Folio Facts: What is the oldest bookstore in the world? The answer is Livraria Bertrand, or Bertrand bookstore, in Lisbon, Portugal. First founded in 1732 by Pedro Faure, Bertrand has survived nearly three centuries of continuous operation. To learn more about this store, as well as other super old bookstores, check out this article. You can also read the Wikipedia article.
BBE Bookstore: Jennifer recently finished up reading Layla F. Saad’sMe & White Supremacy. A truly thought-provoking journaling guide, Jennifer has been finding a lot of value working through Saad’s 28-day program. Further investigation on the author revealed some interesting critiques of her expertise from within the activist community, though Jennifer still recommends checking this one out.
*Note: you won’t find this book in our Bookshop store as it felt wrong to profit off of sales of this book. However, you can find this book on Saad’s personal site, linked above.
Creatives’ Corner: Paige talks (Un)Well* on Netflix, a new series about the various strange faces of the giant that is the wellness industry. Everything from drinking breast milk, bee stings for Lyme disease, and essential oils are explored in each episode. A fascinating and science-backed approach to a lot of trends that have become hugely popular.
*Paige refers to the show on Netflix as “Wellness”. Oops!
Check out the Episode Below!
Coming up next time, we’re diving into academia with Caroline Walker Bynum’s Holy Feast and Holy Fast. If you are enjoying the podcast, please consider leaving us a review or following us on social media. If you’d like to support the podcast, you can buy any of the books mentioned in this episode from our Bookshop store, or head on over to our Patreon for bonus content. Until next time, cheers!
What were our overall thoughts/impressions of the book? Hahahaaa….so. Let’s simplify and say that we both kinda hated Love in the Time of Cholera. Paige was most bothered by the character, Florentino Ariza, who she (accurately) describes as a predator, but who is presented as a hero in the story. Jennifer was stymied by the fact that she had to listen to this as an audiobook, which ruined the effect of the writing style for her. Both of us were very confused about why this book is often touted as an inspiring romance.
Does Fermina Daza love Florentino Ariza? Does anyone actually love anyone else? Categorically we agree that Florentino Ariza does not love Fermina Daza, rather he is obsessed with her, which is a different thing altogether. However, it is trickier to decide if Fermina loves either Florentino or Juvenal Urbino. Is this just a matter of comfort? The stability of knowing another human well and the ability to be yourself around them? Fermina is such a fascinating character, and despite being given a lot of time in her head, it is still not clear what Fermina feels other than occasional bursts of anger.
How do the book and movie compare? As for the movie, choices were made, and they were not good ones. Poor Florentino was aging wildly throughout the movie in ways the other characters did not, in addition to a weird switch of actors from young Florentino to slightly older Florentino (played by Javier Bardem). Characters were added in, while other important characters from the book – mainly Leona Cassiani – were written out. The subtlety of the relationships was completely lost. While some of the cinematography was breathtaking, this was overall a flop for BBE. However, if we are weighing book and movie, at least the movie was shorter? All jokes aside, it is clear that the book is of much higher quality (don’t walk away from this thinking Marquez cannot write well), it just comes down to the fact neither of them were for us.
Coming up next time, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. If you are enjoying the podcast, please consider leaving us a review or following us on social media. If you’d like to support the podcast, you can buy any of the books mentioned in this episode from our Bookshop store, or head on over to our Patreon for bonus content. Until next time, cheers!
It is that time again somehow, bookish peeps. August has absolutely flown by and we are staring down September. With that in mind, it is time to reveal our lineup for the coming month. Click through the gallery to preview our book pics! Let us know what you think and if you are also excited for some serious fall vibes.
Jennifer is bringing you BBE’s first academic history with Caroline Walker Bynum’s Holy Feast and Holy Fast. How much does Jennifer love this book? Well she *willingly* wrote three papers on it in grad school…so you could say a lot. CW: we will be talking about restricted eating behaviors.
Paige’s Books We Love pick for the month is Ausma Zehanat Khan’s The Bloodprint. An epic fantasy set in a Middle-Eastern inspired world, Paige loved this book for its world building and powerful female characters. Defeating a slave trade with the power of books? Sounds like an archivist’s dream.
BBE is SO excited to present this month’s Movie Magic episode: Hidden Figures. Margot Lee Shetterly’s book turned into a major motion picture. This could be our toughest call in Movie Magic yet.
And that is a wrap for our September Sneak Peek. To keep up with BBE this season, be sure to follow us on social media. If you are enjoying the podcast so far, we would dearly appreciate a review or you can send us an email. And finally, if you’d like to support the podcast, you can check out our Bookshop store, or head on over to our Patreon to get access to our full bonus episodes (link below). Stay nerdy, bookish peeps!
Folio Facts: You may have heard of the Library of Alexandria, tragically lost in a fire. But have you heard of the sacking of the Library of Baghdad? Called Bayt al-Hikma, or the House of Wisdom, this enormous repository was the hub of caliph-sponsored scholarship in the Abbasid caliphate. Unfortunately this treasure was lost when the Mongols sacked Baghdad in 1258.
Dragon Teeth is the posthumous Michael Crichton book about fossil hunters and rival paleontologists Jennifer was referring to in the episode.
BBE Bookstore: This episode, Paige rants and raves over Tamsyn Muir’s hit debut novel, Gideon the Ninth and its sequel, Harrow the Ninth. Paige devoured these in a few short days, so you could say that she recommends them. Beware, strong language and bone necromancy lie ahead.
*links are affiliate links, we receive a small percentage of the sale*
Jennifer mentioned horseshoe crab blood but couldn’t remember why it is important to medical research. Hint: it is very important. The Atlantic has a great article on its historic use and attempts to transition towards synthetic versions, and horseshoe crab blood has become especially relevant in the current coronavirus pandemic. If and when a vaccine is developed, we will likely have these ancient creatures to thank for it.
Creatives’ Corner: This episode, Jennifer presents Samosas & Sirens, an awesome bookish Instagram account that has convinced Jennifer to read many of the non-podcast related reads she has completed this year. S & S was one of the first accounts we followed and they continue to create amazing content.
Main Points from the Episode
According to Ian Malcolm, discovery is the rape of the natural world. Do you agree? Discussion was a mixed bag. Paige and Jennifer agree that many forms of scientific discovery have unintended and disastrous consequences on the natural world. We also agree that often scientific research can be competitive and motivated by greed, or a desire for fame, rather than purely altruistic desires. However, the statement Malcolm makes in the book is extremely black and white and we can’t quite get behind it.
Have we learned the lessons from Jurassic Park? Namely that humankind does not exercise enough caution in scientific discovery? First, it was impossible to not talk about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks in this question, where examples of careless research abound. While scientific progress is important, Paige and Jennifer agreed that humans tend to underestimate the possible consequences of scientific research. One big example from our past would be atomic power, which was immediately used to create weapons. But on the other hand you have particle accelerators. People argued CERN shouldn’t be built because it might create a black hole, but would we rather have not built the CERN accelerator due to that astronomically small chance?
Aaaaand even though this isn’t a bonus Movie Magic episode…let’s talk about the movie! Basically we fangirl over Ellie Sattler, complain about how annoying Lex’s character is, and talk about great quotes from the movie. We also chat about the evolution of the relationship between Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler from book to early production to final cut. Some of the scenes we discuss are below!
Coming up next time, Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. If you are enjoying the podcast, please consider leaving us a review or following us on social media. If you’d like to support the podcast, you can buy any of the books mentioned in this episode from our Bookshop store, or head on over to our Patreon for bonus content. Until next time, cheers!
We mention the 1905 Revolution in this episode, a hugely important event in Russian history and Jennifer is eternally ashamed that she couldn’t remember what it was about.
Creatives’ Corner: Paige plugs YouTube channel Overly Sarcastic Productions. Co-hosts Red and Blue make educational videos about mythology, literature, history, etc. Recommended for any nerd who appreciates a healthy dose of sarcasm.
Main Points from the Episode
Why did Jennifer hate Anna Karenina? Well, she didn’t actually hate it, per se. Having read it a while ago, her impression of the book overall is fuzzy. However, here are the things she does remember: Levin and Kitty are adorable and the ending was a shocking twist. Rather than hating the book, teenage Jennifer found that the middle portions just really dragged, especially the portions where Tolstoy starts philosophizing. Sorry, she was uncultured back then and there’s no telling what she would think of it now!
What do we think about the latest movie adaptation of Anna Karenina? This is where BBE turns into a house divided. The most recent movie adaptation came out in 2012. Directed by Joe Wright and starring Kiera Knightley and Jude Law, this movie seemed destined for success. Visually, this film is stunning. The unique interpretation of the Russian nobility as being actors on a theater stage also lends itself to beautiful and fanciful sets. Critically, the movie was pretty middle of the road.
Jennifer loves this movie because of these visual elements and the whimsical feel that the film often takes, but this is the very reason why Paige hates it, lacking that same emotionally tortured punch that the novel does.
Does Tolstoy intend Anna to be a sympathetic character? There are a lot of things to factor into this equation. On the one hand, Anna is not always a likable character, and her self-sabotaging can set your teeth on edge. On the other hand, Anna’s isolation and helplessness in the face of a deeply patriarchal society can be simultaneously rage-inducing and heart-breaking for a modern reader. While Anna might be sympathetic to a modern audience, it is not at all clear that she was intended to be read that way (especially considering Tolstoy’s radical religious views towards the end if his life) or if a contemporary audience would have viewed her as one.
Pictured above: shots from the movie Anna Karenina (2012).
Coming up next is the thrilling sci-fi blockbuster, Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. If you are enjoying the podcast, please consider leaving us a review, and to keep up with all the BBE news, follow us on social media. If you are interested in supporting the podcast, head on over to our Bookshop store, or visit our Patreon. Until next time!
Our very first Movie Magic pick for Season 2 is Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. When Paige first recommended this book for Movie Magic, Jennifer immediately agreed. Jennifer had actually read this book for the first time earlier in 2019, which is perhaps embarrassing since the book was published in 2009 and was on the New York Times Bestseller list for six years. So we were a little behind. Regardless, Skloot’s work is an excellent piece of science writing and the story of Henrietta Lacks and her family is frankly incredible.
Taken far too soon from her children by a horrifically aggressive cancer, Henrietta’s cancerous cells turned out to be one of the greatest boons ever given to modern science. Her cells are immortal, reproducing endlessly as long as they are fed, and allowed for generations of scientists to make breakthroughs and discoveries that have saved millions of lives. However, these cells were taken without proper consent or knowledge, and this fact has since prompted heated debates on the ethics of modern genetic research – something in which everyone living today has a stake.
Skloot also started the Henrietta Lacks Foundation, which provides scholarship to descendants of Henrietta, or descendants of others subjected to historical research without consent.
Paige Downey Presents Fun with Comics is our new segment that appears monthly during our Movie Magic episodes. This month, Paige presents Saga, by Fiona Staples.
You can find Fiona on Instagram and Tumblr. Also, Marvel and DC aren’t the only sheriffs in town – don’t sleep on Image comics!
A relatively recent Wired article breaks down where we are currently at with laws governing genetics in the United States.
The LawSeq project is dedicated to compiling all laws related to genetics and genetic research in the United States (state and federal) and their site is a fantastic resource for learning more about this topic.
The Washington Post published an excellent article on the experiments done on Puerto Rican women for the pill. Jennifer was incorrect in the episode in remembering this occurred in the 1970s, it was actually in the 1950’s!
To purchase any of the books mentioned in this month’s bonus episode, head on over to our Bookshop store!
Main Points from the Episode
When did you first learn about Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa cells? Jennifer only learned about this amazing story when she first read the book last year. Paige actually found a short description of HeLa’s story in her college biology textbook, but has no memory of learning about it then. However, a few years ago, she did run across a few articles that mentioned immortal cells.
Is it ethical to take someone’s cells for research without their knowledge or consent? You think this is a trick question? The obvious answer seems to be a resounding no. However, the reality is that for decades this was a common practice in the medical field. Paige and Jennifer rant about this quite a bit – the first of several rants about ethics in this book. See the quick links above for more information about what is actually in the [law]books about this currently.
Was taking the HeLa cells without proper consent justified? You can thank Paige for this really difficult question, and BBE was torn over the answer to this one. Research on HeLa cells has literally saved millions of lives – we can thank them for polio vaccines, HPV vaccines, AIDS research, cancer research, etc. etc. etc. until the end of time. This certainly tips the scales in favor of this action being justified (though not really ethical). However, the researcher who originally took these cells was not aware of what a contribution they would make. Jennifer waffles back and forth on this one, but Paige comes down on the side of not being justified as the ends never justify the means for her. Both rant about the importance and meaning of informed consent, a critical issue in this arena.
What does this book teach us about the power dynamic between the medical field in the United States and minorities or people of color? If you didn’t already know, historically communities of color have been disproportionately treated poorly by the medical profession in the United States. Skloot’s book does a great job illustrating how individual instances of mistreatment can promote mistrust in entire families or communities, as well as providing many other examples of larger experiments on people of color that have contributed to suspicion of the medical profession.
We know why you really tuned in though, it was to see which one we liked better: book or movie! Not surprisingly, Jennifer and Paige preferred the book. We both went into the movie with extremely low expectations. It wasn’t a big budget production released in theaters or anything of the sort. While we love Oprah, seeing her listed in the cast also seemed cause for concern. However, we needn’t have worried at all. The movie adaptation heads in a different direction than the book, focusing almost purely on the human element: the story of Henrietta, and her daughter Deborah’s search for answers. The cast was truly excellent, and the movie did a wonderful job of portraying the relationship between Deborah Lacks and Skloot.
That being said, the book provided so much more information that explained the science behind why Henrietta’s story was important. This is perhaps unfair to a movie, which only has a couple hours or so to convey several hundred pages of written content. But what can we say, we’re book people! Movies better really blow us away to win out. Either way, we would recommend reading the book AND watching the movie.
Coming up next is Paige’s all time favorite book ever: Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. If you are enjoying the podcast, please consider leaving us a review, and to keep up with all the BBE news, follow us on social media. If you are interested in supporting the podcast, head on over to our Bookshop store, or visit our Patreon (linked below). Until next time!
This August we are excited to bring back another round of Books We Love and Movie Magic. Listeners are extra lucky this month because there are three Mondays in August rather than two, which means four total episodes! We are bringing in some serious literary fire-power with these picks, so keep scrolling to check it out:
Apparently we really can’t get enough of giant classics, because after our Count of Monte Cristo episode, Paige is following up this month with Anna Karenina.
A true staple of Jennifer’s childhood (and beyond) obsession with dinosaurs, when it comes to sci-fi it doesn’t get much better than Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.
Another oddity of this August, our bonus Movie Magic episode will drop before our last regular episode! We are ready for the drama.
Finishing out the month with another [sci-fi] classic, Paige will be raving about Ursula K. Le Guin’s groundbreaking The Left Hand of Darkness.
And that is a wrap for our August Sneak Peek. To keep up with BBE this season, be sure to follow us on social media. If you are enjoying the podcast so far, we would dearly appreciate a review or you can send us an email. And finally, if you’d like to support the podcast, you can check out our Bookshop store, or head on over to our Patreon to get access to our full bonus episodes (link below). Stay nerdy, bookish peeps!
This week, Jennifer presented her first Books We Love pick: Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. This book is actually one of the books Jennifer has loved the longest. She first picked up this little number around the age of ten and loved it immediately. However, it has been a few years since she last cracked it open, and the distance has complicated her opinion of the book.
A fun coincidence this episode, Paige also loved The Count of Monte Cristo when she was younger. A sucker for some fictional vigilante justice, what Paige appreciated so much is that Dumas pulls no punches in serving his antagonists their comeuppance. In the real world, not everyone who is bad gets what they deserve – often, it seems like the exact opposite happens. However, Dumas was relentless in his pursuit of literary justice.
Wrapped in exquisite historical detail, Dumas presents the reader with questions that can still resonate with them today. What is the efficacy of the legal system? What role does divine Providence play, if any, in the pursuit of justice? And does any one individual deserve to take justice into their own hands?
Quick Links from the Episode
Jennifer was super excited to share some piping hot tea from last episode! She stumbled upon a very detailed web page debunking large portions of Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep.
In addition to The Count of Monte Cristo, Jennifer relies heavily on information from Tom Reiss’ Pulitzer-prize winning work, The Black Count (this is an affiliate link from our Bookshop store, we do get a small percentage of this sale). To learn more about Reiss’ work, visit his website.
As mentioned in The Black Count, there is an Alexandre Dumas society devoted to the memory all three illustrious men of this name. If you are interested in learning more about the society or possibly even joining, check out their website.
Here is the Goodreads thread on whether or not Eugenie Danglars is a LGBTQ character. Not everyone agrees, but a lot of interesting points are brought up, which led Jennifer to conclude that she does believe Eugenie is gay.
This episode, BBE Bookstore featured Martha Well’s novella, All Systems Red. Linked is a copy available through our Bookshop store (affiliate link).
The story of the Dumas family is a fascinating one that until very recently seems to have been relatively swept under the rug. Alexandre Dumas’ father, General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie was a hero of the French Revolution and born a slave and a son of a French Marquis besides. Having lost his father early on, Alexandre Dumas spent much of his life devoted to restoring his father’s memory and drawing inspiration from his father’s life for his novels – including our topic of today, The Count of Monte Cristo. Alexandre’s son would also become a famous playwright. To learn more about the Dumas, check out the Quick Links above.
Some things that Jennifer loved about The Count of Monte Cristo: this time around: the intricacy of the Count’s revenge, the cleverness of Dumas’ protagonist in targeting the individual weaknesses of his enemies, the amazing historical detail of events like Carnival in Rome, and the awesome, badass feminist character that is Eugenie Danglars (seriously, what an interesting character to encounter in a 19th century work).
One thing that Jennifer really did not like: the extremely problematic relationship between Haydee and the Count. The power dynamic of master and slave, the clear emotional trauma Haydee has suffered from a traumatic childhood, and her ensuing ‘daddy issues’…like that is a whole ton of yikes.
Inspired by the Count’s mentor, Abbe Faria, BBE spends a little it of time discussing other great mentor characters, including Dumbledore, Yoda, and Gandalf (of course).
The main portion of the discussion was devoted to questions surrounding justice – unsurprisingly one of the main themes in a book about revenge. Should man act as an agent of divine justice or Providence, outside of human law? What is Dumas’ stance on the matter? Does the Count deserve a happy ending after what was done to him, but also after what he did in return? Dumas leaves his reader somewhat in suspense.
And that is a wrap on The Count of Monte Cristo! Jennifer gives it a solid 5 out of 5 stars – surprise, surprise! We hope you feel inspired to read not just The Count, but any of Dumas’ other amazing works.
Coming up next: our first Bonus Movie Magic episode of the season! This month we will be comparing the book and movie adaptation of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. If you are enjoying the podcast, please consider leaving us a review, and to keep up with all the BBE news, follow us on social media. If you are interested in supporting the podcast, head on over to our Bookshop store, or visit our Patreon (linked below). Until next time!
We couldn’t remember what tower Frodo was taken to after he was captured at the end of The Two Towers, but it was the very appropriately named Tower of Cirith Ungol, meaning tower of the spider’s cleft (roughly).
This wasn’t discussed in the episode, but what towers does the title refer to? This isn’t necessarily clear because there are so many towers to choose from! The answer is that Tolkien intended the title to refer to Orthanc and Minas Morgul – did you guess them correctly? You can check out the fan wiki Tolkien Gateway for an explanation. The above book cover also shows the towers. HOWEVER, don’t feel bad if you thought maybe the title referred to Orthanc and Barad Dur instead. This was a creative choice made by Peter Jackson for the movies. If you take a peak at the movie poster below you’ll be able to see Barad Dur rather than Minas Morgul.
Main Points from the Episode
Jennifer confirmed what she had remembered from the last time she read The Two Towers: that the first half of the book is her favorite part of LOTR and she absolutely hates the second half. Paige also had to agree with this assessment as well. The entire Sam and Frodo narrative drags, with fewer plot points that bring in action and interest. Part of this is due to Tolkien needing to move the characters across a large distance – it can be tricky making travel seem interesting – but a modern author probably would have interspersed the narratives to keep everything fresh. This brings up our other main point of contention with the book: the extremely strict division of the two different narratives is a jarring cutoff in the middle of the book.
Props to Sam. He may be portrayed as a country bumpkin (the movie only plays this up more), but he has a good head on his shoulders. There are many parts where he has stunning moments of insight, and often is more on top of things than Frodo who, admittedly, is distracted by his inner turmoil.
Encountering racism? It is hard to miss reading through Tolkien that the “bad guys” are often from the East or the South, and are described as being swarthy or dark-skinned. In contrast, the descendants of Numenor have fair skin, gray eyes, and dark hair. The Rohirrim are also described as being fair skinned with fair hair. This contrast is especially interesting given that Elendil, Isildur, and Anarion were also essentially colonizers who took over large portions of Middle Earth after they escaped the destruction of Numenor. Was Tolkien just drawing on European history which often ascribes positive values to light skin and negative values to dark skin? Was he unconsciously acting out biases inherited from his own time? As we say in the episode five thousand times: it’s interesting. And we have no firm answers.
There were also many comparisons made between the movie and the book. The movie (really all the movies) are admirable adaptations that we believe capture the spirit of the books. The clips below are just some of the amazing moments that can bring a tear to any true Tolkien fan’s eye. The movie also has a more balanced narrative, cutting between the two halves of the broken Fellowship. HOWEVER. There are some egregious additions that are made which bring Jennifer’s blood to a nice roiling boil. The main offense is the change made to Faramir’s plot line. In the book, Faramir rejects the pull of the ring and allows Frodo and Sam continue on their journey at great personal cost (i.e. his dad is the WORST). Instead of representing a symbolic redemption after his brother’s betrayal and fall to temptation, Peter Jackson and company made the inexplicable decision to have Faramir decide to take the ring, though he will walk back on this decision later. Much ranting was done on these points, but you’ll need to take a listen to learn more.
We will leave you with these inspiring video clips from the movie (really, go watch the movie now):
Tune in next month for Bonus Episode 1.4 on The Return of the King. Teasers of the bonus episodes are available everywhere podcasts live, full episodes can be accessed by supporting the podcast on Patreon. You can also buy copies of the books mentioned in these bonus episodes by checking out our store on Bookshop.org. If you are enjoying the podcast so far, please consider leaving us a review and finding us on social media (all links below). Until next time!
BBE is back for Season 2! We are so excited to present our very first episode on Books We Love. We put our listeners to the test at the end of last season to see which themes we should use for Season 2 and Books We Love won for our regular season episodes, while Movie Magic was the fan favorite for our bonus episodes. Shockingly, we are ecstatic to talk about books we are actually interested in and picked ourselves! Imagine that! But all jokes aside, we hope to have a great season ranting and raving over some of our absolute favs and screaming at producers who have butchered some quality novels. For our very first episode, Paige picked a real doozy: N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. Read on for the links and resources mentioned in the episode and a summary of our discussion.
Quick Links from the Episode
Here is an article on Bill Gates’ purchase of the Codex Leicester, which also gives more details on the journal as well as some beautiful photographs. Even though Gates paid a pretty penny for this Da Vinci masterpiece, he does let it out of his sight about once a year for it to go on display at various museums. Maybe you can catch it at a museum near you in the future…if covid ever let’s us out of the house again?
As Jennifer mentioned in the episode, the Codex Leicester is written in Da Vinci’s unique mirror writing style. Here is an article detailing that a bit more, as well as theories as to why Da Vinci wrote this way.
Da Vinci was one of the prime examples of the concept of the Renaissance man, which referred to the Renaissance belief that man could pursue knowledge in its entirety. Once you’ve looked over the concept of the Renaissance man, why not just look into Renaissance humanism? The Wikipedia article has an excellent list of further readings as well.
If you want to know more about N.K. Jemisin and her books, visit her website.
Aaaand here is some fun trivia about The Broken Earth series.
We are also excited to announce that we are an affiliate for Bookshop.org. Jennifer is really not sure what link she said in the actual episode, but she’s pretty sure she got it wrong. If you’d like to check out our store to order books we are reviewing in Season 2, click here.
Finally, in our Creatives’ Corner segment, Paige mentioned her new favorite podcast, Our Fake History, a must for any history buff.
Main Points from the Episode
Who is N.K. Jemisin? N.K. Jemisin is basically a total badass. She has a background in psychology, but has been hugely successful as an author as well. She was not only the first black author to win a Hugo award, but she won three in a row (!!!), making her debut trilogy record-breaking as well.
We spent quite a lot of time on summary during this episode, because the worldbuilding for this fantasy was so intricate, and the story was complex besides. Essentially, the narrative centers around three main characters: Essun, Damaya, and Syenite. They are orogens, the magic users of a world called the Stillness, which is ironic given its completely chaotic nature. We’re talking The Day After Tomorrow kind of stuff. Orogens harness these natural forces, which makes them powerful, but also dangerous in the eyes of the dominant ruling culture, the Sanzed. The Fifth Season follows Essun, Damaya, and Syenite as they navigate this tumultuous and violent world.
One of the main questions this book prompted was what makes good worldbuilding? For Jennifer, good worldbuilding is texturally rich and follows an internal logic. Some good examples of this are Tolkien (duh), Erica Lindquist in the Reforged trilogy, Katherine Arden in the Winternight trilogy, and Tomi Adeyemi in the Legacy of Orisha series. Jennifer also argued that authors have to be careful how they present worldbuilding, they can’t reveal too much or too little, and it has to feel natural. This can be a difficult balance to find. For Paige, good worldbuilding is in the small details. For example, in this week’s book, the swear words are based around the word “rust”, which makes sense in a culture that is revolves around ‘stone lore’ and where metal is actually seen as a less stable material due to the environment.
Paige was also curious about Jennifer’s thoughts on the constant emphasis on the Sanzed beauty ideal throughout the book. Jemisin creates a unique beauty standard that the Sanzed are literally obsessed with. This includes being over six feet tall, having “ash-blown” hair a la Tina Turner, and the body types mentioned above. Nearly every character is measured against this standard in one way or another, consciously or unconsciously. The only thing that even came close that Jennifer could think of was Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series. While it stuck out to Paige as being strange, Jennifer agreed with her that this was most likely because as white and white passing individuals they aren’t often reminded that they don’t fit into the Western ideal of beauty – which includes white or light skin. By creating a beauty standard that most (all?) readers do not identify with, N.K. Jemisin has been able to recreate to some degree an experience that her white readers often have the privilege of avoiding or being unaware of in real life. So a very thought-provoking inclusion all around.
Paige gave The Fifth Season 6 out of 5 stars, and let’s be honest, that is probably going to be every book this regular season.
Coming up next: Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. If you are enjoying the podcast, please consider leaving us a review, and to keep up with all the BBE news, follow us on social media. If you are interested in supporting the podcast, head on over to Bookshop.org/shop/bigbookenergy, or visit our Patreon (linked below). Until next time!