BOOK REVIEW: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V.E. Schwab

BOOK REVIEW: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V.E. SchwabTitle: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
Published by Tor Books
Published: October 6th 2020
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 442
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

A Life No One Will Remember. A Story You Will Never Forget.
France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.
Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.
But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.

Schwab is one of my favorite writers. I love the way she uses language to create worlds, and I love the connections between characters she develops. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is one of my favorite reads of 2020, and even though it’s been a few weeks since I’ve finished reading it, I can’t stop thinking about it in both good and not so good ways. I understand some of Schwab’s reasoning about choosing not to include very overt and specific historical things due to a fear of not writing it correctly, but they were still choices. I’ll try not to spoil it too much, but be forewarned that there might be spoilers below!

Addie LaRue made a deal with the devil to escape a life she doesn’t want, and an aftereffect of the deal is that no one remembers her. Throughout her life, throughout hundreds of years, she travels the world but the parts Schwab wrote about are so obviously eurocentric and white. There is no mention of the slave trade, not even in passing, and no mention of the civil rights movements occurring throughout the last hundred and fifty years. Is it because Schwab didn’t find it comfortable to write about or include, or is Addie so self-centered that she is only concerned about her day-to-day life and influencing artists rather than seeing what she could do, however small and incremental (as she does with the artists’ lives with whom she engages), to the grander scope of society? I feel like it’s a little of both, and I just wish there was something. Addie can’t be photographed, make any kind of physical written mark or brush stroke, but she can influence people in their art?? This is the main frustration I had with the book because it paints such a soft, sanitary version of the world. I know that’s not the point of the book, but I do wish history in its terrible reality had been included more.

But to me, Addie’s plight, her desire to be herself and live as she wished resonates a lot with me on so many levels. I often feel invisible, wanting to be recognized but finding myself stopped short by some invisible force.

“I do not want to belong to someone else,” she says with sudden vehemence. The words are a door flung wide, and now the rest pour out of her. “I do not want to belong to anyone but myself. I want to be free. Free to live, and to find my own way, to love, or to be alone, but at least it is my choice, and I am so tired of not having choices, so scared of the years rushing past beneath my feet. I do not want to die as I’ve lived, which is no life at all.”

Addie lives each day being forgotten by other people until Henry, the boy from the bookshop, remembers her. Everything she has known up until that point is thrown into a topsyturvy mess, and she spends a lot of time figuring out what that means while also falling in love with Henry. Knowing Schwab’s style from books in the past, I had an inkling about where the story would go, and it lived up to all of my expectations. I loved the ending because it felt like the right choice for her. All she wanted was to be known for who she is, not for who she could be; and for Henry, there were a lot of could bes involved.

Even with my frustrations about the history included in this book, I still enjoyed it a lot. Schwab’s style has grown and evolved since I first started reading her work, and I’m looking forward to what comes next. This is a novel that is best read without knowing too much about it (and I know I probably spoiled it a lot in this review), but the day-to-day explorations and trials Addie faces as someone who can’t be remembered resonated with me a lot, and a reread of this book is likely in my near future.

BOOK REVIEW: Culture Warlords, by Talia Lavin

BOOK REVIEW: Culture Warlords, by Talia LavinTitle: Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy by Talia Lavin
Published by Hachette Books
Published: October 13th 2020
Genres: Cultural Studies, Non-Fiction
Pages: 288
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

A HARROWING JOURNEY INTO THE HEART OF WHITE SUPREMACY

Talia Lavin is every skinhead’s worst nightmare: a loud and unapologetic Jewish woman, acerbic, smart, and profoundly antiracist, with the investigative chops to expose the tactics and ideologies of online hatemongers. Culture Warlords is the story of how Lavin, a frequent target of extremist trolls (including those at Fox News), dove into a byzantine online culture of hate and learned the intricacies of how white supremacy proliferates online.

Within these pages, she reveals the extremists hiding in plain sight online: Incels. White nationalists. White supremacists. National Socialists. Proud Boys. Christian extremists. In order to showcase them in their natural habitat, Talia assumes a range of identities, going undercover as a blonde Nazi babe, a forlorn incel, and a violent Aryan femme fatale. Along the way, she discovers a whites-only dating site geared toward racists looking for love, a disturbing extremist YouTube channel run by a fourteen-year-old girl with over 800,000 followers, the everyday heroes of the antifascist movement, and much more.

By combining compelling stories chock-full of catfishing and gate-crashing with her own in-depth, gut-wrenching research, she also turns the lens of anti-Semitism, racism, and white power back on itself in an attempt to dismantle and decimate the online hate movement from within. Shocking, humorous, and merciless in equal measure, Culture Warlords explores some of the vilest subcultures on the Web-and shows us how we can fight back.

Talia Lavin’s Culture Warlords is a compelling, terrifying glimpse into white supremacy. This is by no means a complete examination of the many facets white supremacy reveals itself online and in our culture, but this is a good starting point and a good place to open up the conversation and personal research regarding why it feels like white supremacy has run rampantly unchecked lately.

I started reading this on the Friday after the attempted coup on January 6 because it felt like the right time to read it. I’ve always known white supremacy is deeply entwined in American history, but watching the events that unfolded last week brought it to the clearest forefront.

Lavin’s research and deep dives into white supremacist communities online and off are harrowing, brave, and gutsy. I know I don’t have the wherewithal to catfish on any level, so to me the levels she took this to are incredible. She risked so much going undercover to expose these internet communities, and I can’t even begin to imagine the emotional toll this endeavor has had on her.

One of the things I found most interesting about this is her exploration of the internet being a strikingly new tool at radicalization. It’s only in the last thirty or forty years that we as a planet have had the capabilities to share thoughts and information like this, and the more our society moves online to communicate, the more opportunities there are for unchecked, unmoderated spaces for white supremacist groups to connect.

I couldn’t put Culture Warlords down, and I finished it within a few hours of starting it. This is a necessary read, and it’s a necessary conversation opener.

Many thanks to Hachette Books for sending a complimentary review copy my way!

BOOK REVIEW: One Writer’s Beginnings, by Eudora Welty

BOOK REVIEW: One Writer’s Beginnings, by Eudora WeltyTitle: One Writer's Beginnings by Eudora Welty, Natasha Trethewey
Published by Scribner
Published: November 3rd 2020
Genres: Non-Fiction
Pages: 160
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
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Featuring a new introduction, this updated edition of the New York Times bestselling classic by Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award–winning author and one of the most revered figures in American letters is “profound and priceless as guidance for anyone who aspires to write” (Los Angeles Times).

Born in 1909 in Jackson, Mississippi, Eudora Welty shares details of her upbringing that show us how her family and her surroundings contributed to the shaping not only of her personality but of her writing as well. Everyday sights, sounds, and objects resonate with the emotions of recollection: the striking clocks, the Victrola, her orphaned father’s coverless little book saved since boyhood, the tall mountains of the West Virginia back country that became a metaphor for her mother’s sturdy independence, Eudora’s earliest box camera that suspended a moment forever and taught her that every feeling awaits a gesture.

In her vivid descriptions of growing up in the South—of the interplay between black and white, between town and countryside, between dedicated schoolteachers and the children they taught—she recreates the vanished world of her youth with the same subtlety and insight that mark her fiction, capturing “the mysterious transfiguring gift by which dream, memory, and experience become art” (Los Angeles Times Book Review).
Part memoir, part exploration of the seeds of creativity, this unique distillation of a writer’s beginnings offers a rare glimpse into the Mississippi childhood that made Eudora Welty the acclaimed and important writer she would become.

I don’t even remember requesting this from Scribner, but when it showed up on my doorstep, One Writer’s Beginnings made me feel entirely delighted. I saved it for a day off so I could dedicate the entire day to reading it, and I’m glad I took the time with it. I’ve only read one of Welty’s stories for my American Lit class in college, but this makes me want to visit everything she’s written. Her perception of the world just speaks to me on so many different levels. Welty’s description of her life in Mississippi has an undercurrent of truth to it that’s difficult to ignore and easy to be enchanted by. I was fascinated by her recollections of the 1918 pandemic and how certain things then correlated with today. It seems at times so strange that this was only one hundred years ago, and not many things are different.

What I loved the most about this memoir were Welty’s recollections of her reading life and how her reading life developed her writing life. The passages in which she says she yearned to listen to a story reminded me of my own childhood where I felt like I was hungry to just know everything about my family’s life. It’s always somewhat of a shock to discover who your parents and extended family were and are outside of the familiarity with which you grew up, that your parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents were and are people with minds of their own outside of their roles in your life, and that upon looking back you are able to pick out the narrative threads in the past that lead people to become who they are in the present. Fiction helps bring these threads together, though people are by no means mere stories in themselves.

This slim memoir is by no means short. I found myself getting lost in the recollections and explorations Welty puts forth in each of the three sections. I wanted more, but I was satisfied with what I was given; and Welty’s memoir made me consider my own history and my own relationship with words and writing.

Of course the greatest confluence of all is that which makes up the human memory — the individual human memory. My own is the treasure most dearly regarded by me, in my life and in my work as a writer. Here time, also, is subject to confluence. The memory is a living thing — it too is in transit. But during its moment, all that is remember joins and lives — the old and the young, the past and the present, the living and the dead.

As you have seen, I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.

This would make a wonderful gift for a reader, and I’m so pleased to have had the chance to experience it myself.

Thank you to Scribner for sending me a complimentary copy for review! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Death by Shakespeare, by Kathryn Harkup

BOOK REVIEW: Death by Shakespeare, by Kathryn HarkupTitle: Death by Shakespeare: Snakebites, Stabbings and Broken Hearts by Kathryn Harkup
Published by Bloomsbury SIGMA
Published: May 5, 2020
Genres: Non-Fiction, History, Science
Pages: 368
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
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An in-depth look at the science behind the creative methods Shakespeare used to kill off his characters.

In Death By Shakespeare, Kathryn Harkup, best-selling author of A is for Arsenic and expert on the more gruesome side of science, turns her expertise to Shakespeare and the creative methods he used to kill off his characters. Is death by snakebite really as serene as Cleopatra made it seem? How did Juliet appear dead for 72 hours only to be revived in perfect health? Can you really kill someone by pouring poison in their ear? How long would it take before Lady Macbeth died from lack of sleep? Readers will find out exactly how all the iconic death scenes that have thrilled audiences for centuries would play out in real life.

In the Bard's day death was a part of everyday life. Plague, pestilence and public executions were a common occurrence, and the chances of seeing a dead or dying body on the way home from the theater was a fairly likely scenario. Death is one of the major themes that reoccurs constantly throughout Shakespeare's canon, and he certainly didn't shy away from portraying the bloody reality of death on the stage. He didn't have to invent gruesome or novel ways to kill off his characters when everyday experience provided plenty of inspiration.

Shakespeare's era was also a time of huge scientific advance. The human body, its construction and how it was affected by disease came under scrutiny, overturning more than a thousand years of received Greek wisdom, and Shakespeare himself hinted at these new scientific discoveries and medical advances in his writing, such as circulation of the blood and treatments for syphilis.

Shakespeare found 74 different ways to kill off his characters, and audiences today still enjoy the same reactions--shock, sadness, fear--that they did over 400 years ago when these plays were first performed. But how realistic are these deaths, and did Shakespeare have the science to back them up?

I love reading books that provide some kind of external context about other books or works — whether it’s historical context, criticism, and, in the case of Kathryn Harkup’s Death by Shakespeare, scientific context. Death by Shakespeare explores the many deaths in Shakespeare’s plays and provides insightful looks into how contemporaries handled disease and death, and Harkup explores these topics with clarity, empathy, and humor. Shakespeare’s body of work can be daunting and difficult for modern readers, but Harkup presents her research in an engaging way that is entertaining and in reach.

I loved the intersections of contemporary and modern medicine, as well as the examinations of how the deaths in the plays were (or weren’t) performed on stage. Death today seems so far removed from our society, yet in Shakespeare’s day, death was actively part of every day life. This was also something weird to read at this present time with the coronavirus pandemic because I’m confronted by death daily and still so far removed from it because no one I know has contracted it, but Shakespeare and his contemporaries confronted death in all its causes in such close proximity that it was difficult to ignore, even in his own work. The thing I loved most about Death by Shakespeare is the connection of the historical and everyday life with the science because it made everything feel so much more real. Like death, history seems something so far removed from us that we sometimes forget that history is populated by people living lives with emotional scope and depth as people live today, so in a way, putting Shakespeare’s plays into context like, along with any contextual criticism, this brings the humanity of these plays to the surface.

This is something that would be beneficial to anyone reading and studying Shakespeare as it provides an engaging and accessible look into the reasons why Shakespeare likely used certain kinds of poisons, murders, and avenues of death in his work. Personally, I know having this historical/literary/scientific context when I was taking my Shakespeare course in undergrad would have added so much to my enjoyment and understanding of the plays, but I’m glad to have read it now!

Many thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for sending me an early copy to review! All opinions are my own.

Little List of Reviews #9: Non-Fiction Library Reads

I have finally finished the graphics for the new blog style, and I’m really happy with them! It’s been since 2018 since I really updated anything on here, and I’m going to be focusing more on content pages here in the upcoming weeks. Sometimes a small refresh is all you need to get some blogging inspiration!

Today’s Little List of Reviews features three reads I checked out from my new-to-me library, two of which I didn’t particularly like, and one that I did!

Little List of Reviews #9: Non-Fiction Library ReadsTitle: On Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Story of George Orwell’s Masterpiece by D.J. Taylor
Published by Harry N. Abrams
Published: October 22nd 2019
Genres: Non-Fiction
Pages: 256
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

From the author of the definitive biography of George Orwell, a captivating account of the origin and enduring power of his landmark dystopian novel 
Since its publication nearly 70 years ago, George Orwell’s 1984 has been regarded as one of the most influential novels of the modern age. Politicians have testified to its influence on their intellectual identities, rock musicians have made records about it, TV viewers watch a reality show named for it, and a White House spokesperson tells of “alternative facts.” The world we live in is often described as an Orwellian one, awash in inescapable surveillance and invasions of privacy. 
On 1984 dives deep into Orwell’s life to chart his earlier writings and key moments in his youth, such as his years at a boarding school, whose strict and charismatic headmaster shaped the idea of Big Brother. Taylor tells the story of the writing of the book, taking readers to the Scottish island of Jura, where Orwell, newly famous thanks to Animal Farm but coping with personal tragedy and rapidly declining health, struggled to finish 1984. Published during the cold war—a term Orwell coined—Taylor elucidates the environmental influences on the book. Then he examines 1984’s post-publication life, including its role as a tool to understand our language, politics, and government.
In a current climate where truth, surveillance, censorship, and critical thinking are contentious, Orwell’s work is necessary. Written with resonant and reflective analysis, On 1984 is both brilliant and remarkably timely. 

D.J. Taylor’s On Nineteen Eighty-Four is a short look at the history surrounding George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. While I initially found the premise interesting, the content of it actually fell irritatingly short, refusing to address or acknowledge Wikileaks, Snowden, Assange, a lot of the current surveillance issues, and choose instead to focus on the current president/administration and literally no one else? Yes, the current administration is frustrating and obviously a driving factor behind this book, but you have to include what comes before it that also contributed to the environment in which we exist.

Little List of Reviews #9: Non-Fiction Library ReadsTitle: How to Watch a Movie by David Thomson
Published by Knopf
Published: November 3rd 2015
Genres: Non-Fiction
Pages: 242
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

From one of the most admired critics of our time, brilliant insights into the act of watching movies and an enlightening discussion about how to derive more from any film experience.
Since first publishing his landmark Biographical Dictionary of Film in 1975 (recently released in its sixth edition), David Thomson has been one of our most trusted authorities on all things cinema. Now, he offers his most inventive exploration of the medium yet: guiding us through each element of the viewing experience, considering the significance of everything from what we see and hear on screen--actors, shots, cuts, dialogue, music--to the specifics of how, where, and with whom we do the viewing. With customary candor and wit, Thomson delivers keen analyses of a range of films from classics such as Psychoand Citizen Kane to contemporary fare such as 12 Years a Slave and All Is Lost, revealing how to more deeply appreciate both the artistry and (yes) manipulation of film, and how watching movies approaches something like watching life itself. Discerning, funny, and utterly unique, How to Watch a Movie is a welcome twist of the classic proverb: Give a movie fan a film, she'll be entertained for an hour or two; teach a movie fan to watch, his experience will be enriched forever.
From the Hardcover edition.

I have been more and more interested in film as a medium due to a friend of mine, so lately I’ve been doing a little research into books I can get my hands on, and How To Watch a Movie caught my eye with the description and promises of revealing “how to watch a movie.” However, what’s on the tin doesn’t describe the actual contents of the book: a long, meandering blabbering of some guy’s experiences with movies he watched as a kid with little to nothing else? It read like some old guy’s self-important film subreddit posts.

Little List of Reviews #9: Non-Fiction Library ReadsTitle: Astro Poets: Your Guides to the Zodiac by Alex Dimitrov, Dorothea Lasky
Published by Flatiron Books
Published: October 29th 2019
Genres: Non-Fiction
Pages: 336
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

From the online phenomenons the Astro Poets comes the first great astrology primer of the 21st century.
Full of insight, advice and humor for every sign in the zodiac, the Astro Poets' unique brand of astrological flavor has made them Twitter sensations. Their long-awaited first book is in the grand tradition of Linda Goodman's Sun Signs, but made for the world we live in today.
In these pages the Astro Poets help you see what's written in the stars and use it to navigate your friendships, your career, and your very complicated love life. If you've ever wondered why your Gemini friend won't let you get a word in edge-wise at drinks, you've come to the right place. When will that Scorpio texting "u up?" at 2AM finally take the next step in your relationship? (Hint: they won't). Both the perfect introduction to the twelve signs for the astrological novice, and a resource to return to for those who already know why their Cancer boyfriend cries during commercials but need help with their new whacky Libra boss, this is the astrology book must-have for the twenty-first century and beyond.

I love the Astro Poets twitter and find their day-to-day tweets hilarious and their weekly predictions interesting and heart-felt. The book is a great companion to their twitter and filled with much of the same insight and humor that I had hoped for. I borrowed this from the library and I’m glad I did, because it is one of those read & flip through once sort of books.