Back in 1996, Microcosm was born in Cleveland, and the ’20s so far have been all about getting back to our roots. First with opening a new warehouse back in Cleveland, managed and partially staffed by people who helped out back when we were brand new. And now we’re thrilled to announce the publication of a pair of new books that honor our roots.
Microcosm intern Molly Simas wrote this review of our new book, How to Be Accountableby Joe Biel & Dr. Faith Harper.
In January of 2018, Saturday Night Live released a comedy sketch titled “Dinner Discussion.” Three straight couples sit around a restaurant table (remember restaurants?), exclaiming over the food’s deliciousness. “Everything here is good,” says one man. “The New York Times restaurant review raved about this place.”
“You know, speaking of the Times,” a woman at the table says. “Did any of you guys read that op-ed piece about…”
“Honey, no,” her husband says, suddenly alarmed.
“What article are you talking about?” their friend inquires.
“The one about… Aziz Ansari?”
The music surges, and the six are thrown into dramatic lighting as the camera close pans across their distressed, panicking faces. One woman raises her wine glass to her lips with a trembling hand. The shushing husband pulls his turtleneck up to hide his face.
A quick refresher on the cultural climate of January 2018: news coverage was full steam ahead on all things #MeToo. A waterfall of sexual misconduct revelations was steadily cascading from the upper echelons of Hollywood. Then, an anonymous exposé of Aziz Ansari’s alleged misdeeds made a splash and muddied the waters. The article described a hookup in which the woman who Ansari brought home felt unheard and violated. It was clear that harm had been caused and that power dynamics were involved. Yet enough gray area around the details threw the discourse into a purgatory where no one knew how to talk about it or have the “right” opinion.
The SNL skit continues with the dinner guests haltingly offering their thoughts on the subject. “I…think…” one woman says, while her husband admonishes, “Careful…”
“I think that some…women…” she continues, and her friend interjects, “Careful…”
“While I applaud the movement,” another dinnergoer offers. “Watch it…” cautions his friend.
They continue to hem and haw their way through the conversation. “Powerful men almost always abuse…NOPE!” one tries. “Consent…PASS! Damn it!” says another.
If you were an alive and thinking person at the time, you might have an opinion on the matter–perhaps a very strongly held one–and I’m not here to convince you any which way about it. But that SNL skit stuck with me because it felt so accurate to the grappling conversations I’d had with my own friends that week, and it came to mind again as I worked my way through How to Be Accountable, Microcosm’s latest contribution to the cultural toolkit of thinking about repairing harm in our relationships and our lives.
Authors Joe Biel and Dr. Faith G. Harper establish early and often that a new paradigm is needed for conversations about accountability. They explicitly state their hope that people “cultivating personal development rather than sweeping cancelation” are the ones “who will change perception around this issue and shift the conversation about accountability from one of punishment and ostracism to an understanding that accountability is personal and that everyone makes mistakes from which they can learn and grow.”
It’s a difficult, tricky subject, and I appreciate this book’s willingness to wade into the thick of it. Talking about accountability, just like talking about privilege and other systems of power, requires stark honesty and the resilience to push through making mistakes. While these vulnerabilities are necessary for progress, too often they are swiftly punished within the very conversations that require them. This can feel inescapable and exhausting.
With How to Be Accountable, I was ready to watch someone else step into that arena, and the book did not let me down. I was uncomfortable and questioning my own notions of accountability almost immediately, which I think is the point. When it comes to perpetrators of harm, considering forgiveness can feel like a trap—even the phrase “everyone makes mistakes” can feel a little too “boys will be boys” in the context of sexual assault—yet blanket cancelation of human beings is clearly not a sustainable or healthy option. How, then, are we to proceed?
To their credit, Harper and Biel ultimately never boil anything down to a simple takeaway. They frequently acknowledge that every situation is unique, with its own context and nuance, and thus every situation will require unique engagement from all parties. “In a world of memes and fake news, separating the behavior from the person is more vital than ever,” the authors write. “In the quest for quick sound bytes we simplify, misconstrue, misinterpret, and vilify people because we are human and sometimes our filters fail us. …If we are going to create something better than the criminal justice system for righting wrongs, our system has to truly be better.”
But wait. Isn’t this supposed to be a book about personal accountability? About fixing our own shitty habits? Ostensibly, yes. The book begins with a baseline acknowledgement that our own toxic patterns are often born of coping behaviors we learned in childhood, and that these patterns can be interrogated and shifted.
Accountability doesn’t only exist outside of us, in the court of public opinion. It is a quality we all are responsible for crafting an awareness of and practice around in our own lives. How To Be Accountable does a great job of striking this note early on: “…there is remarkably little written about how to recognize and change patterns in our own behavior, which seems to suggest that change is only needed for people whose behavior is unfathomably worse than our own. But the reality is that everyone sees maladaptive behaviors in themselves that they’d like to change.”
Yet for a lay reader, that note might seem to waver as the chapters proceed to wander through the weeds of cognitive biases, propaganda, trauma histories, and shadow work, with occasional guest appearances by members of the zeitgeist such as Pizzagate, Jordan Peterson, and racist Facebook relatives. At times, it can be hard to see how a given section relates to our own accountability struggles, which might be as mundane as avoiding difficult conversations with loved ones, or continuing to engage in self-sabotaging behavior.
Truthfully, it is all related and relevant—it’s just that this shit is complicated and this work is hard. “If you are still feeling like you haven’t connected all of the dots, don’t beat yourself up,” write Harper and Biel in the book’s conclusion. “We’d say that doesn’t signal failure, it signals the fact that you are recognizing that this is a complex and long-term process.”
I didn’t have access to the forthcoming companion title How to Be Accountable Workbook during the writing of this review, but I’m going to go out on a limb and recommend that, if you’re serious about getting into your own shit, that you obtain both and work through the two in tandem. Microcosm has a fun trend of publishing workbooks alongside self help titles, and managing editor/co-owner Elly Blue has said on Microcosm’s podcast that most book/workbook combinations can be treated as “one or the other” situations, not necessarily a requisite package deal. However, while How to Be Accountable does contain several reflective questions and journaling exercises in-text, I think the companion structure of a workbook would be extremely helpful in keeping a reader grounded in the deep understanding of self (values, needs, patterns, history) that is required of their own accountability work, as they consider larger concepts that may or may not affect their own situations to varying degrees.
The truth is, no book will give a reader a hard-and-fast answer when it comes to tough questions of justice, forgiveness, and healing from harm, because the idea of such a solution is a myth. For most situations, there isn’t a peel-and-stick universally “correct” answer, which is what leaves so many of us stammering at the edge of a conversational precipice, cutting people out of our lives for lack of a better option, or staring at ourselves in the mirror with a sick feeling in the pit of our stomach that we will never be freed of our own pain.
However, in lieu of this magical sticker, there are people seriously engaging with the difficult work of growth and accountability, in numerous formats, from storytelling to social work. It is increasingly recognized that our institutional systems of accountability are deeply flawed, that their harmful notions of punishment have trickled down into our most precious relationships, and that a new way forward is needed to make us all safer and more whole. Ultimately, How to be Accountable is a valuable contribution to the ever-growing library on this subject.
When everything goes well, we love our books. But you don’t always have to take our words for it… In the first review of 2019, fall intern Chris shares her thoughts on This is Your Brain on Depression.
Dr. Faith Harper brings us ‘This is your Brain on Depression’; a quick and insightful read that seeks to help the reader understand how Depression affects our brains; as well as the way we think and act.
I learned about this great little book from my sister, who was so excited to introduce it to me and other members of our family. You see we all have depression. To varying degrees and with different symptoms, but depression nonetheless. Upon reading the book I can see why she was excited.
I have always retained a significant amount of doubt for books that claim to explain or help you treat depression. I generally expect to find empty self help books that promise change and do nothing but repeat the same mantras over and over again.
But in this book I found something far different. The author breaks down depression on multiple levels in order to go over the varying stages, influences, and misunderstandings. She explains it all concisely and without making the writing seem stunted, or the information seem compressed.
Last month Jordan took on the giggle-filled task of reading and reviewing our latest hilarious book, available in a bookstore near you this month, Please Let Me Help. This unique book of letters may be too wild to be explained, but Jordan did a pretty good job.
Starting my internship here only two weeks ago, I immediately started hearing perplexing comments on our new book Please Let Me Help. One coworker enthusiastically encouraging me to read it, referencing a multitude of tiny, hand-drawn vampires. From another, an elusive comment of, “It’s weird…” And a lot of conversations about who the heck our target market is.
So I committed a couple hours to sitting down and reading through it.
Reading Please Let Me Help put me in that beautifully drifting and nonsensical mindset one has when musing on something absolutely ridiculous that also makes an element of sense. Like a modern epistolary Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, where Port-O-Potties all have flowers and Christian Slater stars as Princess Diana. A place where the brief and formal rejections of Zach’s ludicrous suggestions become that which is laughable. Go fuck yourself, Taco Bell legal department. You obviously don’t get humor.
And that is the real value in the book, I think. Perhaps it was because I read it straight-through in one sitting, but Zach Sternwalker sucks you into this realm of nonsense, until you stand there with him looking across at the rest of the world with altered eyes. And we see its prude stuffiness. Please Let Me Help defamiliarizes us from our world’s business and consumer norms, showing its puffed-up silliness in an ironic, counter-silly way.
But the book doesn’t have to be all this. It stands on its own as just a gosh-darned funny read. It has that unadulterated silliness that reminds me of being deliriously tired, laughing over ridiculous ideas with an equally loopy friend. Who cares if none of it is realistic? For a moment, that which is realistic means nothing. And scheming up Dunkin’ Donuts’ marketing plan for toast is the most logical thing one can do. Like a much-needed breath of fresh air.
So I’d recommend Please Let Me Help to anyone who could use a break from the no-nonsense, logical professional environment we’ve become so accustomed to. Because you know what’s more fun than that? A teeny vampire in a pear suit. Or imagining how to pitch a post-workout human refrigerator to General Electric.
Thank you to Jordan Ellis, our Fall intern, for writing up this review. Get a copy of the book for yourself at Microcosm.Pub
We ask all of our interns to choose a book and review it for our blog. Usually, when tasked with this assignment, they head downstairs to the warehouse and deliberate for a half hour. Sometimes it takes them a few days to choose. Not Dylan. He immediately knew. Here’s his review, and an appropriately tough selfie with the book:
Tom Neely’s Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever is hilarious. The idea of taking two icons from the hardcore punk scene (which, at its height in the mid-80s, was taken over by macho assholes who made the scene about faux masculinity) and creating a fictional gay romance between them is just genius.
The thing I appreciated most about the book, however, is its constant references and jokes about not just The Misfits and Black Flag but about heavy metal and punk music in general. This is also, unfortunately, what limits the audience of the book, since your average reader probably doesn’t know who the hell King Diamond or Ian MacKaye are, but for people who do understand these references, they make reading this book all the more enjoyable.
I myself lost it when aliens brought zombies to life and announced that their prime directive was to “exterminate the whole fucking place,” as well as every time I noticed all the random 138s scattered about.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone with reasonable knowledge about punk and metal music and culture.
We ask every intern to write a review of one of our books. Dane chose Jesse Reklaw’s Applicant. Here’s what he made of it:
I once had a roommate who told me that he simply didn’t like me as a person. This isn’t the sort of thing people say to one another, and for good reason. That level of honesty is more than hurtful. It is existentially threatening. One really cutting opinion from a trusted source can throw you, or at least me, straight back to an adolescent tailspin. Have you ever looked into your own eyes, late at night in the bathroom mirror, and whispering, asked yourself as honestly as you know how, “What the fuck?” This is Applicant.
In Applicant, earnest portraits of students are juxtaposed with the backhanded assessments of their professors and employers, people they trusted, spent countless hours with, looked up to. “Lack of personal discipline” reads the confidential recommendation under the portrait of a beefy grad student. Me too, brother. Next to a clean cut young man: “Somewhat too concerned with himself.” Which, if you have to ask.
The savagery is disturbing in the best way. This is the perfect book to leave on the back of your toilet if you’d like to introduce your guests to the horror of the void in the middle of their business. It is like looking through other people’s medicine cabinet. It’s like walking a mile in your sad-eyed uncle’s saggy BVDs. It is engrossing and strange but you will be glad you can leave whenever you need to. Reading Applicant is not unlike watching a pack of gazelles being ripped down by tweed-clad cheetahs. Part of me wants the naively hopeful gazelle to get away unharmed. Another part of me loves the spectacle of their demise.
But Applicant is more than absurdist-horror. The glimpses into the inner sanctum of 70s old-boy academia elevate this little pamphlet into read-out-loud-at-parties hilarity. Women are revealed to be on the brink of hysteria, if not childbirth. “Miss M___ is a black woman,” begins one assessment so fraught that, like fine art, it defies true analysis. I find myself wondering whether it is unbecoming to enjoy this as much as I do. Certainly to the people involved, there is nothing funny here, least of all to the hysteric young grad students apparently strewn about the Ivy League. I hope they never come across this book. One can only speculate what condition their nerves are in after all those children.
Fortunately, time and anonymity declaw the savagery. Whatever happened to these students has happened and they have made it or not, and the professors are all dead or retired and their prejudices are on the way out. The hope and pain and potential devastation are all safely in the past. Does that make it better to laugh at these people? But then I’m not laughing, at least not anymore. Instead I lean in, look each of them deep in the eyes and whisper, “What the fuck? What the fuck?”
We ask every intern who passes through our not-so-hallowed halls to choose a book and write a review of it. Adam Lujan, who’s been cheerfully and diligently applying himself to the mysteries of marketing data, climbing the mountain of learning effective product photography, and navigating the vast seas of spreadsheets that make up our publishing empire, chose a book near to our hearts… last year’s Manspressions: Decoding Men’s Behavior. Here’s his review!
Joe Biel and Elly Blue’s Manspressions offers a vital cultural message in a digestible, tongue-in-cheek way. The book – featuring clever and, at times, laugh out loud illustrations by Meggyn Pomerleau – is a dictionary of terms associated with men’s behaviors. Topics range from work to dating to everyday interactions; Manspressions covers it all.
There’s mansgressions, mansclusion, manstalgia – to name a few. It’s an inventive, accurate assembly of terms meant to highlight and poke fun at the nuances of masculinity evident in everyday life. Its brilliance is in its simplicity. Taking behaviors and interactions many of us have faced – either performing or witnessing them – and exposing it in such a relatable fashion makes Manspressions successful and important.
There’s something for everyone in this book. It can be a wake-up call for some – beware of frightening moments of “do I do that?” – or a solidarity battle-cry for others. Because masculinity is hegemonic, so widespread, seeping into every crack of society, it’s hard not to relate to or recognize at least some of the manspressions laid bare in this book.
While Manspressions seeks to highlight these behaviors, to examine the eccentricities of masculinity, it’s all with good humor. And that’s what makes it so digestible – not to mention it’s a quick read and pocket-friendly. Biel and Blue understand the importance humor and self-awareness play in the long game of leveling out the gender playing field. And they also understand no one is perfect, no one is immune to performing these manspressions. As they so poignantly note, we’re all sometimes guilty of these displays of overt, toxic masculinity. And indeed it is quite toxic.
Isn’t it troubling that half of the human race is imprisoned by a set of social rules and standards that reduce them to nothing more than emotionless, power-hungry, phallic-obsessed walking manspressions? What sort of world does that create? What sort of people does that create?
Masculinity is the law of the land, it’s what pillars every major society on Earth – a patriarchy that roots itself deep in the world’s history. And that’s a beast of a system to dismantle or even examine. Recognizing it, laughing at it, and talking about it are all important first steps.
Often, individuals feel powerless to make a difference. How could I, as just one person, change the world? Especially now – with a baffling presidential candidate discussing his penis size at a national debate and a record company and justice system supporting a rapist over his victim – the immensity of the task can be overwhelming and bleak. And it may seem small, it may seem inconsequential or simple, but the answer is merely to change your world, to make those changes in your life.
Manspressions offers just that. It gives the terms, it gives the laughs, it opens up the conversation in a relatable way. It recognizes that we’re all products of the patriarchy and sometimes that seeps into how we behave. But there’s always hope, there’s always the possibility of change. And that is, as Biel and Blue put it, “priceless.”
We ask each of our interns to review one of our books before they go. Natalie heads home to Australia next week, and left us with these thoughts on our first and (until April 2016) only work of fiction…or is it fiction? To tell the truth, we’re not totally sure.
Being from Australia, I don’t really know much about baseball or anybody named Henry Turner. After I read this book, I honestly don’t know what I learnt from it at all. I realised quite quickly that these stories weren’t really all that much about baseball. In fact, to me at least, it felt like they were more about America and the strange things that can happen to you here.
God, Forgive These Bastards begins with Rob Morton meeting Henry for the first time, at a bus stop in Portland, Oregon. Beginning in an ordinary biographical kind-of-way, the stories then take you into a direction that’s a little less predictable. Kind of like when you accidentally catch the wrong bus and end up in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. Some of Henry’s stories are violent and sad, and it was hard to know if they were true or not—and while I was reading them, I really didn’t want to know the truth.
The whole concept of the book reminds me of when I ride the buses and see all of the other regular commuters. I try and imagine stories about what their lives were like before they ended up riding the same buses as I do—and unless they approach me to tell a story about themselves, I’ve usually been too shy to strike up a conversation.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, even though I’m sure that there are so many different things that you could take away from these stories, I feel like this book helped me examine how we perceive and contribute to our own ideas of ‘culture’. Like the way it feels as though we’re too absorbed in our own lives, and just too afraid of each other to talk and trade stories.
I did find that a couple parts of the book were hard to believe because it felt like there were missing details that I would’ve liked to know; nevertheless it was a good read. My favourite line from the book was in my least favourite chapter—my least favourite because all of the things that happen are just so dark and horrible. Henry explains how he is feeling at a time when he feels incredibly vulnerable: enry‘It was the kind of panic that I imagine the devil would make you feel if he walked over to the bed where you slept, lied down next to you, and wrapped his arms around your body.’ And I like this line the best because it describes exactly how I felt reading that chapter.
Morton also uses this book to talk about how down-and-out people like Henry are left unforgiven and hated. I don’t know if he’s really saying that we should forgive people for making us feel intense pain or for committing horrible crimes—it does come across that way—but Morton does explain that people shouldn’t be defined by the bad things that they’ve done, and I suppose that just listening to others to learn from their mistakes can be a good thing to do.
Henry’s stories are told with an honest voice, which makes the unbelievable, believable. These stories are crazy, and mean, and probably everything that you don’t want to imagine your life to ever be. God, Forgive These Bastards is definitely a book that I would read again, and the soundtrack by Mortons’s band, The Taxpayers, is equally as thrilling.
I knew I was going to enjoy Slip of the Tongue from the moment I held the skinny teal book in my hands. The bookish-English-major-nerd within me was immediately taken with Katie Haegele’s collection of essays, which attempt to make sense of the world through our collective and individual use of language. What I hadn’t anticipated was just how captivating I was going to find the author and her book.
Haegele’s memoir is intelligent without being unapproachable, particularly considering its focus on something as academic as linguistics. This is in part due to her distinctively personal voice. Her short essays, insightful and clearly articulated, are utterly conversational – creating an intimacy with the reader, but with a surprising sense of informality.
Reading this book truly felt like a conversation you fall into with someone you didn’t previously know so well, but somehow become instant best friends with; staying up all night fervently discussing life, without realizing the sun has left and come back again.
Underlying the entire work is Haegele’s love of language. It radiates from each page, seeping into every story told—whether articulating the peculiar history of graffiti in Philadelphia or expressing the sharp pang she feels at the glimpse of her father’s coffee mug that reads “Pizzazz,” the single surviving relic of him following his death. I really enjoyed her various observations on language because, despite her reverence for it, she is never precious about it. Haegele isn’t as concerned with preserving language as she is with observing the ways it has transformed. Old ways of communicating aren’t necessarily superior to current forms. She doesn’t mind the formation of so-called ungraceful words like “chocoholic” or the decline of cursive. Language isn’t stagnate, it effortlessly morphs and changes with time. But for Haegele, this malleability makes language all the more important. Words are arbitrary—they’re random sounds we’ve assigned specific meaning to—yet, significantly, they’re formed out of an essential human need to communicate. I love this idea, that language could be haphazardly formed while at the same time shaped for a distinctly human purpose.
I was particularly drawn to the essay “Another Word for Lonely,” which reflected on a few almost-synonyms of the word nostalgia found in different languages and cultures throughout the world. From a young age, I was fascinated with the past. I set out to find fossils in my backyard or begged my mother to buy me yet another twenty-five cent Victorian glass figurine. I loved these objects, and I would often dream of experiencing an older, grander time. They made me feel closer to a past I deeply longed for—admittedly a fictional, highly romanticized version of the past. But it was real to me, and I often feel that yearning still.
So when this essay explored different words that varyingly express this nostalgia, I was immediately captivated. There was some comfort found in reading the definitions of saudade, kaiho, hiraeth, and sehnsecht. Sure, the word saudade doesn’t diminish my romanticism and kaiho doesn’t make me feel any less lonely, but having the language to more easily describe that indefinable yet universal “hypochondria of the heart” at least makes me feel a little more understood. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in feeling or striving to describe these nostalgic sentiments.
And that is what is so great about Slip of the Tongue: it is so very human. In analyzing language Haegele is attempting to understand her own humanity, and she invites the reader into her life to make their own self-discoveries. It is so much more than a book about language; it is a book about life.