I’m just tickled that this book exists, y’all. You don’t quiet know this much about me yet, but the Regency era is my shit. Yes, it’s because of reading Jane Austen at a young age and then devouring every Austen Adaptation since, but also it’s just what I’ve become comfortable with. Emily McGovern is probably better known for her Harry Potter spoof webcomic My Life As a Background Slytherin. This is an original story, however.
A few years ago, my friends and I were obsessed with Gail Carriager‘s books – up until that point I’d had an impossible time getting them to see how interesting the Victorians, Edwardians, and the Late Georgians (aka, Regency) were! But they took to Carriager’s books, so that’s how I was finally able to break through to them. If you, too, are especially fond of Carriager’s steampunk series’ – as well as the Brontë’s and Austen – then you miiiight want to pick up this comic.
Bloodlust & Bonnets is about a girl named Lucy who is searching for the Vampire Queen of London, Lady Violet Travesty, who easily convinced her that she was something special and would make a great addition. Together with the famous Lord Byron (from books!) and butch vampire hunter Sham, they constantly get in their own and accomplish very little.
I guess… That’s the thing that bothered me about this graphic novel. It wasn’t the simplistic art style – which as you can see from Emily McGovern’s other comics, she’s mastered the expressive stick-figure. It was just unnecessarily long and could have been wrapped up in under 200 pages. The jokes might have been funny at first, but I got tired of the whole thing long before the half-way point. I know opinions seem to be split down the middle, but I really do kind of regret wasting my time with this book, whereas a lot of other readers found so much joy in it – which in turn, makes me feel about for not liking as much. So I’m not going to try to discourage anyone else from reading it – like I’ve said previously, I’m exactly the right audience to appreciate this book, and yet it still wasn’t for me.
This book has been sitting at the bottom of my TBR pile some time after it’s release. Unlike a lot of it’s readers, I knew nothing of Arundhati Roy’s previous success. I just heard “LGBTIQ+ Representation,” “India,” and “Man Booker Finalist” and that’s really all I needed from there. Of course, just because a book has positive allocates doesn’t mean it’s actually a good book. That is left up to the reader, and I must say… if GoodReads’ reviews are anything to go by, the readers really didn’t like this book. This honestly surprised me, but then again, it kinda didn’t either. If a lot of the readers are coming from her previous successful novel, The God of Small Things, which I haven’t yet read and so I have nothing to compare this book to except it’s self.
This book was incredibly difficult to read. On that, nearly everyone can agree. If I wasn’t listening to the audio book, I might have bailed on it a lot sooner like most people, or it would have been a millstone that took me 6 months to finish. It’s long, tedious, and there are a lot of characters who are either coming or going – it’s really difficult to tell which. I think we all can agree that it went over everyone’s heads most of the time. Ms. Roy very intentionally made it difficult to see the forest for the trees, as it were. This book is like a bowl of noodles – there are a lot of seemingly false starts and no clear direction. Frustrating as it was to read, I do respect her for this. I like a little chaos now and then. There are a lot of characters that are introduced in great detail, and then dropped as though forgotten. And then there are others who spring back in at random (and you’re grateful you’d been paying attention). Again, I think this is interesting. As a reader of a lot of tropey fiction, I place a lot of value in fully realized back ground characters. It is a Picaresque novel, I believe, or at least it has some of the elements of one even if it isn’t a true picaresque. So, there is no plot or very much character development. It’s dark and prickly, but obviously satirical and I did laugh out loud a few times. What made it so especially inscrutable for me is that, while I was thrilled to get a chance to read a very Indian novel by a Indian woman, I had to admit that I was completely out of my element. I had to be honest with myself upon reading this book that I honestly knew next to nothing about true Indian culture. I knew very little about the types of characters Roy was satirizing. I thought I knew something of Indian religions and life, when really I knew about them and only very little. Truly, it’s possible that this was the first time I’ve ever really read real Indian fiction. I didn’t even know enough about the culture to be offended by any of it. This isn’t a great novel to start with that cultural education unless you learn best by having someone drop you directly into the deep end of the pool.
So while I had been challenged by this difficult book, I still have a favorable opinion of it. I may not been very knowledgeable about modern India before or after reading this book, and she did very intentionally make this a murky novel, I at least think I understood the author’s intent enough to respect her work and see that she is a brilliant writer. I’m self-aware enough to understand that my experience with this book was restrained by my own limitations and knowledge.
On top of the giant shit sundae that is 2020, somewhere swirled in with the Covid-Crunchies, the Hurricane-Hersey syrup, and Political-Peanut butter cup crumbles is a dollop of Elder Care. I’m tired. I’m so very, very tired. 2020, if nothing else, has taught us all not to feel super confident in our futures. The Best Laid Plans, et al. In fact, every attempt I’ve made to make plans have been put aside for more pressing things, and then completely forgotten about for newer and more pressing things. I’ve never been very ace about time management, but even improving on that has been put to the back.
At the end of August Hurricane Laura happened. I’m very grateful that we were unaffected except for a half-week’s worth of electricity outage. In the late Louisiana Summer that is particularly miserable, but it could be so much worse. Things improved for most of early September, except for some minor nuisances. Then on September 10th all heck broke out. In the same day, my grandfather suffered a fall in the morning, then by the same evening, my grandmother had a stroke. While my grandfather’s fall ended up reveling a whole lot of other medical problems, some of them needing surgery and others physical therapy, the family has been forced to draw straws daily on who will divide their time with both grandparents. While I’ve been self-pitying over this upheaval, my friends have been reeling from a suicide on the margin of my social group. This has put me in a spot where I personally feel like a jerk for pitying the season I’m in – my grandparents are still alive, even if my family stresses and frustrates me. Whereas my friends are mourning an actual death. I don’t feel like I require counseling for this at this moment, but I am starting to feel swept away by the relentlessness of this year. I’m tired. I’m so very, very tired.
But there are two things worth mentioning. I’ve been playing around with some new apps on my phone. The first one I think is really cool is called Fill it Forward – if you’re interested in limiting the waste you produce, this might be a very good place to start. The idea is, you scan a barcode on the Fill it Forward sticker with the app every time you fill your water bottle with water. This not only tracks your reusable usage, but 2¢ is donated to charities providing clean water to communities around the world. While some universities and businesses provide Fill it Forward branded bottles and stickers to their members, the rest of us plebs have to buy them ourselves. You can go the bottle or the sticker route. I personally bought stickers for my water bottles that I already own. This is not necessarily the most cost effective route, because the stickers are pricey at $5-$10 a go, whereas the bottle is $14 and includes the sticker. It’s certainly a good way to do some good work while being relatively passive. If nothing else, it’s better to drink from a reusable bottle than plastic water bottles for tons of reasons: it’s better for your wallet, the environment, and potentially your health to name a few of them.
The second app is possibly my new favorite thing: I’ve talked about how journaling is a good alternative to social media as an emotional outlet, and it can be especially good for mental health. Well, say you don’t actually want to keep a private paper journal for whatever reason. Say, you’d rather write via a i-device. Say, also, that you want to be able to have a small group of friends check in on you, but not through Facebook because that is obviously asking for some inevitable trouble. I get it. So without further ado, there’s Longwalks – together with a small group of friends who aren’t worried about being vulnerable with me, we fill in some blanks once a day via the provided journal prompts… and that’s it! You can start more conversations with your friends, you can download a digital pack of questions for zoom meetings of every sort (showers, first dates, etc) (these are not free, but they are affordable at $3). Let’s look at a sample:
The prompt is “I think ‘blank’ is a great way to spark joy!” Maybe you’re inspired by Marie Kondo and that’s the frame of mind you take. Maybe you’re feeling a little more personal. I would answer “I think sharing what makes my life easier with others is a great way to spark joy!” Even that answer is up for interpretation, but every way I look at it, it inspires me in a way that I know sparks joy in me.
This one took me a little while to get into – it’s super sweet and adorable, but I had some trouble getting a feel for it because, though I’m an adult who loves YA, it felt more childish than what I’ve become used to. This doesn’t take points away from it, though! 15 years ago, it would have been my favorite, and I will gladly recommend it to the teen aged girls I know (especially the weebs). I Love You So Mochi is a sweet first love story. As I’ve already said, it’s a bit too silly and juvenile for my tastes, but I don’t think that it was bad.
Kimi is a Japanese American high school student who is under some pressure to accept the position at the prestigious art college her mother is really excited about her attending. The problem is, Kimi isn’t as excited about painting as her mother is. Then, her estranged grandparents from Japan send her a ticket to visit her over spring break. Kimi takes them up on the offer as an excuse to figure out what she really wants to do with her future. While there, she befriends a cute Japanese boy who has made it his mission to help her figure out her destiny. And there’s mochi involved. That’s the long and short of it.
I’ll be honest, what I found so frustrating about this book is something I know a lot of it’s readers won’t even bat an eye at, possibly because it’s too relatable to them. I feel like Kimi’s protestations about “not being able to figure out her passion” was so frustrating because it was so obvious to me: fashion design is totally art. Coming from someone who holds a fine art degree and who works with pastoral care and student services at an art college, I deal with “kids” who are as oblivious to their talents and passions as Kimi – so with my background, I just want to take all the little Kimi’s of the world and kind of give them a good shake. Then again, even as an artist, I get hung up with self-doubts about “is this allowed?” Second of all, I’m jaded. I’m 32 years old and I know exactly where Kimi and Akira’s relationship is going to go once this novel is over, and it’s not going to stay happy. I’ll leave it up to you if their relationship his staying power, though.
This book had been the talk of Romance Novel Book Club this summer, so obviously I needed to check it out. And, BOY AM I EVER GLAD THAT I DID.
Beach Read has been very easily one of the best books I read so far in 2020 – not least because 2020 has been an absolute hellscape and most of what I’ve been reading has, unfortunately, been more informative nonfiction than light, fluffy escapism. What I’m saying is, I’ve been exposing myself to a lot more doom and gloom. So maybe part of why I loved this book so much is because I desperately needed to read it right when I did. But more on that in a bit.
Beach Read is a genuinely romantically comedic romantic comedy. (In college, one of my guy friends said he hated the name “rom-com” because they were never funny – while I’m choosing to ignore the inherent sexism and pompousness of that statement, I’m now self-conscious that my rom-coms are verifiably funny.) January Andrews is in a lurch – she’s broken-hearted, broke, her father recently died and left her with his secret love-nest, and – oh! And to make matters worse, she has writer’s block 🙃 As bad as all that sounds, her grumpy new neighbor is also her college rival and acclaimed literary fiction author, Augustus Everett 😱 Did I say “bad”? What I meant to say was, frenemies to lovers and I’m 1,000% here for it. January is concerned that Gus doesn’t respect her as a women’s literature writer, by virtue of the fact that he writes very nihilistic literary novels with unhappy endings, and for her – happy endings are literally what pays her bills. Except, with the revelation of her father’s hidden life, January’s faith in love is broken, thereby making her job that much harder. So you see her problem. And so, a bet is made: the two authors must try writing the other’s genre. They help each other by taking them on field trips meant to inspire and instruct. January’s are cute date ideas: line dancing, Meg Ryan movie marathons, and a kiddie carnival. Gus takes her along to seedy and remote locations to research a defunct area suicide cult. As these little adventures carry on, the banter and relationship unfolds. O! Such banter. I have a catnip, you guys, and it is witty, snarky banter. It is definitely laugh-out-loud funny, and I don’t give that distinction away easily. But, thanks to the nature of Gus’ literary interests, and the dark place that we find January, this book has it’s very serious and gut punching moments.
Listen – I wasn’t expecting this novel to be as smart and witty and wonderful as it was, I’ll be the first to admit that. But it was. And I can’t recommend it enough. If there’s one book that you need during 2020, it’s this book: both as it’s antithesis and diversion.