I’ve been reading

One of my minor goals for this summer is to read more– a lot more– and I finished four or five books in the last week or so. Let’s talk about a few of ’em real quick.

Gender Queer, by Maia Kobabe, was an impulse purchase at Barnes and Noble when I happened to walk past it on display while at the store looking for something else. I grabbed it because I’ve seen it showing up on a lot of banned book lists recently and so I figured that alone was enough of a reason to buy it. I ended up very cautiously recommending it to one of my trans students at school; I hope I don’t actually have to say that I’m against banning books but this one is explicit enough (and the fact that it’s in comic book format doesn’t help) that I can see at least understand why some parents might be uncomfortable with their kids having access to it even if I don’t agree with it.

Honestly, the fact that it’s a memoir called Gender Queer probably tells you everything you need to know about it; Kobabe grows up in a time where ey (eir pronouns are ey/eir/eirs) simply doesn’t have access to the vocabulary to describe how ey feel about eir body. Kobabe is born into a woman’s body, but fantasizes about receiving blowjobs while still not quite feeling like a boy or wanting a new name. Luckily, eir parents are more or less supportive and there is a group for queer students at eir high school, so there’s not the undercurrent of abusive behavior that you might expect from this kind of book. I’ve never read anything substantial written by a genderqueer person, so I’m really glad I picked this one up; you ought to read it.

Rebecca F. Kuang has now written five books that I’m aware of: a military fantasy trilogy, an alternative-history dark magical academia novel, and Yellowface, a modern-day fictional memoir with no fantastic or spec fit elements at all, and I’ve absolutely loved everything she’s read. Kuang’s talent is astounding, frankly; she’s still only fucking 26 years old and no one her age should be able to write this well. I read Yellowface in about a day; it’s written from the perspective of a young struggling white female author, June Rowland, who is friends (exactly how close they really are is never clear, and there are very good reasons to believe we have an unreliable narrator) with Athena Liu, a Chinese-American author and a phenomenal talent whose early works have taken the literary world by storm. The two are at Liu’s apartment after a night of partying and drinking and Liu chokes to death, but not until after showing her friend her latest manuscript, which she’s not told anyone about. And when June leaves her apartment, many hours later, after dealing with the police and the EMTs and the trauma of watching a friend die in front of her, she does it with the only existing copy of the manuscript in her purse. Which she finishes and gets published under her own name. And, well … shenanigans ensue.

Yellowface is one of the most savage works of satire I’ve read in a long time, and it’s definitely among the best books I’ve read this year, if not the best, and I really need someone else I know to read it so I have someone to talk to about it.

I picked up Rebecca Yarros’ Fourth Wing on the strength of a sudden blitz of wildly enthusiastic TikTok praise, which was probably my first mistake. My second mistake was assuming that damn near universal five-star ratings on GoodReads meant anything in particular. That said, I don’t really know how to arrive at a final verdict on this one.

Why? Well, I hated everything about it, for starters. It’s so goddamned tropey that it feels like an AI wrote it. The dialogue is astonishingly bad, with people having lengthy, exposition-filled, complicated conversations in the middle of battle or otherwise stressful solutions all the fucking time. Ever watched an anime where every bit of dialogue is a long speech? Imagine that in written form. The worldbuilding is atrocious; the book is about dragon riders, but it’s really unclear what value the actual riders bring to the battle as the dragons don’t really seem to need them and the humans don’t command them in any meaningful way. (It’s possible that I missed a bit of exposition somewhere on this, as the book overexplains everything else, but it’s absolutely not gone into in any depth.) The dragons are named after their colors and their tails, which, okay, calling a dragon a red daggertail sounds cool, but whoever decided that morningstartail should have been a word? Come the fuck on, especially since fighting with their tails doesn’t much appear to be a thing. The characters are flat, the action is predictable, and the writing is occasionally stunningly terrible– “He was more than four inches over six feet tall” was a sentence that I just stopped and stared at for a few seconds, for example.

Five hundred pages of this. I finished it in less than 24 hours. I gave it three stars on GoodReads because I have no fucking idea even how to think about a book like that. The sequel is coming out in November– ah, another sin; the series is called “The Empyrean Trilogy,” and I’m pretty certain the word Empyrean appears nowhere in the book– and I’m probably going to buy it. You shouldn’t buy or read this, but I did both and for some reason I think I’m going to do so again. I just can’t explain why.

And now one more

Oh, man, I made so many of them cry today. It was awesome.

I said more or less the same thing to all of my classes today, and I said it today because I expect a fair number of them to be absent tomorrow: that this was the first year that teaching was fun in a very long time, and that the last class of kids that I remember with the level of fondness that I suspect I’ll remember this class with was ten goddamn years ago. This is the end of year 19; seven months ago I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to 20. Now I’m back to thinking I might actually retire from teaching whenever that magical date rolls around, as opposed to quitting in disgust and going to do something else.

Tomorrow afternoon is a field day, and the universe has rewarded me for these heartfelt thoughts by putting me in charge of monitoring the inflatables, which means I am going to spend four hours tomorrow stuck in a gym with several dozen seventh and eighth graders at a time, all of whom will be sweaty and, because I’m working with the inflatables, none of whom will be wearing shoes. I cannot imagine what my world is going to smell like tomorrow. I am not sure that I want to.

A brief, weird little story

On my way in to work, late last week, I drove by a sign on the side of the road. I didn’t get that long of a look at it, obviously, because I was driving and I wasn’t expecting to suddenly encounter something interesting, but it looked permanent– it wasn’t, like, attached to a light pole or something like that. Somebody had dug holes and poured concrete for this thing.

It was advertising a local business, and had the following instructions on it under the name of the business: STRAIGHT AHEAD, ON THE RIGHT.

And underneath those instructions, an arrow. Pointing to the left.

I very nearly stopped the car and turned around to get a picture of the sign, but again: driving to work, and my margins for “arrive on time” and “perilously late” are, uh, thin, on the best of days. So I resolved to get a picture of it the next day, because obviously I need to put this sign on my blog.

And the next day, the fucker was gone. I have been looking for this sign for a week, assuming that I just didn’t remember where it was or something, and it’s no longer there, and it hasn’t been replaced by anything, either, because surely I would have noticed that. And so I’m left wondering if I just imagined the damn thing, or badly misread it, or what, and I can’t confirm my own memory, and that’s really annoying.

Slightly related, at least according to how my brain works: I live in northern Indiana, maybe a 25-30 minute drive from Michigan. This area is generally known as “Michiana,”(*) and that word is pronounced like you think it is, especially once you realize that the “-ana” part comes from Indiana, a word that is generally pronounced only one way. To be obnoxiously clear about it, that penultimate A is pronounced like the penultimate A in banana or Havana or bat. And I have lived here for more or less my entire life and I have never heard anyone pronounce it incorrectly.

There is a local radio ad that I keep hearing all the Goddamned time for a used car company, and the person reading the ad repeatedly– at least a dozen times in the ad, since the word is part of the car company’s name– mispronounces “Michiana” as “Michi-onna,” like the last o sound in Pokemon. And it drives me into a killing fucking rage every time I hear it, because not only is it wrong and stupid but it offends me on a deep and fundamental level that somebody from the company that paid for this ad listened to it and went yeah, okay, that’s fine, and didn’t immediately demand that the ad be re-recorded because of the constant mispronunciation of the name of their business.

I hate it. I hate it so much.

The end.

(*) I believe I have brought this up in this space before, or at least on Twitter, but Indiana also features Kentuckiana and Illiana, although I do not know if either Indihio or Ohiana, both of which strike me as linguistic abominations, are places. Do other states do this with their border regions? I know there’s a place called Texarkana which, oh, Christ, is in something called the Ark-La-Tex region, but beyond that is it a thing? Is there a Califoregon out there, or a Pennsylvaryland? Michiconsin? Colobraska? Help me out.

Evolving, ctd.

I think I’m ready to declare Operation Order a Hat from Ireland at least a modest success. Sadly, it’s still my head the damn thing has to sit on.

In which I am evolving, or something …

Yes, I know, I really need to vacuum the God damned ottoman and get the cat hair off. Shut up, we’re freaking out about something entirely different in this post.

I bought those shoes yesterday, with the typical attendant anxiety bullshit that happens every single fucking time I need to buy shoes. I wanted something with some damn color; every pair of shoes I’ve bought in the last three or four years has been black and I wanted some summer-weight shoes that didn’t look like something I’d wear to work. Those caught my eye two or three times before I dared to grab a box and try them on, and then my whole entire brain went nuts because everyone was looking at me except they weren’t and no one cares and also– and this was what made me nut up and buy the damned things– I literally have an entire shirt that exact color, and I assure you that when I’m wearing that thing I’m visible from Mars.

So, yeah, you can see my feet in the dark now. The punch line to all this is it’s possible I bought them in slightly too small of a size, because the aforementioned anxiety issues kept me from giving them a full test in the store. I think they’re within the “they’ll break in fine” range, though, so we’ll cross our fingers.

There is something going on with my sense of personal style lately. I’ve been ordering rings and bracelets– bracelets, for God’s sake, although I haven’t found one that I like enough to wear regularly yet– and I’ve gone to work with three rings on more than once recently. I have a hat coming in the mail tomorrow that was shipped from Ireland and I suspect if I like it I’m going to own two or three more by the time my birthday rolls around in July.

If I end up spending a few thousand bucks on an arm sleeve this summer, will somebody do me a favor and stage an intervention?