I first became aware of Matt Lubchansky because of this installment of their webcomic, Please Listen to Me. I didn’t understand the posture of this comic when I first read it; was Lubchansky actually an apologist for #NotAllMen? Were they saying that dudes in fedoras well-actually-ing were doing a superherolike service?
No. Definitely not. I read Please Listen to Me obsessively after that, even buying a print of Lubchansky’s exceptional metaphor for social media to hang over my desk, and discovered that they were a very specific voice from the liberal end of the political spectrum: humorous doomsaying. The absurdity of PLTM is part of its effectiveness. People melt, and break, and talk to monsters, and argue peppily through hellscapes, and reveal their inner madnesses. It’s a relief to see oneself in PLTM, and it’s fun to marvel at how quickly and intelligently it moves through the stages of a joke.
Alas, PLTM is no more; Lubchansky has moved on. They collected PLTM in a book, Skeleton Party, and they’re assembling a project called Our Wonderful Future (us Lubchansky Patreon-ers are in the know). For now, they are the associate editor of the Nib, and they recently drew a piece for the Cut about lipstick and being genderqueer.
I was a little overexcited to nab Lubchansky for this series, but I tried not to be a creepy fangirl in the questions that follow.
Tell me about your hatred of books. Do you hate certain kinds of books, certain authors, or just particular books when they come along?
I think I have two real types of things that I hate.
I have a tendency to hate books that are The Canon for whatever reason—I got completely derailed in high school from the “honors” English track because, freshman year, I straight-up refused to read past page 40 or so of Great Expectations. And I’ve always loved reading and been a reader—I was reading adult novels when I was in early middle school. I hated being told to read stodgy old stuff that I couldn’t relate to, and I was usually busy reading Dune or some genre stuff.
The other thing I really hate, I think as a big reader of genre fiction, is things that are overly technical “hard sci-fi” nonsense. I’m much more into say, Margaret Atwood or Ursula LeGuin than the Neal Stephensons or Andy Weirs of the world. Who cares if it’s realistic?! A genre story should either be telling us about how we live now, or it should be stupid fun. Set the rules of your universe and live by them. Who cares how you grow potatoes in space? If I wanted that, I’d read a nonfiction book (and often do!).
Any examples from these categories?
My number one book I hated, all time: The Scarlet Letter. This might be the worst book ever written.
Worst book I read recently: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, for reasons outlined above.
The Scarlet Letter is everything I hate about The Canon. Like, who cares about this book? It’s an interesting artifact for how people thought at the time, I suppose, but it’s written so horribly and clearly was sold on the author being a famous guy’s grandson. You could teach the same stuff in English class with excerpts. What a horrible book!
Seveneves really bothered me in a lot of ways. There was a ton of, like, Tom Clancy-esque down and dirty stuff about how space travel works. But it was so totally dry, with bits of extremely early 2010s Epic Bacon Internet slang thrown in. It felt lazy!
But the biggest issue I had with it was politically—it framed so much stuff with the idea of “politics” being contrary to scientific progress, which is a stance I feel is super ignorant. Being apolitical is a political position. I hate the idea that “science” is something to be worshipped and not just a way that human beings, yes, with politics, use to organize thought.
Do you think this hatred has changed your reading habits?
For sure! My hatred of The Canon definitely made me much slower to try a book that’s considered a classic, or something old, or something I had to read for school. Like, I think The Great Gatsby is really wonderful. Now I feel a lot more open to try things, but I know pretty quickly if I’m not going to connect with something. I used to have a rule about never abandoning books, but I’m finding I care a lot less about that now. That makes me a lot more willing to try new stuff, too.
Do you think it’s altered anything about your writing?
Absolutely. I’m always working on fiction—the big thing I want to do eventually is a science fiction comic—and I try to take the lessons from the stuff I like, obviously. But as much as it interests me when I’m building out the world, nobody gives a crap how the spaceship’s engine works. Unless you’re Douglas Adams and you can make that funny and interesting and integral to how the universe works.
What was the last book you read that you recommend?
I recently blew through most of Ursula K. LeGuin’s bibliography, and I really loved The Dispossessed. I keep telling people to read it.
The way it describes capitalism, which we’re all swimming in 100% of our lives, as, truly an alien would see it, is just so breathtaking. It articulates so well feelings that I think most people have but can’t put words to. The whole book is such a good magic trick, one I think science fiction is an ideal vehicle for: it makes you think, fundamentally, about how society works. It makes you ask what we could do to ensure that all people could live with dignity. But it’s never like “hey! hey! look at this thing!”—it just plunges you in.
Do you keep books or give them away?
I like to keep them. I’m a re-reader.
Have you ever physically thrown a book across a room?
I have never done this!
What are you reading right now, and do you like it or hate it?
I’m reading All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung, and I love it so far. Her point of view is so, so kind, without being sappy or sentimental. And her prose is really beautiful.