Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
This book was a birthday gift from my incredible husband. He went to National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) back in November, managed to get me TWO signed copies of Jason Reynolds’ books (the other was the fantastic All American Boys co-written with Brendan Kiely), and then sat on them for an entire month waiting for my birthday. I was astounded and delighted. Reynolds is quickly becoming one of my favorite young adult writers, and this book makes an excellent companion to his previous All American Boys, Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, or Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down, all of which deal with young adults of color and gun violence.
Long Way Down is a novel in verse that takes place in the 60 seconds it takes to go seven flights in an elevator. Will’s older brother Shawn has been killed, and Will is trying to avenge his death. He is going by The Rules, which involves No Crying, No Snitching, and Avenge/Revenge. He has found Shawn’s gun in his secret stash and is determined to do the right thing by his brother. But as he boards the elevator heading down, he is visited by several people in his life, both past and present. He begins to analyze his own doubts about what he will do, and if doing the right thing means what he thinks it does.
This is, in short, an incredible novel. The verses are short and fast-paced in a staccato rhythm. Reynolds is a gifted writer with a distinctive voice, and the genre of novel in verse fits him so well. This is an engaging and provocative novel. I am glad I own a signed copy and that I could crown my triple cannonball on something so timely and moving.
Saga, Vol. 8 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
I love my local library. Not only do they carry each Volume of Saga, but they got this copy to me before its official publication date!!!!! This means that I have now read two volumes of Saga in 2017, but the problem is that I have already finished the latest volume of Saga and have to wait who knows how many months for the next one. This is a problem, because Brian K. Vaughan has introduced a MAJOR cliffhanger that bodes a change. A big change. I can’t say anything more than that.
It’s really hard to review volumes of Saga, especially since I know a few of you are behind. So I am going to try to be as un-spoilery about this as possible. After the traumatic events of Volume 7, we find ourselves on a different planet with the major players trying to recover. They’re all finding it kind of hard, though. And we do get teasers of stories about what is happening with The Will and Ghüs, which is always a bonus. There is simply not enough Lying Cat, which I have come to terms with the knowledge that until Lying Cat gets her own series (MAKE IT HAPPEN PLZ), I will never be satisfied about her appearances in the series. And like I said, the last line of the volume made me gasp, because it’s a gamechanger.
This volume is cathartic and interesting, but the stories felt incredibly short. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but it read fast and I didn’t feel soul-crushed in the same way that Volume 7 made me feel. Of course, because it’s Saga, more soul-crushing is sure to happen very soon. In separate news, how many issues/volumes are Vaughan and Staples planning? If I knew the endpoint, I could start planning/grieving appropriately. I mostly just feel a weird tension between elation and grief every time I read the new volume, and it’s messing with my emotions.
The Tao of Life (according to Charlie) by Charlie Shae Galvin
In my last post, I mentioned that my book club did a Book Swap. B had brought a book that his colleague had written and that he, a clinical psychiatrist, had been asked to write a blurb for on the back cover. I ended up with The Tao of Life (according to Charlie) by therapist Charlie Shae Galvin, and I’m overall delighted with the read. It’s short but pithy and contains many excellent pieces of advice for learning to live with more intentionality.
Galvin’s book is set up as 365 pieces of advice, which seems to be no accident. Each piece is separate but contributes to the overall theme of life advice. Some have stories attached, and some are 1-2 sentences long. The varied length adds spice and variety to the book. The piece of advice about regret really stuck with me: I don’t have many regrets in my life, but I do carry a few. I really liked Galvin’s advice about using regret to fuel your best and most compassionate parts to be a better person and to fuel your best self. Yes.
One thing I do wish Galvin had done was develop each piece of advice more fully, so that this could have acted as a year-long devotional book, with a holy text or wise quote attached, so that anyone from any or no denomination could use this as bedside inspirational reading. That said, this is a book I’d like to return to, because it’s given me pieces of advice to think about and use to improve my own life and state of being. I think this might be self-published, but if you can get your hands on a copy (I could find a link on Amazon), I do think you will find it worth your time.
How to Win at Feminism by Reductress
This year, my book club did a Book Swap for our December/Christmas meeting. We’ve done a Friendsgiving for a few years in a row, but this was the first time we’d done anything for Christmas. J, F’s husband, insisted that he was going to do his own book swap and get books for all of us. None of us took him seriously, until we arrived at his and F’s house and sure enough, there was a wrapped present with a label in his handwriting for each of us. After the official swap, he passed out his presents to each of us. And what a hoot it was. L, a fairly conservative New Englander, received a coloring book called The Swear Word (which, incidentally, I now need). C received a book called F**k Meditation, and I received How to Win at Feminism by the writers of Reductress, which calls itself the “Feminist Onion.” Excellent.
In short, How to Win at Feminism chronicles the privileged slactivism that comprises pop feminism at its finest and most tone-deaf. This book is a deliberately gleeful takedown of white feminism for its honoring of Lena Dunham, Taylor Swift, and other fashionable and insignificant items that conservative Baby Boomers think all Millennials are like. There are tons of pictures and fake testimonials that had me rolling.
I recommend this book for feminists with a thick skin and a wicked sense of humor. I think Michael Che’s liberal white lady sketch on SNL tried to be funny and poke fun at pop feminism, but he is (a) NOT the right conduit or woke enough to get away with it; and (b) mislabeling “liberal white lady” for what he is really poking fun at, which is pop feminism. This book, however, is exactly the right outlet to poke fun at the Taylor Swift snakes and white Beyhivers who think that liking Beyoncé is all you need to be intersectional.
Depressed. Repressed. Obsessed. by Lisa Brown
My dear friend M bought me Lisa Brown’s Depressed. Repressed. Obsessed. for my birthday this year (Important sidenote: I should also note that M included in the package a card with an illustration of Beyoncé in “Formation” and the caption “You Slay” on the front. Basically, it was the best birthday present ever.) I had never seen her three-panel book review cartoons before, and I regret not doing so. She is a talented cartoonist, and her reviews are spot-on. I am always a sucker for pithy reviews of classic literature, and Brown’s work is right up my alley.
Brown tackles all sorts of classic books, from The Catcher in the Rye to Jane Eyre to The Scarlet Letter. Each comic is only three panels long, and the words may vary, but the formula is always the same: three panels to the review. The book gets its title from Brown’s review of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which includes one word for each panel: Depressed, which features a depressed woman getting counselling; Repressed, which features her shutting down and glancing skeptically at the ugly wallpaper in her bedroom; and Obsessed, which shows her tearing at the wallpaper. The illustrations really bring the reviews to life.
This is a must-read if you, like me, were an English major in college and/or read a LOT of classics. I haven’t read them all (Madame Bovary, for example), but if you have a basic idea of the stories, then you should be just fine. My personal favorite might be either Jane Eyre or The Scarlet Letter. I may have laughed inappropriately loudly at both of these…
Mad Men: The Illustrated World by Dyna Moe
I remember well the heyday of Mad Men, especially its early seasons in the late 2000s and early 2010s. My husband and I had a Mad Men-themed engagement party in 2011, where we dressed up like the early 1960s and ate 1960s food. It was a lot of fun. To commemorate the occasion, I had gone to the website Mad Men Yourself and created little posters for each of the guests (it was a small party). That led me to discover Dyna Moe’s book Mad Men: The Illustrated World to display on my coffee table. The heyday is over, as is the show, but there’s still a lot of fun to be had in the book.
Moe’s book is filled with all sorts of interesting tidbits, dark humor, and 60s-themed recipes. Some of the actors on the show even wrote an essay about various trivia—Rich Sommer learned how to tie a bowtie, for example. The illustrations are hilarious and also rich in scope and focus. You become immersed in the culture—the good and the bad alike—and understand some of the trends and mindsets that were du jour.
If you are a fan of the show or the time period, you should definitely check this book out. It’s short but informative and highly entertaining. There is plenty of biting satire to go around, and you will be glad you are not currently living in the 1960s—especially if you are a woman. I know the show has highlighted some of the major issues, even if it’s easy to have the handsomeness of Jon Hamm gaslight you into forgetting what a horrible and small person Don Draper can be at times. [Sidenote: I need to finish the show. I’m several seasons behind, as is my MO with just about everything except The Good Place and Riverdale]
Haveli by Suzanne Fisher Staples
Many years ago, I read Suzanne Fisher Staples’ young adult novel Shabanu, which chronicled the coming-of-age of a young Pakistani teen who was forced into a marriage she did not want or plan for in order to save her family in a delicate bind. I had really liked the novel, and was excited to hear Staples had continued the story.
Haveli is a sequel set several years later, in which Shabanu is now a young mother and trying to make her way through life as a fourth wife in a complex and thorny family dynamic. Shabanu is trying to maintain her individuality, her daughter’s education, and her safety, all while trying to avoid her husband’s jealous family members. When her husband’s nephew arrives from America, Shabanu’s world is turned upside down, and suddenly, her heart discovers there is more to life than the narrow one she had resigned herself to. And a new danger threatens her and her daughter’s safety.
This was an engrossing read, but also a sad one. Staples paints a fairly bleak picture of womanhood in a patriarchal society, which seems true to the other things I have read before. Now, I don’t know what sort of research that Staples did in order to create an accurate and timely story, so that would be something to investigate. If you like young adult novels about international settings and problems, then you should definitely check this one out. I do highly recommend reading Shabanu first, as this is a fairly direct continuation of the previous novel’s conflicts. And as you can see, I tried to leave this review fairly vague on purpose, because I didn’t want to spoil too much.