Geek Love — Review

July 26, 2014

Geek
1: a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake
2: a person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked
3: an enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity
— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love had been on my list for a while when I read a piece about it on Book Riot. It really intrigued me, so Geek Love moved to the top of my list. The thing is, throughout reading the piece and the book’s subsequent rocketing to the top of my TBR list, and even as I started reading, I was still thinking of the more prolific definition of the word “geek.”

To steal from John Green, it was “slowly, and then all at once” that I realized that the “geeks” in this book were of a different variety (and it only occurred to me to look it up to see if there was an alternate definition while writing this — or initial as the case may be — go figure).

So once that was cleared up and I could really focus on the book I found it… unsettling. There is so much that happens in this book that is deeply disturbing. Part of what makes so much of this book troubling is the characters’ agency in events.

Typically, when there is a bad or disturbing element in a book it is due to something outside of the control of the character. In Geek Love the dysfunction in the family and lives of the characters causes them to consciously make decisions that they know will cause chaos.

This was a difficult book to stomach, but it’s an interesting book and if you’re okay with kind of horrible things in books than you should give it a go. It has definitely made me think about characters and families and family dynamics and the concept of normalcy. And that’s what books are supposed to do: they’re supposed to make you feel something, even if that something is somewhat uncomfortable, and, most of all, they’re supposed to make you think.

The Returned — Review

July 24, 2014

Jason Mott’s The Returned was a huge (and I mean huge) buzz book at BEA13. I was intrigued enough to pick it up, but there were books that were higher up on my list (books that I still haven’t read. I have issues, let’s not venture down that particular rabbit hole). In any case, after a conversation about a television show (which I haven’t seen and now can’t remember the name of — sorry), I remembered this book and decided it was time to give it a shot.

The basic idea of this book is quite compelling — what would happen if those who died returned (not in a creepy zombie way, just in a picking up where they left off kind of way)? Would these returned individuals be the same as they were before? Are they human? Could they tell us about death? The afterlife?

Mott forces his characters and his readers to ask these questions and as things progress the water only gets murkier. And there are additional mysteries and peculiarities that go unexplained.

The Returned is clearly one of those books that is more about the journey than the destination because while the setting at the beginning and end of the book might be markedly different in certain ways, the world as a whole isn’t really. There is very little resolution and most questions remain unanswered.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe the point is to just ask the question and think about it and move on with your life. If you’re like me and you like getting answers (it enables me to be an insufferable know-it-all. Thankfully, some do suffer it), this book is going to frustrate you.

It’s still good though, and I do recommend it.

How could I possibly resist a book with this title (and a cover image of a sheep looking back, possibly seductively—I don’t know sheep sexual signals)? I couldn’t, obviously. I first heard about this book back at BEA 2013 and immediately thought “yes. I must read that” because narrative social history + taboo subject = awesome (until you’re awkwardly carrying this book on public transit, but more on that later).

I have to say, this book was way drier than I was expecting it to be. Jesse Bering’s snarky voice comes through in between the facts, which is refreshing, but the book is data-heavy and not so much the compendium of “here’s all the crazy crap that turns us on” that it kept promising to be.

Much of the book discussed societal and medical ideas about “perversions” and how they’ve changed through history as well as ideas of “naturalness” and “harmfulness” as they pertain to perversions (or paraphilias, as we learn they’re called). It’s all interesting stuff, just not as flashy and a bit denser reading.

I would certainly recommend it, just know what you’re getting into. It’s not a “dirty” book or an exhaustive list of the kinds of fetishes/perversions/paraphilias one can have (there are a lot), but more of a discussion of the progression of social and medical thought about them.

Also, if you read it in public with the cover visible, you will get an array of looks (it’s not like it’s a how-to guide, but people are weird and judge-y), just a warning.

Go forth and read (you pervs)!