November 30, 2016

The Stories are Important: Grace's "Tranny"

I finished this book this week. I enjoyed it. But I’m not entirely sure what to say about it.

From the start, I am a fan of her band, Against Me! I’m still a fan even if it becomes just another name for what she does. But I’m not a huge fan. I know bigger fans, who have seen her (in both fake Tom and real Laura phases) than I have. AM! Is like a top 20 band for me and I was trying to think if another similar artist in my own esteem wrote something would I have preordered it sight unseen six months in advance of the release date?

Probably not.

Why is that? Well, look at the title. Grace’s dysphoria is the story, for better or worse. This book, thigh, is different. Despite the title, it is more a straight narrative about growing up and wanting to be in a band and then being in a band. And then the band does ok and then it does better and then it alienates some of the original fans.

The hints at the dysphoria are there. But it feels like a bit of a bait and switch. If the dysphoria is the story and someone grabs the book for that, it is only hinted at in the opening chapters. For me, this is the part where I allow myself to say that I’m glad I never had to face even a marginal level of fame. And I create the illusion that my 2000 followers on twitter are just the right amount.

But at the end Grace start to get deep about the story that makes her story the thing that people want to read about- no matter the reason. The problem is that there’s the earlier hints, and lines about life living in the closet, but the out of the closet stuff has been covered in other publications.

I want Laura to live her truth. I’m glad she can now. But this either seems too exploitative or not exploitative enough. I’m not sure. What I can imagine it does is allow other transwomen to live their truths, so that the details here are unimportant if they focus too much on the band or not. Ultimately, as a society we are better off when more people tell their stories and we approach closer to a universal truth (if it even exists).  

Picking through the Library at the end of November

Cosplayers: Dash Shaw

The best part of this for me was the small side story where a presenter at a conference can’t afford a hotel room and ends up sleeping in a dumpster. That part hit home.
Otherwise, it is the story of two women who make movies on their own, find a brush with fame, and (spoiler alert) find that they were better off doing the thing they wanted to do, not doing the thing they wanted to do.

I thought it was a bit weirdly episodic, until the end when I read that the stories were supposed to be looser and less connected and not 100% serve the larger arc. They were indie comics, as is the book.
Worth reading, but maybe the title is a bit of a misdirection (though there are cosplayers, so only just).

In the Sounds and the Sea: Galloway

The biggest recommendation here is the art. The black and white drawings are full of detail like that thing where you see a mass of maggots devouring some decaying flesh but you don’t want to look too deeply at the detail because you’ll see every single maggot so you just understand that there are maggots there in a lump. And you look away. If you smoke, you take a long hard pull off of your cigarette. And you exhale, smiling.

The big thing here is that there is no dialogue. The narrative is implied in language-les bubbles. It works, only just. I couldn’t tell you what happens. The ship burns, but it all goes back to the art. The art is good. Can it transcend the other structural, purposely chosen barriers? I’m not sure.

The Last Shift: Levine

We lost one of our greatest voices when Philip Levine sucked in his last air.

These are those poems right before that.

They’re worth reading, even if they don’t shake you to the core. At least they’ll shake you to the mantle.

I really liked “Louie Lies” (p. 61). I’m not sure if I wanted to be Louie or the one being lied to.

Pirate Utopia: Sterling

Oddly enough, this is the second book I’ve read about the revolutionary city of Fiume. There’s a deep mine to be exploited there, so it makes sense that our modern myth-makers look at it as a looking glass to reflect our world into it.

For those out of the loop, there was a conference after the first world war that divided the lands of the losers. Italy was on the border with the Austrian Hungarian Empire, which splintered into several states, these new borders inclined Italy but also a new polyglot state of Yugoslavia.

There were borderlands for all of this – places where it wasn’t one place at one step and another at the next, but gray areas and liminal spaces. Fiume was one of them. And the people there made it so. They created their own free state.

But it seems, in my limited reading, Fiume wasn’t about nationalities as much as it was about the borders between the past and the future. The rebels of Fiume weren’t necessarily fascist or communist (though it appears they were both, with a bit of anarchism aside) but they were between the past and the future. Sterling here captures that potential so much that this book isn’t self-contained. It feels like an opening slavo from our present against the unwritten future.

November 21, 2016

Some Recent Readings mid November

Footnotes on Gaza: Sacco

In Footnotes in Gaza, Sacco really humanizes the conflicts that define the middle east in our current century. Probing deep into the past – 50 years when he wrote it, 60 years now – show how much things are the same in the Gaza strip. 

But he doesn’t try to take the information from the contemporary times or the history he seeks to over-generalize the conflict, just trying to say that these things are happening. That we see them from the Palestinian viewpoint helps to make their cause more sympathetic. They just want to live their lives. I bet that the Israelis would say the same thing. For me, though, I am sympathetic towards the more indigenous people than the ones who have had the support of two global hegemons to suppress the natives (and it is hard to speak of natives, as so many nations have flown their flags over that land). 

The endnotes are some of the most interesting parts, where Sacco pulls the transcripts and you can see how some of the things he draws are shaped by the interviews he did, even though the graphic section is more compelling.

Like That (Poems by Matthew Yeager)

I’m not going to lie, I picked this one up because of the blurb by Terrance Hayes.

And I think I was well rewarded. Though these are longer poems than I’d usually be attracted to, they work in a narrative sense, especially one about being a waiter and another persona poem about Henry Hudson.

But the strongest poem is the final, longest work, “A Jar of Balloons or the Uncooked Rice,” which is just a long sequence of thought provoking questions that made it hard to get through. It did wonders in sparking my memory and wonder, like making me wonder how I remembered my phone number from years ago for the first time in a long time.

Four Futures: Peter Frase

Frase is pretty certain that capitalism is on the way out. In this book, one he likens to science fiction (maybe to avoid being called a failed profit, one who made predictions that didn’t come true like the Manifesto or the Economic Possibilities of Our Grandchildren, perhaps? Perhaps not). The thing is that as the current mode of production and distributing resources burns itself out, there are multiple ways that this can go. Frase draws two axes, one between abundance and scarcity and another between equality and hierarchy.
These axes mean that there are four possible futures, as the title suggests: communism, socialism, rentism, and exterminism. Basically, communism is everyone having lots, and exterminism is very few having some and the rest having nothing. The others are between that. Frase draws on both other theorists and other science fiction writers to draw the world of the future that might exist. It seems that we’re aiming for heaven and just might end up in hell. It’s all about the paths that we take. So much for making America great again, we just want to be able to not starve. But maybe I’m just being a pessimist.  

Time Travel: Glieck

This is one of those books that is full of interesting information and that you cannot put down. The problem for me was that it was just full of information and didn’t resolve itself.  It was more a closed loop, circling back to itself and within itself, never resolving. Circling, never touching, ever tangential to itself only just.