Friday, March 01, 2013

abnormally tired white girl, or: what I read in february

If you like hookworm and Honey Boo Boo, you'll love this book.
I only finished one book in the whole month of February. And when I say that to people, in my usual self-flagellating way, they’re like, “Yeah, but you have a lot going on.” By which they mean cancer. I think what I have going on is Words With Friends and an inability to go to sleep without watching bad TV on my laptop. Of course, these things are not unrelated.

I’m helping my aunt build a website for her therapy practice, and in going through “other resources” links, I stumbled on a quiz that told me there was a good chance I was mildly depressed, but I should consult with a professional to be sure. Part of me was like, Fuck, another diagnosis? Another part of me was like, I’m only mildly depressed? Well, that’s pretty good. You could live your whole life like that. My belief that It Doesn’t Get Better—which is also a stubborn refusal to put all my eggs in the Future basket, when who knows if that basket even exists, and do not get me started on the subject of my eggs—is the depression part, I guess. My belief that things are actually pretty okay right now is the mild part.

Also, some of the questions were like, Have you felt abnormally tired in the past two weeks? So in that way, chemo literally makes you depressed.

But the one book I read last month? Damn good. Whenever AK saw me reading it, she kind of laughed and was like, “Oh, right, your book about white people.” Because you know, it’s not like they’re uncharted territory. But then when she picked up the book and read a few pages, she was like, “Wow, this is really well written.” And she realized, I think, like I did, that the story of poor white people in America is also the story of how anyone gets Othered.

***Wait, this just in! According to Goodreads, I actually read TWO books in February. One was a really short graphic novel. But it still counts.***

Not Quite White: White Trash and the Boundaries of Whiteness by Matt Wray: As anyone who's guiltily (or shamelessly) watched Honey Boo Boo knows, our nation's obsession with "white trash" culture is in full swing--"they" are people to be entertained by and feel better than, and for some reason it's accepted in a way a minstrel show would not be. Matt Wray's well written blend of history, sociology and cultural criticism takes us back to colonial times and up through the early twentieth century to show us how we got there.

Anyone who doubts the worthiness of "white studies" should consider this: In the antebellum South, seventy-five percent of white people owned no slaves. Their stories are absent from Django Unchained and its pop culture predecessors, but, as Wray points out, were crucial in shaping the race and class dynamics of the South and beyond. I was particularly intrigued by the chapters on the eugenics movement--which was more about stigmatizing and sterilizing poor U.S. whites than about Nazis killing Jews--and felt thoroughly disturbed by the intrusion of prejudice on people's actual bodies. Maybe because, as a cancer patient, I feel very fucked-with by outside forces lately, even if I've signed consent forms.

The book, which is slim and one of the quickest academic reads you'll find, does an excellent job of showing how the white trash "stigmatype" came to be made and remade. But I frequently found myself thinking, "Okay, now we know how the negative story got perpetuated--but what was the real story? If poor whites weren't lazy, shiftless sluts, what were their actual lives like?" Stuff for another book, I suppose. But this one does what it does in a highly compelling manner.

Stitches by David Small: I'm still on my graphic-memoir-about-illness kick, and this is the first book that earns superlatives on both the writing and illustration fronts. David is a sickly boy who becomes the subject of his father's almost Frankenstein-ish efforts to cure him, but his biggest ailment is his family's own dark moods. The backdrop is 1950s and '60s Detroit, a place of moldering Victorians and broken technological promises. Here love is twisted and inverted almost beyond recognition. It all works, but I think I read the book too fast (I guess it's a victim of its own compelling-ness), which diminished its impact. I'm a narrative girl, and I'm still learning how to read both graphic novels and poetry. But I'm enjoying the process.


Claire said...

Graphic novels totally count!

And if you set a reading challenge on goodreads for the year, when you check yours, you'll see all those foolish people with 100 book goals who have read NONE so far. It's really ridiculous.

Perhaps more depressing are the goals of 10 for the year which will still show 0 read in September.

Cheryl said...

At least those people WANT to read. The NEA did a study a few years ago that showed fifty percent of American adults don't even read PART of a book a year. That makes the audience for small-press literary fiction with queer themes about nine people by my calculations.