All posts by Karen

About Karen

Karen (she/hers) is a Culinary Literacies Specialist at the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre library. When not in the kitchen, she can be found knitting, reading, and repeating.

Sunny Nihilism

Book Cover of The Sunny Nihilist by Wendy Syfret

Nihilism has a pretty bad rep, and it’s not too hard to see why, but in The Sunny Nihilist, author Wendy Syfret points out the ways in which nihilism, interpreted and applied correctly*, could actually offer a helping hand when you’re feeling overwhelmed with no way out of this hamster wheel of a world (whoever is not feeling overwhelmed at the moment, please spill your secrets. Asking for a friend).

In a way, this wasn’t anything new to me. As in this Guardian article by Syfret, which I believe has been adapted into the book, “Then it hit me: “Who cares? One day I’ll be dead and no one will remember me anyway.” (Syfret, Sunny Nihlism). When feeling as though I’ve spent too long screaming into the void, there’s immense solace to be found thinking about the way in which, if I were to keel over right now, in the grand scheme of things, it’d be ok. The thought of how I’d like my corpse to be dealt with also brings me joy, and the knowledge that even though it doesn’t always feel like it, I’m choosing to continue being alive moment to moment is another thing that lets me take a deeper breath**. It’s not always a guaranteed relief to think of death and the meaninglessness of my own existence, but suffice it to say that I was quite relieved upon reading The Sunny Nihilist that I am not alone in finding it relaxing to do so!

Does all this seem to reflect the nihilism found on social media coming out of millennial and Gen Z output a little too much? I mean, maybe. I’m a millennial who went through art school, so perhaps I’m a little too much the ideal candidate for nihilism to take root in (though as previously discussed, Sartre was my philosopher crush back in the day), but when you think about the coming of age of millennials and Gen Z both, is it really any surprise nihilism seems to be a common touchpoint? (Is there some bias in this absolutely anecdotal gathering of data on my end? Most definitely. If anyone has noticed differently, feel free to share.) On a related note, this one was a bit of news to me since I hadn’t really noticed too much of this on my feeds, but apparently requests for celebrities to enact murder upon oneself are common, which, if you’ve been on the internet, is both surprising but also not really? Of course, Syfret doesn’t turn away from the dark recesses nihilism has also landed people into, and discusses how the very same philosophy can lead you down very different paths – but that in theory, one could harness it for the good!***

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The Mosquito

Book Cover of The Mosquito by Timothy Winegard

If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.

Dalai Lama XIV

Ah, the mosquito. Is there any other insect – any creature – more universally despised?* I don’t enjoy hating on things, but the mosquito is one thing I’m at least not particularly fussed about hating. So of course, I had to pick up The Mosquito: A human history of our deadliest predator by Timothy C. Winegard. It’s actually pretty incredible when you consider how much influence mosquitoes, or more specifically, the diseases they carry and for which they are vectors (e.g. malaria, yellow fever, dengue), have had over human history throughout the ages. According to Winegard, they have affected, among other things: the configuration of human DNA (sickle cell being probably the most commonly recognized one), the outcome of the American civil war, slavery, the history of the Roman Republic (the Pontine Marshes being a malarial sink, it both defended and destroyed the Romans), and more! They’re quite the equal opportunity bloodsuckers, so it’s not necessarily that they’ve always helped any particular side. Malaria also happens to be one of those diseases that constantly outmanoeuvers whatever anti-malarial drugs are concocted to defeat it, and at a frighteningly fast pace at that: new treatments might be effective anywhere between 2 and 20 years after being mass-marketed (Winegard). Interestingly, one of the newer treatments, artemisinin, is one that originated from what was rediscovered in an old Chinese text from the 4th century Jin dynasty, uncovered only during Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward, but not shared with the world until more recent times (and even then, the study results weren’t embraced by the international community immediately, according to Winegard).

Do mosquitoes kill more humans than humans do? Debatable, but they’re definitely not slacking on that front (not that humans are either…): the year before The Mosquito was published, 830,000 people died of mosquito-borne disease worldwide. Whether mosquitoes will outlast humans or we’ll decide to use the technologies we have at our disposal (e.g. CRISPR) to eradicate the Anopheles mosquito, which is one of the main vectors of mosquito-borne diseases, one thing is for sure: mosquitoes have driven human history and evolution throughout the entirety of our existence.

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Strange Beasts of China

Book Cover of Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge

Set in a fantastical China where a variety of so-called beasts coexist with people, in an indeterminate era that evokes some sense of the past in the sense that the vocabulary chosen and style of writing is reminiscent of what one may find in translations of old texts (a deliberate choice), Strange Beasts of China starts off in a somewhat sterile fashion, detailing one type of beast per short chapter, as though a guidebook to a fantastical world that we have already been immersed into, the way that Fantastical Beasts and Where to Find Them is about the magical creatures in the world of Harry Potter, except we’re discovering this world as though through these reports of the beasts. And as the narrator becomes ever more enmeshed with the beasts she introduces, the narrative begins to take on a frenetic pace – the guidebook structure doesn’t crumble altogether, but becomes infused with its own life: what are the beasts, these Others, and who are the true beasts here? As the author mentions in an interview with the CBC, she was “making pretty straightforward metaphors about marginalized, underrepresented and oppressed groups”, and it’s not difficult to derive this from the text, but the change in pacing, in tone, as Strange Beasts tumbles along, half detective story/half guidebook, makes it difficult to tear yourself from the blurry and messy story of the beasts within the story, as the sterility of the guidebook entirely falls apart to reveal how fragile are what details we take to be the truths that constitute our world.

I’m not usually a great fan of short stories, and so I wasn’t too sure when I picked up Strange Beasts of China that I’d get into it, but the short stories are all interconnected, dropping clues for the reader – never enough for you to figure it out, I don’t think, but enough to make some guesses – such that you won’t be able to tear yourself from the story once it reveals itself.

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