1. Everything Belongs to the Future, Laurie Penny
2. Wake of Vultures, Lila Bowen
3. We Are the Ants, Shaun David Hutchinson
4. Waiting for Gertrude: A Graveyard Gothic, Bill Richardson
5. The Pastel City, M. John Harrison
6. 13 Ways of Looking At a Fat Girl, Mona Awad
7. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
8. Rise: A Newsflesh Collection, Mira Grant
9. The Stealer of Souls, Michael Moorcock
10. Seven Surrenders, Ada Palmer
11. Amiable With Big Teeth, Claude McKay
12. The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas
13. The Stone House, A.K. Benedict
14. The Female of the Species, Mindy McGinnis
15. It Can't Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis
16. Moonglow, Michael Chabon
17. When Everything Feels Like the Movies, Raziel Reid
18. Walkaway, Cory Doctorow
19. Feed, M.T. Anderson
20. Kids of Appetite, David Arnold
21. The Collapsing Empire, John Scalzi
22. Crossing the Distance, Evan Solomon
1. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers
2. Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, Jane Mayer
3. Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, Cathy O'Neil
4. Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner: A Story About Women and Economics, Katrine Marçal
5. Indefensible: Seven Myths That Sustain the Global Arms Trade, Paul Holden et. al.
6. October: The Story of the Russian Revolution, China Miéville
Books What Have Pictures In Them
1. Missing Nimâmâ, Melanie Florence and François Thisdale
2. Mayday, Alex de Campi, Blond, Tony Parker
You may have heard of it as "that dystopian novel written in 1935 that suddenly ended up on the bestseller list again because it predicted Trump's presidency." It is, basically, that—written to warn Americans, well before WWII, about the dangers of fascism in a populist mask. It's not the only such book, but there's something particularly resonant in it—probably because the weird-looking, jovial, outsider president is just so very Cheeto Benito that it's deeply chilling to read.
I also very much related to the protagonist, despite the fact that he's completely a liberal who complains at great length about how the Marxists are a bit shit. (I have to say, as a commie myself, the book's scathing portrayal of communists is pretty much accurate.) This guy has to be one of my favourite dystopian fiction protagonists, as he really just wants to be left alone to sleep in, get laid, and read proper literature, but people keep being fascist at him so he has to actually go out and fight. That's me in a nutshell, or would be before Netflix was invented.
It does pretty well on gender—again, 1935, just in case you're ever inclined to write off a lack of interesting and complex female characters in a book as a product of its time—there are multiple overtly feminist women, one of whom gets to kick way more ass than any of the male characters. It's worse on sexual orientation, if only because the only prominent queer character is based on Ernst Röhm and meets a similar fate (it's unknown whether the writing of the book was completed before the Night of the Long Knives, but one doesn't have to be all that prescient to guess at what happens to people like Röhm under fascist regimes, or Milo Yiannopoulos, for that matter).
At any rate, I was absolutely engrossed and if you want a likely portrait of what the next four years will bring, give this book written over 80 years ago a read. And never sleep again.
Important note: I think I kind of hate YA fiction. There are some very obvious exceptions, but I find a lot of the tropes insufferable. I wasn't interested in reading YA when I was a YA, and I don't think that books written at a low reading level, regardless of how mature their content might be, are necessarily the best way to engage students in the study of literature. If I never read another story about a teenage girl who doesn't fit in at school, it will be too soon. (So here are three such books.)
I've also included a recommendation for something that does the thing that each book does better. Only one of these could remotely be called YA fiction.
Also, here be unmarked spoilers.
( 3 reviews )
This has been an amazing year for books. Favourite authors publishing new things, exciting debut novels, a sound defeat of the Puppies, Chuck Tingle's epic Hugo trolling. My reading goal is a modest 50 books a year (I don't know how y'all manage hundreds of books a year) and to automatically bump non-ciswhitemale authors up in the reading order if at all possible. (It's not always possible, as the majority of what I read is on hold from the library.)
I would be here forever if I talked in detail about every book I loved, but here are some of the highlights, focusing on books released in 2015 or 2016.
Fifteen Dogs, André Alexis: Hermes and Apollo are drunk in a Toronto bar and make a horrible bet about whether animals, given the capacity for human reasoning and intelligence, would be just as miserable as humans are. So they give said questionable gift to 15 dogs in a nearby vet clinic and bet a year of servitude on whether any of them will die happy. If just the premise of this book is making you cry, I beg you to give it a chance anyway. Yes, all the dogs die at the end, but it's gorgeous, poetic, and occasionally hilarious novella.
Judenstaat, Simone Zelitch: An alternate history where a post-WWII Jewish state is set up in Saxony rather than Palestine, largely under the administration of the USSR. Following the assassination of her husband, our librarian protagonist, Judit, opens doors best left closed in search of the truth behind the murder. The entire thing is a thrilling, horrific, and unflinching look at politics and nation-building, with a flawed, brittle, complex heroine I utterly adored.
Guapa, Saleem Haddad: Bias out of the way: Saleem is an old LJ friend of mine, but this would have been on the list even if I didn't know him. It's a day in the life of a young gay man in an unnamed Middle Eastern country as he navigates his grandmother discovering his sexuality, the disappearance of his friend, and the tragic ruins of the Arab Spring. What struck me most was the sense of place; the city feels real, lived in, and is a capricious, complicated character in its own right.
I Am Providence, Nick Mamatas: Nick is also a longtime LJ friend and put out two excellent books this year, but I'm going to limit the nepotism and just rave about this one. I suspect it will appeal to a narrow demographic, but one that overlaps with many of my friends, which is to say that it's a darkly funny novel about a murder at an H.P. Lovecraft convention. As someone who is nerdy but also female, I related to this far too much. I have been in rooms like this. This is why conventions scare me. It's a savage evisceration of nerd culture and I loved every word of it.
The Last Days of New Paris, China Miéville: Like I said, a great year for books: my favourite living author put out two. They're both amazing but if I had to point to a book that hit nearly every literary kink I have, it'd be this one. The embattled Trotskyist Surrealists, in a quasi-allegiance with Thelemite rocket scientist Jack Parsons (yes, this bit is true), create a weapon that brings exquisite corpses to life. But they are under siege by the Nazis, who have made a pact with Hell. And if this concept alone doesn't clue you in to why China Miéville is my favourite living author, just wait until you hit the big plot twist, which made me love him even more.
Everfair, Nisi Shawl: I have already raved about this in a separate entry but here's one more go in an effort to make as many of you read it as possible. Congolese steampunk alt-history featuring Fabian socialists, American misisonaries, and the native population teaming up to give the genocidal King Leopold a brass-booted kick in the ass. There are many, many badass ladies, and a complex romantic subplot and everything about it is perfect.
Neoreaction a Basilisk, Phil Sandifer: This is a very fun little book with one of the best opening lines I've come across in ages. When I initially read it earlier in the year, it looked like the Alt Reich might be a bit of a problem. Now that they are clearly a lot of a problem, you owe it to yourself to read Sandifer's examination of the philosophical origins of the Dark Enlightenment so that you are best prepared to kick their neo-Nazi asses right back into the swamp they crawled out of.
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates: I got around to reading the most important book of last year this year and it remains one of the most important books of our time. Coates' searing examination of what it means to be a black man in America is raw, poetic, and absolutely vital.
The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia, Laura Miller: Finally, someone with the same fraught relationship with the Chronicles of Narnia as I have. Miller gets it, and reading this was like stepping into the wardrobe for the first time all over again.
What did you read that blew you away this year?
1. Symbiont, Mira Grant
2. The Jennifer Morgue, Charles Stross
3. Dagmar's Daughter, Kim Echlin
4. Fifteen Dogs, André Alexis
5. Another Country, James Baldwin
6. The Last Weekend, Nick Mamatas
7. Metatropolis, John Scalzi (ed.)
8. This Census-Taker, China Miéville
9. Bill, the Galactic Hero, Harry Harrison
10. Bill, the Galactic Hero: The Planet of the Robot Slaves, Harry Harrison
11. Lovecraft Country, Matt Ruff
12. The Sound of Things Falling, Juan Gabriel Vásquez
13. Dawn, Octavia E. Butler
14. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan
15. The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi
16. Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi
17. High-Rise, J.G. Ballard
18. Judenstaat, Simone Zelitch
19. Bellwether, Connie Willis
20. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
21. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne
22. The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver
23. Guapa, Saleem Haddad
24. The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, Stephen King
25. Our Kind of Traitor, John Le Carré
26. I Am Providence, Nick Mamatas
27. City of Bones, Cassandra Clare
28. The Last Days of New Paris, China Miéville
29. How Green This Land, Mira Grant
30. All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy
31. Everfair, Nisi Shawl
32. Binti (Binti #1), Nnedi Okorafor
33. The Incubators, Jennifer Matarese
34. The War Lord of the Air, Michael Moorcock
35. Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire
36. All the Birds In the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders
1. So You've Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson
2. The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy, David Graeber
3. Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist, Patrick McGilligan and Paul Buhle
4. Killer Images: Documentary Film, Memory and the Performance of Violence, Joram Ten Brink and Joshua Oppenheimer (eds.)
5. Better Than Sex: Confessions of a Political Junkie, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
6. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
7. Songs of the Doomed: More Notes on the Death of the American Dream, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
8. Neoreaction a Basilisk, Phil Sandifer
9. Women of Ice and Fire: Gender, Game of Thrones, and Multiple Media Engagements, Anne Gjelsvik and Rikke Schubart (eds.)
10. To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism, Evgeny Morozov
11. Challenges for Game Designers, Brenda Brathwaite and Ian Schreiber
12. The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia, Laura Miller
13. The Progressive Patriot: A Search for Belonging, Billy Bragg
14. The Elephant In the Room: A Journey Into the Trump Campaign and the "Alt-Right", Jon Ronson
15. The Letters of Joe Hill, Joe Hill
16. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness At the Fair That Changed America, Erik Lawson
17: If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor, Bruce Campbell
1. Saga: Vol. 5, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
2. Irredeemable: Vol. 2, Mark Waid and Peter Krause
3. Lumberjanes: Vol. 2: Friendship to the Max, Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke Allen
4. Saga: Vol. 6, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
5. The Private Eye, Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, and Muntsa Vicente
If you haven't heard of it, it's an alt-history of the Congo, where Congolese natives, escaped and freed American slaves, missionaries, and Fabian socialists team up to liberate the colony from Belgium's King Leopold and establish a new state. Only of course it's more complex than that because each one of these groups has its own motivations and its own blind spots, and their freedom is gained on the eve of World War I.
Also loads of people have brass clockwork hands, because one of the atrocities Leopold was most fond of was amputating the hands of rubber workers.
It's like if you made a list of all of my initial hopes and dreams when I first encountered steampunk as a genre in one column, and then you made a list of all of the ways that steampunk as a genre has disappointed me, and this is the book that is entirely column A and laughs in the face of column B.
Anyway it's so good.
Books that are printed on paper.
You know why?
Because I can open up a 100-year-old paper book and it will still work the way it's supposed to. Unlike, say, my three-year-old Sony Reader, which now does not work because it's incompatible with Adobe Digital Editions and the Sony Reader software is incompatible with the new Mac OS, and Calibre, which is open source, can't manage library e-books. The device can't download from the library directly because it's full of garbage that Sony put on there and slow as shit to boot.
So now I can only read e-books that I steal or buy. Which is not something I'm in the habit of doing.
Also at some point I should do a "various media I enjoyed in 2014 and want you to get into so that we can squee about it" post.
1. The Alchemist's Son: Doctor Illuminatus, Martin Booth
2. The Long Tomorrow, Leigh Brackett
3. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin
4. Once a Witch, Carolyn MacCullough
5. The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs, Irvine Welsh
6. Steampunk III: Steampunk Revolution, Ann VanderMeer
7. The Years of Rice and Salt, Kim Stanley Robinson
8. Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie
9. The Broken Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin
10. Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
11. The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
12. The Cat's Table, Michael Ondaatje
13. Indexing, Seanan McGuire
14. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
15. Parasite, Mira Grant
16. Going Postal, Terry Pratchett
17. The Borrower, Rebecca Makkai
18. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Marina Lewycka
19. My Experiences in the Third World War, Michael Moorcock
20. Midnight Riot (Rivers of London), Ben Aaronovitch
21. A Complicated Kindness, Miriam Toews
22. The Pursuit of Love, Nancy Mitford
23. The Circle, Dave Eggers
24. Love in a Cold Climate, Nancy Mitford
25. Moon Over Soho, Ben Aaronovitch
26. Three Moments of an Explosion, China Miéville
27. The Midnight Games, David Neil Lee
28. Whispers Under Ground, Ben Aaronovitch
29. Broken Homes, Ben Aaronovitch
30. Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel, Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor
31. The Atrocity Archives, Charles Stross
32. Falling In Love With Hominids, Nalo Hopkinson
1. End This Depression Now!, Paul Krugman
2. TARDIS Eruditorum: An Unauthorized Critical History of Doctor Who, Volume V: Tom Baker and the Williams Years, Philip Sandifer
3. Kill the Messengers: Stephen Harper's Assault on Your Right to Know, Mark Bourrie
4. The Haçienda: How Not To Run a Club, Peter Hook
5. Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, Elizabeth L. Cline
6. Stalin: A Political Biography, Isaac Deutscher
7. Entangled in Terror: The Azef Affair and the Russian Revolution, Anna Geifman
8. Vladimir Burtsev and the Russian Revolutionary Emigration: Surveillance of Foreign Political Refugees in London, 1891-1905, Robert Henderson
9. Come Hell or High Water: A Handbook On Collective Process Gone Awry, Delfina Vannucci and Richard Singer
10. Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story, Robyn Doolittle
11. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America, Barbara Ehrenreich
1. Toronto Comics Anthology, Steven Andrews, Nelson da Rocha, and Miike Something (eds.)
2. Saga: Vol. 1, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
3. Saga: Vol. 2, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
4. Saga: Vol. 3, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
5. Saga: Vol. 4, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
6. Ms Marvel: Vol 1: No Normal, G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, and Jake Wyatt
7. Lumberjanes: Vol 1: Beware the Kitten Holy, Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
8. Ms Marvel: Vol 2: Generation Why, G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, and Jake Wyatt
New book log! Let's talk about ALL THE BOOKS.
1. The Backward Glass, David Lomax
2. Transition, Iain Banks
3. Surface Detail, Iain M. Banks
4. Light Ahead For the Negro, Edward A. Johnson
5. Ready Player One, Ernest Cline
6. People of the Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction & Fantasy, Rachel Swirsky & Sean Wallace (eds.)
7. The Fault In Our Stars, John Green
8. Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs
9. Crypotonomicon, Neal Stephenson
10. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
11. Ragtime, E.L. Doctorow
12. The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
13. The Republic of Thieves, Scott Lynch
14. The Passage, Justin Cronin
15. The Twelve, Justin Cronin
16. Your Mouth Is Lovely, Nancy Richler
17. Aurorarama, Jean-Christophe Valtat
18. Wilderness Tips, Margaret Atwood
19. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
20. City of Saints and Madmen, Jeff VanderMeer
21. Discount Armageddon, Seanan McGuire
22. Midnight Blue-Light Special, Seanan McGuire
23. Firebrand, Rosemary Aubert
24. The Magicians, Lev Grossman
25. The Magician King, Lev Grossman
26. 1Q84, Haruki Murakami
27. The Magician's Land, Lev Grossman
28. The Prisoner of Zenda, Anthony Hope
29. Marabou Stork Nightmares, Irvine Welsh
30. Leviathan, Scott Westerfeld.
1. TARDIS Eruditorum Volume 1: William Hartnell, Philip Sandifer
2. TARDIS Eruditorum Volume 2: Patrick Troughton, Philip Sandifer
3. TARDIS Eruditorum Volume 3: Jon Pertwee, Philip Sandifer
4. Eyewitness Travel Guides: Morocco
5. TARDIS Eruditorum Volume 4: Tom Baker and the Hinchcliffe Years, Philip Sandifer
6. It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, danah boyd
7. Running With Scissors, Augusten Burroughs
8. Zizek's Jokes (Did you hear the one about Hegel and negation?), Slavoj Zizek
9. Cocaine: Global Histories, Paul Gootenberg (ed.)
10. A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal, Ben Macintyre
11. Immanuel Kant and the Theory of Radical Democracy, Nathanael W. Vaprin
12. Direct Action & Sabotage: Three Classic IWW Pamphlets From the 1910s, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Walker C. Smith, and William E. Trautmann
1. All You Need Is Kill, Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Nick Mamatas, Lee Ferguson
2. Squadron Supreme: The Pre-War Years, J. Michael Straczynski and Gary Frank
3. C.O.W.L. #1, Kyle Higgins, Alex Siegel, and Rod Reis
4. When the Wind Blows, Raymond Briggs
5. Fungus the Bogeyman, Raymond Briggs
6. Signal to Noise, Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
7. Skizz, Alan Moore and Jim Baikie
1. Selected Poems 1954-1986, Tomas Tranströmer (ed. Robert Hass)
1. Day of the Dead, Neil Gaiman
I am quite likely coming late to the party, as everyone whose opinion counts has probably either read Lev Grossman's Magicians trilogy and reviewed it, or is just not interested, but I need to tell you guys all about my feeeeeeels after reading it in this incredibly objective review.
(Which is to say that I read all three books and can't stop thinking about them and can't wait for there to be a miniseries in the hopes that there will be some sort of fandom and thus, other people to overanalyze it. )
I was kind of surprised, upon finishing it, that when I went searching for reviews/analysis, I found a few positive ones with comments sections full of people saying that the books were completely unreadable because of just how much they hated the characters, and the main character in particular. Which I guess I get, in that the main character is almost completely unlikable, but that's kind of the point. The books are deconstructions of the fantasy genre. Does anyone claim to not be able to get through Watchmen because all the characters are dicks? (Answer: Yes, but if that applies to you, do me a favour and don't tell me. These books aren't as good as Watchmen, but hardly anything is.)
And even with hating the main character (which I didn't, really; more on why under the cut) I had such a strong emotional reaction that I can't believe that at least a sizeable minority of readers didn't glom on to the books the way I did. Maybe it's a certain specificity of experience. I don't know. This is probably less about the books than it is about my tortured childhood. ANYWAY.
( minor spoilers )
TL;DR: Will you guys just read them so that I can have someone to talk about them with?
I bought this book with the intention of writing a blog post about how ridiculous it was, loaded, of course, with references to our own famous mayor, only to...
...I'm sorry, dear readers, I absolutely loved it.
THE SHAME, I KNOW. I mean, it is not well-written. It is absolutely terrible. It has lines like, "Before her, all six-foot-four of him glowing in the soft window light, stood Mike, fully and gloriously a man. Hungry for her with a hunger that was obvious in every part of his huge body. She dropped her eyes, suddenly shy." It is not a good book at all.
Plus, like all Harlequins, it's completely unrealistic. I mean, who would believe that Toronto would elect a competent left-winger with a history of community activism and sensible policies?
(Some historical context: This book was published in 1986, before the amalgamation, so "City of Toronto" refers to the old, traditionally leftish city, excluding the right-leaning burbs. It was also only a few years since John Sewell, almost certainly the inspiration for the book's hero, was mayor.)
This said, I couldn't put it down and I need to write this review quickly, as I promised a co-worker I'd loan it to her.
( Spoilers! )
Reading it now, as millionaire Doug Ford and millionaire John Tory go head-to-head in a contest of who can take the larger shit all over the city that I love, fills me with an almost painful nostalgia. Can you imagine someone elected to run the city who actually liked the city? I can't. Chow's in third place and Soknacki, the only person willing to raise the issue of the bloated police budget, was upstaged by Mike Tyson's drooling endorsement of Rob Ford. Toronto municipal politics is a hopeless cesspool, and the real romantic narrative of this book is about a time when, at least briefly, it was something better.
I was talking about the Narnia books with a friend the other day, and I mentioned that I loved them, present-tense, as in I re-read them every few years. It's a different kind of relationship, where I read them more to deconstruct them than to escape into them, but that's different than outright rejection.
I think Narnia might have been my first experience with Your Fave Is Problematic, a training ground for experiencing a geek culture that, while appealing, doesn't exactly like or represent my sort of person (and is even more hostile the more marginalized one is). Unlike the author, I got the religious anvil at a very early age (as in it was clear to me that the Dwarves at the end were Jews), and managed to be offended by the sexism and racism on first read, which at least in the case of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, may very well have happened before I learned to read. And yet I still somehow identified and kept coming back to them as escapism even when they were equally the source of outrage.
It's kind of how I can reconcile critique and love, and why I occasionally probably come off as too easy going and then snap into buzzkill territory on a moment's notice. Lotsa practice.
Case in point: There are a few remaining bookstores in Seattle (and even one poetry-only bookstore, which amazes me). I wandered in to a few, but did I buy anything? No I did not. I did buy a comic (Issue #1 of C.O.W.L., which I have been dying to read, because there is still no adequate digital substitute for paper comics), but no books. Previous trips to anywhere urban in the States tend to involve me carting loads of books back because they're cheaper there. But I have no bookshelf room left, even post-purge.
What's filling the gap in my literary life is ebooks–see aforementioned lack of space, plus I tend to read most on transit and in situations where I need to wait a lot, and the Little Red Book fits in my purse. I was all excited to get home and discover that one of my digital holds had come in to the library, and thus I could take out a library book without hauling ass all the way down the street to the library, and without having to put on pants. Great. Convenient. This is not a viable business model, though, either in terms of keeping libraries as brick-and-mortar institutions (which I think is valuable, because they're one of the few public spaces left), or in terms of paying authors. There is no reason why I should have had to wait two weeks for a digital hold to come in, either; infinite copies of every ebook exist. The limitation is purely artificial, an attempt to mimic traditional publishing and library models. In theory, if it were a bestseller and not yet another biography of Kim Philby that only I and three other people care about, I probably could have pirated it (I wouldn't, though, because I want the library to get the stats; I don't feel bad about pirating movies or telly, but I do feel bad about pirating books).
This is hard to reconcile. I mean, I still ostensibly work in publishing, making (really beautiful, I must say) paper books for a small Canadian press, but for myself, I never really buy books if I can help it.
The solution, as always, is communist revolution, but in the meantime I feel like a bad reader.
And what got me about the story is how much can change between one generation and the next, because no way anyone my age would see academia as a fallback career. I know people who would perform esoteric blood sacrifices to get tenure—well, if it were even possible to get tenure, which it isn't. "You can always teach high school English" is a grim joke now; if you haven't already been teaching English for a decade or more, enjoy your unemployment.
And poetry in cafés? I mean, does that even happen? Ain't nobody got time for that; we're too busy handing out résumés.
It is hard not to want to reach through the pages and strangle every one of these characters for having the luxury of ennui.
I have bad purse luck. Part of this is owing to the fact that I object to purses being a thing. Men's clothes have pockets in them. Deep pockets! Sometimes pockets that are hidden in waistcoats. You have all heard this rant before, but there is no reason beyond The Patriarchy for women's clothes having a paucity of pockets. I do not like having to haul a purse around, particularly in this day and age when so much stuff is compact and would fit in pockets if my clothes had the correct amount.
Accordingly, when I get a purse, I need to fill it with All the Things to justify its existence. Which means that my purses seldom last long. Also, women's clothing and accessories are manufactured to fall apart quickly so that you buy more of them because Invisible Hand of the Free Market.
So I've been quite happy with my CBC bag that I've had for a few years. It's cute, it's large enough to fit most things, and it's patriotic in an ironic way. The only problem is that it only has a snap to close, making it easy to open when you do not want it to open, and also that it's falling apart. Which has been a tolerable situation for awhile, but as you know, Bob, I'm headed to Morocco basically any second now, and probably having an easily opened purse whilst travelling is not the wisest.
To cut a long story short, it died. Large swatches of fabric around the snaps essentially disintegrated, as if it became cognizant of its own impending obsolescence and just gave up. I was sad.
But! I had a back-up bag, a cute little teal number that matches my hair. Just large enough to accommodate the necessities, though kind of a pain if I'm trying to fit the Little Red Book in there or get something out easily. Ah, it would do for an everyday purse, or so I thought.
Alas, no. The universe tends towards entropy, and one of the buckles on it that are necessary for keeping it closed decided to tear. Which is weird, because there was no actual structural strain on it.
This necessitated buying a new purse.
A little while ago, when I had two non-broken purses, I saw a purse I liked at a shop and thought, "hey, if I didn't have enough purses, I would buy that one." It kind of looked like a book. Cool, but I have limited storage space and am not one of those women who hoards tons of purses.
So naturally, when mine died, it occurred to me that the shop might still have purses that looked like books. And, lo, it did! Which was when I saw the other side of the thing:
Which is why I now own a purse that looks like War and Peace and I crack up every time I see it.
* Kidding. I'm not sorry at all.
I can't help but wonder how I would take it if things were reversed - if male protagonists were always shown to fall for beautiful, fun, witty, confident, wealthy, kind girl-gamers, and men began expecting the same in real life. Surely, we'd crush their unrealistic expectations immediately.
You mean like every single piece of media out there?
This counterpoint is closer to reality (actually, there are a lot of less-than-physically perfect boys in YA literature) but fails to really skewer what is wrong with the first article.
First of all, the original article is talking about a problem that literally does not exist. I know a lot of teenage boys. I imagine that I know many more teenage boys (and girls) than Woodrow-Hill does, though maybe her regular job is as a high school teacher too. Not one of them has ever expressed self-esteem issues around a failure to measure up to fictional characters who serve as fantasy objects for teenage girls. Muscle-bound athletes, maybe. Sparkly vampires? Of all the boys I've taught, a grand total of two have ever copped to reading Twilight (I poll them every year; it's curriculum-related) and barely any will cop to reading anything, let alone YA books that are aimed at a primarily female audience.
Second, I know a lot of teenage girls too. You may be surprised to know this but they are, by and large, not stupid. Especially the ones who read. They can differentiate between fantasy and reality. Also, if they hold dudes to a slightly higher standard as the result of fiction (which is nothing new; a childhood infatuation with the Fourth Doctor left me with impossible standards. Also strange standards) and don't just get with the first mouth breather who snaps their bra strap because they think no one will ever love them—um, that's a good thing, right? We don't want teenage girls to date just anyone because they're afraid of being alone.
1) Let's talk about how fiction aimed at women is disproportionately demonized in the public discourse for its fetishization of male characters. The reverse is not true. Countless books, movies, and telly aimed at a male audience objectify women and place them on a pedestal, and few are mocked for it the way, say, Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey are mocked for it. Yes, those books are execrable for a variety of reasons. But compare to, say, the Transformers movies, which are also terrible. The latter are rightly criticized but don't attract the sort of tittering that the former two do. Plenty of creepy middle-aged men watched those movies and drooled over scantily-clad Megan Fox, but we don't see concern trolling articles about them the way we did about TwiMoms or housewives who buy e-readers so that they can secretly read shitty BDSM porn.
I honestly don't see the appeal in 90% of fictional perfect-type dudes (I mean, I get fetishizing fictional characters in general, but the ones described as flawless are typically boring to read about and/or watch), but let the ladies have our wank fantasies, okay?
2) I can name far more fictional examples of pudgy, old, and/or balding dudes getting with gorgeous ladies than I can name examples of pudgy, old, or less-than-perfectly symmetrical ladies getting with smoking hot dudes. It may be that I don't read romance fiction or much YA, and largely read fiction that's aimed at a male audience, but I still think I'm right. Extend that to TV and movies and you barely see women who aren't conventionally attractive at all.
3) If we are going to talk about how dudes with acne are underrepresented in YA literature, can we maybe talk about the underrepresentation of everyone who isn't a straight, white, middle-class, cisgendered person in YA literature? Because that is a much bigger problem.
4) Even when female characters are "flawed," it's usually not in a way that is recognizable to actual women. Bella isn't plain and overweight; she's too thin (but not athletic), too pale, and adorably clumsy. There aren't many YA female protagonists with love handles and acne.
5) God, not everything is about boys and their self-esteem. Boys have enough self-esteem. Too much, sometimes.
6) Edward is really not that dreamy. Most teenage girls I know are Team Jacob. (Or were; they're on to something new now.)
1. The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch
2. Sashenka, Simon Montefiore
3. The Dark Side of the Earth, Alfred Bester
4. Red Seas Under Red Skies, Scott Lynch
5. Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo
6. Palimpsest, Catherynne M. Valente
7. Havemercy, Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett
8. Bullettime, Nick Mamatas
9. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
10. Good Omens, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
11. Homeland, Cory Doctorow
12. The Man Who Was Thursday, G.K. Chesterton
13. Old Man's War, John Scalzi
14. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon
15. And the Ass Saw the Angel, Nick Cave
16. Gun Machine, Warren Ellis
17. The Ghost Brigades, John Scalzi
18. Sister Mine, Nalo Hopkinson
19. The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern
20. Crisis in Zefra, Karl Schroeder
21. Through the Valley of the Nest of the Spiders, Samuel R. Delany
22. Zodiac, Neal Stephenson
23. My Name Is Red, Orhan Pamuk
24. A Delicate Truth, John LeCarré
25. Use of Weapons, Iain M. Banks
26. Look to Windward, Iain M. Banks
27. Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights, Ryu Mitsuse
28. The Painted Bird, Jerzy Kosiński
29. The Wasp Factory, Iain Banks
30. Excession, Iain M. Banks
31. The Ocean At the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman
32. Love Is the Law, Nick Mamatas
33. Consider Phlebas, Iain M. Banks
34. Complicity, Iain Banks
35. Against a Dark Background, Iain M. Banks
36. Whit, Iain Banks
37. Matter, Iain M. Banks
38. The Algebraist, Iain M. Banks
1. Against Security: How We Go Wrong at Airports, Subways, and Other Sites of Ambiguous Danger, Harvey Molotch
2. Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco
3. Pain, Porn and Complicity: Women Heroes from Pygmalian to Twilight, Kathleen McConnell
4. 1848: Year of Revolution, Mike Rapport
5. Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety, Ian McKay and Jamie Swift
6. Red Shambhala: Magic, Prophecy, and Geopolitics in the Heart of Asia, Andrei Znamenski
7. Nick Cave: Sinner Saint: The True Confessions, Mat Snow (ed.)
8. Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History Of Punk In Toronto And Beyond 1977—1981, Liz Worth (edited by Gary Pig Gold.
9. Unbuilt Toronto: A History of the City That Might Have Been, Mark Osbaldeston
10. Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin, Mel Gordon
11. Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music, S. Alexander Reed
12. Bread and Roses Too: Studies of the Wobblies, Joseph Robert Conlin
Comics & Art Books:
1. Marshal Law #1-6, Marshal Law Takes Manhattan, Marshal Law: Kingdom of the Blind, Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill
2. Beautiful Stories For Ugly Children, #1-18, Dave Louapre and Dan Sweetman
3. Swamp Thing Vol. 1: Saga of the Swamp Thing, Alan Moore, John Totleben, and Steve Bissette
4. Occupy Comics #1, Matt Pizzolo (ed.)