You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me
by Nathan Rabin
2013 • 272 pages • Scribner
As I’ve had the opportunity to cultivate my current lifestyle of constant media consumption (dimmed only slightly by the enjoyable necessity of full-time work), I’ve developed certain rituals about how I consume what. (I have an anxiety disorder and I was raised by ex-Catholics. It’s be expected.) I watch films in total darkness, helped by New York’s absurdly early sunset these days. Television programs can be watched in any lighting conditions, with varying attention levels based the program. (Gotham? Appointment viewing. Late Night with Seth Meyers? Keeps me from falling asleep while I do my makeup in the morning.) Even prose, which I previously prized for its ability to be consumed anywhere, now takes center stage during my commute.
However, I’ve come to realize that prose is not prose is not prose. I’ve known for a while that I consume print prose and digital prose differently, whether or not the text in question originated as print or digital. But the context of a writer’s development is also a factor. For instance, especially in light of today’s book, there’s the AV Club versus the Dissolve. The Dissolve is an unofficial offshoot of the AV Club, sprung from both a desire to focus exclusively on film and, I deeply suspect, a desire to write personally about films in a way that the AV Club’s house style for major features discourages. If something as small (if ragingly important) about what viewpoint to write from can influence a writer, then it’s easy to see how a medium can affect them. There are plenty of writers who can capably switch writing mediums without a hitch, or even just impose their voice on any form that takes their fancy.
by Susanna Sonnenberg
2013 • 272 pages • Scribner
The storied Bechdel Test caught some flack last year in the wake of Pacific Rim. Faced with such a fully realized female character that was, nonetheless, the only woman with a major speaking role in the film, fans coined the Mako Mori Test, which focused on testing a film’s development of a female character.
Of course, passing the Bechdel Test doesn’t mean that a text is feminist or not. Showgirls, as you may hazily recall, passes it several times, and John Carter squeaks by with a single exchange. What the Bechdel Test means that the film’s female characters have the potential to exist, however briefly, in a world where they are not defined by the men in their lives and where they can connect to each other. The test indicates a breeding ground for depictions of female relationships, be it in the film itself or in the fanworks created around it. Representation in media is incredibly important, as we’ve been over time and again. In a culture where teenage girls pat themselves on the back for not being like “other girls” and mainstream films tell us that (heterosexual) marriage is the only important relationship in your life, seeing female friendships not only validated but celebrated onscreen disrupts those harmful narratives on a visceral, immediate level. Which, to bring it back to Ms. Mori, is why fans were so unsettled to realize that Pacific Rim fails the Bechdel Test: it’s the rare—and, perhaps, only—action movie that posits that friendship is more than capable of being the defining relationship of a lifetime.
Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman
I was supposed to love Chuck Klosterman.
Hype is a treacherous thing, isn’t it? There’s a fine line between getting excited and getting so excited that the actual thing can never live up your expectations. It’s why I manage so precisely my own exposure to promotional material; I usually limit myself to a trailer or a cover these days. But what can you really spoil with essays on pop culture? (Asks the woman who waited until she read A Year of Flops to archive binge on Nathan Rabin’s titular online column.) After all, I’m a ravenous fan who adores meta and an avid reader of The A.V. Club and Grantland. Nathan Rabin was the first writer who made me text someone in despair over how I could never possibly write like that. Based on that, it’s only logical that I would think Klosterman was directly up my alley.
The American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan
Before striking out on my own, I was not the kind of person who could improvise with food. While I adapted recipes right and left to my own nefarious purposes, I always needed to start with a recipe. But a few weeks ago, I, eager for something other than baked eggs, sweet potatoes, and muffins, finally snapped. I, a woman who once cried when I undercooked a chicken breast (even though I could just put it back in the oven), improvised a fish curry with what I had on hand—curry paste, almond milk, frozen vegetables, leftover mushrooms, and some manager’s special salmon. Once finished, I declared it a template for “whatever curry,” so perhaps my days of slavishly following recipes aren’t entirely over. But it’s still a big step for me, towards what Tracie McMillan calls “culinary literacy.”
Fire in a Canebrake by Laura Wexler
Part of the reason I’m taking this class on Southern history is because, all things considered, I’m probably going to leave the South at some point in my pursuit of publishing glory. This will mean negotiating different standards of manners (I never realized how Southern I was until I spent five minutes in Boston). It also means that, being Southern (well, because of my accent, revealing I’m Southern) is going to get me some looks from Yankees, and I want to be prepared to talk frankly about the South’s painful, problematic past when I’m asked. Thus this class, and thus books like this.
My Year of Flops by Nathan Rabin
You want to know how much I love you guys? This is how much I love you guys—when I discovered The A.V. Club and fell in deep, envious love with Nathan Rabin’s writing last year, I didn’t mainline everything he ever wrote, especially “My Year of Flops”, for the site in one or two feverish days. No, I added this book to my reading list and calmly waited until last year’s ban on buying books from Amazon expired, because I wanted to make sure that I could review it for the blog. Those are the lengths I will go to for you guys. And, at last, my wait is over.
Zombie Spaceship Wasteland by Patton Oswalt
Patton Oswalt is one of my favorite comedians. I only have one of his albums—Werewolves and Lollipops—but it’s not just his bitingly funny comedy I enjoy. Not only is Oswalt a fine actor and a dedicated writer, but he’s also one of us, us being both readers and geeks; he recently called for the downfall of nerd culture in order to build it up again, a sort of screed against instant accessibility. I don’t agree with the article, but Oswalt’s earnest desire to have his daughter experience, briefly, the secret handshake of underground geek culture is still endearing and well-written. So when I learned that Oswalt had written a book, I immediately swung down to the library to snatch it up.