august 23

oops, a day late! It happens—I went out with a friend who happened to be in town last night, and we had a delightful and lovely time but it was later than I thought and I had to go to bed! But maybe the flip side is that this is another very long newsletter—I’m catching up on reviews even as I continue to create a backlog, as I finished three books last week. Not that I mind—of course I enjoy reading and getting one step closer to my reading goal! But I am definitely a little bit behind and working always to catch up. I’m only two reviews behind now!

Otherwise things continue apace. At the time of this writing, I have not heard from my latest job prospect, and am caught in that rough place where I am trying to not be too excited that I’ll be wildly disappointed if I don’t get it, but not trying to discount myself from it. We’ll see! Any and all good wishes are greatly appreciated—or if you happen to be a hiring manager at some place where I can help people access knowledge, hey, hit me up! I’m very free, tired of being unemployed, and I have lots to contribute to a workplace! Mostly though I’m hot today, and tired of being sweaty and looking forward to fall. Let’s look instead at

Books I Wrote About This Week

What Doesn’t Kill You: A Life with Chronic Illness - Lessons from a Body in Revolt, by Tessa Miller

Man folks if you don’t already want to see how capitalism fucks up health so badly, this book does a pretty good job of laying it out. Miller writes about how messed up her experience with the American healthcare system (especially with the complications of getting her necessary medication while out of state during the pandemic,) is, as well as the ways that working had a hugely negative impact on her health while she was trying to recover. And she admits to all of this still coming with an incredible amount of privilege, as a white, thin woman living in a major city with access to a number of doctors.

This book also doubles in a lot of ways as a guide on how to navigate the changes that come with chronic illness—she writes a great deal about the need to grapple with the trauma inherent in suddenly being sick for the rest of your life, as well as the trauma of extended hospital stays and nearly dying, and how you absolutely need to access therapy or mental healthcare of some kind, and she also has a guide in the back (or at least does in the ARC I read) about how exactly to find a therapist and how to navigate the search. It seemed pretty useful to me, a person who has spent a great deal of time looking for therapists and also a great deal of time just IN therapy. I don’t know how applicable everything is across illnesses—Miller has Crohn’s specifically, and I’m a person who, for whatever reason, doesn’t identify my mental illness as the same category as “chronic illness” (which I’m sure we could spend a LOT of time unpacking, but here we are,) so it might be kind of ymmv on it all—but isn’t that true for all books? Nothing is universal, we just do what we can for one another in our own limitations! So it might be worth checking out if that’s something you’re dealing with in your life. I found it pretty useful overall!

Cavedweller, by Dorothy Allison

I am not, on the surface, super interested in like multi-generational family stories. This isn’t exactly one, which is maybe why I liked it, but it does have some elements of that, including a narration that bounces between character perspectives (which might be part of why I struggle with these kinds of stories generally—I have a hard time bouncing between perspectives if it’s like a lot or many characters, and here we’re in like at least three POVs consistently and sometimes a little more.) It’s just often a lot for one story to hold, and a lot for me to keep track of.

This though, I really really enjoyed. It was slow—sometimes it takes me a minute to really get into a book, and this was one of them, plus it runs on the longer side (like over 400 pages) so that’s always a challenge when you’re starting a book. But once I got in the groove, and got comfortable with shifting, I think the story itself was really beautifully told. It grapples with family trauma in ways that I think are both realistic and narratively satisfying; it addresses again the “people don’t talk to one another!” trope in a way that’s serious and takes up when it’s not possible to talk to one another—the problems that creates but addressing the root of it in ways that make it clear why not talking wasn’t always possible. AND THEN THEY DO TALK! And talk in serious ways that don’t feel fake, but give the story both a sense of resolution without it feeling fake or simply narratively convenient? There’s a kind of openness to the ending that I really appreciated—that gestures towards the work that still has to be done, but is definitely a stopping place.

It’s just a really beautiful book, and while I read a lot of really beautiful books, this in particular I think struck me with how deftly the narrative dealt with the trauma of all these characters, and it definitely makes me want to read more of Allison’s books (yes this is the first one I’ve read.) Also: I love a book where women care for women and that is almost the entire book and it’s lovely. More of that, always!

What God is Honored Here?: Writings on Miscarriage and Infant Loss by and for Native Women and Women of Color, edited by Kao Kalia Yang and Shannon Gibney

This was a beautifully written and careful collection, and I think is so important for continuing conversations about miscarriage especially among BIPOC. But for me, as a white person also interested in narratives around medicine and how we grapple with the realities that arise from those narratives, it also raised a lot of questions about framing and the divide between medical information and the affective impact of that information.

Basically what I mean by that is: in this book, several times, the doctors indicate to these women (and they are all women, at least to my knowledge,) that their miscarriages might not involve a “baby,” sticking to language that’s medical like “fetus” or “blighted ovum.” Now look, I read and loved The Myth of the Perfect Pregnancy, about how we hit a place where you can be like. Two weeks pregnant and find out and then not have the pregnancy actually take. I love the possibilities opened up for narratives about miscarriage by taking into context the ways that access to things like pregnancy tests that detect pregnancy earlier and earlier have an impact on the grief we can feel, and how pro-life narratives have created this empty space for us to understand when a fetus is a “baby” (from conception!)

But all of that doesn’t necessarily change the ways that we interact with experiences in our own bodies. It’s clear from the book (and other writings etc on miscarriage) that even sharing and understanding how common miscarriage is—even when it’s not connected at all with infertility (many perfectly fertile people experience miscarriages, and it’s not considered an issue until I think you have three in a row,)—doesn’t make it less impactful when you experience it. And sometimes it’s horrifying—the treatments you’re willing to go through to try to save a pregnancy (this is the second time I’ve encountered ‘we’ll literally make you lay at a downward angle, with your head lower than your feet, to try to use gravity to keep the fetus in your body, and it seems just as wild that that’s a treatment,) and the trauma of a late-term miscarriage can be messy.

It’s a tension that came up for me as I was reading this book; how do we both hold grief and understand miscarriage as a common part of life, one that often we might not notice if we didn’t live in this specific historical moment? How can medical providers share this kind of information with patients—especially patients who are so often treated so badly by the medical industry—without coming across as being dismissive of their patients’ pain and grief? I don’t know that I have answers about that, because I also think that like the sharing of miscarriage stories themselves—so often so steeped in both trauma and the narratives about how a miscarriage must be or is always devastating—is truly an answer, at least not without like a serious grappling with how these narratives take shape and are informed by history and the current moment we’re living in. I want to take the grief that people feel seriously, but I also want to open up that the grief they’re experiencing comes from somewhere that isn’t solely their experience, because I want to change the circumstances we’re in where suffering might not be necessary. So I’ll keep thinking about answers and reading, I guess!

Gardens of the Moon, by Steven Erikson

Folks there’s a thing when I read a new book about how I do not really enjoy being confused. It’s one thing if it’s sort of intentional—I was lucky to have friend of the newsletter Jaime to reassure me that it was fine if I didn’t understand anything going on when I read Harrow the Ninth, which is deliberately wildly confusing at the beginning—and another if I’ve been thrown in the deep end and am expected to swim. For all that I joke, I’m not bad at reading, and I try to be a very generous reader, but I need an author to be generous with me, especially in terms of guiding me into a fantastical world and giving me just a little bit of help as we step into that space. Preferably that comes with something like consistent characters for me to latch onto, and I think that’s certainly the easiest way to help me as a reader feel comfortable with your world.

This book was not that. It’s an ambitious undertaking, or at least I understood that it was once I understood what the actual hell was happening in the book. It is in fact maybe too ambitious a project for me, in that there is so much going on at once, and so many characters and high fantasy words to follow. It took me at least half if not three quarters of the book to feel comfortable knowing what was happening and who the characters were. And because of that, a lot of things felt… forced, or cheapened. We see two characters meet, they have maybe two on-page conversations, and then at the end of a third conversation they sleep together. I’m not like a major proponent of “show, don’t tell” as the be-all, end-all of writing advice, but I think the advantage of a decade and a half of fanfiction writing under my belt is that I understand ways to show connection between characters, and having the book tell us “she felt a strong connection to him” after two scenes of them together is not it. (In fact, that sequence made me want to WRITE fanfiction for this book, not because I liked it or the characters in particular, but just to satisfy my own urges to make the connection make sense!)

It was just. Too much. If I didn’t have a borderline pathological need to Finish Books so they count towards the Nice Numbers, I would have absolutely tossed it aside very early on. As it stands…. it’s a big old “meh” from me, friends. You could spend your time on much better books than this one. Most books, really. But I read it so I get to count it!

¡Hola Papi!: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, by John Paul Brammer

Oh folks this book is so delightful—though might be more so for actual gay people… the reviews on librarything all appear to be 3 star reviews by people who have no idea who Brammer is, and while I know some lovely straight people who also read his column, it’s a column explicitly for queer people, and I think it probably hits differently if you do read the column. Which I do recommend, though I also don’t think you like HAVE to read the column to best appreciate this book. I think maybe it just gives greater context to who Brammer is and his style, maybe.

Regardless, this book is so excellent—it’s not just repeats from the column, which I was a little afraid it might be, but he takes larger existential questions and then grounds them in his own experience to explore the questions. And like yes perhaps that’s how this works, but he does so so well, with humor and also tenderness. It grapples with serious topics—race, homophobia, suicidality—and treats them seriously but not in a way that takes the lived experienced-ness of it, meaning it has sadness and humor, that it comes with reflection that takes experiences in their entirety. It’s sensitive, careful, and really beautiful, and incredibly readable. I had a hard time putting the book down my first day reading it because it was just so… readable is such a bad, non-descriptive word, but it’s like. It really encourages you to sit with it, not in a like “gotta consume this!” fashion but just like you want to keep reading to see what other ways Brammer will lead you through this story. It’s really beautiful and lovely, and I think you should read it if you get the chance!

The Age Taboo: Gay Male Sexuality, Power, and Consent, edited by Daniel Tsang

cw though this will not explicitly describe sexual relationships between adults and minors, it will discuss those relationships.

I first ran into NAMBLA (the North American Man/Boy Love Association) as a group like I would say 99% of people do: by reading Gayle Rubin’s classic essay “Thinking Sex.” In it, Rubin discusses how the right and certain segments of lesbian separatism came together to oppose intergenerational sex between adult men and minors—men and boys—and how this poses a threat to sexual liberation movements. The first time I heard about this, it was in one of my first (and favorite) grad school courses, and the class fell into complete chaos. I remember yelling “WHAT ABOUT ANIMAL SEX??? DOES SHE THINK SEX BETWEEN HUMANS AND ANIMALS IS OKAY???” at the top of my lungs while our stunned professor (who wasn’t even teaching the essay! It came up in a conversation about how we identify the origins of queer studies!) tried to respond to our questions. It’s one of my favorite memories of grad school, a moment where everything fell apart and my learning edges were pushed.

But as I’ve read and reread the essay, and I’ve watched new scares about youth sexuality and gender create fascist environments and contribute to an increase in far right violence (in the form of the push against youth access to transitional healthcare and groups like QAnon and others gather more and more members by waving around child sex trafficking rings with no evidence,) I’ve thought hard about the warnings that Rubin had for us in that essay. I’ve turned her argument into a shorthand that I say a lot—getting into bed with the conservative right—to describe the places where unlikely allies (the far right and supposedly radical feminists) come together. In my latest reread of the essay, I wrote down this citation and found it at my public library. When I first got it, I laughed—I recognized at least a couple of the authors, who I described as “the usual suspects” when it comes to defending the outer limits of sexual practices, folks like Rubin herself and Pat Califia.

What I didn’t expect going into this book was how seriously the authors of these essays take up the questions—and there are actual difficult questions involved, which you wouldn’t know from discussions about intergenerational sex today—and how thoughtfully they would respond to one another. And most of all I didn’t expect to hear from actual youth—those who are being talked about constantly but rarely get a voice of their own. I learned that teens were on the board of NAMBLA, and while I think I know abstractly that they would have had their own opinions on the matter, to have to actually read them and try to take them seriously is a whole other deal. And I think what struck me the most reading this is at its best (and not every essay in this collection is its best, there are some where you read it and go “oof you are not making me support you in this at all,”) it’s a question of youth liberation and youth bodily autonomy, and how we make the world possible for youth liberation to exist. And that includes the right of youth to participate in whatever sexual relationships they want, and giving them the tools to do so—to understand and enact consent, and to do so between themselves and between those older than them. And age of consent laws get in the way of this—criminalize it, in ways that can be more damaging than useful.

What struck me the most I think was that the suggestion that the teen who was on the board of NAMBLA made—that we should start teaching about consent, and sex, at much younger ages than we do—is exactly the same suggestion that seemed fairly universal across CSA survivors in Love WITH Accountability. How do we give youth actual, material bodily autonomy? How do we give them the right to say no and the right to say yes? And how do we give them the ability to make changes in their lives without putting them in danger or situations where they are easily exploited? And all of this feels hyper relevant to me as we see states criminalize doctors and parents who help trans youth access transitional healthcare. It’s not an easy question, it’s super charged, but it’s one I think we need to grapple with more seriously—or at least see how the debates of the past might be relevant today, and what we need to learn from them. And this book was a really useful insight into all of that, from so many angles.

The Reading Situation

  • 100 books: goodreads tells me that at the time of this writing, I’ve completed 79 out of 100 books! The StoryGraph tells me I’m at 78 books. Regardless, I’m doing a pretty good job I think! Making progress on many of the books I’m reading.

  • Author identity challenge: a big ole jump! I’m now at 13/18 prompts completed, or 72% of the way done! Pretty nice, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else I can complete by the end of the year!

  • Currently reading: started Persephone Station, making my way through Winter Counts, inching my way through Burn It Down!, and chugging through Why You Should Be a Socialist! Overall a pretty good spread!

HMU

And that’s it for this week! Again, any good vibes and/or job leads are greatly appreciated. I’ve tread water for a long time but I want to do things, and I would love money for rent etc. You can find me on twitter @fadesintointent, or on instagram where I post almost never @sonofahurricane. If you’re someplace hot like me, please stay cool and check in on your unhoused neighbors. Take care of yourselves, and each other! <3