All posts by Alyssia


About Alyssia

Alyssia is an Information Assistant at the Vaughan Public Libraries. Nothing makes her happier than a great book and a great cup of coffee. She loves fiction in all formats - books, movies, television, you name it - and is always on the lookout for awesome new music.

Freeing Britney and Holding Power Accountable

free britney sign

©Andrew Cullen, The New York Times

When I first started working on this post in January, the spin was a bit different. My jumping off points were the wild gossip mill stories that wrapped up 2020 and then launched 2021: the journalist who ruined her life for the much-despised (and imprisoned) pharma bro Martin Shkreli, the truly bizarre (and unfounded) rumours of Kanye West’s affair with makeup guru Jeffree StarHilaria Baldwin faking a Spanish accent for years, and the still-developing Armie Hammer cannibal stuff (please exercise caution when reading this story!). Throw in the political circus of an actual attempted coup on the US Capitol, and the headlines of 2021 seemed to be Mad Libs generatedThe world is a glitching simulator, and we’re just living in it.  

The truth about me is that I live for gossip and scandal—like Marie Kondo says, I love mess. But there is a threshold for scandalous entertainment. For example, the Caroline Calloway or Fyre Fest stories from 2019 were compelling in the way they revealed the blithe incompetence of wealthy influencers. Or the Tiger King circus from last year, which single-handedly saved our collective sanity at the beginning of quarantine. In these kinds of scandals, the people involved are dopes or straight up criminals; the stories are schadenfreudeinducing in the distribution of karma to terrible people. But scandals become not so fun when they affect innocent people (or animals, in the darker side of Tiger King). Once the Armie Hammer allegations started to veer beyond kink into potentially dangerous abuse, the story lost its giggly water-cooler gossip status. Instead, what emerged was a story of generational depravity hidden behind the veneer of Old Money, the case for which was made stronger by the publication of Surviving My Birthright by Casey Hammer, Armie’s aunt.  

I officially decided to rewrite this post after watching the New York Timesproduced Britney Spears documentary Framing Britney Spears, which, as its title suggests, adjusts the picture of the popstar’s mental health struggles as we’ve come to understand them. There’s been a lot of handwringing over who exactly is to blame for her descent in the mid-late 2000s, which famously culminated with a bald-headed Spears attacking a paparazzo’s car with an umbrella. Anyone who remembers 2007 will recall the Wild West days of paparazzi culture, which was demonized even then as harassment but which was allowed to continue because, well, money. While we may all have been somewhat complicit in this culture, just by virtue of living in it, I’d say some are more culpable than others. Paparazzi are the scum of society, no doubt, but tabloids like Us Weekly were the ones forking over millions of dollars for a single photo of Lindsay Lohan getting out of a car.  

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To Hype or Not to Hype

midnight library coverPicture yourself in this scenario: you hear about a book (maybe you see it on prominent display at a bookstore, or it’s topping the bestseller lists, or Reese Witherspoon picks it for her book club). You think, “that sounds like something I’d enjoy”. You join the waitlist at the library and you’re 95 people deep. Then, months later, you finally get to read the book and you think to yourself, “…that’s it?” (Infomercial voice) Has this ever happened to you? If so, you may have found yourself the victim of hype. Don’t worry, it’s a place we all find ourselves now and again—and some of us (cough me) find ourselves there repeatedly, all year long!  

This post was, of course, inspired by my current readwhich is The Midnight Library by Matt Haig—a book that has such a long waitlist at VPL that I’m only reading it now because I got a copy of it for Christmas. At the time of writing this, the book was sold out online at Indigo, no doubt helped by Dolly Parton mentioning that she’s reading it in a New York Times interview from December. The book also has a 4.22 rating on Goodreads, which, on scale of one to five stars, is quite good. I’m headed towards the end of the book, and I have to say: it’s…fine. Like, it’s not bad by any means. But nor is it particularly good? It’s just…fine.  

Falling prey to the hype machine is something most avid readers will experience periodically; there’s really no way around it. Hype is a double-edged sword: an excellent word-of-mouth promo tool, but also a bullseye for backlash. When I say “hype”, I don’t mean your friend who fell in love with a book and insists that you read it; I mean the cultural circus that surrounds a book sometimes well before it’s even released to the general public. It’s something that’s built up from the bottom; sometimes a book is a sleeper hit that no one predicted, but most of the time, a book is highly visible on purpose. If a publishing house thinks they have a title that the public will eat up, they really throw their back into that promo. So by the time it reaches our eyes and ears, the hype will have snowballed into something unignorable, forcing that book into your line of vision—you might not even know what the book is about, but you’ve heard it’s supposed to be good! Again, I’m not claiming this as a strictly good or bad thing. One could argue that, with the unprecedented volume of books available, hype can be a lightning rod for readers looking for a little guidance. It shortens the search process. “Here’s a book we think you’ll like”, it says—and truly, don’t we all love to hear that? 

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Top 10 of 2020: Overdrive and Hoopla

kindleI know we left 2020 in the dust (not that 2021 is looking all that much better so far), but forget that for a minute—let’s look back at the top titles borrowed from Overdrive and Hoopla in the past year, and see what kinds of trends have emerged in these, dare I say, unprecedented times 

As the outside world closed up, forcing us all to turn inwards, what sort of activities did you find yourself doing? If you found yourself reading a ton more than normal, you’re in good company (conversely, if you found yourself unable to concentrate on books, you are also in good company). While plenty of people found themselves in a reading rut thanks to the existential crises caused by COVID, the general trend of reading during lockdown actually increased overall. A study out of the UK reported an almost doubled rate in reading, from 3.5 hours a week to a reported six. From the same study, “A third said they read more printed books, 18% consumed more e-books, and 9% listened to more audiobooks”. A third of people reading more paper books in a single year is nothing to sneeze at.  

But stats like this are actually not surprising; there is historical precedence for this kind of thing. An industry analyst for NDP (a market research firm) notes that historically, book sales are resistant to economic downturn; even the Great Recession of 2008 saw a year-over-year increase in book sales. While on the surface this may come as a shock, it makes sense if you consider books for their personal value rather than just their financial cost. When the going gets rough, as it most certainly did in 2020, people often turn to books not just as a form of entertainment, but also for escapism, distraction, and for mental wellbeing.  

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