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March Reads

Since limiting my reading time in January, I thought more time at home in March might challenge that boundary, but I stuck with my commitment and only read five books this month. If you missed January and February, they’re still waiting for you.

Bookstores could really use your support during the current closure, and indie bookstores especially. I personally love Deep Vellum Books in Dallas and Commonplace Books in Fort Worth, but I’m also partial because I have friends and roots in both places. Wherever you are, try to find your local bookstore and order from them.

Temporary by Hilary Leichter

My friend Cristina, the manager at Deep Vellum Books, started a Book Cult (like a book club, but more obsessive) in late 2018. We only read books from indie presses, we read outside of our comfort zones, and our meetings always devolved into conversations about reality TV and its larger reflection on our own lives. Together, Cristina and I have made our own Instagram and our very own book-themed playlist. Hilary Leichter’s debut novel Temporary is possibly already my favorite novel of the year, like a contemporary Vonnegut laughing in the face of optimization, hustle culture, and the very notion of work until the laugh catches in your throat. The nameless young woman who works out of a temp agency fulfills every type of role available to her: as the Chairman of the Board, assistant to an assassin, a mate aboard a pirate’s ship. Through every job, she longs for “the permanence,” a chance to be comfortable and not worry about whether her next paycheck will be real money or stolen jewels. I am obsessed with this novel.

If you’d like to join us for our virtual book club in April, we’re reading Juli Delgado Lopera’s debut novel, Fiebre Tropical. Order it from Deep Vellum Books!

33 1/ 3: Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs by Eric Eidelstein
33 1/3: Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine by Daphne Carr

If you’re unfamiliar with the 33 1/3 series, it’s one of my favorites. They invite authors to write short books about individual albums, to varying degrees of success. The best albums offer far more than what’s found in the music alone, and this series captures that well. My personal favorites are Marvin Lin’s book on Radiohead’s Kid A (the album celebrates its 20th anniversary this year!) and Kirk Walker Graves’ book on Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (the album celebrates it’s 10th anniversary this year!). Add Daphne Carr’s book on Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine to that list. I reviewed both it and Eric Eidelstein’s book on Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs (also 10) for the Athenaeum Review. It’s not up yet, but will be with my others here.

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

We’ve got nothing except our small attempts to retain our humanity, to act on a model of actual selfhood, one that embraces culpability, inconsistency, and insignificance… We’d have to care less about our identities, to be deeply skeptical of our own unbearable opinions, to be careful about when opposition serves us, to be properly ashamed when we can’t express solidarity without putting ourselves first. The alternative is unspeakable. But you know that—it’s already here.

With Trick Mirror, Jia Tolentino has delivered eight searing essays that explore “the requirement and the impossibility of knowing yourself under the artificial conditions of contemporary life.” When they call Tolentino a peer-less writer, they’re not wrong. Still, her essay on the Internet pairs well with Odell’s How to Do Nothing, which by now you’ve probably read me gush about, and her essay on optimization pairs well with Leichter’s Temporary. Tolentino writes that she’s always questioned her own perceptions, and in each essay she writes as if in a funhouse: horror and humor walking hand-in-hand, as the clear image becomes something else entirely. Highly recommended.

The Overstory by Richard Powers

And what do all good stories do? They kill you a little. They turn you into something you weren’t.

When we found out we’d be inside for the foreseeable future, my friend Sally and I decided to have a virtual book club with this wide-spanning novel about trees. I wrote a little about it in last week’s post against masterpieces, but this difficult novel was made all the better by reading with a friend. I became more observant in the process, which is exactly part of the point of this novel. If you’re feeling like we’re due for a reckoning with nature, The Overstory is an edifying, challenging, probing read. I hesitate to call it rewarding, but Sally and I decided that sometimes it’s better to wrestle with a novel than outright love it. To that end, I believe the ideas in The Overstory will be on my mind for years to come.

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reading

February Reads

Last month I shared that I was limiting my monthly reading so that I would have more time to prioritize writing and people in my life. I also wanted to get better at reflecting on what I was reading, so I started this monthly newsletter to write a few words about each of the five books I read in a given month (you can read about my January books here).

In February, two works of criticism (by Emily Nussbaum and James Baldwin) deepened my understanding of the critical task, while two novels (by Sally Rooney and Annaleese Jochems) both coincidentally included sharp commentaries on capitalism. As the shortest month of the year draws to a slow end, I turned to poetry (by Ada Limón) to settle into the slowness and change my thinking process. More on all of that below:

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reading

January Reads

Yesterday, I wrote that I turned my annual reading goals into a reading limit so that I might spend less time running a marathon and more time reflecting and sharing my learning. Each month this year, I’ll be limiting myself to five books, and my hope is to record a note about each so that I can read more consciously and hopefully connect with others who read books from the list. Drop me a line in the comments or an email if that’s you.

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Year End Lists

My 2019 Bookshelf

Last year I started a new tradition of keeping track of my favorite reads from the year. It led to great conversations with friends who read some of the books and recommended some to me in turn. Besides reading, I really love to talk about reading, so please drop me a line if you want to discuss these or anything else you read.