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Rusty’s Reading List 2017

January 29, 2017
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This is the second of the two Komunyakaa books I bought after seeing him at VERSeFest, but they are both so different! While Warhorses really had the echoes of his wartime experiences, this time he goes in for a much different setting. At times the poems feel like they would not feel out of place at Goblin Fruit. Not all the time, but certainly some of the time.

I think I recall Amal El-Mohtar also picked up his books while at the reading. I am betting she would really like this book.


Books read in 2017

The Emperor of Water Clocks – Yusef Komunakaa
Warhorses – Yusef Komunyakaa
The Mosquito Coast – Paul Theroux
Guff Ink – Wes Ryan
Hurting God – Rita Ann Higgins

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Rusty’s Reading List 2017

January 28, 2017
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Here is a book by a poet I saw at VERSeFest last year. I liked his poetry so much I bought two books at the festival. A lot of this book centers around war, but rather than preaching against it, he just illustrates it from an insider’s view. Of course there is no better anti-war portrait than showing what it is like.

Having said that, my favourite piece by him was not about war at all. It is in a section called ‘Autobiography of my Alter Ego’ (which based on the table of contents is considered one long work). It is about a young boy who chose not to speak and finally started opening up when he got a dog. Here is a piece: But one day Roberta / brought a puppy with her / & she said, She’s yours / if you give her a name. / & I whispered into her ear / Bullet.

While this piece is separate from the war parts, the dog’s name is still very telling.

Sweet words in a book that is not about the sweet.

Highly recommended.


Books read in 2017

Warhorses – Yusef Komunyakaa
The Mosquito Coast – Paul Theroux
Guff Ink – Wes Ryan
Hurting God – Rita Ann Higgins

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Black Mirror

January 22, 2017
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We just finished watching Black Mirror and, for some reason, I decided I wanted to write about each show.

There will be lot so spoilers, but let’s get the preamble out of the way first.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Black Mirror is a British show that is an anthology. There are no on-going stories. Think of the Twilight Zone or Outer Limits as a comp. Each show gives a look at the dark side of technology, each in different ways.

The seasons are short. There are a grand total of 13 episodes. The first two season s were produced for British TV and are 3 episodes long, with a Christmas Special in the second season, for a 4th episode. After that it was picked up by Netflix and they produced a 3rd season of 6 episodes (and there is another season coming out at some point).

I had previously read about the serious and heard how dark it was. Due to this, I added it to my Netflix list but did not suggest it to Ruthanne. It sounded darker than I thought she would care for. Then she suggested it to me! A friend told her it was good, so we took the plunge.

We accidentally started on season 3. Since it in an anthology is didn’t matter. Having said that, I think I am glad we did and I would suggest to other people that they start on Season 3. Ease into it, as it were. The British shows are MUCH darker.

Okay. From here on out this is a MASSIVE SPOILER WARNING.

If you haven’t watched this and want to, read no further. If you haven’t watched this and don’t want to, this post will probably be boring. This is more for those who have watched it and want to discuss it… or something.

SEASON 3 – EPISODE 1 – Nosedive

We didn’t know this but one of the things about this new season is that they started recruiting ‘name’ actors that American audiences would recognize. This time out it starred Bryce Dallas Howard and had Alice Eve and a great appearance by Cherry Jones.

This one was a world where social ranking means absolutely everything. You have a score at all times and it affects where you an work, where you can live, who will talk to you etc.

Basically it is ‘what if your Klout score actually mattered?’. (Does Klout still exist?)

This was not actually that dark. We were laughing at times. Yes we watched someone completely crash and burn, but it was inevitable and predictable. And funny.

Was the message that we shouldn’t worry so much about such things? Sure.

SEASON 3 – EPISODE 2 – Playtest

Here we go. This one is a bout Virtual Reality and tapping into someone’s fears and subconscious. Ultimately it was the same ‘trick’ as in every v.r. story – where does reality end and virtual reality begin? We already saw Existenz, right? (If not, go watch that.) Heck, they did the same things with dreams way back in American Werewolf in London.

But, whoa. When you knew he was in v.r. we saw a really cool implementation of it. When you weren’t sure if the story was still going in v.r. or if it had gone off the rails, it got better. When he got out… not shocking but it sure gave a better idea of the difference between surface fears and what people are really afraid of.

This is the episode that made me a full convert.

SEASON 3 – EPISODE 3 – Shut Up & Dance

This is where they showed for the first time (this season) how they can turn things slightly on its head. We have a variation on The Game (Michael Douglas movie), but the people involved are being blackmailed because someone has hacked into their computers and has dirt on them.

We spend the whole episode feeling bad because the main character was caught on his laptop camera watching porn and having a wank. He is told the the video will be shared everywhere. He goes along with the plan, and it gets darker and darker. There are points when we said ‘it is time for him to pack it in. Sure he’ll be embarrassed, but…

And then, at the very end, we find out that the porn he was watching was child porn.

You want to feel kind of… off? Realize that the person you were cheering for all along was a pedophile. Ick. (But really well done. And Bronn from Game of Thrones was in it.)

One of the interesting things about this episode is that as we start to find out what people are being blackmailed for, it seems that some popes are being ‘over’ judged. Bronn cheated on his wife, for example. But at the end you realize that the punishments WERE scaled. There were two pedophiles and they ended up either dead or arrested. Others with lesser ‘evils’ just had their lives upended or destroyed.

SEASON 3 – EPISODE 4 – San Junipero

This one was a bit of a breather after the last. It was also kind of neat how the setting unfolded so you could figure out that it wasn’t just set in the Eighties. A lighter episode that still had emotional content. I was kind of disappointed that in the end Kelly changed her mind and chose to stay. I thought it would be better if they showed both decisions – Yorkie wanting to stay forever and Kelly wanting the normal lifespan.

SEASON 3 – EPISODE 5 – Men Against Fire

This was my least favourite episode of the season. It had an interesting look into how you can change someone’s perception. It also had a segment about how will try to dehumanize the enemy in war to make it easier on the soldiers. Not terrible, but not great.

SEASON 3 – EPISODE 6 – Hated in the Nation

Pubic shaming taken to its ultimate limits. Kelly MacDonald starred in this one, and she is really good. This whole episode comes across as one of those British Crime Dramas with a twist, which works in this context quite well. It kind of overwhelms the message, to be honest. Then they give us a satisfying tag-on to end the season.

Then we switched back to the REAL first episodes of the show.


SEASON 1 – EPISODE 1 – The National Anthem

The Prime Minister of Great Britain is blackmailed into having sex with a pig on live television.

An actual pig. It takes us some time to get there but… whoa.

And for nothing. (Though he didn’t know that.)

I came out of that episode a little stunned. Then we watched the next one.

SEASON 1 – EPISODE 2 – Fifteen Million Merits

This episode actually made us stop watching the show. I don’t mean we stopped for good, but it made us need to take a break.

When Abi tries to sing her way to a better life and is convinced to turn her efforts towards porn, there is a really sick feeling. Later, when we see her in her new career, it gets worse and worse. The last time we see her, her makeup is running down her face as we see how they are torturing her. This is not voluntary. It is systematic rape.

And then Bing tries for revenge. Here is a very important point – when Abi did her audition, she was drugged. She was susceptible to suggestion. ‘Compliant’. When Bing did his ‘audition’, he was not.

He sold out everything just because they asked him to. He got the exact thing he railed against. A bigger box.

I hoped that he did it so he could buy Abi out of her situation, but there was no sign of that.  There is a tragedy in this show, but it wasn’t Bing.

SEASON 1 – EPISODE 3 – The Entire History of You

This one dealt with memory and the ability to rewatch memories, including refocusing on different things – zooming in, etc.

There is no question that Liam was the villain in this piece… but his suspicions were also correct. It really showed what could happen if someone who has obsessive tendencies had access to this kind of technology.

I didn’t like watching this episode. It was very well done, but I didn’t like it.

I was afraid that the show really lived up to the series title for the first time.

I don’t mean I could see myself as abusive like he was, but the way he drove himself there… maybe. A little too much ‘maybe’.

I was glad to roll over to the next season.

SEASON 2 – EPISODE 1 – Be Right Back

A little aside here – I am a Hayley Atwell fan. Let’s just leave that there.

If you could bring a loved one back, would you? Sure. If you could bring an imperfect copy of a loved one back, would you?

This is rabbit hole territory, because I think there first part – the text chatting – could actually make people feel better. The android version is just creepy. It also doesn’t feel possible so the episode lost a little resonance there.

It won it right back in the credits scene. Damn. Creepy.

SEASON 2 – EPISODE 2 – White Bear

Speaking of winning it back during the credits. This episode didn’t really work for me UNTIL the credits scenes. It felt like it was just a way over-produced torture scene that served no real purpose. Re-doing a torture over and over if they can’t remember it doesn’t really achieve its purpose.

And then came the credits. This wasn’t about the torture at all. It was entertainment.

This series touched on punishment a few times, yeah.

SEASON 2 – EPISODE 3 – The Waldo Moment

This episode was about the current American election.

It didn’t say that. I mean , it couldn’t have been since it came out in 2013, but come on. A cartoon bear runs for election?

Well done. Interesting that he doesn’t win but manages to ruin a couple people’s lives (including his own) in the process.

SEASON 2 – Christmas Special – White Christmas

This one used a framing sequence to tell multiple stories but they were tied together very well. Jon Hamm was the main character and through him we learned about ‘blocking’. Blocking on social media is nothing compared to this.

I think they overplayed their hand on this one. Everything about the episode was good until Hamm’s character was ‘blocked’. The punishment was so severe that it beggared belief. A person could not function this way. At all.

The stories that got there were great, though. The pick-up artists stuff was creepy, of course. That was nothing compared to the torture of the cookies. Really disturbing, as was much of the series.

This series is really, really well done… but you need to be prepared for it. There is a lot of darkness in here – not always, but often. But hey, why does everything have to have a happy ending anyway?

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Rusty’s Reading List 2017

January 11, 2017
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I had previously seen the movie adaptation of this book, starring Harrison Ford. I liked it, but either I didn’t quite grasp the whole message or it was quite watered down from what was in the book. Actually, that latter is the case no matter whether the former is true or not.
I recently read the IMDB page for the movie and I saw people making comments that Allie Fox (played by Ford) was right.
I don’t think anyone who read the book would say that. At least I hope not.

This book could be renamed ‘Mansplaining: The Novel’.

It is really about a man who is so convinced that he is right – always – that his whims become manias. He is absolute family dictator and then turns to absolute abuse before this is over. He is racist. He is a massive hypocrite as he decries the ‘modern’ world and then immediately tries to modernize the ‘savage’ world whenever he can. He lies constantly – to himself as much as anyone else.

Maybe Harrison Ford makes some benefit of doubt. Allie Fox does not.

By the end… the horrific end, if I being honest… it feels like a relief.

This is a good book, though it can be exhausting.


Books read in 2017

The Mosquito Coast – Paul Theroux
Guff Ink – Wes Ryan
Hurting God – Rita Ann Higgins

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Rusty’s Reading List 2017

January 7, 2017
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Guff Ink is a chapbook by Wes Ryan that he gave me last year and has made its way to the top of my reading pile. This one is interesting because unlike a lot of chapbooks by Spoken Word artists, I did not immediately hear Wes’ voice when  I started reading it.  That is because the work here is quite different (at least to start, I recognized more near the end). The poems are shorter and many have some design elements in the way they are laid out that does not immediately make one think of ‘spoken word’.

This is good work, which should be no surprise. There is a depth and weight to Wes’ work without it feeling overwhelming. It does not assault the sense like some ‘trauma poetry’. It isn’t that. It has thought and caring.

Thanks Wes.



Books read in 2017

Guff Ink – Wes Ryan
Hurting God – Rita Ann Higgins

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Rusty’s Reading List 2017

January 1, 2017
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I started this in 2016 but finished it at about two in the morning on January 1st.

This got off to a rocky start for me due to, of all things, the introduction. It gave me a mental version of Higgins that was not too flattering, but when I read the book, it did not hold true.

This was a hit and miss book for me, with a lot of not resonating, but the strong parts were really strong. The combination of ‘A Future Pickled With Funerals’ and ‘Unadorned’ took my breath away. Powerful work.


Books read in 2017

Hurting God – Rita Ann Higgins

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Rusty’s Book of the Year 2016

January 1, 2017
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This was a tight race with Sheri-D Wilson’s and Amal El-Mohtar’s books.

Ocean is a very deceptive piece of writing. On one hand it is a relatively simple fantasy story. On the other hand it deals with come complex issues of memory and self-determination. It is a book form a child’s point of view that barely hides some adult content.

Pardon the ocean run, but it is quite a deep book.

I also didn’t read a lot of good fiction this year, so it stands out.

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Rusty’s Comic of the Year 2016

January 1, 2017
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The two volumes of March that I read would be strong candidates for this ‘award’ but Secret Path just resonated on every level. It is a powerful, moving story told in a very effective moving way. Gord Downie’s personal story also adds to it, but this is a great work regardless.


And it comes with an album of Downie performing his poems as songs.


Great, great work.

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