four ways of looking at Jane Austen; 7.16.19

A few months ago I realized that some books with a similar theme were rising to the top of my library stacks and I decided to aggregate them into a ~fun~ theme post! I guess if you don’t care about Jane Austen this might not be that fun, but this is MY BLOG, CHARLATANS. 

Anyway, it’s skewed mostly towards nonfiction, with a sci-fi novel slipped in there as well. As you’ll notice, there aren’t actually any books by Jane Austen in this post, which I regret, because as it turns out I enjoy reading Austen more than I enjoy reading about her. There’s a lionization that often crops up in works about her (including the sci-fi) that feels uncomfortable to me, because while I do feel she deserves it, it feels to me like its based in an insistence that she was SO brilliant as to be outside of her own time and place, which…that’s not how “brilliance” works! And, as I’ll get into when talking about the first book, there are several things that make it difficult to understand and interpret the “real” Austen, so my skepticism is always on high alert.

All that being said, I genuinely did enjoy this mini-deep dive and hope you do too!


Jane Austen At Home: A Biography – Lucy Worsley

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This is a pretty straightforward biography of our dear pal Jane, which Worsley structures around the various houses/homes that she lived in. As an unmarried woman in the late 1700s – early 1800s, she often lived on the generosity (and sometimes whims) of more well-off family members, and Worsley does a great job of contextualizing her life and how that life influenced her works without moving too far into the realm of speculation. Any Austen bio is tricky because after her death a lot of her journals and letters were burned by her sister and closest friend Cassandra, and because her extended family had a particular narrative of her life that they really pushed after her death, but in my reading Worsley did a good job of presenting ~the facts~ as we know and understand them with a healthy amount of shaping the narrative for peak readability.

I will note that having read both this and Claire Tomalin’s Jane Austen: A Life a couple years ago, I keep getting this itchy feeling that Austen biographers really have it out for Jane’s mother? And I can’t really figure out why? They just seem like they really don’t like her, and convinced that Jane didn’t like her very much either, which I’m never fully satisfied by the backing for. It’s true that they’re the historians and I have not dived into the primary sources that they have, but…my kingdom for an Austen bio that doesn’t treat Cassandra Leigh Austen like she’s a direct analogue for Mrs. Bennet!

The Jane Austen Project – Kathleen Flynn

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Now…to be fair. My standards for time travel stories are MUCH HIGHER after Doomsday Book. As I talked about last month, Connie Willis writes about it in a way that actually makes sense, partly because she doesn’t get too into the mechanics of it. And this book doesn’t get too into the mechanics of how the time travel works, but it does try to get into the travelers’ ability or lack of ability to change the past (and therefore the future) in a way that I…did not find successful.

Like Doomsday Book, the time travel in this book is largely an academic project, though with more of an espionage bent. Rachel and Liam are sent to retrieve [steal] Jane Austen’s unpublished draft of The Watsons so they can publish it in their time (set in an undefined future time, in which it really seems Some Shit has gone down, but Flynn doesn’t really get into it enough for it to matter at all). Now…I knew it was going to be a tough sell once I realized their mission was basically to Single White Female Jane Austen by getting close enough to her to have the opportunity to go through her letters and then publish something she didn’t mean to publish. I already feel kind of grossed out by the fact that we publish famous people’s letters and diaries after their death (doesn’t stop me from reading Kafka’s deeply, pathetically relatable Letters to Felice, but still), and if someone published something of mine that was unfinished when I died, I would probably die a second time, rise from the grave to drive them insane via haunting, and then die again.

Aside from my issues with the premise, I felt like the characterization was uneven, and, though y’all know I love a horny book, the horniness in this book was awkward and pointless. I probably wouldn’t have finished the book if I wasn’t already committed to this theme.

Jane Austen, the Secret Radical – Helena Kelly

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Now for another nonfiction! (Actually this one and the next one are nonfiction but whatever.) This is less a biography and more an exploration of how Austen’s specific time and placed influenced her and what they can tell us about her books, especially what her contemporaries would have noticed that we don’t today. As I mentioned earlier, I’m often wary of lionization that claims authors were ‘ahead’ of their time rather than reacting to it, so I expected to be super into this book. Instead, I found another kind of lionization, one that found every possible way to position Austen as a rebel (or, by the book’s title, a radical). Sometimes I found the evidence compelling and sometimes not. 

The book was about 20% more straight-up history than I was prepared for, which is on me, but I had expected more integration with how the history interacted with Austen’s books, which it did…just not quite in the balance I would have preferred. Which is a ‘me’ thing! But I was definitely exhausted at the end.

Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan – Ted Scheinman

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This little book really grew on me! (‘Little’ here being a literal description of the book’s length, not a condescension.) By the time I got to it, I was suffering from some Austen Exhaustion, and the first time I picked it up I set it down after only a couple pages, shouting “I can’t! I can’t do it anymore!” But after giving it a couple days, and assuring myself that it really was memoir, not biography (though there’s some biography in here), I picked it up again and was very glad I did.

The core of the book is a tour through Scheinman’s experience working at a Jane Austen event that was part conference/part festival. A literature graduate student at the time, his duties included dressing as Mr. Darcy, putting on a play with his fellow students, Regency-style flirtation, and, of course, dancing. Scheinman, who grew up with an Austen scholar for a mother, explains how the democratic nature of the conference (open to academics and non-academics and expected to be accessible to all) lead to fascinating discussions and occasional arguments about Austen, her works, and how best to interpret and enjoy them in the 21st century. He’s thoughtful, and has a good sense of humor, about the event and Austen and I enjoyed the book a lot.


Farewell! See you again when I’ve watched the 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility a thousand more times!!

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give a gal a long weekend…; 7.10.19

Good day to you all! I don’t have a preamble today, and I’m excited to talk about these books, so let’s just dive in.


The Broken Girls – Simone St. James

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I really expected to like this one! I heard it recommended on a podcast by someone who’s tastes I usually line up with, and, granted, I did blast through it in one day, so it was super readable, but ultimately…it was frustrating.

The book follows two storylines: in 1950 four teenage girls at a boarding school bond over their troubled pasts and their FOR SURE FOR SURE haunted school while in 2014 journalist Fiona Sheridan is obsessed with finding out the truth about her sister’s murder 20 years ago. As sometimes becomes a problem, I found one storyline more interesting than the other, though I was surprised when my preference flipped halfway through the book. Eventually the two storylines do come together, but thematically it didn’t feel like they cohered. The 2014 plotline almost got into some really interesting rape culture critique, but then skewed a bit off the point.

This genre keeps disappointing me, or maybe I’m just picking books that aren’t for me. I keep looking for something to blow me away the way He Said/She Said did last summer, which maybe means I just need to return to the Erin Kelly well!

[cw: sexual assault]

Making Up – Lucy Parker

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I’ve been hearing romance novel aficionados praise Lucy Parker for SOME TIME NOW and I was not disappointed when I picked this one up. It’s actually the third of Parker’s loosely connected “London Celebrities” books, but as with many romance series, serialization is optional. For those not familiar with the genre, authors writing a series will often build out a rich cast of secondary and even tertiary characters who get the spotlight later on in the series. So if in Book 1, we meet Love Interest A’s mysterious governess and also Love Interest B’s brooding older brother, you’re pretty certain to get a book later down the road in which those two also fall in love.

The love interests in this book are Trix, an aerial performer, and her nemesis Leo, a makeup artist. The two have loathed each other since high school, and now that Leo’s been hired onto the show that Trix performs in (and become her new roommate) their close quarters become *ahem* even closer. I was once again reminded and awed in this book how romance novels often contain the most emotionally mature and nuanced conversations about relationships that I’ve ever read. Trix and Leo grapple with anxiety, toxic jealousy, healing after past emotional abuse, and going after what (or who) you really want while respecting those around you.

I’m quite salty that this is the only Lucy Parker book that my library currently has in hard copy; all respect and good wishes to e-reader peeps, but it’s just not my reading preference. Until I get my hands on the others though, I’m eagerly waiting for my preorder of Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Party to get to me in about a week!!!

Evvie Drake Starts Over – Linda Holmes

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I’m just going to start with what’s most important and say that I LOOOOVED this book. And so did a lot of other people, considering it SOLD OUT in its first week and has topped bestseller charts. You might know the author, Linda Holmes, from her podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, or her writing about TV and other entertainment. I always love her takes and perspectives and pre-ordered the heck out of this, her first novel. And despite my ever-climbing book stacks, I couldn’t keep myself from cracking it open “just to start!” over the long weekend, and of course once I’d started I could! not! stop!

The titular Evvie Drake is a young widow hiding the truth of her marriage from her small town and close friends and family. Dean Tenney is a former MLB player [yes! this miraculous book got me to care about BASEBALL!] hiding out from the press and angry former fans after a bad case of the “yips”…as a tenant in Evvie Drake’s home.

Evvie, Dean, and their assorted friends and family are endearing, charming characters that I would eagerly go to battle for, and their story is told with warmth, good humor, well-paced feels, and excellently-placed pop culture references. Like Making Up, this book also deals with emotional abuse, and contains such a fantastic metaphor for the importance of therapy that I underlined, put it in my journal, and took a picture to send to a friend. 

I’m extra psyched because tonight I’m actually going to Holmes’ Minneapolis book tour event and I will try not to enthuse too embarrassingly. 


Bye for now! Remember to hydrate and not to let derision about the romance genre stand uncontested!

suns out “Chris Evans in Knives Out!!!” books out; 7.3.19

Hello friends! I am very psyched today, because starting tomorrow I have a four day weekend and ALSO because yesterday the Knives Out trailer FINALLY arrived and I am deeply obsessed with everything about it, in particular Chris Evans’ scarf.

Okay now for some books before I scurry off into an airconditioned room with Orange Crush and a Veronica Mars rewatch.


Zami: A New Spelling of My Name – Audre Lorde

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What an excellent, excellent month for all of us [especially me] in that we get a double helping of Audre Lorde! This book, which Lorde defined as “biomythography,” while being quite different from Sister Outsider structurally, weaves the themes of Lorde’s body of work into story-memoir form. It chronicles the first approximately 25ish years of her life, from her childhood in Harlem as the daughter of immigrants to her early 20s navigating life as a Black lesbian.

I read the entire first half of this in one sitting, and then spread the rest out so it wouldn’t end quickly. The story moves so fluidly that it feels impossible to put down (god bless short chapters as well!!) and the imagery and sentences remind you constantly that Lorde is a gotdamn POET. [p.s. her acknowledgements section is at the front of the book, in which she thanks her friend and fellow poet Adrienne Rich “who insisted the language could match and believed that it would,” and over and over throughout the book I was bowled over by Lorde’s ability to so PRECISELY match the language to the content.]

The way Lorde writes about otherness, loneliness, longing, the bonds between people, and the deep pain inflicted by racism, sexism, and homophobia is superlative

[cw: sexual assault, suicide]

There There – Tommy Orange

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Another uniquely structured story for us today!! This book, a unified story told as series of short sections from 12 different characters’ perspectives, has gotten a lot of attention for its gorgeous language and exploration of several Native/Indigenous experiences, all of which is beyond deserved. 

I’d definitely like to reread this someday, because I could tell I was missing some of the impact of the language in my impatience to see where these characters were going. When I first heard there were 12 main characters I was skeptical, but each one is both personally distinct and carefully united to the others as they all make their way to a powwow in Oakland for the book’s devastating climax. There are also two extended sections in the beginning and middle that recount a variety of the horrors and humiliations inflicted on Native people by colonization.

Occasionally the timeline did feel a bit confusing, but I’m curious how that would feel on a reread. As the character perspectives increase, you gather information and understandings about them that they often don’t have themselves, so they definitely need to be read in the precise order they’re presented in, even if the timeline is a bit hard to follow (which could very well be a feature, not a bug!)

[cw: sexual assault, suicide, domestic violence, some body stuff that I felt iffy on]


See you next week! If you have a long weekend, or just a day off, I hope you enjoy it, and if not I hope you’re able to treat yourself to a tasty beverage anyway.

a cat, a cause, commendable books; 6.26.19

Hey friends! I have some good news and some rough news, but let’s start with the good news, which is that I got a cat this last week!

She’s 10 months old, her name is Fisher, and I already worship her, as does pretty much everyone who’s met her so far.

The rough news is not personal to me, but you’re likely aware that we’ve been hearing more and more of the atrocities being inflicted upon families at the border. It’s easy to feel helpless in these situations, which is why I’ve been donating what I can to RAICES, a legal nonprofit that’s doing a lot right now to reunite families and get them out of ICE’s clutches. If you can’t donate, please keep calling your representatives, keeping your eyes out for protests, and pushing back in whatever ways you can. If you are able to donate and are on Twitter, there are several prominent authors and public figures who have been matching donations, and hopefully more will follow suit, so keep your eyes open there as well.


Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower – Brittney Cooper

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Oh my god, these essays!! They’re directly up my alley in terms of the balance between memoir/personal essay and research/theory. Cooper expertly weaves her experiences, sense of humor, and hopes and concerns about the future in with her academic analyses of race and gender.

Women’s anger has been a buzzy topic lately–who gets to express it and when, buried anger and its toll, its power and dangers. Cooper’s book, which came out over a year ago, holds rage as the core, noting that Black women in particular have good reason to feel rage and should be most closely paid attention to. She posits anger as useful, both for oneself and for creating a more just society. Her essays tackle a wide range of topics–including but not at all limited to misogynoir, police and state violence, sex and theology, and the double-edged sword of exceptionalism–and often skillfully pull several topics together. She’s open about the places where her own viewpoints are in conflict, elucidating complex topics without dulling their complexity while also not leaving the reader feeling lost. It’s a really fantastic book, unputdownable in a way that books at this level of analysis often aren’t.

[tw: police violence]

Iza’s Ballad – Magda Szabó

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So a couple months ago I read The Door, Szabó’s most well-known novel, and it absolutely bowled me over. I’m still not really over that book, and maybe that tinged my appreciation of this book, which was lovely in spots but didn’t have the same magic for me. Where The Door was tightly focused on the complex and tense relationship between two unconventionally connected women, Iza’s Ballad is a bit more sprawling [and you know how I feel about sprawling book-wise], even within a relatively short novel. 

The central tension in this book is also between an older and younger woman, although this time they are mother and daughter. Ettie, in her 70s, has just become a widow, and her only child Iza brings her to live in the city with her. Their different modes of life and expectations for life together drive Iza to distraction and Ettie to depression. Meanwhile, their background and characters are further drawn out through other characters, primarily Iza’s ex-husband. Szabó’s writing is still intimate and oddly comforting and her characters are rich and well-observed, but I wish the plot construction had been a bit tighter.

[tw: suicide]

The Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan

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Speaking of a tight plot construction…literary classic The Joy Luck Club! Set up as 16 connected short stories which form a novel’s whole, Tan’s first novel explores the relationships between 4 sets of Chinese-American mothers and daughters. They’re often fraught, often passionate, frustrated, disappointed, devoted, protective. All of the mothers are immigrants, and they and their daughters emotionally wrestle (both with each other and with themselves) over the balances in their past, present, and future. 

Obviously Tan is a literary legend, and while I’d read snippets and sections of her work before, it was a new and captivating experience to read these stories as a whole and see how they worked together, sometimes through contradictions between the characters. Each of the 8 main characters has two stories told from her point of view. There’s a beautiful essay on LitHub by Tan about her reflections on the book after 30 years (it’s also the preface to the newest edition of the book), which eloquently describes the tension she was trying to (and did) capture, the anxiety both parent and child frequently feel that they will not be understood by the other, and the extra layer in the immigrant parent/child relationship.

[tw: sexual assault]


That’s all for this week! If you’re a Pop Culture Pen Pals subscriber, the July preview is in your inbox, and if you’re not it’s in our archives!

how many times can I use the word ‘prescient’; 6.19.19

Hello good day I come to you from deep within a dedicated Superstore rewatch. This show very possibly takes the prize for “Sneaking Most Effectively Into My Heart.” I went from casually enjoying an underrated sitcom to being convinced this is one of the NUMBER ONE MOST IMPORTANT SHOWS ON TELEVISION TODAY, which, I realize, is something I have been known to say about more than one of my favorite shows, but THIS ONE REALLY IS, Y’ALL. It pulls off exploring the prescient and often grim realities of working class life in the US while also being cracklingly hilarious and brilliantly layering in character development and foreshadowing in ways I’m appreciating more and more as my rewatch goes on. Hannah and I are going to be talking about this show in July’s Pop Culture Pen Pals, but to tide you over, a couple of my favorite TV writers, Kathryn VanArendonk and Emily VanDerWerff have recently written about the show and I loved both of their pieces [VanArendonk’s has significant spoilers, Vanderwerff’s has light spoilers].

The show is available on Hulu and honestly, along with the upcoming Veronica Mars availability, is one of the biggest reasons I recently upgraded to no ads, so if you need me, I will pretty much exclusively be in my own home, eating ice cream sandwiches and marathoning through these rewatches.


Silas Marner – George Eliot

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“So, considering you just finished a Trollope, maybe you should…take a break from the 19th century?” ….is a thing that I should have said to myself, and which proves that perhaps I myself am in need of a governess, because this relatively short novel [novella!!] took me…so…long…to sludge through.

Now to be fair, not much actually happens in it to spur the reader on. Like my experience with New Year’s Day a couple months back, I just didn’t get enough of the author’s wit and cutting observations to really have a good time, but there were several individual sections that I found very moving. The bare bones of the story is that a grouchy hermit weaver loses his precious money, then adopts a child, and that’s…honestly…it. Like, there’s a bunch of background drama going on with the origins of the child, but the point of the story is Silas Marner’s redemption, which happens in a pretty lowkey way. Maybe if you’re wanting to get a taste of Eliot’s style before making the leap to Middlemarch this would be a good choice? It was fine! I’m glad to have checked it off my 19th century list! There was a section in the last quarter that felt EXTREMELY prescient, because it was basically about a dude being like, “I said sorry so I should get what I want now!!!!” and it was extremely satisfying [spoiler] to see him not get what he wanted.

Sister Outsider – Audre Lorde

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It’s frankly a bit embarrassing that it’s taken me this long to read any Audre Lorde. A prolific poet, essayist, and activist, Lorde’s work is foundational to any understanding of feminism, anti-racism, and their intersections, along with work and writing about LGBTQ rights and acceptance, anti-ageism, and anti-capitalism. This collection of essays, letters, and speeches demonstrates Lorde’s capacity to approach any topic with a complex range of perspectives, as well as a relationship to words and language deeply informed by her poetry. Though the content is often challenging thematically, the style is accessible in a way that it takes a very skilled writer to pull off. As I mentioned before, the pieces in the book are a mixture of formats, including a section in the middle that’s the transcript of a conversation between Lorde and fellow poet Adrienne Rich. I really enjoyed the variety, especially in a busy week when I was doing battle with the soul-crushing House of Leaves, and the extra layer of thinking about the differing goals and audiences for each section was a meaningful addition to an incredibly rich collection.

The collection was originally published in 1984, and the pieces in it range from the mid-70’s to the early 80’s, and 35+ years later it’s all still incredibly relevant. Particularly in the sections about how race and feminism, and white women’s failures to center or even meaningfully include Black women’s experiences and contributions, there were many times the book described and explored discussions and struggles that happen every day in 2019.

As often happens, I struggle to figure out how to talk about important books here. On the one hand, what is there for me to say about Audre Lorde other than “go read her now!” But on the other hand there’s something that feels profoundly Wrong about me spouting off about my disdain for House of Leaves for almost 400 words and writing significantly less about my positive reaction to Sister Outsider. In general it’s a balance I’m still trying to work out, because as much as I love to complain, I do want the tone of this blog to be in general a positive one, so I appreciate your patience as I continue to figure out the balance here!

House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski

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I’m pretty sure I have been punkd. Why the fuck did I read this book.

Okay so I read it because supposedly it’s a cult classic of horror, etc, also there’s an Overdue episode about it. [they were marginally more charitable than I am about to be, but only just, and would be a great listen if you felt A Sort Of Way about it.] So like, a of all…I did not find it scary? There were a couple of moments when I was like, “yeah this would be scary if it was in a different book but honestly I am too ANNOYED to be scared right now!!!” B of all, when describing the premise to my roommate [“it’s like…a book…within a book…about a supposed film…and there’s all these footnotes and appendices…”] she rightly commented, “Oh…this book was written by a dude, wasn’t it?” AND IT SURE WAS. IT’S ONE OF THE MOST DUDE-EST BOOKS I HAVE EVER FORCED MY EYEBALLS THROUGH.

So yeah the premise is that there’s this ~film~ that everyone in the book assumes to be fictional because it’s your typical “family moves into a big house and the big house is TERRIFYING” and if you’ve been around, y’all KNOW how much I want to love a “big terrifying house” story, and maybe I would have liked it if it had just been the story of that. BUT NOPE. The book is actually made up of a manuscript this now-dead-dude named Zampano has written about the film, which a dude named Johnny Truant has found and is annotating/publishing. There’s…a lot going on. It’s not a straightforward front-to-back read–you’re meant to bounce around between the appendices and footnotes, etc, and there are sections of the book where they do things with the layout to mirror the content of the text, which all sounds SO INTERESTING and made me SO UPSET. But you know what, some people love it and I guess that’s FINE but I intend on snarling like a feral cat whenever it’s brought up in proximity to me.

Some warnings: there are several references to sexual assault and suicide. The book also has relationships to disability, mental illness, and addiction that I was…not a fan of.


Okay everyone stay hydrated and I’ll see you next week!

Stop Sleeping on Connie Willis 2k19; 6.12.19

Okay so a couple of weeks ago I promised you an IMPASSIONED PSA and it’s finally here!!

My latest entry in the canon of “you MUST read this author!! you absolutely MUST!!!” is Connie Willis and I honestly feel quite salty that I’d never really heard of her until recently because now I just want to inject all of her books directly into my veins.

She’s most well-known for her sci-fi and sci-fi-adjacent works, which have earned her Hugos and Nebulas which are basically the OSCARS AND GOLDEN GLOBES OF THE SCI-FI WORLD. Her style and syntax is so straightforward, with a wry sense of humor, and I’m going to need all of you to STOP SLEEPING ON HER ASAP.


Bellwether – Connie Willis

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Despite the cover of this book, it’s actually much less sci-fi-y than Doomsday Book. The good folks of Bellwether Friends, a podcast I enjoy whose name comes from this book, describe as being more in the vein of a workplace romantic comedy. The main character, Sandra, is a “trends researcher” who works for a giant tech company that has corporate-speak team meetings, 40 page long incomprehensible funding requests, and an insolent interdepartmental assistant. Her attempt to discover what causes trends or fads takes on a new direction when a bizarre series of events brings her into contact with a chaos scientist named Bennett O’Reilly.

It’s very, very charming and a quick read [also according to Bellwether Friends the audiobook read by Kate Reading is also exceptionally good], managing to pull off a slightly judgmental narrator gloriously, and packing in lots of factoids about trends. While there’s a touch of the mysterious, it’s less “sci-fi” and more “what if the real world but MORE” and it’s very fun.

Doomsday Book – Connie Willis

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OKAY. This book is about TIME TRAVEL, but time travel like I’ve never read/seen it portrayed in media before. [it might be an extra good tonic for those who were left thinking “sorry…WHAT?” re:Avengers Endgame] It just seems so…sensible? Set in a near-future version of Oxford, everything is basically the same except there’s TIME TRAVEL, and a very academic version of time travel, used by historians to visit other time periods. Maybe later books get more into the nitty-gritty (there are three more in this loosely connected ‘series’: To Say Nothing of the Dog, Blackout, and All Clear), but this one does an exceptional job at giving you just enough information to make sense, but not so much that you’re bogged down by a series of logic problems.

For the first time, the history department is sending someone back to the Middle Ages, which has long been off-limits due its many dangers. You know, like the Plague. Also the fact that people living in England in the 14th century literally spoke an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT LANGUAGE than what we consider “English” today. But Kivrin, a graduate student, is not to be stopped, even by the trepidations of her advisor Professor Dunworthy. Obviously, things…do not go as planned.

Willis is such a meticulous writer and can so sweep you off your feet that every quick turn is accompanied by a “dammit OF COURSE!” The dialogue is realistically witty and though the book runs towards the longer side, she brilliantly maintains tension throughout.

The one thing I did not like is that there’s some fatphobia in the portrayal of a minor character, which really sucked.


Okay peace out friends! I’ll be hunting down more Connie Willis and most likely shoveling all of the Big Little Lies jokes into my brain.

appreciate ur sinuses; 6.5.19

Hello hello we’re gonna keep it nice and snappy today because as it turns out I am still living at war with my sinuses.

First of all though, I am happy to report that both Booksmart and Always Be My Maybe were absolute delights and you should definitely see them! ADDITIONALLY, there’s a show I’ve really been enjoying over the last couple months called The Other Two and it’s HILARIOUS and all of the episodes are free and easily accessible [in a non-shady way!] for the next two weeks here! The premise is basically “what if a 13 year old Justin Bieber had had two 30-something siblings” and it’s a fantastically good time.

Just a heads-up before we get into the books: both of the books this week deal with pretty heavy topics, including suicide and sexual assault so please take care of yourself as needed!


A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki

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[TW: suicide, sexual assault]

The story is told in two narratives: a diary by a teenage Japanese girl named Nao [pun definitely intended by the author] and a Japanese-Canadian woman named Ruth who finds the diary when it washes up on a local beach about ten years later, along with a watch and some letters written in French. The reader follows both Nao’s writing and Ruth’s reading of the diary as they both grapple with the nature of time, connection, and narrative. I personally found the Ruth side of the narrative more interesting (even though it wouldn’t exist without Nao’s side)–I frequently find child and teenage characters written for adult audiences…grating? And I’m not sure why! Just something in the tone doesn’t quite click for me.

But that being said, the book is very well written and I enjoyed spending time with the questions about time and the relationship between reader and narrative. As I mentioned at the start, there’s a lot of focus in the book on suicide–Nao’s father repeatedly attempts and Nao considers it herself. There are also a few references to and a couple instances of sexual assault.

Women Talking – Miriam Toews

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[TW: sexual assault, suicidal ideation]

This has been ALL OVER Book Twitter and the general book world since before it came out, hailed as a “#MeToo novel,” and pretty universally praised for its lyrical imagery and characterization and thoughtful meditations on questions of trauma, power, and forgiveness. It’s speculative fiction based on real events–in a conservative Mennonite colony in Bolivia during the years 2005 and 2009 women and girls would frequently wake up in the morning after having been drugged and violated. The [male] leadership dismissed this as dreams, imagination, or spiritual punishment, until it was finally discovered that a group of men from the colony were the perpetrators. The men are arrested, but colony leadership is determined to post bail and bring them back to the community. Toews–who grew up Mennonite–imagines what a conversation between the women of the community might be like as they deliberate whether to do nothing, stay and fight, or leave the community altogether.

As you can probably tell, the content is pretty heavy, but Toews writing style takes a gentle touch, focusing primarily on the discussion between the women (and the one man they’ve allowed in to record their conversation). It’s also a fairly short book, focused on a close timeline and effectively building tension within that timeline. There were sections that felt a bit too abstract for me, especially the ones that took place mostly within the narrator’s head, but I know I’ll be ruminating on the arguments of this book for a long time.


Alright, peace out, appreciate your unclogged sinuses, and watch The Other Two! And remember that this month’s Pop Culture Pen Pals comes out this month so check your inboxes and spam filters.