Vanilla pudding and magic phrases

This is an interview with myself about Carry On. An unnecessarily long interview. There are going to be so many spoilers.



So you read Carry On recently. Did you like it?

Pretty sure!

…so, not sure.

Look, I’m going to give it either 3 or 4 stars on Goodreads. Probably 3, thinking about it. We’ll see how I feel at the end of this interview.

Dang, what makes you want to knock this down to 3 stars?

Don’t think of it as knocking down! 3 stars is the assumed start for all books. While I read it, there was never a single moment that I wanted to knock it lower, but there also weren’t really any moments that made me want to elevate it. If I could: 3.5 stars.

Let’s get right into it, then. What did you think of Simon? Simon and Baaazzz? 

Agatha and Baz by toerning

Baz was interesting, at least! Simon was bowl of vanilla pudding. The instant boxed kind. Perfectly fine, sweet to be sure, but there’s nothing to chew on, and it’s the most basic of fake flavors. But the thing is: that’s what Simon needed to be. He was the center, the hero, the Chosen One, and this is nothing if not a Chosen One story. The boy is the Special, he enters the New World, except the rug is pulled out from under him at the last minute as he realizes several things:

  1. He’s not straight
  2. Wants to kiss his nemesis
  3. Who is definitely a confirmed vampire
  4. And wants to kiss him too
  5. The Great Evil he’s been fighting… is himself
  6. His mentor is a bananas murderer

So really, you’d think Simon would have a bit more of a reaction to this combo move. I suppose they’re a bit spread out, and the first parts are less traumatic than they are mildly surprising, and the last parts come during the climax so how much trauma can you really show in the resolution, but still. Simon is a bit flat. “I traded my magic for devil wings & tail, but I’m living with my boyfriend, so whatevs.”

As far as that boyfriend thing: Hooray! Great! Snore. They were fine, solidly in the middle rankings of Fictional Couplings I Have Read.

Okay, so you’re not sold on the Simon/Baz, that’s fine. Let’s go back to the rug-pulling. Think it worked, other than Pudding Simon?

I’m not not sold on Simon/Baz, hang on! I’m just not clamoring for more of their story. Mostly because Simon Snore I mean Snow. The bit at the beginning where he was listing all the things about Watford that he missed should have helped make him more relatable to me, but it didn’t. It felt like all he was was this guy obsessed with his roommate and a vague idea of evil. There was too much to set up to give much time to making Simon interesting. To me. Again, this is for me because I’m sure there are plenty of people who loved Simon. I didn’t much. Vanilla pudding.

Plenty of time to make Baz interesting, though I guess there’s a shortcut to that in the “everyone thinks he’s evil, secret tragedy, poor little rich boy” elements to his character.

The rug-pulling was neat. Except… I knew about all of it. Because I read Fangirl. If I hadn’t read Fangirl I suppose it might have been more exciting for me. It doesn’t have to be exciting, though. I like inverting tropes, and that helped this book a lot. If Rowell had followed the Chosen One story more closely, this would have been such a flop. But she was trying to say something new about it, change the meaning behind it. Make it more real. And I think she did that.

By making the Mage explicitly villainous, making Simon a created Chosen One, making that creation ultimately a bad thing rather than a blessing, taking the Chosen One-ness away from Simon at the end — doing all that, Rowell does start to get under the most fantastical and least realistic elements of the story.

Because to be honest, the magic isn’t the unrealistic part. The way things come together is. The idea that there is One True Hero to stop the One Pure Evil is a fantasy. There isn’t one either way. There’s people trying to do one sort of good thing, and people trying to do another sort of good that turns out to be harmful.

Penelope and Simon by toerning

That’s Rowell’s strength, is people. She always writes such good people (even when they’re slightly bland like Simon). No one is a True Archetypal Villain. They’re just people, with different desires that conflict, and sometimes people make terrible choices in the service of their desires.

Do you want to talk about the other characters?

Not really. They were good!

You read a lot of fantasy. How’s this as a fantasy?

It’s fine! It’s definitely a Rainbow Rowellâ„¢ Book, in that plot is fine but comes after characters. This is not as much about magic as it is about Simon’s Feelings, but it’s also about magic. Magic that is driven by popular phrases.

This seems…untenable. Which to some extent she addresses, with creating new spells being difficult because a lot of popular phrases just don’t stick, and the fact that some phrases are popular for a long time and then fade. How well would someone be able to cast spells in a language they learn later in life? Idioms are always difficult to grasp in other languages, so would you basically be unable to do it until you got to a certain level of competency? Could someone teach you the phrase as a spell, and that teaches you the idiom as well?

Also, not a single magic spell was activated by Beyoncé lyrics, COME ON.

However, thinking about it, I do like it more than any sort of Latin base for spells.

Some of the other things she brought in were interesting too. I mean, it’s obvious that she’s read plenty of fantasy, and that she spent a lot of time thinking about the magic in this world. And the logic of magic schools, since there was this ill-explored undercurrent of progressive changes to the magic world. Watford had been closed off and elitist, and now the Mage flings its doors open to the world.

Rowell’s actual writing about magic as it happened was great. I liked the way she made magic so physical, especially for Simon, and the imagery she used. How sort of painful it felt at times, and how different it felt to each person, even down to taste and smell.

So yeah, it’s a good YA fantasy!

Okay, you always have to say–


there’s always something–

say it

Who or what do you wish this book had been about instead of what it was about?

dang, you got me

Penelope Bunce: The real Hero of Watford.

Penelope Bunce by taryndraws

Too many books are about Smart Girls Doing the Work and Getting No Credit. ENOUGH. Stop writing books about the Harrys and Simons. Write the books about the people who actually do the work, solve the puzzles. Bitches get shit done. Write books about them. Tell me the story of the girl with glasses and too many books and her dumb but charming friend who she keeps helping out of trouble. Tell me the story of Penelope Bunce falling for Micah, and dang it, show me Micah!

Or Lucy, even. Lucy’s chapters were there purely to fill us in on the plot. She was not doing anything, ever. Just ghostly reminiscences, explaining to the reader what was up.

And obviously I wanted more of the Mage’s reforms. I was a little bummed about that whole thing. By making the Mage the villain of the piece, it felt like it made his desires wrongheaded. So his progressivism, his ardent desire to reform the world of magic, make it more open, more equal, was tainted by his actions. And there wasn’t enough of anyone else laying claim to the movement to untaint it all. So it felt like progressivism was villainous. My interest in the hierarchical issues of magical worlds is one thing — I didn’t expect to see anything like that in this book, so what I really wanted was just a small tweak to take away that sour note.

You always want all of those things.

It’s true. More smart girls, more women doing things, more activism in a positive light. Me all over.

We haven’t talked about the origin of this book.

The whole fictional world within a fictional world thing? That this is neither the fanfic from Fangirl nor the Gemma T. Leslie version of Simon Snow? That this is some third thing entirely?


I don’t actually have much to say about that.

But you used to write Harry Potter fanfiction.

Mm-hmm, sure did.

Nothing to say.


…FINE. Any last thoughts?

If you are in the middle of the Venn diagram of Fantasy Fans and Rainbow Rowell fans, you should definitely read this. You probably already have.

If you are a fan of YA fantasy, give this a go! It’s a quick read and is pretty fun.

And here are some things that I texted a friend while reading:

  • “I’m confused. I’m on page 185 and I can’t tell if I like Carry On.”
  • On Simon: “Book 5 Harry Potter with less personality?”
  • “I’m slightly offended that she changed ‘cold as a witch’s teat’ to ‘witch’s wit’
  • “Why does everyone always have to STUMBLE ON a key piece of information by ACCIDENT”

The end.

TWIR: Vattu is really good and you should read it.

This week has not been that heavy on reading. I don’t know what I’ve been doing instead. Forgetting to go to the library! Not going to the grocery store! Working! Holiday parties! Cat-bothering!

Anyway, I did manage a few reading things of note.

vattubannerI finally sat down and read book one of Vattu. I’ve loved Evan Dahm’s work since he was posting Rice Boy. I love it so much I can’t bear to stay up-to-date. I don’t read his comics as he posts them online, though I’m terribly tempted now! I love the experience of the larger collection of pages, and I do read differently on the computer. I’ll just have to wait until I can pick up book two!

Anyway, Vattu is really good, and wordless for long stretches, showing off this beautiful and strange world and telling a story through character movement, color, mirrored poses, tiny changes of expression… It’s the story of a girl who is born into a tribe when everything seems to be changing. And it is great.

In various small bits of downtime this week, I’ve been re-reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and it is even better than I remember. Is that possible? It was always my favorite (Half-Blood Prince was a strong contender but I don’t think it beats PoA) but it’s been so long since I read it. I forgot how funny it is, and how tightly plotted (for what it is; i’m sure someone could come in and poke holes in it, but please don’t). But of course the real thing making me enjoy it So Dang Much is that I’m no less of a Marauders fan now than I ever was. Bias, I have it.

Short things

My friend Mindy is going to be writing a column called How to Be a Girl for Brain Mill Press! Here is her first column, about the Joy Luck Club and representation and feelings.


Mallory’s Texts from Carmilla at The Toast. You know, I’m not always interested in yet another “texts from” post, but when they hit, lord how I love them. Also, thanks to the comments, I’ve started watching the webseries! It’s pretty fun!

Next time on TWIR: Year in review. Maybe a special feature just on Genres I Tried To Get Into And How Did I Do With That???

TWIR: Okay, more than a week.

It’s been a while! I have read quite a few books recently. For example, my first Charlie Parker* mystery, but not my last. Also a book by a blogger I have long read. And I read Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill, just before going to see him talk to Lauren Beukes about her new book, Broken Monsters, which I have not read and am looking forward to.

Plus: A YA fantasy book for book club, which I did not love as much as the rest of my book club, and a YA fantasy book not for book club, which I did love. (Unspoken did not hit enough of my Beloved Tropes to overcome the pacing issues, and I am less won over than others by the Everyone Is Clever And Funny Here sort of world-building. The Diviners, on the other hand, did hit some Beloved Tropes so I was blind to many of its faults.)

There are always things that, when present in a work, will make me forgive a certain number of other things. Is a movie really, incredibly pretty? Then who cares about that “plot” thing? Is the book set in 1920s New York with speakeasies and hints of the labor movement and class unease? Well, I guess I can ignore the overuse of slang. It would be an unending project to try to list out all of my tropes, and it wouldn’t even be accurate because ever trope would probably have a caveat. But The Diviners had tropes for me, and Unspoken didn’t.

Currently: Re-reading We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson as my bedtime reading (it’s soothing to me). Plus a handful of other things, as always.

*Not the KC jazz great, though I’d read the heck out of that mystery series.