Published on December 22nd, 2015 | by Mutha Magazine1
ASK A MUTHA: What’s the Good Stuff? A Reading/Watching Picks List for 2015
This year is almost over. That is a surprise. What did you do with all that time?
Look, beloved readers, we know there are a lot of these “best of the year” reading (etc.) lists out there. But DID ANY OF YOU ASK A MUTHA? You should. So, we did!
Hey MUTHAs: What book (or film/other-piece-of-culture) really made your 2015?
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson: Maggie Nelson says exactly what I didn’t even know I was thinking, but better and smarter. I would resent her for it if I didn’t feel so grateful. Here, she takes on the subjects of parenthood, step-parenthood, queer parenthood, love and happiness… but as someone who sees and knows darkness, who distrusts narrative. My Kindle version of this book is basically one big highlighted block.
Nelson’s book was recommended by a bunch of MUTHAs. Here’s another:
A nonlinear account of building a genderqueer family, The Argonauts is both intimate and erudite, as if your favorite feminist theory professor from college suddenly wrote a momoir. As a relatively new mother, I appreciated how Nelson’s book fed my equally strong maternal hungers for inquiry and for connection. (And as your favorite feminist theory professor likely would have said–mine would have, anyway–there’s nothing intellectually unrigorous about that desire for connection; rather, sharing female experience is a political act.) – Lynne Nugent
So many books completely destroyed me this year. For gay teenage feelings I’d have to say Sara Jaffe’s Dryland, which reminded me painfully much of being 15 and being in love for the first time. C. Tyler’s Late Bloomer punched me in the feelings too–especially when she draws/writes about how haggard trying to be a working mom/artist. All her lush flowers too–dreamy/awkward comics about family and art–perfect. Also Andrew Solomon’s Far from the Tree–my favorite kind of anthropological journalism, a beautiful investigation of what love and family means when parenting children that are radically different from you. For like three weeks straight I got up at 5:00 every morning to read this book, that’s how urgent it felt to read it, better than sleep. – Kristen Stone
Citizen Four was the most impactful movie I saw this year. I mean I’d been following Edward Snowden’s story, but watching him tell his story–a story that changed the way we understand our world–really struck me. As a journalist myself, I was struck by how the media that broke the story bears the weight of retaliation. I know it’s a 2014 movie, but going to the movies is one of the things that motherhood has nearly eliminated from my world. I’m all home theater–projector + Netflix = no babysitter. – Tara Dorabji
Emily Flake’s Mama Tried: Dispatches from the Seamy Underbelly of Modern Parenting. In my 20s when I lived in Baltimore, I read Emily Flake’s comics in the Citypaper and felt like I had stumbled on some wry silly notes from a high school friend. Now that I am a frazzled new mom, I feel the same way about her comics. I’m sitting in the back of the classroom with her laughing at everyone and myself.
I should really thank my friends for not sending me links to Amber Scorah’s New York Times “Motherload” column about the death of her son Karl at 12 weeks… I found it anyway when my son was 10 weeks old and I was weeping about going back to work at 12 weeks postpartum. Just like so many of us, leave policies forced her to hand over care of her baby before she was ready. Scorah is so strong and smart. I admire her ability to bypass the straw men cut to the core problem of that caused Karl to die in the way he did. When we know the importance of bodily contact, exclusive breastfeeding and vigilance through the first six months, why do we ask women to drag their bleeding, exhausted bodies back to work?
The Babadook has the distinction of being the first movie I’ve watched all the way through since becoming a mother… and it really couldn’t have been more timely. I’ve been cheerfully cleaning up poop and spit up for a few months now, so I really needed a monster movie. In the movie, the monster is repressed mama anger. I consider it a personal warning to me about the dangers of squelching stress and anger while mothering. We all know it’s there, it’s real and it’s scary – like the Babadook! – Rachel Masilamani
I was in a dark place this year and am still not completely okay. There is a website (run by a woman) that has given me much light, hope and clarity this past year. Her name is Elsa Panizzon (she has a book) and her site is ElsaElsa, an astrology blog and forum. She’s a damn fine writer. A lot of people dismiss astrology. Well, they’re idiots. There are so many layers to it. I’ve been studying astrology since I checked a book on Libra out of the school library in Wichita Falls, Texas when I was eight years old. I see the patterns. It’s real!
Last summer I was broke and I had no social life, no lovers, no friends. So I bought some cheap canvases and paints and just painted like a demon. Now I’ve got two passions: writing and painting. Right now I’m working on a manuscript entitled MOUNTAIN. All caps intentional. I’m channeling Kathy Acker, Jackson Pollock and Virginia Woolf. I saw “Trumbo” with my ex-boyfriend last week and it blew me away. Movies about writers and painters tend to be my favorite. I named my son after Jackson Pollock. – Misti Rainwater-Lites
All I can really listen to while writing nowadays is the album Stuff Like That There by Yo La Tengo. They are all covers. My ultimate favorite is “Before We Stopped To Think,” which was originally recorded by an ’80s band called out of the midwest called The Great Plains. Ira Kaplan’s kind voice pairs really well with a main course of childhood trauma and sides of relationship frustration and parenting drama, the themes that seem to always find their way into my writing. – Frances Badalamenti
Books that made my year: After Birth by Elisa Albert (one of those books where I felt like the author had downloaded some of my exact thoughts postpartum); The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson (yep, seriously MUTHAs like this book – ed.) (I was supposed to be writing an essay about my family and then I read this and thought, I need to digest and metabolize this for a long time, there’s so much here, it will definitely inform anything I write about queer family after); Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins (which I’m not even finished reading but it’s phenomenal).
Article that I can’t stop thinking about: “The More I Learn About Breast Milk, the More Amazed I Am” by Angela Garbes in The Stranger – Wendy Ortiz (whose book Hollywood Notebook also came out this year!)
Children of Medusa by Rhea Wolf. A small edition chap book of stories and poetry about the history of violence, mythological lineage and the dark side of parenting. Rhea does’t flinch with this work, giving light to the darker moments of her journey. It is as heartbreaking as it is beautiful, and a side of motherhood that is rarely talked about. – Allison Carr
Raising Mixed Race: Multiracial Asian Children in a Post-Racial World by Sharon H. Chang. Given that mixed race families and mixed race children are the future of this country, the time is now for society, and even more importantly, families of mixed race children to really get that we need to get over any discomforts we may have about talking about race, racism, and white privilege and white supremacy and start understanding what kinds of conversations we need to have with one another as adults, and then with our multiracial children, to best prepare them to have healthy, positive ways to talk about these issues so they can go on to have healthy, productive ways of viewing themselves and their place in our country and world. And to me, one of the writers, thought-leaders and parents doing this kind of work best and really getting us all thinking in the right direction is Sharon H. Chang. Her book is so important, not just for mixed race families, in my opinion, but for any of us who cares about creating a world where true social and racial justice and equity will be possible one day. – Sharline Chiang
The fifth volume of the award winning comic book series Saga by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples that came out in 2015 continues the ongoing adventures of Alanna, Marko and their toddler Hazel as they flee authorities from both sides of an intergalactic war. Packed with memorable creatures, a multi-racial ensemble of humanoids, and a badass breastfeeding mom, this reflection on the struggles to maintain a pledge of nonviolence in a galaxy fueled by war is a must read for fantasy loving geek MUTHAs. – Sara Zia Ebrahimi
If I had to pick one thing that really made my year as a MUTHA, I’d say it was reading Siri Hustvedt’s book The Blazing World.
I heard Hustvedt read from The Blazing World at Wesley Stase’s Cabinet of Wonders last March in New York and knew I had to get the book. Hustvedt is a brilliant woman of a certain age, with big big balls. So I bought the book and almost wasn’t smart enough to read it. But I really loved the heroine–a powerful and fascinating woman/artist/mother, past her mothering years, in her creative prime. The cost, the disguises, the struggles with men are so vivid and right on. And the flaming intelligence basically burns your hair off. – Jennifer Hayden (whose The Story of My Tits came out this year and made this list!)
Keiler Roberts’ collection Miseryland reminded me once again why I love her so very much; her comics capture the brilliant bittersweet of parenting.
I watched the documentary Rich Hill, which won the Jury Prize at Sundance, during a doc-binge this summer, finishing it crouched in the hallway wearing headphones, after my daughter had woken up and moved into my bed, only temporarily back asleep. There is critique of the film as poverty porn, which I can get. But I felt the ultra-rich colors, the dreamy framing, spoke to the intensity of a child’s gaze, an empathy with the families and their world. Also, worth noting that the filmmakers have kept their support and relationship to the town ongoing after they called cut. I felt acutely for the mothers of these three boys, in the background, sometimes out of frame with their pain bleeding through as the cameras focus on their struggling young sons.
OK also, are you all watching Getting On? Can we talk about it? It is a truism that MUTHAs don’t get a lot of “free time.” Thus, lately I’m up late watching short TV shows, those I feel are worth it, whatever that means, but I can turn off without too much annoyance if a shriek pierces through the dark from the next room. I love Niecy Nash’s character DiDi, who is a mother, and embodies the maternal nature of nursing in the dark comedy. Also, I think a lot about death, and fantasize that if I wish it hard enough I could live forever. Watching this reminds me that the modern American healthcare machine is working, in fact, on extending my timeline towards the endless particular misery of living within the hospital-bound elder-care system.
And it’s pretty funny. – Meg Lemke
AND ISN’T THERE ANYTHING FOR THE CHILDREN? WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?
Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein-Stahl. I find my daughter re-reading this book over and over, and it is now my go-to gift book for parents. I love reading about the lives of these inspiring and RAD women who stood up for what they believed in and sparked change. This is the history that I want my kids to know. – Anna Doogan
Sex is a Funny Word, a new comic book about bodies, gender, and sexuality for kids aged 8-12 and their parents/caregivers/educators. This book, by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth, is so perfect and beautiful that it makes me impatient for my own kids to be old enough to read it! – Rachel Aimee (co-edited the new $pread anthology from the Feminist Press, which came out this year)
AND OK MAYBE THIS NEXT ONE IS NOT FOR KIDS? BUT AWESOME:
It’s official: Go the F*ck to Sleep has been replaced as my go-to gift for parents-to-be. My new pick, P is for Pussy, by Elissa Blount-Moorhead and Meltem Sahin, is the perfect cure for the parenting doldrums: an alphabet picture book of kinky double entendres. It’s delightfully subversive! – Deesha Philyaw
DID YOU LIKE A THING YOU READ/WATCHED THIS YEAR? Tell us about it in the comments!