a rickety bridge of impossible crossing

i've been tagged! how fun

Goofpunk tagged me in a book meme! It's the one at the beginning of K-punk, the collection of Mark Fisher's blog posts. I completed the meme myself back when I first read that collection, but I've got no idea which incarnation of the blog that might've been. I wouldn't have copied and pasted the old one anyway, but it'd be interesting to compare after I've completed the meme and see how much it's changed. Ah well.

how many books do you own?

None. Well, practically none. There are a couple I hold onto for sentimental reasons, but a book collection is one of the most painful things to have to haul when you move house, and they're also the easiest type of media to obtain digitally, so that's the primary example of stuff I ended my relationship with. Whenever I want to read a book, I either obtain a digital copy to read on my e-reader or get it from the library.

what was the last book you bought?

I bought a physical copy of the first Toki Pona book when I was getting into it. I figured it was a project I wanted to support, and it's a lot easier to reference when I have physical pages I can flip through.

what was the last book you read?

The House On Pooh Corner, by A.A. Milne

five books that mean a lot to me

1. Debt: The First 5000 Years, by David Graeber

The book most responsible for radicalizing me. I knew money was fake, and I suspected that capitalism was bad, but I didn't really know what capitalism is, until I read this. My introduction to anarchism. It's not explicitly an anarchist text, but it doesn't need to be: after reading the book and learning that David Graeber was a self-described anarchist, I needed to start learning what that meant.

2. Refusing to be a Man: Essays on Sex and Justice, by John Stoltenberg

Much as Debt finally gave me words to understand an economic and social system I always knew was broken, this book finally gave me a blueprint for understanding patriarchy, gender, and my own fucked-up relationship to it. I stumbled across it in the library completely by accident. I read it at a time when, thanks to the internet, I was aware that being transgender was a thing, but I still understood it as the very oversimplified "man born in a woman's body" or "woman born in a man's body" narrative that was fed to me. None of the stories I read about being transgender matched how I felt, so I figured I wasn't anything special; just a cis man who sucked at being a man. I wasn't enough of a man to be accepted by the patriarchy, I was too toxic and insecure to be accepted by anyone else, and I wasn't someone for whom a different gender was the answer. I felt like a gender failure. This book isn't perfect, and I'd probably have more problems with it if I re-read it today (Stoltenberg was married to and heavily influenced by Andrea Dworkin, and there are parts of their feminisim I still strongly disagree with—I found a PDF and the bioessentialist language in just the preface is making me cringe) but it was still fundamental to my rejection of toxic masculinity and embracing of nonbinarity.

3. The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

I suspect that DFW was ADHD. He tackles the subject of "attention" with scalpel and tweezers the way the previous books dissect money and manhood. When I read it, I was also working in a state tax department, albeit not one with the particular kafkaesque horror of the IRS. I had only recently begun therapy, and was on my way to discovering that ADHD was the name of one of the monsters that had been gnawing on my brain for most of my life. Wallace was fascinated with attention the way only someone who struggles with it can be, and it also has some of his most beautiful and, in my opinion, most effective writing. Even unfinished, it's still my favorite of his works.

4. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

So uh, this is embarrassing, but I didn't really get the appeal of literature before I read this. I read it in my early 20s, in the mid-2000s, because my partner at the time recommended it to me (and lent me her copy.) I didn't know what to expect, but I thought that basically every type of fiction can be boiled down to some sort of genre, and people who talk about "literary fiction" were full of themselves. They're all just stories, there's no fundamental difference between literature and quote-unquote "genre fiction". Is it good or not? That's the only thing that matters. This must be a mystery story, or crime fiction, I thought.

Well, the prologue tells you who killed who. There's no mystery. After that, the first half of the novel is the events leading up to the killing, and the second half is the aftermath. It's not about murder, it's not about crime, it's about people. It's about a group of friends, about passion and insecurity and class and vulnerability, and the intense psychological horror of having expectations to live up to, and how we can live with other people who are as infinitely complex as we are in radically different ways. It's about being human. Don't get me wrong, it still rankles me when people are snobs about genre fiction, and the two aren't mutually exclusive, but this was the book that taught me a story can be more than just a story. But not in a stuffy English class kinda way.

5. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L'engle

I read this when I was so young that I pretty much didn't know anything about anything, and it was only upon re-reading recently that it hit me just how much of an effect it must've had on me. It's been one of my favorite books since I was about 8, but I couldn't have explained why. It was just a story I really liked. It's a literary fantasy sci-fi religious psychological horror drama. It taught me that love is so much more than the romantic love or familial love we see in most stories. It taught me that the family we find can be, and often is, more precious than the family we're born into. It taught me that believing in science doesn't mean we can't also believe the impossible. It taught me that there is power in embracing our faults, strength in vulnerability. I didn't always remember the lessons the book taught, I've forgotten and had to re-learn some of them, some of them multiple times, but there's no doubt that this book was fundamental to me becoming the way I am and not some other way, and I'm grateful for it.1

tag five people

I always get anxious about tagging people in these. If you're reading this and feel like completing it, I hereby tag you, and please let me know when you do 🦝

  1. I've seen some people accuse A Wrinkle in Time of being anticommunist. I'm going to quote what I posted on fedi when I reread it in January: «Rereading it as an adult I'm now convinced that people interpreting the book as anticommunist are full of shit. Camazotz is modeled after the American suburbs and the ideology is modeled after eugenecist fascism. When you look at Uriel and Ixchel, the planets fighting the dark force, life is communal and egalitarian. The anticommunist reading can only come from a totally naïve surface-level reading of Camazotz; the worlds where life is good are communist as hell. I think L'Engle even anticipated this reading and that's why there's the whole exchange where the man with red eyes says life on Camazotz is utopian because everyone is equal, and Meg says "'alike' and 'equal' aren't the same thing at all". It's a critique of American/fascist conformity, not equality. So yeah A Wrinkle In Time is still good. Ya busted.»

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