Aug 6 2017

Culture Consumption: June & July 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.

Books


“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.
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Jun 6 2017

Culture Consumption: May 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.

Books

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.

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May 5 2017

Culture Consumption: March and April 2017

My, my. I have gotten rather behind, haven’t I.

Books

“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.

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Apr 30 2017

Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories by Mariana Enríquez

The stories in Things We Lost in the Fire are dark, unsettling and powerful. Mariana Enríquez uses horror and the uncanny to explore women’s lives, from schoolgirls to grown women, some impoverished, some wealthy, most reaching for levels of independence or to carve out some space for themselves in the world.

One story tells of three friend drink and drug their way through their young years, a partying haze. Part of the beauty “The Intoxicated Years” is the breathless quality of the prose, moment rushing into moment as the girls rage through their days. At first, it seems a story of reckless freedom, but it becomes clear that all of their adventures are underpinned with a growing viscousness that’s beautifully powerful and raw.

In “Spiderweb,” a woman feels bored and trapped by the marriage she rushed into, and when she brings her husband to visit her family, she’s embarrassed and repelled by him with every passing moment. One a trip with her cousin Natalia and her husband to Asunción (an open market offering mostly knockoffs or illegal items), her frustration comes to the surface. I love the way this story builds on the feeling of being stuck by the choices you’ve made.

“No Flesh Over Our Bones” is the story of a woman finds a human skull, rings it home and names it Vera. The woman becomes more and more obsessed with the skull, desiring to make it whole again. The story approaches the realm of body horror as it explores women’s relationships to their bodies.

In “Under the Black Water,” Marina is an attorney who works with the people who live in impoverished in the slums of Buenos Aires. She learns that strange things, including a dead man coming up out of the water, are happening in the slums. When Marina investigates, events grow more and more disturbing in a way that feels Lovecraftian. This is one of my favorite stories in the collection. I love the main character and how the story is both grittily realistic and strange in the ways it explores poverty and environmentalism.

Among the most disturbing and powerful stories for me was “Things We Lost in the Fire.” Body horror is a key trope in this story, in which women claim their own lives and bodies by setting themselves on fire and living in the world with their scars proudly shown. The scars are presented by this movement of women as a new kind of beauty, with fearlessness and a fervor, and yet.

I’m looking forward to reading more work by Enríquez.

Note: This book was provided as an ARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


Apr 26 2017

Watching the Clouds of Sils Maria

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Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria

When I finished watching Clouds of Sils Maria all I could do was sit in stunned silence, letting myself exist in that space a little longer. A few minutes after the credits rolled to a stop, the tears came. I’m not sure how to describe what I was feeling, except that I knew I had seen something beautiful and I wanted to immediately watch it again.

The trailer sucks, by the way. Although it shows clips from the movie, they’re so out of context that it comes off as a completely different movie. And I get it, Clouds of Sils Maria is full of subtleties and is a hard movie to sum up in a simple, marketable way.

On it’s surface it’s about an film actress starring in the revival of the theatrical play that launched her career — now in the role of the older woman. She has to face how time has shifted and she has shifted with it. The more she delves into the role, facing the character’s pain, the more her own insecurities come to the surface.

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It’s about the relationship between stars and their personal assistants, that weird line — on the one hand it’s an employer/employee relationship, and on the other hand, the state of constantly being with your employer, answering their phones, and so on creates an intimacy. Sometimes that leads to friendship, sometimes it leads to weirdness. As the central relationship in the movie, Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart spend a vast number of scenes alone together. They both provide phenomenal performances, with great chemistry together.

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The movie is also about art and what it means to different people. Most of the conversations involve discussions about the theatrical play — analysis of who two women in the play are and what they and their literary relationship stands for. These conversations illustration how the meaning of art changes from perspective to perspective, whether from person to person or from one person at different stages of their live. And as these conversations about a fictional play takes place, it brings attention to the question of the two main characters in this movie and what they stand for (will this movie have the same emotional resonance to me ten years in the future as it does now?).

The movie leaves space for quiet moments and some questions unanswered. It’s a movie I feel strangely protective of this film — I want to tell everyone to watch it, but I also am a bit afraid family and friends might not connect with it the way I did. But then, I suppose that’s all apart of different people understanding art through different perspectives.