This month, Scribd is free without needing payment info, so I created an account I’ll probably not renew after these 30 days are over (for personal reasons unrelated to the actual platform, my experience with it so far is great!). The unexpected result? Having access to so many books for free gave me a reason to:
- listen to adult fantasy audiobooks, which are usually far too expensive (25 € for a book? Especially for a reread? Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen)
- read completely outside of my comfort zone – and especially reach for books that were on my radar for a while but that I had heard so little about I didn’t feel comfortable buying them.
The result? A nonfiction & poetry binge. 2016!me, no, who am I kidding, even 2019!me would be incredibly confused.
I must be getting old!
This is a format that is definitely out of my comfort zone, as I don’t think I had ever read any before now! I have read and loved poetry novels, though (The Poet X, The Black Flamingo), so I thought exploring was a good idea.
Soft Science is a poetry collection that had been on my “maybe TBR” for more than two months now, mostly because of the cover. Reading it felt like trying to grasp onto something as it disintegrates in your hands and falls through your fingers, which I guess is what the author was going for.
I didn’t get a lot of this. It’s probably not the right collection to start with if you – like me – aren’t used to reading poetry at all, but it was still a really interesting experience. Taken literally, there’s often not a lot to get, because everything in this collection is an exercise in breaking apart, shattering and mixing words, playing with format and the many ways English can be broken and still carry so much meaning if only you look at it sideways.
A lot of this is also talking about perspective and its consequence, othering. No wonder a lot of its imagery relies on cyborgs and AIs. It’s about living as a woman in our world, in which being hammered into a shape made to please others is just a day like another and sex is a no-win situation; it’s about living as a queer Asian-American woman in America, in which racism and xenophobia are everyday occurrences and the internet highlights the worst of it.
It made me think about language barriers, and how there was yet another, unexpected one because of my first language, and try as I might holding onto English will always be more difficult to me.
So, no, I didn’t understand a lot of this. It might have been the point. I might be missing the point entirely. That still doesn’t mean this has no value, even when so much of our ways to measure worth and consciousness rely on something as self-centered as understanding and “relatability”. It made me think about many things in a more indirect way, so I guess it worked.
My rating: ★★★★
Another collection I tried was soft magic. by Upile Chisala (I noticed it by chance, and after reading Soft Science, it only felt right? And it was really short), which unfortunately I didn’t like as much. It was sweet, heartwarming, and very straightforward, which apparently aren’t things I look for in poetry. At least now I know?
I decided not to rate this, as my reasons for not liking this had also to do with personal disconnect, and when I’m not the target audience for this – it’s a collection with strong religious themes specifically aimed at Black women and I’m neither religious nor Black – it just didn’t feel right to.
I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl’s Notes from the End of the World by Kai Cheng Thom is a collection of essays and poetry that mostly ended up on my reading list because of something I read on autostraddle – I don’t remember where exactly, but this was one of the recommendations.
I don’t really know how to review nonfiction made up of essays and poetry, but this was definitely a worthwhile read. It’s an attempt to reframe how we think about justice and the meaning itself of healing in marginalized communities – where so many of us are traumatized, and it talks both about the concept of safety in the context of trauma and about the commodification of trauma in the Discourse™.
As there is a lot in here about how queer communities fail their members that uncannily (or maybe not, all things considered) mirrors queer book twitter’s most dysfunctional behavior patterns, I think many of my friends and followers could get something out of it as well.
My rating: ★★★★★
Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement, edited by Ejeris Dixon & Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is a collection of essays, interviews and toolkits on transformative justice that also ended up on my radar because of autostraddle (this time, because of a review. Sometimes I do remember things.)
It explores how justice can look like outside of a system as ineffective at actually reducing violence and supporting survivors as it is the prison system in America, with a focus on trans, queer, and disabled communities of color.
It was a really interesting read: it focuses on the how of something that so far I had only seen mentioned as theory before – when there are people doing this.
My thoughts varied from “I strongly agree and wish that was already a more widespread reality” and “this is a life-changing perspective” to “that sounds like a terrible idea” depending on the essay, so, just as fiction collections, nonfiction collections are bound to be mixed bags! It’s still really honest about the many ways these kinds of process can fail, which I really appreciated – after all, it’s still barely-charted territory. Overall, I also think our world would greatly benefit if the focus of justice were on the future, on healing and moving on and taking the steps to make sure that something doesn’t happen again, instead of handing out punishments that often make things worse for everyone anyway.
My rating: ★★★★
Since I just read a nonfiction book about healing between humans, it only seemed right to read something specifically about healing human’s relationship with what is not human, so I read Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer, in which the author brings her perspective both as a professor of environmental biology and as a Potawatomi woman to talk about humans’ relationship with the environment.
In a time in which ecofascism (the belief that humans are somehow inherently separated from “nature”, which must be preserved “pure” and “untouched”, as if we weren’t all an interdependent net) is on the rise, I think this is an incredibly important read and was really valuable to me both as someone who is definitely feeling the weight of climate anxiety and as a natural sciences student.
I think it’s going to be even more valuable for someone who actually lives in Turtle Island/North America, because something inherent to environmental knowledge is that while some things are universal, you can’t talk about everywhere by using a specific place as a model; every place has its own species and communities and interactions and… different things to say, in a way. And different people, of course. (It would be such a huge mistake to not include the humans; we are a part of the communities and ecosystems just as much as everyone else, and while we have a lot in common with each other, we are never the same.)
I think that in this age of global warming it’s easy to despair and think that humans are inherently bad and can do nothing but damage. This book is an answer to that, and it talks about how science, indigenous wisdom, and our ability to actually understand what the environment says (so, learning to read the signals that are its language) can show us a different way to exist.
Also, sometimes it’s really nice to read from someone who is also involved in botanical science and has very strong “unscientific” feelings and opinions on plants. It can also be a strength – I don’t know if I would have grown up learning to distinguish trees the way I do had I not been like that.
My rating: ★★★★ (a little repetitive at times)
Have you read or want to read any of these? Do you read poetry collections and nonfiction often?