On Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

IMG_1322.JPG Today, my spouse picked up a paw print we had made in memory of our recently deceased rabbit, Bruce Banner. Bruce was a big, chubby, lovable guy. (For scale, his paw print is on the left; on the right is the paw print of our bunny, Ophelia, who passed just over a year ago.) It’s been about three weeks without Bruce, which means it’s been about three weeks without his grunting*, without pats, without fighting over the space under my desk, where he liked to lay while I worked. IMG_1323.PNG I’ve been an avid rabbit rescuer for nearly a decade, and for the first time in over eight years I’m not sharing my home with a big-eared pal. There are plenty of reasons that my spouse and I haven’t yet adopted another rabbit, but it’s still been a rough go. In a manner uncharacteristically optimistic of me, I’ve been spending a lot of time in a large park in my neighbourhood that is a known abandonment spot for domesticated rabbits, generally those purchased around easter time who are hitting bunny puberty and becoming either expensive or difficult. Last week, I spent upwards of three hours doing my work reading in the park, and moving from spot to spot in hopes of finding a bunny in need of rescue. I really did this, and I’m sharing it because there’s a set of scenes at the end of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep in which Rick meditates on the possibility and significance of finding a real, living animal in a world devastated by nuclear warfare and covered in radioactive dust. It’s a great ending to a great text, and really speaks to the hanging ambivalent tone that this text operates through. That was my entire experience of reading it: the plot seems like it should make a reader all but depressed, but, like Iran, the protagonist’s wife, the reader is pulled along, and pulled outside of regular emotional activity. Iran self-induces a feeling of despair twice per week because she recognises both that despair has been lost as a response to the plight of the earth and its inhabitants, and that a lack of fitting emotional response was once considered an illness. Anyway, this is accidentally a post about my deceased rabbit, but you should totally read this book.

*rabbits grunt to indicate displeasure or anger, normally. Bruce suffered from food anxiety, and would grunt every.single.time we fed him, to the point that it eventually it became part of his food excitement routine.

Have a recommendation for me? Leave it in the comments!
Reading next: either Philip K. Dick’s UBIK, or Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven.

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On Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

On Sarah Winman’s “When God was a Rabbit.”

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I think I tried to read this book under the wrong circumstances, or maybe just under too many different circumstances. I started it alone in a cabin after finishing Mockingjay on a camping trip, and finished it alone in a cabin on another camping trip one week later. The middle part, though, was different: I read the bulk of this text in the evenings during the work week. I really think this is a cabin read, or a rainy-day read, or a Sunday afternoon read, or maybe even a winter-break read. What I’m getting at is that I found this book boring, but I don’t actually think that it is. I think it requires a long, slow read. The kind of read that lets you spend time dreaming up a detailed picture of the setting and deliberating over sentences. I didn’t give it that, and that’s my failing.
I’ve noted that it falls into the broad category of “books published in 2011 that take up 9/11.” Also, I think you should take this book with you on your summer break, and read it over a few days when you have zero other commitments.

On Sarah Winman’s “When God was a Rabbit.”

On Suzanne’s Collins’ 3rd Novel, “Mockingjay.”

I love the Hunger Games series. I think they’re well written books that launch a series of severe, complex critiques of late capitalism and state surveillance, and I think Collins is a bit of genius for being able to maintain a tone and reading level suitable to a young adult audience without dumbing down (or sugar-coating) her message. Suzanne Collins, if you ever happen upon this blog post: you’re gutsy, and you’re one of my heroes.
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That said, I’m disappointed in the third book. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t read it– you should, and there are plenty of sources that will tell you the same. Just: be prepared for the third book. It isn’t as well put-together as the others. There are scenes that are highly citational in a straight-forward way (for example, the purple glow that causes anyone who steps within it to bleed from every orifice until they’ve bled out feels like it was pulled directly from the episode “Ariel” in Joss Whedon’s Firefly.), rather than in the layered way you might have come to expect from the earlier books. The concept of the reaping, itself so central to the entire structure of the series, is clearly a reference to Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery,” but in Collins’ text that structure lays the foundation for something larger. Where “The Lottery” ends with the implied death of the unlucky soul to pull the black dot from the pot, The Hunger Games can be read as a meditation on the kind of culture that supports something like a reaping. My point is that Collins is careful and deliberate with that borrowing, where much of the borrowing that fills out Mockingjay seems a bit more cut-and-paste, and is certainly intended to be cinematic rather than literary. Some sources suggest that Mockingjay will (er, has/will? will/has?) make the best movie. I can’t decide if this is an accident (a happy one for film lovers, a sad one for book lovers, and an utterly confusing one for people who love both), or a very clever and intentional tactic. After all, if the books have taught us anything, knowing what makes good TV is military.

Next, I’m reading: Sarah Winman’s When God was a Rabbit
Have a book rec for me? Leave it in the comments!

On Suzanne’s Collins’ 3rd Novel, “Mockingjay.”

“When Everything Feels Like the Movies.”

There’s this funny thing that happens to me, and I think to other people also: if I’m more productive in one area of my life, other areas follow suit. It’s a pretty neat little trick, really. Related: I’ve been slamming out 1000 words per day or more (trying, madly, to finish a chapter draft by June 10th, and an article by June 30th), and, almost by accident, I’ve also been reading way more for research and for fun. IMG_1279.JPG(<— that's a picture of my copy of Raziel Reid's "When Everything Feels Like the Movies," next to my bookmark, which was legit my ticket to "The Book of Mormon." I may have been predisposed to loving this book.) Anyway: read. this. book.
Do it. Borrow it from your library, buy a copy (I got mine used, which probably means that all of the homophobic WAPSy types that participate in Canada Reads have finished with it, and are expunging it from their homes. Take note, and take advantage!), ask for it as a gift. I bet if you tell your mom that it was a Canada Reads book, she’ll buy it for you without asking any questions. No, really. (Also, if reading prudish negative reviews– eg: “it would be a good book if only there wasn’t so much *gay* in it– is cathartic for you, you should check out the 1star reviews on goodreads.com.)
Continue reading ““When Everything Feels Like the Movies.””

“When Everything Feels Like the Movies.”

On Jeff Lemire’s “Essex County.”

IMG_1255.JPGMy introduction to Jeff Lemire’s Essex County was weirdly serendipitous. Sometime during the months that I was studying for my comprehensive exam, I also gave my pastor a description of my area of study (I look at coming of age graphic novels that take up the relationships between bodies, spaces, and political and cultural structures). The following Sunday, I found her copy of Essex County in my mailbox, and proceeded to devour it in one sitting that afternoon. It was a few short months after my mother had died of lung cancer, and I was struck by the way that the text binds up loss and grieving with locatedness. Reading the text felt very personal (and still does), and left me genuinely longing for a geography that might allow me to play out my grief. My husband and I had relocated to a new city for my PhD (we had been relocated for less than a year when my mom passed), and despite having built up a good network of friends and supporters in the city we left, I’d only lived there for seven years. The sparse, sprawling images of Essex County that Lemire provides feel uncannily like my hometown (which is also in Canada, and which I won’t name), but my relationship to my hometown has always been troubled. (I visited again last July, and came away feeling extremely out of place and depressed. My dad and brothers still live there, but I’m sure I can ever go back.) Reading Lemire’s text was cathartic. I read it twice more during the process of my exams, and wrote on it for my topic paper.
Recently, I’ve been alerted to a call for papers that my work on Essex County might qualify for (with some hefty editing), and so I’ve been going through the process of re-working my comps paper. This means doing additional research, outlining a (partially) new argument, annotating the original work to identify problem places and spots that need further explication, and, of course, re-reading my primary text. Being now removed from context of immediate and raw grief from which I initially approached the text, I find myself coming away with a completely different reading (which is actually very useful for the particular project I’m trying to write for). I don’t mean this as a criticism of Lemire’s text, or at least not as the kind of criticism designed to encourage potential readers to stay away. Mostly I’m shocked that I initially didn’t notice a troubling pattern that seems, now, to be at the fore of the text. Essex County, while exploring masculinity, aging, place, and grief in a complex, effective (and affective) way, also does the work of systematically erasing indigenous peoples, and also almost all women, from the claims that it makes to land in the name of white men. This is part of a bigger argument, so I’m still figuring out all of the parts of it, so I can’t go into a lot of detail here, not yet anyway (plus you’d likely find it boring), but I’m happy to respond to questions, or to come back to this post if anyone shows absolutely any interest in it. The long and short of it, however, is this: indigenous people are absent from the text entirely (except maybe as a vague referent to the magical’ god-like crow( (?), which isn’t any better), but claims are made for the Lebeuf family’s right to remain on the land based on a legacy of several hundred years. Several hundred years is a long time when considered in relation to an average human lifespan, but is laughable when considered in relation to the history of the indigenous people that were evacuated from the land so that the Lebeuf family and others could settle there. Women, too, are evacuated from the text, save for the country nurse. Three separate women inhabit the narrative long enough to give birth and raise children (to varying degrees), but die before the opening moments of the text. Anyway, I’m still chewing on these patterns, and welcome any insight on these parts of the text.

On Jeff Lemire’s “Essex County.”

I Was Amelia Earhart

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I just finished Jane Mendelsohn’s I was Amelia Earhart. I read it, in one one sitting, and basically gulped it down. It’s lyrical, not in the sense that nothing happens, but in the sense that you care more about the people who facilitate and respond to the happenings. Plus it’s about Amelia Earhart, so everything that happens is epic. It’s also hard to describe concretely without giving either everything away or sounding 100% vague. Anyway, I’m going to do the latter, because you should read it yourself: in the style of Joyce Carol Oates’ Blonde, I Was Amelia Earhart imagines the life of Amelia Earhart up to and following her disappearance. Except way.more.epic. than that sounds.

Don’t be fooled by this book’s goodreads rating (which is 3.4/5, not bad); a quick skim through 1-star reviews reveals that they come mostly from readers who are unimpressed because the plot is improbable, or who are disappointed because they wanted to learn more about Amelia Earhart. The experience of reading is something like reading Wide Sargasso Sea, though the project of I Was Amelia Earhart is less political, and less a conversation with the dominant literary canon than a conversation with a legend.

I Was Amelia Earhart

On Maratha Schabas’ first novel, “Various Positions.”

What follows is something between a review of and a response to Martha Schabas’s first novel, Various Positions. Some of the content of this blog post gives away minor plot points in the text. (For some reason, this book received only 3 stars on GoodReads, but it is clearly in the 3.5 range.)

Martha Schabas is not Sylvia Plath, Anne-Marie MacDonald, or David Mitchell. Her first novel is not an extraordinarily seamless, perfect thing. And that’s okay. It’s excellent fiction in its own right, and I don’t mind that it reads like a first novel. Schabas’ prose ranges from clear and simple, to raw and almost choppy, to ambitious and surprisingly beautiful. Reading it feels a bit like an exercise in learning to write, and that’s probably the number one reason that I enjoyed this text as much as I did. This is a read that definitely requires some patience through the opening pages, but I promise that it pays off.
The plot of the book is simple: a young ballet dancer auditions for, and is accepted to the elite training school for the Canadian National Ballet, located in Toronto, Ontario (the company, and the school, are real). While there, she encounters people (teachers and students alike) that are serious about ballet and treat her, for the first time, as a professional and an adult. Among her peers, and increasingly among the adults in her life, she is exposed to sexuality and desire for the first time. Add to this an interesting sub-plot involving her home life (I don’t want to give anything away!), and it’s a pretty intense read. Various Positions reminds me, in a small way, of Nancy Huston’s Slow Emergencies, though that might be because both are dance novels concerned with the intersection of aesthetics and intimate life. IMG_1249.JPG
Shabas’ book takes up the themes of aesthetics and sexuality in equal measure, and painstakingly details the processes by which the young protagonist, Georgia, learns to understand herself as embodying both. At the centre of this novel is an inquiry into the development of female sexuality in a culture that insists on framing young women as desirable, rather than desiring, and as objects of a gaze, rather than as gazing subjects. Schabas’s narrator develops slowly and carefully in a manner consistent with her character’s qualities– Georgia is fundamentally a good kid with a strong devotion to ballet, and wants as much to follow the rules as she does to not rock the boat. Through a series of events that are sometimes tied to the natural (she begins, along with her classmates and friends, to go through puberty) and sometimes specific to the character (without giving away too much, I’ll say this- changes in the shape and nature of her family unit), the rules, spoken and unspoken, that Georgia had been previously grounded by begin to change, and Georgia learns to change with them.
Schabas’s best talent is striking a balance between careful treatment of sensitive material, and raw and realistic depictions of human desire and failings. She avoids moralizing, and instead directs her reader to an understanding of power dynamics and sexuality as complex, and multi-faceted. My experience of reading this text shifted- one moment I wanted someone to blame for the scandal at the center, and the next I concretely understood that guilt and blame were beside the point. My relationship to the narrative, too, is personal: though I grew up in a different geography, and with a very different family structure than Georgia (who lives on the cusp of a wealthy suburb in Toronto, and who never questions the cost of her training, or the safety of her neighborhood), I empathize with her extreme devotion to an aesthetic art, and with the way that it leaves her isolated from others her own age.

On Maratha Schabas’ first novel, “Various Positions.”