Reading Roundup: June 2022

Red Seas Under Red Skies and The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch. I enjoyed reading The Lies of Locke Lamora so much that the same gentleman who had recommended it then quietly slipped the sequels into my hands as I finished them. Red Seas would not sound like it would work if I explained it to you; just know there is a sizeable chunk of text dedicated to the remaining Gentleman Bastards learning to become pirates, and it gives my rewatch of Our Flag Means Death a whole new flavor. Republic features two parallel storylines–I mean, they all dip back and forth in time to explain how the Bastards pull off their unlikely heists, but in this case there’s a present-day adventure (rekindling a flame, fixing an election) paralleled by a past adventure (falling in love, putting on a play). What makes the novels page-turners, as before, is the rogues-rolling-nat20-charisma vibes and the commitment to jokes that punch up.

Monster Portraits by Sofia Samatar and Del Samatar. A very slim, illustrated guide to monsters encountered by the narrator, who describes these beings in flashes of dreamy, lyrical prose. It was nice to have this book by my bedside to page through a monster or two before falling asleep in the chaos of my move, when the phantasmagoric portraits and evocative probing at the definition of monster could just ripple in a liminal state of consciousness. No analysis, just vibes.

A House Between the Earth and the Moon by Rebecca Scherm. This made for an eerie read, especially since many of the main characters were young in our present era and can remember the events of 2020. About twenty years in the future, the planet is experiencing increased heat and weather events, increased interventions from marketing and data collection, and fewer options. An elite team of scientists have gone up into space, ostensibly to research how to improve the environment, but also to build the space station that will become home to billionaire investors who plan to evacuate Earth. The book opens stark and lonely, jumping from one POV character to another, but as their narratives layer up and especially when they find themselves all in the same circular space station, the story becomes tense and richly imagined, and I couldn’t stop reading it.

For Publisher’s Weekly, I read We Take Our Cities With Us: A Memoir by Sorayya Khan and My First Popsicle: An Anthology of Food and Feelings edited by Zosia Mamet. You can read reviews I collaborated on for When They Tell You To Be Good and We Take Our Cities With Us. You can also read a Q&A I did with the author of When They Tell You To Be Good, Prince Shakur!

Elsewhere

Always weird to link to my own abandoned food blog, but: when I told people I was reading an anthology of food essays they got very excited for me, and the truth is that most food anthologies are nothing to write home about. I should know; I perused a great many of them for my dissertation. The trouble, I think, is that our relationships with food are so personal and so varied; unless you narrow your field, you’re just going to end up with a loose collection of anecdotes with only the most general of connections. And if it’s an invited collection–if you reach out to people and ask them to send their food stories–you’re not going to get very fine work except from seasoned food writers or cultural critics. It’s going to be like curating a collection of journal entries from people trying to remember their dreams, without having a shared framework to make sense of them.

I always like to hear insider insights into publishing trends like covers and titling, so I appreciated this feature on Firstname Lastname Verbs a Noun.

How can you resist this little history of the making of When Harry Met Sally?

I’m not particularly committed (ha!) to traditional romantic narratives, so normally I wouldn’t be very interested in an article about being single in your 30s. But if the author is poet Morgan Parker, author of There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé? I’m interested.

McSweeney’s: It’s hard out there for white male authors

Do men earn more money than women in this and nearly every other industry? Yes. Do Black writers earn less than their white counterparts? Also yes. But these details will be scant comfort for the many white men who can no longer write whatever they want and be paid handsomely for it.

The Age of Stolen Salt

At Sidequest, we talked about beach episodes and games.

Minutiae

June was a wildly chaotic month. I moved to an entire new house, which devoured a great deal of time and energy, and the less said of that the better. The week before my move was Flower Show week, and I volunteered for five shifts: two afternoons greeting and directing visitors, one afternoon doing a make-and-take with children, and two mornings doing post-show cleanup (mainly, moving and planting display plants) in my favorite park.

My watershed steward group and I finished up our presentation on the Delaware River watershed. I aced my final exam. I went on a tour of Tacony Creek Park, a wildly overgrown but fascinating park with a lot of history and politics behind its neglect, and I went on a bird walk in FDR Park with some of my fellow stewards who know about birds. I have enjoyed how we all bring different knowledge bases to the work, trees and birds and forageable plants and recycling options, so that when we congregate there is always a lot of exchange.

I did have some fun. I went for birthday drinks with a friend and we accidentally won first place in a Seinfield-themed pub quiz. I had some friends over to help me pack and unpack. I do love my new residence. I like waking up in my sunny bedroom, listening to the crow that hangs out on my street. I like standing at my kitchen sink and looking into my little yard, full of plants rescued from the Flower Show.

Oh, and yes, it was an emotionally devastating month in the political arena. It’s hard to know what to do, I know. But just as with the climate crisis, everyone can do something, and something is preferable to nothing. And as with the climate crisis, the abortion crisis and the gun crisis are not new fights. People are already researching, organizing, doing things. Your main job is to find out who those people are and what they need, and then decide what you can do for them. Maybe it’s your time. Maybe it’s money. Maybe it’s professional skills. Maybe it’s your capacity to imagine and believe in a better world.

Find Mutual Aid Networks and other community self-support projects near you
Abortion Funds in Every State
Abortion Access Front (includes resources for a variety of activism tactics
Security and Privacy Tips for People Seeking An Abortion
Recommended by Anne Helen Peterson: A few questions you can ask yourself on hopeless days

For me, one of the most hopeful acts is learning about and thinking about past political movements–the time before Roe, the time before environmental regulation when rivers caught on fire and entire towns were smothered in toxic smog. What got us past those points, where we had protections for a few decades, is the capacity to imagine a better world, the will to pursue it, and the stamina to keep going despite setbacks. We’re not totally in the dark. We have blueprints for this. Don’t let cynicism tie your hands.

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