This is the first installment of a new series in which Believer staff make note of things they like. The things recommended will come from all corners of this gorgeous and oversaturated culturescape. They might be timely or they might not. They might feature accounts of hand kinks or they might not (this one does). If you are interested in sharing things with us that you think we will like, please mail them to:
The Believer Magazine
4505 S. Maryland Parkway
Las Vegas, NV 89154
Samuel Delany’s autobiography
W.H. Auden bit his nails, and Samuel Delany would know. Delany, who once had the poet and his partner over for shrimp curry, has a thing for hands—a kink not just sexual but artistic, expressed all over the writer’s prolific output of fiction. Broken and cracked hands show up in many of the science-fiction giant’s twenty novels, and a key to navigating Delany’s particular prehensile map can be found in an early autobiography, The Motion of the Light in Water. Noted there are the “work-hardened hands” of a construction worker he blows by the Christopher Street waterfront; “the soap-white hands” of his then-wife, poet Marilyn Hacker; and his father’s “long hand with its slightly clubbed fingers.”
His father, Delany writes, died of lung cancer in 1958, when he was seventeen. But the date’s a lie, a sleight of hand on the part of the writer’s unconscious that Delany himself only discovered when two scholars from Pennsylvania later put together a chronology of his life. His father actually died in 1960, when he was eighteen. The discrepancy between fact and memory is at the core of The Motion and their interplay is much of what makes the book perceptive and rich. Delany does write about his time at Bronx Science, about when he worked as a stock clerk at Barnes and Noble, his stint in the village as a minor folk guitarist. He tells anecdotes about having almost opened for Bob Dylan, going to see a Happening of Allan Kaprow’s, ditching New York to fish in the Gulf Coast with a lover named Bob. He writes about his months-long live-in threesome with Bob and Marilyn, his open-marriage and sexuality, and the anonymous men he’d regularly fuck. But more than just recount details, The Motion emphasizes the unreliability of memory. It’s a book that shows how fathers die both when you’re eighteen, and again when you’re seventeen, too.
Put another way: Delany refers to a system he had for writing in a notebook where on one side, he’d write fiction. When he wanted to journal, he’d flip over the notebook and write from the back. Eventually the two sides met in the middle, and the system broke down. He’d write fiction into the journal and vice-versa. This destruction of categories is all over his autobiography. The neat labels of Delany’s identity (“a black man”; “a gay man”; “a writer”) open and expand. Rules break down and time moves on. Facts often aren’t the case. In other words: life happens.
“When I shook Auden’s hand,” Delany writes, “I noticed he was a nail-biter and fell in love with him a little bit.” And as a reader, processing life alongside Delany, it’s hard not to fall in love with the way he sees the world: its surface cracked, bitten, everything a little broken.
—Hayden Bennett, Deputy Editor
A novel by Sayaka Murata
Convenience Store Woman, the first novel from bestselling Japanese author Sayaka Murata to be translated into English, takes place almost entirely within the self-sustaining ecosystem of the Japanese konbini. The detail in the book is perfectly rendered, down to the shelf arrangements of the onigiri; like her protagonist Keiko, Murata actually did work in a convenience store for the better part of her adult life. Keiko’s sole ambition is to be a flawless employee of the Smile Mart—serviceable, reliable, invisible, with no appetites of her own, certainly not love or sex. Sexlessness, in fact, is a recurring theme of Murata’s work (see her brilliantly deadpan story “A Clean Marriage”) and, for her, the absence of carnal messiness represents not loneliness or emotional insecurity but a pure sort of individual freedom. It’s an attractive vision in its simplicity—I can imagine a day when asexuality will emerge in earnest as an alternative lifestyle. Until then, we have Murata as an antidote to storylines dominated (both on-screen and off) by sex.
—Camille Bromley, Features Editor
A documentary series on Netflix, directed by Dawn Porter
This four-part documentary series compiles film footage and interviews with close associates and friends of Kennedy, giving an intimate look at the evolution of one of this country’s most enigmatic and beloved politicians. The film’s depiction of Kennedy’s transition from tough attorney general to hero of the people proves that his true strength came from his vulnerability—his ability to connect with the underprivileged and his genuine desire to help them. It’s a necessary reminder of what political courage actually looks like, when it’s in such short supply today.
—Zinzi Clemmons, Associate Editor
A nonfiction book by Lucas Mann
You don’t have to be a fan of reality TV to enjoy Lucas Mann’s latest book, Captive Audience: On Love and Reality TV. Part confessional memoir, part love letter, and part criticism, the text speaks to Mann’s wife in the second person, dissecting the couple’s shared love of the genre. It’s always interesting to listen to someone talk about a thing they are obsessed with but it’s particularly interesting to listen to Mann, whose intellect and willingness to be vulnerable distinguish his work. Mann has written about his brother’s heroin overdose (Lord Fear) and minor league baseball (Class A) and while this book is primarily about reality TV, at its core, it is really an exploration of desire—specifically the desire to be seen.
“But I want to tell you how bad I want it,” Mann writes. “Whatever it is that’s required to be seen, I want that. Above all, maybe. I put so much effort into obscuring that desire because of the risk in voicing it, how easy it is to fail at a stated ambition, and how voracious that ambition feels whenever I acknowledge it.”
How can we desire exposure and fear it at the same time? And why do we judge the desire for exposure so intensely, both in ourselves and in others? These are questions for this moment, certainly, and Mann does not settle for easy answers. He looks hard, thinks deeply, and confesses himself.
—Daniel Gumbiner, Managing Editor