I find myself in one of those moods where I can’t figure out if I should take a deep dive into the not so fun introspection my brain is trying to take me through or if I should avoid it. While taking the deep dive feels worse, at least it confronts it as opposed to trying to avoid it and hoping for the best! I hate holidays because I don’t like strong feelings of any sense and there’s a kind of collective pressure to do and feel certain ways through this season.
And so with those ideas playing around in my head and not having gotten a lot of sleep I decided to read what I assumed (and was more or less right) would two very depressing books and then a surprise fun book to round things off.
Dance Nation – 3/5 Stars
Dance Nation is the script for a play that was written and produced within the last couple of years and was nominated for the Pulitzer. It hits a lot of the same strides and notes as the great Hulu show Pen15 which if you haven’t seen you should watch immediately. The show takes place in the world of young teen competitive dance, but rather than seeing this world within the context of its reality or by lampooning it through hyperbole, the play instead takes dance to absurd and heightened surrealism by turning each of the characters into walking, dancing, screeching, writhing, ids and egos of teenage girls (and one teenage boy). The play would be an absolute riot to watch I have to imagine and the text copy does a pretty good job of using typography and white space and punctuation to illustrate those absurdities. The places where I am slightly less convinced by it is the ways in which it feels a little too much like it’s laughing at its own jokes. It’s like a sketch comedy routine written by Samuel Beckett and mostly starring amazing and absurd actresses (like Broad City in a lot of ways) but then there’s a few moments of Jimmy Fallon cracking up and ruining the material.
The Last Interview with Anthony Bourdain – 3/5
Part of the problem of this series of interviews (and series of series of interviews) is that the last interview is almost always the least interesting, and in this case, not even an interview so much as a profile piece. I was worried about this book in general because I am certain Anthony Bourdain’s last year was pretty hellacious in a lot of ways given both the intense scrutiny and pressure he probably felt being partnered with Asia Argento going through a tremendously draining set of months, but then also whatever kinds of fallout he saw firsthand as her own revelations came out. He talks about this book being connected with her and how much reconsidering his own life and his choices he’d been going through (like a lot of men have been doing in recent years). Luckily for me and my feelings, and for the book too, this collection also provides a kind of “greatest hits” of Bourdain through the years. On the one hand this helps to keep the book more in tone with Bourdain’s career and makes the earlier interview more jaunty and fun, but it’s also a lot more rehash of everything we always have experienced with Bourdain. And worse, the first interview spends a lot of time talking about his early novels, which, well….
Felon – 5/5
This is both the most heartbreaking and best of the three books and while it’s also the one that has the potential to hurt the most to read, it’s poetry and provides clarity and catharsis within it. Reginald Dwayne Betts spent eights years of his late adolescent and early adulthood in prison after committing a carjacking in a mall parking lot at 16 and being tried as an adult (and since he was a Maryland resident at the time but arrested in Virginia this added to the ways in which the case was likely handled). So this third collection of poetry is dealing with his time in prison, his experiences coming out of prison, prison as a metaphor, and then the prison system at large. There’s a throughline series of poems in which he has taken a sharpie (not clear if this is found or constructed) to an indictment or reading of charges or bailing document in order to create a reaction and response to the absolutely inhumane treatment of the justice system. Like I said, it’s a beautiful and heartbreaking work, the poems are written with stark clarity, and there’s a innate sense of yearning and justice here.