All posts by trav

At the heart of it all, I’m a fan. A fan of books and bookstores. A fan of fiction and non-fiction. A fan of authors and publishers. And most of all I’m a fan of great conversations sparked by books. All that to say - I really need more bookshelves.

Hay Festival 2021

The sun is shining and it feels good to have 2020 way behind us. While being safe/stuck at home wasn’t the best, one positive to come out of it is the way book festivals how to do virtual events and this year’s Hay Festival is building on last year’s experience!

Things kicked off a couple of days ago and virtual events are planned all the way through Sunday, June 6th. It’s a long weekend here in the States and I hope to get to take in some of the events.

You can check out the full schedule here. You do have to register for the events, but I haven’t had to pay anything yet. I’m not sure if everything is free or if I’ve just clicked on the freebies. What makes all of this even better is that you can go through the video archives and watch events from the past.

While attending a Hay Festival, in person, is still a bucket list item for me, I love being an armchair attendee. And now that their online shop is up and running, it’s fun to scroll through all of the signed copies of Festival books plus all of the gifts, including chairs with the Festival logo, mugs, shirts, stationery and more. All the money collected here goes to support the festival.

I hope this post finds you healthy and doing well and that you’re able to tune in to at least one Hay Festival session that interests you.

Are there other virtual events this summer that should not be missed? Let me know!

Free Zora Neale Hurston Audiobook

Zora Neale Hurston was born today, in 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama. In honor of her birth, one of her most famous book Their Eyes Were Watching God is available FREE to the first 10,000 downloaders. The offer is being made through by the publisher of the ebook.

Zora Neale Hurston

It’s hard to imagine a time when Hurston wasn’t the well known author she is today, topping many school reading lists. But when she died in 1960 she was broke and living in a state welfare home. She was buried in an unmarked grave until 1973 when some scholars did the research and went back and marked her grave.

The University of Florida has the collection of what remains of Zora Neale Hurston’s writings. It’s an amazing few shelves of paper as all of her papers were thrown in the fire after the order to burn her writings when she died. A friend of hers wound up saving them from the flames.

So grab your free copy of the audiobook today, while they’re still giving them out and think about all the stars that had to align to make this possible. Famed stage actress and civil rights voice Ruby Dee narrates this audiobook. I have not heard her yet, but Dee, who died in 2014, no doubt brings some real life awareness and urgency to the story. I’ve seen clips of Dee in the stage version of A Raisin in the Sun and can see just what a great fit she’d be as narrator.

Also, that cover for this copy of Their Eyes Were Watching God is pretty dang cool!

My 2020 Recap

I am so thankful to have 2020 in the rearview mirror. In pulling together this recap, I realized that I am certainly one of the fortunate ones and hope you and your loved ones are doing well. I have a job that lets me work from home, no one in my house got sick and for whatever reason I was not affected by the “I just can’t read right now” bug that bit so many of my friends. Being stuck, er safe, at home for so long, I was able to fill much of my time with reading.

I always find other bloggers’ annual reviews interesting and have enjoyed posting my recap from time to time. Though I never follow a template and just post whatever info is interesting to me at the time. So here is a quick peek into my reading in 2020. I hope you’ll post and share your readings somewhere. Please share!

  • 45% of my books came from used bookstores
  • 35% of my books came from independent bookstores
  • 20% of my books came from big box/chain bookstores

This is the first year, since starting this blog, that none of the books I read came from the library (thanks, pandemic). Needless to say, I am pretty excited to get to go back and browse the stacks at my local library.

One of the things I like tracking is how I discovered a book. This year my “I first heard about it on a podcast” column only had two books in it. Not having a commute has really killed my podcast listening.

  • 38% of the books I read were recommended to me
  • 30% of the books I read were ones I just stumbled upon in a bookstore
  • 18% of the books I read I first saw in a magazine or newspaper
  • 7% of the books I read came from book blogs I follow
  • 3% of the books I discovered through podcasts
  • 2% of the books I was gifted with, and
  • 2% of the books were ones I first heard about on Twitter.
5 book spines that I recap

Top 3 Favorite Fiction books I read this year:

Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing. I’m usually actively avoid ‘magical realism’ type books, but after I read Ward’s eye-opening and crushing memoir Men We Reaped a few years ago, I’d been on the lookout for more. I felt like this was a gamble for me and it was. But it was so worth it.

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne. I’m a tad embarrassed by how much I enjoyed Boyne’s wicked new novel. It’s a story dripping with depravity orchestrated by one of the meanest characters I’ve ever read. Bonus points for being a book about books and publishing.

The Motion of the Body Through Space by Lionel Shriver. I’ve been a fan of Shriver for some time. Her writing is just fantastic. This book is a bit of a slow burn when it comes to big swings in plot, but Shriver’s framing of an aging marriage in light of today’s focus on youth and exercise and self-worth is wonderful.

Top 3 Favorite Non-Fiction books I read this year:

Upstream by Mary Oliver. This was my first introduction to Oliver. Wow. I was blown away. Such a steady hand and mind. I was saddened when I learned she died, in 2019. She’s one of the writers you dream of writing letters to when you’re reading her book.

The Address Book by Deirdre Mask. I’ve already shared this book, in an earlier review. Not much else I can say except it’s rare when I book moves me to action and get involved.

How the South Won the Civil War by Heather Cox Richardson. This is another one that I reviewed last year and I find myself constantly referencing as I read the news these days ahead of Congress’ certifying of the Electoral College votes.

And I have to call out my favorite “Books About Books” book that I read in 2020. I found So You Want to Publish a Book? by Anne Trubek wonderfully honest and encouraging. Just a great conversation with someone any book-loving person would like to have coffee with. Trubek gets HUGE bonus points from me for mentioning Alvin Lustig. Throwing out the Lustig love is pretty much as close as you get to having ‘street cred’ in the book world.

I truly hope 2021 is off to a good start for you. I hope you are healthy and have a good read nearby. If so, please share! The year is just beginning and I am excited about the reading list ahead of me. I’d love to add to it.

How the South Won the Civil War – A BOOK REVIEW

How the South Won the Civil War presents an answer to a singular question – how is it that the hateful thinking and racist political motivations of the Civil War-era South are still around? History professor Heather Cox Richardson does a wonderful job in presenting an answer and helps shed light on many forgotten events, people and politics. Many history books (trying to present a new slant or case) wind up being too academic. Too stuffy. People won’t want to read them. This history book isn’t one of those. There is a mastery to the logic and sources that Richardson presents and the writing is compelling and well done (and at only 272 pages, many of which are citations and sources, it’s totally manageable).

book cover for How the South Won the Civil War
The cover design was done by Kathleen Lynch.

No spoilers here, but in How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America Richardson shows, that just as the post-Civil War South was failing, those still waving the Confederate flag found a new home for their thoughts and beliefs – out West.

The premise is that the genteel individualism/states rights thinking of the South was easily transplanted and fit nicely with the narrative of rugged individualism and manifest destiny that the West was using to fuel its growth. So the picture book illustration of the rugged cotton farmer being the backbone of the U.S. became the illustration of a rugged cowboy surviving on his own and protecting what’s his.

So while both pictures touted things like family, strength and individualism, in practice they were both built upon a foundation of slavery, racism and taking things from “the other”. Richardson’s argument was a new one to me and there is plenty to think about.

How the South Won the Civil War starts way back at our country’s founding showing (again, in practice) how the “ultimate paradox” was present in forming our country. It’s the whole “All men are created equal” being written by a slave owner argument. The policies and legislation made up through the Kansas Act, Red Summer after WWII, the politics of the late 1960’s through the 1980’s, etc. allowed for this paradoxical thread to weave in and out and continue up to the most recent presidential election.

And that’s one thing I appreciated about what Richardson has created. It’s not just an origin story. It’s not just a snapshot. Using very conversational language and plenty of sources, she is able to show that what happened hundreds of years ago created a nation with race-issues and ideologies that we are seeing play out today.

It doesn’t matter your background, your current politics or your opinion on how things are going in our country. This book is one you should read. It’s a healthy conversation to be a part of. Whether you agree, disagree or just have tons of questions, it’s a book that will have you underlining and scribbling in the margins.

I am giving this book 3 out 5 stars and recommend it to anyone who enjoys history books or finds themself having difficult conversations about what’s happening in the U.S. these days.