An extremely on-brand links round-up

Oh, have I mentioned I’m excited about Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown? WELL I AM. Here’s Zen Cho on writing three novels and throwing two of them out.

Eliding the horrors of American slavery.

The development of American English and the new London dialect that’s replacing Cockney.

Literary blind spots from famous authors.

Writing letters to trees.

“I don’t see gender/color/difference” is bullshit, and let’s not ever forget it.

An appreciation of Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye, which recently (sob!) ended its run.

What women write about when we write about the apocalypse.

This article about Auroville is shocking because this lady apparently found a liquor store in Pondy. HOW DID YOU FIND A LIQUOR STORE IN SOUTHEAST INDIA MADAM. Whiskey Jenny and I yearned and yearned to find a liquor store while we were in India but we ALWAYS FAILED.

TERROR BIRDS.

The moral, for movie execs, of this Grantland story about the guy who breaks the superhero news stories is probably “Your coat check girl thinks you’re an asshole.”

Starlee Kine launches an investigation to discover Jake Gyllenhaal’s height, and the resulting podcast may actually be the teleological cause of the internet’s invention.

What cultural osmosis has taught non-Harry-Potter-readers about the Harry Potter books. Oh and since I’m in, the illustrated edition of Harry Potter is going to include this and you should get pumped.

I mentioned Sandra Bland in my last links round-up, and the whole story has been making me sad this whole past fortnight. Jamilah Lemieux and Roxane Gay both wrote about it. And since I drafted this post earlier in the week, Sandra Bland has become last week’s thing, and we’re doing Sam Dubose now, and it just never goddamn ends.

Elysium, Jennifer Marie Brissett

What a strange, ambitious book Elysium is. Per usual, specfic is where writers are doing interesting things with gender, and it’s no surprise that Elysium ended up on the honor list for last year’s James Tiptree Jr. Award, which exists specifically to honor specfic writers who do interesting things with gender.

The main characters are always Adrian(ne) and Antoine(tte), with some additional side characters, most notably Helen/Hector. Their identities are constantly shifting, so that in one moment, Adrianne is watching Antoine fall out of love with her, and in the next moment — via a shift in a computer code — Adrian is caring for Antoine, his dying lover. The constant is the loss: Adrian(ne) is perpetually trying to hold onto Antoine(tte), and always losing him/her.

If Elysium sounds confusing, well, it is a bit, particularly at the start. But Bissett has a knack for the image cluster and the callback. One storyline recalls another, even though one may take place in a Roman-inflected Handmaid’s Tale-ish gender dystopia, and the next in a prison camp where the invading aliens keep their humans. Elysium travels a long and circuitous road between a recognizable Earth and a future in which the humans have been utterly conquered (or have they?), and it’s to Bissett’s credit that she makes it feel cohesive.

THAT SAID.

In one of the storylines, Adrian has been committed to a madhouse, and fellow inmate Hector is trans. It’s problematic. Adrian, who retains some batsqueak memories of versions of his life where Hector is Helen, refers to Hector as “Helen,” for which Hector is monumentally grateful. Ultimately, Hector stays behind to hold off the zombie alien creature things (presumably to the death), in order to give Adrian and his brother Antoine time to escape. The reason why (Hector says) is “because [Adrian] saw the real me.”

Gag.

Brissett wrote a post called “In defense of Hector/Helen”, which you may read for further context. It didn’t address my particular concerns. To say Hector/Helen isn’t all trans people is disingenuous: When the only trans person in the book dies a heroic sacrificial death to save two cis characters, it plays into the “danger of a single story” that Brissett mentions.

Cis women do not write a trans character in a vacuum. There is context. There are harmful traditions. Be better.

Book Punks loved the book more than I did, while having some of the same concerns about this Hector plotline; likewise Ana of the Book Smugglers.

Game of Queens, India Edghill

Note: I received a review copy of Game of Queens from the publisher for review consideration. This has no bearing upon my super-intense vengeful emotions about Haman and their contribution to my enjoyment of the book; about which, see further remarks below.

In my 2014 book preview, my expressed wish for Game of Queens, a retelling of the story of Esther, was that it not use the word sex as a euphemism for genitalia. And it did not. It also turned out to feature Daniel, of lions-not-eating-him fame, being gay without his close friends fretting too much about it, and it managed the neat trick of vilifying not Esther nor Vashti nor Ahasuerus. Which, if you remember the Book of Esther in any detail, you will notice is really quite some trick.

Haman is vilified, as is right and just. When I was a wee tot, I had this amazing book called Behold Your Queen which was also a retelling of the Esther story (it did vilify poor old Vashti), and so the moment where Haman gets hanged upon his own gallows was one of the formative Revenge moments of my childhood.

Fun fact: Thinking about revenge activates the reward centers in your brain!

Although Game of Queens is subtitled A Novel of Vashti and Esther, it’s really Vashti’s book. In part this is because Esther’s story is already so familiar, and by the nature of her story, she’s a less dynamic character. Vashti’s the one who gets to change and grow, to realize that she can’t be Marie Antoinette all the time, and to learn to become a player in the politics of her country, instead of a pawn. She’s a fun character, and it’s surprisingly rare to have a book in which a ditzy girl gets to get to make shit happen.

Greatest book ever, Pulitzer Prize material? Okay, probably not. But I cherish the story of Esther, and what Edghill has produced here is a monumentally satisfying version of that story. Not only do we get a Vashti who finds a way to control her own destiny even after she’s set aside as Queen of All Persia, but there’s this whole subsidiary plot about getting REVENGE on Haman even before Haman comes up with the idea of killing all the Jews.

Final note: Apparently Martin Luther was ruhlly ruhlly not into the Book of Esther. It was probably too fun for him. He probably wanted to put the Book of Job in there twice, just to make everyone miserable. Cranky old jerk. (I’m glad the Reformation happened. Super important, historically. Major step forward for Europe. I’m just not such a fan of Martin Luther as a person.)

Fiendish, Brenna Yovanoff

If you ever feel I’m not giving enough love in this space to Brenna Yovanoff, there just is not a good answer I can give you. I thought The Replacement was quite terrific, and if I hadn’t heard bad things about Fiendish, I’d have read it way sooner. I regret the error.

Fiendish is about a girl called Clementine who lies sleeping inside the cellar of a burned-out house, tangled in leaves, for ten years. When she wakes up, the world has changed. Her mother is dead, her own aunt doesn’t remember her, and her town hates and fears people like her, people who can work magic. And everyone who knows about magic says that a second reckoning is coming.

Confession: I finished the book the night before writing a rough draft of this post, and I already couldn’t remember the protagonist’s name; I had to look it up. And that’s in spite of there being several references to the song “Clementine” in the book. Which is to say that Brenna Yovanoff’s forte is not character, and you will want to look elsewhere for that. Fiendish excels at being hella creepy. Here are some things Fiendish contains:

  • an angry small-town religious mob that wants to burn things down
  • catfish with mouths full of rows and rows of sharp pointy teeth
  • a group of teenagers whose combined power is at substantial risk of destroying the whole world
  • a swampy place that responds to (but is not controlled by) the emotions of the boy who rescued Clementine from her cellar; this is fine if the boy is happy and NOT GREAT if he is cross
  • blurry, poisonous black dogs that I picture as being like dog-form versions of the smoke monster from Lost, except they excrete a black tarry poison as well as biting and scratching the living shit out of you
  • burned-down houses that people still live in

The morning after I stayed up late to finish reading Fiendish all in one go, my mum mentioned that she had seen reviews of Fiendish that decried the lack of agency on the part of the heroine, Clementine. Which: Okay, I can see that, she’s more reactive than proactive. But it didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of what was a wonderfully creepy book, and it’s the wonderful creepiness I come to Brenna Yovanoff for anyway.

Reading the End Bookcast, Ep.44: Reworking Classic Novels, Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma, and a Return to Polar Explorers

Happy Wednesday! This week, we’re talking about adaptations of classic novels and reviewing Alexander McCall Smith’s updating of Jane Austen’s Emma. We’re also getting back to our roots with a polar explorer update! You can listen to the podcast in the embedded player below or download the file directly here to take with you on the go.

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Books discussed in this podcast are listed, in order, below. If any book is an adaptation of another book, the source material is listed in parentheses.

Wicked, Gregory Maguire (The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum)
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Gregory Maguire (Cinderella. This doesn’t count.)

What a great poster.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard (Hamlet, William Shakespeare)
Fool, Christopher Moore (King Lear, William Shakespeare)
Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys (Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte)
Longbourn, Jo Baker (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen)
Lady’s Maid, Margaret Forster
Alias Hook, Lisa Jensen (Peter Pan, JM Barrie)

pause for you to enjoy the Go Fug Yourself recap of the live Peter Pan. It’s superb. I did look it up as soon as we were off the phone.

Re Jane, Patricia Park (Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte)
Ana of California, Andi Teran (Anne of Green Gables, LM Montgomery)
CLUELESS even though it’s not a book, because it’s the greatest book adaptation there’s ever been.
Salome, Oscar Wilde (Salome story from the Bible!) PLUS: Dirtbag Lord Alfred Douglas.
Many Waters, Madeleine L’Engle (Noah’s Ark story from the Bible)
Behold Your Queen, Gladys Malvern (Esther story from the Bible)
Game of Queens, India Edghill
The Once and Future King, TH White (King Arthur story) (please enjoy Madam Mim)
Wishing for Tomorrow, Hilary McKay (A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett)
Ulysses, James Joyce (the Odyssey)
The Lost Books of the Odyssey, Zachary Mason (READ THIS SERIOUSLY THO)

Book reviewed this week: Emma, Alexander McCall Smith
But instead of that, read Emma by Jane Austen cause it rocks, and then watch Clueless.

The Ice Master, Jennifer Niven (the story of Bartlett’s extremely disastrous journey on the Karluk)
Ada Blackjack, Jennifer Niven
All the Bright Places, Jennifer Niven (the buzzy YA novel in question)

Here’s the adorable toddler who was on the Karluk trip. LOOK HOW CUTE THIS BABY:

For next time: Uprooted, Naomi Novik

Get at me on Twitter, email the podcast, and friend me (Gin Jenny) and Whiskey Jenny on Goodreads. Or if you wish, you can find us on iTunes (and if you enjoy the podcast, give us a good rating! We appreciate it very very much).

Credits
Producer: Captain Hammer
Photo credit: The Illustrious Annalee
Song is by Jeff MacDougall.

Shirley Jackson Week: A recap

In case you missed Shirley Jackson Week, about which I admit I was rather slapdash, I’ve put together a lovely round-up of the posts we were treated to last week!

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Words for Worms
Harriet Devine
A Striped Armchair

The Sundial (my fave!)

Desperate Reader
Emerald City Book Review
Gaskella

Life among the Savages & Raising Demons

Shiny New Books

The Road through the Wall

Stuck in a Book

Short stories!

a gallimaufry on “Paranoia”
ChrisBookarama on “The Daemon Lover”
things mean a lot on “The Daemon Lover”
The Cheap Reader on The Lottery and Other Stories
Shelf Love on The Lottery and Other Stories
as long as on “The Lottery”

Let me know if I’ve missed yours, and thanks to everyone for being so thoughtful and brilliant about one of my favorite authors. A million thanks to the wonderful Simon and Ana for co-hosting this event with me — y’all are the best!

ODY-C, Matt Fraction (vol. 1)

Note: I received an e-book copy from the publisher for review consideration.

ODY-C: What.

And look, I didn’t want to say What in that disparaging, not-really-a-question sort of tone. I wanted to say, Hooray! Matt Fraction! Trying things! So to be clear off the top: I support trying things in this bold manner. When you find yourself confronted with a comic that gender-swaps the whole Odyssey and transposes it to a science-fictional universe in which Zeus (a lady) prevented anyone from ever having sons ever again, you have to pause to admire the attempt.

I will give you a second to do that.

Admire. Admire.

Here is my problem, apart from hating the art (because in comics I do truly prefer the art to have nice clean lines and not all muddy blurriness with blurry faces because I have a hard enough time with faces in real life, let alone drawn ones, let alone blurry drawn ones): For all the boldness of the concept, the execution isn’t bold enough. It really is just the Odyssey, but in space and with ladies. The Circe creature lures them in. The Cyclops creature gobbles them up. The trappings are fresh, but the story is beat-for-beat the old one we already know.

I’ve talked about this before: Homer is Homer. If you are going to give us a new take on Homer, it should make us see Homer differently. Fraction’s trying to be Homer, albeit in a science fiction universe where everybody is female. Once you get past the startling and wonderful weirdness of the premise, there isn’t a whole lot more there except the attempt — which fails, I think — at the sound and feel of the original Odyssey. And it is just no use Matt Fraction’s trying to be Homer. Homer has already got that covered.

No one’s sadder about this than me. Matt Fraction is one of my favorite comics writers, and I wanted to love ODY-C. But so far my feelings to it are mainly an urge to reread my dear, dear Odyssey in my dear, dear Fagles translation.

Please congregate in the comments to tell me why I am wrong about ODY-C and should give it another chance.

Angry on the internet?: A links round-up

An infographic to explain how you should deal with your anger on the internet. At first blush, I think these rules are pretty solid! You?

It’s about ethics in book reviews.

On Twitter the other day someone tweeted that “Strange Fruit” was by two white dudes, and I thought, “On the Nina Simone tribute album, you mean?” Nope. She meant there is a new comic book called Strange Fruit featuring an enormously strong mute alien who looks like a black man, and the two authors of it are both white dudes. So, worse than my first thought.

A story about two sets of identical Columbian twins who got insanely switched at birth and everything is insane.

This modern sequel to Five Children and It looks amazing, and I am angry that it appears not to have been published in the US yet.

The Rebecca sequel we ALL deserve.

Is African science fiction predicting the future? Relatedly, hooray for African sci-fi!

Code Switch’s Gene Demby writes an astonishingly compassionate and wonderful article about the Confederate flag and “heritage-not-hate” arguments.

A coda: As I schedule this post, yet another black person, a woman called Sandra Bland, has died under suspicious circumstances in police custody, following what should have been a routine traffic stop. I’m sure we’ll be learning more about this in the coming days, but anyway, I didn’t want to let it pass unmentioned.

There Was and There Was Not, Meline Toumani

Identity is a complex and infinitely divisible monster. (Fight me sometime over the legitimacy of my claim to Southern-girl identity.) In the fascinating first few chapters of There Was and There Was Not: A Journey Through Hate and Possibility in Turkey, Armenia, and Beyond, Meline Toumani explores the close bonds among diaspora Armenians, as well as the oodles of ways they have found of distinguishing themselves from each other: speakers of Western Armenian vs. speakers of Eastern Armenian, Armenians from Lebanon vs. from Brazil vs. from Turkey vs. from actual Armenia. What they share in common is a mistrust of Turks and a passionate desire to make the Turks and the world recognize the Armenian genocide.

Hostility toward Turkey came in various forms, but in the American suburbs opportunities for conflict were limited, so it skewed toward the trivial. We . . . steered clear of shops rumored to have Turkish owners, and refused to buy products labeled “Made in Turkey.” My mother once spent weeks trying to buy a new bathrobe, but at store after store, every robe declared its Turkish origins; the Turks had cornered the market on terry cloth. One evening, my mom returned home, exhausted, with a large bag from Sears. “Don’t tell anyone,” she warned me. She clipped the label and then held out her plush, pale yellow purchase.

At some point, the kneejerk hatred of Turks and all things Turkish began to make Toumani uncomfortable. She decided to set off on a journalism project — first articles, eventually this book — that would require her to spend time in Turkey, to learn the Turkish language, and to talk to Turkish people about the Armenian genocide.

The result is a wonderful illustration of my motto, People are more than just one thing. On one hand, the Turks Toumani meets are, as is common in Muslim countries, almost uniformly welcoming and kind: she refers to their “glorious hospitality” as an “enchantment [that] never really broke; it only stretched to accommodate new realizations.”

Because alongside this kindness sits a kind of resistance to historical truth that’s all too familiar if, for instance, you’ve ever participated in a conversation with white Americans about reparations for slavery. Many of the Turks tried to sidestep the conversation about Armenian genocide altogether. Those who did talk about it would tell Toumani of their own ancestral suffering, and then assure her that they did not always harp on the wrongs of the past, they wanted to move forward, and why couldn’t Armenians do the same? Or they would emphasize the commonalities between the Turks and the Armenians, and wonder why the Armenians insisted on being so combative, when really Turks and Armenians are fundamentally the same. It’s a masterpiece of misdirection.

Toumani set out to learn if Turks were the genocide-denying enemy of her upbringing, or if there was good to be found in them. The answer, of course, is that both are true, and the two things sit uncomfortably alongside each other. Toumani can feel the warmth of Turkish hospitality, which is a true thing that exists and a credit to the Turkish character, while also knowing that she is at all times an outsider in this culture, a person whose history the Turks will ferociously deny.

She doesn’t draw any conclusions about what can be done, or what the future holds, for the Turkish-Armenian ideological conflict. Their relationship status remains, for the foreseeable future, “It’s complicated.”

Shirley Jackson Reading Week (a round-up)

I read Hangsaman for Shirley Jackson Reading Week, you guys, and I feel like I did not understand one single thing about it. ?Cultural differences? So instead of reviewing that this week, I’ll be writing about “The Lottery” on Thursday (inshallah).

Anyway! It’s Shirley Jackson Reading Week around these parts, and people are writing awesome posts:

Words for Worms on We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Helen of a gallimaufry on the short story “Paranoia.”

Desperate Reader on The Sundial (my fave!).

Emerald City Book Review on The Sundial (my fave!!).

I will round up more later in the week, but you may content yourself with these for now!