Reading Roundup: September 2020

Short roundup this month. I started a couple of new learning ventures (yes, ventures) in September: another online writing class through the university where I work, and virtual training to become a volunteer Tree Tender in my neighborhood. Both have weekly readings and assignments, so I sometimes find myself completing quizzes on sick tree symptoms during my virtual D&D game, or updating my class journal in one window while chatting with a watch party in another.

Do I sound busy? I guess I am. When my mood is on the upswing, I make plans, I register for events, I schedule socially distant hangouts. On the downswing, I endure. I spent a chunk of September enduring. But when I drag my unwilling attention to the appointments set up by my annoyingly upbeat past self, I sometimes also enjoy. I enjoyed these books this month.

The Plague by Albert Camus (translated by Stuart Gilbert). This was actually a homework assignment for my writing class, but I’m so glad I got to read it. I’ve actually only read Camus in French (ugh, I know) but in college I lacked both the fluency and the worldliness to appreciate Camus’ wry humor and deceptively straightforward prose. The Plague is both fiction and classic 20th-century Absurdism, envisioning how bureaucratic inefficiency and human egocentrism could derail the identification and crisis response to an anachronistic eruption of the bubonic plague, and how the subsequent plague and quarantine would make the existential crises of modern life impossible to ignore. It is very funny and terribly real. You can read it online, but there’s a beautiful paperback edition if you prefer.

Tomboyland by Melissa Faliveno. A collection of autobiographical essays detailing the author’s experience growing up in Wisconsin and exploring her sexuality and gender identity in the Midwest as well as New York. Though the essays sprawl a bit and recount the ephemera of each time and place as though cataloging it for a time capsule, I think the specificity made these worlds even more familiar to me–I certainly saw some of my own Mid-South upbringing here, and had the sensation of listening to myself trying to explain tornados and other phenomena to my East Coast friends.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. Oh, what a delicious read about lesbian necromancers in space with a distinct, humorous (and foul-mouthed) narrative voice. I read this book at peril of completing my homework. I took it to bed and dreamed about bones. In some ways this book reminded me of Black Leopard, Red Wolf in sheer density of the fictional universe and in its explosive, shocking violence–but both books are utter originals, so the resemblance ends there.

 

Elsewhere on the Internet

Some months ago I went to a virtual viewing party of the season finale of My Brilliant Friend, proceeded by a conversation among the editors, translators, and readers of Elena Ferrante’s work. My favorite part of this was hearing from Ann Goldstein, Ferrante’s English translator. She had such a simple but meticulous approach to her labor of making melodic Italian sentences sing in English, and I love hearing her talk about the craft. This Vulture interview, featuring some of the most difficult Ferrante lines she’s translated, is a great sample.

I’m not sure if this is a series or a movie, but…. The Westing Game, onscreen!

I’m always going to read a love letter to Edith Wharton.

I do enjoy the occasional celebrity profile, but how often do you get to read one by poet Claudia Rankine? Featuring Lizzo.

A 30 minute cut of rain in games. Thinking about this made me pay a little more attention to the weather in Elder Scrolls Online, which doesn’t have the atmospheric depth of Skyrim or Fallout but does have enough natural beauty to reward slowing down and exploring.

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