Shelf Awareness for Friday, February 5, 2021

Margaret K. McElderry Books: Tender Beasts by Liselle Sambury

Scholastic Press: Heroes: A Novel of Pearl Harbor by Alan Gratz

Flatiron Books: Anita de Monte Laughs Last by Xochitl Gonzalez

Peachtree Publishers: King & Kayla and the Case of the Downstairs Ghost (King & Kayla) by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers

Doubleday Books: The Husbands by Holly Gramazio


Letters Bookshop in Durham, N.C., Is Relocating

Letters Bookshop's current location.

Letters Bookshop, which opened in 2013 in Durham, N.C., is relocating. Announcing the change on the store's website, owner Land Arnold wrote: "We're marking our seventh anniversary in a big way. We're moving! Can't wait to show you our new space at 116 W. Main Street (just down the block) later this spring.... We're so grateful to have you as part of our community, and we can't wait to welcome you to into our new location in the coming months. Thank you for your support."

Describing the decision as "a rare positive turn for downtown Durham development news," Indy Week reported that the bookstore, which sells used and new fiction, "has been closed for in-store browsing since March, though it has continued to sell books through and run outdoor weekend book cart pop-up Letters Abridged.... The new Letters location, with its airy, expanded browsing and socializing space, is a significant boon for both the store and a downtown increasingly crowded by condos and startups."

Holiday House: The Five Impossible Tasks of Eden Smith by Tom Llewellyn; The Selkie's Daughter by Linda Crotta Brennan

How Bookstores Are Coping: 'Clawed Our Way Back'; 'Relatively Normal'

Jill Miner, owner of Saturn Booksellers in Gaylord, Mich., reported that in 2020 her store wound up "as close to flat as we could be," which she attributed to her staff's "terrific" ability to pivot and adapt. At one point, in fact, the store was down almost 40%, but Saturn Booksellers "clawed our way back to being within a few hundred dollars of 2019."

Over the course of 2020 the store went from open to closed to curbside-only and, finally, to open for browsing with limited hours. Masks are required, hand sanitizer is available and plexiglass barriers have been installed at the registers. Miner noted that because she is high-risk, she is rarely on the floor these days. Despite that, she's still "busier than ever" paying bills, ordering frontlist, writing newsletters, applying for grants and fulfilling web orders. Miner added that they've increased to such a degree that she's not entirely sure how they'll manage all of them when she's back on the sales floor more often.

Asked how customer buying habits changed during the pandemic, Miner answered that while the overall number of transactions was down, the average sales value of each transaction was up by almost 15%. She pointed to several possible explanations for this, including people consolidating their shopping trips, making a concerted effort to support the store or simply finding it easier to pile more in their carts when shopping online. Many of the store's seasonal visitors have made a point of shopping with the store year-round, and Saturn has picked up quite a few new customers who are "friends of friends" of existing customers.

Looking ahead, Miner said she's hopeful. January was up, and although it still felt "deadly slow at times," the town's chamber of commerce and downtown development association have run several promotions to get people shopping at downtown stores and restaurants. Saturn Booksellers has partnered with Toys for Tots for the month of February for a wish-tree type of program aimed at getting books to kids throughout the county.

The store is also partnering with a local T-shirt maker to sell inexpensive shirts saying "eat, shop, support local Gaylord." Miner has used half of the money the store has made from the sale of those shirts to buy gift cards from other locally owned restaurants and shops. She added that locals seem finally to be buying into the "shop local" message in a way the store has never seen before.


In Montpelier, Vt., things are "relatively normal" at Bear Pond Books, co-owner Claire Benedict reported. Benedict said the store is open for regular hours and all the staff who wanted to return have done so. She and store co-owner Rob Kasow even hired a new bookseller in the fall, and they've adjusted day-to-day operations to support the significant increase in online sales the store has seen.

The store allows no more than 20 customers in at a time, and while the state restrictions allow for higher occupancy, that is the most Benedict and the team feel comfortable with. Everyone must wear masks, hand sanitizer is available and there are plexiglass shields at the front counter. Benedict and Kasow have developed guidelines for staff members should they become ill, but "thankfully we haven't had to implement that."

Benedict said the store's numbers for 2020 were comparable to 2019, with a very strong fourth quarter making up for a difficult spring. Customers have been very loyal, and Bear Pond Books has managed to add a lot of new customers, too. Her big fear was having to close down due to a Covid outbreak during Christmas, and since that didn't happen, she figures the store will generally be fine. And even if they do have to close at any point, they now have systems in place to deal with it. While January was quiet, it was up from January 2020, and online shopping continues to attract and keep customers. She hopes that 2021 will "continue to be solid." --Alex Mutter

Amistad Press: The Survivors of the Clotilda: The Lost Stories of the Last Captives of the American Slave Trade by Hannah Durkin

International Update: British Indies 'Hanging in There'; Black Changemakers in Quebec

British independent booksellers "remain generally optimistic they can 'weather the storm' of the latest lockdowns, despite fears England's shop closures could last until April," the Bookseller reported.

"We have noticed that we have a core group of customers who are eager to see us through and place regular orders for click and collect but engaging new customers is becoming increasingly difficult as lockdown fatigue takes hold," said Asher Woolford and Laura Iveson of Darling Reads, Horbury. "There are certainly things on the horizon that we remain optimistic about, we just need to weather this storm first."

Jo Coldwell of Red Lion Books, Colchester, said, "Morale is surprisingly high. Lockdown is never great but after a very busy Christmas, it feels okay to shut the doors and recharge.... We are fortunate to have that--January and February will be absolutely as expected. By March we will be fine if we maintain the custom we have."

At Maldon Books in Essex, owner Olivia Rosenthall observed: "I think we will be all right.... We're still open technically seven days a week for contacting: I now have my phone diverting. It's not anyone's ideal way of trading but it's all we can do really for now until things get better."

Noting that her shop was "hanging in there," Kate Claughan of the Book Case, Hebden Bridge, added: "We are now deciding what to do going forward if lockdown continues past mid-February."

Calling staff morale "okay," Ross Bradshaw at Nottingham's Five Leaves Bookshop said, "One of our staff realized that one morale booster was to keep the shop as if it could open in 10 minutes, so he changes the face-outs on the general shelves when he is in, and updates the display tables with new titles so we all check to see what's new.... We are working on the basis of lockdown until April though."

Dinah Anderson of Bookshrop Booksellers in Whitchurch cautioned: "I have spent this lockdown really pondering the future of the business, standing back in a way I don't normally have time to do and planning for another year. I'm out of lease now, which takes the pressure off in the event of another pandemic, God forbid. However, if I were to take on another lease, I'd certainly try to build in a break clause in the event of another deadly virus, on the basis that we can't insure ourselves against it."


CBC Quebec featured Gabriella Garbeau, owner of Racines Bookstore in Montreal, in its Black Changemakers series, which "is highlighting people from the province's Black communities who are giving back, inspiring others and helping to shape our future."

"For me, it was important to have a place that showcased the talents and real voices of different cultural communities," said Garbeau. "I was a bit tired of seeing that it was always the same kinds of stories at the forefront, with very little diversity, leaving very little space for racialized women."

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Garbeau used Racines as a place for panel discussions and launch parties, as well as serving as a safe space where people from all backgrounds could have their voices heard, CBC Quesbec noted, adding that while sales and interactions with the community are primarily online for the time being, Garbeau hopes to get back to that aspect of her mission.

"My perspective is that all bookstores should be diverse," she said. "While waiting for other bookstores to make up for lost time and to change the way they do things... we have an alternative in Racines."


"Mask up, folks!" Australian bookseller Readings, with several locations in Melbourne, posted on Facebook along with a selection of book covers dutifully wearing face masks. "As of 11:59 p.m. last night, Victoria has reintroduced mandatory mask rules indoors. If you're paying one of our shops a visit, please ensure that you have a fitted mask to wear while you browse." --Robert Gray

John Leguizamo to Emcee Audio Awards Gala

John Leguizamo

Actor, stand-up comedian, producer, writer and audio narrator John Leguizamo will emcee the 2021 Audie Awards, sponsored by the Audio Publishers Association and honoring the best in audiobook and spoken word entertainment. The Audie Awards Gala will be held virtually on March 22 and be available to the public via livestream on the APA's website.

"As someone who loves exploring new mediums in which to express myself, I can't wait to honor this evolving art form," Leguizamo said. "In a year that's been so turbulent, it feels good to pay tribute to the artists who helped us still feel human in an era of social-distancing and self-isolation."

"As audio publishing reaches new heights of popularity and creativity, we are thrilled for our evening to be in the skillful hands of the multi-talented John Leguizamo," said Michele Cobb, executive director of the APA. "John's own audio productions demonstrate the kind of exciting work happening in the medium. We look forward to celebrating the quality and unique visions of an exciting group of finalists."

Authors Jennifer Egan, Tommy Orange and David Sedaris will judge the Audiobook of the Year. Jerry Craft, Melissa de la Cruz and V.E. Schwab will judge the Audie Award for Young Adult. The judges will also participate in the Audie Awards ceremony.

Obituary Note: Malcolm Peters MacDougall

Malcolm Peter MacDougall, the director and former chairman of Peters Booksellers in Birmingham, England, died on January 16 at the age of 76. The cause of death was complications from recurrent cancers. 

A family-owned library supplier and bookseller dating back to 1935, Peters provides schools, academies and libraries with children's books and furniture. The business was founded by MacDougall's grandfather, John Sheldon Peters, and MacDougall ran the company from the early 1960s until the mid-1990s.

In 1983, Peters launched Peters Library Services to help re-establish the company as a specialist children's library bookseller, which led to a sponsorship of the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals. MacDougall was also an early and vocal advocate for the use of emerging technology in the book business, and as a member and director of Book Industry Communications pushed for standardizing electronic communications between publishers and booksellers.

Although MacDougall retired from his role as chairman in 2008, he maintained an active role in the business as director.


Image of the Day: Spotlight on Historical Fiction

Wednesday evening, the Literature Lovers' Night Out program hosted four authors of historical fiction; 153 viewers attended the virtual event. Valley Bookseller, Stillwater, Minn., and Excelsior Bay Books, Excelsior, Minn., partnered to host the program. Pictured: (top row) host Pamela Klinger-Horn; Greer Macallister  (The Arctic Fury); (middle) Lauren Fox  (Send for Me). Sarah Penner (The Lost Apothecary); (bottom) Judithe Little (The Chanel Sisters).

Cool Idea of the Day: 'Snow Man Challenge'

Posted on Facebook by Booksy Galore, Pound Ridge, N.Y.: "When you leave work in 10 minutes but get tagged in the Snow Man Challenge. #shoppoundridge I now have to tag someone. Given all their awesome gear for the snow I pick @hardwarechubbys."

Personnel Changes at Macmillan Children's Publishing

Allegra Green has been promoted to marketing manager, from associate marketing manager at Macmillan Children's Publishing Group marketing.

Media and Movies

TV: A Boob's Life

Salma Hayek's Ventanarosa Productions will develop Leslie Lehr's upcoming book A Boob's Life: How America's Obsession Shaped Me--and You as a half-hour comedy series for HBO Max, Deadline reported. Lehr, whose book will be released March 2 by Pegasus Books, is also serving as an executive producer.

Hayek is executive producing the project alongside Jose Tamez and Siobhan Flynn under their Ventanarosa Productions banner. Melissa Oman and Julie R. Snyder will also executive produce under their Wheeler Girl Productions banner. Cynthia Mort, who created and produced the HBO series Tell Me You Love Me, will write and serve as showrunner and executive producer for the series.

"We are so appreciative that HBO Max was insightful and bold enough to develop this show with us," said Hayek. "In A Boob's Life, we use breasts as a metaphor for the constant judgment women are submitted to, creating a collective sensation that no matter what we do, we are never enough. In this show, we give the breast a voice that takes us through the life of a woman from a unique perspective that often we don't dare to see."

Books & Authors

Awards: Andrew Carnegie Medal, Pol Roger Duff Cooper Winners

The American Library Association named the winners of the 2021 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction. Each winning author receives $5,000. All the finalists will be honored during a celebratory event at ALA's 2021 Annual Conference in June. This year's Carnegie Medal winners are:

Fiction: Deacon King Kong by James McBride (Riverhead). The judges commented: "Portraying a vibrant, multicultural 1969 Brooklyn neighborhood... McBride creates tragedies, funny moments, major plot twists and cultural and generational clashes as characters develop emotionally while navigating a world that's changing for better and for worse."

NonfictionFathoms: The World in the Whale by Rebecca Giggs (S&S). The judges praised the winning author's "deeply delving and lyrically precise investigation. With fresh perceptions and cascades of facts, Giggs considers our ancient and persistent whale wonderment, high-tech whale hunting, global warming, mass extinction, and pollution, including the oceanic plastic plague, urging us to save the whales, the oceans, and ourselves."


Judith Herrin won the £5,000 (about $6,840) Pol Roger Duff Cooper Prize for historical work for Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe, published here by Princeton University Press. The prize will be presented informally in 2021, as it was last year, in view of the continuing Covid-19 restrictions.  

Chair of the jury Artemis Cooper said: "The early medieval mosaics of Ravenna still dazzle us today; but while little of its early history remains, the Byzantine scholar Judith Herrin has consulted sources from all over Europe to piece it together. In this beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated book, she reveals a city that was a melting-pot of Greek, Latin, Christian and Barbarian cultures, and a vital pivot between the rival worlds of Rome and Constantinople."

Ernesto Cisneros: Pura Belpré Children's Author Award Winner

Ernesto Cisneros was born and raised in Santa Ana, Calif., where he now teaches. He holds an English degree from the University of California, Irvine, a teaching credential from California State University, Long Beach, and a master's in fine arts in creative writing from National University. As an author, Cisneros believes in providing today's youth with an honest depiction of characters with whom they can identifyLast week, Cisneros won the Pura Belpré Children's Author Award for his first book, Efrén Divided, published by Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins.

Congratulations! The first question is, of course, how does it feel to win the Pura Belpré Children's Author Award?

It's surreal, for sure. I certainly was not expecting this incredible honor--in fact, I am still letting the idea sink in. The best part, however, has been hearing from both my parents. They are thrilled and incredibly proud. As a son, that is the greatest feeling in the world.

Efrén Divided is your debut and it came out in March. 2020 was, understandably, a bizarre publishing year. What was your experience with making a debut at this time?

As odd as this might seem, being a debut author during these times was a blessing in disguise. Everything was completely new to me, so I did not know what to expect. What helped me most through these uncharted waters were my debut friends at @Class2k20Books. They were amazing. Together we dreamed up new ways of supporting each other.

Another blessing was the support of teachers, librarians, bookstores and the entire literary community, who took it upon themselves to make sure our books reached readers. As an added bonus, I was able to make lots of friends across the nation. 

What is it like to be acknowledged for a first work that came out during such a tumultuous period?

Honestly, the experience is bittersweet. It is difficult to be excited about receiving accolades while there is so much hurt and suffering worldwide--particularly in regard to the separation of families.

At the same time, the acknowledgment I have received for Efrén Divided keeps me hopeful. It reminds me of the good in the world, and that things can get better. Hearing that the book is resonating with readers and giving them a new perspective is tremendously rewarding.

Efrén Nava is a U.S. citizen but his parents are undocumented. It is his absolute worst nightmare when his mother doesn't come home one day--she's been deported. Tell us about your inspiration for this book.

In recent years, hatred toward immigrants was given a national platform. Many hurtful things were said about the Latinx community, among others. The distortions were belittling and damaging--they also appeared to be fueled by ignorance--and I did not want children internalizing the things they were hearing in the media.

I was outraged and wanted to take back control over the narrative so that I could remind my students, as well as my own children at home, that our heritage is truly beautiful and not deserving of such animosity.

In addition, I wanted children like Efrén (who have undocumented family members) to know that they are not alone during their time of struggle. They have allies in their community: teachers, counselors, librarians, peers and neighbors who wish to help. Finally, I wanted these children to know that there is hope for change and that they can be a part of it.

Why did you want to write for this age group?

I have taught this age group for most of my teaching career and find it's the time in their lives where I can have the most impact. During this age, middle schoolers are eager to make sense of the world, and they want to find their place in it. I feel an obligation to, at the very least, help point them in the right direction.

I've always felt that books are like the manuals of life. Unfortunately, there are not enough books that speak to the Latinx experience. I wanted students to see themselves on the page and witness how amazing they truly are. Never did I expect that the book would resonate with so many readers.

Anything else you're working on?

I am working on the final edits to my sophomore book, Falling Short. It's a book that I hope will bring laughs and tons of heart to the story of two boys who are best friends and who must rely on each other if they are to become the versions of themselves.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell Shelf Awareness readers?

Yes. It is an honor to be able to share Efrén's world with you. You are SOPER! --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Reading with... Katherine Seligman

photo: Penni Gladstone

Katherine Seligman is a journalist and author who lives in San Francisco. Her debut novel, At the Edge of the Haight (Algonquin, January 19, 2021), won the 2019 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.

On your nightstand now:

I always have a mix of fiction and nonfiction, along with magazines and clipped-out newspaper stories, arranged in precarious stack. At the very top: Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs and Revolution in the Americas by Roberto Lovato and All Adults Here by Emma Straub.

Favorite book when you were a child:

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. There was something about the way the prince tended and regarded his rose that got me every time, along with his whimsical drawings, beginning with the one where the boa swallows an elephant. (The grownups aren't bothered by it; they think his drawing looks like a hat). I read this book over and over to my own kids so I could hear it.

Your top five authors:

William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Virginia Woolf, Henry James, James Joyce. My parents grew up in Tennessee, and I spent every summer there, which is probably why I love Southern storytellers. And I love Woolf, James and Joyce for the way they create the immediate, interior lives of characters. Times and taste change, but I keep returning to these writers.

Book you've faked reading:

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, because my best friend in elementary school read every book in the series and I wasn't there yet, so I had to pretend. Eventually, I did read and enjoy it, although probably not as much as my friend did. For some reason, she would read five pages, hop across the room, read another five pages, then hop again. I loved to watch her doing that.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. The fictional world of a small Mississippi town that feels so real, as do the characters, three generations trying to preserve a family that has encountered poverty, drugs and violence. The lyrically written story centers on a car trip to pick up a father just released from jail, but there are ghosts, flashbacks and mishaps, incredible tenderness and no easy redemption.

Book you've bought for the cover:

In this pandemic age, I miss lingering in bookstores, looking at books and touching them all. It's not the same seeing them online. When a friend recently showed me a copy of The Secret Life of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw, I was struck by the image of a woman on the cover. Was she wistful? Resigned? What had happened? I went home and ordered the book. The stories did not disappoint. They are wonderful.

Book you hid from your parents:

I don't remember hiding any books, except the ones my mother tried to make me read in the summer. She had a rule that I had to finish them before I could accept invitations for play dates or sleepovers. I'd occasionally hide a book and say she'd never given it to me. "Anne of Green Gables? I have no idea where it is." (I did eventually read and like it.)

Book that changed your life:

That's a hard one, because it happened so many times, starting with The Little Prince and moving on to James Joyce's story "The Dead" in Dubliners. And then there's the book where I was a character. My mother (Dorothy Halle Seligman, the same one who forced certain books on me) wrote a children's book, Run Away Home, based on the time, at around 10, I ran away. In reality, I spent a few hours in a patch of ivy, got tired and came home. The book version was better. The mother packs a lunch for the kid and tells him to have a good time. Reading it made me realize how little we can know about our kids--or our parents or really anyone--and how little they know about us.

Favorite line from a book:

From Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse: "With her foot on the threshold she waited a moment longer in a scene which was vanishing even as she looked, as she moved and took Minta's arm and left the room, it changed, it shaped itself differently; it had become, she knew, giving one last look at it over her shoulder, already the past." This passage about time, how a single moment becomes history, always gets to me.

Five books you'll never part with:

Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot, Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, Dubliners by James Joyce, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose by Flannery O'Connor.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

A Separate Peace by John Knowles. I was so moved by the relationship between two young men whose lives are forever changed by an accident at a Northeastern prep school. I know that reading it again I would understand the ambiguity, historical and social context differently than I had when I read it as a teenager.

Book Review

Review: The Oak Papers

The Oak Papers by James Canton (HarperOne, $27.99 hardcover, 256p., 9780063037946, February 16, 2021)

James Canton (Ancient Wonderings; Out of Essex) spends hours, days, months and years with one particular oak tree. Moved by its power and continually fascinated by its individuality, Canton undertook a study of the connection between oaks and people. After consulting history, mythology, spirituality, science, a number of individual woodmen and -women, and more time spent in the company of oaks, he offers The Oak Papers, part personal reflection and part research project.

The Honywood Oak, at the Marks Hall Estate near London, draws Canton in. During a period of personal turmoil, he finds himself sitting under this massive 800-year-old tree, "a mere sapling when the Magna Carta was signed." He watches birds and insects and hares, and the changing seasons; he finds himself returning just to spend time with the Honywood Oak: "I sit on the bench and wonder a duality of desires: to care for the oak and to be cared for by the oak." He feels a healing effect. Canton's more purposeful studies begin in the company of the estate's "curator of trees," and in his readings: Dante, T.S. Eliot, Pliny, Shakespeare, Woolf, Thomas Hardy, Gary Snyder and the legends of Druids and Green Men (and Green Women and Children). He gets to know the Honywood Oak in its fine details, and then individuals he calls the Field Oak and the Stag-Headed Oak. He meets with Stephen Taylor to discuss his Oak, a collection of dozens of paintings of the same tree.  

"A few more leaves have turned to paler autumn shades like the grey hairs on a father not seen for months." The Oak Papers is meticulous and dense with detailed observations not only of oaks--the seasonal variations in their leaves, buds and acorns--but of the lives they support: heron, treecreeper, wren, goldcrest, buzzard, stiletto fly, wood butterfly, mosses, lichen, hare, gall wasp. The bulk of these papers sees Canton sitting and watching, although he also recounts visits with people who know oaks well: artists and craftspeople who work with wood, spiritual thinkers, a psychologist who specializes in nature therapies. He lovingly concludes that "there are many paths to seeking the truths about oaks," that "we all become better beings when we step back into the woods."

Canton meditates on oaks while sitting in oaks, seeking greater understanding or to become the oak. He does not reach a conclusion by the end of these pages, but he gets closer. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Shelf Talker: These tender ruminations on oak trees, connections and possibilities will appeal to nature lovers, philosophers and seekers.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: The Poetry of Super Bowl LV & 'Seeing Through the Game'

Despite all the pre-game hype and often ill-conceived pageantry, every Super Bowl officially begins with the simplest of movements--the first play from scrimmage. Will it be a pass or a run?

This Sunday's game between the Buccaneers and Chiefs is being played in Tampa, Fla., and booksellers at Tombolo Books in nearby St. Petersburg got into the spirit by suggesting a few bookish play options, including the Shelving Slant, Staff Pick 6 and 40-yard Delivery Dash.

An appreciation of the absurd and momentary suspension of disbelief are key ingredients for enjoying any Super Bowl. So is perspective. There's a scene I love in the movie North Dallas Forty (1979), adapted from Peter Gent's novel, in which wide receiver and resident team wiseass Phil Elliott (Nick Nolte) has been summoned to a meeting at the high-rise corporate headquarters of the team's owner, Conrad Hunter Enterprises (Oil, Electronics, Chemicals, Construction, Export-Import, Hotels, etc.).

In the lobby, Elliott is cornered by Mr. Hunter himself, who puts a friendly arm on Phil's shoulder and not-so-subtly reminds him of his place in the pecking order: "Now, Phil, people who confuse brains and luck can get in a whole lot of trouble," Hunter says in a Texas drawl that is both paternal and manipulative. "Seeing through the game is not the same as winning the game."

Seeing through the game has always been one of my strengths and weaknesses. I was raised to be an athlete, played sports in high school (baseball, soccer) and college (soccer, lacrosse), but I was also a focused reader and good student. I've experienced varying levels of comfort/discomfort when moving between the disparate, sometimes contradictory worlds of sports and the arts. 

Maybe that's what makes Super Bowl LV special. For all of the testosterone-driven, competitive hype around NFL football, this year's game promises to be a little different. For one thing, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the stadium will be at 30% capacity, with only 14,500 fans and 7,500 vaccinated healthcare workers allowed in the seats. That will diminish the alcohol-fueled roar of the crowd to an echo.

Amanda Gorman

For another, we'll have poetry. During the pre-game coin toss ceremony, Inauguration Day Poet Amanda Gorman will read a new poem about three people who have served the public during the pandemic--educator Trimaine Davis, nurse manager Suzie Dorner and Marine veteran James Martin--and were invited by the NFL to serve as honorary captains.

Of course, since this is professional football, literature must contend with gambling, and not in a Dostoevskian sense. For Super Bowl LV, poetry is finally getting in on the action through "prop bets." As FiveThirtyEight noted: "We'll bet on anything--even poetry--just to feel something on Super Bowl Sunday," Gamblers who think they have a poetic edge can wager on the length of Gorman's poem recitation (over/under 4:45 minutes), which word (hero, pandemic, super) she will say first, who among the three honorary captains will be mentioned first, or which of the two Super Bowl team names will be said first.

Although I won't be betting on the Super Bowl, I'm sure I'll watch some of the game, which seems oddly more intriguing than usual in its relatively diminished capacity. Still, as the man said, "Seeing through the game is not the same as winning the game." Masculinity--toxic, illusory and otherwise--is a key element of football... and North Dallas Forty, for that matter, though the film addressed the issue, to an extent.  

As it happens, Super Bowl Weekend: Covid Edition may be the perfect time to introduce you to another perspective on masculinity: Naz Riahi's beautiful and poignant new short film, Andros in the City.

You may recall that last fall I wrote about her previous film, Sincerely, Erik, which explored the pandemic-induced solitary life of a bookseller named Erik (played by Erik DuRon, owner of Left Bank Books on Perry St. in the West Village). Erik returns in Andros in the City, though the film is focused on professional dancer Andros (Andros Zins-Browne), who's trying to cope with personal isolation and the collapse of his industry because of the coronavirus. There is poetry in his movements. There is poetry in the brief meeting of these two men.

Describing Andros in the City as a "portrayal of gentle masculinity," Riahi observed: "Over the last year, I've tried to be a more gentle person. I've not always succeeded. As someone who was raised fighting for my rights, I'm impatient with incremental change. But I've realized that gentleness and action are not mutually exclusive and I'm finding immense value in trying, even though it's difficult. To that end, in this short film I wanted to show men being gentle with each other--through vulnerability and action."

In the foreword to a 30th anniversary edition of his novel, Peter Gent described NFL football this way: "There's no greater display of everything that's magnificent about sport in America and everything that's wrong with culture in America." On Sunday, watch Andros in the City. Watch Amanda Gorman read her poem. Hell, watch Super Bowl LV if you want to. But think about how we live in the world now. Maybe a little poetry can help. --Robert Gray, editor

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