hello!

*taps microphone*

Okay, let’s get this started.

I read a lot of books. A lot a lot. Last year, according to GoodReads, I read 219 books/e-books/novellas/things my kindle counted as books even though it was really more of a long short story/etc. And I did that while having a full-time job and a reasonable social life! I set a much more reasonable goal this year: only 150 books/e-books/etc. Reasonable, right? I’m still probably going to smash that.

I read a little bit of everything - fiction and nonfiction, “literary” fiction and sci-fi/fantasy, highbrow and lowbrow and everything in between. I LOVE books with meta-narrative-y things that reveal what they’re doing like an intricate mechanical puzzle. I’m trying to get better about dropping a book when it’s not working for me, even if it’s a book I’ve purchased rather than one I got from the library. I have a terrifying spreadsheet that helps me keep track of e-book requests across all the library systems I have access to and new titles I’m interested in adding to that pile of requests. I think about books a LOT, y’all.

This is a space to talk about what I’m reading and where my head is at re: books. The goal is to send one of these a month, though hopefully there will be more than that. I’ll try to run through what I’ve read and loved recently, what I’m in the middle of working on now, and books I’m excited about that are getting released in the month to come.

(Also, as I’ve told the bring-whatever-book-you’re-reading-and-we’ll-talk-about-it book club I run at work: audiobooks are books. Podcasts are sort of books. Stuff that’s not books, but feels book-adjacent will inevitably end up here as well.)

One other note of housekeeping: all links here will go to bookshop.org, where the books you buy help support independent bookstores. I’ve been trying to wean myself off of buying everything from Amazon and supporting my local booksellers, and this is the next-best thing to buying a title from your local indie. If you’ve got one of those (like I do), seek things out there, and help keep those up and running as the vital neighborhood institutions they are.

Anyways, here goes nothing - see you next month, if not sooner. If you have a friend you think would like this sort of thing - pass it on! Leave a comment with what you’re reading, whether you love it or not.

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Ben


Recent Reads

  • Speaking of puzzle-y narratives, the description of Alex Landragin’s debut novel Crossings does a Cloud Atlas-y thing where its three stories could be read as three separate narratives straight through, but the book’s opening conceit also gives you the option of reading the chapters out of order as a single narrative involving soul-swapping across time (again, it’s all very David Mitchell-y) that felt very clever and satisfying.

  • Last November I read a piece in Slate looking into John M. Ford’s sci-fi/fantasy writing and why his books had (mostly) fallen out of print and got excited that Tor is going to be republishing these starting this fall. I really want to read The Scholars of Night, based on description alone (“a riff on midcentury British espionage thrillers with no fantastical elements and a lost Christopher Marlowe play at its center.”? COME ON), but of course it’s the rarest of the bunch at the moment.

    My local library had Growing Up Weightless (described on the cover as “a novel of a young man’s coming of age, ON THE MOON”, as though it was a Twitter meme where you add ON THE MOON to the one-line description of another book) available, and it had such strong world-building and required my full brain’s attention to see what was going on that I’m absolutely on board with reading everything else Ford wrote. The last 50 pages felt oddly compressed, plot-wise (it absolutely could have gone on for double that), but that’s about all I can complain about.

  • Lyz Lenz’s Belabored: A Vindication of the Rights of Pregnant Women is her second book in two years (the first is last year’s God Land: A Story of Faith, Loss, and Renewal in Middle America) and both of them are absolute fucking bangers in what they set out to do. Lyz is one of my favorite follows on Twitter (she’s a local journalist in Iowa reporting day-to-day on issues affecting the state, and also does larger journalism for venues like the Columbia Journalism Review), and both of these books weave her own life into looking into larger questions so well. There’s a sharpness and a wit in both her Twitter and her written work that’s just. so. good.

    God Land captures such a wonderful, specific picture of the changing nature of religion in the Midwest (part of the book was written on a writing retreat at a Minnesota college I attended at least one Bible camp at), and Belabored does just as great a look at the history and cultural myths about each stage of birth from conception until after delivery, and the particular ways the US makes those hell.

    Again, both of these books kick ass and I’m absolutely on board with whatever she writes about next.

In Progress

  • Emma Copley Eisenberg’s The Third Rainbow Girl is the type of true crime I really like, covering the crime itself but also weaving in the narrative of the person writing about the crime and the overall impact it had, rather than just focusing on the gory details. This is satisfying me in a similar way to how Casey Cep’s Furious Hours (about a fascinating murder/fraud case Harper Lee tried turning into a book) did last year.

  • I’m also trying to complete a re-read of Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country before I start the HBO series - I was blown away by the book and can’t wait to see what Jordan Peele’s production company has done with the source material.

Up Ahead

  • Speaking of Jordan Peele, Alyssa Cole’s When No One is Watching drops Get Out in its description and seems to be doing something sinister with gentrification. That’s out September 1

  • I scooped up Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell when Amazon had it for $1.99 on Kindle and I still need to read it, but I’m also SUPER-intrigued by the description of her follow-up, Piranesi, out September 15:

Piranesi's house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

  • Finally, I’ve been following Anne Helen Petersen’s work since she was writing about old Hollywood scandals for the Hairpin all the way through to her fascinating profiles and pieces applying that same lens to American news stories for Buzzfeed, and I’m really excited to dig into Can't Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation after reading the Buzzfeed piece that kicked it off a few years ago. Like Lyz Lenz, I am willing to go wherever she leads me, and her newsletter has one of the best link lists at the end out there.


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