Less: A Novel: Charming, sweet, and how did this win the Pulitzer again?

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A discussion of Less: A Novel should start, I suppose, with a brief history of how I ended up reading it. Like many of the books I read these days, I found Less at my local independent bookstore (thank you Unabridged, and whenever you want to start paying me for the free advertising, I’ll take it), atop a shelf in the queer section, a little recommendation next below it telling me that, according to Ianni or Jason or Janice, this book was the Bee’s Knees.

And I didn’t read it.

I wanted to read it. I meant to read it; it looked like a sweet, fun book, and I’d enjoyed the other books I found at Unabridged; my one true love, aka The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, had come from there, after all. And yet.

Perhaps it was the slightness of the premise, the fact that a book about a gay novelist traveling the world to avoid his ex’s wedding seemed specifically primed to fill every box in a checklist for “quirky romcom.” And while Unabridged had been kind to me, there have also been occasionally misses—Perfect Ten was a sweet, fun rom-com, but still came out feeling a little too light. (Maybe I’m also just not made for teen romcoms? Maybe.)

Then I walked back into Unabridged, saw Less on the front table with a sign that said “winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction,” and all my excuses came crashing down.

Surprise of all surprises, I loved it.

Continue reading “Less: A Novel: Charming, sweet, and how did this win the Pulitzer again?”

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Another listicle: 5 queer YA books that killed me, and one it would be criminal to leave out

As briefly alluded to in this blog, I’ve been getting into a queer YA niche lately. While it’s not a genre without its problems—the predominance of the gay cismale experience, for example—the best queer YA fiction I’ve read has been gratifyingly good with intersectionality; David Levithan might be a white gay guy and thus best equipped to write about that experience, but his books are full of trans drag queens and multiethnic characters. It’s a refreshing change from a lot of mainstream fiction, in which even when heterosexuality isn’t necessarily a rule, there’s still the assumption of queer as something other, not quite there. All of which is to say, as much as I respect many within the #literaryestablishment, it’s the more niche writers—the fanfiction authors, the zinesters and independently published poets—where we’re seeing a lot of diversity popping up, the new vocabulary we’re putting together for a new way of interacting with the world and ourselves. Support your small presses, in other words.

Queer YA, apparently, hits one of these breeding zones for diverse fiction. As a genre geared towards teenagers, much of YA inevitably focuses on questions of identity; also as a genre geared towards teenagers, YA has less room for the kind of self-indulgent philosophizing a lot of serious literary writers seem to mistake (sorry, but if I have to read one about novel about being in your early 20s and wandering around New York trying to find yourself…) By virtue of its audience and the demands of its genre, YA is seemingly the perfect genre for exploring queer issues in a manner that is serious without being didactic. Which is not to say that queer YA can’t be didactic or dragging because oh yes, that’s totally out there as well—out of politeness and also because I couldn’t actually bring myself to finish these books, I’m not going to name names, but believe me, I’ve had experiences.

So then! If you’re new to this very particularly niche subgenre, then boy is this post ostensibly for you—ostensibly because I am in no way an expert and also because this is very definitely a way for me to just rant on about books I love. So let’s cut to chase—in proper fanfic manner, five queer YA novels that ruined me and one it would be criminal to leave out:

Continue reading “Another listicle: 5 queer YA books that killed me, and one it would be criminal to leave out”

Geek Girls and Fanboys: Or, Yet Another Ready Player One Hot Take

Ready Player One—

Ah, where to start with Ready Player One.

The briefest description of Ready Player One I can come up with is that it stands within the dubious pantheon of books I wholeheartedly despise. For all that I’ve been a part of fandom, I’ve also spent my fair share amount of time in hatedom, read the Livejournal posts and nodded yes at the blogs on why Edward Cullen’s behavior was peak stalker; and so, when the inevitable backlash to RPO began, let me tell you, I was ready. Having listened to half of RPO on audiobook before frustration quitting (1) a year or so before the Spielberg adaptation was announced, I was more than ready to describe all the reasons I found RPO and Ernest Cline in general repellant.

On paper, Ready Player One very much meets the requisite characteristics of a thing I’m designed to hate: the worldbuilding is poor, the female characters are paper thin, the main character is an overpowered self-insert power fantasy, and to top it all off, there’s the smug veneer of Reddit nice guy entitlement, racism, and transphobia. All of these, individually, merit their own rant (and believe me, I’ve subjected plenty of friends to them), but I don’t actually want to talk about Ready Player One—there are plenty of thinkpieces around to break down just what delicious, problematic trash this book is, and God knows I’ve done enough soapboxing of my own. What I’d rather talk about is the way Ready Player One and so much similar frames nerd culture, and how that view of geekdom fails a large proportion of its demographic while also perpetuating a limiting view of what it means to be a nerd.

In other words: as many Tumblr posts have already pointed out, there’s a fundamental difference in the way fanboys and fangirls interact with media, and it’s naive to think the view of fandom offered by RPO is but one view of a much wider, much more heterogeneous community.   

(The following discussion contains somewhat broad assumptions about gender roles and essentialism, with the “fanboy/fangirl” split meant to characterize a common cultural paradigm and not necessarily a fixed view of either fandom or gender. Tl;dr, the fangirl/fanboy dichotomy is a construct and very, very fallible, but also useful for the purposes of this discussion.)

Continue reading “Geek Girls and Fanboys: Or, Yet Another Ready Player One Hot Take”

After Kathy Acker: And Then But So

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Biography’s an imprecise art, autobiography even more so. What, then, to make of a biography of postmodernist icon Kathy Acker, a writer who made her name by redefining aggressive oversharing?

A step backwards, before proceeding: who is Kathy Acker? Kathy Acker is/was: a punk poet, postmodernism’s female Burroughs, aggressively sex positive, a bisexual experimentalist, a tattooed biker provocateur, one of the major hubs of the 1980s New York art scene and an icon for generations of young feminists and rebels. In short, the sort of person who, when described or when self-describing, becomes a myth, something hard to grasp onto.

So let’s try again, starting from why, exactly, I’m reading this book. I discovered Kathy Acker in college, a chance meeting while browsing either the internet or the stacks of my library, possibly both, and, on a bit of a whim and the need to keep myself well-informed of involvements in the literary world, picked up Blood and Guts in High School. I found her work theoretically fascinating if less enjoyable to read, and Kathy herself just as fascinating if not more so. She was a rock star, really, the type of person you can’t help but describe as magnetic, friends with everyone from Alan Moore to William Burroughs to Neil Gaiman, for whom she served as the inspiration for Sandman’s Delirium. A quick skip through Wikipedia or Google images shows her in a buzzcut and leather, a sharp-cheeked girl with nonetheless a softness around the edges. It’s easy to admire Kathy Acker, even if you don’t necessarily appreciate the scribbled genitalia she featured in her books.

Chris Kraus’s biography, tantalizingly named After Kathy Acker, was the kind of book aimed straight at me. With the mix of biography and literary overview it promised, it seemed perfect for me, an Acker neophyte with nonetheless a tendency to overuse the word “postmodern” and a fascination about people far more punk than I am. I might not have necessarily gotten Acker’s work, but I respected it and what she was trying to do.

Plus, I’m always up for gossip.

Continue reading “After Kathy Acker: And Then But So”

The Changeling: Two Thirds of a Good Book, One Third…Less So

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Like most people who like fantasy, I’m also a major fan of its sister genres (parent genres?) mythology and folklore. Myth today colors much of contemporary fiction, and it’s always interesting to learn how the original plays out before seeing the gay crossover space opera modernization.* Plus, fairytales are a weird experience, all around. Compared to contemporary protagonists, fairytale characters can seem weirdly flat, archetypes of “The Prince” and “The Mentor” who eternally slay the dragon and save the princess with only stock reasons given as rationale. There’s something old and odd about fairytales and myths, the ritualized nature of the conflicts and characters in them, and that same strangeness is what makes these stories so fascinating. There’s an elegant economy to fairy tales, a cohesion in the way they wrap together that gives them their own, particular brand of pleasure.

So when Marlon James of Man Booker Prize winner A Brief History of Seven Killings described Victor LaValle’s The Changeling as “a dark fairy tale of New York” and NPR’s Amal El-Mohtar gave it a glowing review complete with unnecessary but somehow charming metaphor about the Pleiades—well. Of course I had to read it. Continue reading “The Changeling: Two Thirds of a Good Book, One Third…Less So”

And now, for something entirely different: the rise and fall of a queercore duo (you know the one)

(cw: sexual assault and associated topics, Nazism, general racism and unpleasantness)

Early 2016, maybe late 2015. It’s my last year of college, and I’ve finally to decided to say fuck it to unhappiness: I’m going to take the classes I want and hang out with people I actually like and fuck it to denying myself happiness for some ideal of maturity or fiscal responsibility. So I move out of my old apartment, the one that’d been quietly making me miserable for a year, and I find myself a newer one, where there’s space and cats and an actual functional A/C system, thankfuckinggod. There’s the nagging matter of the two theses I’ve signed up to write, sure, but I’m living in a space that makes me happy with people who make me happy and I am, if aware of how fragile this peace is, for the moment content.

Around this time, the early weeks of the school year, enjoying the start of fall and being back in a city again, my roommate sends me a link to a Tiny Desk Concert for a band I haven’t heard of, one of those indie weirdly named groups she has a talent for picking up. There’re guitar hooks and banter and makeup slathered on with a paintbrush, one of those heavy-duty things you use to paint fences and houses with. The music is simple but catchy and unapologetically queer and there’s glitter, so much glitter it almost hurts me just to think of having to clean up afterwards.

They’re called PWR BTTM, and I’m in love.

Continue reading “And now, for something entirely different: the rise and fall of a queercore duo (you know the one)”

Lives of the Monster Dogs: Well, That Happened

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I don’t know what, exactly, I was expecting when I got my copy of Lives of the Monster Dogs, but hell if there’s a universe where I wasn’t going to read it. Canine Prussian science experiments turned aristocrats trying to make it in modern-day New York? Coupled with such lines as “the first child in the world (I proudly believe) to be blessed with having a Samoyed for a godmother”? I’m so in.

Also, I love dogs.

Continue reading “Lives of the Monster Dogs: Well, That Happened”

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue: Sounds Gay, I’m In

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(if you don’t get the joke, click here)

Two books came to mind while I was reading The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue: Meddling Kids and the Gemma Doyle trilogy (okay, that’s technically three books, but whatever). Meddling Kids I’ve talked at length about, mostly about how fantastically trope-y yet earnest it was as a pastiche/affectionate parody; there’s a similar vibe to that in TGGVV, which takes a decidedly Hitchhiker’s Guide/Monty Python attitude to genre conventions. Gemma Doyle I haven’t talked about, mostly because I read it way before I started this blog, but in essence it’s a YA series about secret magical societies and all-girls boarding schools in fin-de-siècle England. The Gemma Doyle connection is partially stylistic, but it’s also more thematic: both are YA period fiction, both have magic, both discuss how the past was real cool aesthetically but also awful for people who weren’t straight white cismen.

Mostly, though? The vibe I got was fanfiction. Continue reading “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue: Sounds Gay, I’m In”

Death Note (2017): This Movie Literally Halved My Lifespan

So. I get into Death Note when I’m 14 or 15—ninth grade, in any case, which makes it 2008, 2009 maybe. I’d watched anime before, read a bit of manga, but I’d never considered myself a fan per se, not the way the other kids at my school were anime fans, fanatic with their dog-eared manga and garish T-shirts proclaiming their loves out to the world. You know the type I’m talking about, right? It’s weeaboos. I’m talking about weebs.

And look at me now.

There’s a Tumblr post floating about how Death Note is everyone’s starter anime and yeah, guilty as charged: Death Note got me into anime (RIP all pretense of dignity I ever had). Death Note got me into cosplay. Death Note got me into yaoi.* Death Note got me, nearly six years later, into an ill-conceived attempt at light novel translation despite that my Chinese was a equivalent to that of a third-grader’s. Death Note didn’t get me in fanfiction—I don’t remember when that happened, but I’m pretty sure I was always trash—but it did get me into writing it, to the tune of writing a 60,000 word murder mystery AU based on it. I physically printed out fanfiction, okay, and read it on long car rides. It was, in hindsight, only mildly tragic.

I mention all this background not to emphasize my superior knowledge of this franchise, some sort of weapon to yield against fake fans, but to underline just how much this show was an integral part of my adolescent development, how emotionally invested I was in this silly anime at the peak of my teen angst. I loved Death Note, okay. A lot of people did. None of us, really, needed this movie to be a masterpiece—Death Note fandom is about camp as much as it is about death: if a TV drama two shades away from L/Light fanfiction and a musical where they play tennis without an actual tennis ball can become widely beloved, then you don’t exactly need to be Chekov to pull this off. Just. Try a little, okay?

So. Here we come to it, the moment of truth, part where I finally give my thoughts on this movie, and all I have to say, fortified by a pumpkin-flavored beer and mutually inebriated friends is:

Continue reading “Death Note (2017): This Movie Literally Halved My Lifespan”

Meddling Kids: The (Eldritch, Pop-Culture Saturated) Beach Read of 2017

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There are any number of personal anecdotes/mini personal revelations I could use to ease into a discussion of this book, but I’m going to cold open with this: I like weird stuff. I don’t know if it’s been a consistent thing, my attraction to bizarro shit, or it’s a more recent and mildly alarming development in my personality, but it’s one that I’ve pretty much embraced. It’s confused people, the weirdness generally tends to confuse people, but I stand by my Eraserhead enthusiasm and unironic love of pigeon dating games. Weird is great, okay? Weird is playful, the ability to step back and go yes, but what if, an impulse that puts it catty-corner to surreal and experimental on the avenue of delighted surprise. Weird doesn’t always mean well-conceived or even ultimately all that interesting—think of any of the failed start-ups that litter college campuses—but it does mean a willingness to do things differently, and that is something I can admire.

So then. Personal anecdote over. Meddling Kids.

(cw for discussions of mental health, suicide, and general trauma) Continue reading “Meddling Kids: The (Eldritch, Pop-Culture Saturated) Beach Read of 2017”