A Knight of No Honor: Adapting Gawain in David Lowery’s The Green Knight

“Gawain as good was acknowledged and as gold refinéd,
 devoid of every vice and with virtues adorned.”

– The Pearl Poet, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (lines 33–34, J.R.R. Tolkien’s translation)

Spoiler Warning: Mild spoilers for both the 14th century poem and the 21st century movie adaption of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

(700) Years of Chivalry

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a 14th-century Arthurian Romance in verse written by an anonymous author known as the Pearl Poet. It tells the story of Sir Gawain, the youngest knight of the Round Table and the strange game he begins one Christmas Day.

A mysterious knight, green of both skin and attire, enters King Arthur’s court and challenges any who dares to strike him one blow with his great axe if, in return, they will allow him to strike them in the same manner at his Green Chapel one year hence. Gawain takes up the challenge and in a single blow severs the Green Knight’s head from his shoulders.

Unfazed, the Green Knight picks up his head and turns to leave. “At my Chapel, one year hence!” the severed head calls out as it’s body carries it out the door. So begins a tale of honor and doom.

On July 30, 2021, David Lowery released The Green Knight, his adaption of the classic poem, starring Dev Patel as Gawain. As a massive fan of the poem and Arthurian literature in general, I was extremely excited for this adaption. Now, having seen it, I was struck both by how faithful and how remarkable different Lowery’s adaption is.

The Armor Makes the Knight

In the poem, before Sir Gawain departs on his quest to the Green Chapel, both he and his horse Gringolet are arrayed in finery. Among Gawain’s accoutrements are a damask doublet from Tharsia and golden spurs. Gringolet wears a crimson horse-breastplate (called a poitrel) studded with gold and a saddle fringed in golden tassels.

The Pearl Poet makes explicit that this finery is not merely fashion, but represents the inner fineness of Gawain’s soul. Gold in particular is a metaphor for moral purity.

This scene from the poem is lovingly rendered in Lowery’s Green Knight. Particularly beautiful is the prop design of Gawain’s shield. As in the poem, the shield has as its device a pentangle (five pointed star knot) representing the five knightly virtues, and on its interior a painting of the Virgin Mary that Gawain may look at for courage when he is sorely tested.

But there is one key difference in both this scene and the rest of Lowery’s adaption. While the Pearl Poet tells us from an omniscient perspective that the clothes represent Gawain’s true inner virtue, in the movie Queen Guinevere merely prays that the armor represent the truth of Gawain’s character, a prayer that will go unanswered. A scant handful of scenes later, the beautiful shield is sundered, splitting down the center of the Madonna’s face.

Gawain the Impetuous Fail-Son

Lowery’s Green Knight replaces the chivalric hero at the center of the poem with a rather self-centered character who Lowery describes as a “cad.” According to Lowery in an interview with SlashFilm, he cast Dev Patel to play his hero in part because Patel was so charismatic an actor that he could make the audience like his pathetic protagonist.

The Gawain of Lowery’s adaption is not even a knight at the film’s beginning, and spends most of the movie wandering aimlessly through a quest meant for a nobler, less human hero. Patel does a truly marvelous job of playing a living embodiment of imposter syndrome: an overgrown boy who should have been a knight but cannot even manage to be a man.

I couldn’t help wondering if this was how I would perform, if thrust suddenly onto a hero’s journey. Very few real people would walk a path towards certain death with the self-assured honor of the Pearl Poet’s Sir Gawain. To be a person, I think, is to be somewhat dishonorable, at least when compared with the hero of an Arthurian Romance.

Final Thoughts & Critiques

Lowery’s Green Knight is a more complicated and fraught retelling of an ancient Romance. I thoroughly enjoyed and was routinely surprised both by its detailed faithfulness to the original text and its stark deviations at key moments.

Perhaps my only criticism of the film was its choice not to explore the gay subtext of the poem. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a famous for its queer undertones: Gawain exchanges no less than six kisses of increasing intensity with one Lord Bertilak de Hautdesert as part of a strange game. In the film, this section of the story is much reduced in scope. And while this choice makes perfect sense in the context of Lowery’s overall shift in narrative focus, I hope to one day see another adaption which explores this fascinating element of the original work more fully.

The Brief Account of a Harry Potter Virgin’s Literary Experience

Photo by Tuyen Vo on Unsplash

Almost a year ago I was sitting in a staff meeting for The Spellbinding Shelf and mentioned that I had never read Harry Potter. *gasp* It gets worse—not only had I never read any of the books, but I had never seen any of the movies, paid no attention to any of the references, or experienced any of the fan culture. *double gasp* I’m not joking: the only thing I knew about the series was that it was about wizards. My fellow writers were astonished—a book lover and blogger who has never read one of the most iconic literary series of all time?!

It wasn’t necessarily my fault—my younger self enjoyed dystopian-themed novels and by the time Harry Potter was “a thing” I felt the time had passed for me to jump on that train. However, this staff meeting was the catalyst that pushed me to finally commit to reading the series. I jumped in headfirst and took one of the most risky literary gambles any reader will understand: buying the box set. Of a previously unread series. When I later described this new journey, my fellow bloggers were excited as well as interested: I was basically a case study of how readers still respond to the books without the pressure of pop culture and a now multi-billion dollar industry. 

After seven months of reading I am here to give my reflection and opinion on the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter.” It is worth noting that while the series is surrounded in controversy due to J.K. Rowlings’ problematic comments in recent years, this reflection does not condone her actions in any way. Rather, I endeavor to share my experience as a reader with the story, for which I can say it is amazing.

Words cannot express my deep attachment, love, and appreciation for this series. I loved everything from the character development to the intricate spells. The experience was so immersive that from the first page I wished I lived in the world presented by the series and was thankful for the chance to imagine I was in such a world. There is too much to behold to accurately capture the seven book series that is Harry Potter, so I’ve decided to describe some of my favorite moments, thoughts, and reactions—including some choice texts I sent to my friend that I feel best captures my emotions during and after each book. So without further ado: The Brief Account of a Harry Potter Virgin’s Literary Experience. (Warning: spoilers ahead!)


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. A fantastic beginning to fuel the long and turbulent journey of Harry Potter. I felt all the emotions a reader and fan of the series should feel: absolute contempt for the Dursleys, the excitement and nervousness of Harry on his first day, and the promise of a journey filled with mischief and wonder. The Sorcerer’s Stone really helped introduce Harry’s thoughts and emotions which aids in the reader’s emotional attachment to the characters and their development. It is also worth noting that I shipped Ron and Hermione from the very beginning.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I liked The Chamber of Secrets because it had all the promise of what being a second year student feels like in any situation. Harry was more confident in his abilities and his joy in being a wizard emanated from the pages as he, as well as the reader, began to connect and discover more of his past. Additionally, what I love about the series as a whole is that while the books are individually read with a typical literary arc, the series does as well. This fluidity aids in the literary experience and creates a unique and immersive atmosphere any reader will love.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Now, this book was insane in all the best ways. I could not believe it when Cedric died, and one thing I determined (and had reaffirmed throughout the rest of the series) was that authors are cruel, sadistic people who want their readers to suffer. After reading this book I texted my friend, “…it’s just playing with my emotions on a whole new level.” This comment adequately describes how much this book (and series) roped me in and how ignorant I was to the pain that would come.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. On almost every page where Umbridge made an appearance, I wrote some form of grievance because I could not stand her character—it got to the point that I was going to throw the book at the wall. I really liked the Order of the Phoenix because of the leadership Harry, Ron, and Hermione assumed as well as the number of questions it began to ask and answer. Whereas The Goblet of Fire was one of the last books where Harry experienced a  “childhood,” The Order of the Phoenix began introducing the intricacies of the magical war in which Harry would take part. I was also so incredibly proud of Fred and George (two of my favorite Weasleys) for their amazing mischief and success—I love them so much. However, amidst this triumph, The Order of the Phoenix was the first book in the series that made me cry because of Sirius’ death. When that happened I had two chapters left and messaged my friend the following:

“THEY KILLED SIRIUS/NO/NO/NO/NO/THAT’S NOT FAIR/AGHAGGAHGGAA ITS NOT FAIR/UGHHHH WHY DO THEY TRY TO MAKE ME SUFFER”

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Honestly, this book wasn’t my favorite out of the series but I can’t deny that it was incredibly needed. That might have been partly because “The Big Bang Theory” spoiled Dumbledore’s death or because I personally trusted Snape while Harry was still very much suspicious of his character. However, in the end I found myself doubting my own beliefs of Dumbledore’s trust in Snape and I became ever more worried about the fate of the wizarding world and Harry when the locket was found to be a fake Horcrux. I could once again feel Harry’s grief—as well as that of the others—and I knew in my heart that Harry, Ron, and Hermione would not be the same. On another note, I was extremely heartbroken when Harry broke up with Ginny but very happy when Ron and Hermione finally showed some flirtatious interaction. It became increasingly difficult to stay away from Harry Potter fan content so I went on a hiatus from most social media and television to avoid spoilers. Afterwards I noted:

“I’m a little worried about Harry too. He seems like he lost something inside him like happiness or I guess that childlike enjoyment and curiosity and it makes me hurt for him although considering he has to kill Voldemort I get why he’s anxious…”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Nothing impacted me more in this series than the final chapters: when Harry walked solemnly into the forest during battle, I bawled. In those last chapters I had trouble reading the page (partly due to tears); the amount of emotion within the scene and the impact of being on Harry’s journey to get to this point hit me in full force. In the end, I was right to have faith in Snape, Ron and Hermione did end up together (yay!), and I was very pleased to see Harry and Ginny together. So in the end, at 10:48 pm on August 12, I texted my friend:

“AGH/AGHHHHHHH/I FINISHED/WORDS CANNOT EXPRESS ANYTHING/MY WHOLE HEART HURTS”

And those emotions continue today. I am so incredibly grateful for this journey and even more grateful that I could experience it (mostly) without spoilers and properly digest every theme and moment. While I didn’t get to grow up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione I will undoubtedly continue to experience their journey as I reread their stories and feel the impact that Hogwarts has left on my heart. Sometimes, ironically, words cannot express the feeling a book gives you—any reader will understand this impact and I am so lucky to have experienced this feeling. I know (as I have felt the last month) that I will continue to fangirl, obsess, and mourn the finishing of Harry Potter for a long time to come.

How to Read Faster (Maybe): The Story and Science of Speed Reading

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

What if you could read a whole book in one day? In a few hours? In twenty minutes? 

Are you interested in learning how to read faster? If so, let me introduce you to speed reading. Whether speed reading is even real is contested, and while there may be techniques you can try, the story and science of speed reading is well…complicated.


Speed Reading Is Real

There are some proponents of speed reading who argue that anyone can learn to speed read, that it’s a skill one can practice.

There are common techniques for learning to speed read. When most people read (even silently), they hear the words being said; this is called vocalization, and speed reading trainers will ask you to practice removing this voice. Doing so can increase reading speed. Other techniques include changing the ways your eyes move, including moving them bidirectionally (not just left to right but back and forth across alternating lines) or zigzaging diagonally across a page looking at chunks of texts rather than individual lines.

And there are numerous people who have practiced these techniques and celebrate advances in the speeds at which they read. Check out this person’s journey or this person’s. However, there are critics who believe that people learning to speed read aren’t actually technically reading.

Speed Reading Isn’t Real

Science tends to find a huge sacrifice that speed reading brings: decreased comprehension. The speed reading community joke about people who read War and Peace in only twenty minutes is that they know it’s “about Russia.”

Some speed reading experts and practitioners argue that reading speed and comprehension are inversely proportional, meaning if reading speed goes up, comprehension must always come down. There is a small window, however, of increasing speed to a certain threshold before one begins to sacrifice comprehension; that window differs for each individual.

Another criticism against speed reading are those who argue that it isn’t “real” reading, but rather just skimming. Skimming is “strategic, selective reading method in which you focus on the main ideas of a text.” Skimming isn’t technically reading—since, by design, it requires deliberately skipping large portions of text.


Speed Reading Is Real (Maybe)

After researching critics of speed reading, I was left with many questions because I was someone who believed they could speed read without losing comprehension. There is a site you can use that will test your speed and comprehension, and I was surprised by my results:

So I could read above average reading speeds with high comprehension. But does this mean that anyone can speed read too? Not necessarily. One issue is that people reading in languages that aren’t there first read slower, so speed reading is not accessible to everyone. A second issue is that speed reading might only be accessible to certain neurotypes or to some neurodivergent people. Research finds that autistic readers (like myself) are able to actually speed read.

So, maybe speed reading is real and possible but not in the ways we have thought about it previously.


What You Can Try

Can you actually learn to read 20,000 words per minute? Or read War and Peace in twenty minutes? Probably not. But whether you’re neurodivergent or not and willing to give it a go, here are what speed reading experts (and skeptics!) recommend based on real science that may actually work.

  • You can try software and apps designed to test or practice reading speeds that show one word at time in order to simplify eye movement. The following video is a quick example of such programs. The downside of these kinds of programs is that users tend to find success only in short bursts.
  • You can try skimming a text before reading it. While skimming and speed reading are different things, orienting yourself with text before reading may help you consume it both faster and with greater comprehension.
  • You can try reading a lot, especially new genres and styles. The more you read, the more you update your language banks, which can help you move through texts more quickly. Reading texts that are outside what you normally read can help familiarize you and assist in navigating the unfamiliar more readily.

So, it’s worth giving it a shot! Test your current reading speed and comprehension levels, practice the techniques, and see how and where reading faster might be of use to you in your life. The worst that could happen is you read a few more good books.

An Homage to the Summer Reading Program and a Heavy Bookcase

This year, for the first time in over ten years, I thought about not participating in the Maricopa County Summer Reading Program.

Normally, I would have no problem soaring over the program’s simple, 1,000-minute reading threshold. In 2020, I had nothing else to do with my time, so I read. In 2019, I was desperate for college preparatory advice, and I read. Before that, I had summer homework that occasionally involved reading 700 pages of Democracy in America—I was a shoo-in for the program. As a child, I would use the time my mom read to me before putting me to sleep as part of my minutes. In fact, I remember using a sticker book to log my time before the program was fully digital. For years, the summer reading program was part of my DNA. By the end of each summer, I would have read well over the requirements, and I would have my prize for completion: a free book shipped to my local library.

This year, however, I was tired. After two years full of literature and writing classes for both my degree in English and my newly added journalism major, I felt drained by the written word. Despite my love of reading and writing, the last few years were rough. I was coming hot off of a semester where I had read numerous student papers for my on-campus job, and I was knee-deep in investigations for my newspaper. With next semester’s schedule packed with 18 credits of English and journalism classes (in addition to some of my final prerequisites), I decided I had done my due diligence for the time being. I would read later, spending my precious summer months doing anything but looking at a book.

Instead of working on the completion of the summer reading program, I was on a reading hiatus. It seemed to be working well enough: I would write for my job, then watch a show or listen to music, distracting myself in a way that did not involve words. My brain felt nice and quiet, albeit a little empty.

The new summer plan went smoothly until my mother decided to move our massive bookshelf. The monstrosity is so large and full of so many books—we have attempted (and failed) to thin it out many times—that it is physically impossible to move without emptying it first. So my mother, reasonably enough, asked me to take out my share of books so we could move it.

Suddenly, I found myself staring at my old favorites: On Writing by Stephen King, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and a Star Wars book called A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller that has been a longtime guilty pleasure.

Without making any promises to myself, I picked up A New Dawn and devoured it in two sittings. When I reached the last page, I was surprisingly disappointed that it was over.

The next thing I knew, I was back at my pile of books, digging for something that would take me far away from the struggles and burnout of the past year. I settled on a brief rereading of The Mysterious Benedict Society, a childhood favorite. This time, I pulled out my trusty iPhone timer so that I could keep track of my minutes. This reading quickly turned into me reading all four books of the series in one weekend.

Instead of being exhausted by the words, I was ravenous—and I could not have been more excited.

At this point, in mid-July, I’ve certainly exceeded the 1,000 minutes needed to complete the Maricopa County Summer Reading Program. More important to me, though, is that the feeling I’m chasing is not going away. I went to the library, bought a few books online, and am delving into a few fascinating nonfiction works that I never would have considered reading in the past. My mind is starting to think again, and I’ve even had the energy to work on writing for fun in addition to my job as a reporter.

Looking back on where I was a month and a half ago, I laugh at the thought that I could stay away from reading all summer. It’s okay to take breaks, but I know that sometimes you just need the right kind of push—and I also know that I have a bookcase and a steadfast summer reading program to thank.


Guest post courtesy of Anna Campbell

In Defense of Movie Novelizations

I know what you’re thinking. “Who would choose to read a book based on a movie?!” Well, me! And hopefully after reading this defense, you will too!

It is well known that many novels are adapted into movies, but did you know that movies are often adapted into novels? They’re called novelizations.

What are novelizations?

A novelization is a novel derived from the story originally created for a film medium. Novelizations exist for many films ranging from Star Wars to a recent publication of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to—my personal favorites—Alien.

Novelizations are often maligned: some people see them as hackwork, money grabs, or quickly produced junk. But I’m here to suggest to you that novelizations can be good, even very good!

“It’s always amusing to me, you take a book, say, To Kill a Mockingbird, throw away three quarters of it and win an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay, But if you take a screenplay and add three quarters of original material to it — which is a much, much more difficult piece of writing — well, that’s by definition ‘hackwork.’ And it’s much harder, having done both, to take a screenplay and make a book out of it than [to] take a terrific book and make a screenplay out of it.”

Alan Dean Foster, prolific novelization writer

Novelizations have existed for nearly as long as films. And before the existence of DVDs, VCRs, or even televisions in our homes, novelizations were ways that fans of movies could relive and enjoy the story again at home. They were a little souvenir to remind of you of the thrill of seeing Alien in theaters for the first time. But it’s 2021 now, so why do novelizations still exist?

Novelizations are good, actually!

They have more details, including deleted scenes or information that’s not in the movies. You can experience the same story you love in a deeper and more complete way. If you’ve wondered while watching Alien Resurrection why Larry Purvis’s chestburster grows so much slower than in others, the answer is explored in the novelization: he has a genetic thyroid dysfunction. This small detail raises more interesting questions in the Alien universe about the life cycle of the xenomorph and human disability.

They explore different angles than their movie counterparts. Because novelizations are derived, their writers do have some freedom in telling the story in a new way or even telling new stories entirely. Tarantino describes his recently published novelization of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as “a complete rethinking of the entire story.” He explains, “It’s not just me taking the screenplay and then breaking it down in a novelistic form. I retold the story as a novel.” Alan Dean Foster says about writing the novelization of Alien, “As [a fan], I got to make my own director’s cut. I got to fix the science mistakes, I got to enlarge on the characters, if there was a scene I particularly liked, I got to do more of it, and I had an unlimited budget.”

They explore different truths. Novelizations tend to explore characters in more detail and give more individual attention to all characters in a story. We see new sides and nuances of the same characters. In particular, the novelization of Alien Resurrection gives the reader insider knowledge of smaller characters, especially DiStephano and Christie. You can see inside their minds and learn motivations never revealed in the movie. Even the main character, Ellen Ripley, is explored in deeper ways, including more tension on whether her loyalties are with the humans or aliens.

They can be more accessible for some people. In a novelization, you experience the story in different time. A two-hour film can be become a ten-hour novel—maybe experienced and read over weeks or months, giving you time to bask in the mythos. For some, films with flashing lights can be overwhelming, triggering, or impossible to watch, so a novelized version could be a preferred or necessary way to experience the story. Novelizations can be more accessible for people with disabilities, including those who have difficult focusing for the duration of a movie.

They let you linger in worlds you love. The different times you spend in a movie versus in a novel changes your experience of the story, letting you delight in a beloved story or franchise. The truth is: people who read novelizations tend to be the ones who loved the movies. As a huge fan of the beloved Alien franchise, it’s a joy for me to spend more time with characters I already know and love.


So, who would read a book based on a movie? Maybe you! Whatever your favorite movie, check out its novelization and enjoy the story you already love in a deeper, lingering, and more nuanced way.

All the Bright Places: Book-to-Movie Adaptation

Each time I go to Goodwill, I end up leaving with a stack of books that live on my shelf indefinitely. I always plan to read them, yet somehow always end up with more that I don’t get around to. A few weeks ago, I found All the Bright Places sitting on my shelf and was drawn to it. I had heard some things about it, but was not at all expecting the emotional whirlwind it took me on. I devoured it in a day, then immediately watched the movie afterwards to compare—and I have some thoughts on the adaptation.

All the Bright Places tells the story of Finch and Violet, an unlikely pair that first meet on the top of the school’s bell tower. They are the only two who know the truth about who saved who as the story circulates the school. When they’re paired to do a school project together, they discover just how much they need each other. But as Violet heals, Finch begins to sink.

I fell in love with this book the second I finished it and I knew it had been made into a movie, so immediately after closing the book I pulled it up on Netflix.
Generally, the movie did a good job bringing these characters to life. The casting is one place where they excelled. Elle Fanning is a perfect Violet—she’s exactly how I pictured her in my head. Justice Smith, as Finch, was excellently cast as well, which really aided in putting the story on the big screen.


Casting aside, there were a few changes made that I found a bit odd. For starters, in the novel Violet and Finch meet on the top of the bell tower and most of the school sees them up there, turning it into a whole ordeal. In the movie, however, Violet is on a bridge when Finch finds her. It seems like a minor change, yet in the novel a large part of the reason they’re thrown together is because of the news story that spirals from being caught up there. Ultimately, this didn’t make a huge difference to the overall feeling and message of the story, but I was surprised when at it.

A common flaw when translating a book to a movie is the timeline. I noticed while watching that it almost felt rushed, but I also think that is just a result of the medium. Generally speaking, the important moments were articulated well and the actors did a great job bringing this movie to life. I will almost always favor books to movies, and I definitely recommend reading the book first, but the movie does bring the story to life in a touching way. 

If you haven’t read this book already, I definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a new tearjerker. Niven touches on a lot of important, and often overlooked, issues, especially in literature, and for that I applaud her. I recommend both the novel and the film, but I suggest that you read the book first to get the full effect. You can purchase it here.

Shadow and Bone: Book-to-Series Adaptation

Shadow and Bone, written by Leigh Bardugo in 2012 was recently translated into a Netflix series back in April. The show closely follows the plot of the first book in the trilogy: the plot in which Alina Starkov discovers she has special powers and is taken away to the Grisha palace in order to realize her full potential and help destroy the darkness that has been plaguing her country. Or so she thinks. 

If you tune into this show after reading only the first book in Bardugo’s trilogy expecting to see an exact play-by-play of the novel, you will definitely be in for a surprise. Thanks to showrunner and scriptwriter Eric Heisserer who wouldn’t create the show without both, Shadow and Bone meets Six of Crows in this crossover event of both books. Through this process of translation a fully new text was made, one that simultaneously has a strong relationship with its original source, yet is fully independent from it. For loyal fans of the books, it’s best to go into this show with the author’s words in mind. In an interview for the show Bardugo says, “When you write a book, you close the door on all the ‘what-ifs?’ Once it’s on the page there’s no way to revisit it, so the chance to see some of these characters interact in a way that they never interact on the page—the fact that Alina and Inej get to meet, the fact that General Kirigan, the Darkling, and Kaz face off in an alley—these are ‘what-ifs’ that I never would have gotten to explore in my books.” She added, “A lot of readers have asked me about over the years, so it was pretty spectacular to get to see them play out.” 

With that being said, as a hardcore book lover, I was extremely skeptical of merging two series within the same universe but with completely different timelines. It just doesn’t feel right, I thought. There’s no way to have the characters in the same timeline without the world imploding, I thought. How is the integrity of Shadow and Bone going to be kept when it has to be intertwined with the Six of Crows plot? And vice versa. How wrong I was. 

Before I get into how amazing this show was, I have to say that it’s taken me about two rewatches and a trip to the bookstore in order to buy the last books in the Shadow and Bone trilogy and the Six of Crows duology in order to find any thoughts other than “Squeeeeeeeeeee!” after my first viewing. 

To start off, I have to discuss the element that hooked me right off the bat—the cast. The wonderful, lovely, diverse cast who seemed as if they were picked right out of the books themselves. The script and actors worked seamlessly to capture the characters in a way that brought the book to life, even with this new take on the Grishaverse. It’s one thing for actors to play their characters from the exact source material, it’s another to embody them so well that no matter what direction they go in, they’re able to know exactly what the characters in the book would do. 

While Jessie Mei Li as Alina Starkov and Ben Barnes as General Kirigan, a.k.a. The Darkling, brought life and tension into their characters and relationships, all my doubts went away as soon as I first saw the Crows on screen. Freddy Carter as Kaz, Kit Young as Jesper, and Amita Suman as Inej took my breath away—and not just because Freddy Carter is now my phone wallpaper. The Crows righted the wrongs that I felt while reading the first book which eliminated my worries about how the show would work. During my Shadow and Bone read, I often found myself bored and needing action. There was too much exposition, too much of Alina learning about her powers and strength. I am positive that without the immersion of the action packed, heist-filled book about criminals, the show would have been dragged out in a way that left the viewers sleeping with the show on in the background. Six of Crows brought out what Shadow and Bone was missing and brought balance to the world that was originally built with the information and exposition in the first book. 

The show also righted the wrong of Malyen Oretsev played by Archie Renaux. Mal in the book was portrayed as a one note character who wasn’t likable in the slightest. I didn’t root for him and Alina in the book at all. Although I’m still a Darklina shipper, I found myself believing in their relationship a lot more in the series. The show went into depth in showing Alina and Mal’s relationship as children and showed the lengths Mal was going to in order to reunite with Alina. 

Though you can probably guess that my affection leans towards the Crows, I was still on the edge of my seat for how and when the characters from both series would finally cross paths. The more comfortable you get with the idea of creating an entirely different plot, the more excited you get watching your favorite characters interacting with each other in a way that was never possible before. It’s really something magical, and I feel like all book lovers can appreciate this new way to create and merge what they loved on the page, even though it might be different than what you imagined and were loyal to in the books. 

My only qualm about this TV series is that our Sun Summoner, Alina Starkov, was a little bland. I was unimpressed by her character in the book as well since she spent the entire time writing letters and training. My only wish is to have her develop more in the next season, with more focus on her own character and who she is as a person, and less on her relationships.

Overall, readers and non-readers alike will find something to fall in love with with the new Shadow and Bone TV series. There was just so much care and detail brought into this show, which I believe everyone can appreciate. Details such as Ravkan money in the Crow Club, keftas intricately embroidered, Genya’s tailoring with things found in nature (which is a small detail in the book, and I was pleased that’s how they made her magic work in the show as well), and an entirely new made up language really immerse people into this world. Whether it’s the characters, exquisite costumes, beautiful scenery, ingenious scriptwriting, or the magical lore that Leigh Bardugo created, I have no doubts that this should be your next binge watch or read. Or both. And when you’ve finished, you can find me in my Ketterdam sweatshirt learning how to throw knives and sharpshoot so we can talk about it together.


“‘Shadow and Bone’ Cast Break Down New Netflix Series | Around the Table | Entertainment Weekly.” YouTube, uploaded by Entertainment Weekly, 30 April 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXSB5LyD4Q8&t=412s

Staff Book Spine Poetry

Be brief, be buoyant, and be brilliant.

– Brander Matthews, American Poet

What started out as an antidote for not being able to gather for a social event in 2020, has now become a tradition in 2021! Spine poetry (compiling a piece of poetry through stacking books) is a great way to flex your creative muscles, and perhaps even discover some forgotten favorites. Taking inspiration from our own bookshelves, some of our staff writers have created some beautiful and inspiring works of visual and literary art. Enjoy!


Sharon, Editor-in-Chief

Where'd you go, Sharon
this one summer
a woman alone
Paris postcards

Ever since I have had to hunker down at home, I have been dreaming of the day that I can take off on an adventure. I looked for travel inspiration on my bookshelf and found quite a few titles that would work (apparently wanderlust is part of my genetic makeup). These titles in particular I found to be engaging, and got me daydreaming about a summer all alone in Paris, writing postcards back home as I people watch from the park, or a cafe. Here’s to all the wanderers out there—may we have the opportunity to adventure soon!


Jade, Managing Editor

A Brief History of Time:
Wild embers, a thousand splendid suns,
turtles all the way down.
Outliers, chasers of the light:
Decoding the world.

This book spine poem was largely influenced by the first book in the list, Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. The rest of the poem became a bit of an ode to science and discovery, as well as some of the elusive mysteries of the universe. It’s also a love letter to scientists and discoverers, the eccentric thinkers whom we have to thank for so many of today’s inventions and theories.


Roxanne, Communications Coordinator

The Fault in Our Stars,
Envy
The Innocent -
We were liars,
dangerous girls
in all the bright places 

My inspiration behind this book spine poem came from staring at my bookshelf looking for inspiration. I stumbled on The Fault in our Stars and decided to look for books that could be descriptions of what those faults are that could then end with All the Bright Places. This resulted in me frantically grabbing the rest of these books and stacking them in various ways until I decided this order fit really well. I really like the variety in the book genre and am happy with how it turned out!


Paul, Staff Writer

The deep shadows beneath grass:
Invisible cities,
Tender stories of your life and others.

This is a poem about ants. My favorite author, Ursula K. Le Guin, once wrote a science fiction story about future linguists who learn to translate the literature of animals. It is titled “The Author of the Acacia Seeds. And Other Extracts from the Journal of the Association of Therolinguistics,” and contains poetry written by an anarchist ant (quite a rarity in ant society).

Another of my favorite writers, Ada Palmer, wrote of ants in her book Seven Surrenders: “Humanity is forever boasting of its ‘unique’ achievements: humans are the only creatures who build cities, use agriculture, domesticate animals, have nations and alliances, practice slavery, make war, make peace; these wonders make us stand alone above all other creatures, in glory and in crime [. . .] Except ants.”


Rikki, Staff Writer

Living A Feminist Life,
this is an uprising,
emotional intelligence,
ethical slut,
period power!
When We Fight We Win.

I created this book spine poem from a feminist orientation using books from multiple genres. Taking inspiration from Ahmed’s book Living a Feminist Life —as well as using it as a first line in the book spine poem—I wanted to highlight some of what radical and intersectional feminism creates or privileges as possibilities and strengths of the movement. What’s political is also personal and what’s personal is also political, including our emotional states, our sexual expression, and our acts of/for social change: “when we fight, we win!” 


Hopefully, our art has inspired you to create your own!

A Childhood in Books and the Importance of Local Libraries

“A library is a place that is a repository of information and gives every citizen equal access to it. That includes health information. And mental health information. It’s a community space. It’s a place of safety, a haven from the world. It’s a place with librarians in it.”

– Neil Gaiman, “Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming

Opening Pages

My first memories of reading come from when I was about four or so. My dad sat me on his lap and pulled out an illustrated edition of The Hobbit. I can still picture the wonder on the faces of the elves as little Bilbo (about the same size as I was) held up the Arkenstone for them to behold. When we’d finished I asked to start again.

But my first memories of reading by myself come from the library. We moved within biking distance of Red Mountain Branch Library shortly before my eighth birthday.

I remember walking into the building, the sweat from cycling up the long climb of Adobe Street in the summer sun cooling in the blast of the air conditioning. And just inside and off to the left of the entrance was a big archway of yellow, orange, and green blocks. The neon sign above it read “Children’s Library.” I took the sign literally: this was the part of the library that belonged to me.

The children’s library had its own desk and its own librarian. This meant I didn’t have to stand in line with a bunch of adults to ask my questions. And boy did I have a lot of questions.

They let me sign up for my own library card, highlighter yellow with my name scrawled across the back in illegible chicken scratch. The limit was 35 books at the time (a limit I knew because I regularly hit it). I checked out every book in the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, went home with a bulging backpack, and by the time they were due I was ready for a new series.

Middle Chapters

By the time I was thirteen, I was far too cool to be seen near the children’s section. I was a teenager, which to me meant getting a stool and grabbing something from the top shelves (though I’d often sneak back to children’s section when no one was watching to nab the latest installation in Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven series).

In 2013, Red Mountain Branch opened a new wing called THINKspot: a place full of sewing machines and 3D-printers and cameras and computers. Most important to me, it had a conference room anyone could sign out for a couple hours if they wanted to hold a meeting. This allowed me—a self-conscious teen who hated having people at his house—to host a writing group. I’m sure we were annoying, a bunch of loud fifteen year-olds who spent half the time watching YouTube videos on the conference room monitor. But no one ever told us we couldn’t be there.

That’s what meant the most to me about Red Mountain Branch. It was a place I could go without getting kicked out for being a kid or not having any money. Mesa has always suffered from a paucity of community-oriented spaces, which made the library that much more valuable. It was unique. It taught me what a community space could and should look like.

The Ending or New Beginnings

In 2019 it had been a couple of years since I’d last been to the library. But as fortune would have it, I moved back to Mesa and found myself living once again within biking distance of Red Mountain Branch.

In my absence, they’d opened a miniature bookstore where they sold off old books that were going out of circulation. Thumbing through the stacks, I found the exact (somewhat beat-up) copy of the first collection of Ray Bradbury stories I’d ever read. It cost two dollars. Holding it, I felt like my life had closed a circle.

On that same visit, I got a new library card. As I signed the back, I realized that when I got my last library card was the first time I ever signed my name.

Epilogue

On March 16, 2020, Red Mountain Branch temporarily closed its doors due to Covid-19. They would remain so for an entire year. During that year, librarians staffed the CARES call center—a City of Mesa initiative to inform residents how to petition the city government for funding for their small businesses, rent, or utilities if their ability to pay had been impacted by the pandemic.

As of April 2021, the branch has reopened for business. They had planned to debut a new monarch garden and reading sanctuary last year, but had been delayed (for obvious reasons). This sanctuary is now open, just in time for the Arizona’s monarch breeding season (March – June).

I encourage any readers who live in Mesa to go show the library your support as it reopens. A list of library events and updates can be found here. If you don’t feel comfortable going in-person, you can get books from the library online at phoenix.overdrive.com.

The author would like to express thanks to Joyce Abbott, the manager of Red Mountain Branch Library, for answering his questions regarding the library’s history and programming.

Amazon vs Local Bookstores

This past winter I visited my friend and while walking in the downtown area we approached a local bookstore. Upon grazing the shelves for about an hour I stumbled on a small roughly twenty page pamphlet titled How to Resist Amazon and Why by Danny Caine.

What I was presented with was a whole world of which I was previously unaware. While I am sure most people have some awareness of Amazon’s tragic effect on local businesses, consumers, and employees, I found Caine’s pamphlet to be an invaluable resource related to their impact on my personal favorite retail outlet—bookstores. However, this pamphlet isn’t the only resource highlighting the difficult relationship between Amazon and local bookstores. The fact that Amazon is harmful to local booksellers has been well documented by a plethora of news sources, including a New York Times article detailing how counterfeit books are often sold and promoted involuntarily on Amazon (Streitfeld, 2019), and an article in Forbes describing the new company Boohshop.org that provides local affiliate bookstores a 10% commission compared to 4.5% commission (Verdon, 2020).

Most people, myself included, are attracted to Amazon for their low prices, fast delivery, and availability of a wide selection of books. However, I never thought about why these books are so cheap. As Danny Cain articulates in his pamphlet, bookstores receive a particular discount when ordering from a publisher and if they sell these books for roughly the same amount they purchased them, they wouldn’t be making enough to sustain their business (Caine, 2019). Your local bookstore can’t afford to sell books at a loss, but Amazon—a very wealthy company—can afford to sell books for the amount they purchased or below because they can afford to lose money on this product (Caine, 2019). It isn’t necessarily a matter of Amazon being the evil villian—it is more that these bookstores simply can’t compete because their business reality is much different than that of Amazon’s. Bookstores are a local business that provide much more than just a book to the hands of consumers: these stores offer an environment, a community, and promote local artists and authors. However, because Amazon is the behemoth that it is, many of these beloved local shops are suffering. Hence the dire need to promote and sustain such a vital aspect of so many communities and the literary world.

But what if you really don’t care about the bookstore and just the book? Farhad Manjoo (2011) of Slate actually advocates for Amazon’s prominence as a bookseller stating that “no company in recent years has done more than Amazon to ignite a national passion for buying, reading, and even writing new books” (Manjoo, 2011). Manjoo (2011) then proceeds to critique the consumer experience at local bookstores, essentially considering that Amazon is the best means to purchase your books. However, even if you don’t care about any of these community benefits, perhaps consider that shopping local—whether at a farmers market or a bookstore—prevents economic leakage and promotes local self reliance within your community. Economic leakage, according to Roseland (2012), “occurs when community members travel outside the community to spend their locally generated income on non-local purchases, or when residents make purchases within the community on products that were originally purchased or manufactured elsewhere” (p.218). This money moves outside the local economy and doesn’t promote economic development within the community (Roseland, 2012). In working with local bookstores, or local shops in general, individuals promote local self-reliance—which is about creating a more sustainable community focused on local needs, cohesiveness, and a reduction of waste and beneficial trade practices (Roseland, 2012, p. 217). In order to bolster this foundation of economic development individuals must “where possible, invest in the local economy by substituting locally made products” (p.217). This promotion of the local economy includes bookstores.
I know this isn’t your typical light-hearted post about charismatic books and authors we all love but I, and The Spellbinding Shelf, wanted to bring attention to those booksellers who are the backbone of not just our community, but our favorite authors and novels. If you are interested in learning more about how and why to resist Amazon, or even about supporting local bookstores, I suggest Danny Caine’s How to Resist Amazon and Why. Bonus—it is also available at Changing Hands (our favorite local bookstore)!

Caine, D. (2019). How to resist Amazon and why (2nd ed.). Microcosm Publishing.

Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/joanverdon/2020/02/14/advocate-for-local-

bookstores-takes-aim-against-amazon-with-new-website/?sh=471363043407

Manjoo, F. (2011, December 13). Don’t support your local bookseller. Slate.

https://slate.com/technology/2011/12/independent-bookstores-vs-amazon-buying

-books-online-is-better-for-authors-better-for-the-economy-and-better-for-you.html

Roseland, M. (2012). Community Economic Development. In, Toward Sustainable 

Communities: Solutions for citizens and their governments (pp. 209-228). New Society 

Publishers.

Streitfeld, D. (2019, June 23). What happens after Amazon’s domination is complete? Its 

bookstore offers clues. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/

2019/06/23/technology/amazon-domination-bookstore-books.html

Verdon, J. (2020, February 14). Local bookstores have a new weapon in the fight with Amazon.