A DISORIENTING READING LIST FROM JAC JEMC
In the realm of book blurbs, “losing oneself in a story” is one of the most unavoidable clichés. See also: “gripping reads,” “page-turners,” a book you “can’t put it down.” The specific experience of “losing oneself,” though, has a dissociative implication. Why is this the measure of a book’s worth? Why is the best-case scenario being able to leave one’s self behind? What happens when we, as readers, lose ourselves to a story that has also become disoriented in some way? Where do these circles of the Venn diagram overlap?
As a reader, my favorite way of losing myself is by investing myself in a storyline that falters in its security. I love the feeling of being knocked off-kilter, unsure of what’s to be trusted. This often coincides with the methods of communication getting scrambled in some way. Maybe the narrator changes the way they’re speaking and that alters my relationship to how literally I’m supposed to take their words. Maybe a certain expectation had been set as to the type of story I was being told, and it becomes clear that the story is shifting its course. Maybe reality appears to unhinge and allow in more possible varieties of event than had previously been expected.
I become engrossed in figuring out some new version of logic and regaining my equilibrium. Some fiction does you the service of providing answers, some allows you room to interpret, and some stays open until the very end, lingering in uncertainty. Whether I’ve worked my way out of the maze or not by the end, it is these disorienting texts that interest me the most. Below are six titles that have done just this for me.
Elena Ferrante, Troubling Love
Everyone loves the Neapolitan Quartet, and for good reason, but my favorite of Ferrante’s books is Troubling Love, a disgusting ride in a broken down elevator of a book, opening onto different hallucinatory floors. The viscera of this book had me longing for a grosser literature that didn’t ignore the body in the way it usually does. The narrator, Delia, is unsure of her memories in a way that feels familiar and dangerous. Her mother is not who Delia thought she was and these revelations have both Delia and the reader wondering who to trust. Every scene feels like it might be a dream, and, the reader is forced to proceed with a tentative faith, testing possibilities and reconciling that all of the truths might exist at once.