I’m not even going to try to tackle a summary of 2020 as a year because really, what in the hell was that? But since my last post was at the end of October, I feel like I should do at least a cursory overview of what went down, and, in the grand tradition of this blog, make my excuses for my long absence.
Let’s start with the excuses for my long absence: first of all, NO, and second of all, how dare you, and third of all, fuck you bro. I will no apologize for my long absence. My excuse is 20 fucking 20 and the goddamn PANDEMIC we’ve been living through. My blog, as amazing as it is, was not exactly at the top of my list of priorities.
Moving on to what went down.
I read a lot. I read A LOT. We’ve been working at the library throughout the latest round of lock-downs in Toronto, and although my feelings on that decision are definitely mixed, one positive, partially making up for the daily risk to my actual fucking life, was the increased time for reading. No customers in the branch, no programs, no weeding for me, because suck it, I’m a Youth Hub Librarian and I don’t get rid of books – all that amounts to a hell of a lot of reading time. I ended up completing my Goodreads Challenge (duh), finishing at 163 out of 125 books.
My top three reads of the year were:
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante, and
Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright.
Do with that knowledge what you will.
And now we’re in 2021 and to be honest, I am in a bit of a reading slump. I’m currently at 24 books, and I’m technically slightly ahead of schedule, but I’ve had some major duds, nothing really memorable. Send help. I’m going to lose my mind if I read another 3-star.
Wazzup, weirdos. Everything’s the same here. Never thought unprecedented times such as these could be so tedious on a daily basis. Knock of wood, etc. The last thing 2020 needs is another murder-hornet-esque plot twist. With our luck, it’ll be the zed word.
Anyway. I’ve finished my 2020 Goodreads challenge, yay me, and read a few truly fucked up books, but today, you’re going to suffer through another Thursday Thoughts and you’re going to like it or so help me God–
JK. I don’t actually care!
Today’s question, because Christmas is already on my mind, don’t @ me, is: What is your favorite book to gift to other people?
It’s one of two, a fiction and a nonfiction. For fiction, I will without hesitation fling a copy of David Benioff’s City of Thieves at your head. This is pre-Game of Thrones, pre-douchey production guy Benioff, and buddy, this book has everything.
War, action, romance, Russia, a life and death quest for eggs to make a cake, bromance, black comedy, identity crises, a story within a story – what else could anyone possibly ask for from a single book? Nothing, that’s what. This book is awesome, and I feel like, despite all the cannibalism, it appeals to a very broad range of readers – and non-readers as well. I’ve given this book as catnip for people (cough idiots cough) who claim they don’t like to read, and pretty much every single time, they’ve come back asking for more books like this. Which actually sucks because this is a hell of a book to find read-alikes for, considering all of the points it hits. Read it, and thank me later.
For nonfiction, I give Mediations by Marcus Aurelius. Why? Because it’s 2000 year old self-help that will actually help the self, and not some bullshit collection of platitudes thrown together by a self-annointed self-help guru who has teeth the colour of toilet paper and spews just about the amount of shit it will take to rope in unhappy idiots looking for a quick fix for their miserable capitalist-lackey lives. Fuck your self-help, you idiots. Read Marcus Aurelius and get the fuck over yourselves. Stoicism in a nutshell.
Well this post took a turn. Anyway. As always, you’re welcome. Happy reading
Subtitle: yet another nightmare that wouldn’t happen to a vegetarian.
Before we get into it, how are you? Like, how are you? Are you okay? Because I am not okay ell oh ell but the motivational instagram pages I follow have told me that this is okay, we are all okay to not be okay, OKAY? Okay.
Anyway. On to the book. Today it’s a brand spankin’ new horror book that I’ve been very eagerly anticipating: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones.
Very good, I like. So creepy, so very very creepy, and so on point. This is how you do it.
The Summary Heist
A tale of revenge, cultural identity, and the cost of breaking from tradition in this latest novel from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, Stephen Graham Jones.
Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.
Woweeeeeee. Okay, before we get into this, I’m gonna give you the warning that the internet gave me. Yes, the dog dies. In fact, multiple dogs die. And it is described, in detail, and it is gruesome, and I maybe definitely cried a lot. But… it is relevant to the story. So we will accept it and move on.
So where was I? Oh yes. WOW.
I am impressed. This was good. This was very good.
Compelling characters? CHECK. Fast-paced and original plot? CHECK. Suspense? Terror? Gore? CHECK CHECK CHECK.
AND it’s an own-voices read featuring exclusively POC characters that manages to address the past, present and ongoing horrors of colonialism as experienced by the Indigenous people of North America while also infusing the stale horror genre with new life by re-imagining Blackfoot mythology??? Hell fuckin yeah, buddy.
To put it lightly, this book was fucking awesome. YMMV, as always, but I was just hella impressed. I actually read this in one sitting, during one incredibly busy shift at work when I had a whopping zero teens to supervise (#pandemiclibraries), and let me tell you, I wasn’t in the library when I was reading this. I was fully immersed in this incredible story, so much so that when a colleague came by to relieve me for a break, I literally jumped out of my seat and squawked like a goddamn seagull. It’s that fucking good.
There were some parts I preferred more than others (DEER BABY POV FOR THE WIN) but damn, I really can’t find much to critique about this book. It is pretty much a perfect horror novel, and exactly what you should be reading to celebrate this grim 2020 spooky season.
READ IT. This is a Robyn-certified VGB (Very Good Book), and if it fails to live up to your expectation… don’t @ me. But it will. So READ IT.
So many good ones. Stephen Graham Jones, you are good with the word-smithing. A few of my favourites:
“For them, ten years ago, that’s another lifetime. For you, it’s yesterday.”
You hide in the herd. You wait. And you never forget.
Okay. Serious talk time.
Once again, reading a book by a minority author and attempting to fancast the characters demonstrates how limited our pool of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) actors is. I hate this. I really fucking hate this. As a BIPOC woman who actively tries to be a good ally each and every day, I do feel like I am constantly seeking out films and TV created by and starring ethnically diverse people, but even so, my familiarity with this underrepresented group is severely limited. I feel so ashamed, angry, and frustrated that I can’t summon up a fancast for these characters the way I could for a book starring white characters. It sucks.
/rant (but seriously.) (Also, check out #indigenous on TikTok for some amazing, creative, and educational content from Indigenous creators… and yes, I am amillennial on TikTok, shut up)
Anyway. Here’s my best attempt.
Lewis – Eugene Brave Rock, a Blackfoot actor from Canada
Shaney – Jessica Matten (who is not a member of the Crow nation like her character, but is an Indigenous actress of Métis descent from Canada)
Denorah – Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs, a Canadian Mohawk actress
You Know Who – whatever the hell this is, thank you no thank you, Google image search
Book Boyfriend material
Definitely no one in this book, in which many men do many stupid things.
Nine out of ten vengeful deers. THIS IS WHY WE DO NOT KILL THINGS, GUYS.
ROBYN’S FINAL THOUGHT
It’s 10 years old but maybe give this a fuckin read and remember that if a murderous Deer Woman doesn’t come to kill you in an indescribably horrible way, we will all most certainly meet our demise in an equally horrible but largely avoidable manner directly related to climate change. Go vegetarian, stop hunting, and avoid death at the hands (hooves?) of supernatural cervine monsters while also stopping the current climate crisis and maybe avoiding the impending Holocene extinction. Feel free to google the fuck out of that shit and you’re welcome for the many sleepless nights I hope you endure. Same, buddy boy. Eat a fucking veggie burger and maybe turn off the goddamn lights when you leave a room and also stop ordering from amazon, vote, read some fucking Marx, and do your part to slowly dismantle the capitalist system that is arguably the sole cause of the afore-mentioned climate crisis and which could easily solve said crisis were it not for the unholy terror of a decrease in profit, which is, of course, precisely what makes it capitalism. It’s an ouroboros of existential terror.
Hey hey, my imaginary internet friendos. How freaking goes it? Are you, like me, clinging to the last shreds of your sanity with only your iron will and copious kitten TikToks to give you the strength to endure? Yes, I thought so.
Back at it with the Thursday Thoughts, but before we start, a wee update: am reading, but am reading too many things (#bookpolygamy) and so have no review for you this week, I know you’re all crushed, my infinite bad.
So. This week’s question: What’s your favorite sound to hear while reading?
Oh. Oh that’s a GOOD one. But so easy to answer. It’s just this gif, really:
These are the sounds I want when I’m reading:
a purring cat
rain on the windows
Of course, you could throw in a crackling fireplace, maybe some oldies coming in from another room, the boom of thunder that’s far enough away that I don’t have to worry about my lights going out. But really, I just want those three things. The combination of all three somehow makes time stop, and as long as I have a good book in my lap there is no surer guarantee of happiness.
And thanks to the magic of the internet, I can summon these sounds at any time, even when the weather is wrong or the cat is being uncooperative or I remember that I do not and never will own a wood fireplace. And because I’m so nice (ha), I’m sharing my favourite insta-happiness sounds with you:
Y’all. Y’allllllllllllllllll. For the first time ever in my life, I reenacted that stupid Bradley Cooper gif. You know which one I’m talking about:
Except the book I was reading didn’t go out a window, it hit the wall, left a tiny orange mark, and scared the shit out of poor Koschei.
Which book, you ask? Prepare yourself for a shock… twas the new Elena Ferrante, The Lying Life of Adults. IT’S A ONE START REVIEW KINDA DAY, LADS. Buckle up.
Better than the Neapolitan covers, but still not good. I do not appreciate the sudden acceptance of orange and pink as coordinating colours. They don’t go, stop trying to make it happen.
The Summary Heist
Giovanna’s pretty face is changing, turning ugly, at least so her father thinks. Giovanna, he says, looks more like her Aunt Vittoria every day. But can it be true? Is she really changing? Is she turning into her Aunt Vittoria, a woman she hardly knows but whom her mother and father clearly despise? Surely there is a mirror somewhere in which she can see herself as she truly is.
Giovanna is searching for her reflection in two kindred cities that fear and detest one another: Naples of the heights, which assumes a mask of refinement, and Naples of the depths, a place of excess and vulgarity. She moves from one to the other in search of the truth, but neither city seems to offer answers or escape.
Named one of 2016’s most influential people by TIME Magazine and frequently touted as a future Nobel Prize-winner, Elena Ferrante has become one of the world’s most read and beloved writers. With this new novel about the transition from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, Ferrante proves once again that she deserves her many accolades. In The Lying Life of Adults, readers will discover another gripping, highly addictive, and totally unforgettable Neapolitan story.
Well shit. To say I’m disappointed in this book would be a huge understatement. I’m fucking devastated, my dudes. This was probably my most anticipated read of 2020, so maybe it actually fits. This shit year begets a shit book, so let it be written, etc. I even BOUGHT this book, this fucking $40 rip-off of a hardcover (okay so I returned a whole passel of shitty birthday gifts from some frenemy morons who should just learn to give Chapters gift cards instead of trying to buy books for a librarian and used the store credit but still), and then read it in two days, that’s how excited I was. And the worst part was that I, naive idiot that I am, kept waiting for it to get better, for it become the kind of book I expected from Elena fucking Ferrante.
It was mindbogglingly shitty all the way up to the last sentence.
Horrible characters – truly vile, and worse, not at all interesting or even that well-developed – who acted illogically, a plot that wasn’t really a plot at all but just a bunch of terrible interactions, an ending that brought no revelation or insight… like, what the fuck happened, Ferrante?
I can’t even one-star this properly because it wasn’t a hate-read. I really wanted to love this novel, and I tried to find something redeeming, but even the writing was just so banal and self-aware. I’m sure there will be readers who loved this book, or claim to, but call me low-brow if you want, this book was a pile of rotting fish guts.
Don’t read it. If you want good Ferrante, read the Neapolitan series.
I got nothing.
The characters were never fully formed in my mind, so again… I got nothing.
Nightmare fuel but okay.
Book Boyfriend material
Literally no one.
One out of ten very troublesome blue floral bracelets. Seriously. That shit is cursed, fam. Just give it away.
ROBYN’S FINAL THOUGHT
2020, the year of fucking disappointment. Now you come for my books, too, 2020? How are dare you. For shame. And please for the love of God stop already.
It’s been a moment, hasn’t it? As I’ve said before, for some reason, this whole end-of-the-world shit-show that is 2020 has made me lean heavily into non-fiction, with the odd horror novel thrown in. But apparently I am still actually able to get through some fancy fiction when the occasion calls for it, and so today, I’m reviewing what has been one of the most omnipresent books of the year, at least in my corner of the internet: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
I hate it, and I don’t know why. Or maybe… yep. Too many colours!
The Summary Heist
The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?
I get the hype, because the idea is a banger and the writing is *chef’s kiss* fucking awesome. But boy howdy did I have some problems with 1. pacing and 2. the goddamn ending, IF YOU CAN CALL THAT AN ENDING.
Another quibble – I didn’t feel connected to any of the characters. I find this is something that I frequently experience when reading “literary” fiction. It’s all very distanced. If that’s a deliberate decision, I think it’s unwise, and if it’s accidental, I think it’s a huge oversight.
That ending though… I hated it beyond description, and while I enjoyed many portions of the book, that really soured my overall feelings about the book as a whole.
Nods to inclusivity and the many diverse points of view included in the novel, but I had the uncomfortable feeling that the trans character, who I really loved, may have been “used” slightly, as a rhetorical device to emphasize the novel’s central question of identity and belonging. Not sure how I feel about that, but also recognizing that this is not an issue I am qualified to examine. Just throwing it out there, though. Complicated issues all around, to be sure.
I dunno. This is a tricky one for me. Gonna be honest with you guys, I probably wouldn’t recommend this book. That FUCKING ending though.
Like, I wouldn’t read it again. And I guess if I went back in time to tell past Robyn what books I should spend my time on, this book would not be one of them. So, um, don’t read it? Jesus it’s been a while since I had a don’t read it that wasn’t a one star. 2020, you are a year.
“It was enough to know. She was lucky to spend her days like this, knowing.”
This one stuck with me.
Not for this book.
Book Boyfriend material
No one, bro, these characters are all so messed up lol. It’s literary fiction, so let’s not pretend we’re surprised.
Five out of ten VERY COMPLICATED ISSUES.
ROBYN’S FINAL THOUGHT
This world can be so beautiful, once in a while, but mostly, it’s nothing but one nightmare after another, isn’t it? I hate that this will be the lesson I took from this book and from this year.
Just an update, I’m no longer a Youth Hub Librarian, I’m Chief of the fucking Mask Police, because some motherfuckers seem to think they’re the only ones who can’t breathe in a fucking mask so they don’t have to wear one. I DIDN’T WRITE THE FUCKIN BY-LAW, BRO, AND I SURE AS FUCK DIDN’T ENGINEER THE GODDAMN MOTHERFUCKING PANDEMIC OF WHICH WE ARE CURRENTLY IN THE MIDST, SO PUT YOUR FUCKING MASK
Oi oi. In the library, supervising an empty youth hub. This is probably the worst I’ve felt since this whole nightmare started. What is a youth hub without youth? It’s a thirty-something librarian too melancholy to even work on her erotic fan-fiction, that’s fucking what. God help us all.
Anyway. Might as well blog, since it’s not like I’m getting any reading (or writing) done. Back to Thursday Thoughts, I guess.
So. This week’s question(s): Do you have a preferred reading position? What is it? Are there any reading positions that you don’t like?
Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh. Like anyone cares. But hey, I guess blogging is really just narcissism any way you frame it, might as well lean right the fuck in.
Listen, I’ll read anywhere, anyhow, any way. But my favourite position – reading position, get your mind out of the gutter – is in bed, on my side, with the book so close to my face I can smell the pages. Reading lamp on, blankets half-supporting the book, especially if it’s a hardcover, pillow scrunched up so my head is angled perfectly to get both sides of the spread. Preferably with husband snoring beside me and cat snoring on top of me. Even better if there’s rain outside, falling on the windows.
But like I said. Anywhere, any time. At breakfast, in the car, waiting in the line, walking by the beach, sneakily during a hang-out with friends, blatantly while watching reality tv. Doesn’t matter. The only position I most definitely can’t read in is that 80s teen book cover pose, lying on your front, weight on your elbows, book in front of you. Nah-uh, ain’t happening. NO ONE reads like that. Unless they’re a pod person. Pod persons read in that position, fight me if you disagree.
That girl is a pod person, clearly.
Anyway. Blog post over. But PS-fucking-A, wear a fucking mask and stay 6 ft away from each other and stop fucking socializing for fucksssake. I miss the goddamn teens, I need this quarantine to fucking die already. If you can, stay the fuck home and read a fucking book. And if, like moi, you need to work outside of your home because capitalism’s greed is greater than the widespread health threats posed by an ongoing pandemic, just wear. the. fucking. mask.
Yes, I am that kind of reader. I can rarely read one book at a time. I need to have at least two, usually three, books on the go at any given time. The reason isn’t that I have no attention span, believe it or not – no, the real reason is all about the mood. Or, to put it in 2020 terms, the vibe.
Because first of all, you need the Main Book. Your go-to book. The one you’re really really into. Also known as the Head Book In Charge. It’s probably new, probably a book you secretly bought but pretend is from the TBR so your husband doesn’t realize the extent of your book-buying addiction.
But then you also need a Breakfast Book (usually also serves as the Lunch Book and Dinner Book but not always!), and it has to be a hardcover, because there is no way to eat and also read a paperback. Ebooks work but do you really want to be staring at a screen during breakfast? Breakfast books and meal books in general should be light fare, so as not to disturb digestion.
Then there’s the Sneaky Book, and this one has to be an ebook, no question. It’s the book you read on your break at work or when you’re on the reference desk and there’s a lull or when you’re waiting for your husband to realize that if he spends one more minute on his video game you’re gonna absolutely lose it. Let’s face it, this book is probably fantasy. Or smut. Or better yet, fantasy smut.
You also most definitely need a Smart Book, something you can read and hopefully learn something from. Always nonfiction, usually a hardcover, probably from the library, in which case it is definitely full of questionable stains, water damage, and (gasp) dogeared pages. Smart books are the slowest to read and may take months to finish, since you’re probably tearing through the Sneaky Reads.
And, of course, the Bedtime Book, which is essential and must be pristine, since it’s coming into your actual bed – so it’s definitely not a library book. The only other requirement for this one is that it is any genre but horror, since if you’re like me, reading horror before bed will give you fucked up night terrors. Sorry, ghouls, my days are hellish enough, you’re not having the nights, too!
And this is how one finds oneself reading four books at a time, and this is also why one has no book review to offer up on one’s blog.
Mea cupla etc. See you when I finish a goddamn book.
Because this blog is a no-ghosts zone. Sorry, my translucent friends. Meat-sack-encased skeletons only from here on in.
In another stunning example of this blog’s grand tradition of non-apologies for months of silence from yours truly, I offer you a non-apology for my months of silence. I was busy, get a life, why don’t you. Jeez.
As you probably know, the world has been a little pandemic-y, which is throwing me off just a tad, and while I promised in a previous post that I would be shortly back to the bloggery of books, there has been an unexpected obstacle: the frequent lack of a computer on which to execute said bloggery. With social distancing (and may God strike that phrase from the face of this accursed earth when all this shit is over) firmly in place at my library, we’re down to three working reference computers. And friends, that is just not enough goddamn computers, not when there are eight or nine indescribably bored and unspeakably stressed librarians prowling through the closed stacks of a public library. Blood has been shed! (Okay not really, but it’s been close.)
But today is your lucky day, because I finally managed to snag a computer for longer than ten minutes, and your prize, dear readers, is this hastily composed missive from the front-lines of a pandemic-struck public library.
Shall we talk books? Let me tell you, I have read some BOOKS, bro. That, at least, is still possible in this dystopian hellscape that is 2020. Somehow got my shamefully monarchy-obsessed little hands on a copy of Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand – and I hated it, just like I kind of hate the royals AND MYSELF for needing to read everything about them. Read Vasily Grossman’s The Road, a collection of his early stories as well as some pieces of his journalism – fucking brilliant. DNF’d The Book of X by Sarah Rose Etter, despite the hype and the awards. Was lukewarm about Alexis Coe’s George Washington biography, You Never Forget Your First, because meh, Washington. Had complicated feelings about Esther Safran Foer’s exploration of her family’s history during and after the Holocaust, I Want You to Know We’re Still Here: A Post-Holocaust Memoir. Vaguely amused by Horrorstor, the IKEA-ish horror novel by Grady Hendrix. Re-read Cottonwood, my favourite R. Lee Smith novel that is definitely not District 9 fan-fiction wink wink nudge nudge. I am 90% done with my Goodreads challenge, and my new goal is to have read all 125 books by my birthday in September.
Anyway. That’s all I have for you today because I think I’m about to get shanked with a golf pencil if I don’t sanitize this goddamn keyboard and let my colleauge have a turn playing candy crush or whatever the fuck it is that other librarians do when there are no fucking programs to run. See you soon maybe, but really, who the fuck knows 😘