Weekly Update: PET CT, Pens and Mischief Movie Night In

I haven’t written an update in a long time, because my neuropathy has gotten much worse since I finished my treatments. It’s painful to type, to write or draw, and it gets worse in the cold. Of course we’ve been having a series of cold days here, which has meant that typing a blog post has been a considerable challenge.

Two Egyptian Geese are having a dip in a roadside “pond”.

Health

I went through a PET-CT, my third and hopefully my last, last Sunday. It’s a long and not very pleasant experience, but it’s not the worst thing in the world. This week I’ll get the results and discuss with my doctor what to expect over the coming months. Meanwhile, neuropathy is kicking my ass, so posts will be sporadic until things get a little better.

This contraption injected me with radioactive sugar before my PET-CT.

I also got my fourth Covid vaccine, in the hopes of staving off the dreaded Omicron variant. I’ve been constantly masked and hiding as much as possible at home, but I’ve got a series of hospital visits coming up, so I’m hoping that the vaccine (and mask) will help me avoid infection and stay safe.

Reading

I started a new reading challenge, but I’m taking my time with it. I just finished the fabulous “The Trees” by Percival Everett, and the pretty terrible “All’s Well” by Mona Awad (lots of good intentions, terrible delivery). If you enjoyed “My Sister, Serial Killer,” you’ll love “The Trees”. It is a darkly funny, fast and very clever detective/revenge story that is just a joy to read, despite the very difficult topic.

I’m not sure what’s next on my reading list, but it may just be a non-fiction book before I delve into the next Tournament of Books pairing.

Writing

My hands are making writing problematic, but I did manage to write a pretty long post on the blog this week. It’s a taste of a project that I’ve been wanting to work on even since I got sick, and I look forward to be able to actually sit down and type for longer periods of time to get it done.

Currently Inked

I finished my Diamine Inkvent 2021 reviews with 32 pens inked, and I promised myself that I will write them all dry. That’s the most pens I’ve ever had inked at one time, and it’s turning out to be quite a challenge, but a fun and interesting one. This week I’ve written four pens dry (a Lamy Safari, two Monteverde Giant Sequoias and a Sailor Pro Gear Graphite Lighthouse), bringing the count of inked pens down to 22. It’s slow going because I have trouble using my pens, but I am making an effort to journal each day with them, so I do hope to write them all dry by the end of next month. I’ve been using them in my Moleskine, because I love their format the best, and just writing on one side of the page since I have enough notebooks to afford to do that. That way I can use the pens I like in the notebook I like and not worry about avoiding bleedthrough.

Other Things

I got back to running, which is major. I’ve been a runner since November 2011, until the 7 month break in running that I was forced to take last year due to my cancer and treatments. It was very hard for me to stop running, and it is difficult to get back into it now for various reasons, but I’m lacing up and getting out there and that’s what matters at this point. The most important thing I’m having to learn is to be kind and patient with my body after all it’s been through.

I’ve also watched the charity broadcast of the Mischief Theatre group (of “The Play that Goes Wrong” fame), “Mischief Movie Night In: The Wizard of Paddington Station” . You have until the 31st of January to purchase a ticket to see the broadcast and all the profit goes to charity. It’s a fun, family friendly way to pass an evening and do some good at the same time.

On Reading and the Tournament of Books

I’ve started a new reading challenge: reading all the Tournament of Books 2022 books. I’ve done this twice in the past, in 2019 and in 2020, and it has been a great way to read contemporary fiction that is not necessarily on the best sellers list or the awards circuit. I would never have read “The Book of Broken Angels,” “Overstory,” “Milkman,” “My Sister, Serial Killer,” “So Lucky,” “America is Not the Heart,” “A Terrible Country,” “The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao,” “Cloud Atlas,” “Wolf Hall,” “A Mercy,” “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous,” “Nothing to See Here,” or “Girl, Woman, Other” if not for the Tournament of Books lists, and that would have been my loss. And while I generally like the list and particularly the way that books are pitched against each other, I tend to not like the judges’ commentary or choices, so I usually ignore them and create my own rankings. Why compare pairings of books in this way in the first place? It’s usually a way to gain some more insight into the books that I’m reading, which is why I keep the “tournament” aspect of it in mind when I log or review the books that I read.

The Tournament of Books logo for this year.

I read significantly less last year (2021) than I did in previous years, only partly because I got cancer. I allowed myself to get off the “maximum books per year” racetrack, and focused more on reading either books that interested me, or books that comforted me. Some of my reading plans went completely awry once I got sick – I was planning on reading the Tournament of Books Tournament of Tournament books (I still do, as they all seem fantastic), but I just couldn’t face the effort once I started chemotherapy. Books were a huge comfort and a necessary distraction for me during my hospitalization and treatments, but they weren’t literary fiction kind of books. I read cozy mysteries and fast paced sci-fi because that’s my reading equivalent of comfort food. Sometimes that’s what you need in a book, and that’s part of the magic of reading: there is a whole array of “comfort books” geared perfectly for your specific needs, if you only know what you’re looking for. 

I’ve talked to other people who have gone through chemotherapy (they tend to come out of the woodwork once you start treatments yourself), and even the avid readers among them stopped reading during treatments, and sometimes well after them. Chemo brain is a real thing, and it makes reading challenging, and oftentimes you want something a lot more attention grabbing than a book during treatments or while you’re recovering from surgery. That’s what streaming is for, and I thank Disney+’s “Loki” and “The Mandalorian” for helping me out during some really rough nights. But somehow books never lost their appeal to me, despite the lure of endless, easily consumable, entertaining content. This isn’t to condescend on “non-readers,” especially not my fellow cancer patients. It’s just to say that different minds are wired in different ways, and mine is wired in this specific way. Once I start reading I generally get carried away and have trouble putting the book down (unless it’s a truly terrible one). This was useful when I tried to forget that I was connected to 3-litres of poison that was dripping into my veins, although it was a little annoying to my long suffering family who were with me during treatments and often just wanted to talk. Sorry, guys. You deserved better.

Once the 2022 Tournament of Books list was published I decided to give it a go again this year, to challenge myself to read all eighteen books on the list. Unlike in previous years I’m being kind to myself and not trying to rush through all of them by the time the tournament judging begins in March. As I started reading before the brackets were published, and so started alphabetically, I read Mona Awad’s “All’s Well” first. It’s a very well intentioned book that completely fails on delivery for me, and I struggled to finish it. I almost gave up on the challenge entirely, except thankfully I decided to read the book that it’s up against, “The Trees” by Percival Everett before doing so and it is phenomenal. I’m almost done with it, and it is viciously funny, dark, thought provoking, and a fascinating and original read. Everything you hope for in a book, and all this in a book that I’ve never heard of before, from a writer I’ve never heard of before. This is exactly why I put myself up for this challenge in the first place.

My neuropathy is killing me in this weather, and this was a literal pain to write, so I will end here by saying: treat yourself to some book exploration this year, if you haven’t done so recently. You never know what gems you’ll find. 

2021: Looking Back at a “Heavy” Year

My hands have been killing me with the worst neuropathy since my treatments began, so I’ve been trying to limit my typing to what I need to do for work. That is why this post took so long to write, and why my posting schedule may be a little off until things improve with my neuropathy.

2021 was a hell of a year for me. It started with me doing Liz Steel‘s excellent Sketchbook Design course. I also took some fantastic and very illuminating tea seminars with Juyan Webster from the Chinese Tea Company. If you have any interest in tea and you get a chance to have a tea seminar with her, I highly recommend it.

Early on in the year is also when a close family member got diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and that’s also when my journalling went on the fritz. This was the notebook I was using at the time, a Moleskine Pokemon Charmander limited edition and I abandoned it 2/3rds of the way through.

Abandoned Moleskine.

Covid was raging, I was working from home, at a new job, and I spent the first quarter of the year trying to fit my drawing and running into the new quarantine rules that kept getting both stricter and more confusing with each iteration. I happily got vaccinated as soon as I could, and I’m still very grateful to the amazing scientists and doctors who came up with vaccines in such a short time frame.
I managed to participate in the OneWeek100People challenge, which is very demanding but also a lot of fun. If you can spare the time I recommend giving it a try.

In the beginning of April I started having shortness of breath (dyspnea) while running. It got worse with time and soon I couldn’t run at all, and then I couldn’t walk very fast or far, climb stairs, etc. After a long and laborious road to get a diagnosis, in the beginning of June I learned that I had cancer, and in the beginning of July I got a diagnosis and started ABVD chemotherapy to treat Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
A few things helped me get through that incredibly difficult time. First and foremost, my phenomenal family (mother, father and brother) that rallied around me and took care of me from the moment of the first diagnosis and to this day. I can’t imagine going through this process without them. Almost as important were my friends, who visited me in the hospital and cheered me up, and kept in touch and cheered me on during the treatments. Finally it was journaling and reading. I started this Moleskine “I am New York” on the day I was first admitted to hospital, and writing in it gave me perspective and kept me sane.

Journal of a bad year.

And books? Books have always been my comfort and escape. I saw a few things on Disney+ while I was hospitalized, but books helped distract me from a lot the most unpleasant and painful parts of this journey.
I was happy to discover that one of my favourite Moleskine limited edition series, the denim ones, was back in stock, and so once I finished the “I am New York” journal I moved into this Moleskine “Skinny. Flared. Bookcut.” one. It’s such a well conceptualized and executed design, it was a joy to use. This was when I decided to regularly use fountain pens to journal with, and just use only one side of the page. I have more than enough notebooks to support that decision.

This notebook took me through the second part of chemo to the end of it.

And now, and the beginning of 2022 I started a new journal, a Moleskine Peanuts Sakura. Pretty, right? Let’s hope I get to fill it with good news and positive thoughts.

A new Moleskine for a new and better year.

Some favourites from the past year:

My favourite pen was the Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass. Quite a surprise for me, but it hasn’t been out of rotation since I got it.

Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass – fantastic and beautiful pen.

Another pen purchase that came in at a close second was the Diplomat Elox Rings and the Diplomat Aero (basically the same pen with a slightly different body design). These are wonderful workhorses, and a joy to use.

Diplomat Elox Rings on the left and Diplomat Aero in Champagne on the right.

I didn’t read as much this year as last year, but I did read a few really great books. Here’s a list of a few standouts among them:

  • The Good War, by Studs Terkel. WWII as I’ve never experienced it before – as seen and told by the “regular people” who lived through it.
  • Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. Not an easy read by far, but a breathtaking work of fiction nonetheless. Worth the effort.
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz. A surprisingly moving tale of a character that you won’t expect to fall in love with, and yet you will.
  • Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, by Hillary Mantel. Why should I care about Thomas Cromwell? How can you not care about Thomas Cromwell after reading these books? An era and place come to life, in a world filled with complex and compelling characters.
  • Nomadland, by Jessica Bruder. Watch the movie AND read the book. Both are excellent, and both offer a chance to look into a part of modern living that we were hitherto oblivious of.
  • Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir. Just a fun and interesting sci-fi novel. If you enjoyed the Martian, you’ll enjoy this.
  • Underland, by Robert Macfarlane. What happens in the deep dark places beneath our feet? A lyrical work of non-fiction.
  • The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller. The love story between Achilles and Patroclus told with great gentleness and heart.
  • Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro. An understated and masterful work of science fiction that explores themes of humanity, identity, friendship and love, among other things.
  • Harlem Shuffle, by Colson Whitehead. How can you write a heist novel that isn’t a heist novel but rather a story of a person, a time and place? Whitehead’s writing is exceptional, and Harlem Shuffle is just another proof of that.
  • The Expanse books 1-4, James S.A. Corey. I haven’t read book 5 and onwards yet, but I did read the first four books of The Expanse this year. They aren’t perfect (Holden is a bit much), but they are very good at world-building, with interesting and unique plots and complex and believable characters (apart from Holden, who is a bit much). The books are each written in a different style, and they improve with time.

In terms of art supplies, 2021 was the year of the super-granulating watercolours from Schmincke, and also when I added Daniel Smith watercolours to my palette. Schmincke just announced that the super-granulating colours will be permanently added to their offerings, and that they are issuing three more permanent sets into this series (Desert, Shire and Vulcano), and another limited edition set, Haze.

I’ll be talking about planning for 2022 on one of my next posts. In the meanwhile, have a great new year, and don’t forget to take time and breath.

Weekly Update: Winter Cats and Yayoi Kusama

We’re still not getting a real winter yet, but I did get some new Rumpl blankets in this week and that was enough to get my cats into full winter mode. Hopefully there will be some rain next week to justify their need for winter cuddles.

The gentleman.
The lady.

I dared to venture out on the day before my Chemo session, because I really wanted to see the Yayoi Kusama retrospective in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. I arrived when the place was relatively empty, and wore a mask the entire time (as did almost all of the other visitors). The curation of the exhibit was phenomenal, and I enjoyed it very much. I loved seeing Kusama’s early sketches in her sketchbook, as well as her later sculptors and rooms. There was a new room, created specifically for this exhibit, the “Galaxy” room, which was my favourite:

Inside the Galaxy room.

Walking through the museum became a very colourful and oftentimes surreal experience. There’s nothing like being dwarfed by pink tentacles:

Pink tentacles in the atrium.

The penultimate room was phenomenal, with a steel ball exhibit on the floor that toyed with people’s need to view themselves (so many people lay down on the floor to take selfies), and two mosaics of Kusama’s paintings: one colourful and one in black and white, on opposite walls. It was very striking.

With my treatments getting progressively harder, flu season (yes, I’m vaccinated, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that I won’t get sick), and a new Covid variant on the rise I doubt that I’ll be going out much for the next few months. That just makes my visit to this colourful, interesting and joyful exhibition even more precious to me.

Health

I had my 10th Chemo treatment (the second treatment of the fifth cycle) on Tuesday, and this time I asked to get less steroids. So instead of a really, really, really, really, really large amount of steroids, I was given a really, really large amount of steroids. It was a risk (the steroids serve as anti-emetics and general boosters to help me get through the treatment), but so far it has paid off. I could sleep better and longer after the treatment, which helped me feel a little better. The treatments are getting harder, and as I suspected I now no longer have a break in my neuropathy. As I’m typing this, I feel about four out of ten fingers. The secret to typing like this is to be like Wile E. Coyote and not look down or think about typing as I type 🙂

Reading

I got less reading done than I expected this week, and I’m only about a third of the way through James S.A. Corey’s “Cibola Burn” (the Expanse #4). I also need to dedicate some time to update my Goodreads reviews. I have a few notes on books that I’ve read that I’ve yet to publish there. Luckily my reading journal is still around to help me keep track of things.

I’m enjoying the way that the Expanse novels unfold, with 3-4 viewpoints in each one, and large systems of government, military and industry are made human without being overly simplified.

Writing

I journaled a lot this week, but other than that I didn’t get any writing done. My neuropathy meant that holding a pen has become virtually impossible since Thursday evening. I really miss holding and using my pens.

Currently Inked

I’ve been focusing on my standard pens this week (while I could still hold them). The Retro 51 Typewriters have Monteverde gel ink refills installed, and I’m really enjoying them (I don’t like the standard Schmitt refill). The Karas Kustoms Periwinkle Bolt V2 has a dragonskin grip and a cerakote finish and is gorgeous. The other Bolt is the steampunk one, which I love and use regularly. The Tactile Turn Nautilus is the most unique and gorgeous of my standard pens, and the click mechanism is a lot of fun to fidget with. The Uni Jetstream Edge was a pen that I wasn’t expecting to enjoy very much, but I ended up writing the most journal pages with it this week. I can’t explain why I love writing with this pen so much, but I just do. The same can be said of the Pilot Hi-Tec-C next to it, which I’m about to run dry (a pen achievement, if ever there was one). The barrel is cracked, of course, but somehow the tip has remained intact and the gel ink refill hasn’t yet inexplicably stopped flowing.

From left to right: Pilot Hi-Tec-C, Uni Jetstream Edge, Tactile Turn Nautilus, Karas Kustoms Steampunk Bolt V2, Karas Kustoms Periwinkle Bolt V2, Retro 51 Typewriter green, Retro 51 Typewriter copper.

Other Things

I’m hoping that my neuropathy improves next week, so that I can get back to journalling. I’ve started working on some long term projects and with the encouragement of my therapist I may actually get back to planning more than two weeks ahead.

The seeds in my garden have started germinating, which is always a joy to see. Monday is going to be very dry and warm so I’ll have to keep a look out for their health and mine then.

As is usual for a Chemo week, a lot of my time was spent trying to fall asleep and failing, so productivity wise it’s not the best. Hopefully next week will be better.

Weekly Update: Acrylic Markers, Hilary Mantel and Podcasts

I was planning on posting a review this week, but I had chemo this week and it really took me to town. Two days of practically no sleep (due to steroids) and the terribly hot and dry weather we’ve been having meant that I had to spend more time than I planned letting my body recover from the wallop it received mid-week. As I’m typing this I can barely feel my fingers due to neuropathy (a common side effect of my treatment), which means that typing, writing and drawing have been a challenge.

HOWEVER, I’m still here, still smiling, still picking up my pens and journalling, and even messing around with new art supplies that don’t require the precision and control that my beloved watercolours do.

Sakura Pigma BB brush pen on a Maggie Rogers Field Notes sketchbook.

I’m not sure if I’ll dedicate a review to the Sakura Pigma BB brush pen, but I will say that it’s a super soft, relatively wide brush pen that is very expressive and fun to use for spontaneous sketching. The Marabu Yono, which I got as part of a notebook package from Cult Pens, is a delight. I’ve never used acrylic markers before, and I love using this one. This is definitely opening up a whole world of possibilities for me.

Sakura Pigma BB brush pen and Marabu Yono acrylic red marker on a Maggie Rogers Field Notes sketchbook.

Health

I got Chemo number 9 of 12. Had a scary new side effect of the treatment or the blood thinners I’m on (likely the blood thinners), but I weathered that too. Next week I hope to get back to walking after the few days off I took for recovery (and because of hazardous weather). Also got to see a psychologist that works with cancer patients. Hopefully he’ll help me deal with the anxiety of what lies ahead.

Reading

I was planning on reading “Cibola Burn” by James S.A. Corey but Hilary Mantel’s “Bring Up the Bodies” has utterly mesmerised me and I haven’t been able to put it down. The quality of the writing, research and characterisation is evident in every page, and the result is a bewitching narrative – no mean feat considering the fact that very little happens in the book and the ending is well known.

Writing

None whatsoever apart from my journal and my three good things, and even they were backlogged for half the week. A combination of sleeplessness and neuropathy (which, if you’re wondering, feels like what your hands feel like after they’ve grown numb and then started to prickle back to life) made writing unattainable for most of the week.

Currently Inked

No change from last week because I didn’t write much. I’m about to write my Kanilea dry, after which I’ll probably hold off inking any new pen since I’m gearing up for my new Diamine Inkvent calendar. Like last time, I’m planning on filling 25 pens with 25 inks, and unlike last time I’m planning on writing them all dry.

Other Things

I’ve been building Lego sets as a form of meditation and relaxation. I’m currently working my way through the Lego Harry Potter’s Collector’s Edition, and will probably finish it next week.

I’m starting to get back to podcast listening. I used to listen to 3-4 hours of podcasts a day, every day. When I learned that I had cancer I stopped listening to podcasts entirely, and I’ve discovered that there are still podcasts that I can’t listen to right now. On my current listening list are: The Pen Addict, Maintenance Phase, and Reconcilable Differences.

New Reading Journal

Yesterday I finished my fifth reading journal, and so I thought that it would be a good opportunity to write a post about how I set up my reading journal.

I use my reading journal to keep track of what I read and to encourage me to read more. This is the journal that I’ve just finished, a Moleskine Two-Go:

Moleskine Two-Go. The perfect size and format for my needs.

I used to use a Field Notes Arts and Sciences notebook for my reading journal, but once I got back to reading more it made sense to move to a larger journal. For the past three years I’ve used the Moleskine Two-Go, and I fill one book journal a year (70 books are logged in each notebook).

Start and end date for this reading journal.

This is the setup in my old reading journal. Three pages of index:

First index page. Red checkmarks for books that I’ve read.

The Moleskine Two-Go comes with pages that are blank on one side and lined on another, which is perfect for my use case, except for the second index page, which I need to rule myself:

Ruled second index page.

I missed a line on the second index page, so the index numbering came out a little wonky. It’s only for me, so I don’t mind.

Off by one error in my index.

Here’s a sample of a complete page. I talked more about my thoughts behind the design in a previous post, but you can get the gist by looking at this sample. I like drawing something that captures the book for me on the opposite page, which is why I love the Moleskine Two-Go format.

I remember really not liking this book, and this is a reminder of why.

At the very last page of the journal I keep a log of how many books I read that month. It’s ten books so far for December, but the month isn’t done yet so that line isn’t filled.

Number of books per month tracker.

Here is my new reading journal, a Moleskine Two-Go, this time in green (my previous ones were in light grey, dark grey and navy):

Front cover.

I love the texture of the fabric colours on this, and the shade of green is interesting. The two contrasting bookmarks and the endpapers are grey.

Back cover

The first page, marking when I started the notebook and which journal number it is. This notebook doesn’t leave my desk yet I still write my name and email in case I misplace it somehow.

Front page

Next comes the index page. Since this is my third Two-Go reading journal I already know to number the pages until 139 (I number odd pages only, since my reviews are on odd pages), which comes out to 70 books.

Index page.

I rule the second page, because I tried just winging it on the first year and it didn’t come out great.

Spoke pen for the win.

On the last page I create my books per month tracker:

Zebra mildliner highligher smears gel ink, but I still like it.

I number all the pages of the index, but only the first 25 pages of the actual book journal. I will continue numbering pages in batches as I add books to the journal. The great advantage of using a completely unstructured book here is that I can do whatever I want with it, including starting the numbering after the index pages and not on the first notebook page.

These are the pen and pencils that I’ll be using in this journal. The Rotring 600 is a ballpoint, and the only ballpoint that I regularly use. The Caran d’Ache Bicolor has been my companion in these notebooks for several years. I use it to highlight things, and sometimes in my book scene sketches. I used the Blackwing 611 in my previous reading journal, and this time I’ll be using the Blackwing 4.

Caran d’Ache Bicolor, Blackwing 4, Rotring 600 ballpoint.

The first non fiction book in this journal:

The Good War

The first fiction book in this journal:

Cloud Atlas. ToB means Tournament of Books.

That’s my new reading journal all set up and ready to go. I hope that this inspires you to keep a reading journal of your own, one that will encourage you to read more and help evoke the memories of reading a specific book.

Tournament of Books 2020: Optic Nerve

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María Gainza’s “Optic Nerve” is a pleasant piece of what I now know to be termed “autofiction,” which is to say that it’s “fiction” based on the author’s life. It’s a nice way to while a way a few short hours, especially if you enjoy art history (or to be honest, art gossip). “Optic Nerve” is readable, inoffensive, largely forgettable, like most trivia-based works of its kind. There’s nothing to hate here, but there’s also not much to really love: the book remains on surface level with itself and its reader.
There are interesting and complex “characters” here, but the narrator is too self involved to get to know them, or too busy keeping herself at opaque for us to see them well. They are marks on the paper, nothing more, nothing less. You know nothing more about them, the artists or the narrator than you did at the book’s start. It’s a little disappointing, since it’s clear that Gainza knows how to write and is well aware of the dangers of judging an artist by the anecdotes we know of their lives.

I read this as part of the Tournament of Books 2020, where it’s up against Caleb Crain’s “Overthrow” in the 5th round of the tournament.

Tournament of Books 2020: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

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Ocean Vuong’s “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” is more of a memoir in poetry than it is a novel. Even as you read it it’s clear that this book is so autobiographical that practically only the language use in it is fiction. It’s a sharp, painful and beautiful memoir, and I’m glad that it exists, but it’s just not a novel, so it’s impossible to judge as one. The characterization is brilliant, but it’s clear that these characters are very real, and their complex relationships and behaviours are recorded from life. There’s no plot except the protagonist’s life, Vuong’s life. The writing is wonderful, although it’s not an easy read. It’s poetry from start to finish, and it expects the reader to work for their reading.
There are more and more “fictionalized non-fiction” books that are being published as fiction, and some of them are excellent. It’s just makes the task of judging them against “fiction fiction” much harder.
So a recommended read (it does require a strong stomach. There are some very disturbing images and scenes that appear again and again in the narrative), but one that also calls into question the definition of fiction.

I read this as part of the Tournament of Books 2020, where it’s up against “Nothing to See Here” in round four of the contest. It’s so hard to compare these two books, even though they both deal with childhood trauma, loss and being impoverished outsiders in a world that values wealth and conformity. “Nothing to See Here” is entirely a work of fiction, while “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” is so very clearly not. Vuong’s work is more culturally significant, but I enjoyed “Nothing to See Here” so much more, and it’s such a risky and clever piece. I wouldn’t argue with anyone picking “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” as the winner of this round, but my pick is Kevin Wilson’s “Nothing to See Here”.

Tournament of Books 2020: Nothing to See Here

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Kevin Wilson’s “Nothing to See Here” is a sharp, fresh, unputdownable gem of a novel. A heartwarming story about finding your tribe and embracing your weirdness in a world that’s all about conformity. Larger than life gorgeous characters that aren’t caricatures, a page-turning plot that still leaves them room to breath and grow, and an interesting take on family, love, opportunity and class.
Plus, it’s a funny, fun and original read.
I highly recommend it, and I definitely will reread this book again.

I read “Nothing to See Here” as part of the 2020 Tournament of Books, where it’s up against “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” in round 4 of the competition.

Tournament of Books 2020: Normal People

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It feels like a waste of time to write a review of Sally Rooney’s “Normal People“. It’s a boring novel with the basic “Ross and Rachel” love story plot, but with zero charm or meaning added. The characters are unlovely. They are surrounded by a cast of unlikable caricatures. The whole thing is immersed in lengthy paragraphs of descriptions of people opening wine bottles and making tea.
Was there potential for a story here about breaking the cycle of abuse, about finding redemption with the help of other people? Yes. All of it was squandered in the most infuriating way possible.
I read this as part of the Tournament of Books 2020 contest and it was an utter waste of time. It’s up against the fascinating and brilliant “Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen” which is head and shoulders above it.