All posts by Alyssia

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.

The Perks of Revisiting Old Favourites in 2020

perks of being a wallflower book coverIt seems that no matter how old you get, and how removed from school you are, September always feels like a new beginning—a fresh start of sorts, a promise of exciting new possibilities. That newly crisp chill in the air says “new year, new me” way more than New Year’s Day, when I’m typically lying on the couch with a headache and regretsIt’s time for new shoes, new clothes, new stationary supplies. At the same time, I return to hallowed fall rituals, like rewatching Gilmore Girls and baking apple crisps. One of my more personal traditions is re-reading the YA classic The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which to me is the embodiment of autumn-tinged nostalgia; a blend of looking back in fondness and looking forward in anticipation. Usually, I feel inspired and emotionally fortified by this reread. But this year, it went a little differently. 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, published in 1999 by MTV Books at a time when MTV was still an important part of youth culture (Daria was still on the air at this point, very formative for little me). The plot is simple: Charlie is a high school freshman coming out of a dark period, who vows to turn his life around in high school by really livingQuickly making friends with seniors Sam and Patrick, Charlie’s first year of high school is an emotional ride full of love and trauma. The book is told in epistolary format, entirely composed of Charlie’s letters to a mysterious “you.” Who he is writing to is never made clear, nor does it matter. Since 2004, Perks has made scattered appearances on America’s Top 10 Most Challenged Books Lists for a bevy of typical reasons, namely “drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group.” This doesn’t even mention the exploration of mental illness and suicideSo basically, all the things that would attract young readers trying to figure out the world and their place in it.  

The beautiful thing about this book is that it ages wellIt’s situated in the early 90s, but it’s vague enough in period details and honest enough in its humanity that it appears timeless (well, except for the mixtapes, but who doesn’t love a mixtape?). For younger readers, Perks is like a warm, reassuring hand, guiding them through the most confusing and sometimes the most difficult years of their lives. For adults, it can be just as powerful; like holding in your hands a physical manifestation of memory. I didn’t read the book until my university years, and it still hit me like a truck. Though Charlie is technically only 15 by the book’s end, he has the wisdom of a much older, highly observant adult“This moment will just be another story someday, he says, commenting on a football player who just scored a touchdown, and later, “Maybe it’s sad that these are now memories. And maybe it’s not sad.” 

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What’s in a Beach Read?

beach read book coverI had a discussion with a friend recently about what makes someone associate a movie with a particular season. This started because I said that Catch Me if You Can is a Christmas movie (despite having little to do with Christmas) and Mean Girls is a Halloween movie (despite having a very famous Christmas scene). Sometimes, it’s simply about the ephemeral phenomena we like to call vibes. It’s not really explainable, but you know it when you see it—or, more accurately, feel it. So what makes a beach read, a beach read? Does it even require a beach?  

Since we’re still in summer’s sweaty thrall, it appears a lot of us have beach books on the brain; Book Riot recently posted an article titled “What Makes a Book a Beach Read?” and it got me thinking. Imagine lying on a pineapple blanket in the hot summer sun, the sound of crashing waves sprinkled with the sound of laughter, eating a popsicle and trying to read Anna KareninaThe disconnect is too great. Basically, when you’re stretched out in the sun (or the shade), you don’t want your brain to be doing too much work.  

Before I go on, let me address the elephant in the room. Oftentimes, “beach reads” are synonymous with women’s fictionlight, fluffy, romantic, nothing too strenuous. Of course, this assumption has blatantly sexist roots, assuming that “books by women, about women, are more likely to be considered “light reading.”’ But let’s say that this flavour of “women’s fiction” actually is light reading—is that even a problem? I did just say I don’t want to use my brain. Perhaps women have just unlocked another level of enjoyment with this genre? The tension between “women’s fiction” and “literary fiction”—and that fact that those are considered two different things—is at the core of Emily Henry’s new novel aptly titled Beach ReadThe plot is ripe for rom-com goodness: a struggling writer of women’s fiction moves into the beach house next door to—gasp!her literary rival since college. Of course, the rival is an attractive, successful man. But Emily Henry uses this tropey set-up to explore what makes something a “beach read”; her main characters agree to swap genres (heavy literary fiction for romance) to overcome their respective writers block, and in doing so learn the value of each. Not just a beach-set rom-com, Beach Read—as its blunt title suggests—is a meta exploration of its genre.  

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Harry Potter and the Reckoning of a Childhood Hero

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone CoverToday is Harry Potter’s (and his author’s) birthday, and I want to start this post with a quote from a scrapped draft I had written for the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone a few years ago:

19 years ago, Christmas Day, I opened a present from my aunt. It was a hard cover children’s book with a boy and a train on the cover. I didn’t know what it was, and when I spoke to her on the phone later that morning she said “Everyone’s talking about it, I think you’ll like it.” I was 9 years old at the time, a heavy reader and not very discriminating in taste, so I shrugged and started reading. It’s now been 20 years since the UK publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, I’m approaching my 28th birthday, and I’ve got plans to tattoo a Harry Potter quote somewhere on my body. As you can probably infer, J.K. Rowling’s generation-defining series has never lost a place in my life. So as the world celebrates #HarryPotter20, I sat down and thought about these books, what they mean to me (and to all of us), and what stands out about them 20 years later.  

For me, the defining lessons in Harry Potter are of loyalty, friendship, tolerance, and standing up to oppression. The last book may have published 10 years ago, but don’t those sound like lessons we can still use today? 

Like just about everything in 2020, looking back on this in our current situation just seems so quaint. So innocent. Better days. What we have now is that proverbial loss of innocence—in truth as in fiction, nothing gold can stay. Especially not when a beloved childhood figure has 24-hour access to Twitter and a desire to burn her empire to the ground. I’m referring, of course, to the media firestorm one JK Rowling has created by not only tweeting openly transphobic views, but digging her heels in when criticized. She brazenly picked up a shovel, and now all we can do is watch aghast as she digs her own (professional) grave.  

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