Tuesday, March 08, 2016

The Scatterbrained Booky

I think I fulfilled my non fiction quota for the next five years by reading this book.  Coates won the National Book Award for this, deservedly so.  This is the most powerful writing I've read in a long time.  Written in the spirit of James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time (which I haven't read), this is a powerful treatise on being black in America, written by one of the foremost writers on the topic today.  The book takes the form of a letter to Coates' teenage son, and it is deeply personal and universal, the writing dense and rich and so intimate, that it automatically posits the reader as an outsider, regardless of your racial identification.  It is a brilliant structural device to tackle these issues.  Coates reflects on his youth growing up in Baltimore, his awakening at Howard University, and how the American state, upheld by "those who think themselves white," brutalizes and systematically destroys black bodies, regardless of class.  Coates realization that not even class can protect black bodies was a sucker punch.  He talks about his classmate, Prince getting shot in a case of mistaken identity.  He talks about how these bodies represent so many hours of investment and love and hope - so many hours spent driving back and forth to soccer practice, supervising sleepovers.  That line just wrecked me.  You'd think this book is hopeless, and yet, somehow, the very act of writing means that it's not.  It's a warning, a parenting memoir, a treatise on race, all rolled up into one.  I can't recommend this enough. 

 went on a bit of a tear for a bit, and my brain was all the better for it.  I can't believe I slept on Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay.  This collection of essays from a self-proclaimed "bad feminist" is everything.  You can see her Ted Talk below.  Gay is a relatable, self-critical, pop-culture-savvy, conflicted feminist, which means that we are kindred spirits.  She is smart, and funny, and while I don't agree with everything she says, I like that she's thinking about these things.  Her essay on being a competitive Scrabble player is quite possibly my favorite in the whole collection.  I love her, I love her Twitter presence, and I can't wait to read her forthcoming book about being fat.

From there, I flipped to Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me (I told you I was on a tear). Solnit is known for coining the term "mansplaining" which, let's be real gyals, we've ALL experienced.  I've had to call the Dotytron on it, when he does that.  There were times when we'd be talking about smoking (food), and he'd jump in and start talking about the process like he was the one who smoked the meat in our house and I'd have to jump in and shut it down.  Anyway, this series of essays was rage-inducing.  The essay on sexual assault, in particular.  When she talks about how much money the government is willing to expend to combat terrorism but how we do nothing to fix sexual assault but put the burden on women...I was so mad!  Reading Bad Feminist and Men Explain Things to Me back to back lead to many arguments in the Dotytron-Lagerfeld household.  I had my hackles locked in the UP position.

My book club picked Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts as a read, two reads ago.  This is a semi-autobiographical loose collection about Nelson's relationship with trans artist Harry Dodge.  The book opens with him f**king her from behind, bent over something concrete, if I recall.  I'm not familiar with Nelson's work but I know she's popular amongst the intelligentsia.  She's a poet?  Anyway, to me, the book read kind of smugly progressive.  Like, "look how cool I am in how this is so not an issue."  Which, look, I totally get!  I'm on board!  But I she just seems kind of humble-braggy about it?  I don't know how else to put it.  I kind of wanted to know more about Dodge, and his perspective.  There's one point when Dodge makes a statement that he's not "on his way anywhere" in reaction to the term "transitioning."  I only really felt like I was getting at the "real" Nelson when she was talking about being pregnant and giving birth to her child with Dodge - all the affectations and airs seemed to fall away as she gloried in this embodiment, which is at odds, whether conscious or not, with the tone of the rest of the book.  I'm glad I read it, because this is a buzzy, in-the-moment book, but I didn't love it.

So this gets me slightly back on track, even though I have like, thirty more books to review.  

This was your International Women's Day-themed book review compendium.


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