Fellow readers and writers: here we are, nearing the end of July, and guess what? It’s dumb hot out there. The heat never bodes well with me, so as much as my inner child is pained to say this, I spend a lot of times indoors during the harsh heat of the day. There have been many a Sunday spent on the couch, in the air conditioning, something baking in the oven, and a book in my hand. Let’s have a recap:
I enjoyed Woodson’s YA story of growing up in Ohio, South Carolina, and Brooklyn, NY. The story is told entirely in verse, opening up a new take on memoir and the YA genre. Woodson’s writing is clear and elegant, a quick but worthwhile read. (Longer review here.)
A classic and one of my all-time favorites. Patti Smith’s lyricism translates seamlessly to the page, where she transports us back to the late Sixties at a time when she was a very young woman with nothing more than an artist’s soul and a sense that New York City was the place to be. We follow her relationship with the late Robert Mapplethorpe, as well as her eventual rise to fame as the Patti Smith we now know. I can’t express how beautiful this story is. It is transformational. Read it.
3. E. Lockhart – We Were Liars
I read this YA story for a fiction book club, and while parts of it I enjoyed (the voice, the language), the plot on the whole didn’t totally work for me. The major conflict, the thing that was to be taken for reality, seemed to happen without a clear motivation from our main character, even if this character is fifteen and sometimes we do things at fifteen without any true motivation. While I can suspend my disbelief enough to justify that, there just could be more done to build up this main action. In this, I felt the characters fell a little flat. There was an emotional tug that lacked throughout the story. Alas, other people seem to love this one. I concede that I’m not the best at reading YA fiction (this, along with Brown Girl Dreaming, are the most YA I’ve read since I finished the Harry Potter series years ago).
4. Roxane Gay – Bad Feminist
A brilliant collection of personal essays, pop-culture critiques, and discussion of race and gender theory, this was a nice one to sit down with this time of year. Admittedly, the title lent me to believe the entire collection would be essays on feminism, and I was a bit surprised to come across the Scrabble championship essay in the first few pages, but essay collections are often titled after a popular essay within the collection. Gay’s criticisms are pointed, her theories nuanced and poignant. She critiques everything from the small to the inconceivable injustices faced in daily life as both a woman and a person of color with an intellect I only wish I could possess. A few essays focused on the disparity within the publishing community of females being reviewed and acknowledged for their work, which was refreshing to see brought into the open again, at a time when Jen Weiner gets mocked for bringing up this very real issue by a man who is literally worshipped by the publishing community. I was thankful to see Gay’s definition of herself as a feminist an imperfect and complicated science. I, too, sing along to Blurred Lines but still think, Dear God, this song is rapey. Thank you, Ms. Gay, for helping me to understand these inconsistencies within myself as a woman, a writer, and a feminist.
5. Short story collections
I’ve been dabbling back into the world of short stories lately. After finishing my novel and taking a small but necessary hiatus from it, I’ve gotten back into the practice of writing short stories, which doesn’t come as easily to me as writing long-form narratives. Every word must have a reason for existing. Every sentence must move the story forward. For someone who would rather write and write and write and then hack away later, this has not been the easiest task, but with the help of my writing group and a few favorite short story collections, I’m learning, practicing, and hoping to get better. The collections I turn to are Mary Miller – Big World, Amy Bloom – A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, Justin Torres – We The Animals (Okay, not technically a short story collection, more of a memoir told in short story form, but still breathtaking and helpful nonetheless), Susan Steinberg – Spectacle, Ben Greenman – Superworse, and Raymond Carver – Where I’m Calling From.
Each of these writers are incredible storytellers in their own right, and Mary Miller in particular I can read and read and read again, because I always find something subtle and new in her sentences. Carver is of course the master at this, and it’s a great exercise to study his techniques. Amy Bloom’s writing is beautiful and soft, as is Torres’s, and Greenman is a bit manically funny, not writing I can ever seem to pull off, but is always good for a laugh or a cringe. Susan Steinberg perfectly blends the realistic and the possibly fantastical in a wry, intelligent, just not having it kind of voice. A few other writers I’ve been reading are some shorts by George Saunders, and a recently discovered Hilary Leichter who I came across while perusing American Short Fiction. Look her up. Read her work.
6. Dr. Amy Brown – A Good Investment? Philanthropy and Marketing of Race in an Urban Public School
Okay, so technically Amy Brown is my close friend, and technically this book is in the process of being published, but I’m adding it on here because I’ve been lucky enough to read the unpublished version and because the book itself is brilliant. Amy is a social anthropologist who spent a few years teaching in one New York City school. She examines the operations of this school through the lens of critical race theory and philanthrocapitalism. It’s an incredible, eye-opening read for anyone, especially those who are critical about the current state of our schools, structural racism in the U.S., and the idea that capitalism can solve our problems. (Hint: It can’t.)
It’s been a great summer of reading so far, and I’m excited for the second half of it. What are you all reading?