In Obvious News, Authors Want You to Read Their Books: Thoughts on The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

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The Bookshop, by Penelope Fitzgerald

The Target bookshelves – they’re a bugaboo of mine. I won’t deny buying books at the bullseye bonanza and I also won’t deny that this quintessential American destination sometimes stocks good ones. But in a country that prides itself on individuality and choice, Target book sales promote just the opposite. Tell me: Where’s the fun in that?! (Well, it is indeed fun when you look for themes in the store’s offerings, as seen below…)

So, where do you get your books when you don’t want to read about what Target (or Reese or Oprah) wants you to read about?

The Real Housewives of Target

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Swaptions: When Target + Celebrities Infiltrate Your Library

 

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Are Reese and Target in cahoots? Which came first: the celebrity endorsement or the shelf space?

I recently read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. You know you know this book – it’s everywhere. Target shelf? Check. A selection for Reese Witherspoon’s new “book club” via her nascent media enterprise Hello Sunshine? Why, yes. Set to be made into a movie by same company? Hello (sunshine)! But not at your library because 150 people have holds on it before you? Of course.

Reading rule of thumb: If it’s on the shelf at Target, there’s a very good chance it’s going to be off the shelf at your local library, i.e. 150 holds before your turn. If Reese Witherspoon or Oprah endorses it? Perhaps double that library hold number.

My friend Ashley says that books like Eleanor Oliphant – a quick page-turner about a “quirky,” earnest, and unintentionally hilarious 30-something woman who learns to cope with the real world after a traumatic childhood – “scratch an itch.” These types of books are laugh-out-loud funny (or at least for me this one was) and easy, but nonetheless well-written and clever. Think Maria Semple (Where’d You Go, Bernadette?) or a 20-years-on Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding. Let’s call it chick lit for the woman who normally avoids chick lit.

Regarding Eleanor Oliphant: I laughed, I cried (I really did, but it was while I was on a plane, so I had to hide it), and it was way, way better than what is sometimes on Target’s shelves. (I cheated and downloaded it to my Kindle.) At first glance, it seems that Eleanor is quite sheltered – she doesn’t “know how” to dance, and here is her initial dance-floor observation:

“During the next free-form jiggling section, I started to wonder why the band was singing about, presumably, the Young Men’s Christian Association, but then, from my very limited exposure to popular music, people did seem to sing about umbrellas and fire-starting and Emily Brontë novels, so, I supposed, why not a gender- and faith-based youth organization?”

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If the Shoe Fits (It Never Does): On Donal Ryan, Apricot Irving, and Liminality

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From a Low and Quiet Sea, by Donal Ryan & The Gospel of Trees, by Apricot Irving

About a year ago, a woman named Marianne Cantwell gave a TEDx talk in Norwich, UK about “fitting in.” Show me a person who has no worries about this, and I will show you my canary yellow Doc Marten boots. **

Cantwell says this about fitting in: “It’s like from the outside you look like you fit, but secretly, a little piece of you never feels that you 100% fit into any of [your worlds].” She then discusses the word ‘liminal,’ “a state of in-between-ness, like you’re not quite one thing, but not quite another. You’re on the borderlands.”

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Home is Where the People Are: Thoughts on An American Marriage

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An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones

Have you watched Broadchurch, the British crime drama? It’s an enthralling detective series (3 seasons currently on US Netflix, FYI!), and Olivia Colman who plays DS Ellie Miller (or “Millah” if you’re in our household and like to imitate David Tennant, of Dr. Who fame), will portray Queen Elizabeth starting in season 3 of The Crown. (Just providing a little British television family tree for you.) The acting and story lines are superb, but there is just one little niggling thing that I have to mention every single time we watch, much to my husband’s chagrin, I’m sure. My one annoyance: The village of Broadchurch is just like Richard Scarry’s Busytown. Why, look, the entire cast of characters has come out for the trial: the rector, the local newspaper editor, the plumber, the shady character who actually has experienced hard times and is therefore not shady, just guarded. (No candlestick maker yet.) And here they all are again at a footie match on the beach. And the local woman’s birthday party. And the community vigil. Meanwhile, Huckle Cat and Lowly Worm help mummy with the snacks. Wait a minute… Continue reading

Back Off: On Success, College & The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

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The Female Persuasion, by Meg Wolitzer

The NPR podcast “Raising a Human” just released an episode called “The Perils of Pushing Too Hard, And How Parents Can Learn to Back Off.” So basically, if you’re a parent, you dropped everything and read/listened when it crossed your path even though you may have your own already-developed thoughts on the issue. (Yup, I do.) Why? Because a trend piece like this complements more than a few hot topics circulating the contemporary parenting world:  a recent New York Times front-page piece about suicides at colleges and universities, the brouhaha over standardized testing (or more specifically, “teaching to the test”), and the lengths students (parents?) go to obtain perfectly perfect test scores in order to (maybe) gain admission to a tiny group of “select” third-level institutions. Notice a pattern? In America, privileged parents are almost universally focused on college and how our children will fare once they’re there.

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