Think of the saying “There’s always a tweet,” but instead, I propose “There’s always a book.” As someone who recently paired great books to read with great shows and books with memes/gifs, I clearly just like pairing books with non-books. This is how I recently found myself with a repeat challenge: pairing books with recent(ish) headlines!
Yes, a lot of the news is very bad lately because there are a lot of harmful and cruel people enacting harmful and cruel policies, and shocking to no one who believes in science, it appears scientists have been correct on the whole climate change alarm they’ve been ringing. But because we’re humans, there is also ridiculous news — which I started with. There’s a range of topics, including publishing scandals, censorship, and even a headline that made me think, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” All the books are excellent reads, so as much as I entertained myself in playing this pairing game, I also ensured you would have good book options.
Bear Necessity by James Gould-Bourn
“Hangzhou Zoo, located in the capital of China’s Zhejiang province, issued a response to wild online rumours that broke out this week accusing the facility of hiring humans to dress in bear costumes and perform for park guests.”
—”Zoo forced to deny its bears are ‘humans in disguise’ after viral photo” by Joe Attanasio
Sun Bears really do sometimes look ridiculously like humans in a costume, and while they aren’t, this book does feature a human in a bear costume. Will hasn’t spoken since his mother died in a car accident. His father, Danny, having lost his job on top of grieving his wife and trying to raise his son, purchases a panda costume to dance for money. This is how, one day in the park, he finally gets his son to open up to him, as his son has no idea it’s his father in the costume.
Her Majesty’s Royal Coven (Her Majesty’s Royal Coven #1) by Juno Dawson
“In October, the paper of record published an article about young people who undergo top surgery, seeming to pose the question of whether or not trans adolescents should have access to the procedure because of the slight chance they might regret it. This is despite the fact that the article itself notes that only 203 top surgeries for minors were carried out in the U.S. in all of 2021; for comparison, as the Advocate noted, 3,200 girls ages 13 to 19 received cosmetic breast implants in 2020. And yet, only one of these two procedures receives scrutiny under the guise of ‘just asking questions.’”
—”The Onion Does What Other Outlets Won’t: Stand Up for Trans People” by James Factora
Her Majesty’s Royal Coven is fun, hilarious, has great characters, and is about witches! It should be on every must-read fantasy list. The cherry on top of all of that? It feels like a nice — and necessary — middle finger to an author using their giant platform to harm the transgender community.
Two important notes:
Absolutely have the sequel, The Shadow Cabinet, ready. Juno Dawson is an evil and brilliant cliffhanger writer.
The audiobooks for the first and second books each have a different narrator — both are fantastic and nail the humor — including one of the Derry Girl actresses: Aoife McMahon and Nicola Coughlan.
Liliana’s Invincible Summer: A Sister’s Search for Justice by Cristina Rivera Garza
“Mexico faces some of the world’s highest levels of gender violence, and spates of femicides — murders of women or girls on basis of their gender — has sparked fierce protests as women fight for more accountability.”
—”In Mexico, a state votes to toughen laws against femicides, acid attacks” by Reuters
This is an excellent true crime memoir that places the focus on the victim and ties the case to the larger societal issues — in this case, femicide in Mexico. It’s a blend of memoir, true crime, and diary entries, and I selected it as the best book I read in the first half of 2023.
For audiobook readers, Victoria Villarreal does a fantastic job narrating the audiobook!
Yellowface by R. F. Kuang
“Whether you refer to it as ‘hot goss,’ ‘spilling the tea,’ or attempt to sound refined by using ‘talk of the town’ (we’re looking at you, The New Yorker), everyone loves a good juicy story, especially those involving schadenfreude.”
—11 Juicy Literary Scandals by Bethanne Patrick
June Hayward and Athena Liu are frenemy authors, with only Liu having become successful. So when Liu chokes on food and dies, Hayward finds herself stealing Liu’s draft of her next novel and passing it as her own — with a name change to Juniper Song. What could possibly go wrong?
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
“In a democracy, liberty and free speech require robust protection in the face of cultural and political censors. Protecting students’ freedom to read must be no different. In the face of a growing movement to censor public education, it’s essential that we sound the alarm over book banning in its most insidious forms, especially those propelled by hate and ignorance.”
—”DeSantis is wrong. Book bans in Florida schools and in other states aren’t a ‘hoax.’” by Jonathan Friedman
Reading this book during our current times was a bit of a mindfuck. It’s an epistolary novel — written in the form of letters — that follows the community living on an island off the coast of South Carolina. When a statue for Nevin Nollop — who created a sentence using every letter of the alphabet — has a letter fall off, the governing council bans the use of that letter! As more letters fall off, more letters are banned, forcing the residents to become clever in their use of language and some to form a resistance. The quirky way the book is written, as letters disappear, adds a nice spin to what is essentially a dystopia.
If you’d like to stay up to date and join in the fight against censorship, you can follow Book Riot’s censorship reporting.
Horse Barbie by Geena Rocero
“Although Miss Italia’s transphobic rules are not new, Mirigliani’s statements garnered swift backlash from Italian trans activists. Following Mirigliani’s radio interview, over 100 trans men have signed up for the pageant in protest. The push was spearheaded by Federico Barbarossa, an activist from southern Italy.”
—”Trans Women Can’t Compete in Miss Italia. 100+ Trans Men Signed Up in Protest.” by Samantha Riedel
In her memoir, Geena Rocero writes about growing up in the Philippines, eventually becoming the “highest-earning trans pageant queen.” At the age of 18, she moved to the U.S. and became a model while hiding her trans identity. But the more popular she became as a model without getting to be her authentic self, the worse she felt, ultimately leading her to live as an out trans advocate.
How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu
“From 46,000-year-old Siberian permafrost, a team of researchers has collected and revived prehistoric roundworms…”
—”Scientists Revive 46,000-Year-Old Roundworms From Siberian Permafrost” by Will Sullivan
To be honest, the first thing I thought of when I read that headline was a quote from Jurassic Park (the movie adaptation): “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” And this novel made me think of the same quote. It spans hundreds of years following an Arctic Plague: in 2030, an ancient virus is discovered in melting permafrost…
Perfectly Nice Neighbors by Kia Abdullah
“So, while we’re waiting for cable news to change some of its typical ways of focusing on division in politics, while we’re waiting on social media, while we’re waiting on the donors to reward working together, rather than going to the extremes, what can people do? What can individuals do, do you think?”
—”What’s driving America’s partisan divide and what might be done to reverse it” by Judy Woodruff and Frank Carlson
Kia Abdullah takes current topics and writes twisty, layered thrillers around them. Her latest takes on political divide in the UK that is just as applicable in the U.S. It starts with a Bangladeshi family moving into a new neighborhood, hoping for a fresh start, as they have to close down their restaurant. But when their son puts up a BLM poster and a white neighbor destroys it, lines are drawn, and the two families quickly find themselves in an escalation of pushbacks. Then, their two sons applied to win money to start an app, further complicating the new rivalries.
Conspirituality: How New Age Conspiracy Theories Became a Health Threat by Derek Beres, Matthew Remski, Julian Walker
“What she really wants to talk about, though, is the anti-vaccine movement’s ‘PR machine’ — how she says it seized on her story at a moment when she was ill and the professionals who were meant to provide answers couldn’t explain her suffering. She wants to talk about how the movement discarded her when she became inconvenient, and left her to weather the storm that followed alone.”
—”The ‘Flu Shot Cheerleader’ is back — with a warning about the anti-vaccine movement” by Brandy Zadrozny
While we talk a lot about the right’s conspiracy theories, some liberals apparently didn’t want to be left out of the harmful world of peddling conspiracies. This book dives into how many of the left’s “healers” joined the conspiracy movement. There are a lot of topics covered in this book, including disaster capitalism and disaster spirituality, and it’s a good book to buddy read or use in a book club, so you can use the “emoji eyes” and get to talk to people about the contents in the book.
If you’re looking for a similarly themed quiz to play, check out Dystopia, Headline, or Both? Want to see my picks from the first time I matched headlines and books? Click over to If This Headline (Or Article) Interests You, Read This Book.