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totally top three: august 2020

It’s September! 2020! Already! Jesus! Hi! This is your reminder to please donate to mutual aid funds if you’re able! Wash your hands! Wear a mask! Stay safe! Stay sane! I love you! A lot!


I’ve been on a country kick lately — unfortunately I am now truly midwestern, rip the cool version of me — that started because I listened to Bonnie Raitt’s entire discography and then the Old 97s — one of the only contemporary country artists I listened to when I was still cool — dropped an album in my lap! And it’s great. This is really classic country storytelling and it feels very alt-Texas. I’m partial to “This House Got Ghosts,” “I Like You Better,” “Belmont Hotel,” “Our Year,” “Bottle Rocket Baby,” and “Why Don’t We Ever Say We’re Sorry,” which, you know, is most of the album, so they must be doing something right.


One of my personal projects this year has been to try to get into poetry because I’ve never read beyond what I absolutely had to when I was in college/grad school and that seems unfair to a whole bunch of writers! It has been… a largely fruitless endeavor because my brain just isn’t designed for it honestly, but I ordered Kimmy Walters’ new collection The Faraway [review!] and ended up loving a bunch of the poems in it, including “zeitgeist wants me in its mouth” and ten others I took pictures of to reread at whim.


Tomasz Jedrowski’s Swimming in the Dark [review!] was lovely and achy and richly written. It was really nice to drop into a time and place I haven’t encountered often before and see it rendered in a complex and interesting way whiles spending time with a narrator that I cared deeply about.


And three to look forward to…

unpregnant   rituals of mine, hype nostalgia   the boys in the band

totally top three: june 2020

It’s July! 2020! Holy shit! Hi! Please donate to mutual aid funds if you’re able! Wash your hands! Wear a mask! Stay safe! Stay sane! I love you!


I held off on watching The Half of It for a bit because I’d seen a thread on Twitter from writer-director Alice Wu talking about how it was based vaguely on a friendship from her youth and how it had ultimately ended badly and I was just not prepared for the chance that the movie might end similarly — I’m a big proponent of writing from your own history, but I also don’t know why anyone wouldn’t write themselves a better ending. What’s the point of fiction otherwise? — but I was wildly pleased to see that was exactly what she’d done and it was such a joy to watch. I laughed a lot, I cried a little, I felt immense satisfaction. Ellie, Paul, and Aster are all great and I loved Ellie’s dad very much too.

Based on what I saw in my Spotify friend activity bar, pretty much the only thing anyone was listening to was Run the Jewels’ new one and that was pretty much my MO for June too. Every song on this one is great, but I’m particular to “out of sight,” “holy calamafuck,” “walking in the snow,” “JU$T,” “never look back,” and “the ground below,” which, to be fair, is uh, most of the album. Run the Jewels always hit me really well musically — for reasons I don’t know enough about music to articulate, but I think it’s a combination of bass lines and tempo? maybe? — but this feels as lyrically pertinent as ever.

My review of Avon Gale’s Breakaway covers pretty much everything I loved about it, but as I was reading through my Kindle highlights right now, I ended up laughing and being wildly charmed all over again. Lane is one of the most fun narrators I’ve spent time with in a long while and I’m so glad I tried to reset my horrible attention span with this one. There’s not a single character I don’t like! The dialogue and sex are fun! There’s emotionally satisfying resolutions of parental relationships! People like each other! Professional athletes are chill about having a queer teammate! This was a great time and I’m excited to read more from Gale.


And three to look forward to…

dream wife, so when you gonna   jennifer honeybourne, the do-over   fontaines d.c., a hero's death

totally top three: may 2020

Black lives matter. If you think that statement needs a qualifier or a rebuttal, I am begging you to interrogate why you think that. Start learning and start helping. Amplify, donate, do good.

I thought about skipping this post entirely because it’s hard to talk about trivial things when massive, important things are happening in the world, but these posts are important to me and I hope, sometimes valuable to you, if you’re looking for stuff to get into. People need escapism and that escapism is always inherently easier for me because I’m white. Black people rarely have that luxury.

I try to do better by reading, watching, and listening to more things produced by people of color. I am going to work even harder at that now. Reading theory is extremely important even when it’s hard, but engaging with pleasurable content about and most importantly by people of color is incredibly powerful too. Fiction teaches us empathy and diverse fiction teaches us to empathize cross-culturally.

That said, all three of my faves were pretty fucking white this month. You can’t do better without acknowledging where you haven’t done great, right?


Sarah Henstra’s We Contain Multitudes really fucked me up in a way that I needed. I already wrote a sizeable review, so here I just want to say that I am a big crier in general. I cry at happy things and sad things and frustration and anger and pretty much constantly. I’m easily moved and I have a lot of emotions and emotional problems. But pretty much the second isolation started, I dried up. I wanted to cry; I needed to cry, but I just couldn’t, no matter what, and it was starting to make me feel awful. I needed some catharsis, you know? This book was the first thing to unlock me in 70+ days and god, was it satisfying.

Crystal’s been trying to get me to watch Field of Dreams for most of the course of our relationship so that I could be adequately horny about Ray Liotta’s version of Shoeless Joe Jackson with her, but I finally gave in because a friend and MFA classmate said I needed to watch it because it’s a weird as hell premise that everyone just accepts, which is one of my favorite things in the world and I wasn’t disappointed! It genuinely moved me — We watched it after I’d been unstoppered by We Contain Multitudes and I teared up! It felt amazing! — and it is another piece of evidence in how hideously backwards we’ve gone in the last thirty years. The protagonists stand up against book banning! And it’s presented as an absolute truth instead of an opinion. Also, it really is a weird as hell premise and everyone just accepts it and rolls with it. Refreshing.

Orville Peck’s “No Glory in the West” has also made me cry a whole bunch since it came out both because I identify with and am deeply moved by the isolation in the music video, but also because his beautiful, warbling voice reaches the dark, sad places inside of me and opens them up to the light. There are lots of talented queer people (and people of color and women!) making contemporary country music even if it’s sometimes hard to find, but Peck’s hits me in a way I couldn’t have expected, the parts of me that are married to the prairie where I live go deeper than I knew, I think, and I am grateful for the way his music makes me feel seen.


And three to look forward to…

bethany c. morrow, a song below water   run the jewels 4   miss juneteenth

totally top three: march 2020

Ho-ho-holy shit what a fucking month! I know there was like, absolutely no way to anticipate what 2020 would be like, but like, good god damn, what the hell, you know? Whooeee.

Here is some stuff that I managed to enjoy despite of or in fact possibly because I’m not currently leaving my house very often and don’t like, have much to do besides work and consume media, just like before except now I waste less time getting dressed and I’m always with my dog. I hope this finds you safe and healthy and as sane as you can be. <3


I had a great time plowing through Roni Simunovic’s Little Warlord which was just fast and fun and easy to read and sweet and satisfying. I said in my review that it’s like if mob movies were made for someone other than white guys and I stand behind that almost a month later. There are a lot of really likable characters in this and a lot of gentleness for a universe that could just have easily disposed of it entirely. Glad I found this when I did.


The highest compliment I can give I Am Not Okay With This is that we haven’t finished it yet, despite there being only a single season, because we like it so much and didn’t want to rush through and then just be out of it. Sophia Lillis, Wyatt Olef, and Sofia Bryant are all really great and I love the place-making and especially the set-dressing, the way everything feels a little out of date and the only difference between it being in a good way or a bad way is how the characters compose themselves around it. I love the music a lot and the dialogue is fantastic and the second highest compliment I can give it is that Crystal and I have both paused it to scream about how much it sounds like something I would write, which is narcissistic probably, but also true.


We also started watching Letterkenny, which we have also been savoring as slowly as possible and which we also pause to scream about constantly, but for entirely different reasons, the first of which is that we live in in like, American Letterkenny Lite (though the people of Letterkenny are consistently better people than I’ve ever experienced here) and the second of which is that every fucking thing about it is weird and hysterical in a perfect way. If you had told me in February that I would sometimes pause a sitcom about Canadian hicks to yell about the way they’ve staged a particular shot for Maximum Art, I would have scoffed. It’s also really funny to watch something that’s really stylized and goofy and feel weirdly represented and safe as a queer person. Everyone is so good at embodying these really weird, extreme characters and they all seem like they’re just committing every second they’re on screen. Every thing that comes out of Jared Keeso’s mouth is the funniest thing I’ve heard in my life. It’s also masterful at knowing exactly how hard to push a repetitive joke so that it always sails through the funny-too much-funny again-hysterical track every freaking time. I finally upgraded to ad-free Hulu to be able to watch this without interruption: I six-extra-dollars-a-month love it.


And three to look forward to…

grady hendrix, the southern book club's guide to slaying vampires   pokey lafarge, rock bottom rhapsody   promising young woman

totally top five 2019: reading

I read 42 books in 2019! Let’s talk about the ones I liked the most, yeah? In no particular order!


Drew Magary’s The Hike was the absolute weirdest book I read in 2019 and I had such a great time doing it. It was one of my three favorite things in June and I’ve been babbling about its weirdness since I finished it. It really helped me realize that the things I like most in the world are often things that are allowed to just be weird without extensive reasoning. The Hike sets up the rules of the universe as it goes and never forces itself into an explanation. It just is and I really love that about it. The biggest reason it’s on the list, however, is that I have been totally unable to stop thinking about it. I think about it whenever I am confronted by the idea of crabs, obviously, but it also just pops into my head randomly and I get that nice, satisfied feeling you have when you bump into an old friend and that’s got to be sign of a book I really loved.


Mary Renault’s The Charioteer was really beautiful and stunningly written with the kind of concision and delicacy that makes tiny motions into unbearable romantic (and sometimes erotic!) gestures. I had a lot to say about this one when I finished it and I stand by everything I said. It has beautiful writing and engaging characters and a lovely, painful sense of melancholy that didn’t feel hopeless. I was so invested in this book that I actually left my house under false pretenses while we had someone staying with us so that I could sit somewhere quiet for thirty minutes and finish it. If a willingness to abandon your loved ones in order to read isn’t a sign of a good book, I’m not sure what is.


Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August absolutely kicked my ass intellectually and emotionally and I would not have had it any other way. It was one of my favorite things in May and thinking about the book makes me feel completely unhinged in a way that I love. (If I think too hard about the conceit, my head starts to hurt, but I kind of like it.) It was one of the books I thought the most about this year after I’d finished it. The world North creates is brain-breaking for me, but also really engaging and interesting, and I still can’t believe how much I loved spending time with Harry and his friends. Her writing is beautiful and Harry is a wonderful narrator and also, to reiterate, the line “He enjoyed toying with me, and, in my way, I enjoyed being toyed with.” is still one of the horniest things I’ve ever read.


C.S. Pacat’s Captive Prince Trilogy was so, so, so unbelievably good and fun and satisfying and an unbelievably good distraction while we were dealing with a family medical emergency. These books had the ability to drag me away from fear, anxiety, frustration, even sobbing misery, and to put me into a completely different place where I could just focus on a story and disappear into it until I had to deal with real life again. I read these really, really fast — all three in less than a month — and they make a really nice, solid set with a nice-sized story and a really satisfying arc. I love these characters and she even managed to engage me with the political maneuvering of the “actual” “plot” of the story behind the romantic entanglement and extremely good sex. Also, it’s the only thing I read this year that inspired the text message, “THIS IS WHY I AM ALIVE ON THIS EARTH!!!!!!” and that’s hard to beat.


Andre Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name was so good that as soon as I had finished it, I went to Ebay to order a hardback copy to put on my Favorite Books Shelf. The characters are incredible, the atmosphere is dreamy and sensual, and the writing! God! Infuriatingly good. Like most of the people I know who read and loved it, I, too, wish he had quit while he was ahead re: where to land the ending, but even when I look back on it now, I don’t actually feel like it disappointed me in any way. This felt like being seventeen and in your own head about your feelings, constantly convinced that you are the only person who has ever felt this way, except if your seventeen-year-old thoughts were really beautiful and articulate and also taking place in a breathtaking version of Italy that probably doesn’t actually exist.


Honorable Mentions

philippe besson, lie with me   sj goslee, how not to ask a boy to prom   jessica knoll, luckiest girl alive   kj charles, band sinister   amy spalding, the summer of jordi perez


Previously

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