books i am reading, special Deep Thoughts About Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick edition

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Hi, I’m still procrastinating! I read a lot of books this month, courtesy of Our Lady of Perpetual Delay the Q Train, I didn’t do anything self-helpful, I almost got myself into crow pose in yoga. I mean I did get myself into crow pose, only very briefly, and in a manner of great verisimilitude, which is to say: crows are pretty awkward if you watch them for a minute, and so is nearly six feet of sweaty woman who is 99% limbs and 3% successful motor control. It just got hot in New York and all my outfits are suddenly the wrong outfits and my brain is also suddenly the wrong brain; this happens every summer, and I don’t ever get used to it.

I read Robin Wasserman’s Girls on Fire in pretty much one sitting broken up only by such tedious activities as “leaving the house” and “going to work”; it’s a great, gory, gorgeous acid burn of a teenage-girl story that other people seemed to find “terrifying” (NPR’s Michael Schaub) but I found wildly, devastatingly romantic, like Heathers if Christian Slater were a girl and there were two of him and also if Heathers was about the massive, obsessive way you can fall for someone when you are young, and the ways in which your own choices can spiral into something so far out of your control that catastrophe feels inevitable and sometimes almost a relief: the worst thing that can happen does happen, and then you go from there. NPR also reports that “with its scenes of sex and violence, it’s very, very adult,” which, no disrespect to Michael Schaub, is about the clueless-white-dudeliest thing you can say about female adolescence, a period of time far more sexual and far more violent than anything I have experienced as an adult. It’s a book that’s all teeth and heart and it’s full of blood and I loved it.

I read Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes A Breath, which is also about being a teenage girl and falling in love, but from a very different angle: Juliet Palante is a young queer puertorriqueña who leaves her home and family in the Bronx for a summer internship with Harlow Brisbane, famed White Feminist Authoress and Portland denizen. Hijinx ensue. I can’t say enough good things both about this book, which is smart, hilarious, and poignant, and about how necessary it is: when was the last time you read a book that explicitly talked about a young queer Latina woman navigating her way through a minefield of intersecting identities, new politics, and radical ideas about love, community, and family, also while making fun of Portland specifically and well-intentioned but often damaging White Lady Feminist Cluelessness in general, also while getting to have a fun adventure, also while getting to make out with cute girls, also while being allowed a happy ending that is neither saccharine nor tidy? Yeah, me neither. I want to give this book to every young person I know—it is, very literally, one of the most useful step-by-step manuals I've ever seen for queer-girl coming-of-age and thriving and being hella feminist and figuring out who in your life is a true mentor and how to counteract some problematic and outright racist shit, and I want to also give it to everyone my own age that never got to see themselves in stories as a young person, whose only cultural reference points for politicized female queerness were (as they are for Juliet, who is a child of the 80s) Ani DiFranco (god bless her) and the Indigo Girls. It’s just really, really, really good, and it’s one of those books that you finish and think god damn, I am so happy this is circulating in the world. I can’t wait to see what Gabby Rivera does next.

Now I’m reading Maggie Nelson’s The Art of Cruelty and so far having somewhat conflicting feelings about it and it’s making me want to go back to Eve Sedgwick (what doesn’t) and Avery Gordon, whose book Ghostly Matters was much more useful for me personally in working through how to think about and interact with cruelty and cultural trauma and art and pain. I’m not finished so maybe that’s not very fair to Maggie Nelson; but I’m almost all the way through her entire body of work now and there’s something missing for me in her criticism and memoir-hybrid writing that I’m still figuring out how to define precisely. If anything I think her work (other than Bluets, which I love, and which leans much more toward prose-poetry) is kind of a distillation—or maybe more accurately a reduction—of Sedgwick’s, and in places it makes me a little salty: Eve said this so much more perfectly, but Eve’s prose is also infinitely denser and more difficult, more precise but also more demanding, more exhausting—Eve makes you work for your pleasure, but the pleasure is all the more rich for the thrashing you took to get there (pun intended, thanks). But I think it’s useful for people who would never in their lives go near Touching Feeling and its rigors to have access to her ideas, to the central project of so much of her work, which is to suggest that identities and lives and bodies and politics are infinitely complicated and valiantly unpolarizable, and that arguing for orthodoxy, for boundaries, and for binaries is not just futile but in most cases an act of violence—as is the case both theoretically and routinely in practice, as we can see from the eleven states currently suing the government of the United States for the right to police and violate trans people’s bodies (a legal move worthy of Eve’s old nemesis Jesse Helms, whose legacy of homophobia, racism, and misogyny is vigorously alive and well today). More good thinking is always a good thing. But man, nobody but Eve is Eve.

I didn’t plan on reading the Art of Cruelty for Memorial Day weekend but there you have it. I hope you enjoy yourselves, dear hearts, and do yourselves a favor and get your copy of Juliet Takes A Breath sooner rather than later.