Hey friends, welcome back! I don’t know if you noticed last week (and honestly I forgot to announce it) but your girl upgraded and we are now ad-free! Also I get live chat support for the next time a formatting issue on this website nearly drives me to tears!
Speaking of things nearly driving me to tears, many of you are probably aware of the recent extremely restrictive abortion bans in the process of being put through in Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio right now. If you’re interested in (and able to) supporting organizations committed to helping pregnant people get abortions, I’ve recently donated to the Yellowhammer Fund in Alabama, and Planned Parenthood Southeast is a relevant source as well.
Also, by specific request [from me], each topic in June’s Pop Culture Pen Pals runs for two hours or less, including Obvious Child, a deeply sweet and sharply funny romcom-adjacent movie about a very normal abortion. And it’s on Netflix!
Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century – Sam Kashner & Nancy Schoenberger
I talked about this a couple weeks ago in my ‘heavy heart’ post, and I finished it off for this week. Partially due to reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo a few months ago [which by the way would be a FANTASTIC beach/pool read!], and partially due to just how INTERESTING it is, I’ve started dipping my toe into the world of Old Hollywood, and this book about two legends and their relationship with each other [a legend all its own!] was a great addition.
As I mentioned previously, this recommendation came from Rachel Syme’s twitter (a TREASURE TROVE of Old Hollywood info and recs). It seems odd to say a 400+ page book takes a “laser focus” on anything, but it really does zoom in on Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s relationship with each other. Kashner and Schoenberger expertly fill in other background info as-needed, and do a stellar job at keeping a quick pace and expecting the reader to keep up while also not treating the reader like an ignoramus if they’re not Old Hollywood experts. Also, I realize I keep saying ‘Old Hollywood,’ which is a period the Taylor-Burton relationship actually outlasted. Because it’s relevant to their relationship, the book also provides a fascinating micro-history of Hollywood’s transition between periods and provides a lot of context for how the movie industry as we know it today came to be.
In case it’s not already obvious, I really enjoyed this book and have a long list of relevant movies I now want to watch. It does need some trigger warnings for domestic violence, depression, alcoholism, and attempted suicide. Also, Taylor’s weight fluctuated significantly throughout her life and was a frequent point of scrutiny from the public, as well as from herself and her acquaintances. Occasionally in the book the authors note the effect this scrutiny and pressure had on her, and for their part they do an okay job at staying away from weight-shaming themselves, but there were a few comments I winced at and for some the topic itself might not be one they can engage with, which is valid!
The Marrow Thieves – Cherie Dimaline
Engaging characters, indigeneity in dystopia, and chosen/found family in a fast-paced YA novel? Yes! Hello! Sign me up!
Set in a near-future world ravaged by climate change, French is on the run with a small group of other Native people who have joined together for protection. A mysterious side effect of the destruction to the environment is that Native people are now the only ones with the ability to dream, and so they’re hunted and imprisoned in “schools” that attempt to harvest their bone marrow. [If you’re familiar at all with Native history in North America, the word ‘schools’ probably gave you a heads up about the history that Dimaline is evoking, and if you’re not familiar, the phrase “Native boarding schools” would be a good thing to start googling.]
As French bonds with the others in his group, they share stories of pain, loss, community, and hope. Dimaline’s writing is beautiful and the characters and the bonds between them felt real and fleshed out. There were some ways in which the worldbuilding didn’t feel quite…built out? The mechanics of this dystopia were definitely not as important to Dimaline as the characters and imagery, which were done so excellently I almost forgot to care about those mechanics. There’s so much Dimaline is referencing and connecting thematically that the dystopian worldbuilding is almost beside the point, but I do think a sequel could be a bit stronger if it’s slightly more specific about a couple things.
[TW: depictions of violence, including sexual assault]
[p.s. I’m continuing to try to be more conscious of the amount and types of books I read written by BIPOC. In particular, as I survey the books I’ve read in the last year I’m noticing a specific lack of books written by Indigenous/First Nations authors, which I’m working on remedying and welcome your recommendations on!]
Parable of the Talents – Octavia E. Butler
Okay so if you [I] thought Parable of the Sower was eerily prescient WHEW ARE WE IN FOR SOME SURPRISED AND CONCERNED YELPING.
This follow-up was originally designed as the 2nd in a trilogy, which Butler passed away before completing. Though they’re technically a series, I had a much different experience reading this one than I did the first. There’s definitely trauma in Sower, but it’s more often referenced and alluded to, whereas it’s viscerally present here. There’s a lot of sexual violence in this book, including childhood sexual assault and sex trafficking, along with torture, slavery, and suicide, and I found myself having to space out the reading of it much more than I did before.
The book is still primarily told through the journals of Lauren Oya Olamina, picking up a couple years after the events of Sower and presented as a collection occasionally commented on by writings of her daughter, Larkin/Asha. The book essentially has two timelines, Larkin/Asha’s taking place a few years after Lauren’s. Obviously, it’s neither new nor shocking that Octavia Butler Knew, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t startle me to read about a fear-mongering, xenophobic “Christian” politician who literally wants to “make American great again.” Lauren’s community and budding religion is viciously attacked by a faction of his supporters, and the book is a story of survival, pain, and change.
As always, Butler’s writing is poetic and thought-provoking and I’m sure will warrant many a reread across my life.
See ya next week, possibly for an impassioned PSA!