Women We Read This Week

A gathering of some of the best pieces by women we’ve read online this week.

Two by Emily Rapp

My favorite pieces this week, Emily Rapp’s “Dirty or Clean?” on The Rumpus and “Men Who Made My Legs” on Salon, will surprise no one: I’ve been pushing Rapp’s writing ever since I started reading her Little Seal blog (one of TIME’s 25 Best Blogs of 2012) a few weeks after my son was born, too small, in Mexico. Given that I was then twitchy with the raw insomniac fear that comes with having a newborn compounded by living in the midst of a war, or just juiced up on that teary post-partum hormone cocktail, it was probably a bad choice of reading material: Rapp began writing Little Seal after her then baby was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs, an incurable genetic disease of the nervous system.

Rapp’s writing cuts to the bone, her mind on the page is vast, and I was hooked. The new essay on The Rumpus is not about parenting a dying child (although everything Rapp writes these days inevitably is), so much as it is about love. Losing it, finding it, needing it. The piece in Salon is also about love, about navigating men and an artificial leg, and striving to find “the right match.”  Both of these essays about extreme vulnerability showcase Rapp’s facility with contradiction: love in grief, strength in vulnerability, gains in loss. Mostly, though, when I read Rapp I feel flat lucky that so far my pendulum only swings upwards.                  —Molly

Kristina Rutherford’s “Two Days (in Vegas) with Canseco,” in Sportsnet Magazine

I didn’t know much about former Major League Baseball star Jose Canseco when I sat down with Kristina Rutherford’s profile. I haven’t followed baseball since the Blue Jays won the World Series two decades ago, and I was aware, vaguely, that Canseco had a wacky Twitter presence and some connection to the steroid scandal. But I was drawn in by the story’s excruciating details – Rutherford vividly describes the broke ex-star’s efforts to keep up appearances in the wake of a ruined career – and by the underlying sadness of the piece, despite its lead character’s brashness and big talk. The subheads don’t appear in the online version, but in the magazine version the story’s final section begins with this title: “Jose Canseco is Alone.” That about sums it up.      —Eva

Sarah Stillman’s “The Throwaways,” in The New Yorker

We all know that drug informants are being forced to do dangerous work, but I didn’t realize just how dangerous, or just how blithely some police are sending these informants into that danger – informants who got caught with just an ounce of weed, informants who’ve never even seen a handgun until the dealer they’re set up to meet undercover pulls one out.

Sarah Stillman’s reporting in “The Throwaways” is impeccable: motivated, it feels, by an understated empathy that makes it impossible to look away from the killings of these informants, and from the pained loved ones they’ve left behind. It’s a beautiful, intricate, and moving piece of reporting that left me wondering how on earth it took this long for a story like this to show up.        —Simone

Amy Leach’s “Sail on, My Little Honeybee,” in A Public Space

I really thought my Intro to Creative Nonfiction students would be baffled by this essay: after months of straight-up narrative journalism – gripping story and its morals served up neat and tidy and explicit – I was wary of slapping them with this bizarre and ethereal Amy Leach piece from A Public Space. But they loved it. We read it out loud: “Glory will only coalesce on a body wherein throbs a fiery, molten, mad-stallion heart so dreadfully dense, so inescapably attractive, that it matters little the circumference of the frame.” This is an essay that makes me grateful for the sheer potential of language. It is transcendent. It makes me take notice of smells, textures, angles. It removes me for an instant from all of the swirling concerns of the day and the week, and reminds me of what writing has the potential to do. I read another story this week by Karen Russell in the latest Tin House, “Reeling for the Empire,” that does the same: it’s not online, but it’s still worth a mention. These stories are respites from all the banal and obsessive daily concerns I get mired in as a writer, and they’re harder to find than one would think.        -Sarah

Pam Houston’s “Corn Maze,” in Hunger Mountain

Some people get weirded out by Pam Houston’s nonchalance when it comes to the fiction/nonfiction divide. She’s said before that she really doesn’t care what her books are labeled: are these short stories? Sure. Memoir? Sure, if you want to call it that.

In this gorgeous, complicated, and humorous craft essay, Houston discusses her reticence to categorize while weaving in vignettes and memories (or are they?). Sometimes the subject of truth and fact in nonfiction gets a little old, but I could read Pam Houston forever, no matter what side her prose falls on. This piece discusses Houston’s process writing her latest book, Contents May Have Shifted: A Novel, and will be reprinted in Metawritings: Toward a Theory of Nonfiction. The piece itself is a maze, so I’ll just leave you with a quote that I feel sums it up: “My well-being (when and if it exists) resides in the gaps language leaves between myself and the corn maze, myself and the Las Vegas junkies, myself and the elk chest-deep in snow. It is there, in that white space of language’s limitation that I am allowed to touch everything, and it is in those moments of touching everything, that I am some version of free.”       —Amanda


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