Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson mingled fantasy, horror, and grief in a contemporary tale of raising the dead. The focus on the witchcrafting elements was what hooked me at first. Mila Flores has a strong voice and a chip on her shoulder, and isn’t afraid to do what needs to be done. But at the same time, she has a soft marshmallow side that she mostly only reveals to her long-time crush Xander.
It was a great Halloween-time read, but the end mystery kinda fizzled for me because it came out of left field. Even when I looked back on the killer reveal, I don’t really SEE it. Readers want to be in on the fun and instead I felt a little gut punched. Luckily the humor and the unlikely camaraderie between the witch and her zombies carried the book through its somewhat rocky conclusion.
I honestly wouldn’t mind spending another book in Mila’s world.
Confession time: I haven't read a single book in my To Be Read pile since the pandemic started.
I know. Bear with me. At first, there was a totally reasonable excuse. I was in the midst of my final term of graduate school and there was no time. When the pandemic first kicked off, it was consuming my whole attention as we are a multi-generational household and we had to figure out our "new normal" in order to keep everyone safe. Everything went online. Shopping became a scary undertaking. Exercise regiments were established. Sanitizing protocols were put in place. It was A LOT.
But then the MA program ended and I was jobless and home bound like many other unfortunate Americans.
Sure, I started freelance editing. I was job searching. I was formatting my books for print. My hometown of Portland, Oregon was thrust into the spotlight due to our nightly protests. We were occupied by federal agents. A Proud Boy was shot and killed downtown. My entire state of Oregon was on fire. We acquired a new pet. My daughter started online kindergarten. The election drama has been INTENSE this year and fractured my personal relationships. I started a new job. The holidays are coming up. Financial stress is real. The list goes on...
For a lot of the country, things leveled out or went back to normal or never changed much to begin with. For my particular nook in the Pacific Northwest, we've been bombarded with hit after hit and strangely enough, for me, pleasure reading has been the most impacted by this near continuous "state of emergency." Constant vigilance is EXHAUSTING.
There were and still are a lot of things, BUT I also have A LOT of books. And in the past few months since our lovely Little Free Library opened, the pile has only grown bigger.
I have resorted to purchasing books in multiple for the library, especially the ones that appeal to me, because I haven't been able to fulfill my mental promise of "reading this book quickly and then adding it to the library." Nope. The books intended to hit the library shelves AFTER I read them are now are stacking up and collecting dust alongside all the book presents and impulse splurges from the last year.
I literally haven't even been able to finish a pleasure read I started over winter break back in 2019. My track record for books read in 2020 (that weren't school, work, or craft related) is a big fat zero. I'm not sure what the deal is. I seem to have some kind of mental block when it comes to reading books that has persisted throughout the entire pandemic and resulted in stacks of unread books, even ones that desperately appeal to me, just moldering on my nightstand and dresser and end table and book case.
It doesn't help that I've been working so diligently to FINALLY wrap up the Metal Heart series and get all of those books available in paperback and ebook formats (*fingers crossed* for audio format one day). Whenever I want to selfishly pop open a book for pleasure reading, some weird voice in the back of my head takes over and says: Not today! Finish YOUR book instead.
It made sense at the beginning of the pandemic that all my excess resources were consumed with "solving this problem." There wasn't extra brain space to dive into an alternate reality. I concede that point. Many others have commented on just this phenomena. There's even science to back me up.
But we're eight months in now. There are constant adjustments and shifts, but nothing quite like the massive upheaval in Spring 2020. And I've also been letting myself slip into other realms. My free time is filled with Netflix and Pokemon Go and stupid puzzle/narrative games on my phone. Those alternate realities are OK, apparently.
I'm feeling itchy and antsy and mentally stalled and incredibly GUILTY. I've started multiple books, thinking: This is it! This is the one! This is going to break the cycle! And then read about a chapter in and can't seem to focus any further than that. Books that I was stoked to read. Books that I NEED to read for craft purposes or just to be a better human in general.
It's becoming problematic that someone with an MA in BOOK PUBLISHING, who WRITES BOOKS, and regularly stocks a COMMUNITY LIBRARY full of books is struggling to read them. I can't even blame doomscrolling as I've worked over the last month or so to purge that habit.
I'm buoyed up by my continual interest in the idea of reading. I believe that there will be a time in the future, possibly even the near future, where I can redistribute my headspace and pleasure read a book again. In fact, the one that's been sitting on my end table and calling my name for the last few days is Undead Girl Gang.
What's holding me back from tearing into it right now? That depressive dip, that weird sense of loss that hits when I get about a chapter in and realize that I can't go any further. I am now afraid to start a book because I fear that I won't be able to finish it. Anxiety sometimes be like that.
I will mark it a victory if, in the next few weeks, I can crack open this fun YA novel, read it, and churn out a review. No pressure on this book, but some pressure. I need a win here.
Until then, happy reading, my friends -- if you are able. If you're not able to read, you're not alone, and we're in this together. We'll get back there one day. Your TBR pile is not a negative statement about you as a person. It's more of a condemnation of the times. It's been a rough year and however you've chosen to survive it, and whatever thing you had to let go of to be here today... it's OK.
The books aren't going anywhere.
It started out on a whim. I'd driven past a couple of these colorful independent community libraries in my neighborhood, and always dreamed about establishing one in our little corner of Portland. It was just a dream, and I didn't put much stock on it because we live on a dead end gravel street.
But then someone developed the vacant lot next door into townhouses and the city created a bioswale sidewalk that is maintained exclusively by the city and is technically not residential property.
And the final clincher: I hit Level 40 on Pokemon Go and could officially nominate a Pokestop. Little Free Libraries that are NOT situated on residential property have been known to become Pokemon Go stops, so it seemed like killing two birds with one stone. Create a Little Free Library, possibly garner a Pokemon Go stop that I could spin without ever leaving my house. Could it be true? Was such a thing even possible? BUT with the COVID-19 pandemic still in full swing, I knew it couldn't JUST be a home for neighbors to exchange books. It needed to be a waystation for food, hygiene products, COVID supplies, and other essential items.
All I really wanted for my 38th birthday was $380 to turn a weary and faded old closet into something cheerful and bright and chock full of resources for my neighborhood. I ended up scoring $500 (thank you friends and family) and we set about cutting shelves, refitting the door, sanding, painting, and affixing Pokemon stickers (of course). We also purchased a plaque and charter number that allowed us to register our Little Free Library on the global map. Now I'm officially a library steward. ;)
With the leftover funds we purchased culturally specific books from local Black authors Brian and Josie Parker (Believe in Wonder Publishing) and a wide array of diverse books from our local Gresham bookshop Books Around the Corner. Trace Kerr, an author friend, sent us a delightful book-filled care package all the way from Spokane, Washington. It boasted TWO copies of our book baby The Name We Take. And another author friend, Laura Stanfill, publisher of Forest Avenue Press, sent us a copy of
Our first Little Free Library Friday stocking session took place last Friday. And I go out daily to assess the food pantry aspect and restock important items like hand sanitizer, disposable masks, and feminine products. We cleaned my daughter's room over the weekend, and ended up with a couple gallon freezer baggies full of perfectly usable playdough, crayons, and markers as well as some preschool workbooks. Hopefully those will help tide folks over who are scrambling for school supplies in the absence of in-person instruction.
While I'd like to pretend there is a strong literary nuance to our library, my main focus is on supplying our community with books and resources to survive the next year. And honestly, the distinction between "good" and "bad" books wanders too far into a territory of classicism and intellectual elitism that I don't truck with. Somebody's "crap" book is another person's pleasure read. Literacy is literacy is literacy. We're all in this together, no matter what situation we find ourselves in. And maybe the best way to give back right now is to leave a book and lend a hand without being a judgmental a-hole.
One of the more important aspects of this project was having it greenlit by one of my MA cohort members, Desiree Wilson, who wrote her thesis on Little Free Libraries predominantly operating in wealthy neighborhoods and usually stocked with books for white folks (Spatial Politics and Literacy: An Analysis of Little Free Libraries and Neighborhood Distribution of Book-Sharing Depositories in Portland, Oregon and Detroit, Michigan). That concept really helped me develop what kind of books I wanted to stock on our shelves (diverse!), what readers I wanted to focus on (young adults and kids need books!) and how I wanted to steward (like a boss!).
If this idea intrigues you, I strongly encourage you to read Desiree's research paper before moving forward.
And to also consider, right now, what kind of needs your community has and how you can best serve it.
Melinda Jasmine Crouchley, YA science fiction author and professional editor.