Hi book lovers,
Earlier today, as I walked home from getting coffee with friends, I noticed the crocuses throughout my neighborhood had started to sprout.
Even after nine years in D.C., I’m still shocked to see signs of spring this early in the year. In upstate New York, where I grew up, we get our worst storms of the year in March. (Sending vibes to those of you still looking at another month of winter.)
The crocuses were a reminder that we’re starting to put a miserable winter — and hopefully this pandemic – behind us. Soon, if nothing else, it’ll be warmer and sunnier.
Later this week, I’m interviewing Monica McAbee, a librarian in Maryland, about how e-lending works. If you have a question about borrowing e-books, send it my way!
And now, what to read if …
You’re Still Annoyed “Gaslighter” Didn’t Get a Grammy Nomination
I’ve complained about the Grammys’ snub of “Gaslighter,” the eighth album from The Chicks (formerly known as The Dixie Chicks), roughly a million times since the nominations were announced in late November. The awards are this week, and I’m still annoyed.
In the words of The Daily Beast, Gaslighter is “an explosive collection of sonic rage and sorrow, at this moment in U.S. history—and at a cheating ex-husband.” To get a sense of its energy, listen to the title track:
Patricia Miller’s Bringing Down the Colonel is a similar tale of a woman getting vengeance on a man who wronged her. Miller writes about the real life case of Madeline Pollard, a 19th-century woman who sued prominent Kentucky Congressman William Breckinridge for not following through on his promise to marry her. The couple had a decade-long affair that began when Pollard was just a teenager. After Breckinridge’s wife died, he proposed to Pollard but then secretly married another woman.
Pollard retaliated by filing a breach of promise lawsuit, a shocking decision at a time when women who had pre-marital sex were considered “ruined.” Her suit made the outrageous argument that society should judge the sexual morality of men and women equally. As Pollard said, “I’ll take my share of the blame. I only ask that he take his.”
I loved the way Miller incorporated the history of American courtship into the story of Pollard’s lawsuit. I walked away from the book with a new understanding of the Puritans (spoiler: not nearly as puritanical as their name implies) and how the double standards about men, women and sex we still struggle with today came to be.
Bonus Recs: If you want a romance novel like “Gaslighter,” Smexy Books has a book recommendation for each of the album’s tracks.
You Want a Funny, Serious Book
I love a book that somehow tackles real problems while also making me laugh. Candice Carty-Williams’s Queenie does just that.
In the book’s opening pages, Queenie Jenkins, a twenty-five-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, suffers a miscarriage and is dumped by her boyfriend. In an attempt to pick herself up, Queenie makes a series of self-destructive decisions. Queenie can be a hard read at times. I had such affection for the title character that watching her struggle was difficult.
Later in the book, Queenie begins to see a therapist to develop healthier coping mechanisms and unpack how her unorthodox childhood affected her. I appreciated Carty-Williams’s honest depiction of counseling as something that can be difficult but rewarding.
Carty-Williams imbues the entire book with humor, showing that even when life is at its darkest, there can still be moments of levity. I particularly loved the group text thread she has with her closest friends, which felt like the running chat I have with my own friends. The audiobook is a special treat, with each of the characters’ voices infused with warmth and personality by narrator Shvorne Marks.
You Really Loved SNL’s Murder Show Song
Last week, Saturday Night Live featured a musical ode to true crime TV shows. The song, “Murder Show,” lovingly mocks the way many of us (myself included) watch or listen to true crime media to “relax.”
The clip reminded me of Eliza Jane Brazier’s debut novel If I Disappear, which stars a true crime podcast-obsessed heroine, Sera. When Rachel, the host of Sera’s favorite podcast, suddenly disappears, she decides to investigate. She gets a job at Rachel’s parents’ ranch, where she learns the podcast host is not the first local woman to vanish.
Sera’s journey is packed with twists and turns that kept me reading well past my bedtime, and the book’s final three pages include a shocking revelation I’m still thinking about a month after finishing it.
I think my fellow true crime fans will especially appreciate this book. Brazier successfully mimics the intimate tone found in many popular podcasts and wraps her plot in astute commentary about the genre. (If you’re looking for more fictional depictions of true crime, I wrote a review for Best Evidence on four books, including If I Disappear that use true crime podcasts or documentaries as plot devices.)
I’ll be back in your inboxes on Thursday with a Q&A with Books On GIF, a fabulous book review newsletter. And, don’t forget to send me any questions about e-lending for Monica.
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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