I’ve never taken a step back from my life and said, “I need to spend more of my life sitting indoors reading books.” Instead I want to wake up earlier, to run more, to write more, to cook more, to go on dates, to see my friends more, to call my mom. All of these things make me feel like I am taking initiative and control of my life and my happiness and all other sorts of deluded things. The thing is though I do want to read more, but when I say that and am really meaning it, I mean that I want more to be transported and feel known and have my conception of how people move in the world expanded, or at least I want to put cracks in it, more. Reading is basically just the easiest way of doing that, and it’s very important to me. It buoys. And this year it kinda sucked.
Dustin stopped working at a bookstore halfway through the summer and I only like books that I pick out MYSELF and you see, there all these baby blogs out there of women talking about their lives in this hopeful, alien way, and sometimes great tragedies befall them and it’s all very compelling. Anyway I fear I’ve lost my mojo. I think my book-Saturn is returning. Something.
Luckily the good thing with the book thing still happened a few times, for which I’m very grateful. Here is what stopped me this year, what made things feel right and preordained or just were a great comfort/distraction:
- I inhaled Sarah Manguso’s Two Kinds of Decay and felt swept up in it and needed more. Luckily she had a new book out this year, The Guardians. The first one I liked better, because it is more deeply terrifying and personal, and affecting (at least according to my brain). The death is closer! Though rest assured they are both about death. Everything is about death, people. Everything I care about. But I read both of these immediately, and felt lucky to have them. Decay on Saturday and The Guardians on Saturday night. Life had meaning!
- Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home I also read quickly, and I was ecstatic the whole time but also somehow at peace, on my work retreat (just to take a minute to clarify: “work retreat” is actually an oxymoron and some sort of childhood nightmare come to being). Everyone tie-dyed shirts and did yoga and paddled in paddle boats and I sat in a corner reading this, relishing it. It was the kind of book where you are off doing other things and remember you have it off in your room, just waiting for you to get back to, and you feel great comfort. “I may hate myself and not know how to play ping pong or talk to people but I have this book!” You have your life then you have this other life, one which makes the first one easier (the book is the other one, the consolation). Her new book is not as good (what a cruel sentence, as if I’m some sort of agent or hollywood producer). An echo of the first one. Which is really, I think, what it sets out to be. And so it’s still really interesting, and I wasn’t ready to leave Alison Bechdel and there you go. I am happy to hang out in her brain.
- I read the Grace Paley book I hadn’t read yet, Later the Same Day, and I think there may be one more, but all of her titles sound the same. Anyway I am utterly convinced this woman is brilliant, a cut above, and her voice and her writing feels so utterly familiar, as if it were in itself part of what writing is — central to it. I just adore her. I do. If you haven’t read much of her, do it, and know you will be schooled. I am afraid to really pin down what I have read of hers and what I haven’t for fear there is nothing more.
- I read a Jo Ann Beard book and a Bobbie Ann Mason book — both short stories, too — and they sort of blend together for me. Not because they both have these three-word southern names, which, okay yes, probably that is why. But they are both deeply feminine voices in a way that is familiar to me and in a way that I love. Bobbie Ann Mason is the very southern poor, a little quirky, domestic one. Really fucking on point. And Jo Ann Beard is also trenchant, but more urgent, crying out. Maybe I want them to fuse into one. They both carried me, though, and I want more of both of them. And more like them.
- Also Laurie Colwin, Laurie Colwin, Laurie Colwin. Growing up I didn’t let my mother teach me anything, at least not explicitly. In fact I would lose my shit when she tried to tell me how to do anything or offer me help in any way. I’m sure this does not reflect accurately on my character in any way whatsoever. Ha! Anyway now that I understand my own inherent weakness and mortality, I actively seek help and crave wisdom and know-how and I want women to teach me things, I inhale books like this. I read Home Cooking and went back to Word the next weekend for More Home Cooking, feeling so happy and filled with purpose. Maybe soon I will swallow my pride enough to ask my own mother for advice, cooking and otherwise.
- And in the interest of admitting when I am wrong, I started out really mad about and annoyed by D.T. Max’s David Foster Wallace biography (do I just hate biography? The jury is still out), I got totally sucked in and really loved it. This happens to me all the time with reading, actually. I start out hating it and then by about 50 pages I have “met the writing on its own terms” (I put quotes on it not because someone else said it but because I know I sound shitty when I say it) and accepted it for what it is and really enjoyed it. Not every book needs to be the book I would write. Right? Agh.
- I need to chill the fuck out this year.
- You’re all wrong about How Should a Person Be.