The Zinophile: Texts on Texts, Sometimes Literally — Kate Zambreno, Illuminati Girl Gang, and the Making of Books


Words about words; books about books. If a place where you’ve traveled can inspire a zine, why not the words you’ve just read? Last week, I talked with the editors of It’s Complicated for a piece that should run here in the next few days. The concept behind their zine? Creating feminist responses to misogynist art; their first issue covers everything from the Afghan Whigs to Ayn Rand. The writing is terrific, challenging assumptions as much as it illuminates particular literary and musical corners.

I came to Kate Zambreno’s Apolplexia, Toxic Shock, and Toilet Bowl: Some Notes on Why I Write as a huge admirer of Heroines, her 2012 memoir-as-manifesto that did its fair share of challenging preconceptions of literary history and (hopefully) served to point readers in the directions of numerous underrated writers. This chapbook, adapted from a lecture she gave at Naropa University, takes a similar approach, blending observations about literature with more ruminations about her own life and work. (There’s one passage that I’m pretty sure alludes to her novel Green Girl‘s appearance in last year’s Tournament of Books, for instance.) The figures around which this chapbook is organized are real (Valerie Solanis) and fictional (Erika Kohut, from Elfriede Jelinek’s The Piano Teacher.) From my perspective, it worked as a kind of post-script to Heroines; for others, it may be an introduction to Zambreno’s bracing, challenging approach to literary and cultural criticism.

Earlier this year, we published a story from Illuminati Girl Gang editor Gabby Gabby; not long after that, I ordered a copy of the the third issue of the zine in question. It contains equal parts fiction, poetry, and visual art; there doesn’t seem to be an overarching theme for this issue, though the opening page does contain a dedication to the Destiny’s Child reunion. Some of the art in here — including a video-game-inspired piece called Sub-Spawn, which for me was one of the highlights — nods in the direction of modern culture, from Apple software to chat applications. Melissa Broder contributed a pair of poems, and the issue closes with a fragmented story by Frank Hinton called “The Bats.” (The title is indeed a nod to the long-running indiepop band.) At first, it seems to be a kind of collage, until a quickly-accumulating passage at the end provides a kind of context for what has come before.

A couple of months ago, I picked up an updated edition of Sarah Royal’s The Book Bindery. It comes from the long tradition of zines about offbeat jobs, and this one certainly qualifies: working in Chicago for a place run by two feuding brothers, one of whom has a penchant for drag. Royal is an observant writer, and she captures the idiosyncrasies of her co-workers well. She’s able to distance herself from the action while still remaining an active participant in the workplace drama — no small accomplishment.

After my interview with the editors of It’s Complicated had ended, we talked about where we went to buy zines. We talked about a few places, both in New York and accessible via mailorder — but right about here would probably be a good place to mention that my copy of The Book Bindery was purchased on a November trip to Portland, and the longrunning zine and small press bookstore Reading Frenzy. Since then, their space has ceased to exist, and they’re currently running a Kickstarter campaign in support of their relocation.

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