(Spent most of last week working away from home because of a variety of real-life winter-is-terrible issues including a full-day power outage due to a bunch of nonsense with gas pipes in the Plateau. So the photo above was taken at one of the Anticafés in Montréal when I met up with my friend Goatbunny to have internet and plug in my computer.)
Every two Fridays, I publish a brief round-up of some of the interesting articles/blogs/YouTube videos/books/music/games that have come across my desk. Here's what I read between the 1st and 15th of March 2019:
We've got a post-apocalyptic urban fantasy novel by Aliette de Bodard set in the Gothic ruins of Paris, an essay on the ethics of mining trauma for literature by Lindsay Nixon, the inimitable Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars by Kai Cheng Thom, a very critical look at International Women's Day in Québec by Émilie Nicholas in Le Devoir, a two-hour ode to 1950s Montréal by filmmaker Luc Bourdon, as well as two video essays on toxic masculinity in geekdom and STEM culture examined through TBBT.
The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard (2015)
Have you ever wanted a book with the vibe of the original Underworld movie but is also kind of a remix of John Milton's Paradise Lost? Aliette de Bodard's novel, the first in the Dominion of the Fallen series, not only hits these notes but also shows a really brilliant use of setting, themes, and a colonial awareness that really works. Aliette de Bodard is a French and Vietnamese writer and this book feels like a love letter to that fact as Philippe, the protagonist, is a Vietnamese colonial subject who was stolen from his homeland and is now trapped in a crumbling Paris, and forced to become involved in the machinations of fallen celestial beings that are also his colonizers. While I do think the pacing in the later quarter of the book doesn't quite hold up to the standards met by the first three quarters, there is a lot of imaginative brilliance in this book and I've already ordered the second volume of the series to read in the next few weeks. (I really want to see an ecocritical analysis of this novel, too, and I just may have to do it myself...)
No, not a church. A cathedral, like the pink-hued edifice the French had built in Saigon. It was...like a knife blade slowly drawn across his heart: he could almost have been back home, expect that it was the wrong architecture, the wrong atmosphere, the wrong setting. He could still feel the fervor of it's builders, of its worshippers, swirling in the air: a bare shadow of what it had once been, but so potent, so strong, so huge.
"Notre Dame," Philippe whispered. (p. 40)
Trauma Ethics by Lindsay Nixon
When does trauma writing become trauma porn for a desensitized audience?
First up: I admit that it took me two weeks to finish reading this relatively short essay by Lindsay Nixon because my eyes could not deal with how busy the QWF blog layout is. But the essay is worth reading to the end, even if you're not super preoccupied about the ethics of memoir writing (as I am). Here Lindsay interrogates the value of mining trauma in writing, and ponders where the line lies between expression, pushing back, and exploitation in literature.
(...) I’m no stranger to weighing the ethics of writing about myself, and my relations, embodying various forms of trauma. I’m especially conscious of the vulnerable states some of my Indigenous relations live in, a fact that remains ever in the back of my mind when I write creative non-fiction. I’m also interested in the role that audiences play in how trauma-based writing is received. I would argue, even, that the audience—the reader—has a great deal of responsibility in how Indigenous trauma is perceived.
Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl's Confabulous Memoir by Kai Cheng Thom (2018)
I stayed up really late finishing Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars because once I started I refused to put it down. Afterwards, I felt like finding some cigarettes and going out into the emergency stairwell in the alley behind my house to stargaze at Montréal's glowing, starless, early morning sky.
Kai Cheng succeeds at something spectacular and wonderful in this all too brief book. I kept trying to put my finger on the book's genre — was it urban fantasy? magical realism? poetry? It reminded me sometimes a little bit, just a little, of the way I felt reading Naomi Mitchison's Travel Light for the first time. I was swimming through a dream half-remembered — something intensely familiar, yet completely enchanted and enchanting.
I will probably write more about this superb book, because I really do love everything about it. The subject matter, the voice, the setting (Montréal! I recognize you!), and especially the ending. It made me laugh out out.
Madame Pas-Tout-le-Monde by Émilie Nicholas in Le Devoir (7th of March 2019)
If you read French, I highly recommend you read this article. It's a really good summary of mainstream institutional and political feminism here in Québec (yes that's a thing) which is very white, very francophone, very classist, very islamophobic, and very cisheteronormative.
Inversement, les enjeux qui touchent des femmes qu’on ne voit pas comme représentatives de la norme n’ont pas progressé autant au cours des dernières décennies. Le mouvement féministe québécois s’est rassemblé autour du leadership de francophones de la classe moyenne, et ce n’est bien souvent qu’à ces femmes que les partis s’intéressent. Les autres ne font en quelque sorte pas partie de « l’électorat » ou du « peuple ».
The Memories of Angels by Luc Bourdon
This visual love letter crafted by filmmaker Luc Bourdon uses clips from 120 National Film Board of Canada films to create a 2 hour collage hommage to Montréal from the '50s and '60s. I haven't actually finished watching this, but you can stream it for free on the NFB website https://www.nfb.ca/film/memories_of_angels/ or download it for a small fee. I've been gathering some very loose notes for possibly writing a book set in Montréal in the 50s, which is why I find these glimpses so poignant and useful. Do note that it contains a lot of imagery of Catholic churches and schools.
The Adorkable Misogyny of The Big Bang Theory by Pop Culture Detective
Then, please go watch part 2. I find these two video essays fantastic for breaking down the concepts of hegemonic masculinity and hypermasculinity in order to examine basic foundational tenets of toxic masculinity, looking at how toxic nerd and tech culture still is, and also offer a pretty thorough explanation of the reason I stopped watching The Big Bang Theory after season 2.
...That's all for this week! Don't hesitate to leave me a comment here, on twitter @gersandelf or via email. I do accept recommendations if you have something you think belongs on my desk ;)
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