January 2020 reads

Tales from Outer Suburbia

  • Written by: Shaun Tan
  • Format: Graphic short stories, Hardback


I just love Shaun Tan books. Here we have more beautifully illustrated short stories with a touch of the surreal and abstract. I loved the story about xmas-like traditions, where people had begun to hang decorations on their roof satellites, alongside their most prized possession, whereupon a giant reindeer would come along during the night and take away the possession (if it smelled like a loved object) leaving the owner with a bittersweet detachment from material possession.


Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling

  • Written by: Emer McLysaght, Sarah Breen
  • Format: Audiobook

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I don’t usually enjoy popular light reads but now and then I fancy something easy, and also occasionally find my curiosity piqued by the book of the moment, and everybody on the planet seems to love OMGWACA. To begin with, it was exactly what I expected: really on point with the Irish Cultural references which resulted in a few funny scenes. And I can see why some people would find it hilarious. But no LOLS from me. I just found it mildly amusing.

There’s not so much a plot as there is one thing after another. Aishling at a wedding, Aishling crying about her boyfriend John, Aishling on holiday, Aishling crying about John, Aishling moving to Dublin, Aishling crying about John, Aishling on another holiday, Aishling crying about John, ad infinitum.

About halfway through the book, here’s the vibe I got: Are you ever in an office canteen and there are a few people gossiping in hushed tones about some drama, and you just want to get your cup of tea and GTF out of there because you haven’t the slightest interest in that banal shite? Well that’s the vibe. I just couldn’t give a shit about Aishling’s banal dramas. There was zero depth (token tragedy doesn’t count), and no real plot, just one canteen drama after another.

And while the observant humour is mildly amusing, “Its funny cos it’s true!” stopped being funny about 10 years ago. Without a unique and wise world view, or some extra edge, observational comedy just isn’t funny enough on it’s own any more. Obviously plenty of people disagree but I can’t help thinking this is the literary equivalent of Mrs Brown’s Boys: if you like your comedy layed on thick, you’ll wet your pants. Mine are still dry though.

Overall I found it to be the light amusing read I expected but it was a one-trick-pony that got exceedingly more tedious the longer one-thing-after-another went on for.

Well – that all came out far more scathing than I expected. I hate looking like a book snob. But I’ve not much interest in being dishonest either.


Orange: The Complete Collection, Volume 1

  • Written & illustrated by: Ichigo Takano
  • Format: Graphic novel


This was my first Manga book. It has rave reviews but I think that’s from a young audience because the content is very YA. It’s a sweet enough story about a girl who receives a letter from her future self. But I was never fully invested. I found myself impatiently flicking through the pages and was looking forward to the end when I read the most disappointing three little words I’ve ever read in a book: “To be continued”. Argh! Not sure how I quite missed the relevance of “Volume 1” I think I was thrown by the “Complete collection”.


Trick Mirror

  • Written by: Jia Tolentino
  • Format: Kindle

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Jia Tolentino is a very sharp insightful writer, which is instantly revealed in the first essay about the excitement of growing up with the early days of the Internet and watching it transmogrify into what we have today and all the baggage it has picked up along the way.

“Like many among us, I have become acutely conscious of the way my brain degrades when I strap it in to receive the full barrage of the internet—these unlimited channels, all constantly reloading with new information: births, deaths, boasts, bombings, jokes, job announcements, ads, warnings, complaints, confessions, and political disasters blitzing our frayed neurons in huge waves of information that pummel us and then are instantly replaced. This is an awful way to live, and it is wearing us down quickly.”

“The internet is governed by incentives that make it impossible to be a full person while interacting with it. In the future, we will inevitably be cheapened. Less and less of us will be left, not just as individuals but also as community members, as a collective of people facing various catastrophes.”

This set high expectations for me, but I didn’t quite engage as much with the subsequent essays even though the writing was at the same high bar, though the essay on the kind of Ecstasy promised by religion or chemicals was quite good too.

Most of the others, had a feminist slant. Well I mean, how can any book of essays by any female writer in the current genderpolitical climate not be set against a backdrop of feminist issues? Topics include the depiction of Heroines in fiction, the idea of the “troublesome woman” in celebrity culture, and a fantastic piece on the rise of the scammer.

Some essays sit somewhere between think-pieces and investigative journalism, particularly the piece about the university that gleams with a veneer of utopia while trying to conceal an underbelly of frat-boy gang-rape culture. The book finishes in a flourish on the subject of weddings, revealing that a lot of strongly held “old traditions” are relatively new, while also pondering the bum deal marriage can be for women. Here is another great line:

“The paradox at the heart of the wedding comes from the two versions of a woman that it conjures. There’s the glorified bride, looming large and resplendent and almost monstrously powerful, and there’s her nullified twin and opposite, the woman who vanishes underneath the name change and the veil. These two selves are opposites, bound together by male power.”

That almost seems like the definition of a trick mirror.

This book is supposed to have a theme of self-delusion. And some essays do. But it doesn’t quite hang together as a whole in the same way other essay books have done for me. It read to me as more of a greatest hits compilation than a proper album. But that doesn’t take away too much from the overall experience. Still a fine read


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