My Month in Books: May 2022

Please Miss: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Penis by Grace Lavery

I’m a simple girl who likes puns and giggles at the word penis so the title alone was enough to make me pick up this book. The blurb which promised a revolutionary queer memoir and described the author as an ‘omnisexual chaos muppet’ sealed the deal. However, I’m happy to hold up my hands and say that in spite of my high hopes as I opened this book, I simply did not get it. I get what the author was doing, and they were doing it very successfully (I think?) but I am simply neither well-read enough nor clever enough to really get the most out of it. I think there are probably around seven people in the world who are though and I hope they find this book. If a friend or loved one is a queer academic who specialises in Dickens and loves Little Shop of Horrors, this may be the ideal Christmas present.

The Pink Line: Journeys Across the World’s Queer Frontiers by Mark Gevisser

The Pink Line is an ambitious and meticulously researched exploration of LGBTQ+ rights around the world. Although never before has a social movement brought about so much change so quickly, attitudes to queer people across the world are still variable with some countries celebrating LGBTQ+ people and with others strengthening laws to criminalise homosexuality and gender non-conformity. Indeed, even within nations attitudes, freedoms and safety varies from region to region, town to town and even house to house. Mark Gevisser explores this ‘pink line’ which has been drawn through the modern world, mixing chapters which provide detailed analysis of the geopolitical and social factors at play with personal stories of people living at the edge of the pink line. This includes a trans Malawian refugee living in South Africa, a lesbian couple running a gay cafe in Cairo, genderqueer teens living in the American north-east and a Kothi community in an Indian fishing village. This book is absolutely fascinating and is an excellent addition to any Pride Month reading list.

Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire

I’m so glad that Seanan McGuire 1) Exists and spends her time writing sensational portal fantasy novellas 2) Chose to revisit Jack and Jill’s story. When last we encountered the Wolcott sisters, Jack was carrying Jill back to their horror-movie homeworld, The Moors, with plans to resurrect her and prevent her from becoming a vampire. However, fans of the series will know that Jill is happy enough to kill to get what she wants and soon Jack is forced to enlist her friends from Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children to finally put a stop to her sister, once and for all. Jack is such a special character for me and Jill is so believably terrifying and seeing the two of them finally square off head to head to each fight for their version of a happily ever after was everything I needed. It’s going to be hard making myself wait to read the next book in this series but I know something this good is to be savoured, not rushed.

The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

This book was not good. I don’t want to be a snob about books that are ‘TikTok sensations’ because I think anything that gets people reading is wonderful but this book honestly felt more like a collection of ‘dark academia’/’aesthetic’ buzzwords than an actual coherent story. Having written this, I now feel ancient and like I need to yell at some kids to get off my lawn.

Broken Harbor by Tana French

Broken Harbor was the first Dublin Murder Squad book that I felt apprehensive about reading, as when Mick ‘Scorcher’ Kennedy appeared in the previous instalment in the series, Faithful Place, he was a total jerk. It is a testament to Tana French’s skill as an author and her empathy towards her characters that within a few chapters, Scorcher had totally won me over and Broken Harbor now stands as my favourite (so far) in the Dublin Murder Squad series. Broken Harbor focuses on a murder on one of Dublin’s infamous ‘ghost estates’ during the 2008 recession. Patrick Spain and his two young children have been brutally murdered and Jenny Spain, his wife, is in intensive care after being found bleeding out and clinging to the body of her husband. While initially this looks like a straightforward case of family annihilation, there a few things that point to something stranger going on that can’t seem to be explained. The result was a gripping and thrilling mystery with plenty of twists and turns, another great addition to one of my favourite detective series.

Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favourite Guilty Pleasure by Amy Kaufman

Confession: I don’t go in much for reality television and I’ve never watched a single episode of the Bachelor. However, I find its cultural pervasiveness fascinating and this book is a well-researched study of why this show has captured the hearts and minds of so many. Starting with a history of the televised dating show and following the development of the series through time, Kaufman interviews former producers and contestants to understand how the show has repackaged a tale as old as time, the ‘marriage plot’, into a modern phenomenon that captivates millions. My main issue with the book was the chapters written by various celebrities about why they were fans of the series, which I found repetitive and not particularly insightful. Honestly I’d just advise skipping over these sections as they add very little to what was an otherwise interesting book.

Book of Night by Holly Black

I loved the Folk of the Air series so I was super excited to see how Holly Black’s first foray into non-YA literature would turn out. The whole premise of shadow magic and the world-building was really cool and well-developed but the whole thing just felt a little hollow and it didn’t grip me the way that her previous books have. I’m not normally a person who minds swearing, hard-drinking and sex (either in literature or in life) but it felt as if Black was trying really hard separate herself from her YA fairy story past and emphasise that now she writes gritty books for grown ups. I mean, it’s still essentially a make-believe book about wizards so I’d prefer a bit more revelry in the magic and wonder of it all, but if you’re into the more gritty-realist side of fantasy, you might really enjoy this.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Sometimes in times of trouble you need to bust out an old favourite. Memoirs of a Geisha is one of my favourite books of all time and reading it honestly feels meditative at this point. I will never get tired of reading about Sayuri’s journey from destitute orphan to geisha, drawing on wells of inner strength and achieving control and independence in a world set up to keep these things from her. The language is stunning and the picture of a hidden jewel of a world on the brink of destruction is preserved like a fossil in amber. Is it an orientalist mess? Absolutely. Will I always have a special place in my heart for this orientalist mess? Absolutely. Sometimes the heart wins out over the head and that is no bad thing.

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