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Beverly Cleary, beloved and prolific author of children’s books, dies at 104

Obituary from the Los Angeles Times.

Larry McMurtry, Novelist of the American West, Dies at 84

Obituary from the New York Times.

I Always Write in the Past: The Millions Interviews André Aciman

Here’s a fascinating article in which André Aciman talks about what he calls the irrealis mood. He defines this mood as follows:

“a category of verbal moods that indicate that certain events have not happened, may never happen, or should or must or are indeed desired to happen, but for which there is no indication that they will ever happen”—that is, “the might-be and the might-have-been.” It is a mood sometimes called fantasizing, or nostalgia, but it is really more multifaceted, informing our experience of art, desire, and even our own mortality.

A reading guide on the Asian American experience from Viet Thanh Nguyen, Charles Yu and more

“If there’s one lesson we keep having to learn in the United States, it’s that ignorance breeds hate and hate breeds violence.” 

The Los Angeles Times offers a list of “more than 40 books on the experience of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in this country, including poetry, essays, memoirs, histories and some of the best fiction of the last couple of decades. Suggestions come from Times staff; novelists including Viet Thanh Nguyen, Charles Yu and Steph Cha; poet Victoria Chang; and a group of scholars from Asian American Studies departments in California and beyond.”

Audre Lorde Broke the Silence

“In her poems and ‘The Cancer Journals,’ Lorde fought to name her experience.”

Emily Bernard’s portrait of Audre Lorde focuses on “Two recent publications, The Selected Works of Audre Lorde, edited and with an introduction by Roxane Gay, and a new edition of The Cancer Journals, with a foreword by Tracy K. Smith, [that] capture the complexity of Lorde’s singular perspective.”

Lorde treated her body—the range of her corporeal needs, fears, and desires—as a resource of political and creative information, a platform from which she communicated her worldview. She was unique in her determination to speak and write without shame, but at the same time wholly representative, embodying the complexities of a contemporary radical Black feminist identity. Her life emblematized the concept of intersectionality, a term coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to describe the ways in which distinct social identities, such as race and gender, are mutually constitutive. Lorde devoted her career to building bridges across social divides as well as nurturing the distinct voices of Black feminist writers who responded to the raw physicality of her imagery and her now famous rallying cries, such as, “Your silence will not protect you.” 

How Sara Gruen Lost Her Life

“The Water for Elephants author’s six-year fight to free an incarcerated man left her absolutely broke and critically ill.”

At age 80, Sylvia Byrne Pollack of Seattle will publish her first book of poetry

Don’t you love stories like this? I certainly do!

“Part of the magic of poetry is that, when you write the words, you’re a writer,” Pollack continues. “And once you put them down, they’re not really yours anymore. The reader has to do the other half of the work.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Literary Links

A Literary Guide to Combat Anti-Asian Racism in America

“Anti-Asian violence and discrimination has increased precipitously, but it has a long history in the United States”

Jae-Yeon Yoo and Stefani Kuo offer a reading list to help readers in the U.S. better understand racism against Asian Americans:

We’ve compiled this list as a way to better understand the deep roots of Asian American discrimination in the U.S. We hope we can help amplify the urgent need to acknowledge anti-Asian racism and the complexity of Asian American identity today. Staying silent exacerbates the portrayal of Asian Americans as the “model minority,” ignoring the violent and potentially fatal consequences of anti-Asian racism.

What Sets a Good Audiobook Apart

“Award-winning narrator Abby Craden has recorded nearly 400 books. Here’s how she does it.”

You just read the book into a microphone, right? It’s a little more complicated than that.

Want to borrow that e-book from the library? Sorry, Amazon won’t let you.

“Its monopoly is stopping public libraries from lending e-books and audiobooks from Mindy Kaling, Dean Koontz, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Trevor Noah, Andy Weir, Michael Pollan and a whole lot more”

“The case of the vanishing e-books shows how tech monopolies hurt us not just as consumers, but as citizens,” writes Geoffrey A. Fowler, technology columnist for the Washington Post.

Kaia, Kendall and EmRata Are Taking a Page From Oprah

“The book-club business is booming online, led by actresses and, increasingly, fashion models.”

This article in the New York Times finds that celebrity-led online book clubs have thrived in quarantine.

The People We Know Best

“Readers love fictional characters almost as if they were real people. Literary scholars are just starting to take them more seriously.”

Evan Kindley writes, “How to transition from a naive identification with characters to a critical analysis of texts is supposed to be one of the fundamental lessons that literary studies imparts.” Despite more than a century of critical literary thinking that taught fictional characters are nothing more than an abstraction in the mind of the reader, “literary characters are finally getting scholarly attention again.” Here Kindley reviews three volumes of literary criticism that focus on characters.

How Octavia E. Butler Reimagines Sex and Survival

“The parasites, hybrids, and vampires of her science fiction make the price of persisting viscerally real.”

Julian Lucas writes:

Butler’s great subject was intimate power, of the kind that transforms relationships into fulcrums of collective destiny. She explored the ways that bodies could be made instruments of alien intentions, a motif that recurs throughout her fiction in ever more fantastic guises: mind control, gene modification, body-snatching, motherhood. Her protagonists often begin as fugitives or captives, but emerge as prodigies of survival, improvising their way through unprecedented situations only to find that adaptation exacts hidden costs.

Murder, but gentler: ‘Cozy’ mysteries a pandemic-era balm

“For those who find their dreams in books, there’s a group of readers who are hungrily consuming a particular style of narrative to escape from the past year’s reality: “cozy” mysteries,” writes Tamara Lush for the Associated Press.

An A to Z Guide to Literary Devices and Tools

Kelly Jensen writes, “let’s take a look at various literary devices and tools used by authors to write. Many of these tools are valuable for readers to think about because they offer insight into what it is that makes a book memorable or effective.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Literary Links

The time is right to cancel Dr. Seuss’s racist books

One of the biggest literary stories recently is the decision by the company that controls the works of Dr. Seuss to pull six titles from future republication because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” Here Ron Charles, book critic for the Washington Post, expresses his agreement with the decision.

Dr. Seuss Books Are Pulled, and a ‘Cancel Culture’ Controversy Erupts

Soon after the story of the Dr. Seuss decision, the story blossomed into a full-blown controversy over censorship and cancel culture. Written a few days after the previous article, this article gives an overview of the Dr. Seuss news.

6 Books That Give Voices to Forgotten Women in Our Stories

The last several years have seen the rise of a movement to put women’s stories back into a cultural history dominated by men. Here Aisling Twomey lists books “specifically retelling older stories from the perspectives of the women in them who have long been ignored.”

Your 9 Favorite Classics and What to Read Next

Book recommendations abound across the internet. But I was particularly interested in this article, which suggests current reading based on your favorite literary classic. See what to read next if your favorite literary classic is one of these works: The Great Gatsby, The Crucible, Little Women, Roots, A Passage to India, Pride and Prejudice, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Forever Amber, or Jane Eyre

Teaching Classic Lit Helps Game Designers Make Better Stories

Poet Cindy Frenkel created a course called Creative Writing for Video Gamers, a requirement for students majoring in video game design at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan. Here she describes the lesson she learned from one of her student’s presentation: “appreciating classic literature and art could enhance not only the creation of video games but the player’s experience as well.”

“Classic literature has fundamental elements that reappear every day in video games, comics, and movies . . . because the building blocks of a great story remain the same throughout the centuries.”

Is It Worth Reading If I Forget Everything I Read?

Danika Ellis asks this question because she usually remembers only her general impressions of books she’s read, not plot details. But, she concludes, she will continue to read: “I’ve taken to heart that the brain is a great place to make creative connections and to come up with new ideas, but it’s a pretty poor place to store information.”

The Curse of Reading and Forgetting

In this article in The New Yorker from way back in 2013, Ian Crouch addresses the same concern that Ellis explains in the article above: “the assembled books [on his bookshelves], and the hundreds of others that I’ve read and discarded, given away, or returned to libraries, represent a vast catalogue of forgetting.”

Read his conclusion on this “minor existential drama.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Literary Links

New Report Explores ‘Engagement’ with Books, Digital Media

A new report released this week is being billed as the first study to capture critical data about how consumers “engage” with books within a “connected media ecosystem” that includes video games, TV, and movies.

According to Publishers Weekly, “The study’s focus on consumer ‘engagement’ with books—vs. ‘reading’ behaviors—is a key distinction” because “Engagement with books can run the gamut, researchers found, including people who check out materials from the library but don’t always read or watch them, people who give books as gifts, buy them to collect or display, and people who dip into a book for reference, whether for work, school, or a hobby.”

Reviewing the Book Review

The New York Times engages in self-examination: “As the publication celebrates its 125th anniversary, Parul Sehgal, a staff critic and former editor at the Book Review, delves into the archives to critically examine its legacy in full.”

Sehgal looks at lots of issues that range from the language or style of writing to the publication’s lack of diversity in what gets covered and what doesn’t.

Literature Should Be Taught Like Science

“This renegade professor says literature is a machine that accelerates the human brain.”

They had me at “renegade professor.” Keven Berger, editor of science magazine Nautilus, talks with Angus Fletcher, an English professor at Ohio State University, about his new book, Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature. Fletcher got an undergraduate degree in neuroscience before realizing that “the biology of the brain wouldn’t take him far enough toward understanding our need for stories.”

Why New Fiction Is Making Mothers into Monsters

“Novels and short stories are leveraging horror elements to express how dehumanizing motherhood can be”

Rachel Mans McKenny, novelist and essayist, explains how “Horror interlaced with the already-fantastic can teach us clear lessons about how little women are allowed to want in motherhood.”

The best books on Narrative Nonfiction

Since I read mostly fiction, I don’t discuss nonfiction often enough. Here author Samira Shackle defines and discusses narrative fiction: “Narrative nonfiction is a style of writing that takes the facts and dramatises them to create novelistic retellings of real life events.” 

See what she has to say about five of the best recent works of narrative nonfiction.

What Happens When a Publisher Becomes a Megapublisher?

“The merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster has the potential to touch every part of the industry, including how much authors get paid and how bookstores are run.”

Jonathan Lethem: Why Shirley Jackson is a Reader’s Writer

“On the Brilliance of We Have Always Lived in the Castle and the Intimacy of Everyday Evil”

Shirley Jackson, writes novelist Jonathan Lethem, has “been no major critic’s fetish.”

Rather, Shirley Jackson has thrived, at publication and since, as a reader’s writer. Her most famous works—“The Lottery” and The Haunting of Hill House—are more famous than her name, and have sunk into cultural memory as timeless artifacts, seeming older than they are, with the resonance of myth or archetype.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Literary Links

What’s Behind the Label ‘Domestic Fiction’?

Soledad Fox Maura, professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature at Williams College and soon-to-debut novelist, wonders why World Cat “(the biggest library search engine on the planet)” has classified her upcoming novel, Madrid Again, as domestic fiction:

Why would my novel, about an itinerant bilingual mother and daughter who do not have a permanent home and zigzag across the Atlantic at a frenetic pace, the long and complicated legacy of the Spanish Civil War overshadowing their every move, be in such a category?

After a quick look at the definition of domestic fiction, she suggests that we find some new terms for fictional genres if we, in fact, need such genres at all. “What I question is a genre that is so clearly gendered, with connotations that are so outdated.”

‘My Wine Bills Have Gone Down.’ How Joan Didion Is Weathering the Pandemic

Lucy Feldman writes, “Didion will forever be a certain type of person’s idea of a deity—the literary, the cool.” Here Feldman talks with Didion, now 86, on how she’s enduring the COVID-19 pandemic at her home in New York.

Didion’s latest essay collection, Let Me Tell You What I Mean, was published on January 26th.

What Stories of Transition and Divorce Have in Common

As part of its feature Outward, coverage of “LGBTQ life, thought, and culture,” Slate offers this partial transcript of a podcast with author Torrey Peters about her new novel, Detransition, Baby. The book features the characters “Reese, a trans woman in her 30s who desperately wants to be a mother, and Ames, Reese’s former lover and a former trans woman who now has detransitioned and lives as a man.”

Page refresh: how the internet is transforming the novel

“Doom scrolling, oversharing, constantly updating social media feeds – the internet shapes how we see the world, and now it’s changing the stories we tell, writes author Olivia Sudjic.”

Sudjic writes that, since viewing social media is now such a big part of our lives, we are surprised when fictional characters don’t check their screens:

We are hungry for writers who can parse our present, whether in essay form, in works such as Jia Tolentino’s collection Trick Mirror (2019) and Legacy Russell’s Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto (2020) or the fiction about to hit our shelves (or Kindle screens) that put social media front and centre.

As Political Divide Widens, Will Big Houses Rethink Conservative Publishing?

Publishers Weekly takes a look at the significance of Simon & Schuster’s cancellation of Josh Hawley’s book after his actions on January 6th as an unruly mob broke into the U.S. Capitol. The article asks several members of the publishing industry “whether, and where, big houses will draw the line with conservative authors.”

(Also see this article from last week’s Literary Links.)

25 Great Writers and Thinkers Weigh In on Books That Matter

In honor of the 125th anniversary of its Book Review, the New York Times “[dips] into the archives to revisit our most thrilling, memorable and thought-provoking coverage.” Writers featured include Toni Morrison, Joan Didion, Patricia Highsmith, and Kurt Vonnegut.

Tracking the Vocabulary of Sci-Fi, from Aerocar to Zero-Gravity

“The new online Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction probes the speculative corners of the lexicographic universe.”

Check here for the backstory of terms such as warp speed, transporter, and deep space.

Take a peek inside the world of longtime Seattle-area book clubs

I met most of my best friends at book group. Here Moira Macdonald, arts critic for the Seattle Times, features the stories of some local book groups that have been discussing books for more than 30 years.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Literary Links

Using Neuroscience to Understand Reading Slumps

Joshua C. Craig, who spent an undergraduate year studying neuroscience, read up on the scientific literature to see what the current thinking is on the subject of reading slumps. He does a good job of making the subject accessible for those of us without a hefty science background.

A Brief History of Detective Fiction

Whole tomes have been written on this subject, but if you just want a general overview, Emily Martin has it for you here.

Hundreds in publishing sign letter objecting to book deals for the Trump administration

More than 250 authors, editors, agents, professors and others in the American literary community signed an open letter this week opposing any publisher that signs book deals with President Donald Trump or members of his administration.

I have mixed feelings about this occurrence. Although I agree with the politics of the effort, I have reservations about beginning any such regulation of whose ideas get published and whose don’t.

What do you think?

The Most commonly Assigned Books in U.S. Colleges

Kelly Jensen reports on a recent study by “DegreeQuery, an organization dedicated to answering common questions about college degrees and options, as well as developing data-based rankings and reviews of U.S. colleges.” The study  “aggregated the books assigned among the eight U.S. Ivy League schools and the top eight public schools as ranked by U.S. News and World Report.”

There’s a ton of information here, but I found it easy to zero in on the area I’m most interested in, books assigned in English literature classes. Here’s one conclusion from near the bottom of the page: “The findings here aren’t surprising, but rather, they reaffirm the reality that the bulk of books being seen as important and worthy of study are those written by men.”

Read Christie 2021

Earlier this month we looked at reading goals and challenges. Here’s a new challenge from Agatha Christie Limited: “This year our book prompts celebrate popular settings, scenes and tropes from Agatha Christie’s works. We begin with the ever popular crime category – a story set in a grand house!”

Get the reading list (along with alternative suggestions) here and learn about the challenge’s presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Seattle’s newest bookstore, Oh Hello Again, has a novel system: categorizing books by emotions

I admit that my participation on Instagram is pretty minimal. My approach consists of plunking the pertinent book down on the floor and snapping a quick photo. I occasionally spruce things up with a pretty scarf underneath the book, but that’s as far as my efforts go. I admire all the time many bookstagrammers spend on composing beautiful photos with lovely book-love accessories, but I’d rather spend the bulk of my time reading more pages.

One of the never-ending topics among fellow booklovers on Instagram is questions (and photos!) of how books can be arranged on shelves. That’s the reason why this article caught my eye. I know this system would drive me nuts. I’m a Virgo, and I need to be able to find my books where they rightfully belong, on shelves arranged alphabetically by author’s last name. 

I’m willing to admit, though, that for some people this might be exactly the right method of organizing and displaying books.

Patricia Highsmith’s sordid search for inspiration

This article by Wendy Smith in the Washington Post focuses on the recently published biography Devils, Lusts and Strange Desires: The Life of Patricia Highsmith by Richard Bradford. I found the article interesting not only for its content of Patricia Highsmith information, but also for its discussion of the different possible approaches to literary biography.

And some time this year I do hope to take a moderately deep dive into Highsmith’s various works. And that dive will be accompanied by The Talented Miss Highsmith, by Joan Schenkar. At 559 pages of text plus several appendices and notes for a grand total of 684, this biography qualifies as a Big Book.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Literary Links

Overlooked No More: Clarice Lispector, Novelist Who Captivated Brazil

“Critics lauded her stream-of-consciousness style and described her as glamorous and mysterious. But she didn’t always welcome the attention she received.”

“This article is part of Overlooked, a series of obituaries about remarkable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, went unreported in The Times.”

From the New York Times, a look at Russian-born Clarice Lispector, who,  beginning in the 1940s, fascinated “Brazil’s male-dominated literary world.”

How (and Why) to Spring Clean Your Digital Book Clutter

I think I have more than 3,000 books on my Kindle. Because I only recently discovered how to use collections, there’s very little order to my ebooks. Here Ashley Holstrom offers advice on how to organize your Kindle cloud and your Goodreads shelves. She also tells us to create Goodreads shelves to log our entire elibrary, but I’m not sure I’m going to invest that much time in this project.

Charles Dickens, the Writer Who Saw Lockdown Everywhere

You may have heard the story of how Charles Dickens never outgrew the fear of incarceration after his family’s stint in debtor’s prison in 1841. Here Laurence Scott reports that “In her 2011 biography, Claire Tomalin notes that, in adulthood, Dickens became ‘an obsessive visitor of prisons’” and looks at examples of passages from his works that illustrate his obsession.

11 Words to Spice Up Your Book Blurbs and Reviews

John Maher splendaciously offers 11 words collected by the editors at Merriam-Webster who host the podcast Word Matters.

Who Did J.K. Rowling Become?

“Deciphering the most beloved, most reviled children’s-book author in history.”

If you haven’t kept up with the recent controversy swirling around J.K. Rowling, here’s a very detailed analysis of what it’s all about and what it all means.

Why on Earth Is Someone Stealing Unpublished Book Manuscripts?

The New York Times reports on “a mysterious international phishing scam that has been tricking writers, editors, agents and anyone in their orbit into sharing unpublished book manuscripts.” 

Both big-name writers—like Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan—and unknown writers have been targeted, and no one seems to know where manuscripts submitted through the scam end up. “When copies of the manuscripts get out, they just seem to vanish. So why is this happening?”

A Year of Historical Turning Points in New Yorker Fiction

Deborah Treisman, fiction editor for The New Yorker, comments on some of the fiction that appeared in the magazine during the “historically pivotal” year of 2020: “It’s hardly surprising that some of the anxiety of this unmooring year trickled into fiction—or sent us to stories that explore other historical turning points and what led to them.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Literary Links

Book Club Spotlight: How This 20-Year-Old Book Club Connects Virtually

The group of 15 ladies successfully transitioned from over 20 years of dinner and monthly meetings at the Rancho Santa Margarita City Hall to a virtual format — and were even able to welcome back a few members! Most recently, the club held its annual holiday party on Zoom complete with holiday sweaters, a book swap, and a meaningful book discussion.

PBS to Broadcast Two Documentaries on Agatha Christie

Mark your calendar! “PBS will kick off the year 2021 with two TV documentaries focused on the life and publishing career of bestselling British crime novelist Agatha Christie.”

The broadcast dates are January 17 and January 24.

Publishing saw upheaval in 2020, but ‘books are resilient’

From the Associated Press. “Book publishing in 2020 was a story of how much an industry can change and how much it can, or wants to, remain the same.”

A Speculative Fiction Expert’s Year of Escapist Reading

Kerine Wint, a software engineering graduate who loves to read science fiction and fantasy, writes, “2020 is the year that has made having an escape a necessity.” Speculative fiction is, she says, “ a vehicle that shows us so many new worlds, allowing us to view and understand ourselves and others unlike us.” 

As an added bonus, at the end of the article are links to similar links in other genres: mystery, literary fiction, romance, and young adult.

PW’s Person of the Year: The Book Business Worker

All readers think of people involved in any aspect of producing books as essential workers. Publishers Weekly agrees:

The most important people in the book business in 2020 are not the powerhouse agents or the megabestselling authors or the Big Five CEOs. They are the booksellers, debut and midlist authors, editors, librarians, printers, publicists, sales representatives, and warehouse workers, to mention just a few—the workers, who have been the most important people in the business all along.

I’m a Romance Novelist Who Writes About Politics—And I Won’t “Stay In My Lane”

An ardent argument by novelist Alyssa Cole: “Assuming the romance genre can’t be political is, well…political in itself.”

10 Literary Podcasts to Listen To if You Miss Life Before Quarantine

“Dig into these podcasts even if you don’t have the energy to dig into the stack of novels that’s been growing on your nightstand.”

The Top 10 Library Stories of 2020

Publishers Weekly “looks back at the library stories that captivated the publishing world this year—and what they portend for 2021.”

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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The Ten Biggest Literary Stories of the Year ‹ Literary Hub

Without any further ado, you’ll find the third and final installment of our countdown of the 50 biggest literary stories of the year below—so you can remember the good (yes, there was some!), the bad, and the Zoom book launch. It’s time for the top 10, baby.

Source: The Ten Biggest Literary Stories of the Year ‹ Literary Hub

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We Need More Dark Stories with Hopeful Endings

Author Les Edgerton believes that dark novels needn’t have completely dark endings: “To endure page after page of never-ending pain and sorrow and to culminate in the same morass of tragedy would only be nihilism, and the best books don’t end like that.”

Here he lists some novels that illustrate an ending that combines something good with something bad to achieve a realistic view of life.

The Bigger the Publishers, the Blander the Books

Dennis Johnson, the co-founder and publisher of Melville House, writes that “the Penguin Random House–Simon & Schuster deal threatens the values that the book business champions.”

Stephen King Has Thoughts About Stephen King TV Shows

With a new adaptation of The Stand arriving on CBS All Access, Stephen King discusses the best and the worst TV adaptations of his novels.

Book Clubs in Lockdown

BookBrowse surveyed readers and book clubs to see how book clubs are adapting to conditions brought about by the current pandemic. You can download their report on current conditions and implications for the future.

When Reading Had No End

Dwight Garner discusses the dual nature of reading in 2020: “This was the worst year, and nothing made sense any longer, except when it was the best year, because time for reading seemed to expand like one of those endless summer afternoons when one was in the late stages of grade school.”

The literary life of Octavia E. Butler

“How local libraries shaped a sci-fi legend”

This interactaive map of the areas in California where science fiction author Octavia Butler grew up reveals how important libraries were in shaping her vision and her career.

The Benefits of Community Reading Programs

by Summer Loomis, for Book Riot:

Community reading programs have always interested me. I like the idea of people from different backgrounds and experiences coming together to read something together. There is something so calming about people being capable of this. I find it very comforting. However, it can be hard to feel like we’re part of a community at times. So I went searching for community reading programs of the “one book one community” type.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown