february 2021

getting this one in under the wire

It’s felt like I’ve been reading less than usual this month, and yet the insane spreadsheet I keep track of my reading with suggests otherwise. It’s been a month of fragmented attention, but I still found plenty of things to keep my focus when I had it.

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recent reads

  • it’s the heart of Eurovision selection season, and since I can’t travel anywhere I’m doing it via cookbooks, apparently. I picked up Baltic: New & Old Recipes from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania from the library on a whim (Lithuania just selected their entry and Estonia’s in the process of picking theirs, so the region’s been on my mind). It hits the sweet spot of what I want from a regional cookbook - beautiful photography and writing about the region, but recipes that feel like I could work them into my regular rotation and not require 37 different things I can only get from the Russian market. Less in that sweet spot: Alpine Cooking, which had beautiful photos but was more about skiing than the cozy Austrian/Swiss winter cooking I wanted from it.

  • Midnight in Chernobyl is so good and so clearly thoroughly researched in its breakdown of how things happened, why they happened, and what happened as a result, and it’s compelling reading throughout.

  • It’s not a book, but Tressie McMillan Cottom’s essay The Dolly Moment, looking into just why we all consider Dolly Parton cancel-proof, printed off to about 20 pages on my printer and it’s about what most of us have the attention span for anyways, so why not?

in progress

  • I’m working my way through a galley of Kevin Brockmeier’s The Ghost Variations, which was supposed to come out last October (because Halloween) and is now coming out in a few weeks (because of the various delays COVID and everyone needing to get all their last Trump books out before the election had on anything that wasn’t a Trump book). All of the stories are little fragments, 1-2 pages at the most, and it’s really diving into the breadth of what a “ghost” can be in interesting ways.

up ahead

  • Lyz Lenz and other writers/book people I follow on Twitter have all been hyping up Elon Green’s Last Call for months, and after being unable to get an advance copy for myself but loving a piece he wrote last year about the whiteness of true crime, I’m interested to see his take on the genre

  • Hanif Abdurraqib is one of my favorite writers on culture - his collection They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us was my first introduction to his work, and I loved how his work as a poet informs how he writes about music, and the wide spread of music he writes about. I also loved Go Ahead In The Rain, his book about music fandom and A Tribe Called Quest without being familiar with ATCQ’s musical output, so I’m willing to follow him wherever his muse leads. His next book, A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance, is out at the end of the month and has this description, which sounds like the next logical extension of his work:

At the March on Washington in 1963, Josephine Baker was fifty-seven years old, well beyond her most prolific days. But in her speech she was in a mood to consider her life, her legacy, her departure from the country she was now triumphantly returning to. "I was a devil in other countries, and I was a little devil in America, too," she told the crowd. Inspired by these few words, Hanif Abdurraqib has written a profound and lasting reflection on how Black performance is inextricably woven into the fabric of American culture. Each moment in every performance he examines--whether it's the twenty-seven seconds in "Gimme Shelter" in which Merry Clayton wails the words "rape, murder," a schoolyard fistfight, a dance marathon, or the instant in a game of spades right after the cards are dealt--has layers of resonance in Black and white cultures, the politics of American empire, and Abdurraqib's own personal history of love, grief, and performance.

Abdurraqib writes prose brimming with jubilation and pain, infused with the lyricism and rhythm of the musicians he loves. With care and generosity, he explains the poignancy of performances big and small, each one feeling intensely familiar and vital, both timeless and desperately urgent. Filled with sharp insight, humor, and heart, A Little Devil in America exalts the Black performance that unfolds in specific moments in time and space--from midcentury Paris to the moon, and back down again to a cramped living room in Columbus, Ohio.

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