The Best Thing I Read This Week Is …

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The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. I’m half way through but it’s still the best thing I read this week.

I’m sure everyone waits to find out what I’ve decided is the best thing I read this week. Oh, wait … It’s just me. Just an aside, sometimes I think about not doing these posts because they’re not that popular but I do them really for myself and because I like to share. I hope someone is getting value out of these posts.

So, what makes this book worthy of The Best Thing I Read This Week designation? 

First of all, I’m actually reading a book. A book with soft pages. It’s so amazing to touch paper.

I always have a pile of books – regular books and e-books – I want to read that I never get to read. I’ll start it, read the first page, and then never read a page again.

But, I started The Argonauts. Put it down. Started it again, sought it out, because it’s the opposite of the regurgitated, boring, boring, boring crap I read everyday. It was an antidote to all the twittering (that I sometimes enjoy) and think pieces (that I sometimes enjoy) that just read like noise. Can something read like noise? I skim a lot and I was forced not to skim through this book and I enjoyed not being able to do that.

It’s a challenging, sometimes difficult read. Very academic, like Nelson’s writing to and for other professors and I wanted to stop reading. At times while reading I’ll think “Is this brilliant and over my head or just bad, uninteresting writing, and poorly edited?” Then she’ll write something intriguing and fascinating and I’ll want to know more, know everything.

What does she write about? Being in love with and marrying a transgender man, being a step parent, having a step parent, motherhood, being a professor, feminism, being a woman, woman artists, female sexuality, identity politics, and more. Again, I’m only half way through.

I think (Judith) Butler is generous to name the diffuse “commodification of identity” as the problem. Less generously, I’d say that the simple fact that she’s a lesbian is so blinding for some, that whatever words come out of her mouth — whatever words come out of the lesbian’s mouth, whatever ideas spout from her head — certain listeners hear only one thing: lesbian, lesbian, lesbian. It’s a quick step from there to discounting the lesbian — or, for that matter, anyone who refuses to slip quietly into a “postracial” future that resembles all too closely the racist past and present— as identitarian, when it’s actually the listener who cannot get beyond the identity that he has imputed to the speaker. Calling the speaker identitarian then serves as an efficient excuse not to listen to her, in which case the listener can resume his role as speaker. And then we can scamper off to yet another conference with a keynote by Jacques Rancière, Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek, at which we can meditate on Self and Other, grapple with radical difference, exalt the decisiveness of the Two, an shame the unsophisticated identitarians, all at the feet of yet another great white man pontificating from the podium, just as we’ve done for centuries.

Hmmm…

The length of the book is interesting. 143 pages. The way she gives attribution is interesting. By “interesting” I mean “I’m grateful she didn’t drone on for 300 pages and have a thousand notes.”

The book is part memoir, part intellectual inquiry, part journal. No chapters. I feel like if I ever wrote a book it’d be like this: thought to thought, scene to scene, moment to moment with no thread or no discernible thread.

I also want to point out how I discovered the book. I think Roxane Gay tweeted about it first and quoted a line from the first paragraph that was shockingly profane and ballsy to put in a first paragraph and I immediately wanted to know more.

Austin Kleon wrote about the book as well. Here’s the first thing he mentioned in his review: “The first thing I like about this book is the way she uses the margins and italicized text to weave other people’s writing into her own while still attributing the source.” That was cool, but who cares?

He also wrote about her take on motherhood. I enjoyed her thoughts/feelings on motherhood despite not being a mother or being interested in reading about it. But …

If I read only Kleon’s review, I would have never picked up this book. My point? Follow. Different. Types. Of. People. Or just follow Roxane Gay.

Would I recommend this book? Yes. If you’re bored, oh so bored with everything. It will challenge you out of that boredom. I’ll probably be done reading it by the time I publish this post.

MM

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