“At the beginning, when this was the seat of power between the election and the inauguration, it felt subversive to stand here and hold a book. (…) It still feels like contested space. But now, instead of protesters, it’s occupied by Secret Service and law enforcement.”

Jeff Bergman, who stages readings in the public spaces of Trump Tower as a form of protest against Donald Trump.

Like punk rock, literature is a kind of subculture. Most people can’t be bothered to dive in. Hopefuls can be dissuaded when a longtime member’s protective passion reads as exclusivity. But ask anyone who’s fallen hard for one and they’ll tell you—becoming part of an art scene will change your life (that’s not to say it won’t ruin it later). The communities spawned in these spaces are self-sustaining and addictive, inviting and demanding of intertextual references, nods to peers, and acknowledgements of their own history.

I know, I know (as Kurt Vonnegut used to say when people told him that the Germans attacked first). It sounds crazy. It sounds like a fantastic last-ditch effort to make sense of a lunatic universe. But there is so much more to this book. It is very tough and very funny; it is sad and delightful; and it works. But is also very Vonnegut, which mean you’ll either love it, or push it back in the science-fiction corner.

From the 1969 NYT review of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, via Literary Hub 

Fortunately, all of the poetry I was discovering in and out of the classroom (most notably Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde) showed me how to come to grips with disaster without becoming one, and how to live in an unjust world, and in a culture that loves to “not get” poetry, without becoming bitter.

Read the Political Divide

Lisa Lucas, head of the National Book Foundation, recommends two books to read to understand the current US – and help each ‘side’ understand the other: 

This year’s National Book Award finalist Strangers In Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild about tea party supporters in Louisiana, and last year’s winner Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. 

Between the World and Me is perhaps teh best book I’Ve read in the last five years, I might just reread Coates open letter about the Black condition, and I’ll add Strangers In Their Own Land to my to-read list.

Read the Political Divide

Elena Ferrante and Privacy As A Part of Writing and Reading


The “real” identity of Italian writer Elena Ferrante was recently unmasked by a male journalist who, with an investigative intensity usually reserved for political and critical cases, used financial records to prove his case. Camila Domonoske wrote a great, concise round up of the case and reactions for NPR, aptly titled “For Literary World, Unmasking Elena Ferrante’s Not A Scoop, It’s A Disgrace.”

I want to also recommend a particularly insightful text on the issue by Dayna Tortorici for n+1. Tortorici describes how crucial the pseudonymity is for Ferrante’s writing, how beneficial it is for the reader, and how the unmasking in this case is basically a form of silencing:

Ferrante’s readers were quick to denounce Gatti’s revelation. I myself was irritated. Even the stones know that Ferrante is Ferrante, and that’s the way her readers want it. More than Ferrante herself, her readers have benefited from her choice, spared so much extradiegetic noise. We are as invested in her anonymity—and her autonomy—as she is. It is a compact: she won’t tell us, we won’t ask, and she won’t change her mind and tell us anyway. In exchange, she’ll write books and we’ll read them. The feminist defense of Ferrante’s privacy was especially swift. It’s difficult to read a man’s attempt to “out” a writer who has said she would stop writing if she were ever identified as anything but an attempt to make her stop writing.

Books I Read in August

August’s been a pretty good month reading-wise. I finished a novel and read another for the #2016classicschallenge – Ingrid Bachmann’s Malina and Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon – and a wide range of other books:

Ingrid Bachmann: Malina

I picked up this book at my parent’s one weekend in July, and decided to read the novel as my July #2016classicschallenge. Malina is the first novel of Austrian poet and writer Ingrid Bachmann. It’s excellent, a love story of sorts and also an exploration of language, self, mental health, and the post-WWII generation told through the first-person narrator, a woman writer living in Vienna with her roommate Malina. The narration is so complex, intimate and intensive that it took me awhile to get into it and was hard to finish (for personal reasons) but I definitely recommend it.  

Dave Zirin: Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, The Olympics, and the Struggle for Democracy 

Dave Zirin is maybe the most interesting sports writer today. His blend of sport reporting, class analysis and leftist politics here comes in form of a report on the impact of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics on the people of Rio. The book includes a brief, concise history of Brazil, and I was especially impressed by the way Zirin connected Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine to the sports sphere.

Jeannette Walls: The Glass Castle 

I can barely believe this memoir is true. The childhood story of journalist and writer Jeannette Walls is one of abject white poverty, both neglect and love by her parents. The layers abuse sometimes made me so mad that I could barely keep reading, but Walls prose is so enthralling that I stuck with it. Overall it’s a coming of age story of a future gossip journalist that could be the plot of a Toni Morrison novel. The role of reading as escape, escapism and as habitus marker alone is fascinating.

Toni Morrison: Song of Solomon

My August classic, and one of the novel mentioned by the Swedes when Morrison received her Nobel prize. I’m always awed how compact her narrative and prose is. In this comparatively brief novel, Morrison tells about a century of African-American history, posits questions of race, gender and family, the role of lineage, death and love in Black communities, and creates  complex, messy characters. Perfect.

Paul Beatty: The Sellout 

An odd book to follow Morrison for a number of reasons. Paul Beatty’s novel about a man in the agrarian hood of Dickens in LA county who wants to bring his town back on the map and in the process unintentionally becomes the master a slave and intentionally (faux) segregates the neighborhood is being hailed as one of the best satires of recent time. I don’t really agree.  I don’t think the book is that well written, the scorching snide side remarks and references are at times just packed to tightly, and the book does make a lot of use of the nword (always ending in -er. never in -a) and reproduces a lot of racism and sexism. I know that that’s the point, but sometimes he overdoes it. Also, I’m not so sure if it’s a satire at all. A lot of the book is hyperbolic and satirical, but I didn’t read it as hysterical or humerous as a many (also white) critics did. At first I thought it really was supposed to be “Swiftian satire” as one of the blurbs claims, but halfway through I started reading as more angry than entertaining. It does critique pretty much every contemporary aspect of U.S. society, both mainstream and Black, and once I understood it to be a extremely eloquent “Shit’s Fucked Up and Bullshit” sign, I connected to it more.