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5 unconventional fictional families that’ll make you miss your own. (Maybe.)

Katie Yee

November 25, 2020, 1:34pm

Dear reader, maybe you’re home for the holidays (and, since your dad has just started asking what exactly it is you are doing with that BA in English, you are trying to remember why you made the drive). Maybe you’ve opted out of Thanksgiving this year and are staying inside your quarantine pod (thank you). Either way, here are some fictional families to spend time with instead.

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Bryan Washington, Memorial

Mitsuko and Benson in Bryan Washington’s Memorial

Benson and Mike have been together for years, but when Mike learns his estranged father is dying, he flies to Japan to see him… just as his mother, Mitsuko, has arrived for a visit. Yes, Memorial is about a romantic relationship that has lost some of its momentum (Benson and Mike) and about the obligations one feels towards bloodlines (Mike and his father). But the most rewarding bond is the unexpected relationship that forms between Mitsuko and Benson: a true example of a forged family. (Plus, the cherished role that food plays in our shared sense of family.)

all my puny sorrows

Elf and Yoli in Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows

So maybe your sister is not a wealthy, world-renowned pianist, but the bond between Elf and Yoli feels incredibly relatable and true-to-life. (I think. I don’t have a sister. I have a brother who hates books who is thankfully not coming home for Thanksgiving.) Now, this is a very sad book. It takes place in the aftermath of the world-renowned pianist’s suicide attempt. But there are also so many surprising moments of genuine laugh-out-loud joy, too. If you need additional inducement to spend time with these sisters, here are their delightful plans for a future together: “…chop wood, pump water, fish, play the piano, sing together from the soundtracks of Jesus Christ Superstar and Les Miserables, re-imagine our pasts, and wait out the end of the world.” My heart!

Lydia Millet, A Children's Bible

The children in Lydia Millet’s A Children’s Bible

This story begins with college friends getting together for a vacation with all of their families and ends with a slew of natural disasters. The parents themselves kind of suck. They get lost in a haze of drugs and booze, rendering them totally useless to their children. That’s just fine. The children have started to play a very dark game in which they try to lose ownership of their families; if someone correctly pins you to your set of parents, you lose. No, the family I’m talking about here is the one that’s cobbled together by the children, intent on helping one another survive through the series of unfortunate (and Biblical) events that occur. Basically, it’s the worst Friendsgiving ever.

Kevin Wilson, Nothing to See Here

The twins that spontaneously combust (and their babysitter) in Kevin Wilson’s Nothing to See Here

At an elite boarding school, Lillian and Madison were best friends. Then there’s a scandal, and Lillian is paid to take the fall. Fast-forward many silent years later and Madison is the wife of a politician. She’s contacted Lillian with an odd request: to look after her twin stepchildren who have a funny habit of spontaneously combusting whenever they get upset or angry. The key is to keep them out of trouble and out of the public eye. It’s a story about the relatives we keep in the shadows and the immeasurable sacrifices that will be made when someone feels wholly responsible for someone else.

Katherine Dunn

The Binewskis in Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love

They’re the circus family you always threatened to run away to. Need I say more?

HBO’s Between the World and Me is a cinematic collage of poetic declamations.

Rasheeda Saka

November 25, 2020, 12:24pm

This year has been nothing less than a series of surprises, revelations, and great reminders of the insidious tapestry of the United States. Antiblackness, police brutality, corrupt healthcare systems, eviction crises, transphobia, poverty (i.e. capitalism), general precarity—these have been the longstanding conditions and circumstances for millions of people in America (and the world, really), and were only amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, there were also crucial sites and moments of resistance: Following the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, we saw the largest protests against police brutality in history, along with reinvigorated calls for greater discussions and actions against anti-Black racism and its concomitant arenas of inequality. 

Some of these calls have resulted in more people turning to anti-racist reading (which, of course, has had its small wins and disappointing shortcomings), and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me was on a lot of those lists. Coates’ book, first published in 2015 just a month after the Charleston Church massacre, is formally a letter addressed to Coates’ son, in which Coates charts his early life in West Baltimore, his time as a student at Howard University, his heartbreaking losses, and his anxieties of being a Black parent in America. In the midst of recounting such hard topics as a close encounter with a gunman in his youth and losing a dear friend to police violence, Coates showcases his rhetorical powers with stunning clarity—his language is near (if not, totally) poetic and captures the tenuousness of Black life, many of its perplexing contradictions, with all of its joy and beauty.

Not surprisingly, the poetic tenor of Between the World and Me makes it perfect for performance. In 2018, Kamilah Forbes directed the first staging of Coates’ book at the Apollo Theater and later at the Kennedy Center. And just last August, she brought together an esteemed coterie of actors—Mahershala Ali, Angela Bassett, Jharrel Jerome, Wendell Pierce, Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, Angela Davis, Oprah Winfrey, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Courtney B. Vance, and many others—to direct a cinematic version of Between the World and Me.

The 90 minute film, which premiered on HBO on November 21st, was shot with the actors in a number of different locations—in their homes, cars, backyards, Howard University—as they recite passages from Coates’ book. These monologues are shown in between cuts of archival images and videos, artful animations, and contemporary clips, to augment the stakes of Coates project—as one example, the moment in which Coates narrates the precarity of his childhood in West Baltimore is cut against the visual iconography of the American dream (i.e. Brady Bunch, white adolescence, suburban life). But there are also clips of Malcolm X speeches, along with the late Chadwick Boseman delivering his commencement address to Howard’s graduating class of 2018.

Though each of the actors reads Coates’ very personal letter to his son, over the course of the film the text of Between the World and Me becomes a shared burden and a collective chorus. Coates’ book is acutely concerned with questions of the Black body, so it is no surprise that the film itself feels so tactile, that we are made to feel aware of the uncertain existence of Black being in the United States, just as we are also made to be aware of the unique differences within Blackness (i.e. queerness, trans identity, etc.). Though one’s experience of anti-Blackness might vary, there is in fact a uniformity in oppression; and this is most clearly understood at the very beginning of the film when the very address is personalized (some actors say “Dear daughter” or “Dear brothers” instead of “Dear son”), or even when Mahershala Ali sheds a tear after a particularly gutting passage.

It might seem a bit sad to think that after five years, during which we saw the rise of—and endured—a Trump presidency, Coates’ book, which to some feels a bit outdated, remains as prescient as ever. But in fact, it is a testament to the larger networks of power that circulate and the unending project of the fight for a better future. The film closes with a heartbreaking piece from Breonna Taylor’s mother—a reminder too that the fight is not just for the future but to defend the dead.

In all, the film is beautiful, a message of loss and hope, but don’t just take my word for it: starting today through November 30th, HBO’s Between the World and Me is available for free at hbomax.com.

Lorde is publishing a book about Antarctica called GOING SOUTH.

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November 25, 2020, 12:08pm

Yet another musician turns to print! In a November 24 email to her fans, Lorde announced her first book, GOING SOUTH. The book’s release date was not announced, but it is now available for preorder on the musician’s website.

GOING SOUTH chronicles a trip Lorde took to Antarctica in early 2019, which served as a creative reset for her. (She did tell us she was trying to find perfect places . . . ) The book will feature photos of that trip shot by her friend Harriet Were, as well as writing from Lorde on the experience.

Fans have been waiting three years for the follow-up to Lorde’s critically acclaimed album Melodrama, and though there was no music news in the email, Lorde called GOING SOUTH a “perfect precursor” to her unannounced third album. Said Lorde, “Albums live in their own realms in a way, and Antarctica really acted as this great white palette cleanser, a sort of celestial foyer I had to move through in order to start making the next thing . . . I’ll always hold this trip up as a life highlight for many reasons, but I’m particularly grateful for it as one that showed me the beginnings of the new world which I continue to build, and am very excited to start showing you soon.”

Proceeds from GOING SOUTH will be donated to Antarctica New Zealand, to fund a postgraduate scholar to study the effects of climate change on Antarctica. As you wait for your copy to ship—or if you’ve opted out of purchasing 100-page photobooks—check out this list of 30 writer-musicians you should know about.

[via Vulture]

A whistle-stop tour of W. B. Yeats quotations in popular culture.

Dan Sheehan

November 25, 2020, 11:17am

You can’t beat a good W. B. Yeats quotation, especially in these dour, doomscrolling days. (“The Second Coming”—with its widening gyre, errant falcon, blood-dimmed tide, and slouching beast—has been the English-speaking world’s go-to apocalypse lyric for 100 years now. Whether it’s the Nazis swarming Europe, Trump capturing the White House, or a morose A. J. Soprano attempting to drown himself in a swimming pool, as long as the world continues to be shit, Yeats’ most famous poem will continue to evoke a sense of paralyzing existential terror in its readers.) Though I have absolutely no hard data to back this up, I’d wager that Yeats is the most quoted and referenced (non-Elizabethan) writer in contemporary popular culture. Consider the below:

First of all, you’ve got all the book titles: Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (“The Second Coming”), Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem (“The Second Coming,” again), Philip Roth’s The Dying Animal (“Sailing to Byzantium”), Cormac McCarty’s No Country for Old Men (“Sailing to Byzantium,” again), and Ray Bradbury’s Golden Apples of the Sun (“The Song of Wandering Aengus”), to name but a few.

In music, Lou Reed begins his 1978 live album, Take No Prisoners, by quoting Yeats (“The Second Coming”); Joni Mitchell made a song of a Yeats poem (“The Second Coming” . . . again) on 1991’s, Night Ride Home, as did Van Morrison (“Crazy Jane On God”) on 1985’s A Sense of Wonder; and The Waterboys made an entire album based on Yeats poems, which was actually pretty-well received.

And let’s not forget our old pal television. Characters in The Leftovers quote both “Cairo” and “The Song of Wandering Aengus”; Narn ambassador G’Kar (reading from his “human book”) recites “The Second Coming” in Babylon 5; Tara quotes “The Second Coming” while reconciling with Willow in Buffy; there’s an Angel episode called “Slouching Toward Bethlehem”; and Tony slouches through a hospital corridor at the close of a season 6 Sopranos episode (which is titled, you guessed it, “The Second Coming.”)

Which brings us, finally, to cinema. Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko references “The Second Coming” in Wall Street. Clint Eastwood quotes “The Song of Wandering Aengus” to Meryl Streep in The Bridges of Madison County. A young beatnik reads “When You Are Old” to Kathleen Turner in When Peggy Sue Got Married. Mindy Kaling adopts lines from “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” as her personal mantra in Late Night. And Daniel Craig as Ted Hughes reads “The Sorrow of Love” to a rapt audience in Sylvia. Unfortunately, the internet is refusing to supply me with any of those clips, so you’ll have to make do with the following motley assortment:

84 Charing Cross Road (1987): Rare book merchant Frank Doel (Anthony Hopkins) reading “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” after staring at Anne Bancroft for an uncomfortably long period of time.

Congo (1995): In this scene from the most popular ape-focused sci-fi film of the mid-1990s, Berkley primatologist Dr. Peter Elliot (Dylan Walsh), when asked by former CIA operative Dr. Karen Ross (Laura Linney) why he taught an ape to talk, responds with a line from “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.”

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001): Now I haven’t seen this in about 15 years, but if memory serves it’s the story of a Pinnochio-esque android boy (Haley Joel-Osment) on a quest to become human so that he can accepted by his step-mother. Here he is mid-quest with with his robot pal Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) as some manner of holographic search engine recites “The Stolen Child.”

Equilibrium (2002): In a dystopian society where feelings and artistic expression are outlawed, Errol Partridge (Sean Bean) is caught with a book of poetry and proceeds to drop a little “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” on his unimpressed partner (Christian Bale), before being shot in the face by said partner.

The Children Act (2017): Nobody saw this adaptation of Ian McEwan’s 2014 novel—about a High Court judge who must decide if she should order a life-saving blood transfusion for a sensitive teenager from a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses—though I heard it was pretty decent. Here’s Emma Thompson singing “Down by the Salley Gardens” immediately after hearing that the boy has relapsed.

The first wave of TikTokers-turned-writers is here: Charli D’Amelio’s book comes out December 1.

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November 25, 2020, 11:09am

As TikTok continues to balloon as a platform, its most popular content creators are becoming genuinely famous—and with fame comes book deals. 16-year-old Charli D’Amelio, the most popular user on TikTok and the only person to officially hit 100 million followers on the platform, is publishing her first book with Abrams Books on December 1.

Said Anne Heltzel, Executive Editor of Abrams Children’s Books/Amulet Books, “We’ve been longtime admirers of Charli for her infectious confidence, killer dance moves, and astronomical ascent to fame. We loved getting to know her while working on this book—not only as a rare talent, but also as an endlessly interesting young woman—and we know her readers will too.”

The book in question, Essentially Charli: The Ultimate Guide to Keeping it Real, shares intimate details of D’Amelio’s life, from her childhood to her views on family to her experiences with cyberbullying. D’Amelio also offers Gen Z advice on navigating one’s social media presence and developing self-confidence—a logical subject to cover, as D’Amelio is a role model for millions of teens.

From pages viewable on the Abrams Books site, Essentially Charli looks like a natural extension of D’Amelio’s TikTok presence. The pages feature mock stickers of stars and rainbows; the text is broken up into paragraph-long sections next to full-color illustrations and photos of D’Amelio; the book features writing prompts, like a workbook. It’s like the print version of her TikTok page: colorful, visually stimulating and interactive.

I wonder whether the next TikTok star’s book will follow in D’Amelio’s footsteps and create a similarly visual product, or whether there will be more conventional books from TikTokers coming our way in the next few years. Regardless, with our shortened attention spans we’ll all be reading in 60-second bites.

[via The Hour]

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