What I Read:
- The ABC’s of LGBT+ by Ash Hardell
- Black Flag and punk rock zines
- Under the Feet of Jesus by Helena María Viramontes
- An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke
- The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
- Life Magazine: Queen: The Music. The Life. The Rhapsody
- Punk Rock Jesus: Deluxe Edition by Sean Murphy
- Part of Do What You Want: A Zine About Mental Wellbeing edited by Ruby Tandoh and Leah Pritchard
What I Got:
- Punk rock zines
- The ABC’s of LGBT+
- Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
- Do What You Want (gift)
- Punk Rock Jesus
- The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
- Queen magazine (heh heh, it rhymes)
Oh, boy. April was a doozy. I know I say this about every month, but there were many ups and downs in my life this month. The reading experience, on the other hand, was kind of middling.
As a disclaimer, I am changing the “What I Bought” list with “What I Got” because I do get books/zines as gifts sometimes, and I feel like it is false advertising to say I bought them all if I didn’t. I also want to start using my public library more this summer, which
means that I will be reading books I won’t be purchasing.
Can you believe I started this month by telling myself I was on a book-buying ban? Yeah, neither can I. I broke that trend on the third day of the month, so… oops.
I’ve been wanting to buy Ash Hardell’s book The ABC’s of LGBT+ for a long, long time, but I wanted to buy it in person, because I like to support my local bookstores. I finally found it at a local store called Indigo Bridge Books, and as I’ve been searching for good LGBT books to give to my parents after coming out as nonbinary, it was like a sign from God Herself. My parents are in the learning stage, and most of the information they’re finding is online, but I feel like books seem more legitimate to many people. This book is a great reference material for many, many LGBT+ identities—some of which I didn’t know of and was excited to learn about. I saw my own identities represented in this book, which is exciting as my sexuality and gender are not really “mainstream.” What I love most about this book is that Ash made a point of sharing the perspectives of people who actually have these identities, rather than just giving definitions, which is super valuable in humanizing LGBT people instead of reducing them to a list of labels. I am happy to say this book is now sitting on my mom’s nightstand, and I hope she finds it as informative and accepting as I did.
The zines I read—surprise, surprise—were about punk rock. The one about Black Flag was super interesting, as I love reading books about bands and music, so why not read a zine about that? This detailed the story of Black Flag’s first album and their origins. I don’t listen to a lot of Black Flag, but it was still an interesting story.
The other one, I’m going to be honest, I don’t remember much. It was one of those Punks Around the World zines about the Moscow punk scene. I do remember thinking it was interesting, but because it was only one limited perspective, I didn’t learn a ton except for this guy’s one story, which could have been better written.
The magazine about Queen taught me quite a few things about how very strange that band (especially Freddie Mercury) was, but the pictures were what really dazzled me. It’s not hard to find good pictures of a Queen concert, but with the story alongside them, these photos had so much more impact.
My mom got me the mental health zine (or collection of essays) for Easter, which I’d discovered after researching Ruby Tandoh, my all-time favorite contestant on Great British Bake Off. She has written several food-related books, but it was this zine that caught my eye. One of my general goals is to get back into healthier self-care habits that I’ve slacked on lately, and I felt like reading about other people’s experiences with mental health would be a good kick in the pants. So far, I’ve both related to and learned from this zine, and that’s the best thing I can ask for in a collection of essays. I can build compassion while also feeling represented. (Also, side note, Ruby and her partner Leah are ADORABLE. I mean it. Look at their Instagram.)
Under the Feet of Jesus and The Dew Breaker were books I read for school, so I won’t talk about them much here except to say that though I understand that immigrant stories are extremely important and should be read about, I didn’t like the style of either of these books. They both jump around between perspectives a lot, which I’m not the biggest fan of.
Harry Potter was a re-read. This month is the last month of classes for the semester, and I always end up re-reading an HP book during this stressful time. The Order of the Phoenix was one of the two HP books I have at my apartment, and I didn’t want to re-read the first book for the thousandth time. I really enjoyed the second half of this book as a re-read, but the first half felt really slow. I’m not sure if this is because I already knew the story, or I was stressed, or something else. But I read much faster during the second half, when the action picked up and Dumbledore’s Army began and Umbridge was being her usual bitchy self. Not to mention, centaurs. CENTAURS. I love when they show up in the HP books.
And now, for the titles everyone is curious about: An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England and Punk Rock Jesus. Yes, those are two actual books I picked up, bought for myself, and read. If the titles aren’t enough to make you curious, I don’t know what will be.
Let’s start with Brock Clarke’s book about an accidental arsonist. This book tells the story of Sam Pulsifer who accidentally burned down Emily Dickinson’s house while two people were in the bed upstairs. He is now out of jail, has a life with a wife and kids—who know nothing about his past—and is living normally until the son of the people who died in the Emily Dickinson house fire shows up again. More literary figures’ houses are getting burned down—a clear attempt to get Sam back in jail.
This book was a trip. The thirty-something-year-old narrator reminded me of Holden Caulfield, which was annoying at times and made him seem very childish and emotionally stunted. I don’t know, maybe that was the point. The narration wasn’t my main problem with the book, though. Sam’s passiveness really grated on my nerves. He did a lot of hemming and hawing and then ultimately deciding to do nothing. In the rare circumstances that he did take action, it was always the wrong action, and I could see the outcomes of those actions a mile away. There isn’t much active solving of the mystery, just information plopping into his lap conveniently. The book was entertaining, and I don’t regret reading such a quirky story, but I can’t say I’ll ever pick it up again. The only thing keeping me reading toward the end was wondering if he went back to jail or not. As the reader, I knew he wasn’t burning the houses down, but he did a lot of stupid things that implicated himself. That question gets answered—in the way I actually hoped it would—but I won’t spoil it in case anyone decides to pick it up.
Though The Arsonist’s Guide wasn’t a big hit—more like a pop song I listen to begrudgingly and end up liking only while I’m listening to it—Punk Rock Jesus was a roaring success. For the past few months, every time I walked into a Half Price Books, I would see this amazing cover and the title Punk Rock Jesus, reminding me immediately of Green Day’s Jesus of Suburbia character. This month, I finally picked up the book, knowing nothing about it except that it was a graphic novel involving sci fi, punk rock, and Christianity. I mean, that’s enough to hook anyone, right? I’ve been wanting to find a graphic novel to delve into, as it is a type of book I don’t really reach for, and this seemed like a good fit. I was a bit nervous about buying the book, because it was fairly expensive for something at a used bookstore (because it was a “deluxe edition” and unopened), but I went with my gut and brought it home. This is the last book I finished in April, and it is my favorite of the month.
To summarize, this graphic novel tells the story of Chris, who is supposedly the clone of Jesus Christ, and his life in the limelight as a reality TV star. When he learns about all of the shitty things that led to his creation and all of the subsequent bad things that happen, Chris escapes and joins a punk band to preach anti-religion lyrics and atheism. (This story is not, as it seems on first glance, completely anti-religion. There are several spiritual characters who are morally upright and good people. This story explores both the good and bad of organized religion.) The book even brings in the IRA—the Irish Republican Army—even though most of this takes place as a U.S. TV show. Sean Murphy is a creative guy, and even though the drawings were all black and white, I thought they were really well done. My only critique of this book is that some of the characters looked too similar (namely the children and women) and I could only tell them apart by the storyline. Even with this complaint, I liked the book enough to read the extra materials about the creation of the story, which made me like it even more. Murphy started writing/drawing this story in the mid-2000s, which explains why I like it so much. In case you didn’t know, the 2000s are my favorite era. Strange, I know, but I’m also a pop punk fan, so are you really shocked?
Because April marks the beginning of spring weather in Nebraska (even if it is off and on), I was in the mood to spring clean, which for me, means purge my bookshelves. I even made a point of going through my bookshelves at my parents’ house, as well as at my own apartment. I won’t list all of the books I’m ditching, but to give you the general idea: I got rid of books I will never re-read, don’t have an emotional attachment to, or will never actually get to reading. A lot of them were children’s or middle grade books, but there was a big chunk of YA and adult books in the piles as well. They will be finding a nice home at Half Price Books or with other readers I know who want them. And, honestly, now that my bookshelves have extra spaces, I’ll feel way less guilty acquiring more books. Marie Kondo does something right—if the books didn’t spark joy, they had to go.