Spinning by Tillie Walden and Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe
It’s been over a week since I read these two graphic novels. I’ve struggled with exactly what I want to say considering the context that led me to choose them. See, about two weeks ago, I read the following article: Upset over LGBTQ books, a Michigan town defunds its library in tax vote. Two of the books in contention are Spinning and Gender Queer. I will admit I wasn’t acting in good faith when said to myself, “What on earth could be so offensive?!” and clicked the checkout buttons*. I already knew there was nothing in these books that I would find offensive. To only harp on the controversy wouldn’t do the books justice.
Spinning is Tillie Walden’s coming-of-age biography. It’s about the changes in her life through her teenage years—her family moving to Texas, her hobby/career of figure skating, and, yes, her coming out. It’s an anxiety-fraught story, illustrated beautifully by Walden.
Gender Queer is a much more frank memoir by Maia Kobabe about eir realizing e is non-binary and asexual. Yes, I suppose there are a few “graphic” things, but this book is aimed at an adult audience. Kobabe too is a talented artist. I was a little surprised at the book’s end because Kobabe is still navigating eir way in the world.
For me, both of these book did the thing literature is supposed to do: showed me the world from someone else’s point of view. There is no doubt to me that these books could help someone who is struggling with their sexuality or gender. As a straight cis woman, they can only help me feel a little more empathy.
Books #12 & #13 of 20 Books of Summer.
* I checked out Spinning from the Greater Phoenix Digital Library and Gender Queer from hoopla’s collection.)
AMORALMAN: A True Story and Other Lies by Derek DelGaudio
Early last year, I watched Derek DelGaudio’s In & Of Itself, the filmed version of his one-man show. DelGaudio is a very talented magician and his illusions are wrapped in a semi-autobiographical stage-play that strongly includes the audience. He doesn’t so much do tricks in In & Of Itself as much as he creates effects to augment his storytelling. And in that venue, he’s a really good storyteller.
Amoralman, for me, isn’t as successful. Partly, this is because I’m used to magician biographies being fairly divorced from the theatrics of the stage. For me, the most interesting parts of Amoralman are the more biographical details, including DelGuadio’s time working as a “bust-out” dealer at a private poker game—basically, he worked as a card cheat. When DelGuadio brings in philosophy regarding his situation, the writing takes on a pretentious air. This works in his stage show, backed by deft magic; in writing, the theatrics just don’t work.
Nightmare Fuel: The Science of Horror Films by Nina Nesseth
An electronic copy of this book was supplied to me by the publisher.
Last year, I read a book called The Science of Women in Horror. It was a mildly perplexing book. The History of Women in Horrors or The Roles of Women in Horror might have been better titles. It wasn’t an uninformative book, but other than touching on some sociology issues, it was pretty light on science. So, I was a little wary about Nightmare Fuel.
Luckily, there are quite a few ways in which to investigate horror films through science. Nina Nesseth starts with a quick primer on our biological fear reactions and how horror movies use certain tropes and techniques to trigger (or try to trigger) those responses. Chapter two takes a quick sociological detour to examine how horror films often reflect societal fears. (We have, it would seem, spent decades fearing communism . . .) Subsequent chapters look at how horror filmmakers design monster and soundscapes and how different types of horror (slashers, body horror, ghost stories, etc.) affect us in different ways. Nesseth wraps up the book with a lengthy chapter looking at what impact horror movies have on audiences. Do scary movies offer cathartic release or prepare viewers for dangerous situations? Why do people enjoy being scared? And do horror movie lead to desensitization to violence and asocial behaviors? These are all good questions to addressed, even if scientific findings aren’t always conclusive.
Nesseth is an engaging writer with an obvious love for the horror genre. She presents the science at a fairly basic level with clarity and humor. The book covers its subjects with a decent amount of detail. Included are interviews with filmmakers that, while sometimes interesting, don’t add a whole lot. In general, though, I enjoyed Nightmare Fuel. I’ll be keeping a couple of things from it in mind during my Countdown to October.
Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear by Jim Steinmeyer
Hiding the Elephant is perhaps the polar opposite of Psychic Blues. Jim Steinmeyer loves stage magic. He loves the history of it and the nuts and bolts (sometimes literally) of how tricks work. He’s also a good writer, able to present both things in tandem. Which, by the way, if you are a reader who does not want to know how tricks are done, this isn’t the book for you. Hiding the Elephant presents some magic history through the lens of one trick: Harry Houdini’s disappearing an elephant in 1918 at the New York Hippodrome. A lot of cabinet mysteries are described in detail. While many of these tricks are on the older side, we are talking about magic from the turn of the 20th century, some of the concepts are still used in modern magic.
This is the second book about stage magic that I wanted to reread this summer, as a magic refresher. It was one of the first magic history books I’d read back in 2013 and it was fun to revisit it after reading a dozen or so more books about “golden age” magic, including Steinmeyer’s book on Howard Thurston (The Last Greatest Magician in the World).
Magic in Theory by Peter Lamont & Richard Wiseman
The full title of this book Magic in Theory: An Introduction to the Theoretical and Psychological Elements of Conjuring. The name is almost as long as the book, but it’s pretty crunchy nonfiction. This is probably the third time I’ve read it straight through and have referred to it occasionally when writing magician characters.
Magic in Theory doesn’t address how specific magic tricks are done. Rather, it offers nine categories of magic effects (appearance, vanish, transposition, transformation, penetration, restoration, extraordinary feats, telekinesis, and extrasensory perception) and how audience perception can be swayed by various forms of misdirection. It also has a lengthy chapter on how these concepts are different when presented in a pseudo-scientific way, rather than a stage magic way. Wiseman and Lamont readily confess that these theories are not a be-all or end-all of how to perform magic, but I find the categories helpful.
I originally bought my copy of Magic in Theory in December of 2014 (probably with birthday money) about two years into reading about magic and magicians. Probably not for a casual reader, but if you’ve watched enough Fool Us, and don’t mind thinking about how magic tricks are done, it might be of interest.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
In Cold Blood has been on my TBR list for a good long while. I’m pretty sure the copy I have is from Paperback Swap, and it’s been ages since I’ve used them. For a time I contemplated writing a true crime book myself, so it seemed incongruous that I hadn’t read one of the most famous true crime books; one that is often cited as a great American work of literature.
It was quite different than I expected. The writing is breathless and occasionally lurid. I actually kind of have trouble completely calling In Cold Blood nonfiction due to its style as well as due to accusations of literary license by people involved. I didn’t dislike the book, but I can tell that my taste for true crime has soured. It’s hard for me to take much enjoyment from the tragedy others.
Deal Me In, Week 20
7❤️, “Barleycorn” by Cae Hawksmoor – I don’t encounter enough folk horror. The setting is top-notch.
On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers has been the perfect read to kick off 20 Books of Summer. What’s better than creepy pirate horror? I also question my decision to have not included Treasure Island on my initial books of summer list.
Still keeping up with my poor friend Jonathan Harker via Dracula Daily.
Sundial by Catriona Ward
This was Ladies of Horror Fiction’s May book selection. I almost gave up on this book because its first 10% is pretty much all domestic drama, mostly Rob and her awful husband fighting. Luckily, Ward started weaving in some creepy threads kept me reading. Ultimately, Sundial goes in a science fiction direction that I’m not too sure about. That, mixed with a melodramatic aspect that wouldn’t be out of place on a CW show, makes for a somewhat entertaining read, but I really would have been happier with just the creepiness.
Come Clean by Sara Gran
Heard about Come Clean book from a Tor post on possession in books. One of the things that freaked my out about The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty when I first read it was that the possession of Regan starts with noises in the attic that no one pays attention to. I don’t know if that’s a general “you’ve got demons” trope, but it’s the jumping off point for Come Clean. Oddly, I felt the first person perspective of Amanda took away from the horror of her becoming possessed. While she’s helpless to stop it, she also isn’t really part of bad things happening during to blackouts. I did like the background that Gran brings to the demon Naamah: that Adam rejected his second wife because he saw what was inside her. You can read that literally or figuratively.
Deal Me In, Week 19
Q♠️, “Wake Up, I Miss You” by Rachel Swirsky – From Into the Night’s archives, but not strongly horror in my opinion. Very dream-like because it is full of dreaming. Not quite sure what the Queen of Teeth is meant to be.
- In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
- Dracula by Bram Stoker