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Culture Corner: A Streetcar Named Desire and the Dutch Golden Age

Culture Corner

This week we're launching a new feature on the BookBrowse Blog. The idea behind "Culture Corner" is that during the time of COVID-19 (with the accompanying restrictions of movement and social distancing, and with most libraries, museums and theaters closed) cultural activities have been restricted for all of us. So, how do we cross this cultural abyss?

Books provide a wonderful escape, and an opportunity to learn and grow - and we have plenty of recommendations at BookBrowse! But there are other ways to keep our cultural horizons expanding during this difficult time. So for at least the next couple of months we will provide you with three to five weekly suggestions beyond the immediate world of books. Without more ado, here are this week's ideas:

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Verily: Book Clubs 2020

Verily logoAre you in a book club or thinking about starting one? I was recently interviewed by the lifestyle magazine Verily about common book club misconceptions and BookBrowse's 2019 report, The Inner Lives of Book Clubs. Check out the article, which features insights and information on many book club topics.

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Book Clubs Without Books!

Kathleen recently wrote saying, "My book group is at a stalemate during the COVID-19 pandemic because it's hard for our members to get the next book. We read in print and most of us prefer to borrow books from the library, but we can't at the moment because the library building is closed. How can we keep our book club going?"

Step one is to temporarily move your in-person book club online. Our previous post, Safe Book Club Ideas in the Time of Social Distancing offers tips on this (and it's much easier to do than you might think!)

Step two is to find creative ways to keep discussing, even though you might not have access to the library. Here are 15 suggestions which will be particularly relevant to groups that normally borrow print books from the library, but most could be used at any time by any book club that's looking for ideas to keep their group fresh.

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Tips on How to Be An Effective Book Club Facilitator

A friend of mine recently contacted me because her in-person book club is moving online during the COVID-19 pandemic and she's worried about making the transition, particularly as, while she loves her group, their discussions have a tendency of devolving into friendly chit-chat at the best of times with people talking over each other and sharing personal anecdotes, rather than the meaningful book discussion that she hoped for.

I asked her if her group had considered designating a facilitator - someone who, generally speaking, helps the group get the most out of their discussions by being prepared, keeping things on track and making sure that everyone's voice is heard. She said they had, but that she felt some trepidation as to how to be an effective facilitator, particularly while also navigating an online discussion forum - did I have any suggestions?

Here are the tips I shared with her:

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Safe Book Club Ideas in the Time of Social Distancing

As we physically distance ourselves from one another to protect public health, staying socially connected remains vital to our sense of community and well-being. For many of us, book clubs are an essential part of that connection, and fortunately, there are a number of options for moving your in-person book club online, joining up with an online club or creating one from scratch. The COVID-19 crisis has even prompted some people and organizations to form quarantine-friendly public book discussions. So let's look at some ways you can enjoy books with others while staying safely at home.

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Six Books About Immigration by Latinx Authors

If you're at all plugged into the literary discourse online, you've probably heard something about the controversy surrounding Jeanine Cummins' immensely successful and Oprah-endorsed immigration novel American Dirt. The book tells the story of an upper middle class Mexican woman who flees a drug cartel boss with a vendetta, embarking on an action-packed odyssey to cross the border into the U.S.

American Dirt has been very popular with our own subscribers, and we're glad that the discussion we hosted gave people the opportunity to share their love of the book. However, we're concerned about certain misunderstandings that have spread regarding the controversy. The greatest of these may be that critics of the book are claiming that a white woman should simply not be allowed to tell this kind of story. The truth is, few people are saying this. The larger problem has to do with a lack of diversity in the American publishing industry and misplaced priorities in terms of whose story gets told and who is regarded as a voice worth listening to. Would American Dirt have been such a smash hit if the author was a Mexican woman herself? Maybe, maybe not. (Though it is unlikely this exact book would have been written by a Mexican author, due to its factual inaccuracies.) Would a Mexican author have had a harder time selling a similar book? Almost certainly. Would the publisher have put the full weight of its publicity department behind American Dirt if the author was a Mexican woman? Unlikely.

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The Paris Hours by Alex George