How German Is It? by Walter Abish

Super weird book, as expected. I read Abish’s novel Alphabetic Africa over the summer, and thought it was really interesting, and it made me want to read more by him. Good call.

If I was still in school this is the kind of book I would love writing about. As a writer I want to pick it apart. Abish uses multiple points of view without ever getting mucked up about whose perspective things come from. He uses different length chapters and sections very effectively. The book has very strong and compelling bones.

In this novel Abish talks about familiarity, what does it mean when something is familiar, what does it mean when something is just there? He also questions what can change, and whether everything can change.

The novel’s title works to frame the contents of the book. It’s a question for the reader to hold onto as they work their way through. The title changes how you think of the rest of the novel.

As a stylist Abish is phenomenal. As a novelist he’s pretty alright. This was compelling enough that I think I’m going to continue working my way through his back catalogue.

Sense8 Season One

My partner and I just finished watching the first season of this and just… what the fuck. This show is so terrible, and so beautiful.

The point where I lost it was the birth sequence. This is a pretty long bit of television of them all being born, intercut with them all sitting and listening to classical music. It’s so unnecessary, and bizarre, and never really works. I think it’s supposed to be something meaningful and beautiful, but instead it’s just… what the fuck? Really, what the fuck is this show?

Towards the end, when it became increasingly obvious that things weren’t actually going to cohere in a way that they should, I started getting increasingly frustrated with the show. There’s a lot of stuff happening that just is not very good storytelling.

It’s never clear who knows what, which makes the finale more of a mess than it needs to be. It doesn’t establish that they’re all on the same page until they’re working together. It’s missing some essential connective tissue. This show would be so much better if it had given us just a little bit more exposition and clarity around what’s happening in the present. Just a little bit more.

Having this many storylines going on at once is hard. Dropping and picking up threads without feeling like characters are getting thrown aside is hard. One of my issues was that the different plotlines don’t climax at the same point. Lito’s story thread gets settled, and then he disappears for an episode before showing up in the finale.

DO A BETTER JOB OF KEEPING TRACK OF YOUR CHARACTERS SHOW!!!!!! DO A BETTER JOB OF MAKING IT CLEAR WHAT THEY KNOW!!!!! There’s a point where it stops being mysterious or whatever, and starts being crappy storytelling.

Basically all of the flashbacks seem unnecessary. They’re almost all clunky exposition, like, look at how these characters were when they were kids, that explains what they are now, but in a very shallow sort of way. They’re also uneven — if they wanted to do flashbacks they could have committed to them more. It feels odd that we see a lot of some characters in flashback, and none from some others. A bunch of relatively recent flashbacks, where the characters are played by the same actors instead of children, seem completely unnecessary. They drag the story down. Most of the flashbacks do nothing to move the story forward.

There are a few flashbacks that work really well, which makes me more pissed about the ones that don’t work. The cut to see child Wolfgang kill his father is phenomenal, and Lito remembering his first date with Hernando is great. If the show had been pickier about its flashbacks these moments would have stood out more. Instead the show is overloaded with unnecessary flashbacks.

Soooooo many flashbacks. Sooooo boring. By the end they started to cause me physical pain. They’re boring!

The show has a lot of flaws I can get behind, but not ones that make it boring. Some of its flaws are fun! Some of the flaws are thrilling!

Every time things got really off their rocker we’d turn to each other and say, “Wachowski’s man,” and shake our heads. Wachowski’s gonna Wachowski. It’s a mess, but a beautiful one. It looks great, and I love a lot of the characters, I love a lot of the spirit. Who cares if it makes sense. There are ten thousand grey network procedurals that make perfect sense: there’s only one Sense8. I’m glad it got renewed for a second season, and I hope another dozen episodes will give it a chance to chill out and come together and do something really cool. It has the potential to be phenomenal.

The End of the Jews by Adam Mansbach

So I read Rage is Back a couple weeks ago, and it was good enough that I decided to check out another book the guy had written.

This book is part of a tiny hard to define sub genre of books by white male jewish authors interest in black culture. Rage is Back definitely falls into that, and so is this, but here it’s more self aware than it often is, acknowledging that there’s a thin line between appreciation and appropriation. Mansbauch is interested in jazz, and graffiti, and hip-hop, and so are his characters, but he also acknowledges that they’re hiding in a culture that is not their own, that they’re stealing, and so is he.

I mostly like how he writes women, and suspect he should do it more. The women of the book are more compelling than the men, and when their stories get pushed to the edges the book gets less interesting. There are more female characters, and they’re more interesting, but somehow it feels like their stories are rarely given free reign — part of this is a function of the novel, which is about how men use women as supporting characters in their lives.

The later parts of the novel feel weaker because they aren’t as clearly defined. The early chapters all have a clear setting and a clear point of view. As the different storylines catch up with each other in the modern day things get blurrier. Characters share chapters, and their voices blur. It tells a bigger story through collage, but unfortunately this doesn’t work as well as the precisely observed stories of early chapters, which would hold up well as short stories on their own.

In the end it’s a big family drama, about traditions and neuroses being passed down the the generations, a grandson who’s the echo of his grandfather. That’s a fine place to be in the end, but I liked some of the smaller stories nested inside better.

Overall I liked it, but thought Rage Is Back was more fun. This is trying for something grand and literary, and while it mostly succeeds, that isn’t a super thrilling thing to be.

Werewolves of Brooklyn by Brad Vance

Okay, I’m not going to get into the politics of this fairly mediocre gay romance novel… I’m really not… I shouldn’t… It doesn’t deserve my time… But…

So, the basic premise is that there’s this guy named Darien, and he’s an orphan, and a butcher — like an old school butcher who works with his hands. He’s lonely and disconnected from the world at the start of the book, but then he takes an ayahuasca trip, and it expands his horizons. He becomes super dominant and gets supernatural abilities, which is good, because he needs to be powerful if he’s going to stop this old library from being torn down and replaced with condos.

Which gets us to the politics of the piece. There’s a lot of appreciation of craftsmen and the working class, and strong anti-gentrification rhetoric, but also??? It feels weird??? The appreciation is almost fetishistic, which like, there are worse things to kink on, but also, working class people are people, and the whole thing seems a little bit sketch. I don’t think I actually disagree with the big political ideas, I’m just baffled by how they’re presented here. This book makes some weird choices.

There’s a whole section set in and after the Civil War, which seems to be very historically accurate, very dour, and also very unnecessary? A lot of things never get explained, which could be setting up a sequel, but a better book would have made it feel smoother.

The central romance is pretty flat — more about animal attraction than any sort of compelling reason for them to get together. Darien is a list of cliches instead of a three dimensional character, pleasant enough but flat.

I did like some of the stuff in the world building. The werewolves here aren’t bitten or changed in a traditional sense, they have some sort of otherworldly experience and begin transforming. My sXe princples think it’s pretty boring that otherworldly experience seems only to serve as stand it for drug trip, but it is a different take on weres, and there’s something to it. They also have an aristocratic court system that is intriguing, but never explained. It doesn’t really fit with the power to the worker! rhetoric that the book’s so gung ho about, but it’s kind of fun.

It’s on kindle unlimited if you feel like checking it out, but it’s definitely skippable.

fall update

School’s started up, and my birthday has happened, so I guess summer is over. It still feels like summer, in bits and pieces. It’s sunny and beautiful today, eight-two in Minneapolis in September, smh. Global warming is really something? It’s gorgeous out.

I’m going to keep on trying to write at least 100 words about every book I read and every movie I see. Except I’ve been reading a lot of really trashy romance novels recently, and I’m not sure how  want to write about that. I have things to say, but I might be too ashamed to post those things here. My mom has a link to this blog! I might want to maintain a certain degree of dignity! (Or maybe not!?)

I didn’t get the boring responsible life path job, which I’ve decided is a thing to be glad about. Fortunately, I did find some good work, which starts this week, and pays well enough that I don’t have to worry. It’s probably better than relying on writing were bear romances as a source of income, though that’s still a thing I want to do. NaNoWriMo should be fun this year…

It’s getting close to the point where I’ll have to admit that my computer really is dying and needs to be replaced, but for now I’m living in denial, with all the sudden restarts and frustration.

Do you have things you want to see me write about? I have a cooking post I’ve been thinking about. It’s almost hockey season, so I’ll be writing more about hockey soon over there.

Before too long it will be getting colder, and I will get frustrated and shut in, but for now I’m excited by any fall chill in the air. Leafs changing color, blah blah blah. Fun.

Supergods by Grant Morrison

I was super into comic books for a couple of years in high school. Super super into them, and Grant Morrison was writing some of my favorite books. I started reading comics as actual comics not just trades, a few issues into his run on Batman & Robin, which I love. All of his work with Batman is great, and his All-Star Superman is the only version of the character I’ve cared about. His topsy-turvey surreal take on superheroes in Doom Patrol was actually something I read really early into my comics adventures. I think I was a sophomore in high school, and I’m betting a ton of it went over my head, and it would be great to go back and read it again now, but I loved it. It was smart, and weird, and exactly what I needed in my life.

Grant Morrison is one of my favorite comics writers, and I really respect his thoughts on superheroes. I knew I wanted to read this book, but I didn’t get around to it when it came out, then got distracted by different stuff. I stopped regularly reading comics four years ago. I was starting college. My favorite comic book shop had recently gone out of business. DC comics was launching New 52, effectively killing most of the books I had been into. I still read trades from the library, I still have opinions about this shit, but have definitely drifted away.

Coming back to this was so great. It starts as a pretty straightforward rundown of comic history. Morrison’s own opinions are definitely present, but he’s also a passionate historian, who does a thorough job explaining the beginning of comic book superheros in order to make sense of where they go next. Morrison discusses all of these essential comics that I had read as a teenager, but hadn’t thought about in years. It was a blast to remember how much I adore Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, or the Denny O’Neil-Neal Adams Green Arrow/Green Lantern (though he didn’t say anything about O’Neil’s The Question, which I love to pieces, though it isn’t exactly a canonical superhero book.)

Morrison goes through the golden age, silver age, dark age, renaissance, event age, etc. His critique of Watchmen was spot on. (It’s incredibly well constructed, but joyless.) It was a treat to hear him tear about 90s Image comics. His descriptions of Rob Liefeld’s art brought me much joy. He spends more time talking about DC than Marvel, which isn’t surprising considering who’s paying him. I would have loved to see more of his thoughts on the X-Men, especially his own run, which is mentioned but not thoroughly dissected. The X-Men exist as a different sort of metaphor than most other superheros, and their role as an ever changing stand in for marginalized groups isn’t expanded on as much as it could be.

The beginning seemed remarkably normal for Grant Morrison, I was actually surprised. But then he gets into the Silver Age, and starts talking about the multiverse. That’s more like it. Morrison is very out there, a chaos magician who’s had an experience with some sort of other dimensional beings while traveling in Tibet. The further into the chronology the more autobiographical the book becomes, as Morrison’s own work starts to influence what’s happening in the world of superhero comics. It moves from history to theory, not just looking at what superheros have done, but what they could do, and where they should go next. At times things get a little bit… abstract, and pretty weird, but I still enjoyed it. Morrison has a lot of big ideas.

Supergods is a great read for a comic book fan, and I’d imagine it would make a good introduction/reading guide for someone looking to get into the genre. There are lots of people who have only ever read one superhero story, and it was Watchmen, and I feel so sorry for them. If I had to recommend one story for someone to learn about superheros from it would be Morrison’s All-Star Superman. Grant Morrison gets superheroes. He knows how to make them complex as anything, but he never loses the sense of joy and wonder that should be essential.

What Happened, Miss Simone?

This documentary is very well made. I was a fan of Nina Simone before, but learned a lot. It seems like a well balanced account. It presents Simone as an incredible artist with strong political beliefs without shying away from her darker side. Simone was abused by her husband/manager, and after they separated she was mostly absent from her daughter’s life, or perpetuating more abuse. Hearing Simone’s daughter talk about the good times with her mother, and the pain, is one of the most emotional parts of the film.

There were parts of the documentary that used some fairly lame stock footage to tell the story, and overall it’s not a particularly exciting movie to watch. It’s better when they get away from the talking heads and voiceovers and use archival footage.

Really, who cares, it’s all about the music. The shots of Simone performing give such a strong sense of who she was. She has such a haunting and unique voice, and a very compelling stage presence that transformed over the years. The film incorporates her music wonderfully, which is so important. The music is what we’re all here for. It was interesting to see how Simone’s personal life guided her music, especially her involvement with the civil rights music.

If you’re a fan of Nina Simone it’s an alright movie. If you aren’t a fan yet, I imagine it would make a great introduction.