The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

book review maggie nelson

There are a few writers that I periodically become obsessed with and decide I have to read everything they’ve ever written. This impulse is usually spurned by reading one of their books or essays, being awestruck the entire time by how electric their words are, and then homing in on every detail of their life and saying, “I want to be like you when I grow up” while I manically take notes on their Wikipedia page.  

Maggie Nelson is one such writer. I’m picking up on a thread from a few years ago, when my college capstone class read Jane: A Murder, which centers around the murder of her mother’s sister and is her first published book of poems. It’s a stunning piece of art. The same can be said of The Argonauts, which she wrote much later in her career and is not poetry, but rather a genre-defying work of auto-theory that bounces between being searingly honest and academically detached. It hits a sweet spot, to be sure, carefully walking an unprecedented tightrope, triumphantly making it across. 

This book, of course, did not disappoint. It’s strange and intimate and smart — sometimes too smart for me, honestly, but I didn’t even mind. The way Nelson writes about queerness, privilege, motherhood, and death are unparalleled to anything I’ve ever read, plus she introduced me to snippets of queer theory that I’m now excited to dive into. She braids together all these exciting strands and creates something new and shiny. It’s impossible, I think, to read this book and to not think, What a brilliant woman. And also impossible not to learn something essential about identity and compassion. In short, I was right to be obsessed with her. I’m adding her to my list of “Writers To Look Up To and Emulate Whenever Possible.” This list is beginning to get very long, indeed. 

If you’re looking for something challenging and original that will make you think and reflect, this one is for you. I will say, however, that I do not recommend it as an audiobook. Nelson is often quoting other writers, which is denoted by italics and a note off to the side that might be difficult to follow if not for the visual cues. Also, it’s a complex book and not one you can zone out on. A good one to own, to underline, and to dog-ear.  

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