This week has been a sad one. Mary Oliver died on Thursday aged 83. More than anything, I recommend people reread their favorite Oliver poems and relish her love for the natural world.
In other news, the government shutdown is still in full swing with no end in sight. To ease the burden, Chapo Trap House and Amber Frost provide comic reprieve and hope for the future, Vinson Cunningham talks about the landscape of hell, and we remember James Baldwin and Patrice Lumumba.
I am unabashedly obsessed with a little known podcast called Chapo Trap House. Its hosts excoriate most players in modern politics, and their collective voice has provided fuel to our nascent rage. The episode “MacKenzie’s 60 Billion Dollar Challenge” explains why Sanders is our only hope. (In tandem with this, I also recommend reading Amber Frost’s piece in The Baffler–“It’s Bernie, Bitch.“)
This week marked the 58th anniversary of Patrice Lumumba’s death. See Jacobin’s profile of the ill-fated leader.
Here we are again. Another week, another roundup. Most of the articles I loved this week come straight from LitHub: the greatest lit website you or I will ever encounter. My keen interest in the work of Jia Tolentino led me to a review she wrote of the song “Rude” by Magic! It was published a few years ago, but never have I witnessed such sweet vivisection. Otherwise it’s a mixed bag of true crime, elegy, and writing about writing/writers.
Here are the things I loved this week:
“The Perils of Pearl and Olga” by Clair McKelway appeared in the New Yorker this week. The sinister and twisted story will satisfy any true crime aficionado.
Some of my favorite book bloggers publish weekly roundups of things they loved, and many of them contain links to articles, artists, or products that I end up really enjoying. I’ve decided to contribute my own weekly lists of things I love. This week, I’ll be sharing a handful of articles I found fascinating. Here goes!
“Sally Rooney Gets in Your Head” is a profile of the writer by Lauren Collins for the New Yorker. Anything Sally Rooney related is bound to grab my attention. This article in particular paints a portrait of Rooney as a wunderkind of literature.
As much as I love year-end “best of” lists, compilations of books to look out for in the year to come are my favorite. The Guardian happens to publish some of my favorite lists, and I was excited to see the books its contributors highlighted for 2019.
Every morning, I get emails from Anne Bogel’s blog “Modern Mrs. Darcy.” She compiles my favorite weekly lists because they often draw my attention to bookish articles I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. This past week, she highlighted “Jane Austen’s Subtly Subversive Linguistics” in which the author argues that Clueless is the most faithful Austen adaptation.
LitHub is my absolute favorite. They publish fascinating pieces about writers and artists that are often forgotten by other book websites and bloggers. I tweeted last week, that if I had an aesthetic, it would be their article titled “Edward Gorey, Frank O’Hara and Harvard’s Gay Underground.”
Also from LitHub, a hilarious rundown of “The Weirdos of Russian Literature.” The next time I break plans, I’ll just pull a Turgenev and tell people I couldn’t have possibly gone out because my thumbs are too small. What a legend.
2018 was a disappointing year for reviewing. I fell ten books short of my reading goal (80 books), which I’m not too upset about, but I regret that I didn’t have the self-discipline to write at least a few paragraphs about each book. Writing about everything I read was my vision for this website–a way for me to think critically about the words and stories I’m digesting. Otherwise I’m an overeager magpie with a stash of half-remembered sentences and nothing useful to say about any of them.
2019 will be a fresh start. In the last few months of 2018, I began keeping a reading journal in an attempt to make up for this lack of critical thought. My brain has always essentially been a hunk of Swiss cheese, so writing things down is my way of understanding what I think and a way for me to jump start a decent enough analysis. Though I admit, even then, sometimes what I write is garbage. I like to think it’s because I don’t focus enough. Since the beginning of time, writing has been like pulling teeth for me, so it’s damn near painful every time I approach it. But along with increasing the number of words I write, I would also like to suck less as a writer…another resolution.
Looking forward, I intend to publish something here at least once a week. I think that’s a decent enough start. I’ve already started planning some things–specifically reviews for My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh and The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin.
Things are looking good. There’s so much I want to read, and the act of starting fresh each year with new goals and resolutions is always exciting. I can’t wait to dive in.
Yesterday morning, The New Yorker published an essay penned by critically-acclaimed author Junot Díaz. This personal history, titled “The Silence: The Legacy of Childhood Trauma,” details Díaz’s being raped at the age of 8-years-old and how that horrific event almost destroyed his life.
He addresses the piece to an individual referred to as “X” — someone who approached the author during a book signing and asked if the sexual abuse alluded to in his books came from personal experience. Terrified of broaching the darkness of his past that had yet to escape him, Díaz avoided giving an answer and watched as X drifted away, “shoulders hunched.”
Of the harrowing encounter, Díaz writes:
“That violación. Not enough pages in the world to describe what it did to me. The whole planet could be my inkstand and it still wouldn’t be enough. That shit cracked the planet of me in half, threw me completely out of orbit, into the lightless regions of space where life is not possible. I can say, truly, que casi me destruyó.”
He outlines a childhood marred by bouts of depression, mood swings, emotional isolation, suicidal ideation, and the overbearing weight of shame. The shattering of his identity as a Dominican man.
Bravery isn’t a strong enough word for what is expressed in this essay — in reaching out to that individual fan who, like many of us, identifies with the boundless dimensions of the author’s work — Díaz offered readers a vulnerability in the beautiful and humane medium of language, giving hope to people who continue to suffer from such traumas.
It is an offering — it is a glimpse into the recovery process of someone who survived in darkness for so long.
The essay also illuminates the complex web of Díaz’s work, from his short stories in Drown and This is How You Lose Her, to his epic novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and his recently-published children’s book, Islandborn. Though it was the latter that profoundly influenced Díaz’s decision to finally recall his rape in such an open platform. In doing so, the age-old fear of being “found out” returned to him during a time when he was being questioned about his own childhood history more than ever before.
“Toni Morrison wrote, ‘Anything dead coming back to life hurts,’” writesDíaz. “In Spanish we say that when a child is born it is given the light. And that’s what it feels like to say the words, X—. Like I’m being given a second chance at the light.”
Díaz’s openness is a beacon for those who no longer believe healing is possible. The process might seem never-ending, but examining and channeling the pain into words–emboldening the universe as we speak — is the first step.
Here’s a snippet from a short list the contributors over at paperbackparis.com put together to highlight the best books they read in February. I was completely gutted and transformed by Andre Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name, so I’m making my obsession known far and wide:
Leah Rodriguez’s February 2018 Pick: Call Me by Your Name, André Aciman
“It escapes me now, how and when I came across André Aciman‘s work, but I remember placing his entire bibliography on my TBR. Call Me By Your Name has been on my radar for some time, I just never got around to it…Until the movie was released to wide critical praise, and I knew I needed to read it as soon as possible. I am devoted to the concept of reading an adaptation’s source material before viewing said adaptation (which annoys all my Game of Thrones–obsessed friends). I was especially happy I read this particular novel first. I don’t know how James Ivory managed to capture Elio Perlman’s internal anguish and recursive thinking over Oliver — a young scholar spending his summer with the Perlman family at their home in northern Italy. Elio — a precociously intelligent seventeen-year-old — struggles to understand the dynamic that unfolds between him and Oliver. The obsession becomes all-consuming.
I dove into this novel as a reprieve from another book with heavy thematic elements. The atmosphere of Call Me By Your Name, which is all sun, heat, water, and northern Italian landscapes, pairs perfectly with the nascent blossoming of Elio and Oliver’s relationship. It is completely immersive and gorgeous.”
My posts on this account have been few and far between lately, and most of that is due to the plague that struck my house a few weeks ago. It really wasn’t that bad, but instead of reading, I spent most of my time watching The Big Fat Quiz of Everythingon YouTube. Who says I don’t have life?
Anyway, the few reviews I have posted lately are ones that appear on paperbackparis.com, which is run by a colleague of mine. Please, please, please check it out if you have the time. There’s some really good stuff on there, including book news, TBRs from our staff writers, and listicles that we curate for you good people.
These days, I’m getting back in the swing of things. I’m really trying to get on top of my reading list, but I know The Romanovsby Simon Sebag-Montefiore is going to take me ages. It’s coming up next after I finish Carve the Markby Veronica Roth and The Guineveresby Sarah Domet.
Unfortunately, I’m getting sidetracked again these days because I’m in the process of interviewing for a new job, which sucks the energy out of me. Seriously, the anxiety I have about it is enough to narcotize the most ambitious person.
BUT, don’t fret! You will be hearing a lot more from me in the coming weeks because I have a pile of NetGalley proofs to dig into as well. I have a heap of great stuff in there, like Elif Batuman’s The Idiot, Born a Crimeby Trevor Noah, and The Sleepwalkerby Chris Bohjalian.
And, I don’t know what it is, but I’ve fallen back into my YA craze from a few months ago. I have tons of Maureen Johnson, Jenny Han, and Jennifer Niven coming up, so stay tuned!