Crooked Kingdom: A Fun Size Review

New feature here at the old blogaroonie. Fun Size Reviews. No, they’re not about chocolate (although…). They’re just tiny. Like, 100 words or less (not including gifs, you monsters). Why? Because I want to, and I am all-powerful when it comes to this blog and this blog only.


And now, for our first-ever Fun Size review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo, actual queen, sequel to all-the-superlatives-of-awesome Six of Crows.

This book is actually perfect. It destroyed me and remade me and then ripped the beating heart out of my chest and then decided I could have my heart back and lovingly placed it back into my ribcage but although it was the same heart, it was a different heart, a sadder, wiser, heart that will always bear the marks of being broken, and is, in a way, all the more beautiful because of it, much like the Japanese art of Kintsugi. TLDR, this book gave me a Kintsugi heart. I will love you forever, my precious murder-babies. No mourners, no funerals. (Except all the mourners, forever *sob*)

An actual image of my heart. Do not ask how this photograph was taken or I will be forced to disappear you.

Now I’m sad all over again.

I will leave you with one of my favourite pieces of SoC fanart, found on tumblr, as are all things good and pure.

(And if you want to see more, my tumblr is basically just a Six of Crows fanblog these days, interspersed with the odd shirtless hot guy/kitten/slice of cake) (in a perfect world, there would be pictures of shirtless hot guys holding kittens while eating cake, but alas, the human species has not evolved to that level of genius yet) (now I want cake dammit)

xoxo R

I respect you but I hate you.

Didn’t think I’d be back so soon, did you? Well, I’m bored, and I’m currently supervising an empty teen area at the library, so why not be productive.

Time for an actual book surprise (I know, right?). Okay, so. Right into it. Today I’m talking about Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad.

The Deal: (From the back of the book because who do you think I am) Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood – where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor – engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven – but the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. Even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

Robyn says: Okay, I know I’m going to be in the minority here, but I really did not like this book. I understand that it’s not meant to be an easy read, given the subject matter – and I will say that I respect this book and its author immensely. Whitehead must have had a hell of a time writing this. I can’t imagine the emotional strain of researching the unimaginable horrors suffered by slaves prior to Emancipation, let alone attempting to craft a narrative including so many horrible events that millions of people were forced to endure. What’s more, Whitehead is actually a really great writer. His sentences are beautifully constructed, and I think that, even thought I disliked this book, I will try some of his other works (Zone One looks quite good, and I remember it being highly recommended by a lot of people when it was published).

My problem lies mostly with the characters. I didn’t feel like I didn’t ever really get a glimpse into Cora’s internal life. So much of the book described things that were happening to her, without any insight into how those things affected her beyond the physical sense. Actually, this review sums up most of my feelings about the book better than I could right now, as I’m currently trying not to enact bodily violence upon a horde of tweens on scooters currently disrupting the quite of my library.

Ultimately, I thought this book was detached and cold. I felt no connection to any of the characters – so if you’re someone who reads primarily for characters, like me, I wouldn’t recommend this. However, if you’re someone who appreciates extensive research and can handle the many intense, disturbing, historically accurate acts of violence that cannot be separated from any story about slavery in the American South, maybe you might want to read this book.

Verdict: Meh. I can’t really say. I mean, I kind of hated this book, but I also respect it, so whatever. Do what you want, I’m not your mom.

Best lines: A lot of good ones, for a book I didn’t really like. Whitehead’s good with the words. One of my faves: :”There was an order of misery, misery tucked inside miseries, and you were meant to keep track.”

Rating: 5 out of 10 broken railroad tracks. I dunno.

ROBYN’S FINAL THOUGHT: I guess this is a really excellent TEACHABLE MOMENT (*teachable moment alarm sounds*) (it sounds a lot like sad trombone sound). As S. R. Ranganathan said in his 1931 theory, the Five Laws of Library Science, every reader her book, every book its reader. I was not this book’s reader, but I am very certain there are many, many people who are.

And now a word from my loyal familiar:

You repulse me. Philistine.

Okay. I am on my way to Luchresi. Later, gators.

xoxo R

Back off, man. I’m a scientist.

I WORK AT A LIBRARY! I’M A REAL LIBRARIAN!!! PARTAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ah hem. But for real. This is me 24/7 now.

Oh, and I went to Deadwood. DEADWOOD!!!

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Exhibit C:

Bonus Devil’s Tower:

Me and my mum, trail-riding in the Black Hills (shout-out to Trigger, my ill-tempered horse):

It was aMAHzing, y’all. Everyday I wsa channelling my spiritual soulmate, Mr. Al Swearengen.

But yeah. Oh, and Book Cat? He’s way into pillaging and plundering.

Help me.

Later for now. Back soon with AN ACTUAL F*CKING BOOK REVIEW.

xoxo R







Right in the Feels

01/08/2016 (yeah, this has been sitting my drafts for a long time, sorry not sorry)

They say an indication of personal growth of is an awareness of one’s flaws and weaknesses, so here goes: I’m really really shitty at blogging. Actually, no, fuck that, I’m awesome at blogging. I’m shitty at consistently blogging. Boom. Self-awareness. Suck it, adulthood, I have reached you.

To be fair, it’s not entirely my fault. My wee tablet up and died on me (sidenote: the Microsoft Surface is not a product I’d recommend – like most of my crushes, it worked very well for about a year and then died a horrible, agonizing, nightmarish death). The upside to this technological calamity is that I decided to spend a very significant chunk of the money I’d saved for the ill-starred Antipodean adventure on a brand spankin’ new MacBook Air! It’s quite glorious, even it is the distillation of everything I loathe about our brand-obsessed consumerist society. *strokes MacBook* So… purdy…

And I have been quite busy, toiling away at my thankless entry-level desk-job, which involves no book-pushing, shelving, or shushing at all. It is terrible and I hate it. Yo, libraries, please hire me please. Please. Pretty please. Please.


Anyway. I am not here, you never saw me, none of this is even happening, BLUE PILL MUTHAF*CKAS.


*     *     *

05/10/2016 UPDATE:






More details to come. And thank you to every god above and below (but also, bitch it was about time). *mic drop*

Marry Me.

Greetings, sprites. How’s tricks? Okay, shut up, enough about you, let’s talk about me. I have been SUPER busy bringing home the benjamins / suffering the innumerable indignities of the common entry-level office drone. Grim af, but as Gertrude would have said, a job is a job is a job is a job. We won’t talk about the existential crisis I suffer every time I step into a library, which is inconvenient when you go to the library three times a week. *shakes fist* One day, library, I will work in you!

Reading has been the most mourned casualty of the 8-to-5 (yeah, I work an extra hour, kill me but also, yay, more money for books). I’ve only read a few smutty books and some novellas since I started working, so no review this week. But before you start rending your garments and gnashing your teeth, be reassured: there will be more to this post than one excellently selected Skeletor gif. HOLD ON TO YOUR BUTTS, WE’RE TALKING ABOUT BOOK BOYFRIENDS!!!!!!!!!!

Book boyfriends. Good gravy, I have so many of them that when I sat down to brainstorm  a list for this post, I ended up with seventeen – SEVENTEEN, as in 1-7 – names! (What can I say, I’m a literary trollop.) So I thought I’d divide these swoon-worthy guys into categories – the Charmers, the Brooders, the Sweethearts… but it turns out, there are 13 grim, grumpy, Brooders on the list. I have a type, okay? The only solution is… series!!!

So welcome to 96 Euston Road’s inaugural series, Marry Me: The Many Book Boyfriends of Robyn Carolin Aleksiewicz-Momoa, Baroness Kugelschreiber. I’ll go chronologically, because there is no earthly or unearthly way I can possibly begin to rank my beautiful cinnamon rolls, I can’t do it, you must not ask it of me, I DO NOT HAVE THE STRENGTH FOR IT I SAY.

First up: Captain Rhett Butler.

Prepare yourselves. There will be swoons.

Nonfiction Benediction

Heyyyyyyyyyyy guys! ‘Sup? I am here to bless your Sunday with something I like to call a NONFICTION BENEDICTION. Yes, I used a rhyming dictionary. No, I am not ashamed that I own a rhyming dictionary. That would be extremely contrary. Though I could have got one for free at the local library. Omg, this post is going to be legendary. I’m rapidly expanding my vocabulary. (Help me.) SOMEONE ALERT THE CONSTABULARY (Robyn, stop), PELASE GET SOME CHOCOLATE FROM THE CONFECTIONARY–

Ahem. Sorry.

What is a NONFICTION BENEDICTION, you ask? It is me, the book slinger, chucking a work of – gasp- nonfiction at your lovely head(s). One of my resolutions for 2016 was to read more nonfiction and poetry (specifically, one of each a month), so damn it, that’s what I’ve been doing. January’s nonfiction was Ivory Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown.

The Deal: In the early 1800’s, on a Hebridean beach in Scotland, the sea exposed an ancient treasure cache: 93 chessmen carved from walrus ivory. Norse netsuke, each face individual, each full of quirks, the Lewis Chessmen are probably the most famous chess pieces in the world. Harry played Wizard’s Chess with them in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Housed at the British Museum, they are among its most visited and beloved objects. Questions abounded: Who carved them? Where? Nancy Marie Brown’s Ivory Vikings explores these mysteries by connecting medieval Icelandic sagas with modern archaeology, art history, forensics, and the history of board games. In the process, Ivory Vikings presents a vivid history of the 400 years when the Vikings ruled the North Atlantic, and the sea-road connected countries and islands we think of as far apart and culturally distinct: Norway and Scotland, Ireland and Iceland, and Greenland and North America. The story of the Lewis chessmen explains the economic lure behind the Viking voyages to the west in the 800s and 900s. And finally, it brings from the shadows an extraordinarily talented woman artist of the twelfth century: Margret the Adroit of Iceland.

Robyn says: First things first. Did you read that synopsis? Did you have to google “netsuke”? Yeah, me too. (It’s a Japanese word for a small sculptural object.)

I’ve been researching Vikings for the past five or six years (for a novel I’m too damn lazy/afraid to actually sit down and write but we won’t talk about that now… *cry-laughs into laptop*), so I read a lot about Norse mythology and Scandinavian history. It’s no surprise that as soon as I saw this book on the “recently ordered” list at my local public library, I clicked “reserve title” so fast I might have broken the sound barrier.

This is my favourite kind of nonfiction to read. I love learning about small topics – small compared to, say, the general history of major events or historical periods. I like the microscopic focus, the 150% zoom on a tiny part of history. And I love knowing that there are people existing in the world for whom this topic isn’t small at all, people who have devoted their lives to learning everything there is to know about a subject and who have generously decided to share just a tiny bit of their vast knowledge with the rest of us.

So  this book, ostensibly a history of the famous Lewis chessmen (read more about them here and here, was something I was really looking forward to, and it shot to the top of my TBR pile when I picked it up from the library.

Alas. It failed to live up to my high hopes.

My biggest complaint was that this was a messy book that didn’t really meet the goals of the subtitle. I learned a lot about a number of obscure topics–the medieval walrus tusk trade, Iceland’s religious history, the evolution of chess–but not as much about the Lewis chessmen themselves as I’d hoped. The book was disorganized and unfocused, and I have to agree with several other reviews I’ve read in that there was too much speculation and too little evidence to draw any meaningful conclusions. I had expected to hear a good case for one specific Medieval Icelandic carver, Margaret the Adroit, being the chessmen’s creator. Only one chapter discussed Margaret in detail, and the evidence for her being the carver was pretty thin.

And really, who the hell decided not to include any photographs??? Absurd. I was desperate for a visual reference when the author described the intricate details on the famous chess pieces. It’s a lot harder than you’d think to find photos online of specific Lewis chessmen – most of the images are of the prettier ones, like the queens and the Berserker knights. Which made me feel very :/

Verdict: Probably don’t read it… although I guess it was an acceptable introduction, and had some merit in providing a contextual background to the world in which the Lewis chessmen were created. Nonetheless, I’m going to look for some other books about the Lewis chessmen, because the dearth of information in this book has whetted my investigative appetite and challenged my librarian’s soul. The game is afoot!

Best lines: “But ask where the Lewis chessmen come from–or who carved them–and fists start to fly” (p. 13) (Yeah, I know, that’s a pathetic quote. Whatever. It’s nonfiction.)

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 tiny, beautiful statues of medieval queens that somehow survived relatively unscathed for a thousand years. A thousand years!

ROBYN’S FINAL THOUGHT: When I was standing in front of the Lewis chessmen in the British museum, probably looking like I was admiring the intricate carving, marveling over the unbelievable expressiveness of the little faces, pondering their immeasurable cultural significance, what I was really thinking was, “God, I’d really love to smash this glass and heist the f*ck outta those little babies.” Academic in the streets, barbarian in the sheets.

And now, over to Book Cat.

5 seconds before the attack…

Why must all the books you review lend themselves so readily to inhumane sartorial feline abuse?

Ignore his griping, he loves it.

Until next time, shieldmaidens and berserkers! May your days be filled with whatever glorious goat-filled madness is happening here…

Queen Witch

Blessed be, my witchy friends. How goes the spell-work? Messed with any thanes lately? Yeah, me neither. There just aren’t as many power-hungry Scottish nobles willing to commit a little regicide these days, are there? Anyway. ENOUGH CHIT-CHAT. I have news. Ready?

Guys. GUYS. I saw The Witch on Sunday and I. Am. Freaking. Out. FREAKING OUT. Watch the trailer while I compose myself.

uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh so perfect❤ PERFECT I SAY. As a diehard lover of horror movies, as someone obsessed with witches and witchcraft since childhood, and as a librarian, I walked out of the theatre speechless, grinning like a madwoman, and already planning my second viewing. This movie SLAYED. I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life to see something like this. And my god, the amount of research that went into this movie makes my mouth water. Please, Robert Eggers, I beg you, share your bibliography! I WANT TO READ ALL OF IT.

I’ve never not been into witches. I mean, I was a witch for Halloween every year from the ages of 5 to 10. Now I’m a witch everyday *wink*. And frankly, my captive internet audience, it’s a disgrace that I haven’t forced my witchiness down your throats before now, A DISGRACE, I TELL YOU. So today I’m reviewing Hunt the Witch Down! by Margaret Ronan, written a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away (1976).

This cover gave me nightmares so terrifying that it has spent more time wedged between my mattress and box spring than it has on my bookshelf. Who am I kidding, it still terrifies me.

The Deal: Sometimes ill-favored and bad-tempered, usually sharp-tongued – they were people who scared the living daylights out of ordinary folk because of their weird ways, or aroused their envy because of their strange powers. Powers that seemed to come from the devil. People called them witches!

And what did they have in common, these witches? They were women. Women who used all their wit and wile to survive in an oftime hostile world. Desperately unhappy housewives, young women and girls, a little crazy maybe, poor usually, but hunted down and tortured by the law, even put to death. Their greatest crime: being born female.

Twelve true and exciting stories of twelve women whose neighbours were sure they were witches.

Robyn says: This book holds astronomical sentimental value to me. I found it in my grandmother’s dusty, cluttered basement when I was 9 years old, and, um, “secretly borrowed” it – let’s just say my reluctance to lend books might be an inherited trait. Enamoured with anything to do with the occult, I was willing to risk Grandma Ruby’s wrath for the sake of literature. And witchery.

I read it and re-read it, over and over and over, memorized the stories, scared my friends and scared myself, used them as a starting point when I got older and wanted to do more in-depth research. More than the individual stories themselves, though, is the spirit of this book, which, as I reflect on it now, has really has a surprisingly profound impact on the types of stories I want to read and want to write, too. It’s creepy, feminist, dubiously historical horror that is a little ridiculous and a lot of fun.

That sounds pretentious, I know. Sorry. I’m getting emotional. *Girds loins, gets back to business*

As I said above, this is a collection of twelve histories of women accused of witchcraft: from Margaret Barclay in 1618 to Marcia Goodin in 1974. It is definitely not the kind of history book you’d use for your thesis, though, if you know what I mean – no footnotes, no bibliography, a history prof’s night terror. It’s written in a narrative style, with recreated dialogue, so it’s really more like a collection of short stories. The tone is definitely informal, the prose is deliciously purple (“The Scottish rain fell like thin grey spears”) and it’s a little dated (the author frequently breaks out of the narrative to address the reader), but it is so fun to read. The stories are short, scary, and oozing second-wave feminism. What more could you ask for?

I guess my only complaint is that very little actual witchcraft happens. These are all stories about women who were accused of witchcraft, and the author just assumes that they weren’t actually witches. As though real witches aren’t a thing. Ha. Ha ha. Ha.

the craft movies angry witch

Verdict: Read it. Read it when you’re tucked into bed, covers pulled up to your chin, flashlight shining on the yellowed pages. Read it until you hear a sound, a sound that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, until you think you see a shadow move in the corner of your eye. Then shove it under your bed so you don’t have to look at that cover (I mean, COME ON, that is horrifying) and pull the blankets over your head and try to sleep. Just try.

light models hocus pocus long hair spell

Best lines: One chapter is called “The Queen of Hell” (Martha Carrier, 1692) and I always adored that – it’s the page the book automatically falls open to. The first lines are very evocative and pretty representative of the book as a whole… “She looked more like the queen of beggars, with her tangled hair hanging down her back, her brown dress torn and dirty. She stood in the court, head down, chains on her wrists. Those who did not know her might have thought her meek.” (p. 65)

Rating: Five out of five pointy black hats, because nostalgia.

ROBYN’S FINAL THOUGHT: Ruby, I miss you. You weren’t always a good grandmother, but you were  a damn good witch in your own way, and I miss you. Sorry-not-sorry for stealing your book. I bet you’d appreciate that.

And now a word from my loyal familiar:

I think my cat might be a witch…

Book Cat says: Dabo ultionem meam contumelia, bibliothecario. Pone verba mea.

That sounds ominous, guys. I might have to reconsider my position on dressing up one’s cat in elaborate costumes to match the theme of book reviews.

Or not.

witch anjelica huston the witches fabulous


Oh, those Russians…


HELLO THERE. Long time no see. Did you guys know it was 2016? Yeah, me neither. Anyway, I hope this capricious new year is treating you right a month and a fortnight in. Me? Oh, the flimsy foundations of my life are crumbling to dust around me as I type this, faithful internet friends, but I soldier on, because BOOKS.

So. First actual book review of 2016. Pathetic, I know. I’ll make it up to you by giving you good one. It’s The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra and it unmade me and remade me a dozen times in the span of 352 pages of glorious, astonishing, transcendent prose. WITH RUSSIANS! (+1 Russians)

*heart-eyes emoji*

So. It’s been a while. *Cracks knuckles, brushes dirt off shoulder, backflips.*

Let’s do this.

The Deal (stolen, as always, from the jacket copy): This stunning, exquisitely written collection introduces a cast of remarkable characters whose lives intersect in ways both life-affirming and heartbreaking. A 1930s Soviet censor painstakingly corrects offending photographs, deep underneath Leningrad, bewitched by the image of a disgraced prima ballerina. A chorus of women recount their stories and those of their grandmothers, former gulag prisoners who settled their Siberian mining town. Two pairs of brothers share a fierce, protective love. Young men across the former USSR face violence at home and in the military. And great sacrifices are made in the name of an oil landscape unremarkable except for the almost incomprehensibly peaceful past it depicts. In stunning prose, with rich character portraits and a sense of history reverberating into the present, The Tsar of Love and Techno is a captivating work from one of our greatest new talents.

Robyn says: I read the title and that was all it took. Because that is some title. A++. And that cover – love love LOVE. Seriously, before we get into the deeply insightful intellectual discourse you expect to find here at 96 Euston Road (ahem), let’s take a minute to soak in the epic cover-porn of this beauty. And it’s relevant to the book, so it’s pretty AND clever (like me hahahaHA shut up). Because this is a collection of short stories, which is really just a prose narrative mix-tape, right? (See, Mom? That English literature degree is worth something after all!)

Now, onto the book. By Rasputin’s undead head (too soon?), this book was AH-MAAAH-ZING. The writing is stunning – there were times that I had to put aside the book and repeat the last sentence I’d read aloud to myself, just savouring the masterful way Marra uses language. I started to write down my favourite sentences and passages but eventually gave up because there were simply too many. When I buy a copy of this book (eventually), I intend to re-read it slowly and annotate the hell out of it.

As for the stories themselves… I don’t think I’ve reviewed a short story collection on the blog before, have I? If this were any other collection, I’d probably have to rate each story individually, but I won’t do that now. There’s no need, because all of the stories are marvellous, and also I returned the book to the library already and didn’t think to write down all the individual story titles. I loved them all. There were a few I loved even more than the others, but I’d be hard-pressed to choose a favourite. Actually, no, that’s a lie, my favourite was the fourth story, “A Prisoner of the Caucasus.” Another Kolya to add to my list of book boyfriends (it’s weird how many of my book-boyfriends are named Kolya, right?).

What’s really great about The Tsar of Love and Techno, and why I think everyone should read it even if they think they loathe short story collections, is that all of the stories are connected. Ostensibly, it’s the appearance of or oblique reference to a fictional painting by a real-life Russian artist that connects the stories, but there are other things that link the stories, too. The most obvious is the setting – if you hadn’t guessed from the title, the stories all take place in Russia (okay, some take place in Chechnya, but we’ll get to that). The characters are also connected, though sometimes this isn’t immediately obvious. Guys, you would not believe the number of times I realized who the characters of one story were in relation to those of another and actually shrieked in delighted OMG surprise.

The Soviet era and the Chechen War (and, I’d argue, by extension, the damage wrought by two different forms of Russian government) loom over the collection as a whole. As you can imagine, there is a definite grimness to most, if not all, of the stories, but Marra is also very funny. It’s a dark kind of humour–very Russian, and very fitting–and an essential component to the success of the collection.

God, I really loved this book. I feel like I’m gushing, but it’s so hard to talk about something you completely adored without sounding a bit like a teenager swooning over a crush in her pink polka-dot diary.

my mad fat diary

What didn’t I like? Ooh, this is hard. Um… one story felt like it dragged, and I still can’t tell if I thought the last story of the collection was amazing or awful or both and therefore perfect… but I kind of like that, too. It wasn’t simple or easy, and I think that was exactly how the collection needed to end.

What I liked most of all was the connectivity of the collection. I’ve read reviews that said the links were a little too perfect at times, but I think that’s a bit of a churlish critique, and really indicative of how you view the world in general. As Mel Gibson wisely said in the movie Signs, “I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes I saw the sign.” Wait, that’s not right. Oh yeah, here it is:

(Listen, I never thought I’d be quoting Mel Gibson in an M. Night Shyamalan movie either, guys, but this is happening, THIS IS WHO I AM NOW.)

Verdict: DUH. Read this book. Or as they say in Russia according to google translate, читать эту книгу.

Best lines: “You remain the hero of your story even when you become the villain of someone else’s.” (p. 9)

Rating: Canadian rating: 5 out of 5 heroic Soviet cosmonauts circling this pale blue dot we call home. Soviet Russian rating: in Soviet Russia, BOOKS RATE YOU.

JERRY’S ROBYN’S FINAL THOUGHT: What does a girl have to do to get a square-jawed Russian lover named Kolya?

Now, please enjoy the most Russian thing I could find on the internet:

Over to Book Cat:

Book Cat: “Well, well, so you finally managed to write a review, you slothful Philistine. Tut tut. I suppose you can share this portrait of me and my beautiful Russian friends, since it is in keeping with your theme. These lovely ladies and I were just discussing whether it is possible to fully appreciate the genius and beauty of that titan of Russian literature, Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin, if one was not born speaking Russian as one’s mother tongue. Alas, I think not, for surely the clumsy alchemy of translation cannot capture every breath-taking nuance, every monumental innovation of a tour de force like Eugene Onegin. We speakers of English must settle for inferior shadows of the masterpiece, and try not to dwell on what unimaginable wonders were, as the saying goes, lost in translation.”

Er, yes. Yes to all of that.

… Anyways.

Das vedanya, comrades!


Put on your red shoes and dance the blues


Hey guys. It’s been a hell of a month, hasn’t it? I lost one of my heroes, and even now, almost three weeks later, I find it hard to believe that he’s gone. I’m not going to write a long piece about what David Bowie meant to me, because I don’t think I possess the skills to capture something so profound and indescribable in words, and because “for me, the grief is still too near,” and also because if you’re human and have a soul, he probably meant a lot to you, too, so you already understand. But it was important to me to acknowledge his passing here on the blog. So here’s to David Bowie. May we all be lucky enough to have just a fraction of his courage and creativity and bold, bright, glorious weirdness.


Things Fall Apart

I first read Yeats’s “The Second Coming” in my third year of university. It was a modern poetry class, I think, taught by a teacher I didn’t like enough or hate enough to remember by name. I know we read a disproportionately large amount of Elizabeth Bishop, and a lot of mediocre Canadian poetry, and that I never said a single voluntary word for the six or eight weeks that the course lasted. Other than that, it’s a huge blank in my memory, as so many unpleasant things are. I mastered the art of losing a very long time ago.

The takeaway of that class was Yeats, and “The Second Coming,” and the line “Things fall apart” – a phrase so viscerally powerful that it kind of blows the mind when you start to think about it. (Chinua Achebe later used it as the title of his excellent novel.) Have you read “The Second Coming” lately? It’s here, if you need to remind yourself and your Norton Anthology is currently being used to prop up an uneven table. We won’t discuss the rest of the poem and we definitely won’t touch that creepy second stanza. Just that tiny fragment of a line.

Third line. First three words. Things fall apart. Christ, just look at that. Three words to express the single unifying truth of human existence, maybe. A gut-punching spondee followed by that heartbeat of an iamb. Things. Fall. Apart. Perfect. Fucking perfect Too perfect. It has planted itself in my subconscious and snaked its roots somewhere deep inside me. I find myself repeating the phrase to myself all the time, usually without even realizing it. Sometimes out loud, sometimes silently. Things fall apart, things fall apart, things fall apart. My accidental mantra.

It’s in my head right now, turning over and over like an engine trying to start. Or maybe I should say “turning and turning in the widening gyre” like the poor lost falcon in the poem (take that, forgotten professor who gave me a B+, you bastard). Things fall apart, I tell myself, as I claw my way out of 2016’s first major breakdown. Unemployed again, laughably broke, Australia jerked out of my admittedly reluctant grip. Things fall apart. Boy, do they fucking ever.

You’d think it would be depressing to repeat that phrase. It sounds grim and pessimistic. It’s a phrase describing if not destruction, at least some sort of deconstruction. But I’ve never read it like that. To me, it means that endings and, by extension, failures are inevitable. The idea that everything is impermanent is older than Yeats – ancient, in fact – and I’m not even going to try apply a Buddhist reading of Yeats’s apocalyptic poem (although I may stuff that in the old ‘potential-topics-for-a-revenge-PhD’ brain file). I’m just saying that if every thing must fall apart, so be it. All right, so good things – and bad things, too – will end. What comes next?

Fucking put that shit back together. Or better yet, build something new from the wreckage. Creation from destruction. And when those new things fall apart, do it all again, and again, and again. Same thing. Turn it into an ouroboros. Success born of a failure of a success, fueled by stubbornness and resilience and a furious refusal to be beaten.

What I’m trying to say in this messy, unplanned pep-talk I’m giving myself on a rough, rainy night eight days into what I’m still going to believe is My Year, is that, yeah, things fall apart. Sometimes it sucks, like when it’s a job or a relationship or an antipodean pipe dream. Mourn the ending. Wallow. Wallow long and hard. And then shrug it off. Life is messy. There are peaks and there are troughs. Accept it. Welcome it. Chin up. Because the next thing that falls apart will be the shitty time you’re suffering through right now. The shadow is only a small and passing thing. It will fall apart, too.

And fuck Australia, anyway. Too much sun.


P.S. That was some heavy stuff, and still no book review. Oops. Here, have a picture of Titus. He is in Deep Thought.