Category Archives: lit

“Knock, knock, did you say who you’ve come for?”: Books Read in 2020

Untitled

I’m halfway into Steve Hyden’s This Isn’t Happening and a few dozen pages into Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future. So, as usual, here’s my breakdown of my reading for the year of hindsight:

Books read in 2020: 141
Comics and graphic novels included in reading total: 28
Books of poetry included in reading total: 11
Books reread included in reading total: 3
Academic & Education related books included in reading total: 17
YA and Junior Fiction books included in reading total: 9

Some thoughts (as usual, here are my posts on books read in 2019201820172016201520142013201220112010, and 2009):

The pandemic hit me as a reader. I didn’t feel as into the reading that I did. I didn’t have the same reading highs as I have had in previous years. I chalk that up to the damping effect of sheltering in place with low-key high levels of anxiety for the majority of the year. Maybe I made some poor reading selections, but reading wasn’t the respite I could have used this year. Sure, I read fewer books, too. That’s not really the point; I do think I might have read a few more books in a non-pandemic year, but I think this is close to my reading capacity while still trying to be a present dad that no longer has weekends/afternoons for selfish page-turning right now. (Side note: Ally pointed out that we read a ton of board books everyday with the kids. If Besos for Baby was included on this list, my reading count would be straight-up astronomical.)

I almost hit my goal of averaging a book of poetry a month. The books I did read were great. The Danez Smith collection (mentioned here) and Hanif Abdurraqib’s most recent collection were easy highlights.

I read two books by Olivia Laing this year, The Lonely City and Funny Weather. They were both wonderful and sent me down a spiral reading about a handful of artists I didn’t know much about like Chantal Joffe and Louise Bourgeois. The Lonely City also got me to listen to a bunch of Klaus Nomi this year.

I flew through all Martha Wells’ Murderbot series. As quick, fun sci-fi, it was my ideal semi-conscious, falling-asleep series of books for a chunk of the year. Likewise, Susanna Clarke’s long awaited follow-up novel, Piranesi, was short, engaging, and made me hope she’ll put out more work more frequently.

Charlie Kaufman’s debut novel, Antkind, is the most Kaufman-y thing he’s made and the funniest book I read all year. Also the most tedious. It’s not worth trying to summarize the plot about a film critic trying to write an academic book about the greatest film ever made of which only one person has seen and of which only a single frame still exists and so this critic uses hypnosis (and other methods) to attempt to recreate the reclusive filmmaker’s opus in his mind. It’s that kind of book. There’s a tangential plot line around a U.S. president named Donald Trunk who falls in love with a robot of himself. There’s nerdy film humor that made me enthused about rewatching Symbiopsychotaxiplasm. There’s a bunch of complaining about the films of Charlie Kaufman. You get it.

A Third University Is Possible was such an inspiring read at the beginning of the year that I ended up folding it into a class I was teaching, inviting K. Wayne Yang to close the Speculative Education Colloquium, and riffing on it in my own writing for future publications. I also really enjoyed Alex Rosenblat’s Uberland as representative of the possibilities of ethnography in the era of social infatuation with “algorithms” (ahem).

Comic books: I really liked Carmen Maria Machado’s horror story, The Low Low Woods. Tillie Walden continues to be one of my favorite comic creators and Are You Listening was no exception. Ines Estrada’s Alienation was confounding and I hope others read it so we can talk about it.

Finally, earlier this month a colleague recommended Maria Konnikova’s The Biggest Bluff, a book I missed in the middle of **all of this.** I flew through it. It made me miss poker, think about how I assess professional risk, and consider how limited information occludes some of my decision making.

The last concert that I attended was seeing Destroyer in San Francisco at the end of February. I consistently listened to his most recent album (contributing to this post’s title) throughout the year.

Early in the year, I picked up a copy of Cory Daye’s 1979 record, Cory and Me. The album isn’t on the major streaming platforms and disco dancing with the family to this record has been one of the real highlights during our sheltering in place.

Aside from this record, I played a lot of the new Fiona AppleBlack DressesPhoebe Bridgers, Haim, and Hayley Williams albums for my kids.

A good chunk of my time in quarantine was spent listening to 75 Dollar Bill, Moor Mother, Boris, Angel Bat Dawid & Tha Brothahood, and PJ Harvey’s smattering of demos. I spent a bunch of money supporting these bands and smaller artists on Bandcamp throughout the year.

Three other quick thoughts from this year’s listening:

  • The Man Man album that came out this year was their best/most melodic and it feels like absolutely no one picked it up or reviewed it.

  • Jimi Hendrix’s role as a central figure in how we conceptualize Afrofuturism is probably not given enough due. I think poor marketing and over saturation of bad reissues through the ‘90s and 2000s diminished his legacy. (This Buddy Miles song has been a highlight from my wider listening of Hendrix live recordings.)
  • The Sign O’ The Times boxset is absolutely incredible.

Finally, Mac Miller’s posthumously released Circles haunted my 2020. Thematically, “Good News” is the song that feels 2020 to me.

“We are ranking the great shipwrecks”: Books Read in 2019

Untitled

Yesterday, I finished Jenny Slate’s Little Weirds and I’ve been slowly moseying my way through this collection of essays about Elizabeth Bishop. So here’s my breakdown of my reading for 2019:

Books read in 2019: 170
Comics and graphic novels included in reading total: 42
Books of poetry included in reading total: 8
Books reread included in reading total: 5
Academic & Education related books included in reading total: 15
YA and Junior Fiction books included in reading total: 26
Roleplaying Game-related books (rules, modules, settings – related to this research): 3 [I’m mainly writing up findings from this work now; unless something substantial changes next year, I’ll stop tracking these texts at this point.]

Some thoughts (as usual, here are my posts on books read in 201820172016201520142013201220112010, and 2009):

Rather than bury the lede, I’ll share that Ally and I welcomed twins into our family in July. They are (usually) great! I’ll be referring to them by their middle names on this blog moving forward: Luna and Max.

Okay. So, the first half of the year was taken up with a lot of pregnancy-related books, most of which offered conflicting advice. (As parents might predict, the summer was filled with books related to baby sleep habits. These, too, largely offered competing and unhelpful advice; yes, I changed them and fed them and swaddled the hell out of them already.) The world of publishing around pregnancy and twins/multiples is much more limited and I found bits and pieces of these books useful in reducing some of the stress we felt in the first two trimesters; but I thought these were also pretty bad for the most part. (I may go more in depth on the pregnancy/parenting book genre in a longer post because I have #feelings about these texts, the market for literally the most mundane yet precious aspect of human culture, and the pedagogical expectations of mainstream books.) On the off chance that any readers are expecting twins in the near future (congrats!), feel free to get in touch–I’m happy to share some specific recommendations.

Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir, In the Dream Housewas the best book I read this year. Intentionally unsettling, Machado pushes on the boundaries of form and genre while excavating trauma and abuse in a book that’s unlike anything else I’ve come across. It’s definitely a BSRAYDEKWTDWT-contender and, considering how much I liked Her Body and Other Parties, Machado is a new favorite writer. 

And while I realize it got a ton of press, I would universally recommend Chanel Miller’s Know My Name. It’s not a pleasant read but I am grateful to have gotten to learn from Miller’s words.

Though eight doesn’t look like much in comparison to other kinds of books account for, I read a lot more poetry than in recent years. I’m going to shoot for one collection per month in 2020.To be honest, I was kicked back into a poetry mood as I ruminated on the loss of musician and poet David Berman earlier this year. Rereading his collection, Actual Air, was a painful reminder of Berman’s genius and humor, the title of this post comes from this collection. Likewise, I’ve been regularly coming back to Zadie Smith’s reading of Frank O’Hara’s “Animals.” The text has crept into a couple of my academic talks and part of it serves as an epigraph for a short essay coming out in 2020.

Nick Harkaway’s Gnomon was the weird, overly long sci-fi novel I had fun getting sucked into. It feels like only due to largesse did Ted Chiang release a new collection of stories this year. It is, of course, impeccable.

In terms of comics, Tom King’s Mister Miracle is a refreshing take on the superhero genre (and maybe a spiritual sequel to his Vision run). Not unlike In The Dream House, it’s a stunning mix of fitting within the confines of genre and form while also channeling pathos through every page. I also found the diary-style comics of Keiler Roberts to be exactly the sense of humor and reflection to take me through a sleep-deprived fall. Her most recent, Rat Time, is as good a place to start as any.

For a year and a half now, a couple colleagues and I have been systematically reading select YA books published across the past two decades. As a result, I read a lot of YA I didn’t like this year. I’ll note that—as frustrating and #problematic as I found the series—the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants offers some interesting ideas around multimodal literacies. (Years too late to be any kind of warning, I’ll also note that the final book in the series is infuriating.) Also surprising, I found Sarah Dessen’s Just Listen was an intriguing book for thinking about trauma, romance, and multimodal composition. I guess you could probably say that about 70% of YA books, but how many of them feature a corded house phone, a parental car phone, and a cell phone all at the same time? It’s a pretty revelatory reflection of now-discarded social uses of technology from just a decade ago. As a recent book, Jason Reynolds’ novelization of Miles Morales: Spider-Man hit the comic’s tone perfectly while still hitting the same emotional and critical notes that I’ve come to consistently appreciate in Reynolds’ books.

 

In terms of music, I’ve been trying to play only female artists around the house to orient around dominant voices my kids hear singing as they grow up. We have a Luna and Max playlist that is bratty and whiny and loud. I try to cycle through that as much as I can. I’m thinking of collecting the scrapbook pieces of media—on that playlist or otherwise—and sharing sporadically on this blog in the future.

FKA twigs’ Magdalene was my favorite album of the year.

For being my least favorite album that they’ve put out, I really like Vampire Weekend’s Father of the Bride.

I did a lot of writing, in equal measure to Colleen Green’s album length cover of Blink 182’s Dude Ranch and to Sunn O)))’s Pyroclasts.

Synth-y, gloomy pop feels like the right vibe for 2019 in terms of national malaise. I’ve been listening to the new Black Marble album a bunch lately. 

Lastly, six years ago I closed my year-end post noting that I’d been listening to this live version of Yo La Tengo’s song “Nowhere Near.” We use the album version as the song we play during Luna and Max’s bedtime routine, so—by sheer repetition—it’s the song I probably heard the most in 2019 and that’s great. Here’s the album version to help you put your year to rest.

“ghosts from dreams of a hard, fast future”: Books Read in 2018

Untitled

I just finished the A-side of Jeff Jackson’s Destroy All Monsters and it will probably be the first book I finish in 2019. And so, I think it’s time to round-up my reading from the past year:

Books read in 2018: 196
Comics and graphic novels included in reading total: 57
Books of poetry included in reading total: 1
Books reread included in reading total: 2
Academic & Education related books included in reading total: 23
YA and Junior Fiction books included in reading total: 30
Roleplaying Game-related books (rules, modules, settings – related to this research): 6

Some thoughts (As usual, here are my posts on books read in 2017201620152014,  2013201220112010, and 2009):

The easiest recommendation I can make is for everyone to read my friend Nicole Mirra’s book, Educating for Empathy. I’ve gotten to work with and learn from Nicole for more than a decade at this point (how is that possible?!) and this book is a great, accessible synthesis of many of her key pushes on civics, empathy, and literacy. Everyone should read it and it looks like this:

The best novels I read this year were There There (where the quote in this post’s title comes from) and An American Marriage. These are critically acclaimed works and show up on everyone’s year end lists for good reason (I see you, Barry!).

The sci-fi novel The Player of Games was the exact mixture of ethnographer-studies-games-of-foreign-cultures-but-also-in-outer-space that made it the Antero-equivalent of catnip.

I read a bunch of comic books this year and that included digging into the 9 volume collection of Naoki Urasawa’s Monster; it was one of my more sustained engagements with manga and I really enjoyed the entire run. Sabrina is the highbrow graphic novel that I’m not sure if I liked but is a good conversation starter. Mark Russell & Mike Feehan’s The Snagglepuss Chronicles (yes, that pink cat) is amazing. Snagglepuss is a playwright frequenting the Stonewall Inn and facing MaCarthyism head-on. It is timely, poignant, and tragic. 

Moxie is the YA novel that made me listen to a bunch of riot grrrl records for the first time in ages and if it introduces younger readers to the likes of Kathleen Hanna, 3rd wave Feminism, and the Sharpie-and-glue-and-scissors world of zine making, then that is awesome. The reality TV junkie in me also really liked Nice Try, Jane Sinner.

Virginia Eubanks’s Automating Inequality and Christopher A. Paul’s The Toxic Meritocracy of Video Games are both books I read for different research projects that I think could be of interest to general readers (the titles are pretty self-explanatory).

In terms of music, Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer was my favorite album of this year and an incredible, moving live show.

I also really liked the new Parquet Courts and Dirty Projectors albums. However, most of my time was spent listening to female-led singer-songwriter-y stuff: boygenius (including all three members’ recent-ish albums), the Crutchfeld sisters, Black Belt Eagle ScoutSnail Mail, Soccer Mommy, Molly Nilsson, Mitski, Robyn, Miya Folick, etc.

YouTube informs me I listened to this cover of Kendrick Lamar’s “LOVE” an embarrassing number of times. Ditto the Mac Miller Tiny Desk Concert.

Finally, I’ve been listening to this old Modern Lovers live album a lot while writing at night. “Morning Of Our Lives” feels like the kind of optimistic psalm to usher in the new year.

 

“Do the trap jump? Is the plug right?”: Books Read in 2017

IMG_6770

As I’ve only just begun The Bughouse, I think it’s time for my annual tally:

Books read in 2017: 132
Comics and graphic novels included in reading total: 23
Books of poetry included in reading total: 3
Books reread included in reading total: 2
Academic & Education related books included in reading total: 17
YA and Junior Fiction books included in reading total: 17
Roleplaying Game-related books (rules, modules, settings – related to this research): 5

A few thoughts (As usual, here are my posts on books read in 201620152014,  2013201220112010, and 2009):

I would be remiss to also point out I published two books this year as well. I’ve written about Good Reception here and Alternate Reality Games and the Cusp of Digital Gameplay here. Additionally, I read substantially fewer gaming-related books as that work is now moving toward being submitted for publication. Initial work related to tabletop gaming came out earlier this year here and here.

Moving on to things I read, the first book I finished this year (on January 4th) was Jane Mayer’s Dark Money. Perhaps the most relevant and accessible book that illustrates the paths that lead to Trumpism, the lessons here continue to resonate.

A couple of novels I enjoyed: Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere and Dexter Palmer’s Version Control both played with precision and form. They were quick reads that still felt sumptuous. Speaking of form, I read Michael Ondaatje’s Coming Through Slaughter for the first time and the possibilities of that book as a template for conveying ethnography have had me mulling. Likewise John McPhee’s Levels of the Game is a book length reckoning of one tennis match that continues to make me think about how to step up the narrative threads in academic writing; I’m pretty sure this will make some of my graduate syllabi in the near future. 

In terms of YA books, I re-read Cathy’s Book and read Nnedi Okorafor’s stellar Akata Witch both for separate projects, I hope to talk about in the future. I also really enjoyed both of Becky Albertalli’s books this year and look forward to the film adaptation Love, Simon (even if I don’t love the film’s name).

Finally, while Meet Me in the Bathroom was the quicker read about hipster music culture, Damon Krukowski’s The New Analog has been the book that has most directly affected some of my recent research. The related podcast series has been illuminating as well.

In terms of music, Vince Staples, SZA, Bleachers, and Rostam have all gotten consistent rotation. Daniel Caesar was the most surprising artist I learned about early on this year. I’ve probably streamed the Praise Break EP a couple dozen times. The 1-2 punch of the Casablanca interlude and “We’ll Always Have Paris” has been a musical highlight.


“This chapter says ‘Put it out of your mind’”: Books Read in 2016

Untitled

I’m slowly flipping through Tim Ferris’s Tools of Titans and a couple of academic books, so I think it’s time for my annual tally:

Books read in 2016: 156
Comics and graphic novels included in reading total: 30
Books of poetry included in reading total: 2
Books reread included in reading total: 2
Academic & Education related books included in reading total: 26
YA and Junior Fiction books included in reading total: 13
Roleplaying Game-related books (rules, modules, settings – related to this research): 14

A few thoughts (As usual, here are my posts on books read in 20152014,  2013201220112010, and 2009):

For gaming research that will probably start to see the light of day in 2017, I’ve been thinking a lot about systems. Taking a large portion of the early part of 2016, Robert Caro’s hefty biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker, was just as good as everyone says. It points to how sprawling inequities and stratified geographies in New York weren’t accidents but rather human-driven activities. Likewise, Matthew Desmond’s Wire-like opus Evicted—as full as it is of vignettes and nuanced depictions of individuals—points to how systems beget further systems of financial and social hardship. It’s the most accessible academic book I read this year (and for the nerds, I think this book has the best footnotes I’ve come across!). Finally, I have been revisiting this quirky book on system theory from the ‘70s. With pages of random doodles alongside significant contributions to why system-driven individuals build layers of problems, Gall’s text has been helpful in connecting gaming concepts to broader social and learning connections in my own research.

The best music-related read all year was Jace Clayton’s (aka DJ Rupture) book Uproot. Looking at the globalized nature of digital music, Clayton’s book connected much of the broader music ecosystem to concerns I’ve had with celebratory digital tinkering in education. The online listening guide for the book is excellent. I hadn’t been this fascinated by autotune as I had since its absence in this T-Pain performance.

I read all six of the Expanse-series books. I haven’t seen the TV adaptation yet, but I appreciate the direction and world-building across each of the lengthy tomes. For page-turning sci-fi, I think Leviathan Wakes is a good beginning to a series that only starts to show some stress from the weight of its many storylines in the most recent, sixth volume.

This also seemed like a great year for comic books. And despite the titles of Wakanda gathering mainstream accolades, two trades by Tom King most impressed me. The current run of Vision is the stop-what-you’re-doing-and-read-this-already title I would universally recommend. In both content and form, King and colleagues are doing some incredible work here. Likewise, King’s Omega Men was a continually surprising read. This video breaks down some of the ways King is reinventing the possibilities of the traditional, 9-panel, comic page.

Finally, I’m not sure where I heard about or why I decided to read The Man Who Heard Voices. But for a book about a film director I don’t like (M. Night Shyamalan) making a movie I despise (Lady in the Water), it’s a pretty fascinating look at an uncompromising artist and a deeply flawed film. Go figure.

 

Musically, this was a rough year. I listened to Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo much more than any other release. The album is a flawed masterpiece and I think it’s release points to the possibilities of what it means to make an “album” in the 21st century. That being said, as much as I’ve written lots (and lots) about Kanye in the past, I can’t overlook his recent statements or behavior. I am also cautious not to disregard the fact that Kanye’s every word is scrutinized, he became the father of his second child this year, and his wife was held captive and robbed. I’ve been thinking about this Chappelle interview in regards to Kanye, lately.

Finally, I haven’t been able to face Prince or Bowie’s deaths head on this year. (I teared up listening to Starfish and Coffee recently.) Instead, the Prince collaboration with Kate Bush is probably the singular song I played the most this year (and lends it’s opening line to this blog’s title):

Likewise, the NY Times Popcast speculated that the title of Bowie’s final album comes from an Elvis Presley song. This too, has been a haunting track echoing across a harrowing year:

I can’t say 2017 looks to bode better than 2016. I’m hoping to temper what looks like a battle-heavy year politically with texts of optimism and laughter. Suggestions are welcomed.

“Gnawing my way back home”: Books Read in 2015

Untitled

I’m currently halfway through Paul Murray’s The Mark and the Void and not likely to finish it before 2015 is over. For the 7th year in a row, here’s my breakdown of books read over the past year:

Books read in 2015: 162
Comics and graphic novels included in reading total: 28
Books of poetry included in reading total: 3
Books reread included in reading total: 4
Academic & Education related books included in reading total: 45
YA and Junior Fiction books included in reading total: 13
Roleplaying Game-related books (rules, modules, settings – related to this research work): 22

A few thoughts (As usual, here are my posts on books read in 2014,  2013201220112010, and 2009):

Two different sci-fi novels – perhaps thematically related – were highlights of the fiction I read this year: Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora were robust with ideas, questions, and plot hooks that I continue to ponder nuances from them. I also really liked Station Eleveneven if I wasn’t in search of another post-apocalyptic yarn it was an unputdownable book.

It’s been a while, but volumes one and two of Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Familiar were the enticing reads that returned me to the BSRAYDEKWTDWT genre.

Three different music related books I can recommend:The memoirs by Kim Gordon and by Carrie Brownstein were unflinching and feminist looks inside two tumultuous rock bands I’ve spent a lot of time listening to. And unrelated but Leon Neyfakh’s The Next Next Level was the music biography about a musician I didn’t know that I didn’t know I needed to read. (I would encourage curious readers to listen to the two podcast episodes of No Effects with Jesse Cohen where he talks with the author of the book and with the musician Juiceboxxx.)

In terms of non-fiction, there was no book more important or more affecting this year than Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. Enough has been written about this book that you don’t really have an excuse for not reading it at this point. Do it.

Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation is a book that I’ve been chewing on and thinking about over the past two months.

In terms of more popular non-fiction, Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed was the book that created some of the more entertaining conversations and arguments with friends. Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance was the book you give to a friend because it looks like another comedian’s memoir but ends up actually being a pretty impressive empirical, social science study.

In terms of other media consumption in 2015, there was no better live music experience this year than seeing Kamasi Washington with family and friends play a flawless and touching (and nearly three hour long) set. Epic indeed.

I listened to the Lady Lamb and the Beekeeper album a bunch (yes, that’s really her name and yeah, I know). The track “Billions of Eyes” lends a lyric as the title of this year’s post.

Other albums I listened to a lot were Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly, the Hamilton Broadway Cast Recording, Miguel’s Wildheart, and Chance the Rapper’s collaborative album with the jazz group the Social Experiment. (Check out Chance’s performance on SNL from earlier this month:)

When it comes to writing, I’ve been regularly listening to this Four Tet album, the titular Viet Cong record, and Jaime XX. (Did I mention, I published two books this year? It was an intense year for writing.)

What did you read and listen to in 2015? What are you looking forward to in the new year?

Find Me at #NCTE15 & #NWPAM15

Untitled

Like many of you, I am headed this week to Minneapolis for NCTE’s Annual Conference and the National Writing Project’s Annual Meeting. If you’ll be in town, you can catch me at any of the following events:  

Thursday:  

  • I will be co-facilitating an NWP workshop related to Pose, Wobble, Flow with Cindy O’Donnell-Allen. This is a part of the afternoon sessions listed here.

 

  • In the evening from 8-10, the amazing Chad Sansing and I will be running a game jam at the NWP Annual Meeting:

Join fellow National Writing Project educators for an open-ended conversation about games and play in the classroom. Pitch and prototype your ideas for games that teach, join a group learning a new game, or revisit a favorite game with friends. Part workshop, part hangout, all fun. Don’t be afraid to bring your own games, either!

  My NCTE schedule looks something like this: Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 3.25.00 PM  If you like comics, inquiry, YPAR, yoga, middle school, connected learning, or unkempt hairdos you should come say hello!

I’m particularly excited to invite you to the first SLAM meeting on Saturday night:

SLAM Ad

On Sunday: I rest (or I meet you, IRL, if you ping me on Twitter first!) and then hop on a plane in the afternoon.

I’m excited to learn with many of my friends and colleagues at this year’s conferences. I hope to see you there!

“Where lies the strangling fruit”: Books Read in 2014

Untitled

I’m currently just cracking the spine on The Last Projector, there’s a day left in 2014, and it’s time for the reckoning. And so, as with the past five years, I offer my annual rundown of books I read this year:

Books read in 2014: 157
Comics and graphic novels included in reading total: 26
Books of poetry included in reading total: 3
Books reread included in reading total: 3
Academic & Education related books included in reading total: 18
YA and Junior Fiction books included in reading total: 10
Roleplaying Game-related books (rules, modules, settings … because research): 25

A few thoughts (As usual, here are my posts on books read in 2013201220112010, and 2009):

I don’t think I had more fun reading this year than the solid 1-2-3 punch of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance). There’s heaps of praise for the trilogy and now packaged as a single volume for the holidays, it’s a great way to get lost for a week or two.

I read a handful of music-related books. Some highlights include the slim volume about Dangerous that I previously blogged about, this look at techno-pranksters the KLF, a Q&A for getting lost in the mythos of Will Oldham and Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and a book length work about the greatest album/film/musician of all time.

Though this year was pretty light on poetry for me, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen felt like one of the most timely, necessary reads of the year.

While I only picked it up in the past two weeks, Richard McGuire’s Here is the best graphic novel I read. Following the thousands+ history of a single room, generations of families, prehistoric animals, and futuristic guesses are offered in windowed comic panels, like the pop-up windows of ’90s era online browsing. The premise sounds like (and occasionally literally is) watching paint dry on a wall. It’s unlike anything else you’ll read.

The two best academic books I read are accessible and I heartily recommend them for a general readership. danah boyd’s It’s Complicated takes more than a decade of research on the digital lives of youth and makes it clear how young people are communicating, learning, and sharing today; danah’s work here has been foundational in my own research and It’s Complicated offers necessary perspective on a larger conversation about technology, learning, privacy, and socialization. On The Run is an equally-long-in-the-making ethnography about young men trying to avoid the U.S. legal system. It’s a compelling book with vibrant characters, Wire-like escapades, haunting scenes, and the troubling fact that this is all real and experienced daily by urban youth across the country.

I finished Isaacson’s The Innovators earlier this month. It was fun and exactly what I expected. If you can’t remember why Jim Henson is such an amazing and generous innovator in his own right, the biography that came out a few years ago will remind you. The lessons that Henson’s life illustrate have stayed with me throughout the year.

 

My year of other media consumption was pretty predictable. D’Angelo’s Black Messiah and St. Vincent’s self titled record are constantly on rotation. Serial is eating my brain. Boyhood made me cry while watching it on an airplane. I saw Future Islands in concert twice this year and the singer terrified me both times.

I listened to this cover of “Johnny and Mary” more times than is probably healthy:

There is an expanded version of Yo La Tengo’s amazing album (do they make any other kind?) Painful, so this is a good time to encourage you to ring in the new year listening to “Nowhere Near.”

What are your reading plans for 2015?

Another Book Excerpt: Who Gets to Be Gay in YA?

photo
As instructors are pulling together syllabi for the upcoming school year, I wanted to share another excerpt from my recent book Critical Foundations in Young Adult Literature: Challenging Genres. Like the excerpt shared earlier looking at depictions of female sexuality in Divergent and the Daughter of Smoke and Bone, this excerpt challenges assumptions developed over time in YA literature. I hope to post a few more excerpts in the coming months.

Who Gets to Be Gay in YA?

As the slow trickle of LGBTQI* books continues today, the titles most widely available help categorize what YA queer fiction looks like. That is, with so few books available, the ones that do get published create a patchwork picture of who is privileged as represented in queer YA fiction. With several significant exceptions (Alex Sanchez’s [2003] Rainbow Boys comes to mind), LGBTQI characters are often white and socioeconomically privileged. They may not be wealthy but Tiny in Will Grayson, Will Grayson or Holland Jaeger in Keeping You a Secret are anything but financially burdened in their stories.

And so, while I applaud the slowly diversifying representations of sexuality emerging in YA, I would argue that these books also identify who gets to be gay in YA. Likely based on increasing a wide readership, these books are about white and middle or upper-class individuals (reflecting the book buying audience).

In looking at the problematic representation of LGBTQI characters, I am intrigued by the trajectory of David Levithan’s novels. Over the many books that Levithan has authored through 2013, every single text includes LGBTQI characters, often they are at the center of the stories. For instance, Levithan’s (2003) first book, Boy Meets Boy is a warming love story about Paul, an openly gay 11th grader. Boy Meets Boy details Paul’s adventures as he falls in love and reconciles past relationships and friendships in a welcoming high school. It is playful, silly, touching, and campy. More than any other aspect of the book, the biggest pushback my college students that read this book in an adolescents’ literature class have is that the book is too unrealistic in its positive depictions of acceptance. The book plays with expectations of what takes place in high schools (the star quarterback at the school is also a popular cross-dressing homecoming queen named Infinite Darlene). The book plays out as fantasy or idealized and over-the-top visions of inclusion in school spaces.

In the decade that he has been publishing books, Levithan’s stories have become more fluid in their depictions of gender and identity. At the same time, the books’ forms tend to challenge how we read and understand novels. Though these can be seen as two separate stylistic decisions on Levithan’s part, I believe the uprooting of gender and sexuality can be tied to an uprooting of YA book structures as well. In the ten years since Boy Meets Boy was first published, a striking shift in Levithan’s novels becomes apparent. One of his next books, The Realm of Possibility (2006), also focused on gay characters. However, the form was strikingly abstract: a series of poems constructs a collage of narratives of love and growth. The book reads like a chorus of echoing voices speaking across and at each other.

In 2011, Levithan published The Lover’s Dictionary. As its name implies, the book’s short entries are organized alphabetically. They detail a cycle of a relationship: from attraction to love to dispute to separation. The narrative is one that the reader must cobble together. When did certain actions happen? Is this relationship concluded? Flourishing? Stewing in some sort of stasis? Arguments could be made in any direction. For some, this may make this an unfulfilling narrative. There lacks the kind of definitive plot and resolution that readers expect. However, on the other hand, this is also a book that offers powerful, liberating possibilities for readers. There is no set way to read the book. Want to read an entry from the letter R first? Go for it. The story is fluid in ways that makes relationships seem like extendedpossibilities and hiccups. There’s also something else significantly apparent the longer you spend time with The Lover’s Dictionary: there is no set gender in the book’s descriptions and entries.

A heteronormative view of the book could easily assume this is a detailed account of a romance between a male and a female. Readers more familiar with Levithan’s repertoire could likely infer that this is a book detailing a homosexual relationship. However, I do not see the structure of the book as one that was developed in an effort to please various readers. Instead, the book looks like an effort to blur our understanding of gender. The way conceptions of being male and female are created and defined by contemporary society can feel out of step for questioning young and not-so-young people alike. If the ways I enact my gender as a thirty-something male do not fall in-line with how society casts male gender and masculinity, my behaviors and actions are in discord with general social rules. The Lover’s Dictionary, then, is a challenge to these expectations. The universality of the feelings, experiences and emotions within the book establish that it doesn’t matter if a protagonist is male or female. Levithan’s book succeeds because of the structural conceit of veiling the text in a swath of second person pronouns: “you” and “your” replace the gendered labels “he” or “she” and “his” or “hers.” Levithan is able to create an engaging and critically lauded novel with few clues about gender.

The conceit of writing a book where gender is largely absent would seem like a singular experiment. However, Levithan followed up The Lovers Dictionary with a similar attempt: Every Day (2012). The fantastical premise of this novel is something like this: each morning the protagonist of the novel wakes up as someone new. This isn’t just anyone; the age of the person is consistent with the age of the protagonist. However, name, location, gender, and sense of identity are all that of a new person. In essence everyday the main character becomes someone new (while still preserving past memories). The protagonist refers to itself as “A.” Throughout the book, A embodies men, women, straight and queer identities. However, after a central turning point the protagonist finds an innate connection with a female character. And so begins a central question that is at work across Levithan’s books: how do we communicate and fall in love with those around us, regardless of gender and sexuality? These are not simply defining categories in which we are placed in Levithan’s texts, but fluid states we move between. Every Day follows A’s elusive search for this female character. Is this a romantic relationship? A spiritual one? As a female being sought, does this implicate that A’s true nature is a heterosexual one? That is, deep down inside, is A gendered as male? Conversely, is this an LGBTQI text that engenders A with female qualities? Levithan reaches beyond traditional expectations of gender and looks for human-to-human, individual connections.

With the above excerpt following a more sweeping account of LGBTQI representation in YA lit, the emphasis on Levithan looks at the stylistic moves and trajectory of one of the sub-genres most visible authors. Thanks for taking a look. Again, if you’re interested in class visits, guest lectures, or only-somewhat-rambling conversation (digitally or otherwise), please get in touch!

 

* I note and critique earlier in the chapter that I use the label of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Intersex, as this was the same terminology I would use in my high school classroom.