Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2014, part 8: Brit Mandelo

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2014
 by Brit Mandelo 

This was a strange year, from my end of things—moving countries, completing a Master's program in the UK, working through a lot of personal and professional issues. Consequently, I didn't consume as much text as I would have liked; certainly not as much as usual. But there were some things that stood out (or re-stood-out) to me along the way.

·         The Red Tree and The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan

I'm sure that I've mentioned these in past roundups, but I re-read them in pursuit of writing a graduate thesis and they're still absolutely stunning, particularly as a pair of twinned narratives that deal with similar issues in different ways. Reading them as a duet is revealing and provocative, and I'd highly recommend giving them another go for anyone who's already read them once.

·         Rhapsody: Notes on Strange Fictions by Hal Duncan
Duncan's work on "the genre" is likely one of the best, most thorough and well-argued I've read to
date. It's delightfully dense, smart, and useful; it's the sort of text I'd teach with, were I intending to explore the nature of the "strange" or speculative genres. He's a clever one, he is. I also like how this book speaks to ideas about being somehow more progressive because of being a "nerd," near the end, and addresses that for the fallacy it is.

·         Hild by Nicola Griffith
A rich, sprawling historical queer novel that I wouldn't have expected to be so enamored by – I could probably count on one hand the number of historical novels I've loved – but that was undeniably great. Griffith, of course, is a familiar name for sf readers; I'm pleased to say that her work here is just as controlled, compelling, and insightful as always.
·         Affinity by Sarah Waters

Another well-known name, and in this case an older book: it's about spiritualism and lesbians and women's prisons. So, again, a historical novel – maybe I'm developing a taste? – and one that has a dark romance at the center of it, all bound up in the restrictions and demands of a not-so-far-away past. I thought it was a fast read, well-researched and well-illustrated, and emotionally intriguing.
·         The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

I don't feel like it would be an exaggeration at all to call this one of the best stand-alone second world fantasy novels I've ever read. It's compact, it's full of quiet but intense personal drama and court politics, and it would certainly appeal to the sort of readers who have loved books like Swordspoint in the past. (It's also the first original novel from Sarah Monette in a long while, and it shows a great deal of development in craft and technique.)

·         Hannibal

I do watch television sometimes, and while I know I'm significantly behind the pack on this one, I picked up Hannibal in the UK to pass the time. Somewhat inevitably, I found it breathlessly compelling and handsome. The complex male relationships, bridging a difficult and submerged sensuality, are intense and intensely realized; there are also several revisions to the cast from the base texts to include more women and people of color. (The director was also quite direct about refusing to portray crimes of rape or sexual violence in the show, which is – refreshing.) And did I mention it's handsome? Because the scene setting, direction, and artful horror of it all are truly stunning.

·         The Upsides and Suburbia I've Given You All and Now I'm Nothing by The Wonder Years

It's only half of a joke that I'm in a place in my life where most of the music that appeals to me is probably intended for teenage and/or early-20-something boys. In this case, I've picked up a strong attachment to these two albums by The Wonder Years, a positivist pop-punk band. The first deals primarily with what it's like to be finishing an undergraduate degree and trying to make sense of the perils of growing up; the second is "set" a few years down the road and deals with being in your mid-twenties and not entirely sure how the fuck to survive all of the upheaval in your life. Honestly, if you're going through a rough patch, I couldn't recommend this stuff more. I'd strongly point to the songs "It's Never Sunny in South Philadelpia" and "Came Out Swinging."

·         I Don't Know What I'm Doing by Brad Sucks

This album is a strange one: it's the sort of thing that'll bring you to its emotional level, whether that's good or bad. If you're down, it'll pull you up a little – songs like "Overreacting" are particularly approachable – but if you're up, it'll probably just mellow you out (more than you might like). Regardless, I've found it calming and charming, a little odd but a lot soothing.

And that's more or less what I've been doing: trying to get things back together, stealing a little time where I can for things I like, doing the best I can. The music is good for that; so are the books; and a little television is a good distraction from the rest. 2014 has been a rough one, but it's going to get better, and some of this stuff has helped get me through. I recommend it all.

Brit Mandelo  is a writer, critic, and editor. She has been a nominee for various awards in the past, including the Nebula, Lambda, and Hugo; her work has been published in magazines such as Clarkesworld, Tor.com, Stone Telling, Apex, and Ideomancer. She has published two books, Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2012) and We Wuz Pushed: On Joanna Russ and Radical Truth-Telling (in Aqueduct's Conversation Pieces series).

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