Exclusive preview: Daniel Mallory Ortberg returns with new memoir-in-essays
If you don’t know Daniel Mallory Ortberg’s writing, it may be time to start. The acclaimed author of Texts From Jane Eyre and The Merry Spinster, and “Dear Prudence” columnist for Slate, has emerged as one of the freshest voices around when it comes to smart, comic, and occasionally strange nonfiction.
He’ll return to bookshelves early next year with Something That May Shock and Discredit You, which looks like his best book yet. It’ll span pop culture, covering everything from the beauty of William Shatner to a sinister reimagining of HGTV’s House Hunters.
Ortberg has exclusively shared a preview of the book with EW, in the form of a cover and excerpt reveal, the latter of which touches on the author’s recent gender transition. Read on below. Something That May Shock and Discredit You publishes Jan. 28, 2020, and is available for pre-order.
Excerpt From Something That May Shock and Discredit You, by Daniel Mallory Ortberg
INTERLUDE I: CHAPTER TITLES FROM THE ON-THE-NOSE, PO-FACED TRANSMASCULINE MEMOIR I AM TRYING NOT TO WRITE
The first step in writing a book is not writing the wrong book. The fight against writing Son of a Preacher Man: Becoming Daniel Mallory Ortberg, My Journey Trekking Through the Transformative Expedition of Emergence, Voyaging Shiftward Into Form—An Odyssey in Two Sexes: Pilgrimage to Ladhood must be renewed every day. I am tempted always to make some force or organization outside of myself responsible for my own discomfort, to retroactively apply consistency to my sense of self as a child, to wax poetic about something in order to cover up uncertainty, to overshare in great detail out of fear that the details will be dragged out of me if I don’t volunteer them first, and to lapse into cliché in order to get what I want as quickly as possible.
Chapter One: An Outdoor Picnic Signifying the Successful Reintegration into the Family Unit, and a Flashback
A description of the author, naked, at five, then again at twelve, then again at twenty, then again at thirty-two.
Chapter Two: A Mostly Forced Poetic Description of My Hormone Delivery System
This is my voice four seconds on T. This is my voice after saying, “This is my voice four seconds on T,” so probably another seven seconds on T. This is the molecular structure of testosterone. This is a rhapsodic list of side effects.
Chapter Three: My Male Privilege? My Male Privilege Seems So Tenuous
But I’m also scared about my male privilege!
Chapter Four: *Extreme Paula Cole Voice* Where Have All the Tomboys Gone?
I’m sorry I lured the tomboys away to Boy Island. I am heartily sorry for my fault, my fault, my grievous fault, and I promise to make a good-faith error at restitution, returning at least five tomboys or their cash equivalent.
Chapter Five: An Extensive Water-Based Metaphor
Trans people: always mesmerized, held, fascinated, and ultimately defeated by reflective surfaces. What’s that, you say? A mirror of some kind? Hold it up to me so I might gaze at it with longing and dissatisfaction
Chapter Six: Have You Heard Of
Mermaids/Centaurs/Sirens/Sphinxes/Butterflies/Snakes/Werewolves/Any Other Cryptid? Well, You’re Going to Hear About Them Now.
They’re like me!!
Chapter Seven: Maiden, Mother, Crone, Mothman, Hans Moleman
Chapter Eight: Footnotes, For Legitimacy
In which the author clearly feels obligated to badly summarize theory in order to offer a publicly defensible sense of self.
Chapter Nine: An Exhaustive Recounting of Every Crush I Have Ever Had, Tagged and Exhibited, Followed by Six Pages of Layman’s Chemistry
In which the author has grown a thin, dreadful mustache, which the reader can intuitively sense through the page.
Chapter Ten: What If Masculinity, But In A Soft, Sort Of Drape-y Jacket
That’d be nice, right? Maybe in velvet, I don’t know. It’s soft now! We can all enjoy it this way.
Chapter Eleven: In Which I Interview Every Man Who Refused To Walk Through A Door I Held Open For Them Before Transition And Inform Them That They Are Retroactively Gay Now
If I’m honest – which I’m not – I did it for male attention. (Both the opening of doors and transition.)
Chapter Twelve: “Liminal”
In which the author refers to himself, alternately, as a “gender rebel,” “smuggler,” “real-life-sexual-crossing-guard,” and, for some reason, a cyborg.
Chapter Thirteen: In Which I Rescue Masculinity by Taking Up Weight Lifting, Heroically
It’s subversive and important when I do it.