All hail the apparently now defunct Literary Phoenix for creating the book tag I never knew I needed. I am very much a child of the ’90s, so at this point this tag seems somewhat obligatory; and, having just recently reread World of Wonders (Aimee Nezhukumatathil), I am currently seething in a welter of nostalgia for the very uncomplicated life I led first in Idaho, then in Maryland. (I’m not counting the city of my birth, because we left when I was five and I have few memories of that place.)

Text taken from Kristin Kraves Books, although I have to admit I made a deliberate choice not to include the graphics, because the arrangement of the graphics and the text made the tag very confusing when I first saw it on another blog.

The Rules

  • Please, please, please steal this tag and spread it around! I only ask that you link it back to The Literary Phoenix so that I can see everyone’s answers!
  • Freeze tag was all the rage in the ’90s. Tag someone you think would have fun with this!
  • Have fun!

Pokémon: A GBA and trading card game in which you battled pocket monsters and strove to catch them all. Back in the day, there were only 150 Pokémon.

The author you need every book from.

Zeyn Joukhadar (The Map of Salt and StarsThe Thirty Names of Night), Madeline Miller (Galatea, The Song of AchillesCirce), and Maggie O’Farrell (HamnetThe Marriage Portrait) currently make up the entire list. Margaret Atwood was semi-recently kicked off of it – not because I don’t like her anymore, but because I am shit out of patience for her more recent works, such as The Heart Goes Last. Look, I’ll always love the classics – Cat’s EyeThe Blind AssassinThe Handmaid’s Tale DESPITE ALL THE BULLSHIT THAT DAMN SHOW HAS PUT ME THROUGH – and I’ll probably still read every novel she publishes, but some of her later books are frustrating in ways that tend to be characteristic of her writing. To be fair, her earlier books have a lot of the same problems, which is why I roll my eyes every time I see some book jacket review use the phrase “vintage Atwood.” That literally just means it’s the same as all her other books. Nevertheless, I remain a fan, even if I don’t feel a pressing need to buy every book with her name on it.

I will say that I don’t feel any particular urge to pick up Kink, an anthology to which Joukhadar contributed, but this has less to do with the contributions of other writers and more to do with the fact that, as a card-carrying aroace, I have zero interest in Kink‘s subject matter. However, Joukhadar still belongs on my list, and, as I recently saw an Instagram post indicating that he has just finished the manuscript for his third novel, I will almost certainly be preordering it whenever it comes out. I am also tentatively considering adding Tamsyn Muir to the list based on the quality of the Locked Tomb series, but that depends heavily upon what else she writes after Alecto the Ninth.

AOL Instant Messenger (AIM): How ’90s kids communicated with their friends after school, before everyone had a cell phone.

A book that connected you with your best friend.

lol my high school BFF was and probably still is proudly illiterate. idk, I don’t talk to her anymore. Suffice it to say that words were never her strong suit. I would be lying if I said this was a deciding factor in the death of our friendship, but it sure didn’t help.

Furby: Creepy needy robots you could teach to talk and were probably demon-possessed. Somehow these made a comeback?

A book that seemed like a good idea but was actually a monster.

You (Caroline Kepnes) is a textbook example of a protagonist who did not need to be brought to life, because he is already alive. He’s in the news every day. There is nothing edgy or new or even mildly surprising about a man who murders women when they don’t live up to the standards he sets for them, all the while telling himself he’s the good guy in a world of assholes. Here’s the thing: I could’ve stuck with the book if it really was as tongue-in-cheek as it’s supposed to be, but Joe’s internal monologue was too much for me. It didn’t come across as satire because it read too much like the diary of a real-life serial killer with the brain of a 15-year-old. I LITERALLY JUST WENT DUMPSTER-DIVING THROUGH THE GOODREADS ONE-STAR REVIEWS TO MAKE SURE I WASN’T CRAZY. (Conclusion: No, I’m not. There are 5,875 other people who hated this book, to which I say thank fucking god.) I don’t even have the patience to try to read The Catcher in the Rye and that’s supposed to be a real classic, so it’ll be a cold day in hell before I try to force my way through a book that is almost literally a Catcher in the Rye/Fifty Shades of Grey crossover fanfic. As multiple one-stars have stated, the book would have been far more compelling if Beck had turned around and killed Joe, but, since Joe is still alive and kicking as of the end of book three, this obviously didn’t happen.

Also why is there a whole series of books about this man. Who the fuck needs to read about this stupid man this badly. This is one series that should’ve stopped at one.

N’SYNC: A quintessential ’90s boy band. You may have heard of Justin Timberlake?

A book you hated to say bye, bye, bye to.

Honestly, I could read my favorite Redwall (Brian Jacques) books all day every day – Lord Brocktree, Marlfox, The Legend of Luke, I love them all. While the quality definitely fell off in later books, the series as a whole was absolutely a pillar of my childhood. I usually don’t wish books were longer, but I am always sad to have to leave Mossflower Woods. As I now own the entire Redwall series because I have a credit card and absolutely no self-control, a series reread will probably happen this year. I need to go back to the beautiful redstone abbey that became an imaginary second home. I need to revisit the battles, the quests, and especially the feasts. I need to start trying to cook some of the foods I’ve been reading about for over half of my life, because I got a whole kitchen to myself and these foods are just begging to be cooked. In the entire time I have been a Redwall stan, I have never met anyone who said, “God, I wish there weren’t so many feasts,” or “All the food sounds awful.” If I ever meet such a person, our friendship will be terminated immediately.

Update from today, because I drafted this post before I started my reread: I am rereading Redwall. I just finished book two. Only twenty more books to go.

Slimed!: Getting green slime thrown on you, courtesy of the show “Figure It Out.” Also apparently still a thing at the Kids’ Choice Awards?

A book everyone loved but you hated.

I am genuinely baffled by the general reaction to House of Many Ways (Diana Wynne Jones). How on earth does this thing have a 4.06 on goodreads when it’s one of the worst books I’ve ever read. I will never understand how people think.

Oregon Trail: A ’90s  computer game you could usually play at school, which was great. It taught us that people used to die a lot of gruesome, messy deaths.

A book that made you wish you died of dysentery.

The writings of Jennifer Saint tend to have that effect, though the desire was stronger with Ariadne than it was with Elektra. If it came down to a choice between traversing the literal Oregon Trail or spending another 100 pages watching Saint misunderstand the shit out of the word “may,” I would be sitting in a covered wagon in the middle of fuck knows where, my oxen would probably have drowned by now, and I’d be making a detailed schedule tracking which of my dead wagonmates died first so I could eat them before they spoiled. In case it isn’t obvious, I have never won Oregon Trail.

Mixtape/CD: Back before everyone had music on their phones (remember, we didn’t have cell phones!), folks would rip their CDs and make mixes for each other.

Three books you recommend to anyone, anywhere, no matter what.

Here’s a comprehensive list. If I really only get to pick three, it would be these ones, in the order I thought of them:

The Song of Achilles (Madeline Miller)
You don’t have to know Greek mythology to love The Song of Achilles, though it certainly doesn’t hurt. This is one of my favorite books of all time, I have two copies of it, and I would give quite a lot to be able to read it again for the first time. (Maybe not my soul, but close.)

The Great Passage (Shion Miura)
A group of single-minded word nerds somehow find each other and write a dictionary. Is the plot more likely to appeal to real-life word nerds? Sure. But the book also explores themes universal enough to endear itself to any reader, even the ones who maybe don’t love dictionaries quite that much. Bonus points for the Pokémonesque Sokéboo encyclopedia, good god that’s a project I would kill to have land on my desk.

The Girl with the Louding Voice (Abi Daré)
Fourteen-year-old Adunni is sold into marriage to a man old enough to be her father. She has a rocky road ahead of her, but never gives up on her dream of going to school. Though it is narrated in broken English, this book has some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever read.

Dial-Up Internet: You know how it’s annoying when you aren’t on LTE? Imagine waiting ten minutes for the internet to start and another 20 minutes for Google to load!

A book that took for freaking ever to read.

It took me two months and change to read the unabridged 1,276-page The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas) back in 2019, and I am actually insane enough that I’m contemplating reading it again. I don’t know how long it would take me if I read it every night; a lot of those two months were spent leaving the book lying around and pretending it wasn’t looking at me every time I picked up another book.

Kenan Thompson: He’s that guy who’s been on SNL forever. Also Mighty Ducks. Good Burger. Kenan and Kel. All That. Everything.

That book you see referenced everywhere and is in everything, but that’s okay because it’s awesome.

uhhhhhh nothing is coming to mind right now because nobody ever references the books I like and the books I do see referenced in pop culture tend to be the ones I hate :<

Thumbs Up Seven Up: A game where most of the class closed their eyes and seven people tapped someone’s thumb and you had to guess who did it without peeking.

A book where you peeked just real quick at the ending because you don’t like guessing games.

Here’s a fun bit of ’90s trivia: I knew this game as Heads Up Seven Up, and I cheated by looking at people’s shoes. I was a resourceful kid in some respects, and I hated to lose. I suppose You (Caroline Kepnes) fits the bill here, even though I hate doubling up on answers, because I did look at the ending just to see if it would be worth the 400-page slog. It wasn’t.

Dunkaroos: These were basically just Teddy Grahams dipped in frosting, which is still a wonderful snack idea.

Your ideal bookish snack.

I don’t eat while I’m reading.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: Collections of short stories that would scare any sensible kid! Plus, there were illustrations…

A book that kept you up all night.

I have always been a twitchy, jumpy person, and one of Bruce Coville’s anthologies – I’m pretty sure it was this one – creeped me the fuck out when I was a kid. I might actually go trawling through my parents’ house to see if we still have it, because I kinda wanna see what I’ll make of the stories as an adult. I recognize some of the titles in the TOC, but I’m not sure anymore if we had more than one Bruce Coville collection, so I’ll have to start looking through his other books to see if I recognize anything else. If nothing else, I think we might’ve had one of his alien anthologies; now that I’m thinking about it, we probably received a couple of his books bundled together for Christmas one year. The main things I remember are one story where the main character makes a deal with the moon, trading his life to bring his parents back from the dead, and another about a kid who stumbles into a house whose occupant steals people’s faces and turns them into masks. His prey has included the people who delivered his pizzas and Chinese food, whose containers litter his house.

As far as the aliens go, I remember a story about a kid whose alien classmates can fart at will, and another – or is it the same one? – about a kid with a pocket-sized pet panda named Ralph. I’ve forgotten a lot, but the panda story has stuck with me over the decades for one reason or another. The protagonist is the son of a human diplomat, who takes him with him to another planet. Assuming I’m right and that the panda story is the same as the farting story, the protagonist finds himself in a classroom full of farting alien kids who make him faint on first acquaintance. He then attends a diplomatic dinner hosted by his father but fails to do his required reading beforehand, and therefore makes the grave mistake of complimenting a trinket (a mirror, maybe?) brought by an ambassador from a culture that finds compliments offensive. The ambassador stiffly offers him the trinket as a gift and compliments Ralph, but things remain awkward until somebody tells the kid that the ambassador is waiting for him to offer Ralph in return for the trinket. The kid runs away and is found late at night by the ambassador; he reluctantly offers him Ralph for the sake of alien-human relations, asking the ambassador to take good care of him (I think – it’s been a while since I’ve read this), but is surprised when the ambassador declines the gift and explains that he only needed to offer. Don’t ask me why I can regurgitate the entire plot of a story I read an unspecified number of years ago, complete with spoilers, when I can’t remember 99% of my grade school curricula.

And I have no idea how I ended up with a copy of this book, but R.L. Stine’s The First Evil was creepy as shit and apparently the first in a very creepy series, which I didn’t realize until I looked it up just now. It’s strange what stays with you: I couldn’t tell you how to do a geometric proof, to which I say HA I fucking told you I wouldn’t need this shit in the real world, but I still remember the biggest twist in this weird cheerleader book. Why was I reading about dead cheerleaders? I don’t know. I almost want to build a time machine just so I can go back to my probably preteen self and ask her what she was thinking reading a book like that. (Also I 100% just had a moment where I forgot about R.L. Stine and assumed that the dead cheerleaders also came from Bruce Coville………..good times.)

Bill Nye the Science Guy: Basically the coolest thing you got to do in science class was watch Bill Nye. He has a Netflix show again!

A book that taught you something new.

Alexandra Petri’s US History: Important American Documents (I Made Up) (Alexandra Petri) taught me a lot of things, such as how we got stuck with gerrymandering and why the March sisters were not sixty feet tall, and also that a Washington Post satirist – Alexandra Petri herself, of course – was there when Washington crossed the Delaware, which is really quite impressive when you realize she was born in 1988. I’m not saying anything she taught me was true, I’m just saying I learned a lot.