Race and gender have long been the most common entry points to our socio-political parsing of the human body. Ageism and ableism have also become more common as topics of discussion in recent years. Body Language: Writers on Identity, Physicality, and Making Space for Ourselves, edited by Nicole Chung and Matt Ortile and published last week, seeks to expand the discussion much further.
In these thirty essays, by authors of a wide range of genders, races, body types and abilities, we’ll learn about bodies living on feeding tubes and about bodies injected with hormones to facilitate the retrieval of eggs to be frozen for future fertilization. We’ll learn about living with dyscalculia, a learning disability that is to numbers what dyslexia is to letters. We hear from a woman fascinated by the pornographic fetish towards large bodies such as hers, and from a woman dealing with an eating disorder. There are essays by a gay deaf person, a very tall woman, and someone who has had a headache for over three years.
The frequent brilliance of this book comes from how the authors embed their unusual physical realities into a narrative that makes them seem a normal part of life. When Kayla Whaley writes of her slow acceptance of the approaching need for a feeding tube as her muscular dystrophy advanced. She had the surgery to implant it, but resisted using it.
So why was I so reluctant to put anything in? Why should there be anu difference between my wheelchair as an assistive device and my feeding tube as an assistive device?….Maybe it was resentment, then. I missed food. I would have traded a year of my life, Princess Bride-style, for a cheeseburger with cheddar topped with ketchup and mayonnaise. When my parents cooked sausage and potatoes, of pizza, or spaghetti, or chicken and rice, the desire for those once-familiar flavors, for the heat, for the texture, drove me to swipe baby oil over my top lip to try to drown out at least some of the scent.
Or take this sweet opening to an essay by Maggie Takuda-Hall:
I’m not a likely candidate for a baking hobby. I can’t eat gluten. I’m married to a type 1 diabetic. In my culinary life, I have come to disregard for being too bossy. So when I picked up baking, it didn’t just feel sudden; it felt random. Stolen, maybe, from a better woman, a woman with no dishes in her sink.
First it was chocolate cake. It was pretty, but too simple. Then came the macarons. Hundreds of them. Pale pastel treats topped with edible gold leaf or glitter, beautiful and intricate.
And where is this leading us? To the fact that she first started making macarons after a miscarriage. To her fertility treatment, which went wrong and induce ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. To a feeling of being violated by this medical malpractice which paralleled a sexual violation by a trusted friend years before.
“I couldn’t make a baby, so I made macarons” is too simple. “I was raped, so I made macarons” is also reduction to the point of absurdity.
But with no precious, tiny shoes to buy, no birth announcements to send, no baby bump to show, I post endless pictures of these confections, delicate and precise.
In an essay about gender transitioning, Callum Angus begins by musing about climate, bringing up the spring-in-autumn after the Allied firestorms in Hamburg during World War Two, when plants were stimulated into a second flowering, or the gradually earlier running of sap in maple trees.
How to tell a story about climate? By necessity, it is an average drawn over a long period of time. It’s not a fixed point. There is no inciting incident.
In this way, a story about climate is a lot like a story about gender….
When I was younger, I was like an anthropologist observing my own body. I’d look at my chest and wonder if the top surgery scars fell too low, if my nipples stretched too far vertically. I was always under observation—by family, by doctors—but most of all, by myself. I filled journals comparing myself to others, always collecting data for an experiment of one. I watched the seasons march across my body, the shelf of my breasts calving in the surgeon’s office, the sprouting of male privilege and a five o’clock shadow after just a few weeks on testosterone.
In all, I found it a very interesting book, giving me a window into the experiences of so many. Recommended.
THIS WEEK’S NEW HARDCOVERS
- Any Given Tuesday: A Political Love Story, by Lis Smith. An irreverent look behind the scenes of American politics from one of the most sought-after operatives in the Democratic Party.
- The Sewing Girl’s Tale: A Story of Crime and Consequences in Revolutionary America, by John Wood Sweet. Renowned historian John Wood Sweet’s The Sewing Girl’s Tale presents a riveting Revolutionary Era drama of the first published rape trial in American history and its long, shattering aftermath, revealing how much has changed over two centuries—and how much has not. The trial exposed a predatory sexual underworld, sparked riots in the streets, and ignited a vigorous debate about class privilege and sexual double standards. The ongoing conflict attracted the nation’s top lawyers, including Alexander Hamilton, and shaped the development of American law. The Sewing Girl’s Tale shows that if our laws and our culture were changed by a persistent young woman and the power of words two hundred years ago, they can be changed again.
- Before The Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe and What Lies Beyond, by Laura Mersini-Houghton. A revolutionary new account of our universe’s creation—and a breathtaking exploration of the landscape from which we sprang—from one of the world’s most celebrated cosmologists.
- Handmade: A Scientist’s Search for Meaning through Making, by Anna Ploszajski. From atomic structures to theories about magnetic forces, scientific progress has given us a good grasp on the properties of many different materials. However, most scientists cannot measure the temperature of steel just by looking at it, or sculpt stone into all kinds of shapes, or know how it feels to blow up a balloon of glass. Handmade is the story of materials through making and doing. Author and material scientist Anna Ploszajski journeys into the domain of makers and craftspeople to comprehend how the most popular materials really work.
- The Inheritors: An Intimate Portrait of South Africa’s Racial Reckoning, by Eve Fairbanks. With penetrating psychological insight, intimate reporting, and bewitching prose, The Inheritors tells the story of a country in the throes of a great reckoning. Through the lives of Dipuo, her daughter Malaika, and Christo—one of the last white South Africans drafted to fight for the apartheid regime—award-winning journalist Eve Fairbanks probes what happens when people once locked into certain kinds of power relations find their status shifting. Observing subtle truths about race and power that extend well beyond national borders, she explores questions that preoccupy so many of us today: How can we let go of our pasts, as individuals and as countries? How should historical debts be paid? And how can a person live an honorable life in a society that—for better or worse—they no longer recognize?
All book links in this diary are to my online bookstore The Literate Lizard. If you already have a favorite indie bookstore, please keep supporting them. If you’re able to throw a little business my way, that would be appreciated. Use the coupon code DAILYKOS for 15% off your order, in gratitude for your support (an ever-changing smattering of new releases are already discounted 15% each week). We also partner with Hummingbird Media for ebooks and Libro.fm for audiobooks. The ebook app is admittedly not as robust as some, but it gets the job done. Libro.fm is similar to Amazon’s Audible, with a la carte audiobooks, or a $14.99 monthly membership which includes the audiobook of your choice and 20% off subsequent purchases during the month.
READERS & BOOK LOVERS SERIES SCHEDULE