Birthday Weekend Update

Happy Sunday! It was recently my birthday, so I come to you another year older and maybe wiser (probably not) and with lots of good stuff to talk about! Let’s get to it.

Reading
A couple of weeks ago my beloved book club that I don’t run anymore but attend whenever I can had “horror books” as its topic, and I decided I really wanted to read The Good House except I decided this three days before the meeting and the book is like 600 pages long, so I also decided to read Through the Woods in case I didn’t have time to finish the former. When I first opened up Through the Woods, I was concerned that this tiny graphic collection of stories wouldn’t count as horror, because the pictures are so delightful and how could anything so lovely be scary? Well, if you’re like me and you prefer your scares slow and psychological, this book gets pretty darn creepy. There’s a story about some kids who don’t listen to their dad and then bad things happen, there’s a story about a woman who marries some kind of royalty and then finds… pieces… of his previous wife inside the house, there’s a story about a guy who kills his brother and yet his brother still lives. Creepy, man. But the pictures are so pretty!

I ended up being right about The Good House and the fact that I couldn’t finish it in three days, but this was not for lack of trying. I was up at least an hour past my bedtime every night reading this book, super creeped out and very anxious about having nightmares, which I somehow avoided. I was also wary of this book when I started it, as it begins as a kind of sexy adult book about a woman and her estranged husband maybe getting back together, but it grows quickly dark when the couple’s kid acts kind of weird and then shoots himself in the head during a 4th of July party. The story then jumps back and forth between the year of that event, the present day two years later, and various points further in the past to explain how some seemingly very good magic once performed by the woman’s grandmother led to some very not good magic affecting everyone in the town in the present. If you are prone to stomachache, I do not recommend this book, but otherwise I think you need to grab it and read it in as few sittings as possible and with bright lights on.

On the not-creepy front, I also read Little Fires Everywhere this week, and I cannot believe I managed to wait so long (read: a month) to read it after its publication. I loved Celeste Ng’s first novel, Everything I Never Told You, and this book is equally as good. It’s primarily about two families living in Shaker Heights, Ohio, during the late 90s, and yes, it is SUPER weird to read a book about teens living near where I grew up near when I grew up there. Nostalgia is real for me in this novel. It’s hard to summarize this book as there’s a lot going on in it, but I think I can say that it’s about the awfulness that is being a teenager no matter what your life looks like, the awfulness that is being an adult no matter what your life looks like, and the danger of pretending that your prejudices don’t exist. I read Everything I Never Told You for two different book clubs, and there is almost no way I’m not foisting this book on another two.

Listening
I finished up Wild shortly after I last talked about it, and I feel basically exactly the same about it and have gone hiking several times since finishing it. I also listened to We Are Never Meeting in Real Life on the advice of the internets, and while it was not quite as amazeballs as the internet led me to believe, there were some pretty hilarious essays in the collection and Samantha Irby is great at reading her own words, so it was a great at-work listen.

Watching
Fall TV is back and I am… excited? The Good Place came back first and I was moderately concerned by the direction it took in the beginning, but a few episodes in everything seems to have fallen back into place and also I love Kristen Bell, so. Similarly, I am reserving judgement on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which is as funny as ever but the plot is a little iffy at the moment, until I see where that goes. A brand-new show for me and the husband this season is Inhumans, which I want to love because I love SHIELD and I love the Inhumans concept in general, but again, I’m not quite sold on it. On the plus side, another new show called Ghosted is weird and hilarious and also I’m catching up on a Disney cartoon called Gravity Falls that is differently weird and hilarious, so I think that puts me at 3-2 for shows I’m definitely into (4-2 if you count John Oliver’s show, but that’s been on all summer), so it’s going to be a good fall, especially once I get around to the Jane the Virgin season premiere. Bring on the awesome!

Playing
I am inexplicably still playing the heck out of Township, that resource-management phone game I picked up a few weeks ago, and I played several amazing matches in Rocket League recently that put me at Silver III, which, for me, is wow. But what I want to talk about today is this great new game I’m into, you may have heard of it, it’s called Dungeons & Dragons? I’ve been wanting to try a tabletop RPG for ages and have failed miserably at actually doing it, so when my brother and sister-in-law were like, hey, can we try playing this with you over Skype, I was like YASSSSSSSS. We played our third round on my birthday, because I am a giant nerd, and already my half-orc has hit many things with sticks, gotten to level 2, stolen a pastry from a rogue, and tried very hard not to kill a dangerous vampire that is currently charmed into being friends with my party but only for 45 more minutes so we’ll see how that goes. It’s awesome and I also love that I’m playing it with my husband, brother, and two sisters-in-law so it’s quality family time as well! Quality family time spent destroying skeletons is the best quality family time, I think.

What have you guys been up to lately?

Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told YouI don’t remember who recommended this to me when I was collecting book club titles, but THANK YOU. I picked it for one book club and loved the book and discussion so much that I used it to fill an empty slot in another book club a month later, and the discussion was still top-notch with a different set of readers. But, to get to these awesome discussions, you have to read a pretty devastating book, so, be prepared.

The book opens with the lines “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet,” so you think you know maybe what you’re getting into from the start. Lydia’s dead, you say? Well, let’s find out who did that and call this mystery solved, shall we?

Oh, you want to talk about some other stuff first? Okay, sure, we can talk about the fact that Lydia’s grown up in a mixed family, with an American-born Chinese dad and a white Southern mom, in the 1970s, in small-town Ohio. Yeah, that’s pretty tough. The parents met at Harvard, though? That’s pretty progressive! Oh, but the mom gave up med school to have Lydia’s older brother? And the dad got passed over for a faculty position at Harvard and had to take the Ohio job to pay the bills? Ugh, lame again. Oh, and the parents are both projecting their own insecurities onto their middle child, making her feel obligated to become awesome at both making friends and doing math and science? Man, maybe Lydia killed herself over all this!

Wait, no, did she? No, she’s fine. She’s got friends. Even a boyfriend! She’s been hanging out with that nice… weird… loner kid from down the street, whom Lydia’s brother absolutely hates… and who’s been acting really strangely since Lydia died, like, extra strange, like maybe he’s keeping secrets about that night… Uh-oh. And what’s this? The cops are talking to Lydia’s dad about the last time he filed a missing persons report? For Lydia’s mother? But she’s here, she’s fine… right? Well, she’s not going to be when she finds out Lydia’s dad is having an affair with his TA, that’s for sure.

There is SO MUCH going on in this book! Mostly it’s about Lydia’s parents and their myriad insecurities and hoo boy if you weren’t already second guessing your every thought and action watching these people do it might make you start. When I finished this book, I turned to my husband and said, “If you ever decide to leave me, at least LEAVE A DANG NOTE,” and he was like, “I’m never letting you read books again.” Which seems like maybe a good idea, sometimes.

The big theme of the book is that feeling of being an outsider — Lydia’s dad as a Chinese man in a white man’s world (literally, the man teaches American Studies, let’s just start there, shall we), Lydia’s mom as a scientist and budding doctor trapped in the life of a doting housewife, Lydia’s brother as the second fiddle to his younger sister, Lydia’s younger sister as the strangely ignored youngest sibling. All of these people, living together, feeling completely alone. Normally I would be shaking my fist at the sky at all these people who need to just talk to each other, gosh darn it, but in this book it seems so natural. And depressing.

AND THEN THE END. This is where I shook my fist, let me tell you. I may have literally yelled “ARE YOU SERIOUS?!” I may still be angry about this ending today, not because it’s bad or unbelievable but because it is TOO believable and TOO soul-crushing and it might be supposed to be a bittersweet ending but all I feel is bitter, for Lydia, who is a fake person and see above about how I maybe shouldn’t read so many books.

But you! You should read this book! And then come tell me all your feels about it! And I will tell you even more feels that I have, which I know you think is impossible after this post, but I have them!

Recommendation: READ THIS. But not if you’re already sad. Or especially happy; I wouldn’t want to ruin that. Aim for a mid-level contentedness, maybe?