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”

@God: is this how you get shortlisted for the Man Booker these days

I can’t review A Little Life for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I can, on a semi-objective level, admit that it’s a well-written book—good prose, interesting characters, a compulsive readability that lets me speed through hundred page chunks in one sitting, the works. My issues with the book, I know, are less craft-based than they are philosophical/ideological—which is not to say I don’t have craft issues because OH BOY DO I, but those are kind of drowned out by the sheer visceral asdf;kjl keyboard smash that is my frustration with Hanya Yanagihira.

Why so? Ooh boy. Buckle up kids because, as my humanities TAs used to say, it is time to unpack this shit. 

(major cws for sexual assault, suicide, and self-harm ahead)

Continue reading “@God: is this how you get shortlisted for the Man Booker these days”

Swing Time: A Shamelessly Biased Review

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I have a complicated relationship with Zadie Smith. By which I mean I read White Teeth when I was nineteen/twenty and, like basically every other collegiate female of that age, loved it with a fervor and intensity makes it nigh-impossible to fairly judge anything else by Smith. Not that I dislike Smith’s other books or that I’ve been particularly vigilant about reading them; outside of Swing Time, the first few chapters of The Autograph Man (I liked the first chapter/prologue, but could not get past the rest), and a few scattered essays, I haven’t strayed far beyond White Teeth. Because, you see, when I finished White Teeth I was exhilarated, filled with the kind of lit nerd high that comes from discovery of something really, really fucking good. There’s a particular image I have of Zadie Smith the author, and it’s an one I’m reluctant to tarnish by exposing to reality.

Swing Time, though…Swing Time was interesting. Swing Time looked promising and more than that, everyone was talking about—couldn’t pass a bookstore without seeing it at a display table, browse a book blog without finding it somewhere on the ledge. And the marketing worked: I was curious. I bit.  

Continue reading “Swing Time: A Shamelessly Biased Review”

Binary Star: Or, in Which Cynthia is a Judgmental Killjoy and Judges Things

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Reading Binary Star, I’m struck by the fact that I should like Binary Star. It has, after all, what basically amounts to a trifecta of Cynthia draws: mental health issues, road trips through weird America, and the type of prose that critics will undoubtedly describe as “raw,” “spare and beautiful,” “luminous,” etc. I should like Binary Star; I wanted to like Binary Star, had it on my to-read list for years since I first saw it and its little recommendation plaque at 57th Street Books.

Reader, I didn’t.

Continue reading “Binary Star: Or, in Which Cynthia is a Judgmental Killjoy and Judges Things”

Horrorstör: And Then The Real Monster was Capitalism

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For those who’ve always wanted a novel about a haunted Ikea knockoff, well then, Horrorstör is the long-awaited answer to your prayers. Taking place in Orsk, a faux Scandinavian furniture store in the heart of America, Horrorstör provides everything you would expect from a horror novel packaged as an Ikea catalogue: umlaut abuse, likeable but flawed protagonists, and none-too-subtle critiques of capitalism. What else could you want, really?

Let’s be real, though. This is a book about a haunted Ikea; there’s no way I wouldn’t be there for that shit. Continue reading “Horrorstör: And Then The Real Monster was Capitalism”

America, Gods, and Terrifying Sex Scenes: Some Thoughts

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I’m a Neil Gaiman person. I wasn’t always a Neil Gaiman person—few people come out of the womb quoting Stardust and talking about The Endless—but I’ve known of his existence since middle school, when I first found (and was subsequently traumatized by) a copy of Coraline in my school library, and I’ve considered myself a fan since high school, when I first read Anansi Boys. Even then, after reading Good Omens and American Gods and Fragile Warning listening to Stardust and Neverwhere on audiotape, it was still a low-key kind of Gaiman love—I liked Gaiman, I told people, but I considered myself more of a Pratchett person.

And then came college, when my school library carried the complete run of Sandman, and creative writing classes that required you to show-and-tell your favorite writers to class, and somehow, by the time graduation rolled around, I had two Sandman bookmarks, a battered version of Fragile Things, multiple copies of Good Omens, and an extensive knowledge of the Gaiman-Palmer-Chabon-Lemony Snicket wedding. Somehow, as the years passed, I had become One of Those People.

Continue reading “America, Gods, and Terrifying Sex Scenes: Some Thoughts”

The Paper Menagerie: I Am Never Going to be Ken Liu, and I’m Learning to be Okay with That

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I don’t know why I held off for so long on reading Ken Liu. Actually, that’s a lie: I know exactly why it took me so long to finally read The Paper Menagerie, and it’s because I was, quite simply, jealous. When I first learned of Liu and The Paper Menagerie, it was in the context of “The Paper Menagerie” the short story, and the fact that it had just won The Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards, which was unprecedented like what-the-fuck. And instead of being happy for him, glad that Asian-American writers were getting more recognition, I was pissed.

Here’s the thing. The Chinese American community is incredibly cutthroat, parents always pushing you to be ninety-ninth percentile because there was only so much room up at top, you had to the best or other it’d be game over, community college and a lifetime of disgrace for you. When I learned that Liu was a critically-acclaimed Chinese-American speculative fiction writer, my initial thought wasn’t wow, that’s cool, I’m so glad he’s doing that and I hope I can be like him one day; it was well, fuck, how the fuck am I supposed to compete with that? Continue reading “The Paper Menagerie: I Am Never Going to be Ken Liu, and I’m Learning to be Okay with That”

A Tale for the Time Being is ….An Interesting Time

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On paper, A Tale for the Time Being is the kind of book I should be all over: it’s got screwed-up families, immigrant angst, deuteragonists whose stories eventually collude, AND footnotes (I’m always a sucker for footnotes). Ruth Ozeki herself is kickass cool, being a filmmaker and a fucking Zen Buddhist priest in addition to an acclaimed novelist, which is like, seriously, c’mon. Not fucking fair.

Practice, of course, is a more complicated matter. I enjoyed A Tale for the Time Being, yes, but it’s the kind of pleasure that comes with qualifications, little notes of except and if only. I can pinpoint all of this ambivalence to one central problem: this book wants to tell two stories at once and frankly, one of those stories just happens to be far more interesting than the other.

Continue reading “A Tale for the Time Being is ….An Interesting Time”

Boy Meets Boy: The Literary Equivalent of Eating Honey Out of the Jar

(Yes, I’ve sat in the kitchen and eaten straight honey from a spoon. Don’t judge.)

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The last few months, I’ve been really getting into queer YA. So far, it’s been a good ride: while (as with any genre) there’s been some meh stuff (mostly due to writers either not understanding how teenagers act or letting characters be defined by their queerness), as a whole, it’s delivered on the promise of fun, decently well-written fiction that’s thoughtful without being too self-indulgently navel-gaze-y. Plus, as someone who (as a teenager) got most of her queer representation through fan projects or the internet, I can’t help but get excited about books that feature non-straight people, even moreso when they’re YA—it’s fucking difficult to be a teenager even without the queer thing in the mix, and anything that tries to alleviate that I am 100% behind.

All that said then, Boy Meets Boy. BMB is a book from David Leviathan, an author who’s contributed a lot to the rather niche queer YA genre—he’s written twenty-three books and worked with multiple YA authors, including John Green, with whom he co-wrote Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Boy Meets Boy was Leviathan’s first novel, in 2003, and its premise is as simple as its title: a boy (Paul) meets another boy (Noah). They fall in love. Their parents and the small town they live in are incredibly accepting of their non-straightness (background characters include a drag queen star quarterback and the straight football player still bitter over getting rejected by her), and yet high school has a way of getting in the way of even the best of romances go awry.

Continue reading “Boy Meets Boy: The Literary Equivalent of Eating Honey Out of the Jar”

Short stories are rad: a listicle

Short story collections are a weird creature—plenty of writers write them, plenty of publishers buy them, but how many people actually read them? Enough, obviously, that they keep on being produced, but outside of MFA professors and particularly pretentious lit students, I don’t really know anyone who buys them. With a few exceptions—Alice Munro, George Saunders, Shirley Jackson—short stories are almost always seen as appetizers, the prelude to an eventual novel that will prove all these writer’s potential on display. Short stories are nice, but it’s novels we get excited about, novels we put in “top 10 lists” and make movies out of because novels are sexy, the strutting cool kids of the literary world. If you talk about buying a book and you’re a so-called “average American,” chances are you’re talking about buying a novel.

Which is a shame honestly, because short stories are, for a variety of reasons, kind of the shit. Continue reading “Short stories are rad: a listicle”