The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson Book Review

Wading the Waters of The Argonauts

Wading the Waters of The ArgonautsThe Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
Published by Graywolf Press on May 5th 2015
Pages: 160
Buy from IndieBound


“How does one get across the fact that the best way to find out how people feel about their gender or their sexuality—or anything else, really—is to listen to what they tell you, and to try to treat them accordingly, without shellacking over their version of reality with yours?

If you mix together one part theory, one part memoir, and a hearty dose of love story, you’ll end up with something like Maggie Nelson’s new book The Argonauts. Nelson’s story follows both the birth of her relationship with Harry Dodge, who is  fluidly gendered, and the birth of their son. Between the narrative of their meeting, marriage and family-building, Nelson digs deep into questions of gender, sexuality, motherhood, and the individual. Though she turns to various thinkers as a base for many ideas, her commentary feels fresh and incredibly timely.

“That hormones can make the feel of wind, or the feel of fingers on one’s skin, change from arousing to nauseating is a mystery deeper than I can track or fathom. The mysteries of psychology pale in comparison, just as evolution strikes me as infinitely more spiritually profound than Genesis.”

As I read The Argonauts, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation. Though Offill’s work is fiction, both pieces shift big ideas into compact spaces and read like a collection of swirling thoughts. Much as I felt after reading Dept. of Speculation, as soon as I closed The Argonauts I knew it was a book I would pick up again (and again and again). Perfect for book groups looking for the challenge of digging deep, Maggie Nelson has penned a piece with endless opportunities for questioning and discussion.


  • I kept hearing this title floating around, but never actually focused on what it was about. This sounds absolutely fascinating.

  • Very interesting; I have a friend that I think would really enjoy this, due to the current situation she is in with her husband (who is now transgender). Great review, Shannon, and I love the comparison to Dept. of Speculation, of course! Hope you have a great day!

  • Sounds like another good one – I love those quotes!

  • This one sounds like it could push all the right buttons for me—I’ll have to check it out at some point. I’m glad that the blending of so many different styles—some history, some memoir, etc.—didn’t make it feel stilted!

  • Okay, it’s really fantastic that you compared this to Dept. of Speculation because you just helped me figure out what it was about this book that didn’t have me completely won over. (But I was still very glad to read it) ;)

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  • I just reviewed I Am Not a Slut and realized that part of what I didn’t like about it was that the author didn’t focus on the big ideas, so this particularly appeals to me right now because it sounds as though the author does a much better job with that.

  • Oooh this sounds so interesting! I’m totally willing to read anything that reminds you of Dept. So proud to be from Minnesota and act like Graywolf has some relation to meeee

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