M Train by Patti Smith

I want to be Patti Smith when I grow up. This has been true for a very long time. As a woman in my early twenties there is no one cooler than Patti Smith the rock’n’roll poet goddess. First wave punk rock has been hugely formative in what I think of as cool, and there weren’t a lot of women in that scene, but Patti Smith was always cooler than any of the boys.

Reading M Train convinced me that I want to be Patti Smith when I get old too. I don’t really know how to describe what this memoir is about. Just Kids was about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, centered in a specific time and place. This is much more wide ranging. It’s about her everyday life. She wakes up, feeds her cats, and walks over to a cafe to read and write. It’s about routines. Sometimes she gets tired of her routines, and has an adventure. She’s a member of a secretive society that holds conferences. She spends time in Europe, and Japan. She reminisces about her husband, the late Fred “Sonic” Smith, and the life they had together.  She falls in love with a house out by Coney Island, but her plans are derailed by hurricane Sandy.

One of my favorite things is how much she loves detective shows, especially The Killing. The tv writers I read all seemed to decide that The Killing was an interesting show that sort of fell apart and didn’t get anywhere, convincing me not to give it a try. Patti Smith loves it so much. She thinks it’s just the most amazing thing, which I don’t understand at all. I sort of want to watch The Killing and try to see what she’s seeing, but it’s also such a nice mystery. Her absolute love of this not necessarily great tv show is so humanizing. It’s perfect and bizarre.

She’s constantly writing about what she’s reading. Her experience reading Murakami inspired me to chose The Wind-up Bird Chronicles as the next book I read. When I pay off my library fines I might check out some French poetry. Reading this makes me want to be the sort of person has opinions about Genet.

One of the threads through the novel was Smith placing a rock at Genet’s grave. There’s more to it than that, but really, you should read it instead of my attempts at summary. She visits a lot of graves of dead writers, and takes photographs. She takes a lot of photographs, just polaroids, searching to capture something elusive. Her pictures are interspersed throughout the text, adding another dimension to the prose.

It’s so beautifully written. It makes me want to read things, and write things. It makes me wish there was more poetry in my life. It’s just gorgeous and hypnotizing. It’s a great book to curl up with. I loved it.

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We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I read this sitting at the bookstore. I needed a break from the novel I was reading, and this was short, and sitting in our International Women’s Day display. I’ve heard parts of it before, because I’m cool and listen to Beyonce. She samples Adichie to great effect. I liked the part that was quoted, but never got around to listening to the rest of her speech. I can’t stand TEDtalks. I know there’s some interesting ideas there, but something about the enterprise strikes me as uncomfortably process corporate synergy strangeness.

I’m not entirely sure who the audience is supposed to be. People who aren’t already feminists don’t seem to change their minds easily, or maybe I’m not giving humanity enough credit. I think this is a very common sense book, well written and straightforward. Maybe it could change someone’s mind.

This might be an occasion where I’ve spent too much time in academic feminism so this seems too obvious for me. I don’t need to be persuaded, and am too wrapped up in my own world that it’s hard to remember that there are people who need to be persuaded. Adichie clearly writes about why intersectional feminism is necessary, without ever using the world intersectionality, and without getting pretentious or obscure. That’s pretty impressive.

This would be a really great thing to read in an introductory course, or to give to high schoolers, or your uncle. If you already agree that we should all be feminists then you might not get as much out of it, but it’s still a very good book. It didn’t change my life, but maybe could have if I read it five years ago. Hopefully it will be an important book because really, we should all be feminists. Feminism is for everybody. The more this gets said the closer it comes to reality.

Man From UNCLE

This was a super fun movie. My best friend loves the old series, so I’ve seen a few episodes, and am familiar with the general premise. This reboot took a lot of liberties with it’s source material, updating it to be something sexier and more action packed. The basic idea of a Russian spy and America spy working together is still here, but now they’re joined by a German girl as well. Adding a female lead who gets to be cool and badass is basically always a good choice. It isn’t a great movie, but it’s very enjoyable. The editing is fun, with a lot of cool retro split screen stuff. The music and sound design is very well done. The song choices and costuming all gave it a very fun period vibe, while the overall aesthetic/pacing was very modern. The decision to have Nazi villains wasn’t great, somewhere between boring and gratuitous. This movie isn’t heavy at all, and throwing in a Nazi scientist torture was such an odd turn, and really didn’t work. The big bad, a super gorgeous businesswoman whose motivations I never really understood, was a more compelling advisary. It was a nice adventure. All of the scenery was beautiful, the boys were good looking, the car chases were exciting and different. If they decide to make a sequel I’ll probably watch it.

Backstreet Boys: Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of

Okay um so where to start… So. There was a tumblr post about this movie, and how awesome it was. I don’t really remember what it said, or who posted it or anything. I’m pretty sure I didn’t reblog it. But it was a pretty convincing tumblr post, and I put this movie in my netflix queue, cause like, it sounded interesting, and I like variety. I don’t watch a lot of movies about aging boy bands.

I was a bit too young to really get into the boy bands. The songs of the Backstreet Boys and N’sync were present in my childhood, but I was never attached to either band, and mostly can’t sort their catalog out.

I was more into the younger brother, Aaron Carter. I had both of his CDs when I was little. “Aaron’s Party” is a solid nostalgia jam that I am not willing to look up and see if it’s as embarrassing as I suspect.

I went in hoping for fun/scandalous show business stories. And it had those, looking back at their early shows where they played in high school gyms, their time as German pop stars before finally making it big in America. Which just created a new level of ridiculousness and extravagance.

Their life was so crazy. Just so much. The music business doesn’t exist in the same way anymore, and it’s ridiculous to see how much it’s changed within my lifetime. It isn’t all glamour though. They talk about manager Lou Pearlman, who was responsible for getting them together, but who was also pretty terrible. The boys visit his now abandoned house, and talk about the way things used to be. They went to all of the boys hometowns, and saw where they grew up, and talked about how they got into music. It’s very humanizing to show how having this band was such a huge opportunity for these guys, how it really changed their lives.

This made me care. A lot. Much more than I wanted to. I have a favorite Backstreet Boy now. (It’s A.J. Of course it’s A.J.) By the end of it I had so many feelings. I didn’t want to care about the Backstreet Boys. I don’t want to care about the Backstreet Boys. I don’t care about the Backstreet Boys. I’m not going to start listening to their music, but it was a really good movie, and you shouldn’t judge me for enjoying it so much. It’s on Netflix. I dare you not to get invested.

Silver Moon by Catherine Lundoff

Four words: middle aged lesbian werewolf. This is a book about a middle aged divorcee who’s starting to go through menopause, which in her small town, means becoming a werewolf. Isn’t that just a super cool idea? I love it. She isn’t excited about this transformation at all, but eventually comes to terms with the changes in her life, as well as her feelings for her female neighbor (who is also a werewolf). There’s a gang of troublemakers in town, who might be offering an opportunity to not turn into a wolf. She has choices to make. There’s an action mystery plot. It’s a really fast read, and really fun. It’s full of strong women characters who care about each other and support each other. Sure they’re werewolves, but they’re also a community. It’s great to read about women who aren’t young, and it’s great to read about someone who’s older and starting to question their sexuality. A fun sweet book. Not actually great, kind of wandering, but so much fun, so who cares.

American Psycho

 

Bret Easton Ellis is one of the only authors where I’ve read every single book he’s written. Which like, I don’t know what that says about me, except maybe that I started this when I was seventeen, and that I read a lot.

American Psycho is the most impressive book I never want to read again. It is not a pleasant experience, but I’m glad I read it. The part that I remember the most, and the part I appreciated the most was how it went from this really gruesome murder part to an overly serious analysis of Hootie and the Blowfish, and then back to killing. That sort of juxtaposition is what really stuck with me.

I’ve always meant to watch the movie, it’s just taken me a while to get around to it. I’d heard that it was really well done, and not as miserable as you’d expect. It just hasn’t been an easy movie to get around to watching. You have to be in the right mood, in a very specific headspace. Last week when my folks were out of town, and my girlfriend was busy, I watched two movies that no one would agree to watch with me. One was the Backstreet Boys documentary. The other was American Psycho.

The book is really playing with the idea of an unreliable narrator. I was eighteen, and definitely wasn’t reading carefully (I was reading between and in the middle of classes — this might be a miserable book, but it’s still better than chemistry), but I really wasn’t sure what was happening. I wasn’t sure what was real or imagined. Either way, it was a lot, but that ambiguity was important. The movie loses a lot of that. Doing an unreliable narrator in a movie is really fucking hard, and this isn’t really trying. What we see is really happening, and the confusion comes from how other people are reacting to it. That’s an interesting idea, but very different than the book.

I thought it would have a hard time being true to how brutal the book is, because there are limits to the sorts of gore and sexual violence that can be on screen, but it felt fittingly disturbing. It’s really interesting that the movie was directed by a woman. A lot of feminists got very angry about the book, and while I can see why, I also think that it’s critiquing the world that makes Patrick Bateman possible, not condoning his actions, and that there are much better things to be angry about. The way not just Patrick, but basically everyone, treats women in this story is really fucked up, but it’s pretty clear that this is because society is built with really toxic ideas about women. Society in general is pretty fucked up here. It’s a critique of capitalism and consumerism.

The movie is a good companion to the book. If someone asked me if they should read the book first or see the movie I might tell them to skip the whole thing. Or like, start with Rules of Attraction and then maybe keep going. I wouldn’t actually recommend American Psycho. It’s a life choice someone has to get into on their own.

Fruitvale Station

I had heard universally good things about this movie, and while it was excellent, most of the things I had read didn’t explain how small it is. It’s a very small movie. It’s about one man, on one day. It’s true that a lot can be taken away from Oscar Grant’s death at the hands of the police, this is a part of a much larger issue. But the movie itself isn’t about an epidemic, it is about one man, and his family, and his death.

It’s a small movie full of great performances.  Michael B. Jordan feels effortless. He’s so casual, seems settled and three dimensional. Octavia Spencer has this sort of command, everyone listens to her, without her being bossy or loud. She radiates authority and calm from her huge expressive eyes. Melonie Diaz had this really perfect balance between control and jittery nerves, especially at the end. The affection and history between her character and Michael B. Jordan is clear and believable. Their performances, especially at the beginning of the film, create such a solid foundation for everything that follows.

Go watch this movie, not just because it’s about an incredibly important political issue, but because it’s a sweet sad small story. It’s a tragedy, the death of one man on one day, which is a part of a much larger national tragedy that’s still going on.