Culture Consumption: December 2019

Hi, lovelies. Let’s wrap up the year! I’ll be posting my favorite books and movies from the year in subsequent posts. For now, here’s my December in books, movies, games, and podcasts.

Books

Despite all the time I had off, it was a slow reading month for me (mostly due to my gaming experiences, discussed later).

Wilder Girls by Rory PowerWilder Girls by Rory Power was a brilliant book to end the year on. When a strange disease called the Tox strikes an island, the Raxter School for Girls becomes quarantined. The disease twists the people who are infected with it, the young women’s bodies distorting into strange new forms — silver scales, seeping wounds, glowing hair, and other odd developments appearing on the girl’s bodies — which is sometimes followed by death. But the disease itself is not the only terrifying thing on the island, because the infection has spread to the plant and animal life surrounding the school, and the girls have to stand guard against what hungers beyond the fences. The central story is focused on Hetty and her friends Byatt and Reese, who have banded together in the midst of the horrors they face in order to survive — even if it means breaking the rules that sustained them.

Wilder Girls is a fantastically told story of body horror, offset by a claustrophobic sense of isolation. These girls are trapped and hungering, no less than the creatures outside their gate. Practically alone in the absence of adult supervision (only two teachers have survived), the girls develop their own cultural rules for survival in the face of scarce resources and painful bodily changes. These relationships between smart young women with their own passions, complexities, and agency are what drive this story. Loved this book.

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Culture Consumption: November 2019

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

Books

I can’t believe I only got through two books this month (I started several that I haven’t finished). Anyway, here we go.

In Couch by Benjamin Parzybok, three roommates and slackers — Thom, Erik, and Tree — find themselves out of a place to live, when the couple in the apartment above manages to break their waterbed, flooding their apartment. When their landlord asks them to carry the old couch in their apartment to the thrift store. Unbeknownst to them, this simple act triggers an epic journey. The premise for this book was so quirky and strange that I didn’t quite know what to expect from Couch. This book is so beautifully grounded and is abundant with heart. These guys get put through the ringer and they grow and learn and become better humans. I was honestly moved and awed by this book. Wish I had read it sooner.

My second finished book of the month was Mary Shelley Makes a Monster by Octavia Cade (Aqueduct Press). This collection of poetry is brilliant from beginning to the end. The collection begins with Mary Shelley crafting a monster out of the remnants of her own heartbreak and sorrow. Left alone after her death, the monster goes looking for someone to fill her place, visiting other female authors through the decades — Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Octavia Butler, and others. It’s a beautifully moving examination of the eccentricities of authors and how monsters reflect us in the world. I got to have a fantastic conversation with Cade (barring some technical difficulties) about her work for the New Books in Poetry podcast, and hopefully I’ll be able to share it with you soon.

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Culture Consumption: October 2019

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

Books

Brute by Emily SkajaWinner of the Walt Whitman Award, Emily Skaja’s Brute is a stunning collection of poetry that navigates the dark corridors found at the end of an abusive relationship. “Everyone if we’re going to talk about love please we have to talk about violence,” writes Skaja in the poem “remarkable the litter of birds.” She indeed talks about the intersections of both love and violence, evoking a range of emotional experiences ranging from sorrow and loss to rage, guilt, hope, self discovery, and reinvention.

One of the things I love about this collection is the way the poems reflect the present moment — ripe of cell phones, social media, and technologies that shift the way humans interact with each other, while maintaining a mythic quality, with the speaker feeling like a character struggling to survive in a surreal fairy tale world just waiting to eat her up. Gorgeous work from Skaja, who I recently interviewed for the New Books in Poetry podcast. I need to finish preparing the episode and hopefully I’ll be able to share it soon. 

HEAD by Christine KanownikAnother great collection of poetry that I read this month was Head by Christine Kanownik. Drawn in by the gorgeous cover, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this collection of poems centered around beheadings — whether saints, royalty, or commoners throughout history.  She uses a mixture of of forms to explore the nature of power and the meaning of death.

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Culture Consumption: September 2019

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

Books

I really enjoyed The RavenTower by Ann Leckie (which I discussed here), a beautiful and fascinating fantasy novel about a world in which gods are able to directly interact with humanity and all the power structures that come from such interactions.

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (The Road to Nowhere #1) by Meg ElisonAnother phenomenal read was The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison. The story is a set in an apocalyptic world in which the population has been decimated by an illness that was particularly hard on women and children. The result is a world in which children are nonexistent, women are rare, and most men rove around in gangs claiming the few women left as slaves. The midwife — whose diaries have been preserved by a future society — survives by pretending to be a male and issues what little help she can to the women she meets in the form of contraceptives and medical care.

There is a certain bleakness that tends to come out of this kind of storyline — much of the worst of humanity is revealed. And yet, this book doesn’t fully dwell there. For all the awful things that happen, there are people who are trying to help or at the very least trying to just survive without doing harm. Interesting cultural structures crop up, which reverse power roles and people are capable of trust and be good to one another, if they try hard enough. This is, in the end, a story of hope in a brutal world — and it moved me to tears several times. I loved it.

Locus by Jason BayaniI also read a lot of poetry this month. One of my favorites was Locus by Jason Bayani, which draws on his heritage and cultural experience to delve into the fragmented identities of Pilipinx Americans. Blending memoir and lyricism and inspired by hip-hop and DJ culture, these poems do powerful work in recovering the voices of silenced communities, reflecting on the importance of family and community in tying us to ourselves.

I met Bayani at a reading he was doing and was fortunate to be able to have a moving conversation with him for the New Books in Poetry podcast, which I should be able to share soon.

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Culture Consumption: August 2019

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

Books

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-GarciaSet in the 1920s, Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, is about Casiopea Tun, a young woman who works as a servant for her rich family while dreaming of life beyond her grandfather’s house. She gets her chance to escape and travel, when she opens a chest in her grandfather’s room and awakens the Mayan god of death who has lain captive. Bound by blood and bone to help the god regain his throne or meet her own death, Casiopea and and the god travel across Mexico to regain his power.

I love stories of accidental adventure, of someone discovering a secret that lay buried and find themselves drawn into a dangerous adventure. Casiopea is a perfect such adventurer, sassy and brave and hungry for more in her life. Although she dreams of escape and running off to discover the world, she’s faced with her own insecurities when finally finds herself on the road — and it’s the journey that helps her to grow into her own strength. This is a fun and charming adventure, full of magic, humor, and romance. It’s delightful.

I read two phenomenal horror short story collections this month. The first, The Houseguest and Other Stories by Amparo Dávila is a beautifully unsettling collection of horror short stories (which I talked about at length in another post).

Books of Blood by Clive BarkerThe second is Books of Blood, Vol. 1-3 by Clive Barker. I’ve known about Barker through his work in movies, but had never read any of his fiction up until this point. I honestly should have jumped on that train sooner. Barker’s stories are rich in character development and unique in their portrayal of horrors, from the depravities of human making to sympathetic and terrifying monsters of most unusual origins. Entire cities might enact ancient battles by constructing giants made from the bodies of their citizens (“In the Hills, the Cities”). A women wakes in a hospital after an attempted suicide wakes with the power to grotesquely reshape the men who try to control her (“Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament”). A charity race turns out to have greater stakes than anyone knows, with the racers literally running for their lives (“Hell’s Event”). A monster rears up from the dark of a movie theater, born from the desires of years of movie goers (“Son of Celluloid”). These stories are fantastic across the board, and I just learned that there are many more volumes of Barker’s stories, so I’ll definitely be picking those up as well.

I also read three wonderful poetry collections this month. The first was Deborah L. Davitt’s The Gates of Never, a beautifully accessible collection of poetry that explores and blends history, mythology, and magic with science and science fiction. These poems morph between being moving, irreverent, and erotic — a great collection of work. (I interviewed Davitt for the New Books in Poetry podcast, which I’ll be able to share soon.)

little ditch by Melissa Eleftherion and The Dragonfly and Other Songs of Mourning by Michelle Scalise are two stunning poetry chapbooks. little ditch looks at the intersections between the body and the natural world in order to examine issues surrounding sexual abuse, rape culture, and internalized misogyny. Dragonfly is a beautiful exploration of the horrors of mourning and childhood abuse.
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