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The five pieces Lit Hub readers loved last week…

Aaron Robertson

May 20, 2019, 12:44pm

If you’re a regular Lit Hub reader, you know that we publish quite a bit every day of the week. No one can be expected to read everything, but we thought it might be helpful to start offering a weekly round-up of five stories that got the most reads. Without further ado, for the week of May 13th. . .

“A Brief History of Queer Language Before Queer Identity” by Jeanna Kadlec

“In a time when right-wing nationalism is sweeping the globe, the stakes can feel so high when reclaiming long-dead writers as queer, as trans; when saying, we have always been here.”

2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, and Americans still find themselves living in a nation whose executive branch regularly advances non-inclusive policies on gender and sexual expression. Jeanna Kadlec argues that people who identify as queer and transgender might not be as “marginal” as we’re often told. Kadlec, whose own interests led her to study the literature of “the long 18th century”, finds that the language we use to talk about sex and sexuality is often changing, in the post-Enlightenment tradition of excessive medical and legal categorizing, which in turn shapes how queerness is understood. The “queering” of authors like Walt Whitman, Mary Wollstonecraft, Djuna Barnes and others, while potentially liberatory, also asks us not to get too comfortable with any one definition.

“Is Masculinity a Terrorist Ideology?” by Lacy M. Johnson

“I spent two and a half of the worst years of my life in a relationship with an abuser, so I know that not every act of domestic violence becomes fatal, and not all fatal violence makes it on the news.”

Lacy Johnson draws from harrowing incidents in her own life to reflect on Rachel Louise Snyder’s No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us. Snyder herself spent decades reporting on global violence and human rights abuses, and in her book discusses some of the unsettling forces that keep domestic violence “hidden”: economic and emotional dependence on an abusive partner (almost always a man), that partner’s legal rights over property and children, a nebulous grasp of technological abuse’s consequences, and so on. Johnson’s provocative thesis is that perhaps masculinity itself is the soil that yields the impulse toward violent radicalization. The partition between violence in the home and more publicized acts of terrorism (bombings, mass shootings, borderland abuses) is thinner than we’re comfortable admitting.

“Some Writing Advice: Don’t Take Others’ Advice” by Guy Gavriel Kay

“Writing advice is an industry on steroids.”

With humor and verve, fantasy author Guy Gavriel Kay makes a compelling case for why writers shouldn’t view the routines of other writers as sacred or infallible. It’s all right if you don’t write every day, it’s okay if you scribble on napkins on trembling trains, or prefer your lap to a writing desk. The only rule is that the writer should give herself flexibility. Reading about the practices of your favorite author should be amusing, not anxiety-inducing. Kay includes a great anecdote about Terry Pratchett’s shocking industriousness while attending a ceremony as the guest of honor, which itself makes this a worthwhile read.

“Discovering an Iconic Literary Character Was Based on Your Grandfather” by Brian Birnbaum 

“Juxtaposed with Jon’s excitement is the realization that his grandfather, who seldom spoke of the war, was once throttled in this paradoxical vise of patriotic duty and personal welfare. At the center of his struggle lay what is now a widely-accepted trauma.”

Was Joseph Heller’s Capt. John Yossarian, the protagonist of Catch-22, based on a man named Julius Fish, one of Heller’s wartime mates in the 340th bombardment group and a fellow bombardier? Almost certainly. Brian Birnbaum relates the unusual story of this discovery, which wouldn’t have been possible without the considerable sleuthing of Fish’s grandson, Jonathan, who trawls through archives and Julius’s war journal, consults historians and goes down just about every rabbit hole imaginable to conclude that Julius’s own reservations about his role in WWII, and even the details of his missions, inspired the classic novel that still has us talking.

“Gabriel García Márquez on Life in 1950s Paris” by Gabriel García Márquez 

“I declared to a journalist something that seemed hard to believe: the Algerian Revolution is the only one for which I’ve actually been imprisoned.”

Gabriel García Márquez couldn’t have gotten off the train in Paris at a more auspicious time, or disastrous, depending on how you look at it. During the years of the Algerian Revolution, Márquez found himself in a city that, on the one hand, embraced a kind of postwar optimism—couples kissing openly in the streets—while confounding any old Latin American ex-pat for a revolutionary. At one point Márquez is jailed with Algerians. Was this better than staying in a continent ruled by patriarch-generals? Márquez, for one, thinks there were lessons to be learned. Even the “loveliest city on earth” had streets full of shit, ready to be collected.

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