Last night I went to see Holly Bourne (British YA author -- her themes seem to be feminism and mental health, and the new one involves the internet) interview Hank Green (Vlogbrother, CrashCourse and Vidcon creator) about An Absolutely Remarkable Thing
. Which is a very good book.
I’ve been in this terrible novel-reading slump for close to three years -- since summer 2016. But once I took up BFF @januarium on the v kind offer to get me a ticket (happy birthday to me!) even though it meant a night off from teaching my evening class, I read the book in three days and it was great. (And I’ve almost finished the Holly Bourne book I got signed already, so this may be the start of something!) It has robot sculptures from space, and a shared infectious dream filled with puzzles everyone needs to solve together, and a bi main character where her romantic/sex life is part of the plot but not the point :D
It’s also about fame and the way it dehumanises you. Now in some ways I’m like… argh could’ve gone deeper, maybe? I just wanted more specific examples of April’s online interactions, like maybe her telling us about one specific fight she had from start to finish. But it’s very thoughtful and it’s fascinating to read about someone who becomes suddenly internet famous -- almost by chance -- and then joins/leads an online culture war about how to respond to shocking new things, from someone who is himself internet famous.
Especially from someone who got internet famous a while ago, and still is, but was an adult when it happened (late 20s, I believe, but older than a lot of Youtube stars) and is now a for-real, almost-40 adult, who does other things and isn’t purely reliant on selling his personality - but is still part of the Youtube community, and sees what’s happening to younger, more desperate, more famous colleagues. It’s a well-written book with a racing-along plot, but it would also be hard to find someone in a better position to write it - Hank Green is a Youtube star but he also doesn’t rely on that so he can afford a type of honesty that would be hard for a lot of other people, despite how much Youtube is about selling authenticity.
There’s a line about the dangers of “seeing ourselves not as members of a culture but as weapons in a war”. It’s about the ways April, the protagonist, actively dehumanises herself as part of making herself a simple brand and story she can sell, and how other people do that to her as well, and about how doing ‘well’ on Twitter and getting ‘engagement’ involves not actually engaging the other side. That side, the other side is clearly more damaging in its effects on the wider world. It’s more nuanced than just saying “both sides” and throwing up its hands, in how it talks about the way fame and the internet affect people. Also, April is clearly desperate for attention but scared of intimacy, and her need for fame and fear of being forgotten does come from that.
It’s interesting because there IS clearly a heart-warming story of people coming together online to do something great happening, and April even knows and cares about it, but she doesn’t take part in it -- she just sells it as part of her quest to help make the world better and get more power herself. She never mentions a single person from Twitter or Youtube or anything who she didn’t already know. She makes no friends and doesn’t take part in the community, and that is very clearly an important part of her characterisation rather than someone who doesn’t get it, which is nice.
To be clear, I LOVE April and anyone who thinks she’s unlikeable… well, like what you like and vice versa, but also, a character like her, if she was a dude, would 100000000% be almost-endlessly loved on and woobified. She fucks up and hurts people -- she’s a fucking terrible ex-girlfriend, oh my god -- but she’s also a lovable mess.
It’s also fictionalised memoir, and it feels like reading a very good Medium essay in its style. Which is an A+ example of form following content, from a story being told to us by someone with a large online following.
It’s all set in the real world, despite the sci-fi element, with real names being used, so the nameless female American president hurt my soul. She’s a recurring minor character, her being nameless and someone April May really likes for their shared values is not a coincidence :((((
LOL I’m just talking about the book, not the interview! Well, it was very good, even if I can’t remember much of it now, haha. Hank talked about missing sleep now he has a little kid. He threw shade at Elon Musk, which cracked everyone up. There was a weird moment of vertigo when he came out, because I was both having that moment of ‘hey, they’re 3D’ you get when you see someone you’ve seen on-screen a lot in person, and also remembering April May talking about watching people have that response to her. @januarium got a raffle ticket to take photos with him and they’re ADORABLE and she told him about Feed
by Seanan McGuire, which is a great sci-fi book partly about the internet and fame he apparently hasn’t read.
And then she and I went to Pizza Express and talked about the book and other stuff and it was great. And we totally avoided talking to the person, sitting one person down from us, who we have an awkward history with. Even when I almost walked into her in the foyer outside afterwards, lol. Success!This was originally posted at https://lokifan.dreamwidth.org/377487.html. Comment wherever you like :)