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?

Most Disappointing Books of 2020

HERE WE GO.

I feel like this year more than ever I’ve seen so much ‘worst books of the year lists are pointless and mean-spirited’ discourse so friendly reminder that if you don’t like this kind of content you are more than welcome to simply keep scrolling!

But for all my pointless and mean-spirited followers, let’s do this:

8. Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey

This book was the disaster women subgenre at its most generic and forgettable. I wish I had more to say about it but I honestly cannot remember this well enough to complain about it, I just remember feeling like I was wasting my time. Isolated things I remember from this book: a pool, sex, Italy, bad writing, California? The end.

7. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

This book had a good, important, and topical conceit, and it proceeded to bash the reader over the head with it for 300 pages without the slightest bit of finesse. It’s a perfectly serviceable bookclub book but its literary merit… eludes me (something that would bother me less had it not been longlisted for the Booker). Also, I have never in all my days encountered a child–real or fictional–more annoying than the one in this book, my god.

6. The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo

This book had all the potential in the world to be a fun, mindless, salacious drama; instead it took itself so seriously despite having nothing of any consequence to say. There is no character development in this novel, no insight, no nuance–AND IT GOES ON FOR OVER 500 PAGES. It’s just one-note characters arguing with each other about their one character flaw and it’s executed with the most embarrassing sincerity that I just have to think about this book and I cringe.

5. Death in her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh

My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Eileen are two of my favorite books but this is the second year in a row that Moshfegh made it onto my most disappointing list; last year with her collection Homesick for Another World–which at the time led me to conclude that Moshfegh only works for me when she writes novels, but Death in her Hands was a novel and it was a hot mess, so, Moshfegh and I are on rocky footing going forward. The fact that it took me about 5 months to read this under-300 page book should say it all; it’s dull, meandering, repetitive, and not half as insightful or revelatory as it thinks it is. I also found the narrative voice thoroughly unconvincing. Plus this book is so similar to Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead and it has nothing to recommend itself over Tokarczuk’s, which is a stunning novel.

4. The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams

Generic, anemic, and unsatisfying, The Illness Lesson is a book that had lofty ambitions that fell flat on their face. This book was all style and no substance and the style wasn’t even that good to begin with.

3. Girl by Edna O’Brien

I can’t believe the Women’s Prize had enough of a hold over me that I actually read this. What an utter mess. Tone deaf, unfocused, and shoddily constructed. It’s well-researched (though I remain unconvinced that it was appropriate in any way for a white Irish woman to publish a novel like this), but it exposes the horrors experienced by the women abducted by the Boko Haram at the expense of good writing or storytelling or character development or… anything that could have recommended it. Terrible all around.

2. Dominicana by Angie Cruz

In this book–a bizarrely flat and uninspired melodrama–the main character, having just been choked by her husband to the point of losing consciousness, flees, terrified, and runs into her cute brother-in-law. This is the dialogue that follows:

“He pulls out a cigarette from his jacket pocket. You leaving without saying good-bye?

It’s not like you’re ever around, busy with all your girls. I say it in a voice I don’t recognize. Why am I flirting? Now? And with César!”

It’s a no from me.

1. Saltwater by Jessica Andrews

I read this book on January 1, 2020, and in doing so I fear that I cursed us all. Sorry.

I hated this book… so much. The prose was labored, overwrought, and trite; the characters were paper-thin; and the whole novel was disgustingly anti-Irish, despite the narrator having grown up in Donegal. Quoting from my review:

Regarding the narrator’s grandfather’s childhood in Ireland, after establishing that he slept in his aunt’s barn, this paragraph is, quite literally, the only information we receive about that period in his life:

“Auntie Kitty rationed the hot water and made anyone who entered the house throw holy sand over their left shoulder, To Keep Away The Devil. Her husband was in the IRA and they housed radical members of Sinn Féin in their attic.”

Poverty, religious fanaticism, and the IRA – there’s only one stereotype missing here; oh, wait:

“I have noticed that many of the young men in Donegal have shaking hands. […] I ask my mother what it is that makes them shake. ‘It’ll be the drink,’ she says, sagely.”

Anyway if that’s not enough to convince you, the writing was just… so weird, so contrived, so bad, I promise if you open the book to literally any page there will be a passage this awful and perplexing:

“Redness cracking. Fissures forming. You are falling towards us, rich and syrup-soft. Flesh roiling. Bones shifting. Tongues over bellies and fingers in wet places.”


So that’s that! What was your worst book of 2020? I promise I’ll actually start reading your end of year lists this week.

Every Shakespeare Play Ranked

Well… WE DID IT, KIDS. I finished the Complete Works about a month ago, and I’ve been SO excited to write this post but I wanted to hold off and give myself some time to marinate on the last couple that I read and not let the recency bias effect win out. But I feel ready to commit to this list as is, so LET’S GO!

Disclaimers:

  1. I’m only including the plays included in my Complete Works, plus Two Noble Kinsmen – I’m excluding the Apocrypha – so no Edward III, etc.
  2. This is in reverse order, worst to best.
  3. I reserve the right to change my mind in 5 minutes. As you may have seen, I will be reading through the plays AGAIN in 2021 (only in the context of performing them on Zoom once a week – I won’t be reading them ahead of time to prepare like I did this year). So I think that makes it particularly likely that my opinions will change over time.
  4. This list is just my personal opinion and if you don’t agree that is a-okay. Very excited to have some interesting discussions after I post this but if you feel the need to yell at me or tell me how badly I misunderstand literature, please just take a deep breath and do literally anything else with your time, thank you! I promise we’re all gonna get through this together.

38. Henry VIII

We’re starting this list off on the wrong foot because I actually love the histories with only a couple of exceptions, but my god, Henry VIII is dreadful. If you’ve read this play, you get it, so I won’t belabor this point, it’s just… duller than it has any right to be for centering on one of the most eventful moments in British history.

37. Henry IV Part 2

There are exactly two things I like about this play: the scene between Hal and Bolingbroke at the end, and Kate Percy’s monologue. Otherwise I find this play painfully tedious. I can’t stand Falstaff and I can’t overstate just how much the comedic subplot drags this down for me, and I find very few characters in this story compelling enough to invest in.

36. All’s Well That Ends Well

This play just doesn’t come together for me. I think it’s got some great characters but the central plot is just… tremendously uninteresting. One thing you’ll see me come back to over and over with the comedies is that for them to succeed for me, I need there to be something of consequence at stake, and there really isn’t in All’s Well.

35. Two Gentlemen of Verona

… And there isn’t in Two Gentlemen, either. The funny thing about Two Gentlemen of Verona is that I saw a very charming production in college and consequently have had a lingering fondness for this play for years; it wasn’t until I reread it this year that I was shocked to discover how… bad it actually is. It’s possible that it was Shakespeare’s first play, and it shows; it’s just less cohesive and coherent than similar plays he wrote later, so there simply isn’t a whole lot to recommend this one.

34. Timon of Athens

There are a lot of things I almost like about Timon but in the end it always underwhelms. This play reads more like a fable than a tragedy to me and while that could be cool in theory, its language is so static and unmoving that it just… doesn’t really achieve a whole lot. But it’s a thematically interesting enough play.

33. Henry IV Part 1

The framing of Hal and Hotspur as foils is just brilliant but nothing else about this play is. This is how I feel about the whole Henriad – Hal is a fantastic character whose arc throughout the plays is wonderfully crafted, I’m just… personally very unmoved by it. And again, I hate Falstaff enough that what would be an inoffensive play to me otherwise is really dragged down.

32. Much Ado About Nothing

Sorry. I have tried to force a love for Much Ado onto myself but it just isn’t there. Do I think this is objectively terrible, not at all; I just do not vibe with this play. Again, here’s the problem – there is nothing at stake. Sassy banter just… really does not move me. Once I watched the David Tennant/Catherine Tate production and didn’t crack a smile the entire time I realized things were never going to work out between me and Much Ado. I do like Hero though.

31. The Winter’s Tale

I wish I liked this play but it just feels like two halves that don’t come together into a single whole. In theory I should like the cold palatial setting and I should also like the jaunty forest shenanigans but this play is just so tonally dissonant that I find myself not fully enjoying either. I do see where this is sweet and charming and magical and moving for the right audience, but I’m just not that person. (I watched a ballet adaptation of The Winter’s Tale on Marquee.tv that blew my goddamn mind and made me like the story a lot better than I had originally, but then we read this for Project Shakespeare round 2 a few days later, and while I liked it a lot more than I had in round 1, it cemented the fact that I just don’t love the way this story unfolds with the way Shakespeare structured this play. If I were ranking it off the ballet or even off the core elements of the narrative, this would be a lot higher.)

30. The Taming of the Shrew

On the other hand, this is a play that I want to hate but I just don’t. Yes, Kate’s final speech is a hard pill to swallow, but a) I think it opens up some fascinating discussions, and b) it doesn’t overpower my experience with the play as a whole, which I largely find witty and charming and entertaining. Its dark undertones actually make me like it even more than I probably would otherwise because I do find myself drawn to thematically thorny texts. Not a favorite since it doesn’t really do anything for me emotionally, but intellectually it’s a winner.

29. As You Like It

Kind of similar to The Winter’s Tale, actually – this is one where I strongly enjoy elements but it doesn’t fully come together for me. I do think this is a lovely and charming play and I’m happy to read or watch it, it just doesn’t make a huge impression on me.

28. Henry V

Have I mentioned how underwhelming I find the Henriad? Ok, good. This play has a lot going for it so in theory it has no right to be as forgettable as I think it is, but nothing about it really stays with me except for the French scene between Catherine and her maid, which is one of my favorite ever Shakespeare scenes.

27. Merry Wives of Windsor

I actually loved this when I read it, but it’s faded a lot in my estimation since then, because there’s honestly just not a whole lot there. It achieves exactly what it sets out to do, which is entertain the reader/viewer, so I can’t fault it. It’s just up again some plays that have much loftier ambitions.

26. Coriolanus

If I had to pick out one Shakespeare play that I find the most frustrating, it would have to be Coriolanus. This play has the potential for greatness written all over it but it just misses the mark. The conflict that it sets up is SO compelling but it takes an agonizingly long time to get there (acts 1-3 are painful) and then the resolution is incredibly rushed. I just want to take this play by the shoulders and shake it until it sorts out its horrendous structure, because somewhere in there is a masterpiece that gives the seductive dynamic between Coriolanus and Aufidius ample time to breathe.

25. Love’s Labor’s Lost

This is cute and charming and harmless until it isn’t – but the incongruously abrupt and sad ending makes me like it a lot more than I would otherwise. This is another one that I don’t find particularly groundbreaking, but which I thoroughly enjoy for what it is.

24. Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night… is a tricky one for me. I like it a lot and it also annoys me, and I think I’ve bounced my Goodreads rating of this play around from 2 to 4 stars and back so many times I’ve lost count. I think if Malvolio were removed from the play I would probably adore it, but I can’t help but to find the narrative treatment of Malvolio curiously cold and not addressed in any kind of way that I find satisfying. But I also think the problem is probably me for not attempting to engage with this play the way I should? I don’t know. I’m running a book club discussion on this play in two weeks and I intend to do a lot of research ahead of that so stay tuned. I feel like it should probably technically go higher than this but we’ll sort that out another day.

23. Two Noble Kinsmen

This play is just… fun. It’s not as well-written or well-crafted as a lot of others but it is simply a good, solidly entertaining play. I enjoy it and I have absolutely nothing else to say about it.

22. Othello

In a lot of ways, I actually love Othello. I mean… the characters and the conflict and the speeches are all SO good and I’ll happily watch any production of this play. My issue is that reconciling Iago’s racism with the fact that Iago is the character through whom the story is filtered for the audience is a fool’s errand and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth in this year of our lord 2020. However, this is a play that I find myself thinking about often and one that I find particularly challenging to place on a list like this.

21. Henry VI Part 2

I am looking forward to waxing eloquent about this loose trilogy higher up on my list, because I ADORE the Henry VIs, but for now I’ll say that this is my least favorite because it’s a little more unfocused than the other two, but it also has one of my all-time favorite monologues from Margaret, so there’s that.

20. The Comedy of Errors

This is, hands down, the stupidest thing I have ever read, but it’s also kind of excellent? You know that thing I keep saying about comedies needing high stakes – believe it or not, Comedy of Errors actually has that. Framing this play with the looming execution of Aegeon is a BRILLIANT choice because it underscores the whole play with a seriousness that offsets the absolutely bonkers mistaken identity shenanigans. It’s only this far down on my list because everything above it is so good, but I honestly love this play.

19. Cymbeline

Cymbeline is like if you took every single Shakespeare play of all genres and put them in a blender. The result is occasionally baffling but most of the time just brilliant. This is definitely one of the most structurally interesting plays, but it’s also just entertaining as hell.

18. Troilus and Cressida

This play has no business being as high on this list as it is. It’s not good. If you’re a Shakespeare newbie, do not start here. But what can I say – you say Trojan War, I say yes, it is what it is. I adore these characters so much and I find Shakespeare’s take on them both weird and fascinating. Achilles is beyond insufferable – as he should be – and I absolutely love it.

17. Measure for Measure

There are long stretches of this play where I simply zone out, but I cannot bring myself to move it any lower because everything with the Duke, Angelo, and Isabella is so obscenely good. This play is just… so dark, so twisted, so thorny, and I really love it for that.

16. Titus Andronicus

Everyone says that if you like slasher films you’ll like Titus Andronicus, which is absolutely true, but my personal angle here is more: if you like the Oresteia, you’ll like Titus Andronicus. I am all about a good old fashioned revenge saga and this absolutely delivers. It’s dark, it’s twisted, it’s entertaining, it’s funny – it’s not as well-crafted or emotionally resonant as his later tragedies, but it’s a great time.

15. Richard III

I have flipped Richards II and III around on this list so many times I have whiplash. I still don’t know which order they should be in. My general assessment of this play is at odds with… pretty much everyone else’s on earth: I love this play but I do not enjoy Richard III as a character. I think this play is chock full of fascinating and tragic events and complicated characters, and I ordinarily love a good old tragic villain, but Richard’s motivations are so profoundly uninteresting that he really does nothing for me (though I can see where a great performance could really bring him to life).

14. Richard II

This is the problem with comparing the two Richards – this play is the exact opposite for me. This narrative itself is largely a slog, but Richard himself… what an absurdly clever creation. I think he is one of the most complex and interesting characters in Shakespeare’s canon, and “for god’s sake let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings” is without a doubt one of the best monologues Shakespeare ever wrote. So which do I prefer; the one where I like the play and find the titular character underwhelming or vice versa? I have no idea. But I do love both of these plays on the whole.

13. Henry VI Part 1

I’m going to save most of my gushing for 3H6. But I love this one too. I just love the Wars of the Roses and find the characters and conflicts SO compelling. I mean, this one has Joan of Arc, how can you not love it.

12. The Tempest

I did The Tempest dirty by reading it so early on in my Shakespeare journey before I had adequately managed my genre expectations. I liked it a lot at the time but I suspect I may love it now. It’s such a thematically rich play and Prospero is a brilliant creation. It’s serious and sad but also funny and moving and whimsical and I do think it’s one of Shakespeare’s best plays if we’re attempting objectivity.

11. King John

King John missing out on my top 10 was… a Sophie’s Choice situation. So make no mistake: I LOVE King John. The characters and the conflicts in this play are just top tier and I just cannot rank any play that has Constance of Brittany any lower, what a legend.

10. Pericles

I’m sorry but if you don’t love Pericles WHY IN THE HELL NOT?! This play is absolutely bonkers. Incest, pirates, and brothels, oh my, but it also has one of the most genuinely moving resolutions ever. This is probably the most consistently entertaining Shakespeare play from start to finish, yet Pericles’s journey is absolutely devastating to follow at the same time. This play is so fun and clever and quietly sad, I really adore it.

9. The Merchant of Venice

This play is not at all what I thought it was going to be, in the best way possible. This is one of those plays like Measure which is structurally a comedy but which is actually dark as hell and I love it all the more for that. I think Merchant has some of the most vivid and complex characters in all of Shakespeare’s canon – there’s Shylock, of course, a fantastic character as everyone knows, but he’s really only the tip of the iceberg. I’m really compelled by the way this play depicts otherness and community identity and the way it uses a fairytale-esque structure to tell its urban, feudal story. I haven’t been able to get this one out of my head since reading it – I just find it complex and fascinating and bizarrely haunting on an emotional level.

8. Henry VI Part 3

THIS PLAY. I get why the Henry VIs are so rarely staged, I do; none of them really works as a standalone and asking the audience to attend 6+ hours of a single narrative is… a lot. But when you’re reading them in succession, ugh, this play hits so hard. It’s such a glorious and devastating culmination – I mean, has there ever been a more savage monologue than Margaret’s paper crown, has there ever been anything stranger or more moving than Henry VI’s gentleness in the face of battle – I JUST. Richard III is a much more interesting character to me here than he is in his titular play as well, and that final scene between Richard and Henry is just… ugh, chills. This is the best history play, hands down, and there are a lot of good ones to choose from.

7. Antony & Cleopatra

This is such a bizarre play, structurally – the way it bounces back and forth between Rome and Egypt is chaotic, and the fact that Antony and Cleopatra are never on stage alone together is a fascinating element that seems kind of at odds with what a lot of people want this play to be. It isn’t an epic romance and it isn’t a grown up Romeo & Juliet – instead it’s a phenomenal portrait of two deeply flawed rulers navigating a series of external conflicts (Rome vs. Egypt, old Roman values vs. new Roman values, fame, publicity), together and separately. It’s as flawed and brilliant as its two titular characters and I just love it.

6. A Midsummer Night’s Dream

This was the first ever Shakespeare play that I read when I was eleven and I fell in love. So there’s that nostalgia element that makes it impossible to shake this from my top 10, but even so, I firmly believe that Midsummer is the best comedy by a mile. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s romantic, it’s kind of darkly savage, and all of these elements cohere into something that works perfectly for me.

5. Hamlet

I have the hardest time talking about Hamlet – I feel like I always just say something along the lines of ‘it’s Hamlet, what’s not to love?’ and I ultimately sound kind of dispassionate, but I do adore this play and I think it’s easy to make the argument that it’s Shakespeare’s best work (which I honestly think is what partially makes it so difficult to talk about). I am also, unfortunately, one of those annoying people who thinks Hamlet is one of the most #relatable characters ever written.

4. Romeo & Juliet

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. If you simply do not vibe with Romeo & Juliet I could not care less, but I have not heard a single criticism against this play that isn’t utterly inane. ‘It’s just instalove!’ Plays have different storytelling conventions, next. ‘They’re just horny teenagers’ If you still refuse to accept that they’re in love when it’s demonstrated throughout the play ad nauseum I don’t know what to tell you, next. ‘Romeo and Juliet actually would have had a miserable marriage if they lived’ Ok I get it, you’re edgy and you hated your 9th grade English teacher, next. Anyway, the only reason the frequent disparagements of R&J get my goat is because this play is so fucking good. It’s cleverly constructed and deliciously tragic and the writing is sublime – when I read Romeo’s final monologue I decided that if I did not play Romeo in Project Shakespeare I would simply die, it’s that brilliant.

3. Macbeth

God. I really thought nothing would be able to shake Macbeth from its #2 spot on this. This is one of the plays that I’ve loved the longest and am most familiar with (I’ve had ‘is this a dagger’ memorized for years for quite literally no reason) and I adore just about everything about it – the darkness and the brutality but the complex characters most of all. I think Macbeth the man is one of Shakespeare’s best creations. I love Lady M too (how can you not) but Macbeth’s journey is so darkly compelling and haunting.

2. Julius Caesar

It was always going to take a really fucking good play to displace Macbeth, but then Julius Caesar came along and here we are. This play is so ridiculously up my alley it’s not even funny. Aside from loving all things Ancient Roman history, I’m particularly drawn to the theme of human fallibility and narratives about people making impossible decisions and being forced to live with the consequences of the choices they’ve made, and that’s Julius Caesar to a T. This play is just masterfully constructed, too – “Friends, Romans, countrymen” is my favorite monologue and Brutus is one of the absolute best characters. His entire arc devastates me more than words can say.

1. King Lear

On the one hand, it’s kind of a bummer that after reading all of Shakespeare’s plays in 2020, my favorite play didn’t change from what it already was before this year; on the other hand… nothing was ever going to top Lear, not in a million years, so here we are, and happily too. I don’t even know how to describe what this play means to me. There’s something so cosmic about Lear – it’s a high-stakes family drama but it also feels fiercely personal and universal simultaneously. The way this play grapples with human nature (and the interplay between humans & nature) is so singular and striking, as is the contrast between its depictions of brutality and tenderness. I think this is inarguably the most devastating Shakespeare play, and I see why for some people it’s simply too sad, but I think it really earns its emotionally impactful conclusion. The tragic inevitability is executed seamlessly, and that final scene just… ugh, “never, never, never, never, never” hits like a punch to the gut every single time, it doesn’t matter how many times I read or watch it. And every time I do read it I get something new out of it – I notice a new parallel (Cordelia and Edmund’s “Nothing, my lord” – one speaking truth and one concealing it) or a new motif (Gloucester’s phrasing in the gouging scene – “Edmund, enkindle all the sparks of nature/ To quit this horrid act” perversely echoing Edmund’s own commentary on his own nature) or a line hits me in a new way (“O, let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven” got me in the gut last time I reread it) and I just feel so enriched for every minute I spend with this gloriously devastating play.

I will leave you with the final lines of Lear which are incidentally my favorite words Shakespeare ever wrote:

The weight of this sad time we must obey,
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest have borne most; we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.


So THERE WE HAVE IT. Reading all of Shakespeare’s works (yes, I read the sonnets and the poems too) in 2020 is one of the best things I have ever done and I’m tremendously proud of myself and really looking forward to seeing how my relationship with each of these plays evolves over time.

Talk to me about Shakespeare in the comments. What’s your favorite/least favorite play, how many have you read, do you plan to read more, why King Lear is one of the best things ever written, etc etc.

Anticipated 2021 Releases

As of today, I have read 18/34 of my Anticipated 2020 Releases and I honestly feel pretty good about that! So, onward and upwards – here are some 2021 titles that have caught my eye. Summaries in italics are from Goodreads and all dates are U.S. publication dates unless otherwise indicated.

The Art of Falling by Danielle McLaughlin
January 5, 2021
Random House

Nessa McCormack’s marriage is coming back together again after her husband’s affair. She is excited to be in charge of a retrospective art exhibition for a beloved artist, the renowned late sculptor Robert Locke. But the arrival of two enigmatic outsiders imperils both her personal and professional worlds: A chance encounter with an old friend threatens to expose a betrayal Nessa thought she had long put behind her; and at work, an odd woman comes forward with a mysterious connection to Robert Locke’s life and his most famous work, the Chalk Sculpture.

As Nessa finds the past intruding on the present, she realizes she must decide what is the truth, whether she can continue to live with a lie, and what the consequences might be were she to fully unravel the mysteries in both the life of Robert Locke and her own. In this gripping and wonderfully written debut, Danielle McLaughlin reveals profound truths about love, power, and the secrets that define us.

I’ve never read Danielle McLaughlin but I heard good things about her collection Dinosaurs on Other Planets — plus, you know me, if it’s Irish I’ll read it. I think this sounds great.

Summerwater by Sarah Moss
January 12, 2021
FSG

They rarely speak to each other, but they take notice—watching from the safety of their cabins, peering into the half-lit drizzle of a Scottish summer day, making judgments from what little they know of their temporary neighbors. On the longest day of the year, the hours pass nearly imperceptibly as twelve people go from being strangers to bystanders to allies, their attention forced into action as tragedy sneaks into their lives.

At daylight, a mother races up the mountain, fleeing into her precious dose of solitude. A retired man studies her return as he reminisces about the park’s better days. A young woman wonders about his politics as she sees him head for a drive with his wife, and tries to find a moment away from her attentive boyfriend. A teenage boy escapes the scrutiny of his family, braving the dark waters of the loch in a kayak. This cascade of perspective shows each wrapped up in personal concerns, unknown to each other, as they begin to notice one particular family that doesn’t seem to belong. Tensions rise, until nightfall brings an irrevocable turn.

I was a huge fan of Sarah Moss’s Ghost Wall, though that still remains the only thing I’ve read by her. Really looking forward to this, which seems like another short and punchy offering from Moss.

That Old Country Music by Kevin Barry
January 12, 2021
Doubleday

With three novels and two short story collections published, Kevin Barry has steadily established his stature as one of the finest writers not just in Ireland but in the English language. All of his prodigious gifts of language, character, and setting in these eleven exquisite stories transport the reader to an Ireland both timeless and recognizably modern. Shot through with dark humor and the uncanny power of the primal and unchanging Irish landscape, the stories in That Old Country Music represent some of the finest fiction being written today.

Night Boat to Tangier is actually the first and only Kevin Barry that I’ve read and I wasn’t a massive fan; still, there was something about his writing that intrigued me and I think a short story collection from him might be the perfect next move for me.

The Divines by Ellie Eaton
January 19, 2021
William Morrow

The girls of St John the Divine, an elite English boarding school, were notorious for flipping their hair, harassing teachers, chasing boys, and chain-smoking cigarettes. They were fiercely loyal, sharp-tongued, and cuttingly humorous in the way that only teenage girls can be. For Josephine, now in her thirties, the years at St John were a lifetime ago. She hasn’t spoken to another Divine in fifteen years, not since the day the school shuttered its doors in disgrace.

Yet now Josephine inexplicably finds herself returning to her old stomping grounds. The visit provokes blurry recollections of those doomed final weeks that rocked the community. Ruminating on the past, Josephine becomes obsessed with her teenage identity and the forgotten girls of her one-time orbit. With each memory that resurfaces, she circles closer to the violent secret at the heart of the school’s scandal. But the more Josephine recalls, the further her life unravels, derailing not just her marriage and career, but her entire sense of self.

Moving between present-day Los Angeles and 1990s Britain, The Divines is a scorching examination of the power of adolescent sexuality, female identity, and the destructive class divide. Exposing the tension between the lives we lead as adults and the experiences that form us, Eaton probes us to consider how our memories as adults compel us to reexamine our pasts.

This is a debut that I think has a lot of potential — I love the sound of the summary.

Cathedral by Ben Hopkins
January 21, 2021
Europa Editions

A thoroughly immersive read and a remarkable feat of imagination, Cathedral tells a sweeping story about obsession, mysticism, art, and earthly desire in gripping prose. It deftly combines historical fiction and a tale of adventure and intrigue.

At the center of this story is the Cathedral. Its design and construction in the 12th and 13th centuries in the town of Hagenburg unites a vast array of unforgettable characters whose fortunes are inseparable from the shifting political factions and economic interests vying for supremacy. Around this narrative center, Ben Hopkins has constructed his own monumental edifice, a novel that is rich with the vicissitudes of mercantilism, politics, religion, and human enterprise.

This is a long one and it has a downright abominable cover but The Pillars of the Earth is one of my favorite books of all time, so how can I resist?

Milk Fed by Melissa Broder
February 2, 2021
Scribner

Rachel is twenty-four, a lapsed Jew who has made calorie restriction her religion. By day, she maintains an illusion of existential control, by way of obsessive food rituals, while working as an underling at a Los Angeles talent management agency. At night, she pedals nowhere on the elliptical machine. Rachel is content to carry on subsisting—until her therapist encourages her to take a ninety-day communication detox from her mother, who raised her in the tradition of calorie counting.

Early in the detox, Rachel meets Miriam, a zaftig young Orthodox Jewish woman who works at her favorite frozen yogurt shop and is intent upon feeding her. Rachel is suddenly and powerfully entranced by Miriam—by her sundaes and her body, her faith and her family—and as the two grow closer, Rachel embarks on a journey marked by mirrors, mysticism, mothers, milk, and honey.

I adore Melissa Broder — The Pisces is one of my favorite books of all time. I have slightly more tempered expectations for her newest novel after reading a few reviews but I’m sure I’ll still devour this.

The Project by Courtney Summers
February 2, 2021
Wednesday Books

Lo Denham is used to being on her own. After her parents died, Lo’s sister, Bea, joined The Unity Project, leaving Lo in the care of their great aunt. Thanks to its extensive charitable work and community outreach, The Unity Project has won the hearts and minds of most in the Upstate New York region, but Lo knows there’s more to the group than meets the eye. She’s spent the last six years of her life trying—and failing—to prove it.

When a man shows up at the magazine Lo works for claiming The Unity Project killed his son, Lo sees the perfect opportunity to expose the group and reunite with Bea once and for all. When her investigation puts her in the direct path of its leader, Lev Warren and as Lo delves deeper into The Project, the lives of its members it upends everything she thought she knew about her sister, herself, cults, and the world around her—to the point she can no longer tell what’s real or true. Lo never thought she could afford to believe in Lev Warren . . . but now she doesn’t know if she can afford not to. 

I would not in a hundred years pick this book up for its summary, but Courtney Summers’ Sadie is one of the best YA novels I’ve ever read so my curiosity is really just getting the better of me here.

100 Boyfriends by Brontez Purnell
February 2, 2021
FSG

Transgressive, foulmouthed, and devastatingly funny, Brontez Purnell’s 100 Boyfriends is a revelatory spiral into the imperfect lives of queer men desperately fighting–and often losing–the urge to self-sabotage. His characters solicit sex on their lunch breaks, expose themselves to racist neighbors, sleep with their coworker’s husbands, rub Preparation H on their hungover eyes, and, in an uproarious epilogue, take a punk band on a disastrous tour of Europe. They also travel to claim inheritances, push past personal trauma, and cultivate community while living on the margins of a white supremacist, heteronormative society.

Armed with a deadpan wit that finds humor in even the lowest of nadirs, Brontez Purnell–a widely acclaimed underground writer, filmmaker, musician, and performance artist–writes with the peerless zeal, insight, and horniness of a gay punk messiah. From dirty warehouses and gentrified bars in Oakland to desolate farm towns in Alabama, Purnell indexes desire, desperation, race, and loneliness with a startling blend of levity and vulnerability. Together, the slice-of-life tales that writhe within 100 Boyfriends are a singular and uncompromising vision of an unexposed queer underbelly. Holding them together is the vision of an iconoclastic storyteller, as fearless as he is human.

This summary, on the other hand, has my name written all over it. Very excited for this.

The Survivors by Jane Harper
February 2, 2021
Flatiron Books

Kieran Elliott’s life changed forever on the day a reckless mistake led to devastating consequences.

The guilt that still haunts him resurfaces during a visit with his young family to the small coastal community he once called home.

Kieran’s parents are struggling in a town where fortunes are forged by the sea. Between them all is his absent brother, Finn.

When a body is discovered on the beach, long-held secrets threaten to emerge. A sunken wreck, a missing girl, and questions that have never washed away… 

I was sort of lukewarm about Harper’s The Dry, but her book summaries always sound like such solid thrillers so I probably won’t be able to resist giving this one a try.

Open Water
February 4, 2021
Viking

Two young people meet at a pub in South East London. Both are Black British, both won scholarships to private schools where they struggled to belong, both are now artists – he a photographer, she a dancer – trying to make their mark in a city that by turns celebrates and rejects them. Tentatively, tenderly, they fall in love. But two people who seem destined to be together can still be torn apart by fear and violence.

At once an achingly beautiful love story and a potent insight into race and masculinity, Open Water asks what it means to be a person in a world that sees you only as a Black body, to be vulnerable when you are only respected for strength, to find safety in love, only to lose it. With gorgeous, soulful intensity, Caleb Azumah Nelson has written the most essential debut of recent years.

This sounds gorgeous and I am VERY excited to hopefully pick up my ARC soon.

Kink, edited by R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell
February 9, 2021
Simon & Schuster

Kink is a dynamic anthology of literary fiction that opens an imaginative door into the world of desire. The stories within this collection portray love, desire, BDSM, and sexual kinks in all their glory with a bold new vision. The collection includes works by renowned fiction writers such as Callum Angus, Alexander Chee, Vanessa Clark, Melissa Febos, Kim Fu, Roxane Gay, Cara Hoffman, Zeyn Joukhadar, Chris Kraus, Carmen Maria Machado, Peter Mountford, Larissa Pham, and Brandon Taylor, with Garth Greenwell and R.O. Kwon as editors.

I don’t need to say a whole lot since this collection has been everywhere, but yeah, this sounds phenomenal and that list of authors is unreal.

We Play Ourselves by Jen Silverman
February 9, 2021
Random House

Not too long ago, Cass was a promising young playwright in New York, hailed as “a fierce new voice” and “queer, feminist, and ready to spill the tea.” But at the height of all this attention, Cass finds herself at the center of a searing public shaming, and flees to Los Angeles to escape — and reinvent herself. There she meets her next-door neighbor Caroline, a magnetic filmmaker on the rise, as well as the pack of teenage girls who hang around her house. They are the subjects of Caroline’s next semi-documentary movie, which follows the girls’ violent fight club, a real-life feminist re-purposing of the classic.

As Cass is drawn into the film’s orbit, she is awed by Caroline’s ambition and confidence. But over time, she becomes increasingly troubled by how deeply Caroline is manipulating the teens in the name of art. When a girl goes missing, Cass must reckon with her own ambitions and ask herself: in the pursuit of fame, how do you know when you’ve gone too far?

I love books set in LA and books about terrible woman and books that chronicle dysfunctional relationships so this seems like it’ll probably be a winner.

Dark Horses by Susan Mihalic
February 16, 2021
Gallery/Scout

Fifteen-year-old equestrian prodigy Roan Montgomery has only ever known two worlds: inside the riding arena, and outside of it. Both, for as long as she can remember, have been ruled by her father, who demands strict obedience in all areas of her life. The warped power dynamic of coach and rider extends far beyond the stables, and Roan’s relationship with her father has long been inappropriate. She has been able to compartmentalize that dark aspect of her life, ruthlessly focusing on her ambitions as a rider heading for the Olympics, just as her father had done. However, her developing relationship with Will Howard, a boy her own age, broadens the scope of her vision.

I’ve been assigned this to review so I’ll be reading it soon — I feel like it could be a huge hit or a huge miss and not much in between so I’m excited to let you guys know what I think!

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
March 2, 2021
Knopf

Klara and the Sun, the first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her.

Klara and the Sun is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: what does it mean to love?

MY FAVORITE AUTHOR HAS A NEW BOOK COMING OUT. IT IS FINALLY HAPPENING. IF THIS IS ANOTHER THE BURIED GIANT SITUATION I WILL NOT BE HAPPY BUT OTHERWISE. I AM OVERJOYED.

An I-Novel by Minae Mizumura
translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter
March 2, 2021
Columbia University Press

Minae Mizumura’s An I-Novel is a semi-autobiographical work that takes place over the course of a single day in the 1980s. Minae is a Japanese expatriate graduate student who has lived in the United States for two decades but turned her back on the English language and American culture. After a phone call from her older sister reminds her that it is the twentieth anniversary of their family’s arrival in New York, she spends the day reflecting in solitude and over the phone with her sister about their life in the United States, trying to break the news that she has decided to go back to Japan and become a writer in her mother tongue.

I’ve never read Mizumura but my friend Claire speaks so highly of her I couldn’t resist requesting a copy on Netgalley — this sounds like it could be quietly moving up and up my alley.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
March 2, 2021
Park Row

One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose—selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.

In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

I was on the fence about this one because I don’t always love historical fiction that has a past/present slant, but this also sounds like it could be quite a lot of fun so I’m looking forward to giving it a shot.

Edie Richter is Not Alone by Rebecca Handler
March 9, 2021
Unnamed Press

In Perth, Edie finds herself in a remarkably isolated but verdant corner of the world, but Edie has a secret: she committed an unthinkable act that she can barely admit to herself. In some ways, the landscape mirrors her own complicated inner life, and rather than escaping her past, Edie is increasingly forced to confront what she’s done. Everybody, from the wildlife to her new neighbors, is keen to engage, and Edie does her best to start fresh. But her relationship with her husband is fraying, and the beautiful memories of her father are heartbreaking, and impossible to stop. Something, in the end, has to give.

Since reading Jessica Gross’s brilliant debut Hysteria this year I’ve paid more attention to Unnamed Press, and this title and summary caught my eye.

The Secret Talker by Geling Yan
March 30, 2021
HarperVia

Beautiful, diligent, and passive, Hongmei is the perfect wife to Glen, an intelligent and caring college professor. But her quiet life in Northern California fractures when a mysterious person begins e-mailing her, pulling her into an enthralling and frightening game of cat-and-mouse. Who is stalking her? And how does this mysterious stranger know her deepest, darkest secrets?

As Hongmei is forced to confront her own dark past in China, the façade of her idyllic life is laid bare. Increasingly desperate and self-destructive, her one hope is to turn the tables on her tormentor. Investigating the stalker’s own secret history may irrevocably tear her marriage and her world apart—a risk she must take to regain control of her life.

This is quite a short novel — under 200 pages — and it sounds riveting, really looking forward to this.

The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon
April 6, 2021
Gallery/Scout

When social worker Jax receives nine missed calls from her older sister, Lexie, she assumes that it’s just another one of her sister’s episodes. Manic and increasingly out of touch with reality, Lexie has pushed Jax away for over a year. But the next day, Lexie is dead: drowned in the pool at their grandmother’s estate. When Jax arrives at the house to go through her sister’s things, she learns that Lexie was researching the history of their family and the property. And as she dives deeper into the research herself, she discovers that the land holds a far darker past than she could have ever imagined.

In 1929, thirty-seven-year-old newlywed Ethel Monroe hopes desperately for a baby. In an effort to distract her, her husband whisks her away on a trip to Vermont, where a natural spring is showcased by the newest and most modern hotel in the Northeast. Once there, Ethel learns that the water is rumored to grant wishes, never suspecting that the spring takes in equal measure to what it gives.

McMahon is a local author that I’ve enjoyed in the past, I always try to get my hands on her books when she has a new one out. This sounds excellent.

Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe
April 13, 2021
Doubleday

The Sackler name adorns the walls of many storied institutions: Harvard, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Oxford, the Louvre. They are one of the richest families in the world, known for their lavish donations to the arts and sciences. The source of the family fortune was vague, however, until it emerged that the Sacklers were responsible for making and marketing Oxycontin, a blockbuster painkiller that was a catalyst for the opioid crisis.

Patrick Radden Keefe writing about the opioid crisis — SAY NO MORE, I AM THERE.

Hot Stew by Fiona Mozley
April 20, 2021
Algonquin Books

London has changed a lot over the years. The Soho that Precious and Tabitha live and work in is barely recognisable anymore. And now, the building they call their home is under threat; its billionaire-owner Agatha wants to kick the women out to build expensive restaurants and luxury flats. Men like Robert, who visit the brothel, will have to go elsewhere. The collection of vagabonds and strays in the basement will have to find somewhere else to live. But the women are not going to go quietly. They have plans to make things difficult for Agatha but she isn’t taking no for an answer.

I really loved Mozley’s debut Elmet — it has faded ever so slightly in my estimation in the years since I’ve read it, but I think it was a solidly strong novel and Mozley seems like an author who could do very interesting things.

Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone
April 20, 2021
Scribner

Cat lives in Los Angeles, about as far away as she can get from her estranged twin sister El and No. 36 Westeryk Road, the imposing gothic house in Edinburgh where they grew up. As girls, they invented Mirrorland, a dark, imaginary place under the pantry stairs full of pirates, witches, and clowns. These days Cat rarely thinks about their childhood home, or the fact that El now lives there with her husband Ross.

But when El mysteriously disappears after going out on her sailboat, Cat is forced to return to the grand old house, which has scarcely changed in twenty years. No. 36 Westeryk Road is still full of shadowy, hidden corners, and at every turn Cat finds herself stumbling on long-held secrets and terrifying ghosts from the past. Because someone—El?—has left Cat clues all over the house: a treasure hunt that leads right back to Mirrorland, where she knows the truth lies crouched and waiting…

I think this is one Hannah sent to me on one of her Netgalley browses — this sounds like the sort of psychological thriller that I could really enjoy.

Heaven by Mieko Kawakami
translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd
April 20, 2021
Europa Editions

Hailed as a bold foray into new literary territory, Kawakami’s novel is told in the voice of a 14-year-old student who subjected to relentless torment for having a lazy eye. Instead of resisting, the boy chooses to suffer in complete resignation. The only person who understands what he is going through is a female classmate who suffers similar treatment at the hands of her tormentors.

These raw and realistic portrayals of bullying are counterbalanced by textured exposition of the philosophical and religious debates concerning violence to which the weak are subjected.

Unlike the rest of the world I have not yet read Kawakami’s Breasts and Eggs (which I do plan on reading!) but I love the sound of this one too.

Leda and the Swan by Anna Caritj
May 4, 2021
Riverhead Books

It’s Halloween night on a pastoral East Coast college campus. Scantily costumed students ride the fine line between adolescence and adulthood as they prepare for a night of drinking and debauchery. Expectations are high as Leda flirts with her thrilling new crush, Ian, and he flirts back. But by the end of the night, things will have taken a turn.

A mysterious young woman in a swan costume speaks with Leda outside a party–and then vanishes. When Leda later wakes up in Ian’s room the next morning, she is unsure exactly what happened between them. Meanwhile, as the campus rouses itself to respond to the young woman’s disappearance, rumors swirl, suspicious facts pile up, and Leda’s obsession with her missing classmate grows. Is it just a coincidence that Ian used to date Charlotte, the missing woman? Is Leda herself in danger? As Leda becomes more and more dangerously consumed with the mystery of Charlotte and questions about Ian, her motivations begin to blur. Is Leda looking for Charlotte, or trying to find herself?

I don’t know much about this one but I love the sound of the summary.

The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He
May 4, 2021
Roaring Book

One of the most twisty, surprising, engaging page-turner YAs you’ll read this year—We Were Liars with sci-fi scope, Lost with a satisfying resolution.

Cee awoke on an abandoned island three years ago. With no idea of how she was marooned, she only has a rickety house, an old android, and a single memory: she has a sister, and Cee needs to find her.

STEM prodigy Kasey wants escape from the science and home she once trusted. The eco-city—Earth’s last unpolluted place—is meant to be sanctuary for those commited to planetary protection, but it’s populated by people willing to do anything for refuge, even lie. Now, she’ll have to decide if she’s ready to use science to help humanity, even though it failed the people who mattered most.

I will be honest with you: whoever on Roaring Book’s marketing or editorial team is responsible for the tagline “LOST with a satisfying resolution” is the reason we’re here right now. But I love the summary as well — I’m a lot pickier about YA than most other things but this might be one of the few I take a chance on next year.

The Rules of Revelation by Lisa McInerney
May 13, 2021
John Murray (UK)

Ireland. Great nationalists, bad mothers and a whole lot of secrets. Ryan Cusack is ready to deliver its soundtrack.

Former sex-worker Georgie wants the truth about Ryan’s past out there but the journalist has her own agenda.

Mel returns from Brexit Britain, ill-equipped to deal with the resurgence of a family scandal.

Karine has always been sure of herself, till a terrible secret tugs the rug from under her.

Maureen has got wind that things are changing, and if anyone’s telling the story she wants to make sure it’s her.

A riotous blast of sex, scandal, obsession, love, feminism, gender, music, class and transgression from an author who is ‘totally and unmistakably the real deal’ (Kevin Barry).

I don’t think we’ll see this published in the U.S. any time soon so I’ll definitely be sourcing a copy from overseas — McInerney is one of my all-time favorite writers and I’ve adored both books so far in her Glorious Heresies trilogy so I cannot wait to get my hands on this.

Madam by Phoebe Wynne
May 18, 2021
St. Martin’s Press

For 150 years, high above rocky Scottish cliffs, Caldonbrae Hall has sat untouched, a beacon of excellence in an old ancestral castle. A boarding school for girls, it promises that the young women lucky enough to be admitted will emerge “resilient and ready to serve society.”

Into its illustrious midst steps Rose Christie: a 26-year-old Classics teacher, Caldonbrae’s new head of the department, and the first hire for the school in over a decade. At first, Rose is overwhelmed to be invited into this institution, whose prestige is unrivaled. But she quickly discovers that behind the school’s elitist veneer lies an impenetrable, starkly traditional culture that she struggles to reconcile with her modernist beliefs—not to mention her commitment to educating “girls for the future.”

It also doesn’t take long for Rose to suspect that there’s more to the secret circumstances surrounding the abrupt departure of her predecessor—a woman whose ghost lingers everywhere—than anyone is willing to let on. In her search for this mysterious former teacher, Rose instead uncovers the darkness that beats at the heart of Caldonbrae, forcing her to confront the true extent of the school’s nefarious purpose, and her own role in perpetuating it.

Well, this sounds creepy and brilliant.

Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller
May 18, 2021
Tin House Books

At fifty-one years old, twins Jeanie and Julius still live with their mother, Dot, in rural isolation in the English countryside. The cottage they have shared their entire lives is their only protection against the modernizing world around them. Inside its walls, they make music, and in its garden, they grow everything they need to survive. To an outsider, it looks like poverty; to them, it is home.

But when Dot dies unexpectedly, the world they’ve so carefully created begins to fall apart. The cottage they love, and the security it offered, is taken back by their landlord, exposing the twins to harsh truths and even harsher realities. Seeing a new future, Julius becomes torn between the loyalty he feels towards his sister and his desire for independence, while Jeanie struggles to find work and a home for them both. And just when it seems there might be a way forward, a series of startling secrets from their mother’s past come to the surface, forcing the twins to question who they are, and everything they know of their family’s history.

I really enjoyed another book by Claire Fuller and have been meaning to read more of her backlist, but this sounds promising too.

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
June 1, 2021
Atria Books

Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust.

Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW.

It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career.

Probably one I don’t need to say a whole lot about since it was a 7-figure deal and has been getting a lot of press, but, that summary sounds VERY up my alley and I will be preordering this for sure.

Daughter of Sparta by Claire Andrews
June 8, 2021
Little, Brown and Co

Seventeen-year-old Daphne has spent her entire life honing her body and mind into that of a warrior, hoping to be accepted by the unyielding people of ancient Sparta. But an unexpected encounter with the goddess Artemis—who holds Daphne’s brother’s fate in her hands—upends the life she’s worked so hard to build. Nine mysterious items have been stolen from Mount Olympus and if Daphne cannot find them, the gods’ waning powers will fade away, the mortal world will descend into chaos, and her brother’s life will be forfeit.

Guided by Artemis’s twin-the handsome and entirely-too-self-assured god Apollo-Daphne’s journey will take her from the labyrinth of the Minotaur to the riddle-spinning Sphinx of Thebes, team her up with mythological legends such as Theseus and Hippolyta of the Amazons, and pit her against the gods themselves.

Claire is a friend of mine but even if she weren’t I’d have this on my TBR. Greek mythology! Daphne! I’m going to pick this up in a couple of weeks and I’m hoping it’ll be riveting escapism.

Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor
June 22, 2021
Riverhead

In the series of linked stories at the heart of Filthy Animals, set among young creatives in the American Midwest, a young man treads delicate emotional waters as he navigates a series of sexually fraught encounters with two dancers in an open relationship, forcing him to weigh his vulnerabilities against his loneliness. In other stories, a young woman battles with the cancers draining her body and her family; menacing undercurrents among a group of teenagers explode in violence on a winter night; a little girl tears through a house like a tornado, driving her babysitter to the brink; and couples feel out the jagged edges of connection, comfort, and cruelty.

I still haven’t read Brandon Taylor’s Real Life (I know, I know) but if I’m being honest I’m even more excited for Filthy Animals. I’m basing this assessment off having read ONE short story by him, but I just have a gut feeling that short stories might be the medium where Taylor most excels.

Survive the Night by Riley Sager
July 6, 2021
Dutton Books

It’s November 1991. George H. W. Bush is in the White House, Nirvana’s in the tape deck, and movie-obsessed college student Charlie Jordan is in a car with a man who might be a serial killer.

Josh Baxter, the man behind the wheel, is a virtual stranger to Charlie. They met at the campus ride board, each looking to share the long drive home to Ohio. Both have good reasons for wanting to get away. For Charlie, it’s guilt and grief over the murder of her best friend, who became the third victim of the man known as the Campus Killer. For Josh, it’s to help care for his sick father. Or so he says. Like the Hitchcock heroine she’s named after, Charlie has her doubts. There’s something suspicious about Josh, from the holes in his story about his father to how he doesn’t seem to want Charlie to see inside the car’s trunk. As they travel an empty highway in the dead of night, an increasingly worried Charlie begins to think she’s sharing a car with the Campus Killer. Is Josh truly dangerous? Or is Charlie’s suspicion merely a figment of her movie-fueled imagination?

What follows is a game of cat-and-mouse played out on night-shrouded roads and in neon-lit parking lots, during an age when the only call for help can be made on a pay phone and in a place where there’s nowhere to run. In order to win, Charlie must do one thing—survive the night.

You say Riley Sager, I read it, it’s that simple. One of the most consistently entertaining thriller writers working today.

Nobody, Somebody, Anybody
July 6, 2021
Ecco

Amy Harney has a job as a chambermaid for the summer, but on August 25, she will take the exam to become an EMT (third time’s the charm!) and finally move on with her life. In the meantime, she doesn’t mind scrubbing toilets immaculately clean or tucking the sheet corners just so. In fact, she tells herself that her work is a noble act of service to the rich guests at the yacht club.

Amy’s profound isolation colors everything: her job, her aspirations, even her interactions with the woman at the deli counter. And as the date for the EMT exam comes closer, Amy’s anxiety ratchets up in a way that is both familiar and troubling. In desperation, she concocts a “placebo” program—a self-prescribed regimen for her confidence, devised to trick herself into succeeding.

When her landlord, Gary, starts to invite her over for dinner—to practice his cooking skills as he awaits approval of his Ukrainian fiancé’s visa—Amy makes her first friend since her mother’s passing. Alongside this unexpected connection comes a surge of hopeful obsession that Amy knows she must reckon with before the summer’s end.

I’m a sucker for this type of cover, so that’s what drew me in, but this sounds like a good old fashioned disaster woman book that I’ll adore.

Magma by Thora Hjorleifsdottir
translated by Meg Matich
July 13, 2021
Grove Atlantic

Twenty-year-old Lilja is in love. As a young university student, she is quickly smitten with the intelligent, beautiful young man from school who quotes Derrida and reads Latin and cooks balanced vegetarian meals. Before she even realizes, she’s moved in with him, living in his cramped apartment, surrounded by sour towels and flat Diet Cokes. As the newfound intimacy of sharing a shower and a bed fuels her desire to please her partner, his quiet and pervasive manipulations start to unravel her.

In an era of pornification, his acts of nearly imperceptible abuse continue to mount as their relationship develops. Lilja wants to hold onto him, take care of him and be the perfect lover. But in order to do so, she gradually lets go of her boundaries and concurrently starts to lose her sense of self.

This summary sounds SO up my alley and I hope to pick this up soon!

Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro
translated by Frances Riddle
July 13, 2021
Charco Press (UK)

After Rita is found dead in a church she used to attend, the official investigation into the incident is quickly closed. Her sickly mother is the only person still determined to find the culprit. Chronicling a difficult journey across the suburbs of the city, an old debt and a revealing conversation, Elena Knows unravels the secrets of its characters and the hidden facets of authoritarianism and hypocrisy in our society.

I still haven’t read anything published by Charco Press! But I love the sound of this.

Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder
July 20, 2021
Doubleday Books

An ambitious mother puts her art career on hold to stay at home with her newborn son, but the experience does not match her imagination. Two years later, she steps into the bathroom for a break from her toddler’s demands, only to discover a dense patch of hair on the back of her neck. In the mirror, her canines suddenly look sharper than she remembers. Her husband, who travels for work five days a week, casually dismisses her fears from faraway hotel rooms.

As the mother’s symptoms intensify, and her temptation to give in to her new dog impulses peak, she struggles to keep her alter-canine-identity secret. Seeking a cure at the library, she discovers the mysterious academic tome which becomes her bible, A Field Guide to Magical Women: A Mythical Ethnography, and meets a group of mothers involved in a multilevel-marketing scheme who may also be more than what they seem.

I mean… that summary. Yes.

Horse Girls, edited by Halimah Marcus
August 3, 2021
Harper Perennial

Executive director of Electric Literature and editor-in-chief of Recommended Reading Halimah Marcus’s HORSE GIRLS, an anthology that reclaims the horse girl stereotype through personal stories that explore privilege, ambition, traditionally feminine and unfeminine desires, and wildness, featuring essays by Carmen Maria Machado, Adrienne Celt, Rosebud Ben-Oni, T Kira Madden, Courtney Maum, and Maggie Shipstead, among others, to Sarah Stein at Harper Perennial.

I regret to inform you all that I was a horse girl. Also, Carmen Maria Machado and T Kira Madden???! Say no more.

Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So
August 3, 2021
Ecco

Seamlessly transitioning between the absurd and the tenderhearted, balancing acerbic humor with sharp emotional depth, Afterparties offers an expansive portrait of the lives of Cambodian-Americans. As the children of refugees carve out radical new paths for themselves in California, they shoulder the inherited weight of the Khmer Rouge genocide and grapple with the complexities of race, sexuality, friendship, and family.

A high school badminton coach and failing grocery store owner tries to relive his glory days by beating a rising star teenage player. Two drunken brothers attend a wedding afterparty and hatch a plan to expose their shady uncle’s snubbing of the bride and groom. A queer love affair sparks between an older tech entrepreneur trying to launch a “safe space” app and a disillusioned young teacher obsessed with Moby-Dick. And in the sweeping final story, a nine-year-old child learns that his mother survived a racist school shooter.

Sorry to end on a sad note — Anthony Veasna So passed away this month unexpectedly at the age of 28. Assuming his debut short story collection ends up being published as scheduled, I think it sounds brilliant and I’m looking forward to reading it, though it will be with regret that we won’t get to experience more of his writing.


So, here we are. I doubt I’ll be able to read all of these books next year (I know everyone says this all the time but I actually would like 2021 to be a backlist-heavy year for me), but as of now I’m really looking forward to reading as many off this list as I can.

What are your most anticipated books of 2021? Comment and let me know!