“A Monster Calls” illustration by Jim Kay.
We tend to think of grief and mourning as maladies of the mind, but the loss can grow and expand until it feels like more like a presence than an absence. In the poem “Death Barged In,” Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno describes her pain as a mysterious figure in a Russian greatcoat who barges in, slams the door, and now makes all her decisions for her:
Even as I sit here,
he stands behind me
colossal hands on my shoulders
and bends down
and whispers to my neck,
From now on,
you write about me.
I read A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Last Night I Sang To The Monster by Benjamin Alire Sáenz back to back on a whim, only to find out that they have much more in common than just the word ‘monster’ in the title. Both are by incredibly talented young adult authors, both are about troubled families, and in both books, the loss these protagonists so desperately refuse to acknowledge takes on the physical form of a monster, looming over them.
I felt bad buying this book.
I felt bad reading it.
And now I feel bad writing about it.
I have avoided Go Set a Watchman as long as I possibly could; every time I saw it in a bookstore, I frowned and looked the other way. I didn’t want to be a part of it. In the end, I did give in. “You’re a literature blogger,” I told myself, “you can’t not talk about this book. You have a responsibility, this is one of things will you have to write about eventually.” So I took a deep breath and bit the bullet. I carried Go Set a Watchman around with me for a week, and every time I took it out, one of my friends or colleagues would point at the cover and say: “I’m so curious! Is it any good?” I have avoided giving a definite answer. “I don’t know yet, I’m only on page six.” “Too soon to say, I’m only halfway through.” Now that I’ve finished it, I can’t get away with this anymore; I have to have an opinion.
My opinion is that this book makes me sad – for so many reasons.
“An Education” (2009) still.
“Sylvia Plath – interesting poetess whose tragic suicide was misinterpreted as romantic by the college girl mentality.”
Annie Hall (1977)
That quote is the perfect illustration of why it can be difficult to say that you love Sylvia Plath, especially for young women; her name and the title of her novel have become synonymous with a whole set of implications neither Plath nor the reader ever asked for.
Picture Credit: Unicorn Parade Shop @ Etsy.
If you’re looking to smash the patriarchy and read some fantastic poetry at the same time, I have got some great reading recommendations for you.
Picture Credit: Der Irische Berliner.
Dave Eggers and I go way back. It all started when one of my friends got me A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius for my twentieth birthday – I fell in love instantly. In a very short period of time, I bought You Shall Know Our Velocity, How We Are Hungry, The Wild Things, and even hunted down a secondhand edition of Short Short Stories in a desperate attempt to keep my Eggers momentum going for as long as possible. The only book that was left for me to read was What Is The What, just one more… But I couldn’t bring myself to read it. If I finished that novel, there would be no more Eggers for me to read, and I couldn’t bear the thought of it. For some reason, seeing that book in stores, knowing that it was right there, waiting for me, was comforting. There was still one left.
As years went on, Eggers kept writing and publishing books, but I still couldn’t bring myself to read his new work. At university, I had spread my wings as a reader and I was afraid that I had built him up too much in my head, that I wouldn’t be nearly as impressed now as when I was younger. Would the thrill be gone?
Picture credit: Terri Wilhelm.
“Brilliant. Guaranteed to join The Secret History and The Virgin Suicides as one of those rare books to become a cult hit and instant classics.” (Sunday Telegraph)
With a blurb like that, this book could really only disappoint.
You see, The Virgin Suicides and The Secret History are two of my all-time favourite books. They tell the story of outsiders trying to connect with a mysterious group of classmates/fellow students, and in both cases it ends in death and the realisation that they never really knew these people at all, no matter how badly they wanted to. These stories are about desire and obsession, distorted perceptions, seeing what you want to see, and realising that you will never be part of the inner sanctum – you will never know. The narrators try find a way in, dream of the day they will be part of it all, but remain on the outside. However, where Donna Tartt and Jeffrey Eugenides enchant and draw the reader into the mystery, Marisha Pessl beats us over the head with a copy of Ulysses while shouting: “AREN’T THESE CHARACTERS INTELLECTUAL AND QUIRKY?”
I think I finally understand the true meaning of the phrase “one step forward, two steps back.”
Don’t get me wrong: this is not a bad book – even worse, it is disappointing. Stiefvater showed me in The Dream Thieves that she can create something exciting and thoughtful, but where this previous installment in the Raven Cycle series was focused and coherent, Blue Lily, Lily Blue is all over the place and flies right past a few crucial loose ends without looking back. The two-star rating is harsh, but it comes from a place of love, because I know that this could have been so much more.
It seems that Maggie Stiefvater has heard the prayers from my last Raven Cycle book review (two years after this book was first published whatever shut up), because The Dream Thieves fixes many of the flaws of the first installment and turns to where the focus of the story should be. Sure, Blue’s name is still Blue, and sure, the love triangle has turned into a love pentagon I’m sure fanfiction writers are having an absolute ball with. …And I don’t mind. Not one bit. That’s how entertaining this book is.
First things first: every time I read the name “Owen Glendower,” this Horrible Histories song popped into my head. This is not a bad thing.
Now, full disclosure: I did not expect to like The Raven Boys, especially not after reading the first couple of pages. The main character is a girl called Blue (because of course) who was raised by a family of witches and has to live with the knowledge that, if she ever kisses her true love, he will die. She is just another girl, but also Super Special, has a slightly eccentric fashion sense, and her milkshake brings all the boys to the yard. Basically, Stiefvater has taken every single supernatural YA cliché she could think of and put them in a blender to create her protagonist.
Celebrity memoirs are a curious thing. They are usually written by people who are not writers, heavily edited by the publisher (again: not writers), and tend to be strictly paint-by-numbers works. There is a certain formula the public expects you to follow and all you have to do is fill in the blanks.
My childhood was _____ because my parents were _____. I grew up in _____ but always longed for something more. I discovered my passion for _____ when I was _____. I got my big break when I was ____ and now I am best known for ____. Working with ____ was absolutely amazing and I totally fangirled when I bumped into ____ at the ____ awards. So embarrassing! Anyway, here are some pictures of me as a kid. Look at that hair. What is up with that hair?
In many ways, Yes Please follows this script to the letter. Poehler writes about dreaming of adventure as a child, discovering the joys of improv comedy in college, working on SNL and Parks and Recreation, and drops a fair number of names that either mean something to you or go completely over your head, as expected. However, where this book gets interesting is the chapters where she goes off the beaten path. Whether you will enjoy this work depends on how you feel about Poehler, of course, but also on your expectations of the comedy memoir.