Alexander Hamilton & the Persistence of Myth by Stephen F. Knott
Alexander Hamilton & the Persistence of Myth by Stephen F. Knott
Earth by David Brin
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Alexander Hamilton & the Persistence of Myth by Stephen F. Knott
The Transparent Society by David Brin
Early Irish Myths and Sagas
They by Janet Mason – Read
The Art of Fiction by John Gardner ~ #LitCrit
Darkness Visible by William Styron
The Annotated Alice – annotated by Martin Gardner
Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole
We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Title: Stealing: Life in America
Author: Michelle Cacho-Negrete
Publisher: Adelaide Books
I received a copy of Stealing: Life in America from Adelaide Books in return for an honest review. Thank you!
Winter in Maine is not just a season but a location, sign-posted in layers of cold-white drifts and gritty ice. – “Winter” – p. 193
Michelle Cacho-Negrete’s book of essays titled Stealing: Life in America is more than just the relating of facts about being poor in Brooklyn, of Russian Jewish ancestry, and how those combine to give a sense of identity.
Those are the bare bone facts. These essays, though, carry power. Cacho-Negrete’s power comes from her honesty and her eloquence. Her words touch exposed nerves, and reveal the wounds which come from the poverty our country refuses to acknowledge.
Her first essay, “Stealing,” begins this way, “The day I decided to steal food I instituted three simple rules: Steal only essentials, only from big chains, never brag.”
These are not the words of someone who feels entitled to what the world hasn’t given them. These are the words of a truly desperate single mother trying to make it four months until her teaching job begins. This stings, and it should. This is, we are told, avoidable if we only follow the rules and do all that’s expected of us to rise in the world.
Except …. there’s always an except in these stories. Except Cacho-Negrete did what she was supposed to do. She worked hard, got her education, married, and had children. The promise of education is that it will lift us out of our poverty and put us directly into the arms of the middle class where we will be cradled until we die.
Stealing: Life in America isn’t necessarily an indictment of a part of society we’d rather not acknowledge. It’s also not the story of “I pulled myself up by my bootstraps, you can too.” This book is an intimate look at how hard that climb is, especially if the climb starts in the Brooklyn ghetto of the 1940s and 50s.
From Brooklyn, the reader goes on a trip in search of relatives near and far. The grandfather and aunt, also in Brooklyn, her mother refuses to talk to, giving no reason to her curious daughter. In “Country of the Past”, in Finland, near the Russian border with her husband, she wonders about her Russian ancestors, and if crossing the border illegally will give her a connection at all. Would she somehow feel connected to the part of her heritage which was held in contempt always?
Physical appearance plays a part in identity. And “Hair” is about having tightly curled blonde locks in a time when having straight hair was a societal requirement in being accepted. It’s a discussion of where all the feminine outliers go to bring their unruly hair under control, and how women will do what needs to be done to fit in better. An experience not unlike what women continue to go through in 2019.
“Rejection” tells the experience of the person we all know and can’t understand. The one who gets under our skin and stays there despite our best efforts. She writes, “But I am sensitive, and always have been, to the subtle clues people put out. (p. 68)” Me too sister. And the ones we are most sensitive to are the people who just don’t like us for no good reason we can see. We weren’t given a chance to piss them off, they just seem to arrive in our lives that way. And through her neighbor’s heartache, Cacho-Negrete is kindness itself. Only to be spurned again. Telling us we’re overreacting in such cases doesn’t mean a thing. We know something’s going on, even if we don’t know what. And that’s what drives us nuts. There is no explanation for their behavior.
Michelle Cacho-Negrete’s essays gather her readers around in a warm circle while she tells stories of doing the best we can in horrible situations in which the answer is clear, but not to those who can make a change. She writes of meeting women fortunate enough to have never worried about how they spend their money. And she writes of the part of her, while now financially comfortable, who can only wonder why someone needs more than one expensive hand bag or more than two designer sweaters. Because she knows the pain of complete lack, Cacho-Negrete lives in the world of thrift stores and only buying what she absolutely needs. It is unfathomable to her to buy more.
Her journey moves to Brooklyn to Maine, where she and her second husband live a good, comfortable life. But because life is life, and nothing is ever always easy, her husband winds up in the hospital with an idiopathic condition. (The irony that the word for an unknown illness has the same first letters as idiot is not lost on me.)
Here, in “Days and Days and Days Inbetween” is the story of a different kind of pain and anxiety, told with compassion. But the longing for a diagnosis, an answer to “will he be all right” is just beneath the surface. How can it not be? In the end, yes he is all right.
While many of Michelle Cacho-Negrete’s essays resonated on a deeply emotional level with me, this did not take away from being enraptured by her story-telling ability. Eloquent, warm, matter-of-fact, and the near perfect telling of a life of adventure. Struggles overcome, an understanding of how far she’d moved from those fire escapes in Brooklyn, and a modest bit of triumphalism are what make Stealing: Life in America worth reading.
How Fiction Works by James Wood (Reread)
Stealing: Life in America by Michelle Cacho-Negrete – read 11 Jan 19
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
How literature saved my life by David Shields
Stealing: Life in America by Michelle Cacho-Negrete ~ read
Crystal Rain by Tobias S. Buckell
spook country by William Gibson
Boom! Voices of the Sixties by Tom Brokaw
Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole ~ read
The Wrong End of Time by John Brunner – DNF
Invaders from Earth by Robert Silverberg
Music of the Common Tongue by Christopher Small
Self-Consciousness by John Updike
For the first time in so many years, I’m not in utter misery looking into the New Year. 2019 holds great promise and hope for me. As unexpected as that is to say, it comes as a great relief. Books and lists are the great constant. The great coping mechanism of all time, making lists. It was like the sun shone only on me the day I realized I could combine the two and keep my sanity.
One blissful weekend in August when I was hanging out with other geeks and nerds who loved what I did my vague dissatisfaction was temporarily banished. I went to panels about writing, met authors (and a real live astronaut), sat in lines with others and talked about writing. Frequently amused that wherever there was a line, we all had some kind of device out in order to read. My device was dead tree style.
Exhaustion was my companion the entire con, but gods I was happy. Happy? How could that possibly be? When WorldCon 76 San Jose was over, the sticky film of vague unrest returned. Barf, I thought (or words to that effect, anyway). Inklings filtered through my overtaxed, hyperalert brain.
When great ideas hit it can feel like a jolt of lightning, adrenaline flowing through my spine. This idea was quieter. An author I met at WorldCon started posting about teaching writing. And so I asked, “do you have something for me?” His probing questions finally got me to the bottom of my unrest. “I want to learn to read and write about books better.”
And that’s how I found a mentor, and made the last quarter of 2018 happy. Best decision of my life ever. It’s not just the reading and writing which have evolved. Unexpected personal growth came at me like sunshine filtered through open doors. Even on the hardest of hard days when I think I can’t even get out of bed, and the writing is like carving bricks of granite with my bare hands, I know I’ll be good. Discovering the weird joys of LitCrit have given me a new dimension of meaning.
It is nearly impossible to pick just a few great books from 2018, but here’s my attempt at defining the seminal books for me.
2018 Books by the Numbers:
Title: The Geek Feminist Revolution
Author: Kameron Hurley
Publisher’s Blurb: Outspoken and provocative, double Hugo Award-winning essayist Kameron Hurley writes with passion and conviction on feminism, geek culture, the rise of women in science fiction and fantasy, and the diversification of publishing.
The first panel I attended at WorldCon 2018 was M. Todd Gallowglas’ Lit Crit for Geeks. I was enthralled. One of the writers he mentioned was you, as doing some great work in feminism. I dutifully wrote your name down in my journal.
Since then, I’ve lost my job and spend my days reading and writing and thinking. I hash things out a lot in my brain, the one that never shuts up. And then I write stuff for my mentor to read.
One evening after dinner, a friend took me book shopping. Kepler’s is this fabulous indie bookstore whose customers banded together to keep it from closing its doors. There were two names on my list that I knew would go home with me that night, yours and N. K. Jemisin. And since I didn’t know where to start with you, I picked up The Geek Feminist Revolution.
Always a voracious reader, I am inhaling them now. This is my job while I figure out about the day job, I read and write about what I’m reading. Not only does it give me direction for a life which could easily be adrift and and feeding my food addiction, it makes me stronger in so many ways.
Never really shy about self-reflection, I now have the time and space to really look at some of the things coming up right now. And sometimes, it is some scary, sad shit.
“But because my body was coded female, I was never ever assumed to have the kind of knowledge or credibility that a man would have.” (p. 37)
I read the first 38 pages of your book and sobbed. I felt so completely bereft that I had to set it aside for a week or so. Because those pages were my story. The story of being a woman and the rampant sexism which had become so normalized I didn’t see it anymore. I read your story and began to understand that not only was I not alone in this mess, but that there were ways I could raise my voice.
But first I had to reconcile some stuff within myself. Because the stuff that was coming up was more than just re-evaluating my entire life in terms of how I’d been treated because I was female, it was looking at some pretty horrifying events and having the light bulb go off. Which led to, “Well shit, no wonder. I never had a chance.”
And without going into too much detail here, there were new realizations about my parents. Then there was looking at my most recent job and realizing that it had been a put-up job from the day I walked in as a temp until the day I walked out as a no longer employed here type. Things started slamming into place. And it was scary.
I’ve been following you on Twitter and reposting some of your articles on Facebook, because you speak to me in a way that no woman ever has before. And that’s valuable to me. I’ve learned a lot from you.
Taking a deep breath, I picked The Geek Feminist Revolution up again, and only put it down when other, more pressing matters demanded my attention. It made me wish I knew you well enough to take you to dinner and ask you to just tell me stories about your life. To talk about process, and yeah it sucks to have to have a day job for the insurance, and holy shit I hadn’t realized how bad the sexism is.
There are hard truths in your book.
At my last job there was a week when I had to actually go to my manager and explain to him what being a part of the team and having a voice meant. The group admin wouldn’t put me on the meeting agenda because I didn’t have Director in my title. She would only do it if my male manager said it was okay. I was pissed. So pissed I was vibrating. And that I had to explain it several times in very small words just made it worse.
Reading your book gives me such hope. For the first time in my life, at a time when people are looking forward to retirement, I realize I still have time to make change in my world. I have time to rearrange everything I thought I knew about myself and create a different life for myself. The life I want is one which tempers my very emotional responses and allows me to reasonably explain to someone why they’re not allowed to take my voice away.
I get to figure this out, and you have motivated me to keep doing that. To read, and write, for the sheer joy of it. To understand I need a day job for the health insurance benefits, and to pay my bills. And that all of it’s okay and necessary to survive. My writing can be my night job. It doesn’t have to be a binary choice anymore.
If I could go back in time, I’d tell my middle-school self to keep writing, because writing would keep her happy and sane. I would insist she not give it up and not worry about what it looked like or sounded like. I would tell her no matter what, do not quit writing, even if it’s just a sentence about how particularly shitty the bullies were that day. “Keep writing, always,” I would whisper in her ear.
I had so much to heal from, so much to learn, it’s hard to regret it took me this long to realize what I had been keeping from myself. Reading books like yours help so much, and I don’t know how to tell you what an impact you’ve had.
I close this with an open invitation, if our paths cross at any time, dinner is my treat. It’s the least I can do, aside from buying your other books and joining your Patreon once I’m gainfully employed again.
Did I say “thank you?”