What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

These are the things that got me thinking this week.  There’s been all kinds of things to think about over the past few days.  Without further ado:

Ambiguously Brown (Medium)

This excellent piece tackles the concept of what TV Tropes calls “ambiguously brown,” which is a person who is probably-definitely not Eastern European white but also not clear what ethnicity a person is.  It’s a trope used in TV and movies all the time to “diversify” a cast in an ambiguous way.

Every “ambiguously brown” person understands how this works in reality: people tend asking point-blank “what you are,” or smugly assume they already know, pinning your brown body down and through, like a butterfly in a natural history archive. Growing up in primarily white suburbs, I had become used to expecting this question, though I won’t say I’m really okay with it.

It’s an interesting, challenging read, and it tackles a lot of different things at once.  Well worth a read.

Pseudonymous Activity  (Dear Author)  AND The Choices of Kathleen Hale (Smart Bitches)

I’ve read a lot (and I mean A LOT) of pieces in response to the Kathleen Hale article published last week in the Guardian (which I am not linking to), and these are two of the best.  They provide an excellent roundup of what has happened and why it’s important, and they do it in a very polished, accessible way.  This is still ongoing in terms of discussion, and though I don’t think there will be much in the way of consequences for Hale (though she definitely lost a good chunk of readership), there’s more to think about as a reviewer and blogger (and, you know, as a human being who believes stalking, in any form, is WRONG).

On Wanting a Book to Fail (Bibliodaze)

This thoughtful piece tackles specifically the issues of James Frey’s book-packaging company Full Fathom Five and the unrelated issue of a major publisher going forward with a fan fiction story written by Anna Todd about the band One Direction.  In the latter case, Todd’s story was published on a fan fiction website and accessed millions of times before being acquired by a major publishing house, repackaged, and being sold as original fiction.  We can blame 50 Shades for that one.  At any rate, Cecilidhann writes:

Wishing failure on something is a loaded call to make. Numerous people have gloried in bragging about wanting political opponents to fail, even if the risks greatly outbalance the short-term schadenfreude. The success or failure of a book isn’t a one person responsibility. Thousands of people work in every facet of publishing, preparing a book from the auction to the bookshelf, and with the industry in as tenuous a state as it is, it’s understandable why everyone’s looking for a safe bet. Big names like Frey and authors with an established reader-base like Todd are seen as those easy bets. On one level, I get why many have overlooked the wider context, but I just can’t do it.

She’s passionate about what she’s saying, but I think she does a great job of being exceedingly fair-minded.  It’s a thought-provoking piece that tackles professional jealousy, the politics of book publishing, and the ethics that go along with the world of writing.

Read Whatever the Hell You Want: Why We Need a New Way of Talking About Young Adult Literature (New Statesman)

I mean, obviously this is relevant to me, because of where my passions lie.  But it’s also an extremely well-written piece worthy of anyone’s time, especially if they’ve read any of the incendiary “think pieces” about adults and YA and literature over the past year:

Backlash has been building for years…And now, it’s the so-called “realism boom”: if a book isn’t about wizards or vampires, if its readers can’t be written off as giggling schoolgirls, if the author is male, or writing about male protagonists, it might be  encroaching on the territory of “serious literature”. Realistic YA is often deemed not quite serious enough – and some act like its existence is some sort of threat to the “adult” titles it might be shelved beside. It appears easier to dismiss a teenage heroine in a dystopian hellscape than it is to dismiss kids with cancer – but these books are getting dismissed all the same.

One the whole, the article does a lovely job of summarizing the various schools of thought that have taken shape over the past few years surrounding what constitutes “good literature” and what people “should” be reading.  As a librarian, as a reader of books and lover of reading, it’s fascinating and infuriating to see people weigh in on this topic, especially when their snobbery and privilege is so powerfully overwhelming and when it’s clear they don’t even have the most basic understanding of whatever it is they’re choosing to disdain.  But it’s also worrying, because: who cares?  This policing of other people’s reading habits isn’t just obnoxious: it feels grossly dangerous.

What got you reading and thinking this week?

Movie News and Blather

Time for another movie news roundup, because I’m not feeling the book stuff today.  Without further ado, here’s the stuff I’m looking forward to, when it comes to movies.

1. Top Five Trailer

Although it’s definitely outside of my usual fare, this Chris Rock written-directed-starring movie was one of the most popular films at the Toronto International Film Festival this year and was part of a pretty serious bidding war.  The film is about a comedian trying to get his life back in order and stars Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union, Kevin Hart, and a bunch of cameos by other people.  It looks pretty awesome.

2. Christian Bale in talks to play Steve Jobs in new biopic

Because one mediocre film about the tech genius wasn’t enough.  It’s being adapted by Aaron Sorking, who has proven time and again that not only does he have a great deal of disdain for technology, but he also doesn’t understand it on a fundamental level.  Plus he’s so great about women! Hooray! (THR)

3. Miss Meadows Trailer

So the movie stars Katie Holmes who is usually pretty awful but who I keep seeing in movies despite this, and it looks like it might be fun in the dumbest ways.  She plays an elementary school teach who is also a vigilante?  Okay?  At any rate, this will be one I watch from the comfort of my couch with more than one drink, probably.

4. Neil Patrick Harris will host the 2015 Oscars 

I like Neil Patrick Harris a lot, and he definitely has the awards show hosting chops to pull this off.  It’s not his fault that the show is bloated, outdated, and boring.  And this is coming from someone who watches it EVERY YEAR. (Variety)

5. Life Partners Trailer

I can’t wait for this one.  Leighton Meester and Gillian Jacobs are best friends who use their co-dependent friendship from having to date anyone.  But then Jacobs’ character meets a dude, and their friendship is put to the test.  It looks like a really smart, really funny movie about female friendship, and it’s directed by a woman, so you know I’m supporting the shit out of this one.  It comes to VOD November 6th before getting a limited theater release.

What movie news got you excited this week?




Waiting on Wednesday: Bright Coin Moon by Kirsten Lopresti

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Bright Coin Moon by Kirsten Lopresti

Expected Release Date: November 18, 2014

Seventeen-year-old Lindsey Allen is an A-student who has her heart set on becoming an astronomer. But first she must break away from her mother, an eccentric failed beauty queen who has set up a phony psychic reading shop in their Oregon garage.

Lindsey is biding time until she graduates high school, reading tarot cards for the neighbors in her mother’s shop and recording the phases of the moon in her Moon Sign notebook. Her life changes when her mother, Debbie, decides they should move to California to become Hollywood psychics to the stars. As they pull out of the driveway, Lindsey looks up at the silver morning moon. It’s a bright coin moon, which means only one thing: what you leave behind today will rise up tomorrow.

When mother and daughter arrive in Los Angeles with new identities, they move into a leaky, run-down building and spend their nights stalking restaurants and movie premieres to catch that one celebrity they hope will be their ticket. When it seems they will never make it in LA, Lindsey is assigned a new mentor through her school. Joan is a lonely, wealthy widow who can’t get past the death of her husband, Saul. Debbie is convinced they’ve hit the jackpot, and plans for a future séance commence.

As Lindsey grows closer to Joan, guilt over the scam consumes her, and she must make the ultimate decision. But can she really betray her mother?

(summary via Goodreads)

This one looks like it’s going to be an excellent exploration of mother-daughter relationships.  I love a complicated story, and this one looks like it will fit the bill.  If it’s done well, I’m sure it will be riveting.  Here’s hoping.

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: Perfectly Good White Boy by Carrie Mesrobian

Sean Norwhalt thinks his crappy life is turning around when he meets Hallie and they start dating.  But then she leaves for college, and Sean is still stuck in his small town, and he doesn’t know what kind of a future he has, let alone the bright one full of “possibilities” that Hallie keeps talking about.  The only things that are looking okay for Sean are the Marine Corps, which he hasn’t told anyone about, and Neecie Albertson, a girl who wasn’t even on his radar before.

Carrie Mesrobian has done it again in her excellent sophomore effort about a “perfectly good white boy” with serious doubts about his abilities and his future.  As much a character study as a novel can be, this outstanding novel offers an insightful, honest, and achingly real look at a teenage boy.  At times laugh out loud funny and also searingly heartbreaking, this is a standout of a novel, and one of the best of the year.   This is a must-read, must-stock title, not to be missed.

Mesrobian demonstrated her uncanny knack for getting into the heads of teenage boys in her debut, Sex & Violence.  She continues to excel at that talent here, by presenting a teenage boy so authentic in his portrayal that he feels like a real person.  We’ve all known boys like Sean.  Some of the readers are Sean.  He’s smart but unfocused, perceptive but unknowing, and frequently crassly funny.  He’s a good kid who lacks direction.  The result is a memorable character readers can’t help but root for.

The secondary characters work just as well.  Both Hallie and Neecie feel like fully realized people, and they relate to Sean in realistic, sometimes uncomfortably awkward ways.  As Sean navigates his last year of high school, he starts to make realizations about the people around him that feel authentic and natural.  Mesrobian never gives her readers too much information, allowing them to go along on the journey with Sean.

Some readers might get tripped up by the fact that the novel doesn’t have any huge events to knock Sean or the other characters on their asses, but that’s kind of the point. Mesrobian’s book is about a kid who is completely normal, and his life reflects that.  There’s not supposed to be some huge cataclysmic event between the book’s pages, because that’s not something that happens often in life, either.  The result is a measured pace with vivid characters and a moving and satisfying conclusion to the book.

Highly, highly recommended.  One of my favorite titles of the year.

Perfectly Good White Boy by Carrie Mesrobian. Candlewick: 2014. Electronic galley accepted for review via Edelweiss.

My Weekend in Pop Culture

Here are the pop culture-y things I consumed this weekend.

tammyTammy: I finally got around to watching Tammy, and I was surprised by it, in a mostly good way.  It was funny, but not as silly as I thought it would be.  It had a stellar cast (in addition to Melissa McCarthy and Susan Sarandon) including Allison Janney and Mark Duplass, and it was so female-centric.  I loved that part of it.  I’m glad I saw it, but I’m also glad I waited and didn’t see it in the theater.

The Purge: Anarchy: J. and I love a terrible horror movie, and this one purgefits the bill.  There are so many things wrong with the logic behind The Purge movies if you think about it for like a second, so I spent most of this one cracking jokes and trying not to be scared (just because it’s stupid doesn’t mean I don’t get jumpy).  I don’t know why we keep subjecting ourselves to this shit, but tis the season or whatever.

Elliphant – “One More”

I’m obsessed with this song and have been listening to it on repeat.  There’s something about it that is kind of uplifting but also sort of depressing?  Does that even make sense?  At any rate, it is stuck in my head and I love it.  The video is pretty awesome, too.  I want some light up sneakers, like right now.  The song features Mo, who is also one of my favorite artists right now.  It’s a win-win situation, in my opinion.  This is definitely my song of fall.


What pop culture did you consume this weekend?

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

Here’s the stuff that got me thinking this week! Yay!

What Do You Really Mean When You Say “Basic Bitch”? (NY Mag)

This phrase is everywhere these days, and whenever I hear it, I get a little uncomfortable.  I’ve had several conversations about it recently, and while I don’t feel like I ever fully articulate my feelings on it, I was happy to come across this article this week:

Basic, according to the BuzzFeed quizzes and CollegeHumor videos that wrested the term from the hip-hop world and brought it into the realm of white-girl-on-white-girl insults, means someone who owns things like Uggs and North Face and leggings…The basic bitch — as she’s sometimes called because it’s funnier when things alliterate, and because you’re considered a poor sport if you don’t find it funny — is almost always a she.

It’s a pretty great read, and it tackles a lot of the issues I have with the way the phrase is thrown around (It describes someone’s consumption habits without actually condemning consumption? It’s a way to rag on girls and not seem as mean?) while still managing to be smarter and more articulate than I am:

And so the woman who calls another woman basic ends up implicitly endorsing two things she probably wouldn’t sign up for if they were spelled out for her: a male hierarchy of culture, and the belief that the self is an essentially surface-level formation.

And that, right there, is my biggest problem with it.

 Roxane (The New Inquiry)

“All Roxane Gay, all the time” is a thing I wrote to my mom in an email this week, and I’m proving that by linking to this great article about my current internet obsession.  It’s worth a read whether you’re familiar with Gay’s work or not, and it deftly tackles feminism, pop culture, race, and the intersection of all these things.

In addition to dismantling the myth of the BLACK ♀, Gay is a crossover success in various ways—respected by critics and mainstream consumers at the same time, in the academy but not necessarily of it, appealing to white feminists while offering the kind of nuanced description of a black woman’s life that so many of us seek.

In addition to dismantling the myth of the BLACK ♀, Gay is a crossover success in various ways—respected by critics and mainstream consumers at the same time, in the academy but not necessarily of it, appealing to white feminists while offering the kind of nuanced description of a black woman’s life that so many of us seek.

Like in Gay’s work, there’s some good, hard stuff to unpack here.

Abortion: Not Easy, Not Sorry (Elle)

I mean, the title sort of encapsulates the entire article’s thesis: why are women fed a message that they should regret their abortions (and if they don’t, the implied message is that there is something wrong with them as a result).  Partly a discussion of a new book by The Nation’s Katha Pollit called Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, part a personal essay on the part of the author, Laurie Abraham writes:

For a small segment of women—and the number is small, by any reasonably scientific account—abortion is indeed a tragedy, a trauma with long-lasting reverberations. But I want to tell a different story, the more common yet strangely hidden one, which is that I don’t feel guilty and tortured about my abortion. Or rather, my abortions. There, I said it.

She also talks about how living in the “abortion-is-murder” media frenzy–even as a pro-choice person–means you forget actual facts and that your perspective is altered.  It’s a fascinating read, and it’s also very long, so be prepared for that–but it’s absolutely necessary and important reading.

#GamerGate: Is their Hashtag Really More Important than Women’s Lives? (Pajiba)

GamerGate is a difficult topic to follow along with, especially if you aren’t already ensconced in the gaming world, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important to at least know the basics of what is happening.  Because it speaks to a larger, more disturbing issue that permeates every part of the online world.  This piece over at Pajiba addresses a lot of things and frames it in a very accessible way (there’s a very succinct summary that will get you up to speed in about a paragraph).

The problem is, as Courtney Enlow states, that this is not about gaming, nor is it about journalistic ethics (which makes absolutely NO SENSE if you think about what is happening for a second).  It’s about a hatred and fear of women, and it is fucking terrifying.  Enlow makes a plea to those of us who are not directly involved with the gaming community:

There will be no getting through to the violent, terrible individuals making the threats against these women in the industry and the men who dare defend them. So, I appeal to you, the moderate middle of the movement and those on the fray who, like me, were unsure of the goings on. This movement, this falsely ethical witch hunt, it has nothing to offer you. Do not pretend, do not lie to yourself — this is not about ethical reporting. This is about putting women in their place, and apparently that place is the ground.

I encourage you to read more about what is happening and why it’s happening.  Deadspin has a pretty good rundown, too.

What got you reading and thinking this week?

Romance Spotlight: Abigail Barnette

Abigail Barnette is the pen name of author Jenny Trout, who writes under her actual name, too.  Today, I’m highlighting her excellent “The Boss” series as part of my “Reading Out of Your Comfort Zone” goal.  This is a thing I just made up, guys.  I mostly just wanted to talk about this smart, sexy series.

Partly created as a response to how problematic and worrisome the dom-sub relationship is in E.L. James’s ridiculously popular (and astonishingly TERRIBLE) 50 Shades trilogy, Trout’s books focus on Sophie Scaif, a woman in her mid-20s working for a fashion magazine when she realizes that her new boss, billionaire Neil Elwood, is the same man (who gave the name of Leif) that she hooked up with for the hottest one-night stand of her life in a hotel room eight years previously.  Realizing that there are still sparks between them, they start a sexual relationship that quickly becomes much more.

The first book started as serialized fiction on Trout’s blog, but she ended up turning it into a book.  That novel has spawned two published sequels and a novella, with a fourth book to be published this November.  The books are sexy, smart, and completely different from most of the other things I read on a day-to-day basis.  They are really, really fun.

But what sets these books apart from other titles in the romance/erotica/kink genres is that Trout has given them fully-realized personalities and quirks.  Although there is a ton of sex in the books (and it is some hot BDSM sex, you guys–this woman knows her kink), there’s also a lot of other stuff happening, too.  Sophie and Neil have hopes and dreams completely unrelated to their bedroom activities.  They talk about life stuff, they support each other, and they struggle with things that are incredibly real.

At any rate, the books are a ton of fun, and I’m enjoying the hell out of them.  I can’t wait for The Ex to be released in November.