books

We Found Love: Goldy Moldavsky’s ‘Kill The Boy Band’

I was wary of reading the young adult novel Kill The Boy Band. Don’t get me wrong, the title hooked me right away. Goldy Moldavsky and the publisher knew what they were doing when they titled the book and put the script in highlighter pink (the ads on my Tumblr didn’t hurt as far as promotion is concerned either). My interest was piqued. However, I was troubled by an interview I’d seen in the Observer, which made it sound like the book was a judgment call being passed on “fangirls.” As a fangirl—as a girl invested in a boy band herself—I was wary of what this book would have to say about me.

[image from Scholastic’s blog]
Already from the About The Book on Scholastic’s website, I grew concerned. The narrator says, “We are fans. Okay, superfans who spend all of our free time tweeting about the boys and updating our fan tumblrs. But so what, that’s what you do when you love a group so much it hurts.” The phrasing here seems to beg for laughs from readers.

I’m not saying I haven’t at my worst moments expressed that same type of gleeful judgment, trepidation, and shock at fan behavior that I felt had crossed a line. A girl fainted next to me in Detroit when 5 Seconds of Summer took the stage prior to One Direction’s concert, and I froze in panic and then broke into laughter when I looked at my best friend. (Yes, I made sure this girl was ok; I also inwardly thought, “I’m glad we express our adoration differently.”) I just couldn’t find that type of fervor for Ashton Irwin.

So in a world intent on telling girls how to dress, act, and talk, I was a little nervous to start Kill The Boy Band. I feel so protective of the real world fandom us girls have all created–the men’s bathrooms at venues converted into women’s bathroom, meet-ups before concerts with people we’ve only met on the Internet, but who are soon to be IRL friends. The hushed silence that descends on an auditorium when the boys you’ve reblogged on Tumblr transform from pixels to flesh. Teen girls don’t need to be told to love in moderation. Society is already telling them to eat smaller portions, to take up less space. Girls are not allowed anything in excess, and that extends to the way they must love pop culture.

Kill The Boy Band is a fast read. I should start there. I devoured the book. Goldy Moldavsky creates a world rich with today’s social media platforms. This book cannot be separated from our current landscape. The Ruperts, the boy band of the title, are a conglomeration of 90’s acts (*NSYNC, The Backstreet Boys) and today’s rock acts (One Direction). As much as this book is fiction, there are moments when it reads like non-fiction. If you’re a “fangirl,” the shorthand on fanfic and investigation into lives of beloved boy band members is familiar territory. Goldy pushes the envelope in order to ask thought-provoking questions about what fandom can eventually look like.

The book opens promisingly: “Fangirls get a bad rap all the time. They say we’re weird, hysterical, obsessed, certifiable. But those people don’t understand. Just because I love something a lot doesn’t mean I’m crazy.” Sixty pages in, when a dude confronts the narrator about her feelings on boy bands, I cheered as her internal monologue stated, “When you find something that makes you happy and giddy and excited every day, us fangirls know a truth that everyone else seems to have forgotten: You hold on to that joy tenaciously.” Goldy, here, correctly understands the mindset of what it means to be in a fandom, but later I felt let down by the idea that kept appearing throughout about growing up and out of fandom culture: that these girls have wasted time, energy, friendships on boys who don’t deserve them.

Maybe it’s due to my Cancer horoscope, my weak inner constitution, and my deep-rooted hatred of criticism, but I can’t help but be angry that Goldy ultimately ridicules the adoration teen girls feel for boy bands. I hope no one who picks up Kill The Boy Band reflects on their time loving a boy band with self-hatred. I hope they can remember how it feels to love something larger than yourself – something that you helped create. The Ruperts of Kill The Boy Band only exist because of these teen girls (Erin, Isabel, Apple, and the unnamed narrator). There is a power in that.

Yes, their loyalties might change. We can all be fickle. We can all move on. However, we shouldn’t judge our former selves for what we needed in order to survive day to day. The GIFs, Snapchats, Instagrams, and memes are fleeting but what they give us is not. The laughs we shared with Internet friends a whole continent away, our fangirl kin that understood exactly what we meant when we used emojis to describe the latest shirtless selfie of our fav.

Kill The Boy Band succeeds in being readable, knowledgeable entertainment, but I worry about the passages where the book seems to say: One Direction is sure to let you down the same way The Ruperts have let down these girls. I’m uncomfortable with that assertion. I don’t think we have to be embarrassed by the pop culture we use as shorthand. I think there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. Yes, it’s good to look deeper at the allegiances girls have to boy bands. But to paraphrase one of the pivotal characters, I don’t think we should be telling girls that their passion and power can be better utilized. I don’t see men being taught that they need to set down their remote controls in order to wield their brainpower in other mediums.

I urge witchsong readers to pick up their own copy from a local library, independent bookstore or Barnes & Noble, and let me know what they thought. In the meantime, I’ll be blasting One Direction’s “Change Your Ticket.”

nonrequired reading: art and artists and one witch

Hello again! I have been reading a lot of books about art lately (okay, two of them), but as a person who works predominantly with art and who considers myself to be at least a little bit an artist I am always enthralled by books of this kind.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos is about a girl who forges a painting in grad school because she’s broke (#relatable), grows up to become a famous curator, and then curates a show where – surprise – her forgery and the original show up. It is a little bit historical fiction, set respectively in the Golden Age of Dutch painting (late 1500s-early 1600s), the 1950s, and today, following painter, forger, and owner of the painting. There is a lot of rather technical detail about forging paintings which I personally found to be very interesting – types of brushstrokes, how to age a canvas, etc., etc., but it is also just a really beautiful study of people. The writing is incredible; there were certain parts that I had to just stop and stare at.

The Drowning Girl is a book about ghosts but also about art and it is, honestly, a piece of art in itself. I am about halfway through but I can already tell this is a book I will read and read and read. It has captured me so completely – it is almost impossible to describe, which I think is the point, but it resonates in my bones. It’s written so perfectly, so utterly truly – there is a part where she says that people fear vampires and werewolves and ghosts and whatnot because although they are not factual they are true. This book is true and I want you all to read it and come talk to me about it.

Now the witch! Of course there is a witch. Hex is a translation from its original Dutch (lots of Dutch today!) and the author reworked it a bit in the translating. It is a horror novel about a small town in upstate New York (I think? somewhere staid and unflappable, anyway) that has a witch. And they know they have a witch, and they’re resigned to having a witch, and when she inevitably shows up in someone’s living room to stand there for hours on end, they put a towel on her head so they don’t have to look at her face and keep watching TV. Obviously havoc ensues, eventually, but it’s a really interesting take on haunting as a concept and is pretty creepy at times, if I’m being honest.

Other books about art which I have loved: The Goldfinch,  The Swan Thieves, Tell the Wolves I’m Home. Anything that talks about the texture of light in a painting is something I am going to read. I am partial to landscapes and still lifes, Maria van Oosterwyck, Wyeth but not his weirder stuff. I would rather look at a Thomas Kinkade than a Rothko and I understand objectively why that is wrong but I am who I am. There is a painting by Didier Paquignon of a car on an overpass and the first time I saw it I cried because the light was so beautiful. There is a way that art gets talked about in fiction – painting, specifically – that makes me feel shivery and connected to humanity and these books have all got it.

Next time I will talk about Girls on Fire! I have finished it but I am still processing. It is amazing, I will tell you that much.

nonrequired reading

Hello again! I read some more things. Once again I implore you to join me on Litsy (@furiosa) which is shaping up to be maybe pretty good. I would love to follow some of our readers – y’all have good taste <3 and one of the books I am gonna recommend here today was suggested to me by one of you!

The Expedition – Bea Uusma (hi Agnes!)
If you liked Dead Mountain – frankly, if you have even heard of it – you may be in the sort of unsolved-mountain-death-mystery club that I am. There is just something transfixing about a group of people dying inexplicably! I’m sorry! I want to know what happened! And obviously we never will – I fall into this trap every time I read one of these things, like, this person definitely solved it, we’re finally gonna KNOW THE TRUTH – like, let me stop you there and warn you, that is not what this book is. But it is beautifully written and sad and really prettily arranged; it is as much a work of art as it is a piece of writing, and it is really just lovely. It is about the first-ever Arctic expedition, and these three guys who, uh, tried to fly to the North Pole in a hydrogen balloon. You read that right. It is really fascinating from a scientific standpoint – lots of theories, debunking of theories, and did you know that the Arctic isn’t land? There’s no land! It’s just ice! Really thick ice! I freaked out about that for awhile. The seafloor is ten thousand feet below this fake ice continent! It is also, though, as all of these types of books are, a love story. There is a reason people do these things, as inexplicable as we may find it, and I think the reason I love these books is because they are a window into this kind of love, this dangerous, reckless love. Anyway, you should read it, it was translated from the original Swedish (I think?) and is maybe only available as a Kindle book in English, but still. Worth it. (Postscript: if you are into this kind of thing and have not watched Devil’s Pass, please do so and report back. Note that it is a horror movie and as such is a work of fiction, but still. But still.) 5 stars, would read again.

The Fireman – Joe Hill
More horror reviews from your horrorgirl, that’s me, always reading all the horror all the time, trying desperately to find the next best most terrifying thing. This one was not quite horror if I’m being honest, but I did like it. I have a weird relationship with Joe Hill, in that I half suspect that his dad is ghostwriting for him, but whether that’s true or not his recent stuff far eclipses his early work. N0S4A2, in particular, was truly haunting and I think about it a lot. But The Fireman is not horror. It is basically The Stand again, but in this decade, and with a new disease, and some other variations. It is also much, much better than The Stand. (I hate The Stand. I’m sorry. I know this is blasphemy. I love Stephen King despite his many missteps but I haaate The Stand. In a fun installment of “Aly misunderstands very common pop culture phenomena”, I actually did not read it for years despite loving King because I for some reason thought it was a 1500-page book about a trial. Taking the stand? Listen, I watch a lot of crime shows. Anyway, I finally read it and hated it, so, joke’s on me.) So this is another during-and-post-apocalypse tale that draws fairly heavily from The Horror Greats, which makes for a sort of fun Easter-egg spot-the-reference reading experience, and although it is a little bit predictable it is still very enjoyable. The universe that Hill has created is a good one, and I kind of want to write a bunch of things involving Dragonscale, the exciting new plague that’s sweeping the nation. Ha. 4 stars, will probably not read again but will definitely read a sequel/spinoff.

I’m currently reading War of the Foxes, which is a small and devastating book of poetry by Richard Siken containing many poems that are definitely about Bucky Barnes.

Next up on the list is something called Girls on Fire, which I know almost nothing about except that the author usually writes YA and it was described as “nightmarishly compelling”. Much like myself. After that, I’m keeping my eye out for a copy of the new YA book about the descendants of the Countess of Bathory (I KNOW. I KNOW!!).

Recommend things! Tell me what you’re reading! Tell me whether you think I’m giving Joe Hill too much/not enough credit! Did you read Horns? Did you see it? Do you think Daniel Radcliffe is eating enough? Do you think he wants to hang out with me sometime? I just feel like we’d hit it off. Comment below, I’ve got coffee and I’m ready to chat!

nonrequired reading: let’s be social about books

Untitled

“In the heaven of werewolves, there’s just new grass folding back into place.”

Some books I have read as of today, March 28th, 2016, that I want to talk about:

Mongrels (Stephen Graham Jones) is a book about werewolves but it is really about family, about stories, about the ways that we knit ourselves to each other. It is about the way that sometimes you have to lie to get closer to the truth – sometimes a story is diminished in the telling, so you have to scale up accordingly. It is very sad and very beautifully written, and I cried about it. It is also fairly scary at points in a sort of creeping way, and it also made me care about werewolves for maybe the first time ever. I feel about most werewolves the way I feel about zombies – their narratives are usually very predictable, very boring, and very predicated on violence as the only answer. This book went a long way toward changing my mind. 5/5 would read again.

This Is Not A Test (Courtney Summers) is a zombie book – again, not a narrative that I love – but it is about a girl who wants to die. It is a really fascinating thing to watch unfold, and it hits very close to home, and it gave me good-vampire-narrative vibes, which I think says something about me – I am very interested in people who don’t want to be vampires, in any narrative, because what they are saying at its core is that they do someday want to die. I’m getting a little off track, but it is very good and genuinely moving and I love Courtney Summers a lot, always. 5/5 will probably not read again but am very interested in reading the sequel.

Into Thin Air (Jon Krakauer) is, as you probably know, a personal account of the Everest expedition of 1996, during which a blizzard killed eight people and mangled a lot more. I knew about it, had read about it, have fallen down many Wikipedia k-holes about the death zone, the edema, the Khumbu icefall which you can only cross in the very early morning when it’s still cold because the ice shifts and falls during the day. But reading about it from Krakauer’s perspective makes it much less academic and, at the same time, much more understandable. I cried a lot – it is a very hard read, a series of very senseless and avoidable deaths, but it is honest and beautiful. 5/5 will someday read again; will not watch the movie again.

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours (Helen Oyeyemi) is a new collection of short stories by one of my favorite authors. Read it, read it, read it. 5/5 will read again ASAP.

Paper Tigers (Damien Angelica Walters) is a well-written but ultimately not-as-thrilling-as-I-wanted horror novel. 4/5 will not read again, but maybe worth a read for you if it’s been a while since you got a little freaked out.

Currently I am reading an advance copy of Kissing in America (Margo Rabb), which I am almost a third of the way done with and still undecided about. I think I like it, although I don’t love the writing, but I am reserving judgment because our narrator has a tendency to belittle beautiful girls. There is a lot of poetry in it though, and I am remembering more and more lately that I do love poetry, have loved certain poetry for what feels like my whole life. I am also in the middle of Richard Siken’s Crush (see! poetry!). Next on the list is Juliet Takes a Breath (Gabby Rivera), which I am deeply excited for. I will keep you updated.

I’m on this app now, it’s a new app, they only have it for Apple products so far, but it is called Litsy. It’s like Instagram, kind of, but only for books. There are not a lot of people on it yet, so I can’t quite tell how good it’s going to be, but I think it’s one of those that’s only as good as the content. So if you like your Goodreads app but you don’t love Amazon or whatever, and you want to take pictures of your books or look at the pictures that I take of mine, you can come check that out if you want. I’m on there as @furiosa. Do you have book apps you use other than Goodreads? Am I barking up the wrong tree? Let’s talk about it. Let’s talk! About books! What are you reading? Do you feel that the romance novel as an institution is unfairly maligned? Imagine that my head is propped on my hands and I’m doing a very attentive listening pose. Go!

“Peel back the skin, see what’s there”: Carrie Brownstein’s HUNGER MAKES ME A MODERN GIRL

That’s why all those records from high school sound so good. It’s not that the songs were better—it’s that we were listening to them with our friends, drunk for the first time on liqueurs, touching sweaty palms, staring for hours at a poster on the wall, not grossed out by carpet or dirt or crumpled, oily bedsheets. These songs and albums were the best ones because of how huge adolescence felt then, and how nostalgia recasts it now.
-Carrie Brownstein, from Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl [pg. 3]

0903fe1eHalfway through reading Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, I had a dream about Carrie Brownstein. Yes, it was a sort of sexy dream; no, I am not going to go into detail. I woke up smiling – not only because it was a sweet dream, but also because it made me realize how everything has come full circle. I first dreamt about Carrie twenty years ago, when, at age fourteen, I read about Sleater-Kinney in a fanzine and saw the picture of the band that ran alongside it. This makes Carrie my longest-running musician crush. She wasn’t my first – Billy Idol and Michael Steele (bassist of The Bangles) share that title – but she’s the only musician I had a crush on as a teen that I’m still crushing on. The other thing that has circled me back to my origins is my relationship to Sleater-Kinney’s music. I saw Sleater-Kinney on their Dig Me Out tour, at 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis, in May 1997. That show was my first non-local punk/rock show. That show made me know I wanted, needed, all that in my life forever. Punk, rock’n’roll, dark clubs, words, and guitar. I knew I’d find a way to always be a part of it, whether by making music myself or writing about it, and when I got home from Minneapolis I wrote about Sleater-Kinney (and my crush on Carrie) for my own fanzine. And here I am, nineteen years later, writing about Carrie’s memoir for a music website.

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Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is a tender artifact. Carrie pokes at her memories like they’re a sore spot in her mouth, like when you bite the inside of your cheek and you can’t stop your tongue from pressing against the tiny wound, even though you know you should leave it alone. I don’t mean that it’s too confessional. It’s not. Carrie makes it clear that she will not give everything away on the page. She writes about some personal, painful things, but there are some things that aren’t for the public eye. It’s a topic she touches on in the book – how women are reviled for being too confessional (keep your messy feelings to yourself), but at the same time people are uncomfortable when a woman is not being confessional, when she’s using a persona or holding something back. She also mentions that the times she has felt most herself have been when she was on stage, playing music: and that even when she was singing about personal things, she was still in her rock’n’roll persona. She felt most herself when “not (her)self.” To quote my favorite, Oscar Wilde: “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” That goes for woman, too.

Carrie’s memoir is not overly confessional, but it is real. She doesn’t tell us everything, but she tells us the things that matter. As I said, it’s tender. By turns heartbreaking and joyful, but it’s all oh, so human. Everything she shares is honest and unglamorous. Even when she’s writing about longing for the old songs and the old days, she does it in a way that doesn’t make them sparkle with the glamoured light of nostalgia. In Hunger…, Carrie is open about the people and situations that have hurt her, but she doesn’t portray herself as a victim. She owns up to her own less-than-pretty moments, too. About the only complaint I have with the writing is that she sometimes uses words that disrupt the otherwise conversational tone of the book. She uses words like parsimonious when she could have said stingy; perspicacious when perceptive would have worked just as well. But maybe that’s one way she holds part of herself back from us. Her choice of words and phrasing means that it doesn’t read like a diary, sloppy and emotional. She selected her words as carefully as she selected which pieces of her life to share. Even in the conversational moments, there is a remove: it’s not a conversation like you’d have late at night with your best girlfriend after a few bottles of wine, it’s a conversation like you’d have with someone interviewing you for a magazine. She shows us, once again, that not everything is for public consumption.

————

To reiterate: she may not share everything, but she shares the things that matter. One of the reasons I love this book is because there are so many echoes of my own life in it. I relate, in a visceral way, to her teenage longing to be cool and sophisticated and failing at it. I know what it feels like to be an outsider in your own family, and in the world at large. And I especially relate to turning to music, both the playing of it and the listening to it, as an escape from all that. When you feel like you don’t fit in anywhere, you find yourself in the sound and the scene. She also writes with candor about how the ethos and insularity of the punk and indie scenes can become their own kind of trap; how you turn to the underground so you don’t have to play by mainstream society’s rules, but then find that you’ve got a whole new set of rules that you’re supposed to follow.

My favorite moment in the book comes when she describes hearing Bikini Kill for the first time:

It was the first time someone put into words my sense of alienation, the feeling that all these institutions and stories we’d been taught to hold as sacred often had very little to do with my own lived experiences. I had already been listening to punk and had related to storytellers like Joe Strummer and Paul Weller, but hearing Bikini Kill was like having someone illuminate my world for the first time. Here was a narrative that I could place myself inside, that I could share with other people to help explain how I felt, especially at a time when I was a shy and fairly inarticulate teen. I could turn the volume up on their songs and that loudness matched all my panic and fear, anger and emotions that seemed up until that point to be uncontrollable, even amorphous. [pg. 55]

I felt that way when I first heard Bikini Kill, too, but I felt even more that way when I first heard Sleater-Kinney. I loved Bikini Kill, but Sleater-Kinney felt closer to my own reality. Bikini Kill had a toughness that sometimes kept me at a distance. I wasn’t tough as a teen. Everything felt like a disaster, I was oversensitive to the world, and I cried constantly. It felt like Sleater-Kinney got that. Their songs could be just as angry and loud and tough-sounding, but I also sensed a vulnerability that I never got from Bikini Kill.

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Before I read Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, I read an interview with Carrie Brownstein, conducted by Ana Marie Cox for the New York Times Magazine. In it, Ana says, “You wrote that in college you ‘wanted to be someone who has the power to drift in and out of people’s imaginations, who could be bigger than mere human form, a surface upon which others could project their longings.’ It’s rare to see someone aligned with indie rock be so frank about seeking fame.” Carrie’s response was: I don’t want to be famous. I wanted to be that solidity for someone else, in the same way that when I was young, I was able to project my desires and insecurities and uncertainties and need for belonging onto someone else.

Carrie, you were that for me. From the moment I first heard you sing Peel back the skin, see what’s there / I’ll never show you what’s in here, from the moment I saw you jumping around like a rock star in that dark club in Minneapolis, you were someone I wanted to be with and also be like. Your words (and guitar) helped me navigate my own awkward, painful adolescence. And two decades later, it still means so much.

“I’ll Be Chuck Klosterman For Girls”: Jessica Hopper’s Critical Examination of Rock

This idea that there is a right way to like music and a right music to like and a right way to express that—it all works together in this prescribed idea of how women are supposed to participate in music. Decades and decades of women being told we like music in the wrong way. It’s all just a myth.

TIME’s “Jessica Hopper: Stop Telling Girls the Way They Listen to Music Is Wrong”

There’s still very much this stereotype, especially within the music industry and even just within the music scene, that teenage girls are not serious consumers of music, even though they are the number one purchasers of music-of CDs especially, oddly enough. Teenage girls are the number one consumers of music, they are the number one drivers of taste, and yet they are still not considered serious music fans [….] you [can] like One Direction and the Carter Family at the same time.

-The Current’s “Jessica Hopper on Minnesota, local scenes”

Let me start this by confessing that at age fourteen, I was obsessed with Chuck Klosterman. Mid-twenties me is embarrassed that I was so willing to use men to define my identity, but I didn’t know of any females at the time getting shout outs in Entertainment Weekly for publishing pop-culture manifestos. In Klosterman’s writing, I found someone who made a living doing what I couldn’t put a name to then, he wrote about the convergence and importance of music, television and film as a means of categorizing our collective life experience. He took products my parents maligned—The Real World and porn—and examined what those cultural images said about us as a whole. He synthesized, manipulated, expanded upon ideas. At fourteen, this was revolutionary to me. In some ways, it still is. I reread Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs yearly. Klosterman’s words feels like an old friend, the pages worn and annotated. We’ve been having an ongoing conversation through his books for ten years about John Cusack, Mad Men, and KISS.

I’d already purchased Jessica Hopper’s The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic when she told Newsweek, “I’ll be Chuck Klosterman for girls. Maybe I’ll be four rungs down from Klosterman, or I become bigger than Klosterman. But he doesn’t get to be the only barometer anymore.” I flushed with embarrassment reading. Hopper’s insistence earlier this year while promoting the collection that she could be the new Klosterman for girls is apropos. (Author’s aside: Chuck Klosterman followed me on Twitter for 24 hours on September 21, 2015. I have to believe he unfollowed me post-One Direction’s appearance at Apple Music Festival and my subsequent stream of tweets. Hey, Chuck. I’ve read at least 123,765 of your words on KISS. The least you could do is read 10 tweets.) At fourteen, I was so happy to have found Klosterman that I didn’t even question whether or not there were female writers being shut out of publishing for writing similar content. At twenty-five, I’m happy to have found Hopper and her contemporaries—Maria Sherman, Ariel Lebeau, and Brodie Lancaster—writing thoughtful pieces on important music followed, consumed, and curated by young women. If Klosterman’s work now feels like an old friend, Hopper’s is—as a female rock critic—a mirror for my own experiences. Hopper’s book opens with her asserting, a paragraph that stands on its own before the collection truly begins, “I want it. I need it. Because all these records, give me a language to decipher how fucked up I am.” Hopper knows us, because she was and is one of us.

Hopper’s first essay in her collection is an essay published in 2003 about emo music, and the toxic community the men in the scene created. I saw Hopper speak earlier this fall at the Brooklyn Book Festival at a talk entitled “The Critic As Creator,” and she mentioned this early essay. It is hard to read Hopper’s indictment of the emo scene because it’s still so relevant in 2016. Hopper states, “Because as it stands in 2003 I simply cannot substantiate the effort it takes to give a flying fuck about the genre/plague that we know as emo or myopic songs that don’t consider the world beyond boy bodies, their broken hearts or their vans.” Hopper offers insight into the trouble women experience finding a space for themselves in the music world as performers or fans. Writing in 2003, Hopper emphasized, “Girls in emo songs today do not have names. We are not identified beyond our absence, our shape drawn by the pain we’ve caused. Our lives, our day-to-day does not exist, we do not get colored in.” It is perhaps for this very reason that I have become a fan of pop in the current decade as pop has readily embraced female performers.

Hopper references Andy Greenwald’s Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, and Emo, a book that I read at thirteen because, as I’ve always been, I was greedy to get my hands on any book that could define, critique, examine, illuminate my obsessions. I wish I’d known that Hopper was herself analyzing the lyrics and perspective of rock critics and musicians. Teenage me could have used a young woman to help her make sense of the Bright Eyes tracks she found refuge in and the lanky, lithe boys that couldn’t find the time of day for her opinions. As Hopper laments, “Men writing songs about women is practically the definition of rock n’ roll” but that doesn’t mean that there currently is not a real demand to broaden the definition of rock n’ roll. While emo is a great place to define this particular issue, I would say this comes up personally for me in the One Direction fan base every day where all of us young women are maligned for devouring their songs, interviews, hearts. Much like Hopper describes with Bikini Kill, I’ve found refuge in a community that is a safe haven for women like myself who adore music. I quite frankly don’t care if Zayn Malik doesn’t think One Direction’s music is “cool shit,” because I do. That’s all that matters. Teenage me could have used a woman as intelligent and articulate as Hopper to help me understand this back when I let boys drone on about how music made them feel. As she so deftly writes in “Emo: Where The Girls Aren’t,” “Us girls deserve more than one song. We deserve more than one pledge of solidarity. We deserve better songs than any boy will ever write about us.”

Hopper’s collection hinges on her critical essay of R. Kelly, an essay in which she herself confronts her earlier dismissal of rape allegations made against R. Kelly. The essay establishes how Hopper is unafraid of counteracting popular mainstream music criticism. There’s a critical examination of females in pop, including Taylor Swift’s identity on Red. Hopper’s music knowledge covers decades and genres. The collection includes reviews of Miley Cyrus, St. Vincent, and Chance The Rapper.

An essential essay in The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic is “Louder Than Love: My Teen Grunge Poserdom.” There is nothing more me than dressing up like my crush to garner their attention (Hopper writes, “I am not sure why I thought dressing exactly like Andrew Beccone might lure him to me”). I guess I was not alone in that. It made me think back to my unwavering crush on Nick Schmaltz in middle school with the swooping fringe, scuffed Converse, and permanent scowl. My affinity for pretending to like Slipknot to get his attention. I walked to the bus stop each morning and changed into torn-at-the-knees Gap bell-bottoms, picked at the frayed edges of the hole to make it larger, more authentic, inserted a studded white belt from Kohl’s into the loops, and adjusted a sweatband from Hot Topic onto my wrist away from the lurking eyes of my mother. It was only later that I would seek comfort in Jenny Lewis, Debbie Harry, Imogen Heap, Carole King and Regina Spektor long after my crush had ebbed. These articulate, fierce women helped me to understand what my identity could be. I ripped their magazine spreads out of Nylon, wrote their lyrics on my trapper keeper, and sang—off-key—along to their exquisitely spun narratives. Hopper writes, “Bikini Kill songs taught me something that neither Mudhoney, nor Andrew Beccone ever could—that my teen-girl soul mattered. That who I was mattered, what I thought and felt mattered, even when they were invisible to everyone else.” It took me a while to find “my girls,” the female singers who spoke to my life experience, passions; but once I did, there was no going back. Goodbye Nick, goodbye Hot Topic, goodbye music that didn’t represent me.

I implore you – if you’re a fan of witchsong – to pick up a copy. I read the book immediately the first week it came out, and I’ve reread it this year as I seek to find better ways to catalogue, confront, and love music.

witchsong top fives of 2015, reads edition

Five Books of 2015 That Have Not Yet Relaxed Their Grip on Aly’s Heart, in no particular order:

1. The Fifth Gospel, Ian Caldwell. I am perhaps too much of a sucker for books about faith, the study of faith as an exercise in scholarship, investigating faith and people struggling with their faith, but even taking that into consideration this is in my top 5 books not only of the year but probably of ever.
A priest can forgive a stranger so quickly that a boy can’t imagine how hard he will find it, someday, to forgive his own enemies. Or his own loved ones. He has no inkling that good men can sometimes find it impossible to forgive themselves. The darkest mistakes can be forgiven, but they can never be undone. I hope my son will always remain a stranger to those sins.

2. The Library at Mount Char, Scott Hawkins. I am not sure what to say about this book except that I almost didn’t read it because it is described as “Joe Hill meets Neil Gaiman”, which was enough to put me off it forever, but instead – for some reason – I read it. It is beautiful and weird and crushing in a strange breathless way. It is very dark and very, very bright.
The only real escape from hell is to conquer it.
 
3. All the Rage, Courtney Summers. I would follow Courtney Summers into the longest darkest night. This book came out on my twenty-fourth birthday and I didn’t read it then but when I did, months later, it was still almost too much to bear. How long does it take before you stop relating? Trick question.
You know all the ways you can kill a girl?
God, there are so many.

 
4. Welcome to Night Vale, Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor. If you haven’t listened to the podcast you should, despite the… rabidness of some of its fanbase. Night Vale is a comfort to me, something soothing beyond words, something that feels like a gentle personal gift to me in the darkest parts of my life. Listen to “A Story About You”, listen to “Through the Narrow Place”. Read this book, which takes place in Night Vale but which does not require prior knowledge of its strangeness.
Josie produced a glass of water, through practiced manipulation of cupboards and valves and municipal plumbing. Neither she nor Jackie was impressed with the human miracle represented by how easily the glass of water was produced.
 
5. Vivian Apple at the End of the World, Katie Coyle. I named the horoscopes after it. It remains painfully, beautifully important, and the sequel is just as good.
The way we live our lives is not sustainable. I don’t just mean recycling and turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth. I mean the way we treat each other. The way we pick and choose whose lives are important—who we actually treat as human. There is nobody on this earth whose life is not of value.

Honorable mentions:
The gender-swapped retelling of Twilight, Life and Death (Stephenie Meyer), which would have made the list if it had been gay but is still pretty easy to make gay when you read it.
I thought about falling to my knees on purpose. This was the kind of beauty you worshiped. The kind you built temples for and offered sacrifices to. I wished I had something in my empty hands to give her, but what would a goddess want from a mere mortal like me?

George, Alex Gino, a middle-reader book about a young trans girl that made me cry buckets of tears and then smile through them.
She looked in the mirror and gasped. Melissa gasped back at her. For a long time, she stood there, just blinking. George smiled, and Melissa smiled too.

Tess‘s Top Five Reading Experiences of 2015

  1. Women in Clothes, in the bathtub for periods of fifteen minutes to an hour over and over for so many nights and mornings all year long. With red wine in a coffee mug, or canned beer, or Diet Coke from a fountain, in a plastic bucket, pulled to my mouth by a long striped straw. With pruned toes and pink cheeks. Making notes in extra fine Sharpie pen, usually blue. I have never minded how the ink bleeds through.
  2. Hesitation Wounds by Amy Koppelman. I peeled off layers on an orange couch in an overheated library basement and did not move once to stand. I have not recovered.
  3. Inferno : A Poet’s Novel by Eileen Myles on a Peter Pan bus to New York to visit with adorable friends and a number of rats.
  4. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt, tear-soaked and chainsmoking on benches and ledges across the Mount Holyoke campus.
  5. Dryland by Sara Jaffe on a week day in late September while sitting on a swing my mother bought for herself when she realized nobody was going to buy it for her, moving my body back and forth slowly with the flex of a toe, in time with the book’s gentle, tangy pulses of adolescent lust.

Top Five Books Kenzie Spent Her Own Actual Money On in 2015

  1. Courtney Summers’ All the Rage is stunning and important and so painfully resonant you could just cry. I read it three times, and I have plans to read it again. For all the girls that know the ways the world tries to kill you, for all the girls the world won’t listen to. I was on the holds list for this at the library before it was released, and I bought my own copy before I was finished with it.

  2. Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ would have changed my life if I’d read it in high school; reading it now, it’s still one of the best books I read this year. The way Willowdean and her body are spoken about on the page, the relationship she has with her own body, simply the acknowledgement that fat, happy girls exist in the world. It took me more years than it should have to see that reflected in the things I read or watched. But I’m glad I have this book to recommend to people now, at the very least.

  3. Jessica Hopper’s The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic is such a beautiful book that it probably would have made this list even if it wasn’t a wonderful read. Wisp-thin pages and gold-gilded edges, a soft-touch cover and well-chosen typeface. It really is stunning. But more than that, it was the only book that actually inspired me to break out post-it notes and a pencil and underline passages, make notes in the margins, flag pages for future reference. Hopper is an important force in music writing, and her Twitter conversations on women in the music industry are both depressing and enlightening; she’s also just a damn good writer. A good book to own.

  4. eBook copies of Little Women and Anne of Green Gables, for reasons obvious and self-explanatory, despite (clearly) not having been published in 2015.

  5. Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad is not her best work, and not published this year either, but even the things she writes that run middle of the pack for her are leagues better than a great deal of the things people tell me to read. I love Margaret Atwood. She has a whole shelf on my bookshelf. This book, purchased while walking solo around Powell’s in Portland on my first-ever trip across the country, is slim and precise in so many ways I am not, but it is angry in ways I understand. I didn’t read it until the day I arrived home again, but I sat on the couch and read it in one sitting and instagrammed the best pages.

Ashley‘s Top 5 Non-witchsong Articles About One Direction in 2015

1) Racked’s “The Absolute Necessity of One Direction”

“Me loving like One Direction is as much about embracing their positivity and romantic sincerity as it is about mourning the failure of the wider world to even faintly reflect either. One Direction created one of the most compelling fantasy worlds for girls in music history, they fortified it by being gentle and gave it life by surrendering so much of their own lives to the group.”

2) Rolling Stone’s 16 Reasons One Direction Are on Top of the Stadium Rock Game”

“Harry and Louis are the Stevie and Lindsey of the mermaid-tattoo-era stadium-rock eye-contact game. Louis’ eyes are dark, intense, controlling, with a surly ‘damn your love, damn your life’ edge. Harry’s eyes say ‘I hear the darkness you’re expressing and it’s important to me but my heart tells me to twirl right now,’ so he twirls and touches his hair. The brooding look vs. the beatific twirl. When one of them gets happy, the other gets wistful. When one of them gets bitchy, the other gets sugary. I could watch them sing together for hours.”

3) Matter’s “Soft Power: How popstar Zayn Malik is rebuilding the modern Muslim man in an age of Islamophobia”

4) Complex’s “Catching Feelings: on Zayn Malik, One Direction, and the Value of Fandom”

“The true, enduring value of One Direction dawned on me once I realized the emotional refuge and antidote to toxic masculinity they provide for the young girls (and guys) that populate their fanbase. In a music industry that simultaneously treats teen girls as the most lucrative consumers but the least respected audience, One Direction speaks directly to them and says something that their demographic doesn’t get to hear as much as it should: You are important.”

5) The Muses’ (Jezebel) “Behind the BoyBand: Q&A with Caroline Watson, One Direction’s Stylist”

Bonus (6!) because I don’t play by the rules: Buzzfeed’s “How One Direction Helped Me Find My Girls”

“These girls are creating a world for themselves where they feel safe and supported and encouraged to express themselves, and it’s incredible. Why are so many people so eager to mock women for “acting like girls” by expressing passion in fandom, when we as a society allow men to fanboy over sports and superheroes well into adulthood?”