Thursday, November 9, 2017

Podcasts for the Resistance

This week marks one year since The Election. For those of us completely opposed to the prejudice, vitriol and racism being spewed on a certain twitter feed, it can be difficult to find balance in staying informed while keeping our mental health intact. Today, a few podcasts that have become extremely important to me as a part of The Resistance.

bitch media's Backtalk & Popaganda
This ever-amazing podcast talks about everything pop culture, politics, and the ways the two keep criss-crossing in America these days. They aren’t afraid to cover all the topics we need to hear. Also, Amy Tan’s growl-scream of frustration on nearly every episode is just as cathartic for the listener as I imagine it is for her.

NPR Politics
This podcast is my go to for calm, rational evaluation of current US politics. It’s a twice a week podcast (occasionally more if big things are happening) that gives a good overview of American politics and where we are. The journalists on this podcast know politics, they understand the nuance and complications behind the American Experiment and will give you multiple viewpoints into our world.

Joshua Johnson is hanging out over on NPR having some powerful conversations. Everything from first amendment rights to the risks of capitalism to the story of human genes and what it says about racism. This show makes an effort to include diverse guests and cover a wide range of topics.

Code Switch
Okay, so perhaps it appears as though NPR is my go to for all things resistance. Well, there’s a reason for that. They have so much programming that is undeniably good, and Code Switch is definitely among those shows. Everything you ever wanted to understand about race relations is all here in this podcast.

Levar Burton Reads
Who doesn’t want Levar Burton to read to us like he did when we were children? Levar Burton Reads is part of this list because the stories he’s reading are reflective of our culture. They tell stories about how we got to where we are that also include jewels of wisdom about where we need to go. Learn from literature. The lessons are there. [Insert his catchphrase here. You know it, right? Okay. Because I hear he’s getting sued for it, so I’m not gonna say it...]

Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me!
This one is here for levity. When I'm feeling overly informed and perhaps a bit overwhelmed, this is where I go to laugh about it all. A classic, this show is always good. 

Christiane Amanpour is obviously a big name in journalism, but it’s important to note how her CNN show (which is also a podcast) is covering the rights of women worldwide. While here in America we’ve had the “Me, Too” movement, Amanpour has also been talking about the French movement #BalanceTonPorc (Out Your Pig) and amplified the voice of a British journalist standing up against an MP who sexually harassed her. 

Good Muslim, Bad Muslim
These two women are just hilarious and wonderful. They are singlehandedly changing minds about religion, prejudice and stereotypes, while also finding room to laugh about life. 

What podcasts are keeping you sane under the current administration?

Saturday, November 4, 2017

My Relationship With Comic Books (and a Short Review of Wonder Woman)

If someone had asked me a year ago if I was a comic book fan I would have said, “Eh, not really.”

However, I just read Wonder Woman, Vol. 2, Year 1 and halfway through it I got thinking about my relationship with comic books. I realized that somehow some patriarchal stereotype of who a comics fan is had made me think I was something I wasn’t. I am totally a comic book fan, I just never read “boys” comic books.

There was a time I owned a notebook with every “Blondie” strip from the Sunday comics taped inside it. I also read every "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," “Archie," and "Betty and Veronica" book I could get my hands on. I read Garfield until I wore through the binding, and I discovered and devoured Dilbert years before I understood the office politics involved.

What I didn’t read was superhero comic books, and the stereotypical image of a “comic book fan” includes superheroes. I fell for that trope so hard I questioned something I’ve known about myself for years.

I am most definitely a comic book fan.

My quick review: I definitely enjoyed this book. The artwork was beautiful, it was timely commentary on our modern world, diverse, and inclusive. It was empowering, and a great accompaniment to the spectacular movie this summer.

And in the future I’ve got to remember that I really am a comic book fan.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - A Review

I have extremely mixed feelings about this book and I’m going to explain them in two parts.

Part one - The Part Without Spoilers:

This book is, as my wife so eloquently put it, “Willy Wonka for video game nerds.” Also for comic book fans and 80’s music and movie buffs. Ready Player One is a dystopian, set roughly in the 2040s. Global warming and fossil fuel shortages have taken their toll, and now everyone lives, works and plays in a virtual MMO style video game world called The Oasis. When the creator of the game, Halliday (quirky guy, Steve Jobs type) dies he leaves an easter egg in the game waiting to be discovered. Whoever finds it first gets everything. All Halliday’s money, and complete control over The Oasis. However, in order to find the egg you have to basically memorize everything about pop culture in the 1980’s. Oh, and learn everything there is to know about Halliday himself.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Seriously though, you won’t go two sentences without an 80’s reference in this book. The characters even talk like they are in the 80’s. (I can’t remember the last time I heard someone say “smooth move ex-lax”) The tests to find this egg involve "Monty Python," "War Games" and Pacman. This book is dripping in 80’s nostalgia to almost a nauseating point. Almost. It walks a fine line, and really most of the 80’s nostalgia I enjoyed.

There is, however, a lot of exposition. I mean, there is an entire world to build here, I get that. But there are so many pages of this teenage boy talking to us, explaining the world he lives in. There had to have been a better way to handle that.

Still, I couldn’t stop listening. I “read" this book as the audiobook version performed by Wil Wheaton (who, incidentally, can mimic old video games perfectly) and I just kept listening. I listened to all fifteen hours in just three days. It was mesmerizing. I totally recommend reading it if you in any way have any interest in video games, or 80’s pop culture.

Part two - The Part With Spoilers:

First of all, “Reality is real.” My GODDESS I hope they find better final dialogue for Halliday in the movie version, because that’s about the worst bit of advice you can give to a kid who just WON THE INTERNET in a literal sense. Overall, there’s a lot of cheese like this. I definitely recognize the cheese was intentional, it fed into the whole 80’s feel of the book. But it also made the book a bit too predictable. I mean, obviously THAT GUY is going to come to the rescue. Obviously one of these avatars is being played by a person of a different gender or race...

And speaking of gender, why am I reading yet another book about a mediocre white boy who wins everything simply because of circumstance and luck? I mean, yeah, Wade put in a lot of research. But Artemis found the first gate before he did, AND she’s the only reason he gets through the third gate at all! Basically all my issues with the book are in the supporting characters.

A) Artemis was way more interesting than Wade. And should have won it all. Instead she gets the boy. As usual.
B) Aech deserved a book of her own. (I hope you really paid attention to the “spoilers” notice above because I would hate to ruin that twist for anyone, if you don’t see it coming on your own...) Seriously, though, HER STORY WOULD KILL. I want to know more! I want to know about her relationship with her mother. I want to know about her life as a black lesbian in this computer world. I want to hear from her.
C) Shoto and Daito, also could be great characters. But we’re so busy learning about the world they all live in that we don’t learn enough about them, and we’re left with rather flat, cliché, Japanese video game nerds.

It really was a great book and I will plan to be there opening weekend of the movie. But I’m kind of sick of the white boy who is conveniently surrounded by a diverse cast, who all seem smarter than him in about ten thousand ways... and yet he still wins it all in the end.

Including the girl.

In a garden maze.

Where she’s gazing into a fountain...

Really. That happens.

Next week I’m going to review:

Wonder Woman

Monday, October 16, 2017

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

I just finished listening to the audiobook version of Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire and I keep thinking, “Oh so-and-so would love this book, too!” It was a quick, easy listen, a delightful story and a wonderful break from reality. 

 Nancy is a teenage girl who spent some recent time with the dead. Now back on earth, distraught and missing the land she calls “home" she has been sent to a school for kids like her. Children, mostly girls, who have wandered through looking glasses and fell through trap doors into fantasy worlds, and want desperately to return.

Think Ms. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, throw in a dash of Alice in Wonderland and sprinkle a healthy dose of Neil Gaiman on top. 

I was first introduced to Seanan McGuire through the novels she published under the name Mira Grant, and she has yet to disappoint me. She has a deftly develops characters, making them whole and real people within pages. Her handling of modern day social issues is timeless, and will likely read well decades from now. She is always a good read, her novels an escape for the reader as they watch the characters in this book escape into their own fantasy worlds.

Next I’m reading:

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Brunonia Barry’s “The Lace Reader"

I have probably had a dozen people tell me to read this book, and somewhere along the way it ended up on my shelf, but I hadn’t touched it. Last week I was looking for something with a little magic in it, and I finally pulled The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry off of my shelf. It was exactly what I needed.

A little magic. A little history. A whole lot of Salem, MA.

It’s Salem that really won me. I’ve read a lot of books set in New England and often it is painfully obvious that author hasn’t spent a lot of time here. Perhaps they were inspired by one single trip to the region. I’ve written to authors to find out they hadn’t been here at all. This book, though, oozes Salem. I knew immediately Brunonia Barry must live in the area. She knows that little town, she understands how the town’s history has impacted its current tourism industry. She gets it.

Barry’s book has one unreliable narrator trying to figure out who she is, a missing woman, maybe a murder, maybe a suicide, some witches, a cult and a few psychics. So many intriguing details in this story, I couldn’t stop reading it.

The book is a tad confusing and for the first half I thought it was a bit hard to follow. It’s hard to tell what is reality, and what is not. It’s hard to follow the chronicle history of the characters as dreams and psychic revelations get in the way. I don’t want to say too much because spoilers suck, so let me say this the only way I know how: The confusion is intentional. Go with it. It will pay off.

I live just two hours north of Salem, and this book reminded me that I don’t spend nearly enough time there.

You may like Brunonia Barry if you like:

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
Chocolat by Joanne Harris