In years past, Kait and I have both counted down our favorite books read in end-of-year wrap-up podcast episodes. Since 2020 was a different kind of year, our end of year podcast episode was a little different this year too. But I still read a lot of great books and wanted to take the opportunity to pick my own Top Ten. As in other years on the podcast, I’m counting books I read this year, even if they weren’t published in 2020. I’m also not attempting to make a balanced list or account for some kind of “objective” quality–these were the best books for me, based on my own finnicky internal tastes.
* Worst Bestsellersis a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.
(But no pressure, we’re also happy if you get these items from your local library or independent bookstore.)
We know that our podcast and our general online presence is usually a pleasant distraction for you all, and we are usually happy and grateful to fulfill that role in the content economy. We believe that people who are concerned, caring citizens still need to take breaks from the news from time to time; we need doses of lightness and fun from time to time to preserve our mental wellbeing.
We also know that it’s been a little absurd seeing every corporation on the planet suddenly come out with statements about how Black Lives Matter. We’re not a corporation, we’re just three women (and a cat), but we do just want to dust off our mostly-abandoned blog to speak up and make sure that whatever platform we have is being used to clearly say: Black Lives Matter.
The last four years have been hard on us personally. They’ve been hard on Black people, on queer people, on trans people, on disabled people, on pretty much everyone except for a handful of rich white straight cis people. But god, the last few weeks have been fucking brutal, right? We’re sending extra love and support to our Black listeners.
We are exhausted and angry and sad and hurting, and we have been donating and marching and speaking out and contacting our representatives, and it’s not enough but it’s what we can do. We are mourning George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and David McAtee and all of the other Black lives lost to police brutality and white supremacy.
You’ve probably noticed that for the podcast, we almost exclusively read books by white authors. That’s intentional for a lot of reasons–mostly we are trying to read books that seem to have been over-hyped so that we can talk about them in a funny way. Books that are, well, worst. And due to racism at every level of the publishing process, books by Black authors (and other authors of marginalized identities) very rarely end up being over-hyped. If a Black author gets a book published and on the bestseller list in the face of all that racism, it’s generally because that book was fucking great, which is awesome to read but like…not that great for a comedy podcast? (Exception: the always-exceptional Tyra Banks.)
Basically, we’re trying to “punch up” when we pick our books to read specifically for the podcast, which generally means reading books by white people. (And by straight people, abled people, and so on…) (Except when we pick our occasional Best Bestsellers, like A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole.)
But we do try to read widely in our non-podcast reading time, and we always make an effort to make sure that our “readers advisory” sections of the podcast include books by authors of color (as well as LGBTQ/disabled/etc authors). Unfortch, we often get pressed for time by the time we get to “readers advisory” on the actual podcast so we don’t always say those books out loud on the podcast? But they’re always up on our website, and going forward we’re going to try harder to make sure we always say them on the podcast, because, uh, more people listen to the podcast than look at the website. But from the beginning of the podcast, one of our goals has always been to promote diverse books, even if we haven’t always been successful in the execution of that goal.
Hi, it’s me, your podcast friend Renata! I love musicals but don’t know anything about music. Having recently read Andrew Lloyd Webber’s memoir Unmasked for Worst Bestsellers, I thought I’d take this opportunity to highlight some of my personal favorite works of ALW’s! Disclaimer: I literally just told you I don’t know anything about music.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
My overview: The very first ALW & Tim Rice collabo! Shockingly good considering it was written by babies. A favorite of schools & community theater groups because there are so many brothers to cast. There are much worse shows to be forced to watch children perform.
Jacob and Sons
Here’s why Jacob and Sons/Coat of Many Colors rules: this musical starts off with a regular overture and then “Any Dream Will Do,” a perfectly good but kind of standard ballad. And then suddenly everyone is just yelling a list of Biblical names and colors at you. It’s overwhelming and it rewires your whole brain to passively accept everything that follows.
This video is from the 1999 direct-to-VHS movie starring Donny Osmond. Please admire appreciate the advancements we’ve made in greenscreen and wig technologies since then.
Next time you take a selfie and aren’t sure how to capture it, consider: “I look handsome, I look smart, I am a walking work of art.”
Just a pro-tip: if your pet has a 2 syllable name this is a great song to sing to them, eg “Go go go Duarte! Sha la la Duarte, you’re doing fine!”
Once Kait and I participated in a Broadway trivia night at Trident Booksellers, and I was very disappointed that we missed a question about the colors in Joseph’s coat. But I just watched the special features on the DVD of this and the producer went around asking everyone to list all the colors, and Tim Rice himself fucked it up so I feel better. There are…so many colors in that coat.
My overview: This musical is incredibly good, and weirdly seems to be equally beloved whether or not you are a Christian. It has something for everyone. I did not realize this for the longest time and avoided checking it out because I assumed it was some kind of religious propaganda but it’s really not.
OK first of all if you haven’t watched the whole NBC Live version of this, I would so encourage you to watch the whole thing. Honestly, it’s so good.
“Heaven on their Minds”
The first time I really encountered JCS was actually seeing the Broadway revival in 2012, essentially on a whim (nudged by my friends Stacey and Leanna). This is the FIRST SONG of the show and as soon as it started I was like oh fuck this is so good, I can’t believe I didn’t know this is what Jesus Christ Superstar was!?
Here’s the version from the NBC live. It’s great. Hum it to yourself next time you order some fine ointments from Sephora.
I love it in this song when Jesus hulks out and smashes up the tables, and the first time I watched the NBC live version I was concerned that the minimal staging would not allow much hulking out. But then the stagehand came out with the bucket of glitter and I was reassured that I was in good hands.
“I Don’t Know How To Love Him”
I just want you to know that there’s a filmed version of an arena tour of JCS that stars Tim Minchin as Judas and Melanie C (AKA SPORTY SPICE) as Mary, and Jesus was cast on a reality competition show. “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” is not actually one of my favorite songs from JCS but I wanted to have a Spice Girl in this post.
If you know one song from JCS it’s probably the titular Superstar. Here’s the cast of the 2012 revival at the Tony Awards. When I saw this production, Judas came out over the audience on a platform and he was like, right above my head in that sparkly blue suit and I have still not recovered from the experience. (The bummer of the 2012 revival was that it was imported from Canada and had an extremely white cast, but they did their best. THAT BLUE SUIT THO!)
Tim Rice Lyrical Genius Highlights:
“Like his father carving wood, he’d have made good/Tables, chairs, and oaken chests would have suited Jesus best”
“One thing I’ll say for him: Jesus is cool”
I’m obsessed with when Jesus and Judas fight and Jesus says “You liar! You Judas!” and Judas says “Christ! You deserve it!”
On the special features of the 1973 JCS movie, there’s an interview with Tim Rice where he says that in the 1970s “superstar” was a new word and it was bold of them to put it in the title because the word “superstar” might have fallen out of fashion. But it didn’t, good job Sir Tim. (I tried to find this clip on YouTube but I couldn’t so just take my word for it. Or watch the special features on the DVD of the 1973 Jesus Christ Superstar movie.)
Cast Recording Recommendation: At this very moment I have four different versions of JCS downloaded to my phone. The 2018 NBC Live recording is probably a good once to start with, but there are multiples available on Spotify if you want to check them out and find your personal fave.
My overview: Evita gets a lot of shit, some of which is valid. A lot of it is about how “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” is overwrought (and slightly nonsensical) and that is true actually but there are like 20 other great songs in this show. A lot of it is about how the real Eva Peron was a Bad Person Actually and like…yeah, dude, she’s a bad person in the show too. But that’s a feature, not a bug. This is a messy show about a messy woman who absolutely did horrible things, but also was working within the context of her society. She saw so clearly what her path to power and importance was and went hard for it. And then she died of cancer when she was 33, bye.
The other thing about Evita is that a lot of people hate on the movie, which stars Madonna as Evita and Antonio Banderas as Che. (SIDE NOTE: the character of Che is meant to be kind of an everyman narrator figure and not like, literally Che Guevara? Che like…doesn’t actually seem exist or directly interact with anyone in most of the scenes.) I’m here to tell you though: that movie is fucking good and Madonna is good and Antonio Banderas is good. (Also yes I hear you, it’s not great for Evita to be played by a non-Hispanic white person but just purely on a musical level…my hot take is that Madonna is good.)
“Eva and Magaldi/Beware of the City”
This is such a killer “I Want” song and so perfectly sets up Eva as a savvy operator even as a teen girl. She’s fucking her way to the top and sure, that’s maybe not ideal, but if this middle-aged tango singer is willing to fuck a 15-year-old girl then he’s gross and deserves to give Eva a ride to Buenos Aires. If you want to go fucking deep into this I recommend Seth Rudetsky’s deconstruction. As I have said before, I do not actually know anything about music but Seth does and he will break that shit down for you. I also feel like this song is criminally underrated and I’m extremely validated by everything Seth points out about it!!!!
BTW I met Seth Rudetsky once #brag
Speaking of “Buenos Aires,” Here’s Patti LuPone singing it at the 1981 Tony Awards. This look she’s serving is…extremely 1981 Tony Awards, I guess.
“Peron’s Latest Flame”
I just love a song where the entire army yells “SLUT!” in unison.
“Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”
I said it before, I’ll say it again: this is one of my least favorite songs from this show. Still: here’s Patti LuPone singing it at the 2018 Grammy Awards, which healed her feud with ALW. (The only good video I could find of this also includes Ben Platt singing “Somewhere” from West Side Story, which is also good TBH, but if you want to skip to “Argentina” it starts around 3:30.)
I will say that in reading Unmasked I was particularly validated to see ALW say that he and Tim Rice were aware that the lyrics don’t quite make sense but they basically couldn’t think of anything better/figured everyone would be too overwhelmed with emotions to care.
This is maybe my favorite song from Evita. Also, a big part of the reason why the 1996 Evita movie set the world record for most costume changes in a movie. (I refuse to google if anything has broken that record since then, I won’t acknowledge it.)
“You Must Love Me”
This song was written specially for the Evita movie, which gives Evita even more songs to sing. (In the movie she also steals “Another Suitcase” from Peron’s mistress–which honestly I don’t mind, I think it also makes sense for Eva to sing that sentiment. It’s just that in the stage musical Evita is already a super difficult role to perform. Madonna didn’t have to make this movie 8 times a week so let her sing as much as she wants.)
Anywho, it’s not my fave song from the movie but Lana Del Rey covered it for ALW’s birthday celebration, and I do love Lana. I do.
“And the Money Kept Rolling In”
OK so I saw the 2012 Broadway revival of Evita, which starred Ricky Martin as Che and Elena Roger as Eva. When I heard about the casting, I was initially like “ugh, okay, I guess Ricky Martin will be fine” and “it’s great that they cast an Argentinean actress as Eva!” Um, but then I saw it, and, um, actually…Ricky Martin was pretty good and Elena was……not…..my favorite?? And again, I do super understand that Eva is a really difficult role but I just did not like her voice, or…I just didn’t care for her performance like, at all. SORRY. Anyway, for that year’s Tony awards they performed “And the Money Kept Rolling In” which is a great Che song where Eva has like 1 line and basically stands on a pedestal looking shady.
Tim Rice Lyrical Genius Highlights:
“Mourning all day and mourning all night”
“I want to be a part of B.A., Buenos Aires, Big Apple”
“I come from the people, they have to adore me, so Christian Dior me”
“Great distress/in the tidiest offiicers’ mess”
Also I just want to point out that Eva Peron’s maiden name was DUARTE
Cast Recording Recommendation: This is a controversial take but the majority of the time when I seek out Evita to listen to, I go for the 1996 movie soundtrack. SORRY PATTI. SORRY ELAINE. NOT SORRY ELENA.
My overview: Cats was the first musical I ever saw live and I think that’s true for a lot of people. (Obviously Duarte loves it too.) This isn’t a show that I often think about or listen to, but after reading Unmasked I went back and listened to the cast recording again and I have to say…a lot of these songs are jams. I also think that in this day and age, when SpongeBob SquarePants the musical just got a billion Tony nominees, why are we all still sort of holding on to dancers dressed like cats as like the peak most ridiculous Broadway show. (Disclaimer: I haven’t seen SpongeBob and I hear it’s legitimately great!)
Anyway I think what I’m realizing is that Cats is like Twilight for me, where I started off neutral about it but the more people shit on it the more intensely I want to defend it.
“Rum Tum Tugger”
Um I just searched YouTube for Rum Tum Tugger and was interested to see that Todrick Hall had played Rum Tug Tugger so I clicked it and then all the comments are about how he isn’t sexy enough in Cats so nevermind, I think Cats is bad
Obviously it’s overplayed I’m sorry but this song is still beautiful, even when I’m scream-singing it in my car. Here’s Nicole Scherzinger performing it at the Olivier Awards. Fun fact: Nicole was both a Pussycat Doll and a Cat.
My overview: I know this is maybe overall ALW’s greatest hit. I’ve seen Phantom live twice, and I enjoy the spectacle and the chandelier and the dancers and whatnot, but I have never in my life sat down and thought, “let me pull up some music from Phantom to listen to” and I’m not going to start now. I was very intrigued to learn from Unmasked that ALW originally had the idea to make the Phantom musical more of a campy satire, which I think I would enjoy.
I just said I’m not going to listen to this, but here’s a picture of the embrace we tried to describe on the podcast.
My overview: I’ve never been curious enough to look into this at all. Is it about a ghost? I might be interested if she’s a ghost. I just checked Wikipedia and there’s a song called “You See I Am No Ghost”, so, pass. (Also, apparently Michael Crawford got sick from wearing a fat suit for this?? Why not a simple, lightweight ghost costume. Surely that would be preferable.)
Also I know this is based on a book but I’ve never read the book, either.
Love Never Dies
My overview: I saw this earlier this year because the touring production was part of the Broadway in Boston season. I was intrigued to see it, because it’s kind of a famous flop. Unfortch (or fortunately?) I was sick and fevery the day of the show. I still went but I find that I can remember almost nothing about it. Is it a result of the quality of the show or my illness? Perhaps both? I definitely remember thinking what the fuck often. I was shocked to read in Unmasked that ALW considers this his best work. Maybe Andrew is just horny for the Phantom, as so many theatergoers are.
In looking this up I learned that ALW was working on another Phantom sequel but his cat destroyed the score. What a heroic cat. I hope the cat writes a memoir about it.
School of Rock
My overview: I’ve heard this is actually good but I haven’t listened to any of the music from it! I am going to see the tour when it comes to Boston and I’m kind of saving it for myself to be a surprise when I see it. I mean I have seen the movie so I know the plot, but, still.
Here’s School of Rock‘s performance from the 2016 Tony Awards.
OK goodbye, that’s all I have to say about Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber at this time!
We read The Christmas Caramel Murder by Joanne Fluke! It’s kind of a mystery and kind of a cookbook, so we tried out some of the recipes. Our overall summary is: these are…fine recipes. They all created products that were mostly enjoyable to consume. They were all fairly simple, although they often had somewhat strange proportions.
Here’s what we made:
Red Velvet Whippersnappers
Red Raspberry Muffins
The titular Christmas Caramels
We collected together all of our ingredients and gathered at Renata’s house for our cooking extravaganza.
Duarte wanted to help cook but played coy about posing for photos.
I mostly wanted to make the gingerbread pancakes because I had recently gotten a Pusheen pancake pan (from the Pusheen Box!) and I wanted to use it.
I’d never used a pancake pan like that before and it took some trial and error before I got the technique down. Unfortunately, the darker color of the gingerbread pancake batter wasn’t especially conducive to cat designs, so they never looked great. They tasted fine, though. I made the batter in advance and let it rest in the fridge the night before, as she suggested in the recipe. (As we mentioned the podcast, she said this very casually as if we were all always doing this with pancake batter? But I never have in my life.)
The Red Raspberry Muffins were also…fine. They called for both raspberry jam and frozen raspberries, but then only 1 cup of frozen raspberries which wasn’t really enough to get a good raspberry-to-bite ratio. The batter was also portioned as such that even though, presumably, they were writing this recipe from scratch, there was too much batter for 12 muffins but not enough for 24 and it said right in the recipe to put extra batter into a loaf pan and make a tea cake? So we did that.
The Red Velvet Whippersnappers were, again, fine? They’re basically a chocolate chip cookie but with boxed red velvet cake mix as the base, and then also dipped in powdered sugar and with a maraschino cherry on top.
Then there were the Christmas caramels. TBH, I was very hesitant to attempt making them, because my mom makes them every year at Christmas and she always ruins at least one batch even though she’s done it dozens of times, because it’s just a tricky recipe. Kait was ambitious, though, so we gave it a crack.
They turned out, well, less than fine, I guess? They came out as a hard candy. (According to my mom, this means the candy got too hot while cooking. That candy thermometer is a harsh mistress!)
And finally, we made hot lemonade, which is not a recipe given by the author, but one of the characters drinks it. We used this recipe from AllRecipes, except I squeezed in a little extra lemon juice and that was a mistake. It turned out….extremely lemony and we added a huge amount of honey to counteract the lemon. And then I accidentally got drunk on it.
If you learn one thing from us, please: don’t drink hot lemonade. But if you must drink it: drink responsibly.
In summary: the recipes included in this cozy mystery are fine, but if you’re really looking for quality recipes you’re probably better served (see what I did there) by an actual cookbook. Check out our readers advisory page for the podcast episode for suggestions of more cookbooks and more mysteries!
A few days ago, Rebecca Wells, writer and bookseller extraordinaire, posted on twitter that she’d love to see gift/style recommendations from several people, yours truly included. Never say I don’t give the people what they want. Additionally, I’m posting it here cause a) we post all sorts of not-strictly-podcast-related things here and b) we have been pushing a lot of these brands at our live shows to the point that ModCloth in particular probably owes us some unofficial sponsorship money.
When I was in middle school and high school, those tender years where you become hyperaware of your own body and how it compares to others, I had a uniform–I wore jeans and a t-shirt, usually black, usually with some nerdy saying/logo on the front of it. The shirts were all men’s XLs, even back then, and nothing touched my body if I could help it. I was very aware of how big my chest was and how much heavier I was than the other girls, and hiding my body seemed to be the best way to avoid having to confront those facts.
Something shifted in college–I ran out of fucks to give, I made friends with new people, I was away from everyone who knew me and could experiment without calling attention to myself. I bought a skirt. I loved it. I bought two more. I bought some dresses. I moved to Boston, once again away from people I knew and with room to reinvent myself without question, and I discovered online shopping and…well, here we are.
(Excuse basically all of these pictures of me? The lighting in my house is awful, so I rarely get full outfit shots and when I do it’s usually “hey I just got this dress what do you think group chat?” sort of non-flattering shots)
I could make this an entire post about weight and self-esteem and depression and fat positivity, but I won’t. I mostly outlined the above to demonstrate that a) I totally understand how scary it is to give yourself a style make-over when you’re surrounded by people who are going to call attention to it and b) it’s possible to do it anyway. Because here, now, in 2017 I am…well, I don’t want to use the word “fashionable,” because I think that brings to mind popular trends. I have a style, it is strong, and I am happy to lean into it. I get a lot of questions about what I wear–clothes, jewelry, lipstick, glasses–and I am usually ecstatic to share the details of all of my fashion secrets.
So, that’s what I’m going to do! A few things to address before I get started on the fun stuff:
One of my favorite pieces of writing is an essay by Sarah Vowell entitled “God Will Give You Blood to Drink in a Souvenir Shot Glass.” (The essay is collected in The Partly Cloudy Patriotbut sadly does not seem to be available online on its own anywhere. The book is worth seeking out if you haven’t read it and you’re into nerdy historical tourism.) Anyway, the essay is about tourism in sites of historical tragedies, mainly Salem, Massachusetts, and how odd it is to reconcile having a fun, enjoyable tourist time in a site where horrible atrocities were committed. As a recent transplant to Massachusetts, I’ve also visited Salem and also had a great time enjoying the beautiful town where young women were put to death a long time ago.
The Lizzie Borden B&B has really leaned into that whole vibe. When you walk into the house, you start, of course, with the gift shop, which features Lizzie Borden bobble heads and baby onesies printed with “I love my Mommy TO DEATH” with a little axe. It’s very light-hearted for the site of a gruesome double-murder. But the murders were a long time ago, so now we can have fun.
We’re here to investigate a murder, but let’s have fun with it!
The house itself was, well…like a B&B. It’s furnished with period-appropriate furniture, but it’s also a working B&B, so everything that’s out is sat upon and slept upon by tourists every day. As we went through on our tour, getting more details about the day-to-day life of the Bordens and the murder itself, I just couldn’t get over the fact that people pay money to sleep in this B&B every day.
Just a curio cabinet with some replica murder skulls, like every B&B has
Ironic cross-stitch and significant replica key; apparently Andrew Borden knew that Lizzie had stolen some trolley tickets and money from him and responded by keeping his door locked but the key out in plain sight as some kind of test…
Naturally they leave a replica hatchet lying around for you to pose with
Naturally we posed with the hatchet
A photo of the maid Bridget, a stuffed cat, and a bed that B&B guests sleep in
Wouldn’t it be fun to check in on the spirits of the 2 people who were horribly murdered here?
Anyway, it was a fun day trip, and we learned a moderate amount about history. It also did help contextualize the weird book about Lizzie Borden we read–how dysfunctional the family was, how oddly laid out their house was, and how many pears there were. (Listen to the podcast episode for more details.) If you’re ever in the area I’d recommend the Lizzie Borden house as an interesting day trip, if you’re into that kind of thing. If nothing else you can take some really ominous Facebook profile photos there.
On Worst Bestsellers’ epic crossover episode with Bellwether Friends, we joked about seeing how compatible our podcasts are. Never one to let a joke die, I looked up the dates of our first episodes and got a free star chart for their compatibility from Cafe Astrology. Here’s the deets:
Positive aspect: An agreeable relationship overall. They generally like to speak with each other, have a good intellectual understanding, their tastes can be very similar or complementary, and they typically like to share their feelings with one another.
This is totally accurate! We love sharing our feelings with Bellwether Friends.
52 Trine Jupiter – Uranus
Positive aspect: This union can be favorable, if the two mutually respect each other. They both like their independence, their freedom of thought and action. The relationship may be marked by distinct philosophical interests and unusual ideas or belief systems, which ideally are encouraged in one another. There can be a nice meeting of minds on the bigger issues.
We do! We do mutually respect each other, and we definitely have unusual ideas and belief systems.
49 Trine Mars – Jupiter
Positive aspect: This is an excellent aspect. They boost each other’s confidence and fill each other with enthusiasm. They make plans together, and these are realistic enough to fulfill.
Could not be more true.
You can view the whole star chart here. It’s got a lot of astrology terms that I don’t technically understand!
Here’s hoping the stars continue to #bless our podcast friendship for many years to come!
If you understand astrology and can explain this chart, please tweet at us or leave a comment on this post! If you think astrology is fake and stupid, please do not tweet at us or leave a comment on this post!
This morning Twitter wished me a happy 8th anniversary! I’ve been microblogging for 8 years. I remembered that the main reason I got a Twitter account in the first place was that I was writing for the Gringo Grita, the magazine of Peace Corps Dominican Republic, and we tried to write stories explaining what was going on in the greater culture to volunteers, who mostly only had occasional internet/television/People magazine access. This was–if you’ll recall–a time when it was still newsworthy for celebrities to open Twitter accounts and tweet for themselves instead of just having a publicist do it, so we kept hearing about Twitter.
I decided to try to explain the hot and confusing trend of Twitter, so I signed up for an account. Unfortunately, my few days with a Twitter experiment didn’t really qualify me.
I found the piece I wrote (thanks, Google Drive) and it’s kind of hilarious now, 63,000 tweets later. I’m sharing it here, because why not? It’s funny to think about how strange and foreign Twitter was to me then, given how many hundreds of times a day I check Twitter now.
Anyway, without further ado (or any edits/translations from 2017 Renata), let’s go back to a simpler time: July 2009, back before Twitter was full of Nazis (probably?), before our current president was using it to pen declarations of war, even before Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace (but, as you’ll see, after his massage).
What’s the Deal with Twitter?
I know you’ve heard it mentioned in all the finest news sources—CNN, NPR, People magazine—but what exactly IS Twitter? To quote from Twitter’s website, it is: “a service for friends, family, and co-workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?”
Basically, it’s only the “status updates” part of Facebook (Twitter calls them “tweets”), and you can update it from your phone or from your computer. The catch: your updates have a max size of 140 characters. It sounds exceptionally stupid, and yet it’s super popular. In the name of investigative journalism, I emailed some college friends who are living in the States and using Twitter to find out more.
My friend Jenny says, “It is stupid. But my dad uses it so he can follow Lance Armstrong and that is kind of cool. But overall, deceptively simple and part of the cult of celebrity and likely a flash in the pan idiocy, like POGs.”
My friend Mary was slightly more enthusiastic, noting, “Twitter is kind of stupid, but kind of addictive. […] It’s like a time-delayed chatroom. And it’s a fun way to follow celebrities. I have Nathan Fillion, Neil Gaiman, Felicia Day, and Kevin Smith on my Twitter feed, among others, and it kind of brightens my day every time Kevin Smith says anything.”
I think in judging Twitter it’s important to remember that the main users of Twitter do not have to climb a loma to send a text message, nor do they have to pay 20 pesos an hour for Internet. Twitter seems to be the Internet equivalent of sitting on your doña’s porch and getting the scoop on who ‘s getting married and who bought a new moto, while also receiving texts from friends in the capital who have a new People magazine.
DoñaFulana54: Quien tienes hambre? Yo tengo moro aqui.
VoluntarioSureño: @DonaFulana54 Yo tengo un chin de hambre… vengo ahorita.
VoluntariaChula: I’m going to La Sirena today, does anyone want me to grab anything?
Voluntario69: @VoluntariaChula Will you get me peanut butter?
VoluntariaCapitaleña: OMG I JUST READ THAT BRITNEY SPEARS IS PREGNANT AGAIN
VoluntarioSureño: @ VoluntariaCapitaleña NO WAY
VoluntariaCapitalena: OH JK, CNN.COM SAYS IT WAS A FALSE RUMOR
DoñaFulana54: Mi sobrina tiene una gripe muy mal.
Voluntario Sureño: Has anyone heard anything else about swine flu?
PCDRMO: @ VoluntarioSureño It’s the H1N1 virus, not swine flu.
In other words, it’s absolutely something I could see myself using (with a little bit of self-loathing) when I go back to Nueva York.
If you’re interested in learning more, here are some notable people to follow (“follow” is Twitterese for “friend”) and a recent “tweet” from them:
In our Saddle Club podcast episode, we talked about the various editions’ different book covers and Carole’s ambiguous racial identity. Since a podcast is not a visual medium, I wanted to collect a few covers here so you can see what we’re talking about.
As best I can tell, this is the original 1988 cover. Carole’s weirdly cast in shadow.
This next edition looks like the same girl as the first one but flipped out of the shadow into the light? And also she got some chickens? Also, that horse is not cobalt.
This next cover features all 3 girls. Which is which? Who knows? (Presumably, knowing what we know about Carole from the series as a whole, she’s on the right. All we know about Stevie is that she’s blonde and I wouldn’t call any of these girls blonde. Maybe the one on the left has some blonde-ish highlights?)
Here’s the cover of the 1996 reprint edition. She looks more recognizably like a light-skinned black girl. (And Cobalt, the horse, is also black, as described in the book.)
But wait, here’s a cover for an Overdrive e-book collecting the first 2 Saddle Club books.
I want to make clear that this is not like a pre-movie Hunger Games Rue situation, where Rue is clearly described as black in the book’s text but a lot of white readers didn’t pick up on it. (And, in many cases, then got mad about it.) None of the Saddle Club girls are physically described at all in the book we read, except for an offhand mention of Stevie’s blonde hair. For all we know, all three girls could be black (and maybe one of them dyes her hair). However, most readers, especially white readers, assume characters are white unless stated otherwise.
With all of these book covers, I think if you look at them pre-armed with the knowledge (gained from other books in the series, or perhaps from familiarity with the Saddle Club TV show) that Carole is black, you could recognize Carole as a WOC, albeit one on the lighter end of the spectrum of color. But with most of them, especially as a white person with existing biases, one could also easily view Carole as white. (Of course, Carole could well be black and white–lots of people are mixed race, and people of color come in all shades.) But the combination of very light-skinned cover models and a lack of physical description in this particular book make it pretty easy for a reader (especially a white reader) to just assume Carole is white. For what it’s worth, the original series author, Bonnie Bryant, also appears to be white.
Did these covers whitewash Carole (as is common in book covers)? Is she meant to be mixed race? Is she meant to have been depicted with darker skin? I literally don’t know, it was not mentioned in the text of the only Saddle Club book I have ever read. But whitewashing characters of color–both on book covers as well as movie/TV adaptations for books–continues to be a problem in 2017.
There’s a lot to unpack with Carole and these book covers, and I don’t have the time or expertise to dive deep, so here’s a quick link roundup:
I self-identify as a reader and I have since a young age. I didn’t learn to read until first grade–I’m a first-born child and it never occurred to my parents to teach me at home. That’s what school is for, right? So while a lot of my Big Reader friends learned as toddlers or in pre-school or kindergarten, I didn’t learn to read until my first grade teacher started our Learning to Read unit. Once I learned, however, it seemed like I never stopped. In a cliche I’m sure many of you are familiar with, I sat through many a family gathering, sporting event, and school recess with my nose in a book. My parents, for a time, had a rule that I had to use my allowance to buy toys, etc, but they would buy me as many books as I wanted. This rule didn’t last long, purely because I burned through books so quickly even the library could barely keep up.
So, I read all through elementary school and middle school and high school. In college, I did my best to read on top of school work and mostly succeeded. After college, I worked in a bookstore and read all day in addition to reading at home. My mother was accidentally an early Kindle adopter, and I quickly stole it and filled it with more books than I could otherwise carry in my purse. In the first few years I lived in Boston, I found myself reading slightly less. I recognized that it was because reading was no longer a large component of my job, and before I could worry too much about it, I started really diving back into comics and discovered my library system’s e-lending program, nearly simultaneously. Now I could read on my phone, anywhere, any time, and even when I was too disinterested or depressed to read the book I was in the middle of, hundreds more were at my fingertips.
Last year, the way my depressed brain started to interact with reading changed. I’ve always been plagued by an inability to focus when depressed, but usually that just meant finding the right book to grab my attention. Now I could barely bring myself to focus on the written word at all. If I wasn’t reading fanfiction, I wasn’t reading, period. I pushed my way through a few written books, but it was audiobooks that largely saved me. With the Kindle/Audible partnership that provides the audio of Kindle books you already own at a discount, I was set once again. Sure, I couldn’t focus on words, but listening was somehow easier. I could load my phone up with audiobooks and drift in and out a little if my brain fogged over, but I generally didn’t lose the thread of the story and managed to get through the boring parts by half-tuning out the narration.
And that’s been fine. Mostly. Except that the last few months, even that has stopped. Continue reading →