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  • Writer's pictureRowan Fortune

Audiobook Reviews

I have recently acquired a subscription to Audible, and below are a smattering of audiobooks I have listened to over the past few days.

Eric LaRocca has found a way to adapt Leopold Von Sacha Masoch in a novel form for contemporary audiences. Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke is, in essence, a horror version of the infamous kink erotic fiction, but now sapphic and conveyed through a purely online, epistolary exchange, as gathered by a retrospective police file after the events of the story. What makes this work is LaRocca's sense of pathos and tension. Even those familiar with the original will be held on tenterhooks as a young woman is taught to view the world more macabrely by her world-weary lover.

I have seen it described as queer trauma porn. Still, I think that undersells the nonbinary author's insider examination of the dynamics of power and fantasy and the genuine and humane sense of the horror involved in two damaged people spiralling into a nihilistic delusion. There is an intense willingness to view the degradation wrought on people in a repressed and marginalizing society and a non-moralistic exploration of their attempts to escape this condition. All of which is in marked contrast with Masoch's novella. The Audio version is expertly read by Catherine Winkel, as she especially brings out the desperation in the two characters' perspectives.

Some books are horrifying. Some books are hilarious. Robert Greene's The Art of Seduction is possibly the most amoral cringe ever put to paper. To Greene's credit, despite his gender essentialism and homophobia, he admirably does not see seduction itself as gendered—and even considers it an 'art' best practised by crossing the borders of gender. The seductress or seducer is an utterly awful archetype, part sociopath, part sexually manipulative cad. Still, it is one Greene seems to admire and to admire for all the seducers' gender nonconformity. I prefer that we gender nonconformists be admired for literally anything else—especially anything not so stereotypical—but you take what you can get.

An MtF transgender account of coming out is a powerful story in our times of transphobia and trans marginalization. Parker Marie Molloy's My Transgender Coming Out Story is a poignant example of the genre. She charts adolescent experiences of gender dysphoria, her awkward navigations with internalized self-hatred, a slow realization of herself, the inadequacy of a dehumanizing medical and therapeutic system, faltering attempts at relationships with other women, and finally, the coming out itself.

As someone who, like Molloy, came out as trans femme much later in life, I connected a lot with her experiences. Like her, I was surprised by the responses of friends, my partner and family. Unlike her, I did not have to overcome the challenge of workplace transphobia, but I have experienced it from strangers and other unexpected sources, resulting in considerable trauma. Like her, I relate to how dysphoria even endures after the euphoria of medically transitioning.

There are many poignant moments in this short book. Molloy's letter to her parents nearly brought me to tears, and her horror at puberty was chillingly familiar. At the conclusion, she expresses the admirable hope that her memoir—free with an Audible subscription—might help persuade people to abandon their hatred of trans people and to see us as human. I am not sure that the problem with transphobes is simply empathy, but I challenge anyone who is not monstrous to be unmoved by her trials and triumphs.

Although Sydney Indigo Austen gives few clues as to how to go about masturbating, she offers a personal and powerful account of the healing powers of Masturbation as someone who has experienced sexual abuse. Sacred Masturbation is a non-judgmental account of solo tantric practices for both genders that are admirably kink and porn friendly. Better still, Austen charts how enjoyment of our own embodiment, free from social stigma, is at root a morally elevating and empowering process.

Presenting a version of Buddhism stripped down of its metaphysical implications, Robert Wright's Why Buddhism Is True is a forthcoming self-help book and a secular ode to this religious tradition. What distinguishes Wright's text from, say, the ideas of Sam Harris is that he is more curious about the metaphysics behind meditation and mindfulness and has an admirable attraction to the instrumental use of the tradition.

Wright is versed in neurobiology and realizes that this worldview exposes him to a nihilistic sense of alienation. By adopting what he dubs western Buddhism, he navigates the loss of meaning implied by an evolutionary worldview, drawing on the toolkit of doctrines that teach him to overcome his sense of tribalism and egoism and to no longer apply ideas of essence to the world around him. In the footsteps of William James, in The Varieties of Religious Belief, he stops short of the radical implications of his approach by refusing to examine the actual origin of his own problems: modern estrangement.

Nonetheless, what he does offer is a way to reconcile to the world even for those whose nihilism has landed them in a positivistic impasse. And he persuasively conveys his own personal betterment. I would have liked that he touched on the specific colonial aspects of ‘Westernising’ such practices, and reflected more on the limits of cognitive psychology, but overall it is an informed and informative book.


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