The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2017
by Brit Mandelo
As we’d all likely agree, this has been a difficult year politically and personally. I’ve found myself focusing half of my attention on “feel-good” media and the other half on “work” media, the texts I’m consuming for specifically critical purposes—like the books I’ve reviewed for Tor.com throughout 2017.
Of those, a handful stand out when I scroll through the list of reviews published under my byline in the past twelve months. All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater is the most recent, a lyrical magic-realist departure from the author’s sprawling and recently-completed Raven Cycle. I was also struck by several others, in retrospect, ranging in scope from young adult novels to small-press short story collections to novellas. Autonomous by Annalee Newitz chews on complex issues of embodiment, gender, and ownership while In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan tackles the portal fantasy genre with a nontypical queer male protagonist. Telling the Map by Christopher Rowe took me to near-future versions of my own home state, Kentucky, over a series of handsome short stories. Both Amatka by Karin Tidbeck and Agents of Dreamland by Caitlín R. Kiernan are short and immensely thought-provoking works of high yield, unnerving fiction that left strong impressions with me artistically and personally. Lastly, I’d be remiss not to mention The Black Tides of Heaven & The Red Threads of Fortune by JY Yang, a pair of stylistically quite different novellas set in a lush and handsomely realized second world that also feature queer and nonbinary protagonists.
When it comes to the media I consumed without the express intention of a critical approach, though, genre diversifies. Richard Siken’s two collections of poetry, War of the Foxes and Crush, utterly devastated me. Siken’s approach to a particular kind of desperate and seeking queer male being is almost too much to handle but also, sometimes, fits like a glove. I actually just finished Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl last week, so it’s fresh in my mind, but it was an interestingly explicit take on the tropes of trans YA narratives from the perspective of a girl living in the Appalachian South. I also finally—I know, this will come as a surprise to a lot of people—read The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I did it in two sittings and spent the entire process making quiet sounds of distress, but damn, what a book.
The two new albums that I’ve spent the latter half of the year listening to on repeat are Tyler, The Creator’s Scum Fuck Flower Boy and Brand New’s Science Fiction. As you might imagine, music is a site of debate for me in terms of creator versus art versus my own ethics. I’ve had to do a lot of self-examination about Brand New and the band’s role in my life, as well as the room I need to give for other humans to grow and change over time, to make up for even abysmally cruel actions in their past. It’s no coincidence that both of these albums approach a flawed and queer masculinity that understands itself in terms of fracture and growth; it’s also worth thinking about how that narrative might force me to reflect on my own flaws. It’s something I’m working on.
I didn’t watch much television, though I did binge watch Boku no Hero Academia and rewatch Yuri on Ice. Sometimes I just need something that feels good, y’know? Thor: Ragnarok also gave me a big gay thrill, and I finally watched What We Do In the Shadows as well and adored it. Baby Driver spoke to my love of meta, visual narrative, and cars. I hope I’ll get around to more visual media in 2018, but we’ll see.
Overall, it’s been a rough one, but I’m hoping in 2018 we’ll all keep moving toward the progress in our world that I see in the fiction and media I’ve been consuming. Kudos to us for surviving, and let’s try again.
Brit Mandelo is a writer, critic, and editor. They have published two books, Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2012) and We Wuz Pushed: On Joanna Russ and Radical Truth-Telling (in Aqueduct's Conversation Pieces series). Brit has been a nominee for various awards in the past, including the Nebula, Lambda, and Hugo; their work has been published in magazines such as Clarkesworld, Tor.com, Stone Telling, Apex, and Ideomancer.