Reading Roundup: April 2022

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk. Utterly absorbing read with an idiosyncratic narrator who shares some of the qualities I liked in Piranesi: a bit bonkers from an isolated life, prone to erratically poetic pattern-seeking and imbuing mundane objects with great significance, beleaguered with a profound sense of injustice and grief without fully understanding why. Those qualities come in useful when you are trying to solve a murder in a remote Polish forest–or even if you are not trying terribly hard, just going about your eccentric business between untimely deaths. I both love and do not love the solution to this puzzle. Let’s talk about it in secret when you’ve read it.

Shit Cassandra Saw by Gwen E. Kirby is a collection of very short, odd, and satisfying stories–including a handful of historical flash fiction, which is a genre I admit I didn’t really understand until reading these 1st person POV reflections on piracy, witchcraft, and violence. My favorites include the title story (full title: “Shit Cassandra saw that she didn’t tell the Trojans because at that point fuck them anyway”) and most of the historical flash, as well as a surprisingly touching story about a woman who keeps getting calls from men who have been given a fake phone number.

Vladimir by Julia May Jonas. This book astonished me from its opening pages. I immediately thought of Lolita, which I think is explicitly called out as the narrator gazes at the sleeping, sunlit figure of the man she’s taken hostage, But it’s also the audacious badness and irresistible charm of the narrator. She is vain, manipulative, clever and insightful, at times genuinely human and kind, yearns for love, retreats from the wreckage of her bad actions. She seduces you at times into to seeing things from her perspective, and then she reveals something of her thoughts that makes her repugnant.
Also this book is much shorter than Lolita, so it clips along at a pageturnable pace.

It is an unusually good month that has three future Books I Loved in it. But I began the month with a taste for dishy, soapy novels, so I also scooped up a bunch of library books that were easy to read and not too heavy on the soul.

The Ballerinas by Rachel Kapelke-Dale has all the makings of a good CW show: beautiful young people throwing themselves into high stakes/low reward conflicts in an insular but somehow cosmopolitan community.

The Pessimists by Bethany Ball is your standard multiple POV suburban drama. People who get married because they think they are supposed to…. aren’t happy? Mothers feel judged? Fathers act out? Florals for spring? Groundbreaking. But I did read it, mostly due to the creepy alternative elementary school at the heart of this uneasy community.

This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron was recommended to me by a friend in my annual International Women’s Day thread about books by women and nonbinary writers. I believe it is a YA book–and as I’ve said, that’s not my ministry–but it was a delightful read, light on plot but lush with gothic vibes and sympathetic vegetation.

For Publisher’s Weekly, I read A Woman’s Battles and Transformations by Edouard Louis and started Knocking Myself Up by Michelle Tea. You can now see reviews I collaborated on for The Crane Wife, Bookends, and A Woman’s Battles.

Some stories and poems I read and loved:

Under A Certain Little Star by Wislawa Szymborska, translated by Joanna Trzeciak
every exquisite thing by heidi andrea restrepo rhodes
How to Come Out of Lockdown by Jim Moore
Kudzu by December Cuccaro
cycle by Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Elsewhere on the internet

A corrective corset history chaser for your Bridgerton binge.

This is a delightful look not only at the title trope but some of the patterns we see again and again in book hype: Why are so many novels about “Generations of Women”?

Very excited to learn the word “carcinization” to describe the inevitable process of turning into a crab: Why everything eventually becomes a crab

This is a very smart essay about a sort of troubling book trend–a trend in very good books that I loved, including Severance and Luster as well as the more straightforwardly satirical The Other Black Girl. Here’s the mic drop: “Want to tell a story about the abject horrors of surviving under racial capitalism in a world blanched by homogeneity? Give your character an entry-level publishing job.”

Repost of a charming older story about whimsical shenanigans in my forever game, Elder Scrolls Online. I have never seen the bridge sleeper but part of the joy of moving around the MMORPG world is seeing wholesome player shenanigans: folks dressing up for holidays, playing lutes and flutes while waiting for world bosses to spawn, full-on cosplaying at times. (I once ran an ESO dungeon with an extremely passable Geralt from The Witcher.)

You probably already know about the fable index, but since I came across it again in my research for revising my writing workshop portfolio, here you go: The ATU Fable Index: Like the Dewey Decimal System, But With More Ogres

I’ve grown to depend on my local libraries more than ever in the last few years, and I can’t imagine how the insufficient staffing and reduced hours are affecting families and kids. About 1 in 7 Philly neighborhood libraries can’t fully open each day, on top of already reduced hours

One of my favorite New Orleans stories to tell is the time I–a person with no driver’s license–was summoned to NOLA traffic court to plead guilty for guiding a walking tour with greater than 28 guests. If you like bureaucratic idiosyncrasies, you’ll love this overview of current tour guide policies (they have changed very little) and what changes are under consideration to protect the French Quarter as both a residential neighborhood and a cultural heritage site.

I feel a little vulnerable sharing this, even though it’s been out in the world for awhile and various people in my life have already read it and reached out to me. I chatted with one of my favorite Vox writers about my experience with Noom, and she included my story in this extremely well-structured and sensitive reported article about the app and toxic diet culture: The Noom Paradox
Meanwhile, my DMs are always open if you need someone to talk you out of harming yourself in the service of so-called weight management.

Minutiae

In April I began the hands-on part of my watershed steward training. I walked along a stream and made observations about how much wider, clearer, and healthier it was under a canopy of trees than when the banks were bare. I learned to test the pH and conductivity of water, and count all the little bugs I could find to determine whether pollution-sensitive species could thrive there. I tabled at an outdoor event and coached children through drawing the water cycle, which most of them knew how to do anyway.

Earth Day was tree planting day, so I helped a nearby neighborhood sort and tag eleven trees to get ready, and then joined my neighborhood for a short friendly planting of only three trees. One of them was planted in front of my apartment building: a slender redbud with no leaves yet. A few days later, my neighbor would dig it up and drop it by the trash cans on the corner. He pulled up the stakes and threw one at my door at 5 a.m., cursing. So I guess some people in South Philly really do hate trees.

I finished my final portfolio for my writing class and, although I felt creatively blocked most of the term, I liked what I put together. I went to ballet on the weekends I wasn’t doing outdoors things. I began exchanging postcards with a new flame. I began enjoying cooking more, having more company for it.

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