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Written 8/14/2022

Lately it seems that if I want to read something on my own terms, it's only nonfiction. I think it's a side effect of primarily reading fiction for classes. Of course there's academic papers, articles, and textbooks, but I overall spend so little time on those compared to fiction.

As this is my first proper recommendation, I'd like to define how I distinguish reviews versus recommendations. If I'm reviewing something I want to talk about the things I like, dislike, or feel mixed towards with some level of depth. It doesn't have to be a great deal of it, but largely I am trying to quantify why I think something is or isn't worth the time I put into it. In essence, a review is an argument. Recommendations are a little more messy. I'm not trying to pick apart or analyze on the same level of detail. There's room here to get more personal, unstructured, and discuss affective experiences rather than formal qualities. Essentially, it's a highlight, a request to check this out, and more about my personal experience.

So, what is Brilliant Imperfection? It's a collection of memoirs and analysis focused primarily on disability studies and LGBT studies but certainly applicable to several other disciplines. The book focuses on the concept of a cure, that being the idea that something normal and abnormal in our society must be cured. The concept of a cure is complex and deeply ambiguous in its permutations. It is at once the driving force behind life saving medical treatment, a distraction from improving material conditions of people living, medical abuse, and a threat.

Eli Clare's writing is evocative and easy to read. Even if you aren't super familiar with academic writing or disability studies, there's nothing to be intimidated by here. I was able to get through it in two afternoons. Every concept is explored in depth with a great deal of personal and historical example tied to it. The biggest barrier by far is the subject matter itself. Though the book contains a trigger warning, it's still difficult to grapple with the ableist insults including the r slur, accounts of medical abuse, and accounts of ableism.

For me at least, grapple is truly an appropriate word. Reading I considered my own relationship to labels of normal, abnormal, natural, and unnatural. I considered the way I had accepted cure wholeheartedly, with hesitation, with ambiguity, and rejected it. Most of all, I considered the cures I didn't have much of a say in and what those meant for me in the past and continue to mean for me to this day. It's a lot of wrestling with personal history and perspective. That experience alone I think is why this book hit so hard. Cure is supremely messy and I've experienced that messiness firsthand.

The ebook is readily available online at around 25 USD most places I checked. Overall, if you're interested in how normal versus abnormal is defined, how society seeks to fix it, and how that ideology effects people both on a systemic, sweeping level and the deeply personal, it's worth a read. Though honestly, considering how deeply this insight and education is needed, I think it'd do a great deal of good for more people to read than just that.