The Ten Best Things We Read in January 2019

What It Felt Like When ‘Cat Person’ Went Viral, by Kristen Roupenian for the New Yorker

Like just about everyone who digested Kristen Roupenian’s ‘Cat Person’ two falls ago, I had an immediate and visceral reaction to it. Mine was, “Seriously? This is what everyone’s raving about? That’s the ‘shocking twist’ everyone’s talking up? If this is what passes for insightful fiction in the #MeToo era, then God fucking help us all.” And then I stewed in my own crankiness for a few more minutes, and then I went off to read ‘Cold Pastoral‘ for the billionth time, as a palate cleanser.

After I read the above follow-up essay, in which Roupenian traces her real-time reactions to the explosion of ‘Cat Person’ and the scads of heated debate it inspired, I felt a twinge of sympathy. Maybe I’d been uncharitable, in that initial reading; hell, maybe I was just envious of a young debut author hitting a grand slam. So I re-visited ‘Cat Person,’ and… I hated it even more the second time around. I’ve had a chance, now, to read some of Roupenian’s other work, and all I can say is this: if you absolutely must write about BDSM that escalates into ritual rape that escalates into necrophilia, can you at least make it interesting?

Despite only ever being bored or irritated by her work, though — or, maybe, because her work has only ever bored or irritated me — I found her essay on ‘Cat Person’s’ viral moment incredibly compelling. This bit, in particular:

I want people to read my stories—of course I do. That’s why I write them. But knowing, in that immediate and unmediated way, what people thought about my writing felt… the word I keep reaching for, even though it seems melodramatic, is annihilating. To be faced with all those people thinking and talking about me was like standing alone, at the center of a stadium, while thousands of people screamed at me at the top of their lungs. Not for me, at me. I guess some people might find this exhilarating. I did not.

…When you read a story I’ve written, you’re not thinking about me—you’re thinking as me. I’ve wormed my way inside your head (hi!) and briefly taken over your mind. You’re forced to reckon with my full complexity—or, at least, whatever fraction of that complexity I’ve managed to get down on the page. When the story is over—or if you put it down midway—you’re free to think whatever you want. You can think, Dumb, or Boring, or Great, or, She looks like a bitch in her author photo, or, What the fuck did I just read? But I don’t need to be there to absorb your reaction. In fact, I shouldn’t be. My role in the process is over. The interpretation, the criticism, the analysis telling you that you’re right or that you’re wrong or that you’re an asshole—that’s someone else’s job. I can’t, and won’t, take part.

What Roupenian went through, after that story’s publication — what she endured at the hands of readers like me — is annihilating. I know how difficult it is to publish personal work, and to see strangers dissecting that work, and dissecting you, en masse. I don’t envy Roupenian at all, and I’m glad, even though I don’t care for her writing, that she’s found a way to continue fulfilling herself through writing, and to separate herself and her process from the seething horde. (Yours truly, a member of the seething horde.)

Places Where I Have Dissociated, edited by Waverly S.M.

Friend of the Niche Waverly S.M. spent several months editing this collection of writing and photography about dissociation. It draws, gently, a map of places where the contributors’ souls have floated away from their bodies: supermarkets, laundromats, bus stations. It’s tough reading, at times, but the sheer geographical scope of the phenomenon inspires a sense of togetherness — useful when dissociative disorders are, by definition, isolating.

Post #MeToo, Teenagers Continue to Fear Telling Their Sexual Harassment Stories by Sabrina for Medium

This is an exhaustively researched and well-reported article on a series of sexual harassment allegations against the teen pop star Jacob Sartorious. In addition to chronicling the incidents and reports in exact, precise detail, the author, who is not a professional journalist, asks questions about why these stories have been ignored, why mainstream publications have ignored her numerous tips, and why the ephemerality built into Snapchat and Instagram makes it that much more difficult for young victims to collect evidence.

The Invisible Free Speech Crisis by Sarah Jones for the New Republic

In all the hand-wringing about, like, whether or not liberal arts colleges are destroying free speech by objecting to the presence of Nazis on campus, I’ve been dying for someone to point out the obvious: the real free speech crisis exists on evangelical Christian campuses. Even devoutly religious students at these schools have found themselves muzzled; this article, published last year in World, about Liberty University’s crackdown on student journalists, is great background reading. Kudos to Sarah Jones for bringing this issue to a wider audience, and for understanding that evangelical students are victims of persecution in desperate need of external support.

‘Nobody is Going to Believe You’ by Alex French and Maximillian Potter for the Atlantic

Death to Bryan Singer; death also to the Hearst execs who bent to Singer’s lawyers and killed this story two years ago.

I Tried to Block Amazon From My Life. It Was Impossible. by Kashmir Hill for Gizmodo

If you need an extra push to renounce civilization and go off the grid and live out the rest of your days in a shack in Vermont, with, perhaps, periodic trips to the Ben & Jerry’s factory for sustenance, this piece should help with that. Turns out that even though I don’t shop on Amazon and I don’t watch Amazon Prime, because I think Jeff Bezos has enough money and the rise of instant delivery has caused grievous amounts of human suffering, including epidemic miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant warehouse employees, Amazon Web Services quietly hosts half the websites I use, and provides storage services for even more websites, and there is literally no way to block Amazon-hosted content in your day-to-day Internet usage! Fun! Throw out your Alexa!

How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen for Buzzfeed

Of all the items on this list, this essay is, I think, the most essential. Where so many other essays take the epidemic of exhaustion within our generation as a given, and offer vapid solutions to it — self-care! yoga! better sleep! — Anne Helen Petersen goes deep on the root causes of burn-out, both structural and intimate. And she explains how the solutions offered to us are, actually, part of the problem: the relentless drive to optimize every moment of our day, including leisure time, has created massive depression and fatigue. Read this, read this, read this, and then brick off time in your schedule to do absolute fuck-all, and let the healing begin.

This Thread About Paddington by Anthony Oliveira

Kamala Harris’s Political Memoir is an Uneasy Fit for the Digital Era by Hannah Giorgis for the Atlantic

We’ve got some mixed opinions about Kamala Harris here on the editorial board of The Niche, but the inimitable Hannah Giorgis does a solid job of combing through her memoir and attempting to reconcile Harris’s tough-on-crime past with her civil-rights-minded present.

Yale Will Not Save You by Esme Weijun Wang for the Sewanee Review

It’s a kind of modern tragedy that the most rigorous schools on the planet subject their students to back-breaking stress and then find themselves woefully underprepared to aid their students in not buckling under that stress. Esme Weijun Wang gives us a harrowing account of her time at Yale, and the utter failure of the administration to treat her undiagnosed schizophrenia with anything like compassion or care.

One thought on “The Ten Best Things We Read in January 2019

  1. Jenna Smith says:

    Working in publications at a Christian University is a nightmare!! Thank you for sharing these articles that I didn’t know I so badly needed!!


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