The book features interviews with Clay Shirky, Helen Lewis, Maha Atal, Leigh Alexander, William Gibson and other folks who ought to know about how gender is working on the internet right now. It’s about fucking, feminism, gifs, trolling, the roots of geek misogyny and the future of sex. It’s a timely ebook extract from my bigger book, Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution, which will hit shops next year.
I’m in Sweden right now, for a digital media conference, where I spoke with Kate Miltner and Anita Sarkeesian about online harassment- what it is, how it works and why it lowers visions. You can watch the videos from that here, but they come with a trigger warning, particularly the last one, which is where the audience started tearing up.
This afternoon I was hauling my suitcase between temporary living spaces in Brooklyn when I nearly tripped over this pile of books, abandoned on the pavement next to some rubbish bins. They were stacked neatly, and as I went through the titles I found myself wondering whose books they were, what sort of person would have this little collection, and why they would abandon them like this. Nearly all of these books are by and about women from all over the world, some of them autobiographical, about overcoming childhood trauma and cultural dissonance. Whoever bought and read and loved these books – and they had been read, all of them, some more than once by a person not entirely careful with spines or page-corners – are these their favourite books? Were they having a clear-out? Could it simply be that they’ve bought an e-reader and they’re making space in their bedroom? Are they leaving town forever?
I was tempted to take one, as I always am when I see books abandoned, books for free, books that look tempting, like they might be full of treasures brighter and braver than the everyday world I inhabit or, at very least, have some decent smutty bits. But I’m between houses again and I’m already carrying around more books than I ought to be. I have seven in my suitcase right now. Some of them have been with me through five different countries this summer as I’ve been travelling around reporting. When nothing seems solid, books are something to cling to, and I always have, often physically. I remember when I was very small and spent a great deal of time on my own, I would always have a book open over my arm, clutched to my chest so that if I saw anything that frightened me I could instantly open it and be back in the story, the way some children won’t put their stuffed animals down.
Books are physically important. Abandoned books fascinate me; I’m always abandoning books when I’ve finished them and have too much else to carry. I like to leave them on trains, on park benches or on the tables in cafes, hoping someone needful will find them. I’d leave little notes inside if I weren’t an enthusiastic combatant in the ongoing War On Twee.
Summer is always the time when I’m most prone to depression, to stifling anxiety, to suddenly packing all my belongings into a bag and leaving in the middle of the night. Books stop you doing that. If you’ve got a serious collection, you can’t just up and leave: furniture can be replaced but a personal library, full of your ideas and memories, that’s a treasure that has to be packed into boxes and shipped. Books can stop you leaving home, if you let them, even if actually reading them makes you long to leave. Building a library is exciting and adult but it is also dangerous, especially if you do it with someone else.
Recently I was sleeping with a young man with a large and impressive personal library which utterly dominated his small room: the bed was low, and he had put up the bookshelves around it on two walls so they loomed over it. After sex, or in the small, sleepy bits of the morning tangled in week-old blankets, all you could see was those books, lovingly arranged. You woke up staring at books; you screwed staring at books; there must have been boxes and boxes worth, the whole weight of them hanging off the walls, and no matter how securely they were held it was impossible not to worry that they would fall in the night and crush you.
Me, I carry around my library in my head. I’ve just bought an e-reader and it’s liberating, but it’s not the same; not the same as carrying around a story or a history until you don’t need it anymore and passing it on, a bit battered, full of scribblings. Maybe someday I will be ready to unpack and settle, and maybe then, I’ll want books to weigh me down. Not just yet though.
Laura Watts at the Chicago #noNATO protests, May 2012, by Molly Crabapple.
Discordia is coming!
We’ve been waiting to announce this for a while. On the 4th of July, the splendid Ms Molly Crabapple and I are going to Greece to do some reporting, meeting up with activists and community organisers on the ground in Athens and elsewhere. Molly is an artist who lives in a loft full of birdcages opposite Zucotti Park; I’m a journalist who lives out of a large red backpack on Molly’s floor. We met during Occupy Wall Street and have spent the past several months experimenting with making things happen together – when I went to cover the protests in Chicago and Montreal this summer, I took pictures on my phone and sent them to Molly, who created art from them. Discordia, however, is the first trip where both of us will be there on the ground. She will make pictures, I will make words, we will try very hard not to get arrested or deported, and all shall be marvellous. Discordia is an experimental art-and-journalism project, taking the Hunter Thompson-Ralph Steadman macho model and twisting it to our own ends, and it’ll be published as an ebook in the Autumn.
Putting this project together has been interesting from the start, as I assumed we’d be staying on the floor of a squat and Molly assumed we’d be in some sort of bougie hotel with taps that actually work, and the process of gradual compromise began there, as did my exhortations that Ms Crabapple wear shoes that are at least vaguely sensible. Right now we’re learning rudimentary Greek, pestering contacts and reading a great deal, and whatever happens while we’re there, we hope to produce something really innovative and worthwhile. Stay tuned!