Book Club: Leave the World Behind (+Mini Book Review)

Rumaan Alam’s novel Leave the World Behind has been getting a lot of hype recently, and for good reason. It’s a fantastic book: well-written, socially aware, terrifying, and completely comfortable dwelling on the uncertainties that so many of us would rather ignore. It’s the kind of book that will stick with you, make you think about things you need to think about, and force you to confront things you’d rather not.

I say this a lot about books I was assigned to read for book club: I would not have read this if left to my own devices. Like I said when I talked about The Pull of the Stars: when things are going badly in the world, my impulse is often to retreat into escapist fiction. That book was about a pandemic. This one is about a family isolated in their house while the world collapses around them. I’ve read lots of dystopian novels; I love YA, and dystopia is a staple of YA. The difference between Leave the World Behind and those other books is that there is no Katniss Everdeen. The characters are all normal people, and when the world is ending normal people keep their heads down and try to go about their day as much as is possible.

I mean, look at us. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and everyone is all I’m bored of this let me throw a crowded party because heaven forbid I change my day-to-day activities to stop the spread of a plague. I still have to go to work. Book club has moved to Zoom and everyone acts like that’s a giant imposition because it’s not as much fun. Like, duh. I know it’s not. But you can’t just ignore a cataclysmic event just because it’s, like, kind of annoying.

I think I’m in the minority in that I’ve always known that in a crisis situation I’d be the one quietly cowering in the corner (or maybe loudly cowering, but definitely in the corner and definitely cowering). I’ve talked about books and movies with enough people to get the impression that people think of themselves as the hero in the story. Most people want to believe that, if it came down to it, they’d be the one to save the day. I wish I’d be the person to save the day, but I know I definitely wouldn’t. The best I can hope is that I wouldn’t make things actively worse. I think that’s why people are so uncomfortable with this novel.

When my book club read Leave the World Behind, almost everyone was upset by the book’s lack of clear-cut answers and savior storyline. They kept asking what happened? Why didn’t anyone do x, y, or z? Is this really going to end without the world being saved? Why did Amanda and Clay and the rest of them just stay home and make food instead of saving the day? It is definitely an uncomfortable read, because it mirrors real life more than the traditional story structures we’re so used to. And it’s absolutely brilliant for that.

It forces the reader to think about institutionalized discrimination (most specifically racism, but homophobia and sexism are very much present as well) all the while depicting a lockdown situation that’s uncomfortably familiar to most of us reading it now. It forces us to consider what we’d do if the world were ending, and because of when it came out, it forces us to reflect on what we’re doing now when the world is in such terrible shape. How many of us are out there, actively fixing things? Not that many. It’s easy to point at Clay and say, he’s weak. It’s much harder to come to grips with the fact that, in his situation, most of us would respond (and are responding) just like he does.

In short, was this a fantastic book? Yes. Was it emotionally taxing and bad for my short-term mental health? Also yes. I mean, I’m prone to stress-related nightmares, but they definitely increased while I was reading this. I do think this is a great book and people should definitely read it, but also…

As always, these questions are full of spoilers.

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Supernatural 15×20 Reaction (Carry On)

Sometimes (often), I read tumblr posts about Supernatural episodes before I watch the episode myself. I’m impatient, and while I can’t watch the episodes as they air live, I can read people’s liveblogs. I don’t really mind spoilers, and Supernatural episodes are so uneven that I like to know what I’m getting into before I get into it. Over the years, I’ve found some bloggers whose opinions I agree with 95% of the time. Based on those bloggers’ reactions to the finale… I don’t want to watch it.

Which is nuts, because I’ve been EAGERLY waiting for tonight’s episode for two weeks. I loved 15×18 when it aired, but in retrospect I’d love to delete it because it set my expectations way too high, much higher than they ever should have been.

I’m a completionist, so I’m sure I’ll watch “Carry On” in a couple of weeks (you can’t really watch 326/327 episodes), but for now… nope.

I’ve been watching for Cas this whole time. Even before I’d seen a single episode with Cas, I was mentally counting down episodes until “Lazarus Rising,” because it was tumblr posts about him that first piqued my interest about the show, and my understanding was that the show is pretty good for three seasons and then becomes epic. For the most part, that was true. I never, ever would have stuck with Supernatural if it weren’t for Cas. He is Supernatural‘s greatest triumph/asset, and all they did was waste him.

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The Lost Book of the White (Book Review)

Even though it’s been a while since I unreservedly, capital letters LOVED one of her new books, I still consider Cassandra Clare one of my favorite writers. She peaked with her original series and everything since then has been a pale imitation. I’ve enjoyed pretty much every one of her novels and short story collections, but I haven’t felt compelled to sit and read for a full day since City of Heavenly Fire. Well, that’s not entirely true. I flew through Lord of Shadows, but Queen of Air and Darkness retroactively dampered my enthusiasm for it. I’m actually a bit behind now. I haven’t read Chain of Gold yet because I needed some distance after Queen of Air and Darkness and because it’s been so long since I read the Infernal Devices that I’m not convinced I remember enough about it or its characters to follow anything following those characters or their progeny.

I did read The Red Scrolls of Magic, though, which is the first book of the series starring Alec and Magnus. Those two have been my favorite characters since the start, so there was never a question of me reading this series. I was hesitant at first (Queen of Air and Darkness was such a letdown, you guys. It really did a number on me), but I ended up really enjoying it. It didn’t reach the heights of the Shadowhunters books at their best, but it was a highly amusing romp.

With my expectations for The Eldest Curses set, I went into The Lost Book of the White with less trepidation and more excitement. This might’ve been a mistake. If The Red Scrolls of Magic easily cleared my hesitant, mid-level expectations, The Lost Book of the White tripped over my slightly heightened ones. It’s not that it’s bad. It just feels… slightly empty. It has the feeling of someone just going through the motions, and that’s how I felt as a reader. I was reading it to finish it, not because I particularly cared to find out how it ended up or because I was enjoying the ride. I felt like I should be enjoying the ride, but…

C+/⭐⭐⭐

There are two modes: demon fight and passionate make-out session. There are so many fights that after the third or fourth one, they start to lose the impact. How many books are we into this world now? None of these characters are going to get taken out by a random demon, and the scenes felt like they were there more for an air of general menace for than any specific plot or character-driven reason. And the romance annoyed me occasionally as well, which pains me to say because Alec and Magnus are one of my fictional OTPs.

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Supernatural 15×19 Review (Inherit the Earth)

I have to say… “Inherit the Earth” was very much not what I expected. If you asked me what I was expecting, I probably wouldn’t have had a very good answer. Doom and gloom probably. Everyone at their wit’s end. Chuck doing some powerful, evil stuff. The boys throwing together some last ditch plan before heading off into the unknown. But I didn’t expect them to actually do their plan, and I really didn’t expect it to work. If I didn’t know that there was another episode next week, I’d assume that this was it and the show was over. Almost everything got wrapped up, and between the defeat of the Biggest Bad, the restoration of order to the universe, and the sincere retrospective montage this very much felt like the grand finale. But I’m very glad that this wasn’t the grand finale, because I would have been a little disappointed if it were.

Like I said last week, Cas has to come back. He’s too integral, and any ending that leaves him locked in a blank abyss with a powerful being who hates him is just a little too depressing. Sam and Dean have control of their own destinies and Jack is at peace with his new role in the universe, but Cas deserves better. I know he said that telling Dean he loved him was perfect happiness, but long-term? That’s too tragic. And there was no “Carry On Wayward Son.” You can’t have a Supernatural finale without “Carry on Wayward Son,” and definitely not the last one.

The other loose ends are things that I’ve pretty much determined won’t be resolved. I’m disappointed, because goodness knows there have been enough episodes to devote time to everything, but at this point I think they’re as wrapped as they’re going to be. Like, whatever happened to Anael? Didn’t she backstab the boys last time they talked to her? And isn’t Ruby back in the world somewhere? As far as we know, Heaven is still dying because there aren’t enough angels. Was that tiny handful of angels Duma tricked Jack into creating really enough to fix things? And who’s in charge up there now? Are we supposed to assume that the now godly Jack can sort that out offscreen? Remember when Jack and Dean met a necromancer who threatened to kill Jack and resurrect him as a zombie so he could spend eternity with her? That was a fantastic episode, and I’ve been fruitlessly hoping Harper would come back for like two years. And what about poor Kevin, who is still wondering the earth as a sad ghost? Is that really the last of him?

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The Department of Sensitive Crimes (Book Review)

I love Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series, and every once in a while I mistakenly assume that means that I love everything that he writes. I’ve read lots of his works, some of which I’ve liked (My Italian Bulldozer, Emma, Harriet Bean) and some of which have disappointed me (44 Scotland Street, the Isabel Dalhousie series). Still, whenever he has a new series, I give it a shot.

C/⭐⭐⭐

The Detective Varg series—of which The Department of Sensitive Crimes is the first—is about a Swedish detective who tackles embarrassing and sensitive cases. It actually has a similar feel to the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. There’s the same gentle approach to crime-solving, the same laid-back attitude of the detectives, the same dialogue patterns, and the same sense of nostalgia. But despite these similarities, I find Detective Varg and his series far less charming than Mma Ramotswe and hers.

I’m not entirely sure if this is due to McCall Smith’s writing changing or my own perceptions evolving, but I found Varg’s nostalgia the slightest bit sinister. Clearly this was not the intent. We’re supposed to be on Varg’s side, but in today’s world it’s hard to see the people who want to go back in time as the good guys, you know? In #1LDA, Mma Ramotswe misses the way things used to be, but her desire is for a kinder world; her nostalgia reaches primarily back to her own father, who was a paragon of virtue and wisdom, and she does acknowledges that the world has made strides in tolerance that should not be walked back. Detective Varg, however, has a cruel edge even when at his most sympathetic. He’s unrelentingly dismissive of Blomquist, the uniformed policeman with whom he occasionally works and who does about 90% of the work on any given case but is given approximately .0001% of the credit. He pretends to work so that he looks busy to his bosses so that his department isn’t reorganized in a way that wouldn’t suit him. He’s dismissive of his underlings, seeming to respect only the one on whom he has a crush. He’s an unpleasant man who is presented as if he is kind, gentle, and clever. He’s none of those things, so when he looks at the way the world used to be and thinks that it was better, it hits differently.

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Supernatural 15×18 Review (Despair)

So let’s start with the elephant in the room: that love confession. Honestly, the reactions to that moment are so mixed that nearly everything else in the episode gets lost in it. There are three camps: people who have heteronormativity glasses welded onto their faces and think this was a bro-y confession, people who are freaking out over canonized Destiel, and people upset by a one-two punch of unrequited love and bury your gays. For the record, I’m firmly in camp two and I’m going to very quickly explain why. There’s a heading for when the real recap starts; I tried linking to it, but it emphatically did not work.

Let’s first dismiss the dumb it’s platonic claim. Cas told Dean specifically that he’s talking about something he can’t have. He has Dean’s platonic, brotherly love and has for a very long time. He’s been Dean’s BFF for more than a decade and Dean has said as much about him and to him multiple times, most recently last week. Dean and Cas have fought this season, yes, but they’re in a good place right now. It’s been a long time since their last falling out, and they’re as comfortable together now as they’ve ever been, so this isn’t a reconciliatory thing. Why would it be a dramatic, happiest-he’s-ever-been moment if Cas was just repeating something they’ve both said many times? Why would Cas be crying harder than he’s ever cried if this was just a casual “I love you, bro”? I love my siblings a lot, but the fact of loving them has never caused me to break down into tears.

Since most people reading the scene this way are homophobic and/or deeply entrenched in heteronormativity, let’s knock out the obvious thing that keeps people from thinking logically about this: Cas is not straight and never has been. He’s been very, very queer since his first season. Cas has been female on multiple occasions, for significant amounts of time. Just because most of it occurred chronologically before Castiel appeared on the show doesn’t mean it doesn’t count. Would people be bending over backwards to read this scene as platonic if Cas still looked like this?

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10 Things I Can See From Here (Book Review)

I remember that I used to be terrible at picking books for myself. I’d go to the library and grab a bunch of books that I thought I’d like and then I absolutely hated them. I’ve finally gotten the hang of it. Now, most of the time, I find great books to read. Of course, I read copious book reviews now and take recommendations only from people I trust. I’ve gotten complacent, I guess, because sometimes I’ll grab a book randomly just because it caught my eye. That’s how I ended up with 10 Things I Can See From Here by Carrie Mac. Thankfully it came from the library and not from the bookstore, because this book? Terrible.

Report Card: F/⭐

What’s it about?

When Maeve’s mother goes to Haiti with her older boyfriend for a six-month job, Maeve heads up to Vancouver to stay with her father—a recovering alcoholic—and his family. Maeve doesn’t want to go; she loves her mother, but more than that, she has crippling anxiety and doesn’t like the idea of living somewhere new.

What’d I think?

I thought I’d like 10 Things I Can See From Here mostly because I thought I’d relate to the protagonist. I’m anxious a lot of the time and I thought that it would be refreshing to read about someone who worries too much. I did not relate to Maeve, and I didn’t like anything about this book. I don’t want to expend any more time or brainpower on this book, so instead of a straightforward review like I usually write, I’m just going to write a list of my main grievances.

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October 2020 Wrap-Up

October went by in a hurry, didn’t it? I worked so much that I didn’t have much time for reading, but I guess it is what it is. Fingers crossed we get some seasonal hires so I don’t get run off my feet during holiday season.

Here’s what I read…

The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu

This was a reread. I first read this book shortly after it came out because I generally really like Cassandra Clare and because Alec and Magnus are still my favorite characters in the whole Shadowhunters universe. I’ve gotten a little behind on Clare’s books after being disappointed by Queen of Air and Darkness. It’s been several months and I still haven’t read Chain of Gold (I just don’t like the historical Shadowhunter books as well, and my patience for Tessa, Jem, and the rest is low after I read Ghosts of the Shadow Market), but when I saw that The Lost Book of the White was out I decided it was time to duck back in. It had been long enough that I decided The Red Scrolls of Magic needed a reread before I returned to the world. And it’s a good thing I realized that, because even though there’s not a lot of plot in this one, I’d forgotten most of it. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

I read Transcendent Kingdom for book club, and I liked it well enough. The writing is confident and sophisticated, and I was very impressed by Gyasi’s talent. That said, I didn’t love the book overall. It is focused on a central theme of coexistion between science and religion. While I’m obviously not going to argue that there isn’t a lot of material there, it’s not a push-and-pull than I personally find especially interesting. As good as Transcendent Kingdom is, it’s simply not to my taste; it’s so focused on its single protagonist that the elements that I most like reading about–namely, the interplay between characters–are all but nonexistent. It’s good, but it isn’t for me. ⭐⭐⭐


The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith

I wanted to love The Department of Sensitive Crimes, because Alexander McCall Smith wrote one of my favorite mystery series, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. But this one fell flat for me. It goes through all the motions of McCall Smith’s best stories but ultimately doesn’t have any of the heart. I tried to connect to something, anything, but I just… couldn’t. It took me a really long time to get through this one even though I expected to love it, because I didn’t care all that much about the characters, and I wasn’t all that invested in learning the solutions to the mysteries. It isn’t terrible, but for me it is a swing and a miss. ⭐⭐⭐


The Lost Book of the White by Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu

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Supernatural 15×17 Recap (Unity)

This week, Chuck returns to earth, Jack imbibes cataclysmic power, Sam makes a breakthrough, and Dean plummets off the emotional deep end. In other words, season fifteen is officially in the home stretch. Things are definitely moving full steam ahead now, which is quite the change from the last few episodes, which have had small plot elements mixed into weekly adventures. Every bit of this episode builds to a big conclusion, and in fact the big conclusion it builds to actually arrives; I didn’t think that the guys would enact Billie’s plan until the last moment. I should have known that there was more to Billie’s plan than anyone let on.

The episode is cut into thirds, each with its own character placard. It starts with Amara, then moves to Dean, and finishes with Sam before bringing everyone together for a dramatic, emotional conclusion. It honestly amused me to see an actual episode formatted this way, because I so often recap them with that delineation. I did think it was odd that a few characters were left out of the placards. Like, yeah. Sam’s section is mostly about Sam, but Cas is there as well. And I’d argue that Jack is as much a part of Dean’s section as Dean is. In any case, I found this episode the most compelling of those that we’ve had since returning from the COVID hiatus, which is good. I’ve got my fingers crossed that Supernatural has a satisfying finale instead of tarnishing itself at the last minute like How I Met Your Mother or White Collar. I’m definitely more optimistic now than I was last week, and in that spirit I will be reacting to this episode purely with gifs from shows with excellent finales.

It’s go time. Chuck is back on earth and Amara checks in with the Winchesters to remind them that she’s still on-bard for their plan, and to let them know that it’s time to enact it. Dean’s ready. Jack is ready. Sam is unwilling. Like Cas, Sam is hoping for another way that doesn’t involve killing Jack. Dean, however, is unwavering. He can’t deal with the lack of free will and is at his wit’s end. He’s been building to this total meltdown for a while now, and watching him hit his breaking point this hard is rough. Poor Dean.

Sam, though, still has his head on his shoulders. He tries to talk Dean around but appealing to Dean’s protective side. He reminds Dean that Dean’s protection is the one thing he’s always been able to depend on. Love for family and the desire to protect the people he loves is usually a foolproof way to get through to Dean, but Dean is too distraught.

SAM: We don’t give up on family.

DEAN: Jack’s not family! I care for the kid, I do, but he’s not like you. He’s not like Cas.

Oh, Dean.

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