Wednesday Reads Round-Up 14th August

Remember about a month ago when I said I was struggling to focus on anything enough to be able to read anything? Yeah, suddenly now I want to read all the things.

Vox’ by Christina Dalcher is probably the first novel I’ve read cover-to-cover in several months, which I think is a decent indicator of how gripping the story is. Set in a near-future America in which women are allowed to speak only 100 words a day, it follows former nerolinguistic scientist Jean McClellan, mother to three sons growing up in a world where male superiority is written into the law, and to a daughter who’s rewarded at school for not uttering a single word. When the president’s brother suffers an accident which leaves him unable to speak coherently, Jean is suddenly pulled back into her old office to take up her unfinished work on a cure for the affliction.

The novel reads like a mash-up of ‘1984’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, at times teetering on the edge of too anvillicious, but does an excellent job of demonstrating just how close some societies are to legislating basic human rights out of existence for anyone who isn’t a cishet white man. Jean’s eldest son, Steven, is a supporter of the president’s regime, having been indoctrinated through classes at school designed to promote ‘restoring the natural order of things’ with men as the head of the household and women their obedient (and silent) subordinates. The other supporting characters are all fully fleshed out, largely through flashbacks in a similar tone to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, showing how Jean’s best friend Jackie and her campaigns against misogynistic politicians were derided as much by other women as by men, as women’s rights were quickly stripped away by the religious right, while the rest of the world looked on, powerless.

It’s an easy, if rage-inducing read, at eighty very short chapters (making it ideal for me to dip into during my short commute). If I have any criticisms at all, it’s that the ending felt just a little too rushed, with some plot points glossed over and left to the imagination, giving me a somewhat hazy picture of how things were actually wrapped up. But otherwise, it feels like essential reading, perfectly capturing the current political mood not just in the USA but right around the world.

After all that drama, I needed something a little lighter. So thank goodness for volume 2 of ‘Heartstopper’ by Alice Oseman. If you haven’t come across this sweet British comic yet, it’s definitely worth checking out. The first volume, a spin-off from the writer’s novel ‘Solitaire’, featuring her protagonist’s younger brother Charlie, was a wonderfully nostalgic story about an openly gay teen dealing with his crush on the school’s rugby captain Nick, suddenly moved into Charlie’s class. Through simple artwork and believable dialogue, the book truly reproduced the feeling of being a teenager dealing with unrequited love. 

Volume 2 (spoiler alert) follows on from Charlie and Nick’s first kiss, with Nick confessing that he reciprocates Charlie’s feelings but isn’t ready to go public about their new relationship. The story deals with changing friendships, coming to terms with one’s orientation, and navigating the often fraught journey that is coming out. It introduces more LGBT characters who help to reassure Nick that he’s not alone after he realises some things about his own friends, and is a refreshingly positive alternative to the gay-teen-coming-out stories of just a decade or so ago. It has echoes of ‘Get Real’, a now-dated-looking British film with a similar premise but a far less upbeat ending.

There is apparently a third volume on the way, and it’s definitely on my to-read list.

Blog-wise, I’ve very much enjoyed ‘Horror Is A Soothing Genre…’ by Laura Barcella, which is both a preview of new book ‘Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers’ by Sady Doyle, and an interview with Doyle about her approach to horror films as a feminine genre. It takes the view that horror films appeal to women because they show the horrors of the world for the women who live in it, not just with issues like sexual violence, but also the body horror of pregnancy and the lack of bodily autonomy women face throughout their lives.

The Asexual Agenda has an interesting piece on Tumblr arguments over gatekeeping queer spaces, and what ‘queer spaces’ actually are. Whichever side of the ‘asexual inclusion/exclusion’ debate you’re on, it’s worth a read to consider what the spaces being ‘defended’ actually look like in reality, and how many designated LGBTQIA spaces don’t actually set out to accept every single facet of the LGBTQIA community from the start.

A little further afield, you may have been following recent Twitter threads about YouTube and its Recommendation Engine being used as a tool in the promotion of far-right political ideology, pushing access to content through links with videos about gaming, music or other relatively tame subjects. This piece in the NY Times is a thorough look at how this has altered politics in Brazil – it makes for frightening reading, but it’s stuff worth knowing if you want to see just how far-reaching the effects of such indoctrination can go.

Finally, in the world of fanfiction, I’m desperately awaiting the fourth and final chapter of ‘Hook, Line and Sinker’ by my favourite EraserMic writer, KuriKuri. It’s an AU with Aizawa goaded into trying a dating app and deducing that he’s been catfished by someone pretending to be famous singer Present Mic. KuriKuri always delivers quality Aizawa/Yamada content, and I’m hanging for the final update because this one has been captivating from the start.

That’s it for reads this week, and I’m aware that this is probably a lot more material than I usually cover. For various reasons, my mental health seems to be on an upswing lately, or at least it’s sound enough that I’m enjoying reading again instead of finding it a chore.

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