The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Cannonball Read 5:3)

My instinct was to write this review longhand, which probably won’t mean much to you (except that I am old), but says something to me about the emotional space I was in after finishing the book. I took out my boarding pass, thinking I’d write on the back, not wanting to put it into my just-started professional notebook (it’s teal, and has a fabric placeholder, and only has writing on one page — a to-do list, most of which remains to be done). That was my instinct but, as it turned out, I’d left my pen in my backpack, which was safely stowed in the overhead compartment, and which I did not feel like retrieving just to get a pen. So, I “wrote” on my phone, in an app designed to look like a pad of yellow paper. I like the lines, but I miss the feeling of pen, and the imaginary lines on the imaginary page made me think of Lettie Hempstock saying that nothing is really what it looks like on the outside.

I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane in less than the time it takes to fly from New Orleans to New York. I started during takeoff and when I finished, and checked the map, it told me that we were somewhere over North Carolina. It was a quick read, and the story is fairly simple: a man returns to a place he once called home and he remembers a time when he was a boy, when he met a girl and lost his heart. But it’s better than that, and not quite like that at all. It was, as the best books are, full of more than you think will possibly fit in its pages. It was A Story, in the way Isak Dinesen might have meant — bigger and more true than you’d imagined at the start. It was not unlike Lettie Hempstock’s ocean, even knowing that it really was an ocean.

And now I’m not sure what to say about it, though I felt, immediately, like I wanted to say something. Hm. That seems like a problem for a book review. So, here’s what I think you need to know to understand what I thought of the book, which is really the point of a review: I mostly didn’t think about it and I consider that a good thing.

It’s been a while since a story pulled me under as wholly as this one. It’s a beautiful story, which I’d heard. It’s a sad story, which I’d also been led to expect. I cried, which didn’t surprise me; I haven’t quite stopped yet, which does (though only a little). I feel a little like the story poked a hole in my heart, though I’m not certain if the hole is a way in or a way out, or maybe just a bit of emptiness. It’s probably a little of each.

The narrator is also a little bit empty inside, though he sometimes remembers having been full, and that sounds about right. I think he’s also a little less empty by the end, though it seems unlikely that he’ll remember that any more clearly than he remembers the emptiness. And that seems just about right, too.

Now that the story is (not really) over, I seem to be exhausted, though whether from the story, or from the crying (or from getting up at 6am, or from being on a plane), I can’t really tell. I feel a little heavier, though not in a bad way; I also feel like smiling, in the happy-sad way that bittersweet endings make me smile, and I wonder why those are always the best.

And now that I’m trying to figure out what to say about the book, I find that I don’t want to say much of anything. But haven’t I already said a lot?

Let me try again:

I think you should read it. I’ll read it again someday. I look forward it, and I’m sad that it will never be new again. That’s a review in itself, isn’t it?

I’m not sure what else to say, except that I fell into an ocean on my way to New York. I’ve climbed back out again, but I think maybe there’s a little inside me still. But maybe it’s always there, and I just forget about it until a good story reminds me.

Thanks for reminding me, Neil.

Quick thoughts on entertainment and critical thought

IT’S JUST FANTASY!!

Fantasy reflects your subconscious desires.

–Aamer Rahman, “Game of Thrones and Racist Fantasy

Worth a read, I think. Rahman points to some of the obviously (to my mind) problematic aspects of race in Game of Thrones. I love Game of Thrones (have only watched the show, and am unlikely to read the books for quite some time) and am totally on board with this critique. Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of defensive behavior in response. I think the conversations that come out of articles like this are really important, though, and I have to believe that they have some positive effect. There will be jerks, and the positive effect may not accumulate as quickly as I’d like, but I still think it’s worthwhile.

I think that one of the most difficult parts of these sorts of conversations is how to articulate, and convince others, that books, shows, movies, etc. can do one thing well, while still doing another thing poorly. They can be entertaining but not actually well-told. They can subvert one type of assumption while supporting another. Or the same one, in a different scene. I think, for a lot of people, getting something right means it’s either unfair or unnecessary to talk about the things that are less successful — like if you’re good on gender in some way, then you can’t also be bad on gender in some other way. Or on race, or class, or…

Sadly, it’s not a matter of either/or. GoT is actually a great example of this. As is Man of Steel, for that matter, though I’d put them on different parts of the quality spectrum (click here for my review). And I don’t think that quality determines whether we should just accept what’s presented, either. Game of Thrones may be more substantive and more complex than new-school Star Trek, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy them both, and it doesn’t make either of them exempt from challenges to the images they use to tell their stories.

And, once challenged, how wrong is too wrong? What takes a media product have from being something I can enjoy, but maintain that it’s important to think critically about, to something I just can’t participate in? I love Whedon, but there are issues. I watch, but I also attempt to engage with the issues. I enjoyed Man of Steel, and I do think that Lois Lane was well done, in some ways. But not in all ways. I watched, and I liked it, but I felt like I needed to say that there was room for improvement. And then there’s something like True Blood (SO MANY ISSUES), which I just had to let go of. As I write this, my brother is watching the season premiere, and I am hiding in another part of the house, to keep myself from getting sucked back into something that was fun (sometimes), but also so offensively racist and misogynistic that I just couldn’t, anymore.

*sigh*

My geekery would probably be much easier for me if I didn’t think so much, but I also think that would just enable me to be passively part of the problem. And I’d like to be a part of the solution. If only to make it easier for me to enjoy the geekery.

Man of Steel (***1/2)

Catching up on “summer movie” reviews. Seems strange to feel like I’m playing catch-up here, since summer doesn’t actually start until Friday…

Anyhow, I’m digging out the old movie rating system:

5 *s = “WOW!”
4 *s = “Good.”
3 *s = “Stupid fun, decent, or at least not bad enough to get 2 *s.”
2 *s = “Bad, but not awful; or awful, but enjoyable either despite or because of that.”
1 * = “The best part was the end, because then it was over.”
no *s = “*Deep, pain-filled sigh*…I will never get that [insert running time here] of my life back.”

 

First up is the most recent one I’ve seen: Man of Steel. My prediction was: good action, mediocre plot, bad gender. So, how did it do?

Well, the action was good, sometimes. I think the story held together better than I expected. I liked the themes they chose to focus on (hope, use of power vs. restraint, and self-determination), though I don’t think they did them as well as they could have. And, the gender stuff was  less aggressively bad than I’d thought it would be. So, I have quibbles, but I think it was entertaining. It’s definitely worth watching, if you’re into the idea of a Superman movie (or a movie with Henry Cavill in it). It’s especially worth it if you, like the gentleman I recently overheard at a coffee shop, “just want to see a big, loud movie, where Zod and Superman break some shit, and Superman eventually saves the day, and Lois Lane is a hottie.”

But, therein lie the quibbles. (And, herein lie the spoilers.) Continue reading “Man of Steel (***1/2)”

Into the Woods (IMDB)

Into the Woods (IMDB)

I just…I can’t. Ever since I read this, I’ve tried to remain optimistic about this terrible, terrible idea. But, now that I’ve seen the cast list…is this real? It’s not real, right? I just can’t.

Ok, I obviously will. But not because I think it will be good. Or even correct, given that *ridiculous* plot summary. “A witch conspires to teach” — WTF?! No. No, she didn’t. NO. SHE. DID. NOT. Seriously? This is going to be a train wreck. A photogenic train wreck (and the press junket will be epic), but a train wreck, nonetheless.

“I’m not good, I’m not nice — I”m just right.”

 

I am judging your red flag.

The internet is abuzz about that Brad Paisley, LL Cool J song. You know the one. No? Well, trust me: it’s a mess. And I’m not linking to it, nor am I embedding it, but you can go look it up, if you want to. I had actually been trying to invoke the Sweet Brown Rule on it, and was doing well until a friend emailed a few of us about it, and another friend responded, and then I had thoughts, and…ugh. Here we are.

So, someone replied that the lyrics didn’t seem so bad, and that Paisley had “tried.” I think that’s what I really felt the need to reply to, because I think she’s right. I don’t know that I’d say that the lyrics aren’t that bad, but they could certainly be way worse, from a racial standpoint (I think they’re pretty terrible, from a lyrical standpoint). And I think Paisley is trying — I think he is probably sincere in saying (via his Twitter) that he hopes the album this song is on “raises questions,answers [sic].” He may even be sincere about wanting to start conversations about race and other important issues (as mentioned in interviews and, again, on Twitter). The thing is, I just don’t think that “Accidental Racist” is a very good attempt.

Listen: I’m not saying that Paisley (or his lyrical counterpart) *is* racist, but I am saying that that thing he wore (so, that thing he did) is. Now, I’ll admit that I have a pretty strong allergic reaction to that flag, but that’s because it’s got a lot of really heavy, really racist baggage. Allergic reaction notwithstanding, I’m perfectly willing to believe that not everyone who flies (or wears) it *intends* to be racist, especially given how good a job its proponents have done of deflecting attention from that racist baggage, and controlling the cultural dialogue around it. But is “I don’t mean to be racist, so let’s just move on and let bygones be bygones” really a compelling line of thought? It’s not, for me. At best, I think it’s mistaken and severely misguided — the fact that you didn’t intend an action to be racist doesn’t actually mean that it wasn’t, so why should I just be ok with it? At worst, rather than being an honest mistake, it’s willfully obtuse, and in a way that is, more often than not, intended to deflect criticism of behavior you already know is unacceptable. Sometimes, it’s just intended to avoid asking one’s self uncomfortable or challenging questions, but if you’re fighting the questions that hard, I suspect it’s because you already know that the answers will not reflect well on you, or on something you value.

Also, wearing a do-rag and wearing a confederate flag are not at all the same, and the gold chains/iron chains trade off is not at all a fair trade. And that line about still sifting through the rubble after 150 years? Is thoroughly tone-deaf and lacking in self-awareness.
 
And ain’t nobody got time for that.

Queen & Country: Definitive Edition, vol. 1 (Cannonball Read 5:2)

ref=dp_image_z_0Queen & Country: Definitive Collection, Vol. 1 by Greg Rucka collects the first 12 issues of Queen and Country. I’ve reviewed issues 1-4, which were initially collected as Queen and Country: Operation Broken Ground, here. I really struggled to write this review, and it took me a while to pinpoint why. Here’s the crux of it: this book was disappointing. Not bad, mind you — just disappointing. And, I think that what made it difficult for me to review is that I couldn’t pinpoint*why* it was disappointing. Operation Broken Ground didn’t really feel groundbreaking, but it was a good read. Perhaps more importantly, it was a good read with promise. Continue reading “Queen & Country: Definitive Edition, vol. 1 (Cannonball Read 5:2)”

Queen & Country, vol. 1: Operation Broken Ground (Cannonball Read 5:1)

Queen and Country: Operation Broken GroundI picked up this first collection of Greg Rucka’s Queen & Country after hearing Jennifer Stuller (whose Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology I have reviewed elsewhere) talk about it at WonderCon, back in 2011. The note I made about it at the time was “female badass alcoholic train wreck secret ops.” That may end up being an oversimplification, but it’s not wrong.

Tara Chace (who I keep wanting to call Kara Thrace) is a Special Operations Officer, or “Minder,” with Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service. In the first collection (issues 1-4), we meet Chace in action and get a taste of her life and work. She’s been sent to Kosovo, to do a favor for a friend, and it goes about as well as one might expect. Without spoiling anything for people who, like me, tend to get exposed to graphic novels long after they’re new, I’ll just say that the story is off to an engaging start: the characters seem fleshed out enough to make me want to know more about them, and there are enough hints of complications and entanglements to come to make it seem like there will be more to it than Dangerous Mission of the Week. It’s already clear, for example, that Chace has some serious issues, that office politics is really high stakes, and that inter-agency allegiances are just as shaky as you’d expect. I know that Rucka and co. won an Eisner Award (Best New Series, 2002), and I think Operation Broken Ground gives me a good indication of why.

Queen & Country ran from 2001-2007. The collection I read was published in 2002, and I happened to find it in a used bookstore’s $1 bin. Best bet now would be Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition, Vol. 1 (2008) — I’ve already invested in the full set, and do not expect to be disappointed.