After Kathy Acker: And Then But So



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


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’s catching 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


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


(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


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


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


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”