A few very free comments about these books and why I’ve taken the time to write about them.
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine.
Beautiful, poetic and perfectly constructed. This powerfully astute book draws our attention to those things we should pay attention to, like everyday acts of racism and sexism, of bias and race and racial violence, and this book has only become more important in the wake of Ferguson. This text remembers that images and words are essential to each other, and this poetry remembers that writing is a revolutionary act. See also Rankine’s first book, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely.
Heroines by Kate Zambreno.
A smooth and hard-hitting account of how some women’s ambitions as writers have smashed into those same ambitions in men, and this book tells us quite unabashedly what this has led to in the past. Building a quick-paced narrative and essay, based on excellent research and close-readings, Zambreno places her own push to write amidst the historical perspectives of Zelda Fitzgerald, Jean Rhys, Vivienne Eliot and others. And to many of us who feel this quiet, persistent and powerful suppression of female ambition (and ways of being in the world) – in ways that can feel outrageous, at times, to even mention – this books says clearly and with emotion too, these things that many know to be true but have not known how to (or had the time to) put into words.
How to Be Both by Ali Smith
My first recommendation is that you start with George, definitely. My second is to read this book co-currently with Smith’s Artful. With both texts ingested, you’ll pay attention to the world differently, walk in the world differently. Art and literature are not separate here but, rather, art and literature are all about how we look, experience and interpret, and both give space for vast, fertile imagination in our creation and reception of knowledge and critical thought and evocation of emotion. Ali Smith is amazing for how she does what she does. It’s true that I resist her worlds for a good few pages, on some days, and then, they play in this wordless really compelling way in my mind and thinking for days and weeks after. Smith continues to be a daring, smart wordsmith and storyteller who re-frames the possibilities of narrative and crossover with each new book.
Double Game by Sophie Calle
Calle is a female artist who is (role)playful, ambitious, self-confident and always aware of her place as subject and object. Her art again and again records moments of the lives of others, exposes our small habits, the signifiers in all our lives, and creates tantalizing glimpses of what is witnessed (what she draws attention to and frames). She has a tremendous eye for the drama of small narratives and, this book – a playful call-and-response to Auster’s appropriation of her (into a character, Maria) – is a willful assertion of her authorship and her role as subject first, foremost and most lastingly.
The Queer Art of Failure by Judith/Jack Halberstam
Queering failure, queering quest and ambition with no small amount of writing on the revolutionary nature of animated narratives. Those rumours about Frozen you’ve heard about, well, in some readings they might just be true. This book is fearless and bold and reset something in my brain. Failure is a key subject for all makers: the exuberance of it, the catastrophic bummer-ness of it. Halberstam explores something else too – the otherness of failure as something to not only acknowledge but to seek out: failure not just as process but as a valuable place itself. Halberstam’s book is not an easy read nor are some of the concepts included within its covers those I’d call-out about, and there are some things in here I disagree with, but as a way of re-considering the world and making, it’s a great place to spend some time.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay writes clear, deceptively plain prose (‘she said plain, burned things’) that reads the world and exposes our paradoxes, problematics and creates this really authentic, troubled and possible place for us to call out the BS and then get on with the business of living while knowing and seeing just a bit more wisely than before. Gay is uber astute and concise and I’m thinking few could write in the no-nonsense, totally effective way she does. Implicitly, if we learn to read the world just a little as Roxane Gay does, we’ll be smarter and more capable of dealing with all the crap that’s out there and get on with making some good shit happen. As an aside, her tweets are quick-witted and full of immediate reaction to the events in the world around us.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
So, it’s a bit long. Get over it. I put it on my list with AM Holmes’ May We Be Forgiven. These texts are not perfect, but they certainly are exuberant and entertaining.
The Last Novel by David Markson
Well, it’s simply not the last novel, nor is it really a novel at all. But a lovely pairing with Heroines for looking at the mess of creativity and success and being a writer (and in this case, an old, dying writer). If Shields’ deaf-ear-prose cut-up of Reality Hunger left you feeling like there must be a better way to agitate how we connect things, then this book does that.
Friend of My Youth by Alice Munro
The title story. Amazing. The narrative voice and story structure is stunning like a great cake – layer upon layer of storytelling. A exhilarating read, and this is a story to close read in order to figure out complex first person narration.
And What’s Next?
I have books I wasn’t so keen on, sure I do. But the world and web are filled enough with vitriol and personal opinion masquerading as fact. Face to face I’ll talk about those, but here, you get what has made me think, feel and act.
As I’m on research leave in the new year, the next eight months will be filled with reading, writing, walking, eating and traveling. I’ve enjoyed writing this short post on my slow-web-time blog and I might do so again. Watch this space, but maybe just occasaionally as it’s not a place I hang out too often.