So fine, if you insist. This is a witch hunt. We’re witches, and we’re hunting you. (The Witches are Coming: Introduction)
Let’s start off with this energy.*
Which is a bit of a step up from Shrill just 3 years ago. The same type of humour is there – to be perfectly honest, not the style I usually go for, but West makes many a good point – but I have to say, it’s pretty clear what’s changed in her writing (though there is also plenty that has not): West is noticeably more exasperated (perhaps because things have not improved since she wrote the essays from Shrill?); angrier, that she’s writing this at all (as she notes in her chapter on internet trolls: “I keep vowing to never write about internet trolls again, but unfortunately my country’s… ignoring the screams of the marginalized has made internet trolls not just culturally relevant or politically relevant but historically relevant. So here I am – one more troll chapter” (Leave Hell to the Devils); one hopes this is the last troll chapter West will have to write). The Witches are Coming is like Shrill’s more cynical, jaded cousin. So of course, in many ways, I loved it.
This year has felt both like the longest AND the shortest year ever, but luckily we had books to pull us through! On that note, here is a list of all the books we read this year and recommend!
All blurbs include links to the VPL catalogue where you can request and borrow these books for yourself! Happy reading!
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
“Never pray to the gods that answer after dark” is the refrain of Schwab’s latest novel. I would have every page of this book tattooed on the inside of my eyelids if I could, so I would never have to stop reading it. In this ambitious novel—ten whole years in the making—Addie Larue sells her soul to a dark god in a bid for freedom from her tiny 18th century French village. Of course, like all deals with the devil, this one comes with a price: as soon as she leaves the room, no one will remember her. Freedom, indeed. Addie is damned to a life of immortality in the shadows, unable to form lasting connections or leave her mark. She travels through the rough streets of pre-revolution Paris, to refined Parisian salons, to artist’s studios in Florence. In 2014 New York, however, Addie meets the only person in 300 years who remembers her—why is he able to break the curse? And why does the world seem to bend to his will? Schwab’s novel about loneliness and memory is sumptuous, as is the dynamic between the iron-willed Addie and the seductive Darkness to whom she owes her soul. I’m admittedly a big fan of Schwab’s work, but Addie Larue is easily her best work to date. Would I sell my soul to this devil? Yes, yes I would.
It’s well into December, the air is icy, and the treetops are dusted white. Have you got chestnuts roasting on an open fire yet? This may be the only time of year that actually suits quarantine: cozying up with a good book and a hot cup of cocoa (well, except for all the holiday parties we’re missing out on—but let’s not talk about that). 2020 has been a year of many things, most of them truly awful, but one positive trend that has emerged from the rubble is something called cottagecore. If you’ve ever dreamed of giving it all up and running away to the woods, or of having your own thriving vegetable garden, or of days spent baking bread and tending to plants, then you’ve been dreaming of the cottagecore ideal!
So what exactly is this “cottagecore” all the kids are going on about? The New York Times describes it as “an aspirational form of nostalgia that praises the benefits of living a slow life in which nothing much happens at all.” It’s basically like living inside the Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley games; perfect, fictional worlds in which your only responsibilities are tending to crops, raising animals, making friends, and decorating your house. Your cottage will most likely be in an open field, or in the woods, or perhaps by a small village where you can pop into some locally owned shops. It is, essentially, the antithesis of our hectic, technology-based, urban lives.
Of course, like all things, cottagecore is not even close to being a new concept—what’s old is new, and what’s new is old. The term itself is new, a thoroughly modern invention combining the obvious “cottage” with the suffix “–core”, denoting a genre (derived from “hardcore”, which in the past 30 years has given itself to endless genres: softcore, mumblecore, normcore, the list goes on). But the concept of eschewing modernity and returning to nature is older than dirt. Back in the day, the general term was “the pastoral”, which mostly applied to literature that idolized country life. Romanticism (with a capital R) was a prevailing artistic trend in the 19th century, and was “suffused with reverence for the natural world”. In William Wordsworth’s famous “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”, the poet describes the peace he feels when thinking back on a field of daffodils blowing in the breeze.