Honestly, I didn’t read much this month, so this will be a short post. I participated in NaNoWriMo, so I was frantically trying to write a novel instead. Reading is definitely a way I procrastinate writing.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling*
Harry Potter book 2 of 7
We went on a socially distanced road trip and there’s nothing like listening to the soothing tones of Jim Dale reading one of your favorite stories as you drive through the desert. Chamber of Secrets is probably one of my favorite of the Harry Potter books (though I’m not sure I can choose a favorite). I love the mystery and how all the loose ends tie up so neatly. It’s also fun rereading after you’ve read the whole series, because you can see how all the groundwork is laid for the later books. I think it’s super neat the way the books sort of work in parenthetical pairs, with this book connecting to the sixth book (this is where we first visit Bourgin and Burkes and see all the items that will be important in The Half Blood Prince; our first introduction to visiting another’s memories and to the horcruxes which are both super important in HBP; meeting Aragog who dies in HBP).
New Books Read
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
Not good. Super disappointed. This book was set during the Great Depression in the boonies of Tennessee. It’s about this odd woman with blue skin who works as a packhorse librarian for the WPA. To me it read like a poorly constructed race narrative. This woman is the last of the blue people and she and her family are discriminated against because of their skin color. The way the story was told seemed like it was meant to emphasize discrimination against people of color, but by centering on a blue-skinned protagonist, it minimized the struggles of real people of color in favor of this mystical other race who had it even worse than Black people. It served to distance the reader from the characters. Though it may have depicted accurate racial discrimination, the reader could dismiss it because blue people don’t exist. The main character was problematic because she was so pure, unselfish, and kind, that it sends the message that she didn’t deserve to be discriminated against because look what a good person she was. No one deserves to be discriminated against. You don’t have to be a saint to not deserve that. Then there was also this white savior-y doctor who wanted to do experiments on the protagonist to figure out why she was blue and if she could be cured. She doesn’t have any agency to agree to or decline to participate in the tests and they are traumatic for her. And yet she still acts super grateful to this creepy doctor who has the “best interest” of the blues at heart. Then the doctor actually does find a cure that turns her blue skin white temporarily, though with side effects. She thinks people will treat her better because she’s white now but they don’t, so she has to learn to come to terms with her blueness. It was also unfeminist because the protagonist talks the whole book about how she doesn’t want to get married and she wants to keep her job as a librarian because of the independence it gives her, and then the minute the only not-awful man shows interest in marrying her, she throws away all her principles. The only thing I liked about the book was the packhorse librarian stuff (which is why I thought it sounded interesting enough to read in the first place). I liked learning more about that program which I have heard of before and think should still be a thing. I would love to ride a horse around delivering books to people.
Now, those were my thoughts after I finished the book. Then I read the author’s note which shed a little light on the author’s intentions for the book. Generally I don’t think authors’ intentions matter much; what matters is the reaction of the reader. But I learned from the author’s note that there was a real congenital disease called methemoglobinemia that affected a family in Tennessee and caused some of them to have blue skin. Apparently this is what the author was basing her fictional story on. So instead of a race narrative, we’re actually dealing with a disability narrative, and it’s still bad. There are a lot of tropes in disability literature and media about disabled people who are selfless and kind and bear their disability with grace so that the abled community can pity them and be ‘inspired’ by them, while still discriminating against them. Then we have the cure. Though the cure is historically factual, it’s problematic in disabled circles to try to find a cure to a disability that isn’t actually causing harm. For example for things like Autism, Down Syndrome, and others. Instead of trying to cure these disabilities, we should be trying to change our society to offer more accommodations, and be more understanding and accepting of diversity of thought and experience.
(Also I just saw that 86% of the people on Goodreads liked this book. Neat.)
2/5 ornery mules
The Accidental Alchemist by Gigi Pandian
The Accidental Alchemist Mysteries book 1 of 4
Also disappointing. Do not recommend. This was not a great month for reading. The language was repetitive, the story dragged, the characters were boring. And the main character was an alchemist who’d been alive for like 400 years, so it seems like it would be hard to make that kind of person boring. But she was not actually that good of an alchemist and very slow on the uptake, which was frustrating as a reader. Having a female character who has lived 400 years, I think, is a really interesting opportunity to analyze how the world has changed and how it has stayed the same for women and other minorities, but this is just something mentioned in passing in relation to women, not explored. There were too many characters and even when we learned their backstory it was like, “Wow, I still don’t care about them.” The mystery wasn’t a neat and satisfying story where all the clues come together in the end and you get that lovely Eureka! moment. Even when we found out what was going on, I was like, “Oh, that’s it?” And the protagonist falls in love with this detective (who doesn’t seem like he’s that good of a detective either), and the romance is just so eye-roll inducing. She talks to him like not that many times and the book would have been far more interesting if the love interest had been the bad guy (Spoiler alert, he’s not). Every time something exciting and sinister-seeming happened, it turned out to be just these teenagers getting up to mischief. Also way too many details about the protagonists energizing smoothies she drinks every morning. I. Do. Not. Care. The best part about the whole thing was Dorian, a gargoyle come to life who also happens to be a great French chef. He was definitely the most interesting character. We listened to this one on our road trip too and no one in my family was a fan.
2.5/5 talking gargoyles
Both of these not-very-good books came from Audible titles that are included with the subscription (meaning you don’t have to spend a credit on them). Is this because they couldn’t get people to actually spend money on them? Does this mean that all included titles are either Classics, bad, or both?
Now my Audible account is suggesting more books by these authors. Please. No.
*Trans women are women. Trans people are people.