Discover more from What To Read If
You’re Hoping the Court Rules to #FreeBritney
Are taking the kids to the pool or want to be transported to “The Borscht Belt”
Hi book lovers,
Can you believe 2021 is halfway over? I feel like March 2020 just ended.
Congrats to Katie W., who became the first person to submit her summer reading Bingo card last week. (I’m extremely impressed. I’ve barely made a dent in mine and I designed it.) You can submit your card (with five-in-a-row) here any time between now and Friday, September 10th to be entered into a raffle for a gift card to an independent bookstore.
Thanks to everyone who suggested a favorite graphic novel last week. Nathan G. recommended Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, calling them “modern classics well worth the honor.”
This week, I’m looking for recommendations of your favorite books in translation. Leave a comment!
And now what to read if …
You’re Following Britney Spears’ Conservatorship Case
Britney Spears asked a court to end her 13-year conservatorship last week in a passionate speech. Since 2008, when the pop star suffered a public breakdown, nearly all decisions about her life have been made by her father, who serves as her court-appointed conservator. In her testimony, Spears described losing control of her finances, her health decisions and her performances, saying, “This conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good.”
Coincidentally, while Spears’ testimony dominated the news, I was reading Kate Moore’s new book, The Woman They Could Not Silence, a deeply reported biography of Elizabeth Packer, a woman forcefully institutionalized by her husband in the 1860s. At the time, it was fairly common for men to send their “difficult” wives to asylums, with complicit doctors keeping the women locked up for years. There, they lived in squalor and faced abuse. Men weaponized claims of “insanity” against their wives , just as Spears’ father has continued to claim she is incapable of managing her own life because of previous health issues.
Packer is my new hero. After spending years fighting for her own freedom, she turned her attention to fighting for rights for married women and improving conditions in mental institutions. She was carefully written out of the narrative "because" men discounted her writings and work as those of a madwoman. The Woman They Could Not Silence corrects that record. Moore, who wrote Radium Girls, a history of female workers in WWI poisoned by radium, is making a career of writing about forgotten women — and I’m eager to see what she does next.
Bingo Boxes this Book Checks: Nonfiction
You’re Getting the Kids Ready for the Pool
For years, I lifeguarded and taught swim lessons at my local pool. One of my favorite parts of the job was watching kids get over their fear of the diving board. It was such a delight to see them realize what they were capable of.
If your kids feel a little sheepish around the diving board, I cannot recommend Gaia Cornwall’s Jabari Jumps enough. It tells the story of Jabari, a young boy who has completed swim lessons and thinks he’s ready to jump off the diving board but somehow can’t bring himself to climb up the ladder to the high dive. With the help of his dad, Jabari overcomes his fear and eventually takes the plunge.
I love this book and wish it had been around when I was lifeguarding. The illustrations are great, and the message applicable to all sorts of conundrums, not just conquering the high dive.
Bingo Boxes this Book Checks: Place you want to visit (doesn’t everyone want to go to the pool)
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You’re Packing Up for the Catskills
A coworker is off to a cabin in the Catskills this week — and even though I am currently staying in upstate New York, I am truly jealous. Hearing the details of her trip made me think of The Hotel Neversink, a multigenerational family drama set in a resort in the Catskills.
The book opens with Asher Sikorsky purchasing a hotel in 1931 as a way to build a family legacy. His daughter Jeanie makes the hotel a prime destination for Jewish families looking for a summer vacation in “the Borscht Belt” (recently made famous again by the second season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”)
At the peak of the hotel’s success, a young boy staying at the resort with his family disappears, an incident that leaves a lasting mark on the hotel and the Sikorskys for generations to come.
The Hotel Neversink, though, isn’t a classic mystery. It’s an examination of the ripple effects of tragedy, how it affects us and how we rebuild. Told from multiple perspectives —including a hotel maid, a traveling comedian, the hotel detective — it reads at times as more of a series of intertwined short stories than a traditional novel. It’s a poignant, moving read with a strong sense of place and compelling characters.
Bingo Boxes this Book Checks: Debut, short story collection, mystery/thriller
“I love reading poems in between novels. Here are three books to read if you’re just dipping your toes into the poetry waters: Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead will grab you with lines like ‘let’s make a movie called Dinosaurs in the Hood/Jurassic Park meets Friday meets The Pursuit of Happyness.’ Every poem in Chen Chen’s When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities is a joy to read out loud (to yourself or to friends). Ada Limon’s Bright Dead Things makes poetry out of the stuff of life: ‘Sometimes, there seems to be a halfway point/between where you’ve been and everywhere/else, and we were there.’”
Remember to leave your recs for book in translation here.
That’s it for me this week. If you missed last week’s recs, you can read them here.
Two programming notes:
I’m taking next week off to celebrate the 4th of July with friends and family in West Virginia. If you’re looking for Fourth-themed reading, you can’t go wrong with The Declaration of Independence (my dad calls it the greatest legal brief ever written) and Frederick Douglas’s seminal “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
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