Little by Edward Carey When Goodreads first recommended this title to me, I thought “haven’t I already read this book?” But I was getting Little by Edward Carey confused with Little, Big by John Crowley, which I read several years ago and which I enjoyed much more. These stories aren’t terribly similar though, so maybe you should just read them both and take them on their own merits and then decide for yourself. Little is one of those books that I am glad I didn’t know much about beforehand. It follows the life of young Marie, (“Little”, as she comes to be called) a small, pinched and peculiar looking orphan, who comes to be the ward of an equally odd and eccentric wax maker. The story chronicles their life together in Revolutionary Paris as Marie makes her way through a life that is never easy, and quite frequently pretty awful. Perhaps as soon as you read these sentences, you’ll hone in on a telling detail, and begin to build a picture for yourself of the trajectory of this story and who Marie is meant to be, but somehow–maybe because I am a dummy–it didn’t even dawn on me where things were headed. Reading about characters who can’t ever seem to catch a break is not the sort of story I can comfortably classify as “enjoyable”, and yet, I do think I enjoyed the book overall. (I still think I liked “Little, Big” better though!)
Becoming by Michelle Obama I didn’t finish this title, but not because it wasn’t excellent. This is mainly due to the fact that I was like, number eight hundred on the list at our local library of people waiting for our amazing former FLOTUS’s book, and I was only allotted two weeks to read it. This was a title that I definitely could not return late, as I didn’t want to delay someone else’s enjoyment of it! I’ll be honest with you, I was weepy before I even got all the way through the introduction. Just to know that I was alive and on this planet at the same time as this tremendously strong, beautiful woman and her equally incredible husband, is an extraordinary feeling–and even now it excites and inspires me. I loved this book for the opportunity to learn much, much more about Michelle Obama: her childhood and family life, her college years and early career before she met her husband; her fierce intelligence and her wonderful sense of humor; her compassion and drive to do more and better for her daughters, her community, and the world at large; her strength and resilience, and even her quirks and flaws and shortcomings. She writes in the loveliest, friendliest conversational tone; you almost feel like are are both sharing space in the same room as she is sharing her life story directly with you. I desperately wish that I could have finished the book; I just kept telling myself, “…just make it to the part where Barack Obama becomes President!” and I did. And then I cried some more before sliding it through the library’s after-hours drop-off box.
The King Of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany is one of the five specific books I was designated to read from my 2019 reading challenge. It was a bit of a slog. The kingdom of Erl is lacking in magic. The king sends his son, the prince, to Elfland to procure the Elf King’s daughter as a bride, and to then bring magic into the lands of men. The Prince kidnaps the Princess, marries her, and they produce a son. Despite the fact that he was tasked with finding a mythical, magical wife, and that’s exactly what he got, he soon grows exasperated and embarrassed that his enchanted elfin bride can’t get used to the ways of men, or act normal like all the other boring human peasant-muggles in their backwater little town. The Prince gets huffy and impatient with his wife on several occasions because of her inability to acclimate and in trying to shame and control her, just generally plays the part of the mediocre, privileged, white male that he truly is. The princess, sensing that her husband might be an utter moron who doesn’t actually even know what he wants, leaves both him and their son behind, and runs back home to Elfland and her father. The Prince then spends the rest of the story wandering the countryside, searching for the border to Elfland so that he can get her back. UGH. This was a tiresome story and it took me 5 years to read it. However, if you can stick it out, the last twenty pages or so are totally worth it, when the awesome witch Ziroonderel tells off a bunch of doddering old farts and marvelous magics starts to creep into the land, whether anyone wants it there or not.
You by Caroline Kepnes When my sister messaged me to share that she was watching a certain show on netflix and she wanted me to watch it as well, so that we could hate all of the horrible characters together…of course I was on board in an instant, as hating awful people with someone you love is one of life’s great bonding experiences. I inhaled it, despite the fact that her request came with trigger warnings and content warnings: it was a show about a psychotic/sociopathic (??) stalker, and she was worried that because of some past issues and trauma I have dealt with, it might not be a great watch for my overall mental health. Which…it was not at all, by any means healthy for me to watch, but hating on these awful characters was so much fun that it completely trumped caring for my emotional well-being and I watched it anyway.
(The main character, by the way, is played by Penn Badgley–Dan from Gossip Girl–the setting is somewhere in NYC, and the characters are all frivolous and ridiculous, so the whole time I watched I just kept expecting smug voice over narration from Kristen Bell in her Gossip Girl voice, along with extravagant, utterly luxurious brunch spreads.)
I soon realized that this dumb show was based on a book, and so of course I had to subject myself to even more if it. I read it in the course of an afternoon and it was equally as trashy and silly as the show. The plot, for me, was a little scary, because while it sounds like this stalker is really over the top and goes to a lot of trouble regarding the object of his obsession (hacking her email and social media accounts, breaking into her home, pretending to be someone else online so that he can get information on her from her friends, etc.) and it sounds like these are really outlandish things that are a lot of work, and who has that kind of time, right? No one really does that, right? I’m here to tell you, I know one person who did. And they did it to me. So if you think this is happening to you–don’t worry if you sound crazy or paranoid. People actually do this crazy, fucked-up shit. Sometimes, in my darkest, loneliest moments, I worry that it still may be happening, even now. But…I still devoured this stupid book anyhow. Aside from the fact that sometimes it’s lovely to lose your afternoon to stupid enjoyment, I am at the point in my life where I don’t want to ignore the things that scare me. I know this was a work of fiction, but maybe it’s smarter to know your enemy, than to stick your head under the sand and pretend this stuff doesn’t happen.
Some spooky horror stuff: The Siren And The Specter by Jonathan Janz was a lurid, layered haunted house/ghost story, and that particular flavor of sleazy and deranged reading that used to titillate the heck out of me when I was about eleven years old. I would stock up on the cheap horror paperbacks with the craziest covers from the local used bookstore, stories that aroused feelings of both repulsion and obsession that I’ve never since recaptured until reading this book; Kill Creek by Scott Thomas is another haunted house tale, one in which a handful of modern masters of the horror genre are invited to stay for an evening for some sort of internet publicity stunt, and the usual sort of thing ensues. That’s a really lame review; I don’t actually remember it all that well, but I mention it because I hear Showtime is picking it up, so if you’re into this sort of thing, you may want to give it a read before it airs! I devoured In The House In The Dark Of The Woods by Laird Hunt over the course of an afternoon from a flight back from NYC; this witchy woodland fever dream of a tale, set in colonial New England, is utterly immersive and twisty and strange, and I loved every moment of it. And if you like twisty and strange, When I Arrived At The Castle by Emily Carroll is a deliciously eerie, magnificently illustrated, Gothic horror fairy tale nightmare-poem with the twisty and strange dialed waaay up.
White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi – I read this enthralling and disquieting story while I was in NYC in March, which turned out to be ideal timing because I read it right before and immediately after my first momentous visit to Sleep No More (much more on that at a later date). This book so beautifully complemented and fed the simultaneous dropping and parting of veils I’d just experienced. White is for Witching, by the time I got to it, came with quite a bit of hype, including naming Oyeyemi as Shirley Jackson‘s heir. In a way, I find this unfair. I’m a tremendous fan of Shirley Jackson, but I think Helen Oyeyemi has her own voice and style. Simply taken as a high compliment, however, I think it’s a beautiful statement. White is for Witching manages to be haunting from the very first while also being a wickedly slow burn of weirdness. It’s a ghost story. It’s a haunted house story. It’s a story of intergenerational trauma, institutional racism, familial bonds, friendship, love, hunger, and identity. I haven’t read anything else quite like it, which is one of the best things I can say about a book.
Circe by Madeline Miller – This is rather reductionist of me, but also perhaps the most succinct way to describe this book: Remember how Wicked told the tale of The Wizard of Oz from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West? Circe tells story of The Odyssey from the perspective of Circe, one of classical mythology’s original witches. This was a ferociously readable and wonderfully vivid story. Like so many people, I’ve long found mythology and folklore to be fascinating subjects for myriad reasons. But I’ll freely confess that I sometimes find the classics on the dry side and certainly on the sexist/misogynistic side. Miller’s Circe is none of those things. It’s so satisfying to get to know powerful Circe herself – not as an enchantress featuring briefly in the life of Greek hero Odysseus, but as a fully-formed individual, who we first meet during her divine, but still no-less-awkward childhood and follow as she grows to become perhaps the most powerful – and entirely self-taught – hedge witch of her time.
Scarstruck by Violet LeVoit – I first wrote about Violet’s work a couple years ago when I reviewed I Miss the World. Oof, I’m still reeling from that book in the best ways. Scarstruck is a wildly different sort of story, but no less gripping. Like its predecessor, Scarstruck is set in Hollywood, but this time we’re in the 1950s – rife with homophobia, McCarthyism, and celebrity gossip rags hungry for scandalous news. This is a story of what happens when two of Tinseltown’s hottest actors have such huge secrets that they’re thrust into marriage with each other in order to keep up conventional appearances. At its gloriously queer heart, Scarstruck is a romance novel about relationship anarchy and scorching hot, kinky sexytimes set in the same neo-noir world of one of my all-time favorite movies. What begins as a salacious celebrity tell-all tale turns out to have an intensely tender and earnest heart. Those concurrent qualities are a testament to Violet LeVoit’s deft craft. The last thing I expected this story to do was make me cry with catharsis, but it sure did. I can’t wait to see what Violet creates next.
Batman: Eternal by Scott Snyder (writer) and many artists Vol.1, Vol.2, and Vol.3 – Yes, I’m still reading lots and lots of Batman comics. For everyone who has ever written off Batman as just an angry, rich dude, this epic and complex trilogy demonstrates that the Dark Knight can lose absolutely everything and still be Batman. Also, the more Batman comics I read, the more I’m surprised and disappointed by how he’s been reduced in live action films (most of which I’ve enjoyed) to a character that’s just…angry and single-minded. There’s a reason Batman has endured for 80 years. Actually, there are many. But one of the big ones is that, on the page, he’s a complex character. He isn’t humorless. He isn’t free from self-doubt or want of affection. He’s, well, human, with a brilliant mind, a steadfast moral code, plenty of flaws, a team of incredible humans he’s built over the years, and, yes, lots and lots of high tech toys.
Batman: Arkham Asylum – A Serious House on Serious Earth by Grant Morrison (writer) and Dave McKean (artist) As a fan of Dave McKean’s art since the early 90s, I first read this astonishing book way back then. At the time, even though the only Batman comic I’d read previously was The Dark Knight Returns, I found it thoroughly haunting, disturbing, and alarmingly beautiful. Grant Morrison is a brilliant writer and no one does what Dave McKean does, not back then and not now. But now, thanks to a steadily growing number of Batman comics fresh in my mind, I’ve re-read this book with new eyes and recognize that it’s even more extraordinary than I appreciated back then – as a glimpse into Batman’s mind and examination of some of his most enduring and twisted relationships, and as the tale of Arkham Asylum and its patients cleverly interwoven with the story of the asylum’s tortured origins. I recommend reading the 25th anniversary edition, which includes Morrison’s script, revealing the depths of symbolism woven into this already impressive tale.
The Umbrella Academy Vol.1 and Vol.2 by by Gerard Way (writer), Gabriel Ba (artist) – Much like when I read The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina after watching the Netflix series, I can’t help but wonder what I would’ve made of The Umbrella Academy comics had I read them before watching the new show. These two experiences have turned out to be an unintentional, but interesting exercise in doing the exact opposite of what I usually do – which is make sure to read the source material first. My primary motivations for doing so are to allow my own imagination to form images of the characters, scenes, and surroundings without outside influence and because the source material usually holds so much more information than a TV or movie adaptation. And those motivations are usually validated by watching a thing after first reading the thing. But in the cases of Sabrina and now The Umbrella Academy, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that their adaptations improved upon and elaborated on the source material. I will continue reading the comics, both because I need to do something while waiting for season 2 and because I’m interested in the many adventures of this curious family. But I love how the show added so much emotional depth to the characters and, also like Sabrina, made those characters a more diverse bunch.
Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet Of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology by Lawrence Weschler – I debated including this marvelous book in this edition of Stacked because I’ve got much larger plans for it down the road. But I did just read it, so… Should you find yourself in Los Angeles, treat yourself to a long, lingering visit to a truly singular and extraordinary place called the Museum of Jurassic Technology. The less you know about it before you’re there, the better. After that – all the better while the museum is fresh in your mind – obtain a copy of this book and marvel even more. That’s all I’ll say for now…