100 Books: November

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WELP.

This was easily my most productive month, reading-wise. 17! That means I have 16 left. To be read in one month. That’s just grand.

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova

awkward

I started the month off right with a graphic novel from Svetlana Chmakova. It’s heart-wrenching and adorable, and tackles bullying and uneasily navigating friendships, but mainly it looks at what happens when you make a mistake. Can you make up for it? How?

It does such a good job. I hope this book is widely available in school libraries everywhere because it’s fantastic.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

my brilliant friend

I’ve been reading this for probably at least a year and a half now. It’s lovely and fascinating but it’s also really dense, and at times a little emotionally draining – nothing extremely horrible happens, but because of how vivid the characters are and how well Ferrante illustrates the relationship between Elena and Lila it’s an intense read.

When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

when the moon was ours

This one requires a long, wistful sigh before going any further.

I *wanted* *so* *badly* to capital “L” Love this book. I almost did. But a lot of McLemore’s prose is floaty and dreamy and beautiful and some of it doesn’t work for me.

This is absolutely a failing on my part, and I’ll cop to it. I love magical realism and I *want* to love dreamy, floaty, beautiful prose, but I often get stuck on it if it isn’t exactly the way I want it to be. At present I can’t even think of an example of an author who pulls off this sort of thing stylistically for my stupid, particular tastes, but I will say that there are certain passages in here that are breathtaking.

When it works, it works. It makes a love scene twenty thousand times more romantic, it makes the setting entirely more beautiful, and there are enough of those moments for me to decide that I’m the problem here, not the prose. But there are some moments, like this one that stuck in my craw: I’m not actually going to quote it but basically Sam has observed that two characters have a bunch of similarities that are probably due to their being blood relations. One of the things in the list is that both women wear out their right shoes before their left shoes, and, come on. Why would he know that? I know him and Miel are close but, who on earth is close enough to know how exactly their friend/lover’s shoes get worn out, and why would he also know it about her guardian?

Anyway, it’s such a little thing, meant to be stylistic and not taken literally the way I, a ridiculous person, took it, and got frustrated. What’s way more important is that this love story between a girl and a trans boy is stunning. It’s so good. It’s written so well. I just wish it had been a tad less dreamy/floaty/beautiful because I suck.

Oh, I also LOVE the way the conflict was resolved. So, so much.

Indexing by Seanan McGuire

indexing

Seanan McGuire is a national treasure. I don’t think I get to say that, actually, because she’s American and I’m not but I’m saying it anyway. And to think I found her because some brocialists decided to mock her for using Harry Potter as a cultural touchstone to form a rally cry about Trump’s election. Her tweet was basically a call for everyone to assemble and she used the Hogwarts houses to talk about how people with different strengths should play to those strengths in the fights to come.

I mean. It was cutesy and harmless and a lot of people, especially young people, enter and familiarize themselves with politics through popular art but the brocialists didn’t like it and she got dog piled. For using Harry Potter in real-life political talk. (Everyone does that guys.) I followed her immediately and I’ve so far loved every book of hers I’ve read.

I actually started out not liking this one very much – the premise is that fairy tales are trying to happen every day and there’s a Bureau that tries to prevent them, staffed by almost-fairy tale leads. So. It’s wacky. But halfway through it grew on me, mainly because the characters were so likable and I felt the need to stick with them, and once the stakes got high I was hooked. I have the sequel downloaded and am really excited to get back to this world, it’s cool and deadly.

Islands of Decolonial Love by Leanna Betasamosake Simpson

islands of decolonial love

This is angry and impossible to turn away from. Because it’s a collection of short stories I’m having trouble remembering specifics, but I do vividly recall one part in one story where the characters do some civil disobedience by picketing the OFAH headquarters purely out of spite with a sign that says “First we’ll kill your animals, then we’ll fuck your women (with their consent, of course)” and though I am not a fan of hunting at all I am a huge fan of consent, and of antagonizing the OFAH (which spends an uncomfortable amount of time whining that First Nations have limited or no regulations on their hunting) and I laughed out loud and heartily.

“it takes an ocean not to break” was my favourite. It was strikingly beautiful and hard to face, dealing with mental health, suicide, therapy, and the systemic racism behind it all.

Sistah Vegan compiled by A. Breeze Harper

sistah vegan

Sistah Vegan gets its own post!

What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat by Louise Richardson

what terrorists want

giphy (1)

If the subject of terrorism interests you, and, it probably does, considering the time in which we’re living, I highly recommend reading this because it puts everything into perspective. The main takeaways are that the post-9/11 “War on Terror” was a gigantic missed opportunity to better understand the “why” and “how” of terrorism, which, you’d think, would be essential for combating it. This was not a surprising conclusion, but it’s still an important one.

It was written when Bin Laden was still alive, and one thing I missed here was a look at unorganized angry white man terrorism which is becoming the norm in the United States, but which has also touched Canada. I’d be really interested in Richardson’s take on how something disorganized fits into the definition of terrorism, and the similarities and differences.

Yikes. Heavy stuff.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

brown girl dreaming

This is absolutely beautiful.

A Pussycat’s Christmas by Margaret Wise Brown and Anne Mortimer

a pussycat's christmas

This isn’t cheating what are you talking about.

OK, so it’s an extremely short children’s book that I’ve read many times before, what’s the big deal?

It’s important seasonal reading, though, and, whatever, I’m close and yet far from the goal number so I have to do things like this.

It’s a good book. This is one of my favourite Christmas images ever.

cat

I want my kitchen table to look like that, always.

Also this cat is perpetually horrified and I love it, she’s like my Chili.

Brave by Svetlana Chmakova

brave

I read this sequel to Awkward in ONE SITTING and it was incredible.

INCREDIBLE.

It’s mostly about bullying and the bigger problem of isolation, and it tackles these issues gently and realistically and also it ruined my night, here you go:

jensen1

jensen

*cries forever*

Seriously, though. I’m thinking about buying this for my little cousin for Christmas because I think it’s both really well done and important.

A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw

a song for quiet

FIRST OF ALL: Cassandra Khaw’s author pictures are the absolute best things ever.

I read one of hers last month, and it was chick lit, so this extremely dark novella was a bit of a shock although now that I’ve browsed through her available work, it looks like this sort of thing is her normal.

I only wish I had read this earlier this year, or maybe last November. Its apocalypse stuff and apathy stuff and cynicism and despair are very late 2016 – early 2017 for me – but then it ends fairly optimistically… and I don’t think I’m there yet. So maybe I actually should have waited to read it until late 2018 (fingers crossed).

The Pemmican Eaters by Marilyn Dumont

the pemmican eaters

Finally, I read some Marilyn Dumont! Her work kept being referenced in that anthology I read earlier this year so it was nice to actually find out what everyone was talking about.

I’m a sucker for Canadian history, and these poems are about the Riel Resistance. I’m also a sucker for rhythmic poetry and whenever her meter kicked in I was reminded specifically of “Puerto Rican Obituary” by Pedro Pietri, one of my favourite ever poems, so, overall, I guess you could say this worked for me.

Farewell, My Queen by Chantal Thomas

farewell my queen

Just as dense as My Brilliant Friend and also intensely about women’s relationships. I found this pretty strange, overall, and that’s fitting considering it’s an intimate look at a really strange moment in history.

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

the weight of feathers

I read this other book from McLemore this month and I liked it better – but I liked the ending a lot less. I liked how it ended – I agreed with the choices the main characters made and all, but as to how the conflict got resolved, I was a strong “meh.” When the Moon was Ours definitely has the better conflict resolution – that was my favourite part of that book. Here, it’s a Romeo and Juliet situation but between two circus families, and basically the two kids get everyone to leave them alone so they can run off together by making out furiously in a tree in front of everyone. And I thought that was stupid. Call me cold-hearted, but, meh.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby

we are never meeting in real life

This was everything. Some of it was heartbreaking, some of it was hysterically funny, a lot of it was relatable – I loved it. I’ve never read a collection of personal essays before, and yet I still suspect that if I started doing that regularly this would find a spot and remain on my top five list, at least.

Lumberjanes Volume 4

lumberjanes vol 4

What is there to say about Lumberjanes apart from that this series has been the highlight of my year and no, I don’t think that’s tragic. In fact, I’m delighted. I can’t wait for it to be a TV series (come on, something this fun and lovely HAS to be made into a cartoon dramedy), but I love it as graphic novels in the meantime.

In this volume, it looks like maybe things aren’t as idyllic at Camp Lumberjane (I don’t actually know if that’s what it’s called) as we may first have suspected, but I trust that the girls will fix everything in time.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

smile

Telgemeier’s Ghost was the first graphic novel I read this year, and I loved it so much I decided to give things like Lumberjanes and Awkward and Brave a try and they’ve been some of my favourite things ever. I grabbed this one and read it in a sitting. It brought back many painful memories of braces – though my tooth “problems” were not nearly as severe as Raina’s (all I’ll say about hers is ouuuuuch).

It also reminded me of the time I dumped all of my friends and got an entirely new group of friends, also while wearing braces, also determining that it improved my life tenfold. So this was a nice trip down memory lane to probably the most fraught couple of years of my life so far (which makes me very lucky, that the worst I dealt with was stupid preteen-teen angst in grades seven and eight).

I think if I’d had this book at the time, it would have soothed me a little bit, so bless Telgemeier for it.

November’s lesson is that kids’ graphic novels are amazing. That will be all.

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Power Rangers, The Lion King, Scar, and Reverence for Nostalgia

All right so I watched this review:

I plan to see Power Rangers because the trailer promised a gritty, YA-novel version of the silly show I used to watch as a six-year-old so obviously I’m there. I have very low expectations. I’m willing to put up with some boringness and way too much angst. I read the entirety of the Twilight series, so I’m immune at this point to popular YA-type angst and awful storytelling. I am looking forward to the action, though, because although I can’t really remember, I’m pretty sure that Xena-loving kid me severely dug that there were two action girls in this show, so, I’m excited.

But my expectations have been low since I heard there would be a Power Rangers movie. Because it’s Power Rangers. I was six and I knew it was stupid. It was the good kind of stupid, obviously, but stupid nonetheless.

It’s a fine line to walk, because I don’t think children’s entertainment has an excuse to be lazy and incompetent just because it’s for kids, and I also acknowledge that there are big fans of Power Rangers who maybe see something profound in the various TV versions of it that have existed for decades. But I don’t know – I feel like at the end of the review when he says something about how he’d punch someone if they adapted something he’d loved as a kid like this, he’s engaging a little too seriously with treating Power Rangers like a nostalgia property that should be worshiped like some sort of deity.

I might change my mind when I actually see it later this week, but I don’t know. I wish they’d made a fun Power Rangers movie (this and other reviews I’ve seen suggest it unfortunately wasn’t made with “fun” being the major point of the whole thing), but probably they went with angsty and overlong because they wanted it to resemble the teen dystopia stuff that sells, so. Fine.

But here’s a thought exercise for myself on this lukewarm Monday evening: what’s a nostalgia property that might be adapted so badly that I would want to find the filmmakers and punch them?

Well obviously The Lion King.

All I know about the live action CGI Lion King remake is that Donald Glover and James Earl Jones have been cast, which is good. But today my coworker turned up the Broadway Lion King soundtrack way too loudly (also he sang along wrong, singing lines too fast or too slow or outright missing key words, and then when he noticed that I was unimpressed he had the gall to ask, “Don’t you like The Lion King?” and I thought “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU’RE SPEAKING TO RN” but I settled for saying, “Yes, but-” and then he started singing along incorrectly again) and I remembered that song, “The Madness of Scar,” and how it’s actually kind of terrible.

It’s fine as a song goes, I guess. It’s funny. It was entertaining to watch on stage, mainly because Scar is the worst and it’s fun to laugh at him. But it gets laughs out of enhancing Scar’s Shakespearean villain “being haunted by the terrible thing he did” thing into HILARIOUS mental illness. And how he was never loved as a child. And then he decides what’s missing is a wife, so, he gets weird about Nala. And none of this was necessary. So I look at this and think, “The last time they adapted The Lion King, the biggest difference is that they went for sympathy – mocking, maybe, but sympathy still – for Scar, who as far as I’m concerned deserves very little sympathy. So who’s to say that in the remake, rather than perhaps outright acknowledging Timon and Pumbaa’s queerness, they’ll just add trauma or mental illness to try to make Scar sympathetic and everything will be awful?????”

So let’s talk about what the upcoming Lion King remake might do to Scar that would encourage me to write a song in which I shriek at myself about how angry I am because SOMEONE MISSED THE ENTIRE POINT OF THE ORIGINAL SO I MEAN WHY WOULD THEY EVEN BOTHER REMAKING IT IF THEY NEVER GOT WHAT WAS SO GOOD ABOUT IT IN THE FIRST PLACE GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH

Scar, for reasons that will remain eternally unknowable, has a fanclub. A pretty big one. So does Frollo, so, it doesn’t really mean anything apart from confirming that people watch movies and only pay attention to certain parts, I guess, but Scar’s fanclub does exist. If the filmmakers decide to throw them a bone and give Scar some sympathy, a couple of things begin to fall apart.

If Scar is sympathetic because he was abused or neglected as a child, our suspicions turn to Mufasa. Why didn’t Mufasa look out for his little brother? Now, look, Mufasa doesn’t have to be flawless – but what would be the point in giving him a pretty unforgivable flaw? Not looking out for your smaller brother is not cool.

Look at how the Thor/Loki dynamic turned out with the Marvelverse’s audience. And Thor tries, even, but it’s not enough. The fact that Loki is incurably selfish does very little to correct how freaking likable he is. Scar, I would suggest, can be likable without being sympathetic. We can like that he as a set goal in mind and that he achieves it. But then when he snivels and schemes and tries to blame everything on the hyenas, and when he throws Simba’s mercy quite literally right back in his face, and also before all of this when he’s scheming to murder his own brother and nephew, and also all of the nasty emotional abuse? Yeah. I don’t need to sympathize with any of that.

Making Scar a victim of childhood neglect, or perhaps even trauma, depending on where he got that scar that he’s apparently now named after, is, as far as I’m concerned, a mistake. Because The Lion King doesn’t need its villain to have a fleshed-out childhood trauma narrative. Simba is all we need.

Simba is a little baby just living his life when his uncle tries to feed him to hyenas, twice. And in between the first and second hyena-feeding attempts, he watches his father die, and then is made to believe that it was his own fault.

Simba and Scar have a conversation near the beginning of the movie where Scar calls himself “A monkey’s uncle,” and calls Simba his favourite nephew. This conversation would be sweet. If. You know. Scar weren’t trying to gode his baby nephew into running right into hyena jaws to try to prove his bravery. Scar is emotionally manipulative from the beginning. After all, he was next in line for the throne, until the little hairball was born. Simba is an obstacle in the way of Scar’s power, and must be removed.

Do we really need an extensive childhood-trauma backstory of Scar‘s to explain why he does the things he does?

Look at two things. One: American politics. Right now. Paul Ryan is very upset because his first big attempt to take down Obamacare failed. Really think about that. Paul Ryan’s ambition is to take health care away from poor people. He wants poor people to die. Sure, he probably doesn’t kneel at his bedroom window, gazing up at Evangeline, praying, “Please let me make it harder for poor people to get access to necessary health care, Evangeline, please.” Probably he really does believe that people who deserve health care will just magically be able to afford it, and that poverty only exists because liberals make capitalism malfunction by making people pay taxes or something. And for sure he has a whole, complicated personality and backlog of memories and experiences that have led him to this point, which, I remind you, is that he wants poor people to die. But. I don’t need to sympathize with him.

Let me. OK. Look. I work at an animal shelter. People in my industry, whether they’re shelter workers or even if they just work in animal medicine, have a kind of troubling suicide tendency. This line of work is hard. It puts you face to face with suffering animals and the people who outright refuse to care about them, so we work doubly hard, trying to make up for the apparently endless callousness of humanity. Emotional labour is exhausting and, unfortunately, it’s finite. I’ve met some people who maybe started out working with animals out of a love they thought was endless, but then it turned out that love did end, and they became kind of awful. An example of something I saw that was somewhat disturbing but not actually unethical was a coworker of mine was ripping feathers out of a dead hawk for a craft someone was doing. It was really violent. The hawk was dead, so, it was fine, but I said to her, “I don’t think I could do that, even though he’s obviously not suffering.” And she laughed and said, “Working here does things to you.” We need a bit of callousness for ourselves; we have to wear it as armour, but we have to be careful or we turn into monsters. So I’ll say: we need to empathize as much as possible with as many people (and animals) as possible, but there are limits. There have to be. Right now, I’m empathizing with the people Paul Ryan is fine (happy, even!) letting die, and not him.

So like. If there’s a Trumpcare movie, I don’t need a whole sob story about Paul Ryan to explain why he has the terrible ambitions that he has. The emotional focus should be on those vulnerable people he’s giddily trying to harm.

And, less depressingly, two: Remember when Star Wars tried to explain what turned Darth Vader to the dark side?

Yeah.

I think the best decision here is to just do what the original movie did. Scar is like those privileged frat guys who do horrible things even though they’ve lived more or less unchallenging lives. Sure, maybe they’ve had a bit of sadness here and there, but they’re not mentally ill (and we need to stop stigmatizing mentally ill people as the only – or even the usual type of people who do terrible things because usually not. Usually they’re the victims of violent crimes, in fact), and they’re not victims of childhood trauma and neglect (also we need to stop stigmatizing these). I think you can be pretty dark without enduring significant pain in your past. I think you can have dark ambitions and a gigantic propensity to hurt others even if your parents were basically all right to you. See Donald Trump. See George W. Bush. See Dick Cheney omg it’s always a better day when I don’t remember that man exists. *Shudder*

Why? Who knows. Probably it’s culture. Toxic masculinity, rampant individualism, anti-intellectualism, every type of bigotry and how institutionalized bigotry rewards privileged people for not noticing it. And in the utopia of the Pride Lands? Well, it’s probably because he’s a lion. Lions stand in for humans in this story (because, ahem, we’ve casually forgotten that there are humans in Africa. Also Tarzan does this). They’re the top of the food chain, kings because if they treat the ecosystem poorly everyone starves, but they’re benevolent and instead work to keep the circle of life working properly. But they don’t have to. If Scar does unethical things to gain and keep power and it works? Why should he do the hard work of ruling properly when doing the opposite has worked for him so far?

“The Madness of Scar” suggests that Scar is surprised and a little sad that he isn’t loved the way Mufasa was. I’ll firmly suggest that the Scar I know, voiced by Jeremy Irons with a perpetually smug look on his face unless he thinks he’s seeing his brother’s ghost or if the nephew he kept trying to murder when he was a baby is now an adult and is getting the better of him, DOES NOT CARE ABOUT BEING LOVED.

Banzai: Hey, boss!

Scar: Oh, what is it this time?

Banzai: We’ve got a bone to pick with you.

Shenzi: I’ll handle this. Scar, there’s no food, no water –

Banzai: Yeah! It’s dinner time, and we ain’t got no stinking entrees!

Scar: It’s the lionness’s job to do the hunting.

Banzai: Yeah but they won’t go hunt!

Scar: Oh, eat Zazu.

*Zazu and Scar argue about whether Zazu would taste good*

Banzai: And I thought things were bad under Mufasa.

Scar: WHAT DID YOU SAY?

Banzai: I said Muf- I said, uh, que pasa?

Scar: Good. Now get out.

Banzai: Yeah but, we’re still hungry.

Scar: OUT!

And then later, in public…

Scar: Where is your hunting party? They’re not doing their job.

Sarabi: Scar, there is no food. The herds have moved on.

Scar: No, you’re just not looking hard enough.

Sarabi: It’s over. There is nothing left. We have only one choice: we must leave Pride Rock.

Scar: We’re not going anywhere.

Sarabi: Then you have sentenced us to death.

Scar: So be it.

Sarabi: You can’t do that!

Scar: I am the king, I can do whatever I want.

Sarabi: If you were half the king Mufasa was you wouldn’t –

Scar: I’m TEN TIMES the king Mufasa was!

All Scar wants, the entirety of his desire, is to do whatever he wants. Which is, apparently, listening to happy tunes (but NOT “It’s a Small World”) in a cave. He doesn’t want the responsibility of keeping things in balance, which keeps everyone fed, especially considering that letting the hyenas have free reign is a major factor in his gaining and keeping power, and the hyenas having free reign ruins the balance. So.

He’s a Republican, is what I’m saying. The Lion King is about the responsibilities of power, after all, and Disney’s chosen metaphor for this is a family group of big cats where the big, scary male is in charge but actually all of the hard work is done by the females (heh heh heh). Scar’s politics are nonsense and ecologically devastating. And he hates women. What he wants and what he needs don’t actually work together. His staunch refusal to do what is necessary is so staunch that he’s willing to starve to death himself, just as long as he gets to be king (like all of those Trump voters who will likely lose their health care).

Even his guilt about Mufasa is more about his fear of losing power than it is about his fear of facing his own conscience. Probably the only law he ever enacts is the law that states that you can’t say the name “Mufasa” in his presence, because, as he screams at Zazu, “AM THE KING!” He has to keep screaming this, and banning Mufasa’s name, not because he’s secretly sad that he murdered his brother, but because he knows that once the lionesses learn that he stole power they’ll turn on him.

Scar is not sympathetic. Do you want to know how he got that scar? OK I know there’s a cool Lion Guard or The Lion King: Expanded Universe official explanation of it but here’s mine and I think it’s better: he got on the bad side of a lioness. He doesn’t even need to have been Frollo-esque rapey, to be honest (pretty sure his “unwanted affections,” if he were to have any, would be directed at the males of the species anyway). Maybe, since he’s a bully, he bullied her cub, or her sister, or something. Maybe she gave him what he deserved. I don’t know why he would be called “Scar” because of this, though. Frankly, even if he got scarred as a very small cub, that part makes no sense. But the rest of it does, right? I’m sure he has depth and motivations, but like the politicians and terrible frat guys I’m comparing him to here, they don’t mean much to decent people like you, me, and even the hyenas, in the end. Scar is the worst. He should garner no sympathy.

But erm, you say. What does this have to do with you thinking that Power Rangers doesn’t really need to be any good?

Not much, I have to admit. I think my point is that I can understand being angry at bad adaptations, ultimately because if the original works and then the remake changes one thing without radically changing everything else connected to it, everything falls apart. But Power Rangers, no matter what anyone says, isn’t The Lion King. It’s five teenagers doing martial arts and joining into a huge mechasuit or whatever and while that is awesome and while it deserves an earnest, fun, “rah-rah let’s be heroes” blockbuster movie, if its filmmakers dropped the ball and made it too YA-angsty for it to truly be as good as it could have been, well, it isn’t really a tragedy.

But that’s only my opinion. And I kind of liked the Rangers as a kid, but I memorized the other thing. I memorized it. So, of course my opinion would be that Power Rangers being good is far less important than Donald Glover+CGI everything The Lion King being good.

Shrug.

PS: I’m happy about the CGI, in case I made it seem like I’d prefer Disney to use real animals. Big cats aren’t actors and shouldn’t ever be. People hit them in the face as cubs to teach them to defer to human trainers. Also eventually some of them snap and maul and/or kill people so there’s that too.

I looked for the video I saw of leopards being hit but couldn’t find it. But who needs that, am I right?

Clarice from It Takes Two Appreciation Post

So It Takes Two was one of those movies that happened. Re-mem-ber?

remember

We, being sisters close in age, were fascinated by this movie exactly until The Parent Trap (the Lindsay Lohan version) came out. But we were still loyal enough to it to pick it up on DVD. Rewatching it we discovered that there really isn’t a reason to watch this when you have access to Parent Trap after all. But we do need to talk about Clarice. Whom we ABSOLUTELY ADOOOOOOOOORE.

Continue reading “Clarice from It Takes Two Appreciation Post”