Aw, March. You’ve got your lions, your lambs, your ides, your sap, your March Break. International Women’s Day happens in March. I wonder why that is? I don’t even know. World Down Syndrome Awareness Day is in March as well. And March, of course, has the first day of Spring. Many wonderful things happen in March. As the days start to grow brighter – TGIS! – books are always something to celebrate.
Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell. Yup, the title reveals the schema; this book is the 2014 diary of Mr Bythell, the crankypants owner of Scotland’s largest used bookshop. It provides his day-by-day recordings of what he viewed as important – book buying trips, struggles with eccentric or difficult employees, town festivities, books he’s reading, visits with friends, till versus online revenue, and his almost-always-negative take on his customers. I enjoyed the insider’s view of the trade, particularly the details about buying and valuing used books; that was fascinating. And I get that in a diary, a person might tend to record more of the critical than the positive, but it was wearing for me as a reader.
I’d love to visit – the book collection, shop, town, events all sound glorious – but no need to meet the author. Not sure my reading, my commentary, nor my conversation would measure up to his standards.
Murder with Macaroni and Cheese: A Mahalia Watkins Soul Food Mystery by A.L. Herbert. A new series for me, this light-as-air cozy features an entertaining cast of characters. While it follows many familiar conventions of the genre, the heroines (and I think the author?) are African-American women who bring fresh language, perspective and zest – cousin Wavonne has zest to spare – to the story. I thoroughly enjoyed the story, the food descriptions and recipes – no, I didn’t try any of them – and the nonsensical hijinks. I also liked that Halia doesn’t have a cop/sheriff/lawyer boyfriend/husband/friendly ex alternately giving her tips or warning her off. She’s an independent business woman. At least so far in the series…
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. Dave read this book first because Shaun Bythell (the bookseller, above) recommended it in his diary. Within the first few chapters, possibly the first few pages, he started saying, “you have to read this after me. It’s so good!” I knew I’d have to read it, or there’d be no peace in the Valley (Ottawa Valley; we were there for March Break). Not far in, I was questioning how I’d never read it before. I have two degrees in English for crying out loud. This 1932 novel is brilliant satire and gorgeously written to boot. How was it not forced down the throat of every English undergrad like the rural agonies of Thomas Hardy (ugh) or Emily Bronte (help me, Jebus) it mimics? Honestly, I need to read it again, and it may become one of those I reread every decade or so just to revisit a friend. It’s charming and dark and bitchy and funny, with a happy somewhat deus ex machina ending that ties everything up in a neat little bow and spits in the eye of the gloom-sayers one final time.
Sharp: The Women Who Made An Art of Having An Opinion by Michelle Dean. Ironically, given the subtitle, I spent much of my time reading this book feeling ambivalent about it. Not about the subject matter: the ten-ish women this book features were undoubtedly important contributors to a contained sphere of intellectual life in the twentieth century. I felt ambivalent about how their contributions were unfurled by the author. It reads like a show and tell; here are the knowns about this woman, about her points of view, about the barbs hurled at her and by her at others. At some points, Ms Dean draws connections between the women or their points of view, but she doesn’t make her own assessments or opinions overt. I am happy to have read it because I did indeed learn more about very interesting women. I feel that I could have learned more, or have dug in much more, should the author have chosen to more actively engage with her subjects. Rather than a recounting, I would have appreciated an accounting. Michelle Dean is sharp herself. Her critical voice comes through best in the prelude and afterword, and I would have liked to mentally dialogue with it throughout.
On the Pod:
I recently started listening to the Show Your Work Podcast hosted by Elaine “Lainey” Lui and Duana Taha, both of LaineyGossip.com and each of a multitude of other endeavours. Speaking of interesting women, these two definitely are, having built serious careers founded on celebrity gossip and pop culture. In episodes released each week, this podcast looks at the work behind the ephemera. What goes into creating and maintaining an actor’s perfectly imperfect image? What’s a press junket like, and why does it matter which critics get invited along? A recent two-part interview with fashion and all-around media powerhouse Joe Zee unpacked how the “7 Days Out” Netflix series got made, and how the NASA episode was the linchpin that made the rest possible. So guess what I’m watching now? Check out the podcast and let me know what you think.