The Future Of The Future Of Books

Thoughts on Amazon, e-books, and the future of how we read words.

Nathan Pyle / BuzzFeed

Everything Is About to Change (for Real This Time)

The year I graduated high school, the media was overrun with speculation about a new technology set to shake the foundation of the world. What was it? We weren’t told, exactly. All we knew was that code name “IT” was so revolutionary that we would have to rebuild our cities from scratch. Techie god Steve Jobs declared it “as big a deal as the PC.”

At the end of the year, the product that was about to blow our minds to the future was revealed: the Segway.

A dorky scooter.

Instead of forcing us to rebuild our major metropolises, the Segway managed to be a prop for blowhards on TV sitcoms. I think I’ve seen one twice in real life.

I was thinking about the Segway again as I’ve fallen into a hole of reading about Amazon versus Hachette, e-books, self-publishing, and Kindle Unlimited. Most articles and nearly every comment thread are filled with declarations that e-book dominance is already here. The publishers are “dinosaurs” who don’t see the “paradigm-shifting” “sea change” and aren’t creating “proactive” new “business models” in the wake of this “disruptive” “revolution.” Anyone who reads print is a “luddite” propping up a “dying industry.” If they don’t get on board soon, they’re doomed!

Strangely, you can read those same comments in articles from last year. Or five years ago. Or 10.

It’s been over 15 years since the first dedicated e-readers were released, and over seven since the first Kindle. Today, about 15% of consumer spending on books is electronic and about 30% of books sold are e-books. The majority of book readers still only read in print, and only 6% of readers read e-books exclusively. It’s clear that e-books are here to stay, but it’s less clear that the complete dismantling of the publishing industry is around the corner.

Technology Is Only a Straight Line in Retrospect

I’m the online editor for Electric Literature, an organization dedicated to new literary models and technologies. I’m active on social media, I’ve crowdfunded a book, and I’ve published e-only works. I’m hardly a luddite who hates the internet, and indeed I get excited about the new possibilities for reading and literature out there.

Still, I roll my eyes at the constant declarations that the future is here all over again. Every new product is a revolution, every app will completely change how we communicate. A pair of “smart boxers” that monitors your farts per day is the future of underwear. An e-toothpick that tweets your gum health is a paradigm shift in dentistry. It’s true that there are always people who resist change, and industries that collapse because of it. It is also true that new “revolutions” fail to occur on a monthly basis. Even the most forward-thinking writers get their predications way off.

Technological progression always looks like a straight line in retrospect, but only because we ignore the supposed sea changes that fail. Movies were black and white without sound, then black and white with sound, then color with sound. But what happened to Smell-O-Vision? And five years after Avatar, why hasn’t 3D completely taken over the way we watch movies instead of being a declining sideshow? On the one hand, it’s easy to see the progress from early cell phones to modern smartphones. And yet, the fact that it was phones that progressed that quickly instead of, say, consumer vehicles (still no flying cars?) would shock time travelers from as recently as 1994.

The Future of Books Is Hypertext! No. It’s POD! No. It’s Enhanced E-Books! Apps! Netflix for Books! None of Those? Wait. It’s Cloud Storage!

In Bloomberg, Leonid Bershidsky recently declared that the Amazon-Hachette dispute is silly because both companies “fail to recognize is that in the world of digital literature, book ownership will soon be an anachronism.” The actual future of books, according to Bershidsky, is “an enormous digital library in the cloud, where any book could be borrowed.”

I could see a cloud service working, but it’s another amusingly confident prediction that contradicts previous confident predictions. Is the future cloud borrowing instead of Netflix model? Is it “an interactive novel read on a Google Glass“? Is it apps? Social writing networks like Wattpad? Print on demand (POD) machines on every corner? Nano-narrative book bots plugged directly into your eyeball?

Likely all of those things will have some role, however small, in 10 years’ time. But one thing that all of these predictions miss is that people actually like physical books. They like holding them. They like putting them on bookshelves and coffee tables. Hotels and retail stores buy bulk used books for decoration. Many people who buy exclusively e-books still like to browse in physical bookstores and look at physical books.

The printed book is far from dead.

Nathan Pyle / BuzzFeed

Books Are Not Music

The favorite comparison for print doomsayers is the music industry. Although Bershidsky rightly points out that financially the publishing industry is adapting to the digital world much better than the music industry did, he still falls back into the default comparison:

[…] the book market is following the music market’s technological development path. It progressed from hardcover and paperback books — analogous to vinyl LPs and CDs — to Amazon’s Kindle, which could be used to purchase books from Amazon the way Apple Inc. sold songs to iPod users through its iTunes store.

Since this comparison is made ad nauseam, I’d like to take a detour and list some reasons why I’ve always thought it was off:

  • New music formats were improvements while new print formats were variety. New music formats had more functions (fast-forwarding, skipping around, etc.), were smaller, and held larger amounts of information. Trade paperbacks were cheaper, less sturdy version of hardcovers, and mass market paperbacks were cheaper and flimsier still. Book formats were meant to capture different parts of the market; music formats were meant to replace previous formats.
  • In a 20-year period, consumers were asked to move from vinyl to cassette tapes to CDs to MP3s –and to buy new devices to play them with each time. You read paperback and hardcover with the same set of hands and eyes.
  • There are numerous industry differences too, but in the interest of keeping this relatively short I’ll stick to one: the music industry was built around using singles to sell albums. Customers often felt forced into paying full album price just to access the one or two songs they wanted. Readers, however, do not buy novels to read the one chapter they like over and over.

Dinosaurs Don’t Always Die

Even if you believe that the publishing industry is just another bunch of “dinosaurs” like the music and movie industries, it doesn’t follow that the big publishers are dying. Last time I checked, the rise of Netflix and YouTube haven’t stopped the box office from being dominated by the same movie studios rebooting the same franchises with the same famous actors. While a few superstars have risen from self-publishing, it still remains the usual pack of Big 5 Kings and Rowlings topping the best-seller lists.

As a fan of independent music, small presses, and weirdo films, I’m not cheering this on. I wish that the early ’00s vision of the internet allowing the passionate indies to topple the giant corporations had panned out. At best, though, we’ve traded a handful of old corporations for new, larger ones (Amazon, Apple, Google, etc.) and actually made it harder for artists to survive.

The internet has made people expect “content” (a gross term for art) to be very cheap or free…even when that content is advertising for rich corporations. While everyone can produce and spread art, it’s becoming increasingly hard to actually make any kind of living off of it. The people in position to capitalize are always the rich, and so the big movie studios are able to leverage the global markets and the established music industry players have been able to leverage music licenses to car commercials. While a lot of self-publishers have this idea the Big 5 hate and fear them, the truth is closer to the opposite: The Big 5 have started to look at the typo-ridden Wild West of self-publishing as a kind of digital slush pile from which they can snatch up the works that build an audience. (Publishers are even trying to re-create this dynamic under their umbrellas.)

The dinosaurs, it would seem, are much better at adapting than we think.

The Future of Books Tomorrow…Today!

Since I’ve taken some jabs at other people’s overconfident predictions, here’s where I post my own predictions for future bloggers to mock.

It’s possible that in the distant future we will “read” by injecting word venom into our bloodstream, but I don’t think printed books are going away anytime soon. (Predictions beyond a decade are pretty pointless in conversations about contract negotiations or what way to publish your work today.) E-books will continue to grow, but print will remain a large portion and probably capture a majority of dollars spent for the near future. If there’s a reason to be bearish on print, it’s the shuttering of physical bookstores (although indie bookstores are experiencing a bit of a comeback). If there is any reason to be bearish on e-books, it is that dedicated e-readers are already nearly obsolete.

The reason that neither e-books nor print will die is that both have separate advantages. Print books are easier to flip through, easier to write in, look nicer on your shelf, and — as recent studies have indicated — the human brain processes information on them better. (That’s before getting into questions of DRM, poor formatting, the inability to loan or resell your e-books, and so on.) E-books obviously have advantages too. You can bring one slim device on a long trip instead of a half-dozen books. If you are connected to the internet, you can purchase instantly, look up words, and share bits with friends. Etc.

The film industry seems like a good comparison in how the mediums don’t compete as much as capture different markets. Diehard fans go to the theater and buy Blu-rays, regular fans go to theater now and then and maybe rent from iTunes, and casual fans just watch whatever happens to come to Netflix or Redbox. It’s easy to imagine diehard readers buying special editions or hardcovers, while regular readers get the paperback or e-book, and readers who don’t care as much about specific authors will buy whatever e-books go on sale.

And what about these “Netflix for books” services? People have been predicting their ascendance for some time, but I’m still skeptical. A big part of how Netflix works is by having a ton of crappy films and shows that casual viewers would never pay movie ticket prices for but will watch for no additional charge. My guess is that there are fewer readers like that, and people who do read that way can fill that need with extremely cheap used books or self-published e-books (thousands of which can be gotten for between $0.00 and $2.99). Unless these services figure out how to offer something new — exclusive content à la Netflix? — they won’t be a major force.

The ease of e-book publication combined opens up a lot of possibility for companies and organizations to become their own publishers. We have already seen magazines and newspapers start to publish e-books. Not only will this trend increase, but it will expand to other areas. TV shows and movie franchises publishing additional e-book material for diehard fans perhaps?

What about self-publishing versus print generally? I tend to think that framing them as opposing forces obscures the fact that they are, to a large degree, different worlds. Self-publishing has opened up new markets — some that big publishers overlooked, some that they didn’t want to be involved in — more than it has eaten away at traditional publishing sales. (If Amazon succeeds in drastically lowering e-book prices, the reverse may happen though.) Rather than self-publishing or traditional publishing, authors in genres like romance, fantasy, and sci-fi will increasingly go “hybrid.”

Despite the regular hyping of enhanced e-books/hypertext/apps/interactive books, I don’t see those going anywhere outside of a few specific markets like children’s books and textbooks. The problem is that we already have a whole industry devoted to interactive narratives: video games. Art forms survive by figuring out what makes them unique, not by trying to emulate other mediums.

What Can Books Do Better

Currently, publishers just convert their paperback books to e-book and self-publishers POD the same books they sell digitally. Just as art forms need to push their unique advantages, I think the future of books is pushing the unique advantages of different formats.

In print, you will see more focus on design. In the last few years, we’ve seen an increase in special editions, beautifully designed and smartly curated series, and books that really have to be read on paper due to unique layouts or interior art.

In e-book land, I can see a lot of ways to exploit the advantage of digital files. A lot of self-published authors “bundle” short novels or stories together to let readers sample different authors. There is no reason that traditionally published authors couldn’t do that too. Maybe presses will sell cheap “samplers” of the writers on their catalog like music labels used to do. An e-book file can be as long as you want, so why not include bonus materials that would muck up a print book? (Here’s a more dystopian e-book vision: e-book apps that are free to download and start, but require in-app purchases to finish the entire narrative or get bonus material.)

And what about using POD technology to allow customers to create their own anthologies from a publisher’s catalog? Publishers need to find ways to use the different advantages of each type of book, and figure out what kind of work can be done on e-book but not print, or POD but not hardcover.

You will also, I think, increasingly see e-books used to supplement the print edition. From J.K. Rowling writing new Harry Potter stories on her Pottermore website to Adele Waldman writing an e-single story from the POV of a minor character in her novel, writers are starting to figure out how to use digital distribution to provide additional material to readers.

In short, the various formats will cohabitate peacefully…at least until the next dinosaur-killing, paradigm-shifting, sea-changing, revolutionary technology appears.

***

Lincoln Michel’s fiction appears in Tin House, Electric Literature, Unstuck, NOON, and elsewhere. He is a co-editor of Gigantic magazine and Gigantic Worlds, a forthcoming anthology of science flash fiction. Sometimes he draws authors as monsters. He tweets at @thelincoln.

Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/lincolnmichel/the-future-is-never

I Sought Solace In My Bookshelf

Amidst protests against police brutality, Daniel José Older returns to a favorite novel and explores the misreading of rage.

Justine Zwiebel / BuzzFeed

Two weeks ago, marching through the streets with a thousand other people, our open hands raised to the nighttime skyscrapers, I thought of Oscar Wao. Across the country, protesters shut down bridges and highways and raised a collective voice of dissent, which the media quickly simplified into a rage-filled sound bite and simulcasted across the world over images of cop cars burning in the streets of Ferguson.

Toward the end of Junot Díaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Oscar marches through a cane field to what he’s sure will be his death. He sends telepathic messages of love to his mom, his tío, his sister Lola, and all the women he ever loved: “Olga, Maritza, Ana, Jenni, Karen, and all the other ones whose names he’d never known — and of course to Ybón.”

On Nov. 24, prosecutor Bob McCulloch told the world that the broad-daylight murder of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown didn’t warrant so much as a trial. The same day, Marissa Alexander began her prison sentence for firing a warning shot while defending herself from domestic abuse. Policemen had killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice the Saturday before and Akai Gurley the week before that. Last Tuesday, a grand jury here in New York decided that Eric Garner’s death by strangulation at the hands of the New York Police Department also wasn’t worth a trial. Before that it was Ramarley Graham, Rekia Boyd, 7-year-old Aiyana Jones, all unarmed, and many, many more. The U.S. judicial system has made it clear that blackness itself is a capital offense and doesn’t deserve the benefit of a trial.

And now let’s draw lines. As two of the original organizers of the Black Lives Matter Freedom Rides, Patrisse Cullors and Darnell L. Moore write: “We could not allow Ferguson to be portrayed as an aberration in America: it must remain understood as a microcosm of the effects of anti-black racism.” And indeed, the tentacles of this deep-seated anti-blackness are woven into the DNA of the American dream. We see it in law enforcement, politics, the media, social justice movements, non-black communities of color, science, and, of course, literature. On Nov. 19, the night before police killed unarmed Akai Gurley in a Brooklyn stairwell, Daniel Handler made his racist watermelon quip toward Jacqueline Woodson as he presented her with a National Book Award. It was interpersonal anti-blackness that led him to make such a statement. Institutional anti-blackness had his back. Neither NPR nor the New York Times bothered to mention it in their coverage of the award ceremony. The Times called his performance “edgy and entertaining.” The National Book Foundation itself didn’t apologize until a few days of continued social media outcry. Prominent members of the publishing community posted blogs in sympathy with Handler, while many others simply remained silent.

“This mission is what’s been passed down to me –” Jacqueline Woodson writes in her essay responding to the watermelon joke, “to write stories that have been historically absent in this country’s body of literature, to create mirrors for the people who so rarely see themselves inside contemporary fiction, and windows for those who think we are no more than the stereotypes they’re so afraid of.” The publishing industry, which by its own count is 1% black and 3% Latino, dropped the ball once again, and writers and readers of color rolled our eyes and cycled between outrage and not even being surprised. Woodson’s essay contextualizes the joke perfectly: In 2014, people of color are still struggling to see ourselves in literature. As BuzzFeed’s own Ashley Ford writes, “Brown girls everywhere know what it means to choke with invisible hands at their throats, to drown with water nowhere in sight. For us, a book like [Woodson’s] Brown Girl Dreaming is air itself.”

In this case, overwhelming silence in the face of explicit racism was the institutional wink and nod: the go-ahead. The same wink and nod, though much more lethal, could be seen in the refusal of grand juries and prosecutors to investigate the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The institutional go-ahead, be it in publishing or the court system, amounts to an abusive, racialized deprivation of human rights. It is violence. But in the upside-down anti-poetry of power, violence becomes simply an act, a momentary physical explosion, the culminating event. And so, in the midst of a historically rooted, state-sanctioned attack on black lives, everyone from the president to the very police department responsible for Michael Brown’s death has demanded protesters avoid violence. This is like a pyromaniac telling a fireman not to smoke a cigarette.

Justine Zwiebel / BuzzFeed

Thinking of the many fucked up flavors of violence, my whole body thrumming with rage and sorrow, I sought solace in my bookshelf. It took a little while to find — so many sugarcoat and simplify; they tiptoe and coddle when we need books that break-dance and tell hard truths. Gradually, voices emerged: Baldwin and Butler and Morrison. John Murillo’s “Enter the Dragon.” And, of course, Oscar Wao.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a book you devour slowly. You savor each bite because you’re not sure what the world will look like when it’s done. When I first read it in 2007, it was a revelation: a promise written in unflinching poetic vernacular that we can speak complex literary truths without translating ourselves or over-explaining or condescending to the lowest common denominator. It lit a fire under my ass, so many of our asses, that propelled us down the road to becoming writers.

In the canefield, Oscar tells the gunmen that they were going to take a great love out of the world. “Love is a rare thing,” Oscar says as he raises his hands, “easily confused with a million other things.” Michael Brown raised his hands too, but he wasn’t given the benefit of last words.

It is easy to misread rage as hate. This week, as chants of “Black lives matter” echoed once more through the streets of New York, Ferguson, Los Angeles and out into the world, all I could think of was love. Maybe, before he died, Michael thought of love too. And maybe that thought telegraphed brightly across this country, woke us up, rustled us out into the streets as one, loving, rage-filled outcry. As Oscar said, “on the other side…anything you can dream…you can be.”

Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/danieljoseolder/it-is-easy-to-misread-rage-as-hate

How I Learned To Be OK With Feeling Sad

It wasn’t easy, or cheap.

Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed

The first time I didn’t feel sad about feeling sad was on Sept. 17, 2013. I was in my therapist’s office. More specifically, I was lying on a table, faceup, in my therapist’s office. Maybe it sounds simple, but it was a trick I’d spent years practicing and trying to learn.

I do not mean that I take sadness lightly. Four and a half years ago, after a work-related immersion in sexual violence, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Subsequently, I was diagnosed with comorbid major depressive disorder. Comorbid to all that, I was diagnosed as alcoholic and suicidal. More than $20,000 worth of treatment later, I am no longer those things, but, as an evaluating psychiatrist put it in a report last year, I have “chronic,” “recurring,” “residual psychiatric symptoms” serious enough that she ruled me permanently disabled. I’ve been an emotional gal since always — “She has a lot of feelings,” my best grad-school friend would chuckle by way of explanation when I got worked up about some topic or other in front of strangers — and my emotions now are enormous. Frustration over a failed attempt to buy a sold-out rug online ends in so much yelling and foot-stomping that my neighbors complain. The intensity of a pop song lands like a blunt punch to my chest and explodes any grief nestling there; the very day I’m writing this, Nicki Minaj made me cry in my car.

Sincerely: I do not take sadness lightly. But after a lot of retraining, I do take it wholly, life-alteringly differently than I was raised to, and than almost anyone else I know. Now, sometimes when I’m not sad and I think about sadness, that thought is accompanied by this startling one: I miss it.

Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed

Pre-therapy, this is the only thing I was ever taught, implicitly and explicitly, about sadness: It is bad.

You do not want it. If you’ve got it, you should definitely try to get rid of it, fast as possible. Whatever you do, don’t subject other people to it, because they do not like that.

Sadness can be legitimately problematic, absolutely. If your sadness comes from seemingly no place or even an obvious place but keeps you from participating in life or enjoying anything and refuses to abate no matter how long you go on letting it express itself, you of course can’t keep living like that. But culturally, we aren’t allowed to be sad even for a little while. Even when it’s perfectly sensible. Even when, sometimes, we need it.

This is reflected in our entertainment. Watching Bridesmaids, I shake my head over how Melissa McCarthy slaps Kristen Wiig around and tells her to stop being sad, though she has recently lost her job, her savings, her home, and her best friend. (Miraculously, this solves Kristen Wiig’s attitude problem.) In the third episode of MasterChef Junior‘s second season, judge Joe Bastianich tells a contestant who has ruined her shepherd’s pie and possibly her dream of winning, the biggest dream she’s had up to this point in her life, “When things are as bad as they can be, you gotta pull it together. Wipe your tears.”

The contestant has been crying for mere seconds. She is 8 years old.

What does it say about our relationship to sadness that Joan Didion — who we can all agree is a pretty smart, educated, and worldly cookie — had to write an entire book about trying to learn how to grieve? This ethos was fine for me when mostly nothing bad happened and if it did, the accompanying sadness didn’t linger for too long. But post-trauma, it turned out to be a massive impediment to my recovery.

I had a lot of symptoms. They all alarmed me, but equally so the most straightforward one: sadness. Sometimes I cried from uncontrollable, overwhelming, life-swallowing sadness. And all the time, the sadness and crying itself freaked me the fuck out. I would start crying, and then immediately hate myself. Why was I crying? Why couldn’t I get this sadness to go away? What was wrong with me?

Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed

I got into therapy. I’d gone before, casually and occasionally, for support with some huge changes — a new city and new job and fresh divorce years earlier. Now, it was a therapy emergency. I considered myself decently good at self-care in general, but sure, I let it slip when I got too busy, when work was too demanding, when there were things I had to do that I knew I was getting too burned out to but did anyway. But taking care of myself was not optional anymore. As a matter of survival, I had to make as much room for it as it needed.

And so, I started intensive treatment — during which my therapist had to spend incalculable amounts of time trying to convince me that it was OK to be sad. The alarm I experienced over my sadness was another terrible feeling on top of my already terrible symptoms. The energy I spent panicking that I was sad could have been better spent on coping with the sadness. It was true that I — like many people, people with clinically depressed, never-ending, or life-threatening sadness — needed a lot more assistance than just a big philosophical hug, but if I could accept sadness, my therapist kept suggesting, I would be able to experience it (long and hard as that may go on) and then it could pass. The alternative — being sad, plus condemning yourself for being sad — only heightens the suffering. And, likely, the time it lasts.

“Sadness is a legitimate emotion,” my therapist would say. “There is an acceptance you can get to with it where it’s just a sensation, and without judgment, that sensation can be exquisite.”

“LIES,” I responded to this sometimes. Sometimes I called her a hippie. Nobody accepts sadness. Everybody knows that crying girls are silly and weak. Hysterical, and overdramatic.

But as much as I didn’t — I couldn’t! — really believe her, I still really wanted to learn how to do that.

Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed

I can’t explain, in a tight little essay, how I finally did it. It would take an entire book for me to describe how I got even most of the way there. I can sum up that it took three years to the DAY after the events that started my symptoms, and that it cost a lot of money, and time, and time off, which cost more money, and was so painful that the very memory of how painful it was sometimes makes me need to go lie down in my bed. I can point out that most people are not given the opportunity to go through this process, even if they desperately want to. Unfortunately, healing is a luxury in our society, not a right; so many who could benefit from treatment simply can’t.

And I can tell you about the moment, that September. It was sunny and in the 60s. I was in my therapist’s office in San Francisco, which had fairly bare walls, industrial carpet, and windows that let the light in. I was lying on a massage therapist’s table, because that was normal in my somatic therapy; the treatment addressed the physicality of one’s symptoms, the places and ways trauma lived in one’s body (last year, a hero of my therapist’s, the very brilliant Bessel van der Kolk, released a book about this called The Body Keeps the Score), which was often explored with eyes closed, lying down. The first umpteen number of times I got on the table and was prompted to breathe, to feel into where my tensions and disconnections were, I resisted the falling apart this awareness and reconnecting could lead to. I feared starting to cry and never stopping. I feared never being able to put myself back together, ever, sometimes metaphorically but sometimes literally writhing and kicking and screaming with my resistance to just relaxing. Feeling. To be clear: Sadness was far from my only issue. But by Sept. 17, 2013 (around which point my insurance tallied it had so far given my therapist $18,000), I was taking feeling it in much better stride.

“How do you feel?” my therapist asked.

“Sad,” I said. I was extra sad that day because I was in the middle of a no-fault eviction, and it was turning out not to be practical or affordable to stay in the Bay Area, where I’d lived for a long time. “I feel sad because we have to move.” I cried as I talked about this. I loved California. “I have to grieve a state.”

I cried harder. “It’s a bummer.”

My therapist was very calm. “That is a bummer,” she agreed in soothing tones. She told me to open my eyes and when I did, asked me what sensation I noticed. Instantly, I pictured a kid lying in a yard.

That’s me right now, I thought. A kid lying in a yard, feeling sad — but not feeling sad about feeling sad. It was what it was. It was fine. It was a peace. Me, or a kid, being just what she was: alive.

Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed

“I’m not bummed out about feeling bummed out,” I said.

The significance of this moment was clear to us both. My therapist was speechless for a second. Then she smiled — we were often smiling, because we joked through even the hardest and ugliest moments together — and said, “People pay a lot of money for that, Mac.”

“They should!”

They shouldn’t have to. I hadn’t panicked over being sad every time it had happened in my life, say over a breakup, but I had never had that level of acceptance of it, peace-spreading, unrushed, cell-deep, certainly not as an adult. And as a person with PTSD, I had completely lost any trust in my own emotions, fearing them constantly, sadness included — or perhaps especially, as it was the most persistent. Now, I was finally embracing it.

Which is how I could come to be in a position to miss it. The interestingness of it. The difference of it from other emotions. I remembered the sensations of it: the weight. The way it slowed things down and took the space of everything else up. It was exquisite, objectively but also as evidence that I could feel, that I was open and not shut down, capable of having a whole gamut of emotions rush in, and maybe overwhelm, but move through and move me. Not everyone can. Or does. I am occasionally jealous of people whose emotions come more softly, or quietly, or less often. I assume they have more time and energy, with those not being taken up by sensitivity that makes even the widely considered “good” emotions like joy feel like they’re making their heart explode. But for the most part, I’m not. Some people are born, and then they live, and then they die, one of my doctors told me once, in an effort to comfort. You, you die and are reborn sometimes 10 times in one day. Lucky.

The next time I felt sadness after I missed it, I was reminded why it was so hard to feel it all the time. Oh yeah, I remembered. It hurt. It was difficult to work. To cook, to eat, to play. To take care of others. Exquisite it may have been, but painful, and not invigorating, and quite tiring. Still I trusted that I needed it at that time, that it was expressing something necessary. I didn’t hate or judge it. I did not feel silly or weak. They say it takes a big man to cry, and I think — unfortunately, given our collective feelings about sadness — that’s true. But it takes a bigger woman still, to feel the strength of a sob, without apology or shame. With pride. I’m the biggest I’ve ever been, the way I let my emotions run, sadness included: the way it cleanses me, tears washing my face, resolving me to continue to feel with abandon.

***

Mac McClelland is the author of Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story (out this Tuesday, February 24th) and For Us Surrender Is Out of the Question. She has written for Reuters, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, the New York Times Magazine, and the New York Times Book Review, among other publications, and has won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Sidney Hillman Foundation, the Online News Association, the Society of Environmental Journalists, and the Association for Women in Communications. Her work has also been nominated for two National Magazine Awards for Feature Writing and has been anthologized in the Best American Magazine Writing 2011, Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011, and Best Business Writing 2013.

To learn more about Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story, click here.

Flatiron Books

Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/macmcclelland/not-feeling-sad-about-feeling-sad

35 Books That Will Teach You A Damn Thing About Your Food

Spoiler Alert: No cookbooks.

Dan Meth / BuzzFeed

1. For anyone who’s ever eaten at McDonald’s: Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Kodiak Greenwood / AP Images

 

If you read anything on this list, make it this. Though published 14 years ago, Fast Food Nation is no less relevant today, giving voice to the hardworking men and women behind the millions of nuggets, patties, pies, and fries that we continue to so mindlessly consume.

2. For anyone who’s ever eaten emotionally: Born Round by Frank Bruni

Penguin

Yanina Manolova / AP Images

 

Like many of us, Frank Bruni has long struggled with his weight. But what happens when the former chief restaurant reviewer for the New York Times turns a critic’s eye on his own eating habits? Born Round is equal parts heartbreaking and funny, a four-star read.

3. For anyone who’s wondered: Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It by Gary Taubes

 

Science writer Gary Taubes brings his degrees in physics, aerospace engineering, and journalism to the human body to explain how weight is more likely the product of our anatomy than our appetites.

4. For anyone who’s been on Atkins or just really likes butter: The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz

Simon & Schuster

 

Atkins may have been right all along. According to Nina Teicholz’s research, the low-fat frenzy of the past half-century was based on bogus — if well-meaning — science. How this became federal policy and shaped generations of American dieting is a deeply compelling cautionary tale.

5. For anyone who still hasn’t read Kitchen Confidential: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

HarperCollins

Peter Kramer / KRAPE / AP

 

Even 15 years later, Bourdain’s remains the preeminent curtain-pull among epicurean exposés. Somehow, his down-and-dirty account of the madmen and -women behind haute cuisine doesn’t detract from our enjoyment of the food. In fact, it might just make us enjoy it more.

6. For anyone who wishes Kitchen Confidential had been compressed into 24 hours: Sous Chef by Michael Gibney

 

Gibney takes two bold turns in this remarkable debut: 1) He limits himself to just 24 hours, and 2) he pivots to present it all in the second person. The result is an extra-urgent, in-the-trenches tumble through a day in the life on the line.

7. For anyone who liked Kitchen Confidential but wanted more sex and drugs: The Devil in the Kitchen by Marco Pierre White

 

Perhaps the least polished and most profane of this list’s memoirs, White’s The Devil In The Kitchen is still a rollicking wild ride. Think Gordon Ramsey but more pissed off.

8. For anyone who dreads grocery shopping, or just wants help doing it: What to Eat by Marion Nestle

 

You know not to grocery shop when hungry, but do you know what to look for — and avoid — in each aisle? Marion Nestle’s blow-by-blow guide to supermarket shopping is a godsend: a delight to read and easy to reference on the fly.

9. For anyone who wants to know why they hate tomatoes: Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook

 

Not all tomatoes are as bad as the ones you find in the supermarket. Estabrook tells us why and introduces us to the farmers — from Florida to Peru — who have worked to bring us the Big (bland) Red.

10. For anyone looking for a laugh with their Big Mac: Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan

Random House

Nigel Parry via Random House

 

Gaffigan brings his trademark wit to our cultural cravings, waxing poetic on everything from Hot Pockets to Cinnabon. Food: A Love Story is written for the everyman — the hungry man — who remains suspicious of kale and enamored with bacon.

11. For anyone who thought Eat, Pray, Love was overrated and really just wanted Julia Roberts to open a kick-ass restaurant in New York: Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

Random House

Sergi Alexander / Getty

 

By far the best-written chef’s memoir on this list, Blood, Bones & Butter is clearly the work of a pro. And it makes sense, seeing as Hamilton holds an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Michigan, in addition to her stints as a dishwasher, underage bartender, world traveler, and catering director. If you’re ever in New York, her tiny restaurant, Prune, is worth a visit.

(Bonus good/bad news: The book has allegedly been optioned for a film adaptation, with Gwyneth Paltrow attached to play Hamilton.)

12. For anyone considering culinary school: The Making of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman

 

Don’t let all these raucous, debauched restaurant memoirs fool you — being a chef takes hard work. Ruhlman’s detailed look inside the Harvard of U.S. culinary schools is proof.

13. For anyone who likes to learn (and fail) on the fly: Heat by Bill Buford

Random House

Bebeto Matthews / AP Images

 

If school’s just not your thing, you might identify more closely with Buford’s approach to the culinary arts. Bypassing any formal training — or even former restaurant experience — Buford jumped from his job at The New Yorker to the kitchen of Mario Batali’s famed restaurant, Babbo. His resulting education is hectic, hard-won, and hilarious.

14. For anyone currently watching Fresh Off the Boat: Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang

Random House

Richard Shotwell / Invision / AP

 

You might not recognize all of Huang’s many punchy pop culture references, but that doesn’t make Fresh Off the Boat any less fun. Whether discussing Asian-American stereotypes or soup dumplings in Taiwan, Huang writes with delightful verve. It’s easy to see why this book translates so seamlessly to the screen.

15. For anyone who wants to know where these truly upsetting retro recipes came from: Something From the Oven by Laura Shapiro

 

Shapiro roves from the origins of Betty Crocker to the miracle of canned bread, showing how mid-century feminism and postwar technology united to produce bizarre foodie fads unlike any we’ve seen since.

16. For anyone wondering why Lunchables are still a thing: Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss

 

Investigative reporter Michael Moss reveals how big brands like Kraft, Coca-Cola, Lunchables, Kellogg, Nestlé, Capri Sun, Cargill, and Oreo have engineered our addiction to their products. His in-depth look at the strange science behind processed food is at once fascinating and terrifying.

17. For anyone who really really likes corn: The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Penguin

Fran Collin / MichaelPollan.com

 

Michael Pollan is the king of contemporary food writing, swirling together history, science, and sociology with surprising élan. The Omnivore’s Dilemma is essential reading for anyone trying to grasp the full scope of food in America, which, it turns out, is mostly made of corn.

18. For anyone who really likes Michael Pollan: Cooked by Michael Pollan

Penguin

Marty Lederhandler / AP

 

Seriously, this guy can write. In Cooked, Pollan invites us to learn alongside him as he masters the art of preparing food with the four classical elements — fire, water, air, and earth. So if you’ve ever consumed barbecue, bread, beer, or bourguignon and wondered how it all came to be, this book is for you.

19. For anyone with a casual Ph.D. in chemistry: On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee

Simon & Schuster

 

This is the brainier version of Cooked, with a legitimate “Chemistry Primer” appendix on molecular reactions and the like. But phases of matter aside, On Food and Cooking is a veritable kitchen bible, with how-to and tell-me-why chapters on everything from “The Problem of Legumes and Flatulence” to “Why Pain Can Be Pleasurable.”

20. For anyone who wants to drool: The Art of Eating by M.F.K. Fisher

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Richard Drew / AP

 

M.F.K. Fisher is the writer you probably haven’t heard of but definitely should know. Whether she’s describing a tiny restaurant in the French countryside or how to properly savor a tangerine — even how to boil water — Fisher’s words practically drip from the page. The Art of Eating represents her collected works, a transcontinental record of how to best enjoy the simple pleasures of a meal.

Proof of her beautiful prose, and inspiration for any aspiring food writers out there: “It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and hunger for it … and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied … and it is all one.”

21. For anyone contemplating going gluten-free: Grain Brain by David Perlmutter

Little, Brown & Company

 

Definitely a pro-gluten-free screed, Grain Brain presents the science on the side of our most recent de rigueur diet. Great for those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, and maybe better taken with a grain of salt by the rest of us.

For a more even-handed look at Big Bad Gluten, try Michael Specter’s piece in The New Yorker.

22. For anyone who salts their watermelon: Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky

Penguin

Sylvia Plachs via markkurlansky.com

 

Another “wait till you hear where your _____ comes from” book, but somehow Kurlansky manages to make salt — yes, salt — a compelling protagonist. Who knew that this familiar, meek little mineral could have been the impetus for so many revolutions, conquests, and wars?

23. For anyone who wants to know what it really means to “live off the land”: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

HarperCollins

David Wood via barbarakingsolver.com

 

Having heard the virtues of Locavore and Slow Food diets endlessly extolled, Barbara Kingsolver decided to give it a try. Her whole-hog endeavor — transplanting her family from Tucson, Arizona, to rural Virginia, where they only consumed produce that they’d personally planted or raised — is drastic, but ultimately rewarding. She shows us how to reconnect with the land and ourselves, thinking mindfully about what we eat and how it’s made.

24. For anyone who really identified with the critic in Ratatouille: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

Penguin

Brigitte Lacombe via Gourmet

 

How do restaurants actually earn their stars? Go undercover with renowned New York Times food critic Ruth Reichl to see how egos, infighting, anonymity, and authenticity co-mingle to determine the fates of restaurateurs and their reviewers.

25. For anyone wondering where the phrase “You are what you eat” comes from: The Physiology of Taste by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin