Recent Books I've Clutched In My Hands With Joy: May 2019

My goal this month was to read the lightest, fluffiest novels--whipped and glazed with butter, syrup and strawberries handpicked at the farmers market by not-me, and slowly savored between sips of a mimosa. But then even more bad things happened in this country. Alarming, personal things. The very very least of which was the decidedly anti-feminist, pathetic burp of an ending of The Game of Thrones. And suddenly all I wanted to do was bathe myself in feminist fantasy--books that became TV worlds that help me shore up my determination to keep fighting in the real world. 

So while I’ve read a few new books this month, including some that didn’t make this list for various reasons, I’ve also done a lot of re-reading and re-watching. Tune in with me, and let’s travel through the multiverse.

The White Queen series & The White Princess, written by Philippa Gregory and adapted for TV by BBC and Starz

I remember being wary of watching something called essentially “White lady X” when I was scrolling through Amazon. It seemed tone deaf. But it turns out that, as those of you who paid attention in European History class already know, the white refers to the white House of York and red House of Lancaster War of the Roses in England in the 1400s. So I’m glad I clicked through anyway. Yes, the acting is largely excellent, the corseted costumes lavish and the settings appropriately drippy and dismal. But what really drew me in is that this is high-stakes throne games told largely from the point of view of women. Uniformly white women (which the creators have tried to change in the new The Spanish Princess Starz series), but wonderfully complex and ambitious and pious and sly and unafraid to use mesmerizing water magic now and again to blow their enemies into full fathom hell white women; this is not a bonnet and garter trifle. I tried to go back and watch the remaining episodes of GoT after binge watching Gregory’s world, and it just seemed so one-dimensional and hollow by comparison. If you need a new drinking game, may I suggest tipping one down whenever a character says, “it is the will of God”? Before you know it, you’ll be stumbling to bed, vaguely aware of a desire to acquire a custom wax stamp and commit treason.

The 100 series, written by Kass Morgan and adapted for TV by the CW

Fast forward many hundreds of years, add some spaceships and apocalypses (emphasis on the plural), and you’ve got The 100. The book series is YA, and has extremely little to do with the TV series beyond the basic premise at the beginning of the story and some core character names. It’s good stuff that I look forward to giving to my kids in a few years. But I’ve really enjoyed where the TV show has gone, even though there’s really a mindblowing amount of dying on every episode. She’s dead, he’s dead, the Earth is melting down, the planet is fighting back, Oops, the AI wants to shoot you, etc. The show is essentially moral philosophy 101 over and over and over; seriously, how many philosophy phD students fantasize about writing for this show, but, you know, with just slightly more critical theory? But somehow it works (once you get past the first few overdone episodes). And yes, the main character and most of the key supporting characters are women grappling with the fate of the human race in impossible circumstances. Though, unfortunately, not totally implausible. My only complaint now that they’re onto season six: where is Indra?!

A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy), written by Deborah Harkness and adapted for TV by Sundance Now

I remember enjoying these books when I read them a few years ago. They were unapologetic vampire/witch/demon fantasy but not plastic cheese on microwaved flatbread like so many vampire stories. So I’m not sure how this happened, but the new TV series based on the novels is total cheese. Not full-on movie nacho cheese, but between the soap opera endings of each scene and the seriously overwrought soundtrack--easily the weakest part of this show--the opulent settings, attractive co-stars and theoretically serious-minded plot barely avoids being drowned by creamed silly. STILL, I paid money to watch it and would do it again. This is light, visually gorgeous fun. They get to say the word “Ashmole” over and over! So don’t think about it too hard. Just watch and scope out tickets to hidden Venetian islands on your phone on the sly.

Queen of the Tearling (trilogy), written by Erika Johansen

I’m listing this and the next book because they both desperately need to be made into TV or movies. There were some rumors a few years ago that Emma Watson was involved in an adaptation. But nothing since, unfortunately. Nonetheless, I’m re-reading the Tearling series right now. And honestly, it’s become a real problem. I’ve completely ignored my kids unless they were bleeding or coming at me with knives (it was a long weekend). But for better or worse, I'm addicted to Johansen's decidedly unglamorous kingdom and its reluctant queen. The series blends action, magic and the current politics into a totally immersive world that stinks with the rotting corpse of idealism buried alive and pissed on for good measure. This is not fine literature, but its plainness is its suborning magic. Sorry, husband, I won’t be seeing you for another two books.

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

This is the spy thriller that makes me want to read spy capers again. The category has too long been the equivalent of White Male Romance, where the happily ever after is the dude getting to live alone with his swiss army knife and sense of exceptionalism. Sooooo … thank the gods Wilkinson’s book, about a black female spy on assignment in NYC and Africa is here to humanize the genre and take it to new, fascinating places. Specifically, Harlem and Burkina Faso during the Cold War. This is not a which-bad-guy-will-she-kill-with-the-pen-cap-next page turner, as we've come to expect from this genre. Instead, while there’s some action in this book, it’s just as much about the complex main character and her evolving relationship with her family and her politics. Good God, please make this into a movie, k?

Julián Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love

We have a new baby in our family (not mine!), so I’ve let my eyes wander back to the picture books at the local bookstore. And lo and behold, they recently snagged on this gorgeous book about a child named Julián who wants to be a mermaid. Julián lives in Brooklyn with his supportive abuela and they take the subway down to the beach and parade with some tall land-based mermaids. The book has won a 2019 Stonewall Award and is a much-needed addition to popular books about gender nonconforming children. But even if you didn’t know all that, you’ll love the gorgeous, empathetic illustrations. There’s a softness in the style that captures the wonder of a child’s innocent gaze. My daughter loved the costumes. Happy wondering, little new dreamer!

Past Books of the Month
Recent Books I've Clutched In My Hands With Joy: April 2019
Recent Books I've Clutched In My Hands With Joy: March 2019