Month: September 2017

Book Review: Megan Stielstra’s “The Wrong Way to Save Your Life

By: A.M. Larks

Nothing other than fate can attribute to my review on Megan Stielstra’s book, The Wrong Way to Save Your Life, which took place a week after the events in Charlottesville (which occurred on August 12, 2017), when I was supposed to have received it a month prior. During the last week, the fear for our country has increased, it is undeniably pervasive and palpable. This fear is in every conversation, every communication, and every action or reaction. Fear is exactly what Stielstra tackles in her book. Stielstra ties the broad and the specific by examining fear at its roots, fear in her own life, and fear in everybody’s lives. Written before the November 2016 election, she comments on the fear rhetoric building at that time (which seems to have reached a violent pinnacle with Charlottesville), claiming that we must work through fear by confronting that which lies on the other side. Her words are startlingly prophetic:

You might want to move on, to turn it off, watch something else—but wait, look again. Look closer. How was it made? When was it made? What was happening when it was made? What are you going to do about it? And when are you going to start?
Now I think.
Today.

Steilstra’s examination of fear begins at the origins of her own fears, her childhood: her fear of heights, fear of wiener dogs, fears that bleed into dreams; like the failure to speak in front of a crowded room or failing at her job. When she writes of her childhood nightmares featuring the 1978 TV series Hulk, she simultaneously conveys the hysterical absurdity and intense emotions of childhood. Hulk was her boogeyman. She feared that he would drag her down, down under the bed, down to the basement (where he, of course, lived). This fear seems less naïve when Stielstra describes Banner (Ferrigno) by the open voiceover, “Until he can control the raging spirit that dwells within him.” The Hulk may have had an unconscious influence on Stielstra’s childhood, but in this book, he serves as a representative of the battler we all face: the one to control our own raging spirit. By reflecting on her fear of the Hulk, she is speaking to every uncontrolled raging monster.

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Film Review: Frank Vitale and Cris Mazza’s “Anorgasmia: Faking It in a Sexualized World”

 

By: Ashley perez

A few years ago, I wrote one of the most terrifying pieces of writing in my life. I wrote about how sex was painful for me, how in eight years of sleeping with one partner, I had never achieved orgasm, how sex felt like a duty instead of a pleasure. I was sure that I was alone and that there was something wrong with me.

Shortly after, I was introduced to Cris Mazza via email, where I spoke with her for The Nervous Breakdown about her memoir, Something Wrong With Her. We talked about the repeated phrase (and its internalized trauma) “there’s something wrong with me,” as well as our distaste for our own bodies, amongst other things.

Since Cris lives in Chicago and I live in Los Angeles, I never got to tell her in person how much our candid conversation meant to me. When I heard that she was making a documentary that continued the conversation in Something Wrong With Her, I was eager to watch the film and see how she used her distinct voice to highlight a topic that is still not getting enough attention.

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Book Review: Laurent Binet’s “The Seventh Function of Language”

By: John Flynn-York

Laurent Binet’s first novel, HHhH (short for “Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich,” which, translated, means “Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich”), was a fictional reconstruction of the assassination of the Nazi Reinhard Heydrich. The novel’s narrative fluctuated between past and present, history and story. In the past, Heydrich rises to power in the Third Reich, committing unspeakable atrocities along the way, while two operatives—the Czech Jan Kubiš and the Slovak Jozef Gabčík—plan to kill him. In the present, the narrator grapples with this story and how best to write it, drawing on books, museums, and other references to recreate it in detail. The brilliance of the book came from the tension between these perspectives. What does it mean to recreate history? Can we understand the way historical figures understood things—that is, can we get inside their heads? Can we ever know the truth? In other words, HHhH was as concerned with what it means to tell a story about history as it was with the historical events themselves.

Binet’s new book, The Seventh Function of Language, similarly takes its inspiration from a real event: the accident that claimed the life of the semiologist Roland Barthes. Out of this incident, Binet spins a madcap tale of intellectuals run amok that is by turns wildly entertaining, mildly frustrating, and intellectually captivating—and only sometimes faithful to the historical record.

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