The Sandman Radio Drama by Neil Gaiman
CW: for mature audiences
Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors (another features later in the post). I’ve read the Sandman comics, but Audible has just put out this radio drama that covers #1-20, or the first 3 collected volumes, Preludes and Nocturnes, A Doll’s House, and Dream Country. Though I love the art from the comics, and that aspect of the Sandman story should not be missed, I really loved the radio play as well. James McAvoy played a wonderful Dream, and Kat Dennings was superb as Death. Gaiman himself plays the narrator.
3.5/5 dreaming cats (cats are something of a theme this month)
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women is one of my absolute favorites. Whenever someone asks me that question “What literary character do you most relate to?” I always say Jo March, like practically every other young, independent feminist. “Timeless classic” is a cliche but this book really is one. I love the feminine-centric story, the love between the sisters, the sweet, funny, and moving trials each sister faces. I also love basically every adaptation of the story. The 1994 movie? Fabulous. The 2018 miniseries? Delightful. The Broadway musical? Perfection. The 2020 movie? Masterpiece. This time I listened to the Audible original version read by Laura Dern and a full cast. It’s not verbatim the original text, but it’s still wonderful.
5/5 sensational stories by Jo March for the Weekly Volcano Press
New Books Read
In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire
Wayward Children book 4 of 5
This may have been my favorite book yet from McGuire’s Wayward Children series. The Goblin Market is my favorite of the worlds we’ve been able to explore through McGuire’s infinite doors. In this installment we learn the backstory of Lundy, a character from Every Heart a Doorway, the first book in the series. The story is at once beautifully imaginative, heartbreakingly sad, and absolutely fair.
4/5 fruit pies
Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell
Book Hangover Alert**
I absolutely adore David Mitchell’s work. I’ve read all his books and have been eagerly awaiting this one since 2015. My favorite thing about his books is that they all exist in the same universe and the characters of one story may waltz through another if you’re paying attention. All across time his stories intersect and interlock. Though you don’t have to have read any of his previous works to understand and enjoy this book, I would recommend reading The Bone Clocks and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet as companions for maximum mind-bogglingness. Mitchell’s stories all have an element of the fantastical but the writing, characterization, and world-building is such that you could comfortably live in the house he has created with his words and not realize the walls were made of paper. Utopia Avenue tells the story of a folk-rock band born in London’s fertile 1960s music scene. Not only do characters from Mitchell’s other works make cameos, but real classic rock and folk icons from the 60s jam their way through the novel. The book was so good I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I finished it and I now feel like I have to go back and reread all his books again. Best of all, the book comes with a Spotify playlist for maximum reading and listening pleasure.
6/5 chart-topping singles
Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson***
CW: anti-Black racism, murder
A gritty historical-fiction/supernatural tale of mobsters and crooked cops set in New York City in the 1940s, Johnson’s novel examines race and thorny issues of morality. The novel follows Pea, an assassin with blessed hands. Some people of color are blessed with special abilities by saint-blessed hands. Naturally, white people want anything that people of color have that they don’t, so what follows is a twisted, dark tale that, like a throwing knife thrown high into the air, you won’t be able to look away from.
4/5 tarot cards
Books read for the Community Cats Podcast
I read the following* books for a book review post on the Community Cats Podcast blog. You’ll be able to read it here when it’s posted.
The Lion in the Living Room by Abigail Tucker
Honestly, I was pretty disappointed by this book. I did not enjoy it. Tucker tries to tease out the mystery of how cats have found a place in our hearts and taken over our homes and lives, even though we didn’t domesticate them like dogs or other animals, and they supposedly don’t contribute anything to our lives. Unfortunately, the book reads like a laundry list of reasons why we shouldn’t like cats–including but not limited to their status as an invasive species, their possible link to schizophrenia through an invasive parasite they can give their owners, and studies that show no real health benefits to owning a cat as well as some health risks. Apart from all the science and history she piles up that make cats seem like the worst human-animal alliance in history, she also makes cat lovers sound insane, from breeding and cat fanciers to Jackson Galaxy and the pet product industry, from TNR advocates to Instagram-famous cat owners. Though much of the science and history was interesting, I felt Tucker failed to discover the true nuance of the human-cat bond. Perhaps the benefits I receive from having my cat in my life are not quantifiable by science, or studies, or terms that can be qualified as “useful to humanity,” but I certainly believe my life is better for having my cat in it.
2/5 toxoplasma gondii parasites
How to Take Awesome Photos of Cats by Andrew Marttila
I’ve read the book, but I’m obviously still working on this one (see above photos). Marttila’s book was a great and very accessible guide to getting better photos of your cat. The book covered basic photography skills, tips for working with feline subjects, specific guides for using smart phones for photography as well as dedicated cameras, basic editing suggestions, and how to use the great photos you’ve taken. Marttila’s tone is casual and easygoing and not at all overwhelming, as some other photography guides can be–full of technical jargon that you feel dumb for not knowing. I’m excited to give his suggestions a try, especially those about editing as I’ve never really known much about that.
3.5/5 cats on catnip
My Life in a Cat House by Gwen Cooper
Author of Homer’s Odyssey, Gwen Cooper writes this time about all the cats she has shared her home with over the years. The memoir is structured into short stories focusing on each of the unique feline’s she has known. I hadn’t read Homer’s Odyssey but I was drawn in to Cooper’s world by her writing style and her keen observation of her feline family. The memoir was a joy for any cat lover, who will recognize the idiosyncrasies and the charm of sharing your home with a cat. At times funny and touching, Cooper fully characterizes each of the five cats she has shared her life with.
3.5/5 unique felines
Our Symphony with Animals by Aysha Akhtar M. D.***
CW: sexual abuse of children, animal abuse, trauma, PTSD, violent crime, drug abuse, discussion of serial murder and abuse of women
I thought this book, based on its title and cover, was going to be hokey and eye-rollingly sentimental. Boy, was I wrong. This book provided me with everything I felt I was missing from The Lion in the Living Room. Dr. Akhtar’s book explores the deep bond of empathy humans share with all animals and how that bond can be incredibly healing. This, I felt, was what Tucker failed to talk about in her quest to understand why people love cats. Dr. Akhtar also discusses the idea that a lack of empathy toward animals could translate to a lack of empathy toward humans. She visits prisons, animal rescues, poultry farms, the New York Police Department, among others, and speaks with veterans living with PTSD, a serial killer, detectives investigating animal cruelty cases, a former mobster, an ex-rancher, and more. She also cites a wealth of studies and scientific evidence that support the anecdotes and interviews that fill her book. She succeeded in convincing me that a strong empathetic bond between humans and animals is both natural and necessary to a healthy way of living. It’s even convinced me it’s time to be a vegetarian (something I’ve been thinking about a long time).
*Included in my Community Cats Podcast blog post but not here is New Choices in Natural Healing for Cats and Dogs: Herbs, Acupressure, Massage, Homeopathy, Flower Essences, Natural Diets, Healing Energy, 2017 by Amy Shojai, because I didn’t read the whole thing, which is generally a requirement for this blog (it’s a medical handbook, you aren’t supposed to read it cover to cover). I did read the introduction and methodology, which I summarize in the CCP blog.
**Book Hangover Alert indicates the kind of book that will leave you full up on love. Satisfied, but wishing the book never had to end. You’ll be laying on the floor with no idea what to do with yourself (other friends have called this feeling Good Book Depression or say that certain books necessitate Floor Time). This is the kind of book that gets its teeth in you and won’t let go easily. After the last page you’ll be thinking about this book for a long time. You’ll bother all your friends trying to get them to read it so that you won’t be alone in your Hangover.
***This book is part of my Books for a Social Conscience series! Read Trouble the Saints to learn more about anti-Black racism, passing, and corruption in the police and how, although set in the 1940s, those issues are still relevant today. Read Our Symphony with Animals to learn more about empathy for animals, how cruelty to animals can lead to cruelty to humans, and the paradox of protecting some animals (companion animals, endangered animals) and hurting others (animal agriculture farms, scientific testing).
Reads marked as part of the Books for a Social Conscience series will regularly address topics like race and racism, colonialism and post-colonialism, LGBTQ+ experience, feminism, BIPOC experience, social and political issues, history, identity, class, disability experience, immigration, gun violence, poverty, colorism, environmentalism, and more! The goal of these books is to diversify the stories we’re reading, grow our empathy for those who are different from us, and amplify voices who are often silenced.