Culture Consumption: August 2018

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games. 🙂

Books

The Changeling by Victor LaValleThe Changeling by Victor LaValle is a powerful novel, presenting a variety of horror, both mundane and supernatural, a mix of folklore and familial love and violence. Apollo Kagwa is a book man, tracking down rare first editions to make his living. When he falls in love with Emma and they have a son together, he is determined to be a better father than the man who abandoned him when he was young. But Emma begins acting in strange and unsettling ways, building to a terrible act before vanishing — and Apollo’s world is spun out of control.

What makes the horrors of this novel work so effectively is how rooted the story is in normal, everyday life before slowly gathering in strange moments one-by-one. It’s beautifully evoked, layering in the anxieties of fatherhood and dealing with racism and the ways we fail to be compassionate to loved ones when things are hard and the male ego and so much more — all combined with its undertones of folklore. The worst horrors are not always of the supernatural kind, and this story parallels them well — making for a frightening and deeply moving tale.

This is the second book by LaValle that I’ve read (the first being The Ballad of Black Tom) and I’m itching to read more of his work.


The Black Tides of Heaven by JY LangIn JY Yang’s The Black Tides of Heaven, the twins, Mokoya and Akeha, are given away to a Monastery by their mother, the Protector — political bargaining chips in exchange for a service the monks performed for their mother before they were born. As the twins grow, one develops prophetic sight, while the other nurses a defiance that leads them to leave the city and joins a growing rebellion formed by Machinists who are developing ways to fight the Protector without the aid of Tensor magic. While this story builds in tension as the rebellion grows, the heart is the relationship between the twins Akeha and Mokoya, the love and heartbreak they have in each other. In addition to its beautiful storyline, the worldbuilding is fantastic, with interesting portrayals of gender.

Monster Portraits by Del Samatar and Sofia Samatar is a fictional, illustrated travelogue in which a brother and sister go into the world looking for monsters. The pieces are a mix of flash fiction or prose poetry, intricately detailed incidents and introductions to the strange, brutal, and lovely monsters of the world. It at once explores the idea of monstrousness in the fantastical, as well as the monstrous othering that people do to other people, making them almost into something less than human. Such a beautiful collection of creatures.

Monster Portraits by Del and Sofia Samatar
“The Green Lady” from Monster Portraits.

With a mix of the personal and the fantastic, Holly Lyn Walwrath’s beautiful collection of poetry Glimmerglass Girl explores womanhood from multiple angles, revealing the ways we break apart and pull ourselves back together again. A Poet Spotlight interview with Holly forthcoming and will appear here next week.

Books Read Last Month:
1. The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang
2. The Changeling by Victor LaValle
3. Monster Portraits by Del Samatar and Sofia Samatar
4. Glimmerglass Girl, poetry by Holly Lyn Walwrath

Total Books for the Year: 41

Still in Progress at the End of the Month: The Atrocities by Jeremy C Shipp and A Room Away from the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma

Short Stories/Poems

Things You Need to Know About My Grandma” by Leonora Desar — “1. My grandma didn’t like to leave the house. At the age of 50 she said — I’m done! — and put a sign up to remind her. Outside=overrated. She showed anyone who happened to come by — the milkman, the weird guy from the drug store, who brought her pills. Overrated, she said. It was the only time she was happy — showing people what she was missing.”

Two Poems, Two Spells by Catherine Garbinsky — “I swallowed / a lighthouse, and it caught // in my throat. / I could not speak.”

Hover” by Samantha Mabry — “Rebecca and Daisy had moved into their new house in their new town in the middle of February, but it wasn’t until early April, on the night of the girls’ sixteenth birthday, that Rebecca finally learned about the ghost.”

Self-tickling” by David Brennan — “Stairs are the perfect expression of a slight idea: to starve the structure that surrounds them. To pile intention in a tilting stack.”

Movies

Because of my trip to Egypt and all the plane flights that entails, my movie watching jumped significantly. I consumed many movies on my long, long plane flights — and a few more once I arrived back home. Altogether, there were two standouts.

Black Panther was as visually stunning as I expected it to be, and I wish I had seen it in theaters as I had originally intended. Superhero movies have a long history of addressing power and personal responsibility. Black Panther does this especially well, examining the concept from multiple angles while dishing up some gorgeous costumes and settings and fantastically fun fight sequences.

black panther
Black Panther

The Eyes of My Mother is a deeply unsettling horror film, showing the life of a lonely little girl who grows into a lonely and disturbed woman. The death of her mother when she’s young is an inciting factor to the actions that follow, but by no means fully explains the lengths she goes through in order to obtain companionship. The black and white cinematography adds beautiful weight to the quietly unsettlingly scenes.

the eyes of my mother
The Eyes of My Mother

New-to-Me Movies Watched Last Month:
1. Black Panther (2018)
2. Epic (2013)
3. Spielberg (documentary, 2017)
4. Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura (2017)
5. Viceroy’s House (2017)
6. The Hurricane Heist (2018)
7. The Kid (1921)
8. The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
9. The Meg (2018)
10. Ant Man (2015)

Television

I watched the first season of Orphan Black years ago. I was completely absorbed by the characters at that time, but was unable to continue with the show because of something to do with the easy access dropping away. Regardless, when my mom asked me recently about which show she should watch next, I told her about Orphan Black and watched the first episode with her — which sent my spiraling through season one and two (my mom is well ahead of me having already finished off all five seasons).

The show centers around hustler Sarah Manning, who witnesses the suicide of a woman who looks exactly like herself. She steals the identity of the woman in an attempt to escape her past, only to be caught up in a corporate conspiracy — and here I’m going going to go ahead and do spoilers because the show’s quite a few years old. Sarah discover she is one of many clones, all looking the same but with vastly different personalities. Tatiana Maslany’s performances as each of these characters is stunning. She makes each one feel so human and real, to the point that I start to forget that it’s a single actress playing different roles (I can’t imagine how exhausting it would be to play the same scene many times over). She is even able to show the subtle differences in being Sarah pretending to be one of her clone sisters. It’s phenomenal.

And the characters throughout the story, from the clones themselves (Sarah’s streetwise smarts, Helena’s brutal violence mixed with wounded loneliness, Cosima the brilliant hippue scientist, Alison’s uptight soccer mom, and more) to Sarah’s foster brother Felix to any number of the side characters are all interesting in their own right. That combined with some tight, thrilling plotlines makes this a phenomenal show — and I’m excited to now start watching the remaining seasons.

Orphan Black
Tatiana Maslany playing Sarah, Allison, and Cosima.
Orphan Black
Tatiana Maslany playing Sarah and Helena.

My coworker introduced me to the Netflix show, Dark Tourist, a travel show focused on macabre, strange, and dangerous destinations. Over the course of the show, the host David Farrier visits a number of destinations, including seeking out a death-worshiping religion in Mexico, visiting radioactive disaster zones in both Japan and Kazakhstan, meeting vampires in New Orleans, for just a few. Each episode presents three segments, which briefly explore a certain cultural, historical, or touristic event — some of which fit neatly into the “dark” of the show’s title, some not so much. The show presents these destinations as more about thrill-seeking than anything else, sometimes feeling uncomfortably voyeuristic, particularly when looking at unfamiliar cultural rites. The Atlantic has a good review discussing the pluses and problems of the show. All in all, I enjoyed it with some caveats.

Dark Tourist
Dark Tourist – David Farrier visits a former nuclear testing site in Kazakhstan.

Games

I’ve started working my way through The Last of Us, a beautifully wrought action-adventure horror game — both in visuals and storyline. Playing as Joel, a smuggler whose story opens with deep tragedy, the game explores an apocalyptic torn apart of by the infected who are hungry for human flesh. The city is under quarantine by strict military leaders. When Joel and his partner are presented with the task of smuggling Ellie, a young girl with a secret, out of the city, they find themselves in a heap of trouble from the military, the infected, and others.

The Last of Us
Ellie and Joel in The Last of Us.

The gameplay is third person and there are a lot of capabilities in terms of choosing and crafting weapons and devices, which keeps things interesting. You can play for stealth or straightforward attacks, both of which have their benefits. I’ve personally been having an interesting time with the controls, since every button on the controller does a specific thing, and there may have been a time or two of frustration when I’ve forgotten how to do a particularly thing (like say aiming my gun) — which resulted in a multitude of initial deaths.

The Last of Us
One of the many beautiful shots in The Last of Us.

But as I’ve worked through the game and understood the controls better, the number of deaths has dropped significantly. Even so, this is one of those games that I can play for only about one-hour blocks of time — more than that and I start to stress out. The amazing storyline and interesting characters keep me going though. I’m not sure how far into the game I am (maybe a quarter?), but I can’t wait to see what happens to Joel and Ellie next.


That’s it for me! What are you reading? Watching? Loving right now?


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