March 10, 2021

Book Review - The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold


The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper

by Hallie Rubenhold

Genres: True Crime, Nonfiction, History, British History, Biography, Mystery, Feminism
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Length: 333 pages
Published: April 9, 2019
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

My Goodreads Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Official Book Summary:

"Five devastating human stories and a dark and moving portrait of Victorian London—the untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper

Polly, Annie, Elisabeth, Catherine, and Mary Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden, and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffeehouses, lived on country estates; they breathed ink dust from printing presses and escaped human traffickers.

What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888. The person responsible was never identified, but the character created by the press to fill that gap has become far more famous than any of these five women. 

For more than a century, newspapers have been keen to tell us that “the Ripper” preyed on prostitutes. Not only is this untrue, as historian Hallie Rubenhold has discovered, but it has prevented the real stories of these fascinating women from being told. Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, revealing a world not just of Dickens and Queen Victoria, but of poverty, homelessness, and rampant misogyny. They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time—but their greatest misfortune was to be born women."

Quote:

“It is for them that I write this book. I do so in the hope that we may now hear their stories clearly and give back to them that which was so brutally taken away with their lives: their dignity.”
 

Excerpt:

“Just as it did in the nineteenth century, the notion that the victims were 'only prostitutes' seeks to perpetuate the belief that there are good women and bad women; madonnas and whores. It suggests that there is an acceptable standard of female behaviour and those that deviate from it are fit to be punished. Equally, it assists in reasserting the double standard , exonerating men from wrongs committed against such women. These attitudes may not feel as prevalent as they were in 1888, but they persist - not proffered in general conversation... but, rather integrated subtly into the fabric of our social norms.”

 

My Book Review:

Brava to the Hallie Rubenhold for her extensive research delivering the truth behind the lives of the five women brutally murdered by Jack the Ripper. I cannot commend her enough for the work that she did in this book paying tribute to the victims of a mass murder and correcting what so many of us got wrong.

I feel like I’ve waited years for this book. Ever since I started studying Victorian literature, the infamy of Jack the Ripper has been a part of the cultural and historical backdrop. However, I've always been disappointed by histories that focus on the madman and dismiss the whole story about his victims. We've never really known who these women were and what we were told about them--they were prostitutes--was nowhere near the truth of what these women had gone through and who they were. By reducing them to a category, we failed to understand their humanity. Rubenhold corrects that mistake.

The research Rubenhold presents in The Five was detailed and informative, but never felt overwhelming or distracting. She proceeds one by one through each of these women's stories, carefully piecing together the truth of their lives and their relationships. I respect how difficult this venture would have been and so because there were pieces missing, Rubenhold had to research the contexts of their lives in order to best fill in the gaps. It would have been easy for her to make something up, but wanting to be accurate led her to include moments of wonder as she places together what we do know with what we might suppose.

I really respected the author's choice to entirely leave out the scenes of their murder or the horrors of what Jack the Ripper did to them. That information can be readily found on any internet search, but what she does in telling their stories is so much more important.

If you want to learn more about these women, this is the only book you need.

March 8, 2021

Book Review: Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie

Murder in Mesopotamia
(Hercule Poirot #14)

by Agatha Christie

Genres: Mystery, Fiction, Detective, Thriller, Murder Mystery, British Literature
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (HarperCollins)
Length: 288 pages
Published: December 2001 (originally published July 6, 1936)
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

My Goodreads Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Official Book Summary:

"Suspicious events at a Middle Eastern archaeological excavation site intrigue the great Hercule Poirot as he investigates Murder in Mesopotamia, a classic murder mystery from Agatha Christie.

Amy Leatheram has never felt the lure of the mysterious East, but when she travels to an ancient site deep in the Iraqi desert to nurse the wife of a celebrated archaeologist, events prove stranger than she could ever have imagined. Her patient's bizarre visions and nervous terror seem unfounded, but as the oppressive tension in the air thickens, events come to a terrible climax--in murder.

With one spot of blood as his only clue, Hercule Poirot must embark on a journey not just across the desert, but into the darkest crevices of the human soul to unravel a mystery which taxes even his remarkable powers"

Quote:

“I'm not often bored,' I assured her. "Life's not long enough for that.”

Excerpt:

"I suppose I ought to say a word or two about myself. I’m thirty-two and my name is Amy Leatheran. I took my training at St. Christopher’s and after that did two years maternity. I did a certain amount of private work and I was for four years at Miss Bendix’s Nursing Home in Devonshire Place. I came out to Iraq with a Mrs. Kelsey. I’d attended her when her baby was born. She was coming out to Baghdad with her husband and had already got a children’s nurse booked who had been for some years with friends of hers out there. Their children were coming home and going to school, and the nurse had agreed to go to Mrs. Kelsey when they left. Mrs. Kelsey was delicate and nervous about the journey out with so young a child, so Major Kelsey arranged that I should come out with her and look after her and the baby. They would pay my passage home unless we found someone needing a nurse for the return journey.

Well, there is no need to describe the Kelseys—the baby was a little love and Mrs. Kelsey quite nice, though rather the fretting kind. I enjoyed the voyage very much. I’d never been a long trip on the sea before."

My Book Review:

Nurse Amy Leatheran is hired by an archeologist to attend to his wife, Louise Leidner, who is becoming increasingly paranoid, seeing faces at windows, and believes she's going to be murdered. When she's found dead and only the members of the archeological dig are suspects, Hercule Poirot pieces together the clues to solve this variation on the locked room mystery tradition.

My jaw literally dropped when the truths behind the mystery were revealed.

Over the last several years, I've been working my way through the Hercule Poirot series. It's commonly known which are the most famous installments in the series--The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, etc.--but I absolutely love it when I come across a new favorite that I hadn't anticipated.

Fans of Agatha Christie likely know that her marriage to her second husband welcomed a new period of adventures abroad into her life, including a lot of time spent on location at archaeological digs in the Middle East. Christie's first-hand experience with areas like Baghdad allows her to add so much to the setting of this novel, creating a strong sense of mood and place just as strong as her celebrated tales set in the English countryside.

If you're a fan of Christie or murder mysteries in general, I definitely recommend reading Murder in Mesopotamia. The Hercule Poirot series can be enjoyed by anyone and you do not have to read them in order to appreciate their plots.

March 5, 2021

Book Review - House of Dreams: The Life of L. M. Montgomery by Liz Rosenberg

 

House of Dreams: The Life of L. M. Montgomery

by Liz Rosenberg
illustrated by Julie Morstad


Genres: Biography, Nonfiction, Canadian History, Middle Grade
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Length: 339 pages
Published: June 12, 2018
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

My Goodreads Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Official Book Summary:

"An affecting biography of the author of Anne of Green Gables is the first for young readers to include revelations about her last days and to encompass the complexity of a brilliant and sometimes troubled life.

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Maud who adored stories. When she was fourteen years old, Maud wrote in her journal, 'I love books. I hope when I grow up to be able to have lots of them.' Not only did Maud grow up to own lots of books, she wrote twenty-four of them herself as L. M. Montgomery, the world-renowned author of Anne of Green Gables. For many years, not a great deal was known about Maud’s personal life. Her childhood was spent with strict, undemonstrative grandparents, and her reflections on writing, her lifelong struggles with anxiety and depression, her 'year of mad passion,' and her difficult married life remained locked away, buried deep within her unpublished personal journals. Through this revealing and deeply moving biography, kindred spirits of all ages who, like Maud, never gave up 'the substance of things hoped for' will be captivated anew by the words of this remarkable woman."

Quote:

"She had come to a bend in the road--though at that moment she could not see around it. It seemed merely the end of a vibrant June day. She had a new friend in town, and she had begun a new story. Maud had no way of knowing that absolutely everything in her life was about to change."

Excerpt:

"On a late June afternoon in 1905, Maud Montgomery sad in her grandmother's kitchen, writing. She sat not at the kitchen table, but perched on top of it, her feet set neatly on a nearby sofa, her notebook propped against her knees. From here she could jump down if someone stopped by for their mail, as was likely to happen--for the kitchen doubled as the post office of Cavendish, a tiny seaside village on Prince Edward Island.
 
Maud was thirty, but she looked younger, barely out of her teens. She had large, sparkling gray-blue eyes with long eyelashes, and a small mouth she sometimes covered with her hand, since she thought her teeth were her worst feature. She was medium height, slight, trim, and erect. Maud believed her one beauty to be her lustrous hair, a feature she'd inherited from her late mother. When she let it down at night, her hair hung past her knees in masses of soft brown waves. But most of the time she wore it up, pinned under the most fanciful and elaborate hats she could find.

At this moment Maud was working on a new story. Though she had just begun, she felt immediately transported to another world--a Cavendish-like place she would call Avonlea." 

My Book Review:

I adored this young reader’s biography of the life of L.M. Montgomery.

Like many readers, I have been a fan of the Anne of Green Gables series since I was a child. As an adult, I read The Blue Castle and have increasingly found myself curious to not only read all of her books, but to get to know more about the author herself. Rosenberg's biography was just the ticket.

First off, I want to celebrate just how beautiful this book is. The hardback edition would make an excellent gift, which was how I received it. The illustrations by Julie Morstad are delightful. There were quite a few that I wanted as art prints as they would be beautiful displayed within a home or office.

As for Rosenberg's biography of L. M. Montgomery, I learned so much about her very complicated life that I didn’t know before; more importantly, I learned how she was different from her character, Anne. It's not uncommon for readers to imagine that the author is thinly veiling the truth with their fiction, but for Montgomery, writing Anne's story was a way of dealing with the pain in her own past as she rewrote a happier, safer, and more positive depiction of coming-of-age through the story of an orphan who finds love and acceptance from her family. Montgomery didn't experience the same.

The author doesn’t mince words when explaining Maud’s romantic relationships, romantic disappointments, depression, and dependence (and even addition) to medications, so this might shock some younger audiences and be better in the hands of older or more mature teen readers. As an adult reader, I loved her candor and honesty and appreciated Maud more knowing about the complexities of her life. However, though this is pitched as middle grade fiction, some younger readers might not be the ideal audience.

March 3, 2021

Book Review - The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu

Jactionary Book Review The Book of Joy Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu 
 

The Book of Joy:
Lasting Happiness in a Changing World

by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu
with Douglas Abrams


Genres: Nonfiction, Self Help, Spirituality, Philosophy, Religion, Friendship, Inspirational
Publisher: Avery (Penguin Random House)
Length: 354 pages
Published: October 18, 2016
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

My Goodreads Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Official Book Summary:

"The occasion was a big birthday. And it inspired two close friends to get together in Dharamsala for a talk about something very important to them. The friends were His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The subject was joy. Both winners of the Nobel Prize, both great spiritual masters and moral leaders of our time, they are also known for being among the most infectiously happy people on the planet.

From the beginning the book was envisioned as a three-layer birthday cake: their own stories and teachings about joy, the most recent findings in the science of deep happiness, and the daily practices that anchor their own emotional and spiritual lives. Both the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu have been tested by great personal and national adversity, and here they share their personal stories of struggle and renewal. Now that they are both in their eighties, they especially want to spread the core message that to have joy yourself, you must bring joy to others.

Most of all, during that landmark week in Dharamsala, they demonstrated by their own exuberance, compassion, and humor how joy can be transformed from a fleeting emotion into an enduring way of life." 

Quote:

“The more time you spend thinking about yourself, the more suffering you will experience.”

Excerpt:

"'Is joy a feeling that comes and surprises us, or is it a more dependable way of being?' I asked. 'For the two of you, joy seems to be something much more enduring. Your spiritual practice hasn’t made you somber and serious. It’s made you more joyful. So how can people cultivate that sense of joy as a way of being, and not just a temporary feeling?'

The Archbishop and the Dalai Lama looked at each other and the Archbishop gestured to the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama squeezed the Archbishop’s hand and began. 'Yes, it is true. Joy is something different from happiness. When I use the word happiness, in a sense I mean satisfaction. Sometimes we have a painful experience, but that experience, as you’ve said with birth, can bring great satisfaction and joyfulness.'

'Let me ask you,' the Archbishop jumped in. 'You’ve been in exile fifty-what years?'

'Fifty-six years from a country that you love more than anything else. Why are you not morose?' 'Morose?' the Dalai Lama asked, not understanding the word. As Jinpa hurried to translate morose into Tibetan, the Archbishop clarified, 'Sad.'

The Dalai Lama took the Archbishop’s hand in his, as if comforting him while reviewing these painful events. The Dalai Lama’s storied discovery as the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama meant
that at the age of two, he was swept away from his rural home in the Amdo province of eastern Tibet to the one-thousand-room Potala Palace in the capital city of Lhasa. There he was raised in opulent isolation as the future spiritual and political leader of Tibet and as a godlike incarnation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion. After the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950, the Dalai Lama was thrust into politics. At the age of fifteen he found himself the ruler of six million people and facing an all-out and desperately unequal war. For nine years he tried to negotiate with Communist China for his people’s welfare, and sought political solutions as the country came to be annexed. In 1959, during an uprising that risked resulting in a massacre, the Dalai Lama decided, with a heavy heart, to go into exile. The odds of successfully escaping to India were frighteningly small, but to avoid a confrontation and a bloodbath, he left in the night dressed as a palace guard. He had to take off his recognizable glasses, and his blurred vision must have heightened his sense of fear and uncertainty as the escape party snuck by garrisons of the People’s Liberation Army. They endured sandstorms and snowstorms as they summited nineteen-thousand-foot mountain peaks during their three-week escape.

'One of my practices comes from an ancient Indian teacher,' the Dalai Lama began answering the Archbishop’s question. 'He taught that when you experience some tragic situation, think about it. If there’s no way to overcome the tragedy, then there is no use worrying too much. So I practice that.' The Dalai Lama was referring to the eighth-century Buddhist master Shantideva, who wrote, 'If something can be done about the situation, what need is there for dejection? And if nothing can be done about it, what use is there for being dejected?'

The Archbishop cackled, perhaps because it seemed almost too incredible that someone could stop worrying just because it was pointless.

'Yes, but I think people know it with their head.' He touched both index fingers to his scalp. 'You know, that it doesn’t help worrying. But they still worry.'

'Many of us have become refugees,' the Dalai Lama tried to explain, 'and there are a lot of difficulties in my own country. When I look only at that,' he said, cupping his hands into a small circle, 'then I worry.' He widened his hands, breaking the circle open. 'But when I look at the world, there are a lot of problems, even within the People’s Republic of China. For example, the Hui Muslim community in China has a lot of problems and suffering. And then outside China, there are many more problems and more suffering. When we see these things, we realize that not only do we suffer, but so do many of our human brothers and sisters. So when we look at the same event from a wider perspective, we will reduce the worrying and our own suffering.'"

Jactionary Book Review The Book of Joy Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu

My Book Review:

Uplifting and inspirational.

The love and friendship between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu is beautiful. I didn't know that they had this deep of a connection, and they reading about the way that they each approach life while coming from very different religious backgrounds was truly inspirational and uplifting.

It’s not surprising that all of their wisdom on how to increase joy is supported by science.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book—it was just what I needed. 

 

March 1, 2021

Book Review - Last Witnesses: An Oral History of the Children of World War II by Svetlana Alexievich

Last Witnesses:
An Oral History of the Children of World War II

by Svetlana Alexievich
translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky


Genres: Nonfiction, History, World War II, Russia, Autobiography, Memoir, War
Publisher: Random House
Length: 320 pages
Published: July 2, 2019 (first published in 1985)
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

My Goodreads Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Official Book Summary:

"From the Nobel Prize-winning author comes an oral history of children's experiences in WWII across Europe and Russia, in the celebrated tradition of her masterpiece, The Unwomanly Face of War.

Bringing together dozens of voices in her distinctive style, Last Witnesses is Svetlana Alexievich's collection of the memories of those who were children during World War II. These men and women were both witnesses and sometimes soldiers as well, and their generation grew up with the trauma of the war deeply embedded in them--a trauma that would forever change the course of the Russian nation. This is a new version of the war we're so familiar with. Alexievich gives voice to those whose stories are lost in the official narratives, uncovering a powerful, hidden history from the personal and private experiences of individuals. Collectively, these voices provide a kaleidoscopic portrait of the human consequences of the war." 

Quote:

“For a child, the loss of a parent is the loss of memory itself.”
 

Excerpt:

"'He was afraid to look back . . .'

Zhenya Belkevich

Six years old. Now a worker.

June 1941 . . .

I remember it. I was very little, but I remember everything . . .

The last thing I remember from the peaceful life was a fairy tale that mama read us at bedtime. My favorite one—about the Golden Fish. I also always asked something from the Golden Fish: 'Golden Fish . . . Dear Golden Fish . . .' My sister asked, too. She asked differently: 'By order of the pike, by my like . . .' We wanted to go to our grandmother for the summer and have papa come with us. He was so much fun.

In the morning I woke up from fear. From some unfamiliar sounds . . .

Mama and papa thought we were asleep, but I lay next to my sister pretending to sleep. I saw papa kiss mama for a long time, kiss her face and hands, and I kept wondering: he’s never kissed her like that before. They went outside, they were holding hands, I ran to the window—­mama hung on my father’s neck and wouldn’t let him go. He tore free of her and ran, she caught up with him and again held him and shouted something. Then I also shouted: 'Papa! Papa!'

My little sister and brother Vasya woke up, my sister saw me crying, and she, too, shouted: 'Papa!' We all ran out to the porch: 'Papa!' Father saw us and, I remember it like today, covered his head with his hands and walked off, even ran. He was afraid to look back.

The sun was shining in my face. So warm . . . And even now I can’t believe that my father left that morning for the war. I was very little, but I think I realized that I was seeing him for the last time. That I would never meet him again. I was very . . . very little . . .

It became connected like that in my memory, that war is when there’s no papa . . .

Then I remember: the black sky and the black plane. Our mama lies by the road with her arms spread. We ask her to get up, but she doesn’t. She doesn’t rise. The soldiers wrapped mama in a tarpaulin and buried her in the sand, right there. We shouted and begged: “Don’t put our mama in the ground. She’ll wake up and we’ll go on.” Some big beetles crawled over the sand . . . I couldn’t imagine how mama was going to live with them under the ground. How would we find her afterward, how would we meet her? Who would write to our papa?"


My Book Review:

If you've never read one of Svetlana Alexievich's books before, you're definitely missing out.
 
A Ukrainian historian who focuses her work on recording the lives and testimonials from individuals who participated and survived some of the most difficult wartime hardships ever experienced, Alexievich's work as a journalist and editor earned her the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature. Her research is an invaluable contribution to our understanding of humanity.
 
Last Witnesses: An Oral History of the Children of World War II is an absolutely heartbreaking and gut-wrenching account of testimonials from childhood survivors of the war from both Europe and Russia. Alexievich presents their stories without interruption or framed narrative. The collection is organized from memories of the beginning of the war, through the painful years that followed, and culminates with the war's end. I’ve read many books about the Holocaust, but I never knew about some of the pains and horrors these men and women shared. To hear these individuals reflect back on their lost childhood is extremely emotional, but so very important.
 
If you're a fan of nonfiction and history, I recommend it wholeheartedly. I've also read Alexievich's collection War's Unwomanly Face and it is an equally powerful and significant text. Some of her other titles--Secondhand Time, Zinky Boys, On the Battle Lost, and Voices from Chernobyl--are also on my to read list.

If you've read any of her books before, please share your thoughts with me!

February 27, 2021

Book Review - Other-Wordly: Words Both Strange and Lovely from Around the World by Yee-Lum Mak

Jactionary Book Review Other-Wordly by Yee-Lum Mak

Other-Wordly:
Words Both Strange and Lovely from Around the World

by Yee Lum Mak

illustrated by Kelsey Garrity-Riley

Genres: Nonfiction, Picture Book, Art, Gift Book
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Length: 64 pages
Published: October 11, 2016
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

My Goodreads Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Official Book Summary:

"Discover words to surprise, delight, and enamor. Learn terms for the sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees, for dancing awkwardly but with relish, and for the look shared by two people who each wish the other would speak first. Other-Wordly is an irresistible gift for lovers of words and those lost for words alike."

Quote:

"Komorebi (noun, Japanese) the sunlight that filters through the leaves of the trees"

Excerpt:

"Gökotta (noun, n, Swedish) lit. "dawn picnic to hear the first birdsong"; the act of rising in the early morning to watch the birds or to go outside to appreciate nature"

Jactionary Book Review Other-Wordly by Yee-Lum Mak

My Book Review:

This gift book is absolutely lovely.
 
Other-Wordly: Words Both Strange and Lovely from Around the World is a beautifully illustrated walk through seventy unique words from over a dozen languages. Written by Yee-Lum Mak and illustrated by Kelsey Garrity-Riley, the gouache, collage, and ink pictures are so nice to look at and each word is so perfect to describe a feeling, experience, place, or person in a way that you never knew existed before. It was such a pleasure to slowly leaf through its pages and not only enjoy the images but the emotion of each foreign word or phrase.
 
This book would be a lovely present to a loved one and would also make for an enjoyable additional to a stack of gift books on coffee table, perfect for flipping through in its entirety or just picking up here and there to soak in a new page or two.
 
I received mine as a gift and it’s so cute. I loved soaking in its pages and I imagine I’ll turn to it again and again.
 
It’s both calming and thoughtful.

February 24, 2021

Bookstagram, BookTube, and BookTok: Reading Communities in the 21st Century

Jactionary Bookstagram, BookTube, and BookTok

Bookstagram, BookTube, and BookTok:
Reading Communities in the 21st Century

As an active reader, book reviewer, blogger, but also a literature professor, I try to make sure I'm somewhat caught up on new reading trends and communities so I can share that information with my classes. The following article is adapted from one I recently wrote for my department. I hope it is of help to many of you and readers at-large everywhere.

Please note that by no means is this a complete list. I'm only quickly referencing Goodreads and I've included just a brief footnote at the end about BookCon. My quick lists are not comprehensive, so if you're a writer, reader, publisher, business, or influencer and you'd like to share your reading community platform, please feel free to add a comment and tell us more.

***

Many of our students have been active on social media most of their life, but usually not on the platforms used by older generations. If you’re a reader on social media, there’s an entire world and vocabulary to catch up on. I assume you’re all familiar with Goodreads, so I’m mentioning it here but skipping it. Use it. [Follow my reviews on Goodreads here: http://www.goodreads.com/jactionary.]

I first became aware of the Bookstagram community in 2015 when I learned the most popular hashtags, influencers, and what the reading community was like on that platform. A couple of years later, I stumbled across BookTube and have been an avid fan of several book review vloggers ever since. Though I don’t anticipate falling down the BookTok rabbit hole, I’m aware that readers are uniting there as well. Some readers are actively involved in these communities; others are unaware but might benefit from learning that influencers are actively posting this type of content on social media. If you’re not already aware, I thought I’d share some basic details about these bookish communities. Let me know what I’m still missing.

Jactionary Bookstagram Definition

Bookstagram: [noun] the book community on Instagram

Instagram has been around since 2010 and focuses on photo-based posts that users can caption, edit, and tag. That, you already knew. Bookstagram is how readers, writers, and publishers connect on Instagram. There are popular influencers who make their living off of their platforms (but it takes years to achieve anything notable), others who don’t make money but thrive on gaining followers by posting heavily staged #bookstagram photos, publishers hocking their wares, writers trying to gain a following, and those who are just in it for the show.

Big-time Bookstagram influencers make their living a variety of ways, but it’s almost always first and foremost bolstered by their YouTube channel (I’ll get to that later with BookTube). Bookstagrammers create content by posting edited photos of new book releases, book-related merchandise, what they’re currently reading, mail from publishers (#bookmail), etc. They’re paid through endorsements from publishers or other businesses looking to advertise which often results in a combination of food, clothing, or similar venues as they hobble together income from multiple sources. The more followers, likes, and comments, the better. This can also, obviously, become problematic as living for “likes” can lead to serious mental health struggles. Notwithstanding the professional downsides, it’s a fun community. Following your favorite influencers, authors, and publishers keeps you in the loop for new releases, cover reveals, author interviews, book reviews, reading challenges, and more. It's a fun group of like-minded souls.

Because Instagram is focused on visual appeal, there are an endless number of users who go the route of spending hours staging a book, a cup of tea, and a candle in just the right sunlight. There are also numerous book subscription companies that advertise their wares, everything from what new releases are available for discounted delivery that month to others who’ll send you bookish merchandise, knick-knacks, and other gew-gaws if you fork over the right price. 

Jactionary Bookstagrammers

Bookstagram Quick List:

Bookstagrammers: @subwaybookreview [133k], @littlefreelibrary [106K], @wellreadblackgirl [412K], @nypl [461K], @jessethereader [156K], @bookriot [259K], and me @jactionary

Aesthetic appeal: @jamestrevino [243K], @eviebookish [70.9K], @hayaisreading [116K], @newleafwriter [46K], @foldedpagesdistillery [119K]

Book subscription companies: @owlcrate [227K], @thebookishbox [124K], @bookofthemonth [1M], @illumicrate [90.1K]

Notable authors: @authorkierstinwhite [20.2K], @neilhimself [678K], @lbardugo [242K], @veschwab [177K], @krakauernotwriting [102K], @elizabeth_gilbert_writer [1M]

Publishers: @randomhouse [517K], @scholasticinc [211K], @penguinteen [294K], @barnesandnoble [636K], @harpercollins [428K]

Popular hashtags: #bookstagram, #amreading, #currentlyreading, #booklover, #booknerdigans, #shelfie, #bookshelfie, #bookworm, #reader, #tbrpile

Jactionary BookTube Definition

BookTube: [noun] the book community on YouTube

Users have been uploading video content on YouTube since its creation in 2005. Over time, the platform’s relationship to subscribers has changed, with many younger viewers spending as much time streaming YouTube as Netflix, Hulu, or Prime, and definitely much more than standard cable. BookTubers are users whose content is (mostly) dedicated to reading vlogs, book reviews, book recommendations, book clubs and livestreams, monthly TBR’s (to-be-read lists), reading goals, reading recaps, book hauls (monthly book acquisitions), opening monthly book box subscription deliveries, etc. Some BookTubers exist and upload content independently, while others will reference each other’s videos and collaborate.

Either way, like Bookstagram, the end goal is usually the same: talk about books and make money. BookTubers make an income off of ad revenue (only attainable after reaching YouTube milestones for hours streamed by viewers), paid sponsorships, affiliate links, or connecting to other social media platforms. Many are young enough they’re still living at home or going to college, while others are out on their own and use it as a side income. Occasionally, some BookTubers solely depend on the income from their platform, but I’ve found that my favorite creators are those who are slightly older and still work full-time jobs in the “real world” (whatever that even means any more). That being said, even they admit their part-time BookTube income requires full-time hours. Websites like socialblade.com provide ballpark estimates for how much YouTubers make from views but some question its reliability. Once again, it’s not a get-rich-quick-scheme.

There are many YouTube channels in this category, so really it’s about knowing what kind of books you like, matching that with a creator’s content, and deciding whose reviews you can really trust. In my experience, the younger the creator, the more likely they are to go easy on reviews (5-stars to everything followed by ten exclamation points) because they’re more focused on gaining followers and not upsetting authors and publishers. Even if I don’t always read the same genres as a BookTuber, I’m more apt to be curious about their reviews when it’s clear they give a wide range of scores and are willing to be open and honest about their opinions.

Much of the current conversation with BookTube aligns with concerns with other social media platforms: diversifying content, both from the creators and what they’re reading. 2020’s focus on social justice has encouraged many channels to include non-fiction titles or do some self-reflection on who they are (or are not) reading. I openly admit that I need to work on expanding the diversity of those I subscribe to and I've been really grateful for Kayla from BooksandLala for how many new BookTubers she supports and references. She is a valuable resource for finding more influencers in the community.

The look and feel of videos will greatly vary. While standing in front of white, Ikea bookshelves displaying many hardbacks (sometimes color-coded) is standard, some channels edit their videos to include quick cuts, special effects, or artistic shots, while others keep it simple or focus on the standard hand-held camera vlog format. Since format and content greatly vary, I’ll just feature a few of my current favorites. It’s easy to find more by searching, checking which channels BookTubers subscribe to, mention, or noting who they credit and link in the description box when they participate in a challenge or trend.

Jactionary Popular BookTubers
BookTube Quick List:

@BooksandLala [112K subscribers, 13M views]: Kayla (aka Lala) is a married mom who works full time, lives in Canada, and loves to read thrillers and horror. She’s in her early 30’s, reads a couple hundred books a year, and seems like someone I’d want to hang out with in real life. One of the “older” BookTubers, she also reads a fair amount of nonfiction, middle grade, YA, and is a fan of anthologies. She also does many book challenges.

@PeruseProject [314K subscribers, 41M views]: Regan is in her mid-20’s and lives in downtown NYC while working full-time in program analytics. She lives with her boyfriend, her pug, and does weekend reading vlogs from her apartment. Her edits are simple and she mostly reads YA fantasy, YA sci fi, middle grade, contemporary fiction, and the occasional non-fiction title. I respect that she’s a full-time working woman who fits in her reading on the nights and weekends like a more semi-normal grown-up. She’s a good example of a BookTuber who’s very successful with sponsorships.

@HaileyinBookland [294K subscribers, 32M views]: Hailey mostly reads YA and writes YA romance (she’s currently on submission with her first manuscript). She’s an example of a full-time BookTuber depending on it as her sole income.

@JessetheReader [403K subscribers, 49M views]: Jesse is one of the few male BookTubers I’ve encountered. He does fast edits, humorous cuts, and he’s a mindful reader who enjoys Manga, YA fiction, contemporary fiction, and is looking to read more works in translation.

@PolandBananasBooks [411K subscribers, 74M views]: Christine Riccio posted videos for years, gained a strong following, and is now an author (Again, but Better came out in 2019 and Better Together comes out this spring). She’s very quirky, frequently profane, and obsessed with Taylor Swift, The Shadowhunter Chronicles, and romance.

Jactionary BookTok Definition

BookTok: [noun] the book community on TikTok

TikTok is the 2016 trending video blackhole that will try to entice you to watch hour after hour of short clips for as long as you’ll let it. You become TikTok famous when your short video goes viral. Once again, the more subscribers and the more views, the more money users stand to make from influencer marketing (working with brands for sponsored posts), creating merchandise, or even selling your now-famous account to another user. Like Instagram, you can search videos and creators with hashtags. Like Instagram’s infinite scroll, TikTok will keep playing videos as its algorithm learns to continuously stream content it thinks you’ll want to see. You can “heart” videos, swipe, tap, comment, etc. BookTok is then—you guessed it—how readers share their videos and bookish tags. I’ve only spent limited time watching TikTok videos, but as with Instagram and YouTube it can be helpful to know that there are specialty creators who feature reading content on this platform. Use the hashtag #booktok and fall down the rabbit hole from there.

Jactionary BookTokkers

BookTok Quick List:

Popular booktoks: @sashaalsbergg [36.7K], @abbysbooks [208K], @bookedj [36.7K], @lovebookstoo [31.9K], @moongirlreads_ [107.6K], @gvhslibrary [36.4K], @kellyygillann [65K], @the.ones.about.books [81.2K], @penguin_teen [225.1K], @ezeekat [169.5K]

Jactionary BookCon Definition

BookCon: [noun] the annual fan convention for readers, a spin-off of other conventions like Comic-Con

BookCon began in NYC in 2014 as an annual fan convention for readers. Publishers, authors, BookTubers, book bloggers, and readers could all attend panels, talk books, and spend all their pocket money at this popular trade show.

The convention’s status, however, is currently not looking good. The 2020 and 2021 conventions were canceled due to COVID-19—no surprise—but the company that coordinates the event is going under. It’s possible another business might take over, but for now, stay tuned for more updates.

Share your favorite Bookstagram, BookTube, or BookCon influencers below!

 

February 22, 2021

Book Review: Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Terrible Typhoid Mary:
A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America

by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Genres: Nonfiction, History, Biography, Medical Science, Young Adult
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Length: 229 pages
Published: August 4, 2015
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble
 

My Goodreads Rating: 3.5 or 4 out of 5 stars

Official Book Summary:

"What happens when a person's reputation has been forever damaged?

With archival photographs and text among other primary sources, this riveting biography of Mary Mallon by the Sibert medalist and Newbery Honor winner Susan Bartoletti looks beyond the tabloid scandal of Mary's controversial life.

How she was treated by medical and legal officials reveals a lesser-known story of human and constitutional rights, entangled with the science of pathology and enduring questions about who Mary Mallon really was.

How did her name become synonymous with deadly disease? And who is really responsible for the lasting legacy of Typhoid Mary?

This thorough exploration includes an author's note, timeline, annotated source notes, and bibliography."

Quote:

"This I know for sure: Life is...uncertain. As a society and as individuals, we must protect healthy people from disease. We must also treat those suffering from disease in an intelligent, humane, and compassionate way. We need to be rational and keep our fears in check."

Excerpt (from Chapter One):

"In Oyster Bay, Long Island, Mrs. Charles Elliot Warren had fired her cook. It was August 1906, and with several weeks left in the summer, she needed a cook. She could not manage without one. Not with a household of four children and five servants to feed. Not with a social calendar filled to the brim with dinner parties and Sunday teas.

"For a wealthy woman such as Mrs. Warren, it was a terrible fix. There were plenty of servants in America--roughly 2.3 million--but for women like her, a good servant was hard to find.

"Mrs. Warren needed a cook who wouldn't mind the lack of freedom and the fourteen-hour days. She needed someone available morning, noon, and night. Someone who wore a white servant's cap and apron, a plain dress, and thick-soled shoes. Someone who never left the house without permission. Some cooks shared rooms with the other servants. Others made themselves comfortable sleeping in the attic or the cellar.

"A good servant wasn't uppity. She knew her place. If a servant was smarter than her employer, she never showed it. She was humble. She ate in the kitchen, using the plain crockery and ironware, not the good family china and silver. Even though her employer called her by her given name--Bridget or Sally or Peggy or Maggie--she said 'Mister' and 'Sir' and 'Miss' or 'Mrs.' and 'Ma'am.' No matter her age, she was always a girl and never a lady."

My Book Review:

Terribly sad. As I was reading it, I kept feeling that I'd read it sometime before, but I was happy to reread it and reengage with the truth and history behind this tragedy.
 
In this book, Susan Campbell Bartoletti tells young readers the story of how a woman named Mary Mallon became known as Typhoid Mary, because she was a healthy carrier or asymptomatic carrier of a disease that lived within her thought she showed no symptoms.
 
While I never could have known that we would all collectively live through the COVID-19 pandemic, Mary's story struck a chord with me pre-covid and is even more pertinent and applicable today.
 
Mary Mallon was an Irish immigrant who worked as a cook in the United States. Fecal matter on her hands infected the food she prepared and consequently the many households in which she lived and worked, sadly causing at least one death.
 
Though modern-day critics would say, "Why didn't she just wash her hands?" to rid her hands from transmitting typhoid, she would have had to wash them in 140 degree water which would have caused burns. Thus, she was likely clean and might have consistently washed her hands, but ultimately she could not keep from infecting others.
 
Ultimately, Mary ran from the police, brandished a carving knife at an epidemiologist who tried to stop her cooking, and lived a life of forced isolation and imprisonment. However, when she was offered freedom if she would live in a way in which she would no longer infect others, she later once again became a cook in a hospital where she did just that. Thinking about her life, the situation in which she lived, and learning about what physicians and scientists understood and did not yet know about the transmission of disease, made this book a really fascinating and educational read. Even though it's written for young adults, it could easily be enjoyed by adult readers.

February 19, 2021

Favorite Fiction & Poetry Books of 2020

 

 

To conclude my year in review, here are all of my favorite fiction and poetry books that I read during 2020. I had a chance to reread several longtime faves as well as encounter new books that I adored. Books were a welcome form of escape during so many months spent in isolation.

What were your favorite books from 2020?

5 out of 5 stars

Circe
by Madeline Miller

Jane Eyre
by Charlotte Brontë

Frankenstein
by Mary Shelley

The Thursday Murder Club (Thursday Murder Club #1)
by Richard Osman

Troubled Blood (Cormoran Strike #5)
by Robert Galbraith

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Hercule Poirot #4)
by Agatha Christie

Once Upon a River
by Diane Setterfield

The Midnight Library
by Matt Haig

Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems
by Billy Collins

4 out of 5 stars

Such a Fun Age
by Kiley Reid

Dearly: New Poems
by Margaret Atwood

Murder in the Mews (Hercule Poirot #18)
by Agatha Christie

The Invention of Wings
by Sue Monk Kidd

Mrs. McGinty's Dead (Hercule Poirot #30)
by Agatha Christie

The Grand Sophy
by Georgette Heyer

The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories
by Agatha Christie

Dear Edward
by Ann Napolitano

The Glass Hotel
by Emily St. John Mandel

3 out of 5 stars 

Station Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel

The Cherry Orchard
by Anton Chekhov

Anxious People
by Fredrik Backman

The Odyssey
by Homer

Finna
by Nate Marshall

The Under Dog and Other Stories (Hercule Poirot #29)
by Agatha Christie

Transcription
by Kate Atkinson

February 17, 2021

Favorite Nonfiction of 2020

 

I didn't know how much I enjoyed nonfiction (memoir, CNF, biography, history, etc.) until I became aware of how diverse the genre could be. As an undergraduate student, if you would have asked what I thought of nonfiction, I likely would have flashed back to reading long nonfiction essays in my early American literature course and how much I struggled getting through it all. During my master's program, I was exposed to creative nonfiction in all of its forms and began to fall in love with memoir. Since then, I've really enjoyed bouncing back and forth between fiction and nonfiction in my reading. I've also found that nonfiction audiobooks really suit me and that I can fit in many extra hours of audiobook listening/reading when I'm driving, cooking, cleaning, etc. 

Here's a list of some of my favorite nonfiction reads from 2020, many of which I enjoyed in audiobook format. Once again, note that while I read these last year, that doesn't necessarily always mean they were published last year. I'll try to do more in-depth reviews of my top picks later on.

What were your favorite nonfiction reads from last year? Do you have any on your TBR for 2021?

5 out of 5 stars

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
by Dalai Lama XIV and Desmond Tutu

Other-Wordly: Words Both Strange and Lovely from Around the World
by Yee-Lum Mak, illus. by Kelsey Garrity-Riley

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper
by Hallie Rubenhold

House of Dreams: The Life of L. M. Montgomery
by Liz Rosenberg, illus. by Julie Morstad

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz
by Erik Larson

Last Witnesses: An Oral History of the Children of World War II
by Sventlana Alexievich

4 out of 5 stars

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don't Know
by Malcolm Gladwell

On the Horizon
by Lois Lowry, illus. by Kenard Pak

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
by David Grann

So You Want to Talk About Race
by Ijeoma Oluo

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer
by Michelle McNamara

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family
by Robert Kolker

The Liar's Club by Mary Karr

The Standard of Truth: 1815-1846 (Saints #1)
by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World
by Melinda Gates

3 out of 5 stars

The Library Book
by Susan Orlean

I Will Judge You by Your Bookshelf
by Grant Snider

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18
by Joseph Loconte

The Little Book of Lykke: The Danish Search for the World's Happiest People
by Meik Wiking

Brave Enough
by Cheryl Strayed

Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope
by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

A Bookshop in Berlin: The Rediscovered Memoir of One Woman's Harrowing Escape from the Nazis
by François Frenkel

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World
by John Mark Comer

Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded--August 27, 1883
by Simon Winchester

The Best of Me
by David Sedaris

Joy in the Covenant
by Julie B. Beck

Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight
by Linda Bacon

Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life
by Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Wai-Yin Cheung

The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances
by Matthew Inman



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