Hello, I’m Rogan and welcome to my wrap up for March and April. I read four books each month, let’s get right into it!
Black Food: Stories, Art, and Essays by Bryant Terry. This is a gorgeous book that has various recipes born directly from Africa or cultural combining from slaves brought over to the US. Between the recipes, it has various stories, songs, prayers, all tied to the Black experience and history around the world. — I really enjoyed reading this, and all the food looks so good! I might have to borrow this again from the library to reread it and also pick out recipes to write down and try. There’s not really much to talk about, since this is mainly recipes, but I’d say check this out.
This Is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan. This is a memoir of Pollan’s experiences at the same as a deep dive into three plant drugs: opium, caffeine, and mescaline. Pollan takes us on a journey where he learns about the intricacies of legality around each of these drugs. Opium, which comes from poppies, has very strange gray areas while caffeine is widely available and very ingrained into various cultures around the world. Mescaline has long been used by indigenous people in religious ceremonies, and is heavily controlled in the US for only religious use and scientific research. — There’s not much point in describing the book in more detail, because that’s basically what the book is about. When I first picked up this book, I was expecting something more science-focused, but it’s far more focused on Pollan’s personal experiences with each of these drugs. I’m not saying that it isn’t interesting, because it is! Just not what I was expecting going into this book. Also, due to it being very much about his experiences, it is a very US-centric book. It focuses on laws and such in the US, and some of the things Pollan references are ones that likely only Americans will understand. The opium section felt a little…long and repetitive to me. Most of it was originally written for publication in a magazine, then expanded some for the book. Pollan was exploring the legality of growing poppies in his own garden, buying them, and even brewing them into his own opium tea. He had worries of being arrested, and so on, which is completely understandable, but I felt like he repeated that a bit much in the article. Like, we get it. Growing drugs in a time where there’s an ongoing War on Drugs is anxiety-inducing, but we don’t need the constant reminder. The caffeine section was really good, it took us through the history of coffee and tea, and his experience of trying life without caffeine to weigh the pros and cons. The mescaline section was interesting, but I got a little tired of his constant worrying about his past wrongs of taking mescaline as a white person. Don’t get me wrong, it is good that he recognizes that he may have overstepped a line by partaking in something primarily used for indigenous ceremonies, but I feel like he could’ve made it less about him and more about the broader cultural impacts of white people participating in continued cultural appropriation of a sacred plant. I am curious to know how indigenous people feel about this section, and I tried to do a google search but couldn’t come up with anything so if you know of some, please let me know! Overall, I did enjoy reading this and ultimately gave it 3.75 stars, but keep all of what I said in mind before reading this.
The Nineties by Chuck Klosterman. There is so much that this book covers, I’m not going to try and summarize it. Essentially, it takes a look at all sorts of things that happened in the 90’s: big historical events, politics, cultural shifts regarding race, class, sexuality, the music, film, TV, all of it. This is the era that started with phone books and ended with privacy and not answering if you didn’t know who it was, the rise of internet, pop culture accelerated and shifted so quickly, pre-9/11 politics, and so much more. When I first picked this up, I was expecting something more like what life was like for children or 90’s kids, and it is in a way. I assumed that based on the cover, so that’s on me. But in reality, this book is a much bigger scope, and looks at the 90’s as a whole, compared to the decade before it. I enjoyed reading this, but I wasn’t blown away by it.
Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographical Marks by Keith Houston. This book explores the history of specific punctuation marks, how some of them first developed, then evolved over a long period of usage. Some were used in early Bibles and stuck around for more general use, some were obscure until the Internet came along, some had heavy use then faded away as typography evolved. This book covers the following marks: pilcrow (¶), interrobang (‽), octothorpe (#), ampersand (&), at symbol (@), asterisk and dagger(*†), hyphen (-), dash (—), manicule (☛), quotation marks (“”), then it also talks about various ways people have tried to show irony and sarcasm in history and in the digital world. — I love learning about obscure parts of history, and this was no different, especially since I’m an artist myself and really enjoy typography. This is full of illustrations and examples of historical usage, how the look of various marks has evolved over centuries of the printed word. I really enjoyed Houston’s writing style, how he includes humor along historical facts, this was a very fun book to read! If you’re a typography nerd, definitely read this.
Now onto April books! The first book I finished this month is True Biz by Sara Nović. I already did a Title Talks for this book, so I won’t repeat it here. If you don’t know what Title Talks is, it’s a new series that I hope to continue where I talk in-depth about one book or a series in one video, separate from my monthly wrap ups.
Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires. This is a collection of short stories that explore various Black experiences, from a teen who struggles with her upper middle class upbringing and desire to connect with Black culture to a funeral singer full of grief for boys who died because of gun violence. There’s one story of two mothers writing letters back and forth about their daughters who hate each other, and another where a woman is struggling with body image issues. The stories are wide-ranging, and cover a variety of experiences, some sad some funny but all beautiful. — There’s not much I can say about this other than I really enjoyed reading this. I did have to do a quick check to remind myself what short stories were in this, but after the reminder, I could remember more details and how entertaining this book was, even in the sad parts. This book is more about the everyday lived experience of Black people, rather than Tragedy and Trauma. There are definitely plenty of trigger warnings for this, so be sure to check them beforehand.
Neon Gods by Katee Robert. Persephone feels stifled and wants to escape Olympus and the backstabbing politics of the Houses to start over somewhere far away. At a glittering party high up in a skyscraper, she gets ambushed by her mother with an engagement to Zeus, the most powerful of all the Houses and the one who rules the city of Olympus. Persephone refuses to be locked into a life of masks and fake smiles, so she flees to the forbidden undercity across the river Styx. There, she runs into a man who was thought to be long-dead, simply a myth. She makes a bargain with Hades, and in the process, discovers a world she never knew existed. Hades has always spent his life hidden, moving behind the scenes and staying away from the light. When Persephone stumbles into his hands, and he discovers that she can help him get some revenge, he’s more than happy to help her for a price. However, the more time they spend together, the more they both realize this might go deeper than they were anticipating. — If you haven’t figured it out by now, this is a retelling of the Hades/Persephone myth set in a modern city, where the gods are the city’s elite and run everything. First, I want to emphasize that the retelling aspect is very surface-level. It’s mostly just the names, position of power, and very weak parallels to the original story. It’s still interesting, because some of the positions are elected, such as Demeter’s, and some of them are passed on through family lines, such as Zeus’s. I did enjoy reading this, though I feel like the world-building needs work. I couldn’t tell if it was fully grounded in reality or if there was magic or supernatural happenings involved. There are moments where it’s clear there is magic involved, but other times where it’s not clear. The references are odd, because at times it seems like Olympus is its own self-contained place that almost nobody leaves or enters, but then there’s references to modern-day things like Berkeley or Princess Leia, social media is a thing among the gods. Anyway. This is very smutty, there’s bondage, kink, sex, so definitely an adult book. There is a lot of emphasis on consent, which is good to see! This book is marketed as a dark romance, but I feel like it’s only because there’s bondage and kink involved. This is honestly pretty fluffy and not THAT dark, but it’s still enjoyable. This is highly hyped, and I can see why, but I don’t think it deserves ALL the hype. I’m probably going to read the next book, so take what you will from that.
Mickey7 by Edward Ashton. Mickey has died six times, and he’s about to die a seventh time. This is Mickey7’s job, being the Expendable of the human colony on Niflheim. As the Expendable, Mickey does all of the jobs that are far too dangerous for an average person and are likely to result in death. Whenever he dies, a new body is regenerated with most of the memories still intact. Except on this scouting mission, Mickey7 ends up not dying and gets back to the base with help from native life. The problem is, by the time he gets back, Mickey8 is already awake. They have to find ways to hide the fact that there’s two of them now, because generally, the idea of duplicates is loathed and if they’re caught, they’ll be recycled for protein. It gets complicated very fast, because the settlement of Niflheim isn’t going well. It’s a cold planet, hostile to most life, and terraforming isn’t going well. Food is starting to get in short supply, the native life is getting curious about the strange people, and the Mickeys have a delicate balancing act that can easily get shattered. The survival of both lifeforms on Niflheim could all come down to Mickey7. Can he do something before he dies for good? — I immensely enjoyed reading this! I love sci-fi, and this hits all the classic sci-fi things – trying to make a living out in the unknown, ethical dilemmas around clones, coming face to face with another lifeform and figuring out how to interact with them, being crammed into a limited space with a bunch of other people, and more. This got quite philosophical at times, but it felt very appropriate, considering Mickey7 has a very strange life where he does very dangerous things but doesn’t really have to worry about dying. There was some discussion about souls, about if a new body has your memories uploaded into it, is it really you or is it a new you, things like that. I liked that this was very clearly a spacefaring story, and has portions of that, but it’s all about trying to start a new colony on a new planet. A lot of sci-fi will be on already established planets, so it was nice to see the more gritty details of the very early stages of a colony. There is quite a bit of focus on the Mickeys being hungry and fighting over rations, which I get, but I felt like that time could’ve be devoted to other things. I enjoyed this part, but other people might not – there are several flashbacks to Mickey7’s previous reincarnations, and several tangents about other colonies on other worlds that succeeded or failed. I liked thinking about all the potential ways that things could easily go wrong for a colony, and things that could go right. This is sci-fi, and it does get technical at times, but it’s never overly complicated or intentionally confusing. Things are explained in a way that the layperson can understand, and it’s helpful that Mickey is intentionally not the smartest person. He’s basically the average person that doesn’t understand complex science, so when things get explained, it’s in a way he, and us by extension, can understand. Overall, I liked this!
And that’s all for what I read in March and April! I’m going to go right into May books, so you’ll see the same set up for that video. Let me know your thoughts on these, and see you soon!
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