March 2015 Media Round-up (Books, Pt. 2)

mar2015books

Porno, Irvine Welsh

Review(ish):

  • This is a sequel to Trainspotting and, yeah, it’s not as good as Trainspotting, but still a mostly fun read if you’re at all invested in those characters and maybe even if you’re not. Like, I just want to know what Renton and Sick Boy are up to, and although I’m never going to find Begbie’s brand of overcompensating, toxic masculinity interesting, he’s still a well-realized character and probably a necessary presence to illustrate the sort of self-sabotaging, super habitual mindsets of these characters that led them to becoming junkies. Because no one really likes Begbie and they know that any encounter with him is going to end with violence, but they still hang out with him, and it’s not purely out of fear of the consequences of turning him down—it’s just one of those things that they’ve always done, so they keep doing it, even though whatever pleasure they initially gained from it has long since ceased. Sick Boy and Renton are off heroin at this point (10 years after Trainspotting) and Spud is working on it, but Sick Boy has picked up a coke habit, Spud is a suicidal mess, and Renton, who mostly has his shit together as a night-club owner in Amsterdam, still gets sucked into Sick Boy’s pornography scheme. It’s a little frustrating, but totally reasonable given who these characters are and the world they come from; it wouldn’t be an Irvine Welsh book if everyone learned from the mistakes of their youth and became happy, successful adults. There are also chapters told from the perspective of a new character, a 25-year-old English university student who gives “happy endings” at a massage parlour to pay her tuition, and they have some solid moments and allow for the reintroduction of Dianne, but I’m still not sure how I feel about how Welsh writes women—the female characters that he focuses on all tend to be sort of the same in a way I’m not totally sure how to articulate. The same could probably be said for his male characters across books, though, just that there are a few different types rather than the one?

Select quote:

I suppose he was a bit like me, we both knew that decadence was a bad habit for council tenants. A ridiculous habit in fact. The raison d’être of our class was simply to survive. Fuck that; our punk generation, not only did we thrive, we even had the audacity tae be disillusioned. From an early age Sick Boy and I were twisted soul brothers. The scorn, the sneers, the irony, the piss-taking; we had constructed our wee private world long before drink or drugs ever came along and helped us refine, and gave the permission to wholeheartedly live in it. We strutted around dripping a cynicism so deep, scornful and profound we felt that nobody got us; parents, siblings, neighbours, teachers, geeks, hard-cunts, or hipsters. But it wasn’t easy to develop a repertoire of decadence in the Fort or the Banana flats. Drugs were the easiest option. Then they started to take, began to gnaw away at the dreams they once nourished, nurtured and fortified, crumbling at the life they had allowed us access to. And it all got too much like hard fuckin work, and hard work was something we both strove to avoid. Now what I fear isn’t the heroin, it’s not the drugs, but this weird symbiotic relationship we have with each other.

Persuasion, Jane Austen

Review(ish):

  • It’s difficult to write about Classic Literature, because anything that I could possibly say has almost definitely already been said more articulately. Persuasion is pretty great and we all know that. BUT:

Would it work set in a modern American high school1?

  • No, because it’s pretty key that Anne is no longer super youthful. However, a modern adaptation of Persuasion could work really well, and the idea of Persuasion set in the age of social media seems especially fruitful. We know that Anne Elliot has been tracking Captain Wentworth’s life path over the eight years that they’re apart, so imagine an Anne Elliot with access to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc. While it would be unlikely for a modern day Anne to be living in the sort of isolated and idle situation to which she attributes her “constancy” in the books, the constant access to personal information beyond an occasional line in navy lists and newspapers more than makes up for that. She probably glows2 every time she sees the little green dot pop up next to Wentworth’s name in her contacts list on gchat.

Select quote:

More than seven years were gone since this little history of sorrowful interest had reached its close; and time had softened down much, perhaps nearly all of peculiar attachment to him, but she had been too dependent on time alone; no aid had been given in change of place (except in one visit to Bath soon after the rupture), or in any novelty or enlargement of society. No one had ever come within the Kellynch circle, who could bear a comparison with Frederick Wentworth, as he stood in her memory. No second attachment, the only thoroughly natural, happy, and sufficient cure, at her time of life, had been possible to the nice tone of her mind, the fastidiousness of her taste, in the small limits of the society around them.

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen

Review(ish):

  • I really enjoyed it, but I kind of get why it has a reputation as everyone’s least favorite Austen novel, and I think people’s issues mostly fall into two categories:
    1. Catherine Morland doesn’t fit our conception of a Great Austen Heroine. She’s frustratingly naive and completely lacking in social dexterity; Catherine has neither the sort of witty vivacity of Lizzie Bennett and Emma Woodhouse nor the quiet perceptiveness of Anne Elliot. The thing is, Catherine is only 17—for comparison, Lizzie and Emma are both 20, and Anne is 27—and, prior to the events of the novel, has only interacted with her family and the same tiny set of people in her country village. She hasn’t learned to detect the subtext in every conversation yet, and while this makes some of her social interactions cringe-worthy, it seems valuable to be reminded that these women weren’t just born with these penetrative3 abilities. Northanger Abbey gives us a chance to see how the social intelligence that we take for granted in the more mature Austen heroines might have come to be.
    2. It’s silly and lacks the depth of plot/character/emotion of Austen’s other novels. Well, yeah, if you consider it as a work in the same genre of Austen’s other novels. But genre parody is a different type of comedy and shouldn’t be judged on the same basis; we don’t watch Robin Hood: Men in Tights or Spaceballs with an expectation of well-developed characters and serious emotional depth because that’s just so not the point. I do think that Northanger Abbey is closer to Shaun of the Dead than to, say, Childrens Hospital in terms of portraying real people with real emotions while still playing with genre conventions. The larger barrier to the enjoyment of Northanger Abbey may be that modern readers haven’t really internalized the tropes of the Gothic novel the way that Austen’s original readers would have. Genre parodies don’t necessarily age well; for example, how will Childrens Hospital come across in 50 years, to viewers who aren’t necessarily familiar with ER, House, Grey’s Anatomy, Scrubs, etc.? Hospital dramas will probably still exist, but the storytelling conventions will have (hopefully) changed so much that it may not be immediately obvious to future viewers which elements of Childrens Hospital are parody and which are just general humor. They might still find the show funny, but unless they go back and watch some early 2000s hospital dramas, they’re not going to fully understand the spirit in which the show was written.

Would it work set in a modern American high school?

  • Mostly! The Gothic novel parody elements wouldn’t make sense in modern day, but if we make it a supernatural teen romance parody instead, it just might. I kind of love the idea of a Twilight-obsessed Catherine who becomes convinced that the Tilneys are secretly vampires. The social elements still work if we age Catherine down so that she’s just entering high school or make her a transfer student from a small rural town or have her be home-schooled until now for whatever reason (obviously, Bath = high school, and marriage = prom dates).

Select quote:

‘I am sure,’ cried Catherine, ‘I did not mean to say anything wrong; but it is a nice book, and why should not I call it so?’

‘Very true,’ said Henry, ‘and this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk, and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! It is a very nice word indeed! It does for everything. Originally perhaps it was applied only to express neatness, propriety, delicacy, or refinement—people were nice in their dress, in their sentiments, or their choice. But now every commendation on every subject is comprised in that one word.’


1. Think Clueless, Cruel Intentions, She’s All That, 10 Things I Hate About You, She’s the Man, etc. ^
2. “Glowing” is very much a thing in Persuasion and it’s basically the most sexual language in the book, which is kind of great. ^
3. Look, Austen is really into penetration, and I will never not be amused be that because I am basically a 12-year-old boy. Fun fact: Northanger Abbey contains one occurrence each of penetrate and penetrating, and two of penetrationEmma has the most occurrences of penetration with 5. ^

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