Jane Austen Novels Ranked

To round out the recent Jane Austen coverage on my blog, I thought I’d go through and rank all* of her books from my least favorite to favorite**.

*I have only read her six completed full-length novels! I have not read her complete works and at this point in my life I do not intend to, but never say never.

**Please note that my word choice is deliberate: this is not a ranking of her novels from worst to best. That list would look very different and is not the aim of this blog post, before you get mad at me. Respectful disagreement about my personal ranking is, of course, more than welcome.

I’d also like to take a moment to talk generally about this experience of reading through her novels. Before this year, the only Jane Austen novel I’d read was Northanger Abbey, which had such a negligible impact on my life that my Goodreads review in its entirety was, and I quote: “This was the single most inoffensive reading experience of my life. I didn’t like this book. I didn’t dislike this book. I have no opinion on this book and I have absolutely nothing else to say.”

That said, I always knew that Northanger Abbey was a somewhat ridiculous place to start, and I always intended to give her a proper chance at some point. That opportunity presented itself in January of this year when a group of friends and I decided that we would read through her novels together in a book club, meeting on the final Sunday of each month to talk about them.

Reading them in this context was a good choice for me, because it really helped keep my momentum up throughout this project. What I very, very quickly discovered was: Jane Austen is not for me. And that is okay! I fully acknowledge the merit of her works while also acknowledging that her stories and characters have very little impact on me. I don’t love her prose, I don’t enjoy immersing myself in her stories, and I never feel like picking her books back up when I put them down.

But I’m glad I tried. Reading through Austen’s novels was always a very long-term bucket list goal of mine, so I’m glad I just went ahead and plowed through them all in six months. I also enjoyed reading them roughly in the order they were written, and seeing the change in her style over time.

My recommended reading order, if you were thinking of doing this: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion.

Now, without further ado:

6. Emma

Coming in strong with my most controversial opinion: I hated Emma. We’re off to a good start though in illustrating that my personal taste does not align with what I necessarily believe is the ‘correct’ ranking. Do I think this is Austen’s worst novel, not at all. But spending 500 pages with a character I couldn’t stand while the plot effectively went nowhere felt like a tremendous waste of my time and I actually flung this book across the room when I finished; the reading experience was that agonizing for me.

Full review here.

5. Sense and Sensibility

That this was Austen’s first published novel shows — the characters aren’t particularly convincing, the structure is odd and unbalanced, and it’s much too long for what it is. I also found the resolution almost comically unsatisfying and I have to conclude that if Austen had written this book later in her career, Elinor would have ended up with a different love interest. The whole ‘meeting of two minds’ thing that’s so characteristic of most of her romantic pairings is conspicuously absent here, and the whole project falls a bit flat because of it.

Full review here.

4. Pride and Prejudice

Though it was only published two years later, Pride and Prejudice is a much tighter and more cohesive work than Sense and Sensibility, and it’s not difficult to discern why this is largely considered Austen’s masterpiece. Not a single word is wasted in this novel, the character development is sublime, and there is of course a reason that Lizzy and Darcy are the couple of hers that have most endured in our cultural consciousness. Ironically, all of this novel’s assets are also its faults for me — it’s almost too good, it’s almost too neat and tidy. I read it, agreed that ‘yes, that was indeed excellent,’ and I honestly haven’t thought about it since.

Full review here.

3. Northanger Abbey

Slots 3 and 4 on my list was where the tension between ‘best’ and ‘favorite’ was at its strongest when I was trying to figure out where to place these. I don’t think there is a single argument to be made for Northanger Abbey being a better book than Pride and Prejudice, because it simply isn’t. But I can’t deny that I had a lot more fun reading this one. It’s weird, it’s messy, it’s unapologetically absurd, and I enjoyed it all the more for those things. I’m very glad I ended up rereading this one, because I do think I underestimated it the first time I read it. Major points, however, are docked from how much I despise Cathy and Henry’s relationship — never has the Worldly Man and Naive Ingenue pairing rubbed me the wrong way as much as it does here.

Full review here.

2. Persuasion

There’s a huge jump between slots 3 and 2 on this list; Northanger Abbey was merely enjoyable; Persuasion was utterly brilliant. A surprisingly melancholy work, Persuasion marks a real departure for Austen, and one that I’m sure I would have enjoyed following, had she lived longer and been able to write more. I love this novel’s subtlety and maturity; that it’s less ‘witty’ than its predecessors wasn’t exactly a downside for me, as I don’t find the Austenian wit a huge draw to begin with.

Full review here.

1. Mansfield Park

It’s only right that this list is bookended with my two most controversial opinions — 9 out of 10 times on ‘Jane Austen ranked’ lists, you’ll see these two flipped. While Emma is largely regarded to be one of her best novels, Mansfield Park is generally accepted to be her worst; it’s quieter, less romantic, less humorous, and darker than her other works; its heroine is timid and passive. It doesn’t invite the reader to indulge in a fantasy of Regency England — it’s a bit more like Jane Eyre, fusing a bildungsroman structure with stark social commentary. I absolutely adored this book for all of these reasons and more.

Full review here.


What’s your personal Jane Austen ranking?

Hannah and I have too many ARCs: #ARCsofshame 2021

That’s right, #ARCsofshame is back for the third year running!

If you are not familiar with #ARCsofshame, it is a readathon that Hannah and I host for 2 weeks every September. When I say readathon… Hannah and I are usually the only people who participate. There are no prompts except “read your damn ARCs already.” But you are all more than welcome to join us! Don’t listen to Hannah, there IS a hashtag, #ARCsofshame, which I think Laura Frey coined? Not totally sure on that. But yeah, this is more us publicly holding ourselves accountable than anything, so feel free to join in if that sounds fun to you! We will be doing this the first 2 weeks of September this year.

I made a TBR for this project in 2019 and 2020. To be fair to me, I was never intending to read every book off those lists in a single two week period. But now it’s been… a hot second, so, let’s see how I’ve done.

I have read 9 books off my 2019 list, and 5 books off my 2020 list.

Oops.

So one of my goals for this year is to read one of the unread books off my 2019 list, and one off my 2020 list. From 2019 I’m eyeing The Glass Woman and from 2020 I’m eyeing The Majesties and It is Wood, It is Stone, but I’m not totally settled on any of those.

Otherwise, here’s what I’ve acquired since that I have yet to read:

I’m not reading Cathedral for this as I think it’s over 600 pages, and I will 100% be reading The Women of Troy as I intend to review that for BookBrowse with a mid-September deadline, but otherwise, I’m totally open.

So… what should I read?? Help!

The Mid Year Freak Out Book Tag 2021

So, hi!

I’m back… I think. Sort of. TBD. I have been in such a rut with reading and reviewing and blogging lately–I haven’t read any of your posts in a couple of months and I feel terrible about that–and I think waiting until I’m 100% back on my feet is a fool’s errand at this point so I’m just going to kind of ease back into this.

And I do this tag every year and the thought of letting it pass me by made me sad so I’m doing this a month late and not counting anything I’ve read post-June 30.

Past years:

2017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020

Question 1 – The best book you’ve read so far in 2021

I haven’t had the most amazing reading year but these were the three huge standouts: Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, and Edie Richter is Not Alone by Rebecca Handler.

Question 2 – Your favorite sequel of the year

I’ve only read one but luckily I loved it–The Lost Fairytales by Anna James.

Question 3 – A new release that you haven’t read but really want to

Klara and the Sun by my favorite author. I honestly haven’t been in the mood to pick this up and I don’t want to force it when I don’t feel like reading it, but I’m definitely hoping to get to it by the end of the year.

Question 4 – Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

Would you guys even recognize me if I didn’t say the new Sally Rooney? (No, I didn’t get an ARC. I don’t want to talk about it.)

Question 5 – Your biggest disappointment

Absolutely hated this–hands down the weakest title on the Women’s Prize shortlist, imo. Review (and more Women’s Prize coverage) to come.

Question 6 – Biggest surprise of the year

Hands down. Why do you all hate this book?! Review to come, again.

Question 7 – Favourite new to you or debut author

This book just ticked so many boxes for me. I’ll be reading anything Rebecca Handler writes.

Question 8 – Your new fictional crush

Pass.

Question 9 – New favourite character

Pass again.

Question 10 – A book that made you cry

Wow, pass again!

Question 11 – A  book that made you happy

A very fun romp through Ancient Greece written by a friend. Review–you guessed it–to come.

Question 12 – Your favourite book to movie adaptation that you’ve seen this year

The 2021 adaptation of Romeo & Juliet starring Jessie Buckley and Josh O’Connor absolutely blew me away. My expectations were honestly low going in (I’m not a purist when it comes to Shakespeare adaptations but I also didn’t see how trimming a 3-hour long play down to an hour and a half without losing anything was going to work) but this is honestly one of the best Shakespeare adaptations I have ever seen, and also one of the most timely pieces of media, as I felt so much of it served as an allegory for life under the pandemic.

Question 13 – Favourite book post you’ve done this year

Allow me to talk to you about my passions

Question 14 – The most beautiful book you have bought/received this year

This one is very striking in person.

Question 15 – What are some books you need to read by the end of the year

I’m in a book club where our next three books are Wide Sargasso Sea, Rebecca, and The Little Stranger. I’ve already read Rebecca but I’d love to re-read it if possible, and I do need to read the other two.


While we’re here, can I solicit some advice on which book to review next? I need motivation. Let me know what you’d like to see me review:

Magma

The Revolt

Ru

House of Glass

Jane Eyre

Migrations

The Girl Who Died

The Vanishing Half

Survive The Night

Persuasion

Emma

The Other Black Girl

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House

Daughter of Sparta

Swimming in the Dark

The Wars of the Roses

At Night All Blood is Black

Ariadne

Mansfield Park

Which of my friends do I read the most like?

I haven’t done a non-review post in ages but this seemed like too much fun to pass up.

I got this idea from Ally, Sarah, and Naty, make sure to go check out their posts.

Here’s Ally’s explanation of how this works:

So on Goodreads, you can compare your books to someone else’s books. Essentially, Goodreads will look at the books on both of your shelves and compare them for similarities. I’m not entirely sure how it works, but it’s a general look at how similar your reading is.

So, I thought it would be fun to compare my reading tastes to those of some of my friends to see who I read most similarly to.

I’m only including friends who have a blog and who I’m also friends with on Goodreads. But please note that I follow a lot of blogs and have 1,173 Goodreads friends, so I think it’s inevitable that some people get left off; let me know if I should do a part 2!

Laura @ Reading In Bed: 71% similar

Pretty big disclaimer here that Laura hardly uses Goodreads, but still, I couldn’t resist checking, could I! Anyway, I think this data is too inaccurate to be taken seriously. Laura and I agree much more often than not.

Books We Both Loved:

  • In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne
  • The Idiot by Elif Batuman
  • Young Skins by Colin Barrett, which Laura hasn’t even logged because she’s a fake fan

Books We Disagree On:

  • Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton: to be fair, I haven’t read this book since I was 15, but 15-year-old me hated it
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte: Laura loves, I do not
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville: basically the only books we disagree on are WH and a bunch of books I hated in high school, not too bad

Emily @ Literary Elephant: 73% similar

This one is genuinely shocking to me, I thought Emily would be in my top 3. I’m still not totally sure what’s going on here!

Books We Both Loved:

  • The Fire Starters by Jan Carson
  • When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy
  • A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

Books We Disagree On:

  • The Girls by Emma Cline: 5 stars from Emily, 2 stars from me
  • Red Rising by Pierce Brown: I think Emily loves this series, and I only read the first book and hated it
  • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold: 5 stars from Emily, 1 star from me

Naty @ Naty’s Bookshelf: 73% similar

Naty included me on her list so I already knew where she’d end up on mine, but still, surprising! I feel like we agree more often than not (which, to be fair, I suppose 73% does indicate).

Books We Both Loved:

  • Daughter from the Dark by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko
  • Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
  • In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

Books We Disagree On:

  • The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro: Ishiguro is my favorite author but I hated this one! I’m actually surprised Naty rated it so highly, based on what I understand about the intersection of our tastes
  • Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff: the less I say about this book, the better for everyone
  • milk and honey by Rupi Kaur: Naty is kinder than I am, basically.

Rebecca @ Bookish Beck: 74% similar

Rebecca is about where I expected her to be on my list — I think we’re very hit or miss!

Books We Both Loved:

  • Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler
  • Real Life by Brandon Taylor
  • Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

Books We Disagree On:

  • Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi: 2 stars from me, 4 from Rebecca
  • Days Without End by Sebastian Barry: 1 star from me, 5 from Rebecca (I wanted to love it, TRUST ME)
  • Dominicana by Angie Cruz: 1 star from me, 5 stars from Rebecca (this one surprises me, I don’t think I realized Rebecca liked it so much!)

Eleanor @ Elle Thinks: 75% similar

Again, not too surprising; we agree most of the time with a few random wild cards every now and then.

Books We Both Loved:

  • The Madonna of the Mountains by Elise Valmorbida
  • This is Shakespeare by Emma Smith (the queen!)
  • Tender by Belinda McKeon

Books We Disagree On:

  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward: 5 stars from Elle, only 3 from me
  • The Overstory by Richard Powers: again, 5 from Elle, 3 from me, I just don’t like reading about trees, literary prowess be damned
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: Elle loves, I hate

Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction?: 76% similar

This is a fun one as Ren only reads nonfiction (though she has some fiction logged in her Goodreads from years past, which is where most of our disagreements are!).

Books We Both Loved:

  • The Only Girl in the World by Maude Julien
  • But You Did Not Come Back by Marceline Loridan-Ivens
  • Dopesick by Beth Macy

Books We Disagree On:

  • The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith: I love it; only 3 stars from Ren
  • The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides: 4 stars from Ren; once more, I do not get on with Eugenides
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón: Ren rates it highly; I wanted to love it but had a lot of problems with how the female characters were written

Laura Tisdall: 76% similar

Laura was just a tad lower than I expected her to be; she’s another one where we have some random wild card disagreements but where our tastes mostly align.

Books We Both Loved:

  • A Natural by Ross Raisin
  • Self-Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon
  • The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney

Books We Disagree On:

  • Disobedience by Naomi Alderman: 2 stars from me, 4 from Laura
  • Sight by Jessie Greengrass: Laura loved it, I had mixed feelings
  • Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday: again, Laura loved it, I had an almost incomprehensibly negative reaction to it (as in: I kind of want to read it again because I still can’t make sense of why I disliked it so much–but I doubt reading the audiobook helped, it’s not a great format for me with fiction)

Marija @ Inside My Library Mind: 78% similar

Marija, why are you always saying I hate everything you love! We’re 78% ok!!!!

Books We Both Loved:

  • Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson
  • How We Disappeared by Jing-jing Lee
  • Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

Books We Disagree On:

  • The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater: if my friendship with Marija ever ends, know it was over this book
  • The Power by Naomi Alderman: Marija really likes it, I hate it
  • The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller: I love it, Marija 3 starred it

Ally @ Ally Writes Things: 78% similar

This is actually a little higher than I expected but I think our mutual love of Lisa See carried us through.

Books We Both Loved:

  • Sabrina by Nick Drnaso
  • Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton
  • Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Books We Disagree On:

  • The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne: I loved this book and Ally 3-starred it, but I’m no longer interested in supporting John Boyne so whatever, you do you Ally
  • Macbeth by William Shakespeare: only 3 stars, Ally?! 😦
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: to be fair I disagree with almost everyone about this book, seeing as I hate it

Sarah Ames-Foley: 81% similar

I’m honestly surprised Sarah is in the top 3! (Tied with the next person.)

Books We Both Loved:

  • Eden by Andrea Kleine
  • When I Am Through With You by Stephanie Kuehn
  • The Body Lies by Jo Baker

Books We Disagree On:

  • If, Then by Kate Hope Day: Sarah loves it, I found it a little underwhelming
  • The Summer Children by Dot Hutchinson: ok but 4 STARS, SARAH?
  • Luster by Raven Leilani: another one Sarah loved that I found a little disappointing (but it’s not a bad book and I wish it well)

Hannah @ I Have Thoughts on Books: 81% similar

This is probably the one I was the most curious about, because when Hannah and I hit, we hit big, and when we miss, we miss big.

Books We Both Loved:

  • Medea by Christa Wolf
  • Constellations by Sinéad Gleeson
  • The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy

Books We Disagree On:

  • Bluets by Maggie Nelson: I am not a huge fan
  • My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout: still the only Strout I’ve read, which did not make an amazing impression on me; Hannah likes it
  • All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood: Hannah rated it highly, I hate this book

Callum McLaughlin: 83% similar

I really thought Callum was going to win it all, tbh. SO CLOSE.

Books We Both Loved:

  • A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore
  • All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan
  • Revenge by Yoko Ogawa

Books We Disagree On:

  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: 5 stars from Callum, 2 from me; I don’t get on with Gaiman’s writing at all
  • Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins: LOL I KNOW but I literally can’t find a single contemporary literary book on our lists that we differ on beyond a 1-star difference?! Anyway, 4 from Callum, 2 from me on Mockingjay. To which I say… EXCUSE ME, CALLUM? 4 STARS?
  • The Pearl by John Steinbeck: this list is legitimately hysterical. I don’t even remember reading this book though I have a VAGUE recollection of having done so in middle school. 2 stars from me, 4 from Callum. I hope our friendship will survive this.

And — drumroll — the person I read the most similarly to:

Chelsea @ Spotlight on Stories: 85% similar

I’m not surprised. Though Chelsea reaches for fantasy most often and I reach for literary fiction, when we converge, we almost always agree.

Books We Both Loved:

  • Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants by Mathias Énard
  • Vita Nosta by Marina & Sergey Dychenko
  • Tin Man by Sarah Winman

Books We Disagree On:

  • Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee: 2 stars from me; 4 from Chelsea
  • The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater: this book continues to haunt me
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: a well-deserved 5 stars from Chelsea; a ‘this wasn’t written for me and that’s ok’ 3 stars from me

That was fun and mostly unsurprising. Yay Chelsea!

P.S. I know I am horrendously behind on blogging and replying to your lovely comments — thanks for bearing with me!

book review: Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi





BURNT SUGAR
★★☆☆☆
Harry N. Abrams, 2021


I admired but didn’t particularly like this book. I’ve talked before about how I don’t really get on with books about motherhood, and sometimes the reverse is true too, I don’t always love books about daughterhood, especially when it’s the book’s main focus. (Something like Transcendent Kingdom is the exception, where the mother/daughter relationship is one thread among many.)

I was finding something salvageable in the first half of Burnt Sugar, but the second half just lost me. While I tend to enjoy ‘unlikable’ protagonists, Antara was often too much for me–I found her to be deliberately belligerent toward the reader in a way that I didn’t think was particularly interesting or well-executed. I think this book does have a lot going for it in terms of its chilly depiction of a strained mother/daughter relationship, but Antara herself staunchly refused to do any of the heavy lifting to earn my investment. I just didn’t find her believable or her actions comprehensible; this book is written in the first person and still I struggled to discern some of Antara’s motivations (this isn’t helped by the book’s awkward structure, flitting between the past and the present in a way that was occasionally challenging to follow and which I didn’t think ultimately did it any favors). 

Avni Doshi’s prose also failed to impress me, but, like most of my criticisms here, I feel that might just be a matter of personal taste. I do see why this book has been so critically well-received, it just really wasn’t for me.


Thank you to Netgalley and Abrams for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Shakespeare Monologues

You didn’t think I was done posting about Shakespeare, did you?!

Roughly one year ago, Project Shakespeare was formed, and as a group we’re celebrating our anniversary tomorrow, by performing snippets of different scenes and each performing a monologue that we’ve done at some point over the past year. Everyone in the group voted for which monologue everybody was going to do, and I was voted to do Edmund in King Lear, because of course I was.

But this whole thing, preparing for the Anniversary Extravaganza and looking through monologues I’ve done over the past year, led me to compiling this list of my favorite Shakespeare monologues because damn, are there some good ones. One thing about Shakespeare is that he invented very few of his stories; the reason we still value his works isn’t for their artistic innovation so much as for their language, so that’s what I really wanted to celebrate in this post by going through a few of my favorites. I say ‘a few’ — it’s my top 15. Let’s do this.

Also, this order is kind of arbitrary. I saved my favorite one for last but otherwise I’m grouping plays together where there are multiples from the same play for contextual consistency. Also including some video links when there’s a good video version or one I particularly like.

15. Macbeth in Macbeth 2.1, “Is this a dagger”

Context: Macbeth has just resolved to kill the king Duncan in order to crown himself.

Video: Patrick Stewart

This one’s not that deep (my reasoning for it making this list, that is, not the monologue itself) — I’ve had it memorized for years so it’s the one Macbeth monologue I still gravitate toward the most, although there are plenty of great ones to choose from.

14. Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1.1, “How happy some o’er other some can be”

Context: Helena is in love with Demetrius, who’s in love with Hermia, who’s in love (mutually) with Lysander; those two are about to run off into the woods together. Demetrius used to love Helena and here she’s lamenting that his affections turned to Hermia, and she decides that she’s going to tell Demetrius that Hermia and Lysander are running off together, thinking it will bring Demetrius closer to her. Helena’s a mess, basically.

Video: Sarah MacRae @ 14:22

I think this is the only monologue from a comedy that made this list. I’m not so adamantly anti-comedy as I was at the beginning of my Shakespeare journey, but it is true that they tend to not hit me quite as hard. This Helena monologue isn’t even that special, objectively; I’d simply wanted to play Helena since I was 11, so I rehearsed the heck out of this monologue when I finally got the chance last month and it’s one of the ones that I most enjoyed spending time with. (Helena is incidentally also the character I’d most like to play on stage, so if you’re casting Midsummer in Vermont post-pandemic… call me.)

13. Constance in King John 3.4, “Thou art not holy to belie me so”

Context: Constance’s son Arthur, a claimant to the throne and a threat to King John, has been captured by John’s forces. Here Constance mourns Arthur’s death and dies of grief herself shortly after, though interestingly, Arthur hasn’t actually yet died in the play when Constance gives these speeches — it’s one of those weird Shakespearean puzzles.

Video: Camille O’Sullivan

Slightly less famous than a different monologue that follows (“Grief fills the room up of my absent child”), but if I had to choose just one for Constance, this wins hands down. I LOVE the language in this one: I love the visual imagery Shakespeare weaves in of Constance tearing her hair down while she’s giving this speech about grief and sanity, and “Preach some philosophy to make me mad,/ And thou shalt be canonized, cardinal” is one of my favorite lines full stop.

12. Lady Percy in Henry IV Part 2 2.3, “O, yet, for God’s sake, go not to these wars!”

Context: Kate Percy’s father in law, Northumberland, is talking about bringing his troops into battle. Kate reprimands him and reminds him that his son Hotspur needed backup from his father, which he neglected to send, resulting in Hotspur’s death at the hands of Prince Hal (here referred to as Monmouth), and now that Hotspur’s dead there’s no point in going back into the war now. Northumberland agrees.

Video: random talented YouTuber named Elin Alexander (I ended up playing this character with a British accent because I watched this girl’s video so many times while preparing this monologue)

THE POWER OF THIS MONOLOGUE, I mean, imo the second best piece of rhetoric in all of Shakespeare?! Northumberland being STRUCK DOWN by his daughter in law and changing his military tactic because she just spends two minutes roasting his ass… incredible.

11. Hamlet in Hamlet 2.2, “O what a rogue and peasant slave am I”

Context: Hamlet was told by his father’s ghost that his uncle Claudius is guilty of his father’s murder, and here he resolves to set a trap for Claudius by putting on a play which mirrors Hamlet’s father’s murder, hoping to evoke a reaction in Claudius that will confirm his guilt.

Video: Andrew Scott @ 6:30

I mean… it’s famous for a reason and I’m not sure what I can possibly say about it. This whole monologue is a ride from start to finish and the simple admission of weakness in “Am I a coward?” just GETS ME.

10. Claudius in Hamlet 3.3, “O my offense is rank”

Context: After the play has been performed, Claudius storms off and confesses in this monologue that he’s plagued with guilt over his brother’s murder, and he attempts to pray but is unable to.

Video: Patrick Stewart

Such a moment of vulnerability from such a detestable character — that Shakespeare goes to such lengths to humanize even terrible people is one of my favorite things about his works; you’re never spoon-fed a moral as you never see a conflict from only one side. We spend most of this play inside Hamlet’s head and still we get this tender, intimate moment of grief and guilt from the chief antagonist; it’s brilliant.

9. Romeo in Romeo & Juliet 3.3, “‘Tis torture, and not mercy”

Context: Immediately after his marriage to Juliet, Romeo murders Tybalt Capulet while avenging his friend Mercutio’s death. He finds out here that his punishment is banishment from Verona.

One of my most unpopular Shakespeare opinions is that I am far more drawn to Romeo than to Juliet — reconciling his passion and his tender heart with the violence he’s forced to commit is just devastating and that comes to a head in this monologue, full of both gentle and violent imagery. The only thing I can fault the Zeffirelli film for is cutting this.

8. Romeo in Romeo & Juliet 5.3, “In faith, I will”

Context: Romeo has just killed Paris in Juliet’s tomb, and Paris’s final words were pleading that Romeo buries him with Juliet, which he promises to do here before killing himself.

This monologue is just so unbearably sad and weighty and lovely; after I read this for the first time I decided that I would die if I couldn’t play Romeo, I just wanted the excuse to sit with these words.

7. Edmund in King Lear 1.2, “Thou, Nature, art my goddess”

Context: Edmund is the bastard son of Gloucester, and here he’s lamenting that his bastardy prevents him from receiving his full inheritance, so he’s coming up with a plan to frame his brother Edgar to cheat him out of his inheritance.

Video: Riz Ahmed

MY BOY. This is the one I’m doing in PS tomorrow, which I haven’t practiced, lol, but I have it memorized so… that should get the job done. Anyway this is just SO GOOD, Edmund raging against the social customs that prevent him from inheriting, and then the terrible turn it takes when he decides to frame his unwitting brother. “Now, gods, stand up for bastards” is a god tier villain mantra.

6. Edmund in King Lear 1.2, “This is the excellent foppery of the world”

Context: Edmund thinks astrology is bullshit.

Basically I adore every single word out of Edmund’s mouth and this deliciously sarcastic soliloquy about human nature is just hard to beat.

5. Cleopatra in Antony & Cleopatra 5.2, “Give me my robe, put on my crown”

Context: Antony has been defeated and Cleopatra has been captured by Octavian; she kills herself and her maids to spare them being paraded before Rome as a part of Caesar’s victory.

“Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have/ Immortal longings in me” is like… almost too good of a line to be real. This whole thing is just exceptional. She’s such a vibrant character meeting such a hollow end, it’s devastating.

4. Queen Margaret in Henry VI Part 3 1.4, “Brave warriors, Clifford and Northumberland”

Context: We’re in the Wars of the Roses now — Richard, Duke of York has been captured by the Lancastrian Queen Margaret and here she mocks him before having him executed, offering him a handkerchief with his dead son’s blood to dry his tears and putting a paper crown on his head.

Pretty much the most savage scene in all of Shakespeare. The way most people stan Lady Macbeth, I stan Margaret of Anjou.

3. Richard in Richard II 3.2, “No matter where; of comfort no man speak”

Context: Richard has just received word that his army has deserted him and that the people have accepted Bolingbroke (his successor, Henry IV) as ruler and he kind of has a breakdown about it.

Video: David Tennant

Richard II is the gorgeous writing play and that’s best encapsulated here. “Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;/ Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes/ Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth,” “For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground/ And tell sad stories of the death of kings,” “I live with bread like you, feel want/ Taste grief, need friends: subjected thus/ How can you say to me, I am a king” yes I’m just quoting the entire thing but COME ON!!! This monologue is one of the best pieces of writing ever penned in the English language.

2. Brutus in Julius Caesar 3.2, “Be patient till the last.”

Context: Brutus and the other conspirators have just killed Caesar; Brutus delivers this speech at Caesar’s funeral saying that they killed Caesar for the good of the Roman republic, and that Antony, who is about to speak, will corroborate this.

I played Brutus in PS, and when I was rehearsing, reading the lines alone in my room, I was more drawn to his soliloquies (namely 2.1, “It must be by his death”), but while I was in the moment, this is the speech that really stuck with me. Brutus is just such a brilliantly crafted character; one of the most notorious traitors in history defined here by honor is just navigated with such finesse throughout the play; I love the passion and sincerity here, especially contrasted with what’s about to follow.

  1. Mark Antony in Julius Caesar 3.2, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”

Context: And then Antony takes the stage and things do not go to plan.

Video: James Corrigan

How fucking cliché for this to be your favorite Shakespeare monologue, but unfortunately it can’t be beat. Just an absolute masterclass in rhetoric and manipulation while still being able to withstand performances that vary wildly in their degree of sincerity. I just love everything about this speech.


I also became uquiz famous with this Which Shakespearean monologue should you memorize quiz, so, obviously you should all take that and tell me what you got. And then memorize the monologue… haha jk unless…

Anyway, what’s your favorite monologue? Comment and let me know and make me feel bad about all of the brilliant ones I had to cut from this blog post!

reviewing two books by Brandon Taylor: Real Life and Filthy Animals



REAL LIFE by Brandon Taylor
★★★★★
Riverhead, 2020

I can’t believe it took me so long to read this and I’m very appreciative for Rick’s Booktube Spin and the lucky number #15 for finally making this happen for me. I thought Real Life was tremendous. It follows Wallace, a Black student in a predominantly white biochemistry master’s program at a midwestern university. 

Brandon Taylor captures two things with unerring precision: the first being the microaggressions that Wallace faces at the hands of his friends, mentors, and colleagues. There’s an infuriating scene toward the end where Wallace is in a situation where he’s been falsely accused of something, and rather than standing up for himself he quietly accepts his punishment. What’s infuriating isn’t that Wallace doesn’t speak up, but rather, that the reader knows exactly why he doesn’t, because Taylor has shown the reader that systemic dismissal, belittlement, and scorn does more than infuriate: it wears you down.

The second thing Taylor captures beautifully is academia as a suspension of reality, an almost liminal space between young adulthood and adulthood that exists somehow within the real world while following its own set of logic and social norms. Campus novels often glorify this lifestyle in a way that can be fun and deliciously indulgent, but Taylor leans into the opposite–digging into the way some people use academia as a crutch, accepting all of its quiet, mundane horrors in an effort to avoid ‘real life’.

I guess the prose in Real Life is very love-it-or-hate-it; I’ve seen a lot of people refer to it as labored and overwrought, and as someone who frequently cites overwrought prose as an offense, I don’t really see where that argument is coming from. The language is often poetic but to me ‘overwrought’ implies a certain lack of control over word choice and sentence structure; Taylor’s writing is on the other hand rather exact. This was a horrendously sad book in many ways, but also one that was pleasurable to spend time with.

And I think that sentiment will segue nicely into my review of Filthy Animals, because while I thought this was mostly brilliant, I did have a few more problems with it than I had expected to.



FILTHY ANIMALS by Brandon Taylor
★★★★☆
Riverhead, July 2021

I read Taylor’s short story Anne of Cleves ages ago (which appears in this collection), and I quickly fell in love. In some ways it’s a melancholic, heavy story, but there’s also a playfulness to it, and I found that tone so refreshing that I was sure that Filthy Animals was going to end up as one of my favorite books of the year.

Instead, this book is unendingly bleak. Anne of Cleves offers a brief respite from the misery, but it’s otherwise a weightier collection than I had expected. Every alternating story in this collection follows the same narrative: a depressed Black man named Lionel has just met a white couple at a party, Charles and Sophie, who are in an open relationship; he hooks up with Charles and then gets drawn into their lives. I loved the choice to anchor the collection to a single narrative, and without fail these stories were my favorites and the ones where Taylor most succeeded at accessing the characters’ complex emotional landscapes. 

The other stories left less of an impression on me, and I think it’s because we just don’t spend enough time with the characters to fully earn the emotional impact that Taylor is aiming for, and that he nails so well with Wallace’s story in Real Life. I finished this a week ago and Lionel’s story is really the only one that has stuck in my mind since then.

I still really enjoyed reading this–a discussed, I love Taylor’s writing–and I would wholeheartedly recommend it. It’s a skillful exploration of the intersection of loneliness, trauma, and intimacy–it just wasn’t entirely what I needed it to be. But that is a-okay! Will still devour whatever Taylor publishes next.


Thank you to Netgalley for the advanced copy of Filthy Animals provided in exchange for an honest review.

2021 Reading Goals

I mostly bombed my 2020 goals so no use in revisiting them. Onward and upward.

  1. Read 100. Easy, hopefully.
  2. Read Black playwrights. This past summer I made a resolution to read a play by a Black playwright for every Shakespeare play I read–I was doing ok at first and then quickly realized that keeping it up at exactly a 1:1 ratio was going to be virtually impossible given a handful of other reading obligations I was juggling, so I let myself fall behind and resolved to eventually catch up when I finished with Shakespeare. Excited to dive back into this.
  3. Read at least one ARC every month. I’ve decided that in addition to whatever ARCs I pick up on a whim, I’m also going to use a random number generator to decide on at least one ARC I’m going to read each month and just choose the corresponding title from my Netgalley shelf. My feedback ratio is appalling and it’s time for drastic measures.
  4. Read more backlist. I know this is everyone’s resolution every year, but this year my heart is really in this one. I have so many titles on my shelves that I’m dying to read and even though I wrote a long list of new releases I’m anticipating this year, very few of those fall into a must-read category for me.
  5. Read the Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe. This is something I decided I wanted to do just the other day but I’m honestly SO excited about it and I’m very impatient for my copy to arrive. Don’t panic, this guy did not write nearly as much as Shakespeare, this isn’t going to take over my entire life.
  6. Don’t read the Women’s Prize longlist unless I am truly excited about every single title. Which does not seem likely. I’m looking forward to reading a handful off the longlist with my Women’s Prize pals, but 3 of my 8 worst books of 2020 being off the WP longlist was really a wakeup call for me. And I didn’t even manage to finish the damn longlist!
  7. Be a better blogger. I think it’s no secret that my head and my heart weren’t in blogging this year, and I think that was entirely down to the pandemic. But I’ve spent my morning catching up and reading your blog posts from the past several months (I still have a long way to go before I’m caught up) and it’s reminded me of how much I adore this community and how I really want to be a better participant.

What are your reading goals for the new year?

Favorite Books of 2020

Talk about a weird reading year. I don’t even know what happened. (I mean, I do. A global pandemic happened.)

Even though I read 110 (potentially 111 if I finish my audiobook today) books in 2020, my reading year largely sucked. Usually when I’m writing this list I have to whittle it down from at least 20 books and it’s a rather painstaking process, but this year my list kind of wrote itself. Which is good in the sense that I’m spending much less time on this blog post but also kind of a bummer that I’m not coming away from this hell year with more favorites. But you know what, it’s fine, here at 10 books that are all equally incredible and that I recommend wholeheartedly.

First, some stats:

7 are by women
3 are translated, 2 translated by women
1 is Irish (record low for me!) (though – it’s 2 if you count Maggie O’Farrell)
3 are nonfiction
3 are by authors of color
4 have something to do with Shakespeare, lol

10. The Plantagenets by Dan Jones

“No royal dynasty would ever again hand down the Crown with such security and ease for as many generations as the Plantagenets did between 1189 and 1377.”

This was recommended to me by Brandon Taylor after I asked Twitter for a nonfiction rec about the Medieval English monarchy that wasn’t too heavily academic, and this ended up being exactly what I was looking for. A very unexpected side effect of reading Shakespeare this year is that I fell unbelievably in love with the history plays and I was looking to supplement that reading with some real historical context, and if (god knows why) you’re in a similar boat, I highly recommend The Plantagenets. This is dense reading–not in the sense that it’s laden with academic jargon, indeed it’s written in rather accessible language–but it’s over 500 pages, every one of which is crammed full of indispensable information. So it’s the kind of book you need to take your time with, but it’s also never a chore; if you’re interested in this period of history, this could not be more gripping.

9. This is Shakespeare by Emma Smith

“We make Shakespeare mean what we want him to mean.”

I don’t really listen to podcasts, but my friend Abby suggested I check out Emma Smith’s Approaching Shakespeare podcast so I decided to give it a try and quickly fell in love. Smith is an Oxford lecturer who recorded her lectures and uploaded them to that podcast–in each lecture she examines a different play through a particular question (“why doesn’t Marcus give Lavinia first aid in Titus Andronicus,” for example, or, my favorite: “is Lear a little too sad?”). In This is Shakespeare she turned her lectures into an essay collection, examining 20 plays each through a unique lens, and the result is an utterly invaluable resource for Shakespeare lovers. Smith is an intelligent, incisive writer, and she almost always succeeded in inspiring me to think about the plays from an angle that I hadn’t previously considered. It was a joy reading this and the only downside to it is that she doesn’t have an essay for every single play.

8. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo
translated from the Korean by Jamie Chang

“Jiyoung became different people from time to time. Some of them were living, others were dead, all of them women she knew.”

I was curious about this international bestseller when it was first published in English earlier this year, but also, because of the way I’d heard some people talk about it, I expected to be slightly underwhelmed by it. On the contrary, it punched me right in the gut, despite–or indeed because of–how prosaic it is. This book is a story of a woman crumbling under the strain of unrelenting misogyny, and it’s stripped down to its very core. This is not a poetic, flashy, romantic book; it’s perfunctory, it’s candid, and it’s utterly unapologetic. I found it all the more successful for that fact, and it’s really stayed with me.

7. The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

“My father still lives back the road past the weir in the cottage I was reared in.  I go there every day to see is he dead and every day he lets me down.

I’m a big Donal Ryan fan but for whatever reason I’d never read the book he’s arguably best known for. Thankfully it was worth the wait. Set in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland, The Spinning Heart chronicles the impact of the recession on a close-knit rural community. It’s a short novel and it follows too many characters to remember, but its emotional impact is devastating and Ryan’s writing, as always, is lyrical and evocative and just so pleasurable to read. This really cemented Ryan as one of my favorite writers.

6. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden

“When I think of my father, I think of my heart breaking in stages. A dull pain, then piercing. Electric. Still, somehow, gradual.”

I listened to half of this book on a flight to Los Angeles (pre-covid, obviously) and it was honestly disappointing that the plane had to land, I was enjoying this book THAT much (and I HATE flying). This essay collection was just… so tender and heartbreaking while also being emotionally fortifying; it tore me apart and then I somehow felt more whole after reading it. This collection’s nonlinear structure was executed impeccably–the final essay ties the whole thing together in ways you weren’t even expecting.

5. Abigail by Magda Szabó
translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix

“Never before had she been in such a strange building, with such a tangled branching-out of corridors.”

I enjoyed Szabó’s The Door last year but Abigail really blew it out of the water. This coming of age novel set in an austere boarding school against the backdrop of World War II is one of the most effective things I’ve ever read about the loss of childhood. At times it’s a funny and playful book–the protagonist, Gina, is headstrong and fiery–and at times it cracks your heart open as Gina’s emerging awareness of the horrors of the world around her begin to creep inside the walls of her horrible academy. As someone who’s read quite a few campus novels, this is unlike any of them, in the best possible way.

4. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

“It is to him she speaks in her disordered mind, not the trees, not the magic cross, not the patterns and markings of lichen, not even to her mother, who died while trying to give birth to a child. Please, she says to him, inside the chamber of her skull, please come back.”

This historical novel pushes William Shakespeare into the background and instead reimagines the lives of those closest to him, namely his wife Agnes and his son Hamnet, who died aged eleven. In Hamnet, O’Farrell examines the relationship between life and art but she does so with such a deft hand that it’s a much gentler, subtler, and more unexpected novel than you might imagine from its premise, but it balances historical detail with innovation in a way that I found absolutely striking, and its treatment of grief is poignant and devastating. This is a beautiful, haunting book, and I’m very glad it won the Women’s Prize.

3. Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica
translated from the Spanish by Sarah Moses

“There are words that are convenient, hygienic. Legal.”

Tender is the Flesh is a bold, grotesque, horrifying piece of work. A dystopian novel which satirizes factory farming to its shocking and inevitable conclusion, it imagines a world where humans eat human meat, and it spares the reader absolutely no details of this new and disturbing reality. This is a hard book to read, but I also found it to be an utterly engrossing examination of the ways we allow our ethics to be shaped by those in positions of power. This book is disgusting and unforgettable.

2. The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

“There is exquisite lightness in waking each morning with the knowledge that the worst has already happened.”

Emily St. John Mandel set the bar so high for herself with Station Eleven that I was almost afraid to pick this up, but she knocked it out of the park with The Glass Hotel. On paper, this book doesn’t sound very good at all–most summaries of it mention Wall Street and a Ponzi scheme and that’s when my mind starts to wander–but the sum of this book is greater than its parts. It’s a gorgeous, quietly affecting novel that focuses on the lives of a handful of characters and examines whether our choices make us who we are and whether we can ever outrun our pasts. It’s subtle, nuanced, structurally exciting, and one of the most haunting things I’ve read all year.

1. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

“Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme”

Surprise, surprise.

Seeing as he’s, you know… Shakespeare, it feels weird to say that Shakespeare was never really on my radar as a reader. I’d read maybe six or seven of his plays before this year and although I’d actually enjoyed them all, I’d be lying if I said that reading the Complete Works of Shakespeare was ever a goal of mine.

Well, evidently, all that changed this year with an email from my friend Abby in March, inviting a group of friends to read A Midsummer Night’s Dream over Zoom a few weeks after covid hit the U.S. and everyone was feeling frantic and panicked and miserable. Shakespeare has been the biggest solace for me in an otherwise atrocious year–there’s the social element, of course, of using this as an excuse to hang out virtually with some of my closest friends once a week, and there’s the element of performance, of pushing myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself in a way that I never thought I would.

But then there’s also the plays themselves–the words and the stories and the characters. In a year where it truly felt like society as we knew it was crumbling around us all, there was something so immeasurably satisfying about reading these words written ca. year 1600, words that have moved and shaped countless people across the centuries, and finding comfort there. Reading through Shakespeare’s works on the one hand served as a project, something to keep my mind occupied away from the horrors and anxieties of 2020, and on the other hand, it was one of the only things this year I found actual, genuine pleasure in. I think Shakespeare and 2020 are always going to be deeply entwined for me in the future, but I also know I discovered something that isn’t just a passing fad for me as a reader. The only thing more exciting than the fact that I’ve read all of Shakespeare’s plays is the promise that I get to do it all over again.


What was your favorite book of 2020? Comment and let me know!

Favorite Book Covers of 2020

This is a sort of fun, meaningless post that I always have a lot of fun with, so let’s do it!

Unlike my best and worst lists, for this post I do like to stick with books that were actually published in 2020. So, here are some of my favorite covers of the year:

  1. It is Wood, It Is Stone by Gabriella Burnham (One World)
  2. No One Asked for This by Cazzie David (Mariner Books)
  3. The Lightness by Emily Temple (William Morrow)
  4. True Love by Sarah Gerard (Harper)
  5. The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels (Hub City Press)
  6. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (Tinder Press, UK)
  7. My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell (William Morrow)
  8. Hysteria by Jessica Gross (Unnamed Press)
  9. The Exhibition of Persephone Q by Jessi Jezewska Stevens (FSG)
  10. The Island Child by Molly Aitken (Canongate, UK)
  11. The Everlasting by Katy Simpson Smith (Harper)
  12. Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica (Scribner)
  13. Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica (Puskin Press, UK)
  14. Notes on a Silencing by Lacy Crawford (Little, Brown, and Co)
  15. Daughter from the Dark by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko (Harper Voyager)
  16. Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey (Knopf)
  17. Rest and Be Thankful by Emma Glass (Bloomsbury)
  18. If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha (Viking, UK)
  19. I Hold a Wolf By the Ears by Laura van den Berg (FSG)
  20. The Majesties by Tiffany Tsao (Atria Books)

What was your favorite book cover of 2020?