Project Shakespeare: month #5 wrap up

I’d like to point out that I’m titling these wrap ups somewhat misleadingly: I’m not going by calendar months, but rather, posting once every 4 performances.  So we haven’t quite been doing this for five months… but we have been doing it for a pretty damn long time.  Previous wrap ups here.

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King John
★★★★☆
my role: Constance

I think King John is a marvelous hidden gem; I’m sure it’s one of the less popular ones for a reason, but I don’t care, I honestly love this play.  Part of that is simply down to what interests me (I love a good succession drama and find the central conflict in this play so much more compelling than the histories which have a bigger focus on battle), and part of it is how insanely brilliant this ensemble of characters is.  Philip the Bastard is great fun, the Arthur/Hubert scenes are filled to the brim with pathos, Elinor/Eleanor has some of the sassiest banter, and my fierce, prideful, savvy girl Constance is – I am not exaggerating – my favorite female character that Shakespeare wrote.  I read this monologue and decided that if I didn’t get to play her I WOULD DIE:

Thou mayst, thou shalt; I will not go with thee:
I will instruct my sorrows to be proud;
For grief is proud and makes his owner stoop.
To me and to the state of my great grief
Let kings assemble; for my grief’s so great
That no supporter but the huge firm earth
Can hold it up: here I and sorrows sit;
Here is my throne, bid kings come bow to it.
[Seats herself on the ground]

But that’s not even the best one!  I MEAN:

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;
Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?
Fare you well: had you such a loss as I,
I could give better comfort than you do.
I will not keep this form upon my head,
When there is such disorder in my wit.
O Lord! my boy, my Arthur, my fair son!
My life, my joy, my food, my all the world!
My widow-comfort, and my sorrows’ cure!

If that’s not the most gutting thing you’ve ever read I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO TELL YOU.  (I wrote about the potential influence of Hamnet Shakespeare’s death on this monologue here.)

I think the titular character is probably one of the weaker titular roles in all of Shakespeare’s canon and perhaps that is the reason why this play is so oft-overlooked, but weakness is an intrinsic part of John’s character in a way that I find very effective.  So yes – I really really love King John and playing Constance was a personal highlight for me.

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Evening of Scenes & Othello Book Club

I talked about this in my review of Othello, but since our small group is mostly all-white, we will not be performing the plays with non-white characters.  Instead, we did two things: we had a bookclub discussion of Othello on Sunday, and on Saturday night, we had what we called an ‘Evening of Scenes’.

In the weeks leading up, Abby (our fearless leader) and I probably spent about five hours on Zoom reading and acting out various scenes from various plays.  We then chose a selection of scenes that stood out to us, had everyone in the group request a scene they’d like to do, and divvied them up.  I think we ended up doing fourteen scenes in total, from the following plays: Romeo & Juliet, Midsummer, Twelfth Night, King Lear, Macbeth, Titus Andronicus, Much Ado, Hamlet, and Othello (Iago/Cassio and Iago/Roderigo scenes only), and in between scenes we also had people perform monologues.  We had: Viola’s “I left no ring with her,” Malvolio’s “O, ho! do you come near me now?”, Lady Anne’s “Set down, set down your honourable load,” Macbeth’s “Is this a dagger,” Hal’s “Once more unto the breach,” something of Queen Margaret’s, Macbeth’s “To be thus is nothing,” Miranda’s opening monologue, and of course “To be or not to be.”

The whole thing was a goddamn delight.  I ended up playing: Olivia in Twelfth Night, Titania in Midsummer, Cassio in Othello, and Gertrude in Hamlet, and I did Macbeth’s “is this a dagger” monologue (which I’ve had memorized for about a decade for no particular reason, so I finally got to put that to good use).  I think everyone had an amazing time and we will definitely be doing this again.

As for Othello: you can read my review if you’re interested in my thoughts, but in short: I think it’s an incredibly engaging and dynamic play but the racial optics are a nightmare to untangle, to say the least.

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Richard II
★★★★☆
my role: Aumerle

It was Abby’s birthday this week, and her birthday present to us all was playing Richard and doing a really really really extraordinary job.  We took inspiration from the David Tennant RSC production (which you can watch on Marquee.tv – it’s a paid subscription but there’s a free trial) and erased Sir Pierce Exton entirely – I just read his lines still in character as Aumerle.  While the Richard/Aumerle romance from that production was really shoehorned in there (in a way that I didn’t mind!) I feel like the decision to have Aumerle kill Richard actually works well with the text and is a much more compelling end to the arc of the Richard/Aumerle dynamic, and more narratively satisfying than some rando off the street killing Richard.  Anyway, I like this play; it’s not my favorite, I find the ensemble characters uniformly uninspiring, but Richard is a tremendously compelling character and the language in this play is outstanding (‘for god’s sake let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings’!!!!!)

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Love’s Labor’s Lost
★★★★☆
my roles: Maria and Holofernes

What a bizarre play.  When I inevitably do a ranking of all Shakespeare plays at the end of this, I already know that Love’s Labor’s Lost is the one that’s going to give me the most grief.  I don’t think this is a good play, at all – I think it’s disjointed and a structural mess and the narrative is incredibly flimsy and it feels insane that I’m giving it 4 stars when I gave 3 stars to Twelfth Night and Much Ado… but for a comedy, I actually really, really enjoy this?  I love the characters and the wordplay and the incongruously somber note at the end.

This is also a really great ensemble show; we all had such fun performing this one.  I also created a whole schtick where I performed Maria as Maria from The Sound of Music… even though my character’s name was technically supposed to be pronounced Mariah, but, you know.  Artistic liberties.


What’s your favorite Shakespeare scene?  I need inspo for Evening of Scenes round 2!

Women in Translation Readathon 2020

Wait, what, I have reading interests outside Shakespeare?!

Last summer I wrote a piece on Women in Translation month that you can read HERE if you’re looking for a primer on what this is all about!

Every August the wonderful Matthew, Kendra, and Jennifer from booktube host the Women in Translation Readathon – this year it’s taking place from August 24th – 31st.  There are 3 prompts this year:

Prompts (bonus for any if the translator is also a woman!):
1. Read a book published by an independent press
2. Read a genre title (SFF, romance, crime, thriller, horror, etc.)
3. Read a book that was published in its original language pre-2000

My own TBR is as follows:

Prompt 1Disoriental by Négar Djavadi, translated from the French by Tina A. Kover (published by Europa Editions)

Prompt 2The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani, translated from the French by Sam Taylor (thriller)
OR
Out by Natsuo Kirino, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder (thriller – also works for prompt #3, originally published in 1997)

Prompt 3Abigail by Magda Szabó, translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix (originally published in 1970)

My big priority here is Disoriental, but I will be getting to as many of these as I can that week!

But this year there’s an exciting component to the readathon that affects me – and potentially all of you!

If you’ve wanted to try your hand at written reviews but don’t have your own platform (or maybe you have a smaller platform that you’re looking to grow), there are two exciting options.  You can review ANY book by a woman in translation and submit your pieces to Jennifer – they’ll either be featured in Open Letters Review or here on my blog!  Guidelines below:

Written Review Options:
1) Open Letters Review (https://openlettersreview.com/): Any full reviews of 2019-2020 releases. Send to me by Sunday, September 6th and she’ll edit them so they can run on the site. Welcome to send before that date as well! Typical review is 600-800 words. (Contact: jreadersense@gmail.com)
2) Pace, Amore, Libri (https://paceamorelibri.wordpress.com/): Rachel has agreed to host shorter bits about WIT books published in any year on her blog! We’ll be doing a collective piece: people can contribute 6 sentences per title, 2 titles maximum per person, and we’ll run them as a big recommendations post together. Deadline for this will also be Sunday, September 6th. (Contact: jreadersense@gmail.com)

I’m SO excited to see what you guys come up with!

P.S. Trans women are women ❤

Project Shakespeare: month #4 wrap up

I know I start all of these wrap ups by going ‘how are we already x months into this’ but HOW ARE WE ALREADY FOUR MONTHS INTO THIS?!  That is absolutely wild.  Well, let’s jump straight in, shall we?  Previous wrap ups here.

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Romeo & Juliet
★★★★★
my role (first show): Chorus, Lady Montague, Servant, Third Musician, Page
my role (second show): Romeo

I wholeheartedly love this play, and it’s fine if you don’t but honestly I’ve never heard a single criticism of it that I don’t find inane (‘it’s just instalove!’ completely disregards the fact that theatre has different storytelling conventions than novels and that you can’t be sat there for eleven hours while a slow-burn romance unfolds before your eyes; not to mention – the fact that they’re rash young teenagers is one of the play’s significant themes; their romance isn’t narratively treated as Rational).  Anyway, to each his own, but Romeo & Juliet is very much my cup of tea – compelling characters, engaging story, beautiful language, and a devastating yet inevitable conclusion that reads like a punch to the gut every time.

This probably sounds silly given that we are not performing these on stage but rather to a group of about 10-15 people (friends) on Zoom, but playing Romeo is literally one of the scariest things I’ve ever done in my life.  I was petrified.  The thing about Project Shakespeare that makes it so fun and magical is that people actually try; everyone allows themselves to be vulnerable and actually act rather than sitting there and reading the lines with a straight face.  As I’ve talked about before, I’m not an actor, this is all new territory for me.  So the morning of the second performance, I was just hit by the most crushing self-doubt, because… I asked to play Romeo?  Romeo?  I actually asked for thisWho the hell do I think I am?!  So, it was hard, but it was also one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever done.  I just adore this character so much and I would be kicking myself for the rest of my life if I had chickened out of doing this.  Plus I played Romeo opposite my good friend Will (of Books and Bao)’s Juliet (+ the night before we had a female Romeo and female Juliet), so we kind of just gender-fucked the whole play all weekend and that was a fantastic choice.  Just, amazing times all around, this was one of my favorite weekends.

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All’s Well That Ends Well
★★☆☆☆
my role: Widow, First Soldier

In contrast, I… do not love this play!  In fact, it’s solidly my least favorite of all 19 I’ve now read.  I’ve talked about this before, but in general the comedies really do not do it for me; I rarely find them amusing and find that they lack a certain heart, which I feel is the case with All’s Well.  It has some great characters, I’ll give it that, but it really doesn’t come to life for me on the page, and reading it was a pretty massive chore.  Which is why it surprised me that our performance of this ended up being one of my favorites yet – it was just so damn camp and delightful.  Our talented Helena and talented Countess were giving Broadway-worthy performances while the rest of us just acted like complete clowns for a couple of hours, and I just had the best time.  I still don’t love the play and I don’t think I’d even enjoy watching it on stage, but getting to be a part of it (in peak melodrama form as the Widow) was a delight.

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Pericles
★★★★★
my roles: Lysimachus, Lychorida, Lord, Escanes

The biggest surprise for me so far as I make my way through the Complete Works – and probably my biggest Unpopular Opinion to date – is that I FUCKING LOVE PERICLES.  This is – and I cannot stress this enough – the stupidest, most absurd play I have ever read.  It starts with a comically unnecessary riddle about incest; it takes place over twenty years in approximately twelve different countries and it feels like it’s trying to be about eight different genres along the way; at one point a major character is about to be killed and right as the murderer draws his knife she’s kidnapped by pirates who then leave the play about two seconds after they deliver her to a brothel… this play is just a hot mess all around.  So, why do I love it?  You know the lack of heart that I was just talking about; I find the opposite of Pericles – I think it has heart in abundance.  The titular character’s journey is really quite devastating, but it culminates in two beautiful reunions and the final scene is one of my favorite things that Shakespeare wrote (there are plenty of authorship questions surrounding Pericles but it’s generally believed that the first two acts were written by George Wilkins and the final three by Shakespeare).  I also just think it’s an unapologetically fun time – I dare anyone to read this and not be entertained.

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Measure for Measure
★★★★☆
my role: Escalus

Measure for Measure was also a pretty big surprise though, I must say.  Only a comedy by technicality, this is genuinely… one of the darkest plays I’ve read so far.  I knew nothing about this play going in, but interestingly, though it’s set in Vienna, I could tell within two minutes of reading that the source material it’s based off is Italian (not just the character names – the setting and the themes in particular are undeniably Italian).  I have a (useless!) major in Italian Lit and this brought me back to… literally every novel I ever had to read in college, so there was something sort of comfortably familiar about it that I think endeared me to it.  It’s not my favorite play and I won’t be in a hurry to read it again any time soon, but I also found it rather interesting and unsettling in a way that stuck with me for days.  Performing it was good fun too and it was a rather cathartic choice to do the ultimate ACAB play on the 4th of July.


Up next: King John, which I read for the first time a few weeks ago and which is one of my new favorite plays!  I’m really looking forward to this.

Also, before I go, I just want to briefly comment on the fact that I’ve been rather terrible at blogging lately.  I had a week off work last week and I thought I mind find my blogging motivation then, but that didn’t happen; but upon reflection I actually think I work blogging into my life more easily when my days have more structure.  So, I’m sorry that I haven’t been more active on here – not only on my own blog, but especially everyone else’s – but quarantine has been weird times.  I’m optimistic I’ll soon get back on this horse, but, I’m sorry again – I do miss all of you guys.

Anyway, leave a comment to talk about Shakespeare or anything else!

Project Shakespeare: month #3 wrap up

It’s kind of mind-blowing that we’re three months into this already, but let’s just dive straight into this!  Months 1 and 2 wrap ups are here and here respectively – see month 1 if you’re unsure what this whole thing is all about.

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Much Ado About Nothing
★★★☆☆
my role (first show): Leonato
my role (second show): Hero

We had another double feature, doing our regular Saturday evening show and then a Sunday matinee.  I played Leonato one day and his daughter Hero the next, two rather different experiences.  Hero is the character that I like and connect with the most in this play, so I was grateful to have the opportunity to play her.  Leonato I didn’t ‘get’ quite as much, so when in doubt, overcompensate by laying on the drunk, corny dad energy thick.

Much Ado was new to me, and I had high hopes as this seems to be everyone’s favorite play – or if not their favorite, at least in their top 5.  I can see why; it’s charming and witty and a healthy dose sassier than its oft-compared Twelfth Night.  I desperately wanted to like it more than I did.  This is the play that really confirmed for me that I’m never going to love the comedies (at least, not this type of comedy; something like The Tempest is a different story).  This week more than most made me really reflect on what works for me in Shakespeare’s plays (and literature in general, more broadly) and what doesn’t.  Ultimately I just need there to be something of consequence at stake, and ‘whether or not Beatrice and Benedick hook up’ just doesn’t do it for me.  I don’t dislike this play at all but neither is it a new favorite.

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The Winter’s Tale
★★★☆☆
my roles: Florizel, Time, Gaoler, First Lady

This play is very tonally uneven, so my thoughts about it are all over the place.  The thing is, I can enjoy both halves of what Shakespeare is doing in this play.  I can get behind an aged ruler making terrible and selfish decisions that lead to the death of his loved ones (Lear) and I can get behind jaunty forest shenanigans (Midsummer), but the fusion of the two… does not work for me here, probably because I don’t find a single one of these characters interesting or compelling in the slightest.  I like isolated moments in this play but overall it really fails to move me.  I do like Florizel well enough though, and playing Time was fun.  This was an enjoyable read-through; we went a bit wild with “exit, pursued by a bear” with everyone providing their own interpretation of The Bear.  But, I don’t know, this one is just a bit too weird for me overall.

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Timon of Athens
★★★☆☆
my roles: Painter, Varro’s Second Man, Third Friend, Some Speak, Third Bandit

Speaking of weird plays… Timon was also new to me and I find it both interesting and underwhelming in equal measure.  Interesting in that it reads more like a fable than a tragedy, and its tone is probably the most singular of any Shakespeare play I’ve read so far (which would make sense, given that it was cowritten), so it was just a bit of a different experience overall.  Underwhelming in that I found the language in this one rather static and not terribly moving (though once Timon begins to descend into madness he does get some poignant monologues), and I didn’t find any of the characters particularly intriguing.

This read-through was just as chaotic as you would expect from a play with 50+ characters, only 4 of whom really have any kind of significant role.  But chaos can be fun sometimes, and that was absolutely the case here.  There were ridiculous accents everywhere, me and Abby poured glasses of water over own heads in a scene where Timon throws water over a crowd of spectators, and the whole thing was grounded by a brilliant, elegant portrayal of Timon by Will, who stayed up until 3 am for this nonsense, for which we were all SO grateful.

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Henry V
★★★☆☆
my roles: Katharine, Duke of Orleans, Duke of York, Sir Thomas Grey

I had a somewhat lukewarm experience reading this script, but while I was reading I had the thought that it would be a terribly compelling play to see on stage.  And indeed, if our performance is anything to go by, damn, this is a brilliant piece of theatre.  This was my favorite Project Shakespeare performance since Lear, and I loved every second of it.  Seeing my college roommate and name twin Rachel shine while playing Hal was probably the highlight, but the leek scene had everyone in hysterics, and getting to perform a whole scene in French is one of my favorite things that I’ve gotten to do in weeks.  She’s a small role, but Katharine quickly became one of my favorite Shakespeare characters – I dare anyone to read this scene of Katharine learning English (linking to No Fear Shakespeare for the English translation) and not be overwhelmed by how cute it is.  I just can’t even explain how great everyone’s energy was for this performance.  Bring on the rest of the histories, tbh!


Up next: a Romeo & Juliet double feature, with me playing Romeo on Sunday, which is… an exciting and terrifying prospect!

Project Shakespeare: month #2 wrap up

As you’ve probably noticed, Shakespeare has utterly taken over my life lately, in the form of weekly readings over Zoom.  If you missed my first Project Shakespeare wrap up you can read that here, but now we’re done with month #2, which is a little surreal to think about.  Anyway, let’s talk through these plays:

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As You Like It
★★★☆☆
my role: Celia

The thing about As You Like It is that it’s… really fucking weird?! The conflict that’s set up in the first act never really materializes into anything (what even happens to Frederick?), character development happens entirely off-stage or without reason (Oliver’s a good guy now! because… Celia needs a husband!), there is an OFF-STAGE LION ATTACK? IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FRENCH FOREST?, there’s a wedding in which two people are married by… an actual god?! What even is this play???!  (Potentially a satire of the pastoral genre, I know; still, regardless of its intentions, it’s weird as hell and it’s hard to totally warm up to.)

But it’s equally hard not to be at least a little charmed by it. The friendship between Rosalind and Celia is one of the most pure and touching female friendships that Shakespeare wrote, and I had a blast playing Celia, who starts out sweet and simple and becomes increasingly more jaded and frustrated by Rosalind’s shenanigans, while still lending her support.  Celia is truly the unsung MVP of this play.  Though, shout-out to Patrick for his minute-long dramatic entrance as Jaques (Jay-kweez).

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Hamlet
★★★★★
my role: Laertes

I mean… it’s Hamlet.  This is actually only one of two Shakespeare plays I ever studied in school (the other being Macbeth), so I feel like I have a stronger grasp on it than some others, and I do enjoy it immensely.

As a group, I think we were all a little nervous about Hamlet – it was only the second tragedy we’ve done after Macbeth, and Macbeth is still a ‘fun’ play in a way that Hamlet isn’t.  The prospect of putting on a 3+ hour Zoom production of Hamlet was a little daunting, but those 3+ hours positively flew by.  We divided the role of Hamlet into two (everyone knows that Hamlet is a massive role, but for context, he has twice as many lines as Prospero in The Tempest, which is… already a massive role), jokingly into Ham and Let, and both halves of our Ham/Let duo brought so much heart and passion (and sass) that it was a joy to watch.  The two other clear stars that emerged were our Claudius and Ophelia; two characters I’ve never given much thought to, Claudius being so easy to portray as a mustache-twirling villain and Ophelia being The Generic Tragic Ingenue.  But Abby brought such a pathos and humanity to Claudius that this monologue gave us all chills, and Pamela broke all of our hearts with her tender portrayal of Ophelia.  Really incredible acting all around this week.

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Comedy of Errors
★★★★☆
my role: Solinus

Following Hamlet, we opted for the shortest play.  And what an unexpected breath of fresh air this was!  All I knew going into this was that it was one of Shakespeare’s earlier plays and that it was about two sets of twins and mistaken identity, and, indeed, that’s pretty much all there is to it.  Heavy on the commedia dell’arte vibes, Comedy of Errors is just an unapologetically stupid romp, and I enjoyed every second of it.  Its short length is absolutely part of its charm, because it smartly does not overstay its welcome (these dumb characters already take far too long to catch on to what’s happening), but by the time it ended I think everyone wanted another hour of it.

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King Lear
★★★★★
my role: Edmund

I actually have no words for this experience but I’ll try to come up with something.  King Lear is my favorite Shakespeare play – I’m utterly obsessed with the high-stakes drama and scale of tragedy.  It’s also thematically satisfying and narratively ambiguous in a way that REALLY works to my tastes, and I think it has the most devastating ending of any Shakespeare play.  Edmund is my favorite character – he’s the one I’ve always been the most compelled by, and I think he’s one of Shakespeare’s more interesting villains.  Because in a lot of ways, he’s set up to be a sort of underdog hero – most of his ‘thou nature art my goddess’ monologue appeals directly to the audience and is actually disturbingly compelling.  Because yes, who among us has not been screwed out of something we deserve; why shouldn’t he fight for what’s been denied to him by unjust social custom?  Of course, that’s up until his line ‘well then, legitimate Edgar’ when the monologue takes a turn for the sinister and you realize that Edmund’s ambitions are naturally at the expense of his own family.  But even after he is set up as the play’s chief antagonist (along with Goneril and Regan), his motives remain clear and cogent and perversely sympathetic – and his dying moments show a flicker of tenderness toward his brother that suggest that power for power’s sake was never the goal so much as being accepted by the family that he betrays – and I am unendingly interested in untangling the knot that is his character.

Anyway, much as I love Edmund, I felt nervous about requesting him.  If you’ve been following the roles I’ve been taking, you will see a very clear pattern: Straight Good Men and ingenues.  Both of which I’ve had a lot of fun with, but neither of which require a whole lot of… acting?  (Or at least, you can get away with less acting; I should put it that way.)  But I decided fuck it, I would never have this opportunity again and I would be kicking myself if I requested Cordelia out of fear (though I do quite like Cordelia).

Everything about this production was magical.  I know it probably sounds hyperbolic to call it a production, but the caliber of everyone involved blew me away.  (You can watch the eye gouging scene here; I truly cannot recommend it highly enough.)  Abby and Rachel choreographed that scene beautifully and Abby, who was a brilliant Gloucester, played the rest of the show with a blindfold onMaggie played Kent’s disguise with an Irish accent; Ashley played Edgar with FOUR ACCENTS.  And Pamela and Chelsea were the absolute heart and soul of this production as Lear and Cordelia respectively; I have chills just thinking about the final act and how much the two of them broke my heart (and has there ever been a more chilling line than ‘Never, never, never, never, never’).  Anyway, it’s hard to evaluate your own performance with any kind of objectivity, but I am proud of having pushed myself out of my comfort zone for this, as playing Edmund was an absolute dream and I would do it again in a heartbeat.  Doing a play a week has been brilliant but I’m finding it a little hard to move on from this one!


So that’s that!  Up next: Much Ado About Nothing.  Stay tuned for the next installment in a month.

Shakespeare question of the day and in honor of me memorizing both ‘thou nature art my goddess’ and ‘this is the excellent foppery of the world’ this week – what’s your favorite Shakespeare monologue?  Comment and tell me!

Reading Ireland Month 2020 TBR

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… Reading Ireland Month!

You can read Cathy’s post about it HERE, but basically, it’s what it says on the tin: you read Irish books throughout the month of March.  You can read exclusively Irish lit all month, or you can mix it up – I’ll probably end up doing the latter since March is when the Women’s Prize longlist gets announced, but I still want to cram in as much Irish lit as I can.

Cathy laid out a schedule which you are welcome to follow, should you so desire:

2nd – 8th March – Contemporary Irish Novels

9th – 15th March – Classic Irish Novels

16th – 22nd March – Irish Short Story Collections

23rd – 29th March – Irish Non-Fiction

Last year I themed my reading around the schedule and it worked out really well, but this year I think I’m going to do things a bit more free-form.

Before you see this massive list and panic on my behalf, I am under NO illusions that I will read all of these books in March.  This is just a selection off my shelves that I feel particularly drawn to at this moment in time.  Who knows what I’ll end up going for.

So without further ado, here are some of the books I’m thinking about picking up in March:

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan
If All the World and Love Were Young by Stephen Sexton
The Dregs of the Day by Máirtín Ó Cadhain
The Cruelty Men by Emer Martin
For the Good Times by David Keenan
The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor
Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel
Being Various edited by Lucy Caldwell
The Long Gaze Back edited by Sinéad Gleeson

Honestly I think if I manage to read even 2 or 3 of these, I will be happy!  Or maybe I’ll read something else entirely, but this list is what I’m feeling drawn toward at this very moment.  So there you have it.  Have you read any of these, and what are your Reading Ireland Month plans?  Comment and let me know!

2020 Reading Goals

Let’s start off this post by revisiting my 2019 goals:

  • Read at least 80 books.  Success!  112
  • Request fewer ARCs/read more books I already own.  lol
  • Read at least two books a month from any of these categories: plays, poetry collections, short story collections, nonfiction.  I did ok at this for a while and then eventually fell off the wagon.  But I did succeed in diversifying my reading (I definitely read more nonfiction in particular than ever before) so I’m not going to dwell on the specifics of this one.
  • Read my 2019 backlist TBR.  4.5/12.  Spectacular fail.
  • Read at least 12 classics.  I actually had to go back and count just now, but no, I did not succeed, I only read 7.  That’s especially low for me so I’m not really sure what happened there.  Oh well.

Some brief personal ramblings, if you’re at all curious why my goals went so badly.  If not, definitely skip these paragraphs.  2019 was… an interesting year for me.  Less than two months into the year the company I’d been working for for 5 years went out of business (long story) and I subsequently found myself unemployed for two months, which was awful.  And I almost feel bad about how awful it was for me emotionally, because I had enough savings that I wasn’t even in a position where I had to rush out and find a job the next day, and I know so many people aren’t as fortunate.  But I’d be lying if I pretended that that didn’t hit me very hard.

In April, I found a job which in many ways was my dream job on paper (I work in editorial and foreign rights for a local indie children’s book publisher), and while I do love my job in many ways, it was… a rather rough transition for me.  It’s a very, very, very different environment from anywhere I’ve ever worked before, and it took a pretty serious toll on my mental health.  Suffice to say, for the better part of the year I was suffering from worse depression and anxiety than I have in years.  I managed to read 112 books, which, yes, is a lot!  But it’s also about 20-30 fewer than I’d been managing in previous years, and I wasn’t even reading particularly long or dense books for the most part, so that goes to show that I was just really struggling in the second half of the year.  All this to say, in 2020 I’m going to be kinder to myself with my goals, because I can’t predict how my work/life/sanity balance is going to affect my reading.  I know it seems like I have a lot of goals here, but a lot of them are pretty basic and easily achievable.

(Sorry if that was all very ‘woe is me’ – I hate and struggle with talking about my personal life publicly, but I do feel like I owe it to you guys to sort of let you know where my head is at when it naturally affects my reading and blogging quite a great deal.)

So without further ado, 2020 reading (and blogging!) goals:

  • Read at least 90 books.  … ok, I was going to go lower, but I couldn’t resist.  I’ve been gradually been increasing my Goodreads goal by 10 each year for many years and I didn’t want to break the pattern.  I know a lot of people feel very restricted by their Goodreads goal, but this is actually one of the goals I care the least about.  If I hit it, great, if I don’t, I’ll change it to a lower number.
  • Read my 2020 backlist TBR.  Again, I don’t particularly care if I succeed at this goal or not, but as of this moment in time, it’s a pile of books I’m really, really excited about.  I also purposefully picked less ‘challenging’ books than the ones I put on my 2019 list, so I think this is more achievable.
  • Read my ARCs ahead of publication date.  At this point it’s an annual tradition to put this on my list and then fail at it.  So.  Whatever.  I’ll give it a go.  The road to hell etc etc.
  • Read the Women’s Prize longlist, and no other literary prize longlists.  I’ve discovered over the years that despite how much I love following literary prizes, I cannot focus my reading around them year-round.  However, I love the Women’s Prize too much to throw in the towel with this annual tradition.  Last year I read through the longlist with a group of friends and we all had such a blast with it that I think we’re all planning on doing it again, and I cannot wait.  If you enjoy my Women’s Prize series of posts every year you can absolutely look forward to that again.
  • Participate in Reading Ireland Month (March) and Women in Translation Month (August) and no other themed reading challenges.  Again, I just can’t focus my reading around community-wide initiatives, no matter how fun or well-intentioned they are.  But despite that, these two have my heart, and I am so looking forward to participating in both.  That said, I don’t plan on reading exclusively Irish lit in March (only because of the Women’s Prize tbh – otherwise I’d love to) or only Women in Translation in August.  I don’t want to restrict myself too much.
  • Unfollow a lot of blogs.  Don’t panic!  If we regularly interact on here, I am not talking about you.  When I first discovered this community, I would follow just about everyone.  I also had a lot more free time back then to read through my WordPress Reader more thoroughly.  I still like to rely on that tool to stay caught up, but nowadays I follow like 600 accounts on here and I find myself scrolling past way more blogs than I actually click on.  This just isn’t a sustainable way for me to stay engaged with the blogs I actually want to engage with.  So I know this seems like a kind of negative resolution, but it’s not, I promise.  This will be a lot better in the long run to focus my blogging interests.  And then, the flip side of this is that once my reader is more manageable, I want to be able to seek out some more bloggers whose reading tastes overlap with mine.
  • Review books immediately after finishing them.  I can’t believe I actually have to write this down as one of my resolutions, because this is something I have never struggled with.  I’ve always written my reviews within an hour of finishing the book.  But unfortunately I’ve been so mentally and emotionally drained lately that I find myself putting it off, and then resenting the process once I do sit down to review.  This just isn’t me.  I need to get back to the basics.

What are your 2020 reading and blogging goals?  Comment and let me know!

2020 Backlist TBR

Last year I challenged myself to read 12 specific books off my physical shelves throughout the year.  I failed spectacularly, reading only 4 and a half (I’m halfway through Cassandra) out of 12.  It’s not that I don’t want to pick up the remaining 7, it’s just that the timing never quite felt right for any of those.  So, I am officially relieving them of that pressure, by putting the pressure onto a different set of 12 books for 2020.  I’ll probably fail spectacularly at this too.  Who cares.

So, here are the 12 books that as of now, 12:50 pm on December 31, 2019, I have every intention of reading in 2020:

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Assassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb.  I recently finished and really loved Royal Assassin (review to come), the second book in Hobb’s Farseer trilogy.  Unfortunately I’ve heard from numerous accounts that Assassin’s Quest is the weakest in this trilogy, and beyond that, it’s over 100 pages longer than Royal Assassin, which already took me six months to read.  However, I am vowing that I need to pick this up soon before I lose the momentum I was gaining with Royal Assassin toward the end; plus, it ended on a cliffhanger and I am dying to see what happens.

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Regeneration by Pat Barker.  I’ve been meaning to read this one for ages and it recently got a rave review from Chelsea, meaning it’s been bumped up on my TBR.  I actually bought this entire trilogy earlier this year – something I rarely do, but the bookstore had them all used for $5 each so I couldn’t resist.  I hope I love this as much as I loved The Silence of the Girls (though I’m obviously expecting something quite different).

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What Red Was by Rosie Price.  One from my Christmas haul.  I love the sound of this, and it’s been pitched as Sally Rooney meets Asking For It by Louise O’Neill, so, that sounds stupidly relevant to my interests.  Plus I know Callum loved this.

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The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan.  I’ve publicly announced that I’m going to read this book so many times that I think it’s lost all meaning.  But I swear to god, do not let me enter 2021 without having read this.  I love Donal Ryan and this is ridiculously short, so why on earth do I keep postponing this?!

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Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh.  I’ll be honest, I don’t even know what this is about, I just know that I’ve felt drawn to it for years and I’m ready to give it a go.

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Solar Bones by Mike McCormack.  It’s Irish, it’s one sentence, it’s a literary fiction novel by a man that even Hannah likes.  So I just know I am going to love this.

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The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon.  It’s about Alexander the Great.  Rick likes it.  That’s all I need to know.

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A Separate Peace by John Knowles.  This is a modern classic that a lot of people have to read in high school and that a select number of my good friends hated, and I think it has to do with a boy falling out of a tree, or being pushed out of a tree?  I don’t know.  Don’t tell me.  I’m intrigued.

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The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North.  I’ve had this on my shelf for years and I actually forgot about it entirely until it recently showed up on Laura Tisdall’s books of the decade list.  She then further sold it to me by saying there are traces of Lu Rile, the brilliant protagonist of one of my favorite books, Rachel Lyon’s Self-Portrait with Boy, in Sophie Stark.  That quickly made this one a priority for me.

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A Cathedral of Myth and Bone by Kat Howard.  Poor Marija has been yelling at people to read this book for months and very few have taken up her call, so I decided to bite the bullet and I ordered this online the other day.  All I know is that it’s a short story collection inspired by mythology, and Goodreads tells me it’s adult even though I keep thinking it’s YA for some reason (I just realized it’s the ‘blank of blank and blank’ title), but anyway, this is a good sign.

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Disoriental by Négar Djavadi, translated from the French by Tina Kover.  This is my pick for Women in Translation Month (August) if I don’t manage to read it sooner.  I don’t really know what this is – I think a family saga? – but I haven’t heard a single negative thing about it.  And I love Tina Kover on Twitter.  And Kristin has raved about it!

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The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara.  It is time.  Despite proclaiming A Little Life my book of the decade, I still haven’t read Yanagihara’s debut.  I’ve heard it’s very different from A Little Life but still devastating, and frankly, after being so thoroughly destroyed by Yanagihara’s sophomore effort I haven’t felt up to it.  But I’m ready.  I think.

Have you guys read any of these, and what did you think?  What backlist books are at the top of your 2020 TBR?  Comment and let me know!

Best Books of 2019

Here we are!  At the time I’m writing this I’ve read 110 books this year, though I’m hoping to finish a few more before the new year.  In any case, it’s not a record number of books read for me – in fact, it’s something like 20 fewer than last year – and quality, as always, varied.  I didn’t feel like I was having a particularly stellar reading year, but when it came down to the wire of putting this list together, there were about 15 books that I realized I was willing to go to war for, so even if there were a lot of duds for me this year, there were also a lot of stand-outs.

Honorable mentions to: In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (this one in particular – I had a crisis about my last slot but refused to expand this list to 11), Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips, Walk Through Walls by Marina Abramović, and Rough Magic by Lara Prior-Palmer (incidentally, this one was a 4 star read for me at the time, but in hindsight it looks like I need to bump up its rating).

A few stats about this year’s final list:

4 are nonfiction (a record!)
4 are Irish/Northern Irish/about Ireland/Northern Ireland
2 are translated, both translated by women
7 are by women
1 is by an author of color (do better, me)

So, here we go!

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10. Know My Name by Chanel Miller

“In fact I need you to know it was all true. The friendly guy who helps you move and assists senior citizens in the pool is the same guy who assaulted me. One person can be capable of both. Society often fails to wrap its head around the fact that these truths often coexist, they are not mutually exclusive. Bad qualities can hide inside a good person. That’s the terrifying part.”

Chanel Miller’s account of being sexually assaulted while unconscious by Brock Turner was always going to be an impactful and harrowing read, but it would do Miller a disservice to imply that the subject matter and cultural conversation surrounding this book are the only reasons why it’s appearing on so many best-of-year lists.  This book has been such a commercial and word-of-mouth success because Miller is an extraordinary writer, end of story.  This memoir is bold, righteous, angry; but it’s also thoughtfully structured and elegantly written.  I oppose the concept of ‘required reading’ for a lot of reasons, but I can highly recommend that everyone read this who is able to.

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9. The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy

‘Hello, Saul. How’s it going?’
‘I’m trying to cross the road,’ I replied.
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘you’ve been trying to cross the road for thirty years but stuff happened on the way.’”

This was my first Deborah Levy so it’s probably too soon to proclaim myself her number one fan, but my god was this a brilliant place for me to start.  I was riveted by this book; I found it so intellectually stimulating with its impeccably bizarre structure and its clever trail of bread crumbs that Levy leaves the reader before you’re fully aware of what she’s doing, but I also found it so full of heart.  I was expecting to be challenged by this book, but I wasn’t expecting to be so moved by it.  And no, I’m not saying anything about the plot as I’d implore you to go in blind.

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8. The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn
translated from the Norwegian by Rosie Hedger

“A more dependable person, that’s what I had to become, a woman in possession of a firmer character. If not now, then when? Out here I had what little I needed: solitude, long days at my disposal, a small number of predictable duties. I was liberated from the watchful gaze of others, free from their idle chit-chat, and I had a garden all of my own.”

I made it a priority to read more women in translation this year, and this odd little novella was the highlight for me.  Set in an isolated fjord town, it follows a woman who’s recently quit her job to become a caretaker for a reticent and sullen man who draws her into his life while keeping her at a firm distance.  I hesitate to categorize it as a thriller in the American marketing use of the word, but I was beyond thrilled by this book, staying up late into the night so I could see how this train wreck was going to end.  A brilliant gothic and atmospheric story that reads like a modernized classic.

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7. A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore

“‘I saw an arm fall off a man once,’ said Kate.”

This was probably the biggest surprise of the year for me, which I only picked up as a part of a long-term goal I’m working toward of having read all of the Women’s Prize winners.  It’s not that I expected to dislike it, but reviews are a bit middling, and I think I was expecting it to be fine, but not a stand out.  But my god, did it ever stand out.  A Spell of Winter is a devastating gothic tragedy, subversive and unexpected and harrowing and twisted and just fucking brilliant.  This single book made such an impression on me that it left me wanting to read Dunmore’s entire (extensive) catalog.

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6. Maus by Art Spiegelman

“I know this is insane, but I somehow wish I had been in Auschwitz with my parents so I could really know what they lived through! I guess it’s some kind of guilt about having had an easier life than they did.”

I believe this gets the distinction of being the only book to make me cry this year – and I didn’t just cry, I bawled.  I won’t get into the plot because I feel like everyone on earth had already read this before I did, but if by some miracle you haven’t yet, read it.  This is one of the most disturbing yet beautifully composed things I’ve ever read.  The interplay between Spiegelman’s text and illustrations is just masterful.  It’s a modern classic for a reason.

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5. Constellations by Sinéad Gleeson

“Leaving the home on that last night, I kiss her hands. You were so important, I tell her. You were so loved.”

This is one of those books that broke my heart and then managed to mend it again.  It’s usually the case with essay collections that some are notably weaker than others, but I didn’t think a single one of Gleeson’s essays was out of place in this collection.  All of these threads about death and illness and the female body and the lack of autonomy given to the female body in Ireland all dovetail into a singular, sensational book that has stayed with me ever since finishing it.  An absolute must-read for fans of feminist nonfiction and Maggie O’Farrell’s I Am, I Am, I Am.

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4. Tell Them of Battles, Kings & Elephants by Mathias Énard
translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell

“Night does not communicate with the day. It burns up in it. Night is carried to the stake at dawn. And its people along with it—the drinkers, the poets, the lovers. We are a people of the banished, of the condemned. I do not know you. I know your Turkish friend; he is one of ours. Little by little he is vanishing from the world, swallowed up by the shadows and their mirages; we are brothers. I don’t know what pain or what pleasure propelled him to us, to stardust, maybe opium, maybe wine, maybe love; maybe some obscure wound of the soul deep-hidden in the folds of memory.”

This book is like an alternate history story told as a fever dream and I loved every bizarre second of it.  Énard imagines that Michelangelo accepted an invitation to travel to Constantinople and design a bridge for the Sultan Bayezid II, and the result is a sort of East-meets-West fable, brought to life by Charlotte Mandell’s stunning, lyrical translation and Énard’s lush and evocative setting.  I have never felt more immersed in a novella and I have never been sadder for one to end.

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3. A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

“Him anxious. Not at all like. But I am happy. Satisfied that I’ve done wrong and now and now. What now? Calm sliding down into my boat and pushing out to sin. He’s on the shoreline getting small.”

This wasn’t my introduction to McBride, having read and felt rather mixed about The Lesser Bohemians.  But there is nothing mixed in my feelings about her debut, the single most depressing thing I’ve ever read after A Little Life, and one of the best meditations on trauma that I’ve ever read.  McBride’s singular, fragmentary style works so well in this book that it’s one of the best cases of harmony between style and content that I can think of.  Major trigger warnings for just about everything, particularly sexual assault, so I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone.  But god it’s good.

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2. The Fire Starters by Jan Carson

“The Troubles is too less a word for all of this.  It is a word for minor inconveniences, such as overdrawn bank accounts, slow punctures, a woman’s time of the month.  It is not a violent word.  Surely we have earnt ourselves a violent word, something as blunt and brutal as ‘apartheid.’ Instead, we have a word like ‘scissors’, which can only be said in the plural.  The Troubles is/was one monster thing. The Troubles is/are many individual evils caught up together. (Other similar words include ‘trousers’ and ‘pliers’.) The Troubles is always written with a capital T as if it were an event, as the Battle of Hastings is an event with a fixed beginning and end, a point on the calendar year. History will no doubt prove it is actually a verb; an action that can be done to people over and over again, like stealing.”

In the biggest plot twist of the century, my favorite novel of the year belongs to my least favorite genre, magical realism.  That just goes to show Jan Carson’s power.  This is a sharp and funny and piercing story about a near-future resurgence of the Troubles, in which someone in Belfast has begun to light a series of fires around the city.  It also follows two men, an older man and former paramilitary, and a young doctor who fears that his newborn daughter might be a Siren.  Like a lot of Northern Irish lit, this is a book about how terror starts at home, about how you never know who you can trust, about how a legacy of violence leaves lasting scars on a community.  It’s also written with wit and warmth and a compelling sort of unease.  Please read it.

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1. Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe

“Dating back to the Iliad, ancient Egypt and beyond, burial rites have formed a critical function in most human societies. Whether we cremate a loved one or inter her bones, humans possess a deep-set instinct to mark death in some deliberate, ceremonial fashion. Perhaps the cruelest feature of forced disappearance as an instrument of war is that it denies the bereaved any such closure, relegating them to a permanent limbo of uncertainty.”

Speaking of the Troubles.  On February 27, I wrote in my review: “I wish it weren’t only February because the statement ‘this is the best book I’ve read all year’ does not carry very much weight when we still have 10 months to go.”  Well, we made it, Patrick.  December 29 and this is my book of the year – in fact, it never had any real competition.  This is a nonfiction true crime account of the disappearance of Jean McConville in 1970s Belfast; a story which Radden Keefe weaves together with a relatively comprehensive history of the Troubles, all while also investigating an effort made by Boston College in the twenty-first century to curate an oral history of the Troubles.  This book has everything – it’s engaging, heart-wrenching, informative, thoughtful, measured, compassionate, brilliant.  Nothing I read this year left a stronger impression on me.

So there we have it, my best books of 2019.  What were yours?

Most Disappointing Books of 2019

I’m going for the ‘most disappointing’ angle rather than ‘worst’.  My ratings for these books range from 1 to 3 stars.  Otherwise I think this speaks for itself.  Here we go!

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10. Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh

I discovered Ottessa Moshfegh in 2018 and devoured her two novels My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Eileen, so it was with excitement that I approached her short story collection Homesick for Another World, but my god this did not work for me.  I find that her novels succeed because of, or in spite of, her fantastically unlikable protagonists, because over the course of a full-length novel she has the space to adequately explore her protagonists’ psyches.  Not so in short stories, where characters seem to be awful for the sake of provoking the reader into thinking ‘oh, how awful’; there never felt like there was much depth beyond that and it started grating before too long.  All that said, the final story in this collection was a standout.  If you’re going to read one, make it that one.

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9. Notes to Self by Emilie Pine

This was a case where the disappointment arose from the fact that this book seemed so tailor-made for me; I can rarely go wrong with Irish feminist essay collections, and this one has been SO critically acclaimed that I was confident of its brilliance before even starting.  It just fell flat for me.  I felt like Emilie Pine never managed to say anything new or novel in any of these essays.  Some worked for me more than others, but a few weeks after finishing not a single one stands out to me.

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8. Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden

A perfectly adequate book that I had to watch spontaneously self-combust before my eyes with an ending that effectively destroyed everything that came before it.  Full, spoiler-filled thoughts here.  But basically, this should win an award for the worst ending of all time.  No exaggeration.

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7. The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang

I’m not a big fantasy reader, as you may have gleaned, but a childhood love of Harry Potter left me with a lifelong desire to find another fantasy series that, if it doesn’t have that same impact on me, as least comes close.  That’s why I was so thrilled to find The Poppy War, an engaging, propulsive, original-yet-comfortingly-familiar, darker-than-dark fantasy debut that blends Chinese military history with Chinese mythology.  I unreservedly loved every minute of it and eagerly started an ARC of The Dragon Republic months before it was due to come out.  I didn’t even bother finishing it by its publication date, because reading this book ended up being like pulling teeth.  The stakes felt low, the repetition grew wearisome, and the least interesting characters and conflicts were pulled to the forefront.  I’ll still be reading the third and final book in the trilogy when it’s published, and I still adore The Poppy War, but The Dragon Republic was a massive, massive disappointment.

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6. The Cassandra by Sharma Shields

In my review of this book I cited that my issues with it were: the characters, the plot, the themes, and its failure as an adaptation.  So, in short, I didn’t like a single thing about it.  This was an incredibly shallow, ill-conceived Greek mythology adaptation that placed the Cassandra figure in Hanford, the research facility in the U.S. that developed the atomic bomb during WWII.  Everything was one-dimensional to the extreme; the plot constantly drove the characters and not the other way around, which is something that I especially hate.

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5. The Power by Naomi Alderman

The Power, my least favorite Women’s Prize winner that I’ve read, is set in a dystopian future where suddenly girls have developed the ability to generate electric shocks from their fingertips.  It follows a group of characters, not one of whom has a distinct personality, across several years, meandering through their lives in a way that managed to side-step any real plot or action, instead focusing on extremely tedious details that managed to kill any momentum that Alderman was trying to achieve with the novel’s framing.  I hated this so much I was skimming it by the end.

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4. Valerie by Sara Stridsberg
translated from the Swedish by Deborah Bragan-Turner

This fictionalization of Valerie Solanas’s life bored me to tears.  I didn’t get on with Stridsberg’s writing and I just didn’t care enough to try to engage with… whatever she was attempting to achieve with this book.  It read like a series of ideas without any semblance of a narrative to ground them; I found myself wondering why this was bothering to be a novel and not a long-form essay.

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3. On Swift Horses by Shannon Pufahl

I haven’t even written a review of this yet, but I’m thrilled I was able to finish it in time to include it here.  I hated this.  It follows two characters in the postwar US, Muriel and Julius, both vaguely discontent with their lives.  The dust jacket tells you more than that, but I’m not going to, because it turns out it’s one of those cases where the dust jacket narrates the entire plot to you.  Nothing happens in this book; the characters are indistinct (I could not think of a single adjective to describe Julius aside from gay – that’s still the only thing I know about him); the writing is dreadful (it is trying so hard to sound Deep and Literary that it manages to say nothing of real importance for 300 pages); this ultimately reads like a very, very, very unpolished first draft of something that has potential buried somewhere very deep inside it.

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2. The Club by Takis Würger
translated from the German by Charlotte Collins

A German orphan infiltrates one of Cambridge’s elite dining clubs in this bizarrely terrible… I don’t even know what this was trying to be.  Thriller?  Character study?  Potent social commentary?  It managed to be none of the above, with writing so laughable these are actual lines from the book (tw for sexual assault):

“I couldn’t stop thinking about how wounded she had seemed when she told me about being raped. I wondered what it meant for us.”

“Basically, I was living proof that money, a place at Cambridge, and a big dick don’t make you happy. Fuck.”

 “Charlotte fell asleep on my elbow. After my parents’ death I’d thought I could never love again, because the fear of losing someone was too great. I had grown cold inside. Now here was this woman, lying on my arm.”

‘I’m not going to play this game much longer,’ I said. 
I got up to leave, but she grabbed my hand.  I could feel her strength.  She was so strong I didn’t dare move.  I knew I would do everything Alex asked of me.

The girl would be raped, I would testify against Josh in court, and he would receive his punishment.  I would have to allow this crime to take place, otherwise the Butterflies would just keep doing it to other women.  Perhaps that was why old people walked with a stoop, bowed down by the weight of decisions which may have been right but still felt wrong.

So SUFFICE IT TO SAY this is hands down the worst book I have read in my life.  The only reason it isn’t #1 here is because the conceit of this list is ‘most disappointing’ rather than ‘worst’, and frankly I didn’t have any particular expectations going into this.  But it was still so bad that it had to get the #2 spot.

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1. When All Is Said by Anne Griffin

An elderly working class Irish man looks back on his life and toasts the five people who had the biggest impact on him in When All Is Said.  This gets the coveted #1 spot, because of all the books on this list, this is the one that seemed like it would be the most up my alley.  It’s sad, it’s dark, it’s Irish.  But this really did not work for me; it’s told in the first person and I never believed Maurice’s narrative voice (much too polished and articulate for an older working class man) and because of that, I never really believed any of the rest of it.  It was too articulate, too on the nose, and too emotionally hollow of a reading experience for something that promised to break my heart.  I don’t think I experienced a single emotion while reading this aside from vague annoyance.

So there we have it, my worst/least favorite/most disappointing books of 2019.  What are yours?