Comicbook Corner 1: Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

Heya!

So I’m going to give something new a try. I loooove comic books, always have, but for some reason I’ve never really talked about them on here. They take up a pretty sizeable chunk of my reading time, they’re just as interesting to talk about, aaaand…I just don’t, for some reason. So let’s remedy that! Every now and then I’m going to do a Comicbook Corner and give you the run down of one that I’m currently reading or just finished reading or one from the back catalogue that had a big impact on me. They’ll be a little shorter than the usual post. If comics aren’t your thing you can just skip these posts (though I’d encourage you to give them a shot. It’s just reading accompanied by incredible art).

Okay, let’s get to it.

Monstress, Written by Marjorie M. Liu and Art by Sana Takeda

Consistently well-written. Weird, complicated, interesting, and always so, so beautiful to look at. Easily one of my favourite comics coming out right now, and the only one that I collect issue to issue. At first the world was so rich, so dense with history and information and intricate, interconnected relationships that I almost felt like I couldn’t get into it, like I was starting a story partway through. But the visuals were incredible and the writing hooked me in, kept me going, and I’m suuuuper happy I stuck it out. This world has such a complicated and complex history and Liu doesn’t feel obliged to spoon feed any of it to you (other than those fun little tidbits you get at the end of each issue). While at first I felt a little frustrated by it, over time, as I’ve began to understand the world a little better, its become one of the most satisfying reading experiences I’ve had this year. Besides, even though I may not always know what’s going on, I have always one hundred percent believed that these two do, and that they’ll get me there eventually. It’s really, really good.

VBR

 

Ps. I hate to hit the representation drum all the time (I actually don’t), but if that’s something that’s important to you in your art, this book has it in spades. Most of the characters (that aren’t animal people) are POCs and women, and the main character is a POC, a woman, and an amputee (as well as a fucking badass).

 

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Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

I can’t believe it took me this long to find Walter Mosley. As a lover of mystery and detective fiction I’m a little embarrassed about the oversight.

I’d heard the name before, mostly dropped in podcasts or conversations about books in an offhand “I’m not going to recommend anything by Mosley, because obviously everybody who is anybody knows about him and has read everything that he’s written already” sort of a way. And instead of asking about him I would, desperate as always to seem cool and in the know, nod my head and say ” yeah, obviously” and then change the subject as quickly as I could. The first few times I didn’t really think anything of it, there’s authors that people name drop a bunch that I have no time for (reading Charles Dickens makes me want to claw my eyes out and Jane Austen can suck a lemon) but eventually I heard it enough that I started to keep my peepers peeled. And holy shit am I ever glad I did.

This is quite possibly the best first novel in a detective series I’ve ever read. The mystery itself is tight and well-plotted, with a decent twist that I didn’t see coming (although the impact of the reveal has probably changed over the last few decades since the book was released. I was surprised, but by its very nature it doesn’t mean what it used to mean), but it’s the world, and the people in it, that really set this book apart. I don’t know anything about Walter Mosley, where’s he’s lived or what his life has been like, but he has to have pulled some of these people and places from his own experience. The settings are so specific and lived in, the people and their relationships to one another so complex and interesting and real, that they can’t be made up from whole cloth. I won’t believe it.

And all this centers around the main character, Easy Rawlins (which, by the by, what a name), who is the perfect down on his luck detective. He’s a good guy, generally, but he’s not perfect. Yeah, he takes money for things and regrets it, and sometimes he gets involved with women when he knows he shouldn’t, but overall he’s a pretty decent dude. He’s tough as nails and he doesn’t take shit, but he doesn’t hurt people when he doesn’t have to. Easy is a hell of a creation, and a great character to rest a series on.

Recommended for anybody and everybody that likes mysteries, noirish fiction set in the post-war era, and detectives novels with some subtle (and some not so subtle) social commentary mixed in.

VBR

 

 

 

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Right off the top you gals, this one is a tough read.

Not tough in the sense that it’s a slog or that you have to push your way through. Kind of the opposite, actually. I was propelled through this book, captivated by it, couldn’t put it down. I usually read on the train on my way to work, but this is the first time I can remember that I would read all day before my shift, read while walking to and from transit, and only put it away when my boss started giving me the side eye. It’s not the writing that’s tough, it’s the subject. This book is about hunger, yeah, but it’s also about suffering and humiliation, about craving love and comfort and acceptance, about never finding it, or finding it and not recognizing it, finding it and losing it, finding it and having it not be enough. This book is about a lot of things and none of them are easy.

When Gay was a small child she went through something horrendous, something that changed her and altered the course of her entire life. I’m not going to get into what the event itself actually is (I tried a couple of times and just…read the book. Gay was there, it happened to her, and she’s a better writer than me anyways), but I will warn you that it does have to do with sexual violence and it’s…very difficult to read. Gay’s great talent as a writer is her voice, her ability to make you empathize and relate to her, to connect with and feel like you understand her. In anything else of hers that I’ve read that’s a strength, and it’s a strength here too, it’s just a complicated one. It hurts to watch somebody you’re connecting with suffer so much.

I’ve never read a memoir quite like this one, one so concerned with the body. It makes sense, it’s what this part of her story is all about. The invasion of it, the effort she went through to change it, the consequences of that change. And she has such an interesting view of the body, one so different from my own. For myself, I see my body and me as one. There’s no difference, no space, between the two. But Roxane constantly refers to her body as a structure separate from herself, as a prison, a fortress, a cage, a cave. Always things that you can either hide or be held in. For her, maybe that’s not that far from the truth. She used food to turn her body into a stronghold. Big, imposing, impregnable, but inescapable as well. Sometimes she loves her body and how strong it is, sometimes she hates the limits it puts on her, but she’s always aware of it, in a way I’ve never experienced. Things that most people take for granted are constant sources of stress and anxiety for her: shopping, going for walks with friends, getting on an airplane, going to events (she tells a story about an event that she had to speak at where there was an elevated stage, about three feet off the ground, and no stairs. After visibly struggling in front of the audience to get on to the stage, eventually having to be helped up by some of the other speakers, she sat on the flimsy, thin wooden chair that they’d placed on the stage for her and heard a crack. She was able to use the strength of her legs to take her weight off the chair enough so that it didn’t break, but she was so humiliated by the experience that she threw up in her mouth and had to swallow it), and even what she can and can’t eat in public. She says to a friend that offers her chips at one point that people “that look like me don’t get to eat food like that in public.”

Which brings me to my next point. Can we please, as a society, just stop being shitty to people about their bodies? The constant comments and intrusions that Gay has to face from people all the time, the humiliations, are unacceptable. No person should be subjected to that kind of treatment. And I know, I know, you say that you’re concerned about their health and whatever, but let’s be honest here, you’re really not. You’re trying to make yourself feel good about your own body, your own flaws, by framing somebody else’s as being worse. You’re putting someone else down to make yourself feel good. It’s what children and bullies do, so grow up and cut it the fuck out.

This book is, without a doubt, one of the rawest and most intimate memoirs I’ve ever read. And so universally human too. I felt myself constantly surprised by how relatable I found it. I may not have experienced the trauma that she has, or lived in the body she’s lived in, or done the things she’s done, but I kept seeing myself in her reactions and desires. Her hungers are the ones we all feel, for food yeah, but also for love and affection and respect, safety and security and comfort. For peace. I hope she finds it.

Recommended for those who like intimate, personal accounts of tragedy, those who like intelligent, sharp takes on difficult things we don’t often talk about, and people who don’t mind ugly crying on a bus full of strangers. Really though, read this book.

VBR

 

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin

I know, I know, I know. You’re tired of hearing about Game of Thrones. Trust me, I am too. Twitter has nothing else to talk about and my Facebook feed has been clogged with review posts and spoiler posts and theory posts. Hostelworld even sent me an email to let me know about the “Game of Thrones locations” that were on sale. It’s reaching Star Wars-esque levels of cultural saturation (I went into a grocery store one time during the Force Awakens madness and, I shit you not, saw a Star Wars themed bag of oranges. I mean, just…what?), and I bet you’d all rather read about something, anything, else.

BUT! Here we are. And despite the super cool dude persona I’ve been cultivating by bucking all the trends, seeing the Game of Thrones-y stuff out there has reminded me of how much I love the Song of Ice and Fire books, and why.

These novels are essentially famous for two things: their extremity and their bleakness (three, I guess, if you count the world building, which is bananas good and in depth). They’re hella violent, chock full of sex (mostly not of the romantic, vanilla variety), and filled to the brim with terrible people doing horrible things. Nothing ever goes right for anybody and whenever it does seem like everything might, finally, work out, somebody does something selfish or terrible and everything falls to pieces again. The thing that people don’t often talk about though, is why these books are so brutal and bleak, and what it means.

Brace yourselves, I’m about to get very mildly controversial: George R.R. Martin has written one of the best long-form anti-war series of all time. The world he built is harsh and unfair, yes, but that’s because it’s a world at war. There’s constant commentary about how badly the common people are used for the personal ambitions of the rich and powerful, how little violence solves, how futile and fleeting and empty conquest or power can be. The countryside of Westeros is cracked and fractured, its people broken and hungry, and for what? The leaders who have used that blood to buy them power rarely hold it for long, and when they do they usually find that it’s not exactly what they were expecting. More often than not they meet an end that’s even more undignified and bloody than the people they stepped on to get to their crowns. The horrors he depicts in his series aren’t just for shock value or to serve as a counter-weight to the lighter, fluffier fantasy fare that was popular when this series first arrived, they’re meant to convey his genuine disgust at warfare and the way it had often been treated in fantasy up until that point.

Which leads me to my next point about this series. There have been some accusations levied against the books and their treatment of women as misogynistic. Now before I embark on the sticky wicket that is trying to explain why I don’t think those accusations are entirely fair (with one notable exception), I’m going to acknowledge straight off the bat that what I think doesn’t really matter. If you’re wounded by something, or offended by something, somebody telling you that it’s neither dangerous nor offensive doesn’t really mean anything. The fact that you pulled it out of the text is evidence enough that it was there, somewhere. You get from a story what you get from it, and I can’t, and wouldn’t really want, to change that. I just have a different interpretation of it, and since this blog is my own personal exercise in self-indulgent word spewage, that’s what you’re about to read. Unless, you know, you don’t want to. You’re an adult and the internet is filled with other places to read things. But, if you do stick around and just disagree, please, counter-interpretations in the comments! I’m interested in hearing about the different ways people see and think about things. Just nothing using scenes from the show as a basis for your arguments please. They’ve made some choices there that are different from the novels, ones that I feel absolutely no desire to defend.

Truly awful, terrible things happen to women in these books. They’re beaten, they’re raped, they’re murdered. They’re caged and kept and traded in marriages for political advantage. And while I agree that the behaviour towards women in the books is misogynistic and gross as hell, I don’t think the books themselves are. Those acts are never framed as a positive or (again with one exception, which I’ll get to at the end) used to titillate. The people who commit the acts are depicted as the monsters that they are, and often meet ends that are as cruel as they deserve. The treatment of women by patriarchal societies in wartime (and, you know, always) is one of vilest parts of human history. It’s not pleasant to read about, and I totally get it if it’s inclusion in the books makes you just not want to bother with them at all, but it does fit with the theme of the novels. He’s shining a light on all the ugly parts of war, even the hardest ones to look at, to strip away the nobility and glory and honor that normally gets heaped on them by the genre. At least, that’s what I think (and hope) he’s trying to do. Do I think he always pulls it off perfectly? Hell, no. Our introduction to Dany in the first novel is a particularly bad example. I read something by him a little while ago pushing back against the criticisms of his books by saying that Dany’s wedding night was handled better in the novels than in the show because Drogo asks permission before they sleep together, sort of, but…no. Dany’s a child, around thirteen years old, and Drogo is a grown ass man, which, no matter how you frame it, is pretty fucking gross. Not to mention that she’s in a strange environment, surrounded by only him and his people, with no friends or support, no idea what would happen if she displeased him. That, in no way shape or form, is a situation which is conducive to consent. Plus, the writing of that scene is really…ooky. It’s a major mistep, but not representative of the books on a whole.

There’s also just a ton of strong, badass ladies in his books that either use the rules of the patriarchal system that they’re trapped in to their advantage, or just disregard them completely. Cersei may be vile and short-sighted, cruel and self-centred, but she’s a force of nature. Arya and Brienne are some of my all-time favourite characters, in any stories, and Sansa gets far less credit than she deserves.

Anywhoodle! Just to wrap this up I’ll say that while I loved all these books, and think they’re all definitely worth reading, the first is still probably my favourite. It was so different from anything that I’d read at the time, so completely new, and the ending of the Ned Stark storyline is still, to this day, one of the most bold, surprising things I’ve read in a fantasy series.

Recommended if you like your fantasies big and sprawling and complex, if don’t mind watching people you’ve grown attached to fail and probably die, and if you’re not put off by whole paragraphs devoted to the description of various types of glazed meats.

 

VBR

Spiderman: Homecoming

*Disclaimer at the top: This post, because of my undying and forever love for Peter Parker, is looooonnnggggg. Continue at your own peril.

You gals, you gals! They did it! They finally did it!

I’ve never really gotten on the nostalgia train. They’ve been aiming things from my childhood at me for the last ten years or so and, despite the fact that I loooooved that shit when I was a kid, still love some of it (I am an unrepentant cheesy comic buyer. Give me alllll the X-Men melodrama), I’ve mostly just let it sail right past. The ones that I have watched (most of them being comic book movies) have been bad to just fine. And that’s not to say that there are no good comic book movies out there. Logan was incredible! Deadpool is really fun! Captain America: Winter Soldier is really underrated as an action/spy thriller. But the characters of those movies weren’t a part of my childhood and they didn’t make me feel how I felt watching those stories as a kid (Logan was probably the closest, but Wolverine has never been my favourite member of the X-Men. I’ve always liked the big, sappy team stories better).

When I was growing up Peter Parker was my boy. I’ve talked about it on here before, but the early 90s cartoon version of him, with that terrible turquoise and blue striped shirt and super, duper 90s hair, was probably my first crush. But not only was I macking on his fine, mom-jeans-wearing ass, I also looked up to him. I remember watching him struggle and suffer to do the right thing, putting his relationships and his school work and his job in jeopardy again and again because of his desire to help people, and thinking “that’s who I want to be.” I idolized him. I pestered my mom into buying me Spider-man everything and climbed anything I could find (to her almost constant frantic dismay). I would’ve given my right arm to have a live action Spider-man movie.

So when I finally got one in 2002, I was really stoked. It was the first piece of directly aimed at me nostalgia-art and (even though at that point I was a teenager who refused to show enthusiasm for anything) I could barely contain myself. And after watching it, I remember telling people, somewhat frantically “That was pretty good, right? Like, I know it wasn’t perfect, but it was…okay. Like some of it was okay, right? RIGHT?!” I hadn’t got that feeling I remembered watching the cartoon as a kid, nowhere close, but I hadn’t hated it either (although I, to this day, can’t stand to watch Willem Dafoe in anything. He’s…such a bad actor, you guys. Awful). Over the next few years I had that experience again and again, with steadily diminishing returns, until eventually I stopped going. I haven’t seen the last X-Men movie and I won’t see the next one. I turned the Spider-man movie before this one off a quarter of the way through. I didn’t get what was so great about nostalgia. It seemed an awful lot like disappointment to me.

So I went into this one a little…nervously. If people hadn’t already hyped it up so much, I probably wouldn’t have even gone. I’m tired of watching big, dumb, loud action movies with the names of characters I loved when I was a kid attached to people who act nothing like them.

You gals, this movie knocked my fucking socks off. I’m usually a stone-faced bitch in movie theatres (I’m not sure why. I think it was just drilled into me at a young age that you’re not supposed to make noise/move/breathe when doing so could be bothering somebody else), even if I really like a movie you wouldn’t be able to tell until the credits have rolled and we’re talking about it after. If I absolutely love it, or something super clever happens, it might get a slight smile. This movie had me grinning from ear to ear the entire time. I laughed out loud, in a theatre full of people. I cried a little. And I left with a little nugget of joy in my chest, reminded of how much, and how purely, I used to love this kind of stuff as a kid. I feel like, for the first time, we had people who actually loved the character doing the movie. This was my Peter Parker, struggling and bumbling, constantly sacrificing what he wants to do the right thing. Failing a lot, but never giving up. And he was a kid, finally (And yes, I know, he’s twenty one and you’re all super relieved about it). He was awkward and insecure, but also sometimes over-confident in that way that only teenagers can be. Ugh, it was all just so good.

Okay, that’s probably enough nerd gushing for one day. Just go watch this movie, it’s really good. Even if you’re not a lifelong fan, there’s plenty there for you to enjoy.

VBR

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

What a fun, light little gem of a Western.

I’m not really sure where my deep and abiding love of the genre comes from. I didn’t read any as a kid and basically refused to watch the old John Wayne (or should I say, Marion Mitchell Morrison) movies, though I had a few friends who were obsessed with them (I was a picky kid with weird tastes and didn’t like the look of anything old fashioned). But as an adult, there’s few things I like to lose myself in more.

There’s something about the aesthetic, the setting, the very bad bad guys and the reluctant, also sort of bad good guys, that really tickles me. There’s also something in the atmosphere of constant hardship in Westerns. Most books have struggle in them, but there’s something about the griminess and the poverty and the lack of technology that I find really appealing. People don’t have magic, or gadgets that might as well be, to solve their problems. There’s no super powers. In order to overcome their obstacles they have to think around them, and that’s something that always, always appeals to me.

This is a really solid example of that. The main characters are a crotchety old man and the stubborn, clever, brave young girl he’s reluctantly convinced to help. If that sounds a little True Grit-y to you, well, it is, sort of. But it’s also different. The mission at the centre of the story is a little more…morally complicated than in the Portis classic, and one that I found more interesting than simple revenge (though I am a sucker for a plain old revenge story).

I don’t normally do story details, but this one is a bit hard to talk about without some reference points. The young woman he’s ferrying across the country had been captured by Native Americans at a young age and raised among them as one of their own. For all she knows and believes, she’s a part of their tribe. When she’s “rescued” by the settlers in the region and sent with Captain Kidd to live among relations she doesn’t really remember, she feels like she’s been stolen from her family. She fights and tries to escape and wants to go back. That’s a complicated, twisty, interesting idea, and my only real complaint about the novel is that it doesn’t follow that thread all the way down. That moral tangle is the centre of her book, and she touches on it and there’s a conclusion to it, sort of, but…I guess it just never really got there for me. I still enjoyed it, a bunch, but I felt like some parts of it were left a little unresolved.

Recommended for people who like historical fiction, Westerns, and prickly, but loveable, old men.

VBR

 

Ps. I have an itch I need scratched by somebody with some gun know-how. There was one action scene in the novel where the characters used their wits and some dimes to get themselves out of trouble and I bought it at the time, but thinking back on that…is that how that would work? I know nooooothing about guns and if any of ya have any smarts in that department, I’d appreciate the clarification. Thanks in advance! 🙂

Wonder Woman

Okay, so since I’ve been back I’ve been trying to chew my way through all the pop culture that I missed, and this seems to be a big one. It came out the day before I left (which didn’t quite give me enough time to squeeze it in) and already people had been singing its praises. Critics liked it, fans liked it, it was slotted to make tons of the monies, everything was great. Now it’s three weeks later and it’s still doing great, both critically and commercially, better than anybody could’ve hoped for. I mean, I saw it on a Wednesday night at the quietest theatre I know, and it was still packed. That’s gotta say something.

It’s also become something of a cultural talking point. Errrrrybody and their mom has something to say about it. Mostly, if they’re idiots, it’s about how surprising it is that the movie is doing well. “You mean a good director can make a good movie, even if she’s a lady?! Poppycock!” And if they’re not it’s about how great it is to finally get a good, female led super hero movie or that it’s nice that the curse of the DCEU is finally over. And I agree with both those things! Diversity of representation in films is important (and I am not implying, in any way, that the problem is solved. Only that this is a positive and necessary step in the right direction) and having a superhero that the other fifty plus percent of the planet can use as wish fulfillment is a good and positive thing. Plus, even though I’m an unashamed Marvel fanboy (Peter Parker was solely responsible for my sexual awakening. When I was a kid I used to watch the 90s cartoon and just want, so hard, to be 1/2 of a Mr. and Mr. Spiderman marriage. Ever since then, if you’re not a handsome secret genius that wears skin tight suits and cracks wise while beating up street thugs, it’s probably not going to work. If you are though, get at me, I’ve found dating really difficult for some reason) it’d be nice to get good movies from both of the big houses.

So basically I went into this movie hella ready to heap my love on it. My heart was full, my tear ducts were open, and my fingers were poised to tippity tap out their sweet, juicy approval all over the internet. And…

It was pretty good!

I mean, I liked it. Well, not all of it. But most of it! Sort of most of it. Some of it…

Part of the heartbreaking amount of meh I feel towards this movie may have to do with my superhero fatigue, which the child/teenage version of me would punch me right in the mouth for saying. “You had to watch Mutant X for years just to get your fix, and now you have too much?! We watched all of Smallville you sonofabitch! And I get his anger, I do! It’s like a rich person complaining about how having too much money is a burden. I’ve just…I’ve seen so many, and almost all of them are the same. They’re different too, different characters, costumes, powers, villains, whatever, but in most of the ways that matter they’re identical. Person discovers they’re extraordinary, discovers a bad guy that needs to be stopped, suffers tragedy and hardship, grows in some way, defeats said bad guy. The End. And that’s not a terrible thing, in and of itself. I’ve spent years of my life loving it. Not only that, but I generally tend to love genres that use repetitive narrative structures, mysteries being another good example. I find the predictable nature of them delightful and comforting. But that type of mystery, where I kind of know the end, and the good guys are good, and the bad guys are bad, are not the only books I want to read. And neither is this type of superhero movie. I like it when people surprise me sometimes, when they take that expected narrative device and do something interesting and different with it.

I think another big part of my problem with this movie was the beginning and the end. The middle chunk of this movie is incredible, almost perfect. But the setup is a little rushed (which might just be me. I like a nice, slow burn, and tend to find shoe-horned in exposition really jarring. Most of it was pretty good, but every now and again it seemed like they were just whipping through stuff as fast as they could), which wasn’t a huge deal. I get it. It’s a big movie, you’ve got a lot of stuff to fit in there, and it’s already pretty long. But it’s not like there isn’t stuff you could cut out to make the film fit better (*ahem* boss fight *ahem*).

Which brings me to the only thing that I really, really didn’t like about this movie: the third act. God am I ever tired of these. I can’t be the only one, right? Big, firey, CGI smash em ups just aren’t that fun or interesting to watch. And the middle part of this movie is sooooo gooooood! She starts on one end of the spectrum (people are good and if they’re hurt you should help them) and Steve starts at the other (things aren’t that simple, and if you want to do good you have to compromise) and throughout the course of the film they learn from each other and move towards the middle (him more so than her). I just thought it was building to a more complicated, nuanced finish, and when it didn’t I was really let down. Also, the execution of it was a little on the cartoonish and silly side, and didn’t fit the World War 1 setting and tone.

Listen, none of this is the filmmaker’s fault. Patty Jenkins has nothing to do with any of the previous superhero movies and she shouldn’t have to shoulder all the baggage and expectations I came into this with. This was a good movie, with a great cast and a solid story. She did enough. But I can’t help the way that I felt when I left the theatre: fed, I got exactly the meal I paid for, but not quite full. Wanting more.

VBR

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

I have such a crush on this lady.

Roxane Gay was another one of those authors who I’ve been hearing about for years, but never really got around to reading. Then she had a couple of big media moments over the last little bit that kept floating her name to the top of the book news world and eventually bumped her up on my list. One, her book Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body just recently came out to some rave reviews (which, despite my staggering, towering, unconquerable TBR pile, I just bought a copy of yesterday, partly because I enjoyed reading Bad Feminist so much, mostly because I have no self control) and two, when S&S inexplicably gave that vile, slime-ball, shockjock Milo whateverhisnameis a book deal, Roxane Gay pulled out of some stuff with them (because she’s a fucking boss). It’s not like I wouldn’t have read her without these things, but they definitely pushed me to dig her up from the depths of my bookshelves a little sooner than I might have.

I’m soooooo happy that I did.

Gay is a smart as fuck, take no shit woman with a keen eye and a savage writing talent. She tears apart our culture (some pop, some not) with her bare hands, peeling back the skin to expose the layers of misogyny, sexism, racism and homophobia that lay beneath. Most of the time she doesn’t have to dig deep. Sometimes she doesn’t have to dig at all. And that may sound a little…lecturey, or finger waggy, but it’s really not. It’s educational, but it’s also filled with hope and humor. There’s a lot wrong with the world, and she knows it, but she’s not beat down by it, can still find things to laugh about. She’s got such a sharp, wicked sense of humor that even when she was talking about some really bleak shit I found myself laughing along with her.

Gay also has a lot of empathy and understanding (most of the time) for people and their fears, the things that stop them from being their best selves. She even admits to it readily when she does the same (she likes hip hop and acknowledges that it’s a complicated love, that you can nod your head along to a catchy song while hating the lyrics that degrade your entire gender). She may get angry sometimes, and rightfully so, but she’s never mean, never unfair. She just wants us all to be better, herself included.

This is, without a doubt, one of the best collections of essays I’ve ever read. I normally don’t read them all in one go, usually I split them up with short story collections or read them alongside a novel, bit by bit. But I read this one front to back and almost entirely in one sitting. I’d get done with one essay, be about to put it down and do something else, and I’d think “just one more”, over and over again, until eventually I had no more “one more”s to go. I didn’t agree with her one hundred percent of the time (though I did a lot), but she’s got such a sharp insight, such a unique mind, that there was something to be learned in each and every one of these pieces. And the writing! Uggghhhhh. This woman is the writer that I want to be, that I’m trying to be, that I fear I’ll never live up to.

I’d recommend this book for people who identify as feminist, for people who identify as definitely not feminist or anti-feminist (which I’m a little bit less forgiving of then she is. I mean…come on, anti-feminist? If gender quality is something that you’re actively against then you can do me the kindness of unfollowing my blog, and do us all the kindness of fucking off to live in a monastery somewhere. The kind where they don’t let you access the internet. Or talk. Or have kids), and for people who are on the fence about their feminism. So…everybody. Go out and buy it!

Anywhoodle, that’s all for now! Speak to ya soon 🙂

VBR

 

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

This book really, really moved me. It was, is, and will continue to be for some time, very important to me. I’m going to do my best here to describe why. I’m not really sure if words will do it, at least not in the way that I use them, but I’ll do my best.

This is a book of such beauty and grace. I know that’s not a novel description of it. It’s on the cover of the book itself, and countless reviewers have probably said the same thing, and will continue to. But it’s new to me. I don’t think I’ve ever, not even in all of the thousands of unread words I’ve written in journals, used the word grace to describe a book. The fact that I’m doing it now is itself a testament to the way reading this has impacted me.

If that paragraph above was a little too pretentious for you, strap in. It’s only going to get worse from here.

My relationship with this book started really contentiously. I’d heard about it, knew that it was centered around religion and was told from the point of view of a religious man, and that caused me to enter into it a little warily. I’ve had a difficult relationship with religion. I’ve always been surrounded by it (I spent a large portion of my youth around a big, warm, lovely catholic family), but I’ve never had much time for it myself. I don’t hate it, not like some people do (though my feelings towards the institutions, as opposed to the people and communities who practice it, are not as kind), but I’ve never appreciated it much either. Never really believed in it. I still don’t. My brain is wired for facts, numbers and statistics and reasons that people can give why I should believe them. Believe, not believe in. The difference there is subtle, but it’s there. I think I’m missing that thing, whatever it is, that allows people to believe in a person or an idea that completely. In fact, if we’re being honest, I’ve spent much of my life looking down on that quality and the people who have it. I’m ashamed to admit it, but it’s true. It seemed archaic, unnecessary, a false comfort for people who couldn’t face the cold, hard intellectual truths of the world. A way of ignoring them. I try to live my life being kind and understanding, to view the world through other people’s eyes (to not be an asshole, essentially), but every now and again the stubborn, opinionated, right teenager I used to be would bubble up. I’d say, yes, that religion of course had it’s place. Whatever comfort people could glean from the world, false or not, was a good thing. And that the institutions didn’t reflect on the people. I would acknowledge that it was made up of individual, distinct parts (how good of me). But then I’d clear my throat and crack my knuckles and say that just because an institution is made of kind people who do kind things doesn’t mean that we should just ignore the injustices they’ve been responsible for. Those kind people gave their money to the church, provided them with the power that they’ve misused, again and again and again. And if you think about it, catholics especially, why are you giving your money to the church to begin with? The pope preaches giving alms to the poor from a city made of gold. It’s hypocritical and gross. Then, smug and satisfied, I’d pat myself on the back for an argument well-made and go on my merry way. Looking back on it now, the arrogance of it embarrasses me.

The truth is that I still believe most of those things to be true (though I never bring them up anymore. What good does it do? How many people’s minds have I actually changed? Is that even what I want? If I did manage to persuade someone, really change what they thought, would what I was offering them be worth what I was taking away? Am I that sure of my own rightness? There’s too many questions behind it, and I don’t have the answers to any of them), but that they’re besides the point when you’re talking about the religions themselves, when you’re speaking about belief. It’s also just rude.

Because of my antagonistic way of interacting with religion, I always felt a sort of antagonism back from it. The offenses you perceive from other people have more to say about yourself than they do about them. I know that that’s true here, and I think it’s also just true generally. I always felt like their terminology was demeaning. By offering to save me, by referring to the act of joining them as being saved, they were denying my right to know what was best for me, denying my ability to look at the world and figure it out for myself. They were, in my eyes, dismissing the thing that I value the most about myself, my intelligence. But really, if you think about it, of course that’s the word they would use. And most religious people of any kindness or intelligence would inform you that it’s just a term. That they don’t really believe that people are ignorant or stupid for not believing what they believe, or that those people are doomed to burn in hell. No God that loves us would damn us just for the crime of non-belief. He couldn’t be that cruel.

The most obvious example of that is the brother and the way the narrator interacts with him. He mentions the brother’s belief (gleaned from an author and thinker whose name eludes me) that the kindness and beauty that we make in the world (and that which exists without our involvement at all) should be sufficient for our understanding of it. The world itself is enough. He thinks that religion is unnecessary, and that it should just “stand out of the way and let joy exist pure and undisguised” (this is the view in the book that hews most closely to my own). The author thinks that his ideas are marvelous when it comes to appreciating the world, but that he is ultimately wrong. At first after reading this I was furious. How dare he wave that idea away, belittle it, treat it so trivially. It was right! But the more I read and thought about it, the more I realized that’s not what happened. The narrator (the author) had thought about the viewpoint and respected it, but simply disagreed (with me). That’s all. And disagreement itself is not dismissive, despite what my pride may want me to believe. I had treated their beliefs about the world with condescension and arrogance, and I was looking for the same in return. And if you look for something hard enough, you’ll find it, even if it’s not there. Even if it never was.

After coming to that realization I was able to let my guard down, and, for the first time in my life, set aside my prejudices enough (or as much as is possible) to get a glimpse of the world through the eyes of a person who really, truly believes. And it was lovely. Different, yes, and in some parts so much so that it was hard for me to grasp, but no less beautiful for its strangeness. The narrator had so much warmth and wisdom and kindness to share, so much love for the world. He wasn’t using his religion to shield him from the darker parts of it, he was using it to confront and understand them, to seek guidance through them. Most importantly he was using it to appreciate all the light. As he would say, that’s a remarkable thing to think about.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I’ve been converted. I am who I am, and who I am lends itself to a belief in the physical, the tangible. But I feel like I learned a lot. I’m still no expert on faith, but I think I understand it better now. I respect it (not that it matters to anybody whether or not I do). I may not think that it’s right, but for the first time in my life I feel like it might be good.

Grace. I think I’ve avoided using that word to describe previous books or authors because I never knew what it meant, not really. I still don’t think that I’ve quite figured it out. But I’m a good deal closer than I’ve ever been.

Be good to each other.

VBR

 

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