In our monthly book club, we discuss whatever we happen to be reading and ask everyone in the comments to do the same. What Are You Reading This Month?
How To Invent Everything by Ryan North
Like most people who’ve ever watched a post-apocalyptic movie, compared their survival strategies to those on display, and come up with a list of a single, hesitant entry—“Trade funny video game tweets for food?!”—I have a vague anxiety about what’s going to happen to my flabby future-corpse when civilization inevitably falls. That’s part of why I love Ryan North’s How To Invent Everything: A Survival Guide For The Stranded Time Traveler, a hybrid history book, survival manual, and speculative nonfiction tome that purports to be a guide to what to do when your time machine breaks down and you get trapped in the vast wilds of History. As the creator of Dinosaur Comics, Shakespeare choose-your-own adventure books, and this fascinating page-by-page breakdown of the novelization of Back To The Future, North is almost frustratingly funny and engaging as a narrator, poking fun at just how much time passed before we as a species, say, took the wheels we were using for grinding stuff, stuck them on a cart, and used them to move around. The book also contains a lot of real, practical information about how to do things like purify your water, grow healthy crops, and even generate electricity, whether you’re trapped in France, 1000 BC, or America, In The End Times After The Death Rocks Fell—and all without slapping a Duck Dynasty-looking guy on the cover to intimidate me with his faux-survivalist skills. [William Hughes]
Slayer by Kiersten White
It’s tough expanding the world of a property like Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The options for world-building are somewhat more restrictive than, say, the old Star Wars expanded universe (R.I.P. from the canon), which was a galaxy of battles, aliens, and interplanetary federations from which to spin out fanciful sci-fi fun. Buffy the series never really offered a similarly open canvas, and while the subsequent comics built out the story to a global size, thanks to Slayers now scattered throughout the world (and no budgetary concerns), the arcana and mythos were largely centered around the title hero, with only flashes of the bigger world she stumbled into.
Understandably, then, Kiersten White’s Slayer latches on to the only other real system of note in the Buffy universe—that of the Watchers council, the society of bookish experts tasked with being the intellectual and tactical mentors to the slayer. White’s novel takes the Watchers’ council—blown to smithereens in the show’s final season—and, using the few flashes of insight offered about the British-based group by the TV show, spins a tale about the surviving members of the once-august body, now reduced to hiding out in a castle in the Irish countryside and dealing with the fallout of Buffy Summers ridding the world of magic (a development in the Dark Horse comics’ eighth “season” of Buffy).”
Nina and her twin sister, Artemis, have both been trained in Watcher lore, though neither teen is en route to becoming a full-fledged Watcher (despite their minuscule numbers). But as the title implies, Nina is about to have her life radically upended by the onset of her Slayer powers. White’s style is straightforward enough, and the book breezes by, but she sometimes gets tripped up in her protagonist’s headspace, leading to clunky repetition and reductive characterizations. It’s entertaining in a manner akin to the first season of the series: wobbly, uneven, and not yet fully developed. White’s plot lacks subtlety. All the characters and situations more or less fall in line with Storytelling 101 expectations: Anyone you think will turn out to be different from first appearance will inevitably do so; and a sparse but book-length framing device will turn out to be little more than a prelude to a sequel, a groan-inducing realization. I’m finding it a pleasant-enough return to this world I love, but nothing here leaves me eager to return. [Alex McLevy]
“The Tale Of Boozy Suzy And Her Hammer Fist: Inside The Rise And Fall Of The Pillow Fight League” by Britni de la Cretaz
Everything in the first frame of this Longreads article was made to grab me: the almost morose headline, the deck, the image of the plump pillow flying into the face of some unfortunate brawler. Writing with a voice both knowledgeable and empathetic, Britni de la Cretaz sets the stage for the story of the Pillow Fight League, a Toronto-based, women-centered (but male-run) league that ran from 2006 to 2011.
What you read is what you got: women fighters socking each other with pillows (microfiber only, because down was downright dangerous) to rowdy crowds, an instantly infatuated media, and next to no money. The PFL was full of underdogs and rudderless athletes/performers, with names like Betty Clock’r, Sarah Bellum, Olivia Neutron-Bomb. It was primarily stewarded by men like Stacey P. Case, who originally conceived of the league as a vicious intermission between sets by his band, Tijuana Bibles. Unfortunately, being a “sideshow act to a sideshow act”—which is how A.V. Club contributor LaToya Ferguson and author of the upcoming An Encyclopedia Of Women’s Wrestling: 100 Profiles Of The Strongest In The Sport describes it in the article—meant the PFL wasn’t long for this world.
“The Tale Of Boozy Suzy” is fascinating for its colorful characters as well as the analysis from Cretaz and Ferguson on how the PFL’s empowering element was no match for an industry that still sidelines women and femmes in sports. As Ferguson tells the author: “The general concept of it being a pillow fight league, as [subversive] and as empowering as it was ultimately supposed to be, still explains why it wasn’t built to last.” This long read has all the makings of a film that’s part A League Of Their Own, part Whip It—which, as someone who regularly dreams up sports persona/team names (Tame Ruth for roller derby; Buddy, Can You Spare A Strike? for bowling), I would throw my money at. [Danette Chavez]