My favourite things

Liquid fire

Guess who this is? (Hint: it is I) Floradorp New Year’s celebration, 2013/2014.

As a kid, I was incessantly bullied. I was fat, bad at all sports, extremely introverted, wore thick glasses, I lived inside books and mixtapes I made. I was so smart I excelled at everything (but sports) but not smart enough to understand that always knowing all the answers and bragging about how I never had to study for tests didn’t make me popular. (Emotional intelligence was not strong in this one at the age of 7.) So I avoided the other boys. I was both alone and lonely most of the time, my companions being books and music, but twice a year I would be rewarded with magic.

Back in the 1980s, every worker was sent on subsidised vacations. We’d pick one out of, I don’t know, three near identical locations, and go there for two weeks, paying silly money – think €10 per day for a family of three. Certain traditions were always observed during those outings. The first evening without rain would be the “evening of friendship,” where the kids would be obnoxious together, adults would get drunk, then at some point the kids would get sent to bed.

Except me.

The Best Books Of 2019 You\’ve (most probably) REALLY Never Heard Of

A week or two ago I saw yet another of those Best Books of 2019 articles in An Important Newspaper. I was surprised by how predictable that list was, but not by the complete absence of indie writers. One of my Twitter followers tagged the article’s author, mentioning the indie scene never getting noticed unless the indie author gets offered a “real” contract. The response was “one of those publishers is a very small indie press”. (I checked. The very small indie press was home to more than 30 authors.) This, unfortunately, wasn’t the question, but once it got clarified the article’s author didn’t respond anymore. An indie writer is not one that has a perfectly normal contract with a perfectly normal publishing house which calls itself indie because it’s not an imprint of the Big 5.

The publishing market has been evolving at the speed of light, single-handedly upended by a certain Jeff Bezos. The monopoly of the agent-editor system is falling apart and unsurprisingly the people who make money out of it don’t like it. The main weapon the Big 5 still have against self-publishers and indie authors is discoverability via The Important Newspapers and The Important Newspapers also know that. Publishers Weekly now offers reviews to indies, except the authors hoping to have their book reviewed have to pay hundreds of $$$ for the privilege. The Best Books Of 2019 You Have Never Heard Of lists tend to be variations on the same fifty titles. What possibly baffles me the most are the well-publicised one-star reviews of really awful books, the only merit of which is that they were published by Simon & Schuster rather than Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing.

Out of the six best books I have read this year five were written/published by indies. Why don’t those books get press? Because they don’t sell enough. Why don’t they sell enough? Because they don’t get press. It used to just be the publishers who made sure some voices would never be heard. Now that there are ways to go around publishers, media gleefully took over the role.

Here are some great indie books I’ve read this year and would recommend to anyone, and there is a chance you’ve really never heard about them. Before I begin, though, I would like to thank all the book bloggers who put their time and work and dedication into helping indie writers and their audiences find each other.

Happy Solstice!

Last Christmas

Until the early 2000s, we celebrated Christmas as one big squabbling family. I personally made sure that the TV would stay off. Smartphones weren’t a thing yet. There were always fifteen or more of us, kids and adults from various parts of the country. My uncle would tell fascinating stories about his ulcers – I didn’t mind, it was just good to see him that one time in the year. Some got married, some were heading for a divorce that was not discussed at the table. At the centre of everything was my Grandma. I’d sit on the ground with my chin on her knee and just feel that… that thing that I thought of as Christmas. I did that when I was six and I still did it when I was twenty-something. We were not like a TV family – too much drinking, too much politics, too many ulcers – but even before I turned 20 I wasn’t stupid enough to believe that adverts and movies presented the real world.

Fifteen or sixteen years ago I came out as gay. I was assured that nothing would change, that I was loved as I was, and since I had a boyfriend I thought that meant he’d be treated the same way my cousins’ girlfriends were. My aunt, whose house was the only big enough to accommodate the whole shebang, told me that we were not welcome – it was fine for me to be gay, but only as long as I wasn’t being gay in her presence. That was it. I never even found out whether the rest of the family asked and/or were told why I suddenly stopped appearing.

 

What next?

Our family, with one or two exceptions, considered themselves atheists, but very few people in Poland didn’t celebrate the holiday.  For us, Christmas had nothing to do with the church or Jesus. It was about being together, consuming a lot of calories, laughing at the kids that were nearly unconscious with excitement because there were presents. It took one short phone call – I was only going to ask whether three p.m. was good, or should we arrive earlier or later – to lose all that. I have never seen some of the family members again, those who lived so far away we only ever met on that one occasion. The end of December, however, didn’t get cancelled worldwide to make things easier for me.

Good Omens and American Gods

Recently I’ve spent a few frustrating days catching up with TV. I rarely watch anything, but when I found out that two of my favourite books – Good Omens and American Gods – were receiving the visual treatment, I knew that within ten years I’ll sit down and watch, and that I will have a great time!

I did not have a great time.

 

Good Omens

Watching Good Omens was the most frustrating time I’ve spent in front of the TV since I had last screamed “y u so STUPID, Jason Stackhouse?!” at the screen. When Good Omens got something right, it was better than I could have ever imagined, surpassing what I would have considered to be perfection. When it wasn’t perfect, though, it was either embarrassing or… boring.

 

 

The biggest problem was God. (This is not a sentence I ever expected myself to utter.) Frances McDormand was a great choice, it’s just that she shouldn’t have been there at all. Certain parts of the book have proven to be too difficult (or impossible) to translate into a visual medium, so the series would sort of take a break for McDormand to provide a rambling explanation of why things were happening. I was reminded of my grandma, who used to watch soap operas. We’d sit in front of TV and I would discreetly fiddle with my phone, as grandma provided running commentary: “you see, this is Bill, he is a bad guy, he is very rich because he stole the money from his ex-wife, and this bitch here is his girlfriend Tabitha, she’s cheating on him with the gardener, she is not a nice woman at all, but then Bill deserves it…” I’ve always felt that if something needs to be explained, it doesn’t belong – in a book, in a museum, on TV. This is not to say that I would have known how to do it – it just didn’t work for me.

Cord and Nenn: an awkward interview

Yours truly, a well-seasoned journalist and writer, greatly enjoyed Clayton Snyder’s River of Thieves and decided to interview the main characters, Cord and Nenn. Unfortunately some notes might have been misplaced… An awkward, unedited transcript follows.

BL: Welcome to LRSN FM! Today we have the most special guest for you: Mademoiselle Nenne du Corduroy talking about her new memoir, “Lotus on the Lake”. Uhm, mademoiselle, you can’t smoke in here. And… this… person… is, uh, your current husband, the Duke, I gather?

Cord (C): Wait. You wrote a book?
Nenn (N): I do a lot of things.
C: “Lotus on the Lake”.
N: Eh, the publisher thought it’d sell better with the Hestians.
C: Funny.
N: Why?
C: Most of them are illiterate.
N: *rolls eyes*
N: Wait. Did you say husband?
C: Why? Why would someone say that?
N: I don’t really like…
C: Penises. She doesn’t like penises.
N: Well, I was going to be more tactful, but yeah. In a nutshell.
C: *giggling*
N: Sigh. Next question.

When you\’re on social media

A while ago Pet Shop Boys released their latest EP, Agenda, featuring the song ‘On social media’. I recommend watching the entire video, it’s fantastic.

 

 

When you care about the issues of the day
And check your facts on Wikipedia
You can and get into an argument right away
If you’re on social media

I use Twitter a lot. It’s extremely easy to get into an argument about literally anything. If you follow me, you will notice I never post or repost anything political, with the exception of the climate catastrophe content, which is politicised, but not political. (When we’re dead it won’t matter whether we voted left, right, or down.)

I used to get into those arguments. I’d get myself so worked up I wouldn’t be able to sleep sometimes, rolling in bed at 2am, coming with the best retorts that I didn’t think about eight hours earlier. It wasn’t until my friend R. pointed out that I didn’t actually have to engage that I understood… she was right. I didn’t have to engage. I was choosing to. And, like that, I chose to stop.

Terschelling: a retreat

My greatest wish is to live in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere. As of right now, we live in an apartment near the centre of Amsterdam. Every now and then I need an escape, and this time we went to a holiday island – Terschelling.

The Netherlands is a small country with more people than necessary space, and that’s before the tourists descend. It’s also a flat country. Literally. It has no mountains (although a friend of mine once had a really large zit and it got officially registered as Holland’s tallest peak at 2.3 mm). Amsterdam is obviously the worst place for a lover of nature, space, and silence. The holiday islands are exactly what they say they are – 99% of their income comes from tourism. Luckily, we went a week after the school holidays ended, which made me the youngest person around with the exception of people who live and work on Terschelling. Nobody blasted loud music. I only had to pick up other people’s litter once. It was rather fabulous…

Saturday

It turns out that the change from living near the centre of Amsterdam to this place is brutal. I am not used to silence. Actual, near-complete silence, interrupted only by the sounds of rain and hail, birds’ mating call, and one rather insistent duck attempting to join us inside. We don’t let the duck in. My head is super-confused. I’ve been ready to go to sleep from about 7pm (when it was still completely light outside), because the only times when I experience actual silence are when I go to bed with earplugs in.

My top 10 favourite Game of Thrones characters

Game of Thrones is coming back, just in time to celebrate the 10th anniversary of George R. R. Martin announcing that book six, The Winds of Winter, will be out soon. (You might think I’m kidding, but the completion of the first four chapters WAS announced in June 2010…) Since we are unlikely to ever read the last two books, we have to focus on the final season. Which starts tomorrow.

Read further for a (mostly) spoiler-free list of my favourite characters…

Reading: a cautionary tale

Reading is dangerous. Addiction to books – expensive and time-consuming. Keep your kids away from books. Or they will fall in love with them and nothing will drag them back to Snapnite, Instabook, and drugs anymore.

My first book

I really wish I could remember more than that it was a kids’ book. Large print, illustrations, etc.

Every evening my Mum would sit with me and read me a book. Those were Communist days, which – you don’t see it coming – meant that there were PLENTY of books, they were cheap, subsidised by government, and a print run of 50 thousand meant the publisher was testing the waters. There was a series of kids’ books called “Poczytaj mi, Mamo” (“Read to me, Mom”) available. I had them all, as in all six or so, and Mum had to suffer through the same ones over and over again. I was a regular Calvin, knowing when she skipped even one word, and she worked two jobs. Eventually she got frustrated, told me “you know each of those books by heart, there’s no need to read them for you” and left me alone.

She was right – I really knew those books by heart. I quickly figured out how letters corresponded with phonems, then with words, and pretty soon I was reading other books. I didn’t know this was unusual – or that there were books that were not suitable for humans my age. I was four years old.

The Magical Garden Diaries (March 2019) pt. I

Tuesday, March 19

I haven’t realised how extremely tired I was until my friend, the owner of the Magical Garden and the cabin where I am staying, left me alone. I texted Husby to tell him I arrived and everything was perfectly fine, then switched my phone off and sighed out loud “now I am offline”. This was the first surprise I gave myself.

I ate some bits and pieces, unpacked the essentials, used the gentlemen’s room, then left one lamp on and decided I needed real rest. So I went to lie in bed – there’s no door between the bed and the living space.

I sighed with pleasure as I stretched my aching bones, then decided the lamp was irritating me and I wanted the cabin to be lit only by the fire. I got up, switched the lamp off, then returned to bed.

I sighed with pleasure as I stretched my aching bones, then decided to get up and stop the toilet from doing that thing where you have to push the button again so it stops leaking indefinitely and making noise.

I sighed with pleasure as I stretched my aching bones, then shut my eyes. I opened them a moment later, alarmed, when I heard an odd sound – like a motorbike that’s going very fast, but the source of the sound was moving very slowly. It was an airplane. But the other noise, a louder one, was an owl looking for a one-night stand. I closed my eyes again and only then realised how extremely tired I’ve been.

*

In the last months, I’ve gone through a lot in my personal life, I ended up stuck in a legal dispute, and at the same time I am launching a book. If I had known earlier, I would have picked a different date, but the letter in which life was notifying me that it intended to get really intense must have gone missing. Coming here and getting off the grid for a week right before the book’s release date was probably shooting myself in the foot from the commercial point of view. But only now that I was able to rest have I realised how badly I needed it all this time.

After a while – it was still early – I decided to go for a short walk. To my dismay, I noticed some sort of brutal, bright light that made it difficult for me to do stargazing, so I turned… and faced the moon. It was so bright that I was literally casting a moonlight shadow. I gawked at the shadow, then back at the full moon. It was the only source of light around and no torch was needed. 

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