Fat Angie by E.E. Charlton-Trujillo

Objectively this was good, important, but I didn’t really enjoy it. Maybe it is not meant to be an enjoyable book? It’s rough, it hurts, and feeling that hurt can be very good.

It’s about a fat teenager with a messed up family. Her hero worshiped older sister is a solider, missing presumed dead. Her parents are divorced. Her adopted older brother is acting out. She isn’t getting the care or attention she needs. There are a ton of really shitty authority figures, parents and school people and therapists. It’s actually incredibly frustrating to read. Angie’s life is already rough, but then there’s a new girl, and some awkward queer blossoming happens, and there’s drama. Lots of drama. Everything is very high stakes, or at least feels that way, because it’s a very teenage book.

The novel is very in Angie’s head. The writing has a really fun style that I’m having a hard time describing — cheeky maybe? It mostly works for me, but it can get antic, and on top of all of the feelings, it can be very… exhausting? Which is an interesting choice as an author, and I respect that, but also, I got exhausted at times. It’s a very teenage book, and a small town book.

There’s something oddly retro about it. It’s only a couple years old, but it feels much more dated. I wonder if some of that is a small town thing, that it feels further in the past than the cities. I’m not sure, I don’t really understand small towns. It’s a very isolated world, and part of Angie’s frustration is her loneliness, and I’m not sure how much sense that makes in our technological age.

Honestly, I didn’t love it, but I thought it was really well done, and it might’ve meant a lot to me if I had read it at the right age. I don’t need this book in 2016, but there’s someone who does, and I’m so glad it exists for them. I’m also really glad that isn’t me anymore.

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Welcome to Night Vale: a Novel by Jeffery Fink and Joseph Cranor

This was great. This is the first novel based off the podcast, Welcome to Night Vale, which is excellent and I assume you’re already listening to. If you aren’t, fix that. I really enjoy Night Vale, but I’m better at processing text than audio, so reading it instead of listening was great for me. I’m always like a year behind in the podcast because I got behind, and then I’ll catch partway up, and then I get distracted again. I love what it’s doing as episodic radio storytelling, but having a whole novel in that tone is super cool.

It’s such a rich and spooky world. The use of language is still so impeccable and odd. The writing has such specific rhythms that set everything just so slightly askew, and that’s beautiful. The plot was a good mystery, but the real joy is hanging out in this space. The conclusion was lovely, and I liked what it’s saying about the world, but the best part is the atmosphere. If you’re a fan of the show, you should definitely check this out. If you aren’t a fan of the show, what’s wrong with you? I don’t want to be friends anymore.

Christodora by Tim Murphy

I loved this book. I stayed up way later than I should have because I wanted to see how it ended. It’s full of things I love reading about. It’s about AIDS activism, what it means to be an artist, what it means to be a family, mental illness, addiction and recovery. It’s full of interesting people, and lets them make different sorts of choices. It plays around with time some, telling parts of story out of order, and it does this very well, creating and then solving mysteries, creating situations where you the reader know something that a character is about to find out, adding a layer of suspense. It’s spread out over decades, starting in the eighties, going into the future. It uses history very well, showing the changing landscape of New York City. The title comes from the name of an apartment building, having the Christodora while the world shifts around it is one of the grounding points of the novel. The latest part of the chronology is beautiful near future science fiction, advancing our world in a manner that’s intriguing and makes sense.

I don’t want to give a plot summary, because it’s a hard plot to summarize, and also it’s kind of not that sort of book? Like, the plot is excellent, I cared a lot about the characters, enough that I stayed up until quarter to four in the morning. But you’re just going to have to trust me that they’re all very interesting, and their lives are interesting, and the things that happen are compelling. I just loved it a whole lot.

It isn’t perfect. It took me awhile to get into it, and it isn’t exactly elegant, but it feels a lot. It’s raw, and it’s trying to reach out, and it want you to understand. It’s a novel with a lot of heart, and I found it really inspiring. You should definitely check it out.

Tomorrowland

This was a fun movie, and I had a lot of critiques of why it structurally didn’t work, but I watched it a couple weeks ago, and have mostly forgotten what my complaints were. Maybe that’s a good thing? It had flaws, but my overall impression was that it was a nice enough time.

I think, basically, it doesn’t really make sense. There was something about the ratio of exposition to things actually happening that felt off. And the overall quality of the world building is not so good. A lot of the set up as trickled out of my head, which is a negative indicator, and nothing impressed me. I really do think there was some sort of structural thing that bugged me, but for the love of god I can’t remember what, and I have no interest in looking up a plot synopsis to try to figure this out. You’re going to have to trust me I guess.

I’m not sure how well it used it’s cast? Britt Robertson was fine as the lead. She looks like Jennifer Lawrence, but isn’t as good, but also wasn’t noticeably bad? Kathryn Hahn and Keegan-Michael Key show up for once scene as (spoiler) killer robots, and I loved it. If you’re going to have such cool people in your movie maybe give them more to do? George Clooney was charmingly George Clooney when given a chance, but there weren’t too many chance. If you’re going to have George Clooney, a bona fide movie star, use as much of that movie star charm as you can.

It was still a fairly charming movie. I wasn’t paying full attention, but I enjoyed it. There was a big final moment that was pretty sappy, and made my father, who had been paying attention, cry. Not that it takes much, but still. It had a very positive message about hope for the world and etc, etc. All of that Disney bs, very earnest. Not a bad movie, but not a good one either, but more sweet than not.

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

This was a great book. It’s about a family of circus freaks, the Binewskis. For them freakishness is a valuable trait, and normalcy is looked down upon. The novel is mostly looking back at the children’s childhood, leading to the circus’s collapse.

It’s a book about family, and it would be easy to find a metaphor, something about family as deformity, family as the damage that we all carry around as adults, but I don’t think that’s a particularly inspired reading. Looking at the metaphor and trying to universalize would be a disservice, I am against anything that leaves behind the glorious specific weirdness of these characters. Dunn creates rich characters, who have psyches rooted in their flesh. The novel has a very vivid setting, with the circus hovering just below the more mundane world, darker and more colorful.

The way the story is framed is excellent, giving us a little bit at a time. Dunn gives the reader pieces of the ending very early on, but the way it unfolds keeps us in suspense, teasing the coming disaster bit by bit. It builds to a final choice, and a final revelation, which is absolutely marvelous. An excellent unique book.

Scruffians!: tales of better Sodomites by Hal Duncan

I love Hal Duncan. He’s a very specific writer, and I understand why he’s not to everyone’s taste, but I love him. I read The Book of All Hours at a very formative age, and it fucked me up really good. I didn’t realize that books could be like that before, so epic, so dense with language and references, so queer and anarchic. I loved it, and it’s shaped what I’m looking for from the world in unquantifiable ways.

This collection of short stories is something of a mixed bag, with Duncan’s strengths and weaknesses both on full display. He likes to build stories out of references, and sometimes this works better than other. What you get out of a given story can depend on what allusions you’re picking up. I can only speak to how well a given story works for me, knowing that it could be a very different experience for someone with a different cultural background.

He’s stronger when he gets away from his usual sandbox to build something that really stands on its own. He has a set of characters/archetypes/myths that he loves using — the whole of The Book of All Hours is assembled playing with versions of these boys, and while I love these characters, it can be muddled.

There’s one story set at a poker game, and I recognized most of the figures around the table, but then was confused trying to place the figure of Hall. I spent a moment trying to dig through what I remembered from Henry V before reading the author had taken a seat in his own story. That audacity and absurdity is what I love so much about Duncan. Why shouldn’t he be playing cards and telling stories with the other voices in his head?

I’m not in love with the whole Scruffians concept. The front half of the volume has a lot of stories about these lost children, and does build an interesting world. It just never really coheres. It’s fun, but the other stories, many which appeared in print before, are better and more interesting.

There’s a really great story about werewolves hunting vampires. It’s so cool to see one of your favorite writers take on a familiar premise. Werewolves and vampires are the sort of mythology that every speculative fiction writer should have to attempt at some point. If you want a taste of the book, you can read this story online, which I highly recommend you do. It’s the perfect mix of bloody and sexy. His take on the traditions of both vampires and werewolves are really fresh and compelling. The worldbuilding suggests a lot that we don’t get to see, creating a very rich atmosphere. The relationship between the werewolf and his handler is so charged and fascinating.

There’s one story about superheroes, which was incredible. He plays with the comic book ideas of cannon, and retcon, and how there’s this history that’s forever getting rewritten and adapted. I think continuity is one of the most fascinating parts of comic books, and he plays with it marvelously. I wonder how wonderful it is to someone who isn’t familiar with the same set of references that I am. I know the backstories of all the Robins, I know the story about the readers deciding Jason Todd’s death, I smiled at the homage of what he named the writer responsible for the latest world restarting crisis. It’s a twisty story, and I can’t wait to reread it.

Over the course of the book you get a very clear sense of Duncan’s interests. He loves biblical allusions, and mythology. Everything is VERY GAY and I love that. There aren’t a lot of women, but I’m used to that from his writing, and decided ages ago not to be bothered about it. He does so many other things I care about. It’s an uneven collection, but the best stories are incredible, and his very best work. Sometimes I try to explain why I love Hal Duncan, and try to encourage other people to read him. Going forward I will start people with the highlights of this collection, instead of the thousand page journey of The Book of All Hours. I feel like that will be much more successful in making new converts.

(But really, read The Book of All Hours. Please. I will love you. You can be my best friend.)

Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss

I love writing that’s about art, culture, and a certain sort of downtown cool. It follows several different threads throughout the year. They’re all connected by the art world, and it winds up saying something really compelling about creativity and family.

What I really walked away with is the idea that a family is like a work of art, it’s a creative process. It’s something ongoing, not automatically given. It’s a collaboration between people, that can have dissonance, but can also create something really beautiful.

There’s a certain assumption of knowledge. It helps if you know a few things about the politics in Argentina, and about the art scene of this era, but it does give you enough information to get along. If you know more there are some fun easter eggs sprinkled in. I’m not super well read in the art world, but I could follow along, and the references all made sense.

There’s a bit about the aphasia a little bit corny, but obviously a very fun metaphor to play with. Having an art critic with aphasia is so convenient that it almost feels like cheating, but I’m willing to let it slide because the descriptions were so lovely to read.

It’s a novel about people who love art, and love creating art, and that comes across wonderfully. It gets to the romance of art, the passionate relationship that we have as observers and as creators. These relationship can become destructive, and that makes for an interesting story, but even at their most chaotic, there’s beauty as well.