Our Favorite Books By Black Authors

Recently the #publishingpaidme hashtag highlighted on Twitter just how absurd the discrepancies between advances for Black authors and non-Black authors are in publishing. For example, NK Jemisin’s famous Broken Earth Trilogy? She got $25K advance for each book. Jesmyn Ward had to fight to get a six-figure advance (a number frequently bestowed upon White debut authors with no track record) after winning the National Book Award.

If you’re White (or non-Black) and you’re anything like us, this hashtag (and the recent uprising against police brutality and racism in general) may have made you redouble your commitment to reading works by Black voices. Anyway, here are some of our favorites, old and new. Some of them we’ve written about before, some we somehow haven’t mentioned yet. Check it out, and follow the links to purchase from Bookshop, which supports independent bookstores with each purchase!*

*We’re not grown-up bloggers, so we don’t get any money ourselves… we just want to stick it to Jeff Bezos.

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The Best Books We Read in 2019

There are two things Janes and I agree on about our reading in 2019: how hard it was to pick just a few standouts, and the fact that Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends was a shoo-in.

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Breaking news from 1625!

Somehow this story was both so exciting that it literally made the hair on my neck stand up when I heard it, and also the most unimportant thing I’ve seen on Twitter since… ok since the meme 3 posts above it, Twitter is basically all garbage.

Conveniently, this story also has the property that if you care at all about it, you already know all about it, so this post is even more irrelevant than the Twitter meme two posts above that other one. BUT I DON’T CARE THIS IS AMAZING:

Claire Bourne recently published an article on marginalia in a particular First Folio copy of Shakespeare’s plays, held in the Free Library of Philadelphia since 1944. The notes drew her attention by being especially sensitive to the nuances of Shakespeare’s language, extending to the point of proposing emendations to words, and more poetic reorderings of key phrases.

One reader, looking at the photos in her article, noticed a similarity of the author’s handwriting to that of one John Milton. I’m sorry, I stuttered:

JOHN FUCKING MILTON.

Like I said, if you found that reveal at all exciting, you already knew. Sorry everyone else. There’s definitely further research to be done to confirm that this handwriting is actually (or very likely) Milton’s, but so far no serious objections to the theory have been raised.

The number of Ph.D. theses, books, articles, everythings that are about to be written about this text boggles the mind. There’s probably at least 50 years of work in understanding how Milton’s reading of Shakespeare affects our understanding of both Milton’s work, and Shakespeare’s. (Or there would be 50 years of work if the U.S. higher education system wasn’t going to collapse before then… but that’s a story for another time. )

For now – Milton! Milton’s notes on Shakespeare! Milton’s revisions to Shakespeare! I can’t wait to read more.

Alternate headlines:

  • “The kind of news we needed 350 years ago”
  • Britain’s Got Talent – 1630 Edition
  • … ok this bit didn’t go as far as I thought it would sue me

The Best Books We Read in 2018

As is tradition for, well, all book blogs ever, we compiled a list of the best books we each read in 2018. Continue reading →

Women Upstairs: On Claire Messud’s The Burning Girl

“My mother assures me that it happens to everyone, sooner or later,” says Julia, the narrator of Claire Messud’s new novel The Burning Girl; “…everyone loses a best friend at some point.”

Julia is quiet, cautious, and sensitive; her soon-to-be-lost best friend is Cassie, a fragile-looking, “troubled” girl, much more daring and eventually more popular. As Dwight Garner observed in The New York Times, “This pairing is a familiar one”–so many other novels about female friendships, from my favorite YA novel Someone Like You to recent literary phenom My Brilliant Friend, seem to feature the same general contrast. And it seems to be the universal inclination of writers (many of whom are quiet and sensitive) to narrate from the point of view of the less daring, the less dynamic friend—the friend with less story to tell. The narrator then spends so much time looking at her friend, watching her, resisting her stories rather than driving forward her own, that the novel’s center of gravity rests between narrator and friend, rather than centering on the narrator.

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Q: A Cult Novel about the Protestant Reformation

Over in Italy this summer I picked up a book totally at random called Q. It’s a fat historical novel about the Protestant Reformation, written by four anonymous authors under the name Luther Blissett. Its protagonist is an Anabaptist theology student who becomes involved in various movements during the Reformation. The antagonist, a papal informer, is simply named Q.

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Subjectivity and the male gaze: in defense of that controversial scene in 13 Reasons Why

SPOILERS FOR 13 REASONS WHY ABOUND!

The controversies surrounding 13 Reasons Why have been numerous and well-enumerated; critics claim that the show glorifies teen suicide by presenting it as a suitable revenge for bullying, that portraying teen suicide at all (especially using attractive young actors) is irresponsible, and that Hannah’s rape scene is triggering for victims. But arguably the biggest point of contention is Hannah’s suicide scene, which is incredibly disturbing. It’s one thing to hear about a child slitting their wrists, it’s another thing altogether to see it happen in graphic detail.

But does the graphic nature of the scene automatically make it irresponsible? I’m not a mental health professional, so I can’t comment about whether the show is responsible about suicide on the whole. But in regards to this particular scene, I tend to agree with 13 Reasons Why writer (and suicide attempt survivor) Nic Sheff, who wrote in Vanity Fair that they included as much detail about the act of suicide as possible in order to shatter the “myth and mystique” surrounding suicide, and especially to “dispel the myth of the quiet drifting off.” For those who are worried that the show “glamorizes” suicide, if nothing else, that scene definitely showed viewers that there is nothing glamorous–or peaceful–about the act itself. Continue reading →