stuff I read

Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino

43126457Summary from Goodreads:
Trick Mirror is an enlightening, unforgettable trip through the river of self-delusion that surges just beneath the surface of our lives. This is a book about the incentives that shape us, and about how hard it is to see ourselves clearly in a culture that revolves around the self. In each essay, Jia writes about the cultural prisms that have shaped her: the rise of the nightmare social internet; the American scammer as millennial hero; the literary heroine’s journey from brave to blank to bitter; the mandate that everything, including our bodies, should always be getting more efficient and beautiful until we die.

Trick Mirror is a good collection of long-form essays (nothing wrong with a short hot-take, but a well-researched and laid out essay is becoming rare), all of which deal with the ways in which feminism and femininity are packaged and served to us. Our yoga pants, our television shows, the internet, our relationships, our celebrities. Outstanding essays include “We Are Old Virginia” and “The Cult of the Difficult Woman.”

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

stuff I read

I Lost It at the Video Store [expanded edition]: A Filmmakers’ Oral History of a Vanished Era by Tom Roston

35587839Summary from Goodreads:
Selected by Kirkus Reviews as one of the best indie books of 2015. “This is a book that was waiting to happen, and fortunately it was Tom Roston who wrote it. After we lost it at the movies, a later era of cinephiles lost it at the video store, and this is their story in their words-nostalgic, vivid, and important, because video germinated a new generation of great filmmakers.” -Peter Biskind, author of Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film In I Lost it at the Video Store, Tom Roston interviews the filmmakers-including John Sayles, Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, Darren Aronofsky, David O. Russell and Allison Anders-who came of age during the reign of video rentals, and constructs a living, personal narrative of an era of cinema history which, though now gone, continues to shape film culture today. This expanded edition includes a foreward by acclaimed filmmaker Richard Linklater (Boyhood) and a new appendix of conversations between Roston and various actors, directors, producers, and programmers (including Doug Liman, Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Angela Robinson, Tim League, Burnie Burns, and more) about the past and future of film distribution and culture.

4 stars for content: Roston arranged the interviews in an interesting format so that different filmmakers’ quotes about different aspects of video store culture seemed to be in conversation with each other. I would have liked a few more perspectives from people other than directors/distributors like critics, actors, archivists, etc.
2 stars for the physical book: This is not entirely the author’s fault because the original publisher went belly-up before publication, but the ink quality and layout of my copy from Createspace was really shoddy.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy.

Austenesque · mini-review · stuff I read

Austentatious: The Evolving World of Jane Austen Fans by Holly Luetkenhaus and Zoe Weinstein

cfacdfe7-e9a7-45da-a4ee-119630f54791Summary from Goodreads:
The amount of fan-generated content about Jane Austen and her novels has long surpassed the author’s original canon. Adaptations like Clueless, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Jane Austen’s Fight Club, and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries have given Austen fans priceless opportunities to enjoy the classic texts anew, and continue to bring new and younger fans into the fold. Now, through online culture, the amount and type of fan-created works has exponentially multiplied in recent years. Fans write stories, create art, make videos, and craft memes, all in homage to one of the most celebrated authors of all time.

This book explores online fan spaces in search of “Janeites” all over the world to discover what fans are making, how fans are sharing their work, and why it matters that so many women and nonbinary individuals find a haven not only in Jane Austen, but also in Jane Austen fandom. In relatable chapters based on firsthand experience, the authors explore how Austen fandom has and continues to build communities around women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community. Whether Janeites are shrewdly picking up on the latent sexual tension between women in Emma or casting people of color in leading roles, Luetkenhaus and Weinstein argue that Austen fans are particularly adept at marrying fantasy and feminism.

New book about Jane Austen and fan culture? Where and when? *grin* This is very much my jam.

Austentatious is a fun yet academic examination of Austen fan culture, from fanon, online communities, and shipping to book-to-screen adaptations and queer representation. I really appreciated Chapter 2 about the adaptation of Austen’s Emma into the movie Clueless (total Betty!), which probably shows my age. There are good chapters near the end about Austen and LGBTQ+ themes/ships which provided some interesting perspectives about how the canon novels can be interpreted and how they are adapted via shipping. The book is a little short, with only nine chapters, so I would have liked a few more chapters poking into more crevices.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

42129087Summary from Goodreads:
Stories provide portals into other worlds, both real and imagined. The promise of escape draws people from all backgrounds to speculative fiction, but when people of color seek passageways into the fantastic, the doors are often barred. This problem lies not only with children’s publishing, but also with the television and film executives tasked with adapting these stories into a visual world. When characters of color do appear, they are often marginalized or subjected to violence, reinforcing for audiences that not all lives matter.

The Dark Fantastic is an engaging and provocative exploration of race in popular youth and young adult speculative fiction. Grounded in her experiences as YA novelist, fanfiction writer, and scholar of education, Thomas considers four black girl protagonists from some of the most popular stories of the early 21st century: Bonnie Bennett from the CW’s The Vampire Diaries, Rue from Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, Gwen from the BBC’s Merlin, and Angelina Johnson from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. Analyzing their narratives and audience reactions to them reveals how these characters mirror the violence against black and brown people in our own world.

In response, Thomas uncovers and builds upon a tradition of fantasy and radical imagination in Black feminism and Afrofuturism to reveal new possibilities. Through fanfiction and other modes of counter-storytelling, young people of color have reinvisioned fantastic worlds that reflect their own experiences, their own lives. As Thomas powerfully asserts, “we dark girls deserve more, because we are more.”

The Dark Fantastic is a very thought-provoking examination of race in media and young adult speculative fiction through the lens of the “Dark Fantastic” (spectacle, hesitation, violence, haunting, and emancipation). Thomas uses four key Black characters – Rue from The Hunger Games, Gwen from BBC’s Merlin, Bonnie from CW’s The Vampire Diaries, and Angelina Johnson from Harry Potter – to explore this cycle and how fan-fiction and counter-storytelling are changing these characters in the fandom. This monograph sits between popular lit-crit and academic theory so be ready for a more formal argument.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

90s Bitch: Media, Culture, and the Failed Promise of Gender Equality by Allison Yarrow

34217537Summary from Goodreads:
The close of the 20th century promised a new era of gender equality. However, the iconic women of the 1990s—such as Hillary Clinton, Courtney Love, Roseanne Barr, Marcia Clark, and Anita Hill—earned their places in history not as trailblazers, but as whipping girls of the media. During this decade, American society grew increasingly hostile to women who dared to speak up, challenge power, or defy rigid expectations for female behavior.

Deeply researched yet thoroughly engaging, 90s Bitch untangles the complex history of women in the 1990s, exploring how they were maligned by the media, vilified by popular culture, and objectified in the marketplace. In an age where even a presidential nominee can be derided as a “nasty woman,” it’s clear that the epidemic of casting women as bitches persists. To understand why we must take a long, hard look back at the 1990s—a decade in which female empowerment was twisted into bitchification and exploitation.

Yarrow’s thoughtful, clear-eyed, and timely examination is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand gender politics and how we might end the “bitch epidemic” for the next generation.

I liked 90s Bitch – it’s a good overview of how conservative backlash and media marketing strategies worked against very high profile women in politics (Monica Lewinsky), entertainment (Courtney Love), and crime (Marcia Clark). There are some rough transitions between subjects that I think could have been done better. I also think that some areas could have been fleshed out with more examples – there is a conspicuous absence of Janet Jackson (how can anyone forget her 90s release “Janet”? The “If” video, lordt) and Daria (and there was an easy opportunity when talking about Girl Power and the “self-esteem” remedy, which Daria tackled head-on).

Addendum: this book, while the author tries to cover some culture related to people of color – mostly rap culture/Living Single, and Anita Hill, of course – and LGBTQ+ it is very white and heteronormative, just FYI.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Stars in Our Eyes: The Famous, the Infamous, and Why We Care Way Too Much about Them by Julie Klam

Summary from Goodreads:
From bestselling author Julie Klam comes a lively and engaging exploration of celebrity: why celebrities fascinate us, what it means to be famous today, and why celebrities are so important.
“When I was young I was convinced celebrities could save me,” Julie Klam admits in The Stars in Our Eyes, her funny and personal exploration of fame and celebrity. As she did for subjects as wide-ranging as dogs, mothers, and friendship, Klam brings her infectious curiosity and crackling wit to the topic of celebrity. As she admits, “I’ve always been enamored with celebrities,” be they movie stars, baseball players, TV actors, and now Internet sensations. “They are the us we want to be.” Celebrities today have a global presence and can be, Klam writes, “some girl on Instagram who does nude yoga and has 3.5 million followers, a thirteen-year-old ‘viner, ‘ and a Korean rapper who posts his videos that are viewed millions of times.”
In The Stars in Our Eyes, Klam examines this phenomenon. She delves deep into what makes someone a celebrity, explains why we care about celebrities more than ever, and uncovers the bargains they make with the public and the burdens they bear to sustain this status. The result is an engaging, astute, and eye-opening look into celebrity that reveals the truths about fame as it elucidates why it’s such an important part of life today.

The Stars in Our Eyes was a quick enough read, and Klam’s interviews were fun, but it was a bit bland after having read Too Fat Too Slutty Too Loud a few weeks ago. I had been hoping Klam would dig into WHY we feel compelled to feed the celebrity machine but she stayed pretty surface level, in my opinion. Her interviews were nice (hey, Timothy Hutton) but I would have liked an interview with an uber-celebrity (like maybe Emma Watson) to get into sudden-fame-in-the-social-media-world. I enjoyed the “celebrity encounters” stories Klam included at the end of each chapter (one about Ron Jeremy actually had me laughing out loud).

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.