Episode 18: Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Mattilda Berstein Sycamore's books

Books Mentioned on The Spine

  • Hardy Boys series
  • Nancy Drew series
  • Watership Down by Richard Adams
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  • Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
  • Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
  • The Age of Reason by Jean-Paul Sartre
  • No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre
  • The Book of Questions by Edmond Jabes
  • Bastard out of North Carolina by Dorothy Allison
  • American Dreams by Sapphire
  • Close to the Knives by David Wojnarowicz
  • Memories That Smell Like Gasoline by David Wojnarowicz
  • Queer and Loathing: Rants and Raves of a Raging AIDS Clone by David B. Feinberg
  • The Gifts of the Body by Rebecca Brown
  • Jack the Modernist by Robert Gluck
  • My American History: Lesbian and Gay Life During the Reagan and Bush Years by Sarah Schulman
  • Stagestruck: Theater, AIDS, and the Marketing of Gay America by Sarah Schulman
  • Gentrification of the Mind by Sarah Schulman
  • Ties That Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences by Sarah Schulman
  • Outlaw Woman by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
  • Working Toward Whiteness: How America's Immigrants Became White: The Strange Journey from Ellis Island to the Suburbs by David R. Roediger
  • Troubled by His Complexion by Lissa Mclaughlin
  • Citizen by Claudia Rankine

Writers Mentioned

  • Agatha Christie
  • Madeleine L’Engle
  • John Steinbeck
  • Ernest Hemmingway
  • James Jones
  • Angela Davis
  • Assata Shakur
  • Elaine Brown
  • Jane Alpert
  • Bill Ayers

Memorable Quotes

  • "In sixth grade, I got really ambitious. And I would go to the bookstore, go to the classics section, and whatever I thought was the most important classic — I don't know how I decided, maybe it was some influence from my father, or maybe it was just something I knew I'd heard of, or it was big (that was important, too) — So, I remember, in sixth grade, I read War and Peace. And I loved it for how elaborate it was. The more elaborate the book, the more I could escape."
  • "I remember [my teacher in sixth grade] having...well, in that point in my life, I really loved teachers. Because at that point in my life, kids would just tease me and taunt me. And teachers I felt like I could relate to more. Because, you know, they liked books!"
  • "So this is the early '90s, and everywhere around me it felt like people were dying of AIDS or drug addiction or suicide, and I felt like [Close to the Knives by David Wojnarowicz] really reflected my reality, especially that rage."
  • "What [David Wojnarowicz's] books allowed for and also, I think, my life, perhaps — was an embodied experience of being queer, which means bringing sex and sexuality out of the bedroom and into all of these other realms."
  • On the 1990s in San Francisco: "The whole goal of living in the world was to build our own culture and create relationships that were not predicated on everything we grew up with. And to constantly be challenging everything. And books were really a part of that. For me, that was really liberating and intoxicating."
  • "That's what, to me, in some ways, a really important book can do. It brings you into yourself emotionally. And that doesn't mean that it has to be your own experience. or even a similar experience. But it allows you to feel more deeply in the present."
  • On "brave writing": "...when you can claim not only where your analysis takes you, but also where your analysis fails."
  • "I'm really drawn to works like that [with brave writing]. Because I feel like the queer worlds that I've always believed in have really failed me. And that's what we need to get past. And so I think I'm drawn to works that talk about that failure. The works that ignore the failure, in my opinion, continue the violence."
  • "Fiction that speaks to me is usually fiction that's challenging in form. It's sort of bringing personal experience into but in order to challenge the way we see the world so we can a more nuanced and complicated way of seeing the world."
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore