Black Buck

Now that this book has officially been published, I can finally post about Mateo Askaripour’s Uh-Maze-Ing novel Black Buck (this book is difficult for me to discuss without spoilers). If you haven’t read it yet, run to your nearest indie bookstore, because it’s better for your health and the environment and the local economy, and nab a copy. This post can wait.

Now that you have read it, can we share a mutual squeal of delight over this thought-provoking novel featuring a black salesman who achieves fame & fortune, delivers great advice, and is imprisoned because his white racist adversary teams up with the grandson of a man he treated unfairly, and the latter has decided karma needed some help?

There is so much about this book that I loved. But the best thing about it is that my brain continued mulling it over long after I was technically done reading. How I realized subtleties in Askaripour’s book that could easily be missed amidst the bravado and dramatism that a novel full of salespeople and realistic American sentiment contains. Some people may think this novel is satire – I think this novel is, unfortunately, all too believable.

#sofuckingood

The part that sticks with me is how employees at Sumwun are so upset about the Happy Campers, which essentially provides the same advantages to people of color as the Duchess received from her father’s connections. It was okay for her to breeze through training and new hiring, because she was white and rich and thin. But the Happy Campers, who receive a similar “leg up” are absolutely not okay, because they are generally not white and not rich, so they’re “stealing jobs” whereas it is fine for Duchess to pretty much yawn her way through work, where she probably doesn’t need training at all, since her father’s contacts will buy from her without need of a sales pitch anyway.

This novel is sharp – I could tell it was going to be a good read from the opening sentence:

The day that changed my life was like every other day before it, except that it changed my life.

Black Buck

The wit is sharp and smart:

My teeth are status quo and powerful, also known as white and straight…

Black Buck

I truly cannot think of a better book to help you experience the anger, the outrage, the unfairness, as you read the ultimate underdog, what-the-fuck-is-work-life-balance, mentoring-is-not-bullshit-even-though-it-did-land-me-in-jail, story. This book is fiction, but don’t misjudge – the experiences in here are, unfortunately, not that far off what many people-of-color face every day. And it would be nice to think that this book is just making blatant what is underlying the microaggressions that are often experienced. But the truth is, a large portion of the country is just outright aggressive, and people-of-color are often their targets. Read this book, if you are blissfully unaware of what it is like to be considered less than because of attributes you cannot help, with which you were born. Read this book to get legitimate, useful business advice. Read this book because it is well-written. But read this book – and recommend to the other people in your life who could benefit from empathy, or who want to feel understood, or who are looking for an intelligent, eloquent read.

The Cheerleaders is a Rollercoaster

So I read the Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas. This book was all over the place. [Fair warning: This post is full of spoilers.] It started off very strong. The opening two sentences are amazing:

This house was made for someone without a soul. So I guess it makes sense that my mother wanted it so badly.

Immediately set the tone. We have a strong, intelligent, very dramatic teenage protagonist. We discover quite quickly that Monica (which for some reason doesn’t sound like a real teenager’s name, in present day, to me) made some stupid decisions over the summer, got knocked up, and is physically reeling from the abortion she has instigated via pills.

So to take her mind off of her physical pain, she begins digging into the seemingly too-coincidental deaths of 5 cheerleaders that happened within a few months of each other 5 years ago. One of the rah-rahs was her sister. Oh, and maybe she made poor decisions over the summer to try to poke through the numb veneer that has covered her soul since her sister’s death. Or maybe she’s just a melodramatic fucking teenager who prefers to delve into a dark web of potential conspiracy rather than face the fact that her sister committed suicide.

Cheerleaders. Conspiracies. Convenient Deaths.

Sounds pretty good so far, right?

Of course, the problem with an unintentional roller coaster is that although you clink to a great height up, there are dips that can take you just as far down ahead.

First, there is the fact that Monica is not very good at using her intelligence. She breaks into her stepfather’s locked desk drawer, and only afterward is like, “Oh, wait! He’s going to realize it used to be locked and now it’s… not.” How was that not something she considered as she peeled apart paper clips? Also, there’s the fact that her stepfather is a police officer. I just think someone would generally know how to be sneakier if she had a police officer for a stepfather.

#ennui

Or there’s a whole section of the book where she makes a total leap in logic, assuming she knows who wrote certain notes and she knows what they mean, and I was rolling my eyes so hard, thinking I see this twist that is coming, Ms. Thomas. And then… it turns out Monica’s right. Which was even worse.

Then, there are the randomly disconcerting bits that seem like the book just didn’t have a very good editor. For example, on page 150, there is this little exchange:

‘That’s crap,’ she finally says.

It’s the first I’ve heard Ginny curse and it’s like a jolt to my brain, waking me up.

This section completely pulled me out of the story. Is there a high school student out there who considers “crap” cursing? Because, like… it’s not. We all know the curse equivalent is shit. And frankly, even that is not much of a curse-word. I would probably be more “jolted” to hear a high school girl using “excrement” instead of a curse-word. But “crap…?” Pretty lame. If you’re going to curse, fucking curse.

#letzbeereal #wordsofwisdom

Or there’s this nugget of idiocy near the end of the novel. I literally had to read it like 10 times, wondering if I was just blind or just completely misremembering. But Monica says:

I read it again to make sure I have it right. Ginny said her father left on October 18, a full three days before this report says he was last seen.

The “report” (which is actually an e-mail written by a reporter of a National Enquirer-ish paper) says:

Anyway, the motion to have Phil declared dead states that the last time his wife saw him was the morning of October 27.

October 18th is 9 days from October 27, not 3. I checked my math with Excel and everything. Maybe it used to be 3? Or used to be 9? And the length was changed for added drama or something but only in one spot? It’s such an odd, glaring error to not be caught, though.

The worst, though, is definitely the ending. It’s a confrontation scene, where Monica has finally figured out what the reader has known for about half of the damn book, and decides to get the killer soliloquizing. First, though, she is interrupted by her younger brother, and she gets through to the killer by saying, he’s “not a kid killer.” Except that the whole thing is that he killed a 15-year-old, because she wanted to be his girlfriend and not just a warm, young receptacle for his sperm. And he claims he didn’t mean to do it, but he still killed her, and her friend. So this guy who is “not a kid killer” has, in fact, killed two girls. And Monica later taunts him by calling him a pedophile – which is accurate, but also supports the idea that he’s a kid killer…

In short, excellent beginning, murky middle, terrible ending, and mediocre editing. I… do not recommend.

Book Review: Why She Wrote

As someone who considers herself a feminist and likes literature, I know embarrassingly little about famous female writers. So when Netgalley gave me the opportunity to read Why She Wrote: A Graphic History of the Lives, Inspiration, and Influence Behind the Pens of Classic Women Writers, I jumped at the chance. Slated to be released April 20, 2021, this very pink book is a light history of times in the lives of 18 women writers that the writers consider poignant:

This novel is a great introduction to the lives of women writers. If you have no idea where to start, this novel provides a glimpse into the lives of a diverse group of fiercely intelligent women who successfully published works in spite of difficulties, tragedies, and in the case of Emily Dickinson, disposition. Every woman mentioned in this book is amazing, and reading this made me curious to know more about these fascinating women.

The downside of this book, of course, is that while it does feature interesting women, by focusing primarily on one specific moment in their life, it can be frustrating if you actually want to be able to talk intelligently about the women, because there is so much that is not present. In addition, if you have even a glimmer of knowledge about these women, you will likely already know the information present in this book. I do not consider myself a scholar in the area of literary analysis, but I was well aware of pretty much everything in the volume concerning Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, and George Eliot.

However, as a brief overview, as well as inspiration for what can be achieved in spite of life’s difficulties (which we all face). As someone with personal literary aspirations, reading about what these women accomplished made me want to begin writing something of my own. Not that I think I am going to write the great American novel, but – I don’t really know what I am capable of if I don’t try.

I would recommend if you’re looking for a high-level glimpse into the lives of some famous female writers (seems like it could be a fun gift).

My Reading Year in 2020: Thanks, Goodreads, for Making this Easy

2020 is over, which means that I can finally reflect over the literature I consumed.

In 2020, I read 67 books and 22,486 pages, or an average of 335 pages per book.

The shortest book, which is actually just a short story that I listened to the audiobook for, is 67 pages. The longest book, Plain Bad Heroines , is 623 pages, which I didn’t realize, since I read an e-book ARC on my phone.

The most popular novel I read was Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, which we all know is amazing, so if you’ve been putting off reading it, stop doing that. Read it now. You never know what’s going to happen, but P&P is legitimately good literature that you will not regret consuming. The least popular was How to Write like Tolstoy, which is a shame, because I really, really enjoyed this book. It’s a book about writing, but I think you will enjoy it also if you are an avid reader with no writing pretensions. So I would also highly recommend this one if you’re in the mood for a book about the writing craft. Particularly if you are in the mood for a book about the writing craft, and you like celebrity gossip. Richard Cohen has worked with so many amazing writers, and this book has a mix of literary history and personal anecdotes that is highly entertaining while also containing decent literary analysis/writing advice.

I know this rating looks exorbitantly high, but I think that I just got lucky and read a lot of good novels during this year.

Not sure if you can tell from the picture, but the highest rated book I read in 2020 is the Wayside Stories audiobook, in which author Louis Sachar reads all 3 of his Wayside collections. If you haven’t read Wayside in awhile, you should check it out. It’s available on the Libby app, and Sachar’s writing is so good. I giggle every time I listen – silly noises that I cannot prevent from escaping from my person. Do I look deranged while driving on the highway and listening to this audiobook? Probably. Is it worth it? Fuck. Yes. Seriously – worth a listen; I highly, highly recommend.

First review of the year was The Plain janes. I have a blog post about this book, but honestly, my Goodreads review sums it up pretty succinctly.

Last review of the year was Murder in the Mystery Suite, which I couldn’t even finish.

That’s my year! Pretty good, reading-wise. Having said that, I am so, so glad that 2020 is over. Here’s hoping that 2021 isn’t quite as much of a shitshow.

How was your reading year? Do you want to be my friend on Goodreads? Please let me know something fun about your 2020 reading in the comments!