My Irish heritage is almost purely nominal at this point, overwhelmed by it is by the centuries since my Irish ancestor realized she could ditch Ireland for the New World and the whole “mostly French” thing. But such things are mere technicalities when you’re named after an Irish county, turn ruddy in the sun, and the only drink you like is Bailey’s: I gladly and loudly declaim I’m an Irishwoman as much as I declaim my status as a French kid. So, in the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day (when everyone else joins me in being Irish), I thought I’d highlight a few things you can read (or watch!) to celebrate the Emerald Isle.
It’s the last Sunday of the year, so you know what that means. Either I’m getting stingier or this year hasn’t been the best reading year for me—while last year’s year in review post was agonizing to curate, I did this year’s in a few hours. Hopefully, 2013 will ring in a higher batting average for my reading. But it’s not that I haven’t enjoyed my reading this year; I definitely have, especially my nonfiction reading—I mean, I discovered Tom Wolfe this year, so that is a definite plus. As ever, this list is culled from what I read in 2012, not what was released in 2012 (although I read more recent titles this year than in past years).
I can’t tell you how happy I am it’s December. Sure, finals season is upon me, but I always get antsy on the last one or two days of a month. I like having a fresh calendar and new wallpapers. But November still lingers, in the best of ways: last month, Lu tagged me with a short reading questionnaire. Why don’t we get started?
In the eternal, pointless, and semantically frustrating battle of “literary fiction” versus “genre fiction” (I can’t even, people), the word “escapism” is sometimes thrown at speculative fiction. The argument goes that the fantasy and science fiction fans can’t face the harshness of reality (depicted in “literary fiction” as, to quote a professor at Agnes, “two people in a room getting a divorce”) and so prefer to immerse themselves in fantastical worlds where they can unobtrusively (or obtrusively, in the case of Mary Sues) be someone else. I’d always thought that argument was awful, because I’d only ever seen it used to prove that “literary fiction” is superior, and rejected the argument entirely—including rejecting escapism itself. But a recent episode of This American Life, of all things, made me reevaluate the concept of escapism itself, including its merits.
Breakfast on Pluto
based on the novel by Patrick McCabe
How on earth have I not reviewed Breakfast on Pluto for the blog yet? It’s one of my very favorite films and one of the few film adaptations that actually surpasses the novel it’s based on—the fact that Patrick McCabe was one of the script writers undoubtedly helps. At the end of last semester, I spent quite a lot of time with Breakfast on Pluto, as I was writing my final paper for the class about how it illuminated the intersection between gender issues and Irish national identity. It pretty much ended up a love letter to Kitten, her refusal to let others impose narratives on her life, and her own mastery of narrative. But how could I not? She’s amazing.
What’s more important to you? Real, three-dimensional, fleshed-out fascinating characters? Or an amazing, page-turning plot?
(Yes, I know, they are both important. But if you had to pick one as being more important than the other?
Oh, how incredibly cruel to make me choose! In a perfect world, these things walk hand in hand—an amazing, page-turning plot is the result of actions of real, three-dimensional, fleshed-out fascinating characters. I know I’ve said in the past that I prefer plot, but after spending quite some time writing about Kitten from Breakfast on Pluto, I’m going to go with characters here. It’s hard not to fall in love with the cheerful and narratively powerful Kitten; after all, Patrick McCabe gave her a happier ending in the film adaptation of the book, which I actually think is superior to the book. (Of course, I’m also taking a shining to film criticism, so I’m a little biased. But I thought this long before I took my Introduction to Film Studies class!) And, of course, Cal Stephanides comes to mind, Jeffrey Eugenides’ greatest accomplishment in Middlesex. When I was listening to the amazing audiobook while walking the dog, it was like I was walking side by side with the man.
But in a way, I’m being sneaky and having it both ways. Again, amazing plots are, in the best works of fiction, the results of amazing characters. I’m just choosing the cause, not the effect.
While perusing the fabulous T. J.’s new digs at Dreams and Speculation, I noticed that her tags included something else beyond the usual rating system and authors–the publishers were tagged as well. Editing and publishing is what I want to do with my life, but I never paid much attention to who published the things I love before I decided on that fact. This week, I took it upon myself to clean up my tags, so I decided adding the publishers couldn’t hurt. (Fun, irrelevant fact: WordPress doesn’t do spaces between periods for tags, which is why poor Professor Tolkien’s tag looks so squished to your right.) Anyway, I wanted to see–who publishes what I like?
Breakfast on Pluto
by Patrick McCabe
Warning: This review is particularly full of spoilers, since I compare it against the film version and I didn’t like the ending.
I saw the film version of Breakfast on Pluto a while back, and I absolutely adored the character of Patrick “Kitten” Braden–a romantic and decidedly unserious transwoman who just wants a stable and loving home. Of course, Kitten’s problem is that she’s trans, Irish, and living in the 1970s, during Ireland’s Troubles. I loved the film. It was funny, moving, and wonderfully hopeful at the end.
I decided I had to read the book, of course, since I committed the sin of watching the film first. I knew of the largest change–Kitten is called Pussy in the book–but I didn’t realize just how different the two are. Patrick McCabe adapted it for the screen, so I feel I can compare the two without assuming the film already has a strike against it.