Reading Roundup: June 2021

Tragically, my local library is closed for building maintenance. Not was I unable to pick up any holds until the end of the month, but also my unloved borrowed copy of The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is languishing inside a boarded up book drop. I hope it’s not damp in there. I’m glad the Free Library abolished late fees.

So, this month I mostly read books I borrowed from friends ages ago. One friend lent me her ancient copy of Dune by Frank Herbert last fall–a vintage mass market edition that I was slightly worried I’d destroy by reading–but it was just never the right time until now. Summer is the perfect time for big sweeping sci-fi sagas, and I enjoyed this one so much. I didn’t realize how ecologically minded this book is! I’m not sure whether I would have loved it as a teen, but I embrace it as an adult interested in ecofiction as well as densely imagined sci-fi worlds.

I was looking forward to Real Life by Brandon Taylor because I too fled academia to embrace writing elsewhere, but honestly it was a pretty depressing read. Like me, the main character realizes that he needs to end his emotionally abusive relationship with academia around the same time he realizes he needs to end an emotionally abusive human relationship. Unlike me, the narrator has to navigate a venomous morass of racism (including some truly unhinged lab sabotage) along with all the standard issue higher ed dysfunction, and I value that perspective, but… whew, is what I am saying. There is such a thing as too real.
Still, I’m glad I pressed on, because there are moments when this bleak narrative absolutely soars with pain and hope. Also, ironically, the friend who lent me her copy noted that it would have made an excellent text for my dissertation about food in literature: so many gross, painful meals, where food becomes a canvas for social difference and self-harm.

Eventually my closed library transferred all my holds to the next library over, so I made the hot dripping summer walk over to pick up an armful of books. Among them was And I Do Not Forgive You by Amber Sparks, a slim volume of fairytale-like flash fiction that focuses on revenge. It is a delight! I read some of the stories aloud to friends while we lay on the beach, and even in the sun we shivered.
I also took it with me to pass the time at a restaurant where I was supposed to meet a friend, and that experience–sitting outside on a deserted street, picking at a cucumber salad and a glass of house white, comfortably dry under a patio umbrella while a warm summer rain drizzled, reading about women’s fury as it became clear that my friend would not show up–will surely remain among my all-time favorite reading experiences. (Joining such august company as hitting the eldritch climax of The Ballad of Black Tom while “Hall of the Mountain King” played in a coffee shop, and getting to the first Amy chapter of Gone Girl during a brief respite from an emotionally taxing wedding.)

I finished reading Braiding Sweetgrass with my ecofiction book group, and can’t stop talking about it. Especially with my fellow park volunteers and other people who care for plants. The book is very reaffirming about developing an ethics of care toward the environment, and the ways humanity can help nature flourish instead of taking an antagonistic or imperialist approach to the natural world.

I started To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis and am hooked by its cavalier humor and the way it simply throws you in the deep end from page one. The first chapter opens with a time traveler who is trying to execute a team mission in the past–though he doesn’t tell you when, precisely, you have to pick up the clues–and who is falling apart with exhaustion but doesn’t realize it. This shouldn’t work but does.

Elsewhere

I did enjoy Dune so much, and wanted to spend some more time thinking about that universe. Fortunately, there’s The Dune Scholar, who is particularly interested in the Bene Gesserit and gender dynamics.

Let’s Rank Every Ted Chiang Story Ever Published? Bold move, but I enjoyed revisiting the summaries of these high-concept stories even if I would quibble with the ranking.

I’ve never gotten around to reading the secondhand copy of The Beauty Myth I picked up somewhere, but I did once have Naomi Wolf mentally categorized as a feminist icon until her factchecking mishaps of the last few years. I appreciated this good-faith examination of the common threads between that formative work and her present rabid anti-vax anti-mask tweeting.

McSweeney’s: Amazon Prime Day has become too commercialized

I’ve written and talked a lot about what my so-called weak ties mean to me–the passing encounters with strangers and commuters and classmates and neighbors that reminded me of who and where I am. So obviously I couldn’t resist this essay subtitled Notes on a Year Without Strangers, which mirrors some of the disconnected but painful impressions I’ve had as well.

Flash fiction without the pain

Minutiae

In my very first creative writing class in 2019, I wrote about Mary Shelley and her husband’s brittle heart, writing and revision, and trying to balance work and time. I blogged about what I learned from that class about aggressive revision. I submitted that draft to a couple of publications and got a couple of rejections. But it turns out that the B-plot of that story wasn’t finished playing out. I revised it again after a pandemic breakup and the last revision won Editor’s Choice in the 2020 Creative Nonfiction Award from CRAFT literary magazine.
“The Untimely Collaborators” | CRAFT

In my fiction workshop last spring I wrote 200 words of nonfiction about the very big boat that got very stuck. Now it’s online.
“Ever Given” | Cleaver

I also wrote some microflash about barrier islands and climate grief, and it is being released in the next print edition of Toho Journal…. sometime this summer. It’s been very energizing to have this positive feedback! My informal writers’ workshop has started doing sessions focused on submitting for publication, and I invited the others to look right into my heart–i.e. the rainbow of listings in my Submittable account. Some greens, a good number of blues out for review, and a long list of gray rejections.

All part of the process. I’d love to direct some of that energy into more writing, but…. summer is full of temptations, and I’ve been enjoying a busy and happy June of ballet classes, sweaty and sunburned volunteer shifts at the outdoor Flower Show, an exquisite day at the beach, game nights and outdoor hangs with friends and dates. Nature is healing.

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