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Is The Nickel Boys too hard to read? Pair it with lemonade and summery treats.

Aaron Robertson

July 17, 2019, 2:28pm

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Colson Whitehead’s new book, The Nickel Boys, came out yesterday. Inspired by the horrific true story of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, an institution in Florida that was once the largest juvenile reform school in the US, The Nickel Boys follows two young African-American boys, Elwood and Turner, during the Jim Crow era in Tallahassee. After finding himself in the wrong place, at the wrong time, Elwood is detained by a white cop and sentenced to the hellish Nickel Academy, which boasts of turning delinquent boys into men.

Do you want a sense of what happened at the real school, which closed permanently only in 2011? Well, as recently as this April, more than two dozen unmarked graves were discovered on the old property as a subcontractor was cleaning pollution at the site. Boys had been beaten, raped, neglected, and subject to all manner of lawless torture.

But just as I was starting to think I couldn’t stomach any more of Whitehead’s book—I’m about a fourth of the way through—the Today Show ran a segment assuring me that everything is, in fact, okay.

Food and lifestyle expert Alejandra Ramos appeared alongside Isaac Fitzgerald on the morning talk show to pair foods with some of the summer’s most-talked about books. Perfect book club fare.

I had been looking for the word to describe Whitehead’s prose, and was pleased that Fitzgerald found the perfect one, calling it “eloquent.”

“So how do you pair food with that era of Florida?” asked co-host Carson Daly.

It’s actually a pretty easy question to answer, and Ramos was up to the task:

So this was a tricky one for me because obviously it is a painful story, it’s a difficult story. But I think that even, just like in real life, even in our most painful moments, food can be that moment of joy. And there are little bits of that here and there in the book. Like, you know, they’re working in the hot sun and the woman brings them a glass of cold lemonade. And it does take place in the South, in the ’60s, so I went for a little bit of a Southern, summer kind of picnic grind.

Yes, I know exactly that kind of grind she’s talking about. In addition to an ice-cold drink, which I’m sure Elwood would’ve really appreciated while he was being flogged on a bed, his cries masked by the drone of an industrial fan, the wildflowers in the lemonade give the display “that fun, summery feel.”

Ramos also showed viewers chicken salad sandwiches wrapped in parchment, “kind of like you brought them out in your picnic basket,” potato salad, peaches & cream shortcakes, and penny candy (“Here’s a fun thing I wanted to add!”).

“I love these times when you can bring these little moments to life,” Ramos said. I did my best to keep this in mind as I was thinking about the book, that for all the pain and trauma these black boys go through, we also have sweet and delicious things. The Nickel Academy isn’t real, the Arthur G. Dozier School is closed, but there are so many places open nearby where I can buy candy.

To cap it off, Ramos had a slip of the tongue and said “watermelon” when what she really meant was the whipped cream topping on the shortcakes.

Powell’s employees protested a reading by the author of The Red Pill.

Corinne Segal

July 17, 2019, 2:00pm

Powell’s employees were among a group on Monday night that protested a reading at the bookstore by Blake Nelson, a Portland author whose recent work and public statements have drawn on extremist right-wing rhetoric.

Nelson’s newest book, The Red Pill—published by Bombardier Books in June—references the online misogynistic movement of the same name and features a main character who begins to delve into extremist right ideology in the Trump era. In the publisher’s words:

It’s early 2016, and divorced, liberal-minded Martin is having trouble meeting women. He reluctantly agrees to some coaching from Rob, his Trump supporting brother-in-law. Skeptical at first, Martin’s romantic life improves immediately. Maybe Rob and his “red pill” dating strategies aren’t so backward after all.

Williamette Week reporter Matthew Singer described the protest outside Powell’s location on Hawthorne St. in Portland:

While Nelson read to about a dozen people inside the store, a small group—including some of the bookstore’s employees—gathered outside near the entrance, handing out flyers describing the “red pill dating strategy” as “misogynistic” and accusing Nelson of being “openly racist, homophobic and transphobic” on social media.

Brianna Bonham, who works at Powell’s and organized the protest, told Williamette Week that the red pill movement is “a hateful movement that varies from just disrespecting women to rape. That’s a dangerous ideology to support.” In the meantime, Nelson said he’s had trouble publicizing the book and has turned to right-wing outlets. Read more of their reporting here.

A literary guide to the 2019 Emmy nominations

Dan Sheehan

July 17, 2019, 1:12pm

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that the book is always better than the movie (or, in this case, the television show). That’s just the natural order of things. There are rare exceptions, of course, and perhaps the best way to find said exceptions is to cast an eye over the shows being nominated for Emmy Awards.

That in mind, here are all of the 2019 (Primetime) Emmy-nominated television shows which are based on books. As to whether any of them surpass their source material, I really couldn’t say. I’ve seen Game of Thrones and Sharp Objects, but not read the books, and I’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale, but not watched the Hulu series, so I’m afraid I cannot help you there.

Still, one thing I think we can all agree on is that the Game of Thrones finale was perfect, so there’s probably no need to read the books.


Game of Thrones

Show: Game of Thrones (HBO)

Based on: A Games of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

Nominations: 14 (Drama; Actress, Drama; Actor, Drama; Supporting Actress, Drama X4; Supporting Actor, Drama X3; Best Guest Actress, Drama; Writing for a Drama Series; Directing for a Drama Series X3)



Show: Chernobyl (HBO)

Based on: Voices From Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by Svetlana Alexievich

Nominations: 6 (Limited Series; Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie; Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie; Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie; Directing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special; Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special)



Show: Fosse/Verdon (FX)

Based on: Fosse by Sam Wasson

Nominations: 6 (Limited Series; Lead Actor In A Limited Series Or Movie; Lead Actress In A Limited Series Or Movie; Supporting Actress In A Limited Series Or Movie; Directing For A Limited Series, Movie Or Dramatic Special; Writing For A Limited Series, Movie Or Dramatic Special)


Sharp Objects

Show: Sharp Objects (HBO)

Based on: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Nominations: 3 (Limited Series; Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie; Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie)


A Very English Scandal

Show: A Very English Scandal (BBC/Amazon)

Based on: A Very English Scandal by John Preston

Nominations: 4 (Actor, Limited Series or Movie; Supporting Actor, Limited Series or Movie; Writing for a Limited Series, Movie or Drama; Directing for a Limited Series or Movie)


The Handmaid's Tale

Show: The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)

Based on: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Nominations: 3 (Guest Actor, Drama; Guest Actress, Drama; Directing for a Drama Series)


Orange is the New Black

Show: Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

Based on: Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman

Nominations: 1 (Guest Actress, Drama)

Books and movies to wed! HarperCollins and Sony Pictures are committing to a long-term relationship.

Jonny Diamond

July 17, 2019, 10:53am

Though books have been supplying the movie and tv industries with storylines since the dawn of the talkie, the rise of streaming content over the last five years has created a desperate need for more (MORE we scream as we toggle endlessly after binge-worthy distraction from the hell of the real). Which is why we’ve seen an increase in book-to-screen deals, particularly on the prestige TV side of things.

To satisfy that inexhaustible consumer desire (and to make the decades-long book-to-screen fling official) HarperCollins and Sony Pictures have entered into a multiyear partnership that will “pursue, develop, and make theatrical films and high-level content derived from all sources including, but not limited to, the HarperCollins catalog,” according to reporting by Publishing Perspectives.

Honestly, for those of us who read a lot books (not a brag, more of a cry for help) it can be quickly apparent when a book has one eye on adaptation, so in many ways this deal is just making the whole money-printing process more efficient. Eventually, we’ll all just stream prestige VR into our amygdalas, from some giant black cube floating over the San Andreas Void™.

Behold a new literary festival in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley!

Bethanne Patrick

July 17, 2019, 10:19am

With robust programming already this year, 1455 (previously Virginia Center for Literary Arts, or VCLA) continues to establish the Shenandoah Valley as a hotbed of creativity and community. After the success of 1455’s monthly Author Series at Handley Library and a number of workshops at both Long Branch and the Barns of Rose Hill, Founding Director Sean Murphy knew this was the time to put together a multi-day event focused on writers and writing: The 1455 Summer Literary Festival, a celebration of ideas and community. All programs are open to the public and free to attend. The festival will culminate with a featured reading, cocktail reception and dinner (ticketed event).

The festival will take place July 18 to 20 in downtown Winchester, VA. The primary programming will occur at the Bright Box located on the historic walking mall, with other events at Winchester Brew Works, the Winchester Book Gallery, and Shenandoah University. The programs boast a diverse array of talent, including best-selling authors, local and award-winning writers, as well as authors whose first books were published in 2019. Media outlets represented include Time Magazine, The Washington Post, Reuters, and NPR. Highlights of this year’s participants include Angie Kim, Louis Bayard, Karen E. Bender, Julia Phillips, Jeanne McCulloch, E. Ethelbert Miller, and John Lingan.

The festival will feature more than 50 participants, ranging from best-selling fiction and non-fiction authors, journalists, professors, as well as local artisans and leaders from the political, business, and academic fields. Several of the panels will feature faculty from local universities, including George Mason University, Marymount University, Hollins University, and Shenandoah University. The interactive panels include genres ranging from literary fiction, poetry, suspense fiction, journalism, international fiction, and children’s literature. 1455 will also be holding a Teen Poetry contest co-sponsored by Winchester’s Handley Regional Library. A $500 grand prize will be awarded to the winning poet, who will have the opportunity to read their work in a ceremony at Winchester Book Gallery. Register here.