Easy Beauty by Chloé Cooper Jones
First Lines of the Prologue:
“I am in a bar in Brooklyn listening as two men, my friends, discuss whether or not my life is worth living. Jay is to my left and Colin to my right. Colin, an ethical philosopher trained in my same doctoral program, argues a vision for a better society, one where a body like mine would not exist. The men debate this theory, speaking through me. This is common, both the argument and the way I’m forgotten in it.”
Jones is living in Brooklyn when we meet her, earning a PhD (her second) in philosophy. She is a recent mother, although she had always been told by doctors that becoming pregnant was not possible. Her body would not support a life, they said. Jones was born with a rare condition called sacral agenesis, resulting in chronic pain, a shortened stature, and an atypical gait. Throughout her thoughtful memoir, Jones reflects on how this difference has affected how she views herself, how she interacts with the world, and how people respond to her. Jones jumps around in time, taking us back to her childhood in Kansas, where we get to know her loving, hardworking, no-nonsense mother and the father from whom she is now estranged. We also travel alongside Jones as she searches for meaning and escape in Italy, Cambodia, and Los Angeles, including attending a Beyoncé concert and meeting Peter Dinklage. And we meet her husband and child as Jones grapples with seeing her sometimes cynical view of people rub off on her sensitive son.
When I heard that Chloé Cooper Jones was a guest on Longform, a podcast I regularly listen to, I thought her name sounded familiar. It sounded like my teacher’s name from a creative writing class I’d taken at the University of Kansas several years back. And it turns out, it was! I was shocked. From listening to her interview, I discovered she had been nominated for a Pulitzer for an article she wrote about tennis. Tennis! How had I missed this? And in the weeks that followed, it seemed I saw news of her upcoming book everywhere I turned. It was getting excellent reviews. Easy Beauty was the first book named in The New York Times Book Review feature “New Memoirs Bristling with Wit, Warmth and Spiky Intelligence.”
The writing course I took with Jones was intimate. We critiqued each other’s writing, we joked and laughed and teased. Some of us were not much younger than Jones so she felt almost like a peer. She was witty and hip. I still remember her chastising us for not looking up a word we didn’t know in an assigned short story. “You guys don’t look up words you don’t know? Always look up words you don’t know.” And now I keep a dictionary on my nightstand. So when I saw that she was, at least in the literary world, famous, I felt proud. And it was also motivating to see how much she had accomplished since I’d seen her last.
I tore through this book. It is so well written, funny, thoughtful, and lovely. It made me take a look at some of my own assumptions and privilege, and that’s always a good thing as far as I’m concerned. It made me do a lot of reflecting on the way I move through the world and how we treat one another, as humans. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
FYI: Here’s the Longform episode featuring Chloé Cooper Jones.