Unread Shelf, Aug. 31 2020

This will grow by three by the end of the day, since I have a package coming.


I finished a couple of books recently that I wanted to talk about and didn’t get around to, so I’m putting both of them into a single post.

And, hell, it ain’t like Stephen King needs my help. You already know what you’re getting with this guy; every word he’s ever written is a bestseller and there’s no one who reads who hasn’t read at least a couple of his books at some point or another. If It Bleeds, which the cover helpfully informs us is “NEW FICTION,” is another novella collection, and I’m mostly mentioning it just because I really felt like all four of the stories were winners. The title story is another entry in the Bill Hodges/Holly Gibney series, following up on the events of The Outsider, and at least two of the three remaining stories either managed to get directly under my skin or made me feel personally judged, so I’ve got to count that as a positive. In particular, the opening sequence to The Life of Chuck, which is about the slow and inexplicable end of the world, can’t really be read in 2020 without fucking with your head a little bit, and Mr. Harrigan’s Phone has a great sort of Apt Pupil vibe to it that I liked a lot. If you already know you’re not a fan this isn’t going to change your mind, but I am, and this is one of King’s stronger efforts recently.

While King has damn near 100% name recognition, I suspect a number of you haven’t heard of Brit Bennett, and The Vanishing Half was my first exposure to her work as well. This was another book that I picked up specifically because I’m focusing on books by women of color this year and the description caught my eye, and is yet another perfect example of why I do things like this in the first place.

There is no trace of the supernatural anywhere in this book, which also places it at least a little bit outside what I normally read; it’s set mostly in the past, but not quite far back enough (the story ends in the late 1980s) to really call it historical fiction, so do I have to haul out literature again? It’s a novel, we’ll leave it at that. The premise of the story is that two very light-skinned black twins are born in the town of Mallard, Louisiana, a place so small it doesn’t show up on maps. Eventually the twins basically flee Mallard in the middle of the night for New Orleans, and then separate from each other: one to pass for white and disappear into wealthy white society, and the other of whom marries the darkest-skinned man she can find and has a child that, by everyone’s estimation, looks nothing like her. The book then follows both characters and their daughters over the next several decades.

The book is all about how we construct our identity; nearly every character is either hiding part of their identity or fighting against the identity that society or biology has imposed on them or both, and I finished it in less than a day. It’s brilliant and you will see it again at the end of the year; right now it’s a top-5 entry and fighting with Conjure Women and Scarlet Odyssey for the top spot.

In other news…

Right now the only social media account that I have under my actual name is one of my two TikTok accounts. I have one for Luther, but I haven’t posted any videos. I am, however, posting videos under my teacher account, which until about 22 hours ago had about 40 followers. The account was giving me a mild reason to celebrate, though, because I’d just had my first video that scored over 2000 views before fizzling out.

And then I found a video of an Asian woman (her race is relevant) getting a tattoo and noticed that one of her tattoos, oddly, was the word “pizza,” spelled phonetically in Hebrew. (It may be a cognate; I’m not sure.) As the account posting the video was all in (I think) Chinese, and pizza is, as far as I know, not a hugely common food in Southeast Asia, nor are Jews, I made the not-foolproof-but-still-defensible-I-think suggestion that maybe people shouldn’t be tattooed in languages they can’t read and posted a short video saying such.

It’s now at 1.1 million views and counting, with over 60,000 Likes, and I’ve gained over 300 followers since it went up. There is also what appears to be a lively argument in Hebrew and Arabic going on in comments, and I have no idea what the hell they’re talking about, although Palestine may be involved.

I now have a viral Tweet under my belt with over six million views, a viral TikTok, and a couple of viral blog posts, although the biggest viral blog post only had a comparatively-paltry 110,000 views. I think it is fair to suggest that I may be the king of all social media. Now I just need to find a way for it to make me some money. 🙂

RIP, Chadwick Boseman

I took a moment last night, before I told my wife what had happened, to hold my breath and double-check that the news of Chadwick Boseman’s death wasn’t a cruel fucking hoax. I found out on Twitter, which is where I find out when anyone dies nowadays, and it was amazing how my timeline went from whatever it’s usually about to 100% Chadwick Boseman in a matter of two or three minutes.

I don’t know what I would have said yesterday if you’d asked me how old I thought he was. I’m weird about celebrities; I tend to assume that anyone who isn’t obviously a teenager is older than me even if that doesn’t quite make sense. Chadwick Boseman was 43; a little bit over a year younger than me. And he has been battling colon cancer for basically as long as I’ve known he existed. And no one knew about it.

He had colon cancer while he was filming Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame and three or four other movies that I haven’t seen and no one knew about it. There were some recent pictures circulating where he’d clearly lost an unhealthy amount of weight; I hadn’t seen any of them, and whatever speculation might have been floating around never crossed my radar, so this was a bolt out of the blue.

It hit me harder than I might have guessed it would, and my head was all over the place to the point where I took one of my emergency Bad Brain Day pills before going to bed. Just one more way in which 2020 has been awful. This will be all my students want to talk about on Monday, too, and I feel terrible for my black students in particular, who have just had one of their genuine heroes torn away from them.

… he had cancer the whole fucking time, guys. I can’t wrap my head around that. The whole. fucking. time. And he’s younger than me. And no one even knew he was sick.

I just … I still can’t cope with it. Fuck this. Fuck cancer, and fuck 2020, and fuck cancer again.

Rest in power, sir.

#52booksbywomenofcolor, August update

I’m 3/4 of the way to my goal with only 2/3 of the year gone, so it’s possible I may be able to convert this from 52 books to 52 authors by the end; school starting and eye surgery have slowed me down a bit, but that should still be doable. At any rate, here’s the most recent batch, some of which I reviewed and some I didn’t; feel free to ask questions if you have them.