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?

Watching X-Files with no lights on

Happy Sunday, y’all! I’m so envious of all the people getting excited for fall — we won’t be seeing that here in Florida for another month or two — but at least I can buy all the pumpkin spice everything and pretend. Next step: blast the air conditioning and throw on a sweater and six blankets to read under?

This week I’ve been…

Reading
This has been a much better reading week for me than past weeks, although it got off to a bumpy start. After reading The Stone Sky, I wanted something that required very little in the way of thinky thoughts, so I scoured my library stash and was thrilled to find the first two books in the new teen X-Files book series. As a huge fan of Dana Scully, I decided to read the second book of the series, Scully’s book, Devil’s Advocate, first, and boy. That was a mistake. I should have run away when the first line of the book was, “‘I want to believe,’ said Dana Scully,” but I wanted to believe that the book was better than that. It is not. I made it through about sixty pages of Dana having supernatural visions and going to new age crystal shops on purpose and some really terrible writing, too, and then I decided that life is too short for that.

Agent of ChaosI did still want my X-Files fix, though, so I grabbed the other book, Agent of Chaos. It was much better written, probably helped by the fact that it’s easier to write a book where Mulder believes a bunch of weird crap, although there was a LOT of weird crap that I wasn’t quite up for believing. In this one, Mulder gets caught up in a murder investigation, as teenagers in YA books are wont to do, and to solve it involves reading a fantasy novel and going to a new age crystal shop (yup, the same one!) and believing crazy people and being helped by shadowy figures and the Cigarette Smoking Man and totally hating on Pa Mulder, like, the entire time. It definitely fit my “no thinking” reading mood, as every little bit was painstakingly explained, and it wasn’t terrible, but I wouldn’t really recommend it.

The Underground RailroadOver the weekend I powered through my book club book for Tuesday, The Underground Railroad, which was a little disappointing when I found out that the book wasn’t really about the fact of its premise, that the Underground Railroad was a literal underground railroad. I had been pretty excited about that, but the railroad makes precious few appearances in the book. Its effects relative to a figurative underground railroad are definitely felt in the way that slavery and antislavery movements are presented in the book, though. Everything is just a touch different, at least, but it’s all still awful, as we see through the eyes of our runaway protagonist. I thought Whitehead did a great job of making everyone seem reasonable in their own heads even as they were completely unreasonable in reality, and I am very much looking forward to talking with lots of Southern people about this book on Tuesday.

Listening
Toward the end of the week I finally caught up on my podcasts, which had piled up over vacation and post-Irma busy-ness, so I was finally able to pick up an audiobook again. Of course, all my audiobook holds had long come and gone and been put on hold a second time, so I had to poke around a bit in my various libraries before I found Wild waiting for me as an acceptable substitute. I’m about a third of the way through so far, and I am already torn between a desire to grab my hiking shoes and make for the Appalachian Trail (she did the Pacific Crest Trail, but that’s kind of far for me…), a desire to hug my husband super tight and never let go, and a desire to punch cancer right in its stupid face. Is there a way to do all three of these things at once?

Playing
Scott and I stopped at GameStop yesterday to re-up his PowerUp Rewards in preparation for me buying all the used games for my Switch, and I’ve already put his account to good use in buying Mario Kart 8, which is absolutely delightful. I’m only a couple of Grand Prix in but I’m loving the art style and all of the cars and scooters I can make Toadette drive. It’s a little tough making the absurdly tiny Joy Cons work, but I have faith I’ll get the hang of it. Now I just need more people to come play with me, as it turns out my husband is not nearly as into adorable racing games as I am. Who’s in?

Tiny Beautiful Things, by Cheryl Strayed

Tiny Beautiful ThingsI ignored the Cheryl Strayed hype for a long time because ugh, memoirs, and also eh, advice columns. But I heard enough people falling over themselves loving on Tiny Beautiful Things that I figured I should at least check it out. And seriously, this thing is so good that you’ll probably be hearing about her memoir in this space some day, which is just crazy talk.

Anyway, this book is a collection of advice column questions and answers from “Dear Sugar”, Sugar being a formerly anonymous and always honest advice-giver. I’m not terribly much for advice columns, but I knew this one, and this book, was going to be perfect for me when I got to page 15 and found the following sentence: “The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of love.” Yes. This. A thousand times this.

Most of the questions Sugar gets, or at least publishes, are secretly about that one thing. Sure, on the surface they’re about a lot of things, from romantic relationships gone awry or not-yet-existent to family relationships of dubious quality to crises of faith and identity, but Sugar’s answers tend to boil down to one thing. Will this make you happy? Do it. Will it make you sad? Don’t do it. Will it make other people happy or sad? That’s not really your problem.

You might think that would get boring over 353 pages and 56 questions, but the fact that it doesn’t is a testament to Strayed’s writing. She could just say, “It’s not making you happy. Stop. The end,” but instead she says things like, “You mustn’t live with people who wish to annihilate you. Even if you love them.” She could even stop there, with simple and direct answers, but instead she throws in stories from her own life, which has been difficult in many ways and wonderful in just as many, to show the question-askers that yes, life sucks, but not all the time. Things may seem bleak now but they will be less bleak later. But only if you focus on making yourself the most awesome self.

It’s a powerful book. I am one of the lucky few who, in Sugar’s words, “have almost never had to get over anything,” and I know that I am lucky for it. But I also know that my time will come, and I am glad to be prepared in advance. And it’s lovely to see letters from people who share my low-grade neuroses, to know that I’m not the only one and that if I can see clearly the answer for the letter-writer, I may just possibly have an answer for myself.

Recommendation: For you. For everyone.

Rating: 10/10