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July Book

Welcome, welcome! Hopefully you’re a return member, but if not, welcome to The Bookly Club  🙂 We hope you’ll read with us! Each month (or two) we select a book to read together based on a seasonal theme. Since we can’t all be in the same place, luckily we have the internet so we can all talk books, anytime, from wherever we are.

In July our theme is The Patriot. With 4th of July right around the corner, we like to take this month to read something about Americana. And we don’t shy away from ugly truths. It’s important to push the boundaries of how we see our country, our patriotism, who we are, and who we should be as Americans. Who we are and who we should be is different for everyone. So we like to read as much as we can of what different people think that means.



That’s why we’ve selected Rebecca Solnit’s most recent essay collection Call Them by Their True Names, American Crises (and Essays). If you don’t know of Rebecca Solnit yet, we’re very happy to be the ones to introduce you to her. She’s a writer, feminist, historian, and activist who’s published over twenty books on a variety of subjects. Since starting her career as an independent writer in the late 80’s she’s received much acclaim and praise. She’s a regular contributor to numerous publications, including The Guardian and Harper’s Magazine where she authors the Easy Chair column. Not to mention her most recent books which have reached unforeseen popularity, Men Explain Things to Me, The Mother of All Questions, and Hope in the Dark. The most recent being Call Them by Their True Names, American Crises (and Essays) which was just published in September of last year.

“In this powerful and wide-ranging collection, Solnit turns her attention to battles over meaning, place, language, and belonging at the heart of the defining crises of our time. She explores the way emotions shape political life, electoral politics, police shootings and gentrification, the life of an extraordinary man on death row, the pipeline protest at Standing Rock, and the existential threat posed by climate change.”

With essays like “The Loneliness of Donald Trump,” “Naive Cynicism,” “Climate Change is Violence,” and “Hope in Grief” we expect this collection to be a fraught and challenging, but informative. We hope you’ll read along with us this month, and learn a little bit more about the current America. If you do want to join it’s pretty simple… read this selection sometime in July, stay in touch via social media using #booklymark, and come chat with us about the book anytime either in the comments here on the blog or on Instagram!

Talk soon,

Bookly

 

Teenage Nostalgia

I knew fairly little about this book before starting. I was surprised to find how much of it I related to. It’s the story of Jessie. She and her father move from Chicago to Southern California just as she’s starting her junior year of high school. Not too long before this move, they’ve lost her mother to cancer, and now her father’s moving them across the country to live with his new wife, and her son. Their new home is grand and pristine. She feels unwelcome among the richness, and dramatically out of place at her new private school where money rules. The only welcome she receives comes via email from “Somebody Nobody;” an anonymous classmate of Jessie’s who volunteers his knowledge of all things Wood Valley High School.

Granted I didn’t move to Southern California after such a loss as Jessie experienced, but I did move from Chicago to Southern California as I started my junior year of high school. And formerly a student of public schools, I started at a private school in California where image and brands seemed king. Although unlike Jessie there was no new family, and no secret e-admirer. Unfortunately (the admirer part, not the new family). But so many of her experiences with that move felt very familiar. I found it very easy to fall into Jessie’s world, and Buxbaum’s writing made it even easier.


“Perfect days are for people with small, realizable dreams. Or maybe for all of us, they just happen in retrospect; they’re only now perfect because they contain something irrevocably and irretrievably lost.”


It was authentic, fast-paced, and kept you guessing just enough to rush to the end and Jessie’s reveal of SN (aka Somebody Nobody). Buxbaum balanced the high school politics with the power of young friendships, and the gravity of the loss of family. The story was equal parts fun and sincere. It felt like reading an early episode of The OC or Dawson’s Creek with all its gloriously indulgent teenage nostalgia.

So, in conclusion, if you’re looking for an entertaining, thoughtful, quick read with all the oh so sweet high school cliches, this is exactly what you should put on your reading list!

A Balance of Grit and Comedy

I hadn’t heard of Michael Arceneaux’s I Can’t Date Jesus until taking a poll on Instagram for reading suggestions. We asked our followers for suggestions on what to read in 2019, and this came through as an April recommendation. I think mostly because of the title, all of us Bookly Katherines were immediately intrigued. I mean, titles don’t get much better than I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé.

I also hadn’t heard of Arceneaux until reading this, his debut essay collection. But this is one of my favorite experiences, uncovering a new (to me) author and their work. His essays cover a range of raw experiences from flawed family dynamics, growing up in Texas, living in an oppressive culture as a gay black man, dating, to faith and Christianity, etc. I found all 15 essays raw, humorous, self-aware, and immersive. His vulnerability enriched each story. And as a privileged, hetero white female who grew up mostly overseas my life experiences have little in common with Arceneaux’s. But his writing was welcoming and intelligent, leaving the reader more aware and challenged in all the right ways. Not to mention how important it is to read authors we don’t share history with. How else do we grow as readers? Or as people?

I wouldn’t recommend reading this one in one or two sittings. Instead, I’d recommend reading it as I did; chapter by chapter spread out over the course of several weeks. It say on my bedside table where I could pick it up when I needed a respite in between A Game of Thrones chapters. It was a good balance of gritty and comical that kept me coming back. So if you’re a fan of essays, nonfiction, or memoirs I definitely recommend you add this to your list!

May & June Book

This school year has finally coming to a close, and we couldn’t be happier to welcome warmer weather and summer vacations! And as is tradition around here at The Bookly Club, in May & June we like to celebrate with a great YA read.

Although none of us here at Bookly would likely self-profess as YA super-fans, we’ve enjoyed most of our the young adult selections in the past (Salt to the Sea and The Perks of Being a Wallflower among the favorites). Plus, what better time of year to revisit being young and oh so dramatic… signing yearbooks on the last day of school, looking forward to summer reading lists (just us?), and everything in between.

This May & June (we like to combine these months for a little break during a busy time of year) we’ve selected Julie Buxbaum’s Tell Me Three Things. Now the author of five novels (her latest just released May 7th), Buxbaum started her career as a Harvard-educated lawyer. But like so many, her initial path took a welcome turn leading her to a career as an acclaimed author. And after her first two books, she debuted her first YA novel which became a breakout hit ending up on the New York Times best-seller list. That book was Tell Me Three Things.


“Everything about Jessie is wrong. At least, that’s what it feels like during her first week of junior year at her new ultra-intimidating prep school in Los Angeles. It’s been barely two years since her mother’s death, and because her father eloped with a woman he met online, Jessie has been forced to move across the country to live with her stepmonster and her pretentious teenage son, and to start at a new school where she knows no one.

Just when she’s thinking about hightailing it back to Chicago, she gets an email from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN for short), offering to help her navigate the wilds of Wood Valley High School. Is it an elaborate hoax? Or can she rely on SN for some much-needed help?

In a leap of faith—or an act of complete desperation—Jessie begins to rely on SN, and SN quickly becomes her lifeline and closest ally. Jessie can’t help wanting to meet SN in person. But are some mysteries better left unsolved?”


 

We’ve been hearing nothing but good things so far, and it seems like just the book we’re in the mood for. Full of angst, drama, humor, and teenage sweetness, we’re all in for this spring read!

And we hope you’ll read with us. How? Read at your own pace and finish up sometime by the end of the June. You can share your thoughts and updates as you read here or on Instagram (don’t forget to use #booklymark and tag us @thebooklyclub). Then on the last day of the month look out for our Instagram discussion post to join in the conversation!

 

Injustice Laid Bare

Since reading The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin nearly 15 years ago, I’d been looking forward to reading more of his writing. In the past, life and other books had gotten in the way, but with If Beale Street Could Talk as Bookly’s March selection I finally revisited Baldwin.

James Baldwin was an author, activist, and queer black man at his creative peak in 1960’s / 1970’s America. His words have a power that’s lasted generations. He wrote works of fiction and nonfiction that channeled the voices of the oppressed. And in his novel If Beale Street Could Talk (1974) he tells the all too familiar story of a young black man in America. Fonny is living his life among family and first love, pursuing his creative passions in New York City. And yet all that, and much more, is stolen away. Framed for a rape he didn’t commit, Fonny is imprisoned with little hope of freedom. Even after discovering that Tish, the woman he loves, is carrying his child, we bear witness to the desperate and near hopeless decay of all the good in Fonny’s life.

Told from the perspective of expectant Tish, Baldwin gives us an unhurried, intimate look as America, diseased with racism and bigotry, eats away at Fonny’s life despite the love that surrounds him. Faced with bringing new life into this world, Tish, her mother, her sister, her father, and one distracted attorney spend months grasping at straws to set this soon-to-be father free.

Baldwin’s writing style felt like reading Tish’s diary. Every thought, her fears, and the actions of those around her are laid bare for the reader. In very few pages Baldwin covers decades, and his deceptively minimalist writing gives us so much of his characters. I was invested in Tish and Fonny, invested in this new life and the family of love surrounding it. At times this made their story that much more painful to read. Their tragedy felt very raw and human. I can’t see how someone couldn’t read this without compassion, and without seeing the pure wrongfulness that is such incarceration.

The only theme that left me a bit confused and uncomfortable was the treatment of women in this novel. Aside from the fact that there was something lacking in Tish’s character (although it’d be nearly impossible for Baldwin to get into the mind of an expectant mother), the violence against Fonny’s mother (both sexually and in a scene of domestic abuse) plays out with what seemed like no acknowledgement of its wrongfulness. Fonny’s father even seemed to be idolized and catered to despite his agressions. Sure, as a character Fonny’s mother was easy to dislike, but the treatment of her, and her daughters, felt normalized which made me uncomfortable. Even at one moment where Fonny seems to express his affection for Tish with a request for dinner while she’s pregnant and in the kitchen made my eyes roll. I will say it did take a bit away from the story for me, like a small black spot on an otherwise beautiful composition.

All of this being said, I consider this a must read. Tragically our country is still sick with stories like these. Fonny’s life may be fiction, but stories like his play over and over again. So if you haven’t yet, read this book… or really anything by Baldwin.

And now I need to watch the movie!

April Book

We’re so glad to finally have a taste of spring! This winter felt much too long, don’t you think? Now it’s time to bring a little life and laughter back into our reading lives for Spring. In April we like to read something with humor and wit to break down any remnants of that dreary winter mood.

And this year we’ve selected Michael Arceneaux’s I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyonce.

Arceneaux is a Houston-born, Howard University-educated writer who started his career writing for various news media like The Guardian, Teen Vogue, Essence, The Washington Post, etc. And this collection of essays, published in July of 2018, is the first book published by Arceneaux (he’s currently writing his second, titled I Don’t Want to Die Poor addressing private student loan debt).


There are stories that simply demand to be told and Michael Arceneaux’s is one such story. Arceneaux writes from his life as a black gay man with an uncanny strength of conviction and such fine wit.”  –Roxanne Gay

In this collection, Michael Arceneaux is as vulnerable as he is hilarious, sharp as he is shady, thoughtful as he is THOT-ty. With wit, heart, and keen self-awareness, he allows us to see him in totality and forces us to feel our way through his journey toward contentment, wholeness, and reconciliation with faith and family as an unapologetically black, queer, and Southern man.”    –Janet Mock


 

In this collection Arceneaux shares seventeen different autobiographical essays. He addresses his Houston upbringing within a heavily Catholic family as a gay black man. His ever-present issues around sex, religion, race, and becoming the man he is today is at the forefront of each story he tells. It’s an intimate look at Arceneaux’s life and the paths he’s taken.

We hope you’ll read with us! How? It’s easy! Read your own pace and finish up by the end of the month. You can also share your thoughts and updates as you’re reading here or on Instagram (don’t forget to use #booklymark and tag us @thebooklyclub). Then on the last day of the month look out for our Instagram discussion post to join in the conversation!

Happy reading 🙂

Steam Fest

In true Drew and Alexa form, I’ll get right to it… this one kinda fell flat for me. I think that’s an unpopular opinion, so if you disagree with me you’re probably in the majority.

I had high hopes because I know a lot of others really liked The Wedding Date. But maybe my hopes were too high? Romance or love stories aren’t usually my first pick, but Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren and One Day in December by Josie Silver are two I really liked. And I’d heard Guillory’s debut would be similar. But before reading it I read a review that basically hit the nail on the head:

The book is also unexpectedly raunchy, since Alexa and Drew’s connection starts as a purely physical one and they only later develop deeper feelings. The characters never find a situation that doesn’t turn them on at least a little bit” (Kirkus Review)

I’m fine with some steam and a good love story, but for me things were a bit unbalanced. I liked the story and the characters, but it felt like it was all steam and not enough substance. So I had a problem getting invested in it because it felt like the book was entirely of sex scenes. So I’m sorry to say I wasn’t a fan, but I would still give a different Guillory book a chance.

A Classic Power-house of Women’s History

Women, Race and Class by Angela Davis has been on my list for a few years. I’d heard the name Angela Davis before, but it wasn’t until Ava DuVernay’s Netflix documentary 13th that I gained better context as to the living legend that she truly is.

As someone who believes in the pursuit of equal rights and social justice, and that we’ve been failing at both for a long time, I also know that my part in that includes continuing my education. As a privileged white female my pursuit of equality and justice comes much more easily than it does to most. But as it’s said, “until we are all free, we are none of us free” (Emma Lazarus). To achieve these goals reading a book won’t do the job. But book after book, and year after year, if we can strive to know more and do more with what we know maybe we’ll get a little bit closer in this lifetime. Don’t you think?

Angela Davis has been a memorable part of my continuing education, and she should be a part of yours. The gaps in the cause for women’s equality are numerous and deeply rooted in history. If you’re ever curious about what people are talking about when they say intersectional feminism, or refer to the suffrage movement as a perpetuation of racism, read this book. The book is organized chronologically starting with the legacy of slavery and ending with a working-class perspective contemporary to the book in the early 1980’s.

This book felt much like a textbook in its wealth of well-cited information, but not at all like a textbook in its passion. I love how much this book taught me, and I love how much Davis told these stories in the words of the women who lived them. To her credit, each chapter has numerous quotes from the women who experienced the full range of issues Davis examines in Women, Race and Class. 

If I haven’t convinced you already, I really hope you’ll read this book. It could be read in bits and pieces, a chapter here and a chapter there. But what you really need to know is that, in my opinion, this is a classic power-house of women’s history that’s not to be missed.

March Book

 

Awards season is always one of our favorites, but the Emmy’s, Golden Globes, SAG awards, BAFTAs, and the Oscars have all come to a close. However in March we celebrate some of the nominees and winners by reading a book that was turned into one of last year’s acclaimed films.

This year we’re reading James Baldwin’s classic If Beale Street Could Talk. Published in 1974, it’s the story of young love, family, injustice, and hope. Tish has fallen in love with Fonny, the father of her child, who’s falsely imprisoned and seeking the justice he deserves. Facing their uncertain futures, the lives of these two characters twist tragedy and joy in ways that make their stories unforgettable. Baldwin is a legendary American author whose writing is a beautiful as it is poignant (and if you haven’t read The Fire Next Time by Baldwin do so ASAP).

 


A moving, painful story, so vividly human and so obviously based on reality that it strikes us as timeless”  –Joyce Carol Oates

If Van Gogh was our nineteenth century artist-saint, James Baldwin is our twentieth-century one.”    –Michael Ondaatje


 

In December of 2018 the movie, written and directed by Barry Jenkins of Moonlight fame, was released to critical acclaim (94% on Rotten Tomatoes people). It was nominated for several awards including Best Motion Picture (Golden Globes, AFI Awards), Best Adapted Screenplay (Oscars, Golden Globes, BAFTAs), and Best Original Score (BAFTAs, Oscars). And Regina King has won Best Supporting Actress at both the Golden Globes AND the Oscars!

We’ll have to read and watch to see how the movie holds up to the book, but either way we’re excited to read this story.

 

We hope you’ll read with us (and maybe watch when it’s released for purchase March 26th). How? It’s easy! Read your own pace and finish up by the end of the month. You can also share your thoughts and updates as you’re reading here or on Instagram (don’t forget to use #booklymark and tag us @thebooklyclub). Then on the last day of the month look out for our Instagram discussion post to join in the conversation!

Happy reading 🙂

An Important History Lesson in Feminism

Angela Y. Davis’ work is historically honest and somehow succinct but incredibly expansive at the same time. Unwrapping the complicated nuances of race and gender narratives and their gross entanglement with societal class structure both historically and in more modern ways, Davis evaluates several dark corners of our country’s past ranging from slavery, education, rape, and reproductive rights. She details how women’s empowerment movement has been dissected internally by complicating issues of race and class. Her book is, in many ways, a love song to the fight for equality but sharply draws into focus the consistent impedance to success.

Historians not only inform our pasts but, when doing their job correctly, should guide our future. By informing our past failings, perhaps we can alter how we choose to proceed going forward. My innate response to historical themes of race and gender had generally been “yep, I know its bad.” That’s not because I don’t care but because I don’t know how to help or admittedly really understand the scope. Davis’ work has given me a slightly less narrowed vantage point with more details and context. Knowing how many individual facets come together collectively to shape into this behemoth elephant in the room is the first step in acknowledging the elephant. Guiding the elephant out of the room requires a collective fight.

That push for the collective fight is the ultimate goal of Davis’ work. I think Women, Race, and Class would easily hold its place in any list of essential feminist reads and is as relevant today as its date of publication in 1983.