Volpone by Ben Jonson
My degree was English/French combined, which was great in some ways- I got to pick the best modules and didn't have to settle for any filler, but it also meant I missed out on some things that I really ought to have read by now. So I've kind of been making an effort to read those books, push into different eras/styles and all that. And I have to say, my initial foray into that experiment was not... particularly successful. It's Renaissance era, which is something I basically never read, and it's drama, which I don't read enough of... but yeah, this wasn't really for me. As a comedy I didn't find it particularly funny- not in the way Shakespeare can make me laugh, and the misogyny kind of turned me off- yeah, yeah, part of the time and place and that, but even taking that into consideration. So, not my thing. But, I'm still glad I read it and I'm not going to give up this weird project of mine.
So, there was a lot of hype about this book a while back and I was intrigued, but also a little cautious because of natural distrust for hype and a few negative reviews I read (nevermind all the positive ones- apparently I only remember the bad ones...) Also, come to think of it, because even though I love the epidemic-apocalyptic in theory, there are an awful lot of well-loved books on the topic that I just couldn't get into- The Stand, The Passage, World War Z...
But I eventually picked it up and I really enjoyed it, so yay! In case you've somehow managed to avoid this, it's set in the aftermath of a deadly virus that killed most of the world population. The protagonist travels the desolate US in an orchestra/Shakespearean theatre group, which is kind of awesome. There's shifting point of views and flashbacks to the outbreak itself and everything just kind of worked- the world building, the writing, the characterisation. One of my favourites of this year so far!
Emma Donoghue is one of my absolute favourite writers, and it breaks my heart that I'm getting towards the end of her back catalogue. She is still writing though, so there's that. Anyway! This interestingly titled book is a collection of short stories based on anecdotes and oddities in old newspapers that Donoghue encountered while researching other things. Including, yep, a woman in the 18th century who apparently gave birth to rabbits. This is a pretty great little collection- some stories are funny, some are downright horrifying. All are really quirky and interesting.
Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity, ed by Mattilda AKA Matthew Bernstein Sycamore
Passing is a topic close to my heart. I've been gender non-conforming for pretty much my whole life. Basically, I only identify as a woman some of the time- the rest I'm a boy or, just, neither. I've struggled with trying to 'pass' as a boy for as long as I can remember- and, since about the age of eight, with little success. I'm small and slight and have 'feminine features' and yeah, sometimes that's bothered me a lot. But I also know that the whole idea of 'passing' is pretty much bullshit and leads to all sorts of dangerous and problematic ideas. Which is something that's pretty relevant these days, because while there's a lot of talk about trans acceptance, if anything there's even more pressure on trans people to look 'feminine' or 'masculine' enough.
So anyway! I picked up this book in the hope of exploring these ideas and I was not disappointed. The essays are incredibly diverse, dealing not only with sexuality and gender but also 'passing' with regard to race and religion and other things. So, I really enjoyed this and it made me feel good about being the girly boyish girl mess that I am. Really good stuff, definitely best of 2016 material.