Wytches Volume 1
AVQ&AWelcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences.  

Caitlin PenzeyMoog

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I just finished two very different books on abortion. The first was Katha Pollitt’s Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, which I followed up with Leah Hayes’ Not Funny Ha Ha, a graphic novel that depicts two women getting abortions. I hadn’t planned to read the two back-to-back, but Hayes’ graphic novel put an appropriately human touch on Pollitt’s more academic take on abortion rights. Pollitt’s a columnist for The Nation and poet, and her defense of abortion is supported by statistics and studies conveyed in pleasantly lyrical prose. Only a little dry in parts, Pro was valuable for me because while I’ve always thought of abortion as a right all women should have easy access to, I’d never reified the many reasons abortions are necessary and found it difficult to marshal my arguments against my anti-abortion family members. Pollitt convincingly lays out how abortion is a force for social good, allowing women to be more responsible, not less, with how and when they bring new humans into the world and under what conditions they raise them. One in three women will have an abortion by the time they reach menopause, and most of those women’s abortions are supported—emotionally, if not financially—by men and other women in their lives. So it’s a sign of how well the right-wing anti-abortionists have created a culture of shame that we don’t talk about all the women who have had abortions—not to mention used emergency contraceptive like Plan B. “We need to see abortion as an urgent practical decision that is just as moral as the decision to have a child—indeed, sometimes more moral,” Pollitt writes. “Abortion is part of being a mother and of caring for children, because part of caring for children is knowing when it’s not a good idea to bring them into the world.” Pro is informative and, as abortion rights get chipped away in the U.S., an important book in the fight for reproductive rights.

Not Funny Ha Ha, on the other hand, contains no information about the culture wars around abortion. Instead, it takes readers through two different ways to get abortions, as depicted by two women—one who gets a surgical abortion, the other who takes pills to induce abortion at home. Both stories are told free of judgement, and both are enlightening. Again, despite being pro-abortion, I’m ignorant on how it actually works, and plenty of propaganda would have us believe it’s a horrific process. It’s not. As Pollitt writes and Hayes depicts, a surgical abortion is no more complicated than going to the dentist. The at-home medication abortion is kind of like having a bad period. Neither were frightening. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of writer-artist Leah Hayes’ style; some pages are devoted exclusively to explanatory text, and her pencil-thin lettering and overly stretched letters tend to grate after a while. Luckily, it’s a very quick read, starting each story when the protagonist finds out she’s pregnant and ending it after the abortion takes place.

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Gwen Ihnat

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Last month I took a weeklong vacation, which is usually my only time to catch up on pleasure reading. I started by blasting through Girl On The Train on my phone in a day. Everything you’ve heard about that book is true; as a fan of ghoulish murder mysteries told by down-on-their-luck people, I absolutely loved it, and am anxiously awaiting the movie version. Fortunately around this time last month’s version of this column came out, so I picked up Marah Eakin’s suggestion of Movie Star By Lizzie Pepper by Hilary Liftin, which made for the perfect beach read. As Marah noted, it’s basically a lightly fictionalized version of the Holmes-Cruise marriage, showing how the stars, they’re not just like us.

A lot of people have recommended Rainbow Rowell to me, so I picked up Landline in the airport. Maybe it was the oversell, but I wasn’t blown away or anything. It just seemed like better-than-average mom fiction, even with its inventive twist: A TV writer on the outs with her husband finds that she can talk to his college self via her parents’ old phone. Even typing that out makes it sounds more interesting than I found it to read. But I’ve heard so many good things about Rowell, I’m still going to check out her popular YA stuff like Eleanor & Park. I also tried Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen, which was essentially just a modernized take on Enchanted April, which I’ve both seen and read, so meh.

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Probably my most successful vacation read was Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. The Jane Austen Book Club author turns her sights this time on a family that raises a chimpanzee along with their son and a daughter, who narrates. This riveting tome was eye-opening about subjects like ape biology and animal testing, and how this relationship affects the family overall, and not in the most positive ways you’d expect. But as I look at the above list, I had such an even amount of hits and misses that I think I’d better start setting up my winter break reading list immediately.

Becca James

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This month Caitlin Rosberg and Oliver Sava, comics writers for The A.V. Club, came to the rescue with Caitlin’s recommendation of the horror-comic Wytches, which Oliver generously lent to me in the form of Wytches Volume 1. The Scott Snyder-penned work takes the tropes of witches and turns them on their head in the same way Roald Dahl’s The Witches both exaggerated old and created new folklore. The visuals also bring something new, with colorist Matt Hollingsworth’s process of layering color on top of Jock’s inks, using splatter in bright pinks and oranges to focus readers’ attention where the creators see fit. What I found most interesting, though, were the back pages of this trade, in which Snyder shares the childhood stories of witch hunting and terrifying (in a different sense) tales of parenthood that influenced this phenomenal read.

Keeping close to the horror genre, I also read Nova Ren Suma’s thriller, The Walls Around Us. The YA novel pulls readers in with its vivid language, devoted to depicting the surreal circumstances of its female characters, almost all of whom reside in a juvenile detention center in upstate New York. (Learning about each character is as engaging as any Orange Is The New Black flashback.) It’s a frightening read in the traditional sense, but also in a more nuanced way, as more than one unreliable narrator leaves readers questioning the malleability that the mind lends to the truth.

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Lastly, The A.V. Club received an early copy of My Kind Of Sound: The Secret History Of Chicago Music compendium (December 2015) by Steve “Plastic Crimewave” Krakow. Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the illustrated column of the same name that is printed bi-weekly in the Chicago Reader, the zine-reminiscent offering opens with an introduction by music critic Jim DeRogatis, who sets the stage by reassuring readers that this is not another look at The Blues Brothers with a pinch of Buddy Guy. Instead, Krakow delves into the the lesser-known but often more influential acts that have at one point claimed Chicago as their own, using no-nonsense language and a scissor-and-glue process resulting in signature visuals. Starting with the psych-pop leaning American Breed and following the alphabet to prog-rock outfit Yezda Urfa, this is a must read for any budding music buff.

Notable September releases, assorted:

  • For the extreme Halo fan: Halo: Last Night by Troy Denning (out September 15)
  • For the historian: The Gay Revolution: The Story Of The Struggle by Lillian Faderman (out September 8)
  • For the George Carlin lover: A Carlin Home Companion by Kelly Carlin (out September 15)
  • For anyone who likes stories on the brutal human experience: The Assassination Of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (out September 1)
  • For those who still love Jewel: Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half The Story by Jewel (out September 15)
  • For the Bond fans who want to read their James: Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz (with original material by Ian Fleming) (out September 8)
  • For the Doors fan: Love Becomes A Funeral Pyre: A Biography Of The Doors by Mick Wall (out September 1)
  • For those addicted to gripping thrillers: Nightfall by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski (out September 22)
  • For the New Yorker: Tales Of Two Cities: The Best And Worst Of Times In Today’s New York, edited by John Freeman, with Junot DĂ­az, Zadie Smith, Teju Cole, and more (out September 8)
  • For the reader who grew up with video games: Gamelife by Michael W. Clune (out September 15)
  • For the Hollywood observer: Can I Go Now?: The Life Of Sue Mengers, Hollywood’s First Superagent by Brian Kellow (out September 8)

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