Category Archives: Boston Life

Perspectives on Anti-Racist Booksale Surges During Summer 2020

OverDrive reports books written by Black authors increased 200% between March and September of 2020. Anti-racism titles increased 297% between May and June, following the murder of George Floyd. This spike in anti-racist titles selling occurred when foot traffic and sales were slim to none for many independent bookstores; the increased demand for books written by POC authors and anti-racism titles were much needed.

Black-owned bookstores and businesses also saw a positive spike in profitability and exposure during the summer. As Katherine Morgan reports, Semicolon, Loyalty Bookstores, Subtext Books, and Astoria Bookshop all saw a marked uptick in sales during this time of civil unrest. 

During the second half of 2020, there was also a surge of articles listing popular titles like this Business Insider listicle that shares 22 books centering on race and white privilege. Titles such as So You Want to Talk About Race, White Fragility, and How to Be an Antiracist are among the most common to appear in such articles, which contributed to the same anti-racism books being backordered.

Katherine Morgan notes a negative aspect of this surge in bookselling relating to disingenuous allyship: “Seeing photograph after photograph [on Instagram] made the whole situation feel… trendy.” Morgan continued, “Even though I’d like to believe that many of these people were acting with good intentions, my general sense was that most of these cases could be summed up as performative allyship.”

Danielle Mullen, owner of Semicolon, a Black-owned Chicago bookstore, shared via email with Morgan that white customers would “cry about the work they wanted to do on themselves but were completely uninterested in buying titles that were NOT trending.” Mullen also said, “I’d say that more than half of the purchases were completely performative, and we could feel the general disinterest.”

Mullen shared some customers frustrated about backorders went so far as to say, “This is exactly why I don’t support Black businesses,” or “I went out of my way to patronize your Black business and you can’t even get a simple thing right.”

A Subtext Books representative speculated many buyers saw purchasing trending titles as “chance to put their order confirmation on their Instagram story to show off to their friends.” Events Coordinator for Astoria Bookshop Christian Vega called it a case of, “look at this on my bookshelf, I’m a Good White™.”

Once the complex issue of racism was no longer trending, bookstores began to see stacks of books pile up. Hannah Oliver Depp, owner of Loyalty Bookstores said, “We have two full walls of orders not picked up between the two stores, and the vast majority are titles from this summer.”

Following the summer of 2020 came the presidential election. While over 50% of white women were estimated to have voted for Trump in 2016, we still wait to see how that percentage changes or stays the same. Unlike with placing book orders or showcasing popular covers on Instagram, ballots can’t be shared on social media with a trending hashtag attached. Voting is a private act, not a public performance.

When the dust settles, will there be a marked change in how self-professed allies voted?

You can read more of Katherine Morgan’s dynamic and thought-provoking article on bookselling to white “allies” here.

– Cassidy

Leave a comment

Filed under COVID-19

The Coronavirus Novel

World's Largest Mall, Now Abandoned, Might Become New Amazon Fulfillment  Center | HuffPost

The Simpsons “predicted” the 2016 election results and medium Laurie Garrett foresaw the 90’s AIDS epidemic. Whether this is truth or coincidence, Ling Ma’s telling of a devastating pandemic in her novel Severance is uncanny. 

Written in 2012, the apocalyptic-fiction novel has resurfaced since the pandemic began. Severance tells the story of a New York Bible publisher, Candace Chen, who wakes up and the world as she knows it has shut down. 

This turn of events happens after Shen Fever, an airborne fungal infection, emerges from a production facility in Shenzhen, China. No one knows how the infection reached the United States, but it is not long until it reaches the rest of the world. Citizens become “fevered,” experiencing cold and flu-like symptoms, tiredness, dizziness, vomiting, and ultimately a loss of consciousness. 

Reading Severance in the pandemic, with cases increasing yet again, is a surreal experience. There is desperate talk of a vaccine. Infection rates climb, as does the death toll. Everyone is fleeing New York. The United States implements a travel ban. Working in-person shifts to working from home. For jobs deemed “essential,” each employer is mandated to provide its workers with sanitation supplies. Ma even depicts mask wearing, such as the safety and discomforts a hot, N-95 mask can bring. In one exchange, a character nastily asks Candace “Where’s your mask?” when she forgets hers.

Even the naturalism seen in the pandemic appears in the novel. While we saw deer and wild boar freely roam cities, and South African lions napping in the street, Candace too experiences a similar return to nature. She finds and photographs a horse in Times Square running, “purposefully, cheerfully, unhurried, down Broadway.” It is as if a horse had perfect business being in midtown, making the sight all the more strange. 

The monotony of living through a shutdown also comes through in the novel, as characters pass the time trying on clothes and rearranging furniture. Most of the characters look to the media for guidance and answers, as The New York Times keeps a tally of those who become fevered. Candace starts a blog aimed to capture the post-apocalyptic feel of New York City — empty streets, still subway tunnels, and abandoned food carts are all shared online with her followers. 

After closing Severance, I wondered, how could someone capture this situation years before it happened? Was this coincidence no different than a TV sitcom, predicting a presidential candidate? Or is Ling Ma a prophet? 

I settled on an imaginative and thoughtful composer.

-Charleigh

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, COVID-19, Literature

5 Tips to Celebrate Thanksgiving 2020

“We are all ready and eager for life to return to normal. But 2020 is still nowhere near normal,” says Rachel Lynn, M.D. “So, this holiday season is an opportunity to create new traditions, rather than returning to ways of old.”

Although holiday festivities approach, the risk of COVID-19 infection is not going anywhere. To help you and your loved ones stay safe while remaining thankful, here are 5 key tips for celebrating Thanksgiving during 2020:

  1. Find new activities to (temporarily) replace long-standing traditions

    Turkey trots, fun runs, and Thanksgiving parades are popular seasonal activities. Not participating in traditions like these can dampen the thankful spirit that comes with this time of year, but a great way to combat feeling as though you’re missing out is to find new ways to spend time with friends and family.

    Instead of going out to have fun, try staying in and virtually visiting with loved ones. There are many games you can play remotely with others to break up the monotony of FaceTime calls, like Scrabble, Mario Kart Tour, Uno, and Monopoly. If games aren’t your forte, you can also watch movies simultaneously with others through Netflix Party.
  1. Opt for intimate online gatherings over in-person shindigs

    Infectious disease and infection control expert Roy Chemaly, M.D. said, “The best way to stay safe this Thanksgiving is to have a small family gathering with only the people in your immediate household. Everything — airports, airplanes, gas stations and hotels — tends to be more crowded at this time of year, but you can minimize your exposure to crowds by celebrating at home.”

    Not celebrating with a large group may feel isolating, but there are many innovative ways to stay physically distanced without feeling socially distant. To mimic the feel of cooking and eating with others, try hosting a virtual dinner party. Whether it’s a friendsgiving or a remote family gathering, a virtual dinner party can involve good food and company.

    To make the event feel special, consider taking turns screen-sharing PowerPoint presentations. It may sound odd to suggest creating a slideshow for fun instead of work, but as this article shows, PowerPoint can be a creative and entertaining medium for sharing with friends and family. Whether the PowerPoint is full of funny gifs, bulleted lists updating others on your life, or video montages from what you’ve binge-watched this year, slideshows can turn Zoom conferences into something great.
  1. Not your family’s best cook? Check out food delivery options

    “Sharing a meal is a powerful bonding experience that many people crave,” said Catherine Powers-James, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in the Integrative Medicine Center. Not only do we want time with others, but we also crave the obvious benefit of gathering for Thanksgiving: good food.

    If missing your relative’s signature Thanksgiving sides or desserts is getting you down but you’re not confident in your own skills in the kitchen, you have other options besides settling for the same old meal you’ve made on repeat during quarantine. Make your Thanksgiving Day special by giving back and supporting local restaurants.

    By ordering from local businesses, you can feed you or your household without spending hours in the kitchen while contributing to keeping restaurants afloat during these turbulent times. Boston residents can check out this article to browse a list of restaurants offering Thanksgiving deals for two people or families, which are available for pickup or delivery.
  1. Focus on being thankful for what is possible instead of resentful for what isn’t

    Giving thanks is — quite literally — the point of this upcoming holiday. Though it may seem obvious, making an effort to only speak positively and show gratitude is a simple yet effective way to avoid having a bad holiday.

    Instead of “doom scrolling” through social media, consider taking a break from tweets and posts for several hours. If others comment on your choices to protect your health and the health of those you love, here’s a piece of advice: you don’t have to attend every debate you’re invited to. Instead of engaging in what could be a fruitless and stressful undertaking, try only engaging in conversations or encouraging topics that lift you and others up.

    This holiday season, protecting your well-being can involve more than following health and safety protocols. For more tips to keep mental health in check, view this CDC article.

  2. Continue wearing masks and stay 6 feet apart

    If possible, test for COVID before traveling. “A week or a long weekend is not enough time to self-quarantine effectively,” says Roy Chemaly, M.D. “So, it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

    Although there is no mandate for wearing face coverings after being picked up from the airport, consider leaving the mask on and keeping physical contact to an absolute minimum until you are certain you’ve only brought home your suitcases and luggage. 

    Masks are common sense and for the common good.  With a negative test result, you can more confidently enjoy time with your close family.

It can be tempting to throw caution to the wind when returning home from a long stint away, but our goal is to spread holiday joy, not germs.

Although it can be tempting to cut corners and spend this Thanksgiving with friends and family, it’s more important to think of next Thanksgiving. Taking steps to stay safe and keep others healthy means you protect your odds of enjoying future holidays with all of your loved ones.

Now more than ever, the holidays are a time to — metaphorically — come together. For more safety tips, view MDAnderson.org’s Thanksgiving article here.

– Cassidy

Leave a comment

Filed under COVID-19

Eye strain? Here Are Some Tips to Make Reading in The Digital World Easier

10 tips for computer eye strain relief

As the digital age continues to grow, chronic eye irritation grows along with it. I’ve had friends make optometrist appointments, thinking it’s time for glasses, only to learn blurred vision, eye strain, and pain can all come from too much staring at screens.  

Here are some tips to prevent eye strain. 

1.) Invest in blue light filtering glasses 

Blue light is a high-energy form of light that comes from computer screens. In fact, blue light is all around us (it even makes up sunlight). Though it is not detrimental to our health, the amount of time spent looking at sources of blue light can negatively impact our eyes. 

Blue light filter glasses are lenses designed to block this light. You can add them to a prescriptive lens, or if you don’t need a prescription, you can buy an inexpensive and stylish pair online, like these. 

2.) Change your phone and desktop settings to night mode 

Many digital devices offer a setting to reduce eye strain, reduce brightness and balance contrast for your eye health. This setting is usually referred to as “night mode,” and can be enabled by accessing your device settings. 

Some devices, such as the Apple iPhone, let you customize this setting according to what time of day it is. If you know you’re working on your desktop from 9-5, you can automatically set nightmode as the default during this time. 

3.) Take breaks (if you can) 

If you can space out the amount of time you need to look at a computer screen, your eyes will be able to recover from the strain in less time. This may be difficult to do with a work-from-home schedule, but these breaks do not need to be lengthy. 

A great guideline to remember this is the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look at something that’s 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Sometimes a short break is all your eyes need to adjust. 

4.) Adjust the lighting in the room you work in

We have addressed the importance of your screen’s brightness, but what about the brightness of your workspace? 

Ensuring there is enough light in the room allows for contrast between your computer screen and your background field of vision. Sunlight and overhead light is best, while having light behind you and directly in your field of vision tends to increase eye strain. 

5.) Try audiobooks and read from paper texts 

Audiobooks are a great way to keep up with reading when your eyes don’t feel up to the task. In fact, while physical branches remain closed, many online library databases are offering free audiobook access. 

Whenever you are able, opt to read paper copies of novels, and get your news from the paper instead of the news app. The more ways you can find to reduce your screen time, the more your eyes will thank you. 

-Charleigh 

Leave a comment

Filed under Advice, COVID-19, Literature

7 Ways to Support Independent Bookstores

The American Booksellers Association reported Amazon doubled its net profit during 2020. During this same year, an average of 1 independent bookstore went out of business each week since the country shut down due to COVID-19.

Where we shop matters. Here are 7 ways you can use your purchasing power and voice to support bookstores.

1. Buy tote bags, mugs, clothing, and other merchandise

Although it may seem counter-intuitive to buy something other than books from independent bookstores, an easy way to spread the word about your favorite local shop without adding to the already massive pile of unread books on your shelf is to buy other merchandise. 

Fun sweatshirts, comfy t-shirts with an independent bookstore’s logo, mugs with quotes, and stylish tote bags are all popular options at local stores. Even buying small things like notebooks and stationary at indie stores instead of lumping the items in with your next Target run is a step in the right direction. 

2. Visit your bookstore’s online store

You don’t have to wait until it’s safe to go outside without wearing masks to browse bookshelves. COVID-19 has pushed the vast majority of small businesses to branch out into having online components, so the odds of your local independent bookstore having new services or a comprehensive website are at an all-time high.

Curbside pickup and browsing services are trending among indie bookstores. Check out this list from Publishers Lunch to see what stores near you are delivering.

3. Find new indie bookstores to support on IndieBound

If you want to support local bookstores but don’t already have a close tie to a business near you, there are quickly accessible resources to help you get connected.

IndieBound makes shopping at small businesses and finding new favorite places to support all too easy. You can search for bookstores near you here.

4. Buy gift cards

Whether you’re waiting for a special edition to be released or feeling iffy on making a purchase for yourself just yet, consider buying a gift card or two from a local bookstore.

When you buy gift cards, small businesses receive an immediate cash flow, and you or your loved ones have incentive to return to the store at a later point in time. Gift cards are great presents for upcoming holidays, and they can make any occasion special. Gift cards truly are the gift that keeps on giving.

5. Check out virtual events

One of the best — and free — ways to support independent bookstores is participating in virtual events hosted by bookstores. These events take the place of workshops, book clubs, author readings, and other in-store events.

Not only will participating help you stay connected with your local bookstore, but you may also receive a discount or benefit from a specific promotion tied with the event.

6. Use Libro.fm for audiobooks and Kobo for ebooks

Another way you can avoid supporting Amazon and instead back independent bookstores is by going to Libro.fm for your audiobook needs. A whopping 100% of your first month’s membership price will be donated to the independent bookstore of your choice. For every $50 you spend on Libro.fm, $14.99 out of the sale goes to your bookstore of choice. Check out Libro.fm here.

Instead of buying ebooks from Amazon, try out Kobo. Independent bookstores use Kobo to sell ebooks. When you set up an account through a link provided from your bookstore, the store receives part of the sale. You can visit Kobo’s website here.

7. Share their content on social media

An entirely free option to support your local bookstore is using your voice to boost small businesses’s visibility on social media. Whether you follow your bookstore on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, your recommendation to your social network has an impact.

Each opportunity we take to support local businesses adds up. If we want the future to have incredible independent bookstores, we have an obligation to take action now.

Have any questions about how you can make an impact? Drop a comment below.

– Cassidy

Leave a comment

Filed under Advice, COVID-19

Books Through Bars Teams up with Indie Bookstore to Continue Operations

Books Through Bars has a goal to put themselves out of business.

BTB is a nonprofit, volunteer-run organization that distributes free books and educational materials to prisoners across Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and West Virginia. BTB has a dream that one day incarcerated readers will have enough resources and materials on hand that the organization can cease operations.

We have all heard the phrase “books change lives.” However, this is more than a cliche. Studies show state prisoners who pursue educational opportunities while incarcerated are less likely to return to prison after their release.

BTB conducts innovative programs to promote personal growth, re-integration, and positive change through books. Unfortunately, the program was forced to shut down due to safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, W.W. Norton, publicity director and owner of Freebird Books Peter Miller, found out BTB needed a home base for its collection operations. Freebird’s basement is now serving as a rent-free center for BTB, and the program has been able to pick up where it left off.

To revive book donations, Miller began monthly book drives that led to thousands of donations. The monthly drives involved customers donating discounted three-book sets to inmates. In June, the drive centered on N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. In July, Fratz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, Albert Woodfox’s Solitary, and Malcolm X: Selected Speeches were bundled. August’s monthly drive included a graphic nonfiction bundle featuring John Lewis’s March: Book One, George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy, and How to Draw Faces. Following monthly drives included titles on historical perspectives, LGBTQ+ materials, and voices from marginalized communities.

Since restarting in the late spring of 2020, BTB has distributed over 3,000 books to incarcerated readers. One of the most popular title requests sent to BTB are dictionaries. Letters from incarcerated readers show comic books and graphic novels remind inmates of their childhood, and these titles also act as entry points into the educational mission of BTB.

When asked about the impact of opening the basement of Freebird Books to the nonprofit, Miller said, “BTB has raised my awareness of what prisoners have to go through to get books to read. Working with them has transformed me. Books are how we can all escape.”

You can donate to Books Through Bars at their website here and read more about Freebird Books and BTB’s partnership here.

– Cassidy

Leave a comment

Filed under COVID-19

(Re)Open(ed) in Boston

The pandemic has been going on for over half of 2020. Though it isn’t easy to adapt to reality, we are learning to adjust with the times. Yeast and flour are still flying off the shelves to sustain our new hobbies; I have been keeping myself busy comparing pizza slices. We are all trying to find ways to pass time. 

It’s been a while since we’ve eaten inside, and it’ll probably be even longer before we can dance at concerts again. Luckily, businesses are reopening.

Here are a few re-openings and highlights of what you can (still) do in Boston. 

Open Museums: 

As of October 9th, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and Museum of Fine Arts started allowing for visitors again at reduced capacity. 

In addition, the Boston Children’s Museum is back open to offer some fun for kids, along with the Museum of Science, which currently features an exhibit on the science behind Disney Pixar. 

Food Destinations: 

The Boston Public Market is an indoor farmers market complete with a honey shop, bagel joint, and homemade soap sellers. Located in Haymarket, it’s not too far from Faneuil Hall, which has also reopened.

Complete with a 6,000 square-foot patio, TimeOut Market in Fenway is a great social-distanced destination. The market curates some of TimeOut Magazine’s favorite Boston restaurants and offers to-go counter service.

Boston Tours: 

Expect to see Boston’s famous duck and trolley tours traveling around the city. Boston Duck Tours and CityView Trolley are welcoming passengers to tour Downtown Boston again, if you want a guided tour of the city. 

For Halloween:

The Salem Witch Museum recounting the 1692 trials is back open, and remember to schedule your visit online. The Ghost and Graveyard Tours resumed operations Downtown and offers a haunted history of the city from grave robberies to underground tunnels.

For Fall: 

Connors Farms and Boston Hill Farm are two apple orchards about a half-hour drive from the city where you can pick your own apples or bring home a gallon of cider.

While the fall weather holds, it’s a great time to take a walk and enjoy nature within the city. The Boston Common and Public Garden are great places to stroll around. Charles River Canoe and Kayak provides boat rentals for a day on The Esplanade. Or you can watch the leaves change in the oldest Arboretum in North America, The Arnold Arboretum

I hope this list gives you something to do! 

-Charleigh

Leave a comment

Filed under Boston Life, COVID-19

The Relatability of Otessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation During Quarantine

Some people have decided to spend their quarantine productively: baking bread, learning to play a new instrument, or even adopting a new pet. Others, however, are both begrudgingly and enthusiastically embracing the beauty of laziness. Though it is easy to feel guilty for enjoying this newfound lethargy; Otessa Moshfegh’s novel, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, makes us feel a little less alone. 

Moshfegh’s novel opens with a young and beautiful woman living in New York City. She lives in a luxurious apartment and has a seemingly endless amount of money due to the passing of her parents. Despite her idyllic life, the narrator, who remains unnamed, is deeply depressed. She decides to sleep for an entire year, describing it as a kind of “reset.” She takes sleeping medications constantly and only leaves her apartment to get food or visit her psychiatrist. Confined to her apartment, she often narrates things that have no choice but to resonate with people’s current feelings during quarantine. The narrator writes, “I felt nothing. I could think of feelings, emotions, but I couldn’t bring them up in me. I couldn’t even locate where my emotions came from. My brain? It made no sense”(137) as she falls asleep to Whoopi Goldberg films. 

Like the narrator, many of us are looking for a reset on life. Though it seems impossible, the narrator ends up getting her fresh start. After a year of rest and relaxation (interspersed with moments of stress), the narrator steps outside and enjoys her surroundings. After finally being able to be free from the confines of her apartment, she writes, “there was majesty and grace in the pace of the swaying branches of the willows. There was kindness. Pain is not the only touchstone for growth, I said to myself”(288). 

You can purchase Otessa Moshfegh’s novel here

Kelsey Allen

Leave a comment

Filed under COVID-19, Literature

E-books and Online Libraries during COVID-19

The debate between digital media and print media is an argument as old as time itself and one that has often divided the reading community. In 2019, 37 percent of people read only print books while 7 percent read only digital books. However, the onset of the pandemic certainly changed this landscape. At a time when public libraries and independent bookstores are facing huge losses, e-books have proven to be a silver lining, especially for those on a tight budget. On Libby, the e-book reading platform that provides access to local libraries, there was an incredible upswing of 247,000 downloads and 10.1 million e-book borrows in just one week.

From turning physical pages to swiping across the screen of a smartphone or tablet, the very structure of reading during COVID-19 has been transformed. Although it is disheartening to no longer interact with beloved booksellers for that perfect next read, online databases of various libraries have gathered and compiled reading lists based entirely on the books borrowed and downloaded by users—a move that opened up a new avenue of discovering our next read. It even goes a step further by cataloging the books with relevant tags for better assistance. As a staunch print book reader and avid library frequenter, access to these resources indeed manifested as a surprise and made for an enriching reading experience!

In the case of audiobooks, Audible recently made thousands of titles available for free for children and adults alike, and people have adapted to new routines, such as listening to a cookbook recipe and following the instructions (without worrying about burning–or worse–staining the pages) or listening to Marie Kondo’s Joy at Work while actually cleaning up their  shelves. This is not to say that people no longer continue to purchase print books. In fact, people have requested curbside deliveries by local bookstores. While it is definitely encouraging to see the rise of digital books, it begs the question: has the pandemic changed the way we perceive digital media forever? Or will the prejudice against e-books prevail once life returns to normal?

Amala Reddie

 

Leave a comment

Filed under COVID-19, Literature

Marie Kondo in the Time of COVID-19

Over the last few years, mindfulness literature has been a growing subsection of the self-help nonfiction genre. What began as a response to a growing anxiety within America has suddenly come to a head with Covid-19, a crisis just as mental as it is economic. 

Amidst this with fortuitously good timing, Marie Kondo, known for her previous New York Times Best-Selling work, the life-changing magic of tidying up, has released a new book titled, Joy at Work, co-written with Scott Sonenshein. Kondo is a Japanese writer focused on the mindfulness and philosophical elements of decluttering one’s home life. Her books, fittingly published in stark white binding with red cover lettering, are beautiful hard-cover volumes that give practical and simple advice to working on the core of one’s home life. At the center of this approach is the idea to sort through items by category based on if they “spark joy” in your life. Her sophomore book is titled Spark Joy, and functions as an illustrated companion work to her first book. Her stance on reducing one’s possessions is refreshing in a time when we are physically unable to go out and spend money.

Kondo’s newest work is particularly applicable now that many Americans are working from home. The bedroom writing desk has been suddenly thrust into the position of full-time workstation. The home is neither physically nor emotionally designed to function as a universal space for all aspects of our lives. We can see this effect in the collective longing for external  work and social spaces. 

Joy at Work takes the same approach of mindfulness and decluttering that was so critical to finding joy and peace within a home, and applies it to the office for the purpose of maintaining focus and productivity, a task made all the more difficult by the tumultuousness of the present. Mindfulness works like Kondo’s are critical to maintaining a sense of momentum and poise in a time of crisis.

Kondo has unintentionally cued into a Covid-19 zeitgeist of craving in the American public. Much like how Nintendo soothed the youth of America’s need for control and plasticity with their recent Animal Crossing release, Kondo has done the same for the sudden shift in the American work life. If there was ever a time for self-help books to bring about overwhelming positive change in the face of adversity, it is now.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, COVID-19