Me, a queer person, reviewing a book by a straight, cis, white woman:
"I hope more queer writers get work in the industry so that (a straight, cis, white woman) and her ilk can go back to writing fluffy, inoffensively bland hetero relationship comics" (instead of stories about queer male teenagers).
"If you're a woman who enjoys the fetishization of gay males to help you get up in your feels, than this bullshit is Your Bullshit, and you're welcome to it."
A straight, CIS, white woman: "I disagree! It gave a great representation for the lgbtq+ community and it definitely wasn’t fetishized. I thought it was just any other love story."
Me, internally: "Shut up, Camille."
In a conversation about the Madeline L'Engle's Kairos Cycle.
Dude: Did you read all of them?
Me: No. I tried. Earlier this year, I started in on them, but they were way too Christian for me. And the endings of each book were pretty basic garbage writing. I get why they're important. And I'm glad they exist for the people who like them. But, mainly, I think, the best thing they ever did was inspire other women to write better science fiction books for children.
Dude: You couldn't make it through three childrens' books?
Me: There's eight of them. Wrinkle In Time, Wind In The Door, Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, Mostly Harmless, Fantastic Beasts, Rogue One, and The Simarillion.
Dude: Fuck you.
Me: There really are eight of them.
I woke up annoyed. I know there are those of you who imagine I wake up annoyed every day, but you're wrong. Every other Thursday, I wake up Filled With Rage. And Saturdays are usually reserved for Confused Ire.
Out in the kitchen, my roommate was listening to an audiobook. I have to assume the book is called Detective Filesearcher And The Files From The FIle Cabinet. Here's the excerpt that I woke up to.
<<He opened the file cabinet to search for the file that would help him clear the case but the fie cabinet had been tampered with and the files were out of order. Someone didn't want him to find the file.
His search was taking too long. Any minute now someone would walk into the office and find him searching for the file, and the gig would be up. He had to find the file fast.
When he finally found the file, it seemed light. He should have held the file under his arm as he exited the office but the file was awkward. He worried someone would see him carrying the file out of the office. But no one did.
He drove to Danny's house. She answered the door in her robe. The belt of the robe was askew just enough to reveal the outline of her nightgown. It reminded him of how the file was slightly falling out of the file folder.
"What's that file?" Danny asked, questioningly.
"Nevermind the file." He said. "I'm hungry."
"Fine. I'll make eggs for you and your file." She said file-ingly.
While Danny cooked eggs, he went into the garage with the file. Parts of the file were missing. There were spreadsheets and TL-9 reports, and pictures, and paperwork, and newspaper articles but still there was something not in the file.
"Who had tampered with the file," he wondered "and what had they taken from the file?"
Suddenly, the garage door opened. It was the FBI.
"I'm Detective Persons. FBI." The FBI agent said. "I'm here for the file."
"What file?" He asked, putting the file on the hood of the car.
Danny opened the garage door. "What are you doing in my garage?" Danny asked. "Is this about the file?"
"Keep your mouth shut, Danny." He said.
"I'm from the FBI." The FBI agent said. "Go back into the house ma'am."
"This is my garage." Danny said while standing in her garage.
"Ma'am. I'm from the FBI and I'm going to need you to leave your garage."
"But it's my garage." Danny said to the FBI agent.
"Ma'am. This doesn't concern you. This is FBI business. I'm an FBI agent. I need you to leave."
Danny covered her nightgown with her robe. "You need me to leave my garage so you can talk about the file?" Danny asked.
"Yes ma'am." The FBI agent said.
"It's about the file." he said.
Danny left the garage, clutching her robe around her nightgown.
"Looks like I'm never going to get those eggs." He said.
"Is that the file on the hood of the car?" The FBI agent asked.
"What file?" He asked. He had brushed the file to the garage floor while FBI Agent Persons talked to Danny.
"I'm afraid you're going to have to come with me." FBI Agent Persons said. "We have some questions about a missing file."
They walked out the garage door, the file still loose on the garage floor. He hoped Danny found it before the FBI agents got a search warrant. As he got into the car, he imagined Danny picking up the files in her bathrobe, the belt askew, revealing the outline of her nightgown. He filed that thought away.>>
Me: "When I was a teenager, someone recommended Ayn Rand to me, and some wires got crossed in my brain, and I read Interview With The Vampire, and thought Well, it was okay, but I don't get why it's so politically divisive. By the time I realized my mistake, I had no desire to read Rand's work."
Friend: "Honestly vampires would make Ayn Rand 100 percent better, but it would still be unreadable."
Me: "Yea, 100% of zero is still zero."
I love checking out the way comic "fans" write reviews on Goodreads.
*****: "My fave!"
**** : "The art was good, but the story ended abruptly.
*** : "The story was ok, but it's not as good as Hellboy."
** : "Why are Nazis always the bad guys? This writer has no imagination. Also, the artist has no proper sense of biology."
* : "I was conceived on a Monday night in Newark. My father was drunk on Maker's Mark, even though he usually drank Jameson. My mother wore Chanel Number 5 and was wearing a sunflower in her hair. My parents divorced before I was born,though they both still pine for each other when the moon is in Saggitarius or when McDonald's puts the lobster roll back on the menu...
(8 pages pass)
...When I was five, I wanted a swingset, but my mother bought me a tire swing, which wasn't as frustrating as the way the artist in this book can't decide whether the robot's eyes are French Blue or Medium Parisian Blue. I mean a six year old can tell the difference, and I should know, when I was six, my teacher said that my ability to distinguish colors was the only positive thing about me..." (etc. etc. ad infinitum)
When I am feeling down about my art, and where I am in my life, I do something that I've never heard recommended. I go find an artist whose work is in the same vein as mine. Someone who is more successful than me, but whose work I despise.
I read as much of their work as I can stand, and then I close the browser window, or the book, or whatever media brought their work to my eyes or ears, and I think "This talentless bozo wakes up every day and decides not only to live, but to keep producing their horrible art and inflict it in on the world. And people are giving them money for it. And this artist is, if not happy, at least content to keep breathing every day, despite all the hexes that right thinking people have put on them. And if this dingleberry gets to continue to live and produce this art that I hate, then there must be a place for me and my work."
Then I go make food, or watch TV, or something that makes me forget their terrible art.
I never do this BEFORE sitting down to create work, I only do it after I get frustrated by work, and I always give myself time to completely forget about before returning to create.
A very nice girl comes into the store, and finds our very small playing card section.
"Alice in Wonderland!" She says. "That is my favorite book!"
I smile. It is also one of my favorites. “But that’s not the book. It’s nothing but a pack of cards!”
She frowns at me. “What?”
"Nothing but a pack of cards." ******SPOILER ALERT***** "That’s what Alice says before she wakes up at the end of the book."
"it’s kind of her ‘Hasta La Vista Baby’ moment."
She says “I don’t remember that part of the movie.”
"Well, it’s in the book. And the Disney movie. And, I’m pretty sure it’s in the TV movie, too."
"It’s not in the Johnny Depp one." She says. "The good one."
"But you’ve read the book, right?"
Blank stare. “It’s a kid’s book.”
"But it’s your favorite book." I say. "You said so."
"The movie is my favorite book."
I am all out of words today.
Random Loiterer: “Oh my god, we had to read this book when I was in high school. I had no idea it was based on a comic book!”
She then approached the counter with her copy of the Pride and Prejudice graphic novel. She also bought a copy of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic #2. Not that I’m implying there is a correlation.
I had forgotten they printed books without pictures in them. For the last several months, any time I've wandered dazedly into The Brookline Booksmith or a Rodney's Used Books, I've immediately shot to the Used Graphic Novel section, and looked for out of print books. The only non illustrated books I've even glanced at have been poetry collections. And someone at The Booksmith must have noticed this, because about a month and a half ago they moved the Graphic Novel section next to the Poetry section, so my fat, semi-literate ass doesn't even have to cross the room to see that no one is selling off good modern poetry collections, it's all either material that repulses me (and yet, I'll buy that Jorie Graham book if I'm in the mood to laugh), or classic poetry that I already own.
Today, on my way back upstairs from finding two poetry books (repurchasing Adrienne Rich's Fact Of A Doorframe, which I lent out and never got back, and buying Jorie Graham's The Depths Of The Unified Field
I rarely buy terrible books on purpose. Particularly if they're full price. But there it was, a horrible cover, an almost offensively pandering idea, by an author who should have known better. So I bought that, and then went around looking for books I might actually enjoy (I'll make a post about books I like later). Having sat down and read as much of the book as I can possibly eyeball, I realized, yes, this is awful "literature", and I should warn my friends.
1.) You Better Not Cry by Augusten Burroughs.
When I was first asked to make a manuscript for Houghton Mifflin, I took a bunch of my Insafemode stories, made them a bit less sexcentric (but only a bit), and sent off a draft to my friend Kari, who is the person whose taste I respect who is also very honest with his thoughts, and his initial reaction was "Why are you trying to be David Sedaris?"
I revamped the manuscript.
I like David Sedaris. I think he's the best writer I can think of who gets segregated to the GLBTA shelves. He's funny, he's accessible, but he's also very adept at storytelling. I have yet to be disappointed by any of his story collections. And, of course, the first one I read was Holidays On Ice, which is a brilliant collection of stories that happen to take place around Christmas: his job working as an elf at a department store, a fictional family update from a woman whose world has shattered just around the holidays. The cover of the copy I own has a rocks glass of whiskey on the cover, which is something I've always associated with the holiday that rarely gets exploited by your average retail outlet or Starbucks.
Augusten Burroughs's You Better Not Cry has the photo of a guy in a Santa Suit flashing someone. Cover jackets are rarely selected by authors, and usually chosen by the publisher. The message here seems to be pretty obvious: "Fuck you, reader. The author is lonely, and desperate, and thinks he has something worth bragging about, but as you can plainly see, he's three stripes short of a candy cane."
This book is awful. It opens with a thirty-four page collection of thoughts (they're too choppy to be stories) about things that confused him as a child. He used to think the Pledge Of Allegiance was about "the same furniture polish my mother used and that always, inexplicably, made me feel sunny." How droll. He also used to confuse Santa Clause with Jesus as he "could not tell you for sure why they strapped Santa to a cross. Had he missed a house?"
Those examples are just in the first three pages. You know the "put your best foot forward" pages.
The copy that I bought has blurred typography starting at page 80, and going all the way to 111, then picking up again for the last ten pages. This is either because the printer couldn't even inflict this on the rest of the world without getting shitfaced, or, it's a gift from the printer, as I can now return it for another book.
My main issue is not that this is crappy knockoff of David Sedaris by another Gay author. It's that Augusten Burroughs wrote Dry, one of the most impressive humor memoirs I've ever read. That book is by far better than anything I've read by Sedaris. But it's the only thinkg I've ever read by Burroughs that impressed me. Running With Scissors is more notable for its shocking subject matter than Burrough's literary prowress. This will be the second book I've ever returned to a store for being unreadable.
The first book I ever returned was 2.) Nikki Giovanni's Acolytes, quite possibly the worst book of poetry I've ever read by someone who wasn't a dying toddler. Giovanni was the first famous poet I ever met, and Those Who Ride The Night Winds and Cotton Candy On A Rainy Day were hugely influential for me, even though I didn't read them until nearly two decades after they were written.
While I don't ever expect deep metaphor or gorgeous imagery in Giovanni's work, she usually has a flair for making plain language poetic. Acolytes was an assemblage of bad writing exercises an unscrupulous publisher got a hold of and demanded be printed. There was not a single good line in the whole collection, and as she followed it up with her Virginia Tech poem "We are sad today", I fear that she's just become this senile old has-been willing to print every thought that ever passes her mind.
Most of the books on this list are disappointing to me, because they're by authors I have loved, but they have made a major major misstep. Not just Bill Cosby Leonard Part Six bad, but fundamentally awful, like anything Nicholas Cage has been in since Faceoff.
When I was in high school, I read Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried for school, and three days after I finished, my great uncle's remains were found in Vietnam, and we flew down to DC for a burial service. So, yes, the book hit me at the right time. But I still love the way O'Brien weaved the stories in that book. So I was thrilled when, a year later, he was to speak at my college about his new book 3.In The Lake Of The Woods. The premise was simple. The technique in the first six chapters intrigued me. I don't remember exactly the order (and wouldn't dare pick it up again), but one chapter would be straight up narration, the next would be snippets of conversations, and another would be newsclippings about the murder. But, after, a while, I got the nasty feeling that the book wasn't actually going to go anywhere. That it would just be the same info over and over. So when my mom asked to borrow it, I let her. She returned it a week later, annoyed that the murder was never resolved, and that the last half of the book contained no new information. She was more annoyed when I told her I had let her borrow it solely because I wanted to know the ending without having to read through all of it.
I did end up going to his speech at my school, and was relieved that he spent most of it talking about his experiences, and his older work. It gave me the imporession that it wasn't the work he was most proud of, either. Of course, they did make a movie about it.
One of the most recent books I've been disappointed by was not awful, so much as awfully overrated: 4. Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao. It's another book that suffers from over-stylization. Several people recommended it to me because it had lots of comic book references. And, while there were parts of the book I found really engaging, the whole post-modern foot-noted media infused narrative by the main character was a chore to read. I know enough about Galactus that I didn't have to read the footnotes, but I did. They added nothing. And the comic book references were unnecessary and kept taking me out of the story. In fact, the only parts of the novel that I enjoyed were the parts told from the sister's perspective.
The fact that the more classic narrative voice story about the Latino woman with the overbearing mother was more relatable to me than the outcast comic book nerd with love problems says horrible things about Diaz's reliability as a writer. The fact that the book won a Pulitzer frightens me. Just because something is densely written and researched (sort of) doesn't mean it's good. Even if it's about The Minority Experience. I say, again, if you can't make me interested in reading about a comic book reading outcast with love problems, then you have failed as a writer.
I'm sure there are other books that have disappointed me. But, honestly, most books that don't engage me within ten pages are put down. I'm not a believer in the philosophy that good literature hurts to read. I don't care how good the ending is, if the first seven hundred pages suck, I'm not reading it.
The only book that I ever really enjoyed at the beginning that really put me off the further I got into it was 5. Dave Eggers's A Heartbraking Work Of Staggering Genius. His foreword and afterwords are lyrically written and fluid. While the actual memoir is dry, and really amounts to "I got famous. Want to hear about how difficult it was to buy a new house when I was taking care of my little brother?" Well, sadly, the answer was yes at the beginning. The man led an interesting life, and he's a very talented writer. Unfortunately, he was unable to write about his interesting life in an interesting manner. If you have the gift of lyric prose, use it as often as you can. It's why I love what I've read by Salmon Rushdie. Whenever his stories start to drift out the plot, he'll thrown in some phrase or image that will grab me by the eyelash and pull me along until the next one. He can even make dialect interesting. And one style of writing, I really abhor is dialect focused narration.
I was introduced to 6. At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill by J*Me's spoken word poem based on it. And the story sounds beautiful. And people whose opinions I respect, say that it's a structurally sound, heartbreaking book. Unfortunately, it's written in dialect. And while I respect the honesty of dialog being written in dialect, I am extremely put off by narration (or, for that matter, poetry) written in any form of dialect, whether it be the "I iz coo, u is foo" horrendously bad "Black" dialect used by slam poets who don't talk that way in conversation (and also, Prince); "the like oh my god sparkleswoon hairflip Timberlake" of "Gay" dialect; n-e + |-|!l\lg 1337; or the accurate, but frustrating to read, Scottish dialect of Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting. I believe reading should be something to enjoy, not a task. At Swim just seemed like a school assignment.
Don't misunderstand, I enjoy things that challenge. House Of Leaves by Mark Danielewski was not The Dick And Jane reader, but was a great story that happened to be stylized, not a stylized piece of writing that happened to be a story. His follow up, 7. Only Revolutions was, unfortunately the latter.
That was a case of me buying a piece of fiction by an author whose previous work I loved, the moment I saw it on shelves. Because I HAD to be supportive. Among today's purchases was Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals, which I've not yet read, and really hope won't end up on an updated version of this list. because life is too sullen recently, and horrid line break choices amuse me), and no graphic novels, a book caught my eye that I thought we be so awful, I had to read it.
A group of poets were discussing ways to be on the cutting edge of new fiction, when one of them came up with the idea of rewriting classics word for word, but inserting the word black into them, thus COMPLETELY changing the tone/perspective of the book. His original idea: Do Black Androids Dream of Electric Black Sheep.
So, Jim and I have been spending the evening coming up with other books that would be forever change by the addition of that one word:
Mein Black Kampf
Their Black Eyes Were Watching God
Something Wicked Black This Way Comes
Skinny Black Legs And All
Even Black Cowgirls Get The Blues
Little Black Women
The Black Things The Carried
The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Black Galaxy
So Long, And Thanks For All The Black Fish
I Know Why The Black Caged Bird Sings
Heart Of Darkness
The Autobiography of Black Malcolm X
Dreams Of My Black Father
To Kill A Black Mockingbird
A Series Of Unfortunate Black Events
I Did It Black : OJ Confesses
The Jungle Book
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Black Secrets
Harry Potter And The Half Blood Black Prince
Men Are From Mars, Black Women Are From Venus
His Dark Materials
The Illustrated Black Man
The Five Black People You Meet In Heaven
The Black Great Gatsby
The Complete Black Idiot's Guide To Slam Poetry
The Dark Tower
Uncle Tom's Black Cabin
A Black Child's Christmas In Wales
Yes, Virginia, There Is A Black Santa Claus
Come On Black People: On The Path From Victims To Victors
A Black American Werewolf In London
Twelve Angry Black Men
The Black Communist Manifesto
Black On The Road
Lord Of the Black Flies
The Black Cat In The Hat
Choose Your Own Black Adventure
Are You There Black God, It's Me Margaret
Black Like Me
While some of these titles are just amusing, I think some of these books would be very, very interesting. In particular, I'd like to see a scottwoods poem called "Do Black Androids Dream Of Electric Black Sheep?" I mean, I haven't heard a bad Scott Woods poem yet (which doesn't mean they're not out there, just that he, wisely, only shares the good ones more than once), and think he'd come up with something pretty amazing with this title.
edited/added from lj users' comments:
Moby Black Dick
Black Generation X
Hope For The Black Flowers
Lady Chatterley's Black Lover
The Black Bible
The Good Black Earth
A Black People's History Of The United States
Chicago Manual Of Black Style