Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2018, part 6: Gwynne Garfinkle

The Pleasures of 2018
by Gwynne Garfinkle

One of my favorite reading experiences of 2018 has been The Element of Lavishness: Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner and William Maxwell, 1938-1978. (In fact I'm not done with it yet! I'm reading it as slowly as possible, never wanting it to end.) Warner was not only a great writer of fiction and poetry, but an exquisite and very witty letter writer; her New Yorker editor Maxwell was no slouch in the letter-writing department either. The correspondents' loving friendship and authorial camaraderie shine through on every page. The letters are endlessly quotable; here's a passage by Warner, more or less at random: "I wish you could see the two cats, drowsing side by side in a Victorian nursing chair, their paws, their ears, their tails complementally adjusted, their blue eyes blinking open on a single thought of when I shall remember it's their supper-time. They might have been composed by Bach for two flutes."

Another book of letters I enjoyed is a more slender volume, Sister Love: The Letters of Audre Lorde and Pat Parker 1974-1989, which offers a fascinating look at the lesbian poetry scene of the 1970s-80s. The book shows how Lorde mentored Parker, and how the two women supported each other personally, professionally, and in their experiences with the cancer that would ultimately take both their lives.

I was already familiar with the film In a Lonely Place, based on the 1947 novel by Dorothy B. Hughes, but when I read the book this year, I was surprised to discover that, unlike the film about a screenwriter suspected of being a killer, the novel focuses on a serial killer posing as a writer. (Clearly a movie starring Humphrey Bogart as a serial killer wasn't going to fly in 1950.) Hughes' gripping crime novel is an all-too-contemporary study of the destructive force of misogyny.

A book I savored slowly was Emily Wilson's new translation of Homer's Odyssey. Wilson's feminist sensibility and her use of contemporary diction reinvigorate the poem. "I have tried to make my translation sound markedly poetic and sometimes linguistically distinctive, even odd," Wilson writes in her Translator's Note. "But I have also aimed for a fresh and contemporary register. The shock of encountering an ancient author speaking in largely recognizable language can make him seem more strange, and newly strange. I would like to invite readers to experience a sense of connection to this ancient text, while also recognizing its vast distance from our own place and time."

I'm not sure why it took me so long to read Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary by Pamela Dean, since I've long loved Dean's Tam Lin. This fantasy novel, dealing with the perils of being derailed from your own path by an unworthy guy, is delightfully packed with references to astronomy and books and music. (I don't know how Dean manages to make extended sequences of a family reading aloud from Julius Caesar so entertaining, but she pulls it off.)

The new book I most looked forward to this year was Sonya Taaffe's collection of weird fiction, Forget the Sleepless Shores. Taaffe--also an accomplished poet--writes sumptuous, fiercely intelligent prose, often on queer and Jewish themes. "The Trinitite Golem" is an arresting tale of J. Robert Oppenheimer's encounter with an undying creature born of the bomb. Taaffe's work frequently evokes the sea, sometimes (as in "All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts") in a Lovecraftian vein.

Monster Portraits is a hybrid work by Sofia Samatar (A Stranger in Olondria, The Winged Histories, Tender) and her brother Del Samatar. The dialogue between Sofia's prose and Del's drawings creates a kind of speculative autobiography. Sometimes reminiscent of Borges, this is another book I find endlessly quotable. In "The Early Ones," Samatar writes, "Like all monsters, we don't belong, but our problem is time and not space. We got here too early. We have always had this sense of wrongful, unseemly arrival. We arrived before community, before there was language to describe us, before the 'Other' box on the census, before the war."

Some other books I enjoyed this year include:

Barbara Comyns--Our Spoons Came From Woolworths and The Vet's Daughter 
Francesca Forrest--The Inconvenient God 
Karen Joy Fowler--What I Didn't See and Other Stories 
Lois Duncan--Down a Dark Hall
Sam J. Miller--The Art of Starving
Ursula K. Le Guin--No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters 
Nnedi Okorafor--The Night Masquerade

In terms of TV watching, 2018 was the year I fell in love with The Good Place. Show creator Michael Schur couldn't have known when the program began airing two months before the 2016 elections how much we would need a sitcom about ethics, but I am grateful we have it. This year I also began a rewatch of the supernatural soap opera Dark Shadows (1966-1971), and I've been loving its bravura stew of tropes, its ensemble cast, and its technical difficulties preserved for posterity as much as ever.

Gwynne Garfinkle lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in such publications as Uncanny, Strange Horizons, Apex, Not One of Us, and The Cascadia Subduction Zone. Her collection of short fiction and poetry, People Change, was published in October 2018 by Aqueduct Press.

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