DIGITAL MINIMALISM, BY CAL NEWPORT
Another book for people who might be concerned about the impact of social media on their lives, a little less strident than last month's TEN ARGUMENTS FOR DELETING YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS RIGHT NOW. Cal Newport is into Simple Living, into Mindfulness, into Thoreau and All Things In Moderation.
Newport doesn't want you to give up Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, so much as limit your hope-questing/doom-scrolling time to, like, an hour a day, four days a week. and do it from your home computer, not from a bunch of apps on your phone. And also, take up woodworking, or a musical instrument, or gardening, or some traditional hobby like that where you're creating something useful. Go on long walks. Eat fresh fruit with every meal. Do Swedish exercises before breakfast. Open up to your inner abundance. Move to Portland. You know this is good for you, so do that, and your cravings to be online all the time will fade of themselves.
THE COST OF LIVING, BY DEBORAH LEVY
Somebody recommended another book by Levy, SWIMMING HOME, but this was what the library had and so I checked it out instead. It's autobiographical, one of those very short books with several chapters three pages long, with paragraphs spaced far apart from one another.
She's trying to write herself as a main character, find her new self, pin the tail on her inner donkey, process trauma, and shake the boundaries of what it means to be a woman in today's world. She makes her friend's shed into her main writing space. She gets an electric bike. She listens to conversations in bars and concludes that women are telling stories about themselves as a cry for help, while the men they tell them to resent that they talk so much.
You might well conclude that it made me slightly uncomfortable, prompting me to affect an air of detached bemusement.
FIERCE LITTLE THING, by MIRANDA BEVERLY-WHITMORE
Saskia spends her life processing trauma. The chapters, some of them one paragraph long, several of them less than a page, whipsaw between milestones.
Every even-numbered chapter is about her past struggle in a cult in the middle of the forest, with a few teenage friends and irresponsible, flaky adults and an untrustworthy, dangerous, charismatic leader. Ruby Ridge and Waco happen during this time, and are interpreted by the cult as innocent civilians targeted for death by the police state for being different.
Every odd-numbered chapter is in "the present", where grown-up Saskia, now a recluse in her inherited Grandmother's big old house, is visited by her childhood friends, who are being I-Know-What-You-Did-Last-Summered about the Bad Thing that happened at the cult all those years ago. so is Saskia, but she doesn't know, because she doesn't open her mail, just leaves it in a pile of mostly catalogues in one of the big house's rooms.
And then there's the other trauma, from before the cult days, that destroyed Saskia's family and left her communing with what she thinks is the spirit of her dead little brother, and which influences both timelines. every time a feather falls out of the sky, it's him, trying to tell her something.
The book builds, via the alternating chapters, towards the climax of all three episodes at once. The "big reveal" that ties the storyline together and is revealed in the title of the book itself, is obvious. I figured it out early and spent the middle third of the book almost groaning about what was to come, before I made the decision to interpret the story as "processing trauma", and found myself wanting to be friends with Saskia and finding value in the story after all.
Highly recommended. I would love for you to read it, and tell me what you think.
ONE, NONE AND ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND, BY LUIGI PIRANDELLO
A psychological novel of identity by a man more famous for his plays. The title refers to the protagonist's obsession that his self is not merely his self, but also the way he is perceived by every person who has ever seen him, and also that he has no self at all.
He hears inaccurate village gossip about him, and changes his behavior to fit it, on the assumption that that must be who he really is. He learns that his wife believes he fancies another woman, and so he reluctantly begins illicit communications. Eventually, he conforms to other people's ridiculous delusions about him, and madness and tragical farce ensue.
as with many psychological novels, I admit to seeing a greater than zero amount of my own inner monologue, and wonder how many other people do too, whether these thoughts are part of the human condition or whether I'm just weird. In particular, the impulsive burning of bridges that one can't rebuild triggers and frightens me. If your mileage varies, that's cool too.
QUICKSAND and PASSING, by NELLA LARSEN
Once again, America does a piss-poor job of celebrating its best Black authors. Nella Larson was a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance, and yet I'd never been told she existed before this year. Her two short novels explore the tightrope that is life as a mixed-race person in a violently divided world.
Oddly enough, Quicksand is the one billed in the book blurb as a "horror story", when it seems to me to be more about existential alienation. The educated protagonist, Helga Crane, who has a black father and a Danish mother, is never presented as being in any physical danger; she merely has feelings of alienation and voluntarily leaves potentially solid situations at a HBCU, in Harlem, in Copenhagen, and then Harlem again, ultimately hiding her light under a bushel in an Alabama backwater.
Passing, on the other hand, is fraught with danger and suspense. It is a tale of two white-appearing octaroons. Irene plays Nick to Clare's Gatsby. Irene is openly mixed-race, while Clare has concealed the black part of her ancestry and married a vicious white bigot. Will he or won't he find out? The narrative focuses mainly on Irene's resentful reactions to Clare's increasingly dangerous behavior.
MEDIOCRE (The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America) by IJEOMA OLUO
This is a sometimes painful read for people who look like me, but if you're interested in racial and gendered justice, it contains things you need to know about the high cost of systemic and casual white male supremacy in America, not just to marginalized populations but to white males themselves.
Oluo (Who also wrote the highly recommended "So You Want to Talk About Race") points out how white male supremacy manifests itself everywhere; there are separate chapters on history, government, academia, workplaces, and professional sports, where the dissonance between putting black excellence on a pedestal and needing to shoehorn it into a subservient position is perhaps the most obvious.
We see how white guys, especially rich, connected white guys, essentially steal higher education admissions, job opportunities, promotions, praise and honors from better qualified women and PoC; how Democrats as well as Republicans are pressured to play the Race Card to scam votes; and Things Not To Do if you are a white progressive trying to help.
Necessary, bitter medicine. Very high recommendations.
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