When I started reading How to Murder Your Life, Cat Marnell’s addiction memoir, I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it: her style is heavy on exclamation points and felt, at first, a bit dumbed-down. But as I kept reading, I found myself liking it a whole lot: the (dark) humor and vividness of the writing won me over, and the flow improves as the book proceeds. I do a lot of my reading on my commute in the mornings and evenings, and this book was no exception, and I regularly found myself a) so engrossed I worried I’d missed my stop, and b) pretty sure that I might be making ridiculous faces as I laughed/cringed/squirmed along with Marnell’s telling of her messy drug-fuelled life.

Marnell acknowledges up front that she has a lot of privilege: the financial support of her family, from rehab to rent money, means her experience of addiction is very different from that of someone not so well-off or well-connected. But that doesn’t make her daily life, when she’s strung out on Adderall and staying up all night and then going in to work the next day, any less of a disaster. Marnell writes engagingly about her life, from childhood and adolescence (dysfunctional family, a dad who screamed at the dinner table, a sister who was sent to reform school, her own experience at boarding school) to early adulthood (interning at magazines like Nylon, working at Lucky and then at xoJane.com, doing lots of drugs, going to rehab, doing more drugs). She writes honestly about being bulimic and addicted to pills and also about her self-hatred and loneliness. I was impressed at how relatable her story felt: when I read about her procrastinating on a writing assignment and freaking out about it, I felt myself getting stressed; when I read about her going grocery shopping for foods to binge on at 4:30 am, I could feel the anticipation of that, even though my typical grocery shopping problem is, like, going to the store when I’m thirsty and coming home with three liters of seltzer and three VitaminWater Zeros and maybe a Sparkling Ice in addition to whatever food I’d meant to buy. Marnell and I are pretty much the same age and both came to NYC when we were eighteen, and it was super-interesting to read a book by someone in my demographic, age-wise, in which so much of the book feels like it takes place in this parallel city that’s adjacent to my own but largely invisible to me: I was never a staying-up-all-night club kid; the segment of publishing I’ve worked in since my early twenties is very different from the magazine industry in which she worked, et cetera.

All Our Pretty Songs is a lush YA retelling of the Orpheus myth (but different), set in the Pacific Northwest, written in a way that is pleasantly reminiscent of Francesca Lia Block. It starts with our unnamed narrator on summer vacation before her senior year of high school, introducing us to herself and her best friend, Aurora. The narrator’s mom and Aurora’s mom used to be best friends but no longer speak; the narrator’s dad has never been around, and Aurora’s dad, who was a famous rock star, is dead. Aurora’s mom is a junkie; the narrator’s mom is a witch (in the herbs-and-amulets-and-fortune-telling way, I mean). And the narrator and Aurora? They’re like sisters who have kind of raised themselves, with Aurora as the wilder one, the one who “never thinks about what comes after. She’s all now, all the time. This moment, this kiss, this second holds everything” (6).

Not long into the book, Aurora and the narrator meet Jack, a slightly-older singer/guitarist whose music is intense and beautiful and like nothing they’ve ever experienced. As the flap copy puts it, though, they’re “not the only ones who have noticed Jack’s gift; his music has awakened an ancient evil—and a world both above and below, which may not be mythical at all.” So, yeah, things get weird: at the same party where the narrator meets Jack, she notices a creepy guy who “smiles a smile with too many teeth” who’s also made rapt by Jack’s music (25). The creepy guy, whose name is Minos (yes, the mythological one), keeps showing up, pulling both Aurora and Jack into his orbit, in this interesting way where the narrator is pretty sure she’s seeing some supernatural stuff happening but still has doubts as to what’s actually going on: at one point Aurora’s mom asks where she is, and the narrator’s answer is priceless: “She either went to Los Angeles or she went to hell” (142).

Before the weird stuff, though, the narrator becomes smitten with Jack, and there are some pretty delicious scenes with the two of them, but what I like even more are the scenes with her and Aurora, or, best of all, with her and her friend from work, Raoul—they work together at a fruit stand at what basically seems to be Pike Place Market, and he’s totally my favorite character in the book. I like how the narrator figures herself out a bit over the course of the book, and how Raoul helps with that; I like his smarts and his kindness and his humor, and a conversation the narrator has with him at one point totally made me teary-eyed. I felt like the pacing of this book was somewhat uneven, but maybe it was just where I was in my reading of it: it felt like the plot was slow to get moving and then moved really quickly, but the writing was pleasing enough to keep me engaged even before the plot kicked in. I like how the narrator describes being up front at a show, watching a band: she says she and Aurora are “all the way inside our bodies and all the way outside them at the same time” (7). And I am a sucker for descriptive passages like this:

In the winter I love my work. All the out-of-towners flee the eternal damp. We have to wear sweaters and wool hats to keep out the cold, and we drink coffee until we’re cracked-out and speedy. The cobblestoned streets are wet and foggy, the low mournful sound of the ferry horn carries across the water, and all the afternoons are dreamy and quiet. (36)

This was a book I liked more as I got farther into it, a book I ended up staying up late to finish, and a book whose sequels I’m looking forward to reading.

In his blurb for Mermaid in Chelsea Creek, Daniel Handler says it has “the grit and the wit and the girls in trouble loving each other fierce and true” of Michelle Tea’s work in general (which totally makes me want to read more by Michelle Tea) and also “all the juice of a terrific fantasy novel, with the magic and the creatures and the otherworldly sense of something lurking underneath each artifact of our ordinary lives,” and yeah, I think that’s a good description, and captures a lot of why I liked this book so much.

Mermaid in Chelsea Creek is set in Chelsea, Massachusetts, which is described in the first sentence as “a city where people landed” (7). It’s a city of immigrants, all of whom bring their own cultures and traditions—and also, their own magic, though it’s maybe hard to pass that magic and those traditions on to children and grandchildren who grow up American. Sophie Swankowski, who’s thirteen and being raised by a single mom, is the granddaughter of Polish immigrants, though at the start of the story she’s not particularly connected to that heritage: she basically sees her Polish grandmother only on holidays, and her overworked mom is more likely to suggest cereal or pizza for dinner than to cook anything. In addition to magic, we learn, the people who land in Chelsea bring stories with them:

And the stories brought from the many places were all different, but then, they were all the same. And the oldest story, the silliest and most dangerous story, the saddest and most hopeful story, was the story of the girl who would bring the magic, the girl who would come to save them all. (9)

Plants

OK, so I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that it becomes clear pretty early that this is going to be a Chosen One story—and, surprise, Sophie is the Chosen One. But she doesn’t know that to start: she just knows her life in Chelsea, this city that Tea describes like this:

brick and cement, the telephone poles and electrical wires, the roaring buses and the graffitied everything, busted playgrounds, a city with so much wear and tear on it, so many people with so little money coming to it for so long, the threadbare buildings and dollar stores, the railroad tracks where men slept in the tall grass, the sub shops and pizza places and the corner stores selling scratchers and cigarettes, the corner bars with no windows and men inside heaped and immobile as the cracked stools they sat upon. (9)

This being a Chosen One story, it’s a lot about Sophie learning about her history/destiny/magic, though meanwhile it’s also about her dealing with being grounded on summer vacation, and tensions with her best/only friend, and her growing awareness of herself as her own person, and I thought the combination of it all worked really well. The scenes where Sophie learns about/explores her magic are great, and I also love the magic itself, how much it’s about feelings and intuition and, crucially/centrally, empathy: Sophie can read people’s hearts and feel what they’re feeling.

I loved so many things about this book, from the grumpy/hilarious/bedraggled mermaid of the title to the way that Sophie comes to see pigeons as something other than “rats with wings” to Jason Polan’s pleasing illustrations (see above). Minor quibbles: I might have liked this more if it were a standalone book rather than the first of a trilogy, and oh man, so many typos/this book really needed a better proofread. But everything else was delightful enough for me to overlook those things. I took this book with me on the 4th of July, when I went to Queens three hours before the Macy’s fireworks so I could get a decent spot in one of the parks by the water with a good view, and it was pretty perfect to be reading this in the midst of the crowd and the heat: it was engrossing enough to get lost in, even in the middle of a whole lot of potential annoyances/distractions.

Gothic/horror is not my usual genre, but so far I’m enjoying Seanan McGuire’s “Wayward Children” series, of which this is the second, though it also could work as a standalone because time-wise, it’s a prequel to the first book, Every Heart a Doorway. The dark-fairy-tale tone of this book is similar to the first, though in some ways I liked this book more than that one. In Every Heart a Doorway, we meet the students at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, all of whom traveled to other realms via magic portals but ended up back in our world. In Down Among the Sticks and Bones, we learn more about two of those students, the twin girls Jack (short for Jacqueline) and Jill Wolcott, and actually get to see the world they went to, which is a dark and dangerous place called the Moors.

Before we get to the Moors, though, we get a lot of background about Jack and Jill’s childhoods and their terrible parents, who are pretty insufferable/want children for all the wrong reasons/spend years and years not seeing Jack and Jill for who they are at all/mold the twins into their visions of who they should be. They see Jillian as the brave and boyish one, so she gets dressed in sporty clothes and signed up for the soccer team; they see Jacqueline as the reserved and girlish one, so they put her in fancy dresses that she’s not allowed to get dirty. But because they don’t actually know their children, the Wolcott parents get it totally wrong:

They didn’t know that Jillian was brave because she knew Jacqueline was always somewhere behind her with a careful plan for any situation that might arise. They didn’t know that Jacqueline was timid because she was amused by watching the world deal with her sister, and thought the view was better from outside the splash radius. (34)

The girls find themselves stuck in these roles that have been imposed on them; neither of them has the opportunity to make her own choices about what she wants to do and who she wants to be. That changes one rainy day when they’re twelve: Jillian, bored, suggests that they go play in the attic; when they open the old trunk that’s normally full of dress-up clothes from their grandmother (who is awesome and basically raised them for the first five years of their lives, but is no longer really in their lives because their dad is a jerk), what they find instead is a staircase. Which, of course, they go down. Which takes them to the Moors, where they eventually learn that there are vampires and werewolves and a kindly Dr. Frankenstein-ish figure named Dr. Bleak. In the Moors, the girls’ paths diverge, in ways that readers may already know from having read Every Heart a Doorway, but I really liked getting to see Jack and Jill’s experience of this world in more detail here. Getting to see Jack’s interactions with Dr. Bleak is especially excellent—there was one passage featuring the two of them that totally made me teary-eyed.

The fact that An Arrangement of Skin has cover blurbs from Mark Doty and Maggie Nelson, both of whom I really like, probably helped convince me to check this book out from the library, even though I wasn’t actually sure I was in the mood for a book of essays. As it turns out, I was (eventually) in the mood for a book of essays, and this was an excellent choice. The fourteen essays here are largely personal in nature, with Journey recounting bits of her life and her family history, but they also pull in literature and history; there are passages talking about (and quoting) poems by Larry Levis or Thomas James or C.D. Wright, or referencing Walter Benjamin or Gaston Bachelard. (Journey herself is a poet and academic.)

Journey refers, in the first essay, to a point in her life when she “invented a ritual to stop time,” and then talks about poetry as serving the same purpose (pp 4-5). She talks about taxidermy (which she take a few classes in) as another way to do this, and also about it being a characteristic of certain places, as when she says this about Richmond, Virginia: “As soon as someone enters an alley, the wisteria-shrouded path stops time” (121). This concern with the passage of time/memory reminds me a bit of André Aciman, as does the way Journey looks at her past self and the spaces she inhabited or moved through, whether she’s talking about the horseback-riding lessons she took when her family lived in India when she was six and seven years old, or those alleyways and wisteria and porches of Richmond (where she went to college and also lived after the end of a long-term relationship).

I like the style of these essays a lot: in a few of them, like “Epithalamium with Skunk Pigs,” I really like how Journey seems to proceed via a chain of association and memory, in this way where you don’t quite know where she’s going until she gets there, though when you arrive you get the sense that it was actually all carefully mapped out. I also really love the descriptions of places in some of the pieces, especially a paragraph about the now-empty zoo in Los Angeles’s Griffith Park that appears in “A Flicker of Animal, a Flank”: it’s so great I wish I could quote it in full here, but it’s a bit long for that. Ah well: if you read this book, you’ll have it to look forward to. Meanwhile, the book’s very satisfying final essay, “Bluebeard’s Closet,” is available in its entirety on the Blackbird website: this was a really solid end to the book, but I think would serve just as well as an introduction to it.

I decided to read this book, which is Margaret Atwood’s retelling of The Tempest for the Hogarth Shakespeare series, after reading Teresa’s post about it over on Shelf Love, and I’m really glad I did. As Teresa says, this book is fun—lots of fun. Before I picked this up, the last five books I read were either 1) enjoyable and readable nonfiction or 2) good but somewhat challenging or offputting fiction, and I was ready for a book like this: a novel that is smart and well-written but also pretty straightforward. Hag-Seed was a pleasure to read, a book that made me look forward to my subway commute every morning and evening because it meant a chance to read a bit more of it.

From early in the book, it’s clear that Felix Phillips is going to be our Prospero-figure, associated as he is with “illusion” and “pretense” and “fakery”, and with a rivalry that has resulted in a “vengefulness” that’s been building for the past twelve years (9-10). As Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Festival, doing over-the-top Shakespeare adaptations, Felix has been a “cloud-riding enchanter” (12). But he’s familiar with loss, too: his wife, we learn, died in childbirth, and his young daughter (named Miranda, naturally) died from meningitis at the age of three. Felix fears his absorption in his work may have contributed to Miranda’s death, but he’s also convinced it’s what will save him: he throws himself into a production of The Tempest in which he will play Prospero. But that production is never to be: Felix’s assistant, Tony, delivers the news that the festival’s board has decided to cut Felix’s contract short; Tony himself will be the interim artistic director. This blow leads Felix to a self-imposed exile in a shack on the outskirts of town, his version of Prospero’s island, with the imagined ghost of his dead daughter for company.

Eventually, though, he realizes he needs to do something, and so applies to teach a “Literacy through Literature” program at the local prison. He applies under a false name, but the woman who interviews him recognizes him: he convinces her that his true identity needs to be their secret. He gets the job, and decides to make his version of the program focused on Shakespeare: the inmates will read the plays, write about them, and put on productions of them. After three successful years of this, Felix learns that Tony, now a government minister, will be in the audience of the next production: he decides that it has to be The Tempest, and of course, because this is a retelling of The Tempest, he decides he wants to use the occasion of the production to get his revenge on Tony and on others who wronged him. It’s a pleasure to watch the various strands of the story unfold—we get classroom scenes where Felix works with his students to tease out the play’s characters and their motivations; we get rehearsal scenes where we get to see the production taking shape; we get scenes of Felix shopping for props and costumes, and scenes of Felix planning his revenge, all told in a way I found to be lively and fluid and immensely readable.

The Surrender is Toni Bentley’s “erotic memoir” about transcendence/anal sex/submission, and despite the fact that there were things in the book that bugged me, I quite liked it overall. To start with the things that bothered me: I could have done with a lot less Freudian psychologizing, though at the same time, it feels somewhat unfair to criticize the book for its emphasis on something that is apparently a very big part of Bentley’s subjective experience of her life and sexuality. Like, even though for me the appeal of being called a “good girl” feels like it has zero relationship to anything about my childhood or parents, I can’t speak for anyone else’s feelings or experiences; while I may not be able to relate to the way Bentley connects her childhood experiences of shame or humiliation, particularly related to her relationship to her father, to her adult sexuality, I can’t disbelieve her experience of the relatedness of those things. I also feel like Bentley and I have quite different takes on gender and male/female relationships, but, again, her experiences and feelings are hers, so it’s sort of neither here nor there except to the extent that I, as a reader, want a memoir to be “relatable” in some way: I sort of do, but I also see the value in reading memoirs that come from different perspectives. That said, I was annoyed that Bentley wrote these two sentences and that her editor didn’t talk her out of them: “I reckon every woman wants a cock between her legs, ultimately. The question is: Does she want one of her own, or can she tolerate one belonging to a man?” (43). Ugh, really?

Those complaints aside, Bentley is smart and funny, and I appreciated this book’s combination of intensity and humor, and how wide-ranging it is. It includes sections about such disparate things as being an atheist who had wanted to find God/faith for a long time and crotchless underpants and the various styles thereof; it’s got sexy threesome/foursome scenes and philosophical musings about non-monogamy and stories about the experience of jealousy. At its heart, really, is a whole lot about the experience of letting go—the surrender of the title. For Bentley, that surrender comes mostly via anal sex (though not entirely: there’s a section where she writes about learning to go down on her lover in just the way he likes that also has a fair bit of surrender/submission in it). The sections about that experience of surrender and submission were probably my favorite parts of the book, and I think not just because I do find those bits relatable—there’s something so pure and intense about the way Bentley writes about the experience of letting go of her “desire to know, control, understand, and analyze”, about how that makes room for her to experience “openness and vulnerability” (7). Also, I love that Bentley writes about laughing during sex—and not like, oops-we-fell-off-the-bed laughter or oh-bodies-are-weird laughter, but a laughter that’s tied to that experience of letting go. My other favorite bits are the writerly parts—as someone who also feels the impulse to write things down, I really liked sections like this:

He presented me with the first sex I’d ever had that I thought about in words, that I wanted to describe and preserve in words. And so the scribbling began. Every time he came, and left, I went straight to my notebook and wrote it all down. I was experiencing an impossible pleasure, and having it on paper would prove that the impossible existed. (29)

The Black Notebook, which was originally published in French in 2012, caught my eye at the library after I’d seen this post on Instagram: I like the cover a lot, how layered and atmospheric it is, the way the different urban images are juxtaposed. I’d never read anything by Modiano, and I’m not sure if this short novel was the best place to start: maybe? (If you’ve read anything by him, I’d love to hear your thoughts.) For a book under two hundred pages, it felt like slow going to me, and I sometimes found myself slightly bored by the flatness of the characters, but there were also things about it that I found really appealing.

The black notebook of the title is one that Jean, the book’s narrator (who is a writer) kept when he was younger, in the 1960s. It’s now fifty years later and he finds himself consulting the notebook again as he thinks about the time when he was writing in it, a time when, for a few months, he was dating a mysterious young woman who hung around with some shady-seeming men at a Paris hotel. There’s a little bit of a noir/mystery feel to this book, but not entirely: it’s less plot-driven than that might imply, and there’s not really a big revelation or a tidy ending. It’s not exactly character-driven either: several of the characters are little more than names, and Dannie remains largely a mystery, though the narrator does learn some things about her that he didn’t previously know.

More than anything else, this book to me felt like a combination of place-driven and idea-driven and image-driven. I suspect that if I knew the Paris neighborhoods and landmarks being discussed as intimately as I know New York, I would have liked it even more than I did, but even without a strong sense of the geography (or the scenery or history, beyond what the book includes), I liked the sense I got of the changing city, where the narrator recognizes some buildings fifty years later but realizes that other places have been transformed, with whole streets erased for new construction. The city and the layers of its past are one of the narrator’s concerns even as a young man: some of the things he wrote down in his notebook, in the 1960s, were the names of painted signs for old businesses (tanneries, wine warehouses) that will probably soon disappear. As someone who is really fond of cities/history/layers/old signs myself, I found this really appealing.

In terms of ideas and images, there is a lot here about memory and identity, the distance or lack thereof between the past and the present, between one’s past self and one’s present self, and also a lot about the remove at which the narrator moved through his life when he was younger, writing things down but not necessarily understanding their import, not piecing together the strands of narrative connecting the people around him. A recurrent image throughout the book is a pane of glass separating the narrator from something or someone else: lit apartment windows that give you “a feeling of both presence and absence,” a metaphorical train window beyond which the scenery passes quickly, an imagined window of a subway car through which he thinks about looking at someone he knows, a pane of glass separating a prisoner from a visitor (in a dream), a café window through which the narrator and someone from his past recognize each other, a hotel lobby window outside which the narrator stands, unseen. That sense of distance is sometimes present in the narrative itself, which I think is why it felt like slow going, but it’s intentional and I guess it worked: I found it striking and thought the images where it’s made explicit were some of the loveliest passages of the book, like this, which the narrator uses to explain what he was doing in writing things down in his black notebook, “to have a reference point later”:

A train rushes by a station too fast for you to read the name of the town. And so, with your forehead pressed against the window, you note down other details: a passing river, the village bell tower, a black cow ruminating beneath a tree, removed from the herd. You hope that at the next station you’ll be able to read the name and find out what region you’re in. (13)

I heard about Fish in Exile via Sarah McCarry’s post about it on her old blog, and re-reading that post now I would agree with her assessment that this book “is addictive, but for quite some time you have no idea what it’s even about.” The day I started it, I tried to explain it to someone, and I think all I managed to express was my befuddlement. That befuddlement remained for a fair chunk of the book, but I didn’t much mind, because on a sentence level, Nao’s writing is gorgeous. Like: “Light shifts, lifting the four corners of the room into an origami box” (16). Or: “I stand there like a front burner gazing at the stars and the dismal, faraway sea” (45). Or: “I imagine moving through the sea of winter with a boat, a pair of oars, and light” (87) Or: “The clouds take turns combing each other’s manes” (133).

The book is about a married couple, Ethos and Catholic, who are in a deep state of grief over their dead children, but that description of it doesn’t get at its sometimes-surreal strangeness. The six sections of the book have different narrators and different forms; there are sections of dialogue that recall a play (perhaps a Greek tragedy); Greek myth is there, too: a fairly great/hilarious retelling of the Persephone myth makes up a large part of one of the sections. At one point in the retelling, Hades is talking about how great things have been since he brought Persephone to the underworld: “It’s like a festival down there. Banquets and film screenings left and right. Of course, the only film we watch in the underworld is Satantango” (77). (Ethos’s mother is a classics professor, and there are a few amusing Anne Carson jokes/references in this section too.)

But when it’s not being formally inventive or surreal or funny, Fish in Exile gets at the emotional experiences that Ethos and Catholic are having. They seem to alternate in who is more sad and more stuck at any given moment; their shared but separate grief strains their partnership. Early in the book, Ethos (the husband) tells Catholic he’s “in exile” and notes she doesn’t understand; he left his job when the children died and seems to spend his days aimlessly passing time at home or by the ocean. Later, it’s Catholic who seems more stuck in sorrow; there’s a gorgeous several-page section near the end of the book talking about her pain which I would love to quote but can’t really, because it’s all so good. Despite how adrift I felt when I started this book, I was caught up in it by the time I got to the (very good) ending, which I read on the subway home from work, totally rapt.

I didn’t enjoy all nine chapters of Future Sex equally, but I did really enjoy this book, which is part personal narrative and part cultural commentary about sex and dating now, with a lot about what sex and dating now is like for a straight woman in her 30s. Maybe I partly liked it so much because I’m in a similar demographic to Witt, in terms of being a never-married woman in my 30s (she’s a year older than me) living in Brooklyn (though she spends a chunk of the book in San Francisco) but I don’t think that’s entirely it. I mean, yes, there were things I found relatable, but Witt’s writing is very smart, very funny, and so right on about so many things, particularly when she’s recognizing and questioning contemporary American culture’s often-gendered assumptions around sex/relationships/what people want.

One of my favorite chapters in the book is the first one, “Expectations,” where Witt writes about finding herself single and starting to question her own assumptions that she would eventually end up in a traditional monogamous long-term relationship. “The year I turned thirty a relationship ended. I was very sad but my sadness bored everyone, including me,” she writes, which made me laugh because it’s so relatable (5). She writes about sleeping with various male friends/acquaintances, including one who’s seeing someone else who apparently has expectations of monogamy, though Witt isn’t necessarily aware of this at the time; there’s a cringe-inducing and hilarious bit where she quotes from a sanctimonious email she got from one of that other woman’s friends that made me decide, six pages into this book, that I was clearly going to enjoy it a whole lot. The next chapter, “Internet Dating” (which is a thing I also have experience with, though my experiences seem to be quite different from Witt’s in some ways) was also really satisfying in the ways that it combines a history of online dating with Witt’s own attempts at it and with a critique of assumptions about women wanting relationships/monogamy and not wanting sex, as in this passage, which is too good not to quote at length:

I saw that it was taken for granted, or asserted by books of biological determinism such as Louann Brizendine’s The Female Brain, that the monogamous relationship made women the most happy, was where they most enjoyed sex, and that this sort of commitment brought women both freedom and security. This line of thinking forced me into a gendered role that I resented. If every expression of free sexuality by a woman would be second-guessed, it left men as the sole rational agents of sexual narrative. The woman was rarely granted the heroic role of seducer. If a woman pursued a strictly sexual experience, she was seen as succumbing to the wishes of the sovereign subject. If the sex she had with no commitments made her unhappy, it was not simply bad sex but rather proof of her delusion that it could be good. (33)

In other chapters, Witt learns about something called orgasmic meditation by attending the events of an organization called OneTaste, watches live web cams (and talks to some of the people behind them) on a website called Chaturbate, talks about polyamory (largely through the lens of three people she meets in San Francisco who tell her about their experiences with being open/poly), talks about the politics of birth control, goes to Burning Man, and explores her feelings about porn, partly by attending a shoot of Kink.com’s Public Disgrace series. The porn chapter was another highlight for me: early in it, Witt notes that porn “caused [her] friends a lot of anxiety,” and goes on to explore both her own relationship to it and larger cultural reactions, current and historical (71). (The bit about it causing her friends anxiety was surprising/interesting to me. Do I have friends who feel that way? And if not, why not? I feel like I’ve only talked about porn with straight/mostly-straight guys and gay women, which may be part of it?) Maybe my favorite moment in this essay is when Witt is interviewing the female lead performer from the Public Disgrace shoot, Penny Pax, and we get this, which just delights me so much:

Slightly incredulous, I asked if there were moments of genuine pleasure. She looked at me like I was crazy. “Yeah. Like the whole thing! The whole thing.” (84)

There is more good stuff about this book I want to talk about, like sex and capitalism, or how funny some of the descriptions of various scenes/people are, but really, all I can say is, this book was great. I initially heard about it via Alexandra Schwartz’s (also great) New Yorker piece about it, and am glad I eventually got around to reading the book itself and not just reading about it.