Cultural Consumption | October-December 2020

A black and white photo of a book about writing, open on a wooden desk. The chapter title reads: Narrative Design. Photo by Reghan Skerry.

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Cultural Consumption is a quarterly roundup of (almost) everything I’ve been reading and watching. It’s a way to share and promote amazing work, and it’s a way to hold myself accountable, so I don’t just keep watching the same few comfort-food movies over and over again.

I finally started to get my attention span back in the last three months of 2020—reading better books and watching more movies. Even if most of the movies aren’t listed here because, well… they weren’t very good, and I don’t see the point in talking about them.


Wonderbook – Jeff VanderMeer
The problem with books about writing is that they become repetitive fairly quickly—they all present very similar information in slightly different ways, depending on the author’s preferences and habits. There’s definitely some of that here. But this is the most in-depth look at writing specifically ‘imaginative fiction’ (sci-fi/fantasy) that I’ve ever read, and that makes it a valuable—and permanent—addition to my shelf. (This is also the prettiest book about writing I’ve ever read, by far.) ★★★★☆
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Harrow the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir
Half-way through this book, I still wasn’t sure what I thought of it. I was worried that I’d loved Gideon the Ninth so much that no sequel could live up to it. I shouldn’t have worried—this trilogy makes me want to step up my own game as a writer, and I can’t wait to see how it ends. ★★★★★
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Cemetery Boys – Aiden Thomas
I’m torn about this book. I adored the romance aspect—the characters were wonderful and charming and I loved spending time with them. But I wanted more from the fantasy/mystery side of the plot. There were Big Things happening, but they took a back seat to the (very sweet) romance, which left me feeling vaguely disappointed. ★★★☆☆
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When No One Is Watching – Alyssa Cole
A tense, twisty psychological thriller set against the backdrop of a rapidly-gentrifying Brooklyn neighbourhood. I loved everything about this, except the end. (No spoilers, but it included a trope that I’ve been noticing more and more lately—across literature, TV, and film—that I really dislike. I don’t know if I notice it because I don’t like it, or if I don’t like it because I’ve been noticing it so much. Either way.) ★★★☆☆
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This Is How You Lose the Time War – Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
A wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey spy-vs.-spy epistolatory love story. So good, both the story and the prose. I want to reread it immediately so I can appreciate it better the second time around. ★★★★★
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The Cousins – Karen M. McManus
This is what I was hoping One of Us is Next was going to be: a compulsively-readable YA thriller with characters I cared about and twists I didn’t see coming. (And one big one that I did see coming, but didn’t know how it was going to work until the last moment. And that’s more satisfying anyway.) ★★★★☆
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The City We Became – N.K. Jemisin
An urban-fantasy love letter to New York City. My only complaint is that there wasn’t enough of it: I wanted it to be about twice as long. I didn’t feel like I got to know the characters well enough, and for such a cosmically huge story, it seemed to be over awfully quick. (There is a sequel coming, but that’s not quite what I want. I want more of this specific story.) ★★★★☆
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Vampires vs. the Bronx (Trailer)
A fun little movie with serious Attack the Block vibes (in the best way) and a few genuine laugh-out-loud moments. Delightful. ★★★☆☆

Endings, Beginnings (Trailer)
I’ve got such a soft spot for movies like this: quiet little character sketches of people who don’t really know where they’re going. Even when every single character infuriates me, the movie itself is lovely. ★★★☆☆

The Assistant (Trailer)
This is a frustrating movie, but I think the nature of that frustration depends a lot on how you approach it. If you go in expecting a tense workplace thriller (which, admittedly, the trailer suggests, if it doesn’t outright promise), you’re going to be annoyed. (I’ve seen those annoyed reviews.) It’s not that movie. It’s a day-in-the-life of a junior assistant to a film exec as she becomes aware of the gaslighting and abuse happening around her. Still maddening, but in an entirely different (and more useful) way. Julia Garner is amazing. ★★★★☆

Rewatched: Overlord

In all, my media consumption in 2020 wasn’t nearly as terrible as it felt while it was happening. I struggled to finish books and I found excuses not to watch movies, but looking at the actual numbers, I’m on par with recent years—a little bit behind 2019 (when I started making an effort to do better) but roughly in line with the years before that. In total, I finished 46 books and watched 44 movies.

Of those, I read…

  • 21 novels or novellas
  • 1 book of short stories
  • 12 non-fiction books
  • 9 comic collections
  • 3 books of poetry

and watched…

  • 27 movies that were new-to-me
  • 17 that I’d seen before (mostly MCU)
  • 2 short films
  • 1 documentary
  • 2 movies in the theatre (when that was still a thing people did)

… plus a lot of really good television, which I don’t track, but probably should. (I aspire to Soderbergh’s level of detail in my tracking—and consumption—but I don’t know if I’ll ever get there.)