Last but not least we have a hodgepodge of topics that just happened to interest me.
You’re the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women’s Friendships by Deborah Tannen
Ever since I read Text Me When You Get Home by Kayleen Schaefer I’ve been fascinated with the idea of female friendship and how they’re portrayed as opposed to how we actually act. Tannen is a linguist so is focused on what we say and how we say it. I’m definitely interested to see if there’s anything there.
Girl Talk: What Science can tell us About Female Friendship by Jacqueline Mroz
Same topic, different perspective. Mroz is interested in the sociology and science behind female friendship. I wasn’t aware of scientific studies being conducted on this topic and I also am curious with this title and the last if we are including trans women along with cis. I have a feeling there’s not going to be a lot of inclusion here unfortunately.
Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl
As I turn back to cooking more (our last kitchen was abysmal and I did the bare minimum), I am also rediscovering my love of food essay collections. We as humans have such a varied relationship with food and I hear Reichl is one of the best food writers. I’m super excited to get to this (even if it takes me until the end of the year to read it).
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee
Chee’s The Queen of the Night was nothing short of phenomenal. I have heard nothing but amazing things about this essay collection as well. Chee has a gift with words and has a lot to share with readers. I’m still kicking myself it’s taken me this long to actually get to reading it.
Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch
I listened to this on audiobook and it’s so very good. I am fascinated with language and how it evolves and changes. This is a great conversation on what the impact the internet has had on us. McCulloch does a wonderful job on both the information and the narration. This is definitely one of my top picks of the year for nonfiction.
I have been meaning to get to these forever it feels like. As someone who found romance novels at 15, they’ve always been a part of my reading life. It was not until I was older that I found out people shunned them. Why? We talk about love all the time (there’s a whole industry making bank on it, from dating apps to the wedding complex), but we don’t want to read stories about it? Weird. These titles were recommended to me to better educate myself on why romance is such an important genre.
This Week’s Topic: The History and Sociology of Romance
Everything I know about Love I Learned from Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell
This one is tricky. The only romances mentioned are largely by and about het white ladies (with Courtney Milan being the only exception as a bi woman of color) and even then, the same are repeated. It shows a very specific time in romance so maybe you’ll find it interesting.
Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan
Another by Sarah Wendell and I believe comes first. I haven’t gotten to it yet, but the previous selection makes me seriously nervous. I hope the examples given are more than just Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me (which is fantastic, don’t get me wrong) and Tessa Dare. I don’t have problems with those authors, but where’s Beverly Jenkins for example?
A Natural History of the Romance Novel by Pamela Regis
Published in 2007 this isn’t going to take into account the current state of romance including the rise of marginalized voices being more prevalent, but it sounds like it’s a good look at romance’s beginnings and middle.
Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels Explained by Maya Rodale
Rodale is one of my favorite romance writers (ask me about Duchess by Design. Sigh) and this book was actually her master’s thesis. I’ve read the first couple chapters, one of which discusses how irritating it is that most people know romance because of a dude. You know the one. Long hair, muscle–y, got smacked in the face with a bird while on a roller coaster.
Women and Romance: a Reader edited by Susan Ostrov Weisser
This one I’m a little wary of. While it was on a list of nonfiction about the romance genre, I have no idea what stance it’s taking because on Goodreads there’s only one written review. It happened to come through my store’s used desk so I snatched it up. I’ll be sure to report back.
Does anyone have a more recent addition to add? Rodale’s was published in 2011 making it the most up to date, but especially in the last few years, giant strides have been made in romance to make it more inclusive (albeit it struggles still as evident in the recent AAR debacle among other events).
Here we are in week 3 of Nonfiction November. This week we’re going to History Class. We’re going to cover a socialite librarian with a secret, Britain’s Regency period, ancient queens, Victorian childrearing, a lesbian landowner in the 1800s, and the creation of Jell-O. I have very wild taste, friends.
Today’s topic: History
An Illuminated Life: Belle da Costa Greene’s Journey from Prejudice to Privilege by Heidi Ardizzone
I’ll be honest. I started this in 2017 and never finished it. Life happened and I really want to finish it. It’s top of the list on purpose. I heard about Greene on a podcast and she fascinated me. Belle da Costa Green lived quite the life and I mean to learn about it.
The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austin Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love and Britain Becomes Modern by Robert Morris
Another that I started (although this one’s more recently during the move) and really would like to finish. I hold a fierce fascination for this era, exclusively because of romance novels so this is way in my wheelhouse.
When Women Ruled the World: Six Egyptian Queens by Kara Cooney
Ever since they taught us about Ancient Egypt in 6th grade I was hooked. Cooney’s The Woman Who Would Be King was well researched, yet made sure the reader was entertained. I decided on the audio this time and was not disappointed. Cooney is engaging and knowledgable and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
Ungovernable: The Victorian Parent’s Guide to Raising Flawless Children by Therese Oneill
I really enjoyed Oneill’s Unmentionables so when I heard the next was going to be on the raising of Victorian children, I was interested. Unfortunately, I was less than thrilled. The Q&A style didn’t quite come through in my opinion. But the photos and captions are great.
Gentleman Jack: The Real Anne Lister by Anne Choma
Queer people have always existed. Unfortunately they don’t always get to live their truth which is why it’s so amazing that we actually have Anne Lister’s diaries detailing her life. She was not a perfect person (pretty much a rich landowner who gave zero fucks about her tenants), but problematic queer people also need to be recognized.
Jell-o Girls: A Family History by Allie Rowbottom
This is the only title on the list that I’m like “why did I add this?” Then I think about how at my grandparents’ 50th anniversary they made sure to have Jell-O as a dessert for the grandkids, and how we would make Jigglers like they were something fancy (I was a poor kid in the 80s, they were fancy af) and realize Jell-O is nostalgic and comfort.
Are you reading any good history books? Share them with me!
I got to do something that was a chance of a lifetime this summer. As we were moving from Santa Cruz to Pittsburgh, I was contacted by my former coworkers at Bookshop Santa Cruz. They had achieved the only West Coast appearance of Erin Morgenstern for her latest book The Starless Sea and would I be interested in interviewing her for their Winter Newsletter. The answer is obviously absolutely. Without further ado, I give you my interview with the amazing Erin Morgenstern. I also want to give credit to Jessica Harwick and Jax Dunn for helping me cultivate questions and just being generally awesome.
THE LITERARY MAGIC OF ERIN MORGENSTERN
by Karena Fagan
The publication of The Night Circus in 2011 arrived without warning and with it came Erin Morgenstern and a story of illusion, love, and friendship. Eight years later, Morgenstern brings us The Starless Sea, which follows a fortuneteller’s son into subterranean libraries with mysterious people with dangerous secrets, and the kind of adventure that you can only find in stories. Morgenstern has a gift for creating worlds where every word is placed with purpose and every sentence is a feast for the senses. I reread The Night Circus every year, have a tattoo of Marco and Celia, and have two sibling French bulldogs named Widget and Poppet. I was lucky enough to be asked to interview Erin in preparation for her offsite event with Bookshop Santa Cruz on November 12th.
Karena Fagan:You use keys, bees, and swords as your principal symbols of the story. At what point did you decide to use allegory as a part of the fabric of the library?
Erin Morgenstern: Very early on I knew I wanted to use symbols of some sort because I wanted this book to have a strong visual language similarly but different to the way The Night Circus has its color scheme. Keys fit well with all the doors, and swords managed to feel both classic fairy tale and video game appropriate at the same time. I also really liked playing with the ideas of what all of these symbols meant or used to mean or didn’t mean and all the layers of possibilities in between. I knew I wanted an animal symbol, preferably something that felt a bit ancient, and when I was first working I kept encountering bees everywhere. A friend of mine sent me a “mystery” Squishable stuffed animal that turned out to be a bee. A honeybee flew through an open window in my Manhattan apartment. They made it clear that they wanted to be in the book.
KF:Video games are a huge part of the novel. How did you decide to make Zachary a game theory major?
EM: I always wanted it to be a story that felt old and new at the same time and at first I’d assumed that Zachary was an English major spending his January reading, but it never felt right. I remember it hit me in the middle of playing something (probably Dragon Age) that one could probably get advanced degrees in video game study now, something that hadn’t occurred to me because I was in college 20 years ago. It felt like the perfect story-related field to put him in.
KF:What is your favorite cocktail, and why did you choose the Sidecar for Zachary?
EM: I have several favorite cocktails, though I am quite partial to a Last Word or a Bee’s Knees because I tend to be a gin baby. Slightly dressed-up gin and tonics are my go-to when I’m feeling too lazy for mixing. For Zachary, though, I wanted something a little more fall/winter appropriate and in that time of year I tend to move in a bourbon/cognac direction. I wanted him to have that drink he orders when there’s nothing else to order, something classic that most if not all bars could manage. A comfort cocktail that tastes familiar no matter where you’re drinking it. (Side note: The only sugared rim I’ve had on a Sidecar that didn’t completely annoy me was once when the bartender only sugared half the rim so you could control the amount of sugar per sip.)
KF:You mention a lot of real life titles (e.g., The Catcher in the Rye) in The Starless Sea, which makes sense since it’s a book about books. Is there any significance to the specific titles or were they chosen at random?
EM: Most of the references are to particular favorites of mine or things that felt suitable. Some of Zachary’s choices are books I thought he might pick up in the winter for catching up on things he’d been meaning to read or somehow never read before, like The Catcher in the Rye. Dorian got my complicated feelings about Donna Tartt novels.
KF:There’s been a lot of talk about fantasy as a genre breaking into mainstream culture. Why do you think that is, and why are we hungry for the fantastical?
EM: I think people have probably always been hungry for the fantastical but there’s greater access to it now. I think a lot of it probably has to do with the advent of the internet, where even niche interests can find wider communities. I also think there seems to be less of a stigma around carrying childhood interests over into adulthood and I think that can range from video games and toy collecting to fairy tales and cosplay and beyond.I dislike using the word “escapism,” which gets thrown around so much about the fantastical, but I do think the world is going through a lot of horrible things right now and it can be refreshing and comforting to imagine other worlds and other stories and even other problems beyond the ones we’re faced with day to day.
KF: You’ve said that you thought you were writing a book about books, but that you actually wrote a book about stories. What’s the difference to you, and why is it an important distinction?
EM: Early on I started to expand the scope beyond books. Part of it was pulling in the video game element, but also so much is fairy tale/myth inspired that I started thinking more about retellings and different versions of stories, which I think is my primary distinction: A book is a fixed story, but a story itself is a malleable thing. ¶
Former Bookshop Santa Cruz bookseller Karena Fagan lives in Pittsburgh with her family and is in a non-monogamous relationship with Speculative Fiction, Romance, and Feminist manifestos. Snarky heroines are her weakness. You can find her at theunread.net.
You can find the interview also here on Bookshop Santa Cruz’s website.
Hey folks! So last week I focused in on memoirs. This week are the feminist titles I’ve picked up. If you know me at all, you know this is something near and dear to my heart that I’m always looking to improve. If you think the work’s all done, you’ve already failed. We should always work at improving our feminism, especially us white ladies. We as a group have a habit of leaving people out of the movement (as Mikki Kendall points out in Hood Feminism featured below) and we need to knock that shit off.
Today’s Topic: Feminism
F*ck Your Diet: And Other Things My Thighs Tell Me by Chloe Hilliard
For this title and the next, I totally consider books about body image a topic of feminism. Mostly because we spend so much time as a society telling non cis straight white men what they should do what their bodies.
Pub date: January 7, 2020
Gross Anatomy: Dispatches from the Front (and the Back) by Mara Altman
The cover of this one is what drew me in, but also like I said about the previous title, body image something that is commodified so reading something that helps me accept my body, I’m all in for.
Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot by MIkki Kendall
I follow Kendall on Twitter and was thrilled to see she had a book coming out. I really like what she has to say and I hope more people will take it to heart that there is still work to be done. There isn’t a lot of room for nuance on Twitter so I’m looking forward to a more in-depth look at her thoughts.
Pub date: February 25, 2020
The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West
Shrill (the book and the show) was an important addition to my feminism. I like West’s approach and I really want to see how she’s evolved since the publication of Shrill. Let me tell you, she does not disappoint. She spends an essay on how Adam Sandler is a terrible actor as well as how Trump is a “short in an 8 foot tie.” I highly recommend the audio as Lindy narrates it herself.
Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper
This title has been getting all the rage. I mean, when Roxane Gay recs a book about feminism, you go and get it. I always am looking to improve and I am looking forward to Cooper’s collection of essays.
What are you reading for Nonfiction November? How are you improving yourself?
Hey folks! It’s that time of year again. Because I have a habit of hiding in swoony romance, pew pew romance, and historical fiction, i like to spend the month of November catching up on all the nonfiction I’ve accumulated. So each week I’m going to pick a topic and go from there. This week is going to be featuring memoirs. I love a good memoir. Julia Child’s My Life in France, Eddie Izzard’s Believe Me, Patricia Lockwood’s Priestdaddy are a few of my favorites.
Today’s Topic: Memoirs
Horror Stories by Liz Phair
There was a very specific time in my twenties when I lived in Okinawa that I listened to Liz Phair obsessively (I was also involved with a pagan coven and lived on an Air Force base so there was a mood). This pick is mostly a nostalgic one. I don’t know much about her so this will either be amazing or terrible. But the trip down memory lane will be worth it. I hope.
Dear Girls: Intimiate Tales, Untold Secrets, and Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong.
I adore Ali Wong. A collection of essays written to her daughters is exactly what I’m looking for. I’ve already read the introduction and it’s a damn delight. I’m still bitter I missed her stand up because of the big move this summer so maybe reading this will make up for it. I doubt it, but it’s still gonna be a fun read.
Something that May Shock and Discredit You by Daniel Ortberg
I read Texts from Jane Eyre years ago and while some went over my head (I still haven’t read Jane Eyre, but it’s going on my 2020 resolutions list), I throughly enjoyed Ortberg’s sense of humor. I’m definitely here for a more intimate collection of his thoughts.
Pub date: January 28, 2020
Recollections of my Nonexistence by Rebecca Solnit
I can’t believe this is the first memoir we’ve gotten from Solnit, but I’m so here for it. I haven’t read everything that she’s written, but what I have read has inspired and given food for thought.
Pub date: March 10, 2020
Save Yourself by Cameron Esposito
I really like Esposito’s standup and am intrigued to hear about her life and stories. Just from her routine, you know there is a wealth of background to be explored and she’s made an impact on comedy and society.
March 24, 2020
Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place by Jackson Bird
I met Jackson Bird once in New York where he hosted a Pictionary tournament between Sarah Andersen and Valentine De Landro which was everything I ever wanted. He is a smart, passionate person who I admire. I had somehow missed he was writing a memoir, but now that I have it, I can’t wait to read it and pass it down to my oldest who has been exploring their identity.
Are you doing Nonfiction November? What are your favorite memoirs?