january 2021

here we go again

This year is off to a good start, and I find myself clinging to the hope that it will continue to be a good year, because I am an optimist.

  • we have a new president

  • my Mystery Hunt team has finally won Hunt for the first time in 14 years, meaning we are now responsible for the content of next year’s hunt

  • it’s Eurovision national final season, which means I get to spend my Saturday afternoons watching Lithuanian television, amongst other programs

In all of these things, there is much work that needs to continue to happen, but for now: a moment of joy. Also for now? A moment of books.

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recent reads

  • I had a galley of Anna North’s Outlawed and then ended up picking up a hard copy from Book of the Month when they announced it as a January pick because it was such a nice brain vacation. It’s a western (a genre I don’t read a ton), but a progressive one, and there’s shades of True Grit in there. I’d totally welcome a second book in its world.

  • George Saunders is probably my favorite living author, and I’m willing to follow whatever road he wants to take after Tenth of December and Lincoln in the Bardo. It turns out that’s A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, an attempt to turn the class he’s been teaching at Syracuse on reading short stories by Russian authors into book form. I haven’t done a ton of reading of Chekov, Tolstoy, etc., and it was nice having a little George Saunders on my shoulder while I did, showing me what the authors were doing and making sure I caught it. The interludes between stories on what makes for compelling writing are also lovely.

  • There’s a stack of books in my TBR pile that are just Nicole Cliffe Kept Talking About This Book On Twitter, and Little Girls in Pretty Boxes was an excellent pick from that pile. This book came out in the 90s and talks about how messed up the world of gymnastics and figure skating is for its athletes and their parents, and how horrible the coaching culture is, and we’re still not heeding its lessons. Highly recommended.

in progress

  • A member of my book club raved about Black Futures, the first pick of Roxane Gay’s new newsletter/book club The Audacity, and I picked it up immediately based on their effusive description. It’s a massive book, and I’m taking it a section at a time with my other reading because it’s designed to have its sections be in conversation with one another rather than a typical beginning-to-end experience. It’s got an amazing lineup of authors as contributors, and I’m excited to dig into the other book club picks if they’re as carefully chosen as this one.

  • I’m also working on (a modified version of) BookRiot’s annual Read Harder challenge, and tackling Eugene Lee’s Buttermilk Graffiti as a food memoir written by an author of color. Lee’s book is a travelogue looking into the melting pot of American cultures bringing their cultural traditions to the smaller corners of the United States, and seeing the interesting ways those co-mingle.

  • I’m ALSO working on Marcia Chatelain’s Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America, about the way McDonalds and other chain restaurants have had a surprising cooperation with black capitalism and civil rights. It’s dense but compelling reading, and I’m waiting for my hold at the library to come up again after needing more than 2 weeks with this one.

up ahead

  • The Atlantic had a sample of Lauren Oyler’s Fake Accounts, out next month, and I’m really intrigued based on the sample, since it feels like it’s going to be a novel that “gets” what it means to be on the internet…

  • …along with Patricia Lockwood’s No One is Talking About This, which had a snippet as a short story in The New Yorker last year and feels even more tweet-like. Lockwood’s Priestdaddy is a fantastic memoir and even though I don’t always fully feel like I “get” her poetry, I thought of “The Pinch” often the last few years, and her writing for the London Review of Books always has a poet’s eye I admire

  • In non-Fiction-About-The-Internet books to get excited about, Sarah Gailey’s last few books and their new book The Echo Wife has a fun premise:

Martine is a genetically cloned replica made from Evelyn Caldwell’s award-winning research. She’s patient and gentle and obedient. She’s everything Evelyn swore she’d never be. And she’s having an affair with Evelyn’s husband.

Now, the cheating bastard is dead, and the Caldwell wives have a mess to clean up. Good thing Evelyn Caldwell is used to getting her hands dirty.

How about you? How’s your January gone? What are you reading?

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