What We’re Actually Reading: Winter 2015 Roundup

One of my new year’s resolutions is to read twenty books this year! All but one of these were read last year though. So they don’t count. I am not sure how this resolution is gonna go.

Welcome To Night Vale

What’s It About?

Night Vale is a town where strange, absurd, creepy things happen, but it’s just treated as slice of life. It’s a spin-off from a podcast (which itself presents the town from the perspective of a community radio news program), from the perspective of a single mother of a teenage son and a seventeen-year-old woman who get wrapped up in a situation where a man manages to bring something even stranger from outside of Night Vale.

What’s It Like?

It definitely matches the humor and the strangeness of the podcast, as well as how it balances its love for the playful and the morbid. As much as I love how it approaches the weirdness as a fact of life rather than a mystery to be solved, it does make it a little hazy which question marks are the narrative’s and which are the decor. The characters are great, and it’s such a fantastic breath of fresh air to have a plot that focuses on two women, but when they finally get to confront the antagonist-ish characters, it’s all either drowning in symbolism or purposefully meaningless weirdness. It’s impossible to know, and either way, it’s a bit disappointing. As much as fans of the podcast will find everything they like here, the first novel is rather long, slow, and anticlimactic in comparison to a twenty minute podcast.

Can You Explain It In Terms of Other Books We Read On This Blog?

You know how there’s a billion bizarre things happening in House of Night that don’t really matter, and they’re generally unintentionally hilarious? It’s like that, except they’re intentionally hilarious. Or existentially terrifying. Or both, simultaneously.

welcome to night vale

Girls Will Be Girls

What’s It About?

A friend of mine actually works in publishing now and helped edit this book! Therefore, I got to hear a lot about Girls Will Be Girls: Dressing Up, Playing Parts and Daring To Act Differently before I finally got around to reading it. It is… what it sounds like! If you want a book about the social construction of feminism and tales of what happens when it’s challenged, this is a good one.

What’s It Like?

It’s balanced rather nicely between the theoretical (I have even more books on my reading list now… goddammit…) and the anecdotal. The anecdotes have a tendency to steal the show, since genderfucking is one of those areas (as the book points out) where people’s most deeply internalized understandings of the world get skewed, so it doesn’t take much for shit to get crazy. It doesn’t sound like a story about a girl dressing up as a nondescript “boy” for Halloween should be enthralling, when you just summarize it like so, but the fact that it is shows just how weird we are about this whole gender thing.

This was also pretty interesting to me, personally, for the discussion on “dressing” to a gender. I’m not the most genderfucky person in the world, having only crossdressed a few times in college and strictly for socially acceptable times to break that social convention, like being in a play or as part of a group costume for Halloween (both of which were documented on this blog, for some reason). Aside from basking in the weirdness of it, I’d never really analyzed those experiences, so it was interesting seeing what someone who actually thinks about the stuff for a living had to take away from such a moment.

Can You Explain It In Terms of Other Books We Read On This Blog?

Oof. The nonfiction entries in this post are gonna be a stretch. Uh… fuck. I give up. It’s like Fifty Shades of Grey, except it actually did research about the weird stuff.

girls will be girls

Pale Fire

What’s It About?

It’s a story in a story. The book presents itself as an annotated edition of a posthumously published poem, “Pale Fire”. BUT all the annotations of the poem are actually a frame story. So the poem itself is the story of a poet coming to terms with his life and mortality, and the commentary surrounding it is the story of his friend/academic rival/possibly insane person. It’s meta as shit.

What’s It Like?

Fucking dope, that’s what it’s like. This was recommended to me because I’m (slowly) writing a novel with a similar concept: the book presents itself as an academic edition of a text, where after the novel, there’s a bunch of criticism, analysis, and biographical information about the author, stuff like that. So the novel in the novel is a story, but the rest of the stuff around it tells another story about the guy that wrote the story (…or did he?). And once I said that, Pale Fire was recommended to me. This might sound like the worst thing that could possibly happen to me, since my idea’s already somewhat been done, but it’s such a different approach to it that it just got me really excited about all the potential that stories using this weird frame could have.

But enough about me. Go read Pale Fire and feel really smart. It’s a tricky read (lots of flipping back and forth between the poem and the commentary), but it’s not as complicated or hard to follow as it would sound. And there’s an index in the back in case you get lost, which is cool because it’s also there for verisimilitude. Oh god, I’m not making this sound accessible at all, am I. Please read this book.

Can You Explain It In Terms of Other Books We Read On This Blog?

Uhhhh pretend that Fifty Shades of Grey was inside of Grey. And pretend that it was good.

pale fire

The Shining

What’s It About?

A recovered/recovering alcoholic gets a job as the winter caretaker of an isolated hotel. While he and his family live there over the winter, the hotel turns out to be evil and makes him go crazy. Also his son is psychic. AKA it’s the Stephen King story everyone knows that isn’t Carrie.

What’s It Like?

I’m going to get so much shit for this, but I’ve never read any Stephen King before, and based on this, I’m probably not reading another one. I don’t get it, you guys. It was about 300 pages longer than it needed to be, the main character’s descent into madness is uneven, and Stephen King throws around the n-word way too much for a white dude trying to intelligently write across race. The slow descent into madness stuff is great when it works, but those moments are few and far between, and then you’re reading like eight straight pages about a hose looking like a snake, but not being a snake, but not not being a snake, and then you have your own descent into madness to worry about.

Can You Explain It In Terms of Other Books We Read On This Blog?

It’s like Goosebumps. A lot of it is unnecessary, and it feels palpably unsatisfying once you get over any nostalgia you have for it. YEAH, TELL ME I’M WRONG.

the shining

We Should All Be Feminists

What’s It About?

Literally what it says in the title.

What’s It Like?

A perfect, bite-sized burst of Feminism 101. It’s impressively thorough and manages to shoots down devil’s advocate counterarguments along the way, absolutely seamlessly. I want everyone in the world to read Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, but Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists is unarguably a perfect entry point for anyone into feminism. It’s pointless for me to try to elaborate further, so I’ll just leave you with a bit that struck me, and let it speak for itself:

Some people ask, “Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general – but to chose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women. That the problem was not about being human, but specifically about being a female human. For centuries, the world divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It is only fair that the solution to the problem should acknowledge that.

Can You Explain It In Terms of Other Books We Read On This Blog?

It’s like Stephanie Meyer’s foreword in the gender-swapped Twilight where she tries to convince you that Twilight has important things to say about gender, except it actually does.

we should all be feminists

Here’s Some Music Recommendations, While We’re At It

I don’t think there’s anything else that hasn’t been said about David Bowie, by this point, but I still can’t get over how I was so, so excited about Blackstar, because it sounded like a crazy art rock/jazz David Bowie album, and then it was awesome, and then he died two days later, and then we all collectively realized, shit, it was his goodbye.

If you’re a regular reader, you might know that I’m into some pretty weird electronic music. Andy Stott is on the end of the spectrum where even I’m not sure if it’s too weird for me, but there’s something tantalizing and beautiful about it. It feels too minimal to even use “minimalism” to describe it. Try to listen with headphones or something with decent bass.

 

I only just learned about Titus Andronicus not that long ago. I love how it somehow sounds a little like Bright Eyes’ Connor Oberst joined Fucked Up.

Like every other white person right now, I just started listening to NWA.

On the very, very opposite end of the hip-hop spectrum, I just remembered that Kate Tempest exists.

One of my friends was trying to get rid of a massive collection of vinyl she had just acquired, and gave me all her Kate Bush because I was the only person who knew who that was. Including her. Nobody had any idea who Kate Bush was. And that’s the story of the time I was that guy who was leaving a Brooklyn house party carrying some Kate Bush records.

And just so you leave this post having absolutely no understanding of my musical tastes, here’s some early Dire Straits.

What about you? Share anything you’re reading or music you’re playing in the comments!

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9 comments

  1. Bellomy

    I finally read “Watership Down”. Outstanding book that earned its status as a classic. I’m partially through the “sequel”, “Tales From Watership Down”, which is much better than reviews would have me believe.

    Madeleine L’Engle’s “Many Waters”. In summary: Not as wildly creative as “A Wrinkle in Time” and with no truly memorable characters, the book is saved by a smart plot and excellent pacing. She sneaks some feminism in the middle there, but it feels awkward and crudely inserted.

    Currently trying to get through some more Arthurian material. I found a big illustrated hardcover version of “Le Morte D’Arthur” online, in near-perfect condition, for six dollars, when it normally goes for 25 to 35. I also took a book out from the library called “The Search for King Arthur”, which is way too confident in its assertions (the book tries to sell the idea of a historical Arthur at the Battle of Baedun Hill as a settled fact, but we only get mentions of him many years after the battle actually took place – not proof that he WASN’T there, but certainly not proof that he WAS).

    But the book is still very interesting. It goes through the major figures in the Arthurian legendarium and looks at the various ways they have been portrayed through the ages, along with the most famous Arthurian places and relics. It’s a good, if basic, resource.

    You have you book, I have mine. My story is a post-apocalyptic tale about the return of King Arthur. In the far future an EMP, civil wars, and major droughts have transformed the once mighty Britain into a landscape akin to the American old west. When our story starts Britain’s plight is worsening. Foreign invaders arrive, and an already wounded and fractured Britain is being threatened with total subjugation to the enemy.

    It is time for the Round Table to be re-established, and Arthur to unite Britain once more…but for that to happen, the Table needs to be assembled, Arthur needs to be found, and they must marshal their forces to take on foes both natural and supernatural: For it’s not only the king who has returned. The Queen of Air and Darkness is also coming to claim her throne…

    That’s my back cover blurb. Cool, eh? Now all I need to do is write it.

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    • anemicanomie

      You just reminded me that I’ve had a copy of “Tales From Watership Down” sitting on my bookshelf for about a year; I’m going to move it to the top of my “to-read” list.

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  2. jmfausti

    Ahhh, Pale Fire. I always describe Nabokov as “writing beautifully about really ugly characters.” I think it best describes him. And, you know he must have done it incredibly well, because, to this day, I hear people blame what happened in Lolita on an 11 year old girl.

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    • matthewjulius

      I’ve actually yet to read Lolita 🙁
      And didn’t even realize it was the same guy until after I read Pale Fire :((((

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  3. Shannon

    Count me in the group that does not get the Stephen King phenomenon. I’ve read several and just can’t connect with it for some reason. I am sure I am dating myself, but I never could get into Danielle Steele either. (Don’t judge! She was allllll the rage when I was a kid and I couldn’t wait to be old enough to read what all the women in my life seemed to think was the best author in the world!) Just goes to show that what is popular doesn’t always appeal to everyone. Isn’t that kind of how we all found ourselves here??

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  4. svetasbooks

    Been trying to finish some books for the book tours I have; namely Evanthia’s Gift and The Renegade Queen by Eva Flynn. Also been reading quite a few translated books from East Asia. By the way, love Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights 🙂 and I also liked the original novel, or at least the idea behind the two lovers, pity the writing the didn’t match the ideas 🙁 Thanks for including Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights song.

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  5. Utsutsu

    I can’t believe I missed this post the first time around! I could’ve been slightly peeved at the way you wrote off “The Shining.” Although I’m probably biased because I wrote my final paper last semester on the writer as a character in horror and what it reveals about the psyche of fiction. It was a fun (?) blend of psychoses and writing as a craft, and I used King’s penchant for writing writers as one of my major themes.

    Also I’m taking a Women’s Lit class for the first time, and my teacher recommended Girls Will Be Girls, so it’s pretty cool that you know someone who worked on it!

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    • matthewjulius

      Haha, yeah, I’ve gathered that my opinions on The Shining aren’t popular ones. What you just described was easily my favorite part of it, but how well it worked for me was something of a mixed bag. I bet that was a real fun paper to work on, though!

      I hope you like Girls Will Be Girls! My friend got a callout in the thanks as “bad cop”, which presumably has a good story behind it.

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