Alphabetical and hauntological

The ghosts of books unread

I’ve got a new phone, which means my downloaded Kindle books have gone away, wiping years of digital debris. It is shockingly freely. I do most of my reading on my phone (Jared, circa 2015 is clutching his pearls hard), and the problem is, the digital TBR follows you everywhere. The physical TBR? I can live with that. We live in an anti-library, that’s part of our home’s chaotic charm.

But opening up the Kindle and finding pages upon pages of downloaded-in-good-faith books and really-interesting-sounding reports? That was strangely stressful. As a pile of paper: cute. On a screen? Felt like a to-do list. Having a blank slate was, if totally accidental, rather empowering. I’ve earned a clean start, with no unread books to make me guilty.

I have, of course, set to recluttering it.

But this time, I’m choosing the ghosts that haunt me. According to Amazon, everyone’s favourite vertical monopoly, I have a whopping 3,000 books in my Kindle library. I’ve gone for the ‘sort alphabetically by title’ option. This randomises across authors, genres, purchase dates - even series. And, from that as the starting point, I’ve begun discovering and rediscovering old friends and impulse purchases.

As a reading challenge, this is pretty light-touch, but it feels like a good quasi-resolution heading into 2024. It is a form of ‘digital detox’, which is always nice. And it also saves money, which is nicer. Finally, it sends me on day trips down memory lane. Not only revisiting old books, but also the moments in which I bought them, and the rabbit holes I was crawling down at the time.

So, on that note, what I’ve been reading (offline):

  • Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour (2010) by Morgan Matson - A re-re-read of a fluffy YA book in the ‘pretty girl problems’ category. That’s a little dismissive of Amy (she’s dealing with legitimate grief and possible PTSD), but this is solidly in the Gilmore-like genre of books about pretty, upper-middle-class girls who have safe rebellions with floppy-haired dudes in which they run into lots of quirky people and find themselves. Ultimately, it is a cross-country road trip by a 17 year old girl that somehow contains zero sense of peril, and that is a lovely, Hallmarkian view of the world and also escapist af. Recommend. (This is my third time through this book, and it is definitely a comfort read.)

  • An Affair Before Christmas (2007) by Eloisa James - James is the reason I’m a romance reader. Her Desperate Duchesses series, of which this is a mid-series volume, was my first romance and I adored it. Coming back to the series is understandably shrouded in sentiment, but, honestly: I was damn lucky. James’ writing is very funny and very clever, and in the Desperate Duchesses series she’s created an intricate web of plots and characters that can stand proud alongside the best of historical fiction or epic fantasy. It was, in short, exactly the right series to sell me on romance. That said, An Affair Before Christmas is one of the weaker entries. The ‘B Plots’, which are progressing the series narrative, are by far the most interesting parts. The central romance - between a husband and a wife who really love one another but are being a bit thick about it - is very slight. (The great ‘reveal’ that solves everything involves hair powder, and, even this, the third time around, I rolled my eyes so hard that it probably caused snarls in the fabric of space-time.) So, yes, definitely read this series, and this book as part of it - but this is not the strongest entry therein.

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King | Goodreads
  • Ask the Passengers (2012) by A.S. King - A young woman is coming to grips with her sexuality. Her small town is predictably cruel, but so is the pressure put her on by her friends, her girlfriend, and her family. Very much an ode to the full sentiment of ‘it gets better’: a sensitive recognition of all the ways things can be bad, building to the epiphanic moment that now is not forever. Highly recommend. (I first read this one ten years ago, when ‘issues YA’ was all the rage.)

What I’m reading, online:

  • Gig workers strike back! How Brazil’s delivery workers unofficially organise to retaliate against rude customers.

  • “As we saw with the rise of “alt-tech” platforms a few years ago (Gab, Parler, Rumble, Hatreon, etc.), some AI developers preach an ideology of freedom from rules, directly or indirectly setting their platforms up for use by extremists.” - on the dangers of generative AI and extremism

  • Why is Ohtani such a big deal? There’s a strange Venn Diagram out there, of people riveted by the Goodreads drama and people captivated by the Ohtani contract drama. This is a little conversational aid if you’re in the first category, but not the latter.

  • The Millennial Pause vs the Gen Z Shake

  • “The way to keep Substack effectively internet-Nazi free is to make it clear that, even if the company might not catch them launching a sad angry white nationalist newsletter, the newsletter will surely be vaporized at the first sign of success.” - on Substack’s Nazi problem

Me, with opinions about other people’s stuff:

  • The Big Book of Science Fiction reread is now over. I join my reading partner (and the brains of the operation) in my final thoughts: “The VanderMeers have left me thinking that the field is bigger, more inclusive (on every dimension), weirder and more surprising than I expected.”

  • Four picks for the annual Tor.com Reviewers’ Choice - deliberately trying to shill some of the lesser-known books I enjoyed this year: “A sassy, bonkers book with surprising depth, and shows that a great writer can write about, well, anything.”

  • My Game of the Year pick for the Video Games Industry Memo: “You can aimlessly spaff out a few matches while your pasta boils.”

Other people, with opinions about my stuff:

  • And a very in-depth review, courtesy of the esteemed Paul Kincaid for Locus, finding the book to be an: ‘all-embracing account of cyberpunk [that] begins long before the subgenre was born, and carries on long after it had, by some accounts, died.’

  • Liam and Tim are boldly reading and chatting through the entire book. I’m so impressed. Here are the videos on the ‘Self’ and ‘Society’ sections.

This week’s question. Do you greet magpies? (I do.)

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