I got a Kobo for Christmas. It narrowly beat out the compartment pill box that appeared in my stocking as favourite gift.
I said goodbye to my family at the airport, lugging cat in my handy over-the-shoulder bag (see below) and backpack through security. At the gate, I maneuvered my stuff so that Kobo was ready to go, and cat was packed into her carrier.
Yet when I moved towards the line-up and discovered the plane was delayed, I decided to read. And discovered the Kobo was gone. I ran back through the airport, searching for now-absent white-hat volunteers who previously couldn’t get enough of my kitty, calling lost and found, and texting my parents: “Is my Kobo in the backseat of the car?”
No luck. It must have been stolen off my seat at the gate. I had to turn on my overhead light and read magazines on the flight instead.
The next day, a joint family effort produced coupons and gift cards that could replace stolen Kobo, but I waited in case lost and found turned something up. And I unpacked. Lo and behold, as I pulled the blanket out of Pumpkin’s carrier, there was the Kobo. It had fallen down the side, and despite the multiple times I’d checked the carrier while she lobbed hopeful is-it-time-to-get-out? meows at me, I hadn’t found it.
This is my admission: I’m a dork. Crazy cat lady who despairs at stealing humanity while Kobo lurks in the pet carrier.
And resultantly, this is my new blog: book reviews. Why write about real life, or real people, when I could just write about books?
Being the last day of 2018, I decided I’d begin with my year in review, which this time will include a list of my top albums, and from here on, I’ll be reviewing books I consider worthy of time and effort.
My new year’s resolution of 2018 was to read all the books people have loaned or recommended to me. Erm, that didn’t quite happen, given my tendency to be book fickle and easily distracted. On this original list, among others, were Wolf Hall, Infinite Jest, The Glass Castle, Cockroach, and At the Existentialist Cafe. I’m still working on all of them. The recommended ones who topped my list this year, though, are:
None. I didn’t even finish one of them.
So, now that my 2019 resolution is established, on to a few notable titles of the year.
5. How to be Famous, Caitlin Moran
How to be Famous is Moran’s sequel to How to Build a Girl, a tale of a teenage music critic in early 1990s England. That first book is nakedly autobiographical, but also fantastical, and highlights the ways women had to overcome the industry’s rampant sexism to establish themselves as viable listeners and critics. Moran’s humour tempers the desperation felt by her main character in relation to her physical appearance and weight, as does the invention of an alter ego who writes scathing reviews of overeager, largely male, indie rock bands. The story continues in HTBF, with Johanna living in London as a well-respected writer, taking on the misogyny of her chosen field with vigour. At times, Moran’s political agenda is a little too obvious, but it doesn’t really matter: this book consequently doubles as a how-to for women starting out in the industry. And the end is a great dream for how romance should be, for men and women.
4. Draft No. 4, John McPhee
I didn’t think this would happen at the time, but the advice in this book lingers on and on if you’re any sort of writer, especially nonfiction. McPhee draws on his decades-long career as a feature writer to set up various process debacles, and solves them with roundabout, but solid, logic. Examples are fascinating, and in particular the chapters on form and context are worth any writer’s attention.
3. My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Otessa Moshfegh
This book is owed a separate post, so for now I’ll just say any woman who is sick and tired of dealing with the expectations the world places on her should read this. It’s a wacko fantasy about an unlikable character.
2. Friday Black, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
I’m not alone in citing this as a best book of 2018. When I heard Adjei-Brenyah on the New York Times Book Review podcast, I immediately put a hold on the book at the library. Part George Saunders, part Afro-futurist, part Wesley Morris, part Black Mirror, this collection is a veiled critique of late capitalism and its concomitant irrationality and racism. The first story, horrific and violent, will get your attention; it, like Black Mirror, is not all that difficult to imagine in the near future.
1. Tenth of December, George Saunders
This book, not written this year, but read by me this year, spun me into a deep Saunders obsession, which entailed late nights falling asleep to all the YouTube interviews with him. In particular, I love the ones where he engages with other smart people like Stephen Colbert and Jason Isbell. He set the template for the short story that many authors are using now. If you don’t know him, get on it.
For this, I looked to my most-played songs on Spotify, and realized they largely concur with my favourite albums this year.
5. “Life in Pink,” Kate Nash
I don’t know much about Nash yet, but I quite enjoy her attitude on this song, and its album, Yesterday was Forever. She seems like a weirdo.
4. “Hopefulessness,” Courtney Barnett
This is the first track on Barnett’s album Tell Me How You Really Feel. I don’t know if it’s actually my favourite, but of course I started the album so many times, it’s registered as my most played. It’s a bold choice, as noted in discussions I’ve had on the album, to start with such a downer song and assume people will keep listening, but that’s in line with Barnett’s I-don’t-give-a-shit persona, a nice change from the pretty optimism so long expected of female singer-songwriters. I very much enjoy her willingness to be totally fine with her perceived failures.
Check out “Nameless, Faceless” for a nice take on Margaret Atwood’s “Men are afraid women will laugh at them, women are afraid men will kill them” line.
3. “Dick Pics,” War on Women
For all the ladies sick of being quiet, this is the album for you. You may enjoy the lyrics (but they’re strong; the group is known for their “Say it, say it, I was raped!” lyrics on 2015’s self-titled album). I like “Dick Pics” for the reason I like any metal or hardcore: its shifting tempos and metres, angular riffs, and changing textures, alongside of course the general fury in their performance.
2. “Sleep all Summer,” Neko Case
Case rarely does covers, especially on recent albums, but this version of the tune by St. Vincent and The National is arguably way better. Here, she’s paired with Eric Bachmann. Lyrics like “We take our empty hearts and fill them up with broken things/To hang on humming wire like cheap lamps down a dead-end street” and “Gave the ocean what I took from you/So one day you can find it in the sand” are made more wrenching in the hands of these two voices. (Who knew voices had hands?) Overall, this too is an album of rage, though not as much as her previous The Worse Things Get... Tracks like “Winnie” and “Curse of the I-5 Corridor,” which contains the best line in musical history: “I left home and faked my ID/I fucked every man that I wanted to be” are perfect for the middle-aged lady crowd wondering what happened, and what to do next.
1. “Pynk,” Janelle Monae
If you haven’t listened to Dirty Computer yet, you’ve got one last day of 2018 to get on board with the best album of the year. And especially “Pynk,” an unapologetic celebration of the vagina, that’s also an excellent dance tune.