Recent Reading

Illness as Metophor Susan Sontag (Have known of this book for quite some time, but only sat down with it now. It’s a great piece of analysis, and all the more poignant given that Sontag was attempting to use what she then assumed was a terrible cancer prognosis to challenge the narratives that were trapping those around her with similar prognoses.)
Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era Paul Preciado (Preciado is clearly a brilliant thinker. There’s some great stuff in here. Though I am curious about some underlying assumptions that I felt were present throughout.)
Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America Rachel Hope Cleves (A wonderful read, handed to me a good friend in their home state of Vermont. Great for a a cozy read.)
The Queen of Whale Cay: The Eccentric Story of ‘Joe’ Carstairs, Fastest Woman on Water, Kate Summerscale (Grabbed a copy of this from the Strand one evening after reading the book just below, which mentioned this book as a source. Carstairs was a messy human with vehemently racist and colonialist ideas. Published in 1997, it’s hard not to wonder how this same subject would be treated today, across all aspects of her life.)
Almost Famous Women: Stories, Megan Mayhew Bergman (Recommended to me by a bookseller in a shop near the Vermont border in the late summer of 2016 – about a year ago. Read in its entirety, in happy contentment, while traveling to and from a hike up the Hudson from home.)
The S Word: A Short History of An American Tradition… Socialism, John Nichols (A solid historical overview of yet another thread of American history that we are not taught in most schools and that illuminates a much needed political alternative in the US.)
March: Books One, Two & Three, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell (These books provide a fantastic view into the Civil Rights struggles that John Lewis was part of. In particular, it’s a great reminder that not every protest or individual act results in immediate change, but that each action is part of a long effort that takes myriad forms.)
Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Women on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, Julia Serano (This had long been on my list, but I hadn’t gotten to it, so got it out of the library. Having read it back-to-back with Stryker, I would say the strongest points for me related to the complexity of misogyny as it relates to femininity and the inability of so many to see that their discomfort with gender difference has so much to do with their own unhappiness about the ways they relate to and are treated because of their gender.)
Transgender History, Susan Stryker (This is a great and very approachable history, if a bit short, but there’s a lot here and the shortness helps with the approachability. Plus it’s packed with lots of good info.)
Under the Sea-Wind, Rachel Carson (Saw the recent documentary about her and really wanted to read her work after that. Decided to start at the beginning. The depth of knowledge and research on display is staggering, but the blending it together into a narrative is just as remarkable. No wonder people know and love her writing.)
The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild, Lyanda Lynn Haupt (Adding to my ever-increasing amateur urban natural collection. A lovely and informative read.)
I’m Just A Person, Tig Notaro (A summer read I picked up at the library. Sometimes it is pleasing to hear the same story retold in a different way.)
The Trouble with Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time, Brooke Gladstone (I read Gladstone’s other book, so was excited to hear she had a new one. This is definitely more of a rumination/essay on the current political moment. Has some great points and draws on some intriguing sources, but was a little frustrated with it in the end.)
Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Douglas Tallamy (Recommended by a fellow Brooklyn Bird Club member as a good entry point to understanding the role of native plants and insects in the health and well-being of local ecosystems and why conservation of native ecosystems matters. I, in my turn, can recommend it for the same.)
Lab Girl, Hope Jahren (An anti-fascist organizer who attended an event at my day job told me he was really enjoying it as part of a science book club he was in. At first I wasn’t really into it, but then it grew on me, particularly one of the main subjects of the book, Jahren’s friendship with her work partner.)
The Disappearing L: Erasure of Lesbian Spaces and Culture, Bonnie Morris (Research for my film project.)
Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (I had a copy that I almost brought on a trip with me last year, but decided to pick it up this spring because I liked the idea of the One Book, One New York effort, for which it was chosen as the 2017 book. Plus, it led to a wonderful subway conversation about diaspora literature.)
AMC’s Mountain Skills Manual, Christian Bisson & Jamie Hannon (Because, obviously. I want mountain skills.)
Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation, Octavia Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy and John Jennings (A fun intro to Butler’s work for me, though there’s so much going on in this story it’s clear that a lot is lost in the translation to graphic form. Just makes me want to check out one of her other books though.)
Future Sex, Emily Witt (Without intending to, I read this cover to cover in a single day. There is much in this book that I relate to, though I think there are some reasons/angles she didn’t explore about why things are as they are for many.)
Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin (No wonder people respond so strongly to the memory of reading this book. It’s devastating and familiar all at once, like so much of Baldwin’s writing.)
Natural Born Heroes: Mastering the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance, Christopher McDougall (Part of my continued interest in epic journey tales.)
Direct Action: Protest and the Reinvention of American Radicalism, L.A. Kauffman (Incredibly well-sourced, even down to the credit for the artists who rendered each of the images/posters/buttons she used to illustrate the book. Gave me a great deal more context for what I’ve known of radical politics since college.)
Forward: A Memoir, Abby Wambach (My friend pointed this out on the table as we were leaving the bookstore and I just had to. I am a sucker for a celebrity sports bio. This was not the finest of the form, but I am not sad I bought it—there were more than a few conversations over the text during the weekend I read it.)
The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World, Andrea Wulf (The title is frustrating, as are a handful of the early claims made in the book, for their decidedly colonialist bent. But Humboldt himself is a fascinating figure that makes this one well worth the read. Also appreciated the chapters on those whose careers and worth were shaped heavily by Humboldt.)
The Fight to Vote, Michael Waldman (Needed to get a better sense of the history of voting in the US and this was a good source.)
Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, Sarah Glidden (More about the Americans in the book than the people they were visiting, but not necessarily bad because of that. It’s a book primarily about making sense and making meaning in an unfamiliar context, and for that I found it to be a worthwhile read.)
Upstream: Selected Essays, Mary Oliver (There are a number of great essays here, but two of my favorites are the one about Walt Whitman and the one about owls. “For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.”)
The Feminist Bookstore Movement: Lesbian Antiracism and Feminist Accountability, Kristen Hogan (A good window into the feminist bookstore movement, but also feminist and lesbian feminist politics, the challenging realities of antiracist practice, and the publishing and bookselling worlds as a whole.)
Solo: One Her Own Adventure, edited by Susan Fox Rogers (I pretty much inhaled this. A friend picked it up at a library book sale and sent it my way—she knows me well.)
Becoming Unbecoming, Una (Spotted this on a shelf at my favorite local bookstore and read half there before I had to go, then got it from the library. Some really great and emotionally complex imagery to go along with a difficult story.)
Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities (Third Edition), Rebecca Solnit (Went looking for advice from activists who had been at it for much longer than me and this came highly recommended. Well worth the read.)
Moby Dick, Herman Melville (I could go on about this, I loved it, the wordy tangents, the humor, the brutality, the stretching out of the tale, the very American sensibility of it all, the wily narrator (was not surprised to be reminded that he and Hawthorne were friends in this regard). I underlined a number of passages.)
Sappho was a Right-On Woman: A Liberated View of Lesbianism, Sidney Abbot & Barbara Love (There was so much in this book that I felt was still deeply relevant today, not just to lesbians, but to queer women in general. And I felt excited by how strongly they linked the ideas they were talking about to the oppression of many other groups. Well worth the read.)
Dancing to the Precipice: The Life of Lucie de la Tour du Pin, Eyewitness to an Era, Caroline Moorehead (By far the most intriguing thing about this book is the French history that unfolds, and the ways in which revolution was like a ping pong game for decades, rather than a singular event that changed everything. I learned so much through reading this book about notions of revolution—a reminder that glancing history through a specific person’s experience helps ground it and make it more real.)
Come As You Are, Emily Nagoski (This is what people should be teaching in sex ed classes.)
24/7, Jonathan Crary (Like so much good dystopian philosophical writing, this cracks just below the surface of what you thought and makes it worse. However, the heavy references to a lot of art and writing by European men from the first half of the 20th century feels like retrograde misogynist tunnel vision, which reminds me too much of studying philosophy. There’s more to the world Crary, even while I appreciate what you’re exploring here.)
Assata: An Autobiography, Assata Shakur (It’s impossible not to be moved by her story.)
Ship Fever and Other Stories, Andrea Barrett (A wonderful short story collection that drew me in immediately—though admittedly, I am a biased reader because it is perfectly aligned with my interests, focusing as it does on science, those who history would otherwise record as bit players, and the development of knowledge.)
Outdoor Art: Extraordinary Sculpture Parks and Art in Nature, Silvia Langen (Bad, just bad. Reviewed for Hyperallergic.)
of_being_dispersed_simone_white_smallOf Being Dispersed, Simone White (Some of the most incisive, sexy, sharply observant, and wry poetry I have read in awhile. Very much recommended.)
John Muir: Nature Writings, John Muir (I didn’t read all 800+ pages, but I read a bit more than half. It is impossible not to notice the racism threaded throughout his writing, particularly as it relates to those indigenous to North America, particularly as he adopts an animate conceptions of plants and animals and even geology that is mirrored in many indigenous philosophies. But there’s America for you—the philosophical contradictions are constant and all too consequential. Reading his work you can, though, easily understand how his exuberance, religiosity in the face of the wilderness, and commitment to preserving it all helped shape the early environmental and parks movement.)
The Cosmopolitans, Sarah Schulman (An engaging look into the psyche of two New Yorkers, living here at a time unfamiliar to me but that haunts so many people’s ideas of the place.)
Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, Chris Hedges & Joe Sacco (While in principal I agree with the overall argument of the book in many ways, I found the text strident and presumptive, which soured me on the thing in general.)
Picasso’s Tears: Poems 1978-2013, Wong May (Saw her work mentioned somewhere and then unearthed two beautiful first editions of her early books at the Brooklyn Public Library. Loved )
When We Fight We Win!: Twenty-First Century Social Movements and the Activists that are Transforming Our World, Greg Jobin-Leeds and AgitArte (Reviewed for Hyperallergic.)
The Rarest Bird in the World: The Search for the Nechisar Nightjar, Vernon R. L. Head (His insistence on overly purple and florid prose makes for a bit of slog trying to get to the story and the facts in this book, which would be a slim, but exciting volume if a good editor had taken a sharp machete to it. But I did still read it, because I wanted to know if they found it. I am a birder after all.)
Journal of Ugly Sites & Other Journals, Stacy Szymaszek (I spent so many years of my life viewing the world through a very tight frame. A couple of these journals drew me back into questions about those frames.)
When We Were Outlaws, Jeanne Córdova (She does an excellent job of telling a fairly complex story. And the contradictions of her politics and struggles stuck with me as the most interesting points that the book raises, even if she herself didn’t focus on or resolve them.)
argonauts-coverThe Argonauts, Maggie Nelson (The felt like a kissing cousin to Kate Zambreno’s Heroines in the best possible way—serious in its intellectual ambition but also deeply and messily personal. A great combo.)
Gloria Steinem: My Life on the Road, Gloria Steinem (I really appreciate how much this book is about driving home the fact that spending time speaking with others in-person is a crucial piece of political organizing. It’s also always interesting to see inside one person’s perspective of how things played out, even with the biases that perspective can come with—so little of the first-hand history of feminist struggles is part of the cultural narrative, every testimony plays a role.)
The Cruising Diaries, Brontez Purnell, illustrated by Janelle Hessig (Soooo dirty; soooo much fun.)
Queer & Trans Artists of Color: Stories of Some of Our Lives, Nia King (A great collection of interviews with artists working across many genres, each with their own strategies, outlook, and perspective.)
Yo, Miss, Lisa Wilde (An engaging graphic novel by a teacher who clearly cares deeply for her students.)
Memories of the Revolution: The First Ten Years of the WOW Café Theater, Edited by Holly Hughes, Carmelita Tropicana, and Jill Dolan (Read for review, find the review in Sinister Wisdom 101: Variations, which I guest-edited – my review is accompanied by commentary from Susana Cook. Really appreciated the way the book itself feels like a fun cabaret performance, each act broken up with banter from the hosts/editors and friends.)
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor (A story so very well told – to have to learn about racism with the children in the story, but also to see their unquenchable demand self-determination and desire for all that life has to offer is incredibly compelling.)
Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer (Kimmerer continues to impress and inspire me with her ability to bring together seemingly incompatible worldviews and show that we are better for having many rather than one.)
The Tea Party in the Woods, by Akiko Miyakoshi (Sometimes I love to read a children’s book. And this one was a very endearing and well-illustrated twist on Little Red Riding Hood.)
Watch Me: A Memoir, by Anjelica Huston (Sometimes I love a celebrity memoir. Nothing has ever topped Andre Agassi and his ghost writer’s Open. I admire Huston and was interested in her story, but this book is quite dull and assumes that the reader knows all the same people and cultural references in the book. Was a bummer.)
Activism, Alliance Building, and the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, by Sara DeTurk (Will be writing about this for an issue of Sinister Wisdom that I’m editing. There are some great points in it, but the fact that it’s $75 makes it tough to figure out how people would be able to access and make use of it. Some thoughts on the book are part of a review on Hyperallergic and also in Sinister Wisdom 101: Variations.)
Getting Back, by Cindy Rizzo (I do love a dose of erotica and romance now and again. I had the great pleasure of meeting Cindy and so decided to by her new book and wasn’t disappointed.)
GatheringMoss-KimmererGathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Moss, by Robin Wall Kimmerer (This book is so gorgeous, and deftly and beautifully brings together science, cultural history, memoir, and well-wrought prose. I cannot recommend it enough.)
Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why, by Laurence Gonzales (Because survival and epic journey lit and television is my vice of choice these days. But ultimately it’s a fascinating look at human psychology and vision of life itself as an act of survival.)
Ghost Horse, by Thomas McNeely (Written by a friend, this book sent me more than once into the strange tailspin of adolescence, and also showed me unfamiliar but fascinating if heartbreaking realities in Houston, Texas of the 1970s.)
Agnes Martin: Her Life and Art, by Nancy Princenthal (One of the most striking things that comes from reading this book is how much people impose their own heavily inflected, and widely divergent, ideas about who Martin was and what her work is onto her being and paintings. Her intense desire to control people’s readings of her, in some ways, exposes her more to speculation and opinion and idolatry. This may very well be the last book I read about her, focusing instead on what lead me to it in the first place – her work.)
Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, by Kate Bolick (As someone who has spent the majority of her adult life single and somewhat cloistered, I found it strange to read a memoir about spinsters by a woman who is obsessed by the idea but has rarely, if ever, engaged in the life that the term describes. I enjoyed some of the history, but as a memoir it feels like there’s some missing self-awareness. Throughout the book, until literally the last couple pages, she presents spinsterhood and a retrograde and very straight conception of marriage where a woman bears children for a money-earning man while being limited entirely to the domestic sphere as the primary and only serious options she’s considering in life. I realize that extreme is not something she invented, but the historical subjects she discusses all represent gray areas between those extremes that are far more personal and nuanced.)
Against the Romance of Community, by Miranda Joseph (A central premise of this book is that community and capitalism are perceived as binary oppositions by US society, but that’s not a framework I’ve ever operated within and doesn’t resonate for me. Certainly some people try to use that as a selling point for false characterizations of community, but this, along with a couple of other central suppositions around which communities she was talking about made it tough for me to get into this book. There’s definitely some useful points, but it’s taking on huge subjects and feels both scattered and myopic in a way that robs it of some of its potential impact.)
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name – A Biomythography, Audre Lorde (As fantastic, beautiful, painful, and rich as everyone says. A long time coming to my life, but surely will be relevant for some time to many readers. And also, a gloriously sexy book as well.)
Ladies First: Revelations of a Strong Woman, Queen Latifah (A gift from a friend who knows me well.)
Life List: A Woman’s Quest for the World’s Most Amazing Birds, Olivia Gentile (A wonderful read for a the burgeoning birder in me, although clearly also a bit of a warning of the obsessive nature of the pastime.)
The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter, Susan Pinker (Read as research for the Unknown Play Project. The gender essentialism in this book is infuriating at times and very repetitive, but ultimately I do think there was some really useful stuff in here.)
Apart, Catherine Taylor (Read for Hyperallergic, read the review here.)
IMG_3183100 Crushes, Elisha Lim (This book is wonderful. The honesty and openness and love expressed in it are refreshing and very affecting. And I really appreciated the ways in which they are open about shifts and changes within them, which is so hard to articulate but so important.)
A People’s Art History of the United States: 250 Years of Activist Art and Artists Working in Social Justice Movements, Nicolas Lampert (This book is great, written by someone committed to history. It’s such a great foil to the internet writing I’ve been so steeped in lately, chock full of references and nuance and actual information rather than supposition and heresay. Really liked it.)
A People’s Art History of the United States: 250 Years of Activist Art and Artists Working in Social Justice Movements, Nicolas Lampert (This book is great, written by someone committed to history. It’s such a great foil to the internet writing I’ve been so steeped in lately, chock full of references and nuance and actual information rather than supposition and heresay. Really liked it.)
Redefining Realness: My path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More, Janet Mock (A very well done memoir that also balances the singular voice against the wider social context in which she lived/s.)
The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters (Not my favorite of Waters’ books, it goes on a bit and the way it plays out is a little frustrating, but I’ll return to her writing again I’m sure.)
lostproperties-krausLost Properties, Chris Kraus (Love her skeptical tone and in this shorter form I really enjoy the dips in and out of theory.)
My Education, Susan Choi (Precisely what I was looking for at this moment, a totally consuming story—felt like a humorous answer to Wonder Boys in its way.)
To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done For America – A History, Lillian Faderman (A very useful reference and history.)
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, Lucy Knisley (A fun quick read that a friend passed along.)
The Summer We Got Free, Mia McKenzie (Once I got drawn into this story I couldn’t put it down. Made me think over and over of a saying I recently read: “Resentment is the poison that you drink believing the other person will die.” Great read.)
You Learn by Living, Eleanor Roosevelt (I wanted to find a great biography of her to read but my sources seemed to indicate that there isn’t actually a great contemporary biography out there just yet, which was odd to me. I opted for this instead. It’s okay, mostly a little finger-waggy, and I still wish I could find a good contemporary biography.)
Growing Up Female: A Personal Photo-Journal, Abigail Heyman (I had read about this extended photo essay online and was very curious to have a look. The personal reflections and personalized design made me think of a highly produced zine. It might have been even more intimate and impactful as a zine. It’s so interesting that it was a lucrative book for a publisher in the 1970s—makes me reflect even more on the loss of feminist bookstores.)
Alone With Other People, Gabby Bess (There are so many feelings this collection brought back to the surface after not relating to them for many years.)
Grand Canyon Women: Lives Shaped by Landscape, Betty Leavengood (Purchased while at the Canyon and devoured in the car thereafter, it definitely made me daydream many moments about disappearing into the depths and not coming back out any time soon.)
Margaret Fuller: A New American Life, Megan Marshall (Have long been interested in and curious about Fuller, was really glad to find a great updated biography of her life, truncated though it was.)
The Girls Next Door: Into the Heart of Lesbian America, Lindsy Van Gelder & Pamela Robin Brandt (Read as part of my research for my documentary project. Found it helpful for some context and history, at least from this couple’s perspective, but the narration is a little heavy-handed and bummed there were no references listed anywhere in the book.)
What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation, Tom Finkelpearl (Really found this book to be a helpful and useful conversation about social practice, at the same time that it acknowledges some of the difficulties. More of my thoughts are up on Hyperallergic.)
A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The true story of a nice Jewish boy who joins the Church of Scientology, and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today, Kate Bornstein (One of the surprises I enjoyed in reading this book was learning that Holly Hughes mentored and is friends with Kate.)
I Love Dick, Chris Kraus (From the book: “By this I think she means that every time you try and write the truth it changes. More happens. Information constantly expands.”)
To Be Young, Gifted, and Black: An Informal Autobiography, Texts by Lorraine Hansberry, edited and arranged posthumously by Robert Nemiroff (This is a complicated connection, given that it’s primarily fragments of her writing compiled posthumously by her ex-husband. It leaves quite a bit out. What it does do, though, is give you brief glimmers of her radiant mind and fierce politics.)
Hold It Against Me: Difficulty and Emotion in Contemporary Art, Jennifer Doyle (Found so many of the insights and perspectives offered in this book really useful. Read my thoughts about it on Hyperallergic.)

“The impulse to express and understand will always compel some people with integrity. And integrity has its own strange trajectory—greater than any one person. Now that is a good lesson of history.”
-Sarah Schulman in The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination (2012)