This has been a rough month. Emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Maybe it’s Lent–or maybe March is just that weird month where it wants to be spring but we’re still dealing with the cold of winter. Maybe that anticipation for spring is wearing. But here’s what’s been on my mind this month.
What I’m Reading:
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. This was recommended to me by my roommate, especially as I’m trying to incorporate more fiction in my reading habits. Schwab is heavily focused on world-building, so this book starts out pretty slow. But once it reaches the plot, it gets really interesting. Actually, this type of fantasy storytelling brought forth a theory between me and my roommate–whether you’re a Tolkien reader or a C.S. Lewis reader. If you’re a Tolkien reader, you live for this kind of storytelling–details about details, the history of your fantasy world, the varying backstories of your main characters, a slow, plodding pace that smells the roses. This is my roommate’s bread and butter. But I’m a Lewis reader–I get bored when I’m overwhelmed with detail and setting. I want to get to the PLOT and discover the world along the way. Rather than taking 200 pages to describe Middle Earth, I want to fall into the wardrobe, immediately meet the White Witch, and set about restoring Narnia.
One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus. One of my goals this year is to read all of the “banned books” on the Parkway Parents list–a local group of Concerned Parents for middle school in St. Louis that are clutching their pearls over certain books in the high school curriculum. (Yes. I do think that a 17-year-old should be able to read Toni Morrison in school, because what better way to talk about darker themes and subjects than in a classroom?) Anyway, this book is frustrating because it truly is awful–and I mean awful–but is only on the Parkway list because of the sexual references and scenes. There is a lot of sex in this book, which doesn’t particularly concern me. But the fact that Fergus writes from a female perspective–and is really bad at it–the really racist depictions of the Cheyenne, the historical inaccuracies, the general awful writing…yuck. The book actually had a really interesting concept, which of course, Fergus destroyed with his utter lack of writing ability. Do not recommend. There is WAY better historical fiction/alternative histories out there.
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass. I read this book for class, at a particularly poignant time, considering that our current president doesn’t realize that Douglass is no longer living. I’ve read excerpts of this book but I hadn’t sat down and read the whole thing until this month. It was really amazing and so horrifyingly relevant. I think sometimes we forget that slavery wasn’t that long ago. My favorite writer, C.S. Lewis, was born in 1898. The Civil War ended thirty years prior. This quote particularly stuck out to me: “I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of the land… I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of ‘stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in.’ I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which every where surround me. We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. . . . Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other—devils dressed in angels’ robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise.”
Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones. OH MY GOSH WINTERSONG! During a particularly bad week, my roommate got this for me and I utterly devoured it. Run, do not walk, run and get this book. This book is a fantasy story about a young girl named Liesl who travels to the Underground in order to rescue her sister from the Goblin King. If this sounds like “Labyrinth” to you, just wait till you get to the enchanted peaches, dream-like masquerade ball, and the musical Goblin King with silver-gold hair and mismatched eyes. S. Jae-Jones doesn’t have time for your “what if I get sued” gripes, she has amazing fantasy stories to write! If you are a fan of darker fantasy stories, music, creativity, “Labyrinth”, “The Phantom of the Opera”, Hades and Persephone, “Beauty and the Beast”…this book is for you. It’s clawed its way to one of my very favorite books of all time and I can’t recommend it enough.
The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su. In 2012, Bernie Sue started a YouTube series called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Basically, it was a fictionalized vlog of the character Lizzie Bennet, from Pride and Prejudice. This vlog had a modern take on the famous story and it’s one of the finest adaptations I’ve ever seen. It’s still on YouTube, if you want to check it out–but if you were around while it was airing, you got to really interact with it. All of the characters–Mr. Darcy, Lizzie, Jane, Lydia, Charlotte–had their own respective Twitter and Instagram accounts, which allowed the characters to really interact with their audience. It was a really cool concept and how they modernized Lydia’s scandal is nothing short of brilliant. I won’t spoil it for you–watch it for yourself! (And then watch Emma Approved because that’s Bernie Su’s take on Emma, which is MY favorite Austen book and I love love love it.) ANYWAY. This book was a perk for the Kickstarter DVDs that were released after the series ended. It’s a companion to the vlog and actually has some really cool insights and “fill-ins” that the vlog doesn’t elaborate on. Very fun read.
Unwind by Neal Shusterman. This book was Messed Up. It was honestly one of the most stressful things I’ve ever read. The concept was really fascinating: It took place in a world where there was a second Civil War, between Pro-Life activists and Pro-Choice activists. Eventually, a compromise was made. Pregnancies must be carried to term but at age 13, if a parent could no longer take care of a child or didn’t want to–they could be “unwound”, which basically means the government would take them and dissect them, donating living organs, skin, and brain matter. This book deals very heavily with concepts of when life begins and bodily autonomy. It asks really uncomfortable questions that both Pro-Lifers and Pro-Choicers choose to ignore: Like, when does life begin in the midst of a pregnancy? When does a fetus have a right over its own body? What are the consequences of forcing families to take care of children they can’t afford? (There is a really horrifying concept in this universe known as “storking”–a single mother or father may legally drop off their baby on a doorstep, and as long as they’re not caught, the owner of the doorstep MUST take care of the baby). What are the consequences of abandoning children to the state? The best part of this book is that there are no clear answers.
Bunnicula by James Howe. Oh, Bunnicula!!! There are a couple books that I remember being read to my second grade class. Bunnicula was one of them, along with Junie B. Jones and Amber Brown. I loved Bunnicula as a kid and returning to this book as an adult was a delight. I had forgotten that Chester the cat was named after G.K. Chesterton!
Starting Point by Hayao Miyazaki. This book is a collection of memoir-esque essays by animator Hayao Miyazaki penned throughout his career. Full disclosure, I love Hayao Miyazaki and have seen every Miyazaki film in existence. (Fun fact: Many people believe my favorite Miyazaki film is “My Neighbor Totoro” because of the high volume of Totoro stuff I have, but it’s actually “Howl’s Moving Castle”–they don’t make as much Howl stuff as they do Totoro stuff!) Miyazaki is a master storyteller and his films never fail to inspire me. A lot of his essays are dry and deal a lot with the mechanics of animating–and a lot of them are griping about the industry! (His complaints about Disney in the 1980’s are hilarious) But I think this collection is valuable for all artists and storytellers.
To the Lightouse by Virginia Woolf. This is my first Woolf novel. I’ve actually only read her essays previously, so I’ve been looking forward to trying her out. This book is…weird. And it makes me very sleepy. Every time I’ve started reading it, my eyelids start dropping. I don’t think it’s out of boredom. I think the stream of consciousness style of writing just mimics my dreams really accurately–so accurately, that my brain starts going into REM mode. I think that’s the best way to describe this book–it’s like reading a dream. There are really vivid emotions and scenes, striking characters, but the plot is hard to grasp and the sequence of events is not typically chronological. We read a short story of hers earlier in class about a summer’s night and that too had a dream-like quality to the writing.
What I’m Watching:
The Shack. I first read the book The Shack in 2008. An old boyfriend recommended it to me and I devoured it in one night. If I were to pick a non-C.S. Lewis book that encapsulated the Christianity I believe in, The Shack would be it. And I’ve been excited about the film version for ages. I wasn’t disappointed. I thought it was beautiful in every way and I cried like a baby all the way through.
Get Out. I saw this film with my baby brother, who’s an avid Jordan Peele fan. I really love horror films (though I’d argue “Get Out” was more of a suspenseful thriller than straight up horror) and I was not disappointed by this one. I won’t spoil it for anyone, because the “twist” is so intricately layered and thought-provoking that I really don’t want to give it away. But seriously, this film is more than it seems. It’s a great film that provides excellent food for thought.
Beauty and the Beast. I gave this film a lot of crap when Disney announced they were doing a live-action remake. I said that Disney had lost creative risk-taking and were just rebooting old faves because it made them money. And…I still hold to that. But it was so much fun being six years old in a movie theater again! And that song “Evermore”…*swoon* I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would, even though Emma Watson’s singing was…less than stellar (autotune much?) and the LeFou jokes were uncomfortable. But it provided a much-desired burst of creative energy for me!
Riverdale. This show is stupid. It is such, such hot garbage. God knows the world needed a gritty Archie comics reboot. God knows we needed a show where Archie had an affair with Ms. Grundy (hey CW, if your Archie is 16 that’s technically rape), Veronica and Betty shared a steamy kiss in the pilot episode (who doesn’t love a little queerbaiting?), and Jughead is a broody hipster writer. Oh, and there’s a lot of murder. So yeah, I am watching this trainwreck of a show and I don’t have any explanation why. It is the cheddar jalapeno cheeto of shows, awful for you and terribly addicting. Don’t watch this show. Save yourselves. It’s too late for me, but you can find better shows with quality writing to fill up your time.
What I’m Listening to:
Beauty and the Beast. I will use any excuse to blast Disney music out of my car and I have no regrets about that. The Josh Groban version of “Evermore” is gorgeous but I can’t get over Dan Stevens’ version either–it’s so growly and angry. I love it so much.
That’s all for March. See you next month!