The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green (2021)
John Green, the beloved young adult novelist and online educator, took an unconventional approach to his latest collection of “essays on a human-centred planet”. He styles each entry as a Yelp review, rating things in his life as disparate as CNN, Velociraptors, Diet Dr. Pepper, Mario Kart, or the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, on a traditional five-star scale. Although Green’s reviews cover a wide range of topics, the underlying theme is examining how each of these — in large ways or small — evince some aspect of human existence in the book’s titular epoch. But they also function as mini-memoir episodes, as each entry relates to a deep and personal aspect of Green’s life. The result is a review like “Our Capacity for Wonder’”, where he delves into the famous line from The Great Gatsby, providing a little-known history of how F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unsuccessful novel during his lifetime would eventually become one of the staples of American literature, while also contemplating his own “capacity for wonder” in the present day. The Anthropocene Reviewed is the culmination of an introspective, talented author’s life experience, presented in a form that fits within our current digitally-influenced literary landscape.
I give John Green’s innovative work of creative nonfiction four stars.
Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara (1964)
With the upcoming semester’s heavy reading lists soon to be upon us, the perfect complement to dense academic writing is something short, light, and full of joy. Frank O’Hara’s poetry collection Lunch Poems provides bite-sized glimpses into the thoughts and experiences that made up the everyday life of a truly brilliant poet. This collection is fit to be read through all at once in a glorious mad dash, or savoured in bits in pieces between classes or on lunch breaks of your own. The famed member of the New York School wrote these poems while on his lunch breaks during his time working as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, and his time spent sitting observantly, or walking aimlessly through a city very similar to the one that many of us now call home, is clearly reflected in this body of work. The collection’s first poem, titled “Music,” is a personal favourite of mine, and a piece that I would wholeheartedly recommend to all those intrigued by the larger work, or even by O’Hara’s writing as a whole.
Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman (1998)
As the days get shorter, the uncertainty of another pandemic school year is settling in, and spooky season is creeping into our lives (and by that I mean the upcoming barrage of deadlines that will inevitably do us in before any ghosts or ghouls can have their turn) we are all seeking one thing — comfort. To this end, I offer you Neil Gaiman’s collection of short stories Smoke and Mirrors. Masterfully maneuvering between brief vignettes shedding light on such things as the tragic fate of Santa Claus, or longer, more thought-provoking pieces that take you from Lovecraft’s infamous Innsmouth, to a quaint British town neighbouring Camelot, to the author’s own home, they are a perfect distraction from the perils waiting just outside res or library doors, and don’t require a hefty commitment of the time you don’t have.
With the graceful ease of an archeologist brushing off the sands of time to reveal the wonders beneath, Gaiman dusts away the tediousness to reveal the magic hidden in our everyday, seemingly mundane lives. His signature brand of the magically ridiculous shines through here like no other, expanding the possibility of our reality and making you wonder if the Holy Grail is indeed lying around somewhere in the Trin basement, or if you are a few steps away from bumping into a bridge troll on Bloor. You can find this collection in the myriad of second-hand book shops sprinkled near campus, or indulge in PDFs of his short stories online. However you choose to dive in, you will walk away a little more spellbound and be mesmerized by the world around you.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (2011)
Ten years after its publication, this mythical retelling has gained a cult following thanks to various book communities scattered across the Internet. BookTok, Book Twitter and Bookstagram are all platforms where readers can share niche book recommendations and reviews, as one New York Times headline called “How Crying on TikTok Sells Books” attests.
With an emotional backstory that details all that Homer left out, Madeline Miller retells one of the greatest Greek love stories. When talking about Iliad retellings, the 2004 movie Troy usually comes up, and its popularity has cemented blatant historical inaccuracies as fact in the public imagination. Comparisons between the two works would be unfair, seeing that one is an insult to the story while the other is a prose-driven, modern novelization of a timeless classic.
This book is unlike most love stories, but like all relationships there are issues, and for them, it could only end in tragedy. The narrative of platonic friendship that is peddled throughout all modern adaptations trivializes important actions and themes. Achilles requested that his ashes be buried in the same golden urn that Patroclus’ were in so that they could finally be together for eternity — this sounds like a lot more than just two friends. More than just an important analysis of love and sacrifice, The Song of Achilles analyzes traditions and thoughts around love and partnership from a historical point.
This book left me artistically speechless if ever a thing existed. Love does not conquer all in this story and Miller’s prose and characterization make you intimately familiar with household names and myths. I went into this book blind after finishing The Iliad, and I recommend this to anyone interested in picking up this masterpiece as your next read. To quote the novel: “I do not have enough words to describe what I have in front of me, what I feel, what I am seeing … My words are not worthy.”