Culture Consumption: February 2020 – Women in Horror Month

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

Books

February was women in horror month, so I focused as much of my reading as possible on this subject area and read some fantastic and fun books. I enjoyed pretty much everything I read, but here are some of the standouts.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria MachadoI finally got around to reading Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado — and I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to read this book. The stories in this collection explore the place of women in the world, with each story having its own intimate horrors. Many of these stories also explore female desire and sexuality, diving into that longing for pleasure in a world that would traditionally deny them that.

All of the stories in this collection are complex and powerful in their own unique ways. Here are a few that I adored the most. In “The Husband Stitch,” a woman relates the story of meeting, falling in love, and living with her husband. She gives him everything of herself, with the only thing that belongs to her being a green ribbing she wears around her neck — which her husband over time grows more and more eager to understand and claim. The story is beautiful, intimate, with a truly unsettling ending.

“Inventory” tells the story of an apocalypse in a series of gorgeous, heartbreaking vignettes, each relating intimate moments and relationships with a variety of people in the narrator’s life.

In “The Resident,” an introverted, anxious writer begins a residency in the mountains near where she once went to Girl Scout Camps. The residency brings up memories of being at camp, illnesses and afflictions to her body, and anxieties about who she’s supposed to be around other people and writers. It’s intense and verges on horror, but mainly focuses on the internal struggles of the character. It’s a haunting, beautiful story.

“Especially Heinous” is an utterly fascinating story which reimagines 12 seasons of Law and Order: SVU. In the story, Officers Stabler and Benson each become increasingly haunted and stalked by strange forces in unique ways. The short snippets of scenes are listed as episodes and everything unfolds as a compellingly surreal experience in which the city thrums with a living heartbeat and dead girls ring through the halls of apartments.

“Real Women Have Bodies” is a beautiful story of love in a world where women are loosing substance, fading away. It just about broke my heart.

Bunny by Mona AwadIf you’re into dark and bloody academia stories, then you should definitely consider reading Bunny by Mona Awad. Samantha Mackey is struggling through her MFA program at a prestigious university, where she’s finding herself unable to write and is repelled by the clicky group of women in her fiction writing workshop, who all call each other “Bunny.” Her one comfort is her friend, Ava, who is fierce and doesn’t give a crap what anyone else thinks And yet, when the Bunnies invite Samantha to their infamous Smut Salon, she goes and discovers the group has dark secrets.

The voice of Bunny is biting, the descriptions of the world edged with a sharp irony. It’s funny and brutal and sometimes aching with longing and sorrow. This novel was beautifully and darkly compelling, drawing me into its strange, surreal world. I honestly never knew what was going to happen next. I loved this book.

The Twisted Ones by T. KingfisherI went through several audiobooks this month, all of which were great, but I particularly loved The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher, which was narrated by Hillary Hubert. When asked to clear out her grandmother’s house, Mouse travels with her dog to rural North Carolina where she discovers her grandmother was a hoarder and the mess is bigger than she imagined. As she sets to work, she’s able to almost ignore the strangeness of the woods around her — but that changes when she discovers her step-grandfather’s journal, which relates the story of terrifying things. At first, she chalks it up to the delusions of an old man, until she starts to witness the horrors herself.

The Twisted Ones is a pitch perfect horror novel, made all the better by being filled with a cast of fun, interesting, and sympathetic characters. Mouse herself is entirely relatable, and the neighbors she meets and wonderfully, generous human beings. It makes it far more scary when you care about the characters involved and want them all to survive and return home safe and sound.

When I Arrived At the Castle by Emily CarrolI’ve read Emily Carroll’s graphic novel collection of utterly horrifying fairy tales, so I was excited to pick up When I Arrived at the Castle, a wholly original and haunting fairy tale. An eerie fairy tale, in which a young woman travels to a distant castle with the purpose of confronting the lady of the house. As she follows the lady through the house, she learns how truly monstrous she is. The art work is beautiful, with its stark black and white imagery highlighted with pops of blood red color. The visuals switch between being dreamlike and utterly horrifying — and combined with the text, it makes for a compelling tale.

The Spinning Place by Chelsea WagenaarOutside of the horror genre, I read the The Spinning Place, a collection of poetry by Chelsea Wagenaar (which was provided to be by the publisher, Southern Indianan Review Press, for the purposed of an interview). The poems in this book explore the things the body carriers, whether its a growing fetus in the womb with all its demands on existence and the future or the emotional weight of family and relationships. I’m hoping to have an interview with Wagenaar in an upcoming episode of the New Books in Poetry Podcast.

Books Read Last Month:
1. To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers
2. In the Shadow of Spindrift House by Mira Grant (audiobook read by Jesse Vilinsky)
3. Ten by Gretchen McNeil (audiobook read by Tavia Gilbert)
4. Bunny by Mona Awad
5. Women Do Not Creep by Daylight, written by Vera Greentea and illustrated Kyla Vanderklugt
6. The Empties, No. 1-3, written by Kristen Gorlitz and illustrations by Eli Powell
7. When I Arrived at the Castle by Emily Carroll
8. The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher (audiobook read by Hillary Huber)
9. The Invention of Ghosts by Gwendolyn Kiste
10. The Spinning Place by Chelsea Wagenaar
11. Her Body and Other Stories by Carmen Maria Machado

Total Books for the Year: 15

DNF: Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design by Scott Rogers

Still in Progress at the End of the Month:  White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi and Children of Lovecraft edited by Ellen Datlow

Short Stories & Poetry

Three Poems by Jamie Berrout (Patreon) —

“almost any object can be sharpened / into a weapon. there are four sides, four / corners to the ebt card. were I / to hone the plastic card’s edge, how many”

If You’re Going to Look Like a Wolf They Have to Love You More Than They Fear You by Abigail Chabitnoy (The Slowdown) —

“The first deer had large teeth and no horns and
were not afraid.

The first deer did not have enough fear
for the men who needed them
to survive.”

The Ones Who Stay and Fight by N.K. Jemisin (Lightspeed) — “It’s the Day of Good Birds in the city of Um-Helat! The Day is a local custom, silly and random as so many local customs can be, and yet beautiful by the same token. It has little to do with birds—a fact about which locals cheerfully laugh, because that, too, is how local customs work.”

Spooky by Adelina Sarkisyan (Rogue Agent) —

“I am too old to believe in
fairy tales but I swear I am never not afraid I am searching for knives and
sharp things and facing corners I am looking into the pupil a deep black
night”

Haunted Hearts by Saba Syed Razvi (Queen Mob’s Teahouse) — “The house was very old and very big and filled with strange nooks and crannies to explore. The twins loved playing in the different rooms, calling from one end of a hall to another to listen to the echoes breaking like waves on the dusty walls.”

Two Poems by by Savannah Slone (Rabid Oak) —

“i’ve never coined a jukebox;
there is an innate safety in an unattended
body—these bodies like wildfires. this oil
smear. acrylic mirror. these traceable
skylines falling limp and we are falling, limp.”

Movies

I’ve come to appreciate Harley Quinn as a character more and more, as I see her break away from the shadow of the Joker and become her own, insane woman. Birds of Prey is an excellent example of this, presenting a fun, quirky rendition of Harley — along with more fantabulous women of Gotham.

Margo Robbie as Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey.
Margo Robbie as Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey.

Following a final breakup with the Joker, Harley Quinn is left to figure out who she is in the world — what kind of criminal or anti-hero she wants to be. There’s a lot of fumbling around as she works things out in her own brightly colored, glittery way. Meanwhile, other women in Gotham are each on their own trajectories, which brings them all together to fight against the big bad. Honestly, this just a straightforwardly fun movie, vibrant and funny, with great and smartly choreographed action sequences. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

Birds of Prey

New-to-Me Movies Watched Last Month:
1. 1. Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020)
2. Aquaman (2018)

Television

Continuing my watch of Avatar: The Last Airbender with a friend, I am still blown away at how amazing this show is — smart, fun, witty, and epic all at once. Amazing that it’s a kid show, because it doesn’t talk down the viewers at all.

I’ve started watching Lock & Key, Season One, in which the Locke family moved into an old family home after their father’s death. Slowly they start to uncover strange keys hidden on the property, which provide the users with a variety of gifts, curses, or powers. I’m only a few episodes in, but I’m digging it so far.

Games

I’m zeroing in on the end of Horizon: Zero Dawn. I’ve completed all the side quests in the main storyline, and have started in on the DLC, The Frozen Wilds. It shouldn’t take me too much longer to finish it up — and then I’ll be launching into Fallout 4 (another ginormous game that will take me forever to not finish).

Bored with the games currently purchased on my phone, I decided to give Apple Arcade a try. The program basically allows you to play a number of games in their Arcade for a monthly fee. There’s a month-long free trial, which I hopped on.

The first game I played was Overland — a strategy-based game set in an apocalyptic world. You play as a traveler (or group of travelers) trying to escape across the U.S., while avoiding a variety of monsters. Along the way, you have to gather gas, supplies, and other survivors in order to make it through. The game is extremely challenging, especially since there are tight restrictions on how much the characters and vehicles can carry. The game also doesn’t provide instructions or guides to explain how to play or how the monsters will act. You kind of figure out the rules through trial and failure. As challenging as it is, however, I love the artwork and I’ve been enjoying my play through. I’m curious to see what the ending will reveal, if I can get my characters safely across the map.

Patterned: "Whimsical Wonderland" by Gaia Marfurt
Patterned: “Whimsical Wonderland” by Gaia Marfurt

Another game I’ve been playing is Patterned, which is essentially a series of puzzles comprised by numerous international artists. The puzzles are simple enough and the art is gorgeous — so it makes for a relaxing way to pass the time.

Podcasts

Podcast listening was slow this month because it was superseded by audiobook listening. I’ll be catching up some next month.

Writing Excuses featured a great episode, called Prose and Cons, with Patrick Rothfuss. I always appreciate a great discussion about the nuts and bolts of putting words on the page and making them sing.

I listen to the What’s Good Games podcast every week. I love hearing smart ladies talk about video games news. I don’t normally feature them here, since their episodes is mostly about the news of the week, which kind of gets old after a short amount of time. However, their Top Video Games of the Decade was a great listen this month, and I think it makes for a great introduction to the trio.


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


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