Reading is bliss, especially when it doubles as escape. (Image Credit: Instagram/tamalynblackman)
If you ever wanted proof that the moral arc of the universe always lands in the right place, we have only to consider the fate of internet shock-jock Milo Yiannopoulos. The Breitbart editor, conservative provocateur, and all around bigoted scumbag is probably best known for being banned for life by Twitter after sending armies of trolls to harass actress Leslie Jones over the summer. He got to wallow in a bit more glory this past month when his planned speech to the Republican club at Berkeley generated protests that became a full-fledged riot. He was then invited to appear on Bill Maher’s show. Then someone unearthed a video of Milo talking to Joe Rogan, a conversation wherein Yiannopoulos defended pedophilia.
Yeah. He’s awful.
Espousing pederasty is apparently the line the far right won’t cross because Yiannopoulos lost his invitation to be a keynote speaker at the upcoming Conservative Political Action Conference. Then, to add insult to karma, Simon and Schuster revoked his book deal.
I’m not going to go into depth about my feelings about "Milo," free speech, publishing, or even riots. There are people who have done it far better than I could, and you should go read that. Roxanne Gay makes a solid judgment about Simon and Schuster’s choice here. Luvvie Ajayi brilliantly takes on the notion that speech is to be tolerated here. Read what they say.
Instead, let’s talk about books. Not Milo’s book. Milo doesn’t have a book. And given his penchant for slinking off and pouting instead of regrouping and finding a new platform when he gets canceled (ahem, he coulda rescheduled at Berkeley, ahem), it’s safe to say we probably won’t be reading his thoughts in hardcover anytime soon.
I’m ok with that.
Instead, I’d like to share a few titles you can read instead. These are books by and about women that are as joyful and affirming as Milo is hateful and divisive. So without further ado, my book recs:
She’s Not There: A Life In Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan.
You might know Boylan from Caitlyn Jenner’s reality show, but she has a much deeper career as a writer and college professor. She's written fiction and non-fiction, op-eds, and academic papers. She is the kind of writer I wish I were. She's Not There is her memoir of transitioning from male to female. Her telling of the story is deep and exploratory, but somehow she holds it lightly —like her life hasn't weighed her down. There’s so much love in the story that it makes you want to be part of her family. It’s really a gorgeous book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Insatiable: Porn - A Love Story by Asa Akira.
Sex is always an interesting subject and adult film performer Asa Akira knows that better than maybe anyone. She tells an honest and unflinching story of life as a porn actress; a life, I might add, that she loves. This woman LOVES what she does and makes no apologies. This is not a memoir of a fall and redemption. This is a memoir of a person who has reached the top of her field and adores it.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.
There is a black woman at the root of most major scientific advances of the past century. She was dead long before she made her greatest contributions and she was nearly forgotten despite her importance. In 2008, her name was revived, and her story finally told in this book. Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer in Baltimore in 1951, but researchers at Johns Hopkins discovered that the cells from a biopsy of her cervix were able to replicate without dying and were eventually disseminated to labs all over the world as a kind of control group for experiments. The so-called HeLa cells went on to be a standard part of scientific exploration to this day. But it was all done without the consent — or even the full knowledge and understanding — of Ms. Lacks or her family. The story is fascinating and well worth reading. There will be a movie version on HBO this spring produced by and starring Oprah. Of course. Oprah is life.
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch.
If this isn’t already in your children’s book collection, get a copy of it immediately. If you don’t have children, get a copy immediately. If you need to buy gifts for anyone who appreciates or needs feminist literature, get a copy immediately. This classic picture book is pure feminist genius, and everyone in the world should read it. It takes the classic princess-dragon-rescue story and turns it on its head in the best way possible. It has the happiest ending ever, and you need this book. The end.
OK, this isn’t reading material precisely, but it can be an invaluable resource in these troubled times. Suzi Parker (who is my one-time colleague at The Broad Side) is a journalist, author, and cocktail aficionado. She applies her brand of mixology to the early days of Trumpism with drinks such as "White Russian," "Draining the Swamp," and "Golden Shower.” This is a perfect addition to the library of anyone who finds that the news is driving them to drink!