Shelf Awareness for Thursday, May 13, 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


S&S Honors Carolyn Reidy with Donation to Binc

Carolyn Reidy

Yesterday, the first anniversary of the sudden death of Carolyn Reidy, longtime president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, the company announced "a generous gift" in her name to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation's Survive to Thrive campaign, which began in late March and aims to raise $2 million to make grants of up to $10,000 to selected independent bookstores and comic shops. In the past six weeks, Survive to Thrive has raised more than $1,055,000 toward its goal, helped by major contributions from Ingram, and major publishers.

Stephen Reidy, her husband, said, "Carolyn had a deep appreciation for the important role that bookstores and booksellers play in the careers of authors and the success of publishers. She was also keenly aware of just how precarious a life it can be to own a bookstore or work as a bookseller, and thus was always pleased to support Binc. I am delighted that Simon & Schuster and Binc are honoring her through this memorial donation, and hope that it will inspire others to contribute to this vitally important organization."

Jonathan Karp, president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, added, "Carolyn believed deeply in the importance of independent booksellers and worked assiduously to improve Simon & Schuster's effectiveness in providing service and information to these essential accounts. Simon & Schuster remains committed to helping independent booksellers thrive."

Binc executive director Pamela French said, "Carolyn was a true friend to the Foundation and a champion of the industry. Thank you to the team at Simon & Schuster and to the Reidy family for allowing us to be a part of Carolyn's legacy of supporting and advocating for the book community."

Separately in a letter to staff marking the anniversary of Carolyn Reidy's death, Karp said in part, "I wanted to commemorate the occasion by expressing once again my gratitude for all Carolyn has done for Simon & Schuster, and for so many of us. Rarely does a day go by that I don't think of Carolyn and the standard of excellence that she set. She was an extraordinary leader, a stalwart champion of our books, an astute businessperson, and a teacher whose ideas and passions will live on in many of us for the rest of our careers.

"I know that she would be happy with how we have persevered and thrived over the past year. Our success is due in part to the great team she put in place and the ethos that she fostered throughout the company. I hope that today you will join me in carrying on her legacy by doing as she did every day: bringing that little bit of extra when sharing your enthusiasm for our books with your colleagues and others in our industry; constantly thinking about the ways in which we can improve what we do; being kind and helpful to your co-workers; and if you have a good idea, an issue, or a problem, speaking up!"

He noted that S&S's "support of the Carolyn Kroll Reidy scholarships at the publishing programs of NYU, Pace University, the University of Denver, and Columbia University continues, as does our commitment to realizing Carolyn’s vision of a more representative and inclusive work culture."

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

Storyhouse Bookpub Opening Bricks-and-Mortar Store in Des Moines, Iowa

Storyhouse Bookpub, a general-interest bookstore that began as an online store and pop-up shop last year, will open a bricks-and-mortar store in Des Moines, Iowa, in June, Business Record reported.

Owner Abigail Paxton has found a space at 505 E. Grand Ave., in Des Moines's East Village. She plans to host children's storytime sessions, as well as plenty of book events geared toward adults.

Paxton founded Storyhouse Bookpub last March, just in time for the beginning of the pandemic. She began with a children's pop-up in a local gift store called MoMere while selling additional books online. In December, she turned her garage into a temporary, open-air bookshop featuring new and used titles. She plans to continue doing pop-up shops throughout Des Moines even after the bricks-and-mortar location opens.

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

Changes Coming for Writer's Block Bookstore in Anchorage

The Writer's Block Bookstore & Café in Anchorage, Alaska, which opened in 2018, is in the midst of some changes that will affect the future of the business. Noting that the store is "not closing right now, but we do have news," co-owners Dawnell Smith, Vered Mares, Kathy McCue and Teeka Ballas posted on Facebook earlier this week: "We've had an eventful few years at the Block, from our opening in January 2018 to a doozy of an earthquake almost a year later to the ongoing pandemic. We've got challenges ahead and a plan for addressing them. Whatever comes next, we can honestly say we feel enormously grateful to all of you. 

"Because we've been in this together, we want to share some news. For some time now, one of our partners has wanted to exit the business to pursue her career wherever it takes her. Since the other three of us can't hold a new loan on our own, the only way to make this exit happen is to sell or lease the building, or transition in a new partner. Our hope is that an ownership transition will help one or more of the remaining partners to continue operating the Block at its current site or elsewhere."

Immediate plans call for "kicking off some outdoor events and summertime fun on the deck and patio, and prepping for sunshine and warmth with books, art, comfort food, drinks and events. We'll keep you in the loop as we continue morphing the Block to meet the challenges of our times."

Elliott Bay Hires Director, Community Engagement

Effective May 24, Eric Gerard Parsons is joining Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Wash., in the newly created position of director of community engagement, where his focus will be "outreach, and response, to organizations and individuals in the community regarding issues and discussions of social justice, inclusion, equal access and safety, and facilitating the bookstore's involvement as appropriate. He will also take the lead in developing and implementing programs to increase diversity at the store."

Parsons has worked in the public and nonprofit sectors on programs to provide essential services, access and opportunity to disenfranchised people in many settings. Among the organizations he has served are the City of New York, the National Urban League, Seattle Office of Economic Development and the Seattle City Council.

In announcing the appointment, owner Peter Aaron said in part, "Events of the past year, both in Seattle and around the country, make clear the urgency of the need to spotlight, and begin to correct and redress, long-festering issues of institutionalized racism, discriminatory policing, deprivation of resources and failure of political will and moral courage to deal with the humanitarian crisis of homelessness, to name but a few of the inveterate issues of social injustice entrenched in our culture. While the bookstore as an institution has never taken sides in political matters, these intractable problems are at essence matters of clear right and wrong, and I am convinced that it is not only appropriate--but necessary--for the bookstore to be actively engaged in the community's efforts to identify, and attempt to enact, solutions. In the process of developing the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Book Workers Union has expressed a strong desire for the bookstore to take an active role in these matters, a stance with which I am in agreement; and while the bookstore has a long history--especially through Rick [Simonson] and Karen [Maeda Allman]'s efforts--of engaging with and providing platforms for diverse communities of interest, the creation of a senior executive position to lead the bookstore's efforts to participate in creative solutions should be seen for what it is: a dedication to being a direct and active participant in making our community a fairer, safer and more accepting place for everyone to live and thrive."

HarperCollins Focus Launching Gift Book Imprint Harper Celebrate

HarperCollins Focus is launching a new gift book imprint, Harper Celebrate, which will publish "uplifting and inspiring, visually striking books using high-quality design and sophisticated detail in both the interior and exterior packaging." The imprint will have headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., and be headed by v-p and publisher Michael Aulisio. Its first titles will appear in fall 2022.

Laura Minchew, senior v-p, group publisher at HarperCollins Focus, called Aulisio "extremely talented, bringing a rare and effective combination of market research, innovation and creativity. This new imprint will be a wonderful addition to the HarperCollins Focus family."

Michael Aulisio

For 10 years, Aulisio has been a marketing executive for the children's and gift division at HarperCollins Christian Publishing. He has worked with authors such as Joanna Gaines, Dude Perfect, Bear Grylls, Brett Young, Bob Goff, Emily Ley, and Sarah Young, whose Jesus Calling book line has sold more than 35 million copies. Aulisio also created and implemented omni-channel marketing campaigns with celebrities like Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire, Tony Dungy, Kathie Lee Gifford, and Rascal Flatt's Gary LeVox.

Aulisio commented, "There is a strong need for books that will help readers be inspired, find peace and cultivate positive personal change, as well as be entertained. I'm honored and excited for the opportunity we have to acquire and publish books that will beautifully celebrate the people, occasions, interests, and gifts in a reader's life."

Harper Celebrate will seek to acquire daily readers, lifestyle books, journals, photography-driven books, literary graphic novels, hospitality, home decorating, organization, and crafting; poetry, personal time management, and mindfulness; and occasion-focused titles such as holiday celebrations, graduation, and gifts for special persons.

Obituary Note: Richard Baron

Richard Baron

Richard Warren Baron, who led the Dial Press through the 1960s and published writers like James Baldwin and Norman Mailer, died on May 9 at his home in New York City. He was 98.

Born in 1923, Baron grew up on New York City's Upper West Side and attended the University of North Carolina before joining the army infantry in World War II. He held the rank of lieutenant, fought at Anzio and spent the final four months of the war as a POW (he would later write the book Raid, which was released in 1981 and discussed his experiences in the war).

During his tenure at the Dial Press, Baron hired E.L. Doctorow as editor-in-chief, brought on Christopher Lehmann-Haupt as an editor, and oversaw the publication of authors such as Baldwin, Mailer, Thomas Berger, Elizabeth Bowen, Leonard Levin, W.R. Burnett, Howard Sackler, Vance Bourjaily and Frank Yerby.

Speaking at Baron's 90th birthday celebration in 2013, Doctorow said: "If anyone was the perfect publisher for the 1960s, it was Richard Baron. He was totally fearless, and he backed us in every crazy thing we would do."

Baron sold part of his interest in the Dial Press to Dell Publishing Company in 1969, eventually divesting the rest. Dell went on to become a part of Doubleday, and in 1985 Doubleday dissolved the imprint. In 1993, Carole Baron, Richard Baron's wife and the head of Dell at the time, revived Dial Press and appointed Susan Kamil to lead the imprint.

Following his departure from the Dial Press, Baron created the Richard W. Baron Publishing Company. The press's major authors included Thomas Berger, Nat Hentoff and Julius Lester. Baron retired from publishing in 1980.


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Pepper Teigen on Ellen

Ellen: Pepper Teigen, co-author of The Pepper Thai Cookbook: Family Recipes from Everyone's Favorite Thai Mom (Clarkson Potter, $29.99, 9780593137666).

This Weekend on Book TV: Senator Elizabeth Warren

Book TV airs on C-Span 2 this weekend from 8 a.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Monday and focuses on political and historical books as well as the book industry. The following are highlights for this coming weekend. For more information, go to Book TV's website.

Saturday, May 15
12 p.m. Karen Cox, author of No Common Ground: Confederate Monuments and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice (The University of North Carolina Press, $24, 9781469662671). (Re-airs Sunday at 6:10 p.m.)

1:05 p.m. Richard D. Wolff, author of The Sickness Is the System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us from Pandemics or Itself (Democracy at Work, $24, 9781735601304). (Re-airs Sunday at 7:15 p.m.)

2:45 p.m. Sonora Jha, author of How to Raise a Feminist Son: Motherhood, Masculinity, and the Making of My Family (Sasquatch Books, $26, 9781632173645).

6 p.m. Kevin Weddle, author of The Compleat Victory: Saratoga and the American Revolution (Oxford University Press, $34.95, 9780195331400).

7 p.m. Andrew Steele, author of Ageless: The New Science of Getting Older Without Getting Old (Doubleday, $29, 9780385544924).

9 p.m. John McWhorter, author of Nine Nasty Words: English in the Gutter: Then, Now, and Forever (Avery, $24, 9780593188798). (Re-airs Sunday at 12 a.m.)

10 p.m. Senator Elizabeth Warren, author of Persist (Metropolitan Books, $27.99, 9781250799241). (Re-airs Sunday at 9 p.m. and Monday at 12 a.m. and 3 a.m.)

Sunday, May 16
1 p.m. Richard Alba, author of The Great Demographic Illusion: Majority, Minority, and the Expanding American Mainstream (Princeton University Press, $29.95, 9780691201634).

2:30 p.m. Laura Bates, author of Men Who Hate Women: From Incels to Pickup Artists: The Truth about Extreme Misogyny and How It Affects Us All (Sourcebooks, $28.99, 9781728236247).

3:30 p.m. John F. Wasik, author of Lincolnomics: How President Lincoln Constructed the Great American Economy (Diversion Books, $31.99, 9781635766936).

4:30 p.m. Jay Hakes, author of Energy Crises: Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Hard Choices in the 1970s (University of Oklahoma Press, $36.95, 9780806168524).

10 p.m. Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War (Little, Brown, $27, 9780316296618).

11:05 p.m. Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, authors of Blood and Treasure: Daniel Boone and the Fight for America's First Frontier (St. Martin's Press, $29.99, 9781250247131). (Re-airs Monday at 2:05 a.m.)

Books & Authors

Awards: Triangle Winners; Firecracker Finalists

Winners of the 2021 Triangle Awards, honoring the best LGBTQ fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and trans literature published in 2020 and sponsored by the Publishing Triangle, are:

The Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBTQ Fiction: Fiebre Tropical by Juliana Delgado Lopera (Feminist Press)
The Publishing Triangle's Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction: 99 Erics: A Kat Cataclysm Faux Novel by Julia Serano (Switch Hitter Press)
The Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry: 13th Balloon by Mark Bibbins (Copper Canyon Press)
The Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry: Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz (Graywolf Press)
The Publishing Triangle Award for Trans and Gender-Variant Literature: Trans Care by Hil Malatino (University of Minnesota Press)
The Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction: My Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland (Tin House)
The Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction: The Deviant's War: The Homosexual vs. the United States of America by Eric Cervini (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

The recipients of the Publishing Triangle's three honorary awards (click on links for citations and acceptance speeches):

Cheryl Clarke is the 2021 recipient of the Publishing Triangle's Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Robert Fieseler is the winner of the Publishing Triangle's Betty Berzon Emerging Writer Award, its prize for an LGBTQ writer who has published at least one book but not more than two.

William Johnson is the winner of the Publishing Triangle Leadership Award.


Finalists for the 2021 Firecracker Awards in five categories have been announced and can be seen here. Sponsored by the Community of Literary Magazines & Presses (CLMP), the awards honor "the best independently published books of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry and the best literary magazines in the categories of debut and general excellence."

Winners will be announced at a virtual awards ceremony to be hosted by the Center for Fiction on June 23 at 7 p.m. Eastern.

Kwame Alexander: Helping Kids Imagine a Better World

Kwame Alexander
(Portia Wiggins Photography)

Shelf Awareness recently caught up via Zoom with Kwame Alexander, author of the 2015 Newbery Medal-winning novel-in-verse The Crossover and the 2020 Newbery Honor picture book The Undefeated (for which illustrator Kadir Nelson won the 2020 Caldecott Medal). The Undefeated was published by Versify, the imprint Alexander founded at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2018.

In the three years that Alexander helmed Versify, he also published the 2021 Pura Belpré winner (¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat, illustrated and written by Raúl the Third) and a 2021 Sydney Taylor Honor Book (Anya and the Nightingale by Sofiya Pasternak). But Alexander and Houghton couldn't come to terms while renegotiating his contract, which expired in October 2020. "At first I thought of it as a divorce," Alexander reflected, "but then, in true poet fashion, I realized it was more like a child leaving home for college. It just so happened that Versify was that incredible prodigy who was ready to leave early." (In March of this year, HarperCollins purchased Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.)

"I'm proud of the work that we did, Margaret [Raymo, senior editorial director] and I, working together to bring Raul's ¡Vamos! series and Lamar's [Giles] series into the world, and Nikki Giovanni's A Library [to be published in fall 2021, illustrated by Erin Robinson] and all the beautiful books. It was a special experience for me."

Alexander discussed his life in London during the past year and a half. "The pandemic did a couple of things that I wasn't expecting," he said. "Number one, I wrote way more than I've ever written because I couldn't really do anything else. It was a writer's dream in the midst of a nightmare. And I discovered the parks in London." As an author who'd done some 200 school visits a year, he'd mostly traveled London by Tube and taxi; now he could enjoy its green spaces.

These days, he's working on a script for the pilot of The Crossover with Hollywood over Zoom. The book's move to the screen has been a long time coming. The author received his first inquiries about film rights about a week after he won the Newbery, six years ago. "And then, as each thing sort of fell through, Disney+ decided they were interested in a TV show. So for the past two years, we've been working on the treatment, the outline, and writing the pilot episode." In February, it was greenlit, and Alexander, who serves as executive producer as well as writer, will head to New Orleans for the filming in June. "I've seen the positive impact that my books have on kids and adults," Alexander said. "So conventional wisdom would say, if we take those books and we translate them onto the small and the big screen, it could potentially have the same impact on a much larger sort of landscape."

Asked how film work is different from publishing, Alexander said that there are hundreds of people involved with a film, rather than the author-editor primary relationship in book publishing (plus designers and art directors and copyeditors, sales and marketing, of course). But that collaborative nature of filmmaking is not the biggest difference between publishing and Hollywood. When We Need Diverse Books was created in July 2014, "we began to have a little bit of reckoning in book publishing, and I want to say it's gotten better and better each year since then," Alexander said. "I think Hollywood is still trying to catch up." Even though he describes it as a struggle, he has a voice: "I'm pretty loud and I say what I need to say, you know? I probably challenge the status quo a lot more than Hollywood is used to. They listen, so I'm not going to stop talking."

Alexander is also writing and producing a cartoon based on his picture book Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band, and a puppet show starring a band of poets that he will also appear in. And just to bring this circle of poetry 360 degrees, the show's producer is Sidney Clifton, daughter of legendary poet Lucille Clifton. These projects come under the umbrella of Big Sea Entertainment, which Alexander co-founded with his longtime agent and business partner Arielle Eckstut. It's named for Langston Hughes's autobiography and its epitaph, "Life is a big sea/ full of many fish./ I let down my nets/ and pull."

But do not fear, readers, Kwame Alexander is still writing! In fact, he believes he's rediscovered his muse in London and is doing his best writing yet, "the books that I was born to write." He's working on a trilogy called The Door of No Return. "It's about a 12-year-old boy who's a swimmer; he has a crush and also a cousin who likes the same girl, who bullies him," says Alexander. He pauses, "And it's set in 1859. It's a beautiful tragedy with a twist."

Alexander exudes gratitude. He speaks of being given books by his parents, reading Lucille Clifton before he even started kindergarten, being mentored by Nikki Giovanni, "for the sole purpose of being able to uplift the community, to make the world a better place." But after the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, Alexander stopped writing. He kept thinking, "What was the point of all this stuff I've done? What is that going to offer? How is that going to change anything? Black boys and men and people are being blown away, like sand in a windstorm and what is a poem going to do?" But then two things happened. First, a friend called him and said, "What are you going to do about what's happening? You have a voice. You know a lot of people, and kids need to hear from you. They need to hear your voice." And then Alexander saw this quote by Toni Morrison: "There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal."

At this time, Alexander was having weekly happy hours via Zoom with Jacqueline Woodson and Jason Reynolds, and he asked them if they'd be a part of a virtual rally. They agreed, as long as the audience was young people. Alexander wanted the majority to be Black speakers but felt it was also important to model what an ally is: "I'm a big proponent of the books that we publish and the movies that we produce, the friends that we have, they should reflect the kind of world we claim we want for our kids." They came together to create the KitLit4BlackLives rally on June 4, 2020.

"I'm in Hollywood for the same reason I'm in books--I want to help kids imagine a better world. I'm trying to help kids make this place better... one word at a time." --Jennifer M. Brown

Attainment: New Titles Out Next Week

Selected new titles appearing next Tuesday, May 18:

Full Spectrum: How the Science of Color Made Us Modern by Adam Rogers (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28, 9781328518903) is a history of humanity's attempts to replicate colors.

The Quiet Boy by Ben H. Winters (Mulholland Books, $28, 9780316505444) is a legal thriller surrounding a teenage boy stuck in time.

Punch Me Up to the Gods: A Memoir by Brian Broome (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26, 9780358439103) explores race, sexuality, masculinity and addiction.

Ophie's Ghosts by Justina Ireland (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, $16.99, 9780062915894) is the author's middle-grade debut, featuring a Black girl in 1922 who learns she can speak to ghosts.

Perfectly Parvin by Olivia Abtahi (Putnam, $17.99, 9780593109427) features a 14-year-old Iranian American dedicated to getting a fantastic date for homecoming.

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell (Vintage, $16.95, 9781984898876).

IndieBound: Other Indie Favorites

From last week's Indie bestseller lists, available at, here are the recommended titles, which are also Indie Next Great Reads:

Folklorn: A Novel by Angela Mi Young Hur (Erewhon, $26.95, 9781645660163). "At its heart, Folklorn is a haunting and lyrical novel about mythology, science, generational trauma, and identity, but it's also much more. I took my time reading this since I wanted to really stop and think about the questions it raised. A truly memorable, genre-bending reading experience!" --Grace Rajendran, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.

Hot Stew: A Novel by Fiona Mozley (Algonquin, $26.95, 9781643751559). "A young millionaire wants to turn an old Soho brothel into luxury condos, but the tenants aren't going to leave without a fight. A riveting tale about wealth, class, gentrification, power, and gender, this story shows readers just how unjust the world can be. A 2021 must-read!" --Jennie Minor, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Braised Pork: A Novel by An Yu (Grove Press, $16, 9780802148728). "An astonishing look at a new widow's attempt to make sense of her husband's death and her newfound independence, through which she rediscovers her love of painting, forms new and profound bonds, rekindles previously dormant familial relationships, and ultimately finds peace in uncertainty. Set in Beijing and Tibet, Braised Pork is a poetic reflection on life and all of its meandering, unpredictable messiness." --Jake Cumsky-Whitlock, Solid State Books, Washington, D.C.

For Ages 4 to 8
Wolfboy by Andy Harkness (Bloomsbury, $17.99, 9781547604425). "Wolfboy is an edge-of-your-seat suspense story fueled by the all-too-common feelings associated with being hungry. It is a fantastically fun read-aloud with incredible images. The detail of color, texture, and light in the clay sculptures make for amazing spreads. Best enjoyed right after snack time!" --Meghan Hayden, River Bend Bookshop, Glastonbury, Conn.

For Ages 9 to 12
Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids by Cynthia L. Smith (Heartdrum, $16.99, 9780062869944). "Reading Ancestor Approved is like being wrapped in a family hug. While telling stories of the many wonderful Native Nations, it demonstrates the important role family plays. Through each story runs the beauty, resilience, and kindness of Native culture. Each author shares a story that honors their background and gives a glimpse into the wonderful world of the powwow. This book is a fabulous way to introduce children to our Native Nations and the wonders of the powwow. A must-read for 2021." --Sally Sue Lavigne, The Storybook Shoppe, Bluffton, S.C.

For Teen Readers
Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses by Kristen O'Neal (Quirk Books, $18.99, 9781683692348). "This debut yanked me in and I could not put it down. Poignant and hilarious, this young adult story delves into the mental landscape of chronic illnesses but also brings werewolfism into the storyline. I love Brigid's sense of humor, and her and Priya's friendship is one we all need in our lives. A great recommendation for readers who are looking for a solid friendship-themed book. There is a fun hint of romance, but it doesn't shift the story's focus." --Candice Conner, The Haunted Book Shop, Mobile, Ala.

[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]

Book Review

Review: Unwell Women: Misdiagnosis and Myth in a Man-Made World

Unwell Women: Misdiagnosis and Myth in a Man-Made World by Elinor Cleghorn (Dutton, $28 hardcover, 400p., 9780593182956, June 8, 2021)

Elinor Cleghorn offers an epic yet approachable social, cultural and scientific history of women's health in Unwell Women, tracing the sexism and racism seen in modern Western medicine from ancient times through the present day.

"We are taught that medicine is the art of solving our body's mysteries," Cleghorn writes in the introduction. "And we expect medicine, as a science, to uphold the principles of evidence and impartiality." But, as she shows over the following chapters, medicine is anything but impartial, steeped as it is in social and cultural histories. From its earliest recorded days in ancient Greek texts, medicine has both inherited and reinforced the socially constructed gender binary, falsely reducing womanhood to a person's "capacity--and duty--to reproduce."

Drawing on extensive research, Cleghorn reveals medicine's long history of misdiagnosing--and mistreating--women, with sections on ancient and medieval times, the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the mid-20th century to today. The resulting tome is massive in scope, but in Cleghorn's expert hands, this long history does not feel unwieldy. Each chapter carries clearly into the next, as Cleghorn peels back the layers upon layers of misogyny and sexism baked into medical concepts of "unwell women"--and the corresponding "treatment" options that often did, and do, more harm than good.

Throughout, she also acknowledges the depth of racism inherent in the already sexist system, calling out the horrors inflicted on enslaved Black women in the United States in the name of research, for example, and the non-consensual testing of birth control methods (including sterilization) on women of color across history. She traces the ties between the women's suffrage movement and today's access to birth control, and reveals links between Victorian ideals of a chaste womanhood and the modern fight for reproductive justice.

Despite the dark side of this history--including Cleghorn's own experience having chronic symptoms dismissed and overlooked--Unwell Women is ultimately hopeful. As Cleghorn reveals how medicine's evolution has continually been hampered by the constructs of gender norms, she also spotlights the incredible voices that have agitated for change for centuries, "women raising their heads above the parapet to ensure that women are represented, cared for, and listened to." These women are a model for what we can carry into the future, regardless of gender identity: a call to women to advocate for themselves, true, but also for the system to acknowledge the change it needs to make from within--making Unwell Women a powerful and necessary work of social and cultural history. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Shelf Talker: An epic yet accessible social, cultural and scientific history of women's health traces the roots of sexism and racism in modern Western medicine from ancient texts through to the present day.

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