Several People Are Typing by Calvin Kasulke
The pandemic saw a revolutionary transformation of labor, specifically working from home as a viable option. This novel is told entirely through Slack chats for a New York-based public relations firm. It starts with Gerald discovering his consciousness has been uploaded into the company’s Slack channels. His coworkers think this is an elaborate prank and dismiss his calls for help. The PR firm’s most prominent job at the moment is helping a high-end dog food company recover from reports that their food may be poisoning Pomeranians across the country. We are introduced to the employee in-jokes & drama, all while bizarre things happen in the background. I thought this was an entertaining read, nothing life-changing but clearly written by a sharp mind who found a way to make an unconventional format work. Because this is essentially written like a stage play, it makes for a quick read. I knocked it out in a couple of days. If you are looking for something that isn’t fluff but also not too heavy, this one is worth checking out.
Milk Blood Heat: Stories by Dantiel W. Moniz
This is the debut short story collection from Dantiel W. Moniz, and I found it to be an excellent book. I don’t think it does anything revolutionary, but it is a great set of confidentially written & well-crafted pieces. Moniz knows the emotions she wants to evoke and what she wants to say in each piece, something other writers I’ve read over the years could learn from. “Tongues” was the first standout to me, telling the story of an older sister who wakes up to the misogyny in her family’s church while thinking about how she can help take care of her little brother, ensuring he doesn’t turn out like that. “The Hearts of Our Enemies” was probably my favorite story in the whole book. It’s about a mother suspecting that her daughter is having an affair with the girl’s favorite teacher. But, of course, it’s not quite as simple as that, and Moniz delivers a story with some surprises but really beautiful humanity between the mother & daughter at the end.
Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend by Katie Zhao
Of course, my other blog, The Reading Circle, has me reading some middle-grade novels. This one is the first entry in a planned fantasy series for kids. Winnie Zeng is a Chinese-American girl who has just started middle school and finds she shares classes with her rival David Zuo. While making mooncakes for a class bake sale, Winnie discovers her late grandmother’s spirit resides within the girl’s pet bunny. And Grandma has a lot to tell her granddaughter, mainly that the girl is next in a long line of shamans who battle spirits that have found their way into the land of the living. So, using a magic cookbook and getting advice from her rabbit, Winnie takes on an increasingly challenging queue of ghosts only to learn David is also training as a shaman. This amusing kids’ book introduces kids to a whole new world of folklore & mythology. I could easily see something like this becoming a tv series or movie.
Caprice by Coe Booth
Realistic fiction is always hit or miss for me. I think it’s often easier in some ways to write fantasy because it cues the audience into accepting a more heightened reality. However, when you deal with reality, you must keep the reader hooked and not push credulity. I think Caprice does this magnificently. Caprice is an adolescent girl from New Jersey that just wrapped up a summer program at an elite private school. The headmaster is so impressed with her that she offers to offer her a spot with a full-ride scholarship. Caprice comes from a low-income Black family, so this is a dream come true. But it also means leaving her friends and community in Newark. This big moment of change also brings up a memory Caprice has kept secret from everyone since she was a small child; she was sexually molested by a relative. Author Coe Booth handles such a sensitive topic with such beauty that you will be moved by the end of this book. Because it’s written in first person and presented as journal entries, it has the added benefit of modeling constructive self-reflection in writing for children, something everyone can benefit from.
Paola Santiago and the River of Tears by Tehlor Kay Mejia
Presented through Rick Riordan’s publishing imprint, it won’t surprise you that this is following in the vein of Percy Jackson. Instead of Greek mythology, the story centers on Mexican folklore and features the plucky protagonist of Paola Santiago. Paola is focused on science, particularly astronomy. This clashes with her mother, a spiritualist who reads tarot and believes the answers lie in the spirit world. Things get scary in their New Mexico hometown when Paola’s friend Emma goes missing after walking near the main river. Stories about La Llorona emerging from the waters to snatch kids abound, but Paola doesn’t buy it. She and her best friend Dante go about their own investigation when it’s clear the local authorities have no leads. This hurtles the two into a realm of spirits & monsters, all living in the shadows beneath our reality. Also, Dante wields a mystic chancla he gets from his Abuela, so that’s pretty hilarious. This is a must-purchase if you have kids that enjoy a mix of humor and adventure.
Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology, and Lost Futures by Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher was an English writer, music critic, and political theorist who passed in 2017. Fisher was only 48 years old when he hung himself. He’d been seeking psychiatric help for weeks leading up to the event. His general practitioner could only chat on the phone and had yet to make a referral. Fisher was open about his depression in his work and stated, “the pandemic of mental anguish that afflicts our time cannot be properly understood, or healed, if viewed as a private problem suffered by damaged individuals.” The jewel of this collection of his cultural criticism is “The Slow Cancellation of the Future,” where Fisher uses an episode of Sapphire & Steel to talk about the ways we have become mired in endless nostalgia. This nostalgia includes making us nostalgic for other people’s nostalgia, a serpent eating its own tail. I was incredibly moved by this essay and could immediately see his ideas as concrete in our COVID-19 pandemic world. Your mileage will vary with this book because he is reviewing and interviewing people from genres of music you may not have familiarity with. I would encourage you to at least read that first essay. I plan on reading another of his books, Capitalist Realism, sometime before the end of the year.
I’m Glad My Mother Is Dead by Jennette McCurdy
I was too old to watch iCarly, and I can’t recall seeing more than a scene here or there. From what I saw, I thought Jennette McCurdy seemed like a pretty good actress; she was just working with most garbage material. Funny enough, McCurdy thought the same thing about the iCarly scripts. While that show is only a portion of this memoir, it did convince me (along with other pieces of media recently) that maybe child acting is a career that should go the way of the dinosaur. Most of McCurdy’s book details her fraught relationship with Debbie, her mother. Debbie had dreams of going to Hollywood to be an actress. These were derailed by her parents, and so with the birth of Jennette, Debbie seemed to have decided her child would fulfill those dreams. To make that happen, she systematically destroys her child, culminating in the worst moment when she teaches Jennette how to be anorexic and hide it from people. McCurdy is an exceptionally sharp, witty writer. There is an exceptional bit where she deals with a boyfriend who has converted to evangelical Christianity and wants to take a vow of celibacy. McCurdy describes her attempt to convince him otherwise, which ends with her saying something in her head that mirrors a relationship she had at 19 with a 32-year-old man. This is not a tabloid tell-all but a glimpse into this person’s head and how they are processing their trauma and trying to move on with their life. This is a worthy read, even if you don’t know or care about iCarly & the Nickelodeon drama.
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