In truth, this is an entire album and artist that I’m obsessed with, but we can begin with the song that started it all.
Actually, it began with an episode of a YouTube series Amoeba Music does called ‘What’s in My Bag,’ wherein various artists wander around Amoeba and share what they put in their shopping bag and why.
I’m super late to all the parties these days, so I’d never heard of Orville Peck before watching his episode (which is embedded below).
I was intrigued by his affectation of wearing a fringed mask. Then my curiosity became too much to resist when the video revealed he’s disarmingly sweet and charming, with explanations leaving his thoughts as unguarded as his face is hidden. [Side note: as I barreled down the Orville Peck rabbit hole, his Live at KEXP performance doubled down on the charm, vulnerability, and charisma. That is also embedded below.]
I immediately went to YouTube to find a music video, ‘Hope to Die’ was the first hit, and I was hooked. The song and video are a remarkable orgy of a country song, great songwriting, amazing visuals, various gay subcultures, silliness, theatricality, and a broadway musical.
Peck is a gay, Canadian, outlaw country singer who is never seen performing or in official photographs without one of his many fringed masks — which he makes himself, by the way. That alone makes him a likely artist for me to find fascinating.
But what fuels my obsession is his personality and the work itself. The best way I can describe his debut album is that it contains hints — some more than others — of Merle Haggard, Roy Orbison, the Phantom of the Opera (because of his classically trained voice even more than the mask), the Cure, dream pop, and some Grand Ole Opry costuming and theatricality. I definitely missed a bunch of ingredients, but that’s what I’ve got for you off the top of my head.
I’m as quickly and as deeply obsessed as I’ve been with any artist I can remember in quite a while.
‘Hope to Die’ has maintained its spot as my favorite song on the album, but the #2 spot changes every few days. Every song on the album is a gem for one reason or another.
I know he’s not going to be for everyone who reads this blog, but he’s damn sure for me! Also, I just learned that he’s on the OST for HBO’s Watchmen series, so, I’m even later to this party than I thought.
As promised, ‘What’s in My Bag’ and a ‘Live at KEXP.’ He has a more recent ‘Live at KEXP’ from a few weeks ago, but I’d recommend this one first. It includes some interesting insight into wear his voice under the Orville Peck moniker comes from.
Well, would you look at that. Turns out that when I rarely write on my website, a trailer posted for a movie back in early September has just a single post separating it from my reaction to that same movie at the end of October. C’est la vie.
I absolutely loved this film. I really wanted to love it, and I did.
Once, a friend and I were talking about a movie I really wanted to love, then loved. He said it wasn’t surprising, because by wanting to love it so much, I was pretty much going to love it regardless of what it was like. The opposite of this is actually true for me. In reality, it happens all the time that I dislike something I was hoping to love. I just take the disappointment harder than normal — like, irrationally hard — when an artist I love creates something I genuinely dislike. Emily and I joked that I’m going to need significant time to recover when I don’t like something Taika does.
All that to say, I didn’t love Jojo Rabbit just because I really wanted to love Jojo Rabbit.
In some ways, it felt like peak Taika Waititi. So many of his sensibilities and strengths distilled down to their purest form, then amplified by the cultural context he’s responding to.
It has all the winsomeness and joy Taika is known for. It’s expectedly hilarious. It’s populated by a bunch of delightful weirdos. Yet, as should be expected in a story about Nazi Germany, it goes some much darker, more heartbreaking places than his previous work.
I love when art makes me want to be a better person. Fiction can inspire us to be more empathetic (that’s actually been researched and turns out to be true and not just wishful thinking by us reading nerds). It can carve out room for us to grow our capacity to be better people. It can give us a space to practice and imagine where we can participate with the good things and reject the bad. This movie did that for me.
I’ll avoid spoilers in this post, but here are my initial spoiler-free takeaways from Jojo Rabbit: Do what you can. Hold fast to love and hope, especially in the darkest times. Be brave and be kind. Fight hate and fear in all its forms. And always remember to dance.
As a kid, like most of my friends, I spent time fantasizing about being able to teleport, or turn invisible, or just generally be Wolverine. Yet, more often, I imagined being able to freeze time . [[Like on Out of This World, an 80s sitcom of which the only thing I remember is that the lead girl could freeze time.]]
Those thoughts of time freezing bliss still come to me as an adult — fairly regularly, as a matter of fact — and a huge part of that fantasy is the fact that I’d have unlimited time to learn about, watch/rewatch, and read/reread everything out there that interests me. I always want to watch and read all the things. Not some of the things, or most of the things, ALL THE THINGS!! Or at least, all the things that seem to be good things.
Sadly, the superpower to stop time still eludes me, so I’m always behind on a countless number of movies, shows, and books I want to get to watching/reading. For real, it’s literally a countless number (aka, my living nightmare).
All that to say, it always feels good when I finally get around to something that’s been on my radar. Thus, recently checking The Haunting of Hill House off my unending media list would have been satisfying for that reason alone. It’s been toward the top of said list since the show debuted on Netflix, and urgency intensified as multiple friends have raved about it and told me I need to get watch sooner rather than later.
Well, at long last I’ve seen it, and boy howdy is it good! (No, I don’t know why I use strange colloquialisms on this blog that I would never use in real life, but I’m not going to stop.)
For real though, I loved this show!
I had been a little hesitant once I learned it would only be very loosely based on the source material. I love the Shirley Jackson novel (which is a wildly underrated and under-read book, by a wildly underrated and under-read author — you probably know her as the author of “The Lottery,” the chilling short story many of us had to read in school), as well as the 1963 film adaptation, The Haunting (which is a wildly underrated and under-seen horror classic).
Using the source material as a jumping off point while taking off in a new direction could be an inspired creative choice. More often, it’s a disaster. Too many producers and writers ignore everything that makes the source material great, instead using said material to lazily grasp at a pre-existing intellectual property for the sole purpose of name recognition.
This show is definitely an example of the former. It feels like creator/writer/director Mike Flanagan really cherished the novel, and the way he made allusions and homages to the original felt genuine, and not like lip service. They made sense, and revealed an understanding of what was referenced.
Flanagan’s themes were very different from Jackson’s, but still thoughtful and resonant. I loved the story he told just as much as the original, if not more. I know, I know, suggesting I may like it more than the remarkable original novel is blasphemous, but I’m just being honest. Honestly blasphemous. (Maybe put that on my tombstone? Maybe a memoir title? Either way, it’s definitely an accurate description. Anyway, back to the show.)
The Haunting of Hill House is eerie, and the kind of scary that gets in your head. I’m not sure I was ever terrified watching the show, but the tone was tense and creepy, and the creepiness lingered. Let’s just say that after bingeing the show while Emily was out of town, I had more lights on than I normally would while getting ready for bed.
I think that lingering fear is due to how effectively Flanagan and company created the atmosphere of Hill House. The creepiness felt expansive and all-encompassing. It genuinely seemed like something ghastly may be around every corner, and I found myself constantly scanning the screen for some horror lurking in the background. Turns out, part of the reason for this unease was that at least 43 ghosts are hidden in scenes at Hill House throughout the show. 43!!! There were also some narratively earned jump scares that got me good.
More than that, as is the case in so many horror films I love, the genre was a vehicle for a meaningful story. The scares were fun, but the framework of a ghost story is used to tell a bigger story about the things that really haunt us, and how those things define and enslave us if we try to pretend they aren’t there.
So many of the show’s themes resonated deeply with me. Family, grief, love, mental illness, shame, and forgiveness just to name a few. As well as how to live well and still be open, vulnerable, brave and kind in a dangerous, often cruel world full of real life monsters.
There were more themes I really loved, but mentioning them would be venturing into spoiler territory. We can save that for irl conversations, or texts, or whatever. Similarly, I could also list some storytelling devices I really enjoyed, but again, it would potentially spoil stuff by getting your head going in a direction that might help you figure shit out earlier than you may want. Ask me all about it if you want to talk about it.
One thing I will say, which doesn’t spoil anything, is that episode six is an absolutely remarkable bit of visual storytelling. Hugely impressive technical filmmaking from everyone involved, including amazing work by the actors. However, most importantly, it was in service to the story, not at the expense of it. For real, friends, the episode is so fucking good. The degree of difficulty was so high and they crushed it. It’s even more impressive that they pulled it off while filming with five child actors who also crushed it.
Anyway, I guess that’s all I can write about this show without spoilers, so I’ll save the rest of my thoughts for outside the blog. Or for a future post where I throw caution to the wind and spoil the fuck out of everything (with warnings of course). We’ll see if I make it far enough to get back into that style of writing again.
Even if you barely know me, there’s a good chance you know I’m in love with Taika Waititi. Speaking of which, if you haven’t seen the tv adaptation of What We Do in the Shadows, you should get on that.
Anyway, after the teaser a month or so ago, we finally have a full trailer for JOJO RABBIT. I can’t wait!!!
Also, this will definitely be the best performance ever by a Polynesian Jew playing Adolf Hitler.
With any tattoo comes a number of inevitable reactions from friends, acquaintances, and strangers. From thoughtful, sweet and appreciated comments/questions, to downright irritating, out of line nonsense (and everywhere in between).
The most common and understandable reaction is curiosity as to what the tattoo means. Why on earth did I choose to get this particular thing inked onto my body forever?
Well, my friends, I finally got my second tattoo, so here is the answer to that question. [Also, excuse the bit of blood in the photo. The tattoo is in the healing stage, so this pic from immediately after is the best I’ve got at the moment.]
Since most people want a response no longer than a sentence or two, the tl;dr version is this: It comes from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics, and it’s meant to remind me that hope is the most powerful thing there is.
Still here? Good. Here’s the longer version:
Sandman is Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece comic book epic, the bulk of which ran from 1989 to 1996. It’s dark, weird, and literate. It’s shaped by Gaiman’s ability to create tremendous depth in his storytelling and worldbuilding by placing his protagonists within a context of myth, history, and literary references and allusions. Norman Mailer even called Sandman “a comic strip for intellectuals.”
I love it, as I do most everything Neil Gaiman does.
It’s thesaga of Morpheus, aka Dream, one of the seven endless along with Destiny, Death, Desire, Despair, Delirium, and Destruction. They don’t rule the world as gods, but each is the personification and source of the things that make life what it is.
The storyopens as Dream is taken captive by occult practitioners. They were trying to capture Death for predictably nefarious purposes, but they accidentally got Morpheus instead. They take away his three objects of power — his pouch, his ruby, and his helm — and keep him prisoner for 70 years, hoping to leverage his freedom for power and favor.
He inevitably escapes and returns to the Dreaming, the epicenter of all dreams and stories. In his absence, it has collapsed, broken down by entropy and disrepair. In order to restore it and regain his full power, Dream must reclaim his lost three objects.
His helm has come into the possession of a demon, Choronzon. To get it back, Dream must journey to hell, where he is challenged by the demon to a contest. If Dream wins, the helm will be returned to him. If Choronzon wins, Dream will become a slave of hell forever.
The rules are that each takes turns projecting a form, and one must top the other until either of the contestants fails to imagine something more powerful than the last.
Choronzon takes the first move. He imagines a vicious dire wolf. Predictably for a demon, the power of predatory violence is his style of play. Initially, Dream plays in kind, imagining forms that can kill and destroy whatever Choronzon imagines. Yet, he soon realizes the futility in letting Choronzon frame the game and shifts tactics to a more positive, life-affirming strategy.
Rather than explaining it to you, here is what comes next. It’s one of my favorite moments in anything I’ve ever read, and is meaningful enough to me that I, you know, tattooed on my body.
Choronzon, High Duke of the Eighth Circle, Captain of the Horde of Beelzebub, can imagine nothing that is more powerful than hope.
As soon as I read this the first time, I wanted this tattoo. This moment is the epitome of why I love Neil Gaiman’s work more than any other writer. It’s the hallmark of my favorite sorts of stories.
Part of the alchemy of my depression is that I can never forget “the darkness at the end of everything.” Even in my best and happiest moments, that shadow is always in my field of vision. So, hope that pretends the darkness isn’t there has nothing to offer me. The very existence of that sort of false hope leaves me feeling empty and defeated. But here, the demon reminds us of that darkness, flaunts it in Dream’s face believing it to be his trump card, and hope still wins!
Dream’s victory plants the thought in my mind that hope isn’t the most powerful thing in spite of the darkness, or if we ignore the darkness. It is the most powerful thing because of the darkness, because nothing is more beautiful or remarkable than when we stand up, look into the darkness that waits at the end of the universe, and still choose hope and life. That is the most powerful thing.
Hope isn’t logical. It’s to believe foolishly, not just when it makes sense, (and I’m far too enamored with things making sense). We all know how our stories end, but to simply lay down and give in to how often death wins — even though it is the inevitable end of our stories — is the coward’s way out. I want hope instead.
Hope is choosing to see the world as beautiful, to see meaning in the details and minutia of our lives, and to believe that meaning somehow transcends us. Even though that meaning is probably just a dream. It’s choosing to believe there is beauty in the darkness and mystery around us instead of just angry things with teeth and claws, or worse, a vacuum.
The only way I want to live the one short life I get is by holding fast to hope. That’s not easy for me. Often I don’t believe, foolishly or otherwise — but I want to. Maybe all of life is ultimately meaningless. Hell, I think that’s by far the smarter bet. But if that’s the case, then I want to make the stupid bet. I want to act like it all matters, because who knows, maybe it does? Maybe there is more than what we know for sure. Even though darkness does wait at the end of the universe, maybe that’s not all there is. I want to live and make my choices in the mystery of that maybe, because it beats the fucking alternative.
And so now my body is marked for the rest of my life to remind me to choose hope, because that’s how I want to live. I want to look into the darkness at the end of everything with my eyes wide open and say, “I am hope.”
That title sounds like a string of code words, right?
I assume I’m not the only one who goes stretches of days or weeks obsessed with the same song or album. I’m otherwise a pretty varied music listener, but every few weeks a song will capture my mind and I’ll return to it again and again and again.
Now that I’m on Roused a bit more often again, I thought it would be fun to share these songs as they arise.
At the moment, it’s not a song, but three songs I can’t stop listening to.
There are times when books have the power to shake me. To jostle and stir things inside me in a way that continues long after I’ve closed the back cover.
Some books because they are poignant and lovely. Their beauty sharp, cutting my heart in a way that heals.
Some because they uncover truth at the heart of life and humanity. They remind me that I need to open my eyes.
Some offer insight into the brokenness of our culture, into the deep and systemic unfairness of life. They reveal to me how much more of myself I should be offering the world around me.
Some simply overwhelm me with the tenderness and grace the author shows for the fictional people she’s created, by proxy showing that tenderness to me, to all of us. They remind me that far too often, I love too little.
This is one of those rare books that does all of those things.
An American Marriage is devastating, powerful, heartbreaking, and beautiful. Jones illustrates the way hope and despair always live side by side, and she doesn’t reveal until the final pages which will get the last word in this story — which of course is only the last word for a time, the dialogue between the two will continue until the world ends.
This is a special book with a depth of human insight that doesn’t come along too often. Especially not paired with such remarkable writing, and believe me, the writing itself is a gift, powerful and delicate at the same time.
Each character Jones writes is vivid and real. Not a single one is a castoff or plot contrivance. They feel whole. Even now as I think back on the book I miss them, wish I could see more of their lives and offer to reveal some of my own. They made me angry and sad, they made me happy and proud. There were moments I felt like I couldn’t breathe, when I didn’t want to keep reading because I didn’t want to see their pain, and other moments I delighted in their joy. There were even times I wished I could enter the pages to offer them tenderness and understanding, but could only read on and hope they would offer those gifts to each other.
I’ve never read anything else by Tayari Jones before, but I can’t wait to find another story she’s offered up to a broken and beautiful world.
Fact 1: Most people think they don’t like comics. Fact 2: Those people are wrong. Okay, not all of them, but like, 97%. Fact 3: I need to come up with a snappier name for this series of posts.
Superheroes are running shit in Hollywood these days. I mean, for real, Marvel Studios films are legit cultural touchstones now. They’re in the zeitgeist, baby!
Still, you’d be hard-pressed to get most people to actually pick up a comic book or graphic novel.
Depressing side note: As I wrote that last sentence, I realized it’s probably just as difficult to get someone to pick up any sort of book, but that’s too depressing for me to contemplate right now. We’ll pretend it’s just comics so that I can continue on with my original plan. Right? Right.
As such, I’m going to start writing about (as the overlong series title suggests) comics for people who think they don’t like comics. Then, we can all laugh about how foolish and misled you all were, basking in the glory of my service to humanity. Or, you know, we can drink cocktails and talk about great stories told in a beautiful medium.
First, before I get started, I’m skipping superhero comics (at least for now). Since these posts are — at least ostensibly — aimed at non-comics readers, my sense is that superheroes may be a bridge too far. However, let the record show that there are some brilliant, deep, intellectually stimulating, and emotionally poignant stories in the superhero genre.
Secondively, two titles that would absolutely have ended up in these posts if I hadn’t already written about them before are Sagaand Descender.
Did you read that post, run out to buy Saga, read the first volume or two and then come back? Good, welcome back! I should have asked you to grab me coffee while you were out. Whatevs, let’s get started.
With this, the inaugural post of a series that will undoubtedly go on and on into the mid single digits, my first recommendation is:
Paper Girls – by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang
Hey, look! Brian K. Vaughn is back in the post!
As you’ll know since you just read a volume or two of Saga, the guy has a pretty incredible imagination. The stuff he dreams up is often beautiful, horrific, downright bonkers, and/or awe-inspiring; in many cases all at the same time.
More importantly, he creates deep, rich, enjoyable characters. In his previous work (two of my favs being Runaways and, you guessed it, Saga) it’s impossible not to fall in love with the people who populate his stories. Fair warning: he’s not afraid to kill his/our darlings, so prepare to have your heart broken once or twice if you start reading all of his stuff.
As for Paper Girls, it’s about four… well, paper girls. Three veterans and one newly minted member of the ranks are going about their business in Cleveland on the morning after Halloween, 1988. They’re out there delivering the morning’s news, being 80s teens, figuring out life, etc. Then, as teens are wont to do, our titular paper girls find themselves thrust into the middle of a war between factions of time-travelers from the future.
Shit gets cray. Drama ensues. Wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey adventure is had by all; complete with overlapping timelines, future versions of themselves, and plenty of WTF?! moments at the end of issues to keep you reading.
The book is also gorgeous. Thanks, Cliff Chiang!
Whether you think you like comics or not, you should give Paper Girls the old college try. And Saga! Please read Saga. If those aren’t your cup of tea, I’ll be back soon with another offering.
I saw Tarantino’s new film at 11:30pm on Thursday (opening previews). The next day I bought tickets to see it again in 35mm on Sunday (tonight).
My thoughts still need to coalesce into something more thoughtful and organized, but Tarantino has made another great film that also stands as a monument to cinema as a whole.
Once Upon a Time begins as an enjoyably meandering, wonderfully acted character study of three people, a city, and a culture in transition as the 60s prepare to give way to a new decade. That loose narrative eventually narrows into a sharp, bloody point. To switch metaphors [bad writing! lulz] the tension grows tighter and tighter until the knot is finally taut and the mayhem ensues.
For many, probably even the majority, Tarantino’s films are best known for their violence. That’s more than fair, and that violence isn’t in short supply in Once Upon a Time’s final act. Yet, what too many people miss is the undercurrent of tenderness and hope running through much of his work. Once Upon a Time makes that tenderness and hope harder to miss than ever. More importantly, in dialogue with his other films, this movie brings those qualities in his other work into sharper contrast.
For one, by reshaping the events on the night of the Sharon Tate murders, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood now joins Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained as revisionist histories where Tarantino reaches back in time like some sort of cinematic avenging angel. Those three stories fantasize about turning violence back onto historic perpetrators — two in terms of actual historical people (Hitler and the Nazis, the Manson Family) and one featuring purely fictional characters, but set firmly in the context of the all too true story of slavery in America and our culture’s ongoing dehumanization of Black men and women.
Time for me to watch it again. And again. And of course dive back into the full catalogue.
2. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
Half of my experience of this book: I was chilled to the bone by the gruesome story of the Golden State Killer, a monster who terrorized California for at least 12 years. He is responsible for raping at least 50 women and murdering 13 people that we know of.
His career of terror was horrific, and for all the violence and rage in his crimes, he defied all the odds by never leaving behind enough evidence to be caught. That is until 2018, when 40-year-old DNA evidence combined with the genealogy database craze, finally leading to his arrest at 72 years old.
The other half of my experience: I was in awe of the brilliant mind of Michelle McNamara as she tirelessly worked to track down a monster. Her competence and personality gained her unheard-of acceptance from active and retired detectives still working the case, officially and unofficially.
She wasn’t just a genius layperson investigator, but a talented and compelling writer who turned her obsession into a dark and fascinating work of true crime.
She died in her sleep in 2016, never getting to see the end of the case to which she dedicated so much of her energy. Paul Holes, the investigator who said he saw McNamara as his primary partner during the years they collaborated, was the one who finally tracked the bastard down.
Read this book, and if you’re like me, you’ll follow that up with a dive deeper down the rabbit hole, seeking more information on the GSK’s reign of terror, and then details of the end of this engrossing and disturbing saga.
3: Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film
Until her tragic passing in 2016, Michelle McNamara was married to Patton Oswalt. While reading her book, I decided to listen to Oswalt reading Silver Screen Fiend, his memoir about a time when he was deeply obsessed with film. As he describes it, he lived too much of his life in the darkness of a cinema and far too little in the light of the real world.
I’m not going to lie, the book did less to caution me away from a deep dive into cinema and more to draw me back into the film-obsessed fold. Don’t get me wrong, I totally get what he’s saying. I want to heed his call to stop being so inert in my life; to do and make things instead of just consuming. And yet, this book also made me want to push my way back into a life of cinephilia. I know, exactly the response an author wants from readers of a memoir about a former unhealthy obsession. In fairness, Oswalt still deeply loves film, so it’s not that surprising that his writing would fan the recently growing flames of my returning passion for movies.
For real, though. Gone are the days when I used to watch 200+ movies in a year, or watch 30 westerns or noir films in 30 days. I want that back again. As strange as it may sound, I was actually significantly more creative and productive when movie-watching was a huge part of my life. I’m not saying I want to dive in to the extent that Patton did in those bygone days, but I definitely want to go deeper than any sane, normal person would. But that stands to reason, because I’m neither sane, nor normal.
Speaking of my desire to take a deep dive back into cinema, I took advantage of an unexpected night off by by enjoying an unofficial double feature at the Metrograph.
Side note about my night off, for the curious: I fucked up my left index finger at work when I broke a pint glass. For another day or two, I can’t bend it, and thus couldn’t work this week. #worthit — This is also how I was able to see Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood opening night. Be honest, you’re digging my nine-fingered blog posting skills? Super impressive, yeah?
It’s been waaaaaaaaaaay too long since I’d last visited the Metrograph. The Chinatown/Lower East Side theater specializes in curating an ever-changing selection of important cinema from around the world and throughout the history of film. Tonight I saw Ugetsu and Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down; both for the first time.
If that’s not enough, upstairs you can get food and drinks at the Commissary. Before, in between, and after my movies I enjoyed impressively good cocktails and one of the best bar cheeseburgers I’ve ever had. [Don’t worry, Long Island Bar, I still love you!]
My plan is to start visiting Metrograph closer to once a week, as a way to help renew my film education. My thinking is that week to week, the limited, well curated selection of films will push me into seeing films I wouldn’t normally prioritize. If I’m going to start learning again, I should lean into trusted curation, leaving — or burning down — my comfort zone.
So, you know, if you’re into that sort of thing and what to join, hit me up.
5. Archer: 1999
Okay, I’m not saying there have been seasons of Archer I flat out hated, but my love for the show has noticeably diminished over the last few years. I liked it and still wanted to love it, but something was missing. I just couldn’t put my finger on it (space phrasing!).
However, that was the past. Now we can all bask in the brilliant future of Archer 1999. If you ask me — and actually, this is my blog, so it doesn’t matter if you ask me — this season is up there with peak Archer, or at least close. The premise is entertaining, these iterations of the characters are fantastic, and most importantly, I’m laughing out loud multiple times an episode again.
For those merry few who plan to visit RtM as I try to get writing again, I’m going to explain the gist of my thinking moving forward.
Emily suggested I cut this part, and I understand why. Back when I was writing more on this blog, I did way too much apologizing when I wasn’t posting as frequently as I wanted to. I’m going to ignore her advice and include this, because it’s only my friends who read this blog, and I want to share what’s going on in my head. I’ve been hiding an awful lot the last few years, and I’d like to stop doing that.
What I’m trying to do is relearn how to write. So far, in my brief time back at it, it’s been nothing like riding a bike. In large part, I’ve spent a few years creating terrible habits, and I need to slowly make new ones. I want to get these writing muscles strong again, to the point where they actually crave the work instead of resisting it.
So far, once I sit and write a little — the results of which I am admittedly disappointed with — there are stirrings of that feeling I used to have when I was writing all the time. Before long, I’ll be back in the saddle without fear of being bucked off at any minute. Probably. Maybe. We’ll see.
That’s where ‘Five Things’ comes in. As I try to get back into writing on Roused more consistently — albeit infrequently — these posts seem like a good place to start.
Anyway, with the preamble out of the way, let’s talk about books.
1. Lose Well – Chris Gethard
Related to said preamble above, we have Chris Gethard’s Lose Well. With this book, Gethard has sounded a call to all the weirdos in the world to do what they love, whatever the outcome. It’s definitely for the normals of the world, too, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that the weirdos should take special notice.
This is the magnum opus of challenges to stop making excuses and start making the things you love, knowing in advance you’re definitely going to fail much of the time, and will probably fail altogether in the end.
This isn’t a self help book promising a rosy outlook that we can do whatever you set our minds to. This is a book about leaving behind the fear of failure, and instead learning to embrace that failure as proof we’re trying to do what matters to us. Falling on our face in pursuit of the things we love isn’t shameful, it’s a badge of honor that we actually chased the things care about and put ourselves on the line. Having skin in the game is always something to be proud of.
If we make things people respond to, or start social movements, or make a difference in the world, amazing! And embracing the failure will be a big part of the reason we succeed. Let’s be honest though, it’s very likely that won’t happen. This is the real world, and far more people go undiscovered due to the luck of the draw or lack of talent than become Rowling or Spielberg or Bowie. Them’s the breaks. Gethard reminds us we should make the things we love anyway. We should get our hands dirty and our fingers bloodied in the trenches to keep pursuing what matters. Our lives will be wildly better for it.
2. King of Scars – Leigh Bardugo
I sat down to start writing about this book, which I really liked. Instead, out poured 350 words about people’s attitudes toward genre in general, and YA fantasy in particular. I had to scrap all of that, because it doesn’t make sense here — but be warned, a post about genre ghettoization is eventually on its way.
For now, let me just make clear that I believe that good stories are good stories, and they are not bound to, nor restricted from, any particular genre or medium.
With that out of the way, you should be reading Leigh Bardugo.
King of Scars is set in the Grishaverse, a fantasy world Bardugo has built and fleshed out to great effect in her first six books: the Shadow and Bone Trilogy (aka The Grisha Trilogy), the Six of Crows Duology, and The Language of Thorns, a book of fairy tales set in the Grishaverse.
[[Side note #1: the Six of Crows books, like Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series, are fantasy heist stories!!]]
Most fantasy — even the sort that isn’t beholden to Tolkien — is rooted in Western European myths and cultures. Instead, Bardugo writes stories rooted in Eastern European history and culture. Although, she does take us to kingdoms based on Scandinavia and the Netherlands, specifically Amsterdam, along the way; Asia makes a solid showing as well.
King of Scars kicks off another duology featuring mostly familiar characters. I enjoyed living in the world she’s created for a few hundred pages as much as ever.
In reality, my recommendation of this book is actually a recommendation for the series in general. That being said, you should absolutely go back to the beginning and read Shadow and Bone.
[[Side note #2: another great example of rooting speculative fiction in cultures from other places in the world is Nnedi Okorafor’s, Who Fears Death, — on its way as an upcoming series on HBO. As with so many things, that’s for another post.]]
3. Dune – Frank Herbert
If you like books and you haven’t read Dune, you need to. If you don’t like books, why the hell are you still reading this post?
Arguably the most important science fiction novel of all time, Dune is an unparalleled epic that has shaped significant strands of Sci-Fi since its release.
Dune isn’t just a part of the science fiction and American cultural canons, it helped shape each in the 70s as the number of devotees to the cult of Dune grew.
This book is smart, original, and delightfully weird. If it came out today, it would still be unique — quite a feat since it’s informed so much of what has been released since. Quick example: early drafts of Star Wars were largely cribbed from Dune, and even the final version still owes quite a bit to Frank Herbert.
The books holds up well in 2019. The metaphors and cultural touchstones still resonate, they just have different analogues now than they did in the 60s.
If you haven’t read it, you have until November 20, 2020 to take care of business. That’s when Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve (yay!) releases a film adaptation starring Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name), Oscar Isaac (The Force Awakens), Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming), Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men, Avengers: Infinity War), Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones, Aquaman), Javier Bardem (Skyfall, No Country for Old Men), Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy), Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation), Stellan Skarsgård (Good Will Hunting, Avengers), and Charlotte Rampling (Never Let Me Go). Look at that cast! (Sploosh.)
Also, if you haven’t yet, you should totally watch this documentary about an amazing adaptation of Dune that never actually happed. In spite of never getting made, it still went on to shape Hollywood science fiction films for the better part of two decades. Obviously it will make more sense if you read the book before watching the documentary.
4. The Hating Game – Sally Thorne
The rom-com is another genre that could fit into a discussion about genre ghettoization. On the one side, so many people dismiss the genre out of hand as if nothing good could ever come from funny romances. On the other side, you have people who indiscriminately swallow whatever garbage comes along, so long as it has the rom-com trappings. I think both are gross.
Again, further discussion is for another post. For now:
I read The Hating Game because Emily fell in love with it, and it’s easy to see why. This book is funny, endearing, and sexy. It’s got charm for days. Also, as is paramount to any good romantic comedy, the romantic leads are the sort you’ll want to spend more time with after the book is finished. I read this whole book in 24 hrs, 10 hrs of which were a bar shift. With my schedule and brainpower lately, that’s really saying something.
Bonus: the sex scenes are way hotter than they’re allowed to be in most rom-com movies, what with the need to keep majority in the PG13 territory to maximize box office potential. So reading rom-coms has an added perk over always just watching them. Speaking of which, The Hating Game is currently being made into a film, so if you want the version with the sex scenes — and why on earth wouldn’t you?! — check out the book soon.
This isn’t a book that subverts the genre or breaks the mold, it’s a book that achieves the peak of what the rom-com can be when a writer leans all the way in to what we love about these sorts of stories.
And if that isn’t enough to pique your interest, in addition to being a really great rom-com, The Hating Game is also a bit of a reminder that no one is just a character in your story. Always look closer. Always look again.
5. Semiosis – Sue Burke
Okay, I get it. This book list is weighted heavily toward speculative fiction. Just bear with me for one more, because Semiosis is the real deal.
With her debut, Sue Burke did something really special, and she’s an exciting new voice in science fiction.
It’s tough for anything to be original these days. Yet, every so often, I read a book that is so wonderfully it’s own thing that my mind comes back to it over and over. Semiosis is one of those books.
It reminds me of books like Annihilation, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, China Miéville’s Embassytown and The City and the City and… well, I guess everything by China Miéville, as well as movies like Pontypool and It Follows. Mostly because these stories take a fairly familiar sub-genre and twist the premise or throw in a new perspective, giving the whole thing new life.
In the case of Semiosis, the familiar story is humans attempting to colonize a strange new planet. Burke’s twist on the sub-genre by making the species they need to contend with, and relate to, something unexpected.
Its narrative structure is similar to Asimov’s Foundation, in that it jumps ahead to new characters and generations as it tells a longer story of a civilization.
I wish I could write more to entice you, but I feel like any plots details would be spoilery.
I guess the main thing I can reveal is that Burke is an award winning translator, and that fact isn’t surprising after reading her first novel.
As with most science fiction featuring aliens, it’s actually a story about humans. Semiosis is about engaging difference. It’s about how difficult it is to understand the other in the face of our biological impulse to see the unknown as a threat in our fight for self-preservation. It’s about the maddeningly precarious nature of peace — both in the global and intimate sense.
I can’t wait for Interference, the next book in the duology, to be released in October. Also, I’m really worried about what happens next!