Silver Screen Fiend
by Patton Oswalt
2015 • 240 pages • Scribner
I first heard of Silver Screen Fiend when I couldn’t get to my laptop fast enough to keep Hulu from autoplaying the next segment on Late Night with Seth Meyers at full blast at godawful in the morning. (Why was I watching Late Night with Seth Meyers clips at godawful in the morning? Hi, I’m Clare, I find Seth Meyers personally inspiring, nice to meet you.) And there was Patton Oswalt, promoting his new book and explaining that he should have known the film obsession of his youth was an addiction when he made his date walk back to her car alone at three or four in the morning.
I adored the memoir portions of Oswalt’s last book, Zombie Spaceship Wasteland. In that book, he absolutely nails the frustration and lack of cultural resources endemic to American suburbia in such an immediate, identifiable way. While the experimental comedy portions of Zombie Spaceship Wasteland rarely landed for me, the vocabulary he gave me that I could apply to my own suburban childhood was massively useful.
And yet, I’ve cooled on Oswalt as of late. Continue reading
by Roxane Gay
2014 • 336 pages • Harper Perennial
In Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, you will find three versions of the eponymous essay. The final product opens the collection and two of its preceding drafts close it. They’re different enough that it doesn’t feel repetitive, but bookending the entire collection with them makes perfect sense. It shows how rocky the terrain of our current culture is, humanizes the writing process (which can feel sterilized in the seemingly permanent spaces of either the Internet or print), and drives home Gay’s point: that she “would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all” (318). For Gay (and, I would hope, for us all) being a feminist is an active process.
To be a feminist in the digital age is to be easily able to find both your community and those who would stand against you—even (and perhaps especially) those who also consider themselves feminists but are not committed to the cause as to a version of it that benefits them. There’s always that moment when a new acquaintance brings up Caitlin Moran and I tense up, wondering if they, too, subscribe to the same kind of cissexist feminism that doesn’t believe in intersectionality. To quote Flavia Dzodan, “my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.” I have, in my long time on the Internet, sought out, found, stumbled across, and otherwise just looked up to find myself in complex feminist (and if not explicitly feminist, feminist-minded) spaces that have much more to teach me than I have to teach them. Reading Bad Feminist, I was reminded of nothing more than that online feminist universe that I haunt, to the point that discovering where versions of the collected essays had been previously published in the acknowledgements read quite a bit like my Feedly.
That Is All
by John Hodgman
2011 • 368 pages • Dutton
Eddie Izzard is one of my favorite comedians. And when I was a kid, he was my favorite comedian. (He may have been the only comedian whose comedy albums I listened to as a kid, but variation and wider context were of little concern to my anxious, angry child self.) His lack of any up-to-the-minute topical references that would have flown over my sheltered head certainly helped, but it’s his gleeful relations of history that have always stuck with me. Well, that and “If I die on the floor, can I get up in these heels? NO!” Something about learning something new about history and immediately poking holes in it appealed me. As a teenager, I even put together a delighted retelling of Rasputin’s death in unwitting tribute, although I’ve phased it out ever since I discovered Boney M.’s magnificent “Rasputin.”
John Hodgman appeals to me for a similar reason; his humor, especially the humor on display in his trilogy of complete world knowledge, stems from both delight in the bizarre world around us and the puncturing of authority, although the authority, in this case, is his, to be punctured by his tremendously surreal but precise imagination. In high school, I used to go to the gym three times a week and work out listening to The Areas of my Expertise on audiobook, over and over and over. To this day, the scent of a public gym mat conjures memories of a copious list of hobo names and Jonathan Coulton’s improvised theme songs for all fifty-one states. (The fifty-first is the roaming state of Ar, of course.)
Monty Python Live (Mostly)
2014 • 180 minutes • Fathom Events
I have been extremely appreciative of the recent trend of screening plays and other theatrical performances in movie theaters. After spending much of high school tearing my hair and rending my garments at the fact that I was missing specific casts in specific shows and had no access to the Paley Center, I’m delighted to see theater being made more accessible. (I have since left musical fandom, because I lack superhuman powers of media consumption, no matter how much.) Now, events that previously would have me gnashing my teeth in despair—like that time I missed Eddie Izzard in Atlanta—are actually within my reach.
Events like Monty Python Live (Mostly), tickets for which sold out in under a minute. Before undertaking the road trip we are currently on, my roommate and I were delighted to realize that we had an opportunity to watch the legendary comedy troupe reunite for the first time in thirty years and, according to them, for the last time. (We’ll have one in Yonkers, of course, but we’re waiting for the one in Brooklyn to open.) We purchased our tickets, worked our itinerary around it, and were thrilled to be in a theater full of fellow Python fans. She’d recently, in the past few years, started looking into Monty Python’s Flying Circus in-depth; I had warm fuzzy memories of recording episodes off of BBC America, watching Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl, and overidentifying with Eric Idle during my preteen years.
But despite our disparate approaches, we both ended the evening frustrated and disappointed. When we overheard another filmgoer sigh in utter contentment, we fled as soon as we could.
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
How do you successfully translate a blog into a book? The current model, as seen in My Year of Flops and Hyperbole and a Half, is to collect the best of the original posts and add some exclusive original material. As a method of enticing fans to purchase something they can essentially get for free (although one hopes they’d want to support their favorite creators regardless), it’s not a bad way of doing things. However, this doesn’t deal with the inherent difference between a book and a blog—a book is, more or less, fixed, while a blog is a living, breathing thing. As this profile of Homestar Runner points out, just because it hasn’t updated in years doesn’t mean that it won’t, and my favorite part of catching up on old-school Saturday Night Live with The A.V. Club is reading the comments, something you will never see collected. But perhaps this can’t be dealt with; it’s just the nature of the medium, of putting moving blog to fixed page.
American Sweethearts: Teenage Girls in Twentieth-Century Popular Culture by Ilana Nash
We Killed by Yael Kohen
I was disappointed with Bridesmaids. When I finally watched after hearing all the hype about how this was the film that proved female comedies could work, I was underwhelmed. It’s still an important milestone in that it proved to both studios and a wide audience that women could carry a Judd Apatow comedy, but I wished it had been proven with a earthshakingly hilarious film instead of this. But perhaps I should be more disappointed in a culture that had to have it proved that women could be funny (and in a way anointed by Apatow). I mean, I’m part of an all-lady MST3K-style comedy troupe that brings me to tears every Thursday night. As Yael Kohen says in the introduction to this book, “Women have always been funny. It’s just that every success is called an exception and every failure an example of the rule” (5).
Voodoo Histories by David Aaronovitch
Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman
Bitchfest edited by Lisa Jervis and Andi Zeisler
I don’t remember the moment I became a feminist. Presumably, it occurred around the point my mother determined that I would not be raised in the Catholic Church and didn’t come up with an alternative, so I would have been negative a few months old. Of course, being an itty bitty ace feminist didn’t stop me from being alarmingly femmephobic throughout my adolescence, but I like to think that my feminism is in a constant state of evolution. Even so, my formerly impervious pop culture bubble didn’t particularly allow me access to magazines like Bitch or Bust, but there’s no time like the present to catch up, especially when they just go ahead and publish a greatest hits collection. Merci!