What to read this week (copy) (copy)

In “What To Read This Week,” arts contributor Aroog Khaliq suggests novels, poetry, articles and other forms of writing, often centering around a timely topic or theme. This week, Khaliq recommends advice columns. 

Aroog Khaliq is a senior from Overland Park studying English and psychology.

As the summer semester draws to a close, fluid fall semester plans carry with them uncertainty and unrest for students and faculty alike. Advice columnists have wisdom — or something like it — to offer year-round, but their words are especially resonant now, when comfort is transient at best and illusory at worst.

This genre of writing uniquely offers comfort, hope and support even when the problems dissected are distinct from our own. The excerpts below are no exception.

I Don’t Think I Can Handle 18 Months of Isolation” by Heather Havrilesky

Havrilesky is an author, a TV critic for Salon and the advice columnist behind “Ask Polly,” which has been published at The Awl and New York Magazine, and is currently published at The Cut. In this excerpt, she helps a reader confront the helplessness that comes with remaining quarantined for an indefinite period of time.

“This enormous calamity dwarfs you and exists outside your thoughts and feelings completely. You have to treat yourself with extreme care under these conditions. This is an opportunity for you to finally stand up for what you need at every level, in a very concentrated and intense way that is fully justifiable and concrete. This is a chance for you to design a map that you can use to navigate this disaster and every other disaster to follow this one... This is your time to learn to blot out the parts of the world that are just too gigantic and out of your control for you to metabolize, and focus on what you can actually control and have influence over instead. You have to avoid big questions and keep moving forward... These high stakes are a blessing disguised as a curse. Take this blessing.

What sustains you? What can you create, every day, to bring you life, to build up your strength? What beauty is lurking underneath these terrors? As Ranier Maria Rilke wrote, ‘No feeling is final.’”

What to Do With All This Anger” by John Paul Brammer

Brammer is a writer and visual artist spearheading the “¡Hola Papi!” advice column since its beginnings at INTO Magazine in 2017. Since then, the column has been published at Condé Nast and Out Magazine before shifting to Brammer’s Substack site.

In this excerpt, Brammer examines anger and how social constructs uniquely disparage its expression among people of color.

“... what you and I call ‘anger’ is actually at least a hundred thousand different emotional cocktails with different iterations and expressions. There is righteous anger, jealous anger, anger at yourself, and anger with the world. Anger can bring a mighty institution to its knees, or it can eat you alive from the inside until there’s nothing left. It can even do both at the same time.

... We do live in an unfair world. We aren’t always or even usually treated well. This can be a cold, cruel reality. I’ve thought, and thought, and thought about this, and I never come up with a substantive enough rebuttal to do away with the bitterness entirely.

Lucky for us, though, multiple things can be true. Things can be bad, and they can be good. We can be angry and useful, angry and productive, angry and righteous. I think anger is like lightning, BNB. You can be a conductor and let it travel through you, let it galvanize and energize, or you can let it burn you to a crisp.”

“Ask Baba Yaga: Otherworldly Advice for Everyday Troubles” by Taisia Kitaiskaia

Kitaiskaia is a Russian-American author and poet, a Yaddo and James A. Michener Center for Writers fellow, and a three-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize. Taking on the perspective of Baba Yaga, a witch from Russian folklore, she dispenses advice to modern readers in short poems. In this excerpt, she advises those who struggle with failed relationships and choking loneliness.

“The life of every being has, some vast emptiness

in it. Unspeakable, grievous. There is a field in

the middle of my wood where no one goes. It is the

heart of my loneliness. I go there to dance & be

quiet. & I love the intensity of its silence. If I

were human I would wish to take another there. You

must know every contour of yr emptiness before you

can know whom you wish to invite in.”

These thoughtful meditations answer as many questions as they generate, and that is why I chose advice as my final “What to Read This Week” topic. Every recommendation is an opportunity to consider something anew, and advice columns are a quick way to spark inquisitiveness. No matter how our worlds change, keep reading and keep wondering, Jayhawks.

Further Reading

  • Ask Aroog: Can I get a 'slope equation' for love?” by Aroog Khaliq
  • “How to Be a Person in the World: Ask Polly's Guide Through the Paradoxes of Modern Life” by Heather Havrilesky
  • “Wow, No Thank You.” by Samantha Irby 
  • “Little Weirds” by Jenny Slate