I like to feel that a book needs what I have to offer

Hello friends. Something wonderful has happened in Georgia. I don’t exactly know the cause of this miraculous event. I am told Stacey Abrams had much to do with it; I am sure other people were involved as well. I gave money to Abrams, Ossoff, and Warnock, but I think it’d be fair to say that this election–one of the most consequential of my lifetime–was more or a less a gift given to me by the Democratic voters of Georgia. And it’s a gift for which I feel extremely grateful!

We have childcare again, but what I hadn’t counted upon was that the two week holidays were also a holiday from rejection. For at least ten of those days I was absolutely certain that no agent was going to get back to me. That was really nice. I enjoyed that. That allowed me to rebuild some of my psychic defenses.

As I think I’ve mentioned in a previous post–honestly sometimes it’s hard for me to remember what I’ve talked about and what I haven’t–it’s been a long-term goal of mine to be a more generous and less envious person. I would say that I’ve been working on this for a solid twelve years–I remember distinctly standing outside my first job in 2009, smoking a cigarette, and thinking, oh my god I cannot keep living like this. I just want my heart to be whole.

I’ve tried lots of things. What worked for a long time was to just be friends with any other writers on social media. But after my first book sold, I made the perhaps poor decision to friend a bunch of other YA writers on Facebook, and ever since then my social media has just been a catalogue of other peoples’ triumphs.

As you get further into this career path, you’ll also notice that a lot of people who started out with you–people who were peers–are now a lot more successful than you. It hurts. You’re like, what do they have that I don’t have? And either you conclude that they’re better, which doesn’t feel good, or that they’re worse, which also doesn’t feel good!

I won’t go into the litany of possible psychic defenses I’ve tried. But what’s really been working for me lately is that I’ve been reading a lot of books from small presses. I always knew that lots of great work was emerging from outside New York Publishing, but I didn’t know how to find it. Even fans and friends tend only to talk about the same few books, inevitably books from major publishers, and if you want to read outside that, then you either need to read older books, which have been sieved and sorted by time, or just push forward at random, which doesn’t feel productive.

The breakthrough came last year when I started reading the New York Review of Books. They don’t review much fiction, but their nonfiction selections are often from small presses. Moreover, the advertisements between the pages are almost always from small presses. Even better has been N+1. I’ve gotten good recommendations there not just from their book reviews, but by looking up the other publications from authors I enjoyed. Most recently, I read an essay collection by longtime Village Voice and The Nation reviewer, Laurie Stone. Most of the essays originally started out as her Facebook status posts–they’re interpolated with longer pieces–that chronicle her reactions to the Trump years. The best and most provocative of the essays is a deeply thought-provoking essay detailing a number of female creatives and subservient relationships they had with their male partners. In many cases, the women were stifled by the men, but that relationship was also something that was sought out by the women, and sometimes eagerly embraced. I have no idea what major press would put out something so deeply…ambivalent.

I also have been reading works by other transfeminine people. I read Andrea Long Chu’s Females, my review of which should be coming out sometime this month in The Bind. I recently also completed Mattilda Sycamore Bernstein’s experimental memoir, The Freezing Door. And I have a few other books queued up: Heike Gessler’s novel, translated from German, about working in an Amazon factory; Natascha Stagg’s novel about internet stardom and a follow-up story collection.

The books have been accumulating (on a side-note, I’m realizing most of them are from Semiotext[e], an incredible publisher that’s an imprint of the MIT Press). I don’t feel as bad about making impulse purchases as I once did. I don’t know, I know it’s uncharitable, but sometimes it just doesn’t feel good to be the hundred thousandth person to buy Transcendant Kingdom or On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. Those are probably great books, but those writers don’t need me. Moreover, their influence is being fully internalized by the culture, and that influence will come out in a hundred ways over the next generation. Sometimes when I’m reading some hyped-up book, I just think, "I’m better than this. I have more to offer than this."

It feels like when I was single and despairing that I’d ever find someone. I wanted to be loved, of course, but what felt like such a waste was that I had so much love to give, I had so much to offer. I think readers form relationships with books, and, to be honest, I just think I have so much to offer, when it comes to books, and it doesn’t feel good to read books that just don’t need my love.

But the small press books do! I feel happy talking about them, writing about them, tweeting about them. My online engagement has turned around: I’m more excited to participate in online conversations these days.

Moreover, I’m finding myself less reluctant to read big press books too! I think now that I have some outlet for those loving feelings, I am also content to read big press books just for enjoyment, without trying to or expecting to form a relationship with them.

man painting green frog on ground
Photo by Gotta Be Worth It — Came up when I searched for “Georgia” on Pexels.com