Hi all. Today starts with some sad news, that you may already know if you’re on social media. Earlier this week literary legend Toni Morrison passed away. So many people are beautifully expressing their love for her and the power of her impact, but Stacey Abrams’ tribute is one of my favorites:
Onward, to books! All three of these books were exactly what I needed after making my way through Black Leopard, Red Wolf, not because they were “easy reading” — they absolutely weren’t — but two of them are essay collections and one is a short story collection, and the packaging of shorter sections that all contributed to a whole was a relief. Also, they all grapple with questions of justice, injustice, violence, and healing.
Dead Girls: Surviving An American Obsession – Alice Bolin
I first heard of Alice Bolin through an essay she wrote for what I could have sworn was Literary Hub, but I can’t find it anymore. Anyway, the piece was about the “Dead Girl Show,” which is also the focus of the first essay in this book, and I knew immediately after reading the essay I’d have to read the book, especially as I started to rewatch Veronica Mars. [p.s. the newest Pop Culture Pen Pals comes out soon and is allll Marshmallow content!]
As it turns out, the book covers much more ground than the Dead Girl Show, though the analysis she applies and draws in that section come up again and again. She writes about a culture that simultaneously panicks over and fetishizes violence against women, particularly white, cishet, thin, able-bodied, middle-to-upperclass women [or “girls,” as they’re more frequently thought of]. Bolin examines the culture and art that either endorses or pushes back against this violence, sometimes at the same time.
A note: during the final chapter Bolin writes extensively about the work of Eileen Myles, a writer who for the last several years has used they/them pronouns. Dead Girls came out June 2018, but uses she/her pronouns when talking about Myles and their work. It’s possible that Bolin was unaware at the time of Myles’ pronouns [though that seems odd for someone so familiar with them]. It’s also possible that somewhere in the publishing process someone other than Bolin said no. Either way, I was disappointed.
[tw: sexual assault, suicide]
Friday Black – Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
It has been A WHILE since I read a short story collection and this was a wonderful one to break the dry spell with! [I suppose Joy Luck Club is technically short stories, but it reads as such a novel/short stories hybrid that the structure of this felt super different.]
The collection grabs you in the very first story and does not let go. These are all, or almost all, speculative fiction, but in a very close to home way. Nearly all of them seem to ask, “what if right now, but with the tiniest tweak?” or “what if right now, but if something very particular was possible?” or “what if right now, AND this particular thing happened?” Adjei-Brenyah writes with particular poignance about the violence of racism and oppressive demands of capitalism, and the ways those forces intersect to make the world especially difficult and dangerous for Black people.
One of the stories from the book is featured at Guernica and you should definitely read it and then read the whole book. This story definitely skews closer to the sci-fi side of speculative fiction, so if that genre’s not usually your jam you should know that his stories cross an entire spectrum, and one of the joys of reading them is figuring out the parameters of each one.
The Reckonings – Lacy M. Johnson
A couple months ago I read Johnson’s first book, The Other Side, a memoir of surviving being kidnapped and raped by, as she often describes him, “a man I used to live with.” Her follow-up, she explains, was formed in response to the question she often gets at speaking events, or online, or in conversation: “what do you want to happen to the man who did this to you?”
Throughout the rest of the essays, Johnson examines and works through questions of justice and injustice through lens after lens. There’s an essay on the fear of expected violence that comes with being a woman in the world, an essay on encroaching environmental disaster, gun violence, capital punishment, and one in which she works to resist her own whiteness and become a better ally and accomplice in the fight for anti-racism.
I truly didn’t expect to be soothed by these essays? They’re full of ways in which the world is wrong and sad, but they have the effect of handing you a cup of tea or coffee and saying, “it’s okay and right to feel sad and angry and hopeless about these things, and also here are some ways to think about them that may help you gather your strength to push back against them.”
[tw: sexual assault]
I’m going to close out with a couple of GoFundMe causes that are important to me.
The first one is personal; some of you know that in early May my aunt had a very serious and unexpected stroke. Thankfully, she’s alive and recovering incredibly well, but to continue the recovery progress long-term is going to take time and many health expenses insurance won’t cover, and her page is here.
[just gonna take a breath here again to stew about how EFFED health care in this country is and how it really, truly doesn’t have to be like this]
The second one is on behalf of my Twitter pal Shannon Dingle. A few weeks ago her husband Lee was tragically killed in a freak accident. In the midst of intense grief, Shannon is also having to work on figuring out how her and her six kiddos are going to financially hold things together and you can support them here.