Still sneaking in some reading beyond what YA I review for TLT or need for research. I’m also reading chapter books like a mofo, now that I work at an elementary library. I tweet about them and did quick Post-it Note reviews of them on TLT, but didn’t include them here, since I’ve read SO MANY lately. I’ve also read a giant pile of picture books in the past few weeks.
Here is a picture of my nightstand. On top are the books I will read in the next two to three weeks. Below are my “just in case” books–books waiting to be read, but really there for whenever I need a backup supply in case I run out of library books (ha ha) or whatever. Next to my desk in my office is a shelf with 37 books waiting for me to review them. I work in a library. I visit my public library at least twice a week. It’s fine. I’m fine. This is all manageable. I don’t have a problem. I DON’T.
What books have you read and liked lately? Help me make my TBR piles even more out of control.
Thousand Star Hotel by Bao Phi
Good god was this good. Do yourself a favor and go get this. Support a Minnesota writer. Support a Minnesota publisher. Support good, smart, profound poetry. First generation Vietnamese-American Phi writes about racism, poverty, family, history, trauma, memory, masculinity, white supremacy, parenthood, and so much more. His powerful, fiercely political poems gave me chills. GET THIS.
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
This book feels like something different from Green. I like his writing—I like hyperverbal teenagers who are interested in oddball things and kind of hang out on the fringes of life. Here, I feel like he’s doing something different than his other books. To a large degree, his other books, which, again, I like, seem like the same stock characters over and over. But in this new one, Aza stands out as feeling multifaceted and raw in a way none of his previous characters feel. Her struggles with anxiety, with controlling her thoughts (or being controlled by her thoughts), with social stuff, with reality/rational thought, and with getting the right treatment make this story important. I thought I was going to be getting a kind of wacky mystery story, but the mystery at the heart of it hardly plays a role. Though a bit slow and not always as fleshed out as I would have liked, this compelling look at mental illness will certainly educate readers—many readers will, of course, see themselves in Aza, too. I’m pretty much guaranteed a good cry at some point in every Green book. Here, it came in the very last paragraph of his acknowledgements, where he thanks his mental health support team. “There is hope,” he writes, “even when your brain tells you there isn’t.”
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
It took me a while to get into this, and then also a while to read it. For me to spend a week on a book is pretty much unheard of. But I love Egan’s writing, and the story was compelling, so I pushed through. Set mostly around WW II and the decade before it, it follows the lives of Eddie, who finds relatively stable work in the world of bribery, corruption, and gangsters, and his daughter, Anna. At some point, Eddie disappears and the story mostly becomes Anna’s during WW II, where we find her working in a naval yard and about to become the first female civilian diver. There is far more going on in the plot than I can summarize here. Despite feeling like it was such a slow start, and like I mostly wanted to skim some later parts that were following someone other than Anna’s life, I really enjoyed this. I’m not much for historical fiction, but the unique premise grabbed my attention, and I knew Egan could make me care.
Bitch Planet, Volume 2: President Bitch by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro (Artist), Taki Soma (Artist)
Have you read any of the Bitch Planet comics? Because you really should. This second book collects issues 6-10. I LOVE this comic. LOVE. Like, so much love that I have a tattoo inspired by the comic. Bitch Planet is where non-compliant women are sent for failing to conform to gender role expectations and comply with the patriarchy. This second volume introduces inmates of another auxiliary compliance outpost—this one for trans women. We also meet President Bitch in this one. SO DAMN GOOD.
I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi
If you like your social/political commentary to be mixed with humor, than this book is for you. Rape culture, racism, social media, feminism, privilege, friendship and so much more is addressed in this smart book of essays. She views many of these things through the lens of being a Nigerian immigrant and a woman. If you’re looking for someone to judge everyone (or, to “mind everyone’s business” as Ajayi often writes) and offer solutions for how to do better, check this out.
So Sad Today: Personal Essays by Melissa Broder
This collection of essays is so deeply personal, so raw, so confessional, that there were parts I just had to skim over because they made me so uncomfortable. That’s some pretty impressive honesty, if I can’t look straight at it. Broder writes about eating disorders, abortions, sex, polyamory, mental health, social media, and so much more. As you might expect, it was her essays on mental illness that resonated the most with me. How could they not, with titles like “Honk if there’s a committee in your head trying to kill you” and “Under the anxiety is sadness but who would go under there.” A good read if you can stomach the brutally honest approach to things most people never say out loud.
First Avenue: Minnesota’s Mainroom by Chris Riemenschneider
This indispensable look at First Ave’s long and complicated history is AMAZING. The pictures: amazing. The artifacts, like flyers for shows: amazing. The stories: amazing. The bands: AMAZING. I devoured all of this, but particularly enjoyable to me was the 90s section, where I could relive the many great shows I saw there as a teen and in college. Phenomenal book.