Daniel Mallory Ortberg is known for blending genres, forms, and sources to develop fascinating new hybrids—from lyric rants to horror recipes to pornographic scripture. In his most personal work to date, he turns his attention to the essay, offering vigorous and humorous accounts of both popular and highbrow culture while mixing in meditations on gender transition, family dynamics, and the many meanings of faith.
Rejecting the suffering bildung often demanded of transgender writers, Ortberg’s narrative is anything but linear: It skips back in time to mythic Greece, traipses across the landscape of contemporary pop culture and, in one wonderfully fabulist entry that would make Carmen Maria Machado proud, slips outside of time altogether ... Such temporal vertigo makes Something That May Shock and Discredit You addictively strange and delightful ... Ortberg partakes of neither the damaging trope of tragic transness nor the sentimental sanctimony that we are 'permitted,' offering instead the comic and the transcendent. As he confides, 'I have been a mystery, and I have been changed, and I have been first natural and afterward spiritual.'
Daniel Mallory Ortberg’s Something That May Shock And Discredit You is three eloquent books in one: memoir, essay collection, and treasure trove of cultural analysis, all coming in under 250 pages. Ortberg is as nimble a storyteller as they come, so the shifts from painful personal revelations to pithy observations about Lord Byron turn on a dime while still mostly feeling part of the same whole ... The details are all Ortberg, as is the ability to turn eschatology into something more accessible and less judgmental; but the vague sense of dread that comes with puberty, spurred on by one’s growing awareness of the world, is universal. Such admissions are woven throughout the book, deployed with Ortberg’s searing wit and deep knowledge of TV, film, scripture, and Bulfinch’s Mythology. ... more a work of great perspicacity than one of empathy, though it is certainly compassionate. But just because we feel spoken to by this book doesn’t mean we are being spoken for; as insightful as Ortberg remains about literature and media and the human condition, he’s created a deeply personal language for a deeply personal story.
A...kind of glee animates Ortberg’s writing, and it rushes all the way through this thoughtful, joyous book. Even when Something That May Shock and Discredit You delves into difficult material...Ortberg always writes with a sense of profound and honest delight: What luck, it’s another day where he gets to be a man. And reading, you can’t help but be delighted with him ... This book is odd and self-satisfied and bizarrely specific, in all the best possible ways. Consistently, it’s funny ... But Something That May Shock and Discredit You is also tenderly, gently thoughtful about gender and about what it means to transition, especially for someone like Ortberg, who built a public reputation as a feminist running a women’s website before coming out ... Something That May Shock and Discredit You is not precisely an explanation for everyone who was wondering why the person they first knew as Mallory Ortberg is now Daniel M. Lavery. It is neither apologetic nor self-justifying, and Ortberg remains very clear on the fact that he does not owe an explanation about himself or his gender to anyone ... Instead, this book reads like an exploration — a funny, gentle, thoughtful exploration — of how Ortberg sees the world, and how transitioning affected the lens through which he sees it. Reading it feels like reading the Toast felt in 2013, which is to say it feels like coming into contact with a restless and smart mind of profound and specific hyperfixations. It’s a joy.