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We got home around 1. When I came upstairs this morning before 8, I found that a couple of cookbooks had been knocked off the kitchen bookshelf. No big deal. Then I noticed that the sample pack of cat food we'd gotten in the mail (Rachel Ray's Delish) was in the dining room and torn open. Sigh. I cleaned it up, went about the rest of the morning routine, and then hit the living room, where the bag of soft duck and pumpkin dog treats was lying there, also torn open.

Sigh.

Normally when there's morning chaos, I know which animal to blame (and this generally seems like Charlotte-style mischief), but I'm not sure all the animals didn't work together. Thankfully, it doesn't look like they ate a ton of the food in either case (I'm not sure Nicky even realized his treats had been opened).

Remember, folks: Having pets is good for your emotional health!
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Watching the Jeopardy! Teacher's Tournament from last month, there was this clue about William Henry Harrison: What he said in his inaugural: 'We admit of no govt. by divine right"; what he should have said: "I need a heavier coat!"

I swear to fucking god, WHH dying because he caught a cold while speaking is up there with "90% of your body heat leaves through your head, hands, and feet" the dumbest urban legend that smart people still parrot. But Jeopardy! supposedly has paid fact checkers who should catch this stuff.
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So after seeing the list of Eisner nominations, I grabbed a bunch of them from the library. I do this with a lot of nomination lists, and it usually leads to some good reads, like Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer: A Novel (which I read when it was shortlisted for an Edgar, before it had won either that award or the slightly more famous award it pulled in later). I'll occasionally find a book I bounce off of, but rarely one I actively dislike.

"Rarely," of course, doesn't mean "never."

For some reason, in the "Best New Series" category, mixed in with Simone's Clean Room (which is fantastic and often disturbing in the best possible way), Houser's Faith (which is a blast), and Cain's Mockingbird (which is a must-read if you were a fan of '80s West Coast Avengers or of Fraction's Hawkeye run), is Christopher Priest's Deathstroke: Rebirth.

This book is the offspring of a hot mess and a flaming bag of dogshit, people.

First, let's start with the obvious problem. Deathstroke/Slade makes a terrible lead character. DC's been trying to make him work as a lead since the early '90s, and it's failed so miserably he might as well be named "Fetch." It's not surprising. He's a great supporting character, but by his very nature, is one who can't sustain a book. He's a villain (albeit one with some familial ties to super heroes), for starters. There are plenty of folks who are antiheroes, or morally-challenged, who sustain books (Punisher, Deadpool, John Constantine, Catwoman, etc), but they almost all have to be drawn somewhat back over the line from true villainy to make them work. The occasionally team book like Secret Six or Suicide Squad lets villains work as a group, but for the most part, villains work best as supporting characters, with the occasional focus issue to humanize them. Whenever DC tries to make Deathstroke a lead, it forces the character to be softened, or for us to root for someone we can't realistically engage with. And in the end, there's very little story to tell around his actual villainy, meaning we're stuck time and again with stories about his family (most of whom are also awful characters not meant to get much screen time).

That's the core of the problem, and while Christopher Priest has done some great stuff in the past (I like his Black Panther run a lot more than the current one by Ta-Nahisi Coates, for example), he falls into the trap here. We get Deathstroke's origin for the zillionth time, drawn out over multiple issues, complete with all the usual beats -- his son nearly getting killed, his long-lost daughter from an affair, etc -- but minus the verve with which Marv Wolfman first told it in the '80s. We get a bunch of standard fights and combat missions (including the most ridiculous and ludicrous opening issue, in which there's are multiple sets of supposedly predictable betrayals by an African warlord, a D-list Batman villain (Clock King), and Slade himself that are somehow designed to get Slade to trade out his outfit for a different one at the cost of dozens of lives in an act of manipulation that nonsensical even by comic standards). We get silly super-hero battles that rely on both Deathstroke and Batman having so many layered plans-within-plans that it reads like Vizzini going on his poison-detecting rant in Princess Bride.

There's also the supporting cast, which here consists of Wintergreen (Slade's ever-loyal companion, a former British SAS agent who now, as in most previous incarnations, seems to exist mainly as a combination manservant/sidekick with little agency of his own); a hacker whose name I've already forgotten but who is the generic Remote Hacker archetype who can do anything*; and Rose (AKA Ravager, the aforementioned daughter from Slade's affair with a Hmong woman -- to the book's credit, the racial erasure that was performed on the character in New 52 has been undone here, although there are a few problematic things involving the origin here).

And Rose, dear god, is so much of the problem here. See, she's working as a bouncer in a strip club -- a bouncer and not a dancer, of course, because she should be a sexy character but that would be going too far (ETA: Per textual reading, not my own opinion, of course). But also, she tells her dad (who she hasn't seen in years and who, incidentally, she caught spying on her as she woke up that morning, which is CREEPY AS FUCK), she's not actually having sex with her live-in boyfriend with whom she sleeps. See, they literally just live and sleep together, because it's about "owning" her sexuality. Which, you know, could be a thing in the right circumstances (I mean, if they'd pitched this as her being asexual but romantic, sure), but everything about their relationship (including their flirting by text) is that of a sexually active couple, but more fucking importantly, WHY THE FUCK WOULD SHE TELL HER DAD THIS ANYWAY? Her estranged dad, but it wouldn't be his business if they were having dinner nightly.

Oh, but it gets worse, because Slade then casually comments that she's "blue-balling" her boyfriend. OH JOHN RINGO CHRISTOPHER PRIEST NO.

Seriously. I have no idea of Priest has any kids, but actually, yeah, I'm pretty sure he doesn't, nor has he ever seen parents interacting with their adult female children.

Oh, and as a little lagniappe (although one that comes before that scene), when Wintergreen and Rose see each other, the former tells her that he's "had a crush on you since I first met you." They first met when Rose was 11 and Wintergreen was in his late-forties or so (and also right after she shot and crippled one of Slade and Wintergreen's buddies). Welp.

Anyway, the book sucks, both because of how fucking creepy it is, and because it's mediocre even without the creepy factor. It's literally the only bad choice in its category this year, which means it'll probably win because the world sucks.

*In fact, if any single fucking trope needs to die a fiery death, it's the Magic Hacker. At this point, there are roughly four zillion people in the DCU who are on a par with Oracle at her prime, and the use of Magic Hacking is just some of the laziest shit imaginable. This is more than a DCU problem, of course, but it really has to fucking stop.
yendi: (Default)
So overall, that was disappointing.

The bad:

1. By having the first three songs be covers (and with cast including Gustin, Benoist, and Criss), a good part of this really felt like an AU Glee Episode. That's not a good thing, ever.

2. The pacing was terrible. This was probably in an attempt to give everyone their shot at singing, but they could have made things more dense (see the Buffy musical, or Galavant), or paced it over both shows instead of just cramming it into Flash*. We wasted too much time in the "real world," and not enough in the musical one.

3. Any show whose end goal is to have Kara/Mon-El get back together has bad goals. And it would have been ten times more dramatically interesting to only have Barry/Iris back together at the end.

4. No one loves meta stuff more than me, but it's played out, and for every joke that landed, there was another one that hurt the pacing.

5. The final song, "Runnin' Home To You," was so generic, it might as well not have existed (and Google tells me it's from the people who just won the Best Song Oscar, which only quintuples my lack of interest in La La Land).

6. The Music Meister is, at heart, a surreal or absurdist villain, like Mister Mxyzptlk, Bat-Mite, or The Impossible Man. He was, frankly, way too grounded here, as was the internally-logical dream world. This was a lost opportunity.

The good:

1. "More I Cannot Wish You" has been the momentum killer in every production of Guys and Dolls I've ever seen, but put in the hands of Garber, Martin, and Barrowman, it worked really well.

2. "Superfriends" was cute, and the right kind of song to show of the adorableness of the two stars.

3. While the entire Barry/Iris breakup plotline has been silly, at least it's over with for now.

4. All of the actual singing performances, even when of unnecessary songs, were well done (OTOH, note how much better the Buffy musical was even with a lead whose singing was par, at best; maybe that's not the best reason to do a musical episode?).

*I'm assuming there's a Kyle/Wally story with the title "Cramming it into Flash" somewhere.
yendi: (Default)
So overall, that was disappointing.

The bad:

1. By having the first three songs be covers (and with cast including Gustin, Benoist, and Criss), a good part of this really felt like an AU Glee Episode. That's not a good thing, ever.

2. The pacing was terrible. This was probably in an attempt to give everyone their shot at singing, but they could have made things more dense (see the Buffy musical, or Galavant), or paced it over both shows instead of just cramming it into Flash*. We wasted too much time in the "real world," and not enough in the musical one.

3. Any show whose end goal is to have Kara/Mon-El get back together has bad goals. And it would have been ten times more dramatically interesting to only have Barry/Iris back together at the end.

4. No one loves meta stuff more than me, but it's played out, and for every joke that landed, there was another one that hurt the pacing.

5. The final song, "Runnin' Home To You," was so generic, it might as well not have existed (and Google tells me it's from the people who just won the Best Song Oscar, which only quintuples my lack of interest in La La Land).

6. The Music Meister is, at heart, a surreal or absurdist villain, like Mister Mxyzptlk, Bat-Mite, or The Impossible Man. He was, frankly, way too grounded here, as was the internally-logical dream world. This was a lost opportunity.

The good:

1. "More I Cannot Wish You" has been the momentum killer in every production of Guys and Dolls I've ever seen, but put in the hands of Garber, Martin, and Barrowman, it worked really well.

2. "Superfriends" was cute, and the right kind of song to show of the adorableness of the two stars.

3. While the entire Barry/Iris breakup plotline has been silly, at least it's over with for now.

4. All of the actual singing performances, even when of unnecessary songs, were well done (OTOH, note how much better the Buffy musical was even with a lead whose singing was par, at best; maybe that's not the best reason to do a musical episode?).

*I'm assuming there's a Kyle/Wally story with the title "Cramming it into Flash" somewhere.

D'oh

Mar. 13th, 2017 02:41 pm
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For the first time in a few years, took a dive into my LJ account to see what accounts I hadn't friended back, and clearly missed a bunch of legit requests amidst the spam. I've friended a bunch of folks I know back, although for accounts that don't seem to have been updated in over a decade, I'm assuming those are abandoned (although I realize some folks don't post, but still use LJ to read and comment). But if I missed you and you're a real active LJ person and not a spambot, let me know (since LJ userinfo pages can be incredibly vague for identifying people). At least a few of these were accounts I'd assumed I had already friended, and since there were nearly 200 accounts I hadn't friended back, I'm sure I've overlooked some.

(Not crossposting to DW, since I'm actually caught up there.)
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Amazon's got a one-day sale offering $8.62 off any $50 order (celebrating a Harris Poll ranking). Only available for another six hours, so grab it while you can.
yendi: (Default)
Amazon's got a one-day sale offering $8.62 off any $50 order (celebrating a Harris Poll ranking). Only available for another six hours, so grab it while you can.
yendi: (Default)
Okay, folks, I'll go ahead and try to crowdsource this, since I'm not finding answers any other way.

As anyone who's gotten emails from me recently knows, Gmail has decided to double-send every email I send. Actually, it both double-sends it (so you'll get two copies), and gives me an error message saying it couldn't be sent (thus leaving both two sent copies and a draft in my mailbox). The actual error message reads: "Oops... a server error occurred and your email was not sent. (#78282)"

In an ironic twist, Google is useless for finding what that error means.

This happens on every web browser version of gmail on every computer, including Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and even IE on a Windows laptop I used at Arisia. It does not happen on the gmail app for my iPad or my Windows Phone or on Thunderbird (but dammit, I like using the gmail interface).

Other data: The only Lab I have active is the Calendar widget. No apps authorized other than the ones like the iPad app that need it. Changing themes does nothing. None of the options I found searching (most of which involve browser cache) work, not surprisingly (since it's obviously not my browser).

Oh, and my work gmail is configured exactly the same way as my personal one, and it doesn't have any problems even on the same browsers.

Anyone have any thoughts/experience with this?
yendi: (Default)
Okay, folks, I'll go ahead and try to crowdsource this, since I'm not finding answers any other way.

As anyone who's gotten emails from me recently knows, Gmail has decided to double-send every email I send. Actually, it both double-sends it (so you'll get two copies), and gives me an error message saying it couldn't be sent (thus leaving both two sent copies and a draft in my mailbox). The actual error message reads: "Oops... a server error occurred and your email was not sent. (#78282)"

In an ironic twist, Google is useless for finding what that error means.

This happens on every web browser version of gmail on every computer, including Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and even IE on a Windows laptop I used at Arisia. It does not happen on the gmail app for my iPad or my Windows Phone or on Thunderbird (but dammit, I like using the gmail interface).

Other data: The only Lab I have active is the Calendar widget. No apps authorized other than the ones like the iPad app that need it. Changing themes does nothing. None of the options I found searching (most of which involve browser cache) work, not surprisingly (since it's obviously not my browser).

Oh, and my work gmail is configured exactly the same way as my personal one, and it doesn't have any problems even on the same browsers.

Anyone have any thoughts/experience with this?
yendi: (Default)
One of Amazon's Daily Deals is on sub-$5 Magazine subscriptions. And one of those is Teen Vogue, which has somehow become the source of some of the best anti-Trump reporting out there, for $4. There are lots of other good deals (New Yorker, Bon Appétit, Wired, GQ, etc), but that's the big one. Note that for magazines that include print/digital choices, only Woman's Health includes the all-access pass (the others are print-only). The subscriptions range from a few months to a year in length.
yendi: (Default)
One of Amazon's Daily Deals is on sub-$5 Magazine subscriptions. And one of those is Teen Vogue, which has somehow become the source of some of the best anti-Trump reporting out there, for $4. There are lots of other good deals (New Yorker, Bon Appétit, Wired, GQ, etc), but that's the big one. Note that for magazines that include print/digital choices, only Woman's Health includes the all-access pass (the others are print-only). The subscriptions range from a few months to a year in length.

Arisia!

Jan. 11th, 2017 07:20 am
yendi: (Default)
Oh, hey, since it's coming up in two days, I should probably post my Arisia schedule, right?
I'm on three panels this year, because being an ADH, shockingly, takes up a huge amount of time. So when I'm not on a panel, figure I'll be in the Green Room, The Gaming Room, or Program Nexus.
As for my panels:
Friday at 8:30, (Marina 4): Archie Comics (moderating)
Saturday at 5:30 (Douglas): Curmudgeon Panel 3: Season of the Curmudgeon!
Sunday at 8:30, (Adams): The Wicked + The Divine

Arisia!

Jan. 11th, 2017 07:20 am
yendi: (Default)
Oh, hey, since it's coming up in two days, I should probably post my Arisia schedule, right?
I'm on three panels this year, because being an ADH, shockingly, takes up a huge amount of time. So when I'm not on a panel, figure I'll be in the Green Room, The Gaming Room, or Program Nexus.
As for my panels:
Friday at 8:30, (Marina 4): Archie Comics (moderating)
Saturday at 5:30 (Douglas): Curmudgeon Panel 3: Season of the Curmudgeon!
Sunday at 8:30, (Adams): The Wicked + The Divine
yendi: (Default)
I've been crossposting to LJ and DW for years, and have no intention of stopping. But it does seem that a bunch of people are fully abandoning LJ for DW, which likely means I'll be doing more reading of my DW friends page (instead of my current model of going directly to the four DW-only pages I knew of and reading them; that doesn't scale well). So if you're someone who's reading me on DW, and I haven't friended you back? Leave me a comment to let me know. And if you're reading this on LJ and are moving over to DW, feel free to add me there as "yendi" and I'll add you back (I think I'm up-to-date and will continue to be so on new folks there).
yendi: (Default)
I've been crossposting to LJ and DW for years, and have no intention of stopping. But it does seem that a bunch of people are fully abandoning LJ for DW, which likely means I'll be doing more reading of my DW friends page (instead of my current model of going directly to the four DW-only pages I knew of and reading them; that doesn't scale well). So if you're someone who's reading me on DW, and I haven't friended you back? Leave me a comment to let me know. And if you're reading this on LJ and are moving over to DW, feel free to add me there as "yendi" and I'll add you back (I think I'm up-to-date and will continue to be so on new folks there).
yendi: (Green Kiki)
I read a lot in 2016. Not counting graphic novels, comics, magazines, online articles (including some longreads that approached novella length), and other miscellany, there were still probably a good 150 or so books that I devoured (making me the distant second most-read person in our house). Most were some flavor of "good" or "interesting" (there were a few exceptions, because sometimes whether a book is good or not hinges on a last-third writing choice, but if I hate a book after an hour of reading, I don't throw more time at it*).

Anyway, here's six fiction and six non-fiction I enjoyed. Not necessarily the "best," but ones I still think others should read. I limited my list to 2016 books, although I certainly read from other periods (probably my favorite read last year was Nabokov's Pale Fire, which is brilliant enough that I don't understand why it's not talked about and taught more, as it may by my favorite piece of postmodern lit). I hate saying these are the "best," since I liked so much, and it's not even fair to say they're my favorites, since things like my mood are big factors in how I feel about things. Just twelve books I really liked, and wish more folks would read so I could have more conversations about them.

Fiction:

I am Providence, by Nick Mamatas. I really wanted to write a full review of this, but never found the time. While the obvious comparison point for this book are the Jay Omega books of Sharyn McCrumb, this actually felt like less of a send-up of fandom than of "pro"dom within the Lovecraftian community (and the blurred lines that have led to almost everyone involved in Lovecraft fandom to be able to claim some form of "pro" in their title). The concept is that Panossian, an author with an uncanny resemblance to Mamatas (but often in a "road not taken" sense -- this version did have a novel that mashed up Lovecraft and another classic work of literature, but never really found any success after that) is murdered at a Lovecraft con, and his roommate (and first-time attendee) attempts to figure out what happened. Mamatas takes the neat twist of alternating Colleen chapters with ones told by Panossian as his corpse lies on the table and his brain is slowly starting to fade. It's a fun take on the "have the victim tell his tale" thing, and appropriate in this setting. While the satire is first-rate, it's only part of the story, and the book exists (and has to exist) as a solid murder story as well, one that should work for folks not familiar with either Lovecraft or (if they're really lucky) his fandom. While it doesn't feel like it's meant to be a complex puzzle-box mystery in the vein of John Dickson Carr or Yukito Ayatsuji, it does have a couple of solid twists, and works really well as a character-driven piece of mystery fiction, with a huge bonus for anyone who's spent time in fannish communities and needed to get the stink (metaphorical and often literal) off afterwards.

The Passenger, by Lisa Lutz, and What Remains of Me, by Alison Gaylin. I read a LOT of good crime fiction/thrillers this year**, but these two stand out as examples of authors who leveled up. Lutz tells the story of a woman who has been on the run for years, and suddenly has to leave her safe haven again. The mystery of her backstory unfolds slowly as she winds her way across the Midwest, leaving even more bodies behind. Gaylin's story, like Elizabeth Little's witty Dear Daughter from a couple of years ago, is about a woman released from jail after being convicted of murder, but goes down a very different path, keeping things darker and generally more serious, but with a cast of brutally broken characters. I don't want to dive too deeply into either plot, but both are well worth grabbing.

The Last Days of Jack Sparks, by Jason Arnopp. Years ago, I read a bunch of the licensed horror movie books from the no-defunct Black Library label from Games Workshop. They ranged from great to terrible, often, not surprisingly, depending on the author. One author I'd never heard of before was a guy named Jason Arnopp, who wrote a witty novel about Jason, a pair of serial killer cultists, and yet another serial killer masquerading as an FBI agent, all of whom converge on a resort hotel. It was ludicrously fun Grand Guignol stuff, and randomly this year, I decided to google to see if he'd writen anything else. Turns out he had, and the book had just come out, complete with blurbs from people like Alan Moore. So I grabbed it, and it was good (and thankfully, felt nothing like recent Moore). It's "found footage," in the sense that it's the journals of the titular journalist, a British gonzo reporter who wants to be the next Hunter S. Thompson, but is, in the end, really just a textbook example of toxic masculinity who gets himself caught up in his own reporting about possessions and seances. But it's a lot more fun than that paragraph makes it sound, even as the characters suffer more and more horrible fates.

You Will Know Me, by Megan Abbott. I almost feel like I'm cheating with this one, because Abbott leveled up years ago, and gets the national attention for her books that she deserves (incidentally, she and Lutz are both writing for HBO's upcoming TV show The Deuce). She's actually no longer what I'd think of as a thriller or mystery author at this point, instead writing literary mainstream books in which the death is almost secondary or even tertiary to the rest of the story. This tale, about the parents of a teen gymnast, is just incredible (and clearly incredibly well-researched), and came out at just the right time (right before the Olympics) to make it both painful and wonderful to watch the events.

Blackass, by A. Igoni Barrett. This is another of those books that's incredibly hard to describe. It starts with a Kafka-esque moment, in which Furo Wariboko, a Nigerian, wakes up to discover that he's now a white man. But even in a majority-black country, white privilege means that he's cast up in society, not down, as the result of the change. But of course, he's still adrift, and eventually runs into a character named Igoni, who just happens to be a writer. The book is technically genre, of course, but it's really a look at race and gender and cultural imperialism, with some fun postmodern touches and multiple well-developed narrative voices. It's also blazingly funny and cutting, and a hell of a fast read.

Nonfiction:

Eight Flavors, by Sarah Lohman. I knew I was going to love this book as soon as I saw Lohman present at the Museum of Science earlier this year at a Gastropod program. The book did not disappoint. It's a look at eight flavors in American history, including pepper, vanilla, garlic, and siracha, and how they all changed American cooking. It's basically culinary anthropology and history along with some science, and Lohman's a great storyteller as well as researcher. Basically, if you enjoy food, you should read this.

Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve, by Tom Bissell. I'm not religious, but I do love me both mythology and literary history along with good travel writing, and that's what Bissell (who I know mainly for his video game journalism) delivers here. Bissell (a lapsed Catholic) decided to visit the tombs (or alleged tombs) of the twelve apostles, and along the way, he takes some deep dives (based off a huge amount of research) into the oft-conflicting stories about them, as well as the huge amount of early mythology and apocrypha that arose around these people (many of whom have almost no canonical personalities). He mixes some great personalities into the stories, from the martyr-obsessed nun at one church to the Palestinian taxi driver who takes Tom and his friend through hidden backroads so they can witness a locked-down protest first-hand.

The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture, by Glenn Weldon. I'm a huge fan of Weldon on Pop Culture Happy Hour, as his style of nerdery mimics mine pretty strongly. This witty book isn't about Batman per se (although it certainly does have its share of actual history), since that's been done before. Rather, this is about how Batman influenced and was influenced by the culture of the world. Weldon is snarky and laugh-out-loud funny, and really knows his stuff, and fans of Batman in any form (or even of just good writing) should grab this.

A Burglar's Guide to the City, by Geoff Manaugh. This is my second Gastropod-related book (Manaugh is the partner of one of the podcast's hosts), although I discovered the book when Sarah Weinman wrote a rave review. It's actually almost more an architecture book than anything else, a look at how buildings are viewed through the eyes of criminals and those who try to stop them, so things like access to balconies and basements and all the cool heist things you see in movies, and how people try to prevent them. It's a true crime book with some hysterical stories (the number of criminals who are smart enough to find their way into buildings, but dumb enough to leave trails when they leave, is astounding), and one had me examine every building I saw for a while to see if there were things designed to prevent access (or poorly designed and thus offering easy access). Fans of capers should read this one.

Sex with Shakespeare, by Jillian Keenan. Keenan rather famously came out as a spanking fetishist a few years ago in the New York Times. She's now written a book that's a mix of a memoir and literary analysis. Like many people, she's been reading Shakespeare for a good chunk of her life, and like many folks, she's found parallels in some of the characters and situations. As she discovers her own sexuality (and follows professional and personal pursuits) over the years, she has imaginary conversations with characters from the plays, and adds her reading of many of the plays through a kink-based lens, with varying degrees of success (although her reading of Helena in Midsummer as a masochist, or Lear as a sexual predator, are compelling). But it's her own story (which also includes some childhood abuse, a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, and some international travel) that keeps this moving along so well.

Real Food/Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating and What You Can Do about It, by Larry Olmstead. This sounds like a book that's going to be all about how you should avoid artificial sweeteners and the like, but it's not. It's actually a book about the history and development of a lot of foods that have now been devalued by counterfeiting, ranging from Parmesan cheese to Kobe beef to Champagne to seafood. It covers the legal and the ethical issues involved, and while I'd known about some of this (I read and posted links to the Tampa Bay Tribune expose of restaurant fraud last year), there was a lot of new info here (spoilers: pretty much any sushi you eat at any local restaurant has some degree of fraud involved other than maybe the tamago). Bonus: Mario Batali takes it on the chin for committing food fraud in the first chapter.

*The exception being Andrew Vachss's increasingly terrible series of Cross novels, which are so gloriously awful (and yet self-assured) that they're almost a master class in what not to do as a writer, but which at least read quickly.

**Like, looking at my list and only including "thrillers" (as opposed to the Abbott book, or detective fiction by folks like Ace Atkins or mysteries like the one by Mamatas), I could probably have put together a list of twelve thrillers I loved.
yendi: (Default)
I read a lot in 2016. Not counting graphic novels, comics, magazines, online articles (including some longreads that approached novella length), and other miscellany, there were still probably a good 150 or so books that I devoured (making me the distant second most-read person in our house). Most were some flavor of "good" or "interesting" (there were a few exceptions, because sometimes whether a book is good or not hinges on a last-third writing choice, but if I hate a book after an hour of reading, I don't throw more time at it*).

Anyway, here's six fiction and six non-fiction I enjoyed. Not necessarily the "best," but ones I still think others should read. I limited my list to 2016 books, although I certainly read from other periods (probably my favorite read last year was Nabokov's Pale Fire, which is brilliant enough that I don't understand why it's not talked about and taught more, as it may by my favorite piece of postmodern lit). I hate saying these are the "best," since I liked so much, and it's not even fair to say they're my favorites, since things like my mood are big factors in how I feel about things. Just twelve books I really liked, and wish more folks would read so I could have more conversations about them.

Fiction:

I am Providence, by Nick Mamatas. I really wanted to write a full review of this, but never found the time. While the obvious comparison point for this book are the Jay Omega books of Sharyn McCrumb, this actually felt like less of a send-up of fandom than of "pro"dom within the Lovecraftian community (and the blurred lines that have led to almost everyone involved in Lovecraft fandom to be able to claim some form of "pro" in their title). The concept is that Panossian, an author with an uncanny resemblance to Mamatas (but often in a "road not taken" sense -- this version did have a novel that mashed up Lovecraft and another classic work of literature, but never really found any success after that) is murdered at a Lovecraft con, and his roommate (and first-time attendee) attempts to figure out what happened. Mamatas takes the neat twist of alternating Colleen chapters with ones told Panossian as his corpse lies on the table and his brain is slowly starting to fade. It's a fun take on the "have the victim tell his tale" thing, and appropriate in this setting. While the satire is first-rate, it's only part of the story, and the book exists (and has to exist) as a solid murder story as well, one that should work for folks not familiar with either Lovecraft or (if they're really lucky) his fandom. While doesn't feel like it's meant to be a complex puzzle-box mystery in the vein of John Dickson Carr or Yukito Ayatsuji, it does have a couple of solid twists, and works really well as a character-driven piece of mystery fiction, with a huge bonus for anyone who's spent time in fannish communities and needed to get the stink (metaphorical and often literal) off afterwards.

The Passenger, by Lisa Lutz, and What Remains of Me, by Alison Gaylin. I read a LOT of good crime fiction/thrillers this year**, but these two stand out as examples of authors who leveled up. Lutz tells the story of a woman who has been on the run for years, and suddenly has to leave her safe haven again. The mystery of her backstory unfolds slowly as she winds her way across the Midwest, leaving even more bodies behind. Gaylin's story, like Elizabeth Little's witty Dear Daughter from a couple of years ago, is about a woman released from jail after being convicted of murder, but goes down a very different path, keeping things darker and generally more serious, but with a cast of brutally broken characters. I don't want to dive too deeply into either plot, but both are well worth grabbing.

The Last Days of Jack Sparks, by Jason Arnopp. Years ago, I read a bunch of the licensed horror movie books from the no-defunct Black Library label from Games Workshop. They ranged from great to terrible, often, not surprisingly, depending on the author. One author I'd never heard of before was a guy named Jason Arnopp, who wrote a witty novel about Jason, a pair of serial killer cultists, and yet another serial killer masquerading as an FBI agent, all of whom converge on a resort hotel. It was ludicrously fun Grand Guignol stuff, and randomly this year, I decided to google to see if he'd writen anything else. Turns out he had, and the book had just come out, complete with blurbs from people like Alan Moore. So I grabbed it, and it was good (and thankfully, felt nothing like recent Moore). It's "found footage," in the sense that it's the journals of the titular journalist, a British gonzo reporter who wants to be the next Hunter S. Thompson, but is, in the end, really just a textbook example of toxic masculinity who gets himself caught up in his own reporting about possessions and seances. But it's a lot more fun than that paragraph makes it sound, even as the characters suffer more and more horrible fates.

You Will Know Me, by Megan Abbott. I almost feel like I'm cheating with this one, because Abbott leveled up years ago, and gets the national attention for her books that she deserves (incidentally, she and Lutz are both writing for HBO's upcoming TV show The Deuce). She's actually no longer what I'd think of as a thriller or mystery author at this point, instead writing literary mainstream books in which the death is almost secondary or even tertiary to the rest of the story. This tale, about the parents of a teen gymnast, is just incredible (and clearly incredibly well-researched), and came out at just the right time (right before the Olympics) to make it both painful and wonderful to watch the events.

Blackass, by A. Igoni Barrett. This is another of those books that's incredibly hard to describe. It starts with a Kafka-esque moment, in which Furo Wariboko, a Nigerian, wakes up to discover that he's now a white man. But even in a majority-black country, white privilege means that he's cast up in society, not down, as the result of the change. But of course, he's still adrift, and eventually runs into a character named Igoni, who just happens to be a writer. The book is technically genre, of course, but it's really a look at race and gender and cultural imperialism, with some fun postmodern touches and multiple well-developed narrative voices. It's also blazingly funny and cutting, and a hell of a fast read.

Nonfiction:

Eight Flavors, by Sarah Lohman. I knew I was going to love this book as soon as I saw Lohman present at the Museum of Science earlier this year at a Gastropod program. The book did not disappoint. It's a look at eight flavors in American history, including pepper, vanilla, garlic, and siracha, and how they all changed American cooking. It's basically culinary anthropology and history along with some science, and Lohman's a great storyteller as well as researcher. Basically, if you enjoy food, you should read this.

Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve, by Tom Bissell. I'm not religious, but I do love me both mythology and literary history along with good travel writing, and that's what Bissell (who I know mainly for his video game journalism) delivers here. Bissell (a lapsed Catholic) decided to visit the tombs (or alleged tombs) of the twelve apostles, and along the way, he takes some deep dives (based off a huge amount of research) into the oft-conflicting stories about them, as well as the huge amount of early mythology and apocrypha that arose around these people (many of whom have almost no canonical personalities). He mixes some great personalities into the stories, from the martyr-obsessed nun at one church to the Palestinian taxi driver who takes Tom and his friend through hidden backroads so they can witness a locked-down protest first-hand.

The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture, by Glenn Weldon. I'm a huge fan of Weldon on Pop Culture Happy Hour, as his style of nerdery mimics mine pretty strongly. This witty book isn't about Batman per se (although it certainly does have its share of actual history), since that's been done before. Rather, this is about how Batman influenced and was influenced by the culture of the world. Weldon is snarky and laugh-out-loud funny, and really knows his stuff, and fans of Batman in any form (or even of just good writing) should grab this.

A Burglar's Guide to the City, by Geoff Manaugh. This is my second Gastropod-related book (Manaugh is the partner of one of the podcast's hosts), although I discovered the book when Sarah Weinman wrote a rave review. It's actually almost more an architecture book than anything else, a look at how buildings are viewed through the eyes of criminals and those who try to stop them, so things like access to balconies and basements and all the cool heist things you see in movies, and how people try to prevent them. It's a true crime book with some hysterical stories (the number of criminals who are smart enough to find their way into buildings, but dumb enough to leave trails when they leave, is astounding), and one had me examine every building I saw for a while to see if there were things designed to prevent access (or poorly designed and thus offering easy access). Fans of capers should read this one.

Sex with Shakespeare, by Jillian Keenan. Keenan rather famously came out as a spanking fetishist a few years ago in the New York Times. She's now written a book that's a mix of a memoir and literary analysis. Like many people, she's been reading Shakespeare for a good chunk of her life, and like many folks, she's found parallels in some of the characters and situations. As she discovers her own sexuality (and follows professional and personal pursuits) over the years, she has imaginary conversations with characters from the plays, and adds her reading of many of the plays through a kink-based lens, with varying degrees of success (although her reading of Helena in Midsummer as a masochist, or Lear as a sexual predator, are compelling). But it's her own story (which also includes some childhood abuse, a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, and some international travel) that keeps this moving along so well.

Real Food/Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating and What You Can Do about It, by Larry Olmstead. This sounds like a book that's going to be all about how you should avoid artificial sweeteners and the like, but it's not. It's actually a book about the history and development of a lot of foods that have now been devalued by counterfeiting, ranging from Parmesan cheese to Kobe beef to Champagne to seafood. It covers the legal and the ethical issues involved, and while I'd known about some of this (I read and posted links to the Tampa Bay Tribune expose of restaurant fraud last year), there was a lot of new info here (spoilers: pretty much any sushi you eat at any local restaurant has some degree of fraud involved other than maybe the tamago). Bonus: Mario Batali takes it on the chin for committing food fraud in the first chapter.

*The exception being Andrew Vachss's increasingly terrible series of Cross novels, which are so gloriously awful (and yet self-assured) that they're almost a master class in what not to do as a writer, but which at least read quickly.

**Like, looking at my list and only including "thrillers" (as opposed to the Abbott book, or detective fiction by folks like Ace Atkins or mysteries like the one by Mamatas), I could probably have put together a list of twelve thrillers I loved.
yendi: (Default)
So last night we watched the first two episodes of Good Behavior. It's a fine show so far, if very dark (like, if you're comparing it to the other con artist show TNT's known for, Leverage, it's about as dark as that show was fun). But one thing that kept nagging at me during the entire episode is that Michelle Dockery speaks in the exact same voice that Hayley Atwell uses on Conviction (whose latest episode we'd literally just watched immediately prior to GB).

Since both actress are British and portraying American characters (but very different ones), it feels like this is either the new coached American accent, or there's some overlap in their training. And it's more than just an accent -- they speak with the same actual voice, with a sort of whiskey-soaked throatiness that's also not a part of either of their natural speaking styles. The closest comparison I could make is Michelle Monaghan in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Since Monaghan is from the Midwest, I could see that being the goal, maybe? Although Atwell's character is supposed to be upper crust East Coast, and Dockery's character is implied to be from Appalachia.

It's better than what I thought of as the previous accent, a sort of faltering New Jersey thing that only Hugh Laurie could actually pull off, but a lot of other actors tried and failed and sounded like they came from nowhere (the worst ever being Louise Lombard during her run on CSI).

Additional notes:
- Dockery's accent slips less than Atlwell's does. I adore Atwell, but she cannot sustain the American accent for an extended period, and it's frustrating.
- That said, there's a sequence during the first episode in which Dockery's character puts on a cloyingly awful Southern accent that I assumed was meant to be awful, since that's usually the American accent British actors do best (see Liz Taylor, etc).
- Conviction, which has been canceled even if the network won't acknowledge it, is a better show than it has a right to be, and in a world where quality rules, it would have outlasted a lot of other new shows (although it's still monumentally flawed at times).
- While I'm really impressed by the first two episode of Good Behavior, I'm curious as to how well the show can keep things up. But Dockery's every bit as good here as she was playing Susan Sto Helit (and I hear she also had a good run on some other show, too).
yendi: (Default)
So last night we watched the first two episodes of Good Behavior. It's a fine show so far, if very dark (like, if you're comparing it to the other con artist show TNT's known for, Leverage, it's about as dark as that show was fun). But one thing that kept nagging at me during the entire episode is that Michelle Dockery speaks in the exact same voice that Hayley Atwell uses on Conviction (whose latest episode we'd literally just watched immediately prior to GB).

Since both actress are British and portraying American characters (but very different ones), it feels like this is either the new coached American accent, or there's some overlap in their training. And it's more than just an accent -- they speak with the same actual voice, with a sort of whiskey-soaked throatiness that's also not a part of either of their natural speaking styles. The closest comparison I could make is Michelle Monaghan in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Since Monaghan is from the Midwest, I could see that being the goal, maybe? Although Atwell's character is supposed to be upper crust East Coast, and Dockery's character is implied to be from Appalachia.

It's better than what I thought of as the previous accent, a sort of faltering New Jersey thing that only Hugh Laurie could actually pull off, but a lot of other actors tried and failed and sounded like they came from nowhere (the worst ever being Louise Lombard during her run on CSI).

Additional notes:
- Dockery's accent slips less than Atlwell's does. I adore Atwell, but she cannot sustain the American accent for an extended period, and it's frustrating.
- That said, there's a sequence during the first episode in which Dockery's character puts on a cloyingly awful Southern accent that I assumed was meant to be awful, since that's usually the American accent British actors do best (see Liz Taylor, etc).
- Conviction, which has been canceled even if the network won't acknowledge it, is a better show than it has a right to be, and in a world where quality rules, it would have outlasted a lot of other new shows (although it's still monumentally flawed at times).
- While I'm really impressed by the first two episode of Good Behavior, I'm curious as to how well the show can keep things up. But Dockery's every bit as good here as she was playing Susan Sto Helit (and I hear she also had a good run on some other show, too).

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