The Reason To Avoid That Bridge

There is a certain kind of personality that thrives on chaos, a personality who sees interactions with other people not as an opportunity to discover and appreciate the human experience, but as pure combat. It’s about getting a reaction, and the bigger the rise, the bigger the win. We all know these people. Like your gross uncle at Thanksgiving who can’t stop making fart jokes at dinner, these people have no sense of what’s appropriate and revel in creating discomfort, pulling out all the shitty stops to ensure that everyone pays attention to them. Scientifically speaking, these people are referred to as “jackasses”. Encountering jackasses used to be a matter of chance; you may or may not have run into one going about your day, and once identified, you could take pains to avoid them. (Unless your mom put you in the buffer seat next to your uncle at Thanksgiving. Sorry your mom did that.) However, the advent of social media provides almost daily exposure to particularly malevolent folks who practice their jackassery scorched-earth style. You see them in the comments section on YouTube, you see them shutting down conversation threads on Facebook, you see them starting flame wars on Twitter. I am talking about the trolls, and whenever I see a troll in action, I always think of Iago, that king of all trolldom from Shakespeare’s Othello.
Iago: What’s that thing?
Me: My laptop
Iago: Can I kill people with it
Me: Damn Iago not everything is a thing to kill people with

Othello tells the story of one man’s obsession with…well, obsession. Othello, an experienced soldier, is regarded highly by his peers and his superiors. As the play opens, the audience is introduced to Othello via a conversation between Othello’s fellow soldiers Iago and Roderigo, who discuss Othello’s new marriage to an adoring wife, his prowess as a soldier, and his skill as a leader. They are really happy for Othello and wish him all the best. HAHAHAHAHA just kidding. Roderigo’s pissed that Othello married the girl Roderigo wanted, and Iago’s pissed because—well, Iago’s just pissed, and he is not going to take Othello’s general success and popularity lying down. He takes some time to lay out his detailed plan to ruin Othello’s life by lying, manipulating, and generally gaslighting Othello (and everyone Othello knows and trusts). This is Iago’s show, and Othello is just living in it. While he would have been very effective behind a keyboard, Iago trolls the old-fashioned way – face to face –  but he gets it done just fine. Long held as one of the most repulsive characters in literature, Iago’s reason for wanting to destroy Othello is a disturbing and pathetic “just because”.
Iago: The means totally justified the ends
Me: That is not how that saying works
Iago: Troll big or troll home
Me: Bad. At. Sayings.

Online misbehavior makes headlines now almost weekly. Keyboard anonymity provides a safe, cushy place from which to engage in disruptive hostility. It seems generally agreed upon that trolling is a recent phenomenon, fostered by the internet, but I know better. Iago was trolling when people thought the world was flat and attending a witch trial counted as weekend plans. There’s trolling, then there’s trolling, Elizabethan style, which is infinitely more twisted courtesy Iago’s soulless pursuit of a bad time. This involves conveniently overheard conversations, conveniently planted handkerchiefs, more conveniently overheard conversations, and, of course, misinterpretations of innocuous body language. Put all that together, add Iago, and you have Othello convinced that his wife Desdemona is cheating on him with his favorite lieutenant Cassio. Spoiler alert: this play does not have a happy ending.
Iago: I have Elizabethan internet
Me: What’s that
Iago: I bribe a town crier with meat pies to improve my search engine ranking

Othello is one of Shakespeare’s tragedies – you can tell by all the stabbing and smothering – and while it’s definitely a familiar one, it isn’t as quotable as some of Shakespeare’s other work. What it does deliver, though, is a line from Iago that is one of the most famous lines from anything ever: “Beware jealousy, my lord. It is the green-eyed monster that doth mock the meat it feeds on.” As much as Iago talks in this play—and Holy Alpenhorn, he talks a LOT—this line about jealousy as close as we ever get to a true motive for Iago’s malice. And malicious jealousy is the only way to characterize Iago’s systematic deceptions that ultimately drive Othello to kill his wife Desdemona and commit suicide. Iago also manages to kill his own wife, Emilia, and his original partner in crime Roderigo. Because Iago is such an egomaniac he isn’t going to let anyone out-murder him.
Iago: All I do is win win win no matter what
Me: How do you know that song
Iago: Haters gonna hate
Me: Did someone show you the non-Elizabethan internet??
Iago: Subscribe to my YouTube channel

Troll Ave

Iago’s address, probably

Current conversations about making the internet a safer space often collide with the allowances of free speech. Can trolls be curtailed without limiting rights? It’s a complicated question, but not for Shakespeare. At the end of Othello, Iago’s machinations are revealed and he is recognized for the vile jackass that he is. I’ve always found it intriguing that Iago is not immediately killed, but instead arrested and dragged away for some Elizabethan-style questioning about his crimes. Iago isn’t deserving of the swift justice we see other Shakespeare villains get (Macbeth, I’m looking at you). Iago gets what a troll hates more than anything – rendered irrelevant, condemned to invisibility as he rots in a cell. When I feel helpless and frustrated at hearing another disgusting online trolling story, and I want to see justice done in a big way, I remember that Iago made a huge mess but he finally got his. It’s a small literary comfort, but I’ll take it.
Iago: What is Elizabethan questioning?
Me: Torture
Iago: CRAP


Action Items
If you are online trolling, stop it right now. Unless you are Kenneth McCarthy, in which case carry on with my compliments.

The Reason For Blowing Smoke

I’m in the mood to spill some dirt today. I’m going to blow my own whistle – a statement which, in hindsight, carries way more innuendo than is appropriate for a book blog, but whatever. Let’s fire up this drum circle and share some secrets. This is a big one, so get ready:

BookReasons is not my real name.

That’s right-pseudonym isn’t just a word that let me kill it back in that 5th-grade spelling bee. It’s the literary equivalent of a secret identity. It’s authorial intrigue. It’s a title page bob and weave, a misdirection, an invisibility cloak. Writing and publishing under a name not your own is a practice as old as the written word.
Socrates: I had to publish all my fanfic under a pseudonym
Me: You wrote fanfic?
Socrates: A graphic novel AU where Zeus is a building code inspector
Me: Ruler of Olympus? That Zeus?
Socrates: Zeus is a little volatile
Me: I’ve heard
Socrates: So I figured, pseudonym was the best way to go
Me: Better than being turned into a bull
Socrates: HAHAHA Zeus is so unstable

Literary history is littered with works published under fake names. There are a lot of great reasons authors go deep undercover. Spreading salacious, mostly-true gossip (Benjamin Franklin as Alice Addertongue), safely discussing controversial topics (Benjamin Franklin as Polly Baker), or to create an author persona that gives a work legitimacy (Benjamin Franklin as Richard Saunders). For female authors, using an overtly male name provided an avenue to publication otherwise denied to women. Stephen King published under a pseudonym in the 1980s as a workaround to an industry restriction to publishing more than one book a year. My personal queen of all things pseudonym? J.K. Rowling.

J.K. Rowling actually doubled down in the pseudonym game. When she first published the Harry Potter books, the prevailing wisdom dictated that her target audience of tween boys would be more apt to purchase a book by a male author, so instead of her full oh-so-girly name, her ambiguous initials went on the book. (Can I please have a medal for suppressing my rant on the “EW GIRLS HAVE COOTIES” assumption that motivated this whole thing? Preferably a shiny medal made out of chocolate? Or just some onion dip. Ship it to me.) After concluding the Harry Potter series (TAKE THAT, VOLDEMORT) she decided to publish her next books under yet another pseudonym, Robert Galbraith, to avoid saddling the new books with the weight and expectations of the Harry Potter baggage.

One of the delightful things about reading J.K. Rowling is the strength her joy in the elements of language give her books. Her pure etymological nerdiness gives her work a nuanced, crafted essence that is both specific and grounded. It’s an incredibly deliberate approach to word choice that is completely transparent. It makes her narrative style arresting. Her work is sticky— the words make the sentences interlock so solidly that it’s almost impossible to stop reading once you’ve started. There is lift and momentum that goes beyond the charm of the story, and that is a style that screams “J.K. was here”.

Sometimes, I am completely immersed in the writing and publishing history of a book. I know what prompted the author to write it, the writing life cycle, the publication date, what color the cover will be, who designed the cover, and the name of the FedEx driver who is delivering the books to the bookstore. Other times, I see a book, decide it looks interesting and pick it up. Honestly, there is no middle ground. I either do a full belly-flop into fangirl or I’m a magpie reacting to something shiny. Whatever my mood, it’s a win for me, because I’m going home with a book. I bought Robert Galbraith’s (WINK WINK) first book, Cuckoo’s Calling, specifically because I like the word “cuckoo”. Seriously. That’s it. I am a cheap date.
Socrates: In my fanfic AU sometimes Zeus is impulsive
Me: That’s not really AU though
Socrates: No he’s all “Let’s have tuna for lunch” or whatever LOL
Me: Not afraid of controversy I see

Cuckoo’s Calling is the first book in a series about struggling London private detective Cormoran Strike, an Afghanistan war veteran and amputee. Living paycheck to paycheck on menial jobs, Strike is swamped with debt and is reduced to living in the back room of his small office. As the book begins, Strike accidentally hires a Girl Friday, a temp assistant sent to Strike’s office by mistake by her employment agency. Already charmed by the bird imagery in the title and the main character’s name, I laughed out loud when I saw the assistant’s name was Robin. I liked the clever little aviary triangle and I stopped reading to flip to the author page to introduce myself to Robert Galbraith and found…not much. I thought that was interesting because the book didn’t read like a first-time novel, but whatever. It was marvelous to have a word nerd author to read.



Cuckoo in its natural habitat


One of my favorite proverbs is “Blood will out”. A person’s nature, good or bad, can’t be disguised. You can morph it, package it, and give it a misleading name, but the proof is in the pudding (bonus proverb for you!) It took all of three months for the world to figure out that J.K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith were one and the same. I was a little disappointed I did not figure it out, but hey, that’s how J.K. wanted it to go down. Lucky for me, I don’t have any already-famous novels out there, so I can stay deep undercover.
Socrates: You can’t put lipstick on a pig
Me: Huh?
Socrates: That’s my favorite proverb
Me: You had lipstick and pigs in ancient Greece?
Socrates: Yeah and it was a bitch to get the pigs to sit still for makeovers
Me: Ancient Greece is weird


Action Items
I did not come close to winning my 5th-grade spelling bee. I bit it in the fourth round on “thoroughbred”.


image courtesy wikihow

The Reason I’m ImPoesing

When it comes to looking for new reading material, I’m both lazy and impatient, so one of my favorite hacks is culling titles from award lists. I mean, if something was nominated for an award, it’s probably good, and I didn’t have to go to all the effort of looking at a whole bunch of books and making a decision. Those poor suckers on the award committees had to do all that work. My favorite awards list is the Edgar Awards, named for Edgar Allen Poe and presented yearly by the Mystery Writers of America. The Edgar Awards recognize mystery and crime fiction/non-fiction writing and they know how to pick ‘em. I’m always finding great books on the Edgar lists. Feel free to check them out yourself, or if you are even lazier than I am, pick from my list of Edgar Award authors below. Stop complaining–there are only two. Jeez.


You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

I have a recurring dream about elevators. I’m in a giant, casino-hotel-sized building and I get on the elevator to go to a high floor. After I press the button, the elevator starts to move, but instead of going up, it goes sideways or diagonally or backward. The elevator walls are glass, so I can look out and view the odd angles the elevator is traveling, but I don’t have any way to change direction or arrest momentum because the elevator buttons don’t work. That slippery feeling of witnessing your own powerlessness is perfectly captured in Megan Abbott’s new book, You Will Know Me. Set in the suburban world of competitive gymnastics, the book introduces the Knox family: father Eric, mother Katie, 10-year-old son Drew, and the otherworldly-gifted gymnastics dynamo, 14-year-old daughter Devon. Like a weird dream that takes place in an ordinary setting, Abbott’s writing builds tension in banal places, driving this murder mystery story from perceptions and points of view. You Will Know Me is ultimately Katie’s story, showcasing the choices the mother of an extraordinarily talented child will make in extraordinary circumstances. When your family’s status quo includes a future Olympics on the horizon, how does that distort the prism through which a mother views her world? I loved this book—once I opened it, I could not put it down. I am definitely going to be giving the gymnasts in Rio serious side-eye because I never knew gymnastics could be this murdery.

policeman_winner-cover_Layout 1

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

I grabbed The Last Policeman after gleaning “New Hampshire rookie detective” from the summary I skimmed. Imagine my surprise when I found I’d purchased science fiction. Science fiction is my third-rail genre, y’all. The Last Policeman’s premise is not so much apocalyptic as pre-apocalyptic. An asteroid is on a direct flight to collide with and destroy Earth in six months – how, then, does one spend the time on the countdown clock? Personally, I’d have some sort of epic French-onion-dip consumption plan, but main character Detective Hank Palace is a better person than I am. Trying to live out his lifelong dream of being a professional policeman in an increasingly chaotic world, Palace is nobly fighting an uphill battle. Winters poses intriguing (and uncomfortable) questions about how much our humanity is tied to infrastructure and technology. Does Hank Palace’s loyalty to an old-fashioned sense of personal honor have a place in a society no longer constrained by any fear of accountability? I loved that push and pull in this book. The Last Policeman is the first book in a trilogy, and I’ve read the second one, Countdown City, and I’ve got the third one, World Of Trouble, on deck, so yes-I am reading science fiction now, apparently. (I assume the series stopped at three because that asteroid finally lands). Final score: Science Fiction 3, Bookreasons 1.


Action Items
The 2016 Edgar Awards were presented in April. Check out that list, along with prior year winners and nominees, at