October 2018 Reads!

I don’t know if it’s the chill in the air now that October is at its close or the fact that the holidays are fast approaching, but I have been reading voraciously the last couple weeks. It’s been a while since I’ve flipped through so many books in such a short time, and I have thoroughly enjoyed myself. Part of that is getting back in touch with my roots as a reader, which feels like something I’ve drifted from as streaming services have gotten better and I’ve gotten more and more addicted to my phone. But this month, I think it mostly had to do with the fact that everything I read was absolutely delicious.

The first book I picked up this month was The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare. Tessa Dare is hands down my absolute favorite romance writer. Her plots are always a fun ride, and I always find myself laughing and squealing out loud when I read any of her books. The Duchess Deal was no exception. The heroine, Emma, is brash and strong-willed, but still feels very human and grounded. The hero, Ash, is harsh yet seductive. It’s a bit of a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, mixed with the classic marriage of convenience trope. Though I can’t say it’s my favorite of her books–that honor goes to A Week to Be Wicked–I really enjoyed the characters and plot. It’s a Regency romance, but it grapples with issues that have been centered in our own time by #MeToo. All in all, it’s a really fun read perfect for anyone ready to settle down with a fun, light romance.

Of course, I couldn’t keep things fun and light for long. I crave intensity and dark stories, especially this time of year. Fortunately, I found a copy of World War Z at the library last Sunday. It’s been on my list for months, but there was never a copy at my library branch, so I always ended up picking up other things. Which was probably a good thing, because I basically did nothing for the next couple days besides hurtle my way through it. It wasn’t exactly what I expected, but I found it riveting. I love post-apocalyptic media, but the angle Max Brooks takes in World War Z is decidedly different. First off, the story is told in the form of interviews with survivors. Some have said that this defangs the story a bit–why would I be worried about these characters when I know these are the people who made it?–and I don’t entirely disagree. Still, to me, World War Z was less of a zombie novel and more of a dissection of inter- and intranational politics, human nature, and how governments and individuals react to pandemics and disasters. If you’re looking for a classic zombie story that focuses more on individuals or a small group, you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re interested in reading more about a global response to a zombie apocalypse and the ways that society breaks apart and comes back together, I have a feeling you’ll be very satisfied.

After World War Z, I shifted back into lighthearted territory with Tony Cliff’s graphic novel Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant. Delilah Dirk is a fascinating (and dangerous) woman living in the earlier part of the 19th century. She’s a thief who is constantly getting into wild shenanigans that involve exploding buildings and fast escapes, sometimes on horseback, and other times on her boat… which can fly. This is the kind of graphic novel I wish I’d been able to read when I was younger. Now, I read it and think, “God, I would love to write something like this.” It’s a fun ride with amazing art and lots of great banter. I found myself laughing aloud more than once. Delilah is dashing from the start and you can’t help but love her. Selim, the titular Turkish lieutenant, makes for an excellent straight man and traveling companion for Delilah. This is the first of the Delilah Dirk books and I’m definitely going to be picking up the rest.

Of course, my reading binge isn’t about to stop any time soon. I just started Dietland, which I’m super excited about. Books with fat protagonists who take no shit? Count me in. I’ve also put a few books on hold at the library that I’ve been seeing people talking about nonstop on Twitter. Both Jeannette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun and Tasha Suri’s Empire of Sand seem like they’re going to be stellar reads with fresh takes on the fantasy genre. I also put Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway on hold, which should be a nice dive back into sci-fi. I’m also looking to explore more solarpunk fiction. My library doesn’t have a whole lot on hand since the genre is still so new, but I put in a bunch of requests and am hoping I’ll get to read them soon. I would love to hear recommendations from anyone else interested in the genre!

But enough about me. What have y’all been reading lately?

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[Review] Turtles All the Way Down

Mental illness is part of my everyday life. On a good day, it’s quiet background noise, a voice whispering cruel things that my rational self is able to ignore and brush aside. On a bad day, my nerves are jangling, waiting for my anxiety to pounce again and force me into a series of repetitive thoughts that get harder to control as every new thought appears. On a bad day, my brain will settle on something to obsess over and pick, pick, pick at it until I am struggling to get through my day.

So when I heard that John Green, master of writing relatable teenagers with varying degrees of social and/or plain old anxiety, was writing a book with a main character with OCD… I was pretty excited. But I’ve strayed from reading YA in recent years, as I am getting to the point where they no longer feel like they’re for me. Reading about kids in high school feels like reading about an alien planet I once lived on but have no desire to go back to. So I filed the knowledge away to be taken advantage of at another time, figuring I’d maybe read it someday when I had time.

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Luckily, my partner knows me better than I often know myself and put Turtles All the Way Down on hold at our local library branch before the book was even released. (Frugal and romantic! He knows the way to my heart, y’all.) It took a few weeks before a copy was available, but as soon as it was, I started reading.

And… had to stop not too far in.

It wasn’t because the book was bad. Oh, no. It was because it was too good. Reading it spiked my anxiety like you wouldn’t believe. I don’t have OCD, but the main character Aza’s fears of germs and disgust of things like the process of eating and digestion, and her constant questioning of whether or not she was real felt extremely familiar.

I powered through it, though. There were so many portions of the story that pinged some core feeling inside me. Aza’s struggle with physical intimacy because of invasive thoughts about germs, her descriptions of “thought spirals” and questions about what controls our thoughts and whether our thoughts are us or not, and the way stressors in her life eventually get her to this point where she feels as if her control over her thoughts is even more limited than normal – so much of it felt like things I had experienced, and the writing is visceral enough that sometimes I had to stop and catch my breath for a minute and remind myself that I was okay.

However, while it felt amazing and made me felt seen to have these kinds of trials put to paper, the thing that really made Turtles feel important was its focus on healing. Note that I don’t say “recovery.” If you’re looking for a book where everything ends very neatly and the main character conquers their mental illness entirely and everything is hunky-dory, don’t expect Turtles to be that book. Aza is not perfect at the end of the novel by any stretch of the imagination. But she has taken the time to use the tools at her disposal to be the best she can be, and that was a deeply important message for me to read. This is a book about healing hurts and knowing that sometimes, even though you have healed, your pain can sometimes try to come back to haunt you, and that’s not the end of the world if you have the right tools to handle the pain when it arrives. It’s also about life going on, and how, despite mental illness often being an unwelcome guest that will likely never leave you, you can still go on to live your life and do all the things you dream of doing.

I felt like John Green summed up that sentiment really well at the end of his acknowledgments.

Lastly, Dr. Joellen Hosler and Dr. Sunil Patel have made my life immeasurably better by providing the kind of high-quality mental health care that unfortunately remains out of reach for too many. My family and I are grateful. If you need mental health services in the United States, please call the SAMHSA treatment referral helpline… It can be a long and difficult road, but mental illness is treatable. There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.

Despite some meandering plot lines and a kind of slowness that drags portions of the book down, I still think this is, if not one of the best, then one of the most important books I’ve read in a while.