Read these when you need a break from your relatives this week

The holidays can be stressful.  So many people, so much socializing. Sometimes you need to take a break and curl up in your room with something to read, but I know from experience that trying to fit in an entire novel between dinner and coffee is generally frowned upon. For a shorter pick, here are five essays posted in the last month that are definitely worth a look. Bonus: you’ll have something to talk about when you rejoin the group.

On Dossiers, Permitting Shame, Error and Guilt, Myself the Single Source by Brian Blanchfield (BOMB Magazine)

A dossier then is a repository of otherwise loose relevant material, a file, on a subject. Usually a human subject. The term is professional, and may be primarily legal. I believe there is even a kind of briefcase called a dossier briefcase, one which—in my image of it—is still portable by a handle but larger than standard, with an overtop flap and front clasp. One might keep a dossier on a client or a suspect, or, in other professions, a recruit. I think it has currency in the world of espionage. For me, though, for many teaching writers, more than ever, the term is a codeword of academia, full of a kind of consternation for those who struggle for a career there. As I write this, it is again high season for applications, and I am yet again updating my teaching dossier, which has been kept on file with a dossier service since 2005.

On Pandering by Claire Vaye Watkins (Tin House)

 Now, I realize I’m not a special snowflake, that every woman who writes has a handbag full of stories like this. There is probably an entire teeming sub-subgenre titled “Stephen Elliott Comes to Town.” I offer this here partly because it was my very first personal run-in with overtly misogynistic behavior from a male writer, and so perhaps my most instructive. I learned a lot from that Daily Rumpus e-mail (which is a sentence that has never before been uttered). I want to stress that I’m not presenting Stephen Elliott as a rogue figure, but as utterly emblematic. I want to show you how, via his compulsive stream-of-consciousness monologue e-mailed to a few thousand readers, I was given a glass-bottom-boat tour of a certain type of male writer’s mind.

Teach Yourself Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri (The New Yorker)*

 In a sense I’m used to a kind of linguistic exile. My mother tongue, Bengali, is foreign in America. When you live in a country where your own language is considered foreign, you can feel a continuous sense of estrangement. You speak a secret, unknown language, lacking any correspondence to the environment. An absence that creates a distance within you.

In my case there is another distance, another schism. I don’t know Bengali perfectly. I don’t know how to write it, or even read it. I have an accent, I speak without authority, and so I’ve always perceived a disjunction between it and me. As a result I consider my mother tongue, paradoxically, a foreign language.

As for Italian, the exile has a different aspect. Almost as soon as we met, Italian and I were separated. My yearning seems foolish. And yet I feel it.

How is it possible to feel exiled from a language that isn’t mine? That I don’t know? Maybe because I’m a writer who doesn’t belong completely to any language.

Men Explain Lolita to Me by Rebecca Solnit (LitHub)

It is a fact universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of an opinion must be in want of a correction. Well, actually, no it isn’t, but who doesn’t love riffing on Jane Austen? The answer is: lots of people, because we’re all different and some of us haven’t even read Pride and Prejudice dozens of times, but the main point is that I’ve been performing interesting experiments in proffering my opinions and finding that some of the men out there respond on the grounds that my opinion is wrong, while theirs is right because they are convinced that their opinion is a fact, while mine is a delusion. Sometimes they also seem to think that they are in charge, of me as well of facts.

My Life as an Abortion Provider in an Age of Terror by Dr. Natalie Whaley (Broadly)

 I wasn’t yet a doctor when Dr. George Tiller was murdered, though the memory of it is indelible. It would be impossible to ever forget the way he was taken: executed while serving as an usher at his church. Acts of terrorism are the most profound for those who have the lived experience of being afraid. In the 1990s, long before I started providing abortion care, abortion clinics were bombed and set on fire, abortion providers were shot and murdered, and so much violence occurred that the FBI and Department of Justice began tracking and addressing it as a form of domestic terrorism. I knew about these acts of violence, but I was not directly involved in abortion care when they occurred.

*I have such trouble choosing a no. 1 favourite anything, but this is probably the best essay I have read this year.


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