recommended reads from sisyphus

I feel the unquenchable need to apologize.
For years now I have had this blog, and for years I have put very little effort into attempting to keep a schedule or even write anything on here. So, yes, I am sorry. Am I planning on changing that anytime soon? Honestly, probably not. And I’m sure it would be an understatement to say that 2020 has been one straight from hell—I know that hasn’t just been my experience with it. 

At the beginning of the year, I was sure that this would be one for the record books; I had a lovely birthday spent with friends, and the beginning of the end of my Sophomore year was making me feel pretty good about myself. Of course, it all went downhill from there. After being shuffled back home, wounded pride and heart in hand, I spent the rest of the extended summer isolating myself. Not only did that isolation begin with me actually getting the virus, but I simply couldn’t bring myself to talk to anyone. If I’m being completely honest, I still don’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t really see my friends, I keep to myself, do my homework, try and pay attention in class, and read. And, since my first semester of Junior year just ended, all I do now is read. It’s not so bad. At least the time isn’t spent on my phone. I feel like I’ve reverted to an introvert when I used to be someone relatively outgoing. 

As 2020 comes to a close, I am met with all the things I screwed up. Granted, not all of them were my mistakes to claim, but if being by myself has taught me anything, it’s that most of your problems now are probably there because you brought them on yourself. Anyway, I didn’t come on here to rant or throw a pity party, truly I didn’t. This burst of blogger-ism was initiated because of a (albeit) trashy re-read I just completed. And, since I did spend the summer putting my phone in the darkest corner of my closet and crying over book characters, I thought now might be a great time to mention a couple of my favorite reads of the year (and one bad one because why not).

I) Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson. 

With a narrator who’s gender and name is never revealed, Winterson chronicles their love life and the all-consuming love affair with a married woman. 

I wish I had the words to describe how much this book means to me. I was assigned this book back in 2019, and while I was able to read the beginning of it (and LOVED it), I never actually got the chance to finish the novel. (Please don’t tell my teacher, I just want her to be my best friend.) Upon my return to Texas, sulking in my online classes and throwing my back out from sleeping too much, I ordered this book and proceeded to re-read the beginning, scribble in every margin available, and stick an unholy amount of notes into it. Maybe it’s because I had a pretty strict and religious upbringing, but whenever authors are able to talk about sex or life or sticky situations openly and my virgin-ass is able to relate to it, I just respect that author more than I can say. Not only did this novel delve into the hardships of what love (and I mean real, true, heart-wrenching, soul-shattering love) can do to a person, but it also spoke on death, retribution, emotional desolation, and obsession. I particularly loved the discussion about the line drawn between love and obsession. Being a pretty obsessive person myself, it was a well deserved hook to the face having someone question whether what I feel is love or obsession. 

Another particularly interesting feature of this book—and maybe this is something that happens often in the adult literature world and I’m just naive and illiterate—is that the narrator is relatively detached from what they are describing, especially when in discussion of those they have previously loved and lost. This, contrary to what would be expected, adds an even more human quality to the story telling—I know I once felt that way, and yes, these things did happen, but my body/heart/soul/what-have-you won’t let me remember what it felt like in the moment. Again, maybe it’ s just me, but I completely understand the feeling—once the moment has passed, I couldn’t really tell you what it felt like. 

I could spend a year gushing about how much I adore the experimental writing style and truisms all throughout, and while I would love to do that, I think I will end this little tirade on a quote that hopefully pushes you to go read this as well: 

“Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. What then kills love? Only this: Neglect. Not to see you when you stand before me. Not to think of you in the little things. Not to make the road wide for you, the table spread for you. To choose you out of habit not desire, to pass the flower seller without a thought. To leave the dishes unwashed, the bed unmade, to ignore you in the mornings, make use of you at night. To crave another while pecking your cheek. To say your name without hearing it, to assume it is mine to call.” 

(p.s. 2021 has to be better—I’m apparently being assigned this book again! It’s gonna be okay! We’re not dead yet, unfortunately!!)

II) A Discover of Witches by Deborah Harkness (All Souls, Book 1). 

Diana Bishop, a direct descendent of the first witch burned at the Salem Witch Trials and Oxford scholar, wants nothing more than to put her heritage and powers to the side. But, upon discovering a long-lost manuscript said to describe the origin of creatures like Diana, she is pushed into the very world she tried to escape, now with a far more tempting pull: vampire and geneticist extraordinaire, Matthew Clairmont. While she tries desperately to hide from her heritage and connection with a creature, she must soon come to realize that she cannot run from her fate. 

Towards the end of the summer, my sister introduced me to this series. She had spoken of it many times before and I had seen her reading it time and time again, but she asked if I wanted to watch the TV series they made of the first novel with her. (It would be a rewatch for her, but she knew I’d like it so I conceded.) Needless to say, I’m very happy that I did! While I could write a whole novella on how much I adored the television show, this two day binge viewing had me immediately picking up the copy I already happened to own of it’s inspiration. 

A fun fact about me is that I seem to become illiterate when the school semesters come around, so unfortunately it did take me a little longer than expected  to make it through this book after entering into the beginning of my Junior year of undergrad. That being said, I enjoyed every moment of reading this. Deborah Harkness has such a rich understanding of the English language, and going into a novel about a bunch of coked up academics, that really came in handy. The plot, towards the end, did seem to drag, but only for a chapter or so before we were thrust back into the crazy shenanigans of those century-old virginal vampires. All in all, I think the characters, world, and relationships of this novel were built in a beautiful way, and although my pea-sized brain took a hot minute to get through it, the story was still jam packed with more energy than I have had all year. 

An important side-note before we continue: people are constantly comparing this to Twilight (understandably, considering that is the only massive vampire romance franchise to really exist without any competition in the literature world). I myself, while reading it, was comparing particularly the relationship between Diana and Matthew to our beloved Bella and Edward. If I had to put it in rudimentary terms, A Discovery of Witches is Twilight if no one had crippling self-esteem issues. But enough on that.

III) Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery 

The classic tale of an orphan with an incredible “scope for imagination” is brought (accidentally) to live on Prince Edward Island with an elderly brother and sister. Who needs whom more, Anne or Marilla and Matthew, we will never know. 

Here we come to a second Matthew that I have fallen in love with this year. 

A short aside to discuss the origins of my love for Anne and her adventures—when I was around sixteen or seventeen, my mother introduced me to the Megan Follows mini-series of these books that were made over the course of  ten some years. I will do my best to refrain from discussing how I happened to begin this series of movies one week and my beloved Jonathan Crombie was still alive, and how I continued them the next week and Gilbert was dead, as it still makes me weep uncontrollably. Any-who, quarantine hit three years later, and I thought now would be a better time than ever to begin reading this series. I won’t talk too much about the rest of the Anne books considering I’ve only been able to read two and a half more, but I should like to mention that the first one is my favorite, but the second, somehow, made me again weep uncontrollably. 

L.M. Montgomery is a magician. While these books are told in third-person omniscient, the author still speaks with the same voice and love that our main character has for the world and propels around her. From the first line, you are enraptured in the characters of the world, monotonous as they may seem. My personal favorite touch she has on these books, is her love for the land. Nature comes alive when she writes, as though it is a living breathing entity to these characters (and for Anne, it most certainly is). With the way L.M. writes, I’m sure she and Anne were kindred spirits. There is also something to be said about how hilarious these books are. As someone that cannot be funny without swearing like a sailor, I have a deep respect for those authors that can make me cackle without saying a word out of turn, such as Montgomery. 

For all that it’s worth, I think these books are perfect for all ages, and this first one doesn’t necessarily leave on a cliff-hanger and isn’t too long, so if you were hoping to just get a taste of this story, the first Anne of Green Gables book might be a wonderful place to start. 

(Also, you could just go watch the Megan Follows movies, but please I beg you for it to only be the Megan Follows ones. Everything else is trash and I stand by that statement. Also Gilbert Blythe will change your life. Trust me, I speak from experience.)  

IV) Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade by Kurt Vonnegut

This anti-war science fiction novel follows Billy Pilgrim and his life as it is “unstuck in time.” Much like the character, the story is non-linear, odd, and chooses to focus on the life, mis-adventures, and death surrounding Billy. It is a self aware, entertaining, funny, and dark novel discussing morality, mortality, and all that surrounds death. So it goes. 

My opinions on this book have all been said before, and unfortunately I do not have the mental capacity to have any original insights about this novel. All I can say is that I loved it. Not only is the author apart of the story, and is aware that he is an author and not some all knowing being hanging in the sky, but it also approaches a controversial topic in a backwards sort of way—a way that offers the situation a better perspective. To be honest, I wish I was intelligent enough in this sort of writing to truly appreciate it as much as possible, or at least have friends that understood it better than I did, but alas all I can say is: it was good. You should read it.

Now, out with the good. On with the bad. 

V) Beastly by Alex Finn

It’s a Beauty and the Beast retelling but everyone is super young and nothing makes sense. 

If you can’t tell, I fucking hated this book. Not only is it written with seemingly little to no effort, it also has the lovely aspect of involving eighth graders, and absurd amounts of body hair, and stunted character development and relationships that don’t actually make you emotionally attached to the characters. If that isn’t enough, there is also a group chat where fairy tale characters come together and have group therapy. I’m here for therapy, but not when it upends the entire magical system you are trying to build. 

Look, I completely understand why this book is a favorite among YA readers. It’s not the most terrible thing in the world, harsh as I am about it. The thing is, I happened to watch the 2011 movie based on this book (with the black-listed Alex Pettyfer, and the ubiquitous Venessa Hudgens). Contrary to my hate for this novel, I actually really really enjoy the film. This book had been on my TBR for the longest time because of that movie. Not only do I think it’s well adapted for the screen, I love the changes made to the story line—making the characters older and effectively eliminating the horrifying body hair. It’s not a cinematic masterpiece, but compared to the origin material it’s based off of, it did a pretty bang-up job. To go from watching the semi-entertaining movie to reading a juvenile, non-relatable, mock up of that story was more than disappointing. 

Okay, listen. I will say it, and I know it will be upsetting, but please know that I only inform you about this so you can prepare yourself if ever you meet me: I hate body hair. Completely and absolutely. I have to really really like you to endure any contact with body hair. This is the soul reason that from the ages of 9 to 16 I was Team Jacob. So, for a story to follow a dick that looks like if a bob cat got a blow out, I was more than uncomfortable. An aspect of the movie that I really appreciated was their take on the Beauty and the Beast retelling. Instead of making the protagonist hairy and beastly and all that jazz, his inner-self is reflected onto his body. He is empty, and devoid of emotion, and the only telling marks he has are scar-like tattoos that enable the audience to understand that he hasn’t had much of any love in his life, and the things that did leave an impression on him weren’t good. But no, the book had to be unoriginal, and also make the characters LITERALLY THIRTEEN. Look, I might be a bit of a pessimist now and detest love, but I don’t think it’s relatable for people that young to be 1) falling in love, 2) living with each other with minimal guardianship, and 3) deal with the “dark” things they do (which aren’t actually dark, but what a silver-spoon child would say is intense). The movie, in making the characters Seniors in high school not only gave the characters more understandable agency, but also made the story more intense, and gave voice to actually difficult aspects of life white-suburbia thirteen year olds wouldn’t deal with. Also, it just makes the stakes for love higher—they are all growing into themselves and gonna move on and leave soon. The ‘if you’re gonna fall in love, you better do it now’ sort of thing. 

All of that being said to ensure you that, trust me, you are not missing out on this book. Save yourself the boring six hours it’ll take you to read this for a less boring hour and a half of your time. 

(ALSO, I must dictate how much I enjoy the change of the character’s name. A quarter into the story, the protagonist decides to become a different person and change his name, and in the novel he changes his name to Adrian…because it means…lord. of. darkness. I’m sorry, I’m depressed, but you didn’t have to go that eighth grade hard on me. But, I digress, if only to ensure you finish this post.)

It’s been difficult for me to read over the last couple years. For some reason unbeknownst to me, I read like a maniac in high school (even when I was in three different competitive dance studios, played a bunch of instruments, and was in all AP classes), but somehow can’t read more than three books per college semester. Maybe I was smarter, or maybe I had a less critical eye about what I was reading so I enjoyed pretty much everything I picked up. All of this to say that I wish this list could be longer, but it is still a feat for me to have read 30 books total. 

I hope this helped in any capacity (if only to share the mutual hate for Beastly), and happy reading in 2021. May it be less of a hellfire than last year. 



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