Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to inﬂuence the outcomes — you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and knowable, a alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be ﬁne without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. It’s the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what is may impact, are not things we can know beforehand....more
My friend Athena wrote a review of this essay on “the fear of narcissism” that suggested the writing fell a bit ﬂat to her at the end. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I wound up feeling almost exactly the same way. A brief history of clinical and cultural understandings of narcissism, with sections focused around concepts like The Bad Boyfriend, The Millennial, The Murderer; the turning point is The Artist, where the focus shifts to Dombek’s self-reﬂection. As Athena said, it was perhaps intended as “some kind of experimental practice of writing as a selﬁsh/other-centric dialectic,” but I was disappointed that everything built up to be so personal, self-centered. But it’s appropriate within the essay’s lens of...more
One of the downsides of my technique of requesting lots of popular books from the library and then reading them as I progress through long hold lists is that I sometimes get books when I’m not truly prepared to delve into them. Most likely I would have picked something lighter after just reading a long non-ﬁction book than another long non-ﬁction book. But there was no dallying when my turn came, as this clocks in at about 500 pages and plenty of library users were in line behind me; I only made it through about half the book before opting not to rack up ﬁnes to try to ﬁnish it. I’ve read mixed opinions about whether the ﬁrst third...more
You like to think memory goes far back though remembering was never recommended. Forget all that, the world says. The world’s had a lot of practice. No one should adhere to the facts that contribute to narrative, the facts that create lives. To your mind, feelings are what create a person, something unwilling, something wild vandalizing whatever the skull holds. Those sensations form a someone. The headaches begin then. Don’t wear sunglasses in the house, the world says, though they soothe, soothe sight, soothe you.
I’ve been having a hard time writing about Citizen and the experience of reading it, as it would be so easy to blandly describe it — the topics it covers, its blend of text and images — yet in...more
Rebecca Solnit wrote the ﬁrst and titular essay in this collection in 2008, after which it was posted on TomDispatch. Since then it has taken oﬀ and been reposted several times, along the way inspiring the portmanteau “mansplaining.” It was worth rereading that one for a second or maybe third time, but the other six essays in this book aren’t just ﬁller to make a book version of a viral sensation.
Despite giving a feminist eye to some bleak topics — as in the one where she connects Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s sexual assault of a hotel maid with the IMF’s treatment of developing countries — there’s a recurrent sense of hope across these essays, for me most palpably in “Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing...more
In some people (usually willful or grandiose or highly defended types) there’s only a very small diﬀerence between talking incessantly and saying nothing. I vaguely remember a quote from Roland Barthes, who claimed his rhetorical needs alternated between a little haiku that expressed everything and a great ﬂood of banalities that said nothing.
I expected that I would really like this collection of essays, reading about it ﬁrst through D’Ambrosio’s interview with Leslie Jamison for The New Yorker. I was especially curious about their discussion of his work being “marked by a ﬁgure standing outside some kind of threshold.” In actuality, while I appreciate the style of his writing, the overarching themes of the book felt too bleak for...more
Meghan Daum opens her second book of essays by explaining how she hoped that all together they would “add up to a larger discussion about the way human experiences too often come with preassigned emotional responses.” This examination of the disconnect with how one is “supposed to feel” compared to our actual feelings succeeds best in the opening essay, “Matricide,” largely about her mother’s death and complicated relationships between mothers and daughters. Some of the other apparently “unspeakable” topics — like loving dogs and Joni Mitchell and not being a foodie — ring rather false in comparison. But by that point, I was also less inclined to ﬁnd common ground with Daum, since these all came after the essay on her being an “Honorary...more
Roxane Gay is a brilliant writer, and I’m glad to see this book with its hot pink title on the front tables in bookstores, where perhaps people who think they don’t need feminism* might see it. Gay is razor smart and genuine; she has a witty and light-handed writing style, even when digging into complicated issues.
She writes some simple but important bits about privilege, like: “Surrendering to the acceptance of privilege is diﬃcult, but it is really all that is expected. What I remind myself, regularly, is this: the acknowledgment of my privilege is not a denial of the ways I have been and am marginalized, the ways I have suﬀered.”
And she talks about feminism’s...more
The essays in the book range widely in scope, from very personal to more critical to more journalistic, though a theme of understanding others’ pain loosely lassos them together. Often this manifests as her own attempt to understand, like her proﬁle of people with Morgellons Disease, who believe that ﬁbers are expelled from their skin and become so obsessed with the delusion they end up isolated from feeling so misunderstood. She wants to understand them, even though it’s so diﬃcult to believe. Sometimes she even dissects her desire to feel others’ pain, as when her brother is diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, and she imagines herself in his shoes so completely that it becomes more about her than him, leading her...more
Just after I started reading this book, I had a conversation in which someone said that inaccessible art can’t possibly be good art, with a side note about how some people may appreciate art solely because they can’t immediately understand it as they assume it’s smarter than they are. The discussion partially came from me describing my struggle through The Luminaries, not entirely enjoying it, but ﬁnding the structure of it compelling from a technical standpoint. The essays in White Girls vary in their accessibility, and since I was reading primarily for entertainment, I skimmed through the ones that didn’t draw me in enough. In this opinion, it can’t be a “good” book, because it was too much work...more