wires and waves reads

Wires and Waves Reads: Garrard Conley’s Boy Erased

boy20erased
It feels a bit like cheating to declare a book a favorite after only reading it once, but that is what I am going to do. Garrard Conley’s memoir Boy Erased resonated with me on multiple levels, and I am sure that it is one I will come back to often. Conley grew up in Arkansas in a very religious Baptist family. As a teenager, his father accepted a calling as a pastor.Everyday secular activities and attitudes were considered to be of the devil, so his parents took his homosexuality particularly hard. When Conley first goes off to college, he is relieved. He can and does read all the books he wants, even sharing his favorite, The Picture of Dorian Gray, with his mother, with whom he is very close. He makes friends who know nothing about his very religious upbringing, and they do normal things like discuss literature, watch movies, and explore their campus. Most importantly, however, he can start to digest and accept his homosexuality outside of the confines of his small town and conservative family. After he is sexually assaulted and the assailant outs him to his family, he is sent to Love in Action, a conversion therapy program. It is just as terrible as you might imagine. At this center, homosexuality is compared to awful things like pedophilia and diseases like alcoholism. Conley is encouraged to blame his homosexuality on his parents or grandparents, and he is forced to give up all wordly interests, including his love of literature and writing.

Conley’s story is not just a cautionary tale of conversion therapy, although it serves this purpose well. It also explores the concept of identity as a whole and what makes up a person. We are not just our families, our religion, our friends, or our interests. All of those things are integral and intertwined in making a person, and Conley explores those themes beautifully. We are also not what people say we are, but it takes a lot of courage to dig out from under those expectations and stereotypes to become who we actually are. This does not just apply to the counselors and his family, as Conley makes it clear that faith also defines him in some ways. Conley writes so poetically that it made the hard parts even harder and the more illuminating parts even more so. I also really loved Conley’s relationship with his mother, as it shows that good people sometimes make bad decisions because they are trying to fill others’ expectations as well. I recommend this book to all the people in the world. Amen.

Advertisements

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: Wires and Waves Reads

This blog post is part of a weeklong celebration of feminism started by Kelly Jensen.

32075671

I am a feminist because I am a human. Many people mistakenly assume that a self-declared feminist is playing the victim. I do not see myself as a victim. I am not writing to defend feminism. I am writing to tell you what feminism means to me.

Being a feminist means developing empathy for all types of people because feminism should be for and about everybody (this is a very basic generalization of the concept of intersectional feminism). I am trying to do this by reading, listening to, and sharing perspectives of people who do not look like me. I typically try to read books that meet that qualification, as I think books are one of the best ways to learn about and develop empathy for other people.

I recently read Angie Thomas’ debut novel The Hate U Give, and Thomas’ protagonist, Starr Carter, embodies both badassery and real feminism (that is: “political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” (Merriam-Webster)). Starr is a black teenager who leads two different lives. At home in Garden Heights, she can be herself. At her private school, she must be less “ghetto”; in effect, she must act white. After witnessing a cop kill her best friend Khalil– a young, black man– Starr’s dual personalities collide as her city protests. She is afraid that publicly announcing this fact will cost her some friendships; she is also afraid of being called out for abandoning her friends and her neighborhood.

Identity struggles are nothing new, particularly for teenagers. Starr’s struggles in particular are important due to the forced way in which she must confront them, as well as their relevancy to current events. Starr has a few school friends who grow tired of her “rants” on racism. In a conversation with one particular friend, Starr says she is tired of being expected to go along with her friend’s feminist agenda while being expected to keep her mouth closed about social justice.

If your feminism does not include people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ, non-binary people, people who are disabled, and people of all religions, then who is it for? I was inspired by Starr’s activism and her reconciliation of herself with the lives of all the people she loves, even, and especially, people who make mistakes. The Hate U Give was a phenomenal book, and I recommend it to everyone.

Also, the other half of this ol’ blog, Zach, created a playlist featuring music by cool ladies.


 

Wires & Waves Reads: A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

I read my first Anne Tyler novel, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant,  in the summer of 2010, after having been introduced to her by one of my greatest friends and one of my kindest professors. Her most recent novel, A Spool of Blue Thread, is her 20th, but she certainly isn’t fizzling out. This novel, like all of her others, centers around a family and the heartbreaks and stories that make it unique. Some might be turned off by such a description, but Tyler’s characters have an authenticity that is hard to come across when writing about such typical or mundane topics.

Tyler perfectly captures the American family without relying on stereotypes or predictability. Each character is nuanced and full of surprises, and this novel is no different. Abby Whitshank is painted as the loving matriarch of the family and, while that description fits, she is much more than that. She is adept at keeping secrets, though she is far from cruel. In fact, she’s the least cruel or selfish person in the family, but she isn’t perfect.

The novel begins with their distant son Denny calling to tell them he’s gay, with Red, the father, replying, “Oh, what the hell.” They don’t hear from him again for several months, though not from a lack of trying. Abby, a social worker, has always had a difficult time connecting with her own son, a man who left home at 18, returning home sporadically with news of a different job, always with a different girl. While the novel unfolds chronologically, Tyler indulges in many tangents regarding the family’s history. In this way, the reader is able to learn things about the Whitshank family that even Abby doesn’t know. As Red and Abby get older and more forgetful, their four children come together to take care of them. However, the four children don’t get along very well, so this makes things more tense around the house, a home built by Red’s father that is a character in its own right.

A Spool of Blue Thread is a comforting read, but it isn’t lighthearted or cheap. Reading Tyler’s books feels like seeing my best friends after months or years away. The fact that they are the same friends I had in high school and even middle school only makes our friendship stronger and more meaningful. Most importantly, those friendships, just as Tyler’s novels, are never boring or superficial.

Wires & Waves Reads: Wolf in White Van

Title: Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux (2014)

Reading level/interest age: 16+

In Wolf in White Van, Sean Phillips documents how he came to be where he is now. “Now” is purposely vague, as the novel is told backward, revealing more details as it goes. One of the first things about which readers learn is Trace Italian, the subscription-based “choose your own adventure” style game in which players must escape post-apocalyptic California and make it to a fortress, Trace Italian, in the Kansas plains. Because of the intensity of the game, players often become too attached, causing some to go too far. Lance and Carrie, two Florida teenagers, were two such players whose playing ended in disaster. Sean created Trace Italian while recovering from a tragic accident that is divulged at the end of the novel. The novel speaks to isolation, particularly teenage isolation, and the arbitrariness of death and survival.

Darnielle’s novel is articulate and quietly intense. It’s personal yet vague in its emotions. Every word feels labored over, but the result is a fluid, easy read. Sean is a difficult protagonist, but his strength is derived from his difficulties. He knows who he is and why he does the things he does, but he is also baffled by his actions and tangential thoughts. Trace Italian is a simple game, but it has the power to lure people in, blurring the line between fantasy and reality. Darnielle is an incredible songwriter and, apparently, a flawless writer. I loved this book, and everything else I read feels cheap now.

Wires & Waves Reads: Rainey Royal

Title: Rainey Royal by Dylan Landis

Publisher: Soho Press (2014)

Reading level/interest age: 16+

Rainey Royal is a terrible person, but she can hardly help it. Her father Howard Royal, the famous jazz musician, treats their five-story New York City home as a waystation for his acolytes, which consist of mostly female musicians. Before her mother left for an ashram in Colorado, she was having frequent “sleepovers” with Howard and his best friend Gordy. Gordy has always been eerily attentive to Rainey’s needs and lately, he has been slipping into her room at night to give her back rubs. The whole situation causes Rainey to act out, and rightly so. She decides that the only way to gain control over her life is through her sexuality. She finds strength in making men want her. Her best friend, Tina, has her own set of problems, and Rainey can’t decide if she wants to live in ignorant bliss regarding Tina’s clarinet lessons with her father or confront her and lose the only person in whom she can completely confide. Rainey’s obsession with St. Catherine is interesting, as St. Catherine was often faced with a similar temptation, although her reaction of temperance and devotion was the polar opposite of Rainey’s.

Rainey Royal follows Rainey from her early teens to her mid-20’s, which is a relief. Rainey and her family situation are so unbearable at times that I wasn’t sure I could handle it. Landis straddles the line between oversharing and holding back, creating a tension mirrored in Rainey’s personality. The reader knows some things, but not all. Landis weaves that tension into her prose, often juxtaposing freedom with captivity or restriction. The novel was written in parts, and it feels that way, particularly toward the end. However, the fact that some chapters can stand alone does not diminish the novel’s cohesiveness.

I was convinced I hated this book during the first thirty or so pages, but somewhere along the way I became enamored. It’s frustrating and it’s uncomfortable, but it is also authentic and wrought with beauty and tension.

Bad Feminist (Wires & Waves Reads)

gay

If you follow Roxane Gay on Twitter, you probably have a good idea of what her book is like: smart, acerbic, raw, honest, and humorous, with a good dash of pop culture (see: her live-tweets of the Bachelor). She’s smart without pretension and funny without attacking anyone. Her description of social media, to me, aptly describes her: “Social networks also provide us with something of a flawed but necessary conscience, a constant reminder that commitment, compassion, and advocacy neither can nor ever should be finite.” (“When Twitter Does What Journalism Cannot,” pp. 265).

Her newest book, Bad Feminist, is a collection of essays ranging from things like politics, gender, race, pop culture, and sexuality. She examines these topics closely and critically, calling writers, musicians, and the regular person out on their BS; she does this without being an A-hole, which is nice.

This book feels and is deeply personal, but it is also hyper aware. At times it feels a bit too casual and there are rare moments of tedium (such as the Scrabble essay), but it is an overall refreshing and all-encompassing collection. Gay calls many writers out on their lack of attention to marginalized or minority groups and therefore never neglects to direct her message to that audience. As a white cisgendered woman, I never felt excluded. In fact, I understood many of these essays to be calls to awareness for other groups. I try my very best to understood and accept all groups, but I am not always the best at it. Also, I am human.

Gay nails that point home throughout Bad Feminist: she is only human. She tries her very best, but she is flawed. She is not a perfect feminist, woman, or human. I do appreciate her devotion to the idea of the “perfect” feminist and what feminism actually is.

“At some point, I got it into my head that a feminist was a certain kind of woman. I bought into grossly inaccurate myths about who feminists are—militant, perfect in their politics and person, man-hating, humorless. I bought into these myths even though, intellectually, I know better.” (“Bad Feminist: Take Two” pp. 315-16)

“My favorite definition of ‘feminist’ is one offered by Su, an Australian woman who, when interviewed for Kathy Bail’s 1996 anthology DIY Feminism, said feminists are ‘just women who don’t want to be treated like s**t.” (“Bad Feminist: Take One” pp. 303)

Wires and Waves Reads: Poets I love

It’s hard to connect to a poet when everyone is online, so I’ve made it a point to follow and purchase the works of poets whose work I really admire. Below is a list of poets I’ve been into lately and their videos and/or websites.

Morgan Parker

I read a few poems by Parker in the most recent issue of Poetry magazine, I think. Usually I flip through a couple literary journals at the book store whenever I get the chance, and her poems stopped me in my tracks. I can detect the strength of a poem by how many times I re-read it and how much I think about it after. I read Parker’s poems a month ago, and I’m still thinking about them. Parker’s poetry makes me feel like I’m listening to her talk, drunk-bumbling and spilling her guts or maybe how she feels the morning after.

Read a few of Parker’s poems here.

Matthew Dickman

I heard of Dickman via Geoff Rickly, my favorite musician. His poems feel like secrets, but they also feel so honest and universal that I find myself nodding along and agreeing with him, wanting to capture his words and tuck them behind my ears, pulling them out whenever I need a reminder that the universe is not against me but with me.

Watch him read his poem “Slow Dance” here.

Sierra DeMulder

 


DeMulder is a powerful spoken word poet, so it’s hard to pick just one poem of hers that hasn’t left me changed after hearing it. However, one of her more recent poems “Today Means Amen” is so important that I think everyone needs to hear it. It is motivating and vindicating without being generic or saccharine.

“This moment is a hallelujah. This moment is a permission slip to finally open that love letter you wrote to yourself.”

“Nothing would be the same if you did not exist.”

 

I could write every word. This poem makes me feel ashamed for ever hating myself or feeling weak, but it also feels like a hug. It makes me feel important. I have been waiting to hear this since I became a teenager, since I forgot how to love myself.