MLA Platinum Award Press Release

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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Nonfiction For Your Book Club in 2020

Reading nonfiction is a great way to step outside of your own life and consider things from another perspective. A good nonfiction book like the ones below can expand your horizons or cause you to rethink beliefs you've held forever. You might learn something you never even knew you were curious about--genealogical testing, the economy or women's suffrage.

One of these books is Solitary by Albert Woodfox. Those of us struggling with the current shelter in place rules caused by the COVID-19 pandemic might wish to reflect on Woodfox's extraordinary memoir (which won BookBrowse's 2019 BookBrowse Debut Author Award), in which he describes how he spent more than four decades in solitary confinement - in a 6-foot by 9-foot cell, 23 hours a day, in the notorious Angola prison in Louisiana - for a crime he did not commit. It is estimated that there are more than 80,000 prisoners in solitary confinement in the USA at this time, despite the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture concluding that solitary confinement beyond 15 days constitutes cruel and inhumane punishment.

Discussing nonfiction can be a particularly worthwhile adventure when you're in a book club with a good group of people committed to both challenging and supporting one another. You'll probably all have different opinions, and different backgrounds that informed those opinions, and it can be both fun and constructive to talk through the weighty issues that come up when discussing a powerful memoir, a book about a culture you're not a part of, or a sociopolitical issue you've never experienced personally.

We personally recommend all five of these books; all are recently released in paperback and all but one has a discussion guide. Most importantly, each should spark interesting and spirited discussion.

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Hannah's War
The Yellow Bird Sings