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2022 is the Year of Disabled and Chronically ill Writers – 5 Book Recommendations

Reading is often considered a luxury, who has the time to devour a novel in a weekend when life demands so much of us, all of the time?

However as someone who can spend days in bed and weeks at home, books are just one way to pass the time, and enter another realm of reality, away from my own four walls. To read, whether that is a paperback, a kindle or an audio app, is to be consumed by something else, it can hold a mirror up to your own experiences, or provide insight into another’s. 

I read to expand my understanding of my surroundings, of the people I know and those I don’t, to learn about the history I wasn’t taught in school and to be prepared for the future we are all making.

Before I became disabled, I read very little of the experiences of disability or chronic illness, my understanding limited to John Green’s teenage cancer wards, or pitying memoirs of those who overcome sickness.

That is likely the same for other non disabled readers, disability is not a topic often chosen to be confronted by those who are not made to, who are not living it. It is shied away from, by readers and publishers alike, considered only if paired with inspiration or self help, historically lacking room for the messy, grey parts of illness. 

Now I write about disability, amongst other things and I read a lot more of it too. I remember first seeing M.E, one of the illnesses I live with, written on paper, in Josie George’s memoir, A Still Life.

I felt something shift beneath me, an immediate kinship with a person I had never met, but knowing they could articulate the feelings I had spent years struggling to describe.

I remember first reading I’m Tired of Chasing a Cure by Liz Moore, in the anthology Disability Visibility, and realising someone else felt the same, I won’t be a bad disabled person if I take a break from trying to get better.

It is that essay collection I credit with radicalising me into disability justice, in understanding the scope of disability and felt a permission to identify more publicly as disabled myself. I owe that book a lot.

It is a book I press into the hands of friends and strangers alike, a book I wish more non disabled people would read, to understand just an ounce of what we do.

Perhaps that is part of the problem with these books I love, they often preach to the converted. It is powerful to feel represented on the page, and the solace they bring so many readers, me included. However, I sometimes imagine what power they could do if they were read by more non disabled people too. 

Until that moment comes, these are a collection of upcoming books written by, and for, disabled and/or chronically ill people, that I hope to press into the hands of more non disabled friends. 

Swollening by Jason Purcell (22nd March, Arsenal Pulp Press) 

A poetry collection published by an independent press, Jason Purcell’s work ties together chronic pain and life as a queer person in thier debut collection. Described as providing readers with a “new language for desire, pain, illness, and possibility”, its blend of creative life writing and memorable imagery makes for unforgettable poems.

For those who have enjoyed Raymond Antrobus’ work, and Teeth in the Back of My Neck by Monika Radojevic

Easy Beauty by Chloe Cooper Jones (7th April, Virago)

Chloe Cooper Jones is an established philosophy professor and journalist, writing on a range of topics from tennis grand slams to film festivals, her memoir takes us on a journey from Brooklyn, NY, to Rome, Italy with plenty of stops in between. Cooper Jones weaves philosophical concepts with lived disabled experiences to show readers that beauty is a flawed idea from conception. 

It is for readers of lyrical essay collections like Places I’ve Taken My Body by Molly Mccully Brown, and Heavy by Kiese Laymon.

Poor Little Sick Girls by Ione Gamble (26th May, Dialogue Books)

Ione Gamble is creator of indie zine, Polyester and host of the Polyester Podcast, has penned a collection of essays that seek to explore the current position of young women today, ultra online and stuck between girlboss feminism and identity politics.

Gamble draws on her experience of being diagnosed with chronic illness at a time when her peers were learning to party, to understand the detrimental impact this exclusionary version of self care, self improvement and hustle mentality that girl bossing promotes, has on us all. 

For lovers of the sharp commentary in Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino and humorous moments in Samantha Irby’s We are Never Meeting in Real Life

Just By Looking at Him by Ryan O’Connell (7th June, Little Brown)

Ryan O’Connell is perhaps best known for his creation and starring role in the netflix series, Special. It is easy to speculate that his latest creative endeavour, is also partially autobiographical, as it centres a gay tv writer with cerebral palsey. O’connell assures us it is, in fact, a novel.

Just by looking at him is a novel about a disabled man living life, falling in and out of love, having a complicated relationship with family, and alcohol, and that seems like an almost radical premise for a fiction novel, because although it features disability, it is not the only part of the story. 

For readers who love messy protagnaists like Raven Leilani’s Luster, and brilliant queer love like Bryan Washington’s Memorial

Year of the Tiger: An Activist’s Life by Alice Wong (6th September, Penguin)

To come full circle, Alice Wong edited Disability Visibility, the book that sparked my love of disabled literature, is writing a memoir of her individual journey to becoming a disabled activist, from childhood to community organiser, it will uncover the ways Alice’s unique life has led her to become the powerhouse in the disability justice movement, that she is today.

It uses mixed media to incorporate graphics, photographs and original artwork commissioned for the book by disabled and Asian American creators, to form a scrapbook-like texture. Wong’s voice provides a much needed perspective into the often extremely white, disabled activism space.

It will be for readers of her previous anthology as well as those who have enjoyed experimental and creative nonfiction like Maggie Nelson’s Jane, and Carmen Maria Machado’s Dream House

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