The Nix by Nathan Hill

I had heard very good things about this book. All of the reviews were excited, and they’ve already decided to make it into a movie starring Meryl Streep! My mother will probably want to go to that movie, and I will be able to brag that I read the book and feel very smart. Even with the hype, I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a great book. I just didn’t care for it too much.

It was a very good book, and I don’t know if I have a lot to say about it? It was interesting, and I enjoyed it, and I think it’s very timely with the election season, but it didn’t really grasp me.

It’s a story about a male writer in his thirties, who’s teaching at a suburban college and feeling very unfulfilled. His mother walked out when he was eleven, and he’s never really gotten over it. Then his mother is in the news fro throwing rocks at a right wing politician. Stuff happens, and he starts off on a quest to learn about his mother. There are sections taking place in the ~modern day~ (2011), when she left in the eighties, and when she was a young woman going to school in Chicago, and got caught up in the 1968 protests of the Democratic National Convention.

There’s some really incredible writing, and some really incredible passages, and it’s all great, but also? I don’t know. This book and I are just not quite on the same wavelength. It’s a little bit too straight and boyish. Still excellent, and I still enjoyed it, but…

I could nitpick the way he writes about this one girl — she’s terrible, and recognizable. I went to school with girls like that, and hated them. But they’re for me to say terrible things about, not male writers. I could get angry about that, and the way he criticizes characters relationship to a World of Warcraft-esque computer game. But it seems like he mostly means well, he’s just a grump.

Some of my favorite parts are during the convention, where he writes from the perspective of recognizable historical figures. It’s interesting to see glimpses of Allen Ginsberg and Walter Cronkite’s roles in shaping the occasion. I also loved the long interlude where he plays with the idea of a chose your own adventure book. It’s really is an interesting well written novel, I just didn’t love it.  

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And the Band Plays On by Randy Shilts

I think that AIDS is a thing that queer people in later generations have to find a way to deal with. It’s this piece of living history that wiped out so many of our role models and would-be mentors. We need to find a way to mourn or understand or do something, how to live alongside this past.

It’s something I keep reading about, and I don’t always know how to handle about it, but it can’t be ignored.  It was kind of miserable to spend three straight days reading about how the Reagan administration let people die, but I couldn’t stop reading. It’s incredibly compelling.

This is very well done journalism. It looks at national organizations and political movements without ever losing track of the humans. It doesn’t just talk about the gay organizations, but really digs into the CDC and other medical organizations that were involved.

There are some parts that are dated. Africa gets called primitive too often, and a few other things that pinged me as odd reading in the year 2016, though I can’t recall exactly what now. Some of the language feels remarkably flowering for journalism, but I enjoyed that actually. It added character, made the book feel more beautiful and gay.

It’s definitely worth reading. It’s a really valuable perspective on a really important subject.

The Captive Prince Trilogy by C. S. Pacat

These were incredibly captivating. I absolutely could not put down. I started reading these on vacation, and it was a great brain-break. I stayed up too late one night finishing the first book, I read the second on my first flight and waiting in an airport, and then the third on my flight home, halfway through as I got home, keeping me awake till three in the morning. When I woke up in the morning I was so happy to lie in my own bed with my cat and finish the series.

They’re basically ridiculous? They’re incredibly over the top, but it works. The basic premise is that there are these two countries that really don’t get along, and two princes from each country, and one is overthrown by his brother and given as a slave to the other, who doesn’t know that his good looking new slave is actually a prince from an enemy nation. That’s the start of it anyway, then so much else happens, but the whole power dynamics from that is present throughout.

That definitely isn’t for everyone, but it’s really well done. The world building felt incredibly solid. The political intrigue was compelling and made sense. The storytelling was suspenseful and well done.

But really, it’s all about the romance. There’s something so good about a story where you KNOW where it’s going, you KNOW they’re going to get there eventually, but first you have to suffer through SO MUCH unfulfilled sexual tension, SO MUCH heavy tense flirting, so much almost but not quite!!!! It’s painful in the best way, which makes the eventual resolution even better. Especially in a setup like this, where you know on some level it’s a bad idea, but also the right idea, it’s going to happen.

It was one of the most compelling thing I’ve read this summer, so painfully lushly romantic, with a very distinct point of view. The power dynamics are super interesting, and the feelings!!!! It was so much.

Bipedal by Pedal #3: a History of Bicycle Activism in Portland, Oregon by Joe Biel

Okay ,so I do not bike, like, I really, actively do not bike. It is very not my thing ever at all because I would die. But I also live in Minneapolis, city of Bike People, and I volunteer at a bike-positive bookstore, so???? I am surrounded. It is semi-terrible, and sometimes I want to scream that having a bike is not a replacement for having a real personality, but ugh, whatever. Biking is good for the world, just not the whole world, remember that.

Fortunately, this zine (which was part of a package, not something I set out to buy), is not all about biking! It is also about how terrible the police are, which is way more interesting than biking! I mean, that’s terrible, but it was better to read about. This is focused on the Critical Ride happenings in Portland, and how the police being terrible lead these to stop happening. The police did all sorts of things like mess with people, and spy on groups. Apparently there is a division inside the Portland police that dates back to the red scare, and they got interested in Critical Ride, because bicyclists are so evil right? Bicyclists are basically terrorists and should be treated as such. Especially bicyclists who were also involved in protesting George W. Bush and other stuff. Apparently the way the police were spying on the bike people was illegal at the time, and they won a settlement, but also it probably would have been fine now under the patriot act? Which is hilariously sad.

The most interesting parts of the zine was looking at different examples of how police have infiltrated different organizations. It’s very funny/sad, and makes me feel really justified about being paranoid, which is probably Not Good for the world, but oh well. Honestly, conspiracy theory can be very comforting!

Bottom line: this is interesting if you like bikes or stories about organizing. If you’re into both bikes and organizing than this is the book for you! If you only like one then meh, it’s alright. It’s just a little zine, and it has some interesting information, and is all presented very clearly. Being a biker person is still not a replacement for having an actual personality! But it’s definitely possible to bike and organizing about bikes and that can be important work! But not actually important or threatening enough that the police should be spying on you, that’s just fucked up.

Green Girl by Kate Zambreno

This was so beautifully written. The prose was so good, so fragile and heartbreaking, so precise, falling into poetry at times. It’s hands down the most gorgeous thing I’ve read in ages. It’s about a young American woman living in London, and her relatively small world. She likes to dress up, and she doesn’t have very much money, and there are boys to think about. She isn’t very happy, and doesn’t really know who she is, or who she wants to be. It never gets figured out, but it breaks your heart, and it’s beautiful, and that’s enough.

Honestly, I read this book in the middle of July, and it absolutely bowled me over, and I’m still not sure what to say about it, other than that it’s beautiful. Young women are fragile and strong in this very specific way that’s hard to explain, and this does as good a job of describing that as anything I’ve read. I’m a very different sort of young woman than the protagonist of this novel, but there were still parts that cut too close. It’s a really fantastic novel.

Poison

What a really fucking weird movie. I dug it. There are few things I’m more into than weird gay movies. Really it’s more like three weird gay movies braided together.

There’s the part about Genet, the part about this kid who disappeared, and part that’s like an old paranoid 1950s horror movie. The Genet bit is hard to follow, but it had some great cinematic moments. I’m reading The Thief’s Journal, and this thread of the film really does manage to evoke the feel of the book. It’s definitely the strangest part, the one that feels like an art film, while the other two are playing off more conventional genres.

The story of this kid who disappeared is presented like true crime, the sort of sensationalized thing that winds up on television. The general take away is about family, and the way things might not be the way that they seem, the things we keep secret. Within the film a young boy who isn’t understood by his parents clearly connects to being gay.

And then there’s an old horror film, which is about deformity and transformation and sickness. It’s black and white, and the effects are very low-fi creepy. It feels like a paranoid old horror film, but while they were worried about the Soviets and nuclear fallout, this is in the shadow of AIDS.

The whole film is, and when we put it in context, coming out in 1991, one of the first features of New Queer Cinema, we can really start to take it apart. Which isn’t something I’m going to try to do today, because it’s a really weird interesting film that has a lot to say. I’ve been trying to figure out what I wanted to write about it since April, and I’m not any closer to having an answer. I’m glad I saw it, I think about it sometimes, I’m going to rewatch it someday. It’s a great weird movie.

 

The Good, The Bad, and The Weird

I’ve mentioned before that my dad and I watch westerns together, this showed up on Netflix, so we watched it. I thought it was a lot of fun.

There are three guys, a bounty hunter (the good), a hired gun (the bad), and a goofy thief (the weird), all interested in getting hold of this treasure map and seeing where it goes. They chase after each other, get into fights. Lots of things happen, and at times exactly what’s happening gets a little loose, which might be structural, or could just be that I wasn’t following the subtitles as closely as I could have. Either way, it wasn’t a problem, because it’s a western, and it’s working within a certain set of narratives that are familiar.

It has elements you expect and want from a western — there’s a train robbery, a lot of swagger, horses and shootouts. But it’s all fresh because it’s set in Manchuria right in 1939. It’s very genre savvy, but putting this sort of story in such a different setting puts everything slantwise and creates to play with these tropes without getting dull. The visuals and the music were both excellent, the action scenes were fantastic and felt really new. It has a ton of style, and I really enjoyed it.