Sick Girl Summer Reading
[Above Image: Stock Photo of woman reading in grass] As my fellow Sick Girls can attest, going on vacation - or just generally being away from your house for while - takes on a totally new meaning when you're chronically ill. I'm a month away from my beach trip and already have a completely unnecessary note going on my phone to be sure I don't forget the essentials (frozen peas, my crutches and the most crucial - Caffeine Free Diet Coke.) As if I would ever forget. So maybe (definitely) to distract myself from the anxieties of my vacation, I officially ordered my reading list for the summer! I'll be revisiting some of these books in longer form posts but for now, here's an overview of who I'll be spending time with this summer:
[Image above: Cover of DIY MAGIC with red background and grey leaf pattern] Let's start with the wildcard DIY MAGIC: A Strange and Whimsical Guide to Creativity by Anthony Alvarado. This is what all self help books should be - a series of seemingly absurd tasks that help you let go of all the bullshit and embrace other, more exciting possibilities. Or at least that's my takeaway so far. I found this book through another strong recommendation: Alex Wrekk's Brainscan zines, particularly her zine on DIY Witchery which is one of the best rundowns on "how to be a punk rock witchy babe without stomping around on other people's cultures." It's a must read for anyone wanting to get into magic while being aware of the cultural baggage and history that witchcraft holds. As she bemoans, there is a distinct lack of culturally aware books on magic - particularly secular magic which is what she (and I) practice. DIY Magic was one on her recommended reading list and so far I can see why - it takes a secular, highly personalized, "stay in your lane" approach to magic in a language anyone can understand. If you're trying to push yourself into a new venture or just want to open yourself up for inspiration, it's a great place to start.
[Image: Cover of SICK - author Porochista Khakpour lays in bed with oxygen nasal cannula, looking into the camera. Beneath the title is a band of brightly colored pills] I know. I know. Seriously, I know. It's ridiculous that I haven't read this yet. To give myself some slack, I finally feel like I'm far enough from my diagnosis anxiety to be able to read it without just sobbing the whole way through. That being said I spent all day sobbing to doctors due to my new, very fun medical anxiety and the only thing I wanted to do when I got home was crack open this book. Porochista Khakpour's memoir Sick chronicles her complex relationship with her body as an Iranian-American woman, writer, teacher, addict and Lyme patient. She approaches these aspects of her identity through the geography her bodies has existed in as well as the dysphoria she has experienced within that body. It is a beautiful account of not only chronic illness but also the notion of body as place. I expect to finish this in the next week and give it a proper response (review not needed, it is perfect... as you all probably know already.)
[Image: covers of Psychosomatic (with samples of coral and shells) and Gut Feminism (title is shown with distorted medical images of inner lining of the gut] While my graphic for these books is lacking, I can assure you the books themselves are very promising. A friend at Duke University Press sent me Elizabeth Wilson's Gut Feminism after a talk we had about carnal feminism and monstrous birth. So I knew it must be up my alley. I'm including it here with Psychosomatic: Feminism and the Neurological Body, also by Elizabeth Wilson, because I feel that they complement each other very well - and I am also becoming a tentative disciple of Elizabeth Wilson. Both of these books are very academic and rooted in feminist psychoanalysis. What makes them special is that Wilson examines how the body can be considered in feminist theory without essentialization. In other words, we can acknowledge the body as a holistic and visceral thing without reducing all women to their biology in dangerous and misogynistic ways. She does this through examining psychoanalysis and biology as two sides of the same coin. Psychosomatic looks at narratives of hysteria (oh, hey!) and asks how we can use them as a way of not disregarding female pain and illness but to more fully understand it. A choice quote that I have pinned above my metaphorical dresser, “A strong case has been made, via hysteria, that the psychological tenets of psychoanalysis are indebted to somatic symptomology - that the psyche is always already of the body.” This book will be getting its own blog post in the future as I think it raises a lot of questions about narratives and perspectives on female illness and really turns a lot of discussions of hysteria on their heads. Gut Feminism, which followed, strengthens Wilson's argument that there is space for biological perspectives in feminism. This time, she turns her focus to the gut and its link to the brain - specifically to depression. While both of these books toe a line that I am very wary of (eating yogurt will cure your depression etc.), Wilson is not so black and white and I do think that her books raise important questions that are crucial to our current understanding of how gender effects health and perhaps more importantly - health care.
[Image: cover of The Border of Paradise, an illustration thin shirtless figure hovering in tall grass, held up by two hands seemingly made of grass] Finally, I'm giving myself a break and taking on the rarely-seen-in-my-house novel with Esme Wang's The Border of Paradise. To be honest, this was an inadvertent fiction purchase because I am so impatient for her book of essays The Collected Schizophrenias to be released next year. However, I think that Wang's beautiful prose and the subtly radical storytelling will bring me back into the fold of fiction readers. I'm amending my initial thoughts on this book now that I've immersed myself into the lives of the Nowack family. This wound up being the book that got me through the beach trip I was so anxious about. Just as I had expected, I had to spend about 75% of my time there laying in bed or on the dreamy day bed on our front porch and with that view and this book, I had no complains about my time spent away from the ocean. This was one of those rare novels that fully transports you into the lives of its characters, taking time with each one in turn. It is almost painful when Wang transitions to a new perspective, often erasing the reality you had just come to accept with a new narrative that counters everything you thought you knew. This is a dark, truly gothic, story of family, cultural conflict and devastating mental illness. Many of the most painful passages to read are the most subtle and intelligent, it is apparent that Wang is not only a master of storytelling but that she is drawing from an intensive understanding of psychology. You may notice I am being very vague in my description and that is intentional. I went into this novel expecting something completely different than what I found and that was what impressed me most. Believe the hype, pick up a copy, and prepare yourself to be gorgeously devastated.