If You Liked This 📕, Try That 📖

Greetings, fellow book fanatics! I come bearing recommendations 😌

Now, a read-alike for a book you love is not an easy thing to come by (trust me, I’ve been trying to rekindle the Selection magic for years), but if you’ve read and enjoyed any of the titles on this list, I hope I can be of help to you in falling in love all over again.

(Especially if you’re a Lunar Chronicles fan who needs to read R.C. Lewis’ Stitching Snow, now. This is too important to leave until the rest of the list. Do it. Watch Jupiter Ascending (2013), and then do it.)


1. Small Favors by Erin. A Craig 👉 Extasia by Claire Legrand


If you’re anything like me, Erin A. Craig’s gorgeous sophomore work of horror fantasy, Small Favors, absolutely has you by the throat. With a romance that keeps you guessing, an atmospheric woodsy setting whose trials you can feel, and salient commentary to be made about how the binds between people crumble under hardship, it’s a mesmerizing work you won’t soon forget.

Extasia, though it’s a post-apocalyptic horror about witches, has a lot of the same themes, and lands them equally well. Just like Small Favors, it gets right to the heart of what makes rigid, isolated communities so dangerous, particularly for young women. Though a bit more bloody than Small Favors, Extasia is an invigoratingly vengeful response to a similar set of evils.

2. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo 👉 The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna


Look: I make no secret of the fact that half my personality comes from Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse. I’ve taken the quiz, I’ve watched the show, I’ve, um…read the fanfiction 🙈? There’s just something about the unrestrained fun of a girl discovering secret powers, being taken to a palace to learn how to wield them, and finding herself in a web of intrigue, that hits every time.

But nowhere else does it hit quite the same way as it does in Namina Forna’s The Gilded Ones, where the author’s unique combination of ultra-cinematic storytelling, explicit feminist critique, and heavy focus on on-the-page training makes this setup feel addictively fresh. The book also cinches on a masterfully-executed paradigm shift that flips our understanding of the world and its monsters right on its head. The West-African-inspired worldbuilding is also drop-everything incredible, and practically every setting Forna writes is a total stunner. (Reviewed here.)

3. Cinder by Marissa Meyer 👉 Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis


My seventh grade self and I have one very important thing in common: if you pair a romp of a space opera with a fairy tale, we’re exceptionally easy to please. Such was the case when I first read Cinder: I loved the Star Wars-y energy Meyer brought to the proceedings of her Cinderella retelling, and I loved how her world’s sense of adventure accommodated royalty and spaceships alike.

Reviewers criticized Stitching Snow for being too similar to Cinder when it first came out in 2014. I’m here to tell you that they’re right, but it’s entirely to the book’s benefit. It has that same wonder, that same sense of humor, that same cocktail of space-opera worldbuilding that makes the rules of fairy tales compatible with the language of action-packed sci-fi. Plus, if you’re also a fan of the 2013 camp masterpiece Jupiter Ascending, this is the only title I’ve read so far that comes anywhere close to it in feel. You need more space Cinderella in your life, right? I think you need more space Cinderella in your life.

4. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman 👉 Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini


I was utterly captivated when I first read The Golden Compass earlier this year, and I still haven’t stopped thinking about it. It’s a sprawling work of science fantasy that begins in a world with a few striking differences from our own, and expands to cover a struggle that encompasses multiple parallel universes. It comes armed with a thoughtful examination of the responsibilities adults have to children, and worldbuilding prowess that I, as a writer, genuinely envy. None of Pullman’s concepts seem like they should work together in theory, but it’s almost maddening how well they do.

Trial by Fire, the first in a YA trilogy by Josephine Angelini, also offers a satisfying blend of magic and sci-fi. Using some of the same principles Pullman draws upon in constructing his parallel universes, Angelini crafts a North America ruled by the witches who happened to survive their Salem trials in this timeline, anchored by a magic system that takes its cues from chemistry, and a similarly compelling set of ethical struggles. As a heads-up, this book was published in 2014, and I can’t speak to how well it represents its Indigenous characters, but Angelini does make an effort to include Native peoples in her re-imagining of American history.


Thank you so much for reading! Have you read any of these books? Have any other read-alikes to share? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below 💕

“If This Gets Out” Is A No-Skip Album of A Book

A rich, exultant love story with music at its core, If This Gets Out is one of the best contemporaries I’ve ever read. Following two members of a wildly popular boy band, Saturday, as their headliner tour sees them falling in love, the book offers both a fervently sincere pair of leads it’s easy to root––and cry!––for, and a harrowing exploration of how record labels exploit young artists if left unchecked.

Ruben Montez, whose entertainment-industry parents offer him both a leg up and and an ever-renewing fountain of criticism, has been out as gay since the age of sixteen––in private, that is. By the time the book opens on Saturday’s American tour, he’s grown wary of Chorus Records’ assurance that he’ll get to be out in public “when it’s time.” Written with a deft hand and a sensitive eye towards his insecurities, his is a character arc that illuminates how doubt can seethe into a musician at every moment: in negotiations, in performance, and, of course, in love. Sophie Gonzales, the co-writer who tackles his POV, has nothing short of nailed it.

Cale Dietrich, meanwhile, takes real vulnerability to the book’s other lead, Zach Knight, who struggles to assert himself without feeling like he’s making an imposition on other people. With most of my reading experience in fantasy (I’m not sure if this holds if you’re well-read in contemporary), I find it’s rare that a character’s needs are rendered so manifestly in a text. Not only in the way that Zach and Ruben are open about their emotional scars with each other, though that’s its own immensely satisfying catharsis, but in the way it so clearly drives conflict and character dynamics, from the mounting crises, to the steps they have to take to solve them.

It’s because If This Gets Out is so clear about where and why its characters hurt that everything about it works so well. Romantic scars that must be overcome are key to an authentic, moving pairing, but Dietrich and Gonzales’ approach does just as much for the criticism they levy at the music industry. Ruben and the constant stream of criticism that is the inside of his head are ripe for needling from managers and executives; constantly questioning his right to be here is the lion’s share of what keeps him quiet when the label steps over the line. Zach, too, suffers because it’s all too easy for bad actors to capitalize on his need to fulfill personal obligations: you’re swallowing these conditions for the band and everyone who helps support you, they depend on you, and this is what you want anyway, right?

Suffice it to say, this book hits exactly where it needs to. Zach and Ruben’s bandmates, Angel and Jon, are also beautifully rendered, with equally manifest emotional schemes. The plotting overall has a wickedly keen sense of pacing, letting tensions linger long enough to yield the perfect release when things finally get talked through. It’s a beautiful book, but an enthralling one, too: I was always loathe to stop reading and do something else, and always giddy to return. Sometimes If This Gets Out makes you want to scream about how much these kids deserve better. Luckily, it takes the time to give it to them, too.


Thank you so much for reading! Have you given this title a go? I’d love to hear anything and everything in the comments below 💕

What I Read In June 🌺

Hello and happy July, everyone ✨

June has been all about figuring out how to fill my summer. Should I practice chemistry for my college class in the fall? Should I pick up a new instrument? Should I be writing? I don’t think any of us truly know what the “best” way to spend our time is, but for now, the days are long (in the Northern Hemisphere), the sunset makes the perfect light for reading by, and I’m this close to tying my mom in Scrabble wins.


June In Books

52. The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander

My dad’s complaints, though blunt, probably say it best: too many characters. The Chronicles of Prydain, of which The Black Cauldron is book two, is a middle-grade fantasy series he loved as a kid back in the 70s. (The Black Cauldron was published in 1965.) But here, Lloyd Alexander falls prey to something that seems to hinder lots of quest-fantasy types: he tries to introduce the entire fellowship by, like, page ten. This holds back everything from the reveal of a twist villain to a rivalry meant to bring out the worst in Taran, the book’s impulsive young protagonist. For someone who likes the quintessential beats of a Tolkien-like fantasy, it’s still a fairly charming read, but The Black Cauldron’s 178 pages are still woefully few for what Alexander’s trying to achieve.


53. Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf

Fierce rivalry with my mom notwithstanding, Queen of the Tiles is to blame for my recent obsession with Scrabble. Pitched as a murder-mystery set at a Scrabble tournament, it had me hooked from the get-go, but Alkaf’s engrossing depiction of gameplay––both in the actual matches and in the way it animates the character’s thought process in her daily life––truly shines. And, even though the mystery’s answers at curtain weren’t entirely satisfying, there’s a lot to love in the way Alkaf writes complicated relationships that keep unfurling through grief. New, hard-to-accept layers of the main character Najwa’s best friend, Trina, keep emerging, and, despite some of the supporting players being confined to archetype, their ties to Trina, good and bad, keep changing, too.


54. The Art of the Drama by Millet & Bentley

So this long out-of-print work of theatre criticism doesn’t even have a cover on Goodreads, much to my rage. But, aesthetically tarnished reading challenge row aside, this was fairly interesting and supremely verbose. Part 1 (which covers the different forms comedy and tragedy have taken over the course of theatrical history) is much better-structured and more insightful than whatever the hell was happening in Parts 2 and 3. The authors, both English professors at the time of the book’s publication in 1935 (!!!), draw on a range of intriguing play selections that I felt compelled to actually jot down at a number of points, but I’m afraid of the fun of this can’t overcome the frustration of the reading experience. If these professors ever managed to start making points without their ‘yet’s, ‘but first we must’s, and ‘one could never’s, I’m sure their students were grateful.


55. The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander

After a bit of a lull in The Black Cauldron, Prydain hits its stride again in book three, an adventure that pits Taran and a (much more manageably-sized) band of heroes against an enchantress, as they race to rescue a sharp-witted princess before her talents can be put to use for evil. This time around, Lloyd Alexander makes a point of emphasizing Taran’s insecurities about status, a layer of complexity that adds to an otherwise familiar tale of princes and swords. The group dynamic is inviting, the humor stays present even though the tone shifts a little darker, and the villain––though we certainly don’t see enough of her!––is one of my favorite characters in the series. Some weaknesses still persist, but consider them sufficiently clouded by secondhand nostalgia from my dad’s middle school days 😂


56. Henry VI, Part 1 by Lloyd Alexander

After trudging through Henry V, I’m finally at the trilogy of history plays that covers The Wars of the Roses––a massive, years-long contest for the English crown between the houses of York and Lancaster. Because this is an era with so many powerhouse players, Shakespeare’s expert ensemble work reflects that: Henry VI, Part I is not only about the floundering king, but the factions swirling around his court, the desperate wars overseas, and the new hope for England’s opponent at the time, the French court determined to retake their territory. I’m of the opinion that this volume might be the best at juggling them out of all three in the Henry VI trilogy, but it’s missing some of the things that make Shakespeare at his most popular so enjoyable: if you’re looking for true agency, for example, for the play’s titular king, you’re more likely to find it elsewhere.


57. The Vorrh by B. Catling

Seeing as this book was recommended by a friend with way more eccentric taste than mine, I probably should’ve been forewarned: this book is genuinely unnerving. It’s a work of fantastical alternate history set in and around an impenetrable primordial forest, following a cast of strange characters with, in my opinion, very little solid connection to be found between them. Catling, a sculptor, is way more concerned with the in-the-moment experience of his writing than with its overarching structure, which yields some ultra-vivid imagery but renders the story overall pretty self-defeating. I’m also uneasy about a white author writing about “Africa” in a vague way meant to evoke something like Heart of Darkness. This choice of setting strikes me as especially loaded with the white gaze, and the few Black characters Catling puts in prominent roles all read as pretty powerless.


58. This is Shakespeare by Emma Smith

If you think Shakespeare’s plays have been talked to death, you may want to take a gander at Emma Smith’s This Is Shakespeare, a volume of essays that take a bunch of brand new angles on 20 of the Bard’s plays, old favorites and overlooked gems alike. There’s no overarching theme, really (sometimes Smith pulls from history, sometimes she doesn’t; sometimes the plays’ source material matters and sometimes it doesn’t), but I think that’s to the book’s credit. Each essay builds its approach from scratch and you can never guess what angle Smith will take: she cracks open Romeo and Juliet as a shattered romantic comedy, re-evaluates Antony and Cleopatra in a strikingly modern lens of celebrity and scandal, and makes the case for a much more subversive Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s best enjoyed, though, if this isn’t your first Shakespeare rodeo: Smith does her best, but there just isn’t room for background amidst all the festivities.


59. Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

Coming in fourth in The Chronicles of Prydain, right after The Castle of Llyr, this book might be––no, scratch that, is––the best in the series. It’s the one where Taran breaks from the battle-against-evil mold to find himself, as well as answers about his parentage, in the Prydain countryside. Lloyd Alexander not only makes the right move in denying him easy answers from start to finish; he also gives him a way to grasp at meaning that has nothing to do with his heroic role in the rest of the series. And, with something that follows medieval fantasy’s mythic prerogative the way The Chronicles of Prydain does, that’s an opportunity all too easy to miss. When it comes to villains, as well, Taran Wanderer challenges and contrasts its namesake in all the right ways, and its somewhat open resolution bodes well for the finale ahead.


60. Henry VI, Part 2 by William Shakespeare

After the events of Henry VI, Part I, England has a new queen, the York and Lancastrian factions have new reasons to hate one another, and King Henry has a spate of new political problems right under his nose––only some of which he’s, like, actually aware of. This play, like its prequel, is full of scheming, deliciously conniving characters like Margaret of Anjou and Richard, Duke of York, and its fair share of absolutely banger rhyming couplets. But it’s also held back by its structure. While Part I expertly wrangles three simultaneous struggles, Part II sort of parades through its royal crises, one after another, with about an act for each. It doesn’t kill the suspense, but it does make me miss how well Part I pulled it off.


61. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Everyone seems to be head-over-heels in love with this book. But no one’s part of ‘everyone,’ every time. In this case, I can certainly agree that the atmosphere, the prose style, and the concepts that Erin Morgenstern weaves into her titular magical circus are all dutifully lovely, but her choice of distantly and omnisciently following so many characters over such a long time can make them feel more like thought experiments than like people. Especially the two romantic leads, for whom the thought experiment is “What if magicians on opposite sides of a duel fell in all-encompassing forbidden love?” You’re obviously supposed to buy into it and have it sweep you off your feet, but I had to rely on the book’s other charms. They’re there, to be sure, but they’re not quite magical for the reader unless that central conceit sticks.


June in Blogs 💜

Krysta @ Pages Unbound made some excellent points in a YA Book Wishlist!

Jordyn @ Birdie’s Book Nook has been doing a delightful Author Spotlight series!

Aria @ Snow White Hates Apples wrote a really thoughtful review of Queen of the Tiles

Naemi @ A Book Owl’s Corner paired a gorgeous travelogue of her trip to Poland with some book recommendations!

Uncommonly Bound reviewed a fascinating micro-history in What The Ermine Saw!


Thank you all so much for reading! How was your June in books? I’d love to hear anything and everything, in the comments below 💕

Let’s Talk Bookish: How are you doing on your reading goals so far this year?

Hello, and welcome to The Pigeon! Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly discussion hosted by Aria @ Book Nook Bits, and this week’s topic was suggested by Amber @ Escape Life in the Pages!

Did you set any reading goals for yourself at the beginning of the year?

I’m an extremely planning- and checklist-oriented person, and I most certainly penciled in some 2022 reading goals! One was to read 100 books by years’ end, something I’ve been able to do three years running. I also wanted to tackle twelve classic or modern classic works of fantasy, and get closer to completing the full canon of Shakespeare’s plays. (It’s the ex-thespian in me––I had to.)

How are you doing with them? Any you’ve already met?

The 100 goal is going splendidly: as of writing this, I’ve already read 60! The fantasy challenge is about a month behind, and a little more draining than I expected it to be. In hindsight, I’m not real good at reading any particular genre at volume––I get tired of even my favorite things rather quickly. In fact, I’m afraid I might have to abandon that one 😶

The Shakespeare project, though, has been great. I go an act at a time, whenever I have an extra hour in a day to spare, and I’m finally at a place where the plays––and other older texts, Elizabethan-onward––are comfortable for me to read. Watching productions of them before reading has been a big help, and the same goes for treating the plays like rehearsal scripts and reading some of the characters’ dialogue out loud to an empty room. It works, okay?

In summary, none are met. But for at least two, I have hope!

Are there any goals you want to add?

Perhaps! I’ve finally decided on my majors for university in the fall, and they’re both in the realm of science: geology, and geography. As such, I’d love to try and engage with them more through some nonfiction titles. Maybe like one, every other month, for the rest of the year?

Did you set any blogging goals? If so, how are you doing with those?

I’ve been really careful to keep the blogging low-key––I’m already a full-time student with a novel in the works every now and then, and the last thing I need is another strict, self-imposed deadline. So, no blogging goals per se, but I’m delighted to report that I’ve posted at least once a month, every month so far, and averted my previous pattern of loooong school year dry spells. In my book, that counts as keeping the blog alive and I’m really pleased with it.


Thank you all so much for reading! I’d love to hear anything and everything about your reading, your goals, or your year in general in the comments below 💕

My TBR for Jane Austen July ✨

Hello everyone!

So there’s this Jane-Austen-themed reading event floating around 👉👈

Predictably, I couldn’t resist the temptation to make a TBR. For this year’s annual Jane Austen July (Goodreads group here), there are seven strictly optional challenges (five reading, two watching), and I’m going to try to hit them all in one extremely nerdy and ambitious go!

If you’re also participating, be sure to let me know in the comments! And if you need any ideas for the challenges, read on 💕


1. Read one of Jane Austen’s main six novels!

Guess who loves Jane Austen but still hasn’t read Pride and Prejudice 🙄. I’ve watched multiple adaptations, started it twice, and even went to a book club with it unfinished (!!!) but I have yet to actually complete Austen’s most enduring and beloved work. So, this month, instead of me rereading my most adored favorite, Mansfield Park, I’m going to start what seems like the whole world’s favorite, and see if it becomes mine.


2. Read something by Jane Austen that is not one of her six novels!

For this challenge, I’ll be diving into Austen’s epistolary novella Lady Susan (which also happens to be the group read for the second half of July!). Like its positively sparkling film adaptation from 2016, Love and Friendship, it follows a widow who’s looking to pull every string she can to get her and her daughter advantageously married. I love a complicated female lead, and Austen’s trademark irony, obviously, so I think I’ll have fun with this one.


3. Read a non-fiction about Jane Austen or her time!

This is an area in which I’m totally new, so I decided to go with one of the hosts’ recommendations and read What Matters in Jane Austen, a look at Jane Austen’s works by an English professor. With chapters on everything from the use of weather in her novels to how and when she depicts the working class, this book promises to cover a lot of ground and I’m so looking forward to diving in!


4. Read a retelling of a Jane Austen book or a work of historical fiction set in Jane Austen’s time.

Being a historical fantasy, it’s an eccentric choice for this challenge, but Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is set in England during the Napoleonic Wars, so it technically counts! At just over a thousand pages, it’s maybe a bit foolish for a month of challenges, but I’ve wanted to pick it up for ages now, and a girl has to get her fantasy novel in somewhere during a classics readathon!


5. Read a book by a contemporary of Jane Austen!

For this, I’ll be reading Frances Burney’s Camilla, a coming-of-age story set in high society that comes to us from 1796. With Burney said to hold a lot of Austen’s charms, I’m eager to see if I agree––though I’m of course a tad intimidated by the page count 😅. (And by the fact that while I adore the clothes, I find books from the 18th century to be quite daunting.) I have high hopes, but if I truly can’t do it, I’ll just read a play instead: Lovers’ Vows, anyone?


6. Watch an adaptation of one of the books.

Whatever our consensus on that trailer is supposed to be, I WILL be watching the new version of Persuasion on Netflix this month. Besides that, I’m also planning to dip in to a few old favorites: Ang Lee’s marvelous adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, Love and Friendship, the 2020 version of Emma that I’m still totally obsessed with. Needless to say, July will be a very busy month for my Letterboxd.


7. Watch a modern screen adaptation/retelling of a Jane Austen book!

If you haven’t watched the Lizzie Bennet Diaries on YouTube, you should absolutely go do that, but in lieu of a rewatch, I’ve decided to go for Metropolitan, which is a very loose retelling of Mansfield Park set in the New York socialite scene. It’s a more off-the-beaten path choice, but that’s precisely why I’m excited about it: the class dynamics are what I love most about Mansfield Park, and this choice of setting is a great place to re-examine them.


Thank you so much for reading! What are your July reading plans? Austen or no, I’d love to hear anything and everything from you, in the comments 💕

Get To Know The Fantasy Reader – A Tag

Hello and welcome to The Pigeon! Today I humbly bring you this tag 😌

The rules are as follows:

  • Make sure you give credit to the original creators of this tag – this tag was originally the “Get to Know the Romance Reader” tag by Bree Hill, and was adapted for fantasy readers by the book pusher!
  • If you want to, pingback to the post where you first saw this tag! I first saw this from jordyn @ jordyn reads 💕
  • Have fun!

1. What is your fantasy origin story? (The first fantasy you read)

I distinctly remember there being fairy chapter books somewhere in my history, but the book that flipped the fantasy switch for me was The Hobbit. At the time, I was in fifth grade, the first movie was just about to come out, and my parents, who both love Tolkien, had been trying for years to get me to read it. I loved the humor, I loved Middle-Earth, and it became my personality almost instantly. I have no regrets.


2. If you could be the protagonist in a fantasy novel, who would be the author, and what’s one trope you’d insist be in the story?

As much as I love danger on the page, I’d want the comfort of knowing I have a Shannon Hale-certified happy ending to look forward to. Her worlds are comfortingly magical places that never lose their fairy-tale rosiness, where total sincerity always wins. And speaking of total sincerity always winning––I want whatever villain I have to contend with redeemed, dammit! There’s only going to be hope in this house if I have to live in it 😤


3. What is a fantasy series you’ve read this year that you want more people to read?

I always take it upon myself to hawk the classics, and Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle is no exception. The first three books, published in the 60s and 70s, are standouts in classic fantasy, with gorgeous, sweeping worldbuilding, conflicts that don’t play out in battle, and intricate prose that reads like ancient, spoken storytelling. While I don’t necessarily think these books are perfect, I’d love to see more people talking about them. They really challenge the notion that all pre-2010 fantasy marches to the same medieval-European-inspired, war-heavy drum. (Not that that’s always a bad thing––I just want people to be aware that fantasy has variety that goes all the way back to its early decades!)


4. What is your favorite fantasy subgenre?

Seeing as I’m a science major now (eek!), I have to say that I’m so down for science fantasy, in all its forms. Anything that fuses sci-fi––especially sci-fi grounded in a real scientific discipline––with magic has my attention. My standout example of this is the His Dark Materials trilogy, but I also love how it’s done in Darcie Little Badger’s Elatsoe, the recent Netflix series Arcane, and Josephine Angelini’s Trial by Fire.


5. What subgenre have you not read much from?

One thing I hope to get more into is fantasy gothic! I love a regular gothic (of the 19th-century, ghosts-in-country-houses variety) and I’m all for the idea of bringing magic or unique worldbuilding into the mix!


6. Who is one of your auto-buy fantasy authors?

I’ve read and loved two of Erin A. Craig’s entrancing works of fantasy horror, and I’m chomping at the bit for a chance to do so again. I love her atmosphere and suspense-building, and her romantic subplots, be they sweet, sinister, or some combination of both, are such a treat.


7. How do you typically find fantasy recommendations?

I’m always pleased with myself when I’m early enough to catch a publishing deal announcement for a forthcoming release, but for the most part, I:

  • listen to my friends when they yell at me to read things
  • follow book blogs!
  • pluck the occasional title off the shelf at the bookstore or library for a touch of spontaneity 👀

8. What is an upcoming fantasy release you’re excited for?

Just this summer we have The Song That Moves the Sun by Anna Bright, Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen, and The Darkening by Sunya Mara! All three of these concepts have me absolutely frothing at the mouth.


9. What is one misconception about fantasy you would like to lay to rest?

That all fantasy writers can churn out a book a year or more, ad infinitum. Audiences, publishers, and aspiring writers alike are guilty of thinking this, though they’re not all equally guilty of making it the book world’s burnout-inducing norm (ahem, publishing!!!). In YA and middle grade especially, SFF writers are expected to publish constantly in order to stay visible––but literary and prestige writers, and the odd SFF bestseller, are given the room to take what books generally need: time! So many series have been rushed out at a book a year in a mistaken attempt to ‘keep up,’ and besides having a pronounced affect on quality, the workload can really exhaust an author with other responsibilities. If we want speculative writers to have long fruitful careers (and an industry that doesn’t further marginalize them if they don’t happen to come from privilege), we have to consider whether our expectations as readers and consumers are conducive to that, and this situation, um…isn’t.


10. If someone had never read a fantasy before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books that came to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?

Six of Crows, Legendborn, and Daughter of Smoke and Bone, in my opinion, all make wonderful introductions to what fantasy can do. They’re all YA, with pretty approachable prose and an emphasis on pacing. They’re also very different from each other and have unique approaches to magic, with plenty of crossover appeal for people coming from other genres. (Historical, hard-hitting contemporary, and romance, respectively!)


11. Who is the most recent fantasy reading content creator you came across that you’d like to shoutout?

I’ve been loving M.T. Wilson @ The Last Book On The Left’s blog recently! She has a great mix of titles and her reviews are so detailed and thoughtful.


Tagging:


Thank you so much for reading!

What I Read In May 📚

Well, well, well. We meet again! Happy June 💕

With twelve books and a lot of unusual picks for me to share today, this might be one of my favorite wrap-ups yet. (I read three works of nonfiction! Look at me go!) From my neck of the woods to yours, I hope you have a wonderful June––and I hope you get to curl up and enjoy a damn good story this month, whatever form that takes.


40. The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh

As much folk tale as it is fantasy, this sea-swept, delicately magical coming-of-age story is a thrilling prospect for those who enjoy books of the Death-and-the-Maiden variety. It follows Mina, a girl who volunteers to be the bride of the feared Sea God, whose wrath is said to fuel the storms that plague her village. Once Mina sets foot in the Spirit Realm, however, she discovers that the truth is far more complicated––and it’s up to her to set it right. There’s a great deal to love in The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea: there’s an emphasis on soft moments for powerful characters, Oh’s worldbuilding is brimming with ideas, and the book clearly has something to say about the burden of power. But something’s missing from the character dynamics: with some oversimplified, some rushed, and some given heavy importance but almost no room to develop, the book struggles with the ties that matter most, with underwhelming consequences for its conclusion.


41. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

A work of nonfiction by a scientist who’s also a master storyteller is something to be savored: armed with both fact and meaning, these books manage to be as moving as they are indelibly true, and Braiding Sweetgrass is no exception. Blending memoir with ecology; a body of Indigenous knowledge with a practical understanding of our current crisis, Robin Wall Kimmerer hits a remarkable range with her botanical opus. Among my favorites of its many accomplishments are an exploration of lichens, an interrogation of (white; western) science’s tendency towards exclusion, and an achingly tender reflection or two on motherhood and what it means to let go. I don’t just love this book––I want to shove it in every face I can.


42. The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin

In the depths of an ancient temple, a young girl is devoured by a nameless power. A sacrifice made every generation, she is to guard a horde of treasure and a labyrinth, decide the fates of prisoners captured there, and give herself entirely over to the dark. A sequel––though not in the traditional sense––to Ursula K. Le Guin’s sweeping A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan takes this solemn perspective character, Tenar, on a much more deliberate, much more closely-confined emotional journey, with thrilling results. While I was definitely looking for more from the supporting cast and climax, I’m amazed by how well Atuan lands a gratifying catharsis and a rich exercise in worldbuilding in one breathless go.


43. Nimona by ND Stevenson

As part of a long tradition of tongue-in-cheek takes on heroes and villains, Nimona has familiar commentary on heroism: the ‘good guys’ are exclusive, monsters are made by society’s failings, and there’s honor in villainy as a means of resistance. But Stevenson adds to the old tune with two lovely dynamics: 1) the one between Nimona’s lead and the supervillain she plays sidekick to, Lord Ballister Blackheart, and 2) the one between Blackheart and his nemesis, the obnoxious, do-gooder Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. (Not a typo.) Nimona, despite its hodgepodge worldbuilding and wonky pacing, works because it knows how to find what these relationships most need: time. (The cozy, soft platonic moments with Nimona and Ballister actually made my heart sing 🥺) Sometimes a book is about its world, or about its plot, but Nimona is about its trio, with some charming humor playing second fiddle. If you think you’ll love these idiots, this book is for you.


44. Henry IV, Part 2 by William Shakespeare

The somewhat rocky second half to what is effectively the Prince Hal duology, this volume of Shakespearean history holds most of its predecessor’s charms––only slightly less of each of them. It has a less-interesting uprising plot, with a significant and wildly entertaining figurehead having bit it at the end of Part I. It has the same comic relief characters, only with an overhanging dread dampening most of their associated comic relief. While there are some great moments between the title king and his prodigal son, this play just isn’t the multifaceted firecracker Part I is. At its best, it manages to be pretty gripping. At it’s worst, though, it’s practically tedious. (Looking at you, Falstaff and Shallow––especially Shallow.)


45. An Ordinary Age by Rainesford Stauffer

Deep down, if you are (or recently were) what this collection of essays calls an “emerging adult,” you know that we expect too much of you. You’re supposed to land a job that gives you purpose and a good paycheck, in a fashionable city far from home, with the perfect group of friends, the perfect collection of hobbies, and the most enviable Instagram feed. Maybe the most comforting thing An Ordinary Age can offer is the sound assurance that none of this is actually true, but it’s also careful to address both why we’ve come to feel that these are our expectations, and what we can do about it. It’s such a validating read for someone who feel the walls closing in––I particularly appreciated Stauffer’s commentary about perfectionism in young people as a response to a tightening gyre of a job market. As I somewhat tersely put it in a Goodreads review earlier this month, every 16-19 year old needs to read this book and then calm the hell down 😂


46. The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin

The third volume in Le Guin’s classic fantasy series The Earthsea Cycle (following A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan), this book combines the scope of book one and the darkness of book two for a slow, searching adventure that hits an entirely new stride. We follow a third new lead, the ambitious Prince Arren, as he and a certain Archmage hunt down the source of a far-reaching magical decay. Of all three original Earthsea books, this one probably has the most salient commentary: tackling the warped desire for power and immortality, Le Guin makes a compassionate case for resisting both that has broad applicability, in her time of writing and ours. But The Farthest Shore still stuffers from what’s becoming a curse for the Earthsea books: a resolution that comes way too easily––this one even some excellent dragons can’t save.


47. Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak by Charlie Jane Anders

If you’re in search of a joyously weird space opera to tide you over until the next series of Doctor Who, look no further than Charlie Jane Anders’ Unstoppable series, where coders become queens and artists become conduits for the ruins of an ancient galactic empire. The trilogy’s book two, Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak, follows two perspective characters from book one, Victories Greater Than Death, and, in my opinion, beats the latter on almost all of its strengths. The ensemble cast finally comes into its own, and the sparkling concepts in Anders’ worldbuilding finally get to shine. Plus, two incredibly resonant areas of commentary––creativity after trauma and the oversaturation of information in the digital age––give the book some excellent themes to chew on. Action scenes remain a little fuzzy (and Anders still introduces way too many new characters for her own good!), but this second book is well worth crossing the shaky ground of the first.


48. Henry V by William Shakespeare

Even with another five still ahead of me in chronological order, I’m going to have to call it now: this will probably be my least favorite of Shakespeare’s history plays. It traces Henry V’s part in the Hundred Years’ War, dramatizing his invasion of France from Harfleur to the Battle of Agincourt, and ending with the ensuing peace treaty. If all of this sounds like dull military history, it’s because it, kind of, um…is? Henry V, as a play, is woefully poor in the court intrigue that makes the other histories so much fun, and, because its focus is almost solely on war, it presents the most simplistic interpretation of its title character in what I’ve read of the canon. To sum it up: Henry is violent, valiant, and seldom criticized, and even Shakespeare’s word– and scenecraft can’t save his play.


49. Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Rowan Roth has been locked in an academic standoff with the pretentious, detestably clever Neil McNair for the better part of her academic career. When her last chance to beat him arrives in the form of a senior class scavenger hunt, she’s determined to take him down––but Today Tonight Tomorrow is a romcom, and Rachel Lynn Solomon’s (deliciously witty, gloriously rose-tinted) universe has other plans. Set over one whirlwind of a night, the book sometimes struggles to reach the full depths of its characters’ feelings, but it also happens to read like magic. Solomon’s voicy prose, charming use of setting, and singular talent for choosing quirks makes Today Tonight Tomorrow read like the most wondrous of teen comedy films in book form.


50. Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer

This year, my annual craving for a writing craft book led me to Wonderbook, a manual for speculative fiction in particular that offers an encyclopedic look at the whole process, from tapping into your imagination before you begin, to revising and workshopping your finished story. Of the writing books I’ve read, this one is probably the friendliest to experimental forms: VanderMeer tailors his advice to fit the ultra-weird, in narrative structure, setting, and prose alike. The book also draws on a breadth of references: the expertise of other writers as guest essayists, the examples of various gems of genre fiction, a not-insignificant amount of homework in the form of other craft books (!). Some of it is so out-there that it becomes unwieldy as advice, but the book as a whole is impressively thorough and delightfully ambitious. I can’t wait to give it another read (and actually do the exercises this time!).


51. An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde

First performed in 1895, this whip-smart comedy of manners follows a politician whose past comes to haunt his since-upstanding public record––and his marriage. The play’s dialogue and characters are perfectly witty and charming, in the way that Wilde on stage is always witty and charming, but An Ideal Husband, like its spiritual sister A Woman of No Importance, also has something vital to say about how we fail one another. In this case, Wilde takes remarkably compassionate aim at the way we put impossible expectations on our loved ones, and what a disservice in doing so we do to ourselves. The play is no The Importance of Being Earnest where humor is concerned, but its vibrant main cast very nearly makes up for it.


Thank you so much for reading! How was your May in books? I’d love to hear anything and everything about what you read in the comments below 💕

What I Read in April 💕

Hello and welcome to the blog! Thanks for sticking around through my break––school, as it tends to do, ramped way up just as I was finishing it! But, with my two-year associates degree (in science, of all things) behind me, I have a number of delightful reads from last month to share with you. Let’s dive in!


31. The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

This last volume of Philip Pullman’s moving, expansive, magically scientific (and scientifically magical) His Dark Materials trilogy might be the best of all three books. I was wary about Pullman wandering into his universe’s pantheon in book two, but I ought not have been––The Amber Spyglass goes mind-bogglingly big in scale with its conflict and theme, but it handles it well, keeping the multiverse stuff to the deeply personal conflicts between characters His Dark Materials does best. In the least spoilery terms: Spyglass takes us into an intricate new universe whose mysteries can be untangled only through science, across a warped angelic empire, and into the afterlife and back, and every step of the journey feels utterly purposeful. I can’t wait to take it again when I watch the show. (Also, for those of you who’ve read it: Mary’s subplot is good. Fight me!)


32. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams

Set on a Mississippi estate, 1955’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof follows the disillusioned children (and children-in-law) of a dying cotton magnate as they vie for the inheritance. I actually read this play a few years ago for a book club and hated it, but now, I can see some of its merits, even if they don’t totally illuminate it in a positive light. I can appreciate, for example, how Tennessee Williams tackles mortality and materialism and internalized homophobia…while also holding my reservations about how little he does to undermine the racism he depicts on the page. I’m glad I re-read it, especially in an academic setting (with my English class!), but as for enjoying it? That’s a different story.


33. Control by Lydia Kang

Control’s world is a lovely 2013 YA sci-fi number with all the bells and whistles: a semi-gritty futuristic setting where high-tech meets a corporate criminal underbelly, plenty of lab work, and a superpowered found family. If you live for that stuff, Control will be a familiar treat, but it has a secret boon for all those who seek heavy science in their sci-fi: Kang, a practicing physician, uses the gory details to her advantage. (Control, as a title, refers actually to the feature of experimental design 🥰.) In the plot department, though, Control struggles. The climax and conclusion are messy and keep the book from landing on its feet––ditto for the faceless antagonists and various interchangeable henchmen who appear only for the big fight at the end. Kang certainly does her best to tap into her story’s thrills, but the sleek face of evil in Control only has so much menace.


34. Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare

Set after the overthrow of King Richard II, this play kicks off a duology ostensibly about his replacement, Henry IV…but actually about the young ne’er-do-well prince, Hal. Where some of Shakespeare’s other history plays are more consistently somber, Henry IV, Part 1 is a crowd-pleasing balancing act between the heavy drama of (yet another!) uprising and the raucous comedy of Prince Hal’s drunken exploits. Your mileage with the comedy may very, but if it happens to work for you, it’s a warm anchor to a delicious overplot of courtly intrigue. If, like I did on my first go-round, you find yourself getting impatient with the play’s long-winded comic relief character, Falstaff, get your hands on a taped (or real-life!) production: this humor, especially, is best absorbed in performance.


35. The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Following the events of Maggie Stiefvater’s paranormal fantasy, The Raven Boys, Gansey, a young scholar obsessed, is still on the hunt for the legendary Welsh king Glendower. Blue Sargent is still sitting on a prophecy that bodes a kiss that will kill her true love. And Ronan Lynch has just started using a deadly magic to pull things out of his dreams. In line with the series’ first installment, Stiefvater again sets up a careful use of foils for a potent character study––this time of Ronan––but owing to a fumbling of tone with an important supporting character, this one doesn’t cut nearly as deep as its predecessor. But among The Dream Thieves’ familiar charms are haunting visuals, witty and self-aware prose, and a mythic focus, all of which manage to give this volume a lot of what made The Raven Boys so special to begin with.


36. Exo by Fonda Lee

Fonda Lee’s YA take on extraterrestrial occupation is as thoughtful as it is bracing. Exo is set a century after Earth becomes a colony of the hyper-hierarchical zhree, and it follows a young loyalist security officer, Donovan, as he discovers his buried ties to the human rebellion. Lee’s stark, cinematic prose style makes Exo read like a high-caliber summer blockbuster, but this book has its thrilling cake and eats it, too. Lee looks at everything from the class disparity under occupation to the human cost of violent resistance, and Exo emerges from the scrutiny with more questions than answers, rich in nuance and all the better for it. The ensemble, however, is too numerous for Exo’s available page time, and much of it languishes in character soup. Two major family dynamics for Donovan carry a lot of weight, but both feel shirked by a few important beats.


37. Small Favors by Erin A. Craig

Small Favors is fantasy-horror scribe Erin A. Craig’s sophomore work, following the sea-drenched, wind-swept gothic vibes of House of Salt and Sorrows (reviewed here) with a rustic, something-in-the-woods approach to her signature chills. With more darkness coming from our main characters’ neighbors than from any sinister magic, and a much less romantic frontier setting, Small Favors is a very different book, but I found myself engrossed in it even more. Craig uses her setting to make extremely salient commentary on how hardship makes people turn on one another, and the darker undertones to her choice of love story serve to deepen it and make it more memorable. The monster reveal, too, is always a delicate dance in a work of horror, but whatever terror her concept loses in coming into the light is more than made up for in resonance.


38. How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

First thing’s first: Matt Haig’s cheesy as hell. But here, it works to his advantage. How to Stop Time stars the functionally immortal Tom Hazard, who’s found himself detached from humanity after centuries of loss and secrecy…until he meets the person who will prove to be the second love of his life. Weaving through history, the book probably has its most fun in flashbacks: Elizabethan England, Jazz-Age Paris, Gilded-Age New York. Where Haig runs into trouble is when he tries to bring a secret society and its accompanying life-and-death stakes to a book he’s committed to steering away from darker territory: every time a gun is pulled in How to Stop Time, it’s a moment of overpowering whiplash. Still, the book’s sincerity lands what it most needs to say––that we can’t shy away from pain, that there’s always more to learn and live for––and does so beautifully.


39. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

Published in 1968, A Wizard of Earthsea opens Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle, tracing the many voyages of a young sorcerer as he grows into his power. Le Guin’s worldbuilding, first of all, is top-tier: Earthsea comes alive in a totally different way every time we dock at one of its distinctive islands. Filled with tradition, illuminated by a magic system that strikes the perfect balance between order and mystery, and making liberal use of the natural world and its power, this book’s settings are among fantasy’s best. But the execution in this first book, as much as I can appreciate its ideas, is mixed. Its episodic structure makes it difficult for the story to achieve unity, with the lead, Ged’s, character arc feeling more like a set of ideas than a manifest progression of personal change. The prose, though, makes it feel like a gift anyway.


Thank you so much for reading! How was your April in books? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below 💕

Top Ten Tuesday: Books With Birds on the Cover

Hello and Happy TTT! Now, my blog theme being what it is, I couldn’t not pick birds for this particular freebie, and I hope you find many marvelous tales from among this flock to enjoy. (And if you did birds too, we have to be friends now. No exceptions.)


1. A Thousand Steps Into Night by Traci Chee

Starting us off is this delightful Japanese-influenced fantasy from Traci Chee, complete with wildly inventive worldbuilding, actual footnotes, and absolute shenanigans. The bird in question on this cover is the helpful but slightly mischievous magpie spirit Geiki, who accompanies the main character, Miuko, on a quest to undo her demonic curse. This book is fun all around, but Geiki and his antics often steal the show. (Reviewed here.)


2. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

As we’ll soon discover, YA fantasy is very fond of corvids. The Raven Boys is the first of a contemporary fantasy quartet starring the non-psychic daughter of a very psychic family, and a prep school boy’s relentless search for a legendary dead king. The Raven Boys’ title is actually referring to the aforementioned prep school’s uniform crest, but fear not! I’m two books in and I can guarantee at least one actual raven so far. (Her name is Chainsaw and I would die for her.) (Reviewed here.)


3. Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

Following Strange the Dreamer in a stunning fantasy duology about dream magic, an ancient library, and a fabled lost city, Muse of Nightmares is some of the most ambitious fantasy I’ve ever read. Having finished it months ago, the specific relevance of the hawk on the cover escapes me, but, barring my lapse of memory, I cannot recommend these books to fantasy fans enough. If you have a taste for stunning visuals, rich worldbuilding informed by an imaginative past, or gossamer-fine prose, the Strange the Dreamer duology is likely to prove two new favorites.


4. The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan

In Emily X. R. Pan’s dreamlike debut novel, Leigh, a young artist who just lost her mother to suicide, awakens to an impossible truth: her mom has transformed into a bird. In the pages of this fabulist novel, we see contemporary life with a touch of the paranormal, as red crane feathers and ghosts punctuate a steady, heartfelt portrait of grief, with what’s “real” and not ultimately left up to the reader. The marvelous details, along with a gorgeous emphasis on visual art, make this an excellent pick for fantasy and contemporary fans alike.


5. The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen

This work of YA fantasy takes the bird symbolism up a notch: in the land of Sabor, the social castes bear avian names and their associated magics. The royalty are called phoenixes, the gentry swans and other classically ‘noble’ birds, and crows, a persecuted caste of mercy-killers tasked with containing a perpetual plague, are at the very bottom. As you might expect, The Merciful Crow and its sequel, The Faithless Hawk, have an absolute field day with motifs, but they’re also distinctively thoughtful deconstructions of class hierarchies, and, every now and then, laugh-out-loud funny, too.


6. Spinning Starlight by R. C. Lewis

Speaking of swans, this sci-fi retelling of the fairy tale “The Wild Swans” bears a swan of circuitry on its cover in homage to its source material. It’s set in a futuristic solar system where portal travel puts all the planets at everyone’s fingertips…and conceals a deadly secret. Our lead, the tech heiress (and tech-challenged) Liddi Jantzen, has to rescue her brothers from certain death in the void between these very portals, unravel a conspiracy in her family company, and, in keeping with the original tale, can’t use her voice to do either. The book has some misses, but if you love a sci-fi fairy tale in step with The Lunar Chronicles, this one is worth a sojourn into the backlist. (Reviewed here.)


7. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Without a spot for the Mockingjay, this list would be woefully incomplete. Set in a post-disaster North America by the name of Panem, The Hunger Games follows a working-class girl who finds herself in a tournament held by the government every year, in which kids are forced to fight each other to death until only one victor remains. The Mockingjay, a relic of genetically-engineered warfare, becomes a heavy symbol of resistance later in the series, and, due at least in part to the covers, it absolutely plastered pop culture when this series’ popularity was in its heyday.


8. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

A magical heist full of clever schemes, marvelously-executed twists, and a cast of rogues you can’t help but adore, Six of Crows has also made its cover bird very popular. Bardugo uses the crow as a symbol to moving effect––drawing out the contradictions in her lovably ruthless characters as holders of deep grudges and even deeper loyalties. And, not to join the chorus or anything––but you’re going to love this book and you simply have to read it.


9. Hilda and the Bird Parade by Luke Pearson

The Hilda series of graphic novels was recently adapted into a lovely Netflix series, but the books are more than set for a charm of their own. This third volume follows Hilda in an excursion through the city of Trolberg, set against an annual night parade in tribute to a legendary raven. Like the other volumes, it’s full of whimsy and catnip to anyone who loves folktale in their fantasy.


10. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Hobbit has been published in plenty of editions whose covers have not even a whisper of a bird, but my copy has eagles in the sky of its panorama, so I’m counting it. Eagles play a brief surprise-rescue role in one of the early chapters and are only tangentially related to the chase-out-the-dragon main plot, but I’m always happy to see a bird of prey gracing the pages of a fantasy adventure, and I can’t wait to see where I’ll meet them next.


Thank you so much for reading! As always, I’d love to hear any and all of your thoughts in the comments––any I missed?

The Pigeon’s Guide to Reading and Enjoying Shakespeare

Hello and welcome to the blog! If you’ve been around here awhile, you’ll know that I love the works of William Shakespeare: watching them, reading them, and occasionally even performing in them. But they’re not always the most accessible for new readers. Language has changed a lot since they were written, much of their context no longer exists, and even with some schooling behind you, these plays can be demanding reading.

So, today, whether you’re picking up Henry IV because you miss your English class, using Macbeth to fill the If We Were Villains-sized hole in your heart, or trying your hand at Much Ado About Nothing because you’ve heard Beatrice and Benedick are the original idiots-to-lovers (it’s true; they’re legends), I hope I can help you find some joy in my favorite plays of all time. My amateur advice is as follows:


1. Get Some Background

If you were studying your play of choice in a literature class, your professor would give you the low-down: here’s the basic premise, here’s who the characters are, here are some lines from the play, here are a few important scenes. So do the same for yourself! Read the introduction included in your edition if it’s there, watch videos about the play, or otherwise know your characters and your places apart so that Act I, Scene 1 doesn’t throw you into the deep end. There is also no shame in taking notes, which I am known to do! Whatever helps you get what’s happening and when is worth a little extra time.

If you’re looking for some resources, my favorites include:


2. Watch It First!

When it comes to enjoyment, I find Shakespeare is the reverse of most books: always go straight for the movie. (Or, if you’re lucky and have some actual stage productions nearby: go see them, go see them, go see them, go see them!) There are so often depths to these plays that only directors and actors can really convey. For the darker tragedy and history plays, these are the speeches, the fights, the death scenes. For the comedies (my favorites!), this is the physicality and comedic timing that will have you doubling over in your seat if you see them live. Also, if you watch the plays first, you get some faces and voices to put to the character names, which will help you out if you like to visualize scenes while you’re reading. All the plays have at least one version that’s been taped and put on YouTube, but you can also try:


3. Act It Out!

Curling up with a paperback is a lovely way to spend an evening, but I find Shakespeare to reward a reading experience that’s a little more boisterous: there’s nothing like staging a one-man production of King John in your kitchen. If you can get up on your feet and pretend you’re playing one of the characters on stage, I highly recommend it! If you’re only comfortable with whispering the lines to yourself, that’s equally as good. Plays, whether they’re Shakespeare, Hansberry, Gunderson, or Wilde, are meant to be staged, and because of that leave a great deal of interpretation up to you as you read them. This can be as limiting as it is liberating. The difference between the two often lies in how much like an actor you’re willing to think––solo production in your kitchen or no.


4. One Line At A Time

I got this trick from Thinking Shakespeare by Barry Edelstein, a book about how to confront the Bard as an actor. All you need is a bookmark or index card, and whatever text you’re reading. Whatever line you’re on, cover up everything immediately below it, and only move the paper down once you’ve read and more-or-less understood it. Rinse and repeat many hundred times.

By going one line at a time, you force yourself to concentrate on the piece of the task in front of you, instead of seeing the block of text still ahead. It’s a great way to avoid getting overwhelmed, but it also helps you use the line breaks as natural stopping points in a character’s thought process. Take this bit from a soliloquy in Richard II, where the now-deposed king is reflecting on his rule from prison:

Thus play I in one person many people,

[Line break; he thinks about it for a second, spurring on the next line.]

And none contented […]

Act V, Scene 5

Instead of hitting you all at once, these thoughts build upon each other in manageable pieces, and they’re much easier to enjoy one line at a time.


5. You Know More Than You Think

If you like books––scratch that, if you like stories, period––you know Shakespeare. A litany of his plots have been repurposed in books and movies you know like the back of your hand, and you’ve heard the writing quoted hundreds of times, maybe without even registering some of them. Even if you’ve never read or watched one of the plays, their subject matter (life, power, friendship, responsibility, love, mortality!) can speak to you. As unapproachable as the Bard may seem, his plays, along with everything in the storytelling tradition, no matter how distant, belong to all of us. If you want to read the plays, you are absolutely “smart” enough to read the plays.

Never, ever let anyone tell you they’re beyond you.


Thank you so much for reading! As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, and––if you want to start reading the plays but don’t know where to go first, I made a quiz that will give you a personal recommendation of one of my favorites 💚 Happy reading!