Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Man Repeller Book Club! Before I spill the informative beans and tell you about our first novel, I want to tell you why I, your longtime resident astrologizer, have closed up horoscopes shop and started peddling my brain-wares in the form of book clubbery—and why this is not your mother’s book club (although she can join too, I LOVE moms).
When Mallory at Man Repeller asked me what I would do if I could do whatever I wanted, I realized that more than anything, I wanted to feel less lonely.
It’s hard for me to talk about how lonely I’ve felt because I would never want to imply that those who love me are somehow insufficient company—that’s absolutely not the case. Loneliness is not about the amount of love that other people pour into us, but rather, it is about how our own hearts can suddenly feel strange, unknowable, untouched by all that the world offers us.
Before the pandemic created the space we now must put between ourselves and everybody else, before even brushing elbows with a stranger as you passed through the same doorway became dangerous, loneliness was called an epidemic. But now that we’ve spent months six feet apart and smiling through screens, there is even more talk about how incredibly lonely so many of us feel. I had read about ten of these articles when the inspiration for this book club hit me with the intensity of a Sunday morning waffle craving. I realized that my calling as a lifelong sadgirl who, in spite of it all, wants desperately to live in this world, is to invite our loneliness into the open and offer play, curiosity, and friendship as an attempt at alchemy. I want to transform the raw material of our shared loneliness into a beautiful new thing.
The goal of this book club is to create a shared world for us that does not just live in words on paper or a screen. Every month, the selected book will guide our experience, but instead of just taking in the story, we will do experiments with visualization, mini art or journaling prompts, games that connect us to each other. I want to move our community out of the regular-degular internet friends who hang in the comments section to co-collaborators in the creation of our own intimate world. Look, I grew up with you, the community of MR readers. I started reading this site when I was in high school and it inspired me and made me feel less alone. The site has changed since those days, and so have I. Writing the horoscopes for you every month felt like passing notes in class and I loved it. Now, I want to cut first period with all of you and hang out in the parking lot smoking doobies and reading Ntozake Shange.
But Wait, What’s So Special About This Book Club?
TLDR; This is basically like a book club / performance art project / month-long game / secret society of many-gendered mystical heauxs.
More than anything, though, this book club is an experiment in how to form new kinds of intimate communities at a distance. We are up against a lot: the limitations of internet life, a pandemic, etc. I want to create opportunities for the world of our monthly novels to penetrate our lives so that we don’t just take them in, we are transformed by them.
We are going to read very good, rich, brilliant stories together, of course. But I am also going to offer you experiments to make these stories live off the page and more deeply in your life. Then at the end of the month, we’re going to have a little disembodied virtual party and, yes, of course, there will sometimes be a dress-up theme and/or show-and-tell and probably some games and a mystery. I want us to find ways to connect with each other beyond the comments section, too: I’m talking massive secret Santas and pen pal networks and seed exchanges and scavenger hunts and all kinds of stuff that I have not yet schemed up a way to accomplish!
Okay, Sarah, We Get it. We’re in. Tell Us What the First Friggin Book Is!
The first book club selection is The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
Pre-order it riiiiiiiiiiiight here.
This multivocal novel is a masterful winding and unwinding of the tethers of love, shame, identity, intimacy, and violence. Vivek, a queer boy born to a family in which gender and sexuality are rigidly defined, is the gravitational center around which the rest of the story orbits. We see Vivek’s life and the lives of those who loved him form intricate webs of cause and effect, of possession and loss, like a game of Cat’s Cradle—we know the strings will come apart but we are captivated by the shape they make in the air.
I chose this book because it made me want to live. It made me understand my own life as not a fixed possession that I am given at birth and take with me when I die, but instead as a dynamic, fluxing thing that is fed and shaped by so many other lives.
The story takes us into the intimate worlds of each character, with chapters moving fluidly between consciousness and the voice that sees all of them moving and making choices. In reading this story, I felt myself wriggle out of the lonely constraints of my own body and mind as I moved into the electrified heart of Emezi’s characters.
The book comes out on Tuesday, August 4th. You can pre-order it from Bookshop.org right now and it will ship out as soon as the book-birthing gates open next week. By the way, if you’re not sure you can afford a new book right now, keep an eye on our Instagram—we’ve got something coming for you. And speaking of Instagram, the author has quite a handle of their own (long story short a cat named Güs is involved). Wanna give them a follow too?
Ok, ok, ok—you’ve pre-ordered your book! Now, here are some activities I’ve created to help you cross through the threshold and enter the grand experiment of our book club and the world of this novel.
Experiment #1: A Wee Meditation
Of course there is meditation, silly! How else would we embark on a grand introspective adventure!? Tarry with me here. When you receive your book, before you even open it, you will do a short meditation as a kind of entrance ceremony.
Set a timer for 10 minutes. Begin by sitting comfortably. Close your eyes and take three deep breaths, making your exhale a deep sigh. Then, begin the 4-7-8 breathing technique to calm your nervous system and quiet your mind. It goes like this:
Inhale softly through your nose while counting to four. Hold your breath in without tensing your muscles while counting to seven. Exhale through your mouth, making a wooshing sound, while counting to eight.
Repeat the full cycle at least five times.
Then, start by imagining the presence of one of your most beloved people near you. Keep taking deep breaths and lingering on the sensation of their presence, listen for their laugh, imagine their hand on your shoulder or your hand. Gradually, allow yourself to call another beloved to mind and repeat the process. Keep going, paying attention to your breath, calling into the room all of the people in your life that make you feel warm and held until you feel a crowd of those who love you or have loved you surrounding you. It’s okay if you can’t see everyone clearly or other feelings and thoughts emerge, just keep breathing and return to that first strong bond. Linger here in this crowd for a few breaths and when you’re ready, blink open your eyes.
Experiment #2: Returning to Your Warmest Room
In the novel, there’s always the marauding threat of a mob, of violence, of the encroaching world that wishes to do damage to all beautiful and free things. And yet, there are these moments and spaces in the book where love forms a salt circle around the characters. These are the stolen moments between intimates that we’ve all miraculously been welcomed into at one time or another.
This is your middle school best friend’s house whose parents are never home, where you pierced your best friend’s belly button, where you fell asleep in your best friend’s bed and tried for the first time to imagine what it would be like to be a grownup who could sleep next to someone who loved you. This is your first apartment with your roommates who you don’t really keep in touch with anymore, but meant everything that one too-hot summer when you were too broke to do anything but lay around in your underwear and tell each other your life stories. These are the rooms that made you want to live, made you feel like the people with you were the whole world and if they were the whole world then this world was a good one.
Before we dive into the book and encounter the people who stood in these rooms with Vivek, I want you to return to a room where you felt totally held, even if it didn’t last, especially if it didn’t last. I want you to write for at least 10 minutes without stopping about this room. Who was there? What does the light look like? Which snacks did you eat or want to eat? What did you feel like in that room? What was your hair doing? What were you listening to? Build your room vividly for yourself. Keep this writing, you’ll want to refer to it later.
Experiment #3: Time Travel
This is the most important/fun part. We need to get ourselves a totem of the room, a physical object that sends you back to that place, that moment, where you were your freest. Maybe the bedsheets were buttercup yellow so you mask up and go buy yourself a sunflower. Maybe you drank more Diet Dr. Pepper than should even be legal and even though you’ve been abstaining for years, maybe you find yourself a can and sip it slow. Maybe your best friend always had beads in her braids, so you scroll through Etsy hunting out that perfect red glass. Find a detail from the room and then find yourself an object that, every time you touch it, it sends you back to that room. This might feel bittersweet, especially at first, but don’t worry! This is part of the project. Let those feelings rise up in you, acknowledge them and take deep breaths. If you stay with those feelings all the way through, they will begin to give way to the light, warm love at the core of the memory.
Record your thoughts and keep your totem with you all month. At our virtual party book club meetup make sure to have your totem handy, there will be an opportunity for some of you to share and I am absolutely dying to hear about it.
Want to make sure you get invites for the forthcoming #MRBookClub Facebook Group and our virtual meet-up later this month? Sign up here.
Graphics by Lorenza Centi.