Non-Fiction

  • Bad Feminist

    Roxane Gay

    Image of Bad Feminist

    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 Empathy Exams

    Leslie Jamison

    Image of The Empathy Exams: Essays

    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

  • Ordinary Affects

    Kathleen Stewart

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    Everyday life is a life lived on the level of surging affects, impacts suffered or barely avoided. It takes everything we have. But it also spawns a series of little somethings dreamed up in the course of things.

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  • Regarding the Pain of Others

    Susan Sontag

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    I’m on a laid-back mission to make my way through Susan Sontag’s oeuvre, and this in particular has been on my active reading list since I finished On Photography several years ago. It turned out to be a rather prescient selection, as shortly after I finished reading, tensions broke open again across Israel and Palestine, making the ideas here profoundly timely. Sontag talks of how “being a spectator of calamities taking place in another country is a quintessential modern experience,” while later clarifying that “speak[ing] of reality becoming a spectacle is a breathtaking provincialism”:

    …it is absurd to identify the world with those zones in the well-off countries where people have the dubious privilege of being spectators, or of

    ...more
  • White Girls

    Hilton Als

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    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

  • Reality Hunger

    David Shields

    Image of Reality Hunger: A Manifesto

    You know you’re in for some bold and broad declarations when a book starts off, “Every artistic moment from the beginning of time is an attempt to figure out a way to smuggle more of what the artist thinks is reality into the work of art.”

    Reality Hunger calls itself a manifesto, yet it feels less a call to arms to me — it’s more of a collage of thoughts that are numbered in the hundreds and organized into 26 themes that all circle around the intent to deconstruct artistic creativity. Some of the thoughts are Shields’s but many of are quotes or partially comprised of quotes. He wanted to publish these unattributed but was legally required to include a list...more

  • A Field Guide to Getting Lost

    Rebecca Solnit

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    I last read this book nearly six and a half years ago; when my friend Eleanor brought it up recently to share a quote from it someone had passed on to her, it felt like perfect time for a re-read. In those six odd years, I’ve read several of Solnit’s books and have come to appreciate her particular way of getting at a subject, where bits and pieces of anecdotes and research fuse together into a nuanced perspective. Much of her work is grounded in history and various arenas of activism, so this feels very personal and nostalgic in comparison, yet I think it has more of those elements than her more recent book, The Faraway Nearby....more

  • Against Interpretation

    Susan Sontag

    Image of Against Interpretation: And Other Essays

    From now to the end of consciousness, we are stuck with the task of defending art. We can only quarrel with one or another means of defense. Indeed, we have an obligation to overthrow any means of defending and justifying art which becomes particularly obtuse or onerous or insensitive to contemporary needs and practices.

    This is the case, today, with the very idea of content itself. Whatever it may have been in the past, the idea of content is today mainly a hindrance, a nuisance, a subtle or not so subtle philistinism.

    Despite being fascinated by Susan Sontag, I haven’t actually read much of her work, so it was inevitable that at some point I would end up with three...more

  • The Faraway Nearby

    Rebecca Solnit

    Image of The Faraway Nearby (Ala Notable Books for Adults)

    I expect even some of the most stalwart of Solnit’s fans would not consider this her best book, as it seems a bit scattered, though it’s similar in general feel to A Field Guide to Getting Lost. Its “Russian-doll” structure functions less like burrowing deeper into the complexities of a difficult period of her life and more like the tide retreating away from solid ground only to flow back in. Yet for me the timing of this book was uncanny, as I kept finding topical moments throughout. Solnit has a lot to say about telling our stories, of the vagaries of illness, of the possibilities of empathy, of the slow pace of change, and of the isolated time she...more

  • Joseph Anton

    Salman Rushdie

    Image of Joseph Anton: A Memoir

    Recounting nine years of living in protective custody after the Ayatollah Khomeini sentenced him to death, Rushdie’s memoir is befittingly hefty at over 630 pages. About three-quarters of the way into it, the tediousness of his ongoing fight to live freely comes through all too clear. In addition to describing the particulars of living constantly with a team of security personnel and the various meetings to try to force Iran to overturn the fatwa, Rushdie also covers general life stories including his several marriages and infidelities as well as his writing process and various parties he attended and celebrities he met, despite the restrictions to his personal freedom.

    Though I’ve only read Midnight’s Children years and years ago,...more

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