from Afghanistan.

Bingo boxes this book checks: Non-fiction, memoir, debut 

You’re Following the R. Kelly Trial

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

Jury selection for R. Kelly’s sex-trafficking trial began last week in a Brooklyn federal court. After years of allegations, the R&B singer was indicted in 2020 for allegedly sexually exploiting children, kidnapping, racketeering and more. Kelly maintains his innocence.

In Grown, Tiffany Jackson fictionalizes the Kelly case, telling the story of Enchanted Jones, a 17-year-old aspiring singer who gets caught up in the orbit of superstar Korey Fields. The older man promises to make Enchanted a celebrity if she does as he says. What begins as a sort-of mentorship turns into an abusive relationship, with Enchanted locked away in one of Fields’s homes.

Jackson has made a career out of writing YA “ripped-from-the-headlines” thrillers focused on Black teenage girls. Grown is powerful and empathetic, showing how a teen girl could easily be taken in by a charismatic celebrity and offers pointed criticism for those who blame teenagers for being exploited or abused. Jackson has spoken about how she drew on her own experience as a teenager in a relationship with a much older man, telling Shondaland that one of her goals for the book was to give young girls a vocabulary for talking about these situations. I hope she succeeds — and given the book’s empathetic approach — I think she will. 

Bingo boxes this book checks: YA or Middle Grade book

Bonus recommendation: Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly by Jim DeRogatis. In late 2000, DeRogatis, then a music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, received an anonymous fax claiming R.Kelly was engaged in sexual relationships with young girls. The fax sparked a nearly two-decade-long investigation into the singer and a quest to bring his crimes to light. It’s a difficult, critical read.

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You’re Enjoying Tomato Season

Soup Makes the Meal by Ken Haedrich

A family friend gave me this cookbook after I graduated from college and was preparing to move out on my own for the first time. I think of her every August when I take it out to make the “simple cream of summer tomato soup.” Most years, I make a double batch and freeze some. Come February, when the winter doldrums have set in, I defrost it and enjoy a taste of summer with a grilled cheese.

Each of the soups is paired with a complimentary salad and bread recipe, making it easy for cooks to appease those people who don’t believe soup alone is a full meal (a position I vehemently disagree with, for the record). I particularly like that the book is organized by season, focused on cooking with what’s freshest at the moment.

Besides the tomato soup, some of my favorites include the squash, cider and apple soup, the tortellini, greens and bean soup, the spicy black bean soup, and the white bean and kale minestrone paired with pull-apart bread. While I was always a fan of Soup Makes the Meal, I relied on it heavily in the early months of lockdown last year when I was craving comfort foods and trying to stretch every last grocery trip. 

Bingo boxes this book checks: Non-fiction (I guess?) 

I have a favor to ask. If you enjoy What to Read If, will you forward it to a bookish friend and ask them to subscribe? Thank you!

On Thursday, I’ll be back in your inboxes with a Q&A featuring author, critic and podcaster extraordinaire Sarah Bunting. I’ve lined up some cool Q&As for the fall and I’m excited to share them with you in the coming weeks and months.

Don’t forget to give me recommendations of your favorite YA books — and if you’re having trouble with any of the Bingo boxes, let me know. 

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