About B.

south mpls born and raised. 2015 UMN graduate. english + gender women and sexuality studies. queer, feminist, sXe. @bessmpls on twitter / @mngrrrrrl for sports talk.

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

You know that thing where there’s a book everyone say’s you’re going to love, and you think you’re going to love it, but you’re really scared to read it, because what if it’s a letdown? I had The Dispossessed sitting on my shelf for years before I was ready to risk it. But there was nothing to worry about! It’s about anarchism in space! It’s brilliant! I loved it! If there’s one complaint, I guess I wish the gay best friend had more of an interior life and a love interest of his own, but like, that is a minor complaint, and I loved everything? Anarchism in space! What a cool smart book. This isn’t a good review, just go read it.

The Wind Up Girl by Paulo Bacigalupi

Incredibly world building, not great book. This book is set in Thailand in a future where global warming and food scarcity because of different mutations are the big concerns. It’s a very interesting, conceivable, and frightening future! The world building really is great! On the cover someone compares it to William Gibson, and I don’t disagree. It’s just that maybe men shouldn’t write books? The wind up girl in the title is Emiko, a new person engineered by a Japanese corporation. She was designed to be beautiful and obedient, it’s in her training and in her DNA. She traveled to Thailand as a secretary/sex companion of a Japanese businessman, but was left behind when it cost less for him to upgrade to a newer model than to buy a ticket home for her. Sad. So she’s left to find a new patron, where she’s regularly raped and abused, but can’t do anything because she’s in the country illegally, and also it’s her nature to have a master? And she eventually overcomes her programing and fights back, and gets the happiest ending of anyone in the book really. But it’s just super unnecessary? Like, I think it’s maybe supposed to be a story about a badass woman saving herself, but the fact that it’s written by a man, and the way it’s written, it really didn’t work for me. Maybe if Emiko had more dimensions, or maybe if anyone had more dimensions, or maybe if Bacigalupi was more aware of the casual misogyny instead of just the super messed up stuff? I don’t know, it just didn’t sit well with me at all. The world building sure was great though.

inside my own heart

hey, so, the title of this blog is Bess in MPLS, and you might have noticed, I’m living in Chicago now? but I’m not changing the name of the blog, bc my HEART is in Minneapolis, and always will be. SORRY if that’s confusing, but not really. I’m suffering more by not being in my city than you’re suffering being moderately confused by the name of this blog.

Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past by Simon Reynolds

Folks, I can’t ever remember being this pissed off at a book without knowing exactly what I’m mad about. Reynolds is doing a lot of different things here, and a lot of them are WRONG, and I don’t even know why he felt like this was an argument worth making.

Honestly, I’m not sure if he does either? He wrote the introduction before the body of the book, and it had a lot of questions he was going to poke at, and I don’t think he ever reached a satisfying conclusion. That doesn’t mean the project was a waste of time — he brought up a lot of interesting ideas throughout. But the whole argument is so incredibly flawed I want to chuck the book across the room, or maybe through the screen from my seventh floor window, but it’s a library book, so I’ll stop myself.

I really respect Reynolds as a writer. His book on post-punk is an exhaustive guide to a scattered genre. His book on rave is similarly in depth, to the point where I still haven’t finished it because I kept on finding three new songs I loved and then putting it down for a while. It’s sitting on the floor in my parents house in Minneapolis, and I’ll finish it at some point, I’m sure. I bring up these two books not just to explain why I started reading a book that upset me, but also because I think the movements covered in these books say a lot about Reynold’s perspective as a critic. He grew up listening to post-punk, which responded to punk’s incitement by going in about ten thousand different weird direction. And then he was into rave, which moved very fast, always onto the next thing, always moving. And now he thinks that there isn’t anything new.

That’s WRONG.

There are new things.

I realize this book came out in 2011, and some of my examples are later than that, but not all of them, and the point stands. There are lots of new things.

He doesn’t seem to finds newness in rap music, which is baffling. I guess Kanye West’s more expansive albums came out after this book, but he was still around. Kendrick wasn’t around then, but like. The possibility for him was.

One of my favorite corners of hip-hop is the corner where rap music mixes with indie rock. Reynolds would probably say this isn’t new, because it’s just blending two different genres, but I’d disagree. At their best like Why? or Buck 65 becomes more than the sum of influences, into something new and stunning. I heard “The Hollows” for the first time at an all ages show at a cafe in Hopkins when I was fourteen, and I’d never heard anything quite like it, and it still sounds fresh.

He mentions grime, but dismisses it for not being big enough? Which is a bad reason to dismiss something. Maybe it’s because I’m American, but how can you not think grime sounds new? It takes the basic idea of rap music but transports it into a different culture.

Newness for him seems to be all about sound, not about the people making it, which is the kind of thing a straight white man would say. Perfume Genius sounds fresh to my ears, but also the thoroughly queer perspective makes feels revolutionary. Against Me! are making close to the same kind of punk rock they were making ten years ago, and it wasn’t all that revolutionary then, but having Laura Jane Grace on stage shouting about her journey as a trans woman feels huge.

He doesn’t seem captured by the way music is becoming more global. M.I.A. doesn’t count because she samples things he recognizes? Which seems like bullshit. I don’t know what he’d make of Swet Shop boys, whose last album was one of the freshest things I heard in 2016.

Was there really nothing new like this in 2011? I doubt it.

My major critique of his post-punk book would be the omission of American hardcore, and he seems to still not get that it was a thing, or think that it was all subsumed into college rock that became mainstream after grunge, or mellowed into indie, or something. Or maybe he just doesn’t find it interesting, but the newest sounding rock music I’ve listened to lately has been like, Bomb! The Music Industry and Jeff Rosenstock’s solo stuff, which does expand punk’s palate in certain ways, and also has ideas about how the music business itself should change. That sort of revolutionary spirit stays new.

Reynolds doesn’t understand the scale of fragmentation of culture by the internet. He’s looking for a new mass movement. I’m not sure that’s possible. The internet is full of all these different corners where people are doing new weird little things. There might not be another huge new thing. And honestly that’s fine? I’m a punk, I’m prone to assuming that mass culture is mostly boring. More specifically, I’m an American punk, and punk was never really successfully here, not like it was in England. Sure, it kind of broke through with grunge, and after that Green Day and emo and stuff got big, but punk was not a pivotal split in American music the way he seems to understand it. Maybe it was in England, but not here.

(There is an argument to be made, about whether emo, by taking the bones of pop punk and shining them to a high gloss, is something new. I’d find this particularly intriguing with Panic! at the Disco, and how their first album drew in both dance music and burlesque, but Reynolds would probably disagree.)

This is the kind of book a man writes when he enters middle age and is disappointed by the world not catering to his expectations. Which yes, that can be a very disappointing sensation, all my ships are rare pair ships, and there are not nearly enough space adventures about lesbians. But most people wouldn’t write a four hundred page book complaining about it. (To be fair, maybe a quarter of it is whining, the rest of it a very interesting look at people looking at the past. I liked a lot of the book. Just not the central thesis.)

He just wants to hear something new. It’s all about him. I think that’s a tremendously dull way to think about music.

Everything is new to someone. Simon Reynolds is a music critic, who spends all his time listening to stuff, who has a professional responsibility to be familiar with the classics and keep up with the latest releases. He gets to dedicate a lot of time and money and energy into this. Most people, even people who like music a lot, are not that way. Have a bit of chill dude. Sorry that what people are putting out now are not exciting and future looking enough for you. That’s rough.

The whole book makes him come off as an old curmudgeon who’s disappointed by what young people are doing. He’s also an audiophile, which is a terrible thing to be. Yes, I agree, records sound great, but in giving up sound and presence for accessing all the music I could possibly want a moment’s notice because I have spotify on my phone is a great deal.

I’m trying to come up with a conclusion here, but I’m just so frustrated. This is not a good argument, and it doesn’t even seem like he’s completely convinced himself, and really, I feel bad for the dude. I wish he could enjoy things that aren’t super innovative and futuristic without getting all conflicted and having to write 400 page long books. Like, yeah, the Strokes sound a lot like the Velvet Underground, but they’re good, alright? I enjoy them. Enjoying things that are obviously in debt to the past is not the danger Reynolds seems to be making it into. Not a good argument. I’m just so tired.

the song “nausea” by jeff rosenstock instead of actually explaining myself

so I haven’t been blogging. idk. it was the election, and then I took the GRE, and then I was busy finishing grad school applications, and the election had still happened, and I didn’t have a lot of energy to tell you all my thoughts about books. it wasn’t just here, I gave up my two fancy pretending to be a real writer guest blog things. not that I was ever very good at those. I guess I missed it.

I think it’s good for me? not telling you about books necessarily, but having a space where I make myself put words out in the world. and telling you about books too. I’ve almost only ready theory or books with spaceships this year. a few exceptions, but mostly spaceships. lots of star wars novels. that’s something I wasn’t expecting.

I might go back and tell you about everything I’ve read and seen since I stopped blogging regularly. I might try to write more about music. I move to Chicago for school in a week and a half, and I start my master’s at the end of the month, so maybe I won’t have any time for anything. but writing here is good for me.

I have this theory about writing, that it’s good, because it’s an output, and it’s a processing device, and even if you’re writing about something totally different than the life stuff you need to be processing, even if you’re writing fan fiction about Wedge Antilles, you’re still doing the work of processing, of turning things into words, and it’s good for you. or at least it’s good for me? the act of writing makes me feel better, and it has very little to do with what it is I’m actually writing.

if I felt up to writing anything coherent, I’d try to explain my feelings about Bomb the Music Industry! which I have been listening to non-stop for days now. I went and saw Jeff Rosenstock play last week. it was the funnest thing, to go to a punk show in the suburbs with my best friend, who doesn’t really like punk shows, or suburbs, or that much noise. it was amazing. I still haven’t figured out what I’m trying to say. something something not carrying how it looks, making a fool of yourself, fugazi, yadda yadda, so hot on a summer nigh, nobody followed the rules on the wall about not crowd surfing.

the important thing is the act of writing, not the words. the important thing is the act of processing, not words. the important thing is the shouting, not the words. I don’t actually believe that, but sometimes it is a good thing to hold onto as a process philosophy, and sometimes the important things is the process, and not the words.

The Big Short, book and film

My mother hates this movie so much. We watched it for the first time a year ago, and she decided to give up and go to bed half way through. A friend of her’s had a movie night recently, and this was the feature presentation, and god, she was not excited. How much she hates this movie is honestly hilarious, my mild mannered mother gathering up so much disgust for a film.

I love it. I think it’s brilliant. I tried to write about it right after we watched it, but didn’t know what to say. It’s taken some time and rematching to puzzle things out.

It does so many cool weird filmmaking. The way it plays around with music video style is so much fun. Lots of fast cuts, montages, what is basically a rap video thrown in, a couple of characters singing a Nirvana tune out of the blue. It’s brilliant, and I love it. The little asides where Margot Robbie and Anthony Bourdain explain boring bank things is a great choice to get in necessary information without being dull. It’s a really smart movie that assumes its audience is really smart.

There’s a lot of really good performances. Everyone is great. Everything is great.

I read the book right after watching the movie, and I liked it too. It was informative and well written. It didn’t have the same spark and pizzaz as the movie, limited by being a book, but it was still excellent. The housing crisis is important shit that we should know about. It’s awesome that it’s being presented in an accessible book and incredible movie. I love it.

The Taliban Shuffle, book by Kim Barker, and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, movie staring Tina Fey

So, I read this book sometime last year, and decided not to post anything until I also saw the movie. Here is what I wrote about the book just after finishing it:

This is a memoir by a journalist who became a foreign correspondent after 9/11, and her adventures in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Barker is a clear writer, and good at presenting the tangled political situation that I think I understood. I learned a lot about the region, and what America was doing there, but what sets this book apart is the personal stories. Barker is covering this hugely important moments, but she’s also a woman with a life, trying to balance career and romance and family. My favorite thing is that she admits she didn’t know what she was walking into, that no one did. It’s obvious that there’s a massive lack of understanding on all levels. The government, the military, the news, all of these different organizations, are all stumbling around, trying to do something huge, but mostly failing.

Basically, it is an alright book, but not great. Having now seen the movie, I can say, it is an alright movie, but not great. The surprising thing is that book and movie had fairly different flaws. Normally weaknesses are consistent through adaptation, but here, not so much.

The weakness of the movie is that it’s sort of clueless, and tries but fails to do a love story. The weakness of the book is mostly that it isn’t very shiny. The movie is possibly too shiny? It is not specific enough. It doesn’t slow down to explain boring but important history or politics. But it also doesn’t go the other way into a more exaggerated world. It’s grounded in a very shallow reality, and that’s a shame. I can imagine a better movie. The book had the makings of a better movie, and the idea of adapting that book to star Tina Fey seemed like a good idea. But then it’s just this. Which is almost boring. Maybe it wouldn’t be if I didn’t know the plot, but I don’t think that’s the problem. I think it’s just sort of dull. Pleasant, but dull.

If you’re only going to do one, I’d pick up the book, but honestly, they’re both skippable unless something about the summary really stands out to you.