A lot of things go well with pencils, in our minds. A good journal and a cup of tea. Stacks of postcards and a mess of postage stamps. A weekday afternoon at a museum. A picnic followed by a nap. Apart from analog tools, writing instruments, cozy activities and mail-related crafts, the thing we love most is a thing that pencils often yield: books! Because we're always yearning for a good recommendation or for a book club we'll actually stick to, we thought we'd start our own and share our list of recent reads and recommendations.
Too Much and Not the Mood by Durga Chew-Bose
A couple of months ago, Caitlin, Alyx and I went to an event hosted by Emma Straub and here new bookstore Books Are Magic. Durga was one of the panelists for the discussion, so when I kept seeing her book everywhere I eventually took it as a sign that it should be part of my short but motivating unread books stack. I finished it in two days, not because it was short or particularly easy to read but because reading it felt like I was listening to a friend tell me a story--a friend much sharper and much more observant than I. Her outlook on just about anything is curious and relevant. It's a book peppered with small fragments of her life, told in a way that makes the reader feel like Durga is taken all of those little parts of everyday life and given the words they haven't been able the find. It's refreshing to read a young female author who is so self-aware and alive. This book made me proud to be included in her generation.
Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
This is not a book that I've read but one that I'm looking forward to reading. I'm not going to try to sum up what it's about because, after all, I haven't read it. But when you see it on your bookseller's New Fiction table next month, do pick it up! It doesn't come out until July 11th but I've had it on my list since I heard about it in the author's NYmag.com Grub Street Diet feature (which is a really great corner of the internet, by the way). When I read I'm looking to trigger all of my emotions, so Goodbye, Vitamin looks promising. A well-read person's vacation book, I'm considering it. When I'm reading a new author I usually judge the book not by its cover but by who's endorsing it. In this case, Miranda July and Lauren Groff--I'll take it. And the cover is pretty nice too.
The Double/The Gambler by Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский
Earlier this year I read The Idiot (1869), which was the first Dostoevsky I'd read. I LOVED it and decided to read all of his longer works in order. I'm already cheating because I had a hard time finding Poor People (1846) in English in a bookstore, but this pretty edition of The Double (1846) translated by the inimitable Richard Peavear and Lariss Volokhonsky was easy to find (shout out to Peter Mendelsund too; he's one of my favorite book designers). The Double clearly takes inspiration from Gogol's The Nose, and builds on a tradition that will eventually result in modernist absurdists like Franz Kafka and Samuel Beckett. A civil servant one day find his double (surprise!) has entered his life. They are alike in name, appearance, job--everything except personality. While our original man just wants to go about his life, the double wants to usurp the original. This book is probably a little different from what you think of Dostoevsky as writing, but it's a funny, dark, and entertaining read.
The Broken Estate by James Wood
I only recently started reading James Wood, and by "reading" I mean that I absolutely devoured How Fiction Works. I'll be the first to admit that I avoided reading that book for ten years because I thought I was too cool for it. Why do I need to hear this establishment man explain the New Yorker short fiction sausage factory to me? It turns out I was very wrong. How Fiction Works is not a recipe book for those staid stories of decades past. It's a thoughtful, partially academic, and highly compassionate survey of what makes characters feel real, and what makes readers care. So when I finished swallowing it whole, I hopped out and got his first book: The Broken Estate. It covers authors from Sir Thomas More to W.G. Sebald (Peter Mendelsund recently did some gorgeous covers of Sebald's work too), and traces the relationship between the common demand of religion and literature: belief. Wood is accessible without being condescending, and you'll come away with both a more human understanding of literature, and a much fatter reading list.
You Don't Have to Like Me by Alida Nugent
Feminism can be an incredibly polarizing topic, as I've come to discover in my adult adventures in womanhood. It's often all too easily misconstrued as demeaning or derogatory to men, which when you break it down, is not really the point of women's rights movements at all. Alida Nugent broaches this subject gently and humorously, describing her path to embracing her identity as a feminist and her experience as a bi-racial women living in the 21st century. It's broken down into different essays covering topics like casual racism, body image, sex and being a single female walking home alone at night. It's approached in a way that doesn't feel too preachy, and instead offers a great experiential perspective on very common issues that women face.
Saga, Volume 7 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
I have long been an advocate of graphic novels. The medium that gets a lot of flack for being seen as nerdy or goofy or generally not serious, but I think deserves a chance because comic books are an incredible collaboration between art and literature and are just an interesting way to absorb a story. Saga is an on-going epic series, first launched in 2012, and is a beautiful blend of science fiction, fantasy and the ravages of war and racism. I think it's an excellent series to try out if you're not into the world of superhero comics, but want to give graphic novels a shot. Now on it's seventh trade paperback volume, which I am currently reading, the series revolves around a family of refugees, trying to find a safe haven for their mixed-species daughter, whose existence came from a forbidden relationship between two people of warring races. It's dramatic, emotional, and adventurous (fair warning, it is also graphic at times).
Get Well Soon by Jennifer Wright
When I think summer, I think deadly outbreaks of disease. Wait, no, that's not true. But I do tend to gravitate towards irreverent books on them and other bits of medical history this time of year. Last summer I kicked things off with Stiff by Mary Roach and this summer I thought I'd go for Jennifer Wright's latest book, Get Well Soon. Can't wait to dive in and learn fun new things to share at parties!