Honestly Some Joy in Link Format: A Links Round-Up

I decided to take a break from having sad links and only have happy links. So you can look forward to some gay Sulu, bonkers Oscar Wilde adjacence, and Catullus telling people to go fuck themselves (he does that so well).

Bahahaha Constance Holland (nee Lloyd; formerly Wilde) has a fake gravestone at a cemetery in Spain. OF COURSE SHE DOES God I love Oscar Wilde stories.

American literature needs indie publishers, says The Atlantic. They don’t exactly go deep on the point that indie presses are an avenue for publishing more marginalized voices, so if y’all have a recent article that gets to that point, link me and I’ll add it!

The wonderful and attrrrrrractive John Cho on gay Sulu and his concerns about same. What a cool guy John Cho seems like.

Speaking of Star Trek, CBS/Paramount recently released new, draconian guidelines for Star Trek fan films; KJ of Lady Business goes in on why these are terrible.

I cherished Natalie Portman and Jonathan Safran Foer’s unbearable fake email exchange, of course. The Millions has uncovered a correspondence between Portman and Cormac McCarthy — what a treasure — and Jezebel shared the emails of two of its own staff people as well. What a great, not at all not-real, trend.

Daisy Dunn loves Catullus. And just — y’all, I just love Catullus so much. Okay that’s all I have to say. I really love Catullus.

First-time authors Yaa Gyasi and Hua Hsu interview each other about book ideas and racist grade school teachers.

The fab Elizabeth Minkel breaks down what’s so silly about those peril-peril-fan-entitlement articles, over at The New Statesman.

Have a wonderful weekend, you beautiful people! There is a tiny tiny papillon puppy in my neighborhood, and I plan to lurk the neighborhood pretending to be hunting for Pokemons but actually in hopes of catching a glimpse of this tiny preposterous puppy.

Saving Montgomery Sole, Mariko Tamaki

Y’all, I love Mariko Tamaki. If I were in charge of the universe, I’d request that Mariko Tamaki subsequently do like romance authors and write one book for each of the notable minor characters in Saving Montgomery Sole.1 Saving Montgomery Sole is about a girl with two moms who struggles to fit in to her glossy, carb-hating California high school; and then a Jerry Falwell-type preacher comes to town, and Montgomery is certain that her family will be a target for his hostility.

Saving Montgomery Sole

Mariko Tamaki hated high school and has said in interviews that she always struggled to fit in. In this book as in Skim and even This One Summer, and she absolutely captures the helplessness and frustration and sometimes-misery of high school. Montgomery and her friends insist on being themselves at a school where their selves are not entirely accepted, but Montgomery is the one who struggles with it. When other kids judge and tease her, she’s a simmering pot of rage, where her friends Thomas and Naoki have–to her–an astonishing capacity for letting high school mockery roll off their backs. And I love that although Montgomery has legitimate gripes with her school and her town, Tamaki’s not afraid to show Montgomery being, at times, a close-minded jerk herself.

If I have a complaint — get ready for an Angry Feminism Minute — it’s that all the skinny blondes in this book, and there are a lot of them, in a plethora of different settings, are one-dimensional carbs-obsessed bitches. Since a major theme of the book is that Montgomery and her friends are mocked for their perceived deviance from an acceptable norm, it’s disappointing to see the book itself condemning a particular gender performance in others. None of the skinny blonde bitches is granted any interiority, and while Montgomery ends up confronting some of her wrong assumptions about what people’s lives are like, the skinny blonde health nuts are not included in that revision of expectations.

As a culture, I’d like to think we’re moving away from uncritically reproducing the I’m not like other girls narrative — at least, I hope so. Equating a femme-y gender performance with shallowness and assholery just substitutes one set of restrictive gender norms for another set, and that’s not what we’re about as feminists, right, team?

  1. Yo I love that about romance novels. If you love a secondary character in a romance novel, like ever, you can be almost certain that they’re going to have their own book.

Pit Bull, Bronwyn Dickey

Are y’all ready for me to EXPLODE YOUR MIND GRAPES? Because the reason I read Bronwyn Dickey’s Pit Bull was this one interview that led me to some internet research that EXPLODED MY MIND GRAPES. Bronwyn Dickey said in this interview that we really don’t know anything about pit bull dog bites. And I was like, Um, okay, Bronwyn Dickey, I agree with you that pit bulls are misunderstood, but we know some stuff about pit bull dog bites, and because not knowing things drives me crazy, I went down an Internet rabbit hole researching dog bite statistics.

Team. Team. Listen. We know literally nothing about dog bites by breed. Please let me expand on this. Number one, we are super-garbage at identifying dog breeds. Below is a picture of two dogs, a pure-bred Basenji and a pure-bred cocker spaniel.

Pit BullNice-looking dogs, no? Now please inspect the puppies this pair of dogs produced.

Pit Bull

I KNOW, RIGHT? So okay, we begin by noting that everyone’s terrible at identifying dog breeds. Dickey also includes pictures of the puppies’ eventual progeny, and that’s even nutser: It turns out that within two generations, dogs revert to the statistical dog average.1

Next up, I went looking for how a reputable source like the CDC compiles breed-specific dog bite statistics, and it turns out that they don’t do it anymore, but when they’ve done it in the past they used humane society reports plus media reports. Y’all. Media reports. Like imagine your local TV station and how much they love scare stories, and then recognize that this is one of the main sources the CDC used to compile information about dog bites. In 2013, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association looked for dog bite reports given to the media and humane societies, and the researchers looked more deeply into a few hundred of those cases.

AND LISTEN TO THIS, Y’ALL. (I had to start a new paragraph because this is so mind-blowing.) In forty percent of cases where there was a humane society report and a media report of the same dog bite incident, in forty percent of those cases, the media reported a different dog breed than the humane society. THINK ABOUT THAT. We know absolutely literally nothing about what breeds of dogs are more prone to biting. Zero things, is what we know. We have no reliable statistics whatsoever. Please tell your friends; I cannot be alone with this information.

Pit Bull

Pit Bull had so many tragic parts about poor folks losing their beloved family pets that I am not sure I can entirely recommend it. I’d like to make an annotated reading list where I note which pages are fine to read (bc heartwarming stories of dogs and owners who so much love each other), and which pages should be strenuously avoided (DEAD DOGS, there are so many DEAD DOGS in this book).

I do feel like I learned a lot about the sociological underpinnings of attitudes toward pit bulls. Surprise! It’s racism! As Gene Demby is perpetually noting, #housingsegregationineverything. When landlords or city councils ban pit bulls, they’re actually trying to forbid a type of tenant, and don’t die of shock, but the type is poor and black. It’s all pretty enraging, especially when alternated with stories of people who were forced to give up their dogs to euthanasia because the alternative is homelessness or similar disasters.

Read this or don’t — you know your limits re: dead dog stories — but I mean it, tell your friends this important information about dog bite statistics. WE KNOW NOTHING. LITERALLY NOTHING. Thank you Bronwen Dickey for opening my eyes to this preposterous-ass situation.

  1. That is not a real datum, it is just a joke, do not @ me.

You May Also Like, Tom Vanderbilt

You May Also Like attempts to fathom the question of why people like what they like. Before reading this book, you’d probably answer “It’s complicated.” But after you read it? You’ll, um, you’ll still say it’s complicated. Human brains are complicated organs, and we are just not very good at understanding them.

You May Also Like

When I’m reading pop sciencey sorts of books, I am on a hair trigger with regard to bullshit neuroscience of the type that Cordelia Fine has conditioned me to be on a hair trigger w/r/t; i.e., that thing where it’s like “the same part of your brain lights up when you’re scared as when you eat a new type of vegetable, so you must be scared of new vegetables!”1 I am happy to report that with a few minor and rare exceptions, Vanderbilt steers clear of this sketchy business. He is less interested in neurological explanations for taste than in talking to people whose work it is to figure out the whys and hows.

As you can probably guess if you live in this world, many of the people researching taste are doing it so that they can make more and better algorithms to predict what you will like if you already like X. Or so they can find ways to make you like Y if you are not currently a Y-liker.

algorithm-makers, probably

That second thing is of particular interest to me! Vanderbilt finds that framing makes a huge difference (duh): If you already know you don’t like country music, you are less likely to enjoy a song if someone says “hey listen to this song by Garth Brooks” than if you encounter a Garth Brooks song, stripped of context, as the background to a movie or commercial you enjoy. Social context matters too (also duh): When you see other people liking a thing, you’re more likely to like the thing yourself. Plus, if other people around you like a thing and your experience of the thing broadens, you are even likelier still to start liking the thing, because familiarity is a good predictor of developing liking.

(Cf my Stockholm syndrome re: radio-frequent songs including but not limited to Nick Jonas’s “Jealous” and One Republic’s “Counting Stars.”)

He also discusses the role of error in the way our tastes change, which is something that had never occurred to me. For instance, some irregular verbs have become regular over time, mainly verbs we don’t use that much.

Why? Because the irregular verbs we hardly ever encounter are the ones whose irregular forms we are least likely to remember, hence we convert them, through error, into regular verbs.

Interesting, right? So now we have “thrived” instead of “throve,” but “drove” is still the past tense of “drive.” Take that, prescriptivists!

If you are looking for final conclusions about what makes a person like a thing, You May Also Like doesn’t have a lot of answers. But if you just want to learn about the many factors that go into making personal taste, by spending time with the people who spend their time thinking about that, this is a fun and readable exploration of those worlds.

Jill at Rhapsody in Books also reviewed this. Let me know if you did, too, and I’ll add a link!

  1. This is what we call affirming the consequent. If you float and wood floats, that doesn’t mean you are actually made of wood.

Tell the Wind and Fire, Sarah Rees Brennan

Note: I received Tell the Wind and Fire from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

Okay, despite having shared that article about how people should stop hating so much on YA love triangles, I am slightly over YA love triangles, not because there aren’t authors who can write them well, but because YA authors who can’t write them well insist on writing them anyway. So to read a book like Tell the Wind and Fire, which is about a girl and two physically identical dudes, and which specifically and deliberately steers away from love triangling, made a refreshing change.

Tell the Wind and Fire

Lucie Manette has won her way over to the Light side of her city through a combination of luck and judicious manipulation of her own public image. Now she has a wealthy and influential Light boyfriend and things seem to be going her way (as long as she doesn’t think too much about those she left “buried” in the Dark side of the city). But everything changes when her boyfriend Ethan avoids arrest only by the intervention of a Dark doppelganger called Carwyn–someone Lucie never knew existed. If you have read A Tale of Two Cities you can basically predict how this all turns out.1

Because I do not like Dickens,2 I wasn’t expecting much from Tell the Wind and Fire. I was delighted to find that it is a kind of book I particularly love, which is the kind where the protagonist is trying to be a good person in a world where the only choices available to them are bad. Toss in themes of public perception, its power and lability, and its contrast with true reality, and you’ve got Gin Jenny catnip.

actual footage of my reading experience

Thus! If you are on the hunt for a dark-but-fun page-turner about good people who are trying their best, or just a YA novel where a girl can have two boys in her life without falling into an abyss of indecision about which one to kiss, may I point you toward Tell the Wind and Fire?

Where are y’all on love triangles these days? In, out, in but need a break, out but you’ll make exceptions?

  1. I have not but I read the end.
  2. I have tried: I love A Christmas Carol but I hated Oliver Twist (twice) and the first third-to-half of both Great Expectations nor Bleak House, and at some point I shouldn’t have to keep trying.

Let’s Hope August Is Better: A Links Round-Up

Alton Sterling was killed in Louisiana (which is where I live) on Tuesday, July 5th. Roxane Gay talks about his life and his death. Rembert Browne on people who don’t want anyone not like them to exist at all. Ijeoma Olua on the tragedy in Dallas and how we should (and shouldn’t) respond to it. Ta-Nehisi Coates on the unbreakable link between violence by police officers and violence against them.

In the wake of Black Lives Matter pulling out of the Pride parade in San Francisco due to increased police presence, some thoughts on the disconnect between the two major civil rights fights of our day.

A profile of our nation’s top ASL interpreter for hip-hop artists. My one complaint about this article is that it does not include sufficient videos of Amber Galloway Gallego being awesome.

Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer spent four months as a guard in a for-profit prison in Louisiana and wrote a massive report on it. It’s basically exactly what you’d expect from our broken-ass prison system.

Suki Kim, author of Without You There Is No Us, talks about categorizing her book (a work of investigative journalism) as a memoir, and the persistent devaluing of women’s work. It made me scrutinize my own reaction to the ethics of her book, and I hope I’ll be more cognizant of that when reviewing journalism by women in the future.

Why plots are so important (also, has anyone read Emily Barton’s book, The Book of Esther? I am tentatively interested but want more information from y’all).

Your summer comic book recommendations, from Kieron Gillen, Kate Leth, and Marjorie Liu. Bid adieu to your productivity.

Queerbaiting in Captain America

The Millions released their book preview for the second half of 2016, and it is EPIC. I also discovered just yesterday that there’s a nonfiction one too.

THE SCIENCE OF BOOKS: All books everywhere with no exceptions whatsoever1 follows one of six emotional arcs. Oh how I love a taxonomy, my precious.

Rumaan Alam inquires what makes a book diverse, and wonders if his own novel — about straight white women — can be considered diverse.2

On Twitter last week I told a story about a good dog from history that doesn’t die tragically. You can read that story here.

Finally, and completely frivolously, please enjoy this wonderful review of the Blake Lively shark movie by Wesley Morris (one of my favorite cultural critics ever), which is brilliant on the subject of interchangeable celebrities.

  1. This may be hyperbole
  2. Pet peeve: A BOOK cannot be diverse. Groups can be diverse, an individual cannot. Dictionary Curmudgeon Gin Jenny urges you to get off her lawn.

The Other Slavery, Andrés Reséndez

I was going to start this post about The Other Slavery by making a really grim joke about Ir*sh sl*very (asterisked out so Nazi bros don’t find my blog), but then I just got hugely sad about living in a world where that’s still a lie people perpetuate instead of talking about real actual slavery. So instead I’ll start by saying that Andrés Reséndez has produced what feels to me like a monumental work of American history, delving deep into archival records to uncover the hidden story of American enslavement of indigenous people.

The Other Slavery

Reséndez argues that while disease certainly played a role in the decimation of Indian populations in America, it was far from the primary factor. Rather, colonizing powers systematically enslaved American Indians from the earliest days of Spanish power in the Americas. Because Spain outlawed Indian slavery in the sixteenth century, however, Spanish governments in America concealed their enslavement of Indians behind a variety of smoke screens, from debt peonage to trumped-up criminal charges and disproportionate sentencing.

Their methods achieved mixed success in concealing ongoing Indian slavery from the Spanish rulers, but were phenomenally successful in concealing it archivally. Until you know what you’re looking for, it can be hard to spot in the records that what’s going on is the systematic and deliberate destruction of Indian populations, languages, and economic power through enslavement, forced assimilation, and relocation.

Pretty much the definition of genocide. In case you forgot what this country was founded on. And of course none of this stopped as the southwestern and western territories came under American jurisdiction (perish the thought).

Another section [of the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians of 1850] established the “apprenticeship” of Indian minors. Any white person who wished to employ an Indian child could present himself before a justice of the peace accompanied by the “parents or friends” of the minor in question, and after showing that this was a voluntary transaction, the petitioner would get custody of the child and control “the earnings of such minor until he or she obtained the age of majority” (fifteen for girls and eighteen for boys).1

The Other Slavery makes for some grim reading, but it’s incredibly important to know exactly how widespread and insidious these forms of slavery were. Built on the rhetoric of a civilizing mission, enslavement of native peoples lasted throughout the colonization of the continent and well into the establishment of America as a quote-unquote free nation. If the colonizing powers or, later, the United State Congress blocked one avenue of acquiring slaves, slavers would find another way to maintain their access to forced labor.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I would love to see its conclusions incorporated into future high school history curricula, because this is nothing I was ever taught, and I should have been.

  1. There’s an endnote here that’s even worse: This law was later expanded so the white person’s custody lasted into the child’s twenties.

Alias, Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos

Happy Monday! It’s time for another installment of Angry Feminism by Gin Jenny, this time aimed at Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos’s Alias, the comic on which the Netflix Jessica Jones show is (loosely) based. Ready? Let’s get into it! This review will be broken up into two parts, one where I come not to bury Alias but to praise it, and then one where I have an enormous BUT and some further thoughts on Feminism.

Alias

The bulk of Alias is a procedural story about Jessica Jones, Private Eye. I like this about Alias. If I had a complaint about the show (well, I had many), it was that we rarely get to see Jessica Jones actually pursuing her actual career. She does the minimum amount of PI-ing that can be called PI-ing, like Keith Mars isn’t even the star of his show and he does way more on-screen PI-ing than Jessica Jones in Jessica Jones. Whereas in Alias, each mini-arc is about a specific case that Jessica has to solve: cheating spouses, missing persons, exactly what you’d expect.

She’s also a complicated, not-always-likeable person, and the comic does not ask us to hold this against her. We know that there’s some bad stuff in her past (hello, superhero?), but even before Bendis tells us what this is, we’re meant to be on her team as regards her choices re: costumed heroism; and in fact, we’re meant to be on her team altogether, while also recognizing that she makes mistakes and bad decisions and this is part of her too. So that’s a great look for a female-led comic, particularly one that came out in the early aughts.

You can tell that Bendis is trying not to fall into gross, overused tropes of female trauma. He really is trying. Ant-Man, who Jessica dates for a while, comes off reeeeeal Nice-Guy-ish, and she has to legit run away from him yelling “RESPECT MY BOUNDARIES SCOTT.” And there’s another scene in which he asks her — not in an unkind way — if she’s been raped, to which she answers this:

Alias

I gotcha, Bendis. I see what you’re trying to do there, buddy. I see that you are making an effort there and I appreciate it.

But you know how I have talked in this space before all about how it’s a problem to locate the value of women characters in their bodies? Well, one thousandth verse, same as the first. In the last issue of Alias, Bendis loses a huge chunk of my goodwill for this series by ending the story in the following asinine way: Jessica reveals her woeful backstory to Luke Cage, how Killgrave made her watch while he raped a whole bunch of other women and also made her beg him to love her. Here in the present, Killgrave escapes from prison. She has the power to escape his mind control for Reasons (fine), so she kills him. Then she goes find Luke Cage to tell him she’s pregnant with his child, and this fuckery ensues:

Alias

Yo, just like: Okay. Let me just — okay. Jessica has never talked about wanting a child before. This is super out of nowhere. For this to work as a final scene, Bendis is banking on the reader accepting the premise that all ladies want babies. That is number one.

(Do I need to say this, actually? I guess yes? Dude writers, your attention please: Not all ladies want babies. If you want us to buy “pregnancy” as a happy, or even a happyish ending, you need to set it up emotionally prior to pulling the trigger. But you should still probably have a lady read over what you’ve written. Dudes assuming they know what ladies want to do with their bodies is, let’s say, somewhat fraught.)

Number two, returning to that earlier panel about Jessica having been raped, I know I said I appreciated the effort, but I didn’t appreciate it that much. Killgrave’s treatment of Jessica lets Bendis garner cookies by showing awareness that Lady Comics Readers are tired of rape backstories (yes we are). But it’s all still framed like rape. Jessica is triggered during sex. She heavily identifies with young women who appear to have been abducted or assaulted. In a flashback, she’s thrown into a state of dissociation following a particularly brutal command from Killgrave. And it all just feels like a dude comic book writer thinking “what can be a traumatic backstory for a lady person that isn’t rape but is still very traumatic indeed?” and being literally unable to come up with something that didn’t involve a woman’s ability to consent being taken away by a dude looking to dominate, humiliate, and overpower her.

THUS, this sudden pregnancy thing, which evidently we are supposed to root for because evidently it’s something our heroine wants, comes off super much as a corrective expression of Jessica’s womanhood following her triumph over her female trauma.

And look, I get that that wasn’t what Bendis was aiming at. But as women we are perpetually told that our value lies in remaining sexually pure; and, when we lose that purity, it lies in becoming a vessel for new life. It’s disappointing to watch Jessica punchmurder a character who responds to her deviance from the first half of that paradigm with violence and coercion, only to have the author assume her, and our, innate desire for her to align her life with the second half of it. It’s frustrating as hell, the more so because Alias and its creators have been much applauded for this portrayal of a complex female character and her recovery from trauma.

ETA: After writing and scheduling this post, the news came out that Brian Michael Bendis will be writing a new Iron Man comic featuring a black teenage girl named Riri. I believe in Bendis’s good intentions, both in Alias and in this upcoming Iron Man comic. I’m sure he wants to do and say the right things. But the pregnancy thing above is the perfect example of having good intentions and still getting it wrong. Hire some damn women of color, Marvel, and stop looking for praise behind infinitely reupping on the same white dude writers forever and ever.

This has been your Angry Feminism Minute. Tip your servers.

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces, Isabel Quintero

Okay, before I include a picture of the cover of Gabi a Girl in Pieces, I want you to know that I know that this cover is terrible. It’s a terrible cover that will nevertheless make you cry when you encounter the reason for it in the course of the book itself. By contrast, Gabi a Girl in Pieces is so totally non-terrible that you must instantly dash out and read it, particularly if you liked Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging1 but wished that it had more there there.

Gabi a Girl in Pieces

Gabi is a Mexican-American girl in her last year of high school, and this book is her diary of that year. As Gabi works hard on college applications (ugh I remember those days) and hopes to get into her dream school, Berkeley, she is also trying to balance her own family problems and the issues her friends are going through. Her best friend Cindy has fallen pregnant, and Gabi’s trying not to be angry with her for not using a condom. Her other best friend Sebastian has just come out, and his family has tossed him out of the house. Gabi’s father is high all the time, and her mother blames her for everything that happens and everything that might.

With all of this going on, Gabi a Girl in Pieces is still one of the sweetest books I’ve read this year. Because of everything that’s happening around her, Gabi has occasion to really confront the stories she’s been told about being a girl, interested in sex, fat, Mexican-American. She begins to ask herself why her mother blames her when her younger brother messes up, why her aunt’s allowed to carry on with a married man but criticize Gabi for going on dates.

My favorite thing about Gabi is her relentless honesty. Though she sometimes puts a nicer face or ascribes more noble motives to herself when she’s talking to her friends, she is utterly truthful with the reader. She admits that she’s interested in sex, she admits that she’s attracted to other boys than her boyfriend, she confesses her anger with Cindy for getting pregnant and Sebastian for skipping school and using drugs with his boyfriend. This also means that we get to see her unfolding feminism, as she confronts the hypocritical double standard applied to the guys and girls in her high school who are sexually active.

It’s just a really lovely book, y’all. Read it at once! Huge thanks to Aarti for recommending it.

  1. Yes I know the book had no Oxford comma in the title because England, but I don’t hold with that and I will not have it in my house.