"The Dreamers accept this as the cost of doing business, accept our bodies as currency, because it is their tradition. As slaves we were this country’"The Dreamers accept this as the cost of doing business, accept our bodies as currency, because it is their tradition. As slaves we were this country’s first windfall, the down payment on its freedom. After the ruin and liberation of the Civil War came Redemption for the unrepentant South and Reunion, and our bodies became this country’s second mortgage. In the New Deal we were their guest room, their finished basement. And today, with a sprawling prison system, which has turned the warehousing of block bodies into a jobs program for Dreamers and a lucrative investment for Dreamers; today, when 8 percent of the world’s prisoners are black men, our bodies have refinanced the Dream of being white. Black life is cheap, but in America black bodies are a natural resource of incomparable value."
My favorite poem from this collections is called In Which I Make the Mistake of Comparing Billie Holiday to a Cosmic Washerwoman. Despite the awarenesMy favorite poem from this collections is called In Which I Make the Mistake of Comparing Billie Holiday to a Cosmic Washerwoman. Despite the awareness referenced in the title, and the fact that there are some lovely lines in this poem, I'm still troubled by it:
But here in the past of that future, Billie Holiday is still singing a song so dark and slow it seems bigger than her, it sounds very heavy
like a terrible stain soaked into the sheets, so deep that nothing will ever get it out, and she keeps trying,
she keeps pushing the dark syllables under the water then pulling them up to see if they are clean but they never are and it makes her sad we are sad too
The this is your pain and I am the observer dynamic is kind of useless. You wrote a pretty poem about being party to someone else's pain, except from the gulf of oppressor-to-oppressed, which is, ha, gross. And I mean, the title sets you up to expect a self-serving collection, so.
ALSO Claudia Rankine said it far better than me, so I'm just going to leave this right here:
"At the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference in 2011, Claudia Rankine presented a talk on Tony Hoagland’s poem “The Change.” The narrator in Hoagland’s poem is watching tennis and “wanting / the white girl to come out on top, / because she was one of my kind, my tribe.” It describes Serena Williams as “so big and so black” with “some outrageous name like Vondella Aphrodite.” Rankine’s talk at AWP was generous. She discussed her own complicated response to Hoagland’s poem, and the many possible ways of reading it. She asked what it meant that Hoagland said his poem was “for white people.” Rankine’s talk ends like this: “My alertness, my openness, my desire to engage my colleague’s poem, my colleague’s words, actually demands my presence, my looking back at him. So here I am looking back, talking back and, as insane as it is, saying, please.” In response, Hoagland wrote a letter claiming that “The Change” is “racially complex” and not racist, and that white liberal apology is “not just boring but useless.” That one has to get dirty if one is going to talk about race. He writes, “I don’t believe in explaining my poems to other poets; they are part of my tribe, and I expect them to be resilient readers.” Hoagland’s recycling of the term “my tribe” — used by the racist narrator of “The Change” to describe white people — to describe his fellow poets is something that probably occurred to many of these readers."
Nothing happens in this book, other than what is the most ordinary imaginable - a woman accepts a summer teaching job, flies to the location where sheNothing happens in this book, other than what is the most ordinary imaginable - a woman accepts a summer teaching job, flies to the location where she is teaching it, stays at a borrowed apartment. She meets friends for dinner a few times, and twice she goes out on the boat of the man she sat next to on the plane. During the day, she teaches a writing class.
Since it is not a novel that concerns itself much with plot, the substance has to lie somewhere - and in this case, it so happens to be dialogue. It’s not a very conversational sort of dialogue. It’s very passive.
It’s not a culture of listeners that we’ve cultivated in our time, and so there’s something that resonated with me, as our narrator seamlessly transitions from encounter to encounter, listening. This isn’t a book written for one central character - it is a book written for every other character, other than the central character. This inversion creates space for self-definition in a way I haven’t seen before. It’s not that our narrator does not exist - she thinks, from time to time, of the three children she left behind in order to teach the class, she resists the advances of men, and accepts phone calls about her mortgage - but she inhabits her narrative voice much in the same way that many of us inhabit the inevitable tasks that swallow up our days. There is a patent patience in that voice that cannot but be gendered.
It’s not exactly that the voices in Outline are so very hungry to be heard - they merely exist, and they take up space in proportion to their involvement with the narrator accordingly. Despite the fact that each story tends to involve merely the, yes, outline, of each individual’s story, it is delivered as mundane detail that has been invigorated by the dramatic monologue; that ultimately the novel begins, and ends, with our narrator’s brief residence in Greece seems not the least coincidental.
I highlighted so many passages, and I lost myself so completely in the language, that I cannot help but love this book. ...more
For most of my life I’ve approached eating somewhat skeptically. I was not raised in a household that entertained even a curiosity about nutrition, toFor most of my life I’ve approached eating somewhat skeptically. I was not raised in a household that entertained even a curiosity about nutrition, to say the least. It took until I was nearly twenty before I had the palate to even choke down a green salad. The body can be capable of handling a lot, but as all of us learn at some point, the body has limits. For me, it had become more that my body was my limit - or more, my relative size was not something that occupied conscious space, but rather I could intuitively feel that I was not healthy.
I’d like to qualify this review by saying this is the first time I’ve ever followed a formalized, long-term eating plan in my life. I completed the first 3 weeks of the plan exactly as laid out - which means, I followed the suggested menu precisely. The first 3 weeks also happen to be the amount of time in which you have a comprehensive, detailed, down-to-the-ingredient-shopping-list plan laid out for you to follow.
I would like to start at the place I feel is most helpful - which were the challenges.
It involves a lot of prep work. If you do not already spend a lot of time in the kitchen, the amount of work this program demands might come as a bit of a shock.
Which means, it involves a lot of time. While each of the individual recipes tend to be fairly simple, you are eating homemade breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks. Every. Single. Day. It adds up to time spent in the kitchen, and a lot of dishes.
It involves some specialty ingredients, and thus gets expensive. If your food budget is bare bones, this plan will probably not work for you. Items like miso paste, flax oil, avocado oil and whey protein are not cheap - and if you don’t live in a city, I’d imagine they may be hard to find. Beyond the initial investment required in some of these ingredients, the plan otherwise consists almost entirely in fresh fruits and vegetables, and quality proteins including beef, chicken, fish and tofu - which means if you want to do this plan right, you should be buying wild-caught fish, and pasture raised meats whenever possible. There is a vegetarian version of the plan (which could plausibly save a lot of money, even if you’re not vegetarian) but you have to be prepared to eat a lot of tofu and tempeh.
You’re going to be grocery shopping 3 times a week. I don’t know about you, but if I’m already prepping and cooking food every single day, this is kind of a lot.
Beyond the minor annoyance of occasional dislikes of ingredients chosen (such as discovering it’s possible to love avocados and still want to gag every single time you catch a hint of the flavor of avocado oil), these were the biggest pitfalls of the plan.
Now, the advantages.
You will rarely feel hungry. Each meal and snack was satisfying on a level beyond taste, by which I mean, I felt incredibly sustained and thus really able to focus a lot more energy on what matters.
You will learn how your body deals without sugar, and it will shock you. The entire idea is that you are taming the body’s insulin response, which in turn calms the rest of your body from an angry, uninhabitable planet type-vibe to a relaxed, functional, well-oiled and productive machine. Which feels a lot more incredible than it sounds. It’s tough to understand just how much certain foods affect you until you get a sense for what it feels like to live, and happily, without them.
The plan is incredibly structured and detailed I know that doesn’t sound like an advantage at first - but it actually kind of is. When you’re busy, spending time and energy on what you’re going to eat can easily veer from being a pleasure to being an emotional drain and a major time sink.
There are preplanned shopping lists you can easily print out, and shop from, or use to order your groceries. I appreciated the tools that the plan provides - it made it easier for me in ways that allowed me to save energy on the actual work of making the food. But again, having the time and energy to make the food, and to be able to afford the markup to order my groceries, speaks to a sort of privilege that is not necessarily available to everyone.
You’re going to eat a lot of fruit and vegetables. Again, because you’re buying a ton of it. But in addition to this having physical implications, there’s actually research out there that says eating 7 servings of fruit and vegetables per day is actually linked with peak mental health, as well as physical health. Which means that if you can do it, chances are, you’re going to feel amazing.
Even as I write this review from a really earnest place, I can’t help but feel gimmicky about it. It’s impossible to turn a corner in this country without someone trying to tell you how to eat, and so it feels loaded for me to approach yet another book, and plan, that is doing basically that. There are a lot of systemic issues that contribute to poor access to proper nutrition in this country - and a lot of interests that stand to gain from that lack. Other than potential book sales, I couldn’t think about what David Ludwig - a medical doctor, and Harvard researcher both - might stand to gain, other than actually advancing our knowledge in the field of how to better care for our bodies by starting at proper nutrition.
I’m writing this from the remove of a bit of distance - I’ve had both successes and failures with the plan as laid out, and at this point in time, I’ve only completed the first 3 weeks of the plan. During that time, I lost 9 pounds and 2.5 inches from my waist, and I felt amazing. Incredibly at home in my body. Even after only the 3 weeks spent, following the regimen exactly as it was laid out, my physical well-being and mental acuity have both improved to a degree I would never have imagined possible. After 3 weeks, I decided - in part due to laziness - to return to my old ways. After that week, I not only feel considerably worse than I did during those entire 3 weeks (now that I know the alternative), I feel even more motivated than before to return to it, because now I know what is possible. It takes work, but as they say, nothing worth having necessarily comes easy. But in this particular arena, the work does not always amount to reward. In this case, it absolutely does, simply by virtue of the ways it puts you back in touch with your own body.
I feel I can confidently say this book taught me how to eat for the first time in my life. ...more
When I learned what the premise of Eleven Hours would be, what I first envisioned was something very close to Maggie Nelson's exploration in The ArgonWhen I learned what the premise of Eleven Hours would be, what I first envisioned was something very close to Maggie Nelson's exploration in The Argonauts of birth being an experience akin to death - or at least one that brings you painfully close to that threshold. I began the book waiting for that gut-wrenching sense of immediacy and physicality, which did not ultimately come to pass, but it's turns out that's really okay.
There is something wonderful in the spaciousness granted, in this book, to the vast experience of what it is to give birth - and in fact it surprised me when I considered my own experience with novels that give such a treatment to the subject (read: none). It was beyond tempting to compare my own experiences - what I’ve seen of birth, the information I’ve been privy to, despite not being a mother myself. I spent a lot of time after I finished the book examining that inclination and why it felt necessary to compare at all - aside from the generally inviting nature of fiction, it really demanded that I ask myself whether I felt more entitled to compare because the female experience is one that is already subject to vast quantities of scrutiny.
This was a story in part about the immediacy of birth, but it also spoke to an experience that cannot be shared. Lore is a woman with a solitary past, who finds hope in a new life, and is ultimately deceived - her pregnancy at once a hopeful and heartbreaking artifact. No man accompanies her, and the male cast is in fact very much limited to the perfunctory invasions of male doctors, and the attendant thoughts that Lore and Franckline each cast to memories of partners, past and present.
This was clearly Lore’s book, and I found myself actually struggling with that imbalance. I wanted to know more about Franckline, and I kept wondering what the story would be like, were it told entirely from her point of view. Ultimately, I think I would have been more interested in that possibility. ...more
There are distances in The Coyote’s Bicycle traveled by decidedly differing means. There is the distance between reporting and storytelling, narrativeThere are distances in The Coyote’s Bicycle traveled by decidedly differing means. There is the distance between reporting and storytelling, narrative strands traveling from opposite ends that take pause; evolve. There’s the distance between expectation and fact, and then there is that place where distances cease to hold meaning; a necessary place to go when we’re called upon to suspend our disbelief in that unique way we always must when it comes time to believe something true.
And then there is the literal distance of a bicycle pedaled from one country to the next.
The range can be somewhat dizzying, if you don’t take the time to steady yourself. First, there is a pile of abandoned bicycles; then, there is a man who begins as Pablito, and then becomes El Indio, the mythologized border coyote who discovers an incredible way of smuggling massive numbers of people across the border on bicycles. Then, there is a male reporter following a thread of story the originates in Mexico, and ends in the United States. It is hard, at times, not to be put off by the tremendous distance between subject and beholder - one man is chasing budding curiosity turned story, while the other is chasing a mode of survival. But this distance implicates the American reader, too - especially if you’ve failed to apprehend the human consequences of US immigration policies.
Mathangi Arulpragasam (better known as M.I.A.) said in her interview with David Greene of NPR on the Syrian refugee crisis “If the West is so deliberate in promoting its brands and is using its art and culture to inspire people’s dreams, how can the West turn people away?” A question this book will not, perhaps, answer, but will serve to boldly underline.
Note: Tin House sent me a galley of this book; I read it, thought about it for a few weeks, and then wrote this. Thanks, Tin House!...more
“It took about two days to convert the long-out-of-business brushless car wash on Robertson Boulevard into a tunnel of whiteness. We altered the signs
“It took about two days to convert the long-out-of-business brushless car wash on Robertson Boulevard into a tunnel of whiteness. We altered the signs so that the children of Dickens could line up and choose from several race wash options.
To the whitest music we could think of (Madonna, The Clash, and Hootie & the Blowfish), the kids, dressed in bathing suits and cutoffs, danced in the hot water and suds. Ignoring the amber siren light, they ran under the waterfall of the not-so Hot Carnauba Wax. We handed them candy and soda pop and let them stand in front of the drying blast of the hot-air blowers for as long as they wanted. Reminding them that having a warm wind blowing in your face was what it felt like to be white and rich.”
One of those books you stop keeping track of the number of lines and paragraphs you want to quote because it is all so brilliantly conceived. Satire isn't usually my jam - mostly, I think, because most satirical pieces I pick up were not written in the here and now, and I am not always patient enough. This could not be more timely....more
While I would like to say it’s difficult to pin down what it is that tugs at my chest the way it does in Eileen, it’s really not.
I can identify whatWhile I would like to say it’s difficult to pin down what it is that tugs at my chest the way it does in Eileen, it’s really not.
I can identify what it’s like to sever allegiances -- especially ones that no longer serve you. I understand what it is to build the grand escape fantasy; what it is, also, to live the emotional rope climb, and the numbness of the burn to follow.
Which is to say, that although I do not keep a dead frozen mouse that I keep in my glove compartment, I sort of do.
I haven’t read such a strong finish in a novel in some time. There is something so distilled, succinct and precise in this novel -- the delivery feels as natural as air. ...more
When I started this book, from the first page, I was in thrall. I read it back over maybe 3-5 times before I continued. The second pagThe long version
When I started this book, from the first page, I was in thrall. I read it back over maybe 3-5 times before I continued. The second page, with Velvet’s description of her complex interaction with her mother, and the social worker, was even better. The next chapter, while the change in voice threw me for a moment, held such deep and gracious space for the life and death of Ginger’s sister Melinda, that it really spoke to me, too.
It quickly devolved from there into a novel about a Dominican girl written by a white woman.
It’s not quite as simple as all that - and I’m thinking here, of what Kevin Guilefole said in his commentary on this review,“I don’t think there is any doubt we would all be better readers if we were more generous ones” - and the question is whether you are looking at it as plot, or something more complex, when you look at this novel which is built on the premise of an ‘urban’ child being sent to stay in the home of a privileged white couple for the summer, where she learns how to ride horses.
And then you learn that such a thing, the Fresh Air Fund, actually exists.
I listened to Mary Gaitskill’s interview with David Naimon on ‘Between the Covers’, and she was very thoughtful, and gave his questions a lot of gravity, which made me like her. But in exploring why she wrote the book, it came back to while, Gaitskill herself was never a little girl who grew up dreaming of horses, she felt the urge suddenly to address, why couldn’t someone from a different background achieve that dream? Why couldn’t National Velvet be a girl of color? I accepted it, at the time, as I read it, but as I read on and finished the book, the more I turned it over, the more I found it difficult to admire that impulse. Because even if Velvet does, ultimately, save herself, the conception story of this narrative shares a suspicious border with the white savior narrative.
We all know, as fiction readers, that it is not about reporting back life exactly as lived, it is about imagination - but where does that leave us?
In an uncomfortable arena, because even if creative license, at the end of the day there is still a white woman pulling a profit off sales of a book about an underprivileged child. Who happens to not be white.
A woman who, it turns out, has herself hosted children at her home in upstate New York via the Fresh Air Fund.
The short version
The first few chapters were really beautiful. The rest made me deeply uncomfortable.
But what I’d really like to know is
What do women of color think about The Mare? Because every ecstatic review I’ve read, every very public review, has been written by a white woman (or man). Symptomatic of the failure of the literary establishment? People of color simply not reading this book?
I was blown away by a story of Groff's in a recent issue of American Short Fiction, but this didn't do it for me. Easily could have been half the lengI was blown away by a story of Groff's in a recent issue of American Short Fiction, but this didn't do it for me. Easily could have been half the length. ...more
Sometimes life is life, and there are no resolutions. Maybe redemption is out there, but even if it is in the cards, it won't be happening today.
My fSometimes life is life, and there are no resolutions. Maybe redemption is out there, but even if it is in the cards, it won't be happening today.
My favorite thing about this book was the voice. It was written in this sort of self-aware, constantly self-editing tone as one who is used to writing for an audience but is hesitant about in-person conversations might (hello, introverts). It's a voice that is very effective at letting you in to absorb Maria's experience as closely as possible. Really enjoyable read.