Ariel Gore has so much to teach all of us. She thinks about art in an all-encompassing way, whether that means keeping a printing press in a spare room or feeding meticulously cooked dinners to a group of student writers during a weekend workshop. I learned from her to seek out unusual solutions to the problem of making myself memorable as a writer, and what persistence and longevity as a writer in independent spaces really look like.
Ariel’s wit and wisdom have propelled ten of her books into print, and she oversees the award-winning publication Hip Mama, among other projects. Her courage and her righteous fury are unstoppable, and this interview is living proof.
Tell me about your hatred of books.
I hate books that seem to exist only to rub the reader’s face in the author’s privilege. I want a book to make me feel more human, more tender and vulnerable, not to make me feel like I deserve to live in poverty and go to hell when I die just because I’m me.
Of course, I don’t read all that many books I hate. Even in college, I was a good enough writer to get around reading the books I hated, or the books that seemed like narcissistic drivel in the first few pages. So I put those books down and, you know, maybe they got better. Probably they didn’t. But sometimes the influence of a book will start to flood a space and you can’t help but notice it. You pick it up. What is this thing, anyway? And you start reading it, and that’s when the hatred starts to flood me, too.
Because I love books. Writing a book or reading a book—that’s the most intimate human contact there is. Books are like a sexuality, and being a reader is being queer and open. So if we want to exhaust the metaphor, a bad book is like a bad date. And when you can’t just walk away, that’s the worst. You shouldn’t have to get a restraining order against a book.
So I hate the books that read like the author’s only goal is to perpetuate their own lies about themselves–books in which the obvious messages is, I can’t face the pain I cause other people so I’m going to blame them for it while I’m causing it.
Give me three examples of books you hate.
The Bible, My Struggle, and Women Who Work.
The Bible ruined this country and has continued to ruin this country since the Bible-thumping Spanish colonists and the Bible-thumping British colonists showed up like they owned the place and started their genocidal campaigns.
People say, Oh, the Bible is a beautiful piece of literature. It’s not. My stepdad was a Catholic priest, and he was a good man, and he defended a lot of the Bible, too, as important Western mythology. So people I have loved have seen good in that book. But beautiful literature and important mythology shouldn’t make people commit genocide, murder each other, rape each other, abuse their children, or disown their own children for being gay. That book purports to be an ethical guide, but its influence has destroyed the ethical and empathetic urges of so many people and provided an excuse for so much displacement and violence and hatred and intolerance, it’s hard to fathom.
My Struggle is what women get called out for when we write a paragraph about our lives. This guy writes 17 billion volumes and he’s fascinating. He’s not fascinating.
I see your point. “Confessional” literature called something else because it’s written by a man.
What is up with Karl Ove Knausgaard? I don’t get it. And as soon as I say I don’t get it, I can already see the Nordic men standing around tapping their feet and saying, Of course you don’t get it. It’s irony. He’s being ironic about Hitler. And how many volumes are there? All the marginalized writers of the world get like two words each so that this guy can write 17 billion volumes and never really explain why he would name his book after Hitler’s when there are real people alive today who still have night terrors every single night in no small part because of the original Mein Kampf and its author? I’m not into it.
And then Ivanka Trump writing Women Who Work. I mean, seriously? Some things in that book are so absurd the only thing I can figure is that her ghostwriter was trolling her. I mean, did she really quote Toni Morrison on actually slavery shortly before making her point that women shouldn’t be slaves to time? No! Women should be masters of time. I mean, if that’s not a ghostwriter’s fuck-off, I don’t know what is.
But if anyone takes that book at face value, it’s just an attempt to make a total mockery of all social justice and feminist work to date. And of course it’s ghostwritten. It’s like all the celebrity books and celebrity parenting farces—people who are fronting like “You can do it all! Just look at me! I do it all!” when in fact they do nothing but show up for the photo shoots, denying tremendous hidden labor—the labor of working-class and underclass women (and a few men), who are actually doing the childcare and running the businesses and writing the PR brochures and these brand-building books and struggling to keep their own families fed and housed and un-deported.
That’s pretty intense hatred. Do you think it has colored your reading of other works?
I don’t read a lot of books by white men unless they come from a small press I trust. It’s a bias. I probably miss some good stuff. But it’s OK. There are lots of readers who will only read stuff by white men, so I’m not really hurting their literary economics.
What about your writing?
I never want my writing to cause afflicted people more pain. And if they tell me that it does, I want to be able to face that.
For me, writing is this intimate form of communication where people—mostly people on the margins—can comfort each other, and laugh together, and kind of sit by the fire sharing stories and some happiness and appreciation of beauty and insights about power as we’re trying to survive.
What was the last book you read that you recommend?
The last one? I don’t know! Mean by Myriam Gurba, Circadian by Chelsey Clammer, Girls Like Me by Nina Packebush. Those are books that make my heart go ping! and crack open in a good way. They help me understand what it means to be alive right now, and remind me that our experiences matter, and, yeah, we can make art out of the hard things, and you don’t have to be on the New York Times bestseller list or write yourself Important with a capital-I, like a master—look at me being a master oppressor!—to live a good and creative life.
Do you keep books or give them away?
I only have about 1,000 books right now. I give them away and I sell them. Once, with another author, I was selling my own author copies of a book at Powell’s in Portland and my author-friend wanted the buyer to know it was me, so she said, “How often do you get authors in here selling their own books for grocery money?” And the book buyer wasn’t the least bit impressed. His expression didn’t change. He said, “It happens a lot more often than you’d think.”
Have you ever physically thrown a book across a room?
I don’t think so.
What are you reading right now, and do you like it or hate it?
Right now I’m reading U.S.A. Noir edited by Johnny Temple, which is the “best of” the Akashic Noir series from the first few years—it’s great. Not a happy ending in sight. And I’m reading Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction by Patricia Highsmith even though I don’t really write suspense fiction. I’m just kind of in love with her.