missroserose: (Kick Back & Read)
[personal profile] missroserose
Last Tuesday I had the sort of back-of-the-throat sinus pain that usually heralds an oncoming cold; however, given the option to believe it was allergies, which I've never had (in fairness, May is an especially terrible month for allergies in Chicago), or a cold, I inexplicably went with the former and did not adjust my activity schedule in the least. Three hours of massage, an hour of biking, two hours of yoga, and two days later, I was in full-blown no-energy knocked-on-my-butt cold territory, and missed two days' work at the spa as a result. Eugh. I'm nearly better, aside from a trailing cough, but it serves me right for not listening to my body.

But hey! Lots of reading time!


What I've just finished reading

Sunstone, vol. 5, by Stjepan Šejić. The writing in this lesbian BDSM love story has been a little uneven - though, in fairness, no more so than most romances - but the artwork. Whoa. (It's not explicit, though definitely NSFW.) Šejić has clearly cultivated the high-level comic creator's ability to visualize a scene in an unusual way that contributes to the telling of the story, and several of the story bits that might feel a little interminable in text are rendered in striking and imaginative ways that help communicate the narrator's state of mind. I particularly liked, in this volume, watching Lisa's somewhat fragmented mental waffling illustrated as the falling petals of a nearly universe-sized daisy - she loves me, she loves me not. (Because man, when you're in love and uncertain, it really can take up your whole universe.) And even with its somewhat fanfic-y feel, the character and major plot arcs are all resolved in an emotionally authentic way. I loved it.

All In the Timing, by David Ives. This was a gift from [personal profile] cyrano, and while I enjoyed reading it, it definitely illustrated to me why I don't spend a lot of time reading plays any longer - I haven't cultivated that sense of directorial vision, capable of considering multiple possible presentations simultaneously, and doing so is a lot more mental work than just reading a novel. Still, my benefactor asked for my thoughts, so here they are:

--The concepts behind "Sure Thing" (where two strangers navigate the tricky waters of a coffee-shop conversation on the way to genuine connection, with a gong helpfully sounding whenever one of them missteps) and "Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread" (a musical number playing on the eponymous composer's stylistic quirks and nihilistic sensibility transposed into a completely banal setting) both made me smile, although I wonder how many people the latter would really play to outside of particular demographics - surely lots of theater-goers haven't seen Koyannisqatsi.

--"Words, Words, Words" (in which three monkeys with typewriters serve as a metaphor for the blind human push toward art-making) struck me as a little precious in its conceit, but could work with a good enough director/cast.

--"The Universal Language" (in which a con man sells lessons in his invented "Unamunda" language to a woman suffering from a stutter, only to find such joy in teaching it to her that he falls for his own con) surprised me in its earnestness; I'd thought that I had pegged the collection as rather more postmodern cynicism, but it was oddly touching all the same.

--"The Philadelphia" was more straightforward, didn't outstay its primary joke, and made me genuinely laugh. ("I've been in a Cleveland all week. It's like death, but without the advantages.")

--Weirdly, "Variations on the Death of Trostky", which seems to be the one most people remember from this collection, didn't do a lot for me as written; I think that may be the lack of directorial eye speaking. I felt like I was missing something, whether from the direction or political context or simple lack of familiarity with 1930s Russian socialist philosophy.

Still, on the whole, I enjoyed the collection, and would totally audition for the part of Dawn in "The Universal Language".

An Extraordinary Union, by Alyssa Cole. Luckily this picked up some as the story progressed; most critically, Elle gained some depth of character. I appreciate that she's still prickly and judgmental (and justifiably so, given her history and contemporaneous context), but she gets to be a little more three-dimensionally human as things go on. And the Confederate vs. Union spy plot does a nice job moving things along, as well as giving the romance a sense of urgency sometimes lacking in the genre.

The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood. Hrmm. So many mixed feelings on this one. [personal profile] asakiyume brought up some very cogent points about how it feels like a very specific and limited dystopia - although there's some discussion of how it affects other groups (largely through deportation), the focus is by far on educated middle-and-upper-class white women, and reflects a very specific fear of their social worth (and, thus, their privilege) being reduced down to that of baby-making machines. Which seems almost quaint in retrospect - as she pointed out, if anything, what's kept women subservient (in our culture and in others) has been not a lack of fertility, but an abundance of it; higher education and social autonomy for women is linked strongly to access to birth control.

That's not to invalidate the underlying fear - given the persistent volume (if not necessarily numbers) of the conservative movement, and the high placement of some of its more extreme members, it's understandable that the Netflix series has become popular - but it does seem rather blind to how its dystopia would be received by women of different ethnic or social groups. (There's no mention as to what, if anything, has happened to black women, for instance. I pictured the narrator's friend Moira as a lighter-skinned black woman, although I don't think there's anything in the text to support that. Nor is there much differentiation in social class - would a poorer woman already used to being largely looked down on embrace her role as a Handmaid, given that it comes with a certain cachet?)

There are some touches here that ring true - I especially liked the portrayal of a culture that promises women freedom from predatory sexualization under patriarchal guardianship, only to have those same supposed guardians be the one doing the predating. But for every detail that felt "right", there were others that brought up far more questions - who, for instance, does this dictatorship even serve? How does it fit into global politics? Who are they fighting? How did they even get into power in the first place, absent some kind of major disaster? I realize that our narrator's limited viewpoint means some of these questions naturally would go unanswered, but I have a feeling [personal profile] osprey_archer's Society for Improved Dictatorship would have some choice words for these people.


What I'm currently reading

A Talent for Trickery, by Alissa Johnson. In a weird way, this is turning out to be the opposite of An Extraordinary Union. The female protagonist is charming and well-drawn from the outset, but both leads are getting bogged down in a lot of Feelings About the Past, which, while certainly a valid part of romance (especially between two thirtysomethings with a history), doesn't make for a particularly dynamic plot. Most of the actual plot developments have been fairly external to the characters, which isn't necessarily a problem, but here has had the result of making the female lead especially a passive reactor in her own story - something that's frustrating to her (given that she's a former con woman and not used to passivity) as much as me, the reader. I do like the theme of how people's lives and priorities can change over time, but I hope things pick up here as well.

Future Sex, by Emily Witt. "Internet dating had evolved to present the world around us, the people in our immediate vicinity, and to fulfill the desires of a particular moment. At no point did it offer guidance in what to do with such a vast array of possibility. {...} It brought us people, but it did not tell us what to do with them." Even beyond Internet dating, this seems to be the thrust of the book so far - Witt writes about her desire for connection, but seems patently uninterested in forming any kind of actual personal connection with anyone she encounters. I think [personal profile] asakiyume hit the nail on the head last week when she pointed out that going into any kind of relationship simply looking to get your needs met is a recipe for failure, since a relationship should be about what you can do for the other person as much as what they can do for you; this definitely adds a pathetic (in the sense of "pathos" as well as the more common definition) dimension to her search. I'm waiting to see if Witt will show any insight on this point, although I admit my hopes are not high. Luckily it's not a terribly long book.


What I plan to read next

I'm going to need a new audiobook to replace The Handmaid's Tale. I'm eyeing Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, although I want to read a bit more of her work before I tackle the biography - I've read a bunch of her domestic-humor writing (which is notable in how it's been dismissed as trivial, despite the very real thread of psychological horror and fear in losing one's personhood to 1950s domesticity...or maybe that's just my interpretation), but little of her outright horror other than "The Lottery". I have a copy of The Sundial I ordered more than a year ago (!) that I've been meaning to read...or maybe I'll use one of my Audible credits to nab The Haunting of Hill House or another of her works. Suggestions?

Date: 2017-05-26 04:00 am (UTC)
asakiyume: created by the ninja girl (Default)
From: [personal profile] asakiyume
I especially liked the portrayal of a culture that promises women freedom from predatory sexualization under patriarchal guardianship, only to have those same supposed guardians be the one doing the predating. --Loved that point of yours.

Who are they fighting? How did they even get into power in the first place, absent some kind of major disaster? --Definitely questions I remember asking!

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