Reading Resolution: “Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame” by Mara Wilson

10. A biography: Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame by Mara Wilson


List Progress: 5/25

Between my enjoyment of this book and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, I may be developing a type: autobiographies by queer women with anxiety disorders. (The jokes are easy enough to make about why I in particular like them.)

Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame is a 2016 autobiography by Mara Wilson. Audiences today might know her as a blogger, playwright and voice actress of the Faceless Old Woman in Welcome to Night Vale, but her claim to fame that ended up overshadowing all that came after it were her child acting roles. She starred in the movie adaptation of Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire, and for a handful of years in the nineties she was everywhere. Everywhere. But puberty wasn’t as conventionally kind to her as some of her child acting peers like Kristen Stewart and Scarlett Johansson, so rather than be constantly criticized for outgrowing her cuteness or pushed into “best friend roles”, she left Hollywood acting in her early teens. The book covers from her earliest ambitions of acting and storytelling as a child, through her Hollywood career, and past her college years and into her professional life in the playwriting world. But despite covering a long period of time, the chapters are arranged far more by subject, with a general chronological march forward but avoiding the pitfalls of “then this happened, then this happened”.

Wilson’s writing style is approachable and warm; it feels like being in a conversation with someone and works quite well for the more dense sections such as discussing her mother’s death when she was eight. It tends to wander a bit in stories about high school, and the back third on the whole isn’t as tightly written as the first two, but some of the early ones are just lovely in their crafting. The two chapters that pack the most punch are “Elementary Existentialism”, tracing the progression of her faith and her relationship with death in snippets over the course of her childhood and teen years, and “A Letter”.

Her writing about her childhood roles in the early chapters have one conspicuous absence, which is filled in “A Letter”. This chapter is a letter that Mara Wilson writes to the fictional character Matilda Wormwood, discussing their relationship and what they have meant to one another. Mara is the face by which most people know the character Matilda, and Matilda is the role that people know if they have any knowledge of Mara Wilson at all, a name that surpasses her own. This chapter traces her progression from loving the book as a child, through the joy and anticipation of being cast, the production that held the death of her mother in the middle of it, and the shadow that Matilda cast over the rest of her life. It ends on a note of reckoning and appreciation, and feels like a complete unit on its own. It connects and weaves into the book surrounding it, but it is the real standout; I really liked Where Am I Now?, but I loved “A Letter”.

Maybe this book hit me harder than it would some readers: the Matilda movie was part of my childhood and Wilson and I are close enough in age that I got a lot of pangs of nostalgia from her references to her high school pop-culture references, her time living in New York (where I lived for two years), and her sister’s life in San Francisco, where I live now. I don’t know how much the book will resonate with readers who are not of the generation to have grown up with Wilson’s movie roles. But I do think that the writing and introspection is strong enough to make it a worthwhile read no matter what angle you are coming at it from. And it would be pretty poetic and in line with the book if someday Mara Wilson were better known as an author than as Matilda.

Would I Recommend It: Yes


Reading Resolution: “Behrouz Gets Lucky” by Avery Cassell

17. A debut novel: Behrouz Gets Lucky by Avery Cassell


List Progress: 4/25

Do you like reading hardcore kinky erotica?

Do you like discussions of queer identities?

Do you like painfully fluffy levels of domesticity?

If so, I have basically all of my favorite fanfics to recommend you. Also, the novel Behrouz Gets Lucky by Avery Cassell. It reads like a fanfic in all of the best ways (with a few of the same downfalls, but nothing’s perfect).

(You can even read the first chapter on Avery Cassell’s website, which tl:dr, I do recommend giving a shot.)

A few years ago, I read the anthology Best Lesbian Erotica 2015, and hated it. Haaaated it. But one of the best diamonds in the rough was the short story by Cassell, also titled “Behrouz Gets Lucky”. From my 2015 review:

One of the only pieces with an older protagonist, who feels very real and lived in.

When I saw that same title at a local bookstore, and on the cover this time, I was very intrigued. As it turns out, Avery Cassell knew they had the seed of a good story and a couple of great characters, so they expanded that story into their full-length debut novel. The readers now get to join Behrouz and Lucky, a couple made up of an early 60’s butch genderqueer submissive and a mid-40’s butch dom lesbian, as they go about their lives, their loves, and a lot of explicit sex. The whole book reads like you are following Behrouz around their day to day life, including into their bedroom.

The fanfic term “curtain fic” comes to mind, meaning a story that focuses on the comfortable minutiae of domesticity so much that the characters are practically picking out curtains. Behrouz and Lucky literally pick out curtains, and carpets, and argue about furniture in the chapters where they move in together. Lush detail goes into describing their outfits, their meals, their decorating tastes, what sort of sex toys they prefer; the fact that Lucky always uses sandalwood soap in the shower becomes a runner to mark her custom scent. The other side of the coin is that the novel does not have much in the way of plot beyond the development of their relationship. If you do not enjoy Behrouz and Lucky as characters, as well as BDSM butch/butch erotica, Behrouz Gets Lucky will not have a lot for you. But if you do like them, this is a great bed or bath book (I was never quite comfortable enough to read this one on the train).

You do not tend to see much (or really any) butch on butch erotica in the market, and the rarity of their dynamic is discussed by the characters. The book is very specifically set in modern-day San Francisco and both main characters are active in the queer scene and involved in discussions about how the city and the identities gathered within have changed over the decades. Not all of the kink scenes appealed to me (and some of them did read as a bit perfunctory, if I’m honest), but the relationship between the characters was strong enough that not everything had to turn me on in order for me to stay engaged. And for an erotica novel, that says a lot.

It feels like Avery Cassell has been working on these characters for a long time and putting a lot of thought into them; from the author bio in the back, Behrouz seems to be a bit of an author insert. Cassell clearly loves three topics above all else: butch sex, the city of San Francisco, and the country of Iran, where both Behrouz and Cassell were raised. I don’t know if Cassell has any stories in them beyond these three topics, but I would love to see what else they produce in the future.

Would I Recommend It: Yes, for lovers of curtain fic. If you need a plot, maybe look somewhere else. Try the first chapter and see if it lights a spark for you!

Check out “As Told By Things- Unique Short Stories Told by Objects”

Hello all, this is to announce that the Kickstarter for the “As Told By Things” anthology, published by Atthis Arts, is now live! Back this anthology for access to a lot of fascinating stories told from the perspective of inanimate objects, including my own piece, “Start Again”.

Where else are you going to get to read about how a sourdough starter views the world?


Check out the Kickstarter here, as well as Atthis Arts’ other work. I cannot wait to see this anthology come together, and I hope we can all make it a reality.

Reading Resolution: “Awfully Devoted Women: Lesbian Lives in Canada, 1900-65” by Cameron Duder

  1. A book written in North/Central America: Awfully Devoted Women: Lesbian Lives in Canada, 1900-65 by Cameron Duder

Awfully Devoted

List Progress: 3/25

I do not tend to read a lot of non-fiction, as I usually find it pretty dry, but I’ve found myself getting more interested in queer history recently, and borrowing this book from my partner was able to foster that interest. Awfully Devoted Women: Lesbian Lives in Canada, 1900-65, written by Cameron Duder, is exactly what its subtitle says: a study of lesbian and queer women living in Canada before the rise of second-wave feminism. The little queer history I have read before was largely male-focused, so it was a great opportunity to read something so focused and detailed about everyday queer women’s lives. And for a piece of historical study, it is surprisingly readable and accessible, even if the editor in me wants to streamline some of the chapters.

The book is divided into two major sections, the first studying collections of letters from women in the 1900’s to 1930’s and analyzing their lives and relationships through their correspondence with their friends and partners. This part was the most fascinating to me, tracing the progression from the idea of a “romantic friendship” that was assumed to be nonsexual, to a pathologized view of lesbian women as sexology became a field of study. The sample size is small, as there are only so many letter collections that are going to survive the decades, but the analysis is pretty great. The second half is taken from interviews that Duder did with over twenty women who were at least somewhat active in the Canadian lesbian communities before 1965. Duder illustrates the divide between middle class lesbians the supposedly “respectable” house parties and private relationships, and how they considered themselves distinct and different from the disreputable lower class bar scene.

The chapters are divided into general subjects like Family Relationships or Professional Lives, with snippets from all of the interviews collected by subject. With this small of a sample size, I would have appreciated longer stretches of interview, as you get broken up snapshots of each woman’s life. One of the interviewees, Cheryl, was the victim of domestic abuse in her first relationship, was threatened by her partner with outing to her family, entered the air force after leaving her abuser, and spent years feeling comfortable in her queer identity again, but you lose all sense of narrative when this fascinating life is interspersed amongst a dozen other fascinating lives. I understand the impulse to give the biggest picture perspectives possible with this small of a group, but the group is small enough that you naturally end up identifying with individual narrators and craving more context. I am not sure what would be the ideal way to structure a study of this size, but I wish it had been tweaked a bit to find a comfortable middle ground.

I also would have appreciated a firmer-handed editor, as the last chapter ends up very repetitive, but these are largely nitpicks in what was overall a really pleasant reading experience. I learned a lot of things about the early Canadian queer scene that I would never have come across otherwise and I am glad for this flash of overlooked history. And it has made me very curious about what legacy the queer women of today will leave behind to those reading what we leave behind.

Would I Recommend It: Yes. It may not convert anyone without previous interest in the topic, but it is a great exploration of a niche historical interest.

Reading Resolution: “The Knight of the Burning Pestle” by Beaumont and Fletcher

16. A book older than 100 years: The Knight of the Burning Pestle by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher


List Progress: 2/25

Picture the scene:

You go to see a play. It’s kind of cheesy, but okay overall. But two people sitting in the front row don’t like it and start heckling the actors. They think the play can be done better, and by their employee at that, so they shove their guy up on stage and demand that scenes be written around him. The cheesy play continues with occasional interludes of some random guy spouting high drama and two hecklers commenting on it the entire time. It’s basically a play with its own MST3K treatment written in.

This bit of meta madness is The Knight of the Burning Pestle, by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher.

It was written in 1607.

And it’s amazing.

One of the first truly meta plays, The Knight of the Burning Pestle is one of the rare classics that is still actually funny. Not just “I understand why this was amusing to audiences of the time” funny, but something I actually laughed at. I first heard of it when a local theater put on a production (that I was unable to make it to), and having read it, I can see why it is still being performed. And I really want to see this thing on its feet at some point.

I wonder if the play seems funnier to me because I have a theater background and the absurdity of the audience-actor relationship hits home for me, but it was just a great time to read. Rarely do you get to see something this both clever and stupid at the same time, satirizing the middle class culture of the time, the stilted overdramatic constants of the theater, and the absurd fluff that audiences crave and demand.

My only real criticism would be that the fourth and fifth acts drag a bit as they delve into more topical-for-the-time humor that is still amusing but doesn’t ring as timeless as the more meta jokes do. But the ending was so delightfully stupid, with the hecklers demanding a dramatic death scene, that I was back to laughing along. And I want to play the female heckler character so badly.

I don’t have much else to say other than I really liked it. A level of comfort with archaic language is necessary, but with a bit of effort to get started, you’re in for a treat.

Would I Recommend It: Oh yes.

Reading Resolution: “Sourdough” by Robin Sloan

9. A book recommended by someone:  Sourdough by Robin Sloan

List Progress: 1/25

You know those pieces of media where you reach the end and say “I don’t really know what the creator was trying to say”? Sourdough by Robin Sloan is definitely one of those. Received as a gift, I dove into this novel that seemed to appeal directly to my interests: it is about a hobbyist baker in San Francisco who gets caught up in the magic of making sourdough bread after she is gifted a very special starter. The book moves quickly and has a lot of things to say. I’m just not sure if Sloan sat down and decided what it was all supposed to amount to. As such, the end result feels somewhat (if you will forgive the bread pun) underproved.

The main character is a machinery programmer named Lois working at a tech startup in an incredibly detailed depiction of San Francisco. (Seriously, I live in the Bay Area and some scenes were spot-on descriptions of real world places I’ve been to, in both physical and tonal details.) Lois is feeling spiritually and mentally drained from the demanding yuppie tech world until she discovers a new takeout place that makes amazing soup and sourdough bread, run by two brothers of the “mysterious quirky foreigner” type. They develop a friendship and shortly thereafter the brothers have to leave the country, leaving Lois a parting gift of some of their sourdough starter. This all was maybe the first two chapters, and I would have preferred a book with a lot more of it, especially given the direction the ending goes in. But instead we get Lois’ entry into the world of foodie tech hipsters.

You see, this book is about a white woman using a personal gift of a man of color’s culture (as in bacterial culture, but the book draws the wordplay parallel many times) and using it as a tool of personal discovery and financial gain. It is so on the nose that I was assuming the book was going to make a point of it, especially as Lois stumbles into the professional culinary success that the chef brother Beoreg is consistently denied, but…nope. It goes without comment. I’m not even sure if author Robin Sloan realizes the situation he painted here, but the nomadic foreign brothers exist only to give Lois a new perspective and lease on life. And considering part of the novel’s conclusion is a debate about ownership of the starter between Lois and a different character entirely, it’s a bit of an uncomfortable dynamic.

Weird cultural appropriation subtext aside, the book has a muddled view of who it is rooting for, with sides in culinary debates being declared antagonists with no real rhyme or reason. Oh no, this character wants to mechanize and bring science into the magic of the starter! Ignoring the fact that Lois uses a tech startup robot in the production of her bread… Oh no, that character has stuffy, affected old-world ideas about food! Ignoring that Lois’ journey is all about her hand-making bread, one of the most affected old-world things you can do these days… It all just comes across unclear and muddled about what the book is trying to say, if it’s trying to say anything at all.

Sourdough is the epitome of a beach read. The prose moves fast, the characters are quirky and fun, the settings are well-painted and the escapist fantasy of giving up your soul-crushing job to bake bread and talk to foodies all day is fun to indulge in. But if you’re looking for something to dig into, try to find something with a bit more meat. (Had to get one more food pun in, sorry.)

Would I Recommend It: Yeeees, but not highly. Good to read during a long plane trip or sitting on a beach.

Come see my short play performed at Monday Night PlayGround on Jan 15th! Also, announcing my People’s Choice Award for December!

For the second month in a row, I am pleased to announce that my ten-minute play, “Sh*t Farming for Fun and Profit”, has been selected for the Monday Night PlayGround series. It will be performed in a staged reading on January 15th at Berkeley Rep, and everyone is welcome to buy a ticket and come see! This month’s performance is a collaboration with Planet Earth Arts and uses the prompt “Probable Future vs Possible Future”.


In addition, I would like to announce that my previous play, “There’s No Place Like Hell for the Holidays”, was selected for the People’s Choice Award in December. Read the first two pages here!

Thank you for everyone’s support and I cannot wait to see a second month of my work go up for Monday Night PlayGround. Come see it if you can!