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Between the World and Me

5/5. Part autobiography, part cultural essay, part history, part intimate family letter.

I am not going to do this justice today (I am sick. Again. Again). So straight out, this is the most extraordinary book I've read in a while. It is a letter to his son, and walks that line of intimacy while also acknowledging the performativity of, you know, being a published book. It is a memoir of coming to intellectual and racial consciousness, and a study of white-on-black violence, and a distillation of several years of his thinking, as will be familiar to his regular readers. I read this very purposefully not trying to analogize it. Like a lot of people, my experience of other kinds of oppression has made it easier to start getting my head around racial oppression, but that only gets you so far and at a certain point, you've got to stop drawing lines and start confronting the thing as it is. I passed that point a while ago, though I didn't realize it in a timely fashion.

So I deliberately read this while working to read it as just itself: a book about race. A book, very specifically, about the violence in racism, the purposeful and systematic destruction of black bodies.* Which worked until it didn't, until about three quarters of the way through when he told a story of responding with sudden, unexpected rage to a white woman's microaggression. And it was just – that moment when you get so angry, and you know, you know your anger will do nothing, that the people around you will do anything to not hear you, and you know your anger is actually counterproductive because of that, because they have made it counterproductive for you to be anything other than silent and accepting, and that just makes you madder, and you are just a tiny cog in the bigger machine that is eating people, this microaggression is one of millions and it doesn't fucking matter, except it's also everything.

Yeah, I don't know, I couldn't just read this book as about race then. Which is a disservice to it. But also why it is so good.

Anyway. Yeah. Read it.

P.s. The audiobook is read by the author, and in my opinion, that adds a great deal to the text.

*There is an argument to be made that racism – the program of destruction of the black body (by police, prisons, poverty) – can be analogized to ablism – the program of destruction of the disabled body (by doctors, institutionalization, and poverty). Go find a news article about a parent killing their disabled child. Go on, they're very easy to find. It happens all the time. Go see if the parent got convicted of murder, let alone even charged. Go read the justifications. Take the temperature of the article. Come away with that sense, unspoken but clear, that it wasn't really murder, that you can kind of understand, how much pressure that parent must have been under, how awful for everyone. Go on, I'll wait. Thus are lives discounted. So yeah, the analogy can be made, and has been I'm sure, by better scholars than I. But I'm realizing more and more that it's of limited help. Violence may be violence, but context is not context is not context.


And there's the last book by a man I'll be reading for a year. Hell of a way to go out, too.
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Reflections: On the Magic of WritingReflections: On the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Curated collection of essays, speeches and the like. Enjoyable, if repetitious. I talked my girlfriend's ear off about this book for half an hour over dinner, which means I said most of what I wanted to there and don't have much left here. Except that she was a lovely, critical, complicated person. Her analysis of Lord of the Rings actually made me half want to reread it, and that takes doing, trust me. I also identified a great deal with what she said about her writing process: mine, too, is organic and nonlinear, starting with a crystalized notion of a scene or emotional beat and building a story out from there in a 'feeling your way' kind of process. Her conviction that the author must know ten times more about a character than goes into the story is entirely opposite of my practice, but this is not the forum for the line of thinking that set me off on.

But mostly, I enjoyed this glimpse into her social consciousness. Her feminism, in particular, stemmed from a keen observer's eye, but she didn't have a lot of the tools or background to really work her way through it. Hell, a lot of the tools and background didn't exist when she was coming into feminist consciousness. So she could observe the way children's literature encodes maleness as a default as a social artifact, but she couldn't . . . interrogate that, and when she could, later, it was to subvert it by leaning hard on gender stereotypes.

So yeah. Interesting to the completest, the amateur scholar, the biographer (and oh man, how much do I want the excellent, meaty, analytical DWJ bio now?), and the fan.

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The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard TimesThe Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Late-life memoir recalling the author's youth as a midwife in London's East End in the 1950's.

Picked up for the from-the-trenches view of birth (not that much has changed in 60 years when what you're talking about is midwife-assisted, largely unmedicated delivery). Kept for the other 70%, which turned out to be a rich, compelling, complicated, sometimes uncomfortable personal/social history. And for Worth herself, who was smart, and driven, and talented, occasionally racist, and often struggling to find compassion. This is a memoir of someone who was powerfully compelled into exhausting, difficult work that challenged her social comfort zones for reasons she never fully understood, and that resonated with me. As did her explicit recounting of her repeated struggle to see the person under the most abject degradations of poverty. The book is not so well-observed when it comes to ethnocentrism and, in a few startling instances, gendered violence, but there is something about the strength of Worth's writing that makes it all go down as a capsule, her strength and her charm and her painful blind spots.

I want to watch the TV show now.

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Generation KillGeneration Kill by Evan Wright

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had no idea this book would be so funny, but for real, it's hilarious. Also exhausting and enraging and painful. And truly excellent, for the record.

For anyone who doesn't remember, this is the account of a reporter embedded in a marine recon unit during the invasion of Iraq. And by "embedded" I mean he rode in the lead car that was repeatedly the northernmost American presence in Iraq, and the very tip of the invading spear. There are a lot of firefights recounted – or more accurately, a lot of incidences of marines driving purposefully into ambushes – but that's not what's good about this book. What's good are the character portraits, the deft touch Wright has in fanning out people like a hand of cards. He is particularly good at laying out the wildly different individual reactions to violence -- celebratory, num, anguished, indifferent, everything in between. It is a focus on the individual, and I found it rich and thoughtful.

I have a friend who spends a lot of time getting paid to think about how we can prosecute war better. On a technical level, I mean – what can our guys eat, read, learn, what drugs can they take to make them more effective in the field? Judging by this book, almost anything would do, because almost anything would be better than the starvation and disease they work through now.

I do think there is something . . . dishonest is the wrong word, but close. Obfuscating? Maybe. Wright spends most of this book eliding himself flawlessly out of the narrative, to the point where it is jarring when he records some action he took or something he said. He writes most events as if they occurred without him. Which is deeply ethical in a way – this isn't his story. If this were an autobiographical book by a reporter about how hard it is to decide to go off to Iraq for a few months as a civilian and then go home again, I would have rolled my eyes a lot. But at the same time . . . you throw a stone in the river, the course of the water changes. The observed behave differently. And Wright did his best to tell us a story about the river without the rock in it. Wright lived in these guys's pockets for months; he slept in holes dug in the sand with them and drove into bomb blasts with them, and then wrote coolly, almost formally about them. Until the acknowledgements where he calls them by given name for the first time and pulls the curtain back, very briefly, on the depth of the relationships he formed.

He's not obligated to write a personal memoir. And like I said, there is something ethical in his choices. Just . . . a rock in a river changes things.

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Past Due: A Story of Disability, Pregnancy, and BirthPast Due: A Story of Disability, Pregnancy, and Birth by Anne Finger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A lovely memoir of Finger's pregnancy interspersed with recollections of coming into her political identity as a disabled person. How her political activism worked with and against her personal activism of being a disabled woman having a child.

This book was hugely helpful to me in processing things it has nothing to do with. This book was about Finger's planned home birth, and how it went so terrifyingly wrong, and her son's first six months, and the way she had to reconcile her political beliefs with how she viscerally responded to the possibility that her child would be disabled. And I read it, and I thought about the conversation where my sister was talking in a restrained, wistful way about how she still wasn't pregnant, and how even if she could be, there was a pretty big question about whether she could ever safely carry to term. And without thinking even for a second, without stopping at all, I blurted, "I'll carry for you." And I have wondered in some astonishment ever since, through everything (carrying someone else's baby is not as easy as they made it look on Friends, shockingly), why I said it. Not regretting, just -- why? I'm a self-centered career woman with a hugely draining and important job, and I didn't know it back when we first talked, but I was about to go through a couple years of unrelated low-grade personal hell. Dedicating my body and my time and my hopes and my care for months and months to make another person's dream happen is not something I should have volunteered for like that, in that instant of course way. But there it was.

And this book really helped me figure it out. I won't go into the whole damn thing because really, this box is not that big. And also, this book deserves better than my tangent, because it is rich and interesting and very cool in its own right. It's a little sad how much it isn't dated -- there's a weird bit where Finger comments on how new ultrasonography is as a technology, and is it really safe to use on pregnant women? But then nearly every other political moment in the book was painfully real and true. Like when she stood up at an abortion rights meeting and said, "yes, I am with you, I support this cause, but don't you think the way this movement talks about how important it is to abort fetuses with disabilities is really problematic?" And the viciousness and hostility she was met with….yeah. There's nothing dated about that.

Anyway. I highly recommend to many of the mothers of my acquaintance who have thought about their ownership of their bodies in relation to motherhood, or who have considered motherhood to be a political act for whatever reason, or who have looked at their baby and thought, what if you are disabled?

Random pull quotes that helped me in my thinking:

"But I think too that we do our best work politically when we do the work that really tears at us."

"People who aren't disabled never seem less than human to me. But they sometimes seem to be missing a dimension, glib and easy, skimmers over the surface of life, not quite as real."

When I was pregnant I used to get so sick of people saying, "you won't care if it's a boy or a girl, as long as it's healthy." So sick of the assumption that health was all that mattered. But I sometimes used to say, "I don't care if it's healthy or not as long as it's a girl." It's not a joke I would make again.

Health, physical well-being does matter. It's my own internalized oppression that makes me fear having a disabled child, but it's not just that. It's the knowledge that being non-disabled is easier than being disabled. … But to admit that disability and illness are hard doesn't mean that they are wholly negative experiences, meaningless.

I had a child because I wanted something perfect to come out of me. I got just the opposite of what I thought I wanted. I don't believe in God or any version of God, any hand of fate or karma that was out to teach me a lesson. But my child's potential disability did teach me that I don't own my child, he's not an extension of me, not there to reflect me, not there to heal my past.

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Nothing Was the SameNothing Was the Same by Kay Redfield Jamison

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Jamison is on my radar as a prominent person with a disability, though she has never explicitly articulated a disabled identity. Her An Unquiet Mind is a hugely important book, politically speaking, and I salute her for outing herself as someone with severe bipolar, and effectively painting a target on her back for religious nutjobs and many of her ablest asshole colleagues in the medical profession. I mean, what the hell do I know about being targeted in wank, compared to that?

This book, though . . . *shakes head*. It’s a memoir of her husband’s loss to cancer. I picked it up for blah personal reasons blah, and also because it was supposed to be about her struggle to distinguish the grief processes from the organic, chemical misfunction of her illness. As a mental health professional and a person with a mental illness, she could really get at this fascinating thing – distinguishing useful emotion from pathological, talking about the biological processes of intense emotion from the inside.

Yeah no. The book is about that for roughly two pages. The rest of the time it’s an extended obituary, and not a very interesting one. By which I mean that I’m glad she wrote it, because I absolutely get how important a process that can be. I just don’t know why it needed to be published.

The book is mostly about her husband, how wonderful he was, how much she loved him. And then he dies, and it sucks. You’d think, hey, grief is universal, but no. this book isn’t about grief, it’s about Jamison delivering a long eulogy to someone she loved that almost none of her readers will know. And it’s all told in this ponderous, stylized, cinematic mode, all ‘and then he dipped the ring in the North Se and put it on my finger.’ Lots of tell, everything was so romantic and intensely meaningful, you know. I’m sure these things actually happened, but the book has this roseate glow of recollection to it that precludes the more complex, the emotionally analytical, the clarity of insight I expect from Jamison.

Like I said: glad she wrote it. She clearly needed to. I just don’t see what anyone else reading it will get from it.

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Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on DisabilityWhy I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability by Paul K. Longmore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Three and a half years ago, before I started law school, I applied to receive services from my state’s vocational rehabilitation agency. VR will sometimes pay the adaptive technology expenses of students with disabilities so it can be financially feasible to pursue higher education. At a very conservative estimate, the access tech I use for school purposes costs upwards of $10,000, and that’s not counting the potential expense of services (such as a live reader in the library if I can’t get electronic access to something in time) which can run from $10 to $40/hour, depending on the complexity and specialty required.

I’d been through the VR rodeo before in a different state for undergrad, so I was kind of prepared. My first meeting with my case manager went something like this:

Oh, wow, you have a doggie – that must be so nice for you to have a friend! Let’s just fill out these forms – tell me every gory detail of your medical history going back twenty-three years. Yes, of course including all test results, experimental surgeries, and anything else not remotely relevant to your educational prospects. Now, do you have a parole officer, because they’ll have to discuss my case. No? Well! Are you sure you want to go back to school? You have a job, after all, why do you want to leave it? [Desire for betterment and career planning not being things that disabled people do, apparently:]. And law school, do you know how hard that’s going to be? Have you really thought about this? Lots of people drop out, you know – lots of people just like you. [The secret code, I assume you guys can crack it:]. Are you sure you don’t have a parole officer?

And then we got into my school of choice, a top-tier, nationally recognized institution I was already accepted to. Why was I going there? Why wasn’t I going to the small local school that had regained (regained, not earned!) its accreditation so recently, it wasn’t even ranked? Did I know that if I went there, VR might consider paying the tiny tuition? How did I know nationally-recognized school was a better school -- I’d just moved here!

I politely suggested that they pay tiny local school’s tuition rates to my school, which was a drop-in-the-bucket, but something, but what I really needed was technology support, so could we talk about that?

It was at that point that there was a stamp put on my file. I don’t know if it was metaphorical or actual, but either way it said something like “noncompliant.” Or maybe “difficult.” Or quite possibly, “uppity.” I never saw a penny of tuition assistance, which I was fully expecting, but neither did I get one scrap of access tech support. And I didn't throw the screaming fit that might or might not have changed that, because I was kind of busy at the time kicking ass and taking names in law school, and racking up debt like no one's business.

This book is about that. That scenario specifically, which is incredibly common (something much like it happened to the author, actually), and the context of institutionalized patronization and controlling ablism built in to our systems, particularly governmental aid programs. Longmore, a historian, first makes the case for why disability historiography is important, then demonstrates how it’s done with a focus on disability efforts to reform government programs starting in the Great Depression. There’s a really disturbing detour in the middle of the book into healthcare policy and euthanasia of people with disabilities, and then we turn back to government aid.

The titular essay, “Why I burned My Book” is this amazing example of combining personal narrative and political advocacy. Longmore burned his book, his very first, outside a government building in 1998. He’d worked on it for ten years, but the government program that paid for the ventilator that kept him alive was going to remove its support as soon as he published – which he had to do, being an academic – because the royalties would count as income. He could either work, or he could stay alive.

This is a powerful introductory book. It’s a collection of essays and speeches written over time, but it’s surprisingly cohesive. I’d recommend it for anyone wanting an accessible background in the social model of disability and a few of the bigger issues that still concern the movement today. This isn’t a book about pervasive interpersonal bias, it’s a book about how that bias gets incorporated into institutional structures from the ground up, and how changing it is almost impossible.

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The Year of Magical Thinking The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Memoir of grief – the sudden death of Didion’s husband of forty years while their daughter was catastrophically sick.

Don’t mind me, I’m just going to get all meta up in my meta.

Because two contradictory responses here. On the one hand, I really dug this book – particularly the first half – because it was so consciously an exercise in writing something down because that’s the only way it gets to be real. I, um, let’s just say I get that. I also get Didion’s intellectualized coping mechanisms to a scary degree: in grief, she read poetry and medical journals, and the only difference between us is that she to E. E. Cummings whereas I was stuck on Roethke for months.

On the other hand, I found this book increasingly alienating as it went along, and it was all about Didion’s vast wealth/status privilege. It’s not that I wanted her to edit out all the references to famous friends and gratuitous expenditures; she was just telling it how it was. It’s that it bothered me anyway, even though it clearly wasn’t meant to be namedropping or privilege porn. Displaying your privilege isn’t necessarily the same thing as failing to check it, but it felt the same to me here.

The point being, these two responses -- like me and not like me -- had an enormous bipolar impact on my enjoyment of the book. I mean, I knew that, right, but it’s a little disconcerting to watch it happening in my head. Processing like this is disturbing because it implies a systematic lack of access to a huge range of experience based purely on lack of personal analogy. Grief is universal, and yet, if you’re not like me . . . well, then it’s a different book, a lesser book, apparently.

You guys, I cannot describe the enormous restraint which is currently damming the extensive ramble complete with citations to cognitive neuroscience papers on homophily and mirror neurons and social sorting. Let’s just put it this way: our lizard brains don’t like diversity and they do like people just like us for friends and partners. It’s really fucking depressing, to be honest.

Uh. The book is pretty good, actually, if you're in the mood for that sort of thing.

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Truth & Beauty: A Friendship Truth & Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Okay, I'm gonna come out and say something earnest here, in a short break from the usual foul-mouthed cynicism. I think books ought to have courage; I think memoirs, out of all books, must have courage. And this one doesn't.

This is supposed to be the story of a twenty-year friendship between two women writers, but in reality this is just a book about Lucy Grealy, the girl who lost most of her face to cancer, the eventual darling of the New York literary scene, the heroin addict. The cowardice starts there, letting this book be about Lucy, who is dead, about how larger than life and brilliant and fucked up she was, because that way Patchett never really has to tell us much more than the executive summary of herself. But it doesn't stop there. This is a book about a really long, complicated friendship, where one party clearly had serious psychological problems (Borderline Personality Disorder, at least based on this narration – seriously, you can go down a freaking checklist). It's hard to explain what I'm pointing at when I say this book lacks courage. It talks about Lucy's neediness, her clinginess, her bursts of demanding infantilism, but it's in this weird, belligerent way that says, see, I'm telling you all this to show you just how much I must have loved her. Not I loved her, so I can tell these stories now that she's gone to grieve and remember and be truthful.

Like, for example, there are a half dozen pieces of evidence scattered throughout the book that Lucy was a . . . let's say fabulist. In parts of her nonfiction, and in parts of her life. And Patchett just tosses this stuff out there and doesn't touch it, not once. I don't want to piece together evidence from a friendship/memoir/fragmented biography – I want the evidence, and I want Patchett's thoughts on it, I wanted honesty about this part of Lucy, too, along with how she submitted herself again and again to abusive surgeries. I don't want diamond clarity – that's a weird thing to want from a memoir – but I do want . . . more real participation. Reflections on Lucy that reflect Patchett, too. Something that wasn't an entire book of an apology. Something braver, because you know the most summary, cursory part of this book? The few flat lines at the end, after Lucy overdoses. This is a book all about Patchett's grief, and yet, at the last, she hides her face.

Courage. Not something easily found in grief, but I have high expectations.

Still. Lucy's excerpted letters were beautiful.

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A Leg to Stand On A Leg to Stand On by Oliver W. Sacks

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Sacks completely wrecked his leg in a run-in with a bull on a mountain in Norway, and barely got out alive. This is his memoir of his recovery, focusing on his post-operative distress to discover that the leg was psychologically absent from his body awareness, thanks probably to undiagnosed nerve damage.

I picked this up on a tangent from other research, and it was useful as subjective narrative. But it's also grossly overwritten in places. I'm kind of torn, because this book is clearly trauma post-processing from start to finish, and like a lot of post-trauma writing it's deeply self-involved and recursive and bound up in minutiae of memory that mean nothing to everyone who isn't Oliver Sacks. So kind of frustrating. But, I mean, I'm glad he wrote the book, because he clearly needed to.

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The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath by Sylvia Plath, edited by Karen Kuril

This just in: Sylvia Plath's journals? kind of a downer.

Also disorganized, vast, incredibly rich. I enjoyed the early college years the most, when she's all casually fantastic writing and cycling ecstasy and alienation. The later stuff is heavier with self-consciousness and deeply frustrating relationships with men. She's one of those people that I would be friends with and love dearly, but every year or so I would lose it and snap "oh just fucking deal with it," at her.

But man could she write. Worth it just for a week of deep, oceanic reading, coming from nowhere and going everywhere.
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A book I shouldn't have liked, but actually did. The deeply, deeply, I cannot stress this enough deeply fake fictionalized memoir of the former New York Times food critic, who found it necessary to dress up as various people in order to visit fancy restaurants unrecognized. I should have been put off by the whole story. I mean, I'm sure the encounters have some vague linkage with reality somewhere back there, right? And I should have been put off by the rather shallow treatment of the interesting way people's behavior changes depending on who they think you are.

But dude! It's a book all about food fandom. Helped along, I suspect, by the fact that I've been treated to a series of increasingly spectacular meals myself over the past week and a half (best part about law firm courting, no competition). I think that mellowed me sufficiently to get past the otherwise hilariously inflated stories, the column reprints, the slightly smug anecdotes about how much the previous critic hated her. Food!
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Three memoirs from the special education teacher who specializes in emotionally disturbed children and elective mutism. Two of these books follow Hayden’s usual school year format (it’s like Harry Potter, only with autism, learning disabilities, and child abuse), while Twilight Children recounts part of her time working in a hospital children’s psychiatric unit. They are blunt, painful, gorgeous books which, despite all advertising and jacketing efforts of her publisher to ruin them, have no obnoxious political or emotional agenda other than to just tell a story. Hayden writes about a nine-year-old raped so many times her personality has fractured, a six-year-old with brain lesions which leave her IQ in tact but completely destroy her ability to recognize written symbols, a twelve-year-old pregnant Catholic school refugee shoved into Hayden’s class because there just isn’t anywhere else for her. She writes about kids who don’t talk, kids who can’t learn, kids who are violent, kids who got better and kids who never would and kids who could have, but no one got there in time.

I think the most telling thing is that these books are so very fitting. Hayden is pragmatic in everything she does. That’s the definition of good special education – “if it works, do it, and to hell with how it’s supposed to look.” She is creative and thoughtful as a teacher, and she brings some of that quality to her writing. It lends these books a beauty probably not unlike what Hayden sees in her students and patients – it’s not there to teach us a lesson and it’s not there to have a moral, it just is. I particularly recommend Somebody Else’s Kids, which confronts some of the unforeseen repercussions of the big mainstreaming law without zealotry or preaching (very, very rare, let me tell you).

And I just like Hayden herself, her competence, her caring, her obsession. I had someone like her in my life once, someone who recognized that there was more to her job than just ensuring that I got through a public school system which was not at all designed to nurture people like me, but also to help me come out as whole and sane as possible. I’m thinking about this a lot, on the verge of going back for another degree, and being reminded that there are people like Hayden out in the world working with kids a third my age helps.

Plus, they’re just good books.
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Nonfiction, memoir. A novelist, recovering from cancer, takes a part-time job in an independent bookstore. This is brilliant, in that understated way which creeps up on you. She's got that trick of describing entirely ordinary things like constructing holiday book displays with deep, resonant emotion. The conceit is bibliophilic and beautiful: books and the people who love them as a healing force. In between insights on the publishing and marketing worlds and discussions of customer satisfaction, there are little glimpses of a shattered life slowly mending. Subtle, quietly chatty, informative, intensely
but unobtrusively personal.
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Nonfiction. Recollections from the physicist, teacher, and Nobel Prize winner, somewhere in the hinterland between sketch biography and memoir. Chatty,comfortably first person, amusing. I suspect it's an unfortunate consequence of the books' geneses -- transcriptions of some of Feynman's oral retellings -- but he comes across as rather self-centered, out to show everybody how he thinks differently and his way is better. Also, I think if I had ever met him
in real life, I would have adored him at first breath and then strangled him within five minutes. A good time, though, particularly the first one, with some pricelessly funny anecdotes about the stranger side of life at Los Alamos in the years before the bomb.
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Nonfiction. Diary entries from a psychologist and mental illness sufferer as her pregnancy progresses. Intense, fragmented, strangely refractive, like the book is a giant crystal set to catch the light of her story. She's a talented writer in that imagistic way which I can appreciate but never quite adore, and she struggles with questions of motherhood and responsibility that I find deeply compelling. Worth it for the personal face on the surprisingly common
phenomenon of pregnancy-amplified mental illness, and for a mature grappling with the ethics of psychotropic medication while expecting.
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Nonfiction, memoir. One in a series in which Hayden recalls her work as a teacher and therapist for psychologically disturbed children. In this particular book, she reconnects with Sheila, a six-year-old girl she worked with in a previous book who was prone to violent rages and elective mutism. Sheila is a teenager now, and by tracking the course of her life this book squarely confronts some of the difficulties inherent in the 1-year school approach, and in Hayden's books themselves. It's incredibly meta-analytical (Hayden gives Sheila a pre-publication copy of the previous book about her, and they discuss
the different ways they remember things and personal motivations). Clever, complicated, self-reflective, a little rueful.
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Nonfiction. Reflection and autobiography from a woman who lost her sight in adulthood. This book Is interesting pretty much only as a typification of that vast, unbridged divide in the blind community between those congenitally blind from birth or early childhood, and those who lose their sight much later. Wagner's day-to-day life looks an awful lot like mine, and I grinned in recognition through some of her rueful reflections of more spectacular stumbles (note: do not trash someone until you are positive they are not in the room with you). But we just think differently, in a global sense. Wagner thinks
like a sighted person who has suffered a tragic loss, and I think like a blind person, and that's as well as I can characterize it. She's okay with forms of patronization and coddling that set my teeth on edge because they "make me feel safer," and I nearly tossed the Bookport across the room when she explained how horrible she finds all these "accommodation lawsuits" because "you don't make friends by suing people. Um no, no you don't, but since when do I want
to make friends with the apartment manager who refuses to rent to me because of my dog? Yes, yes, I know, she doubtless feels alienated by the blind and sighted communities alike now, and she doesn't understand us as stubbornly as we don't understand her, but I'm right and you're wrong so there neener neener.
lightreads: a partial image of a etymology tree for the Indo-European word 'leuk done in white neon on black'; in the lower left is (Default)
Post-mastectomy reflections and journal entries from the former Poet Laureate. This is gorgeous, unsurprisingly. It's raw and pained and unapologetic about
both. But it also bothered me on a fundamental level, which I finally identified as the same place that will never be able to align itself with traditional feminism. Lorde's story is partly about a woman who refused to settle for prosthesis after her breast was removed, who believes that women don't need to have two breasts to be beautiful, that we don't need to conform to make everyone else comfortable, and further that immediate reconstruction or replacement ducks the fundamental need for healing and acceptance after cancer and surgery. And yep, she's absolutely right, and her stories of the chilly response
she received from her own doctor, who told her to wear a falsey because she might make the clinic look bad, really pissed me off. However, Lorde is also one of those feminists who never turned the critical eye back on herself, who never stopped to think that perhaps a false breast is important to some women. Maybe wanting to have two breasts again isn't bowing to the misogynist pressures of a domineering society, but is a simple, healthy need to reclaim part
of a lost and damaged self. In short, she's one of those feminists who is absolutely certain that every woman should stop unquestioningly believing in the male hegemonic propaganda, and start believing in hers. You know what I'm talking about, don't you?

And then again, on a more personal level, this book made me revisit my memories of my mothers battle with cancer, and of her reconstruction. And it made me wonder a little bit if the immediate recourse to a fake breast isn't part of the deep, inconsolable wound that she carries to this day. There are parts of her that have never recovered from cancer, that believe wholeheartedly that she will never be attractive again, and that wither a little more every
time she looks down. And yeah I wonder, if her doctors and everyone hadn't automatically assumed she wanted a reconstruction the very second her breast was removed, would she have had time to heal just a little bit?


lightreads: a partial image of a etymology tree for the Indo-European word 'leuk done in white neon on black'; in the lower left is (Default)

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