A single book is like a candle trying to light the night. A whole mass of books together though, brings the possibility of a mighty blaze. Such was the thinking of local novelist Jenna Blum while she talked with a friend whose book tour had been extinguished by the coronavirus. Her friend had spent three years writing in his basement, bought a new suit for the tour, and was, more than anything, looking forward to telling his readers he loved them. But it wouldn’t get to happen. Authors across the country with spring launches face a complicated devastation — to have spent years on a project and not get to celebrate the release of it into the world. So Blum teamed up with novelist Caroline Leavitt, who was working with authors to set up virtual tours, and they founded A Mighty Blaze, a social media platform that sheds light on authors whose books are emerging in the heat of this crisis. It’s grown quickly since its March 13 launch: They now have an unpaid staff of 16, and growing numbers of followers and contributors across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. “We’re building the plane as we’re flying it,” said Blum over the phone, and a spirit of support fuels it. Every Tuesday, they feature books coming out that week; on Wednesdays, indie bookstores from around the country take over the accounts, highlighting their stores and recommending books; there’s a virtual cocktail hour on Fridays and brunches on Sundays. And they’re also helping the Newburyport Literary Festival, which had also been canceled, transition to the virtual space, allowing them to keep the candle burning as well. For more information, visit amightyblaze.com or follow them on Instagram and Twitter at @amightyblaze.
The MIT Press has a powerful — and timely — collection of books being released this spring and because book tours and events have been canceled across the land, they’ve launched MIT Press Live!, bringing local and international authors and thinkers to discuss their work in a series of online events that take place Tuesdays at 12:30 p.m. through mid-May. Tuesday, April 7, Jonathan Haber will discuss “Essential Knowledge for a Time of Crisis: Critical Thinking,” answering how we can detangle accurate from inaccurate, useful from meaningless, signal from noise, during times of chaos, showing how techniques in critical thinking can serve in keeping us calm and rightly focused. On April 14, Ainissa Ramirez launches her book “The Alchemy of Us”; Sasha Costanza-Chock talks “Design Justice” on April 21; Stefan Van Der Stigchel looks at “Concentration in a Time of Crisis” on April 28. For more information and the complete schedule, visit mitpress.mit.edu/blog.
Poems of homeland, hope
Palestinian-American George Abraham is pursuing a PhD in bioengineering at Harvard, and their arresting new collection of poetry, “Birthright” (Button) comes out this week. The poems reckon with what’s inherited, trauma passed down through generations, what lives on, and what dies, in the body. “i have so many bodies in me — if you look close enough, / you could almost mistake me for a massacre.” Looking at the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, in experimental shapes — the silences hold as much power as the words in places — Abraham has made a smoldering book, one that plays with and subverts ideas of homeland, hope, identity, and memory. “It’s springtime, & what can you do but look into / eternity’s face & reject it. This is your loneliest sound. You / step into the light, & Forgiveness is a daffodil in a wooded clearing. / You palm the daffodil, inhale it; allow Forgiveness to enter / & your throat ruptures.”
“The Malevolent Volume” by Justin Phillip Reed (Coffee House)
“American Harvest: God, Country, and Farming in the Heartland” by Marie Mutsuki Mockett (Graywolf)
“The Beauty of Your Face” by Sahar Mustafah (W.W. Norton)
Pick of the week
Audrey Huang at Belmont Books recommends “The Mountains Sing” by Nguyên Phan Qué Mai (Algonquin): “This family epic about how colonialism and the American War has shaped the Vietnamese is told from the dual perspectives of grandmother and granddaughter. The family history of tough choices made out of love, friends, enemies, and politics slowly unfolds. I loved every word of this book.”
Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Wake, Siren” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.