A Somewhat Bookish Update

If you’ve been listening to my podcast — and if you haven’t, you should be because it’s sensational and witty and so raunchy — you know most of my bookish energy has been channeled there.

But I still like having this blog to brain dump some stuff, so I’m going to. Here you go. A navel-gazing life update disguised as a book recommendation post to encourage you to continue to stay inside as much as possible, while still holding on to your sense of reality.

A Book to Escape the Existential Dread

Meg and I talked about Red, White and Royal Blue in our first episode. It continues to be a book I think about often that challenges my cynicism and reminds me that Zoloft has not completely inhibited my tear ducts.

Casey McQuiston proved that the romance genre isn’t formulaic. She successfully subverted so many genre conventions by writing this book in third-person present tense from the perspective of just one of the heroes. She had more than one low point in the love story, creating so much chaos for the characters yet still proving they’re ultimately right for each other. And she filled this book with so many pop culture references, which is a big risk because it makes the book instantly dated. But that’s almost a plus. This book was written for this moment in time, and it’s perfect.

I would put her writing next to that of any high brow literary fiction writer. If you want to escape into beautiful words and an epic love story set in a political alternate universe that’s so much better than ours, you’ll want to read this.

A Book to Lean Into Spooky Season

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo came out almost a year ago. I’ve probably recommended it to a thousand people since then. That is not hyperbole.

I don’t read much in the horror/dark fantasy/thriller categories, but what I have read seems to focus a lot on class and power. That makes a lot of sense for the social issues we’re trying to address. But Bardugo literalized the advantages granted by wealth and privilege by imagining that the powerful really do have a leg up on us — a magical one.

Set at Yale University — which Bardugo attended — in the world of secret societies — of which Bardugo was a member — Ninth House follows Alex Stern, a young woman who has seen ghosts her entire life. Alex fell hard into drug use because it repressed her power. She’s the sole survivor of a gruesome murder, and is immediately offered a full ride at Yale. What’s the catch? She has to join Lethe, the secret society that oversees the other eight secret societies at the university that use occult rituals to keep the 1% comfy-cozy and influence global affairs. Imagine giving a bunch of rich college kids supernatural powers. Bet you aren’t surprised to learn this leads to murder, conspiracy, a missing persons case, entanglements with entities not of this world, and all sorts of other dark delights.

A Book Even More Bizarre Than Real Life

My friend Erin recommended the Welcome to Night Vale podcast to me years ago. It took me years to get around to listening to it, and I got very obsessed with it right before COVID got to the U.S. Because there are so many episodes in the archive, I listened to a few and then listened to the audiobook by the same name as the show, and it was one of the most enjoyable listening experiences of my life.

Night Vale is a town where every conspiracy theory is true. The laws of physics and historical facts don’t seem to apply in this desert town, and all its strange happenings are chronicled by the community radio host. It’s hard to describe the podcast. That’s another reason the book is an excellent starting point. (By the way, I say “great” a lot, or at least I did before the Fanta Fascist took office and ruined the word “great” for me. Probably for the best. I’m a writer, and overusing words isn’t cute.) It’s a self-contained story made richer if you listen to the show, but it can stand alone. It’s the story of two women with nothing in common brought together by a supernatural mystery. It’s full of adventure, weirdness and so much heart.

A Book Series for When You Wish You Could Literally Leave Earth

I have said so much to so many people about the Ice Planet Barbarians series by Ruby Dixon. Honestly, you need to just listen to my podcast episode about it. I could write several posts about it and not even begin to scratch the surface.

Books for When You’re Back On That Bruja Shit

I keep seeing this meme on Instagram that says, “Every girl you knew who watched Matilda and tried to move things with her mind reads tarot cards now.” Facts. I’ve read tarot on and off for more than a decade, and recently got back into it in a serious way. Being confined to my 1,300 square feet for the past six months paradoxically gave me the space to explore things about my spirituality that I always knew intuitively, but could never name. I’ve always been drawn to the esoteric, the occult, the woo. Now I’ve given myself to explore that with sincerity, instead of writing it off as, well, woo.

So I’ve been reading about all things pagan and witchy. For tarot, I’ve always been a fan of Theresa Reed, also known as The Tarot Lady. In 2016 and early 2017 (also known as the time I was unemployed and going through a dark night of the soul for many reasons), I was lucky enough to get several tarot readings from her. She is such a grounded and genuine person, devoid of artifice and pretentiousness, and she has this way of bringing tarot down to earth that I resonate with. Her daily Tarot, Transits and Tangents videos on Instagram bring me so much joy.

Currently, I’m reading her new book, Tarot: No Questions Asked. The book is about learning how to read tarot intuitively so you connect to the cards at a level in which you no longer need to reference a book. But it does give card meanings, too, plus practical real-world examples of situations each card could apply to. It’s excellent.

For a broad overview of the different traditions under the pagan umbrella, as well as great topics for self-reflection to figure out what you believe, I recommend Paganism: An Introduction to Earth-Centered Religions by Joyce and River Higginbotham.

If like most Americans you were raised Christian, Jesus Through Pagan Eyes is a fascinating book of essays and interviews put together by an Anglican minister who became a Druid. The book truly reveals how varied spirituality can be from person to person, even when discussing the same person/deity/cosmic force. I feel like I learned more about Jesus than I EVER did inside a church, in a way that feels so much more loving and liberated than the Christianity that can justify voting for a moldy orange with dictatorial aspirations.

One more for this category that I’d be remiss to exclude is Honoring Your Ancestors by Mallory Vaudoise. My Afro-Caribbean ancestry has been something I’ve wanted to connect through during this exploration. So of course, that got me thinking of all the people who came before me. The first person I thought about was my grandfather.

My grandfather was my whole world when I was little. He was a wonderful, loving man. He made me feel so special and important. I remember going to the bakery with him and getting meringues. I blame him for my sweet tooth. He was SO diabetic, and he shouldn’t have been eating that stuff in the first place.

Every day, he wore a white T-shirt tucked neatly into his pants, and sat in the same chair with his cane, his coffee and his cigarettes, watching TV. I remember him whacking my dumbass little cousin with his cane. I remember him reading the coffee grounds at the bottom of cups for people. He wouldn’t read for me because I was too young, but when I insisted (I have never not been a pushy bitch), he would pretend to read for me and make stuff up about me getting new toys or some such silliness.

When he got really sick, I didn’t know how to deal with it. I disassociated completely from the situation. I started seeing my beloved grandfather as a burden. I started being afraid and upset but all the sadness from everyone regarding him. When he went to the hospital, I didn’t visit him. I don’t think I was ever given that option, but that’s not the point. When he died, I was so numb that I just asked my mom if I was still going to school that day. She looked at me like I’d grown another head and said no. He was buried in the Dominican Republic, so I didn’t get to go to his funeral.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized that I never grieved him properly. I shut that down so hard. I feel so much guilt and shame about it. If I could go back, I wouldn’t have wasted one second of my time with him being afraid of death or disgusted by his decline. I would have loved him the way he loved me. My mom and I talked about that. I told her all this, and because she’s so unceasingly compassionate toward me, she said I was just a kid and that I didn’t know how handle it. She said my grandfather absolutely knew how much I loved him.

But... just in case he didn’t, if there’s any chance I can let him know now, I want to.

Wow. I did not mean to get that personal just now. But the book. The book is beautiful. It talks about how to connect to ancestral wisdom, heal trauma in your lineage, and why you would even want to start an ancestor veneration practice. It also talks about different types of ancestors and honored dead, including those who aren’t related to you by blood, or who you may just feel connected to because you share the same passions they did.

I know some of my ancestors must have experienced the worst of humanity. These are times during which I need to remember their strength is my birthright.

Phew. That took such a turn. ANYWAY. Read books. Register to vote. Buy stamps. Don’t be a dick. Call your mom. Email old friends. Water your fucking plants but don’t overwater them — put your finger in the soil 1 to 2 inches deep and see if it’s dry first. Stretch before you try the WAP dance. Watch my stupid TikTok because of course I made a TikTok.

I’ll be back here at some point with more books, etc.