What I’m reading

A Twitter thread, an essay, and a few non-fiction books about disability, health, and trauma.

A stack of three books atop a wooden table, with the spines facing the camera. The books are, from top to bottom, "Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-first Century" edited by Alice Wong, "The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness" by Meghan O'Rourke, and "What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trauma" by Stephanie Foo.

First up, the short-form stuff.

There’s this Twitter thread about why many autistic people don’t watch (or otherwise support) Netflix’s exploitative and stigmatizing show Love on the Spectrum. The replies and quote tweets are amazing, too.

There’s also this excellent essay about the casual ableism in cooking from Gabrielle Drolet, a disabled journalist, essayist, and cartoonist. The main takeaway: Items that many people turn their nose up at and consider to be lesser-than or “lazy”—like jarred minced garlic, bottled lemon juice, pre-sliced produce, and shredded cheese—are accessibility tools for disabled folks who can’t do things like chop or peel or slice.

Alright. Onto the books!

Front cover of "Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-first Century" edited by Alice Wong. The background of the cover is an off-white. The title and author's name is in black sans-serif font, against a collage of colorful triangles of varying size.

Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-first Century edited by Alice Wong.

This is the first non-autism disability-related book I picked up, and I’m very slowly making my way through it. It is, as the title suggests, an anthology of essays by disabled folks, about what life is like as a disabled person in a very ableist society.

This book has been uncomfortable to read, and for those us with deeply internalized ableist attitudes, assumptions, beliefs, and behaviors (like yours truly), I think that that’s the point.

Of the essays I’ve read so far, “The Isolation of Being Deaf in Prison” by Jeremy Woody as told to Christie Thompson is the one that has stood out to me the most. You can read the full essay on The Marshall Project’s website.

Related to that essay: A book I read a few years ago, Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Health by Alisa Roth, and a recent episode of the podcast Crime Show, which reports the story of a prisoner without teeth who was unable to eat yet denied dentures by the prison system because they only provide dentures if/when medically necessary and needing to eat was not considered medically necessary. Make it make sense!

Front cover of "What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trauma" by Stephanie Wood. The background of the cover is royal blue. The title and author's name are in a light yellow sans-serif font that appears gold-ish, with an arrangement of colorful flowers and crossbones.

What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trauma by Stephanie Woo.

The cover and the subtitle sold me—I’m a sucker for a well-designed book cover, and relatable memoir. So, a book with a gorgeous cover about a terrible thing? A real twofer, folks. Who could resist!

This book is exactly what the subtitle says it is, and the first of its kind: a memoir about healing from cPTSD. Specifically, childhood abuse and neglect, with a touch of generational trauma, and the science behind it, thrown in.

It’s a little slow to unfold for my taste, and I found it to be a little disjointed in places. Not sure if that’s a scoping issue or an editing issue. Maybe both. Whatever the case, I think this book is important and my own traumatized lil heart appreciates that more people are speaking so openly about trauma, abuse, therapy, and the hard work of healing.

A word of warning: There are some pretty detailed accounts of the author’s experiences that will be activating/triggering for some people. Reader discretion advised.

Another related-ish memoir: Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House, a lyrical memoir about domestic violence in a queer relationship.

Front cover for "The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness" by Meghan O'Rourke. The background of the cover is a lighter, sky-ish blue. The title and author's name are in a sans-serif font. A rendering of the human nervous system is in thin yellow lines, behind the title and author's name.

The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness by Meghan O’Rourke.

I’ve still got about 100 pages left but WOW. Very hard to put this one down, which I unfortunately have to do during the workday??? Dizazz.

Anyway. This book is well-researched, well-structured, and beautifully written. A great example of memoir combined with research and reportage. (In this way, it reminds me of another extremely bangin’ book: Leslie Jamison’s The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath, her memoir + cultural history + literary criticism + reportage about addiction and recovery.)

Like Disability Visibility, this books been uncomfortable to read. Because like Disability Visibility, this book has me confronting my own ableist attitudes, assumptions, beliefs, and behaviors. It’s uncomfortable to confront shitty parts of yourself!

This book is also affirming to read, because it does a great job of capturing the experience of having an invisible disability—of what it’s like when what people see on the outside doesn’t match what you feel on the inside; of knowing something about you is…off (“wrong” in the case of chronic illness, “different” in the case of autism), and no one around you understanding or believing you.

To be clear, autism is not an illness/disease. It is an invisible disability. This book is about being chronically ill, not about being autistic. Chronic illness and autism are related, however, in that they’re both largely invisible disabilities, and the descriptions in this book of those feelings of invisibility are very, very relatable to me, an autistic person.

Also, I was delighted—yes, delighted—that O’Rourke quotes/references a few of my favorite contemporary writers—Eula Biss, Sarah Manguso, and Jenny Ofill. I was also delighted to see that Biss and Esmé Weijun Wang (whose essay collection The Collected Schizophrenias I recommended at the very bottom of my post about the memoir-reportage book Pathological: The True Story of Six Misdiagnoses) blurbed this book. I clearly have a type when it comes to writers and writing.

What are you reading?

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