Remember back in the day, when I posted this 2015 Reading Challenge?
At nearly halfway through the year (and not halfway through the list, unfortunately), I thought I’d revisit it and talk about a few of the books I read.
My Body is a Book of Rules by Elissa Washuta
Elissa Washuta wrote a memoir before age 30, which means she has an urgent story and an urgent need to tell her story. I particularly appreciate the way in which she tells it: fragmented, a fifteen-part “Cascade Autobiography” that’s interspersed with dialogues, statistics, essays, bibliographies, text message conversations, and an imagined Law and Order: SVU episode. The themes of the book–mental health and medication, balancing a split ethnic identity, Washuta’s relationship to sex and her body–are repeated and layered throughout the text. The shape of the book captures the content of the book in an interesting way. Reading her story is putting together the pieces of a collage that extends past the boundaries of the page. Elissa and I are the same age. Something about her prose captures not only her story, but our generation in a way that’s much bigger than her or I alone.
“A Book a Friend Recommended”
The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor
My friend M.M. Jordahl recommended this Nnedi Okorafor book, which is a prequel of sorts to her World Fantasy Award-winning novel Who Fears Death. It’s about a group of genetically modified humans, lab created superheroes of a sort, called speciMen, who live imprisoned in a tower. The story is set in the near-ish future, and tells the story of the end of the world as we know it. It’s an interesting take on “superhero” tales, not the least because of the conversation the story has with colonialism and oppression. (There is a woman named called HeLa because she was grown from the cells of Henrietta Lacks, for example.) The powers of the metahuman/superhero people are not your typical DC knockoffs; I appreciate not only the powers but how they work together. Towards the end of the novel, it becomes clearer that this book is setting up for Who Fears Death, even though The Book of Phoenix was written second. Even without a Greek Theater-style denouement, I think The Book of Phoenix belongs on the classics shelf of the Superheroish Sci-Fi genre, along with books like Octavia Butler’s Patternmaster and Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human. (I think reading this book alongside Sturgeon’s 1953 novel would be quite interesting.)
“A Book Your Mother Loves”
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
This is a collection of beautiful essays about nature, science, and Potawotomi/other Native cultures. Robin Wall Kimmerer writes passionately about plants, drawing from wisdom of western academic science and wisdom of her ancestors and culture. Where some would separate the two, she combines them. She writes with great urgency about our connection to the environment we live in, as well as doing in-depth portraits of many plants, studying their connection to the environment, to people, to each other.
I’m not all the way done with this book yet. I’m about halfway through. I love it, though, and I see why my plant-loving biologist mother loves it, too. The essays are beautiful and I find myself needing to absorb them slowly–one every few weeks at most. They’re gorgeous little environmental koan that I can drop into the pool of my earthly meditations.
“A Book That Scares You”
the life-changing art of tidying up by Marie Kondo
As an afficianado of horror and the occult, I find it satisfyingly ironic that this little, unassuming volume scares the shit out of me. It does. To bring things full circle, I am reading this book because Elissa Washuta, with whom I am friends on Facebook, was singing its praises. This is a book that teaches you how to tidy. It’s scary because I can’t just read it. I have to also do the thing. By which I mean, tidy my entire life in one fell swoop.
Here’s the (heavily paraphrased) basic premise of Marie Kondo’s tidying philosophy, the “KonMari Method”: Tidy once. 1. Get rid of all your shit that doesn’t “spark joy.” 2. No, really, ALL your pointless/joyless shit. This will probably be upwards of half of your possessions. She’s got a list and a method that makes a lot of damn sense. 3. Designate a place for the remaining things. 4. A place for everything; everything in its place.
She’s not actually anti-stuff. She just advocates letting stuff leave you when it’s fulfilled its purpose or no longer serves you. She’s got a charming, Shinto outlook of stuff, i.e. greet your house. Thank your stuff for helping you. Bid a font farewell to the stuff you’re getting rid of. Appreciate and admire the joy-sparking stuff that remains.
For the record, here’s my list thus far: