Mina, by Matthew Forsythe

One star, read in March 2022. What a weird story. The illustrations are pretty, but nothing earth-shattering. The text is fine, but the premise is just bizarre. I’m not a fan of stories that make it look charming and eccentric when incompetent adults endanger their children by being blithe and careless (and I really dislike…

The Little Gardener, by Emily Hughes

Four stars, read in February 2022. Absolutely gorgeous illustrations, and I adore it despite the fact that the ending is a little disconnected from the rest of the story. The little gardener is so exhausted and discouraged by the impossibility of his task, he falls asleep for a month, and in the meantime, his wish…

Following Papa’s Song, by Gianna Marino

Three stars, read in February 2022. The illustrations are the reason to read this book. The text is fine, but a little too repetitive for me—it does that thing where almost every instance of dialogue involves the characters using each other’s names, which doesn’t happen in real life. “Papa? Are we going very far?”“Yes, Little…

The Big Bad Wolf in My House, by Valérie Fontaine and Nathalie Dion

Five stars, read in February 2022. Beautiful illustrations for a very well-written story about a young girl whose house is invaded by an abusive monster. Pretty grim, especially given that sexual abuse is implied in addition to physical, emotional, and verbal. But the book ends optimistically and introduces the idea of shelters in what I…

1, 2, 3, Off to School! by Marianne Dubuc

Five stars, read in February 2022. This is fantastically cute and I like it a lot, but I also have weird issues with it. The text is tiny, and all the little side dialogue makes the experience of reading it almost like one of those search and find books rather than a traditional story. It…

Survivor Tree, by Marcie Colleen and Aaron Becker

Four stars, read in January 2022. All right, look. I’ve been over 9/11 for a long time. I lived in Texas when it happened, and yes, it was truly awful. But in the grand scheme of violence done in this world, particularly by us? Let’s just have some perspective, right? All of which is to…

World-Building

I started gradually rejoining the online world in 2016, after about two years away. I’d spent the six years before that being an unbearable Pollyanna, trying to get everyone to have interactions where we could find common ground and have Meaningful Discussions and for shit’s sake stop calling each other evil. I’d exhausted myself by…

My Best Friends in Books (and a Request for Recommendations)

Brienne of Tarth, from Game of Thrones: tough, loyal, and completely un-girly. Jessica Jones, from Marvel comics: badass, superhuman strength, helps people while dealing with her own trauma. Hermione Granger: brilliant, intellectual, compassionate, and brave. Violet, Hannah, Dee, and Betty from Rat Queens: sex-positive, booze-guzzling, death-dealing battle maidens for hire, and also a family. Jo…

The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan

Three and a half to four stars. Read for the first time in 2007, and again in February 2021. Some things Robert Jordan writes too much of: What songs are called in different places where the characters travel People using made-up swear words unbearably earnestly How Aes Sedai can’t be trusted (they never lie, but…

The Tyranny of Comedy

There is nothing worse, people often seem to believe, than ruining someone’s joke. The pervasive attitude is that if other people find something funny, everyone is expected to go along with it, regardless of the content—and if anyone doesn’t, that person will be treated as if they have wronged the others. You know what this…

Recovering

It’s been a bad time. No one had a good year in 2020, but I have to say I had a particularly bad one. My husband and I split in August, so I moved back to Texas to live with family. Because of the move, I got behind in my classes, and then my mental…

Calculating the Worth of Human Lives

Along the same lines as my earlier thoughts about Howard Zinn, I have this to say about a paragraph in the introduction to my textbook (the Norton Anthology of American Literature (shorter ninth edition)). “The Civil War transformed the lives of the four million African Americans who obtained their freedom from slavery, but its costs…

2019 Reading Survey

Book you were excited about and thought you were going to love, but didn’t: Grotesque, by Natsuo Kirino Most surprising (in a good way): A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan Book you recommended to people most: The Republican Brain, by Chris Mooney Favorite new author you discovered (and have now read more…

Heroes Aren’t Special—Their Support Systems Are

The hero without their support network never actually becomes a hero, so we don’t hear about them. It’s the support network—the guardians who personally mentor them, the friends who pick up their slack, the teachers who provide training and knowledge—that allows someone to become a hero. If a bunch of people started telling you you…

On the Process of Coming to Consciousness

This is a paper I wrote for a course called Writing for Social Change in 2019, then presented at the Utah Valley University Conference on Writing for Social Change in March 2020. It’s 6:00 in the morning and still dark outside. The tiny white chair I’m sitting in feels like I’m perching on a wood…

Certainty is Selfish

On a cerebral level, doubt is uncomfortable, it provokes anxiety. (Listening to the Sam Harris podcast episode “The Biology of Good and Evil.”) That’s why so many people refuse to entertain it. They would rather just believe what they believe, regardless of what effect that belief has on others. I wrote this in 2014: I…

The Portrayal of Emotion in Moulin Rouge

I watched Moulin Rouge the other night for the first time in several years, and I was really struck by the emotion of it. I’ve finally become aware of how much more intensely than other people I seem to feel things, especially compared to what’s usually portrayed in movies. People hold their dying lovers with…

Rethinking Howard Zinn

While reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power a couple years ago, I came across some information that required consideration. In the book Coates addresses some remarks made by Howard Zinn regarding the Civil War, which Coates had written about for The Atlantic. These are Zinn’s comments, made a few months before he…

On Glorifying Simplicity

It seems like there’s always someone making the argument that fewer choices are better, that too many options make people unhappy. Whether they’re talking about arranged marriages, too many TV channels, or the “simplicity” of life before the internet, what it sounds like to me is people wishing for a small life. As someone with…

Educated, by Tara Westover

Five stars, read in April 2019. There was a lot about this that was depressingly familiar to me. I grew up in the same religion as Tara, though her family believed in it much more literally than mine did. Relatedly, her childhood was more violent than mine was; my version of the story is mostly…

Ways of Seeing

The act of creating a story is foreign to me. I’m both awed and baffled by people who can just decide, out of their own brains, that this is what should happen in a story, this is what this character would do. I don’t know how to create a story. What I do know is how to see the story that…

Fictional Items I Wish I Could Have

Renly Baratheon’s crown, just because it is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Lucy’s cordial, from The Chronicles of Narnia, because health care is motherfucking expensive. The Pensieve from Dumbledore’s office, because the ability to store my own memories and experience them again would be absolutely priceless. Elven lembas bread. Because…

Moranifesto, by Caitlin Moran

Five stars, read in April 2018. It is possible that, as an American under the age of 40, I have been so deprived of sensible and ethical political discussion that what seems like earth-shattering brilliance to me is just common sense to the rest of you. But as I read this book, Caitlin Moran officially…

Intention

They taught us growing up that the world was intentional, that we used to have some problems as a society but fixed them, that this is all how it’s supposed to be. But that’s the problem, right there — starting from that perspective makes it nearly impossible to notice reality, and how blatantly, obviously unintentional…

Notes of a Crocodile, by Qiu Miaojin

Two stars, read in December 2017 Bewildering, to be honest. Interpersonal relationships are difficult to package in words, especially when nothing much happens, it’s all just conversations and body language and internal struggles. But this seemed deliberately opaque and kept me on the outside, unable to get a connection with any of the characters. Words…

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

Two stars. Read in February 2019. I don’t like Ove very much—the character or the book. Rather, I don’t understand the near-universal insistence that this type of character is loveable. Because Ove is definitely a type, and while there’s no such thing as an unloveable person, that is an entirely separate issue from our indefatigable…

Kingdom Animalia

Humans think of ourselves as so different from other animals, but think about the behaviors and traits we consider “cool” in men — they’re all the most animalistic ones. Think about the traits and behaviors that most distinguish us from animals — they are considered specifically uncool, often effeminate. What does that say about us,…

Why “you are loved” is meaningless and almost certainly unhelpful

It’s an abstract solution where a concrete one is needed. It asks the person in need of love, the person in pain from the lack of it, to just use their imagination and be comforted without the one “comforting” them having to invest any actual emotion. “You are loved” is noticeably not the same as…