Is this a day late? Yes! Am I currently accruing a BUNCH of library late fees? Certainly! But let’s ignore all that and instead let me bend your ears quick about something I can’t stop thinking about: the 2013 movie Snowpiercer! I watched it for the first time this weekend (on the recommendation of Overinvested podcast) and was immediately LIVID that I hadn’t seen it much much sooner. It was definitely marketed as your garden variety TRAIN ACTION MOVIE!! and while it is on a train and there is action there’s also SO MUCH MORE GOING ON. It’s about class revolution and how hot Chris Evans looks when he’s sad and grimy!! Also it’s on Netflix and please tell me IMMEDIATELY once you have watched it because we have things to discuss!!
[a note: it is an extremely violent and often disturbing movie. there was one scene about halfway through in which I realized what was about to happen and almost screamed “NOPE I HAVE TO QUIT.” for me it turned out to be definitely worth it, but use your best judgement.]
New Year’s Day – Edith Wharton
Well!! I read this one…awhile ago. And quite frankly, I forgot about it! Which is sad, because I do love Edith Wharton (I’ve talked about both House of Mirth and Age of Innocence here). Also I didn’t realize until I picked this up from the library that New Year’s Day is the fourth novella in a set usually published together as Old New York. Maybe I would have liked it more if I had read the other novellas, but I honestly went through most of this one thinking, “is that…it?”
There was one excellent scene in which a clever woman scornfully explained to a man how she had duped him, but as for the rest there just wasn’t the density of sharp barbs at others’ expense mixed with lots and lots of longing that I really love in Wharton. It might also be that after heaving myself through The Way We Live Now I might need to take a break from the 19th century.
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir – Patrisse Khan-Cullors & asha bandele
Okay so a of all, if you don’t know the names of the three Black women who founded Black Lives Matter, now is the time to learn: Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Khan-Cullors. This book by Khan-Cullors, along with her co-author asha bandele (lowercase purposeful), is subtitled “A Black Lives Matter memoir,” and dives deep into her life, explicating how her experiences and those of her community members formed her need to push for and create change.
There was a slight pacing imbalance, especially in the second half, likely due to Khan-Cullors and bandele trying to fit as much as possible into a short, accessible book. From reading other book reviews, it sounds like a lot of people were expecting this book to be more about the formation of the Black Lives Matter organization, which is probably an expectation I would have had if not for hearing a lot to the contrary ahead of time. The authors don’t actually get to that until closer to the end, focusing instead on Khan-Cullors’ life and how the various factors at work within it lead her to that.
It’s beautifully written while also being densely informative, in a way that’s clearly described and interconnected. I knew the prison, policing, and healthcare systems in this country were fcked, but…wow. They’re really fcked! And even more sobering to learn about is how they’re fcked mostly on purpose. They were specifically designed to keep marginalized folks powerless, and Khan-Cullors and bandele do an expert job at writing about trauma and pain with deep love, hope, and sensitivity.
[tw: police violence, sexual violence, references to suicide and suicidal ideation]
Choose Your Own Disaster – Dana Schwartz
The subtitle felt too long to put in the heading, and also is probably pretty small on that cover picture, so I’m gonna block quote it here, because it is pretty important in terms of knowing what you’re going into:
A. a memoir
B. a personality quiz
C. a mostly true and completely honest look at one young woman’s attempt to find herself
D. all of the above
I guess the title itself was supposed to suggest that a “choose your own adventure”ish structure was also in there, which I honestly could have done without. Some of her themes throughout are reinventing oneself and the overwhelm of thinking about how one choice near the beginning of your life can branch out into an innumerable possibilities, so it worked thematically, but I personally found it stressful. She recounts dating disasters, travel misadventures, and career advances and fallbacks with a self-deprecating and pop-culture-reference-filled sense of humor, as well as a couple of more traumatic elements of her life.
I have a bit more to say, but I want to give the following trigger warnings for the book first: sexual assault, suicidal ideation, and eating disorders. I’m about to say a little more on how the parts focused on her eating disorder didn’t sit well with me, and if reading about that would be stressful or harmful for you right now please do feel free to skip it. Additionally, I welcome your feedback if I get something wrong and/or my take on this needs some re-evaluation.
Okay so first of all I want to leave space for the reality that recovery from eating disorders is an ongoing and often complicated process [which Schwartz does a good job of stressing]. I also want to acknowledge the impulse in memoir-writing to not want to put in a running commentary on the narrative itself, especially when that narrative is made up of your own experiences. That being said, memoir itself is made up of hundreds of choices about how you shape and present a narrative, and those choices themselves are also commentary.
The sections about Schwartz’s eating disorder (which takes on a couple of different forms in the book) are potently and viscerally written, and deal explicitly with fatphobia specifically as it relates to her feelings about herself. That in itself is not necessarily a problem, but there were several instances (which the narrative as a whole supported) in which the framing and presentation of her experiences suggested that while an eating disorder is not right, fatphobia itself…might be kind of right? And while it’s true that there are many ways in which society treats fat/plus-sized people cruelly, I did not get the impression that Schwartz had truly grappled with the way her own perspectives and assumptions might be perpetuating that. The narrative was still shaped by an assumption that thin/straight-sized bodies are the norm, and everything else is a deviation, and I think this aspect of the story could have used some time to breathe and for the author to unpack and unlearn some things.
Okay that’s all for this week folks! Sorry for ending on kind of a bummer, so here! A picture of Chris Evans!