Saturday, December 31, 2011

Things To Read On The Internet

The last few weeks of term sent me a little wild. I hadn't managed my time too well, and I had a huge amount of work to pull off in not very much time. Because I have only two registers of discourse – dry understatement and wild exaggeration – I lamented my plight in grandiose terms, wishing only for some free time in which to sleep and watch TV to my heart's content.

Well, I got what I wished for, and in true Aesop fashion, it's biting me in the ass. I've had two weeks of hols so far, and I'm bored as shit.

I'm spending about half my time with some of the only friends who are still around, and as long as I'm with them – watching NewsRadio and Futurama, playing an assortment of zombie-related games, even doing their damn dishes – I feel okay. But then I go back to my ghostly quiet dorm building, and it gets to me. Part of me wants to laugh maniacally and turn cartwheels naked in the corridors, because I HAVE THE WHOLE PLACE TO MYSELF; part of me wants to just crawl into bed and hibernate until everyone's back, because I have the whole place to myself. This ambivalence is doing strange things to my head, and I'm afraid I might find myself doing something drastic to alleviate the boredom.

So, as always in times of crisis, I turn to my best friend: the internet.

Perhaps you too, dear reader, find that at two AM you are still awake, cursing the ceiling, wondering if that odd noise in the walls is a monster in your walk-in closet or a monster in someone else's walk-in closet, talking out loud to the spider in the corner. If so, may I recommend to you some of my favorite things to read on the internet of late.

Mark Does Stuff began a couple years ago as a little Buzznet community with a simple premise: Mark would read the Twilight books, chapter by chapter, and review them. What none of us knew going in was that the Twilight books would make Mark very, very angry. His reviews were funny, they were furious, and they were heartbreaking, pouring out the bitter memories of his abusive childhood.

Then Mark read Harry Potter, and we learned that the only thing better than angry Mark was squeeing fanperson Mark. Now there's a whole Mark Does Stuff community, based around Mark's chapter-by-chapter reviews of books and episode-by-episode reviews of TV shows. He's done a ton of stuff, including Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, The Hunger Games, His Dark Materials, and A Song of Ice and Fire, but at the moment he's reading Lord of the Rings and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The hook is, he's never been exposed to either and has no idea what he's in for. He makes wild predictions, he makes snap judgments as he goes along, and it's all incredibly entertaining for the fan of this stuff who knows what's in store for him.

Actually the whole Slacktiverse blogging community is a goldmine of interesting things to read, but the Left Behind deconstructions are the undisputed highlight. If you're unfamiliar with the Left Behind books, Fred Clark the Slacktivist is happy to explain to you precisely why they are the Worst Books in the World – in excruciating detail. He reads them with a fine-tooth comb, picking apart each agonizing page to demonstrate exactly why these evangelical bestsellers are (in his words) “evil, anti-Christian crap.”

Fred's been at it on a weekly basis for eight years now, and he's only just finished the second book. At this rate, his deconstructions of the full series should keep us entertained through 2067. If he can continue to be as viciously insightful and witty as he has been so far, I'm content to keep reading him for the next half-century. (The best part is, he's spawned some top-notch emulation of the obsessively-detailed-deconstruction format, especially from Ana Mardoll, who's doing a terrific job on both Twilight and Narnia.)

Don't be fooled by the rather off-putting design. FerretBrain is a hell of a lot of fun. The “Random” button in the sidebar is your best friend. On more than one occasion, I've been up past three in the morning, hitting that button over and over, skipping past the articles that don't interest me (mostly the ones on videogames) and reading with fascination the ones that do. The FB crew review a lot of fantasy novels, but also movies, TV, comic books, theater, and sometimes just whatever is on their desks. The site's selling point is that the reviews are just so damn good. They're detailed, thought-provoking, concerned with combating -isms, unafraid to express very strong opinions, and quite likely to challenge some of your warmest and fuzziest feelings about the things you love.

Some of my very favorite FerretBrain articles:

Harry Potter and the Doctrine of the Calvinists is possibly the crowning achievement of an extensive series of highly critical and really very excellent articles on the most popular books in the world. In fact, why don't you read them all.
Don't They Shine Beautiful? is a very long and absolutely brilliant essay on Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd (as filmed by Tim Burton). You'll probably need to be a bit of a musical theater geek to appreciate this one, but if you are it's well worth reading.
It's Not Easy Being Green reviews a book I've never heard of and do not intend to read, and by “reviews” I mean “completely shreds”. Actually any article categorized as “Minority Warrior” or “Fantasy Rape Watch” is likely to be golden.

Gosh, just writing this up has made me feel a lot better. See you sometime in 2012 – assuming I ever manage to extricate myself from TV Tropes...


  1. Might skip the Narnia deconstruction as I actually *like* Narnia - a lot (but know how it can be laid into already. Our household already makes fun of Father Christmas giving children deadly weapons...)

    But Slacktivist! I've been reading that blog for some time. I don't know whether I found it through TV Tropes or if I sought it out myself, but it is gold. I'd recommend staying out of the comments section there, though. Since the place gets trolls, the regulars seem to be very suspicious of anyone who hasn't been commenting there consistently for years that they *know* - at least that's my perspective. It has the feel of a closed community, though it's technically open to all. A recent mini-fight I had with someone over something subjective that they were obviously trying to turn into an objective just soured me on commenting there anymore.

    As for the blog itself... Gold if you've actually read any of the books and remember *anything* about them. I read about half the series years ago and Slack makes me wonder why the heck I liked them - EVER. Old shame, old shame. (I do remember getting to a point on my own where I was head-walling over the authors' treatment of female characters but hung on reading because of all the blood, gore and to see which main character died next, but still)... A friend once assured me that we all have a "bad book" in our past, but oy.

    I almost wish Slack would speed through them because of the parts of latter books I vaugely remember where one of the women was going to poison her son to keep him from the Antichrist and the wise old Jewish-turned Christian scholar talked her out of it and the part where the authors violate their own established canon by having a "good" character get the Mark of the Beast so he could be a mole... I think that's about the part where I stopped reading the books - about halfway in. I can just imagine what Slacktivist would say about those parts. From what I read on the blog, he's going to be taking on the movie (which I never saw and woultn't touch with a ten-foot-pole). Brave, brave man.

  2. Honestly, the more I read internet comment sections, the less I want to have anything to do with them ever. You read the nicest story in the world, it fills you with hope for the future of the human race, and then the very first comment undoes all of that with its hateful, ignorant bile.

    As to Left Behind, I know nothing about it beyond the Slacktivist deconstructions, but from what you say the series spirals completely out of control as it goes along. Sounds hilarious, in a trainwreck kind of way.

  3. I got halfway through LB back in the day. Eventually I couldn't stand how boring of an end of the world story it was. When it first came out, and it was explained to me what it was, I thought the world would be covered in lava pits and have smokey skies with fiery pentagrams for clouds.

    In reality, every LB book follows the same formula: X prophesy is about to come true --> I really mean it --> ten page written sermon on why X prophesy is about to come true ---> Well, I could be interpreting it wrong. There's other theories --> Nope! I was right! What did I tell you?

    Masters of suspense.

    In related news, my town just got a Books A Million earlier this year in place of our Borders. The "Christian" section is double or maybe even triple size from what Border's Religion section was. Complete with a wall of Heaven is for Real. Shoot me now.

    Today I went in the store and asked if there were any books related to transgender stuff. I got a "This chain is based in Alabama so..." Say no more.