it’s spooky season, so I’ve been indulging in scary movies. Well, “scary” movies — 70s and 80s arty stuff where the practical effects are obviously over-the-top (like Dario Argento’s Suspiria and Phenomena, and Halloween III: Season of the Witch), and the sort of maybe-this-was-kind-of-scary-in-the-50s-but-now-it’s-just-campy stuff (like William Castle movies and anything with Vincent Price) is my particular October speed.
Texas Monthly had a wonderful oral history of Wishbone last month that I encourage you all to read. Please picture a tiny Ben pressed against the railing of the third floor of the Mall of America during the mention of the Target/Mall of America event that mentions, because I was there.
Reading that made me think about the tie-in paperback series they had with the show, where books split their time between a (young reader-appropriate) retelling of classic lit mixed in with a modern-day plotline, just like the show. Other things I remember about this series:
Target had them next to the Animorphs books and other trade-paperbacks-for-young-readers series like Goosebumps
There was also totally a flipbook thing in the corner of the pages with Wishbone doing a flip.
I LOVED them and had a decent chunk of them, but I’m also realizing that the Wishbone paperback version of Beowulf (titled, of course, Be a Wolf!) does not count as having actually read Beowulf. Luckily, there’s a new version from Maria Dahvana Headley whose profile in the New Yorker totally grabbed my attention and got me excited to read a version that translates its “Hwaet” as “Bro!”. I really liked what Emily Wilson did in her translation of The Odyssey a few years ago, so I’m excited to dig into this and see another “classic” of the literary canon translated through a more modern lens.
I’ve been reading (or at least trying to read, in one case) more about the rise of Christian Nationalism, as someone who grew up in its Evangelical shadow in the Midwest in the 90s. I’ve been a few chapters into The Power Worshippers for months, and while it’s very good, it’s still just academic enough that I have to let it digest and think about what its author is discussing. It’s very good, but also very depressing at times.
On the other hand, I tore through Jesus and John Wayne, which was an excellent primer AND wove the rise of this particular stream of the right with another favorite topic of mine to read about lately, “are men ok?”. This was exactly my speed, has a great chronological framework, and also does some great analysis in why John Wayne gets held up as a paragon of a particular type of masculinity to boot. AND it’s super accessible! What more can you ask for?
On the lighter side of things, I also devoured Natalie Zina Walschotts’ Hench, which creates a world where supervillain henchpeople get booked through temp agencies and follows one such hench’s rise through the ranks, complete with supervillain bosses who care a little too much about your emotional well-being, data-crunching about whether superheroes are actually saving the world, and some general superheroes-have-real-people-problems stuff that reminded me of Soon I Will Become Invincible from a few years ago, The Incredibles, and Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.
One title I didn’t shred through this last month (though I absolutely wanted to) was Jason Guriel’s Forgotten Work. The description of the book absolutely had my number:
In the year 2063, on the edge of the Crater formerly known as Montréal, a middle-aged man and his ex's daughter search for a cult hero: the leader of a short-lived band named after a forgotten work of poetry and known to fans through a forgotten work of music criticism.
I am amazed at how well all of this works. It’s a novel in rhyming couplets! That’s speculative fiction! About music snobs and valuing things because they’re rare rather than whether you like them or not and writing fanfiction on music forums and robot butlers. The book feels like an immaculately-sequenced album that I didn’t want to end, so I stretched out my time with it as much as I could.
It seemed appropriate to follow up one high-concept novel mythologizing a band that never existed with another, so I’m finally digging into David Mitchell’s new novel from earlier this year, Utopia Avenue.
I’m going on a long weekend’s vacation down to the cape and resisting the urge to pack All The Books, but in addition to Beowulf and Utopia Avenue (and everything else that’s currently sitting unread on my Kindle), I’m bringing Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind and some PG Wodehouse. The point of this weekend is to get away, and Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories are one of my literary comfort reads. I want to expand into the rest of his back catalog, and thus when Piccadilly Jim popped up in something else I read, I added it to the listt and found a decent used copy.
I’ve enjoyed Chris Stedman’s writing about interfaith connection before, and after a year spent more online than usual, I’m particularly interested in reading his new book IRL: Finding Realness, Meaning, and Connection in our Digital Lives (out October 20th) to see what suggestions he has for deepening those connections.
It’s Best American Science Fiction time of year next month! I’ve loved the last two collections guest edited by NK Jemisin and Carmen Maria Machado, and I’m equally excited to see what Diana Gabaldon does with her turn as editor.