Thursday, October 29, 2015

Reading Rainbow

My grey matter has been hyperactive, of late.  I've been getting a lot of mental inspiration from stuff I've been reading/seeing/thinking about and my pistons are firing (in case you couldn't tell from the last post).

Further to that, I was at a dinner party last weekend and when the talk about white people being racist came up, a smug white person (is there any other kind?) of the mansplaining variety said, "but aren't we all racist?" and I was like, okay, yeah, fine.  And then this other mansplainer jumped in, and to his credit, talked about racism being a structural thing, so everyone is bigoted (or can be), but not all people possess the structural power to exclude others.  He said something along the lines of, "I'm sure there might be some cultures where whiteness isn't dominant" at which point I was just about to interject that I don't believe that to be true, when my dear friend gave an example of "racism" when she was singled out and treated differently when she was a white woman living in Japan for a year.

Keep in mind: I was the only person of colour at the table.  The Dotytron had left for another engagement.  In that context, among those people, I consider the Dotytron a person of colour, because he's really the closest thing to it.  He's considered "black-ish" by his colleagues at school.  I tried to make a point that Japanese men fetishizing her whiteness is still a privileging of white skin (although a twisted articulation of it), but it got swallowed up in the din of whiteness and mansplaining (a lethal combination).

It was very difficult to sit at that table and listen to that conversation unspool as it did.  I didn't speak up because I'm not very deft when it comes to doing that.  I would have gone full-bore FRANZ FANON this! and bell hooks THAT! And probably gone berserk with post-colonial, can-the-subaltern-speak talk.

Here's the thing: some of those people are wannabe public policy wanksters.  They're not, because they're the kind of oily political staffers that I see prancing around my work, in shrunken suits, who don't actually know how to do anything but play the "game" of politics, but the point is: they FANCY themselves to be the "right" people to make those decisions.

You've heard me go on and on about the myopic nature of the left and how entrenched positions never yield fruitful conversations.  This was a table full of that.  Big voices from people who don't know anything beyond their own narrow slice of urban smugness.

I'm sorry, but you don't have to go very far to get a sense of the discourse on white privilege and racism.  Like, it got played out in the Taylor Swift-Nicki Minaj beef on Twitter.  It's on Scandal, like, every 5th episode.  It's kind of everywhere?  IF you take a minute to step outside the narrow confines of a limited peer group.  It's weird how rarefied your world can become.  I'm sometimes shocked by how much otherwise intelligent, smart, thinking people I know don't know about stuff.  Maybe this is what happens when you only get a CBC/NPR view of the world?  What is that world even like?

Thankfully, I'll never have to know.

Edit: I love my best friend because I have been working on this post all week and then we went to lunch and basically hashed out all of the above.  She's a glorious, brilliant, magical, inspiring creature who makes me a better person.

This week I saw Jillian and Mariko Tamaki do a talk organized by my friend JT.  It was awesome.  Yes, please smart Asian-Canadian women who are feminists and think about girlhood and coming-of-age, and narrative reliability and are kick-a** illustrators.  Yes, please.

This One Summer is their latest work (they also write independently of each other, although Jillian does illustration whereas Mariko doesn't).  This won a Prinz and a Caldecott, kind of a big deal.  It's covers a summer spent at the cottage with two friends, Windy and Rose, both who are on the cusp of early-adulthood, and who are experiencing that transition and the shifting of their identities in different ways that strain and balance their friendship.  There are confusing things afoot with the adults in their lives, and with the townie teenagers the two spy on.  I love Jillian Tamaki's illustration style.  I just love it.  I couldn't love it more.  It is the perfect balance between clear and expressive and referencing traditional cartooning.  The story is fragmented and the telling of the narrative evokes summer itself - how some days are long and languid and some seem to flash by in a blur.  There is a lot that isn't said through text, leaning all the more on Jillian Tamaki's wondrous illustrations to add the nuance and shading and subtext.  It perfectly captured the confusing miasma of fraught female friendships at a tumultuous time.  

This was OBVIOUSLY an Academic Book Club pick.  I don't know from Ann-Marie MacDonald.  I didn't read The Way the Crow Flies or Fall On Your Knees because I suspected white lady problems and I wasn't up for it then, and I'm rarely up for it now.  This is about a character, not-Ann-Marie who lives a very similar life to Ann-Marie but isn't her, okay?  Even though they are both lesbians living in the Annex with similar professions for their spouses and raising kids and blah blah blah.  I didn't finish reading this to be honest because it was about how she was feeling suffocated by stifling domesticity.  It's a Talking Heads, is this my beautiful wife? Is this my beautiful car? type of book and I'm sorry, but from rich white ladies who are all, "how do I find myself here?" I'm like, figure it out! I don't care!  I couldn't get into her "problems" and I didn't want to try.

The Girl on the Train was last year's answer to Gone Girl but not as good and without the feminism.  An alcoholic woman named Rachel pieces together a mystery from the glimpses of a house she passes by on her train commute every day.  Secrets abound, blah blah.  It's a page turner but I didn't really like any of the characters and the writing wasn't all that great and the twist ending wasn't all that surprising, so the end result is that it was perfect for that time in my life (I read this over a year ago...I think when the twins were quite wee and my life was punctuated with tandem breastfeeds every 3 hours).

All YA books are set up to be like, "The next Fault in Our Stars" or "The next Eleanor and Park."  This was marketed like this but it's quite different.  It's about a Hasidic Jewish girl and a West Indian boy who cross over their respective communities' boundaries in Brooklyn and meet in a hospital elevator during a hurricane.  Their families disapprove, their burgeoning relationship must be kept a secret.  For the most part, the book defies easy stereotypes - Jaxon, the boy, is a high-achieving nerdy student and the book ends with melodramatic elements, but a more realistic ending than most.  I liked this book - it was sweetly touching.

Saga.  You guys.  Brian K. Vaughan is obviously a hero in the comics world.  I love his writing.  But Fiona Staples?!?  Where have you BEEN all my comic-reading life?  Look at those drawings!  The drawings are incredible.  This is about two members of alien races, at war for generations, who fall in love and defect to raise their child, on the run from bounty hunters and government forces.  Brian K. Vaughan's writing is always slyly political, but funny, and very wry.  I love this and can't wait for the next installments.  Again, the illustrations, guys!  The worlds that are created!  

SMcKay recently questioned me because I got midnight screening tickets (thanks, Bruce Wayne!) for the new Star Wars: Force Awakens film.  I was like, dude, I'm a nerd.  And she said, "I'm a nerd, too..." and I was like, whoa whoa whoa.  I am a real, deal nerd.  Like, an old skool 90s alt-Asian girl nerd.  I like Star Trek: TNG, Star Wars, comics, Voltron, Ghost in the Shell, Autechre, Aphex Twin, all the rest of that stuff.  You want to talk Brian K. Vaughan?  Let's talk Brian K. Vaughan.  This is real comics, not the Seth/Adrian Tomine, graphic novel stuff.  It is a brilliant series have to take my word for it.  

Allie Brosh's web comics (and maybe some original material?  I'm not sure) were collected in this book, Hyperbole and a Half.  There is something about her naive (but assuredly time-consuming) MS Paint illustrations that are the best.  In particular, her series on her own depression and wanting to die, is one of the things that has best crystallized for me, what it must be like for someone to be going through those mental health issues.  It's strange, but her writing on her depression is one of the first times I've actually understood what it must be like.  It made that expression of mental illness accessible in a way that it hadn't before, and in so doing, made me able to empathize with people with mental illness on a much more intuitive level.  

I mean really, isn't this like, me all the damn time?!

I know, I'm so behind on book reviews that you read and digested and loaned this to your friend already.  Allow me to join the chorus of voices who loved Amy Poehler's book.  I love this woman.  I was told by people that some of her reactions to situations as detailed in the book reminded them of me, and by that I mean I think Amy Poehler and I share the propensity to be small, smart women who are cocksure and as a general rule, DON'T TAKE S**T LYING DOWN.  I am generally honoured by the comparison.  

I loved this book.  The essays were by turns funny, true, heartening, and revealing.  This is the kind of book that as a woman, you sometimes clutch it to your breast and just breath, "yes."  I get that.  This woman gets me.  Women getting other women is a magical gift and is not to be trifled with.  I enjoyed this more than Bossypants because as a whole, I find Poehler less guarded.  Tina Fey comes off very cerebral and her smart can be distancing, whereas Poehler allows you in a bit more.  Whatever, they're both brilliant, funny, amazing women and there is room for both of them and a whole lot more.

I suggested this for Academic Book Club.  It generated a s**t tonne of discussion but I had major issues with this book.  I think Lena Dunham is a creative, gifted, incredibly accomplished woman who has her heart in the right place.  I think the video advice series that she developed to promote the book was brilliant and funny and I loved it.  The actual book however, I do have notes about.  She's...just not that great a writer, guys.  She's a voracious reader and she's been around a highly educated, artistic milieu her whole life (what comes through loud and clear in this book is how much she idolizes her artist parents), and I've heard her speak and she's articulate and insightful...but it doesn't translate as much to the written word.  

I've subscribed to her Lenny newsletter that she does with Jenni Konner and I'd say the same thing.  She's not a great interviewer and the writing just doesn't equal the sum of the inputs.  She is an oversharer with some things, but then when the time comes to discuss her relationship with Jack Antonoff, she gets weirdly shy and reticent and all, "that's private!" and obviously I get that everyone gets to choose what's private for them, but it just seemed incongruous and kind of juvenile.  There are ways to talk about your boyfriend/partner/significant other, whathaveyou, without giving it all away and feeling like you sold yourself (see: Amy Poehler above).  It was worthwhile reading because this book generated a lot of mainstream interest and was zeitgeisty, and as we all know, even though I'm a nerd, I stay on top of the zeitgeist like it's my full time job.

That's it for book reviews today.  Stay tuned for Halloween wrap-up, more musings on parenthood, what I've made for dinner lately, and more!


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