On Our Shelves: The Argonauts

We have a book recommendation for you today—and since this title is cat and staff approved, you really can’t go wrong!

The Argonauts

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson (Graywolf Press)

Maggie Nelson’s 2009 Bluets was a rigorous and engaging analysis of heartbreak and despair, filtered through an exploration of the color blue—and now, with The Argonauts, we have a similarly smart, genre-bending, inventive examination of Nelson’s most recent intellectual obsessions: emotional intimacy and sex, pregnancy and motherhood, and, at the heart of the book, the author’s romantic relationship with the fluidly gendered artist Harry Dodge. Just as Dodge rejects the familiar binary narrative that sees transgender people as ‘trapped in the wrong body’—“I’m not on my way anywhere, Harry sometimes tells inquirers”—Nelson rejects a culture that demands we pick a side in every debate, and instead embraces ambiguity and improvisation:

I looked anew at unnameable things, or at least things whose essence is flicker, flow. . . . I stopped smugly repeating ‘Everything that can be thought at all can be thought clearly’ and wondered, anew, can everything be thought.

And, fittingly, Nelson’s spare and swirling prose defies categorization, moving deftly from reminiscence to criticism to philosophy. Even a ‘conventional’ experience like motherhood becomes somehow stranger and richer when seen through Nelson’s fearless reflections. Her aim is not to define, but to question—to seek comfort and freedom in uncertainty and transition. If you’re looking for a beautifully written memoir that challenges you and thumbs its nose at traditional genre expectations, The Argonauts might be just the book for you.