I Am Sisyphus. It's Not So Bad.
Since my reading apocalypse rolls on, I decided to limit my weekly book consumption to two. It's left me time to watch a bit of the old television, which turned out to be a revelatory experience because fun fact, I am also experiencing a television watching apocalypse. Let me give you a for instance.
I loved CW’s The Flash. Season 1 was delicious and wonderful and awesome. Each subsequent season has been exponentially worse. I think I’ve figured out Greg Berlanti’s master plan. If Season 3 sucks really hard then Season 2 looks palatable by comparison. If Season 4 massively sucks, then Season 2 looks pretty good, and Season 3 seems not so bad. This does not bode well for Season 5. It also doesn’t bode well for my continued participation. There are so many things wrong with Season 4 of The Flash, but the biggest problem is Iris. Well, the writing for Iris. We all know there is an Iris problem. Even fictional Iris knows there is an Iris problem.
The character lacks purpose. She also lacks agency. She is always being used in an ineffective, annoying, and uninteresting manner. She is the daughter, sister, girlfriend, wife who dresses for the club even at her job. Season 4’s solution to the Iris problem is to strip her of the job she loves, investigative journalist, and place her in the role of commander and chief of Team Flash.
The journalist is in charge of a cadre of scientific geniuses. How do you lead a team of scientists when you don’t understand the science? Wasn’t that the problem with H.R.? He eventually proved his worth, but not as a scientist and not as team leader. H.R. contributed to the team by doing what he did best. You don’t see Gordon Ramsey telling NASA engineers what to do. You don’t see Elon Musk telling teachers what to do. You do see Iris uttering these childish words, “I’m the leader of this team.” Oh, okay. Of course you’re the leader. You’re the leader because you’re a brilliant scientist! Oh wait, you aren’t. You’re the leader because you’re a genius tactician! Oh wait, you aren’t. You’re the leader because the writer’s of Flash don’t know what to do with you.
The writers haven’t given Iris purpose or agency by taking away her real job and relocating her to the lab. They’ve actually exposed her uselessness. How hard can it be to find a way to insert an investigative journalist into a show about crime fighting? They have failed as writers. She is failing as a character. I would say poor Iris right here, but she’s grown so unappealing that I don’t even care anymore. At this point I’m just sticking around to see how they manage to defeat the big bad Thinker. Her contribution to defeating him has involved looking worried, kissing Barry, and telling the scientist to go do sciency stuff. That might be a direct quote.
Her presence at STAR Labs has magnified every annoying trait the character possesses. Not to mention her elevation has meant sidelining Harry. Why would you sideline Tom Cavanagh and his hair? That’s pretty sacrilege. How does this long open about how crappy The Flash has become relate to books?
Well, the insinuation of Iris into the milieu of science is a lot like pushing books by women and minorities into the Western Canon simply because they were written by women and minorities rather than basing it on their contribution or worth to literature. That isn’t to say that there aren’t books by dead, white men unworthy of being called canonical—there are. That isn’t to say that the Western Canon doesn’t need an overhaul—it does. That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t reconsider the entire idea of a Western Canon—we should.
Let me now launch into an 800-word treatise on the Western Canon. I’m kidding. I’m not going to talk about the Western Canon. I mean I can, and I’d love to, but I won’t—not here, not today. Let’s instead talk about how I’m working my way through my reading and watching apocalypse.
It’s simple-reread and rewatch. I learned that when you reread books you love they feel sweeter, richer, and more rewarding. You discover and reconsider your previously held assumptions. You question the inferences you once made. Rereading is learning and growing. Did you just ask what I’ve reread and loved anew? Great! Here we go. Well, here go some, but not all.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. I read it, and I listened to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s narration. It took me a few chapters to forget that it was him, but when I did I loved it. Technically this violates one of my reading resolutions. I’m supposed to be listening to books I haven’t read, but give me a little leeway I don’t really trust new books right now. I’d forgotten how angry Ari was. I’d forgotten how much I loved the portrayal of middle class brown people. I’d forgotten how much I loved the little nuggets of culture—art and literature. I’d forgotten about Legs, the dog. She isn’t even real, and I want her. I’d forgotten about how realistically the truth about Ari’s brother unfolded. I loved the parallels between Dante's fears and Ari’s aunt, even if it was a bit too much of a coincidence. Mostly, I loved that when the kiss that meant the most happened Dante demanded to be shown Ari’s love.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Here’s a confession for you, I might be the only Rainbow Rowell fan that didn’t like Carry On. I might actually hate it. A lot. However, rereading Fangirl after reading Carry On gave the fan fiction greater depth and meaning than it had before. Cath and Levi are so very magical to me. I also changed my mind about a scene. The scene where Cath stands and removes her shirt I originally just felt it followed a natural progression, but my reread leads me to believe that it didn’t—it followed a Cath progression. Cath was a ways away from being ready for that level of actual and metaphorical nakedness. She gets there eventually, but not in this book.
Blink by Sasha Dawn. I flew through this book because I was working against a review deadline, so I returned to it and gave it the slow once over. Everything I felt about it remains. I love the main character. He is so good, so noble, so real, and so flawed. He’s beautiful. I definitely have a new book crush. And the story telling is so gripping. You experience the anxiety and the rush to discover the truth, but not necessarily the whole truth by the end of the book.
Still Life with Murder by P.B. Ryan. This isn’t a YA book. It’s the first book in a mystery series. It takes place in post-Civil War Boston, and features an Irish governess, a big Irish cop, a Brahmin family complete with dead sons, black sheep, and payments to mill girls who find themselves in the family way. It’s a fantastic mystery that unravels slowly and manages to insert tons of characterization. And the spark between two of the characters smolders from beginning to end. The entire six book series is worth reading. The first time I read this book I started reading late one night when congestion made for a fitful sleep. I couldn’t put it down. There was no homemade Greek yogurt parfait with freshly sliced nectarines, blueberries, and a drizzle of honey for breakfast that morning. Instead it was organic Kashi cornflakes and almond milk in red Solo cups on the drive to Montessori. Kids not pleased. Mom book satisfied. It still satisfies. I think it always will.
Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson - i can’t believe this series has over 20 books. The tone of the series has certainly shifted over the years, moving away from gritty realism to something slightly cozier, but I still make time to read each new entry. When I was introduced to this series there were already 9 books. I started from the beginning because the idea of reading a series out of order makes my hands shake. Murder on Astor place sets up a self-contained mystery and the mythology for the first half of the series. Frank is a widower, single father, and Irish detective working for Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt at the turn of the last century. Sarah Brandt is a widow, nurse, and the estranged child of wealthy parents making her way through New York City as a midwife. They come together to solve a brutal crime and along the way drop hints about the brutal and unfair nature of their own lives. You can’t miss the spark between them, but they are separated by so much. There’s definitely a bit of pride and prejudice.
This week I’m reading Aru Shah and the End of Time. Help me, Middle Grade. You’re my only hope.