Ductless Glands and Viscera: The Many Strange Forms of the Body As I See Them Through Fiction

I've been revisiting a lot of my favorite books in the last few months as I was completing my own. They all have to do with addressing the finite and infinite nature of the human body, and how that calls into question our definitions of ourselves as people. I hope you enjoy the list below.

Forever

Forever

by Pete Hamill

A man becomes immortal during the 1700's on Manhattan island. The condition of his immortality? He cannot leave Manhattan island.

It's a 640-page book that I read twice in two weeks. I was fascinated by the main character's relationship with his body: at one point, during his mortal life, he knew it was a body he would have for a limited period of time until he died. With his immortality he had to force himself — and at many times very messily and sadly — to accept that he was now a permanent vehicle through time. He would absorb the knowledge, experience and wisdom that no one else in the world would be able to do, merely because of the limited time people have in our own bodies. It got me thinking about what I would do with my time if I knew I'd never die...

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The Book of Revelation

The Book of Revelation

by Rupert Thomson

A professional dancer goes out for a pack of cigarettes and gets kidnapped by three hooded and cloaked women. They bolt him to the floor and use him as their sexual captive — and not in the "fun" way at all.

A dancer is always very deeply in tune with his body, and in this story it suddenly becomes a prison, much like his mind. It is something he cannot trust, as it betrays him with the stimulations of his captors; it is something he cannot use for expression because he is bound to the floor — he is not even able to stand for himself, literally and figuratively. His strength diminishes, as does his sense of self.

The body has a very deep link here to self-ownership, spiritual freedom, and the overall notion of existing for one's own experience, not for anyone else's.

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The Interloper

The Interloper

by Antoine Wilson

This was one of my favorite books when I worked in the publishing industry. A guy takes a very odd route to get back at his brother-in-law's killer, by posing as a woman through letters to him in jail and, in a sense, vying for his affections.

There's a wonderful psychothriller-ish game played here with gender identification and how easily one can adopt a brand new life by sometimes just changing the way one dresses. And you can reach forward into an idealized self, or back into the past, to reclaim a part of one's personality that's been lost or neglected.

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Giovanni's Room

Giovanni's Room

by James Baldwin

An amazingly mysterious and touching affair between David and Giovanni in Paris. The fun catch is that David is engaged to a woman. Of the many, MANY questions this gorgeous book raises about the body, I love how much Baldwin says without saying, and that talks about the relationship between sex and the body. Is sexuality ruled by the mind or is it something hardwired into the body? Where do desires come from? Is it possible to make them "go away"? I LOVE this book.

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The Selected Stories of Patricia Highsmith

The Selected Stories of Patricia Highsmith

by Patricia Highsmith

Women. Crazy women, lazy women, deranged women, bored women, angry women ... random random women!

Now, upon listening to the word women — are you thinking solely about the modern human woman? What about an elephant? Or a cave woman? Highsmith is always a treat when it comes to throwing the familiar into very unfamiliar and uneasy territory.

I absolutely love the things she does with the body through these collected works, making the reader connect to the experience of an animal or a person you would probably never want to so much as sit next to in real life, by making the reader COMPLETELY familiar with what it is to live as them in their bodies. Spooky stuff.

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