Victor Lavalle tackles Stephen King’s latest in the New York Times

 

I’ve got two book reviews and a ballyhoo coming down the pipe, but this week has gotten off to a wildly busy start for me, so in lieu of an original post today I thought I’d share this lovely NYT review of Stephen King’s newest novel, The Outsider.

Victor Lavalle starts off recounting a personal experience familiar to most (if not all) writers:

The first time I wrote a short story I ripped off Stephen King.

(My first short story was a gender-swapped version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone titled “Salinda and the Ruby.” Good times.)

Lavalle goes on with more about the plot of The Outsider as well as some interesting thoughts on cultural appropriation–King has a patchy record in that regard in my opinion, but Lavalle seems to think he’s done a good job in this book.

(Related: If you haven’t read Nnedi Okorafor’s classic essay on King’s use of the “magical negro” trope, get thee to this hyperlink immediately.)

Then Lavalle drops in this gem:

More than 50 novels published, and [King is] still adding new influences to his work. I can think of a great many literary writers who are far lazier about their range of inspirations and interests.

What a zinger! I’m not a fan of horror, meaning most of King’s oeuvre isn’t in my wheelhouse, but his book On Writing is one of the best memoirs you could ever hope to read and I’ve always been inspired by King’s willingness to branch out as a writer (and lately, Twitter-er). Lavalle captured King’s charm perfectly here.

In short, this review is everything I’d like my book reviews to be someday: personal, open-minded, thoughtful, a bit funny. *gets inspired*

You can read the entire review here.

Some personal news

I technically graduated back in December, but today I got to celebrate my past 3.5 years of hard work towards my degree at my university’s commencement ceremony. It was special, to say the least!

I graduated with a B.A. in Public Health Sciences with Latin honors (magna cum laude) and membership in the Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Delta Pi honors societies.

By far the best part of college was everything I learned about myself along the way. I came all the way out of the closet, met and befriended the best people I could ever hope to meet and befriend, got engaged to my incredible-gorgeous-fantastic partner, Serena, and learned how to navigate two major disabilities–bipolar and endometriosis–that I was worried would ruin my life.

Words cannot express how grateful I am for the opportunities I’ve had. I’m living my best life as a full-time writer, which goes to show that childhood dreams can come true, and I can’t wait to see what blessings are just around the corner.

I’ll be back with the book-themed content you know and love on Monday, but I couldn’t help but share this good news today. ❤

Friday Bookbag, 5.18.18

FridayBookbag

Friday Bookbag is a weekly feature where I share a list of books I’ve borrowed, bought, or received during the week. It’s my chance to buzz about my excitement for books I might not get the chance to review.

This week I’ve got three short books in my bookbag that each carry a big, emotional, firecracker punch. Let’s dive in!


Straying by Molly McCloskey

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

9781501172465the premise: Alice, a young American woman, moves to Ireland in the late 1980s, settles down, marries an Irishman…and then embarks on an affair that shatters the life she’d carefully created for herself. Years later, grieving her mother’s death and recovering from years of working in war zones, Alice returns to Ireland and discovers that her marriage and the affair that ended it may not have been at all what they seemed.

why I’m excited: I’m a big fan of stories that hinge on an affair–there’s so much inherent tension in cheating that it’s no wonder it’s such a trope. Lately, I’ve also been seeking out books set in countries other than the United States. McCloskey is a renowned writer in her native Ireland and part of Straying‘s plot is the alienation and culture shock Alice experiences when she moves away from the United States. Both of these elements add up to a novel I’m really excited about.

9781936787845Cove by Cynan James

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

the premise: A man out kayaking at sea is struck by lightning in a sudden storm. He awakes with his memory gone, still adrift in a hostile sea. Relying on instincts and imagination, he sets out for home in an ultimate man-against-nature adventure.

why I’m excited: This is a tiny book: it’s made up of barely 92 pages of spare prose. That’s great for me, since I much prefer short books to long ones (Larissa Pham recently tweeted that “the novella might be the ideal form” and I relate), and I also love nature and survival stories. I’m terrified of open water, so the kayaking element promises to be especially thrilling for me.

9781250113429The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Daniel Mallory Ortberg

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

the premise: Ortberg transforms beloved fairy tales into eleven creepy short stories in this collection–“tales of everyday horror” seems to be the perfect subtitle.

why I’m excited: Two reasons: one, I love fairytales, and two, over the course of writing this book, Ortberg came out as a trans man, in part because of the way these stories challenged him to think about gender. (For more on that, you should read this excellent interview with Ortberg in The Cut. ) I would have been sold on this book regardless without that second part, but as a nonbinary person myself, I’m really excited to read a book by a fellow transgender person that pushes gender boundaries.


What’s in your bookbag this week? Do you have any exciting weekend reading plans? Let me know in the comments, and feel free to link to your own book reviews and blog posts!

Are you a reading perfectionist?

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Ah, the Goodreads reading challenge: it’s a New Year’s resolution that’s probably more keep-able than just “working out and eating healthy” (at least it’s tangible!), but for me, it’s also a source of major overcommitment and stress.

This year, I intended to read 100 books, which seemed pretty simple at the time. I’m a fast reader, and a little under two books a week seemed eminently doable. Right?

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Wrong. Between my busy life and my own perfectionism, I feel like I’ve had to fight for every single book I manage to read this year–not a good feeling, since ostensibly reading is supposed to be fun.

Where did I go wrong?

I can think of at least one clinical reason that’s outside my control: I’ve had obsessive-compulsive disorder since I was a kid, and it often causes this same kind of overcommit-and-crash-and-burn pattern. (My obsessions and compulsions relate to organization in ways that are less “helpful” and more “quagmire.”)

But I’ve heard a lot of other avid readers and book bloggers complain of this problem, too, so I don’t think it’s just me.

After all, there are so many new books and old favorites to enjoy, and never enough time–an essay by NPR’s Linda Holmes, titled “The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We’re Going to Miss Almost Everything,” gets to the heart of this. That’s one source of perfectionist tendencies.

But worse, when you’re a book blogger, you notice that there are always others who read more than you, who write reviews better than you, who publish more content than you, and are generally just “better” at being a reader/blogger than you. It creates this weird cycle of admiration and resentment, of “I could be like that if I just put my mind to it” and then despair when you can’t measure up.

This game of comparisons that I play with myself is tremendously unhealthy, unrealistic, and unfair, and I’ve noticed it spoiling my enjoyment of reading. It’s so frustrating that my oldest and favorite hobby is getting poisoned by something so pointless.

I started this blog as a way to get myself to read more and, by extension, also to write more. It began in my final semester of college (I graduated in December 2017), when I was feeling thoroughly burnt out on my coursework and uncertain about my life path–I was initially planning to go into the public health field before I switched to freelance writing.

Reading was my escape from that, and falling in love with reading all over again convinced me that I made 100% the right choice by striking out as a freelance writer. I already accomplished my initial goals for this blog–so I think it’s time to revisit them and make some newer, healthier ones.

I want to blog as a way to celebrate the books I love and process the books I don’t. I want to blog as a way to connect with other people who love books as much as I do. And in conjunction with that, it’s time to put my foot down and read for myself and not for other people. It’s time for me to stop putting my every reading choice and habit under the microscope in comparison to others.

I’m working on eradicating perfectionism from my life wherever I can, since the thing about perfectionism is it’s not about creating something “perfect” as it is about avoiding the nasty monologue of criticism that runs 24/7 in my brain. If I let that monologue get the best of me, it’s going to eat up everything I love and continue to make me miserable. Enough is enough.

Next year, I’m skipping the Goodreads reading  challenge. This year, I’m giving myself permission to ignore it (though I’ll continue to use Goodreads–you can friend me here.)

I’m tired of being a reading perfectionist–I’d much rather enjoy reading than be some arbitrary kind of “best” at it.


Are you a reading perfectionist? Have you overcome that perfectionism? (If so, how?!) I’d love to hear all about it in the comments!

Friday Bookbag, 5.11.18

FridayBookbag

Friday Bookbag is a weekly feature where I share a list of books I’ve borrowed, bought, or received during the week. It’s my chance to buzz about my excitement for books I might not get the chance to review.

This week I have three works of literary fiction that toy with gender, optimism, and expectations in my bookbag. Let’s dive in!


The Optimistic Decade by Heather Abel

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

9781616206307the premise: Set in the 1980s, The Optimistic Decade takes place at Llamalo, a “utopian summer camp.” As they learn camp survival skills through booms and busts, wars and protests, and dreams and mistakes, the novel’s five central characters push up against the limits of idealism and themselves.

why I’m excited: I love novels set in the recent past, and while there are plenty set in the ’50s-’70s, there are fewer about the ’80s. I think the title–particularly the “optimistic” part–says it all: so much of the ’80s feels both glamorous and naive in hindsight and I like that the premise of the novel (especially the back-to-the-land element) plays around with that.

A Lucky Man: Stories by Jamel Brinkley

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

9781555978051the premise: This short story collection contains nine stories set in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Each story probes at the ways the ways men make and interact with power, exploring facets of masculinity from elementary school through adulthood.

why I’m excited: I’m tired of the fact that the entire weight of “gender” fiction is placed on the shoulders of everyone who isn’t a man. That’s why I’m excited for this collection, which promises to not only be interesting from a writing and craft standpoint but also because Brinkley seems to be taking on masculinity from a man’s perspective. That shouldn’t feel fresh, but it does–and the buzz this book is receiving is more than enough to convince me to read it.

Eventide by Therese Bohman

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

9781590518939the premise: Karolina Andersson, a solitary art history professor in her forties, becomes entangled in a ferocious, erotic game that threatens to uproot her personal and professional lives. When she begins to advise a postgraduate student whose research could turn Swedish art history upside-down, Andersson finds herself reckoning with much more than academic consequences.

why I’m excited: This is a relatively slim book that promises to pack a big punch. I love translated works (Eventide is translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy) and this one tackles gendered double-standards, academia, and loneliness in a big, fascinating way. I can’t wait.


What’s in your bookbag this week? Do you have any exciting weekend reading plans? Let me know in the comments, and feel free to link to your own book reviews and blog posts!

Book Review: THE GOSPEL OF TREES by Apricot Irving

The Gospel of Trees is an ambitious memoir: it’s both a personal reckoning and a much bigger historical one; it’s a microcosm of one missionary family and also a macrocosm of the tangled legacy of missionary work around the globe. In it, Apricot Irving recounts her personal experience growing up as a missionary’s daughter in Haiti–Ayiti Cherie–while weaving in meticulous and nuanced research about the island’s brutal colonial history. It’s a little too long and its structure comes somewhat unglued by the end, but it’s still a top-notch memoir by a gifted writer that will reverberate with me for a long time.

You can read my full review below.


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The Gospel of Trees by Apricot Irving

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

  • publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • publication date: March 6, 2018
  • length: 384 pages
  • cover price: $26.00

When we don’t know what to make of a situation, we grope for a familiar pattern, a path worn into the grass. The danger, of course, is that by imposing our own expectations, we fail to see anything clearly. I am as guilty of this as anyone.

Stories, like archaeology, are fragmentary, composed of scraps and nuances, and–depending on what is left out–most narratives can be constructed so as to end in either glory or ruin. But the missionaries I had grown up with were neither marauders nor saints; Haiti was neither savage nor noble. The truth was far more complicated.

The Gospel of Trees, page 1

Publishing is full of books by white people who write about how they saved the “Third World” or how the “Third World” saved them. Luckily, The Gospel of Trees feels like a sort of antidote to this disrespect and tackiness: written by a white woman who was once a missionary’s daughter in Haiti, it somehow turns these tropes upside-down and inside-out, transforming them from cardboard cut-outs into something rich and new.

Apricot Irving is the daughter of white farmers who picked up everything and moved to northern Haiti as missionaries in the 1980s; Irving and her sisters went with them. At first the girls were enchanted by the beauty and opportunities of their corner of the island–especially the paradoxical and uncomfortable luxury they enjoyed as blan outsiders, a sharp contrast to their austere lives in the States–but paradise soon crumbles beneath their father’s single-minded desires and anger and their mother’s growing exhaustion.

Irving draws on a wide array of material to build the narrative: her own diaries, those of her parents, the ever-optimistic and fundraising-oriented missionary bulletins sent back to American churches, field research, historical documents, and personal letters; the facts never feel mushy or in doubt.

She is also impressively introspective throughout: she writes about some of her most unflattering thoughts and actions with a thoughtful openness I can’t even imagine possessing. It allows her to tackle enormous questions of race, wealth, religion, power, privilege, misogyny, and more without it coming across as yet another guilty white person looking for absolution. It’s clear that she’s either found absolution within herself or has given up on finding it, so there is–refreshingly–not a drop of neediness left on the page.

It’s all tremendously effective right up until the latter third, which sees Irving first leaving Haiti as a teenager and then returns again and again as an adult. The tight structure of the first two parts is replaced by a confusing coming-apart that muddies things; all the powerful contradictions and ironies from earlier pages seem to fizzle out as Irving doubles back and forth and back again.

But this is a top-notch memoir regardless of that slump. Irving is a stunningly talented writer; better yet, she’s a stunningly talented thinker, someone who seems capable of holding multitudes within her without flattening sharp edges in the process. (I wish I had that talent.)

The Gospel of Trees is neither bitter nor sweet; it’s not even merely bittersweet. It contains a whole and dazzling palette. It haunted me as I read it and it will continue to haunt me long after I’ve set it down. ★★★★☆


My copy of The Gospel of Trees came from my local library and I was in no way compensated for this review.

Ballyhoo #2: WHEN KATIE MET CASSIDY by Camille Perri

Ballyhoo

Ballyhoo: “an excited commotion” or a blog feature? Both, obviously!

Ballyhoo is an on-again, off-again feature where I chat about an upcoming release I’m particularly excited about. Today I’m featuring a romantic comedy that’s already getting a lot of buzz as exactly the kind of sweet and funny lesbian romance queer readers deserve, but have had trouble finding. Let’s dive in!


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When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Coming June 19th, 2018

From the acclaimed author of The Assistants comes another gutsy book about the importance of women taking the reins—except this time, when it comes to finding sexuality, pleasure, and love sometimes where you least expect it.

Katie Daniels is a perfection-seeking 28-year-old lawyer living the New York dream. She’s engaged to charming art curator Paul Michael, has successfully made her way up the ladder at a multinational law firm and has a hold on apartments in Soho and the West Village. Suffice it to say, she has come a long way from her Kentucky upbringing.

But the rug is swept from under Katie when she is suddenly dumped by her fiance, Paul Michael, leaving her devastated and completely lost. On a whim, she agrees to have a drink with Cassidy Price-a self-assured, sexually promiscuous woman she meets at work. The two form a newfound friendship, which soon brings into question everything Katie thought she knew about sex—and love.

When Katie Met Cassidy is a romantic comedy that explores how, as a culture, while we may have come a long way in terms of gender equality, a woman’s capacity for an entitlement to sexual pleasure still remain entirely taboo. This novel tackles the question: Why, when it comes to female sexuality, are so few women figuring out what they want and then going out and doing it?

The marketing copy might be clunky (“how, as a culture, while we may have come a long way…” is pretty mealy-mouthed), but a glowing review of this book published in Autostraddle last week already has me sold.

As I mentioned last week when I talked about The Wedding Date, I love romance–but I’m also a lesbian, and romance pickings that center lesbians and bi women are notoriously slim. That’s why I’m excited for this book, which promises to be genuinely sweet and swoonworthy as well as funny and full of social commentary.

Oh, and I especially love romance pairings where one person is more innocent and the other is more experienced. As long as it doesn’t cross the line into manipulation and creepiness (uh, looking at you, Fifty Shades), that dynamic always gives me butterflies in my stomach. I’m excited to see the queer twist that When Katie Met Cassidy will bring to the trope.

Have you got your eyes set on When Katie Met Cassidytoo? What’s your ballyhoo this week? Let me know all about it in the comments–I’m always looking to add to my TBR list!