I mean, you could really read these at anytime. But there’s something inherently cozy about saying “fall reads.”
1. “Annihilation” by Jeff Vandermeer
“There are certain kinds of deaths that one should not be expected to relive, certain kinds of connections so deep that when they are broken you feel the snap of the link inside you.
As we descended into the tower, I felt again, for the first time in a long time, the flush of discovery I had experienced as a child. But I also kept waiting for the snap.”
Jeff Vandermeer has been one of my favorite authors since high school, when I read Veniss Underground. He’s long lived just outside the realm of science fiction, testing the boundaries of genre, and I loved that about him.
I discovered this new series the other day browsing through the bookstore for a new book. It was one of those moments where I just knew immediately which book I was taking home with me. It definitely didn’t disappoint.
I spent three nights sitting up, deeply unsettled, in bed before shutting the lights off after convincing myself that I wasn’t actually in Area X. I have heard that the second book has an entirely different pace from this first one, which I will admit, feels a little slow at points, but the mystery of Area X and continuing revelations keep you reading.
Very excited to go pick up the second book of this series. Also excited to read that the books have been optioned for upcoming movies, even though I know that this means everyone will be reading one of my long-time secret favorite authors now.
2. “The Secret History of Wonder Woman” by Jill Lepore
With deep ties to the suffragist movement of the early twentieth century, Wonder Woman was born of a feminist ideal that in ways seems more radical even than the common feminist narrative of today. William Moulton Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman, passed away in 1947 after a four year battle with polio, and his concept was thereafter radically altered by several authors over the next fifty years, including a “wild chauvinist,” as identified by his former assistant, named Robert Kanigher.
The original comics authored by Marston drew heavily from actual events during the suffragist and feminist movements of his era. He was also inextricably linked to some big names from the time, including Margaret Sanger, Ethyl Byrne, and Lou Rodgers.
The gritty details of his personal life were kept a secret by a tight-lipped group of family members until now, in Lepore’s 300 page investigation into the nooks and crannies of Marston’s personal life.
In her epilogue, Lepore says that the history of feminism is “forever disappearing,” and tells the story of a group of 70’s feminists visiting the home of Sanger, where they were unable to identify any of the suffragists hanging in portraits on her parlor walls. Are we relieved of this “disappearing” history today? Without the efforts of women like Lepore, perhaps we would be.
Popular culture is surely lacking in a proportional display of self-possessed, unapologetic women. From the “I don’t need feminism” movement to relentless depictions of women in blockbusters that are “pretty, sort of kind of something other than, but mostly pretty,” our current place in society is cemented by these capital-wielding monolithic production and advertising companies that play the message of stasis like a broken (static) record.
Sufficient to say, I would like for the popular feminine blueprint to change. I’d like girls and ladies and women out there to pick up a book and learn about their history and see the battles that we have waged and won and lost. I’d like this strength and knowledge to be a bath or an ocean that our young ladies soak in. That they never doubt their position in their world, and their ability to own and engineer their life.
3. “Waking Up” by Sam Harris
Spirituality is such a tough word to get over. Connotations of yoga retreats and ancient symbols and tiger massacre vision symbology come to mind. I appreciated that Mr. Harris addressed the taboo nature of this word in most secular and scientific groups.
As I’m writing this, I just noticed the large human face in the clouds on the book cover, and found it way more hilarious than I should have. Somewhat later in the book Harris uses a window metaphor to explain some of the hang-ups to be had during meditation practice, with the spectator able to see the unrelated scene out in the backyard but not their own face.
Perception, maaaan. But I like that too. Harris goes there with perception- something that has always left me confused as an agnostic, as I too have had profound psychedelic experiences on both sides of the spectrum of blissful and utterly shatteringly horrifying.
It’s good to hear a voice that ties these altered states of perception into a version of reality that does not invoke faith or bias as a means of understanding.
There are few alternatives out there for those of us who have indeed experienced profound instances that one might call “spiritual” or life-changing.
In most circles, those who have experienced such things infer that their experience must have indeed illuminated some shrouded mystery of the cosmos that feeble human brains are incapable of accessing without the help of a particular type of mushroom.
Obviously, taking this away from a psychedelic experience without deeply questioning the reliability of our own perception is problematic and reductive.
Why stop there? If you have already altered your consciousness and potentially unlocked new insights that were ostensibly already there for the taking, why not continue on your path of questioning? What makes me and my experience so damn special?
More than anything, Harris asserts that we are not the center. Many of the world’s religions try to go to this same place of selflessness, but fail under the weight of centuries of dogma and interpretation. I suspect that in their original form many of these belief systems flowered from scrutinized introspection on the part of their patriarch/matriarch, but, as well-observed throughout human history, visions have a way of warping over time.
Harris proposes overriding old religious thought patterns and the proliferation of ideas that don’t hold up to scrutiny.
“Waking Up” is a great conversation starter, to say the least.
4. “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
There are only those who believe they are white, argues Coates; those Dreamers that spread out over the sheets of the world with wild abandon.
“Hopelessly, tragically, deceitfully,”
Few writers can crack such lengthy fissures in my worldview, offering me an entirely different perspective from which to learn, and relate to my own existence, my own upbringing as a middle class white girl in the suburban South.
It was from early on that I noticed the plastic peeling up at the corner, learned of the circumstances of others that were much less fortunate, and tried to comprehend how these different galaxies could coexist, and what could engender the disposition of loveliness with which I was supposed to walk through the world.
The Dreamers are everywhere back there, everywhere in my newly adopted home in Nevada, and I knew that a Dream existed long before I could identify its contours and boundaries, and taste the viscous substance from which it was made.
“I am convinced that the Dreamers, at least the Dreamers of today, would rather live white than live free,” says Coates, describing the national forgetting that needs to occur with great frequency to continue living beneath a white sheen, with a lawn and compost pit in which we discard of guilt and responsibility and humanity. To be forever white, bland, potato. Without a tang.
I’ve seen it in the way I’m asked to conduct my business, to not curse, to not get tattoos or wear a hoodie or speak loudly and assertively, because if you’re a white woman and you would like to stay white, you act in accordance with the regulations of the Dream, which require a subdued and nullified posturing. And yet still in no position on this Earth do I have to be “twice as good.” And the peaks and valleys of my life have flowed with relative ease. And an anxiety, not a deathly fear, plagued my teenage years, and before then and after then I have always been told that I could “be anything” and felt that the assertion was mostly true and within my grasp.
And this milk that I bathe in was long invisible to me, but always fluid and sticky and occasionally tangible. And I as a white woman, as an acceptable piece of the Dream, always have the option of forgetting the truth of delusion and succumbing to it until it inevitably eats itself.
But the struggle for those who seek consciousness, is to never forget or look away, and Ta-Nehisi illustrates this in his memoir/letter to his son. “Required reading,” absolutely.
5. “The Argonauts” by Maggie Nelson
Exploring the in-betweens, the pluralities, the substance of nothingness, the “queer” in lyrical prose littered with quotations woven into the text from Wittgenstein, Steinbeck, Winnicott, Deleuze and many others.
Definitely one I’ll be revisiting again.