Thursday, December 5, 2019

November Favorites: Great Brains, So Many Nutcrackers, and Simon Loves Baz


I use Amazon Affiliate links in my blog post because they're super easy. If you click through an Amazon Affiliate link and then end up buying something on Amazon, nothing is different on your end, but sometimes Amazon pays me a few pennies. Sometimes it doesn't, though, and I don't care enough to figure out why. I mostly just like the easy links!

It looks like I got a lot of reading done in November, but that's a cheat, because most of those books are memoirs, graphic novels, and YA fiction, all of which go by quickly.

Y'all know how much I love musical theater, and I've discovered that there's a whole world of memoirs written by actors who've starred in Broadway musicals! The authors are primarily actors, of course, so the memoirs aren't exactly War and Peace (although there's a musical that's themed on War and Peace, if you're interested!), but the memoirs do contain exactly the kind of little, behind-the-scenes details of living, working, auditioning, and performing that I love to learn about:



And yes, I HAVE tried searching YouTube to see if I can find any of the performances of the Pokemon Live touring production that broke the spirit of Andrew Rannells, but no luck so far.

Another odd theme of November was books that are informed by the world of Harry Potter. Fan art is one of my main interests, and I love both fanfiction and professional works that take the idea of magical children in a school for gifted youngsters and run with it. One of my favorite books is Fangirl, a novel about a college student who writes Simon/Baz fanfiction, based on the wildly popular boy wizard series of novels in her world. The heroine is realistically portrayed, vulnerable and brave and the best kind of weird kid, and the author must love her a lot, too, because later, she WROTE that Simon/Baz fanfiction into a novel of her own!

And then... she wrote a sequel!

I'd read Carry On back when it first came out, of COURSE, but I excitedly read it again in November so that I could excitedly read Wayward Son and not miss a single detail:



The books are clever, and although they're informed by THE World of Witchcraft and Wizardry they are by no means Harry Potter knock-offs. They're more grown-up--in a good way!--more diverse, much more inclusive, and more playful--also in a good way!

Here's another novel informed by that world, and again, I super loved it. This is my favorite book of November!



Magic for Liars is solidly for adults. Imagine the magical children's boarding school from an adult's perspective, with all of the behind-the-scenes challenges of teaching and shepherding a bunch of magical teenagers. And for the plot, make it a hard-boiled detective novel, with a non-magical detective who has to outwit, outmaneuver, and suss out the culprit within a culture that she knows very little about. It's really good!

I didn't get as much non-fiction read as I usually like to, although I do have a LOT of non-fiction on my to-read list. Fortunately, my only non-memoir non-fiction book of November is my OTHER favorite book of the month!



Y'all know that I am a Laura Ingalls Wilder fangirl. Here's when I did a Little House study with my very little girls. Here's when I took them to Laura's house in Missouri. Here's when I took them to Pa's claim in De Smet! I've also done a lot of reading, of the "expanded universe" of children's fiction that cover the childhoods of Ma and Rose, of Laura's first attempt at a memoir, and of the numerous biographies that people attempt to write about Laura and Rose.

Prairie Fires, I think, is the most accurate of the latter. People love to speculate about who the "real" author of the Little House books was, mostly because it's clear that although Laura is their listed author, Rose, too, did a LOT of work on them. All the work on them does muddy their authorship, but this book seems the fairest in its designation. Rose did do a lot of work on Laura's writing; they collaborated, or perhaps she served as a kind of ghost writer. Interestingly, when Laura attempted to write without Rose, her work wasn't great, and when Rose attempted to write without Laura, her work was even less great. AND she plagiarized Laura. AND she was obnoxiously, heavy-handedly, didactic.

This book isn't the first that I've read that's painted an unflattering portrait, over all, of Rose. I mean, it's pretty clear that Laura, too, acted out a lot of trauma in her personal life, and co-parented Rose in a way that gave Rose lots of trauma, as well. Both of them could have used play therapy as children, talk therapy as adults, and twice a week family counseling, for sure. Rose, in particular, grew up to act a lot like a sociopath. And she was super weird about money. And houses. And she was SUPER weird about teen boys.

And I refuse to buy another Little House book first-hand ever again because I will not give anymore money to the Roger MacBride estate. Laura's writing legacy should have gone to the Mansfield Public Library and he knew it!

Here's what else I read in November!



As I mentioned a couple of months ago, Will is currently working her way through the entire children's department of our local public library... again. Will doesn't read every book on the shelf as she peruses the children's department in an orderly manner, so it's interesting to me to see the books that I know she's re-reading for the umpteenth time. I know for a fact that she's already read everything in print by Patricia Wrede and Bruce Coville, and everything that's not a graphic novel by Neil Gaiman, so it's sweet, to me, to see these books appear on her November reading log:



Some of the books that Will marked as her favorites for the month are also definitely re-reads:



I loved the Great Brain books, too, when I was a kid!

Here are Will's other favorite books from the month:



And here's everything else that she read!



Note: Will won't put a book on her reading log if it's "short," silly girl. So all the beautiful picture books that we read, all of the interesting short non-fiction that we read, it's all lost to time, alas!

As far as podcasts, I am still spending all of my free time listening to this:



I LOVE it. It's very different from what I usually listen to--almost entirely serialized postmodern fiction or investigative journalism.

There's not much mystery to Felicity, but there's still a LOT to unpack!

I love that the two hosts of this podcast demonstrate how compelling close reading and cultural analysis can be. There are a lot of powerful figures portrayed in these children's books, such as enslaved people and indentured servants and native peoples and people of color and women and girls, and it's always interesting to see what an author looks at/overlooks in these portrayals. I don't think there's a word for the Colonial times that's equivalent to "medievalism," the term that describes a pop culture reimagination of Medieval tropes that says more about contemporary culture than it says about the Medieval period, but if there is, let me know, because that word would describe the Felicity books!

Here's another thing that I am weirdly fascinated by: cheese boards! And not regular, normal, appetizing cheese boards--I am specifically fascinated by the over-the-top, conspicuously consumptive, pre-Revolutionary French feast cheese boards. The ones that have super expensive food just piled all over them, so the experience of eating 15-dollar cheese and out-of-season raspberries looks more like the experience of picking scraps out of a trough of slop. Olives touch watermelon, pistachios sit in their shells and pomegranates are displayed merely quartered--how are you even supposed to EAT those two at a social event in front of a bunch of strangers?!?

I'm disgusted, and I also can't stop looking at them on instagram. Here's how to make them, apparently!



It's definitely my emetophobia saying this, but I want people to wear gloves when they lovingly curl up slices of greasy prosciutto into rosebuds, touching every single millimeter of it with their fingers.

And the sauces. That honey is going to drip all over everything, and maybe you don't want honey on your cheddar!

And nothing is labeled! If it's fancy, expensive cheese, freaking LABEL IT so that I know what on earth I'm eating! No label, and it might as well be Velveeta.

When I wasn't trying to convince my family that cheese boards are a sign of the end times, I was introducing the children to one of my favorite shows as a kid, The Addams Family:



The Addams Family is kind of a deep cut these days (hell, it also was back in the 80s when I was binge-watching it!), but Syd always has the deeper cut, because she makes me watch Percy Jackson-themed vine compilations:



Another thing we've been streaming non-stop?

The Nutcracker, of course!

There are so many differently choreographed versions of The Nutcracker, and so many of them available on YouTube! Syd and I will skim just about every one we find--we always want to see how they handle the party scene, and the battle scene, and Mother Ginger, and if they include the angels/trees at the top of Act II. Syd likes it when young Clara is changed out for an older dancer en pointe, and I like to find the weirdest interpretations of Mother Ginger that I can. This is the weirdest I've found this year, and it's extra fun because the child of one of my Facebook friends dances in this production!



She's a soldier this year, not a baby clown, but their battle scene is also really awesome.

Syd and I watched the Bolshoi Ballet production in the movie theater last year, and it's one of my favorites. There's an actual human playing the nutcracker toy, a kid with insane ab and thigh muscles, as they've basically got to spend the entirety of Act I in horse stance, even when being hauled around by their middle:



It's good conditioning!

What did YOU read and watch and listen to obsessively in November?

P.S. I have tons more book and Spotify and YouTube recs on my Craft Knife Facebook page, because although I only list my recs here once a month, I'm reading and watching and listening to weird stuff every single day!

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