This Month In Books: “Once You Can See the Pattern”

Photo by Paul Schafer on Unsplash

Dear Reader,

A lot of what you’ll read in this month’s books newsletter is about things not seeming to be what they really are.

In an interview with Hope Reese, Rebecca Traister talks about how women’s anger is not recognized as a politically valid form of expression, even though history tells a different story — that women’s anger has the power to start revolutions! Moreover:

“Women are punished for expressing their anger… their anger is discouraged, and part of this punishment is that your having expressed anger can be turned against you to discredit you.”

The power women feel is not recognized for what it is. And not just the power — also the pain. In an interview with Wei Tchou, Tanya Marquardt discusses the process of interrogating her memories of sexual assault, and explains how writing her memoir forced her to finally describe events as they really happened:

“I found myself struggling with the language around consent and really asking myself, ‘What was happening in that scene?’… I had to come to terms with the fact that I hadn’t consented, and more than that, I thought it was my job to endure whatever he was going to do to me.”

In an interview with Victoria Namkung, Nicole Chung talks about how difficult it was, as a grown-up adoptee, to let go of her “origin story,” which, although it had always felt safe, was not real:

“Even though it wasn’t the whole truth, I was so comforted and so attached to this origin story I was given. I remember how difficult it was to start challenging that.”

Mr. Rogers was deeply concerned about children who believe in stories that are comforting but not real. He thought it could be downright dangerous for them. According to his biographer Maxwell King,

“When Fred Rogers and David Newell learned about the child who hurt himself trying to be a superhero, they came up with an idea: a special program to help kids grasp just what a fictional superhero is.”


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On the other hand, in her book Travelers in the Third Reich, Julia Boyd describes how, in the 1930s, the British establishment had a striking lack of concern when it came to exposing children to false ideas. The well-off continued to send their young-adult children to be educated in Germany once the Nazi regime was in power:

“That the British establishment should have seen fit to prepare its offspring for adult life by sending them to such a vile totalitarian regime is puzzling, to say the least…. despite the Great War and growing awareness of Nazi iconoclasm, Germany’s traditional grip on British intellectual imagination remained as strong as ever. Here, in the midst of Nazi barbarity and boorishness, these gilded youths were expected to deepen their education and broaden their outlook.”

(From Maxwell King’s biography of Mr. Rogers: “One of the few things that could raise anger — real, intense anger — in Mister Rogers was willfully misleading innocent, impressionable children. To him, it was immoral and completely unacceptable.”)

Boyd goes on to say: “Ariel Tennant, another teenager in Munich at the time, studying art, was struck by how many people in England refused to believe her accounts of Nazi aggression.”

(This past weekend, I saw a video online of a proto-fascist gang beating some people in New York. The police did not arrest them. After the beating, the gang members posed for a photograph, all of them making similar hand signs for the camera.)

(In her novel Eleanor, or, The Rejection of the Progress of Love, Anna Moschovakis writes: “The feeling of closeness to a time before — the familiar melancholy that came from surfing the internet in the ways she used to — had receded and been replaced by the new feeling, the one she struggled to describe.”)

In her review of two recent books about immigrant families applying for asylum, Martha Pskowski writes about how, in her work with migrants, she would find that, the longer they talked to her, the more likely their stories were to change — because telling a story can be dangerous, and they were trying to keep people safe:

“Sometimes, migrants would tell me one story, and then as we talked over time, another story emerged. ….In Southern Mexico where I carry out interviews, coyotes and gang members often seek information about men and women on the migrant trail, to then threaten their family members. This doesn’t mean immigrants are unreliable sources, this means that as journalists we must work harder to earn their trust and prevent negative consequences of our work.”

Pskowski goes on to say: “Increasingly, and controversially, journalists are acknowledging and even embracing the concept that true ‘objectivity’ is both unachievable and undesirable.”

(This month a journalist named Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The story of how it happened has been revised many times. Changing stories are often a sign of danger — the journalist’s job is, sometimes, just to ask who is in danger for telling the story. Sometimes the answer is: the journalist.)

(Anna Moschovakis: “The new feeling: a flesh-eating virus expanding its appetite beneath the skin.”)

In her book How Does It Feel To Be Unwanted?, Eileen Truax writes about the re-categorization of asylum-seekers as threats to national security:

“Since the beginning of the Trump administration, policy changes in how immigration laws are applied indicate that authorities may use their discretion to qualify any violation of the law as a ‘crime,’ widely and arbitrarily broadening the spectrum of people who could be considered a ‘danger’ to the country. People like Yamil, who was charged with using false documents and has a previous deportation on his record, could be deemed a threat to national security.”

(Nicole Chung: “I’d been led to believe racism was something in the past. Even teachers at school presented racism as a thing we had conquered. It was very well-intentioned and wrong.”)

In his review of several new books about the opioid crisis, Zachary Siegel writes that the danger isn’t always where you think it is:

“A recent study out of Stanford that modeled public health policy shows that aggressively controlling the supply of prescriptions, in the short-term, is actually increasing overdose deaths by the thousands…. The fact is, injecting a regulated pharmaceutical of known dose and purity is less risky than injecting a bag of white powder purchased on the street. Bags of dope come with no proof of ingredients…. At the end of the day, an 80 milligram OxyContin is always 80 milligrams. It may not be pretty… but at least there was a measure of safety.”

And neither the heroes nor the villains are who you think they should be:

“A simplistic narrative yields cheap, simplistic solutions. America’s opioid reporting has the tendency to chronicle lengthy police investigations that feature cops, federal agents, and prosecutors high on the delusion that shutting down the right pill mill or locking up the right dealer will put addiction and overdoses to a grinding halt. They think they’re in an episode of The Wire.”

There are dire consequence for misunderstanding what the story is really about:

“Choking off the supply of prescription painkillers early on in the crisis, without first installing a safety net to catch the fallout, was a major policy failure that worsened America’s opioid problem by orders of magnitude.”

(Anna Moschovakis: “Or, the new feeling: a helixed grating, eternal return.”)

(Tanya Marquardt: “Once you can see the pattern and what you are repeating, you can see how it is abusive to you, and then you can change.”)

Dana Snitzky
Books Editor
@danasnitzky

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