ONE OF TIME'S 100 MUST-READ BOOKS OF THE YEAR • A GOODREADS MOST ANTICIPATED BOOK • Examining capitalism’s toxic creep into the land, our bodies, and our thinking, this incisive new work is “a visceral exploration” (Katherine May, author of Wintering) from a National Book Award finalist and a powerful literary mind.
"A wrenching, loving and trenchant examination of feminism, nuclear weapons production, healthcare, queerness and American life" —Alexander Chee, author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
For Jenn Shapland, the barrier between herself and the world is porous; she was even diagnosed with extreme dermatologic sensitivity—thin skin.
Recognizing how deeply vulnerable we all are to our surroundings, she becomes aware of the impacts our tiniest choices have on people, places, and species far away. She can't stop seeing the ways we are enmeshed and entangled with everyone else on the planet. Despite our attempts to cordon ourselves off from risk, our boundaries are permeable.
Weaving together historical research, interviews, and her everyday life in New Mexico, Shapland probes the lines between self and work, human and animal, need and desire. She traces the legacies of nuclear weapons development on Native land, unable to let go of her search for contamination until it bleeds out into her own family’s medical history. She questions the toxic myth of white womanhood and the fear of traveling alone that she’s been made to feel since girlhood. And she explores her desire to build a creative life as a queer woman, asking whether such a thing as a meaningful life is possible under capitalism.
Ceaselessly curious, uncompromisingly intelligent, and urgently seeking, with Thin Skin Shapland builds thrillingly on her genre-defying debut My Autobiography of Carson McCullers (“Gorgeous, symphonic, tender, and brilliant” —Carmen Machado), firmly establishing herself as one of the sharpest essayists of her generation.
About the Author
JENN SHAPLAND’s first book, My Autobiography of Carson McCullers, was a finalist for the National Book Award and won a Lambda Literary Award and a Christian Gauss Award, among other honors; it has been translated into Spanish, French, and Polish. Shapland has a PhD in English from the University of Texas at Austin. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she works as an archivist for a visual artist.
Named a Best Book of the Year by TIME, Publishers Weekly, New York Public Library, and New Mexico Magazine
“Brilliant and engaging.” —People
“Rigorous…While the future hardly looks bright, Shapland…grasps hold of some tentative yet essential hope. ‘Each day is a question we ask ourselves—what is life?’ she writes, picturing the marvel of growing old beside her partner. ‘And answer: this.’” —New York Times Book Review
“It is rarely a compliment to be called ‘thin-skinned,’ but essayist Jenn Shapland wears it like a badge of honor…[She] is an expert on the topic—she was diagnosed with extreme dermatologic sensitivity—and writes of her sensitivities across five sweeping essays…Thin Skin could have been Shapland’s argument for why we should protect our sensitive epidermises from the harshness of the world. Instead, she encourages us to break down our emotional, mental, and physical barriers and really explore what life’s got to offer, even if it may hurt a little.” —TIME, “100 Best Books of the Year”
“With a writing style that recalls the work of Eula Biss and a goal in solidarity with Who is Wellness For? by Fariha Róisín…the work as a whole finds Shapland determined to reckon with the biggest challenges that face us as a society: environmental toxicity, racism, fascist control…Books like Thin Skin are important. They run on hope, which is perhaps the only capital left to those who would like to see the human race survive. Shapland’s use of the queer experience is deeply empowering…Thin Skin asks readers to consider themselves and the world they occupy—not the future, but the present. The choices we make for this world are for ourselves.” —Los Angeles Times
“The way that Shapland weaves a mosaic of experiences, research, and stories into a cohesive and enlightening whole is remarkable.” —Shondaland “Shapland probes the capacity of essay as a form to examine and question the lines we draw between ourselves and others, ourselves and the non-human world, and the past we’ve wrought with the present in which we live.” —The Nation
“The collection…probes how our existence is neither autonomous nor inviolable…By tracing these uncomfortable connections, Thin Skin repudiates the notion that we are wholly separate from one another.” —The Atlantic “Mesmerizing and carefully, dutifully written…Thin Skin asks us to lean into our own beliefs and choices, reconsider what we knew and engage in new revelations, and open our eyes to the smallest and largest choices that impact the world around us. —Electric Literature
“Personal yet outwardly reflective… Shapland finds insight through her nimble and voracious sensibility as a cultural critic…Such lucid and rigorous work with an open heart…Thin Skin is a necessary series of conversations about challenging topics, including Indigenous culture, privilege, friendship, the desire for space and a creative life, the choice to not raise children, and reconciling with death while choosing to live the life of dreams you haven’t even fully imagined.” —Poets & Writers
“Shapland's essays examine vulnerability and how our choices impact people, places, and species far away. Weaving together historical research, interviews, and her everyday life in New Mexico, she probes the lines between self and work, human and animal, need and desire.” —New York Public Library “Deeply felt.” —New Mexico Magazine
“A visceral exploration of the thin membrane between the self, the body, and the systems that control them.” —Katherine May, author of Wintering
“Thin Skin is a searing and translucent text, personal and collective, showing how porous we are, how vulnerable we are and how strong like Earth itself. Our bodies and the body of the land are inextricably linked. And still, we forget the violence that continues to sicken us both. Such an important and visionary book.” —Terry Tempest Williams, author of The Hour of Land
“In her introduction, Shapland refers to the ability of the essay to do anything or go anywhere as a part of her love for the form—and in the essays that follow, she shows us she meant it. A wrenching, loving and trenchant examination of feminism, nuclear weapons production, healthcare, queerness and American life unlike any I can think of, in essays that give lessons in pushing this form to the limit. The resulting collection is iconoclastic, electric, illuminating, and the honesty and art in these essays bring with them a series of welcome awakenings. A book to keep for a long time.” —Alexander Chee, author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
“Jenn Shapland's mind is a marvel. In Thin Skin, she puts it to work on our permeability to one another, and the result is a stunning, urgent, and layered consideration of our climate-catastrophe, pandemic-laden day. As each essay considers vulnerability in a different form, Shapland proves herself a brilliant and compassionate guide through loss and the enduring need to find hope. She offers no easy answers, but something far more valuable: deeper, more acute understanding—the best kind of balm.” —Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, author of The Fact of a Body
"This book is a miracle! Whether writing about her migraines, ‘karens,’ the environment, Buddhism or deciding not to have children, Shapland takes on each subject with tenderness and depth. Every essay roams in a wild and thrilling way, holding to the author's own spiritual advice, to yield again and again and to both accept and ‘indulge the universe.’” —Darcey Steinke, author of Flash Count Diary
“Thin Skin confirms that Jenn Shapland is one of the most exciting American writers working today. She simultaneously crisscrosses and dissects topics as enormous as personhood, colonization, and climate change with such virtuosic verve and control I’m still marveling over how she does it. Thin Skin expands our sense of what essays can be and do.” —Jeannie Vanasco, author of Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl
“Wide-ranging… In her passionately lucid prose, Shapland poses questions to herself, friends and ultimately the reader to push us to delve deeper into a variety of subjects.” —The Rumpus
“Shaggy and smart…A sympathetic if mournful case for keeping in touch with former selves we’ve discarded in lieu of current iterations.” —Bustle
“Masterful, incisive, and intellectually moving…When I finished it, I wanted to immediately reread it…Shapland’s writing is highly engaging and moves around from idea to idea without missing a single critical connection. Her prose is crystalline and evocative, and her messages are powerful enough to hopefully lead some readers to look closely at themselves and their relationships to the people and other living things around them…So fascinating, so versatile, so desirable…It is works like what she’s done in Thin Skin that can help so many move from states of inertia to boundless energy in service of creating a better world.” —Autostraddle
“[A] blazing book about the permeability between personal history and the sociopolitical systems that bind us…[Shapland] investigates many significant questions of our current age—climate change, capitalism run amok, female autonomy—and our ‘utter physical enmeshment with every other being on the planet.’” —Electric Literature
“Profound, often piercing.” —BookPage
“Exceptional…Challenges the notion of individual autonomy and highlights the need for collective responsibility.” —Vigour Times
“There’s an appealing free-range quality to these essays as well, which zig and zag among a range of ideas as if in a particle accelerator. Shapland moves fluidly from Marie Curie’s fateful work on the nature of radioactivity to her own upbringing as ‘an extremely sheltered kid’ in Chicago to her visit to the Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama…A keen sense of curiosity irrigates the essays—a willingness to overturn conventional ideas.” —The Village Voice
“Provocative…In a vigorous tradition of feminist and anti-capitalist writers, from Susan Sontag to Ellen Willis to Audre Lorde to Rachel Carlson (a much-invoked spiritual inspiration for Shapland) to Eula Biss (an oft-invoked literary one) and Simone Weil (ditto). Still, Thin Skin doesn’t feel like it’s working well-worn ground…[Shapland is] a fine critic.” —On the Seawall
“Exhilarating…It’s hard not to marvel at how the author draws unexpected conclusions from a diverse array of anecdotes, illuminating the profound ways in which individuals and the world shape each other. This is a gem.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Even more beautiful and thought-provoking than I’d imagined. I’m savoring this one and underlining like a lunatic, so if you’re looking for your next essay collection to adore, I highly recommend.” —Autostraddle
“Breathtaking in their sharp synthesis of a variety of ideas and experiences, Shapland’s essays are a truth-telling balm for mind, body, and spirit. An eloquent and vibrantly lucid collection.” —Kirkus, starred review
“Reflective, compassionate…Her selection of topics is broad and transcendent…The kind of book we should all be reading to better understand the world around us.” —Boca Raton Magazine