Armchair BEA 2014: Introductions and Some Thoughts on Tomorrow’s Literature Today. Or Something.


ArmchairBEA 2014

Design by Amber of Shelf Notes

Armchair BEA is one of my favorite book blogging events, and I’m thrilled to participate this year. For those not in the know, it’s the online version of the very-real life trade show Book Expo America (BEA), the #1 book and author event in the U.S. and happening in New York City this week. Several years ago, I was fortunate to attend part of this – the BEA Bloggers Conference (back in the inaugural days of that event when it was called the Book Bloggers Con). It was an extraordinary experience, one that I hope to repeat in the future. Until then, and for this year, there’s Armchair BEA.

So, what can you expect? For the next week, I’ll be talking books. A lot. (I know, you won’t know the difference.) The amazing organizers have given us some writing prompts, and if you want to join in, by all means, feel free!


I’ll try to keep this brief, because there’s a whole section on my website where you can read all about me, if you care to do so.

I’m Melissa, and I’ve been blogging since August 2008 (almost six years ago!)  In addition to book reviews, I also blog about our family’s journey with autism and cancer  (my son has Asperger’s Syndrome and my husband is a thyroid cancer survivor), offer up an occasional political opinion or a rant about some ridiculous celebrity, share a gluten-free recipe, talk about the writing process, or tell you something awesome about my newly adopted city of Pittsburgh. On the Twitter (@thefirmangroup), I do all the above when I’m not partaking in my guilty-pleasures, live-tweeting Shark Tank and Dancing With the Stars.

Originally, my blog was called The Betty and Boo Chronicles. (Betty and Boo were – and are – the blog nicknames for my kids.) I spent about a year, maybe more, considering a blog name change. I decided to use my own name because I wanted to be transparent and not hide behind an anonymous online identity. It was a way for me to begin what has become an ongoing process of marketing myself as a writer, editor, and to fully own my stories and work. Also, now that they are getting older, my kids’ stories are becoming more and more their own and not so much mine to tell.

READIN’AT is a fairly new, occasional feature on my blog where I celebrate all things literary as they relate to Pittsburgh and the region. There, I review books with a Pittsburgh connection, talk about literary events, upcoming readings, author interviews and profiles, new releases, and more.

I tend to read mostly literary fiction, memoirs, and short story collections, along with nonfiction. Favorite book read last year? The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin. This year, so far? TransAtlantic, by Colum McCann, who is one of my favorite authors. Meeting him was one of the highlights of this year for me so far. (Oh, shit, that’s a spoiler for tomorrow’s post ….)

In addition to the blog, you can connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

What do you think of when you think of literature? Classics, contemporary, genre, or something else entirely? We are leaving this one up to you to come up with and share the literature that you want to chat about the most. Feel free to share a list of your favorites, break down your favorite genre, feature your favorite authors, and be creative about all things literature in general. 

For me, I think of literature as being not a genre, per se, but a type of writing. It’s a “know-it-when-I-see-it” thing. It’s a work that has gravitas. Staying power. Integrity. A soul. You can feel the words practically pulsating off the page. You want to consume them.

You know you are reading literature when the characters are timeless, when you can relate to them. It doesn’t matter what era the story is set in or when you are reading it; there is something about these people and their situations and the way their story is being told that is new and alive. Even though you may have heard some variation of this story before, somehow – even slightly – you are changed for knowing them and their story.

I don’t necessarily think literature needs to be relegated to a certain era or a specific class of authors. I think that’s intimidating, off-putting, and pretentious-sounding. I do wonder what current novels will be considered great literature in years to come. I think about this a lot, actually – probably more than most people, since I work for a very large library system with more than 5 million items in its collection. (And yes, believe me, I would love nothing more than to read every single one.)  It’s fascinating to me to ponder which authors and which books will stand the test of time.

When I think back to my various literature classes, usually the authors were already dead. I can only recall one class – a college course I loved called “Faulkner, O’Connor, and Morrison” – where we studied an actual living author, that being Toni Morrison.

So who are our current, modern-day authors who have written – and are still writing – work that is worthy of being called great literature?  * I’d like to give a nod to:

  • Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale)
  • Michael Cunningham (The Hours)
  • Louise Erdrich
  • Colum McCann (Let the Great World Spin; TransAtlantic)
  • Toni Morrison
  • George Saunders (In Persuasion Nation)

* Note that there are many more worthy writers, but these are just the ones I’ve read.  There are others who I’d consider to be writing tomorrow’s classic literature today, but either I haven’t read enough of their work or perhaps I’m waiting for them to write some more.

What about you? Which authors would you consider to be writing great literature today? (Go ahead, add to my ever-growing Goodreads list!) And tell me, how do you define literature?   And definitely check out what other Armchair BEA participants had to say by visiting the Armchair BEA page! 


Thanks for sharing this post!

11 thoughts on “Armchair BEA 2014: Introductions and Some Thoughts on Tomorrow’s Literature Today. Or Something.

  1. Pingback: The Sunday Salon: …And That’s a Wrap (of Armchair BEA and May Reading) | melissa firman

  2. Cici

    I have a son with Asperger’s as well. We are learning something new everyday! I look forward to seeing more of your blog!

  3. Katherine

    Goodness, that’s the second time in as many days that George Saunders has crossed my path! I’m somewhat behind on modern literary writer, but I wholly agree with Atwood and Morrison. Happy Armchairing! 🙂

  4. Kristina D

    I agree that literature is something with staying power. While I don’t generally read classics they are what I consider literature

  5. Leeanna @

    Yay to see someone else using their name for their blog name 😀 Your reasons are some I considered myself.

    I don’t read what I consider “great” lit, but here’s a recommendation you might like, based on seeing your most recent review. In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl.

  6. Megan

    Oh, you’re the Melissa from The Betty and Boo Chronicles. I must have lost track of you while I was busy with my “extremely lazy blogging” phase. Good to find you again, though!

    I’ve often wondered what books being written now will have the staying power to be considered “classic” literature in the future. I wonder if it’s so hard to pinpoint because there are just *so many books* being written and published in this day and age. I’m sure Toni Morrison will achieve classic status, which is probably well-deserved, but I’ll admit to not really being in her fan club. John Irving, Annie Proulx, Cormac McCarthy, maybe? It’s definitely an interesting question to consider!


    Welcome to Armchair BEA. What an interesting post. Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale is one of my favorite books. I remember watching the movie (I think it was a bad 70’s or 80’s movie).

  8. Kristen

    I love that your blog used to be Betty and Boo, so cute. Thanks for sharing more about how you came into blogging, it’s amazing how sharing your experiences and love of reading can help you get through some of life’s toughest moments.

    I agree, literature is something you feel when you read. I think each of us thinks of it slightly differently but if the words touch us and move us, it’s literature.

  9. Becky B

    Hi, nice post. I definitely have to agree with your choice of Margaret Atwood who writes some really great literature.

  10. tanya (52 books or bust)

    I love that you shine the spotlight on Pittsburgh from time to time. Not the first city to come to mind when you think of books, but i’m sure there are quite a few happenings and books set there. Good luck and enjoy ABEA.

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