Hi, all. Hope you’ve had a good November. Here’s my month in books, movies, and television.
Tipping the Velvet presents the life and times of Nancy Astly, an oyster girl, who falls in love with male impersonator Kitty Butler. After forming a friendship with Kitty, she follows her into the theaters of London, where she works as a dresser (helping Kitty with costumes) before becoming a performer herself. This beautifully told story is a sensual exploration of love and the ability of gender roles. Waters is a master of historical fiction and I loved this almost as much as I loved Fingersmith.
Fell a whole month behind and still moving slow, but here we go — presenting my last two months in books, movies, and television.
The Stone Sky is a powerful conclusion to N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. Essun has grown into immense power and is determined to end the seasons (times in which the world tears itself apart), while her daughter, Nassun, with her own power and burdened by the memories of cruelty enacted on her and other orogenes, sets out to destroy the world for good. The character walk through an apocalyptic landscape of ash and cold, a world coming undone, each marching to their own destiny — and in the end a beautiful conclusion full of heartbreak, forgiveness, and ultimately love. The Broken Earth trilogy is brilliant from start to finish — one of my favorite reading experiences in recent years.
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter is a well loved collection, especially the title story “The Bloody Chamber.” People have been telling me about it for years — and now that I’ve read it, I totally understand why so many people love it. The story follows the Bluebeard fairy tale closely: a girl marries a rich man, who gives her the keys to the house telling her that she can open all the doors but one — a test she fails to nearly disastrous results. Carter takes the myth and brings it into the modern world (1970s, when it was first published) and provides more depth to the main character, giving her a history and motivation for the choices she makes. It presents servants that have personalities and her mother, who has fought in revolutions and can advice her over the telephone. The resulting story is at the same time grittily real and subtly magical.
One of my pet peeves about fairy tale retellings is that they often loose the magic when they are modernized. But all of the stories in Carter’s collection present similarly gritty and unsettling takes on old fairy tales, while not loosing that original weirdness and magic. It’s a fantastic collection.
Coming in a little late, here is my August in books, movies, and television.
When I picked up The Girl in the Road, I thought it was going to be an entirely different book than what it was.* Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the story about two very different women making long journeys, both escaping from danger (perceived or real), both looking for hope at the end of the road. One makes her journey as a young girl by sneaking aboard a truck crossing Africa, the other walks along the snakelike spine of the Trail, an energy generation system spanning from India to Ethiopia. This novel is richly textured, with complex characters and explorations of sex, self, and sanity. A great read (although I really didn’t understand the epilogue and if someone wants to explain it to me that would be awesome). Continue reading “Culture Consumption: August 2017”
With all the traveling and such, I’ve fallen a bit behind. I’ve read some great books and seen some great movies over the past couple of months, though.
“There is a point when a man may swim back to shore, but he was past it. There was nothing left but to be swallowed by the enormity of the sea.”
— from Certain Dark Things
I love vampires and I love Mexico City, so it’s no surprise that I loved Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. The world Moreno-Garcia has created features vampires of many species that live out in the open with humanity. Though vampires have been ousted from many countries around the world, they’ve gained a stronghold in Mexico, forming powerful and dangerous cartels — with the exception of Mexico City, which exists as a vampire-free zone due to the strength of the human gangs.
Certain Dark Things is told from multiple points of view — Domingo, a garbage-collecting street kid; Atl, a descendant of Aztec blood drinkers on the run from a rival vampire gang; Rodrigo, a human servant of vampires hunting Atl; Ana, a cop who becomes wrapped up in events when bodies start turning up; and a few others. Altogether, this is a brilliant crime thriller full of vampires and gangsters and femme fatales. Silvia Moreno-Garcia is fast becoming one of my writers favorite writers, and I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.
“There are worlds built on rainbows and worlds built on rain. There are worlds of pure mathematics, where every number chimes like crystal as it rolls into reality. There are worlds of light and worlds of darkness, worlds of rhyme and worlds of reason, and worlds where the only thing that matters is the goodness in a hero’s heart.”
— from Down Among the Sticks and Bones
In Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire, Jacqueline and Jillian are twins born to parents who never really understood or wanted children, parents who believe children are objects to be shaped to their desires. But the world is full of doors to other worlds and Jacqueline and Jillian find their way to a place of darkness and death, where they suddenly have the ability to choose.
Seanan McGuire seems to be getting better and better with every book she writes. The writing in this book is beautiful, often taking on the “fairy tale” tone of an outside narrator as a separate character relating the story.
Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a standalone story in the Wayward Children series, and as such, you can read the books in the series in any order. Although if you really want to know what happens to Jack and Jill, then I recommend reading Every Heart a Doorway, which chronologically comes after this one (even though its the first in the series). I hope there are many, many more books in this series, because I’m loving it. Continue reading “Culture Consumption: June & July 2017”
May was an interesting month, in that it was full of fabulous travels. Still managed to read and watch quite a few great stories.
I adored Bone Gap by Laura Ruby a subtly speculative novel about Finn and Sean O’Sullivan, two brothers surviving in small town full of gaps that people slip through all the time. First, their mother abandons them for a new life, then Roza — the young woman who shows up in their barn and brings light into their lives and the lives of the whole town — vanishes. The story and characters and magical realism and the setting of a small town (where everybody knows everything about everyone, even if they always get the story wrong) is gorgeous. Also, the audiobook narrator Dan Bittner does a fantastic job of bringing each of the characters to life, making them feel distinct when the POV shifts.
“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”
I delighted in A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, the audio book of which is read by the author herself, who does a wonderful reading. The novel is told from two points of view — Ruth, a writer on a remote island who finds a mysterious packet in a Hello Kitty lunchbox, containing a journal and letters and other items, and Nao, living in Tokyo, whose story is told through the journal itself.
There are so many layers to my love of this novel. The characters and their stories captivated me. Nao, who has faced such levels of bullying at school and sorrow at home, relates her decision to end her life in a straightforward manner. To her it is the only logical solution to what she’s been through (and she’s been through a lot). In her journal, she presents her life with a sense of self-depreciating humor. After all she’s been through, and despite her resolution, there is an underlying strength to her. It’s an interesting balance between depression, sorrow, and enjoyment of small moments.
Ruth is also fascinating to me. Her life is marked by less overt drama, and her story relates more of the small moments, the routines of her life that both provide her with contentment and feel like traps. As she explore’s Nao’s story through the journal and tries to seek a way to help this girl who lives across the sea, she finds certain threads of her own life loosening, creating their own minor havocs.
This novel is also so meta. One could start with the writer character, Ruth, who shares her name with the author of the book, which suggests the potential of the autobiographical slipping in even if none of it actually is such. Even the title A Tale for the Time Being has double meaning — as in both, a tale for a person who lives in time, and also a tale for right now. I don’t want to get too much into the ways this is a meta narrative, since a lot of it comes at the end, but I will say that it had me thinking about the creation of art and degree to which the reader participates in the creation.
I think this is one of those books I’m going to have to reread many times.
My reading continues to be sloooowwww, but at least I finished a few things this month — along with seeing a TON of movies.
Through the Woodsby Emily Carroll was a favorite read from this month. This beautifully illustrated collection of scary stories, involving ghosts and wolves and other stranger monsters explores the dangerous things hidden in the dark that can steel one’s life and/or self away. The art uses bright vivid colors with a mixture of line styles to create a sense of tension and unease while reading — some scenes are vividly terrifying.
I also loved reading Jessie Carty’s collection, Shopping After the Apocalypse. In this collection of prose poetry, the narrator begins a journey across an apocalyptic landscape. Contemplative and beautifully written, each poem builds on the next forming an interconnected story of isolation in an abandoned landscape. The result is a more contemplative exploration rather than the violence and terror expressed in most apocalyptic storylines. I really enjoyed this collection so much that I interviewed the poet about her writing process.
Alrighty, here’s my January in books, movies, and such.
This is the first is time in, well, probably ever that I haven’t completed a book over the course of a month — not even ONE. I’ve been doing a lot more watching TV than reading this past month as a way to unwind and reading three books at once sort of extended things out a bit — though really it was the watching that got me.
Books Finished This Month: 0 (*weeps*)
Total Books for the Year: 0 (*wails*)
Still in Progress: Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories by Mariana Enríquez, Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman, and Tim Burton: Essays on the Films, edited by Johnson Cheu
I’ve been meaning to see Spotlight, for a while, ever since it won the Academy Award for Best Picture along with Best Original Screenplay. The movie is based on the story of how a group of reporters uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese. Although a bit slow paced in the beginning, the movie is fascinating to watch, to see how each small piece of evidence, every interview, every mistake comes together in the end.
I’m particularly interested in how the characters are developed in the movie — which is to say not much, since the main focus is not on the emotional trajectory of these characters, but on the trajectory of uncovering and revealing the truth. And yet, the writers, director, and actors do an excellent job of using small moments that make us connect with them and reveal how their work is affecting them. It’s all very well done.
I also enjoyed Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children for and Don’t Breathe was a great thriller with tight pacing. XXX: Return of Xander Cage was all over the top action and somewhat stupid, although in a stupidly fun sort of way (it also gets points for having lots of diversity in its cast).
New-to-me Movies This Month:
1. Spotlight (2015)
2. XXX: Return of Xander Cage (2017)
3. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
4. Don’t Breathe (2016
I enjoy watching shorts and I’m hoping to taking time to watch them more often. All of the ones I list here are available online with links provided.
My favorite of the batch was The House of Small Cubes, a Japanese animated story of a flooded a world, in which an old man dives into his past — a beautifully animated and so many feels.
I also loved One Week, no surprise since I’m a huge Buster Keaton fan. A couple gets married and are given a build-your-own home kit — with disastrous and hilarious results.
Game of Thrones was my greatest time-suck last month — although I didn’t intend for it to be. I meant to take it slow and just watch an episode here or there, then something shocking or catastrophic would happen at the end of an episode and I’d have to watch the next. I went through Season Two and Three in this way — and if my pace keeps up I’ll probably finish all the way through Season Six before the end of February.
However, my focus Game of Thrones is not entirely there when watching, so sometimes I miss little details. I have a feeling I’ll have to watch it all again at some point in order to make proper commentary on it. But I continue to love Arya Stark, Daenerys Targaryen (Khaleesi), and Tyrion Lannister, as well as Brienne of Tarth, who was introduced in season two.
I also checked out the first episode of Black Mirror from season one, which tells the story of a kidnapping and a bizarre ransom demand involving the Prime Minister of the U.K. It was complicated and smart and sooo disturbing. I’m excited to see more.
I’m starting to fall behind on The Walking Dead again, only this time it has less to do with being terrified of what’s going to happen to the characters and more to do with finding myself having greater interest in other things on TV. At this point, I’m mostly sticking with it to keep up with discussions among family and friends.
That’s it for me! What are you reading? Watching? Loving right now?
Alrighty, here’s December in books, movies, and such. I’ll be posting my lists of Top Books and Top Movies from the year over the next couple of days.
Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway introduces Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, a place for children who have been there and back again, those who have found doorways to other worlds (of which there are many) that feel more home than home, and who, for one reason or another, found themselves back in the mundane world of their previous lives. It’s a place where these children can bide their time, trying to make do while they search for a way back to where they really belong, or learn to accept and make peace with the fact that they’ll never return. The story centers on Nancy, a teenage girl who has traveled to an underworld presided over by the lord of the dead, a place where she has learned to still herself into a statue. Having returned home, her parents can’t accept who she is now and so have sent her away to this school, where disasters begin to happen shortly after she arrives.
This story is beautiful and I love the way it presents different worlds for each kind of child and different kids for each kind of world. I also love the way it rejects the idea that a child like Alice would want to live in England instead of a place like Wonderland. It’s a good thing that this is a series, because I wanted more from this book, more of the characters and this strange school and of the worlds beyond.
Alrighty, here’s November in books, movies, and such. Some really powerful works this month.
“If you want to see what this nation is all about, you have to ride the rails. Look outside as you speed through, and you’ll find the true face of America. It was a joke, then, from the start. There was only darkness outside the windows on her journeys, and only ever would be darkness.” — from The Underground Railroad
Colson Whitehead’sThe Underground Railroad — which has won a National Book Award and a Goodreads Choice Award for Historical Fiction — tells the story of Cora, a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. When a fellow slave Ceasar tells her about the Underground Railroad, she agrees to escape with him and begins a journey north, taking her through various states and cities — each one with its own unique culture, some welcoming her with open arms, others openly hostile. The story unfolds the landscape of the Unites States, unveiling the many shades of racism, both openly violent and disguised behind a seemingly friendly face. This is a powerful book, at times uncomfortable in its straightforward portrayal of the violence inflicted on Cora and her peers, but always beautifully written and challenging in all the best ways.
A lot going on the past few days, so I’m coming in a little late, but here’s September in books, movies, and more.
I really enjoyed Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville, even though it took a ridiculously long time to read. It was worth it, but it seriously took forever to read.
Miéville presents an ornately complex city, operating on a mixture of steampunk science and magic, layered with neighborhoods, districts, slums, and inhabited by numerous intelligent species from humans to khepri (insectile humanoids), Garuda (birdmen), cacti men, and other beings. Everywhere is slick and reeking with filth and squalor (although it’s noted that there are rich burroughs that are less so. It’s a fascinating place, although one I’m not sure I’d want to visit.
The story spends some time getting to know the main characters, alternating between their POVs and adding more characters as it goes along building to a catastrophic moment that unleashes danger and fear on the city. Those first 200 or so pages are necessary to making the novel work, but I had a hard time getting through them (almost too much information to be absorbed). When the action finally gets started things become gripping while still being richly detailed. A great novel, but it definitely took some work to get through.
I did a reread of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, which was a nostalgic experience that I talked about elsewhere.
A lot going on the past few days, so I’m coming in a little late, but here’s September in books, movies, and more.
Pixar Animation is one of my favorite movie making studios. Not every flick is my cup of tea, but they seem to approach each project with a sense of innovation and heart. How they manage to consistently maintain that level of creativity in an industry that tends to churn our generic blockbusters on a regular basis is presented Creativity, Inc. Written by by Ed Catmull (one of the founders of Pixar) with Amy Wallace, the book is simultaneously a history of the computer animation industry, a memoir of Pixar with all its ongoing success and challenges, and a guide for approaching the management of creative teams.
One of the main ideas behind his management philosophy is that it’s impossible for one person to know everything, and that, in fact, it is certain that there are things unknown that are influencing the flow of creativity. He writes,
“I believe the best managers acknowledge and make room for what they do not know—not just because humility is a virtue but because until one adopts that mindset, the most striking breakthroughs cannot occur. I believe that managers must loosen the controls, not tighten them. They must accept risk; they must trust the people they work with and strive to clear the path for them; and always, they must pay attention to and engage with anything that creates fear. Moreover, successful leaders embrace the reality that their models may be wrong or incomplete. Only when we admit what we don’t know can we ever hope to learn it.”
This acknowledgement of unknown factors influencing the dynamics of a creative environment enables the initiation of a process of self reflection and analysis — not as a one time solution but as an ongoing process of growth. As one solution proves to be successful, another litany of challenges will present themselves and it’s important to know how to navigate those new challenges and change tactics as they arise. One of the many things I love about this book is how it shies away from simple, trite catch phrases that are usually presented as rules for success. Phrases such as “Trust the process” sound wise at first glance, but can often come to be meaningless. The reality is that finding solutions often requires adaptability and a willingness to address problems, failure, and change.
One of the great flaws, he finds in many operations is how they address failure as something to be avoided at all costs, a believe that often stifles creativity and risk taking. Catmull asserts that failure is “a necessary consequence of doing something new.” The very act of forging ahead on a new project, whether creating a film or writing a book, means that there will be inevitable failures along the way. Rather than seeing these failures as doom, seeing them as inevitable enables people to work through the frustration of not getting it right the first time (or second or tenth). It’s something that I’ve learned (and am still learning) to accept as I’ve attempted and failed again and again at finishing my stupid novel — each failed attempt getting me closer and closer to understanding the heart of the story, getting closer to learning how to get it right.
I also rather likes what Catmull had to say about change (similar to failure, in that people tend to be terrified of it):
“Here’s what we all know, deep down, even though we might wish it weren’t true: Change is going to happen, whether we like it or not. Some people see random, unforeseen events as something to fear. I am not one of those people. To my mind, randomness is not just inevitable; it is part of the beauty of life. Acknowledging it and appreciating it helps us respond constructively when we are surprised. Fear makes people reach for certainty and stability, neither of which guarantee the safety they imply. I take a different approach. Rather than fear randomness, I believe we can make choices to see it for what it is and to let it work for us. The unpredictable is the ground on which creativity occurs.”
I could probably quote passages and passages of this book, and examine each one closely, but I would quickly run out of space here. Having listened to Creativity, Inc. on audio book (narrated by Peter Altschuler), I’m eager to buying a print copy so that I can peruse the text more closely to better absorb the information and examine it for concepts that might help my own creative life.
It’s been a great month. One of the highlights this month was the All Womyn’s Showcase (write up here), which I not only attended but also participated in. I love attending live events (even if they sometimes exhaust me) and I keep telling myself that I want to see more of them.
Super Mutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki is such a wonderfully strange graphic novel. For most of the book, each page represents a single vignette, a tiny story about one or more of the characters from the Academy. At the beginning the vignettes jumped between so many different characters, it was difficult to keep track of who was who and what was going on, which made it a little hard to get into. But, as I continued reading and the characters began to repeat, I recognized a main set of characters I could connect and resonate with, allowing me to settle into the odd and beautiful stories at this strange school which features an array of mutants and magic and science.
Some of the vignettes are anchored in ordinary teenage angst (like crushes and school dances and friendship) that makes them easy to relate to, while others are simply, delightfully bizarre (such as the everlasting boy, who throughout the book experiences a variety of deaths and rebirths and eternities). There’s a lot of wit and wisdom present (sometimes beyond what I would expect from a typical teenager, though these are not typical teenagers). Taken as a whole, Super Mutant Magic Academy is really a fabulous book, which doesn’t allow itself to be anchored by any single storyline, but lets itself fall into the chaos of teenage-dom with all its weird wisdom and foolish obsessions.
Wait. July is over already? Where did the year go?
I’ve long loved the work Charlie Jane Anders does — both as the host of Writers with Drinks and as a long-time editor and writer at i09. So I was thrilled to have been able to pick up a copy of All the Birds in the Sky (which I got signed at one of her readings in San Francisco).
The novel is sort of a like a nature witch and mad scientist love story that explores the philosophical differences between how magic and science approach deal with a world that’s falling apart. Both have their own ways of trying to make things better, but when magic and science begin to clash, it threatens to destroy the world instead.
I love the characters in this novel. Both Patricia and Laurence had rough childhoods that they managed to survive and deal with in their own ways. Though they are both flawed, they also have their own sense of compassion that leads them to try to do good in the world. Somehow, despite all their differences and mistakes, they manage to fit together.
Anders’ writing is beautiful — a mixture of beautiful details, humor, and emotional resonance. I loved this book.
In the intensity of getting words written, I feel as though I’ve slowed down on reading. In some cases, I’ve even been avoiding it in lieu of more mentally easy story consumption through TV and movies. Not always the best thing, since reading words is a part of what inspires me to write words. So toward the end of the month, I tried to get outside, setting into an easy chair by the pool, and delve into some much missed words.
For the past — I don’t know how long — I’ve been posting a monthly breakdown of the books and movies I’ve been watching with a short-ish review for every single one. But lately I haven’t had the time to write individual reviews. So I snagged the idea of Culture Consumption from Calico Writes, which combines all my monthly reading and watching and listening into one post.