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Table of Contents
About The Book
A New York Times Notable Book of 2022 * Vulture’s #1 Memoir of 2022 * A Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, Time, BuzzFeed, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and New York Public Library Best Book of the Year
From Chloé Cooper Jones—Pulitzer Prize finalist, philosophy professor, Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant recipient—an “exquisite” (Oprah Daily) and groundbreaking memoir about disability, motherhood, and the search for a new way of seeing and being seen.
“I am in a bar in Brooklyn, listening to two men, my friends, discuss whether my life is worth living.”
So begins Chloé Cooper Jones’s bold, revealing account of moving through the world in a body that looks different than most. Jones learned early on to factor “pain calculations” into every plan, every situation. Born with a rare congenital condition called sacral agenesis which affects both her stature and gait, her pain is physical. But there is also the pain of being judged and pitied for her appearance, of being dismissed as “less than.” The way she has been seen—or not seen—has informed her lens on the world her entire life. She resisted this reality by excelling academically and retreating to “the neutral room in her mind” until it passed. But after unexpectedly becoming a mother (in violation of unspoken social taboos about the disabled body), something in her shifts, and Jones sets off on a journey across the globe, reclaiming the spaces she’d been denied, and denied herself.
From the bars and domestic spaces of her life in Brooklyn to sculpture gardens in Rome; from film festivals in Utah to a Beyoncé concert in Milan; from a tennis tournament in California to the Killing Fields of Phnom Penh, Jones weaves memory, observation, experience, and aesthetic philosophy to probe the myths underlying our standards of beauty and desirability and interrogates her own complicity in upholding those myths.
“Bold, honest, and superbly well-written” (Andre Aciman, author of Call Me By Your Name) Easy Beauty is the rare memoir that has the power to make you see the world, and your place in it, with new eyes.
Reading Group Guide
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From an early age, Chloé Cooper Jones learned that she was to be excluded from the world. Born with sacral agenesis, a visible congenital disability that affects her stature and gait, she found solace in “the neutral room” of her own dissociation, and superiority through her exceptional mind—if she had to see life from a distance, she would see it from above. When she becomes pregnant (disproving a lifetime of doctors who deemed her body “inhospitable”), something necessary in her starts to crack, and she must reckon with her defensive positionality to the world and the people in it. So begins an odyssey across time and space as Chloé reconsiders society’s ideals of beauty on a train ride to Lake Como in the changing light, courtside watching Roger Federer serve, and among Cambodia’s relics of mass suffering. Every chapter is a moving tapestry of memory, place, and ideas confronted and overturned as Chloé offers us a chance to interrogate our history and our place in it, and open ourselves up to a new story.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Flip through and note the chapter and section titles in Easy Beauty. Some, like “The Berninis,” and “The Peter Dinklage Party,” refer to art and instances in the text that are relatively concrete, while others—“Go, Thoughts, on Golden Wings,” and “Above the Middle Range”—are more theoretical. Consider any title: Why might Chloé have chosen this title to encapsulate the many threads of that specific chapter or section?
2. Two inciting incidents stand out in Easy Beauty: the conversation in the bar in Brooklyn that begins the book, and the birth of Wolfgang. What do each of these events represent? Where in the book does Chloé return to these points in time, and why? How are they connected, and how does she reconcile herself to them?
3. Conversations with and memories of her parents shape Chloé’s understanding of art, motherhood, and the life she desires. Think back to her father’s blue eyes (36) and his suicide note (78); to her mother’s preoccupation with chores (47) and the conversation they have on the Miami Beach boardwalk (234). What is revealed of Chloé’s childhood, and of their relationships to each other? How does this impact how Chloé operates and evolves throughout the book?
4. Chapter 6, “The Weakness of the Spectator,” occurs about halfway through Easy Beauty. It includes Chloé’s description of The Beyoncé Experience and how she arrived at tickets, her childhood understanding of what her disability meant to others, and the reader’s first explanation of easy versus difficult beauty. The end of this chapter marks a turning point in Chloé’s journey, and signals the beginning of Part 2: “The Kestrel.” What makes Chapter 6 effective in pushing Chloé further from her neutral room? What key realizations does Chloé disclose to the reader here?
5. For better or for worse, Chloé takes instruction on new ways of being and seeing from every character she meets. What did she learn from Sharon, Chetra, even the indifferent man? What did you learn? Imagine a meeting between minor characters that do not cross paths in real life. What would Judd and Peter Dinklage, or Jay and Chloé’s Girl Scouts troop leader, say to each other in a radically honest conversation?
6. Think back to the art Chloé encounters and ruminates on in Easy Beauty. How do her reactions to Bernini’s Proserpina (6), Marc Quinn’s Alison Lapper Pregnant (158), and Richard Serra’s Torqued Ellipses (246) inform our understanding of her recalibrating psyche? What about Nabucco (73) and Marina Abramović’s Rhythm 0 (125)?
7. In Chapter 3, Chloé remembers her favorite Iris Murdoch essay about the transformative power of beauty, in which the novelist sees a kestrel and “In a moment, everything is altered.” At the time, Chloé uses her hazy memory of the piece to justify her belief that she is better off feeling “a divine loneliness” (74); then we discover, in Chapter 9, the kestrel to Murdoch is instead a way to dissolve “the brooding self with its hurt vanity” (224). How has Chloé’s perspective changed to match the true intent of this essay?
8. Andrew exists on the periphery of much of the text, yet his steady presence anchors Chloé from afar. How does Andrew diverge from Chloé, especially in conversations about Wolfgang, and what does that demonstrate about his character? In what ways does he give Chloé what she needs in order to discover the meaning of beauty for herself?
9. Wolfgang, uncommonly sensitive, “wants to go back to before he knew about other people’s minds” (217). A wise child, he inspires or initiates some of the most quietly pivotal moments in the book—his escapes at the museum (244); his ebbing cynicism towards The Great Moody Trudy (268); an autumn walk in Brooklyn (270). How does Wolfgang fit into this “endless puzzle” (224)?
10. Reflect on how your perception of Easy Beauty shifted or changed completely as you read. Did you begin reading with expectations about how the story would unfold? Were there moments and decisions throughout the book that surprised you? Pretend you are the protagonist in Chloé’s father’s unpublished children’s book. What “new knowledge” do you think you have acquired (238)? Ultimately, what does Chloé learn?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. As a group, pull up a world map and identify all the places Chloé mentions and visits in Easy Beauty, then trace her travels according to the book’s timeline. Discuss how this exercise expands your understanding of how geography influences the emotional inflection points of this memoir.
2. Have each member of your group write down five pieces of any kind of culture—the selections could include celebrities, poems, architecture, film, videogames, and beyond. Combine them into one list, anonymously or not, and debate whether each is an example of easy or difficult beauty.
3. Brainstorm a list of other memoirs that deal in art criticism, disability, motherhood, travel writing, or sports journalism and discuss how these selections differ from or are similar to Easy Beauty. How do style and content affect your reading? What did you appreciate about Chloé’s approach?
A Conversation with Chloé Cooper Jones
Is there a story or character that you wanted to include but ended up omitting? If so, why?
I probably wrote three books’ worth of material before carving out what remains in this book. There are plenty of topics I wrote about or even touch on briefly here that I’d like to explore, but this book has to be about something and not everything, so cuts had to be made! Luckily, I had the very best editor, Lauren Wein, to help me make those cuts. I also happen to have the very best agent, Claudia Ballard, who helped me focus the book before it was sold.
Was it difficult to write about the ambivalence you felt toward Andrew and Wolfgang and the future they embody?
I found it liberating. Love is such a vast and complex feeling and to truly love another person is arguably the most important human activity. I think it’s both reductive and harmful to ourselves and others to talk about love’s “positive” aspects only, as if love should always feel certain or good. I think it is more generous to say: Love is big! So big it encompasses and includes many other emotions, like ambivalence, fear, devotion, obligation, resentment, excitement, and on and on. These feelings are not in opposition to love, but are love’s texture.
What decisions do you make when attempting to encapsulate a whole person in a few passages?
I’m not attempting to encapsulate a whole person in a few passages. Nor am I attempting to encapsulate myself in a whole book. I’m telling a focused and intentional story about the struggle between the desire to live a distanced, protected, romanticized life and a more present life that necessarily exposes me to more emotional danger. It is only necessary to include the details of my life and the lives of others that serve to further the questions that arise from that struggle. There are so many more things to be said about my parents, Andrew, my son, myself, but those things aren’t in the book because they don’t serve the thesis of the book.
You write about so many kinds of beauty—cacio e pepe in Rome, a sublime sandstorm, Wolfgang’s smile. Is there a scene, sentence, or section in Easy Beauty that you find especially beautiful, one that has remained with you?
If asked to quote a sentence from the book about beauty, the one that immediately pops to mind is: “Frozen gyozas again.” First of all—that’s a really fun sentence to say. It’s very pleasing in the mouth. But it also comes in the last chapter where I’m writing about the beauty of my everyday life—walking my son to school, the sounds of Andrew making coffee in the morning, the daily discussion of what we’ll eat for dinner. Our answer here being frozen dumplings. Again.
The book starts with me in one of the most exalted museums in the world, looking at a very famous figure carved in marble by Bernini, and the book ends with me in my home, looking at the living figures there, seeking beauty there. That’s all very intentional and I think few sentences capture that better than “Frozen gyozas again.” The recursive sounds in that sentence—the repeated “g” and “z” sounds—mimic the recursive nature of the implications of the sentence. Most families have their classic “go-to” meals, the Tuesday night dinners, that—over the course of a lifetime—you eat in each other’s company over and over. These “Tuesday night dinners” can offer a very specific look into the shared intimacy of a family. In the beginning of the book, I find it challenging to recognize the beauty of this kind of everyday intimacy, which is the foundation of familial love. I take it for granted. But by the end of the book, I’m writing about frozen dumplings with the same care and attention that I’d previously given the Bernini sculptures.
As you were developing and writing Easy Beauty, did you turn to any other books or media that inspire you? If so, what are they and how did they influence you?
Yes! So many. The scholarly works on disability theory and disability aesthetics done by Tobin Siebers and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson were essential. As were essays by Harriet McBryde Johnson.
Do you think it is possible to arrive at something like an equilibrium regarding solitude and connection in your life? Do you think writing Easy Beauty played a role in approaching that?
I think it is possible to arrive at a moment of equilibrium but the work to stay there never ends.
- Publisher: Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster (April 5, 2022)
- Length: 288 pages
- ISBN13: 9781982152017
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Raves and Reviews
"A rich, decadent book that rewards close reading... anyone who immerses themselves in Chloé's writing will come away with a greater understanding of everything beautiful about the human experience, and how to behold it." —Isaac Fitzgerald, The Today Show
“[An] exquisite memoir.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
"Easy Beauty is bold, honest, and superbly well-written. Chloé Cooper Jones is ruthless in probing our weakest and darkest areas, and does so with grace, humor, and ultimately, with something one seldom finds: kindness and humanity." —André Aciman, author of Call Me By Your Name
“Part travelogue and part treatise... Philosophy, art, gender, sex, travel, motherhood, academia, humor—this book has it all.” —New York Public Library
“Written with the curiosity of a scholar, the compassion of a mother, and the keen insight of a person who has lived on the margins of what is deemed acceptable, Easy Beauty is a rare, poignant gem of a memoir... Transcendent.” —Bookreporter
"Jones resists sentimentality and is as unsparing on herself as she is on other people, yet she writes with such graciousness, too. A wonderful debut." —Buzzfeed
"Transcendent... In keeping the reader close as she navigates the world, Jones lets us in on the effort it takes to move through the world in a disabled body... This is all rendered in sentences, insights, and metaphors so precise and evocative that demonstrate her literary mastery." —Oprah Daily
"Soul-stretching, breathtaking... A profound, impressive, and wiser-than-wise contemplation of the way Jones is viewed by others, her own collusion in those views, and whether any of this can be shifted... A game-changing gift to readers." —Booklist (starred review)
"A spiky and inspiring book for any reader at odds with a superficial culture." —Los Angeles Times
"Jones’ writing is thoughtful and deeply felt, and her stories will fascinate anyone who wants to look at the world in a new way." —Apple Books (Best of the Month)
"Perceptive, stylish, and darkly funny, Easy Beauty is an act of grace, and a reckoning. Chloé Cooper Jones is a remarkable writer—I would follow her mind anywhere." —Anna Wiener, author of Uncanny Valley
"I recommend Easy Beauty to anyone who has wanted beauty badly, even without knowing quite what it is, but who could never seem to access it. At least, I'm that sort of anyone, and I could feel and recognize parts of myself in every moment of this book. Chloé Cooper Jones' writing pierces right through and lets a light in." —Mitski
Awards and Honors
- ALA Notable Book
Resources and Downloads
High Resolution Images
- Book Cover Image (jpg): Easy Beauty eBook 9781982152017
- Author Photo (jpg): Chloé Cooper Jones Photograph by Andrew Grossardt(0.1 MB)
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