March + April ’23 book roundup

I’ve GOT to start finding more interesting ways to intro these book roundups other than talking about the passage of time, but for now I will do it again and say HOLY HELL how is it about to be MAY? (*justin timberlake voice* “IT’S GONNA BE MAY.”) March was quite busy at work, and April is off season for me, which is why I decided to do a combo March+April roundup. I started March with a library book I’d seen floating around the internet proposing the rest revolution titled Rest is Resistance by Tricia Hearsey. The book was set up similarly to a self-help book, but Hearsey walks the reader through an unveiling of what we’ve accepted as normal in our capitalist society when it comes to rest and productivity. Spoiler alert: it is not normal. I really appreciate the message of her manifesto and the entire concept of rest seen through a framework of resistance. From there, I picked up a copy of White Women by Regina Jackson and Saira Rao. At the time, I hadn’t seen much about it, but shortly after my friend Chloe suggested I read it, I started seeing it everywhere. It is so to the point and so perfectly laid out that if you read the entire book and STILL don’t understand the fight we’re in and the power that we as white women specifically hold in our current white supremacist society, it is entirely a conscious choice, and an acceptance of the way things are. Full stop.

After White Women, I had my local bookstore special order a copy of Gabi Abrão’s collection of poetry and prose, Notes on Shapeshifting. This little book is the perfect size to carry in your bag at all times, opening to a random page for a glimpse into the mind of someone who sees the beauty in the world and can also laugh at herself for being a silly little human doing our silly little tasks every day, despite it all. Following this existential mood, I moved into an even more internally driven work, Mieko Kawakami’s novel, Breasts and Eggs. Kawakami quickly became one of my favorite writers, and her interview challenging the sexism and misogyny in Haruki Murakami’s work with such grace and honesty made me like her even more. Earlier this month I had the privilege of reading Spencer K.M. Brown’s beautiful novel, Hold Fast. I ended up essentially doing a close reading analysis dissecting his elegant prose, natural dialogue, and use of narrative structure to share a bittersweet story of a father and son moving through grief. Chasing the feeling of the perfect string of words coming together to convey exactly the feeling the author intended, I looked to Patti Smith and her work, Year of the Monkey. The dust jacket reads, “…Smith melds the western landscape with her own dreamscape in a haunting, poetic blend of fact and fiction. Her comments on the 2016 election and the subsequent state of American politics sent me right back to reread White Women again to finish out the month and keep the momentum running.

That’s the quick and dirty of it, but if you care to read some more of my thoughts/read a few teaser quotes to see if any of these books interest you, I welcome you to keep reading, and thanks for being here 🙂

March reads:

Rest is Resistance by Tricia Hearsey

Rest is Resistance was published in 2022 by Tricia Hearsey. The hardcover is 195 pages. Poppy went right to work resisting capitalist standards of rest and production.

I first heard about this book through an Instagram account called CheckYourPrivilege run by Myisha Hill. Its praises were so highly sung, and it sounded like a topic I needed some resources in – the unwiring of capitalist mindsets surrounding laziness and productivity and rest and value and the multitude of ways those all splinter off into other topics. Tricia Hearsey is the founder of The Nap Ministry, an organization that examines the liberating power of naps…through immersive workshops and curated art installations, and a REST IS RESISTANCE framework. Although nonfiction with relatively straightforward writing, the message of the book and the way in which Hearsey walks the reader through closer examination of widely accepted concepts is approachable and even entertaining at times. For example, on the second page she says, “I hope you are reading this while laying down!” to which the reader in my head answered, “I kinda am, propped up in bed a bit and also typing notes but it feels restful and casual nonetheless.” Her direct conversational style is steeped in wisdom and a motivation to call into question the way things are and how they ought to be.

First, a quick sidenote before getting into the good stuff. Something I’ve noticed among speakers and writers is that non-white folks ALWAYS lead with acknowledgment of others, giving credit where it’s due on all platforms. That’s not to say that white authors don’t do the same, it just seems more often that there is less of a community amongst white people and their sharing of knowledge. This sense of community people of color foster with others has been replaced with white people’s focus on individualism and the claiming of credit that isn’t theirs to claim – an imperialism of thought as a byproduct of white supremacy. Nothing that hasn’t been pointed out before, but something that seems glaringly suspicious as you start noticing it more. Alright, now back to your regularly scheduled book review.

Having borrowed my copy of Rest is Resistance from the library, I made notes on my computer and in notebooks rather than annotating and over-underlining in the book itself as I usually do. If I’d had the chance, entire sections would be underlined to try and capture the simple truth at the heart of this movement. In lieu of those underlined passages, I’ve collected a few of the more poignant moments to give a sense of how meaningful and nuanced this movement is.

“This protest against grind culture is for you to create in your own body. Your body is yours. Its uniqueness and stories it has to tell are yours. A community call toward rest as a form of activism is a call to slow down and listen and care. It is an empowered place fueled by the shared goal of becoming more human. We are not machines. We are not on Earth to fulfill the desire of an abusive system via our exhaustion.” (p. 67).

On the topic of social media, “There are too many ways to ignore the deep inner knowing, intuition, and divine wisdom that exists in us from birth already. To exist daily over time in a space of increased virtual experiences will have a lasting effect on our ability to push pack against capitalism and white supremacy. The idea of ownership, personal connections, entertainment, and education existing in a centralized virtual world opens up the possibility for us to never truly rest and for the manipulation of capitalism to welcome us in like a sheep headed to slaughter. We must be clear and committed right now to keeping the veils removed from our eyes as capitalism moves in aggressive and unique ways. Resting must become our focus.” (p. 70)

“The developers and designers of our current platforms are not leaders of a billion-dollar industry simply so we can all stay connected to our family, friends, and communities. It is used for this successfully by many, but please remember it is not the goal for capitalists. The goal is to keep you scrolling long enough that you become a consumer.” (p. 71)

These last two quotes have been integral in my increased self-awareness when it comes to my phone. I’ve slowly eliminated most of my time-wasting, mindless scrolling apps, but Instagram still has me by the throat. More and more I find myself sucked in with reels which have all but replaced my wasted hours on TikTok – needless to say, I might need to revisit this book and remind myself of the value in accessing and existing in a DreamSpace of my own creation. Hearsey reminds us of our need to detach from our virtual, online space and give ourselves the opportunity to rest and imagine a different, better world. This movement calls for:

“A mind shift and an ethos that engages with rest as a tool for liberation. The body has information. The trauma response is to keep going and to never stop. Grinding keeps us in a cycle of trauma; rest disturbs and disrupts this cycle. Rest is an ethos of reclaiming your body as your own. Rest provides a portal for healing, imagination, and communication with our Ancestors. We can work things out in a DreamSpace. What miraculous moments are you missing because you aren’t resting?” (p. 81).

This description reads as the thesis of the entire movement: “This culture does not want you rested unless it is attached to your increased labor and productivity. No one will give you rest. This is an outlier investigation. A counternarrative. It is trust work. It is healing work. It is decolonizing work. It is a subculture holding space for the blossoming of a resistance. A metaphysical space. A key component of this rest movement. This is the preparation, the request, the alternative, the counternarrative, the freefall.” (p. 94-95).

And here, a perfect example of how complex of a subject this is, with such direct and obvious truths layered throughout. “I want us to understand that nuance is freeing and freedom. There is no such thing as cookie-cutter healing. Everyone brings with them an origin story, a history, and identities that are interconnected. There is room to rest in the freedom of managing your own deprogramming journey. It is never either/or and always both/and.” (p.123).

Reading this manifesto felt similar to my experience with meditation. I believe it, I know it’s all there, and/but I also know I’ll need a little time and space for me to fully get it. While it all marinates, I’ll close with a final inspiring message to encourage us to let it all go and consider what a restful future can look like.

“We are more than we have ever been told and we must continue seeing each other and ourselves, no matter how distorted and exhausted we show up. Take to your beds. Accept all you have ignored and then rest some more.” (p. 194).

White Women: Everything You Already Know About Your Own Racism and How to Do Better by Regina Jackson and Saira Rao

White Women was published in 2022 by Penguin Random House LLC. The paperback version is 173 pages.

The subtitle to this book says it all. I found this direct, no fucks given approach to be extremely helpful, refreshing, and even at times, funny. It wasn’t an easy read because it’s not an easy subject, but most notably it gets across the first huge step in our anti-racism journey which is to change the way we think about the term ‘racist’. Prior to the summer of 2020, I would not have admitted to being racist, because like so many others I had only the extreme version of what it meant to be racist in my mind. I associated the word with Neo-Nazis rallying in Charlottesville, people who say the n-word no hesitation, Confederate flag waving rednecks who hated Black people because their parents did and so did theirs and so on. Since reading White Women, I’ve learned that more often than not, these types of racists are relatively less dangerous than the folks who refuse to acknowledge that they play an active role in bolstering white supremacy in this country. Even more threatening than those who wear their hate on their sleeves are the people who claim to not see the racism at all, those who manipulate their view of the world to see only their perspective, their good intentions often taking precedence over their actual impact on others.

This isn’t a lighthearted or ‘entertaining’ book to read (although I’d argue that Jackson and Rao’s pointed quips entertained me quite a bit), but it’s essential to light the fire under our white asses. There were tears of guilt and empathy that I’m glad to have had the time and space alone to feel. I’ve learned there’s a place for empathy in this fight, but it needs to be the fuel that feeds the fire within, not the fire itself drawing attention away from the rest of the world burning in the house. Our white supremacist society has been perfectly constructed so that it may be rebuilt and upheld effortlessly through the subtlest ways by those who claim to be vehemently against it. White Women is an extension of the Race2Dinner organization created by Regina Jackson and Saira Rao. They began several years ago to hold dinners of white women in the homes of volunteers to talk candidly and directly about racism and our role as white women in the white supremacist society we’re all a part of. Additionally, Patty Ivins Specht made a film about their work called Deconstructing Karen demonstrating inarguable and incalculable pieces of evidence that it is in fact, all white women.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am a big fan of underlining, starring and otherwise marking up the pages of my books when I feel like it’s something I ought to return to. The pages of White Women are heavily marked up and on my second read I found myself making even more notes – it’s just that good. Some notable quotes that get to the heart of the matter:

“White men are at the top of the food chain, the masterminds of racial violence. But you birth these men. You raise them. Sometimes you marry them. You are a critical component of the system. And you’ve played your part beautifully. White men may be on the throne. But you white women are shining it, fluffing the cushions, catching that coins that fall from their laps.” (p. xxiii).

On the need to be perfect: “When we are frozen by fear – of being wrong, of making a mistake – we will never be able to take the actions necessary to overthrow these systems. Whiteness is an inadequate placeholder for perfection. It always has been. Throw them both out and start over with something radical and true.” (p. 16).

“If you were not in a white cocoon, but instead existed in community and with actual BIWOC women, you would know that complaining about how busy we are all the time, in spite of also having children, jobs, and lives, is simply not a thing.” (p. 48).

Discussing white feminism and the “girl boss” approach too many of us take when we think we’re empowering ourselves. “White women often mimic the oppression of white men, asserting their institutional power over those below them in the American hierarchy of racism and sexism. That means us: Black, Indigenous, and brown women.” (p. 86).

“Help is charity. If you don’t feel tied to the fight, you will see your work as charity. If you don’t feel tied to the fight, you will feel empowered to duck in and out of the work at your leisure. You will easily succumb to your feelings, your fatigue, your desire to “just enjoy the holidays”. Until and unless you see your life in this fight, you will continue to see your work as help – you will continue to be a white savior. And white saviors are white supremacists in action.” (p. 140).

In addition to the understanding that to be racist in inherent to growing up in America, another crucial piece of our anti-racism journey is awareness and acknowledgment of this internalized racism. “Awareness of…a chronic silence that’s aided and abetted racism, letting it flourish at school, at work, at the dinner table, in Sunday school, while dating, while married, while divorced, while parenting. While breathing. And this awareness enables them [white women] to start being less afraid of confronting the truth about their complicity in white supremacy, racism, and xenophobia.” (p. 146).

Notes on Shapeshifting by Gabi Abrão

Notes on Shapeshifting was published in 2022 by Not a Cult. The paperback is 96 pages.

This collection of poetry and prose is whimsical and weighted, profound and silly. I’ve followed the author’s Instagram sighswoon for over a year or so and found myself waiting for the right time to buy her book. It felt like it’d be a special read akin to Orion Carloto’s Film for Her so I wanted to save it for a special season of life. With a move to Portland on the horizon, the time felt right so I asked my local bookstore to order it in for me rather than waiting to find it in the wild – patience isn’t a virtue I’ve cultivated just yet. Abrão’s work has been described as “an existential funhouse of familiar thoughts” which feels spot on to me. It’s definitely a work you have to be in the right headspace for, otherwise you won’t be able to sink into it and flow with her musings. If you force yourself to go there when your mind isn’t in that state, the words feel harder to reach, the deeper meaning dancing around the edges of a simple phrase.

There is a tone of calm wisdom throughout that never reads as self-righteous. Instead Abrão’s voice feels like a guide, pulling back the curtain on what it means to be a fledgling human figuring it out. Her words show you that the thing we’re all trying to figure out doesn’t want to be understood. The shared moments feel intimate and personal yet general and all-encompassing. It’s the idea that we are all connected as one even as we delude ourselves into thinking we are alone and individual in our experience. This is a book that points out that we are all the same in different ways just as we are all different in the same ways. We contain multitudes baby! and Notes on Shapeshifting is the perfect guidebook to getting over yourself and into yourself in the best way.

Sidenote – Gabi’s sighswoon persona is the cool chill girl who does shrooms to get to know herself and the world more, not to explain anything to you, but to connect with you. You can further support her through Patreon, substack, and attending her live readings.

April reads:

Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami / Translated from the Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd

This edition of Breasts and Eggs was published in April 2020 by Europa Editions.

Last year, I discovered Mieko Kawakami’s fiction through her novella Heaven. Drawn to the neon green cover and simple title, I immediately took to Kawakami’s casual yet profound style of writing. The story itself felt loosely similar to another coming of age story and one of my forever favorites, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Having read several interviews of hers, I’ve fallen even more for her mind as she’s just as to the point and ready to shake shit up as her writing suggests.

From a 2020 interview with the Guardian – Breasts and Eggs, originally written as a blog in the punchy dialect of her native Osaka, yanked working-class women off the literary sidelines, published in 2008. At its center is Makiko, an ageing bar hostess and single mother to Midoriko, her reproachful adolescent daughter, who will only communicate with her in writing. As younger women begin displacing Makiko in a workplace hierarchy determined by male desire, she begins to obsess over her nipples and sagging boobs. Maybe breast implants would give her the “kind of body that you see in girly magazines”.

Breasts and Eggs was first introduced as a short novella in 2008 which was later amended. In 2019, Kawakami published the novel Natsu Monogatari. It features a completely rewritten version of the original 2008 novella but uses the same characters and settings. An English translation of Natsu Monogatari was published in 2020, under the original title of Breasts and Eggs. It is a completely different work from the original 2008 novella. The novella is part of a “loosely connected trilogy,” including Heaven and All the Lovers in the Night. This process of writing, expanding, editing, rewriting, and all the steps between is beyond impressive.

Breasts and Eggs begins with the protagonist’s sister, Makiko, fixating on getting breast implants, a decision Natsu cannot understand and won’t support. The second part of the novel flips the script now bringing us Natsu as the one fixated. Her mediations on sperm donation and single motherhood in Japan are so articulate and detailed, she uses mostly Natsu’s own inner-dialogue as well as peripheral characters as mouthpieces to offer even more nuanced perspectives on such a complicated and complex subject. Kawakami’s writing is conversational but rarely casual. Woven throughout her writing are the often-opposing lenses through which controversial topics fall category to. For example, the topic of welfare: “Makiko had decided “going on welfare” was something to be ashamed of. She thought that welfare made you some kind of a parasite, who leeched off of the government and put a burden on society – convinced it somehow marred your human dignity. I saw things differently. To me welfare was just money, plain and simple, and had nothing to do with shame or dignity. I asked her what the government was for, if not to help you out in times of need. When things got rough, you ought to step right up and exercised your rights. It’s called welfare for a reason. “ (p. 38).

Natsuko’s inner dialogue is so perfectly written, the description of her thought process is sometimes concerningly relatable. “I felt like screaming, “Where the hell were you?” but managed to suppress the urge. Instead, I cleared my throat, but it was a lot louder than expected, like how you clear your throat before you ask a serious question. So I cleared my throat again, to signal that the first one signaled nothing in particular, except this time something got caught and I ended up hiccupping.” (p. 133). So silly, seemingly unnecessary, but these moments are what draw the reader in and fill out Kawakami’s characters with layers of depth and individuality. Other moments of simplicity seen through Natsu’s eyes stop me up for their succinct description of a universal experience – “…the doors opened with a sound like something being punctured.” (p. 12). “The blue sky looked like it could shatter any second.” (p. 180). “She put her words together carefully, as if she were making a collage.” (p. 183).

Kawakami might not be every reader’s cup of tea. Both works of hers I’ve read have a relatively slow-moving plot and are certainly more character driven than action based, but for those of us who read in order to see the world through different sets of eyes, Mieko Kawakami does it so well. I can’t wait to get ahold of her other translations so I can read more of her insightful work.

Hold Fast by Spencer K.M. Brown

I posted my review of Spencer K.M. Brown’s brilliant novel Hold Fast last week, which you can view here.

Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith

Year of the Monkey was published in 2019 by Vintage Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. The paperback is 205 pages.

Patti Smith is one of those writers who effortlessly captures what it means to be an artist. She’s a blend of whimsy and truth, a conduit for observations it seems no one else would make. In Year of the Monkey, she pulls her reader into her headspace, a conversation with a motel sign a la Alice’s conversation in Wonderland with the wise caterpillar runs throughout the book, her seamless interweaving of fiction and nonfiction accomplishing just what her and Sam Shepard often discussed achieving in a work – the conflation of fiction and non to the point where it more accurately captures the human experience. Year of the Monkey circles the 2016 election which she writes about with both directness and obscurity. Her ability to say the thing but in a way that feels less spiked and hardened is unparalleled. She writes of her disgust from a place of confidence rather than one of anger or even hatred. Her dislike is founded on what her gathered wisdom assures the reader is not the way it’s supposed to be. Spanning the entirety of the Chinese Lunar New Year – the Year of the Monkey, Patti grants us permission into her whimsical perception of the world we all share. She grieves the loss of her friend Sandy Pearlman and reacts with grace to the rapid disintegration of the American political landscape leading up to and following the election of resident asshat, D****d T***p.   

I want to live in a world made entirely from Patti’s mind – the beauty, the depth, the specificity to which she writes of things narrow and unbounded in scope. She writes of memories and feelings which are universal and shared as much as they are singular and personal. Her humility is constant without ever crossing into disingenuity. Every time I read a work of Patti Smith’s I feel grateful to have gotten the chance to look inside her mind, and simultaneously giddy that I know I have more of her writing yet to experience. The greedy consumer in me feels like reading her work is more nourishing than 10 other books by most anyone else. She holds so much love and understanding, her wisdom is ever-present, and I believe is due in large part to how well read and well-traveled she is.

My favorite aspect of Patti Smith is her authenticity. She feels entirely exposed and yet the most protected artist at the same time. She is the poor girl born in the late 40’s to circumstances which formed her and allowed her to expand beyond whatever physical space she inhabited. Her experiences in the New York music scene of the 60’s and 70’s seem as though she’s lived 1000 lives and remembered every single one of them. If you can’t tell, I hugely admire and respect this woman, and again the flush of gratitude hits as I realize there is so much to know about this woman and her experiences and her acquaintances and references that I’ve but scratched the surface with no end in sight. What a treat!!

Other works of hers that feel similar to Year of the Monkey are Just Kids about her time spent living in the Chelsea Hotel with Robert Mapplethorpe, and M Train which chronicles the café’s and haunts she’s worked in throughout her life and career.

In closing, I read some really fkin good books these past two months !! I’m enjoying peppering in some more nonfiction, as long as I can always fall back on my plotless, character driven, internally narrated favorites that make me feel a little less alone. Thank you so much for reading some of my thoughts on these magnificent works, and I look forward to coming up with more creative introductions to these in the future!

As always, thanks for being here and happy reading!


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