Review | Quarterly Literary Box | The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

The Quarterly Literary Box is described thusly on their website:

Receive three books a quarter, including a brand new release annotated by the author with hand-written notes, two more curated titles and delightful bookish goods—all delivered to your doorstep.

Obviously I’m down with the idea of this box but I gotta start out by taking umbrage in the “delightful bookish goods” included in this box. Yes, it included an annotated copy of The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker (which was wonderful) and two books she chose for us, thanks! but the “bookish goods” in this box were . . . a box of four crayons. Like, not even name-brand crayons – a four-pack from the dollar store, except you get like 100 four-packs for your buck?

This box costs $49 when you buy it quarterly. I think I got a small discount for paying for the entire year – plus I got that free book that I loved – though I should note that for some reason they charged me for the year but then also started trying to charge me quarterly too? Like I had two subscriptions? I don’t know – an email cleared it up and they were very nice.

the-animators-by-kayla-rae-whitakerSo, now that we know that! Let’s move on to the books. As I mentioned, The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker was first. This book – man! It’s hard to believe it’s a first novel but indeed it was.

The story is that of two friends who meet in art school and remain friends for many, many years afterward. They also collaborate on an animated movie that achieves cult status and changes their lives . . . mostly for the worse. There are about a billion other plots going on (family history / unrequited love / lesbian love / drug and alcohol abuse, etc.) but I don’t want to spoil anything so that description will have to do.

When I started out on this book, I thought it was interesting enough and I kept thinking of my art nerd friends and how much they would love this book. There’s a lot of geeky art talk that’s not overwhelming or distracting for a non-art nerd like me, but I think would be appreciated by someone who’s more in the know.

As the book went on, I got more and more caught up in it, and when tragedy struck, I was literally sick to my stomach about it for over an hour. I had to do some deep breathing and my partner had to repeatedly remind me that these aren’t real people! For real! I was so drawn into these women and the story was so solid and fluid and interesting that I got pulled in.

The writing was also awesome, and I love that Quarterly sends their books with annotations. That said, this is the second annotated book I’ve received from them and both of them didn’t have very interesting annotations. Like, this author just basically explained some of the art references but I didn’t feel like they gave me great insight into neither the book nor the author. I liked them but I wished they were used more effectively. Then again, I’ll bet art nerds loved them!

Rating: 8/10 

Recommended for: Art nerds, kids raised in the ’90s, fans of excellent writing

Does it pass the Bechdel–Wallace testBigly

Author of color / main character of color / female author / female main character: No / no / yes / yes

the annie year by stepahnie ash.jpgBook #2, which was selected by the author was The Annie Year by Stephanie Wilbur Ash. This book reminded me a lot of Richard Russo’s Nobody’s Fool / Everybody’s Fool / Empire Falls. The plot revolves around some small-town folks doing some small town things. Their stories are ridiculous, but the author manages to perfectly tow that line of not quite making fun of them. Growing up in a small town myself, I am very sensitive to outsiders writing stories about ‘dem country bumpkin’ folk without respecting who they are. Ash doesn’t do that. She writes an interesting, funny, heartwarming, and unique story that I likely wouldn’t have picked up otherwise. I’m glad I did.

Rating: 9/10 

Recommended for:  Fans of Richard Russo, fans of stories that are both melancholy and funny, small town antics

Does it pass the Bechdel–Wallace testBigly

Author of color / main character of color / female author / female main character: No / no / yes / yes

the argonauts.jpgBook #3, also selected by the author, was The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. If you look at the Goodreads page for this book, the first question is, “Is this a novel? Or is it non-fiction?” Man, good question! That may or may not be someone who’s read the book, but I can say that this is a seriously “genre-bending” book, as the publisher calls it.

Sometimes it feels like a memoir, sometimes it feels like an academic paper, sometimes it feels like a pro! feminist pamphlet. There’s a ton going on here. The language is interesting, there are some ruminations on gender, motherhood, femininity, and a whole lot more.

The author’s partner, Harry, is what I’d most closely refer to as genderqueer (though the author never specifies how Harry identifies) and that brings up some interesting insights. The section that dealt (graphically) with the author’s birthing experience was hilarious and horrid and just perfect. Overall, I’m definitely glad I read this book, though I struggled to read more than ten or so pages at a time. When picked up and picked at a bit at a time, it was great. When I tried to read too much at a time, it felt too academic and lacking.

Rating: 7/10 

Recommended for: Academic minded folks, feminists, people who love essays, people interested in LBGTQ+ issues (especially procreation)

Does it pass the Bechdel–Wallace testBigly

Author of color / main character of color / female author / female main character: No / no / yes / yes

I’m happy with the three books in this box. All three authors are women, which is great, though obviously I’d love to see some authors of color. I also really can’t do much but laugh at the generic crayons being included as “bookish goods.” I mean, just send books, you know? That’s fine. Just don’t lie about it, ya weirdos.

One thought on “Review | Quarterly Literary Box | The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

  1. I was also disappointed by “Delightful Bookish Goods.” I almost would have rather have had the bookmark and pencils left out of the box. I tried Quarterly for the first time in the fall and the extras were a mug, tea, and a window cling, which was also disappointing, but substantially better than the bookmark and pencils. A mug seems uninspired, but it’s useful. With both boxes, I was very happy with the book selections. Maybe they should skip the non-book items and add an extra book?

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