Writer in Residence

17 for 2017: Lauren Berlant recommends Long Division and How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America

By Chase Joynt

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7. Long Division and How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon recommended by Lauren Berlant

Kiese-Laymon-and-book

Throughout my tenure as the December Writer-In-Residence, I will be assembling a list of 17 must-read-books for 2017. To accomplish this numerically satisfying task, I have asked 17 people whose work I adore to suggest one title for the list. Consult the end of each post for the growing list of recommendations! 

Lauren Berlant is George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor of English at the University of Chicago. Author of numerous books, articles and op-eds, Co-inventor of the concept "heteronormativity," Berlant remains at the epicenter of various feminist and queer scholarships and related debates. Throughout your theoretical and literary travels, you may have encountered the phrase ‘cruel optimism,’ the notion that our attachment to certain objects and fantasies actually inhibits our ability to thrive. Those ideas and words are hers. Ever wondered why we tend to stay in relationships long after they stop working? Me too. Shall we keep reading? I met Lauren while I was in residence as a Mellon Fellow for Arts Practice and Scholarship at the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry. There, I watched her navigate rooms of students, artists, strangers and colleagues; endlessly taking risks to create pedagogical encounters through ideas that inspired the least cruel, and most optimistic, of scenes. 

From Lauren:

Kiese Laymon, Long Division and How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, two frank, funny, painful, dark and prophetic, sharp-seeing books. It’s hard to know where fiction, fantasy and life begin and end in them, and maybe that doesn't matter. They’re situated in the long history of race and intimacy in America, and with an openness that’s at once inviting and hard. Near them on the desk: Claudia Rankine, Citizen, with the films on VimeoJoshua Clover’s Red Epic; Karen Russell’s novella Sleep Donation, all about the ordinariness of suffering structural violence and the theft of the reparative time people don’t give themselves. For thinking positively about the political moment see Cathy Cohen’s interview in Signs, “Ask a Feminist”; for thinking about what we can build from human relations, the classic Michel Foucault, “Friendship as a Way of Life.” I offer many texts though the request was for one book, because great work is great in context.

Stay tuned as we build the ultimate 2017 reading list! A new suggestion from an inspired thinker emerges every-other-day for the month of December on open-book.ca.

17 for 2017:

1. Mariko Tamaki recommends The Land of Forgotten Girls

2. Sheila Heti recommends The Normal Personality: A New Way of Thinking about People

3. Vivek Shraya recommends The Mothers

4. Kate Bornstein recommends Siddhartha

5. Casey Mecija recommends Tropical Renditions: Making Musical Scenes in Filipino America

6. Morgan M. Page recommends Small Beauty

December Writer-In-Residence

Chase Joynt is a filmmaker and writer. His latest two films Genderize and Between You and Me are now streaming live online with CBC Digital Docs. His first book, You Only Live Twice (co-authored with Mike Hoolboom) was published by Coach House Books and just named one of the Best Books of 2016 by The Globe and Mail and CBC. His second book The Case of Agnes (co-authored with Kristen Schilt) is forthcoming from Duke University Press.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.


Chase Joynt is a Toronto-based moving-image artist and writer who has exhibited his work internationally. He recently received a Mellon Fellowship in Arts Practice and Scholarship at the University of Chicago.

You can write to Chase throughout the month of December at writer@open-book.ca