I’m going to have to start doing these posts bi-weekly instead of monthly if I keep reading at the rate I am. I allocated two pages in my bullet journal for the books I read in 2021, which should leave room for about 70 books, and I’ve already filled an entire page. Part of it is that I’m listening to a good number of audiobooks while I’m working, but most of it is just that I’m reading a lot! As always, you can add me on Goodreads if you want to follow what I’m reading throughout the month.
What I read in March
No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
I thought this book was going to be one thing—a smart and funny look at the life you live when you are Extremely Online—and it was that thing, but it was also so much more. I didn’t read too much about the novel before starting it; it didn’t matter what it was about because I think Patricia Lockwood’s writing is just incredible and I would have picked it up no matter what, but because I didn’t look into it at all I didn’t realise how absolutely devastating it was also going to be. It’s a novel of two halves and a work in part of autofiction, and those things work in tandem to create the gut punch that is this book.
It’s an interesting one because for some bits of it you do, yourself, have to be Extremely Online to understand the references (or at least Semi Online as I would expect most people know about the blinking white guy gif). I loved that the protagonist got her internet fame as a part of Weird Twitter rather than something more overtly profound (“Can a dog have twins,” the protagonist’s initial viral moment is goofy and charming and very different than the piece that first brought online fame to Lockwood herself).
It’ll also be interesting to see how books like this and Fake Accounts fare in a few years once the memes they reference are no longer part of the zeitgeist, but honestly in the case of No One is Talking About This I don’t think it’ll matter because the deeper themes of the book are forever universal. It’s a story about a form of escapism that many of us turn to to varying degrees, abutting something that cannot be escaped by entering ‘the portal,’ and the ways we cope with, manage, and reflect on grief, mixed with equally poignant, powerful, and often funny reflections on art, familial love, and care.
It’s difficult to categorise this book. It’s not rare to read a book that is both funny and sad, but it’s much more uncommon to read a book that is both so funny and so sad that you find yourself laughing out loud even as tears are streaming down your face (“bitch if this even happens while you were looking at Jason Momoa pics” is what did it for me). A truly marvellous read. I don’t care that it’s only February; I won’t hesitate to venture that this will be one of my favourite books of the year.
The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott
This is a stunningly vivid book, one that draws you in for complete immersion, every image searing into my mind as I read. The movement of the bird’s wings, the colour of the ink, the cracking of dry grass. In a time of ecological trauma, myths of a heron made of water abound, whispered across farmland, until it makes an appearance and reveals the myths are truth. Meanwhile, by the sea, a small village collects a special crop of sorts through careful and traditional means, while newcomers with industrial ideas attempt to disrupt the process. A few years later, a reclusive woman lives on a mountain, where soldiers march in a mission to find the heron. It seems disjoined at first, but the novel—part myth, part parable, part warning—weaves them together deftly into a story of greed, violence, regret, and survival. I was completely absorbed in this book, and it absolutely blew me away.
The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox
A couple days ago I read a tweet saying “I like books that feel like the author doesn’t give a fuck what I want.” As soon as I finished The Absolute Book, that tweet immediately sprang to mind. Whew, this book did not give a fuck what I wanted. It was a journey with no one holding my hand to guide me. Weaving fantasy, reality, religion, language, literature, the past, the present, the future and the never-has/is/or will be, it’s a twisting, complex, sometimes frustrating book that requires faith and concentration, and is completely worth it. A strange, intimidating, and satisfying novel I have the feeling I’ll be returning to again and again.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
I had this book recommended to me on all sides—from reviews, from my friends, from my mom—so I was pretty certain it would be fantastic and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Deftly changing between perspectives, narratives, and timelines, The Vanishing Half is so carefully and thoughtfully balanced. We get just enough time with each character and story to know them exactly as much as Bennett wants us too (although I could have spent more time with Jude any day). A really special, thought-provoking, and richly complex book to read.
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
South Africa’s apartheid is not something I knew a lot about before reading this memoir (I have to admit, most of my ‘knowledge’ of it comes from the DCOM ‘The Color of Friendship’… so clearly a gap in my education I need to fill), but I feel like this book gave me a really in-depth and powerful look at the sociopolitical issues involved in the period and the post-apartheid time. Noah writes with wit and humour, but if you go in expecting a comedy because he’s a comedian, you will definitely find something completely different. Colourism, poverty, domestic violence, language, education, and religion all play a part in his upbringing and he tells his story and the broader story of South Africa in the time with such depth and thoughtfulness. I was especially moved by the story of his mother—while their relationship was clearly antagonistic at times during his childhood and young adulthood, his love and respect for her is palpable on the pages. A really solid and impactful read.
The Yield by Tara June Winch
The Yield eloquently and emotionally explores colonialism and intergenerational trauma, creating a book that is heavy but impossible to put down. A novel of language, family, culture, and Country, featuring three narratives and three structures—a historical letter, an unfinished dictionary of Wiradjuri words, and the story of a young woman who returns home to her rural, indigenous community after living on the other side of the world, to reconnect with her history and her past. The best of these segments is Poppy Gondiwindi’s dictionary, describing the meaning of various Wiradjuri words through personal stories and dreamtime folklore. I think this novel will come to be considered an important one in Australian contemporary literature and culture, and deservedly so.
When the Light of the World was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through edited by Joy Harjo
An incredible anthology celebrating the breadth and depth of poetry from indigenous North Americans, edited by Joy Harjo. Divided by region, there is every sort of poem, feeling, and theme here. As with any collection this all-encompassing, there were poems I loved and poems I didn’t enjoy as much, but the anthology as a whole is a masterpiece of native art and culture across centuries and space.
Later by Stephen King
I absolutely flew through this book. It was short and to the point, nothing innovative but exactly what I was looking for on a Saturday with no plans. It hit the marks—the plot is classic King and so is the writing style. It’s not a top pick but it’s fun and satisfying. If I have one complaint, it’s that the protagonist, who we follow from age 6 into his teens, with the story narrate by his early-20s self, has a particular way of talking that’s a bit too Stephen King and not quite enough 6-year-old in the 21st century, but just roll with it and accept the focus is on a kid who sees ghosts and not the realism of childhood diction, and you won’t regret it.
Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade
What did I love about this book? You can always tell when someone who is writing about fandom actually loves and respects fandom. This book captured the excitement of finding your fandom community, never judges or sneers at the (usually female) fans who obsessively dissect their favourite canons through meta and fanfic. The year I went to SDCC and met a bunch of fandom friends and stayed up all night in the line for Hall H is still one of my favourite memories, and honestly the time my friend and I skipped school, dressed up for “Bella’s prom” and went to get our Twilight books signed by Stephanie Meyer at a local Barnes and Noble is another. There’s so much joy and friendship in fandom and I think the author really captured that.
I also loved April. I loved the way she advocated for herself. I loved that she was obviously extremely capable at her job. I love how smart and sexy and clever and fun she is. I wish we had gotten to see a bit more of her life outside of her fandom interests, but she’s still a fantastic protagonist.
As I find so often happens in romance novels, one partner is just not as interesting as the other, and Marcus I found a bit boring in comparison to the brilliant April. I also could not believe he was a character who was supposed to be nearly 40—although there is, in fairness, a good reason why he comes off like he should be much younger. However, I did like the exploration of his character growth, as he slowly opens up about his learning disability, his public persona, and his upbringing.
Why wasn’t this book the perfect fluffy fandom story of my dreams? I felt like it fell into a trap that I think of as “too-perfect universe.” Now, I love a good fluff story as much as anyone, but when everything in the universe seems just so, it starts to lose me. I remember reading a book once where the author specified that the janitors had won the lottery and had no need to work, but decided to keep their jobs because they were all such good friends and had such fun working there—an unnecessary and bizarrely unrealistic detail that completely took me out of the story. This book felt like that in places.
The other thing that bothered me was that for a book where some of the main conflicts and character growth came from a lack of boundaries and learning to set them, there was a lack of boundaries in other instances that really bothered me. Maybe I’m officially a Fandom Old now, and maybe it’s because my main fandom over the years was one in which the fourth wall separating the fans and the actors was uncomfortably blurred, but the idea of an actor so invested that he’s reading and writing fanfiction for his own fandom, posting it publicly, and spending years in the community without anyone knowing squicks me out a bit. And the idea of an actor asking out a fan on twitter doesn’t exactly make me swoon, either.
On a related note, to write a whole novel in order to air your grievances about the last couple seasons of GoT and your thoughts on Jaime and Brienne not becoming canon, damn girl, that’s commitment. I’m surprised she didn’t include the true-to-life scene where “RJ” and “Ron” get fired from “Star Fighters” because they suck so much. And I mean, I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had.
What I listened to on audiobook in March
So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Along with How to Be an Antiracist, this is the best book on race and anti-racism I have read. And I think the reason is that they both make a similar point about the way white supremacy is upheld. Too often people think of it as a binary—racist or non-racist, the only two options—and therefore either absolve themselves erroneously (thinking that they do not have the same beliefs as, say, the KKK, and therefore cannot be bad and/or racist), do not recognise that even if they are members of one marginalised group they can still hold biases and discriminate against others, or alternatively, feel that they cannot make progress because the societal constraints of white supremacy mean that they can never fully break from its trappings. This book explains the way those constraints exist and manifest, but also explains actions that can be deliberately and thoughtfully taken to ameliorate them—she makes the important reminder that we are not simply meant to digest this book and move on through these calls to action. A truly excellent and comprehensive read.
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
A frank and therefore horrifying look at the anthropocene as a mass extinction event, examining the impact of humanity on our environment. Skillfully argued and thoughtfully explained, the book shows not only this impact but also how our awareness of it has grown over time — the points at which we as a species could no longer claim ignorance of our effects on the rest of the species we share the planet with. This book is fascinating and terrifying, written in the style we need to underpin just how important it is that we take action to protect our earth for the good of its biodiversity. The audiobook version of the book was very good apart from the narrator mispronouncing Maori.
From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty
I loved Doughty’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory, lifting the (coffin) lid on death and why we fear it and why we shouldn’t (or at least the practices surrounding it). In this one, she demonstrates these facts further by sharing death customs from around the world, with traditions from Mexico, Indonesia, and more, that are more up close and personal than the embalmed, made-up, and hidden away rituals many of us are used to. Really interesting as well as entertaining, and written with the care and thoughtfulness you’d expect of someone immersed in the field as well as in educating others about it.
Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby
I liked but didn’t love this one. Some parts were laugh out loud funny, infinitely relatable, or incredibly witty. Others fell flat for me. I think maybe reading each essay over a long period of time, every once in a while, would’ve been better, but back-to-back-to-back some of them got a little same-y. I think this one actually suffered a bit from me listening to it on audiobook, because there were two sections that relied heavily on repetition (“yeah, sex is great but…” and “Hello, 9-1-1?…”) and especially the former got tiring to listen to (especially for 40 minutes… I skipped ahead).