Obsessions #5: Miranda vs. Chucky
Everything I've Been Reading, Watching and Listening To in December
Welcome to Obsessions, a monthly newsletter-within-a-newsletter highlighting all of the things I’ve been reading, watching, listening to and generally obsessing over for the past few weeks.
What I’ve Been Reading
December normally finds me scarfing down poetry collections in order to meet my Goodreads Challenge, but this year I said “NO!” to panic-reading and spent the holidays catching up with a few books I wanted to read for a while that finally came in at the library.
Crisis Zone by Simon Hanselmann (Fantagraphics, 2021)
I’ve been following indie cartoonist Simon Hanselmann’s work for several years now. In fact, I even own a signed one-off comic from 2015 that is now worth roughly $200 (if only every book I bought could appreciate in value like this!) After following the Megg, Mogg & Owl series for so long, I was delighted when Hanselmann started posting a new webcomic on Instagram during the first lockdown called Crisis Zone. While I didn’t keep up with it every day, I read it regularly enough to get a sense of the plot and character arcs, and always enjoyed seeing it pop up in my feed.
I was really excited to read the entire comic from start to finish in book form, especially because it contains extra panels that weren’t posted online, as well as long notes from Hanselmann at the back about why certain choices were made. While the series has always pushed the limits of good taste, Crisis Zone really takes it to the next level. In spite of, or perhaps, because of all the copious drug-taking and disgusting sex, the comic is a testament to the chaos of the first few months of the pandemic.
I also think it was really interesting how far Hanselmann took a few of the long-running characters and even killed off a handful of them in a way that had tangible repercussions for the story. In spite of the depravity of the story, there were a few truly heartwarming moments. I’m amazed at the way Hanselmann elevated the minor character of Jaxon to be one of the most endearing parts of the narrative. If you’re going to read this, I would recommend reading the four prior books in the series first (if you can stomach them, that is).
Made-Up: A True Story of Beauty Culture under Late Capitalism by Daphné B., Translated by Alex Manley (Coach House Books, 2021)
I’ve been dying to read this slim volume for months now, especially since it’s something of a local hit in Montreal. This book is a short meditation on YouTube beauty vloggers, aesthetics, feminism, money and love. I really loved the poetic style of the prose. It has the lyrical quality of contemporary literary nonfiction like Maggie Nelson and Anne Boyer, but with the subject matter aimed specifically at a late millennial audience.
I loved the way Daphné B. wrote about Grimes, Jeffree Star and Shane Dawson with such a critical lens. There is so little great writing that explores make-up and influencers in such a serious and poetic way. I had a great time reading this and if you have any other beauty writing recommendations that aren’t Arabelle Sicardi (who I already adore), let me know.
2022 Reading Goals
For the first time since 2017, I’ve decided to not set a Goodreads Challenge this year. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to read more books, but I’ve reached a point with my ~reading journey~ where it is no longer particularly useful to me to set a hard number target since I regularly read about 40-50 books a year.
Instead, my reading goals for 2022 have more to do with the type of book I want to read. The past few years I’ve really concentrated on keeping up with recently-released fiction, but now want to go a little further back and read some celebrated longer works. Specifically, I want to read Karl Ove Knausgard’s six-volume My Struggle series and all the Toni Morrison novels on my shelf that I bought last year. I’ve started the first Knausgaard book already and am totally enthralled.
What I’ve Been Watching
Passing (Rebecca Hall, 2021)
I didn't know what to expect from the film adaptation of Passing, especially since I’ve never read the book. The novel of the same name was originally published in 1929 by American writer Nella Lawson. Set in 1920s Harlem, the story follows two Black women who were childhood friends, Claire and Irene, as they reconnect as adults.
However, for the past few years, Claire has passed as a white woman, a fact which creates extreme discomfort and unease for Irene. The film version was directed by English actress Rebecca Hall, whose own grandfather was an African-American man who passed as white for the majority of his life.
This film absolutely blew me away. Stars Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga were both absolutely incredible to watch. The film was gorgeously lit and framed, and the minimalist ‘20s jazz score was extremely effective.
I was really taken with the thematic complexity of the story, which took on colourism, jealousy among women, motherhood and middle-class security. The story felt extremely modern, despite the fact that it was written more than 90 years ago, and I am really excited to read Lawson’s original novel.
The Lost Daughter (Maggie Gyllenhaal, 2021)
Speaking of Netflix movies adapted from novels by first-time female directors, The Lost Daughter finally came out. If you’ve read this newsletter or followed me online for a while, you’ll know I am a huge fan of Elena Ferrante, so naturally, I’ve been excited to see this for months. The film, the directorial debut of Maggie Gyllenhaal, is adapted from Ferrante’s 2006 novel of the same name.
I will admit: This is not a Ferrante novel I particularly enjoy. It is deeply uncomfortable, which makes it difficult to read, especially in Ferrante’s biting prose style. For better or for worse, this sense of discomfort translated directly to the film adaptation. It was really hard to watch at points, not because it’s a bad movie, but because its portrayal of motherhood is so ruthlessly brutal and honest in a way that is very rarely depicted.
I thought Olivia Colman did a fantastic job but ultimately found the film dragged on for a bit too long. Still, I was extremely thrilled when Paul Mescal showed up as a minor character, an Elena Ferrante x Sally Rooney crossover event that seemed to have been orchestrated to satisfy my taste specifically.
Harry Potter Marathon
I honestly didn’t mean to watch five Harry Potter movies last month. It just kind of… happened. Although I loved the books as a kid, I never understood the continued adult obsession with the series and was always kind of embarrassed with how much my fellow millennials pledged their allegiance to their Hogwarts houses. (For the record, I’m a Gryffindor.) Besides, J.K. Barfbag is a TERF and I hate her!
Watching the first movie for the first time in probably fifteen years, however, filled me with a childhood nostalgia that was so strong it nearly brought tears to my eyes. I was reciting every line of dialogue left, right and centre, so giddy it was as if I, too, had purchased the lot on the Hogwarts Express, sugar-high on Honeydukes Chocolate Frogs and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans.
My boyfriend and I watched the first five movies in quick succession. When we weren’t watching one of the films, we were yelling “EXPECTO PATRONUM!” and “Not ME, not HERMIONE, YOU!” at each other at every given opportunity. Yes, it was as cringe as it sounds. But as yet another COVID wave and subsequent lockdown rolled into Quebec, it was an extremely comforting activity. These days, you need to find your joy where you can.
And Just Like That… (2021)
Speaking of things that are both cringey and comforting, I am obsessed with the Sex and the City reboot in a way that doesn’t even make sense to me. For starters, I’ve never seen the original series all the way through, just a handful of episodes here and there. And even then, I always thought they were… kind of bad?
And yet, I cannot stop watching this reboot. I even look forward to it every Thursday! I think there are so few comedy series with women as the main characters that I just watch all of them anyways, regardless of quality (here’s looking at you, six seasons of Girls). While every episode has its ups and downs, there have been a few moments that have been genuinely touching. And it’s surprisingly queer?! I’ve really enjoyed reading Heather Hogan’s recaps on Autostraddle that touch on this specifically.
The last episode, “Tragically Hip,” written by comedy writer Samantha Irby, was particularly well done. I hope the rest of the series has that same kind of sexy charm that made the original series such a hit. All I know for sure was that watching Miranda beat the shit out of a person dressed up as Chucky was one of the most bizarre things I’ve seen on scripted television in a long time.
What I’ve Been Listening To
An Unfortunately Ironic 2022 Karaoke Playlist
There was a brief month in Montreal where karaoke was legal again, for the first time since March 2020. While I had yet to venture back to 3 Minots to bless the crowd with my decidedly-average-yet-enthusiastic singing abilities, I was preparing for my fateful return, hopefully in the near future. I even made a playlist titled Karaoke 2022. The subheading? “KARAOKE IS ALIVE! LONG LIVE KARAOKE!”
A week later, karaoke died (again!) Now my playlist is nothing but an ironic token to a brief moment of optimism. It is also extremely chaotic. Who would sequence RuPaul into Rush into Rob Zombie into Nelly? Me, that’s who. Fingers crossed I can grace an audience with a performance of “Dragula” by the end of the year.
The Beatles - Abbey Road (1969) and Let It Be (1970)
My first thought when I heard about a 9-hour Beatles documentary was, “I am never going to watch that.” Not because I hate the Beatles, but because I loved the Beatles SO MUCH as a child that I pretty much can’t listen to their music anymore. Smash cut to me not only watching all of The Beatles: Get Back, but shaking with glee the entire time.
While I plan to write a long piece about the documentary soon, I will say now that it completely reinvigorated my childhood love of the band. I think it also helped that I didn’t have Let It Be on CD as a kid (remember when the Beatles weren’t even on iTunes?!), so it’s not an album I’m burnt out on, unlike Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which I literally used to fall asleep to EVERY NIGHT between the ages of 8 and 12.
Listening to Let It Be now, as well as Abbey Road, which was written at the same time, I can’t help but feel like anyone who says the Beatles are overrated is an absolute LIAR! After a decade-career, the band put out (arguably) two of their best albums back-to-back. John Lennon has (thankfully) had his cultural comeuppance, but GODDAMN that man’s vocal tone! And Paul!!! The man is a fucking MACHINE songwriter!!!
Anyways, I am the first person alive to ever think that the Beatles are a very good band.
What I’ve Been Cooking
I’ve become absolutely obsessed with this Bon Appetit recipe for Japanese Curry with Winter Squash and Mushrooms. I’ve already made it twice and the recipe only came out a month ago. You can put whatever vegetables you’d like in it, but the mushrooms are a really great addition and I wouldn’t skip them. I’ve been serving it over rice with tofu katsu and a Kewpie mayo cabbage slaw, which definitely rounds out the meal.
I didn’t have high expectations for this Budget Bytes recipe for Ham Steaks. Something about the phrase “ham steak” felt off to me, but I got a ham on super-sale and beggars can’t be choosers. I don’t know why I didn’t think ham covered in butter and sugar would be bad, because it’s absolutely delicious and very easy to make. I made it once with some vegetables on the side, and then another time with some pre-made perogies.
Thanks to Omicron, this was the second year in a row where I cooked an entire Christmas dinner by myself. Whereas last year I spent hours researching the best recipes, this year I embraced boxed items and you know what? Boxed stuffing is better than homemade! And instead of doing a turkey, I made these Turkey Stuffing Meatballs from Budget Bytes, which are extremely low effort and high-key genius.
This is not a recipe, but it is a recommendation. The PC Flatbreads are probably the best frozen pizza you can get for under $5. While the Chicken, Bacon & Caramelized Onion flavour is really good (especially if you dress it up with a bit of balsamic glaze), it’s the Sweet with Heat Pepperoni flavour that really does it for me. With pepperoni, jalapeno and honey, it is a bang-on flavour dupe for the Sweetheart at Heartbreaker’s Pizza in Ottawa, which is one of my favourite pizzas of all-time. I am curious to try the other flavours, especially the Potato & Bacon one, but I think these will probably be the best ones.
Sparkling Water of the Month: AHA Peach + Honey
I’ve never tried AHA before, but I heard good things about the Peach + Honey flavour and there was a two-for-one Cineplex coupon on the side of the box, so I figured, why not?! This was surprisingly delightful. It’s perfectly fruity, sweet and light, with the sophistication of a La Croix at half the cost.
Overall Review of December 2021
After five months of cases relatively stabilizing and having both of my vaccines, at the start of December I began to venture more freely into the world than I have for the entire pandemic. I had started going to the library to write again, instead of just staying inside my house. My boyfriend and I went to an ABBA dance night at a bar, our first club night in nearly two years, and even went to an indoor spa as an early Christmas present for each other. Both of these activities were incredibly fun and restoring and I was thinking, “Wow, I can’t wait to do more of THIS!”
And just like that… Omicron ruined all of our plans. I had a feeling that COVID was going to spike during the holidays and I hate traveling around Christmas anyway, so I actually went to Ottawa at the end of November to visit my family, which was a galaxy-brain move on my part. Now it’s back to daily walks just to keep personal morale up! Oh well. While I am trying to recommit to some good habits that I fell out of over the past few months, I sure as hell don’t have any resolutions beyond that. As the tweet says, “it is the circumstances turn to improve.”
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