You’re Either an Ally, or You’re Complicit in the Problem: An Open Letter to My White Peers

I’m fucking tired, y’all.

I’m tired of seeing yet another story of a black person being murdered in the streets. Do you know how many times it’s happened in recent years? All the places it’s occurred? How many times actual justice was served among all of those instances? What absurd justification their murderer gave for killing them? How each of them were killed? What each of their names are? I don’t know the answers to any of those questions off the top of my head. I don’t think I could live with having to consciously know the answers to all of those questions. I’ll be the first one to admit that I am enormously privileged to not carry the burden and the fear surrounding knowing the answers to those questions. Not everyone in this country can say the same.

What I do know is the sickening feeling that I get in the pit of my stomach every time that I see it has happened again. Are the media going to make the victim into the bad guy again? Create a smear campaign against a dead person who cannot defend themselves again? Is our justice system going to turn its back on our black community again? I imagine how I would feel if that was my brother. My dad. My best friend. Someone I love. Someone I was thinking about a birthday present for. Someone I was planning to send a meme to. Someone I know I should have called just to catch up with recently but I didn’t because you know how life gets. Someone that didn’t deserve to be denied their basic human rights, their Constitutional rights, and simple respect and dignity. Someone.

Someone who took their final breaths, absolutely terrified for their fate in someone else’s hands. Someone who took their final breaths probably wishing they could have said something to someone they love just one last time. Someone who did not deserve to be murdered in cold blood. This could have been me. It could have been you. But it’s rarely us. Because we’re not black. I cannot speak for the victims. I cannot speak for black America. I don’t want to. But I can believe their experiences. I can respect them as human beings. I can stand beside them and fight with them for the equality and equity that they have always deserved, and always been denied by this country. I can hold space to let them speak for themselves. But it is up to us — the people who have allowed this systemic racism to continue — to dismantle it.

I’m tired of seeing our black friends and neighbors murdered in the streets. But do you know what else I’m tired of? I’m also tired of my fellow white people participating in and promulgating this problem. I’m tired of us sitting in our ivory towers of privilege, looking down our noses at people and playing judge, jury, and executioner like we have any right to do so. I’m tired of us — consciously or not — contributing to a system that benefits us on the backs of our black friends and neighbors. I don’t care that we did not personally build this system. We perpetuate it and benefit from it at the expense of black America. We can put a stop to it. And we should.

Enough of the white saviors. Enough of the revisionist history where we are somehow the glorious heroes as opposed to the genocidal monsters and horrific oppressors and abusers. Stop pretending that this problem is not built into the very foundation of this country, where our black friends and neighbors have been treated as sub-human from the very beginning and very little has changed since then. Your squeaky white upbringing was full of privileges where Thanksgiving was about sharing corn and turkey and slavery was a not-nice thing. It conveniently skipped the true horrors of genocide. It conveniently glossed over the rape, the lynchings, the commodification of human beings. We as white people were raised to look past so much ugly, awful history that we repainted and sold as glorious and victorious. Worse still, we inexplicably defend that history and many of its worst villains while denying the myriad ways in which it actively harms our black friends and neighbors.

A lot of what I’m going to write here is likely to make you uncomfortable if you have not made any real effort to not actively contribute to this systemic oppression. Instead of getting upset or offended or dismissing what I’m writing here, ask yourself some hard questions. Ask WHY you feel those things. Ask yourself how you think people who don’t look like you feel, and why they might feel that way. Try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who looks very different than you do. Remember that your experiences are not everyone’s experiences, and that no one’s experiences are more or less valid than yours are.

I know they say you catch a lot more flies with honey than with vinegar, but the time for honey has long since passed, and there is nothing sweet about the problem we have at hand. So let’s make a couple things explicitly clear right now, including some very hard to swallow pills and some reality checks:

  1. Saying “all lives matter” is the equivalent of telling someone with terminal cancer that their suffering does not matter or deserve your empathy because other people are also suffering from other problems. It is saying to a bunch of people with brain cancer that ALL types of cancer are bad, as if that isn’t entirely fucking obvious. When someone brings a problem to your attention, the proper response is not to say “well what about these other problems?” It’s to focus on the problem at hand, and address it. If you say “all lives matter,” all we hear is that you’re tone deaf, actually fucking stupid, or blatantly racist and fine with it. To be clear, none of those are anything to be proud of. Do better.
  2. This is about black people and the systemic oppression that they have endured in this country since the first slave was brought here. This is about the oppression, abuse, objectification, commidification, and downright murder that white people have subjected black people to. Stop trying to make this about literally anything else. Even if you bring up protesting leading to rioting, looting, property destruction… you need to acknowledge that none of that would be happening if black people were not being murdered in the streets in the first place. You are responding to a symptom of a much bigger problem. If you went to a doctor with a fever, would you want them to just give you ibuprofen to address the fever, or find out what was actually wrong that caused the fever in the first place? The fever is a symptom. It is not the problem. You need to treat the problem. This is no different. Do not be distracted by symptoms, pay attention to and address the cause: BLACK PEOPLE ARE BEING MURDERED IN THE STREETS.
  3. We as white people have privilege. Your refusal to see it or acknowledge it does not diminish it or make that truth not so. You are privileged in your ability to walk freely on the streets of this country without fear that you might be accused of (or, as we have too often seen, killed for suspicion of) a crime. You are privileged in your ability to be given the benefit of the doubt in most (if not all) situations. You are privileged in how you are not automatically considered suspicious or problematic anywhere you go. Your privileges are vast. Even if you grew up poor and/or in a bad area, you have privileges. Even if you’ve had negative experiences with law enforcement officers (LEOs), you have privileges. Your privilege is directly attached to your ethnicity as a white person (and if you’re a white male you have the most privilege of all, because white men have historically — and still today — hold the majority of wealth and power, even though they are not the majority of the population). We will never truly understand what our black friends and neighbors go through in their lifetimes, but we can try to empathize and change our thoughts, words, and actions accordingly. We can believe them when they share their experiences with us. Simply dismissing your privilege as “non-existent” says that you’re unwilling to learn or grow, and thus are completely complicit in the suffering of our fellow countrymen. It is selfish and it is emotionally, intellectually, and morally weak. And if being told you have privilege upsets you or makes you immediately bristle and deny it, I implore you to ask yourself why. Just because you don’t understand your privileges or how vast they are does not mean you do not have them. I STRONGLY encourage you to do the emotional labor to learn more about your privilege and to stop dismissing it as “absurd” or “untrue” without even considering the possibility that you’re dead fucking wrong. The Internet is free, and you can very, very easily research this topic for yourself if you’re not afraid of the truth. Honestly, what are you afraid of losing? Because black people are losing their lives.
  4. We as white people have unconscious biases (so does everyone else, but we’re talking about ours right now). The University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) defines unconscious bias as “social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.” So whether you assume all Asian people are intelligent, all Hispanic people can dance, or that all Black people are naturally athletic (or anything else you automatically assume about a group of people, whether that assumption is favorable or not), is an unconscious bias. To be clear, these biases are not limited to ethnicity, but as that’s the topic of this letter, those are the examples I chose to use common tropes from. As white Americans, we have a lot of unconscious biases around our black neighbors. Maybe you were taught that they all wanted something for nothing. Maybe you believe that they’re inherently violent or angry. Maybe you think they all love certain foods. These are biases, and you have them — we have them — and likely don’t even realize it. “Not realizing it” doesn’t mean that we should not work to discover those biases and dismantle them. Like stereotypes, they are not beneficial to us or to our society. An example of how we display unconscious biases regarding our black peers when something like this happens (a black person is murdered in the streets): we begin showing photos in the media of them where they look intimidating (think Trayvon Martin, who was murdered, and you see a photo of him in a hoodie “looking mean,” meanwhile the Brock Turner’s of the world commit violent crimes and you see their graduation photos in the news while they’re on trial for rape). How we talk about people stems from how we think about people. So even if you do not realize it, your unconscious biases shape how you portray and perceive people, and also how you treat them. 
  5. Punching down: don’t do it. Many of you may not be familiar with this term. Punching down is anyone from a higher rank/status/position/power using their position to attack someone at a lower rank/status/position who has less power. This ties back into our privilege. It’s not cool for us as white people to make degrading comments to or about those with less privilege than us, nor to engage them for the purpose of doing the same. Think of the phrase “pick on someone your own size.” But change “size” to “social standing” and keep those unconscious biases and your privilege in mind. How this may appear in the current social arena is when protestors (regardless of what they are or are not doing) are called racially-fueled names like “thugs.” Did you call the white people protesting with firearms that they couldn’t get haircuts during a global pandemic “thugs”? (And don’t even say “well they weren’t looting and starting fires” — because they also didn’t just witness yet another person who looked just like them murdered in the street for the umpteenth time.)
  6. Gatekeeping: don’t do this, either. Again, this may be a phrase you’re unfamiliar with. So let’s unpack it. Gatekeeping is when you try to set boundaries and parameters around a group of people for how that group should act; this is done in order to limit their access to something. In the case of black oppression, white people saying things like “looting is wrong” or “why are you being so angry and aggressive about this” are gatekeeping. It’s really easy to sit in your ivory tower, where you live in no fear for your life from law enforcement for simply existing, and judge the behavior of people who do not look like you. Perhaps if someone you loved was murdered for no reason, denied their constitutional rights (while white terrorists like Dylan Roof are taken into custody safely and alive), and no justice was served, you’d be pretty fucking enraged, too. Perhaps if it happened over and over and over again, in a country where, in your lifetime or your parents’ or grandparents’ lifetimes, it was perfectly legal to deny black people basic human rights. In fact, lynching wasn’t even a federal crime until 2018. Read that again. Don’t believe me? Look it up. Point being, don’t tell people with less social standing than you have as a white person how to feel or how to act when this shit keeps happening to members of their ethnic group (particularly when it’s so often at the hands of someone from OUR ethnic group).
  7. Microaggressions. Another thing that’s so very real and you may not even realize that you are doing it. Have you ever said (or heard someone else say), “you’re really smart for a black woman!” or “you might be the calmest black guy I’ve ever met.” It gets better: you don’t even have to VERBALIZE your microaggressions for them to be just that. Ever crossed the street because you saw a black man coming? Ever watched your purse a little closer in the grocery store aisle because a black woman was in the aisle with you? These are microaggressions (that are often based in your unconscious biases). When you think or say or act on something that is based in a negative bias you have towards someone from that group, it’s a microaggression. You may have even meant to compliment them; but you’re not really complimenting someone that you call “smart” when you qualify that statement by implying that OTHER people in that group aren’t smart.
  8. “Whataboutisms.” I don’t care which ones you bring up — abortion, LEOs hurt/killed in the line of duty, rioting/looting/property damage, X-on-X ethnicity crime, or any other completely unrelated topic… stop it. Stop your fucking bullshit straw-man nonsense. If you are making excuses for someone’s murder by saying “well what about these things that I consider murder” then you’re an asshole (and, depending on the topic, possibly also a hypocrite). This is the same as the cancer example from earlier. Your “what about” logical fallacy bullshit does not belong in this very real discussion about this very real problem. We aren’t saying those other things are not things (though some of them really fucking aren’t), we are saying “we’re talking about Y problem, so you can help us solve Y problem, or you can keep contributing to Y problem, but you cannot do both.” PLEASE, choose to be part of the solution. We would love your help and support. I think you’ll find it really does not cost you anything.
  9. Reverse racism DOES. NOT. EXIST. Racism is systemic oppression by the majority group in power of a minority group. To be clear, white people HAVE ALWAYS had the majority power in this country since its inception, and therefore cannot experience racism. In the United States, you can be prejudiced against white people, but you cannot be racist towards them. So please leave this bullshit at the door. No one wants to hear it ever again. It is not a thing.

For everything else in this list, I’m not blaming you for having these things (privileges, biases, et cetera) or participating in these phenomena. I’m also not saying they don’t apply to me, because they do. As is everyone else, I am a work in progress. But acknowledging reality and making a conscious effort not to speak over or down to minorities, or make assumptions about their behaviors or actions is important. We all need to play a role in that. And that’s why I say that you’re either working to be (or actively being) an ally, or you’re complicit in systemic racism. I’m saying “hey, this is an issue, these are contributing factors to this issue, and WE ALL need to make a conscious choice and effort to be aware of these things and try to stop promulgating them and participating in them.”

We as the white community have for centuries been complicit in the pain and suffering that we (and those white people who came before us in this country) have caused the black community. Stop taking that as “oh, so I’m just as bad as a slave owner then?” For the love of all that is good in this world STOP MAKING THIS ABOUT YOU. Everything isn’t about you. Stop acting like being asked to treat other people with dignity, respect, fairness, and equity is somehow a burden on you. Because imagine how it feels being treated as “less than” for your entire fucking life. Imagine how it feels to live in fear that you might not come home tonight because you got murdered for simply existing. Equality and equity are not pie. Being asked to treat other people how you have always been treated by our society does not take something away from you. 

Does it make you uncomfortable or angry to hear that? Does it make you feel like people are implying you personally did something to black people? If so, I implore you to imagine how it feels being murdered in the streets because someone thinks you broke a law. No Miranda rights, no Constitutional rights, no fair trial. Just executed in the street like it’s the fucking wild west. Your name and reputation will probably be ruined posthumously because you are no longer alive to share your side of the story. THAT is what should make you uncomfortable.

Imagine seeing the same atrocity happen over and over and over again — costing people their lives — and absolutely nothing is done to stop it or change it. How would that make you feel? Would you wonder if you might be next? Is someone you love? Why is there no justice? Why are other people not standing up and taking action against it? How can we prevent this from happening again? It reminds me of Martin Niemoller’s poem, “First they came…” — which, if you have not read, you absolutely should.

It is so fucking easy for us as White people to judge the actions of the black community. It’s so easy for us to ignore how WE wrote history and ignored the atrocities we committed against others and acted like there would be no repercussions or consequences to those actions, and as soon as “equal rights’ became a thing suddenly everything was fair and square. That’s not only ignorant — that’s willfully ignorant. That’s working HARD to ignore reality. Perception may be reality to those who perceive it, but you have to be actively trying to have no empathy or compassion if you don’t care about the horrors we have committed against our black friends and neighbors. You are resting so easily on the backs of those who built this country. You’re not being asked to give something up. You’re being asked to acknowledge gross inequality and inequity and injustice, and you have the audacity to sit there and take it personally? To feel attacked? THAT is your privilege in action. Because if you really were paying attention and gave a fuck about what is going on, YOU WOULD BE OUTRAGED WITH THEM.

What our black peers are going through looks like what psychologists would identify as grief. And damn, do I understand, if only from my limited perspective. I know if I saw people who looked like me being murdered — and frequently — I would be angry and depressed and feel lost at what to do to stop it, also. I know if it was MY loved one who was murdered and justice wasn’t served, I’d want to burn down an entire damn city on my own. So why do we act like protestors are “proving we were right” (about the stereotypes WE assigned to them), as though any protests happening in the first place are not the direct result of centuries of systemic oppression, abuse, objectification, commodification, and murder? You might as well cage a lion, hop in the cage and provoke it, and then go “See! I told you it was a vicious killer!” when it tries to defend itself against your provocations. That lion is only reacting to your provoking it. Any animal — including humans — is likely to do the same, and rightly so. Stop provoking black people and then acting like you were right all along that “they’re the problem.” That’s called a self-fulfilling prophecy, and it’s not a good look.

We need to understand that our black friends and neighbors are not responsible for sharing their experiences with us or proving their suffering to us. We cannot ask one member of a group to speak on behalf of that entire group. However, if someone from this group (or another minority group) chooses to share their experiences with you, the very least you can do is listen. Actually and truly listen. Not speak over them, not dismiss them. Just listen. Those things relate to our privilege as white people. Because we are generally believed when we share our experiences. We don’t have to speak for all of us — because we’re not the “token” friend. And we are listened to when we speak instead of being spoken over or down to. It is time that we use our platform to ask our fellow white people to also pause and listen. It’s time that we — the people who created this problem in the first place — take accountability for it and actively work to put an end to it.

The Internet is filled with a wealth of knowledge and resources that document the history of the black experience in the United States and more information on topics I’ve mentioned here such as unconscious biases, gatekeeping, microaggressions, white privilege and more. You do not have to take these things at my word — you can do the research yourself and verify that these concepts are very real, and directly contributing to the systemic racism that is resulting in the deaths of our black friends and neighbors.

I can’t make you believe in social systems that you are determined to deny. I cannot make you choose to be an ally and stand up for and beside those whom we have silenced and ignored for so long. And I don’t want to. I want you to choose those things because you have put in the time to educate yourself on those topics; search your own mind, heart, and soul; and come to the conclusion that you think it’s the right thing to do. I need you to genuinely ask yourself what it is you have to lose by fighting for other people to have the same rights that we have always had. Or if you’re denying that that’s the case in the first place, I want you to ask yourself why you are so convinced that your limited perspective is more valid than the millions of our fellow American citizens who are living in fear and oppression. This isn’t about “white people are bad.” This isn’t about “ACAB.” This isn’t about me, and this isn’t about you. There are zero things you should take personally about this. You are not being attacked. But the same cannot be said about the black community. But you should be angry. You should be angry at the centuries of injustice perpetrated and perpetuated against our black friends and neighbors. This is purely and simply about putting an end to systemic oppression so that our black friends and neighbors stop getting murdered in the streets. This is about justice, equality, and equity. Our black friends and neighbors need us. I’ll be standing with them, on the just side of history. I hope that you’ll choose to join us.

Book Bites 2

I have got to learn to bake scones.

Scones seem to be a predominant theme in cozy mysteries, or at least in the ones I’ve been reading over the last couple of weeks. First there was The Secret, Book & Scone Society, which features a bakery that specializes in “comfort scones” completely customized to each diner. Then there was Brownies and Broomsticks, whose protagonist regularly bakes cheddar-sage scones. Fortunately for me, Brownies and Broomsticks at least had the decency to include recipes in the back.

I’ve been curious about cozy mysteries for a while and liked the general idea of the genre, so I finally decided to investigate. And I can’t mince this: the writing really threw me for a loop. My judgement of books is generally predicated on the quality of their writing. If the writing is bad or typo-ridden, it’s very unlikely I’ll give the book a good rating. The fact that I gave the first two books I read four stars apiece is a testament to the addicting nature of the stories, and possibly also to my newfound ability to lower my standards. (Look, that tends to happen as you get older and more disappointed with the world. I’m not proud of myself, I’m just saying.) I had originally planned to give each book three stars because that was what I honestly thought they deserved until probably about the last quarter, when everything suddenly became fascinating and the endings turned out to be extremely satisfying. I don’t know how they managed to hook me in, because the writing was uniformly awful. The prose was dumb. The dialogue was bad. The first two books read like they were ripped off of Wattpad. One of the three seemed to have a typo every other word, either because it wasn’t proofread or because the proofreaders didn’t know what they were doing. Two of the three had at least one serious error involving a homonym. I get that we’re all human and there’s only so much we can do, but the number of errors I’ve found in these books is ridiculous. It’s almost like the publishers are cutting out the proofreaders so they can print these faster, though it wouldn’t surprise me if they were.

In any case the writing clearly hasn’t put me off yet because I’ve read two of these things and am working on a third, so I suppose we’d better get on with it.

Obvious obligatory warning: There are spoilers.

Theme of the week: Cozy mysteries.


To Helvetica and Back
Paige Shelton

I’m a graphic designer and a card-carrying type/print nerd, so To Helvetica and Back seemed like a great place to start. This was the one that most convinced me that proofreading is not A Thing anymore, because it has at least one major continuity error, the prose is repetitive, and it gratuitously dips into the pluperfect several times mid-scene for absolutely no reason. There were innumerable typos that I would consider common among native English-speakers on the internet, but which are inexcusable in a professionally published work. It also became clear to me that Shelton doesn’t know the difference between “discrete” and “discreet.”

The valley was spectacular though. You could see part of the monastery’s walls and a few discrete houses around the perimeter.

Generally I take it for granted that most houses are separate units, given that we’d be calling them townhouses if they weren’t, so I’m assuming the intention here was to describe the houses as unobtrusive. I weep for the future of English.

The trouble for me, at least as far as abandoning this book and my headache went, was that the story was irritatingly addicting and I needed to know what was going to happen because I’m nosy as hell. The narrator, Clare Henry, is a mid-to-late-twenties (I think?) dork who works at The Rescued Word, a typewriter repair shop owned by her grandfather, Chester. Her duties also include restoring vintage books, selling stationery, and supervising her 17-year-old niece, Marion, who handles the custom stationery orders. They have a resident cat named Baskerville, son of their first cat, Arial. This shop is fucking GOALS. The details are something that Shelton actually did really, really well, because the type nerd in me was screaming like a little girl and wondering why The Rescued Word couldn’t be real and in Maryland. (And then, like the type snob I am, I started thinking I would’ve named my imaginary cats Avenir and Aperçu. Go figure.)

Clare and Chester generally have a quiet time at the shop, but things turn upside down when they discover a dead body in the alley out back of the shop, and they get swept into a murder investigation. Along the way Clare discovers strange numbers and letters scratched into the bars of a client’s typewriter and meets a hunky geologist, Seth Cassidy, who asks her out after she restores his copy of Tom Sawyer. I normally don’t go for romance, but this one was unobtrusive enough that I didn’t mind it. It was an important part of the story, but it didn’t overtake the plot. Seth was adorably dorky and apparently makes a mean lasagna, and I actually really liked him, even though I was suspicious of him for half the book. Their relationship almost seemed to be going a little too smoothly, though from what I’ve seen from both Helvetica and Book & Scone that seems to be somewhat typical for the genre.

Overall this book was kind of a mixed bag. It was riddled with typos, the dialogue was clunky, and the prose was just cringey, which is a shame because the book was actually genuinely funny.

Jodie honked the horn, causing Seth to jump and turn toward us.

Jodie smiled and waved. Seth waved hesitantly, until Jodie pointed at me in the passenger seat. Then Seth smiled and waved back confidently.

“It’s a wonder anyone has ever wanted to date either of us,” I said without moving my lips from a smile.

JFC. This is what I meant when I said these books read like they were ripped off of Wattpad. I loved this exchange until I got to “without moving my lips from a smile.” That sentence should have ended after “I said.” If Shelton was really convinced that I, the reader, would not understand that Clare was joking without her help, then she maybe could’ve written “‘It’s a wonder anyone has ever wanted to date either of us,’ I said, still smiling,” or something similar.

My other major gripe was that the plot was pretty predictable. There were a couple of twists that I didn’t see coming, but the general shape of it isn’t hard to grasp when you see these numbers:

11111438802966NW

I’m not sure why everyone in the book had such a hard time figuring out what these were. I mean, come on, those are clearly coordinates. Even if you don’t know how many digits there are in coordinates – I didn’t – the NW should give it away, and did give it away in my case. Given that there were coordinates scratched onto the typewriter and given that somebody was murdered shortly after demanding said typewriter, it wasn’t a big stretch to figure out that those coordinates probably led to a treasure of some kind. (Spoiler alert: I was right.) It also seemed clear to me that Seth would be able to identify those numbers, which he was.

Despite all these problems, I thought this was a good first installment: it was interesting, it was funny, it was easy to read, and it introduced me to an engaging cast of characters. I love The Rescued Word and I wish I could live in it. I probably won’t be pursuing this series, because I read the synopses of the next two books and wasn’t wildly intrigued, but I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things during this quarantine and may very well change my mind about this.


The Secret, Book & Scone Society
Ellery Adams

I usually don’t buy scones unless there’s literally nothing else to eat in the bakery case. This book is going to change that because Merlin’s Beard I really want a scone right now.

The story is narrated by Nora Pennington, a thirty-something woman living in Miracle Springs, North Carolina. Miracle Springs is a healing destination, and Nora has established herself as the owner of Miracle Books, a defunct train depot that she bought and turned into a bookstore. Her store is packed with books and shelf enhancers (tchotchkes used to brighten up the bookshelves), and she also provides comfortable chairs and coffee for those who want to sit and read. She calls herself a “bibliotherapist,” which means she helps people overcome their private issues by recommending a certain set of books for them to read. When a prospective client is murdered, Nora is called in to give a witness statement and connects with June Dixon and Hester Winthrop, who also met this client shortly before his death. Despite their testimony, the death is ruled a suicide by the corrupt sheriff, and the three women form the Secret, Book & Scone Society along with Estella Sadler, who owns the salon next door to Miracle Books. Together they make it their mission to solve the case and ultimately succeed, sharing their most intimate traumas with each other throughout the course of the book.

Bad news first: The writing in Book & Scone was just as cringey as it was in Helvetica, and the dialogue was pretty bad. On the other hand, there weren’t as many typos, so maybe it went through some form of proofing, and the book overall is funny and interesting, though the characters tend to fall into archetypes more easily than they do in Helvetica. There’s the shy, traumatized woman who just wants to keep herself to herself and avoids men like the plague. There’s the “town Jezebel,” who dresses provocatively and dates whatever she can get her hands on but – surprise! – has daddy issues. There’s the one obligatory character of color, who literally seems to be on her own as far as diversity goes. There’s the former “good girl” who made a mistake and became estranged from her family. And there is, of course, the evil real estate agency whose leadership has been popping in and out of each other’s beds and defrauding  local townsfolk on a grand scale.

Honestly, I don’t mind the archetypes too much. The characters were still fairly engaging, even if they were a bit flat. I don’t really know what it is, but I didn’t get into them as much as I’ve gotten into others; still, they weren’t unsympathetic, and they didn’t ruin the story, though they could on occasion be irritating.

“If you threaten those things, Estella, he’ll be your enemy. And what if we’re not around to rescue you the next time he gets angry?”

“I’ve never needed rescuing. I’m no helpless princess,” Estella snapped.

Before June could reply, Nora performed a referee’s time-out gesture.

Gag. Personally I would’ve said “Nora made a time-out gesture,” but that’s just me. And the thing is, Estella did need rescuing. She baited a terrible man and then started asking him stupid questions like “Just how ruthless are you, Fenton? Would you pay someone to push your partner in front of a train?” What the fuck? I thought these women were supposed to be smart. It’s true that Estella was smart enough to make sure she wasn’t truly alone with this man, but luring an entitled prick to a pool at night, stripping naked, and asking him really unsubtle questions about his possible role in a murder doesn’t seem smart to me. What exactly was the plan if her friends hadn’t been there? Would she have been able to fight him off, or was she banking on her friends to save her? Did she have any plans in the event that he, oh, I don’t know, maybe came to her salon after hours and tried to assault her again? Fill me in, Estella, because I’m kinda lost. I’m a huge fan of the “I Rescue Myself” thing, but I really don’t think the poolside interrogation would’ve ended well if June hadn’t intervened.

Of course, none of this really matters, because I will be continuing with this series. I can complain as much as I want, but in the end I can’t resist a series based around a bookstore and a scone shop. There’s two more books after this one, so I’ll be all set when the fourth one comes out in January. Maybe I’ll even have learned to bake scones by then. We’re still in lockdown and you can learn a lot when you’re bored, so the sky’s the limit.


Brownies and Broomsticks
Bailey Cates

I’m only on page 123, but Cates writes better than Shelton and Adams and I’m a sucker for witches and bakeries. The story is narrated by Katie Lightfoot, a 28-year-old pastry school graduate who’s just signed on as the head baker at Honeybee, a Savannah-based bakery owned by her Aunt Lucy and Uncle Ben. Aunt Lucy and Katie’s mother are hedgewitches, which means Katie is too, because it’s hereditary. Their powers deal primarily with herbcraft, which is why Katie has always had a green thumb, to the point where she jokes that she couldn’t kill a plant if she tried. While preparing for Honeybee’s grand opening, Katie meets Mavis Templeton, a grouchy old bitch who threatens to shut down Honeybee before getting her neck broken, most likely by somebody whose life she ruined. To be clear, I am 100% onboard with this. The back cover describes Mavis as “curmudgeonly.” This is an extremely generous term. I was picturing an endearingly crabby old man with a heart of gold. Mavis Templeton is a wealthy, entitled c*** who has no qualms about using her money and influence to shut down businesses, get people blacklisted within their industries, and just generally destroy lives. She can’t even be bothered to pay the full catering fee she agreed to in writing, and that kind of behavior infuriates me. She gets bumped off on page 32 and that’s still not soon enough because she is genuinely awful and I will be so pissed off if I get asked to feel sorry for her later. The book is kinda hinting that she might become more sympathetic later.

My overall impressions so far have been positive. I really, really really love the premise. I had a feeling going into this book that this might be the one cozy mystery series that really gets me invested in the genre, because it’s pretty much what I was looking for. It’s funny and easy to read, it’s not badly written, and it has a magical bakery and a little black Cairn terrier named Mungo the Magnificent, who might or might not become Katie’s animal familiar. (I figure it’s either that or he’s a human who crossed the wrong witch, but I’m okay with that as long as he stays a dog.) If you don’t know what a Cairn terrier is, look them up because they’re seriously adorable. There are amazing foods scattered liberally throughout the 123 pages I’ve read, including but not limited to fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, crab cakes, spicy rice and beans, and peanut butter swirl brownies. There’s a couple recipes in the back, which I fully intend to try because SCONES. There’s even more than one character of color.

My main problem is pretty major, but I’m not actually sure if it’s a problem. Shortly after moving to Savannah, Katie mentions that she only sleeps for an hour at night but doesn’t seem to suffer for it.

For a while I’d wondered whether I was manic. However, that usually came with its opposite, and despite its recent popularity, depression wasn’t my thing.

Okay.

Not gonna lie, I had a full-on “You wanna run that by me again?” moment with this one. I had to wait almost a full 24 hours to cool down. I don’t want to rush into judgement, because I know I wouldn’t want my entire character to be judged by one misfired joke. Cates is clearly trying to be funny here. I know a failed joke when I see one, and this one is a failure of monumental proportions if it means what I think it means.

The trouble here is that Cates is suggesting that depression is a choice. She is implying that people decide to become depressed because they think it’ll make them cool. As somebody who has been living with a mental illness and will continue to do so despite the large body of people who think mental illness is self-indulgent and can be overcome through sheer force of will, I find this incredibly offensive and patronizing. Depression is not suddenly “popular.” The fact that celebrities have been increasingly talking about their struggles with depression and other assorted mental health issues doesn’t mean that depression is trendy or cool. Depression has probably been around since the dawn of man. We just notice it more nowadays because it is becoming more socially acceptable to talk about your feelings. The stigma is by no means gone and it’ll take a lot of hard work and social change to improve general attitudes towards mental illnesses and the people who have them, but we’re sort of getting there.

Of course, this isn’t necessarily what Cates meant to say. I don’t want to assume ill intent from bad phrasing. Maybe she just wanted to point out that more people are openly suffering from depression than before and it came out more flippant and dismissive than she intended. Maybe she thought it would be funny and didn’t have the background to consider the full ramifications. Maybe she’s suffering from depression herself and this is how she copes with it. Maybe in the future Katie will meet someone with mental health issues and acquire deeper empathy. (That one doesn’t seem too likely because these things aren’t that deep, but you never know.) I don’t have the context to make this call. This is the first book I’ve read of the Magical Bakery series, and the first of Cates’ works. I don’t know her, and I don’t know her style well enough to say if she was poking fun at depression. She hasn’t mentioned it since page 8, so I’m trying not to let it ruin my enjoyment of the rest of the book. On the other hand, if she did indeed mean it exactly how it sounds, then she and this series can go to hell. She is of course entitled to her own opinion and she has every right to write what she wants, barring hate speech, but I have the right to choose not to read things that piss me off.

My only other problem so far has been the slightly old-fashioned attitude towards courtship (Katie meets two hunky-dunkies, one of them keeps insisting on opening the car door for her and helping her down from his truck), but Katie likes it and that’s all that matters since she’s the one being wooed. The book has a host of promising female characters who all have names and talk to each other about something other than men and the men have all been playing supporting roles, so I don’t really care about this one.


Final Thoughts

Overall I’ve been enjoying this new genre (which isn’t new to other people, but is new to me). Cozy mysteries haven’t really been on my radar until fairly recently, and, yeah, they’re silly and cheesy and kinda dumb, but they’re also engaging, addicting, and pretty fast-paced. I like that each installment is quick and doesn’t require you to pay too much attention. I like reading about all the foods these characters eat, particularly in Brownies and Broomsticks. Of course the problem with that is that it makes me hungry, but yesterday I was prepared. I feel like I’m going to end up pursuing the Magical Bakery series with or without my qualms because any book that gives me an excuse to bake brownies is all right by me. For some reason I was really in Kitchen Mode yesterday and I wanted glass noodles and brownies, so I ended up making a three-course dinner for myself and my parents. We started with tofu with pickled mustard greens, which I made with both silken and medium-firm tofu, then had spicy glass noodles with ground pork (ma yi shang shu [蚂蚁上树], “ants climbing a tree”). I know, weird names, but I swear they’re both amazing and they don’t have ants in them. After dinner I made the brownies and omg they were AMAAAAAAAAZING. 😭❤️ We usually don’t make brownies but I’ve been craving them recently, so my mom brought home the Ghirardelli chocolate chip brownie mix.

So good. ❤️❤️❤️

Quarantine Day 62

I realized today that it’s been three months to the day since my quarantine began. That would explain why I no longer know what year it is.

I’ve been watching a lot of Try Guys and GoT lately and it does things to your brain, which is why I decided I needed to draw Margaery wearing Blake Lively’s 2018 Met Gala dress at like 2:30 a.m. Overall I’m pretty pleased with how she turned out, even if I did get lazy with the details. Mostly I’m pleased that I actually can draw something other than fat little people in onesies. Maybe I’ll clean her up later, though to be perfectly honest I probably won’t.

I also suffered a rather rude shock when Rusalka referred to my duck as a goose, which led to some rather hysterical googling on my part, during which I (1) concluded that the duck was a duck and (2) ran across an article about a blind, bisexual, and polyamorous goose. Go figure.

But I digress.

Lately I’ve been rolling around between numbness and irritability, which I mostly figure is the quarantine’s fault, though this hasn’t exactly been a cheerful year. At the same time, it worries me when people talk about reopening because I really don’t want us rushing into the projected second wave. On top of everything else, Maryland got hit hard by The Pollening right after the May polar vortex (???), which means itchy eyes and marathon sneezing. I hate spring.

On the slightly brighter side, things have evened out a lot work-wise since my last quarantine update, which is good because four of my projects ganged up on me and decided they all wanted to be shipped this coming week. I also finished Empress Dowager Cixi, so I finally got to start on some new books!

May has been pretty slumpy so far, but I got my second wind after finishing Cixi and celebrated by jumping into three books I’ve never read before. I haven’t gotten too far in any of them, but omg The Book of Longings is so good!!! I peeked at the first page when it arrived and liked what I saw, and later found it really hard to put down. The writing is gorgeous and I love Ana, and I can’t wait to see where this goes.

The Map of Salt and Stars is another one I’ve been looking forward to – I put it on hold at the library but then we went into quarantine, and I finally lost patience and ordered it from BN. I’m not really sure how I feel about this one yet, but I’m only 25 pages in and it’s very promising so far. I also started To Helvetica and Back, which has been sitting untouched on my shelf for years. Helvetica is my first foray into cozy mysteries, which is a genre I’m fairly certain I’ll love, and I’ve mostly been enjoying it, but I also keep getting distracted by the plethora of typos. Are cozy mysteries not usually proofread? The mistakes I keep finding in Helvetica are things that should’ve been caught, and they’re making me seriously wonder if I need to read the rest of the Dangerous Type mysteries. I really really really wanted to love Dangerous Type, but if this is a typical sample of the author’s writing I may have to pass on the rest of the series. Either way, I’m at the stage where I’m trying to finish Helvetica quickly so I can get back to the more promising books. I’m currently four books short of my goal of reading 15 books by the end of May, so I really need to get my ass in gear.

In food-related news, I’ve been eating extremely well, which is one of the bright spots amid the general quarantine gloom. This helps both me and the local restaurants, so I don’t feel too bad about going out because I want these places to still be around when we reopen.

Taiwanese popcorn chicken was one of the first things on my list:

THIS CHICKEN IS SO GOOD and now that I’m looking at this picture I’m legit thinking about hotfooting it down to the Taiwanese joint tomorrow and picking up some chicken and maybe a mango ice smoothie oh no oh no 😭 Now that I’ve said that it’s probably going to happen because I have the self-control of a five-year-old.

Mother’s Day weekend was a particularly good time, because we finally had an excuse to visit the new(ish) Choong Man Chicken in Germantown. The curry snow onion chicken was exactly as amazing as I remembered, and the nice people at CM threw in a couple of tubs of pickled daikon. I have a severe weakness for pickled daikon, and this one was particularly good. If you ever want to bribe me, feed me pickled daikon. I wish I were joking.

Not pictured: maguro sashimi from our favorite Japanese place, fried chicken wings, rice, curly fries, Japanese potato salad, and EVEN MOAR DAIKON PICKLES. It was a really good Saturday. Then on Mother’s Day proper we had homemade chili burgers and the leftover CM curly fries, because my mom happened to find a recipe for a copycat Tommy’s chili. We’re not actually sure if this is an accurate copy because Tommy’s is in LA and we don’t exactly have access to LA, but we’ve all agreed it’s amazing anyway.

Celebrations in quarantine have been pretty good so far because we can still pick up nice treats, like these cakes I got for my dad’s birthday:

And the Lindt chocolates I grabbed while I was at CVS, because I’d just read that damn Chocolat book and it really made me want chocolate:

And these adzuki donuts and mini stroopwafels, which I picked up by chance because that’s just who I am as a person. I didn’t even know stroopwafels could be that small but they’re really good so you sure as fuck won’t see me complaining 🤣

Rounding out the post with more pics of the Senior Nap Manager, because obviously I don’t photograph her enough.

Good night, world. x___x

April Reading Summary

It seems like I’m always in the middle of a crisis. Yesterday the crisis happened to be my foreign language dictionaries, which were blocking my document organizer for a while because Past Karo thought that would be a really swell place for them to live.

Don’t ask, I have no idea. Long story short, I needed to get to the scrap paper on the middle shelf, got fed up, and found a new home for the dictionaries on an actual bookcase. If you’re ever curious about the kind of chaos that tends to accumulate around me, just look at my printer table. That printer doesn’t even work but it’s been sitting there for months while I keep forgetting to call Epson because that’s just how I roll.

Anyway, it is now May and I’m currently at 40/60 books, which is pretty respectable, even if I am still working off that manga credit. I’m also in the middle of a reading slump, which hasn’t been helped along by the mild insanity this week inflicted on me, but I have time again so hopefully things will pick up this weekend because I have one giant obstacle standing between me and all the new books I’ve ordered during quarantine and I really want to read them naaaAAOooooOOooOOWWWwwwWW.


April Reading Stats

Books Finished:

  1. Purple Hibiscus – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  2. Three Souls – Janie Chang
  3. Chocolat – Joanne Harris
  4. Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
  5. Herding Cats – Sarah Andersen

Total Pages Read: 1,476

Ugh. Comparing my progress over the last three months, I’ve realized that my page count keeps decreasing from month to month. I’m insanely OCD about dumb shit like this, so if this doesn’t motivate me I don’t know what will. On the bright side, my goal of diversifying my reading list is going pretty well, even though it may not look like it yet.


April Highlight

I was going to recap all five April reads but then I cut it down to my three faves and then my thoughts on Purple Hibiscus gained sentience and ballooned out of control, so now we’re down to one. The rest will have to wait for a later post.

Warning: Heartbreak and spoilers ahead.

Purple Hibiscus
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

WOW THIS BOOK. 😭💔 The thing is, my timing was horrible. I read Purple Hibiscus before I was done being upset with The Dove’s Necklace, so it caught me at a particularly vulnerable moment, although to be completely fair I’m 99.99999999% sure it would’ve been heartbreaking even if I’d gotten to it after a more cheerful book.

Purple Hibiscus is the story of a 15-year-old girl, Kambili Achike, who was raised in a super strict Catholic household. Her father, Eugene, is a devout Catholic who uses his vast wealth to improve the lives of the people in his community. He gives generously to both people and organizations and is generally good to the community, but he also holds his wife and children to impossible standards and inflicts insane punishments on them when they inevitably fail to meet his expectations. Over the course of the book he beats his wife to the point of miscarriage twice, pours boiling water over his children’s feet, throws a missal at Kambili’s brother Jaja, and beats Kambili almost to death. He does all this not because he enjoys hurting his family, but because he believes he needs to keep them from going down the path of sin and takes extreme measures to get them all into Heaven. As the story progresses and his life grows more stressful and less controlled, they also become convenient targets. (Point of interest: I thought abortion was banned by the Catholic Church. Don’t the forced miscarriages count as a mortal sin?)

Living in constant fear of her father, Kambili grows up quiet and withdrawn, to the point that she doesn’t really know how to interact with normal children when she finally meets some. Her life takes a drastic turn when she meets her father’s sister, Aunty Ifeoma, and the cousins she barely knows. Aunty Ifeoma is an outspoken professor employed by the University of Nigeria, and she’s wonderful. She has no patience for Eugene’s controlling ways, and gives Kambili and Jaja a safe space to learn how to be children. She also tries to encourage their mother to leave Eugene, though this is ultimately unsuccessful. (And, yes, Aunty Ifeoma does slap her children, but never without a reason, and never to excess. As far as I can tell, they get one smack and then a lecture. They never get their feet boiled in the bathtub.) As Kambili and Jaja grow closer to Aunty Ifeoma and their cousins, they grow further apart from their father, who notices the distance and fights to maintain the control he’s exerted over them for the last 17 years, until he finally erupts and puts Kambili in the hospital.

The most heartbreaking part of Purple Hibiscus is not the steady pattern of violence, but Kambili’s continual desire to please her father. She doesn’t hate him; she loves him and wants to make him proud. If you take away the abuse, he actually is a caring father who loves his children and wants only the very best for them. Unfortunately, you really can’t take away the abuse and he’s still a controlling POS who can’t figure out how to keep his children on his idea of a Heavenly Path without resorting to violence. And yet, even after he puts her in the hospital, even after everything he’s done, even after her mother finally snaps and puts poison in his tea, even after he’s gone and is no longer able to punish or reward, Kambili still tries to behave in ways that would’ve made him proud. She is devastated when her mother tells her about the poison, and, though half of my heart was going “GOOD FOR YOU GIRL,” the other half was crying for Kambili, because she never wanted her father to be murdered. Even though I wanted Eugene out of their lives, even though I spent a lot of the book wondering how many of her children Eugene would have to kill before his wife finally left him, in the end it didn’t feel good when my wish came true. And that, for me, was the most powerful part of Purple Hibiscus: it never lost sight of its humanity. It never celebrated Eugene’s murder, but neither did it excuse him for the harm he had done to his family. It was just so, so good.

CliffsNotes: I love the story. I love the characters (except Eugene fuck that guy I hope he’s burning in Hell), I love Kambili and Jaja and Aunty Ifeoma. I love that Jaja always tried to protect Kambili from their father, and from unfamiliar social situations. Even if it never really worked out the way he wanted it to, he was such a good brother to her. The only (very minor) obstacle was the snatches of Igbo dialogue, which obviously I didn’t understand, but I didn’t need to understand it to follow the story. I’m going to go back through the book and make a list of all the Igbo words Adichie used and all the foods she talked about so I can look them up, and hopefully Google Translate is going to cooperate with me. If not, no big deal. 10/10 recommend this book, with or without accurate translations.


Current Reads

With nothing else to distract me, I’m currently working my way through this monstrosity:

It’s not really a monstrosity. It’s only 436 pages, which kinda pisses me off because it’s just shy of the Chunky Chunkster requirement (450+ pages). It is surprisingly readable, which I hadn’t really expected when I picked it up – it is, after all, a history book – and it’s very interesting. I like Chang’s style: it reads more like a story than a textbook, which is always a plus. So far Cixi has lost her son, survived an assassination plot, gone to war with eight countries, and pissed off both the Western Hemisphere and the Boxers, so there’s always something going on. (Full disclosure: I thought Cixi was the empress who chopped her enemies into pieces and stored them in wine jars, and was very disappointed when I realized I was confusing her with Wu Zetian, who came about 1,200 years before Cixi. Go figure.) I also had a bizarre dream I was telling my mom about the difference between the Pinyin and Wade-Giles systems of romanization, to which she said “Thanks, no wonder I was sleeping” when I told her about it the next morning because my mama savage af 🤣 It turns out my information was wrong anyway, so I suppose it doesn’t really matter.

I’ve been enjoying the book and am actually thinking about buying a copy after I finish it, but right now I can’t wait to get done with it because I’ve still got 156 pages to go and I have a long list of other books I want to read, such as this one that Rusalka just sent me.

I’ve seen this book floating around the internet but never really paid attention to it but it’s got a trash panda on the front so I don’t see any reason I won’t love it. 😍😍😍


Miscellaneous Reading News

I suckered out and signed up for a Barnes & Noble membership goodbye paycheck 😭 #whywasIcreatedthisway

Jade Attempts to Write a Book Review (on “Where the Crawdads Sing”)

As it turns out, being even more socially isolated than I normally am reminded me that I am actually capable of reading actual books and not just deeply depressing news articles or finding things I want and don’t need from Buzzfeed listicles. Who knew?

So, upon the recommendation of one of my best friends, I bought “Where the Crawdads Sing,” by Delia Owens – the real book, partly because I’m a bougie bitch who likes to read off of paper pages and not blue-lit screens, but also because, inexplicably, the physical book was decidedly less expensive than an e-book. Suffice to say, I never expected to live in a world where something that required actual printed materials and takes up warehouse space and must be shipped costs LESS than something that is entirely digital, but here we are.

Anyway, on to the actual book. I don’t know that I can say I’ve ever read a book quite like this. It’s parts historical fiction, coming of age story, and murder mystery with ecology and biology factoids and copious poetry sprinkled in. It feels very much like someone wanted to mash up the writing styles of David Baldacci, Mark Twain, and Harper Lee, but add their own “secret blend of 11 herbs and spices” called science factoids and poetry. I did not realize until I had the book physically in my hands, and only thanks to the dust cover, that apparently this is a book from “Reese’s Book Club” –  I am assuming this means Reese Witherspoon? Anyway, that would explain how and why this book had well over 45,000 Amazon reviews. So my two cents is clearly needed, no?

Overall Thoughts:

  1. Jumping timelines. This story crosses decades frequently; years are entirely left out (though upon reading about the main character, Kya, you can understand why). I actually really like the idea of doing this, though I don’t always love exactly how it’s done in this particular book. I didn’t find it distracting personally, but I could see how someone would.
  2. Potentially jarring dialogue. Anyone who wasn’t raised in or around the South, specifically the mid-Atlantic, or isn’t a big fan of Mark Twain, may find the dialogue very grating. It’s a lot of “sho’ was the finest shoes I ever saw” type of dialogue that may take some getting used to and some might even find themselves frustrated trying to “translate” it, or put-off by what seems like an overdone cliche (but from my limited knowledge of the time period and my stronger knowledge of that specific area, I suspect that dialogue isn’t too far off from what it would have been at the time for the characters involved, potentially minus some perhaps inaccurate colloquialisms, like fireflies versus “lightnin’ bugs”).
  3. Character development. There aren’t many characters that we “need” to get to know throughout the story, but despite the 350+ pages in this book, we really only ever get to know each character on a pretty surface level. The only exception being Kya as the main character, whom we get to understand a bit more, though it’d be concerning if we never got to know any of the internal workings of a main character in a book that follows decades of their life. I digress. On the one hand, it’s understandable given the whole plot of the book that Kya, who is – by design – an outsider, doesn’t know much about anyone, but the other characters that we get to know anything tangible about fall into their archetypes exactly as you’d expect. “Formulaic” is a descriptor you might not hear any arguments against. No new tropes here.
  4. The science. If you like nature and ecology in general and birds specifically, you’ll likely enjoy how frequently they appear throughout the story. An abiding love of these things is one of the major aspects of Kya’s character/personality/development.
  5. The poetry. There’s probably at least a dozen references to song lyrics and poems throughout the book. To some degree, it eventually makes sense why (won’t give a spoiler on that except to say SPOILER ALERT), but if you couldn’t stomach Frost in school, well, you probably won’t like this any better. But also shame on you. Because Frost is sensational. (… just to be clear no Frost poetry is in the book; just poetry with similar thematics)
  6. Suspended disbelief. Alright, OBVIOUSLY, this book is a work of fiction, BUT chances are a lot of people reading it will find at least one instance in which they are unwilling or unable to suspend their disbelief. Maybe it’s about Kya’s entire background; maybe it’s about what she ends up doing with her life; maybe it’s about the parts of the book that surround the murder and resulting trial. But suffice to say, plenty portions of this book require the reader to suspend their disbelief, though not more than plenty of other pop culture shows, movies, or books do. Personally, I find it harder to suspend my disbelief in things that are “historical” since history, even in fiction, requires some more adherence to the parameters of “what actually happened” (and I don’t just mean from the white man’s perspective – because fuck that) and what was really possible or even in existence at the time. But that’s just me.
  7. The flow of the story. Kind of tying back to the first point about jumping timelines, I daresay if there is something people won’t like about this book it’s the flow (part of which is the timelines) in the sense that it is a) really slow going for the first part (and unless you really like her writing style – which admittedly I did –  you might find it difficult to want to keep reading), b) jumps around, as mentioned, and, c) is a little bizarrely broken into two “parts” (I guess to make clear to the reader that “we’re staying in this decade now”?)
  8. The actual plot. I could understand (and to some degree agree) with claims that this book has a kind of vague plot that could have been developed in a stronger or different way. The slowness of much of the book doesn’t help that case, but, honestly, MOST stories (whether book, TV, or movie) don’t have the greatest plots – so this is no worse or more far-fetched or underdeveloped than most other popular fiction in my personal experience. Just don’t be expecting Agatha Christie. You’re not getting Agatha Christie.
  9. The ending. Who doesn’t care how a story ends?! Without directly spoiling the ending, I would say the ending is a bit bizarre (just in what it is, not what it contains, if that makes sense) in that if felt like a forced wrap-up, the vast majority of which honestly wasn’t needed. There is a means to an end, but the path to get there… well, not my favorite but not the worst ever, either. I’d say it falls into the category “if you’re going to bother to do it, don’t half-ass it” –  it felt like a half-assed after-thought, and a quick “oh, fuck, I should probably actually let them know XYZ” as opposed to “this was my plan all along.” It tries to be clever, and to a degree is and has a beautiful element to do that, but there was a lot of unmet potential in that ending.
  10. And, finally, Jade Attempts to Write an Actual Book Summary in 100 Words or Less: Set across multiple decades, this story follows the coming of age of the abused and isolated main character – Kya. It captures her volatile family life, her endless thirst for knowledge, and her unique experiences with bouts of companionship among a lifetime of loneliness and heartache. The suspected murder of the town golden boy sets the stage for the reader to get glimpses of outsider Kya’s interactions and connections to various members of a community that has always shunned and shamed her, and her trial and tribulations on the rough roads of adulthood, relationships, and self-sustainment.

(It’s 95 words – on the first try?! GO ME – unless you count “self-sustainment” as two words because you don’t understand how hyphens work. Punks.)

Overall rating: 3.5/5 Stars: NEEDS MORE COWBELL (and by cowbell I mean plot development) but otherwise a worthwhile read if you appreciate art, nature, and science.

March Reading Summary

I know. I’m late.

I had the foresight to summarize my February reading on the first day of March, but now we’re halfway through April and it only just recently occurred to me that I hadn’t yet made a March reading post because this quarantine has been kinda killing my motivation. While I don’t object to the idea of staying inside and never going anywhere, it’s actually made me less productive because the TV’s always on and there’s Pokémon to be caught and a huge backlog of Forged in Fire episodes to watch. Look I’m not proud of myself okay 😭

Anyway: today I happened to be unusually motivated, partly because it’s the weekend but mostly because I decided I was going to support my favorite sandwich shop, which makes the best tuna sandwiches I’ve ever had.

This was a very good decision, because it motivated me to clean up the hideous black holes that my bookcases had become, not to mention all the random-ass books that were scattered around my desk and on the floor.

Apparently it’s been a while since I’ve dusted the black bookcase, because two of my bookends left prints on the shelf. I was amused.

I was originally going to go through my books and see if I wanted to donate anything to make room for all the new books I bought but haven’t read, but then I realized that I haven’t read probably about 90% of the books on my shelves and I didn’t actually want to give any of them away, so I ended up opening up a new shelf on another case and moving all the anthologies there. This somehow turned into me pulling all the books off their shelves, dusting the shelves, and putting all the books back in alphabetical order by author. I mean, it’s not like I’m going anywhere.

OMG I ACTUALLY HAVE SPACE……………………..FOR MORE BOOKS

I even had extra room on the new anthologies shelf for my library books, so now they’re not blocking the children’s section anymore!

Unexpected hazard: I kept knocking my duck off her shelf and just narrowly catching her. I’ve really gotta find a better home for her.

Bonus: I actually did manage to find a pile of books to donate.

PROGRESS. 🥳


March Reading Stats

Books Finished:

  1. The Great Passage – Shion Miura
  2. Snow & Rose – Emily Winfield Martin
  3. The Lake – Banana Yoshimoto
  4. The Girl in Red – Christina Henry
  5. The Dove’s Necklace – Raja Alem

Total Pages Read: 1,531

My March page count is significantly lower than my February page count, but February was padded out by twenty 200-page mangas, which really added up fast. In February I only read three books that I would consider “real” and in March I read five, so I’m pretty pleased with my progress. Even if it doesn’t happen within the next year or so, I want to eventually get to the point where I don’t have to rely on mangas to meet my reading goal.


And now, a moment of silence for my expectations.

The Dove’s Necklace
Raja Alem

Warning: Spoilers and a lot of confusion.

March’s crowning achievement was the completion of The Dove’s Necklace, which was………really something. I’ve never been this upset by a book, not even when I was slogging through The Amber Spyglass. The last time I wrote about The Dove’s Necklace, I thought I was going to love it because it was supposed to be “nuanced as a Nabokov novel.” The main difficulty that I for some reason did not anticipate is that I usually don’t understand Nabokov novels.

I think part of the problem was that I just didn’t get this book. I know absolutely nothing about Arabic history and culture, and I kinda get the feeling that the book would’ve made more sense if I’d been better informed. It didn’t help that the prose did indeed remind me of a typical Nabokov novel, in that it was so intricate that I spent most of my time trying to figure out what the author was saying. I hated all the characters, didn’t always recognize them when they popped up, and ended up doing a blitz read just so I could finish the book without getting hung up on the prose. I skimmed through the five-page character monologues and neverending emails/diaries so fast that I might as well have skipped them, but I think I caught most of the major points.

I missed a lot of finer details while I was blitzing, but the gist of the story is that a young woman is found naked and presumably murdered in the Lane of Many Heads, a low-income neighborhood in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The case is assigned to Detective Nasser al-Qahtani, who learns that the victim may be either Azza or Aisha, two young women who grew up in the Lane of Many Heads and recently went missing. Over the course of his investigation, Nasser reads the extensive love letters Aisha has written to her German boyfriend and gradually becomes obsessed with her. In a parallel storyline, Azza’s childhood friend and adoptive brother Yusuf learns that he is descended from a family that had something to do with the key to the Kaaba, most of whose history I have forgotten.

As far as I can tell, the dead woman in the alley was Aisha. I’m 99.9999999% sure that Aisha jumped off the roof following the stillbirth of her illegitimate child, and that Azza, who was secretly seeing a wealthy property developer named Khalid al-Sibaykhan, took advantage of her suicide to fake her own death and run. Azza briefly alludes to Aisha jumping, and also has disturbing memories of helping Aisha both deliver and bury her child. The other possibility is that Aisha was murdered by her runaway husband, who found her naked and video chatting with her boyfriend, but she seems to have fought him off and I’m not sure if he went back after that. Either way, Azza runs away to become al-Sibaykhan’s mistress and doesn’t directly appear in the story until the last third of the book, when she is introduced as Nora. I wish I could say she’s happy and fulfilled, but she is in fact trapped in a deeply unhealthy relationship with a man who thinks nothing of selling her into prostitution as a punishment for running away from him. And, at the end of the book, nothing changes: though Azza turns out to be a talented artist and starts putting on exhibitions of her work, though Yusuf unexpectedly appears and tries to get her to run away with him and she almost makes it out of the parking lot, she balks when she realizes that Yusuf is accompanied by Nasser, who turns out to be al-Sibaykhan’s personal assistant. Her story ends with her walking back into al-Sibaykhan’s office, with the understanding that she is going to be punished, while Yusuf is incapacitated and either arrested or killed by Nasser.

This was what pissed me off more than anything, because I struggled through 500 pages of Arabic philosophy to end up in exactly the same spot. Azza is back with al-Sibaykhan, Yusuf is back in jail, and al-Sibaykhan is still going to bulldoze the Lane of Many Heads. I understand why Azza went back. I understand that she had nowhere else to go and would probably not have been safe from al-Sibaykhan even if she had found somewhere to hide. I understand that she had nothing of her own and would not have been able to live off her art. It’s certainly a realistic ending, but it also means that after a 500-page slog there’s zero payoff. The other major obstacles for me were Yusuf’s articles and Aisha’s babbly emails, which extensively quoted D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love and often came with several multi-paragraph postscripts. I’ve never been a fan of the Character Writing Letters device, and this book did not change my mind.

This isn’t to say that the book was bad. I would call it upsetting rather than bad. The prose, though hard to follow, was (when I understood it) lovely and often funny. My favorite part was probably the Lane of Many Heads, which was treated as a character unto itself and often served as a narrator. I may not have been able to appreciate this particular book, but I’m definitely going to look up other Middle Eastern writers. My reading list to date has been very homogeneous, but that’s going to change. I’m tired of visiting only one part of the literary globe.


Miscellaneous Reading News

I’ve told myself all along that I wouldn’t make an Instagram just for my books, which is why I now have one. 😬 I decided this week that I wanted a dedicated bookgram so I could spam everybody with gratuitous book pics connect with the reading community on Instagram without random junk pictures getting in the way, so my book photos will be posted on bookycnidaria moving forward. If you know any good bookgrams I should follow, please let me know. My follow list is rather sparse at the moment.

The Truth About Why Adulting is Hard… Well, One Truth

There are a lot of reasons — arguably innumerable reasons — why adulting is hard. But there is one in particular that I am often glaringly aware of, and, admittedly, sometimes struggle to fully be okay with. I didn’t say “fully accept” for a reason; because I DO accept it. I just don’t always like it. However, it’s a lesson about self love and priorities and where they intersect that I think we all need to embrace.

So what is “it?” It’s quite simple, really: it is the salient truth that you are probably no one’s first priority — and that you shouldn’t be. Because you should be your own first priority.

This can be a hard pill to swallow for people who think that someone or several someone’s lives revolve around them, or that they should. Whether you think your parent(s) should put you first or think your significant other should put you first or anyone else… I’m here to tell you that’s selfish and immature. Being an adult requires you to be accountable for yourself, and graciously accept the love and support of your village but not expect it to revolve around you. We all need our village; but we all need to be able to depend on ourselves first and others second if we are able.

So why should you be your own first priority? Because no one can (or should try to) pour from an empty cup. But damn near all of us try to. We try to meet the expectations others put upon us. We try to be so many things to so many different people. And we often lose ourselves in the shuffle. We cast aside our feelings and our wants and our needs while trying to meet those of others because we love them, care about them, or rely on the paycheck they provide to us.

By no means am I saying that you aren’t or shouldn’t be a priority to any of your loved ones, or that you should not prioritize them in your life. What I DO mean is that we would all be much better friends and family members and coworkers and partners and loved ones if we spent more time trying to cultivate the best version of ourselves and then brought that best work-in-progress version of ourselves to others. It’s hard to do that if we’re always doing for others and not spending enough time and energy doing for ourselves. And I don’t mean just putting time aside to do things you love — though you absolutely should — but also time to make you a better you. Whether that’s doing necessary emotional labor, exercise, learning new things, meditating — whatever enables you to be the best possible version of you that you are able to be at a given time. Those things won’t be the same for any two people, but I guarantee we all have plenty of room for improvement, and that that improvement starts with choosing to put ourselves first.

None of us is perfect; none of us ever will be. But I do think we owe it to ourselves and to the people in our lives to never stop trying to do and be better, and I think the best way to do that is if we make ourselves our first priority. Going back to the empty cup analogy, sure, you can pour from a half-full cup, but why would you if there can be more in there to share? I guess some people are completely fine with driving on a near-empty tank, but they’re doing their vehicle a disservice by doing that consistently. And it’s really no different in how we interact with people.

Think about having a rough day at work (the details as to why it was a rough day don’t matter; everyone’s “rough day” looks a little different). Think about being stuck in traffic on the way home. Then you get home and more frustrations await you. How do you deal with them? How do you react? Do you get angry and let the anger out? Do you take a few deep breaths and work through what does and doesn’t deserve your attention? Whatever is in the cup is what’s going to come out of it when it gets disturbed, and while we don’t often get to choose if the cup gets disturbed, we do get to choose what is in the cup in the first place. If we consistently prioritize ourselves we can be fulfilled enough and self-aware enough to not give too much of our energy to the negative.

Honestly, too often I let the the cup overflow with negative shit. I’m a mature enough and self-aware enough person to admit that part of why that happens is because I put my job and the well-being of a lot of people I care about before my own more often than I should. I focus on trying to come across as completely fine instead of focusing on actually being completely fine. I don’t think I’m some kind of fucking martyr, I just don’t want to deal with my own shit a lot of times or I don’t embrace doing things that make me happy or make me feel accomplished. And you know what? Those are flaws of mine; that’s me running around on a tank that’s emptier than it should be. Because the people I care about don’t deserve to have to deal with tired, frustrated, angry, grumpy me. They deserve patience. They deserve empathy. They deserve my best effort. And I’m not capable of giving that best effort if I spend my time and energy worrying about fixing things that aren’t mine to fix, and ignoring the things I can fix, like some of my numerous character flaws.

I am no one else’s first priority. Thinking that used to crush me. It used to be fuel to my very self-destructive fire. And I would be lying if I said it doesn’t still cause an uncomfortable twinge sometimes (because that’s just life with mental illness, my friends). Social conditioning and all those Happily Ever Afters that we — particularly women — are sold are hard to combat. But the reality is it doesn’t even make sense to want to be someone’s first priority. I am an able-bodied and moderately able-minded adult. I can and do take care of myself. If other people are able to support that, then how damn fortunate am I? But it’s not a requirement for other people to want to and work to support me in any way (not financially, not emotionally — no one’s labor or resources are free for them to give to others… I mean, kindness is free, but I’m saying no one owes us their patience and tolerance all the time, particularly if we’re refusing to help ourselves). And for me, as someone with multiple mental health issues, it’s not a good idea for me to think that I SHOULD be anyone’s first priority. That’s a recipe for disaster. That’s setting myself up for failure. That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of which I want no part.

When I look back on my life, I see someone that rescued herself. There were struggles. There were trials. There were tribulations. There absolutely still are. We all have our own. That’s not to say I didn’t have A LOT of help along the way; I did and I still do. But I made it to where I am today because enough times I chose myself. I’m not saying I’m doing phenomenal in life, but for someone that shouldn’t have made it to adulthood, I’m doing pretty well for myself. And that’s only true because I chose, repeatedly, to put in the really, really uncomfortable work to try to take better care of myself and accept myself while also working on myself. All the love and support in the world from others would not have mattered if I hadn’t chosen to help myself — if I hadn’t chosen to prioritize myself first. A lot of times that meant recognizing when people or situations (whether work, social, or otherwise) were not conducive to my overall wellbeing, and choosing to walk away because that’s what I needed to do for me. That caused fights, that cost me relationships, it resulted in a lot of anguish and grief for me. But it also helped me learn a lot about what I can, should, and am willing to tolerate — and what I’m not able or willing to tolerate. No one else was going to put what I wanted or needed or how I felt first — after all, why the hell would they? So I had to.

You think your boss cares more about your mental health than meeting their budget? They don’t. You think your roommate cares more about respecting you or your stuff than doing what’s easy for them? They don’t. You think that friend that only ever reaches out when they want something genuinely cares about you? They don’t. You think your significant other who repeatedly ignores and disrespects your boundaries cares more about your needs than their wants? They don’t. And only you can decide if continuing to put their wants above your needs is something you can or should live with. Personally I say you’re only hurting yourself if you do. There are times and places for compromise, but your wellbeing ain’t it. Put yourself first, because no one else will. The other things and people that really matter can come close behind.

I’m learning to prioritize myself. It’s a long process. I’m learning that it’s really not selfish to do what I need to do for me, even if that means not doing or being what someone else that I care about wants me to do or be. I’m not good at accepting help. I’m not good at accepting support. I’m not good at accepting love. I’m REALLY good at blaming myself. I’m really good at letting the ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) win. I’m getting better at recognizing when something is problematic for me, and trying to take steps to disengage and focus on me and what I need. I’m really good at surviving. In fact I have a 100% success rate of doing just that, and that wasn’t easily done. That wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t make myself a priority sometimes. Who knows, if I did it all the time — hell, if I even just did it more often — maybe I could get better at some of those things I’m not so good at, and stop being REALLY good at some of those destructive things I shouldn’t do. Maybe one day I could even go from being really good at surviving to being good at thriving. I won’t know unless I keep trying. I won’t know unless I consistently put myself first.

Being an adult requires being able to prioritize and make healthy choices. And the reality is that one of those healthy choices is getting your priorities aligned, and that those aligned priorities should start and end with yourself. Putting yourself first is step one in building a solid foundation on which to cultivate the best version of yourself at every stage of your life. It’s a solid, healthy foundation that you deserve, and that in the end also benefits every other aspect of your life and everyone in it.

I hope you never stop loving and supporting and prioritizing the people and things that make your life infinitely better. But I also really hope that you always choose yourself first. Because you deserve the same love and support that you want — and often do — give to others.

Somber Sundays

For most of my life I have searched in vain; wanted to find purpose in the pain
Wanted to believe it would mean I was forged from greatness
But really it’s just been a lot of heartache
Always searching for magic and myths
Always trying to bite back the hurt that lingers on my lips
Try to tell myself that my victory is surviving
But truth be told there are days I don’t feel like trying
Truths hurt, and realizations ache
And I can’t keep existing in this darkened state
I hope I wake up before I get lost. I was forced on this ride, and I just want to get off.

Quarantine Day 27

Well, here we are.

It’s been 27 days since the office shut down, 21 days since my last post, 12 days since Maryland was ordered to shelter in place, and 10 days since I last wore shoes. Today it occurred to me to mark the first day of quarantine in my work planner, you know, for posterity or something.

Don’t come after me if they don’t get better, I’m just speculating.

I can’t say the quarantine has drastically altered anything that I’d normally be doing, since I have no life and weekend staycations are my jam and I’m that person who makes up excuses to avoid going out, but I do start to go slightly bats when I can’t drive off whenever I want, so I now have planned excursions every couple of weeks. This week Jennicorn and I took advantage of Krispy Kreme’s Be Sweet Saturday and went halfsies on a box of donuts, because we’re adults and we make excellent decisions.

I have no idea who needs to hear this right now, but Krispy Kreme is running a quarantine deal where if you buy a dozen glazed donuts on a Saturday you get a second box for free. Jennicorn agreed to split the cost of one box, so we each ended up with a dozen donuts for five bucks. I also got to see Jennicorn face to face when I dropped off the donuts at her house, which was really nice. As a card-carrying modern-day suburban hermit who was social distancing way before it was cool, I sometimes forget how nice it is just to hang out, even if you’re six feet apart and separated by a door.

Other than the quarantine, life has been going pretty much the same as usual. My main hurdle so far has been learning to telework, which I’ve honestly never done because I’ve never been essential enough or permanent enough to be trusted with company equpiment. I normally wouldn’t be teleworking even in this job, but in this case we had no choice, so I’ve spent the better part of the last month trying to figure out how to balance work and life without getting them tangled, and it’s been a trip. The biggest problem was that it took a while to get used to the idea of being barred from the office, because my first day of telework was an unqualified disaster. Everything in my life seems to like to stack up at once, so the week we went into quarantine was also the week I was telecommuting for the first time in my life, setting up my new work laptop, trying to figure out how to get the server to work, and shipping three difficult projects, none of which seemed to want to die a quiet death. I’d pulled all my files off the server and loaded them onto the laptop beforehand and thought I was ready, but then I actually got started and realized that between the server, the volume and complexity of the edits, and my wi-fi speed, there was no conceivable way to ship from home. This did not have a happy ending: it ended with me running to the office around noon on Monday after spending thirty minutes trying to open one file, and then staying at the office till 10 pm and getting in the cleaners’ way. Then on Tuesday I told myself I was going to stay home for the whole day, but my resolution cracked like an egg when I realized I’d completely failed to package a crucial InDesign file while I was in the office on Monday. Since I’d been allowed to go in on Monday, I sneaked back in on Tuesday afternoon and got in the cleaners’ way again. On Wednesday I finally figured out how to get around the wi-fi problem and stopped going into the office for every little emergency, which means I’ve been pretty much camped out here for the last month.

I still haven’t completely figured out the work-life thing, partly because there are currently zero degrees of separation between my bedroom and my office, but mostly because I had eight projects shipping during the first three weeks of quarantine. This past week was much more relaxed; those eight projects all got shoveled out the door, so I was able to slow down and take it easy for a bit. It’s a lot easier to balance work and life when you’re not working late every night and I get to wear sweatpants to work and have a nice lunch if I feel like it, so things aren’t too bad right now. I’ve also gotten to spend more time with my new coworker, the Senior Nap Manager.

Teleworking isn’t always the greatest, but the Senior Nap Manager keeps me on track and reminds me to take every day as it comes. As frustrating as work can be, I keep reminding myself how lucky I am to have a steady job that lets me work from home. I can’t imagine what kind of trouble I’d be in right now if I hadn’t found this job, if I’d been working at Papyrus up to the day it went bankrupt. As much as I complain, I’m still glad to be here. I’m glad to be part of a team that works hard and doesn’t mind when I prank them on the team forum, which I did last Wednesday. It took a little while for the joke to sink in, but they got it eventually. 🤣

PSA: Always check your pockets. I left my violin in my pocket on laundry day and she shrank in the wash. Worst. Day. Ever. 😭😭😭

And now, since I’ve run out of things to say and I do kinda miss going out, here’s a couple of pics from the last time (I think?) I was in a restaurant:

……….I really need to clean out my phone.