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I read too many “lifehack” blogs. I’ve tried out too many calendar apps, todo lists, time trackers, and project managers. It’s tempting, when the next new thing comes up that solves all our productivity problems, to give it a try. Because surely this widget will save me from myself, from procrastination and unproductivity. If only I have the right tool it will be as effective as magic.
Reading about and trying out different efficiency hacks is its own procrastination. And with certain tools, they cause me a lot more trouble than they solve. I declared habit bankruptcy a while back, when my efficiency/productivity/better life kick got out of hand and I just had too much for my flighty human brain to handle in a single day. So apps like Timeful, where you’re supposed to block out hours of your day for this task or that, just give me hives. Trello, the much beloved project- and life-organizer, is excessively detailed for my grocery list, writing todo, work todo, don’t forget about this other random task needs.
I still hold out this hope that the perfect app or tool will come along, that slots seamlessly into my life and replaces all the haphazard habits I’ve made do with until now. But I’ve really gotta stop spending so much time trying to find it, and more time doing all the stuff I say I need help tracking.
Normally I don’t read or watch anything with rape. I mean, why would I? It’s always, always badly handled. It’s shorthand (and a convenient go-to) for a woman’s character development at best. And that’s a very, very relative best in the trash heap of storytelling choices. More often it’s easy character motivation for a man who for whatever reason cares about what happens to that woman. Usually she is “his” woman, so how dare anyone touch his things.
Even if every fictional instance of rape were done well, still, why would I? I exist in a world where one in four women are raped in their lifetimes. The number goes higher if you separate us by racial groups, like Indigenous women, who are targeted by non-Indigenous men specifically because they can be victimized with even less legal consequence (at least in the U.S., with the separation of tribal and city police forces and the lack of collaboration between the two). I don’t necessarily use fiction to escape the world, but I don’t use fiction to see a grim and unaltered reflection of the same world I see every day.
All that said. I did read Courtney Summers’s All the Rage, knowing what kind of book it was going in. It was recommended, dare I say vehemently, by someone whose opinion and taste I admire. So I said, I’ll give it a few pages.
I finished it in three days, and that’s only because none of those days were weekends.
All the Rage is about Romy Grey, who has already been raped. Her rape is a year past, and what we see are the traumas that always follow: She is a liar. She wanted it. Because she told a friend she liked the boy, it was impossible the boy had raped her. How could she say something like that, and ruin the life of such a promising boy. A boy whose family believes and supports him, a boy who has since graduated high school and gotten a job and who is living his life.
Romy is so angry. Not just about the rape or the unending harassment and re-victimization that has followed, but at the indignities she now sees and understands of being a girl who exists in the world. It was that anger that compelled me from page to page, and what I think was part of the passionate recommendation I got for the book in the first place.
Yes, that. That exactly. That is my anger, reflected back at me. And that kind of reflection is welcome, because rather than showing me things I am already too aware of, it instead says, you are not alone in your rage. It is right to be angry. We should all be angry.
People who follow me on Twitter know I was cheering for Romy early on to take violent revenge against everyone who had wronged her. I doubted the book was going to go that way–if only because it was a really, really long list that would’ve put Romy up there with the top serial killers–but I could see the fantasy in her head, and I could see how cathartic it was. Because the violence she imagined, the longing looks at pocket knives and shoving drunk boys’ faces into the dirt, was power. It was the power to say no and have the boy listen, if for no other reason than he had a knife in his gut. It was the power to make threats stop, if for no other reason than the boy was choking on mud. It was the power to make all the people who called her a liar go away, so the only people who were left were the ones who believed. Romy didn’t have the power to make boys not rape. She also didn’t have the power to know which boy could or could not be trusted. But with violence, she could make the ones who showed her they couldn’t be trusted, stop.
Romy’s progress through the book is her taking power how she can, minus knives and murders. It was a progress I really, deeply feared for, with so many people working against her, but one that ultimately reached a satisfying conclusion. Though the book leaves the full aftermath of Romy’s taking power unclear, I choose to imagine the best possible ending. Because this is fiction, and girls deserve the fantasy of seeing their rage realized and rewarded.
Read this week: Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal
Up next: Soulless by Gail Carriger
I’ve really enjoyed all five of the Glamourist Histories, tearing through them as soon as they come out within about a week. I highly recommend all of them if you’re into Jane Austen and magic, since that is the essential pitch for the whole series. My thoughts here are more around the latest book, Of Noble Family, as opposed to about it.
This is the book that illustrated for me how lacking narratives are that are about white people saving black people. Even though it was a great, fun book that tried very hard to get everything right (see: the wealth of nuanced black characters with their own motivations, goals, families, and lives that exist outside any white people; the author’s notes about the Antiguan Creole English dialect; etc) it still can’t escape being a book about white people looking at black people. We see slavery through people who have never experienced it; we see the nuances of how shadeism (and its racist basis) works in a profoundly anti-black time with profoundly anti-black people through the eyes of a character who can only witness without fully understanding. In short we watch what could be a really important conversation at a distance, because the character and therefore the reader is at a distance from it, and by virtue of being white can never be much closer.
It is important for white people to do the work of educating other people about racism and racial issues. Black people and other people of color are asked to do that kind of free labor all the time, at a 101 level that is often both exhausting and disingenuous. I think as part of a larger body of literature and conversation about educating white people on experiences outside their own, books like Of Noble Family, where we learn about racism with a fellow white person, are good. They are the kiddy pool of a big, deep, complicated ocean of issues. And as the fifth book in a series that has been subtly progressive yet not an overt “issues” fiction, I appreciate the idea of Kowal’s stealth education of her readers, not to mention stealth upending of grosser literary traditions of white saviors and faceless black characters who exist to demonstrate the white person’s goodness for the most basic achievement of not being a racist.
I also think it’s a problem if grown ass people hang out in this kiddy pool too long.
I’d subscribed to about a million new spooky and true crime podcasts over the last week, meaning I fell behind on my less ghosty-and-gory staples like NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. When I did return, pretty good for a while reminding myself how bizarre and terrible humans can be, I caught up with an old episode PCHH aired all about romance novels.
Even if you don’t (or THINK you don’t) like the romance genre, I’d argue the episode is a whole lot of fun to listen to. Ladies passionately and unabashedly geeking out about their loves is a love of mine, and I really enjoyed hearing the hosts talk about not just their favorite books but also a little about the genres and tropes and why those things are so darn appealing in this big escapist niche of fiction.
Having heard of but not knowing much about Smart Bitches Trashy Books, I liked the idea of a community being built up around what was pre-internet a really solitary and supposedly shameful practice (ie, reading trashy books). Nevermind that trashy detective fiction has never been the subject of as much cultural shame as romance, because of course hardboiled is just a bit of manly fun, but romance, come on now, get your head back in the real world.
The parallel came up again when I was reading an article on Django Girls, a venture to teach women to code. Django Girls is a product with a feminine aesthetic made for women, and the founders’ presentation at a recent conference made some (maybe? well-intentioned?) men uncomfortable.
As the article author Brianna Laugher explains, enforced femininity is a problem, and devaluing or penalizing femininity is a problem, but as design elements
Monospace white-on-black command-line aesthetic is a stylistic choice. It’s one that is relatively unmarked in our community. Glittery pastels is a different aesthetic. They are both perfectly valid ways to invite someone to be a programmer.
If the only problem with pink swirlies is that they are associated with women, that association is the problem, not the swirlies. My own blog aesthetic has probably tipped you off that I am not personally a pink swirly fan, but if that’s your thing then that’s your thing. I can measure your or anyone else’s competency, intelligence, or merit exactly 0% based on preference for pink swirlies.
The same goes for reading or not reading “trashy” books. If the only problem with romance novels is that they are read and enjoyed by women, that association is the problem, not the genre, and not the women who get value from it.
Read this week: More than This by Patrick Ness
Up next: Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal
Patrick Ness is an author with a particular talent for ripping my heart to pieces and making me cry. See: The Chaos Walking trilogy, starting with The Knife of Never Letting Go. I appreciate and admire not only his technical skill but also that he writes middle grade and young adult books that get into some deep, dark stuff. Chaos Walking had gay parents, abusive cult leaders, murder, male anger and entitlement, terrorist violence, and that’s just what I can name off the top of my head from having read it years ago.
I don’t think it’s remotely a spoiler to say that More than This is about death, and particularly suicide. It was incredibly well written and paced, gripping and sad and human in that lovely fallible way we are, and also nicely self-aware about the nature of stories we tell ourselves versus how the world actually is. I cared about Seth, I felt for Seth, I felt for just about everyone in this book even though the things that hurt them were also what drove them to hurt others.
At the same time, through no fault of Ness’s in particular, I am really tired of examining these deep existential questions with white boys. It’s overload: this is another book in a long history of books where we have a white boy (give or take a few traits for variation) take us through how he thinks about and views the world.
In a vacuum, that’s fine. In that long history of books, it’s gotten boring. I’m ready to listen to what someone else thinks about life, the universe and everything. I hope Patrick Ness writes one of those people, but in the meantime there’s more to choose from.*
*I thought about saying “more than this.” I did. I decided to spare you that.