Reading Roundup: January 2023

I read Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn in about one day. It’s short and gripping, with the kind of troubled but acutely observant narrator I love from Tana French novels except closer to home, based in the mid-South. There are some regrettable choices–the narrator has some deeply classist, sexist, and fatphobic biases, and while we might attribute these shortcomings to her abusive upbringing, the book doesn’t do much to distance itself from her point of view. So that’s not great, but how can I complain? I couldn’t stop reading.

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May. What a beautiful collection of essays, which I should probably read annually. Let me be clear that this book does not overly romanticize winter, nor does it prescribe winter self-care as the title would suggest. It is primarily memoir, focusing each section around the specific challenges each winter month brings, and what it can look like to embrace the longer hours of cold and darkness, or to bolster oneself by celebrating light and song. There interviews with people who do wintry things like Solstice celebrations or cold water swimming, and with people who grew up in Scandinavian countries were winter is deadly serious and preparing is a matter of survival. What I loved so much about it–aside from the beauty of the writing–is the implication that of course your life will change when the seasons change; it’s weird to do business as usual when there are literally fewer hours of sunlight and warmth. And, too, that a winter could refer not only to a season but to a period of your life–months, years, due to health or circumstance or more–when you are not in the condition to be useful, when you just have to hunker down and survive. It’s a very forgiving book, and accessible in the way that I haven’t found How To Do Nothing when I’ve looked for similar wisdom there.

The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi was simply a delightful and breezy read, packed with action and sci fi fun, plus a bit of workplace fantasy–hey, if you can imagine multiverse Earths and kaiju mating rituals, you can imagine an employer who cares if you live or die!

Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty was gripping, sad, and lovely in the way abandoned things can be. It is a collection of stories, but they are connected enough to form a narrative arc for the principal character that links all of them.

I also loved these short poems and stories:
Three poems by Kyle Seamus Brosnihan (they are all about artists!)
Prix Fixe Menu by Aimee Ogden
Improvement by Danusha Laméris
Leaving Fox by Lucille Clifton

For Publisher’s Weekly, I read What Looks Like Bravery: An Epic Journey Through Loss to Love by Laurel Braitman and Orphan Bachelors by Fae Myenne Ng. Also, this month I realized something rather obvious, which is that quotes from my PW reviews end up in other publications I peruse. My byline isn’t on there, but when Bookmarks rounds up the best-reviewed books each week and includes, for example, a PW quote on Janet Malcolm’s Still Pictures (“Evocative … Witty…and reflective…this is a monument to a master of her craft”), that’s from me!


AO3’s Yuletide brings gifts for us all. For example, I don’t know much about the Hench series of books, but I do know the blog Ask a Manager, and I loved this pitch-perfect pastiche that features disgruntled henchmen writing to Alison Green for advice about navigating their evil workplaces.

I had not previously considered that Mass Effect Is Kind of a Utopia for the Chronically Ill (with a few egregious exceptions, like the Project Overlord DLC), but I am on board with this.

Cooking with Shirley Jackson

Just a really beautiful advice column: You Need Help: You Fat-Shamed Your Beautiful Girlfriend


I wrote this little scene shortly after it happened. That summer, writing nonfiction became a way for me to capture and examine the strangeness of the world we moved in: the shortages, the blockades, the protests, the six-foot distances, the mysterious booms, the yearning for moments of beauty and connection. This snapshot is so much of a specific time and place–and, specifically, a time and place that we all seem to want to forget–that I didn’t think I would find a home for it. But looking back at that time is what Hindsight does.
“Necessities (June 5, 2020)” | Hindsight

This month I started a new class, Introduction to Disaster Management, which was recently added to the climate change certificate at my university. It’s a great class–the workload is challenging and absorbing but the material is straightforward and easy to understand. I also started a new gig, as a reader for The Master’s Review. Every week I read submissions to the magazine and make notes on whether I think they should pass to the next tier of review. It has been very enlightening, as I hoped, although I could have not predicted exactly how differently I would look at my own writing and writing in general after reading a raft of short stories and nonfiction every week. (I also could not have predicted how much casual sexism there would be in some submissions! That is the only part I do not enjoy!)

I spent an afternoon untangling invasive vines from struggling trees and kicking phragmites so that they fell over with a satisfying snap, and another afternoon ambling around a marsh further along the river than my favorite park. At the statewide watershed steward meeting, I presented a game I collaborated on with some fellow volunteers. I continue to really enjoy everything about this community–the work, the people, the opportunities to put my professional skills to good use.

I reconnected with some friends I hadn’t seen during my busy fall. I went to a party where everyone was asked to wear funny hats. I took a train to Doylestown and had a lovely afternoon exploring the town with my writing group, concluding with wine at the station while we waited for my train home. I hosted the rescheduled fondue dinner I had planned for the New Year. It was a small group of people but we filled up my little house, loud and joyful.


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