I Came All This Way to Meet You by Jami Attenberg. I’ve been on the memoir beat for PW for a few months, so perhaps my perception is skewed, but it does seem to me that there is a plethora of memoirs-in-essays that were written during lockdown and published in the last year or so–even from writers I admire who don’t typically write memoir. This book is one of those; I’ve enjoyed some of the author’s novels and had been hearing about this essay collection, which recently appeared on the New Books shelf in my university library.
It’s a particularly good read if you, like me, are finding your creative voice later in life than you liked–or if you, like me, are starting to settle into the adult life you want for yourself. Absolutely a book for grown-up people, just in time for my birthday.
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch came to me by recommendation from A Man, and let me tell you I do not take literary recommendations from men seriously, particularly for books by men! But this novel was a rollicking good time, a fantasy tale for the D&Der in your life who plays rogues (e.g. me) because it’s more fun to win by hiding, stealing, and lying your face off. In fact, the world of this novel wouldn’t be out of place in a tabletop RPG, since the action is conveniently restricted to a chain of islands connected by mysterious eldritch architecture, but it reminded me more of Dragon Age 2–rooting for the underdogs, Cassandra falling for Varric’s humor and charm in spite of herself.
The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan is simply outstanding–suspenseful, harrowing, but deeply felt. There was so much in it that felt familiar, not just because it takes place in and around Philadelphia (yay!) but because there seemed to be very smart and conscious allusions to familiar works like The Handmaid’s Tale and Orange is the New Black. There’s a crucial plot element that reminded me of “The Lifecycle of Software Objects” by Ted Chiang, but explored in a way that felt more emotionally resonant and keenly observed–which is not to throw shade on Ted Chiang, whose work I greatly admire, but just to underline how smart and finely wrought and well-written this dystopian novel is. I devoured it in a few days and cried for the last fifty pages.
I needed a comfort read, so I took The Trespasser by Tana French to jury duty with me and read most of it that day. There’s a particular pleasure in rereading a mystery; since I already know whodunnit and how, I could enjoy the craft of layering in clues and creating plausible red herrings.
How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu. This speculative short story collection is often categorized as ecofiction, which is sort of is, but except for a virus released from the melting ice which unleashes an unstoppable plague, climate disasters form a backdrop against which the primary action takes place. This is a pandemic collection: the crisis in each story is how to live when death is everywhere, how to make death meaningful when our loved ones cannot be reached or saved, what to do when nothing we do seems to matter. The imagined technologies and capitalist horrors that spring up in this speculative world are largely in service of grief, helping the sick let go of their own lives and the survivors mourn and move on.
For Publishers Weekly, I read Still No Word From You by Peter Orner and When They Tell You to Be Good by Prince Shakur. You can read reviews I collaborated on for Knocking Myself Up and Still No Word From You.
Some short stories and poems I liked:
A shortlist of cheeses and wines I would take home for free when I worked in the Specialty Department at Whole Foods by K. Degala-Paraíso
The Butt Song from Hell by Marci Rae Johnson
There Is Absolutely Nothing Lonelier by Matthew Rohrer
A Dream Of Foxes by Lucille Clifton
The Complex by Scott Limbrick
I Would Do Anything For Love, But I Won’t by Traci Brimhall
I absolutely loved reading Vladimir last month and adored this interview with the author by Heather Havrilesky, which touches on desire and longing and vanity and how to get the work done.
Speaking of interviews: I really enjoyed Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm, and was psyched to hear her talk about her new novel about billionaires gallivanting in space.
Can’t believe I have to get Apple+ just to watch this adaptation of a yearning swamp gothic book I loved.
The Devil Wears Prada is always my example of “the movie is better than the book” whenever that perennial conversation comes up. This excerpt from an upcoming biography looks a bit pandering, but perhaps illustrates a couple of reasons why: the director decided to make the movie “a love letter to working women who do excellent work,” which the book is decidedly not, and there is a lot of cattiness about the author’s writing skills (which…. is not wrong).
Loved this profile of Calvin Royal III, all about challenging the very conservative traditional gender and race norms of ballet.
I love this idea, although I am not familiar with most of the games referenced: Eurogamer did a series on their favorite video game cities, including Midgar from FFVII Yakuza’s uncanny arcades.
There was some nonsense of an article asking some male authors about which female authors they felt were worth reading. I’m not going to bother finding it, reading it, or sharing it, but I greatly enjoyed the Twitter response to it! Namely the replies to this tweet, which offer a classroom-perfect cross-section of the two key axes of Twitter: “Understands the context” to “does not understand the context” and “understands satire” to “does not understand satire.”
When you have a birthday you have a little social leverage to make your friends hang out with you, but my plans to hang out in my favorite park with friends got rained out twice. Still, I had some good times. I went to New Jersey to help my college BFF throw a fabulous party. I forgot my party dress at home but could not have felt more glamorous and louche than I did, drinking gin with old and new friends, getting a tarot card reading, playing games while a pack of giggling children ran around underfoot. On Friday the 13th, I went salsa dancing in the open air boathouse at my favorite park, and took my dance partner to see the swans and the rewilding meadows and other landmarks in the grounds that have grown important to me. We were dressed too nicely to use the portajohns, so we crashed a wedding at the Swedish American Museum and toured the galleries with glasses of wine from the open bar. (Don’t worry, we were very good wedding guests. We gave directions to the restrooms, we took pictures of couples who wanted to pose in their wedding finery.)
I went to jury duty, but did not get selected. I went to a birthday party for a network of computers. I took an evening workshop about speculative nonfiction, which sounded like a contradiction until I realized how much of the memoir I read is indeed speculative. In watershed steward training, I continued learning about green infrastructure and invasive weeds and stream health; I worked on a group project about the Delaware River lower estuary. I spent several weeks apartment-hunting, which is not how I wanted to use my time and resources this summer, but in any event I found a new apartment and made plans to move next month. I once again sat down on my floor amid cairns of books, holding each one, deciding which ones to carry with me into the next chapter of my life.