Wow, I haven’t done a book review post in almost a year. One day I’ll be as consistent about these as I was six or seven years ago, when I was actually reading more.
The truth is, I’m having a hard time concentrating on fiction, especially because I’m horrendous at listening to fiction audiobooks. Part of that is due to the way technology and the world of constant notifications is wiring our brains. It has become impossible for my brain to concentrate on a series and remember everything that happened in the previous books, and I suspect the only way to fix this is a complete brain rewiring.
Another piece of the puzzle is the number of commitments I’m juggling now. Yes, I’m working only one job now, and I work remotely. But I’m also active in the Pokemon Go battling community and trying to revise a book and running Wikiwrimo and, shockingly, having a social life. Try to tell 2017 me this while she’s struggling to pay all her bills.
With all that and all the regular responsibilities that come with being an adult, sitting down to read a book feels like a lot, especially as my social calendar fills up. And if the book doesn’t grab my attention on page one, or if I’m waiting to hear from someone, or if my brain is all over the place like it often is now, my brain concentrates on everything else except the book in my hand, which makes reading feel like a chore.
I’ve been reaching my book goals over the past couple of years thanks to my book club, a couple of marathon sessions and the power of audiobooks. The problem with audiobooks is that I find myself incapable of listening to fiction that I haven’t read yet. If I could listen to fiction, I’d be set, and my to-read list would be a little shorter. But I haven’t been able to harness this power, so I find myself listening to nonfiction books on a wide variety of topics, and those are… a mixed bag, let’s say.
To give you an idea, when I started writing this post, I had read six books this year. It’s April. Three of those are fiction, and two of those were for my book club. (I missed January’s session because it was the weekend following my sterilization.) The other three were audiobooks, and I still haven’t chosen another audiobook to read because I’ve been traveling to Pokemon regionals and haven’t been out and about alone too much.
I checked out several graphic novels in the hopes that lighter reading with more pictures would help me get back in the groove. I talked about momentum in my post about Pokemon regionals, and while this is unrelated, getting that momentum back is what I need to get back into reading, or writing, or anything else.
So let’s get started. I’m not going to review everything I read in the past year, just the highlights.
Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore: This is the first of the light-hearted reads for the summer. I read this for my book club. It’s definitely a light read, but there’s still some substance and feminism despite taking place in 1800s Europe. After all, the main character has to talk the duke into supporting a women’s rights bill… so naturally they fall in love eventually. Right? Right? The main character is smart and out of place, and her attempts to fit in make me love her even more.
You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria: The author is a past NaNo ML! And it did indeed have me at hola. It’s a Latinx romance that takes place in NYC among actors who have been burned in the past. There are glorious meet-cutes. I love how the female love interest has such close relationships with her family and friends outside of her coworkers.
Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall: I’ve heard so much about this book that it was about time I picked it up. I loved both guys from the moment I met them, even though I might actually strangle them both if we were actually friends. I like the fact that they have such a loving friend circle. Just one thing… how on earth does the [rock star kid] manage to stay employed?!
The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin: Oh maaaaaan. I mentioned that the first book took awhile to get into but the twist at the end paid off. But here we go, the result of that twist and the rest of the series. This was really good. Still a long read but well worth it.
The Guncle by Steven Rowley: I read this for book club last summer. Gay Uncle Patrick (the Guncle, get it?) is an actor, and he finds himself caring for his niblings after his best friend/their mother dies and the kids’ father goes into an addiction recovery center. Shenanigans and some feelings ensue and I was here for their snappy dialogue. This book matches my own writing style reasonably well, so it’s one I plan on referring to again.
Maus by Art Spiegelman: If you didn’t know, this is the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize, and for excellent reason. Maus tells the story of the author’s father, who is a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor. The story alternates between his father’s tale during the 1940s and the then-present day 1980s. The Polish non-Jews are portrayed as pigs, the Jews as mice (hence the title Maus), the French as frogs, and so on. This story is so moving and does so much with its pages. There’s a reason it’s a classic among graphic novels. There are some meta portions in the then-present day section where the author’s character is talking about his book and discussing with his wife (a French woman who converted to Judaism) whether to portray her as a mouse (for being Jewish) or as a frog (for being French). (She ultimately appears as a mouse.)
The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis: I read this for my book club. What starts out as a curious tale of an alien on Earth turns into a corporate empire that grows beyond belief. The alien’s non-human quirks come out in the book, like his diet and his discovery of alcohol. I enjoyed this book; it was serious but not so serious as to be depressing.
Boys, Book Clubs, and Other Bad Ideas: A Monday Night Anthology: This is a short story anthology by a group of friends where I know a couple of the authors. The story behind this is they were playing with one of those title generators and found, well, this title. And all of them had a different idea for a story with the title, so they ran with it. As with any short story collection, some stories will tickle your fancy better than others.
A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland: Alex and I go waaaaay back. AIM chat rooms anyone? I’m a sucker for a good queer romance, and there are plenty of classic tropes in this book. Marriage of convenience! Kissing to avoid suspicion! (Don’t you always do that?) Prince and bodyguard romance. To be honest, I just wanted the romance part because who needs the rest of the plot. Gimme those feels.
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir: If you liked the “guy trapped in space and will probably die there” niche from The Martian, do I have good news for you–this is basically the same thing! Except this time, Ryland Grace is trying to save humanity from certain extinction. There are two storylines here: Grace figuring out the story in the present, and then the flashbacks that show how he got on this space station in the first place. I wish one of his flaws that was crucial to the end was shown more throughout the story, but besides that, I loved this book and everything about Rocky.
I checked out three graphic novels at once in an attempt to get back into reading (and okay, because I’m already behind on my book goal for the year).
Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe: I heard so many good things about this graphic novel and felt like giving the middle finger to book bans. This book is a collection of short comics about the author’s experience discovering queerness and not fitting into any cisgender boxes, along with the trauma that e experienced with eir body.
Bea Wolf by Zach Weinersmith: I never read Beowulf in school, but when I saw my library had already ordered this book I jumped at the chance. I can’t tell you how true of an adaptation this is, but there’s a note at the end explaining the poetry style and how this book adapts only a portion of the poem because it’s a long-ass poem. There are kids who have fun in their treehouse retreat and a grumpy neighbor who turns them into grownups, so you know who they have to call… Bea Wolf. This is a delight to read.
Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh: Do I need to tell you who Allie Brosh is? This book is heartfelt, funny, and sad in some parts, like when discussing her health issues and her sister’s death. The drawings are as goofy and great as ever. I think I like this better than the first book.
The Art of More: How Mathematics Created Civilisation by Michael Brooks: Let’s face it. Our minds aren’t good with numbers. Not math, numbers. We have a hard time envisioning really big numbers, and that’s what this book tackles. It’s an interesting read.
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi: This is a heavy book, let’s get that out of the way now. But it’s an important one. If you’ve already read Kendi’s other works, I still recommend reading this one, as this one is the history that you’ll want to know while reading other antiracist works.
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds: This is a remix of the previous book, specifically designed for teen readers. It does the job excellently and would also serve as a good beginner book for adults wanting to dip into antiracism reading for the first time.
Misogynoir Transformed: Black Women’s Digital Resistance by Moya Bailey: I listened to this book. Misogynoir as a concept deals with the intersectionality of Black women and their lived experiences. This book analyzes those experiences in media and in culture. Even though I wasn’t familiar with all the media referenced in this book, it was extremely enlightening and educational.
Home, Land, Security: Deradicalization and the Journey Back From Extremism by Carla Power: We hear a lot about extremism, both in the US and elsewhere, but not much about attempts to deradicalize extremists. There are folks out there trying to reintegrate former extremists back into mainstream society, which is powerful and draining work. This was a powerful read. One thing I learned was that such programs are hard to implement in the US because they could be viewed as aiding terrorists, even if you’re just trying to deconvert them from extremism. This is something that folks in power in this country could do something about, but will they? Nah.
A Deeper Sickness: Journal of America in the Pandemic Year by Margaret Peacock and Erik L. Peterson: It’s so weird reading a history of 2020 in 2022. So many parts of this book hit so hard. The authors have a website for the daily diary entries if you just want to pursue the entries, or if you want to re-review them after reading the book. Listening to this book and perusing the site afterward hammered in the fact that this is our new normal, no matter what happens.
The Art of Showing Up: How to Be There for Yourself and Your People by Rachel Wilkerson Miller: When I finished reading this I told a couple of my group chats that they all need to read this. The thing I’ve been struggling with is keeping my friendships close and maintaining the ones I already have, no matter how shallow or close they are. It’s okay to have a friendship that’s centered on one particular interest; that’s one thing I’ve been struggling with, letting friends or potential friends see all of me. What does it mean when Pokemon Go friends don’t know about me doing NaNoWriMo even though that’s about 90% of my wardrobe? What about NaNo people not knowing about my Pokemoning, the thing that I tried to keep a secret hobby for most of my life but is now leaking out?
That was a bit of a tangent. Anyway. The main points of this book come in two parts: first, showing up for yourself and treating yourself well. Only when you do that can you show up for your friends in their good and bad times. I still need to buy this book so I can refer to it whenever I’m feeling like my friendships are fake and shallow.
Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make—and Keep—Friends by Marisa G. Franco: This is one of only two books about friendship and connections that I actively recommend to others (the other one being the previous book). This one is written by a psychologist who specializes in studying platonic friendship, and unlike some other books, she gives concrete tips and stories that don’t always come from people who are naturally good at making and keeping friends.
She also comes into friendship from an intersectional perspective, recognizing that women, queer people, people of color, and people with disabilities have different experiences when it comes to making and keeping friends. I’m subscribed to her newsletter Based on my experiences reading crappy books about friendship when compared to these two great ones, I’m making the executive decision to stop reading books about friendship and social skills unless they come from people who aren’t cis white dudes.
Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman’s Fight to End Ableism by Elsa Sjunneson: This book is part memoir, part media criticism, especially about disability portrayal in media, and deafness and blindness in particular. And while the topic is serious, the presentation isn’t always so. The author has a snarky and refreshing writing style; after all, she has to live with her disability, while the rest of us get to put it away after finishing the book. There’s talk about sexuality, media, and how blindness doesn’t always equal fashionably unaware. Heck, she likes her fashion choices.
Worse than Nothing by Erwin Chemerinsky: If you’ve paid attention to the US Supreme Court, you may know that several of the conservative justices identify as originalists; that is, they interpret the Constitution as they think the authors intended it. There are a lot of problems with it, and the law professor who wrote this book goes through a lot of them. (Number one, the founding fathers were biased by their worldviews and technologies at the time!) The book discusses in great detail some Supreme Court cases that saw originalist arguments and what was wrong with them. It talks about how the people who believe in originalism toss it out the window when the interpretation isn’t in their favor. Sound familiar? Everyone with an attention span should read this and be very afraid for this country’s future. It’s even scarier than you think.
What’s next? I haven’t started reading May’s book club selection, and this time I chose the book! It’s Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee, and it’s been on my to-read list for a long time. I’m also listening to Brown Enough by Christopher Rivas, a collection of essays about being Brown in America.