Wrap-Up: August 2019

  • The Hidden Face of Eve by Nawal El Saadawi (★★★☆☆)
  • These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling (★★★★☆)
  • Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger (★★★★★)
  • Headscarves and Hymens by Mona Eltahawy (★★★★☆)
  • Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (★★★★☆)
  • Teeth in the Mist by Dawn Kurtagich (★★★★☆)
  • Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (★★★★☆)
  • The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (★★★☆☆)

MONTHLY TOTAL: 8
YEARLY SO FAR: 54

A pretty decent reading month, I would say! The standout was definitely Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger, which is coming out later this month. It’s a Pokemon-inspired high fantasy that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I had such a goddamn good time reading it. It’s so much fun, with four completely distinct and fleshed out POV characters. Truly one of the best books I’ve read all year!

I also managed to read a couple of non-fiction books by Egyptian feminists that have been on my TBR backlist for ages and ages, and it made me realize how much I miss reading non-fiction! I really do want to try to work it into my reading more, although not for the month of September, since my TBR is chock full of massive fantasy books.


Television Update

I watched an astonishing amount of television this month!

I marathoned season 2 of Derry Girls in a single sitting. I didn’t even mean to; I thought, hey, let me watch an episode and try to savor this, and then suddenly I was on the next episode, and then all of a sudden I was done. That’s the problem with these damn British sitcoms; each season is only six episodes long, which is just…unfathomable when you consider that American sitcoms clock in at 21-25 episodes a season! It was just as hilarious as season 1, if not more so, and the minute I stopped watching I immediately wanted to rewatch the entire thing.

I decided to read Big Little Lies this month specifically because I have HBO this month, so I wanted to read the book before watching the show. I knew I would enjoy both, but I didn’t realize how quickly I would go through both! I finished the book in a single day, and two season of the show in about three days. I have my gripes about how the TV show was adapted from the book, but that’s a post for another day. I will say, though, that the first season does an excellent job of building up tension towards the final climax, which the above GIF showcases, and it was so satisfying. I have a lot more issues with the direction the show chose to go in for season 2, mainly because it felt contrived and nonsensical for the women to come up with that ridiculous and unnecessary lie.

Gentleman Jack! Victorian lesbians! Suranne Jones! Sophie Rundle! Gemma Whelan! Gorgeous panoramic shots of the English countryside! Ridiculous 1840s puffed sleeves! Lesbian angst! Can you tell how beyond excited I am that this show exists! I have been highly anticipating it since it was announced that there would be an adaptation of Anne Lister’s life, and written by Sally Wainwright at that, and it does not disappoint.

Anne Lister was such a fascinating person in her own right, multifaceted and complex. While she behaved in a “masculine” manner, she also wore black to mourn a woman she’d lost to marriage, showcasing a deep romantic streak. Her Tory leanings and class privilege are evident on the show; clearly Lister understood that it was her privilege that allowed her to live as she did, with all her freedoms. On the show she’s an all-around badass, striding fervently into rooms and getting in men’s faces. It’s such a joy to watch a woman in the 19th century behave so confidently.

The majority of season 1 focuses on two things: Anne’s endeavor to sink her coal pit (and prove that the magistrate has been stealing coal from her) and her relationship with Ann Walker, a much younger and more more naive young woman who was Anne’s neighbor. Their relationship is fraught from the beginning, as they are clearly at two completely different points of development in life – while Anne is worldly, confident, and mature, Ann is naive, sheltered, and an utter nervous wreck most of the time. She’s also deeply steeped in fear and shame because of her queerness, which makes for a lot of angst with Anne, who is unapologetic about loving “the fairer sex and only the fairer sex.”

As some of you may know, I’m obsessed with Victorian-era media, whether it’s set in seedy London or the pretty countryside. There is something so quaint about the era (when witnessed from afar, that is) and it is so gratifying to watch a show set during this time that prioritizes not only women’s stories, but lesbians‘ stories. It is truly a gift from the gods. My only criticism is that some of the servants’ plotlines seem a little extraneous to the overall plot; I would have preferred that they dovetailed more neatly with the overall story, but I’m still enjoying the plotlines nonetheless!

I expected Chernobyl to be intense, but I didn’t expect how much tension or pure dread it would inspire. It’s not really a horror show, but that doesn’t stop it from being utterly terrifying. There’s just something so disturbing about watching it all with the hindsight we have now; seeing characters – real historical people! – treat the disaster like it was No Big Deal when we know just how catastrophic it really was. The first few episodes in particular were excellent at this, lingering on employees’ and bureaucrats’ staunch denial that something was Terribly Wrong, while slowly revealing the scale of the horror.

It’s different when you watch something scary knowing it’s not real. It’s easier to comfort yourself. But nuclear disasters have happened, and continue to happen, and the realism of it all is what made the show so much more visceral for me. I can’t speak to how historically accurate it is, but it would certainly be fascinating to read accounts from the survivors or monographs as to how the Soviet Union actually behaved in the immediate aftermath. I know some criticisms of the show have argued that he USSR was portrayed in a particularly bad – and unrealistic – light. I have to wonder if the reality of the tragedy was more nuanced.

I finally, finally watched the final season of The Americans. I think part of me was unwilling to watch it because I do love this show so much, and part of me was afraid of how it would end. There could never be a truly happy ending for Phillip and Elizabeth, but I am surprised at how satisfied I was with the ending the show gave them. It’s…bittersweet, but very, very fitting. It’s also utterly tragic. Again, hindsight: we as the viewer are fully aware that the dissolution of the USSR is soon to come, and every horrible thing Phillip and Elizabeth have done for the good of their country was ultimately completely pointless.

This show has been absolutely astonishing throughout its entire six season run. The writing is so well done – it manages to maintain a careful balance between not revealing too much and not revealing too little. The plots can be a little complex, sometimes, with all the politics and espionage, and not every little detail is spelled out for the viewer, but it gives you just enough to go on. When it comes to the characters and their motivations, it gives you a great deal, but it also leaves room for you to ruminate and analyse.

The best thing to come out of the show, in my opinion, besides the tragedy of becoming jaded with the one thing you had defined your entire life by, is Phillip and Elizabeth’s relationship. They just…they win the arranged marriage trope. They just do. Imagine: two just-barely adults in a foreign country, pretending to be married, not in love but with only each other for support. They have to have children together to maintain the facade, and even though they don’t immediately come to love each other, they share a trust and intimacy they can’t have with anyone else, simply because of the reality of their lives. That they eventually come to love and care for one another more than anyone else in the world (even their children, as their daughter Paige rightfully points out) is beautiful and fitting.

In other TV news, I caught up on Harlots and started season 3, only to be turned off by a character death that I (and many others) found extremely disrespectful to the show, the character, and the viewers’ intelligence. I haven’t dropped the show, but I need some time to recover before I can return to it. I also caught up on season 4 of Lucifer and now await the final season. The latest season of Jane the Virgin and Supernatural are both out on Netflix, as is Agents of Shield, so I’d like to catch up on those. In the meantime, I’ve also started watching Sharp Objects (can you tell I’m going through HBO’s entire catalog?), which I’ll talk about in next month’s wrap-up once I finish it. I’m also hoping, this autumn, to catch up on a couple of autumnal shows: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (season 2) and Stranger Things (season 3).


Film Update

This month I caught up on a bunch of films that I’ve been meaning to watch for, like, literal years, and only because my mom loves watching movies and always convinces me to watch them with her. We watched three in one night!

Murder Mystery was perhaps not as funny nor as gripping as I expected it to be, but it was still a silly thrill ride. Jennifer Aniston is delightful as always, and I adore Luke Evans. The entire conceit of the film is just so wild it’s impossible not to be swept up along in all the fun.

I am actually an avid Veronica Mars fan; I’m just really, really bad at watching movies. I remember when this was announced in 2014, I was very excited for it, and then I just…never got around to watching it. And then I did! And I loved it! It’s just so very Veronica Mars; the snark, the captivating central mystery, the bombastic side characters, Veronica going back where she belongs. Now hopefully I won’t wait another five years before watching the new season.

I finally joined the rest of the world in watching Crazy Rich Asians, and it was awesome! I was watching with my mom and she commented how unusual it was that were literally no white people in the movie at all, and we both thought, hot damn, how cool is that? My mom and I also sat there with our eyes twitching making fun of how Extra rich people are, which is always fun.

Watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding was the closest approximation I can think of to watching my own family on the screen. Greeks and Egyptians are very similar, culturally, so I spent literally every other minute of this film laughing and turning to my mom and saying, “OMG, that’s just like us! They’re just like Egyptians!” It was a weirdly cathartic experience to watch all the strange stuff that’s part of Egyptian culture reflected in Greek culture. Is this how white people feel all the time, when they watch movies? Is that what it’s like to see your experience reflected back at you all the time? Must be nice.


Miscellaneous

I saw Wicked on Broadway this month and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I don’t tend to like the big, classic Broadway productions, but this one, at least, wasn’t boring! I really enjoyed the relationship between Elphaba and Glinda, as well as the relationship between Elphaba and…well, I forget his name now, but the guy who at first seems like a generic playboy and then he falls for Elphaba, which was so sweet. That’s my kinda trope.

I haven’t really done anything else of note; August has been a sluggish, slow month, full of too-hot days. I am so excited for autumn; it’s like my excitement for these three months of the year just grows exponentially year by year. I’m always in a much better mood, and I have more energy in general.

The one major development, if you can call it that, is that I’ve started the keto diet. I don’t…generally like to talk about weight and stuff because I try not to obsess over it, even though I’m forced to obsess over it because my health metrics are garbage, and so in desperation I decided to try something I’ve never tried before. It…seems to be working so far, as I’ve lost about eight pounds in a week. It’s also surprisingly easy; it’s by far the easiest diet I’ve been on. I think it’s because I’m so used to cutting out carbs that cutting them down just a bit more and replacing them with delicious fats (like cheese!!!) isn’t that difficult. I do miss sugar, which I’ve cut out entirely, and I have to say, autumn just won’t be the same without me baking an excess of cupcakes and apple pies. But, I don’t intend to do this forever, I just need to lose a certain amount of weight to manage my PCOS.

Anyway, I leave you with a delightful quote from Peggy Toney Horton: “Ah, September! You are the doorway to the season that awakens my soul… but I must confess that I love you only because you are a prelude to my beloved October.

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