Monthly Round-Up: January 2020

I know my blog’s been quiet this month, but I am reading. Promise. It’s just that I’m reading as part of my role as a judge for the Cybils Graphic Novels category, and I can’t post my thoughts until after the winners are announced.

Also: you know it’s been a month when I’ve read the most adult fiction of anything. Wild!

As for the other things I read this month:

Adult Fiction:

The Bear and the Nightingale
Qualityland
The Authenticity Project

Middle Grade:

A High Five for Glenn Burke
In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse

Young Adult:

Of Curses and Kisses

Non-Fiction:

The Witches Are Coming (audio book)

What was your favorite this month?

The Authenticity Project

by Clare Pooley
First sentence: “She had tried to return the book.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: February 4, 2020
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It will be in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

It starts with a green notebook, with the words “The Authenticity Project” on it, that gets passed from one person — a depressed former artist named Julian — to another — a stressed cafe owner named Monica. From there, we learn their stories, their fears, and as they form a friendship and pass the book to other anonymous people, a community of people. The plot is simple: everyone needs friends, but we don’t really know how to Truly make them anymore, and maybe being honest about our Truths will help.

I’m not making it sound all that exciting, but honestly? I loved this one. I was thoroughly charmed by the relationships and the community that grew because of this book, by the lives that were changed by friendship. And yes, there is a romance in it (which I kind of called from the beginning, but was still satisfied to see happen), but mostly it’s a relationship — all kinds of relationships! — book.

It’s sweet and charming and I loved every minute of reading it.

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse

by Joseph Marshall III
First sentence: “Jimmy McClean walked among the buffalo berry thickets along the Smoking Earth River.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some bullying and talk of war. It’s in the middle grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

Jimmy McClean is half white, half Lakota, which makes him a target at his school outside the Rosebud Sioux reservation, both from the white kids and from the other Lakota kids. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever fit in, with his blue eyes and brown hair. That is, until his Lakota grandfather takes Jimmy on a road trip through Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana following the footsteps of Crazy Horse — known in his younger years as Light Hair — and learning about the life of this great warrior and leader.

This is such a good story. First off, I enjoyed the grandparent-grandchild dynamic, and I appreciated the division between present day and the historical storytelling. It wasn’t a straight “this is what Crazy Horse did here” narrative, but rather weaving the stories of Crazy Horse’s life in such a way to help Jimmy with his present day problems. I also appreciated the Lakota perspective on Crazy Horse. It’s good to remember that history books just teach the White perspective, and it’s valuable to hear these stories from another side.

It’s short, and it’s a valuable story to have around, and not just for Native representation. It’s a good reminder that history has many sides.

QualityLand

by Marc-Uwe Kling
Translated by Jamie Lee Searle
First sentence: “So you’re off to QualityLand for the first time ever.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and some sexual content. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

In the future, our world has been automated to the point where we don’t have to think. Algorithms can pick your partner, determine your “level” in life (which determines your privileges and careers and your partner), personalize your literature and movies, and even send you stuff before you know you want it. QualityLand (which is the “bestest land”) has commodified absolutely everything. So when Peter — a Level 9 (anything under 10 is determined to be “Useless”) scrap machine operator (except he’s kind of bad at that, preferring to salvage the AI that he’s supposed to be scrapping — receives something he doesn’t want — a pink dolphin vibrator — from TheShop (think Amazon), he decides to return it.

This book is a LOT less about plot (there isn’t really much of one) and more an exploration of what life would be like if we took our current society (this was published in Germany in 2017) and pushed it to the extreme. It’s not an argument I haven’t heard before (living in the family I do, married to the person I am married to): while technology itself isn’t inherently bad, letting technology overtake our lives is (she says, while scrolling on Instagram). The people who are behind these corporations are NOT out for *our* collective good, they’re out for personal gain. They’re selling our data, they’re invading our lives, and we should be aware of what’s being taken from us.

That said, coming across as “fiction” makes it sound a whole lot less “grumpy old man conspiracy extremist” than in the essays and non-fiction books I’ve read (or heard Russell talk about). Maybe it won’t make me change my ways but there’s certainly a lot to talk about. It’s clever and weird and funny (at times). And it’s Kling is definitely one of the “prophets” out there screaming to the void (how many of the readers will buy it as an e-book from Amazon, and what’s the irony in that?) that maybe we need to remember our humanity. If only for the sake of our culture, if not ourselves.

A fascinating read.

Audio Book: The Witches are Coming

by Lindy West
Read by the author.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s swearing, including lots of f-bombs, plus frank talk about sex. It’s in the Sociology section of the bookstore.

This book of essays, written in past couple of years and spurred on by the election of Donald Trump, is not just a feminist skewering of the alt-right and those attacking progress in all its forms. It’s also a reminder — especially for me, as a white, middle class, educated woman — that there are causes worth fighting for, that all sides (at least on the national scale) are not equal, and that it’s okay to be outspoken on things you believe in (and, to be fair: believing in things is a Good Thing).

It’s a reminder that “political correctness” is really just respecting other people and their identities and boundaries. A call that fat people deserve respect too, especially in this thin- and diet-obsessed culture. And maybe West is a White Woman, but (I thought, but I’m no BIPOC) she made sure she was trying to be inclusive and reminding those of us who are White Women that there are people out there who are marginalized and disadvantaged. And that there are people suffering while we’re sitting in our nice suburban households.

No, she’s not kind to the alt-right (but should she be?) or to the men who have abused their power for their own personal profit. And that’s part of what I liked about this. It was unapologetic and brazen and I loved that. It’s not going to resonate with all readers, but I think West knows that but she’s not trying to be palatable to all readers. She has Beliefs and she stands by them, and I can respect that.

And West is a good reader as well. She was entertaining and one of those readers I’d happily listen to for a long time.

State of the TBR Pile: January 2020

Oh January. That cold, dark month which I loathe. At least I have books to read! I have two TBR piles this month. The first is ones I want to get to:

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia
In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall
The Girl with the Dragon Heart by Stephanie Burgis
Only Ashes Remain by Rebecca Schaeffer

The second is ones I have to get to, as part of being a Round 2 judge for the Cybils on the Graphic Novels panel.

I’m missing two, which my library doesn’t have. But other than that, it’s all of them. You can see the whole list over at the Cybils website.

I’ve got a month of good reading ahead. What are you reading?

A High Five for Glenn Burke

by Phil Bildner
First sentence: “Let’s do this, Silas,’ I say to myself.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: February 25, 2020
Content: There are some awkward moments. It will be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Sixth-grader Silas Wade has a loving family (though his parents work too much and his younger sisters are sometimes annoying), and a great best friend in Zoey. He loves playing baseball with his team, the Renegades, and and his coach, Coach Wade, is the best. But Silas has a problem: he has realized that he is gay, and doesn’t quite know how to tell everyone.

Enter a report on Glenn Burke: a real-life professional baseball player (and the inventor of the high five!) in the 1970s who was run out of the major leagues after he came out as gay. Learning about Burke gives Silas the courage to come out to Zoey and then to Coach Wade. It’s not all roses, however. There are ups and downs to this process as Silas figures out how to be his authentic self.

This is a really good book as well as being an Important One. I think there needs to be more sports-oriented books that have LGBT themes, partially because I think there still is a stigma about being LGBT and playing sports. (It’s probably less than it was, but it’s still there, I think.) It’s good to have a book — and one that is written so that kids can grasp what’s going on — that shows that an LGBT kid can play ball well and be gay. And not necessarily fit all the stereotypes that normally come with being gay. I also appreciated Silas’s growth arc; he starts out terrified that people will find out his secret, but as the book goes on, he becomes more and more comfortable with himself.

Bildner knows how to write for kids in a way that makes all of this make sense. And perhaps that’s the most important thing.