Reading Roundup: December 2019

The Other’s Gold by Elizabeth Ames. I started this book last month and almost posted it as a blind item this month, because at first I thought I would have nothing nice to say about it. For the first 150 pages or so, I didn’t. I took to reading a chapter each night before bed in order to lull myself to sleep during a difficult and sad family visit. But I had little else to occupy me on my return trip, so I read on and found that the lives of the four main characters became infinitely more interesting, sympathetic, and surprising as they navigated life after college. I guess there’s a kind of beauty in crafting such a character arc: the four friends start out malleable and one-dimensional, their friendship inexplicable and seemingly tenuous; as they mature, they become simultaneously more complex and somehow purer distillations of their college selves. It’s not the most generous recap I’ve ever written, but if your book club picks up this novel and you feel stranded in the first half, I want you to know you’re not alone.

Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. Just as smart and empathetic as everyone says, but also unexpectedly very funny. Told in the voice of sarcastic erstwhile journalist Libby (even when she is narrating Toby Fleishman’s point of view), the writing is shot through with italics, caps, and bracketed [emoji] in a savvy way, humorous and hyperbolic without feeling gimmicky. This book reminded me of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P, which similarly puts a microscope on a disintegrating relationship and particularly on the thought processes of a white liberal man in the relationship–in a way that is both revealingly ugly and surprisingly generous. Libby stands in for the reader as her perspective on Toby changes: it’s a little like turning over a rock to see what’s crawling underneath, but she still cares for her longtime friend and relates to him in many ways because she shares his perspective (which is how I felt after reading Nathaniel P). But Libby is her own character, too: she has her own marriage story, her own bad decisions and lost ambitions and fears, and I love that this story is hers as much as his.

The Sweetest Fruits by Monique Truong. I have loved this author’s work since The Book of Salt–still one of my favorite books of all time, and one I think of any time I cook quince (a metaphor for love) or see bright green yarn (soft but tart). The Sweetest Fruits tells the stories of four women involved with a writer and flâneur I had never heard of–and won’t name, because truly his story is not central to my enjoyment of this lush, lyrical book. The women who loved him for various reasons have captivating stories of their own, told in a manner that I would trust few writers to pull off: they each tell their story in first person to another listener–a reporter, a literate friend, etc.–whose character gradually becomes clear to the reader alongside the speaker. (I found this most compelling during Alethea’s story, when you realize she doesn’t particularly like or trust the white journalist she is speaking with. Driven by their very different fears, ambitions, and desires, each woman’s narrative offers an arresting glimpse into how they each navigated the narrow options available to them at the end of the 19th century, and share the lavish attention to sensory detail that characterizes Truong’s earlier novels too. 

I’ve continued reading His Dark Materials–in part to keep up with the TV series, which intercuts scenes from The Subtle Knife with The Golden Compass. (I’m about halfway through Knife now.) I did not complete but very much enjoyed perusing Embodied Difference: divergent bodies in public discourse, edited by Jamie A. Thomas and Christina Jackson. It was recommended to me for its essay on butts in ballet and tap (relevant to my interests as a fat ballerina); the editors and many of the contributors are local to Philly, so there was a strong thread exploring the particular context of existing in a body in this city.

My second fall writing class ended this month; I will start off next semester in a science class so I can learn more about climate change, but I will miss the excellent reading I’ve been exposed to this term. Here is Hanif Abdurraqib (whose work I was delighted to dive into earlier this fall) on the wonderful, wrenching collection I’m So Fine by Khadijah Queen. Here is a poem that sort of devastated me but in a funny, self-aware way: “What Resembles The Grave But Isn’t” by Anne Boyer. Here is an excerpt of Nature Poem by Tommy Pico that is darkly funny and mean and true.

Elsewhere on the Internet

I like a good sans serif font, but I love a good serif font, so like The Outline I am ready to embrace the rise of Didones. One of the fonts named early on, Caslon, was a favorite of mine when I still worked jobs that involved graphic design.

I related a bit too hard to this Editor’s Feedback on Your Out Sick Email. We call out sick through an automated system, but it is my department’s custom to email the whole team so they know that you’re not in the office and whether you’ll be reachable during the day. I fret about it every time: how much detail is needed for verisimilitude? I am sick but what if I don’t *sound* sick?

First of all how dare you, I LOVE how the internet is always teeming with new and fresh and meaningful variations of words, it’s how language has always worked but sped up a bit the way the internet speeds everything up a bit. Second of all you couldn’t make “fetch” happen unless there was a void for it to fill, but Micah can explain that to y’all in a thread.

I love quadrants, and this is a good quadrant.

Speaking of quadrants, I got to expound a bit on one of my own: the New Jersey axis.

I’m not well-acquainted with the romance genre but follow many folks who are, so I’ve been following the RWA blow-up with interest. The New York Post has a summary.

Oh yes: “Let’s get the knives out.” The Most Scathing Reviews of 2019 at Literary Hub.


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