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Monthly Wrap-Up: February 2020

  • Resenting the Hero by Moira J Moore (★★★★★)
  • Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter (★★★★☆)
  • You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce (★★★★★)
  • A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum (★★☆☆☆)
  • Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody (★★★★☆)
  • Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams (★★★★☆)
  • The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins (★★★★☆)
  • The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood (★★★★☆)
  • Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender (★★★★☆)
  • Real Life by Brandon Taylor (★★☆☆☆)
  • The Deep by Rivers Solomon (★★★☆☆)

MONTHLY TOTAL: 11
YEARLY SO FAR: 23

I’m still on a roll in terms of quantity of books read! Standouts for this month include You Let Me In (a very creepy supernatural/psychological thriller that might end up being on my favorites of the year list), Resenting the Hero (an obscure but very funny and very short little fantasy book), and The Confessions of Frannie Langton (a harrowing historical fiction about a former slave woman accused of murder). Very disappointed by A Woman Is No Man, which is just badly-written and lacking nuance when it comes to Arab representation. Also Real Life, which is just not for me, but not necessarily a bad book; I just thought it was boring and overly pretentious.

I am currently reading:

Literally everyone I know has read and loved In the Dream House; I’m only about 14 pages in and am already hooked, so yay! I’ve been wanting to read Ghostland for years now; I’m fascinated by the occult and supernatural and its intersections with American history and culture. And of course, My Dark Vanessa is a book everyone is talking about!


Television Update

This month I FINALLY caught up to Stranger Things and watched season three, and guys, SEASON THREE FUCKING SLAPS. I know it was a bit of a marmite, and I think that folks whose favorite season is the first tended to dislike it, but personally, I’ve been liking the show more as the seasons go along; season one is actually my least favorite season. I loved that things got going right away in season three, and that we already had established relationships between all the characters. Season three also features one of my favorite tropes, which is that of disparate groups separately investigating the same thing, unknowingly, and then all coming together at the end. I loved that Max and El became friends, loved Billy’s whole arc, and really adored Erica. The one thing I despised was Hopper’s character; a video titled Stranger Things and the Dangers of Nostalgia perfectly encapsulates my issues.

Right after Netflix told me I should watch The Stranger, and I can’t resist a British thriller, so of course I binged it in like two days! I just love British thrillers. I really enjoyed this one. Not much else to say!


Film Update

I finally caught up to the rest of the world and watched Midsommar. I have mixed feelings about it. Overall I enjoyed it. The juxtaposition of pastel daylight and horrific violence was jarring and disturbing. Florence Pugh’s performance was spectacular. The depiction of the cult was harrowing and unsettling, particularly since there’s never any moment when their demeanor shifts; that is, there is no moment when the mask drops and their true nature is revealed. They stay essentially the same, only the viewer’s perception of them changes, so their demeanor suddenly becomes chilling. But I wanted a bit more from the characters, which felt like archetypes (what is Mark?????). I also wanted a bit more reflection from the cult members regarding their actions, I guess? Which, I know, they’re a cult, so it makes sense that they’re brainwashed, but they almost felt inhuman because they showed no remorse or even an acknowledgment of their divergence from societal norms.

I also watched a random Egyptian film called Thief of Baghdad, which was…kinda bad but had some interesting aspects, like a female villain. A perfect example of great ideas, bad execution. Then I watched mother!, a highly divisive film which I ultimately thought was pretentious bullshit.


Theater Update

I saw one show this month: Emojiland. I’ll be totally honest. The only reason this show as even on my radar is because my boy Lucas Steele plays the Skull emoji. I’ve been obsessed with him since his performance in The Great Comet of 1812 and now I’m basically a groupie and will see him in literally anything. And he was fantastic. His character was basically an emo angsty villain, so that was great, and it was so wonderful to hear him sing again! And there’s going to be a cast album for the show, so I get to experience his vocals again! But the rest of the cast was utterly incredible too; for a show with such a silly premise, they have got some incredibly talented singers here. I was absolutely in awe of most of the performers. So there was great vocals, humor, and there was never a dull moment. Loved this!


Other Reading

On Body Horror and the Female Body by Julia Armfield: Armfield is the author of a collection of macabre short stories exploring body horror and the female body, as the article says! It’s a short read exploring various instances of body horror and its intersections with femininity.

I (28M) created a deepfake girlfriend and now my parents think we’re getting married by Fonda Lee: This is a short story written in the style of a Reddit post. I’ve actually been getting weirdly addicted to weird Reddit posts in the past month, so this was interesting enough.

Top Twelve Best Film/Television Moments of 2019 by Rav: This is the blog post that got me to finally catch up on the third season of Stranger Things! Rav lists a bunch of her favorite moments of 2019.

Working In Science Was a Brutal Education by Brandon Taylor: The author of Real Life talks about being a science graduate student as a gay black man.

Tamsyn Muir Interview: I cannot express how much I love this interview. You may have seen that a few months ago on Twitter there was an absolutely ridiculous kerfuffle about some dark fanfiction Muir had written back in the day. It devolved into a total shitshow, with people calling Muir a pedophile. Muir kind of vanished for a while. This interview, though not exclusively about that incident, addresses it head-on, and it is brilliant. Muir speaks eloquently about writing dark content. There are so many parts that I just want to tattoo on my forehead. I’m going to quote some of my favorite parts:

There are no lines that should not be crossed. There is nothing that should not be written about. This is not to say that all Art with a capital A is beyond critique, but all works, whether fanfiction or professionally published, need to be taken on a case-by-case basis. There can be no bright lines, not even with abhorrent words or concepts.

***

I have a sense that the problem for some people was the fanfiction part: because all fanfic is obviously porn, then if you’re writing fanfic with child abuse, it’s got to be child porn by definition. Like, why would you put anything in a fanfic unless it was to gratify the deepest and most secret desires of yourself and/or your audience. Why would you bake something into a cake unless it was something you wanted to eat? But fanfic doesn’t have to be cake any more than pro fiction does, and I think we’re undervaluing a huge amount of incredible work by assuming it was all done as a kind of baroque variation on jacking off.

It’s also not as easy as “If you’re writing from a place of personal damage, maybe you get to write this.” People have written brilliantly about personal damages they have not suffered. People have personal damage they don’t, can’t, or won’t disclose. Living cheek-by-jowl with rape culture and teen sexualisation, and total dismissal of teenage girls period, is more than enough of an ‘excuse’ to write about sexual abuse one has not suffered physically but has arguably suffered spiritually. Some people are going to write about the topic with the intent to do it in a thorny and damning and complicated way. Some of them are going to write about it with the intent to titillate. Some of them are going to write about it intending both, trying to start a specific conversation with the reader, going for a deliberate effect. For some readers, their hard line is that they don’t want to see any of this stuff, they want to protect teenagers at all costs, they want to stop the people who would use this material to groom and abuse teenagers. However, the community policing seems to start with often-queer, often-female-identified creators, doesn’t interrogate the work itself, and seems to… not leave the community. A critique that begins with soft targets and never rages against hard targets stops looking like any critique at all. Author as leading moral light is a lovely idea, but it was always one that bore down hardest on women and fiction for women. Ladies and their novels, you know?

***

In conclusion, I think writers should be allowed to write anything they want, and it is the death of art, especially women’s and queer art, if they can’t. People should simultaneously be allowed to critique all art. Art is there to be critiqued. At the same time, critique does require conversation and analysis, or it isn’t critique. It’s just noise.

I have such admiration for Muir for being so eloquent and well-spoken in formulating her thoughts on such a delicate issue, and just…so frustrated that she was forced to reveal her history of sexual abuse in order for her writing of dark topics to be deemed somewhat acceptable. It’s trash! People don’t have to have experienced trauma to write about it! Writers should write whatever they want! And everything is up for critical analysis, but critique, as Muir insists, is a conversation, not a witch hunt. Not noise.

14 thoughts on “Monthly Wrap-Up: February 2020

  1. That interview is an amazing interview parts of which should never have existed, and yet here we are! I’ve never been more disappointed in the book community, but I also know why not many tried to speak up before, I saw what kind of comments the ones who tried were getting (…and then I considered leaving reviewing).
    (Also thank you for being… one of the few people who was retweeting things that made sense on my twitter timeline instead of general outrage? Found many people to follow then.)

    For less depressing parts, I’m glad you liked The Unspoken Name and Queen of the Conquered! They’re two I want to get to soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yup, a brilliant interview that should not have been necessitated but alas…

      Yeah, the entire ordeal on Twitter was absolutely horrifying; watching it devolve into the lowest kind of shit-slinging made me feel like I was absolutely losing my mind. Glad you found some good people to follow!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Sadly Ghostland has turned out to be not as interesting as I had hoped and I’m putting it down for now, but hopefully the other books work out better for me!

      Thank you!

      Like

  2. save the cat! is definitely very very high up my priority reading list!! i have seen so MUCH good advice from it on tumblr lately that i feel it has to be a sign. i think it’s finally time to answer the call lol. i love love lOVE it that you included the ‘other reading’ part in your wrap up because that’s super duper interesting and just further makes me want to include a similar category in my next wrap up (only time will tell when that’s going to happen tho lmao). also, i will one hundred percent read that tamsyn muir interview. thank you for including quotes from that, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Save the Cat! was really good! A bit prescriptive, but it’s also got a very take it or leave it mentality when it comes to its structure; so you can take bits and pieces of it. It definitely helps to at least give your brain some structure re: basic story structure. And it’s a good book to have as a reference on hand, since it’s filled with examples.

      Yay, I love that you loved the “other reading” bit; it’s a new thing I’m trying out so I’m glad to see folks are engaging with it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great month! I’m excited to see that you liked Queenie, which I’ll probably be reading this month, thanks to the Women’s Prize list! I also have Frannie Langton and Pretty Girls on my TBR so am happy those worked for you as well. Bummer about Real Life though!

    I LOVE Stranger Things. I’m one of those ssn 1 fans who found ssn 3 a little too easy and cheesy, but there were definitely elements of it that I appreciated a lot! I adored El and Max’s friendship, and found the boyfriend dramas touching/hilarious. I love where Nancy’s character is going, and I thought Robin was incredible. I hadn’t thought much about Hopper (probably because I’m much more into the kids’ plots, tbh) but I appreciated the video you linked and agree with the point there. I can’t wait to see where they go with ssn 4!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Re: Stranger Things, I mean, I totally agree with you that ssn 3 was easy and cheesy, but I think that’s why I enjoyed it?? I’m like, lame and super easy to please haha; if something is engaging and bingable and cutesy I’m a happy camper.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ha, that’s totally fair! Even though ssn 3 wasn’t quite as geared toward my taste I still had a good time watching it, and definitely don’t begrudge that it has its own audience! 10/10 will rewatch. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. omg YES YES YES to that video about stranger things from pop culture detective, which is one of my favourite channels!! Hopper was so shitty in the last season i have no idea how the writers screwed up so badly….

    Liked by 1 person

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