This weekend and next week, I’ll be focusing on finishing several nonfiction titles, including Rebecca Solnit’s latest collection of essays, James Baldwin’s nonfiction of the 1960s and 1970s, and Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped.
More than anything else, the past few weeks have been shaped by absence. The absence of reading, writing, blogging; of reaching out to those I care about; of engaging, even halfheartedly, with the spaces through which I’ve moved. It seems unsurprising, thinking about it, that these all are so interconnected. Waking up to a pair of unwanted texts two-and-a-half weeks ago from two people who have been out of my life for some time made me withdraw from the world into my head, which made me not much want to contact many people, which in turn made reading/writing/blogging seem pointless. The problem spirals, until it doesn’t.
Something did snap last weekend, thankfully, and everything stopped deteriorating before anything became too bad. I’d just forgotten how easy it is for things to become messier and messier when you’re living in a town that borders farmland upon farmland, where your movement is restricted and the days blur into each other. I find nonfiction to help with grounding myself in reality, so I’m not planning on reading anything else over the next week. My intended reads are as follows:
1.) Rebecca Solnit’s Call Them by Their True Names: Solnit’s latest collection of essays, published by Haymarket Books, joins Men Explain Things to Me and The Mother of All Questions: these are short books featuring accessible but articulate essays on politics, most of which were first published online. I’m almost done with this, and while it isn’t as strong as Solnit’s other collections, the writing is solid.
2.) James Baldwin’s No Name in the Street: This is the only nonfiction book James Baldwin published in his life that I haven’t read. It deals with the cultural turns of the sixties and the seventies, while also addressing the author’s childhood. I’m excited to finally check it out, but I’m also disappointed that this is the last full essay collection of his that I’ll ever read for the first time.
3.) Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped: I intend to read Ward’s two novels, Salvage the Bones and Sing, Unburied, Sing, sometime in the fall, but I want to begin with her memoir about the deaths of five young men who were close to her life, within the span of five years. Ward’s work in The Fire This Time was moving, and I only have heard positive things about her full-length books.
4.) Susan Stryker’s Transgender History: I’ve already read this history of American trans people, but I’m planning on revisiting it at some point over the weekend. The book has a lot of well-cited information and references in it, but a few things about the history in it felt off to me—and I’m interested to see if that feeling has changed.
5.) Susan Sontag’s AIDS and Its Metaphors: Illness as Metaphor has been one of my favorite reads this year, and its sequel, written in the midst of the AIDS epidemic in America, seems as insightful so far. Sontag has a real talent for swiftly examining a subject from multiple angles, without ever appearing sloppy or rushed.
Have you read any books by any of these authors, and if so, what were your reactions to their work? What are you planning on reading next?