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Introducing: the Sword & Sandwich Book Club!
An adventure with Emma Goldman, everyone's favorite "dangerous little anarchist"
Edited by David Swanson
Hello and welcome, especially to new subscribers!
I assume a lot of you got here on your way to jumping ship from Twitter, or at least trying to keep track of folks whose thoughts you enjoy before the whole platform vaporizes. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the vote of confidence.
So I am happy to announce a new initiative over here at the Sword & the Sandwich HQ (my dining room table + fire escape where I go smoke cigarettes)—a book club!
My editor David Swanson and I debated long and fiercely over what book to focus on, but given my love of chapter-by-chapter analysis, our shared affection for works in the public domain, and frequent audience requests for more audio content, the choice gradually became obvious. For the First Inaugural Sword & the Sandwich Book Club, we’ll be focusing on Emma Goldman’s 1931 memoir, Living My Life.
Goldman—whose sister calls her a “dangerous little anarchist” in Chapter 1—was a Jewish woman, a free-love revolutionary, a New Yorker, a multilingual, world-spanning anarchist, and an absolutely fascinating character, telling her story in her own words at the age of 62, nine years before her death. Autobiographical prose did not come easy to a lifelong polemicist (at one point in the dedication, she discusses wanting to throw her secretary into St. Tropez Bay, an animus that was apparently mutual), but a great, vivid, radical life shines through the pages. In this chapter she meets the love of her life in a Lower East Side café, begins work at a Rochester corset factory, becomes an anarchist, and learns a dramatic truth about her patrimony.
The book club will be for paid subscribers only—but given that we’ll be analyzing the life of one of the most famous and fiery anarchists of all time, if $5 a month or $50/year presents a financial obstacle, email me and I’ll gift you a subscription.
What you’ll get:
An original audio recording by me of each chapter, so you can Goldman on the go. (This week’s first chapter is a free preview of the 54 to come!)
A summary and light historical contextualization of each chapter. (For Chapter 1, take a gander at this short but sweet summary of the Haymarket Riots and trials from the Illinois Labor History Society; this 1906 elegy to Johann Most from the Anarchist library; and this lovely precis on Goldman and her anarchist pals’ influence on New York City from the Village Voice.)
An open forum for a discussion of each chapter, confined to paid subscribers, which I will participate in with enthusiasm!
In the interests of not being a profiteer, 10% of subscription revenue will be donated to Food Not Bombs, the longstanding anarchist food distribution organization.
If all this piques your interest, hit subscribe below (10% off for annual subscriptions):
If you prefer to read on Kindle/ebook, you can get that version here (but it’s definitely got some typos and transcription errors).
For those with a yen for hard copy, you can find it in print here. (The Penguin Classics edition is severely abridged, so not recommended.)
And, of course, please enjoy listening to the first chapter of Goldman’s memoirs! (I think it’s very telling that she writes in vivid detail about the Haymarket Riots way before she mentions, say, fleeing Russia at the age of 15 to avoid her tyrannical father forcing her into a marriage. Welcome to Goldmantown!)
(It’s basically a serialized audiobook.)
And now a bit of commentary on current events to round out the post—and keep free subscribers assured that you’ll still get a generous dose of meandering prose and a sandwich essay each week right to your inbox.
On Musk-era Twitter: As a freelance writer, even with the dubious security of a book contract, I can’t feel particularly blasé about the potential immolation of a platform I’ve used for over a decade, with a built-in audience of 150,000+ people to listen as I post very serious articles, but also natter about my hair, gender and the complex politics of the feral cat colony abutting my backyard. It’s something that I guess I took for granted a bit—the contact with editors, the ability to engage in something that felt like public intellectual discourse, and even the hollow but invigorating tête-à-têtes with red-pilled idiots who piled on me but never broke my spirit.
Either way, the post-Twitter world is one impoverished of a broader network of weird friendships, casual professional networking, and occasional but sublime silliness. The site might survive, but a month of Elon Musk antics has certainly created an aura of profound uncertainty—along with thousands of shattered livelihoods and a great deal of chaos. Looking at it all, particularly the thin-lipped dunderhead yanking the helm towards the reefs, I’m reduced to the rankest of cliches, to wit, quoting The Great Gatsby:
“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
I also have to issue a mild mea culpa for the tone of last week’s political newsletter: it was a bit of a freak coincidence, finding myself on the Manassas battlefield on the eve of the elections, and I let the general dour mood pervading the left take me. There was only like, one Nazi rally around vote counts and it was pretty small. The “shoot the trannies, ban books, hang abortion patients” GOP line bought them only one house of Congress instead of two (probably). We’re doing great.