What I’m reading for work
Appropriate: A Provocation by Paisley Rekdal: I can’t tell you how tired I am of reading books about writing. Really, I have only myself to blame since this is for a research project I’m imposing more or less on myself but I’ve gotten to a point where I feel like if I never read another book about writing, it will be too soon. So it’s kind of remarkable that this book, Appropriate by Paisley Rekdal, managed to capture and maintain my attention much more than any other writing book I’ve read lately. The book is framed as a series of letters between Rekdal and a hypothetical student on the subject of cultural appropriation in fiction and poetry writing. If you’re tired of all the recent rhetoric around “wokeness” and “cancel culture,” this might not inspire much enthusiasm. But actually Rekdal addresses the issue with a lot of thoughtfulness and sensitivity, exploring the many complications and facets of cultural appropriation while making it clear that her own thinking on this (as an author of mixed race) is still developing. There are no easy answers here, for Rekdal or for her student or for the reader. There’s also no easy advice or how-to’s for authors who want to write characters who are different from themselves but avoid stereotypes and appropriation. I especially liked Rekdal’s discussion of American Dirt, which was much more nuanced than others that I’ve seen in the press about the controversy surrounding this book in my own research. Really a great book. Highly recommended if you’ve ever had any interest in the conversations around cultural appropriation in fiction and poetry.
What I’m watching for fun
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds on Paramount Plus: Star Trek is a fandom I have more of a nostalgic secondhand connection to rather than something I’ve ever been into myself. My parents used to watch The Next Generation a lot when I was a little kid and I remember sometimes being allowed to watch it with them.(1) I also enjoyed the movies starring Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto when they came out, which apparently means I can never be a “true” Star Trek fan, at least according to a guy I used to date who made me sit through all of the movies starring the original cast (including the objectively bad ones). Anyway. I’ve always thought of myself less as a Star Trek fan and more…Star Trek adjacent, if you will. I tuned into Strange New Worlds mostly out of idle interest after hearing it was good. And it is! Seriously. What a fun show. It actually reminded me of Stargate Atlantis, a show which I was really into for a while in the years between graduating from college and starting grad school. If you’re not familiar, SGA happens to be a spinoff of a series (Stargate SG-1) that is basically a ripoff of Star Trek. So…full circle? Anyway, Strange New Worlds is probably more earnest than Stargate Atlantis and also clearly has a bigger budget.(2) But it shares some of that show’s goofiness and a “team as family” vibe that I always really enjoy in ensemble shows. I especially liked the show’s more episodic approach where some episodes are focused on the ensemble as a whole while others focus on individual characters getting caught up in various “hijinks” (as Spock’s fiancee T’Pring puts it one truly awesome episode where they accidentally switch bodies). Probably my favorite was the episode focused on M’Benga, the ship’s doctor, in which a sentient nebula (or something…it’s not really important) transforms the crew into the cast of a pseudo-Medieval fairy tale that he’s been reading to his sick daughter. M’Benga is the only one aware that anything odd is happening and has to deal with crewmates who now believe they’re wizards and knights and princesses while he tries to figure out how to fix whatever happened. It’s hilarious right up until it makes you cry your eyes out at the emotional ending. I had a great time watching this. I can’t wait for more.
Mythic Quest on Apple TV: For the longest time, Mythic Quest was a show that I kept hearing about, thinking it sounded like something I might want to watch, then promptly forgetting that it existed. Mostly because my original (free) subscription to Apple TV expired, like, two years ago. I recently renewed it mostly out of boredom and rediscovered Mythic Quest while randomly clicking through ads for Ted Lasso, For All Mankind, and some of the streaming service’s other originals. In case you’re not familiar (or forgot like I did), Mythic Quest is basically a workplace dramedy which takes place in the offices of the developer of a Fortnite-like video game called Mythic Quest. As a workplace sitcom, it has many of the expected elements. At first, nothing seemed particularly noteworthy about the overly quirky characters and their workplace shenanigans. Then the show surprised me. First with an extended standalone episode featuring Jake Johnson (of New Girl fame) and Cristin Milioti (of “the mother in How I Met Your Mother” fame…although she’s done a lot of way more interesting stuff since then) where none of the main cast appears and the story is only tenuously connected to the rest of the show. Then there was a heartwarming moment in the COVID lockdown episode which takes place mostly over Zoom and feels like an artifact of another time. Then there was a twist that revealed that one of the “evil” characters (the megalomaniacal Brad, played by Danny Pudi of Community fame) actually had a least a little bit of a heart. Which made me think the show was another “silly sitcom with a heart” in the tradition of Parks and Recreation. BUT THEN there was a sort of nasty twist at the end of a Breakfast Club-inspired episode involving the results of a personality test administered by Carol, the very put-upon Human Resources representative for the company. It’s not that the show is doing anything hugely new or amazing but its ability to be genuinely surprising and take things in unexpected directions (like Poppy’s descent into being the same kind of asshole boss Ian is as soon as he makes her co-creative director) has made it feel like a really worthwhile watch to me. As a bonus: the show co-stars Ashly Burch as a game tester who works for the company. I had no idea until I happened to look up some trivia related to the show on IMDB (which I do with all of the shows I watch because I’m a dork like that) that Burch, who is apparently quite well-known in the real-life video gaming world, is none other than the actor who provides the voice for Aloy, the main character of Horizon Zero Dawn and Horizon Forbidden West (aka the video game I’ve been playing for something like the last six months). The character she plays here is so different from Aloy that it’s sometimes kind of funny/strange to hear Aloy’s voice come out of her mouth, similar to watching H. Jon Benjamin in a live action movie or show and hearing Archer or Bob from Bob’s Burgers whenever he speaks. Anyway, that’s just a fun bonus. I’ve really enjoyed the show so far and am glad I finally remembered it existed so that I could watch it.
RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars All Winners on Paramount Plus: During the pandemic, I rewatched all of the seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race that were available on Hulu, which at the time stopped at season six. To this day, those are the only seasons (of approximately a million) that I’ve seen of the series, which seems to have evolved quite a bit since then. So I decided to tune into this season of All Stars even though I only knew who two of the competing queens were because the two queens I did know were big favorites from those relatively early seasons: Raja and Jinkx Monsoon. Because I like to binge things and don’t mind spoilers, I didn’t start watching the episodes until the season was almost over and knew approximately what the lay of the land was going to end up being going into the final episode before I’d even started watching. So actually watching the season should have been boring. It was not. Let’s just say this: I went in with two favorite drag queens and left with eight. There is no one here that I didn’t like and didn’t root for at some point. Someone online said that this season was more like the Great British Bake-Off than Drag Race for the way everyone appeared to be so friendly and positive toward one another–even helping each other out from time to time. I’m sure a lot of this “positive vibe” came from some very kind editing, which also apparently left the judges’ more constructive criticism on the cutting room floor. Like, in any other season the scene where Jinkx gets the “sillies” and can’t stop loudly laughing for no reason would have been interspersed with some bitchy comments from fellow competitors about what an obnoxious weirdo she is. Here, if anyone was annoyed by this particular behavior, it’s not shown at all. You don’t get so much as a cut to someone rolling their eyes or giving Jinkx the side eye. And frankly I like that! The manufactured drama on a series like this can be too much and sometimes you just want something fun and light and that lets you watch people who are great at what they do do the thing that they’re great at. For me, this was that.
1. And crushing hard on Geordi La Forge. Seriously. LeVar Burton was my first crush. I was five years old. I think I liked him because I thought the visor he wore over his eyes was cool/pretty. Also it’s possible I recognized him from the more age-appropriate Reading Rainbow.
2. Somehow, all of the planets they visited on SGA managed to look like a forest in Vancouver where everyone was dressed in vaguely Ren Faire-type clothing and also spoke English for no apparent reason.