I Read a Book: How to Wreck A Nice Beach


The vocoder is misunderstood. It gets name-vocoderdropped by music fans a lot but it often gets mistaken for a talk box, or autotune. People complain about its use in songs but then lionize lots of artists that swear by it. If you brought up a vocoder to a lot of people, they wouldn’t know what it is, but if you played a song with a vocoder in it, they’d recognize what it sounds like. In How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder from World War II to Hip Hop, The Machine Speaks (yes that is the full name) Dave Tompkins digs deep – real deep, it’s more than 300 pages - into the vocoder’s complicated and multifaceted history, from its initial use as a speech synthesis device and voice-masking tool by the U.S. military during WWII, to its use as a musical instrument in pop, rock, hip-hop and beyond. In a fractured music writing environment it’s rare to find a book that includes interviews with everyone from Afrika Bambaataa, Laurie Anderson, and Donnie Wahlberg from New Kids on The Block. Thoroughly (one might say obsessively) researched, the book serves as both a social history of a piece of technology and a defense of its use in music.

Because it covers so much ground, How to Wreck A Nice Beach is both a fun, fascinating read, and a dense, frustrating one. Tompkins is not-quite-linear in his storytelling, his focus both jumps and meanders across decades in a way that may irritate those who are looking for a straightforward history or are more interested in one element of the vocoder’s history than the other.

His stream-of-consciousness style both bothered me and fascinated me as a reader because we so rarely see this style anymore in non-fiction writing, which tends to be deliberate to a fault at times: “this is what I think and this is why I think it.” To be befuddled at times but still fascinated enough to keep reading was an interesting reaction for me. I honestly wish it was more common, to read a piece in anticipation of where it goes next, but not really knowing. What’s consistent (if you’re looking for consistency) is Tompkins’ understated, dry sense of humor throughout the book which is balanced by an seemingly incongruent sensitivity to the engineers and musicians whose own stories are indirectly told through the history of the device.

As it’s more of a historical/cultural history than a scientific exploration of the device, gear heads may not find the book as meaty as they would like, but great historical writing about technology is (or should be) as much about technologies evolving social meaning as much as it is about how it works. In this, How To Wreck A Nice Beach more than succeeds.

Summary: A dense, engrossing social and cultural history of a misunderstood piece of technology.

I Read A Book: Exile on Guyville (33 1/3 series)


by Keidra Chaney

lizMusic writing tends to gets a bad rap, but for good reason, I’ll admit. For one thing, it’s hard to find much that stands out in an age where listicles and hastily written think pieces endlessly proliferate online.

But to be fair, music has always been difficult to write about – the whole “dancing about architecture” thing – And there’s only a handful of spaces, online and off, that allow writers the time, mental space – and the word count – to truly explore the ideas and concepts that make for great music writing. Often that’s rarely about the music itself, but about the people who create it, the fans that love it and its overall historical and cultural impact. It’s one of the elements that makes the 33 1/3 book series so such a stellar one. Gina Arnold’s contribution to the series, a reflection on the Liz Phair’s critically adored/maligned debut album is an example of the series at its best.

And yes, what you may have heard about the book is true; it’s not about the making of the album at all. Instead it’s about a number of things that are more compelling than hearing from studio engineers about the production process: it’s about the culture and mindset of the early 90′s indie rock scene in Chicago and beyond, the hyper-masculine, hyper-obsessive club dubbed “Guyville” by Phair and others at the time. It’s also about the changes in technology and culture that have changed what it means to be a part of the indie rock scene as a performer or a fan in the past 20 years. It also challenges – or at least explores – Phair’s assertion that “Guyville” was a track-by-track response to the Rolling Stone’s “Exile on Main Street” while also briefly touching on Arnold’s own former Rolling Stones fandom and it’s bitter end.

As you can see, the book covers a lot – a hell of a lot – in 116 pages. And expectedly, it’s a little messy. Not incoherent, mind you. Arnold’s writing is thoughtful, complicated, conflicted – as she deconstructs and pieces together her relationship to indie rock, and Phair’s relationship to the scene. She approaches the work as a fan, a participant and observer of the scene, and a critic, and doesn’t attempt to unravel these identities.

I think the fact that she doesn’t attempt to write with some false notion of “objectivity” that gives the book its voice and perspective. Her exploration of gender and indie rock fandom will sound very familiar to anyone following the misogyny in gaming/geek culture debates. Arnold writes:

There is a curious conundrum that haunts not just rock, but music itself. Somehow female fandom is both valuable (in that it generates cash) and at the same time laughable, while female connoisseurship, female artistry, and female ownership is … a lesser thing.

In fact, so much of what was going on in the indie rock scene at the time reminds of what is currently playing out online with women in gaming/geek culture, it’s rather eerie. Lest anyone thinks that somehow the indie rock world, even with its boys club mentality, have historically “played nice” when it comes to gender, there’s the jaw-dropping quote from Phair herself that you could pretty much do a search and replace and say it’s about geek culture today:

“Guyville” was a specific scene in Chicago – predominately male, indie-rock, and they had their little establishment of who was cool, who was in it, who played in what band. Each one wore their record collection, so to speak, as a badge of honor. Like “this is my identity, this is what I’m into, and I know a lot about it…

Guyville is not dead, as Arnold asserts, it’s just moved to a different medium.

While Arnold’s criticism and writing is solid there are a couple of “Whoa Nellie” moments, for example, when she attempts to make a connection between Phair’s “Guyville” and Franz Fanon (it’s a stretch). And there’s a lot more that could have been said about the economics of indie rock and gender, namely her assertion (i think I am paraphrasing idea this correctly) that women are now more accepted and prominent in the indie rock scene because there’s no real economic power or exclusivity in it anymore. It’s been “pink collar-ed,” I actually think there’s some truth, and would love to read more exploring this theory.

But the fascinating thing about this book is that it’s not attempting to make some kind of declarative statement about rock criticism and gender, or indie rock in the age of the Internet. She doesn’t spend time trying to convince you that the album is a musical masterpiece. Good god, you can go to pretty much any rock-bro blog or message board and find a bunch of guys having that conversation at any time. The book intends to do something more. It’s meandering, touching on a lot of different ideas, but not lacking in focus. Music writing, interesting music writing, that is, touches on the personal, the political, the cultural, the historical and gives you something to chew on to make you want to listen to the music itself, even if you’re not a fan.

I’m actually not a fan of Liz Phair at all; when “Guyville” came out I was gorging on a diet of metal, new jack swing and mainstream hip-hop, and gave all things indie rock the gas face. I likely never will be, but reading Arnold’s analysis makes me want to revisit “Guyville” in an attempt to see things through her eyes.

Summary: A thoughtful, complicated look at 90′s indie rock culture with Phair’s album as a jumping off point. Highly recommended.

I Read A Book: Euny Hong’s The Birth of Korean Cool


by Raizel Liebler

BirthofKoreanCoolTo badly quote Bart Simpson after going on a Squishee bender, this is the book I’ve been telling you about. Or at least this is the book I have been waiting for — to explain everything from Psy to kimchi to soft power. Euny Hong‘s The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture is a book about Korean culture from the perspective of an insider/outsider, a Korean-American who spent much of her formative years in Korea, at the point the country was moving from a third-world country to one where luxury brands set up shop. This book is not a snapshot of what is cool now, but how Korea got here — and why it is likely staying there.

Unlike many of the other Korean culture (and specifically kpop books) reviewed here at TLF, The Birth of Korean Cool isn’t academic. Instead, it is somewhat personal essay — in the style of Oliver Sacks — but more than the story of one person, it is the story of a country that has decided to focus on supplying pop culture to the world. Hong writes the improbable tale of a country that went from banning rock music up until 1978 to being the pop music factory that is K-pop. Hong’s understanding of Korean culture helps to elucidate many answers to questions about “why Korea?”, including the factory-style produced music via trainees that within a different cultural context would not exist. As Hong puts it about one interaction that is

“emblematic of the absurdity of modern Korea: in what other country would a B-boy [breakdancer] try to make the case that he deserves his government’s support?”

And Hong explains how hallyu — exported Korean culture — is different than Japanese cultural production. Japanese cultural production is turned internally rather than externally, considering the size of the country allows for cultural production, like music, to be focused on domestic, rather than international audiences.

On the other hand, Hong explains how the Korean government specifically is interested in exporting Korean culture — and has spent the last twenty years helping home-grown culture make it worldwide. Hong doesn’t ignore economic influences, such as the IMF impact on Korea due to the 1997 Asian financial scandal. In the midst of the discussion of soft power, Hong titles chapters things like “K-Cinema: the Journey from Crap to Cannes”. And “Samsung: The Company Formerly Known As Samsuck”.

Is there anything negative about this book? Considering I know that I will be quoting this book all over the place I really wanted an index — but at least there are some sources listed. And of course, in addition to the government policy and economics issues, I wanted to know more about the legal environment, especially with the spread of Korean products worldwide based on the creative industries (copyright!), brands (trademark), technological industries (patent), and stars (rights of publicity). The one teaser about these issues is that according to Hong, Korean industries fit an

“apparent paradox: Being number one matters, but being first does not.”

If readers are looking for a show that helps to demonstrate the just a little-bit-old environment Hony grew up in, I strongly recommend the first half of Answer Me 1997, before the time jump.

Even if you have had no previous reason to read anything about Korean pop culture, you will not be disappointed with this book.

Summary: Detailing the present and past of Korean cultural production, from kimchi, to k-dramas, to k-pop, to k-cinema, to Korean video games, to electronics, in a lively book that will be of interest for everyone — with or without previous interaction with Korean culture. Because after you read this book, you will understand why Korean cultural products have become so ubiquitous worldwide. Super highly recommended.

I Read A Book: Displaced Persons


by Sarah Best – Wilson

Displaced Persons, a graphic novel written by Eisner-nominated author Derek McCulloch and illustrated by Anthony Peruzzo, has a plot that might appeal to Whovians who also love noir movies like The Big Sleep.

In 1879, an orphan is taken to a convent. In 1939, a private detective is put on the case of locating a missing heiress. In 1969, twin brothers, one a cop and one a father, both find themselves in some trouble. And in 1999, a woman discovers that something is terribly, terribly wrong with her husband. These disparate stories are tied together by common threads: a house in San Francisco, a heart-shaped locket, and a string of cold cases left in the wake of mysterious disappearances.


The illustrations are muscular and angular like a Max Beckmann painting (from another lost time and place). They’re also richly detailed. I found myself lingering over each pane, intuiting relationships and absorbing information about each character, time and place from a series of domestic details. A cribbage board two grandparents are crouching over. A seductive curl of smoke painted in a white wash over noir lighting. A VW van at a drive in. A old chestnut tree. A man on a couch sleeping under a blanket covered in horses, next to a VHS player.

To communicate the way that characters move in time, Peruzzo adopts a monochromatic color scheme that is unique to each era. 1879 is illustrated in yellows, 1939 in moody blues, 1969 is red and so on. When characters travel through time they appear in yellow on blue, blue on red, appearing in the color of the time that they originated in.

I wish that McCulloch’s story held up to Peruzzo’s illustrations. There was a lack of attention to detail on the part of the author of making the dialogue from each time period pick up the flavor of each era. This is particularly a shame in the detective story set in the 30s, which is crying out for a more authentic hard-boiled Raymond Chandler treatment. In many cases, the dialogue falls flat, not adequately doing the work it needs to do to establish each character as having a distinctive voice.


Because I loved the illustrations so much, I could live with this, but I what I can’t abide by is the way that the author portrays women and gay men. The women in the novel are all one-dimensional set pieces–grandmothers, mothers, blonde daughters, victims of abuse or other forms of violence, maligned as sluts and whores. Gay men are not equally presented in an equally wooden way, but the author uses denegrating terms for gay men and lesbian women–sometimes having the words come straight out of gay characters mouths–and what little character detail it gives are stereotypes.

Learned Fangirls, unless you feel particularly compelled to check out the illustrations I’d take a pass on this one.

Displaced Persons is published by Image Comics and is available in paperback for $17.99.

I Read A Book: Soap Opera Divas Paper Dolls


by Keidra Chaney

A couple of things first: I didn’t so much read this book as I oohed and ahhed over it. Also, this isn’t so much a paper doll book as it is a paper museum of a long-vanished segment of pop culture. It’s been three years since the cancellation of All My Children and One Life To Live essentially put the final nail in the coffin of the soap opera as a genre, but it seems like longer, because the slow decline of the soap opera started at least a decade before. Still, there’s still a couple of generations worth of soap fans out there that carry the cultural memories of these shows (and the history, passed down from grandmas, aunts, and friends). This book is a fascinating walk down memory lane for anyone old enough to remember who Eileen Fulton, Robin Strasser, and Linda Dano are.

However, a hardcore soap fan may come away disappointed from the fashion choices. Many of the clothes are actually pretty dowdy, and I can’t help but note that it may have to do with the choice of actresses. Susan Lucci and Deirdre Hall are certainly A-list soap divas but it’s the B and C-list soap divas/villains that have traditionally had the most memorable outfits: Lucy Coe from General Hospital  and her red wedding dress; Reva Lewis from Guiding Light and her red “slut” dress; Trisha from Loving and her hideous wedding monstrosity.


Trisha and Trucker’s wedding. I mean seriously, look at this hot mess.

There are only 13 actresses in the book, so there’s not enough room for everyone, clearly, but in this case, I imagine classic soap outfits would be of more interest than  the actresses themselves. Honestly, if there was ever a sequel to this book, a Classic Soap Weddings book would be my recommendation. I actually might play with that, seriously.

Of course, this also begs the question of who exactly this book is for. Contemporary children probably don’t play with paper dolls (or paper anything, I would imagine, in the iPad age) and anyone old enough to remember who Linda Dano is  certainly too old to actually play with paper dolls (even though I totally understand the temptation.) Is there an active paper doll collector community out there? I’m not being facetious, I actually don’t know, and would love to hear from someone about it.

Comics Review – Seconds



by Jordan Dinwiddie – Guest Writer

They say the second effort is the hardest. Well, how about the eighth for Bryan Lee O’Malley?  Bringing us his follow-up to the massively popular Scott Pilgrim series, you’d think that he wouldn’t have much to talk about.  A story about second chances and perhaps O’Malley’s second phase of his career, there is a level of maturation in the storytelling of Seconds that Scott Pilgrim simply didn’t have, without losing any of the spunk or charm of his earlier work.

Basically, this is nothing like Scott Pilgrim. Our protagonist Katie, a motivated and ambitious chef, makes Scott seem like the ultimate scrub. After an accident that causes an injury in the kitchen, Katie finds a secret panel of her dresser allowing her to correct her mistake. Surprisingly, it works. So what does Katie do? Like any successful 20-something, she takes advantage, of course. Eventually, Katie discovers just how bad things can get as she tries to fix everything in her life, only to see it fall apart in front of her.

O’Malley’s ability to embrace the spirit of a  24 year old girl trying to figure it all out is really what stuck with me , because well, I’m trying to do that myself. I couldn’t put it down.  It’s a brick (325 pages to be exact) but a quick read. Please check out Seconds, I’d love to see this trippy Ground Hog’s Day tale turned into a movie.

“The Ballad Is A History” The Eerie and Poetic Worldbuilding of Image’s Pretty Deadly


by Nicole Keating


My comic-reading history started at age 15. A little later than most, I’ll admit, and I envy my fellows who have been enjoying comic books and graphic novels from childhood. Who had their minds molded from the first by magical tales told in words and pictures. Who left picture books behind for the more sophisticated framing of comics. Who developed a knowledge of heroes and villains so deep that you cannot see the bottom. However, everyone has their first time. My first time was a little book called Watchmen. You may have heard of it. A friend had given it to me for my birthday, and I devoured it. Sandman and V for Vendetta followed shortly after. My holy trinity of comic books. Through the many years and many comics since, I have had a place in my heart and on my shelf for titles in the same vein: heightened language, complex storytelling, a hint of dark comedy, and allegorical characters crafted to seem almost human.

It should therefore come as no surprise that I was instantly drawn to Image’s new mythology-meets-western tale Pretty Deadly. Written by Kelly Sue Deconnick–leave it to a gal named Kelly Sue to pen a western–with art by Emma Rios, Pretty Deadly offers a female-driven story about Death. Yes, capital-D Death. Plus cowgirls. I KNOW, RIGHT? The elevator pitch obviously already had me interested, but I was truly hooked after cracking the cover. Deconnick’s poetic script and Rios’ eerie artwork craft a world pulled by opposing forces: body and soul, fact and fiction, man and monster.

Rios’ art reveals this delicate balance from the first. Extreme close ups on eyes, repeated images of dead or dying animals, and a tarot-like layout haunt the pages of Pretty Deadly. Rios advances the ominous tone with nuanced expository panels. I find the most striking of these accompanies, “And from high on the hill, the two sentinels watched.” A simple sentence, but the panel takes us beyond the horizon to an impossibly-structured rocky landscape lit by yellow-green flame. Images bleed into one another, the rocks becoming hills becoming smoke becoming water that weeps onto the page and distorts some of the images. The lines between the spiritual and the physical are blurred, stretching our characters between two realities.


Jordie Bellaire’s colors enhance this tension. The world is dominated by sickly yellows and fleshy pinks, like an ailing sunset. This is a universe at the end of its life. The characters that populate these pages feel the pressure of the coming storm. There’s an anxiety, a nauseous sense of waiting and watching, as Sarah indicates in her striking speech to a supernatural acquaintance:

“This is me and mine, right here. Scorpions, spiders, ants… You don’t see them, don’t think about them at all, ‘cept as the occasional nuisance when one of ‘em manages to bite. But they watch us like their lives depend on our whims… ‘Cause they do. I lived this long and I seen three babes before these two into manhood and I done it by watching your kind…And doing my damndest to stay out of your way.”

As they struggle to stay out of the way, everyone gets into mischief, sex, and violence. Pretty Deadly is therefore TV-MA graphic: there are multiple-page spreads of explicit brothel activity as well as plenty of blood. The combined forces of Rios and Bellaire relish these visceral scenes, and their care allows horror and beauty to equally permeate the visuals.

That all sounds really cerebral, but fear not! Pretty Deadly has all the fun of a traditional Western, too. Shoot outs, vengeance, mysterious strangers…Pretty Deadly has them all! Kelly Sue Deconnick’s script offers all these tropes for you cowboy fans out there. Then she ups the ante with beautiful language:

“Her father was violence and her mother was grief and she was meant to live and know love… so that when she took your daddy’s place, she’d feel the weight of that duty. Do you understand?”

And we do understand. Pretty Deadly’s script is not just beautiful for beauty’s sake. Despite the poetry–or perhaps because of it–the story is very clear. Lines like Molly Raven’s call to action, “We gotta find the girl and hope death don’t find her first,” at first sound abstract, but, no, they are literally trying to outrun Death. The words bridge the gap between the abstract and the literal, allowing you to experience the story without constantly wondering, “Wait, did I miss something?”

MARVELCoverTemp copy.indt

That is not to say that you should remain on the surface of this story. Read closely! If you’re up for it, I’d even say read this one twice through. Pretty Deadly plays out on many levels, and I discovered something new every time I went back to the text in writing this review. Animals abound in this world, yet it took a second read to realize that every single character has some sort of animal association. Some are obvious: Molly Raven, Johnny Coyote, or The Girl in the Vulture Cloak. Some are a little more nuanced, like Sarah with her scorpions and ants. Then there are those nature-spirit personas who have yet to make their connections known. For example, the whole story is narrated by Bunny and Butterfly. One character has a bunny skull for a head, another turns into butterflies, but how these folks relate to our narrators is shrouded in mystery. The suspense generated by the symbolism equals that achieved by the plot, pulling readers in and not letting go.

I recommend picking up Pretty Deadly, especially once the trade is released, because you will not want to wait for the next issue to keep reading. Talking animals, spirits at war, and the people who get in their way… No one is safe when “Death rides on the wind!”

TL; DR? Emma Rios (art) and Kelly Sue Deconnick’s (script) Pretty Deadly is a next-level Western with a plot driven by three ladies: an assassin, an avenging spirit, and a mysterious young orphan. The art perfectly compliments the poetic script, but neither detracts from a really cool and hypnotic story.

I Read A Book: Debora Halbert’s The State of Copyright: the complex relationship of cultural creation in a globalized world

state of copyright word cloud

by Raizel Liebler

Debora Halbert’s The State of Copyright: the complex relationship of cultural creation in a globalized world is an excellent academic entry to the study of the impact of copyright on our lives.

This is definitely an academic read, but manages to cover a wide swathe of different perspectives, including the power dynamic in defining what is copyrighted and copyrightable, through user-generated content. Halbert relies on a wide variety of different sources, from Rebecca Tushnet to Habermas, to illustrate her points, but perhaps surprisingly, doesn’t actually cite copyright law often. Instead, the book is concerned with how copyright and other intellectual property structures establish political economies of ideas and creativity, through nationalism, treaties, astate of copyright word cloudnd ownership of much in the hands of the few.

Is there anything truly groundbreaking in this book? If you read almost every single new book on copyright (like me), probably not. But that is no reason to not read this book. Halbert is an excellent storyteller, deftly weaving the stories of Aaron Swartz’s attempted liberation of academic scholarship, the globalized origin of the 2010 World Cup theme song, Inuit Native peoples’ symbols into Olympic symbology, and Picasso’s use of African imagery in his art into her overall theme of copyright as a sword used to attack others. This is one of the only sources I’ve found to actually engage with Mark Helprin’s copyright maximalist position (copyright should last forever), finding that like the Author’s Guild, the push behind that viewpoint is to view copyright as no different than any other property right.

This book does an excellent job of both looking backwards to past and present copyright systems and to the issues with both localized and globalized copyright schemes — considering that what can work in one place and for one culture doesn’t necessarily work within another contexts. Halbert is aware of concerns about appropriation, authenticity, and exploitation: “the current state of the law has no method for dealing with a [complex] situation such as this except to assign a single ‘owner’ and protect the ‘rights’ of this owner from others.” She doesn’t shy away from making statements about how making intellectual property piracy into a national security issue makes ownership of rights to something intangible (with a expiration date!) equal to actual injury to people.

Summary: Read this book if you are looking for an important political read of the impact of copyright on the lives of those in the United States and globally. If you are looking for a guide to practical copyright, keep walking. This book would be a great text for teaching about understanding copyright policy (not the law!) for undergrads, grads, and law students, considering the large number of talking points throughout the book — and that each chapter could stand alone.

I Read A Book: Youna Kim’s The Korean Wave: Korean Media Go Global


by Raizel Liebler

Kim-The-Korean-WaveYouna Kim’s The Korean Wave: Korean Media Go Global (2013) is another excellent addition to the growing corpus of academic books on Korean culture as shared worldwide that are written in English. For a book that is directed to a media studies and cultural studies audience, this is one of the most accessible recent books published on the Korean wave (such as Yasue Kuwahara’s The Korean Wave: Korean Popular Culture in Global Context (2014), Kyung Hyun Kim & Youngmin Choe’s The Korean Popular Culture Reader (2014) and Kim Chang Nam, K-Pop: Roots and Blossoming of Korean Popular Music (2012) reviewed here at TLF!) for a general academic or academic-ish audience.

All of the essays are short — all are under twenty pages — allowing for a quick overview of various issues regarding the cultural and political impact of Korean culture. Of course, each essay has references, allowing for more detailed reading for anyone who is interested. And the introduction is likely the best short referenced response to “so why does this even matter? and why should I care?” about the present and potentially future impact of Korean cultural exporting. This book takes an overall viewpoint to look at the “power” of the Korean wave — both with soft power and a more economic viewpoint. This contrasts with other books that tend to focus on only a few cultural products.

I want to especially highlight essays in this collection that I haven’t seen anything in the other Korean wave collections, like Liew Kai Khiun’s K-pop Dance Trackers and Cover Dancers: Global Cosmopolitanization and Local Spatialization and Kent A. Ono and Jungmin Kwon’s Re-Worlding Culture?: YouTube as a K-pop Interlocutor. These essays delve into how Korean pop is a visual, memetic musical form, one that Western music has stepped away from mostly — and how new sharing technologies like YouTube allow for greater sharing and intensity participatory fandom.

There is are also two essays about the understanding of exported Korean culture by those of Korean heritage outside of Korea — Korean-Americans and East Asians in Europe. These perspectives have not been written about in other Korean wave collections.

Summary: Even if you have read other Korean wave (hallyu) academic essay collections, this book still has more to say. This book gives an interesting take on the influence of Korean culture outside Korea, to both diasporic audiences and to people without a personal connection to Korean culture.

How Becoming a Parent Changed Me as a Fangirl


By Corrin Bennett – Kill


I am a sci-fi/fantasy nerd. I have read every book that Isaac Asimov has written (Nightfall is my favorite). I have plowed my way through 10-volume-plus epic fantasy series multiple times (just finished The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson). I have waited years for the next book and raised my fist to the sky when a certain author of a certain series died of a rare blood disease before finishing a twelve-volume series (How dare he!) I assiduously avoid movie trailers for new movies I want to see so I don’t spoil them for myself, and I squeed like a 10-year-old girl when I learned Game of Thrones was being made by HBO.

So, the last thing in the world I expected when I became pregnant with my first child was any change in my media consumption. Granted, there were some obvious changes that would happen. Seeing a new movie in the theater has become my great white whale, and any Game of Thrones watching happens after bed time. But, my taste, my choices, I figured those would all remain the same. Right?

And then came Ben. Squalling, never sleeping, constantly nursing Ben. From the moment he was born my vision of myself and my place in the world shifted irrevocably. I was no longer Corrin first, I was Ben’s mom. I had not spent my formative years playing house and naming all my future children. Until I was 27, I was not sure I even wanted kids. So I did not really imagine how different motherhood would make me.

If you’ve ever had a life-changing experience, you have an idea of what I’m talking about -something that shakes or shifts your world view and your place in it. I read once of a man describing parenthood as having your heart no longer inside your body, but carried around by your child. It is profoundly disconcerting and took me a good two years to come to accept. It is also pretty miraculous. But I digress. The role of parent now colors every aspect of my life, especially my choices about books, television, and film.

I am currently reading a new sci-fi/fantasy series: the Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham. I’m midway through the first book, A Shadow in Summer. So far so good. Not your typical elves and fairies, aliens and hyper-sleep kind of sci-fi/fantasy series. One night I was reading and came to a part in the book where a young pregnant woman who wants her child is going to have it aborted against her will. (I know. Yikes.) She doesn’t know this, but that is the plan. I had to stop reading. I couldn’t bring myself to read through what happens to her. Being pregnant with my second child and experiencing the extraordinarily vivid dreams that have accompanied my pregnancies, I knew that I would dream about what happened if I read it, that I would begin to fear for my own unborn child.

In this past season of Game of Thrones, the most difficult scene for me to watch was when the baby was left alone in the snow for the White Walkers. I could hear the baby’s cry change from upset to frantic and I completely lost it. My thoughts were not about whether we would see a White Walker, but somebody has to go pick up that baby! I am an adult woman and I understand the difference between fiction and real life, but my mommy-feels don’t.

My mom, my older sister and I used to regularly go the movies together. In 1996, when I was 19 and my sister 21, that was Mel Gibson(40-something, pre-crazy Mel Gibson…rowr). The movieRansom was out in the theater, and big sis and I wanted to go see it because 90 minutes of Mr. Gibson. My mom, usually as enthusiastic about that prospect as her daughters, was reluctant. Ransom was an OK thriller-type flick, but it centered around the kidnapping of a little boy and his father’s attempt to ransom him home. My mom couldn’t stomach the idea of sitting through 90 minutes of child-taken-from-parents fear, regardless of it being fiction. “I think of my own kids,” she said. My sister and I scoffed (well, at least I certainly did) at mom’s soft heart and badgered her into going anyway. My 19-year-old self couldn’t understand how a movie would affect her so deeply in that way. The likelihood that anything like that would happen to us was laughably slim. And, after all, it’s a movie! Not a very good one, at that. What’s the big deal? Eighteen years and one and a quarter children later, I understand my mom’s reluctance.

Prior to becoming a parent, I related to the underdog character, the down-on-their-luck but good hearted scamp, and the only depictions that could really rip the tears out of me were daughters estranged from and/or reunited with their fathers. I was Scout, from To Kill a Mockingbird and, man oh man, did I want Atticus to be my dad. I was LeeLee Sobieski from Deep Impact crying as my parents hand me my infant sibling to outrun nature. It was Maverick from Top Gun whom I wept with when Goose died. But now, I am no longer Scout. I am Atticus trying to guide a confused child through difficulty. I’m no longer LeeLee Sobieski. I am her mother, handing over my infant child to my eldest so they can both be safe. (Aside: I recently saw Deep Impact again on cable and sobbed hysterically at that scene.) I am now the parent sacrificing myself for my child. I no longer just relate to parent characters, I place my child into the positions of their child and unconsciously imagine how I would feel if I had to do what they were doing. All sad little boys are my boy. As you can imagine, it makes watching Law & Order: SVU more than a little challenging.

So, I’ll never again watch a film where kidnapping of a child is central to the plot. I may or may not pick up the book I am reading again … maybe after baby #2 is born. Cheesy sci-fi flicks with parents separated from their kids will continue to make me openly weep, and I will just have to live without that much Law & Order: SVU in my life. Of all the sacrifices being a parent has required, this is one I can live with.

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