Nothing I say in this review is going to adequately express how generally good this book is because I keep wallowing in the ways it is impacting me personally. It is very good and I think a lot of people should read it. Especially now when there is a rising focus on driving LGBTQ+ folks further into the margins and erasing them from the present.
Hannah Gadsby’s Ten Steps to Nanette has laid me out flat. Before flattening me, it knocked me for a loop, took me on a rollercoaster ride and has generally discombobulated me. I’ve known for a while that I have executive function issues and probably attention deficit disorder. Reading Hannah Gadsby’s writings about the way she perceives and interacts with the world felt so familiar. I don’t think I’ve spent so much of a book seeing myself since reading the first Murderbot Diaries instalment, All Systems Red. There are similarly a lot of differences too. I lack the physical and mental capabilities of Martha Wells’ fictional agender SecUnit. I had an easier childhood and young adulthood than the very real Hannah Gadsby and a much less successful adulthood. I think that she would understand the relationship between why my earlier successes happened (external structures) and my later in life fall off the cliff (no guard rails).
Ten Steps to Nanette is a fantastic memoir. She has a specific agenda beyond telling her life story. Gadsby never dives into trauma porn, but she breaks my heart every few pages. As she walks us through her life, she provides larger context in some places. Even before she knew she was a lesbian, she was internalizing the hateful and violent messages about homosexuality. Even if she had not been gay, she was still marinated in misogyny, fatphobia, and told a hundred ways that she wasn’t good enough. Kindness and compassion are a balm for the shame. She is walking us towards the pieces of self knowledge that allow her to be more compassionate towards herself and others.
If you watched Nanette or Douglas, or her other standup shows from earlier in her career, some of the content of this book will be familiar. It is funny, and informative. There is tension. At the beginning of the book, when talking about whether Nanette was a comedy or not, she says she took what she knew about comedy and “pulled it all apart and built a monster out of its corpse.” The source of Hannah Gadsby’s comedy is her own life. Ten Steps to Nanette is partly her pulling apart the bones of her own life, but she is not building a monster from it’s corpse. She is identifying the bones that were turned into monsters as a matter of survival.
Several years ago I was working with a high school senior who was struggling to get through school. She was attending a small, private school for kids with learning disabilities. She struggled to explain herself, would become overwhelmed, and shut down. One day we were meeting with a teacher to discuss how she could fix a project that she needed a passing grade on in order to graduate. During the meeting when she was trying to explain why she was having a hard time, she put her head down on the table clearly at the end of her words. The teacher spent a long moment looking at his student with her head on the table, clearly ready to be failed. He apologized to her for not recognizing how hard she had worked on the project and for not seeing the effort she was making. He asked her if she could make a couple of format changes and agreed to give her an extension without penalty. It was a moment of kindness that should not be as extraordinary as it was. I thought of that choice that the teacher made to see that his student was engaged, was making an effort even if she wasn’t fulfilling all of the technical requirements several times while I was reading.
CWs for everyday cruelty, CSA, physical assault, rape, abortion, physical injuries, surgery, suicidal ideation, self-loathing, homophobia, misogyny, homelessness, fatphobia, drinking, drug use, and shame.
I received this as an advance reader copy from Random House – Ballantine and NetGalley. My opinions are my own.