I fell off the grid reading-wise for a large part of my adult life. In fact, almost all of it. I wasn’t raised in a bookish family but looking back, I did read a lot as a kid. According to my aunt I read just about everything that was put in front of me, including restaurant placemats. But my high school experience wasn’t academically rigorous (understatement) and the forced reading in college made me hate reading in general, too bad that isn’t some sort of metaphor for American higher education.
I don’t remember reading all that much in my twenties, I don’t think I did. I was too busy being young and living extra hard but now that I’m in my fifties and stuck in a box inside a state during a winter that takes up half the year let me tell you something, any bad feelings I might’ve had back then about how hard I partied and fucked around are gone forever. You got it while the gettin’ was good, good for you, Young Me.
Anyway, I was living my life and burning out at various jobs then kids came along so I could burn out simultaneously on both work and parenting. I honestly don’t even know when I picked up my all-consuming desire to read again, I really don’t think it was until right around when I got an agent, which is … astonishing/depressing, really. I remember him name checking authors in our first call, writers he thought my work was reminiscent of and I was like:
I’ve thought, written, and talked about my somewhat recent realization that life isn’t a direct one-way line through time but rather a series of big, circling loops that keep dumping us all back where we started. This can be terrible or wonderful. With reading, the return has been wonderful.
I mention all of this because I think in the age of social media, reading — like everything else — can feel like a competition. We start to panic that we’re behind. We worry we’re behind in our careers, behind in our relationships or having kids, and behind in achieving things we probably don’t actually want if we’d just spend more than 5 minutes reflecting on it (i.e. maybe we want those things because someone else has them, sort of a toddler mentality really, also I am tagged in this photo and don’t like it). And this goes all the way down to seemingly small, supposedly pleasurable things like how many books we’ve read in a year. I saw a few people post about reading more than 100 books last year. How!!! But also, good for them if that’s what they like to do! I mean, other people I don’t know reading 100 books in a year has zero impact on me and my life unless all 100 books were actually written by me in which case, regards.
This is not exactly breaking news but we are still in the midst of a pandemic. A good friend said the other day, “I can’t believe we’re still all doing this.” The “this” being working and parenting and dabbling in amateur epidemiology/risk management assessment and beating ourselves up for anything we think we’re not getting exactly right. Productivity culture and judging our own lives by the magazine version of other people’s lives is going to Instagram story us right into the grave.
The thing is, whatever you’re doing right now is more likely than not what you should or need to be doing. Raising small humans, keeping a roof over your head, tending to your mental and/or physical health, grappling with trauma and/or grief, helping friends or family who need you, or simply just getting through each day as it comes. If you don’t have time or the focus to read right now, I promise you the world will not end. But if you like to read and you’ve found little (or big) pockets of time, might I make a few suggestions? Pictured in this newsletter are all of the books I read last year. A few were transcendent. Many were very, very good. A few were good but not worthy of the hype. A few were fine … I guess. Two I actively loathed. There were only two books I bailed on completely because I was not going to spend my one wild and precious life reading that shit. Here are some highlights:
“WHY BOTHER BEING A WRITER WHEN THESE PEOPLE EXIST AND ALSO WRITE”: BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU by Sally Rooney, NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT THIS by Patricia Lockwood, FLEABAG: THE SCRIPTURES by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, FESTIVAL DAYS by Jo Ann Beard, THE MUSEUM OF RAIN by Dave Eggers, FILTHY ANIMALS by Brandon Taylor who is also the best person to follow on Twitter.
GENUINELY LAUGH-OUT-LOUD FUNNY AND/OR DEEP YET ENJOYABLE BOOKS THAT WOULD MAKE GREAT GIFTS: SOLUTIONS AND OTHER PROBLEMS by Allie Brosh, THIS BOOK IS FOR YOU by Worry Lines, and DR. RICK WILL SEE YOU NOW (yes, from the Progressive commercials, yes I’m serious, yes it even has a Goodreads page 💀 and now it’s a free ebook! No I don’t work for Progressive’s ad agency, I promise!)
NON-FICTION THAT READS LIKE A THRILLER: THE PREMONITION by Michael Lewis (this is in my top 10 of the year, what an amazing book, you will never think of the CDC or the pandemic in the same way, pls just trust me and get it)
MOST COMPELLING WINDOWS INTO WORLDS/LIVES DIFFERENT THAN MY OWN: FINAL CUT by Steven Bach (originally published in 1985, search used bookstores for the hardcover! It’s cheap!), LEAVING ISN’T THE HARDEST THING by Lauren Hough, DON’T LET IT GET YOU DOWN by Savala Nolan (these last two books have really stuck with me, made me reframe things in my head about people and the world, and so much more)
BEST BOOK FOR DAYDREAMING: BEACH HOUSES by Andrew Geller
ONE LAST TOP 10 BOOK: MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION by Ottessa Moshfegh
THINGS FROM ELSEWHERE
• Given we’re still at the nEw YeAr NeW YoU phase of things, I found this Twitter thread from fitness writer Spenser Mestel more helpful than most full articles about training/nutrition/supplements/mobility. I loved this article (and also want to meet Amanda Mull’s dad!): “You Can’t Simply Decide to Be a Different Person” in The Atlantic. And also this one: “Sometimes You Have to Hate Exercise Before You Can Love It Again” in The New York Times. That title feels misleading to me, though. Mostly it’s about the loss of routine or reason to exercise and finding your way back.
• I’m not crying you’re crying.
• This interview adds needed (and fresh) dimension to the marriage and divorce conversation. “The Queer Art of Divorce: Composer Ethan Philbrick and novelist Torrey Peters discuss what it means to make art and community after a marriage ends.” in Jewish Currents. “Marriage is often thought of as a ritual for creating something new, for instituting a new family, but for so many people it’s a consolidation of continuity: ‘I want my ideas about the future to stay the same.’ When we get married, we marry a person, but we’re also marrying a set of ideas about what stability is, what safety is.”
• TWENTY?!?! “‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ at 20: When Wes Anderson Imagined New York” in The New York Times.
• “Our Stories Survive Us” by Cheryl Strayed. This intro then letter then response left me with tears streaking down my face the first time I read it and I thought surely that wouldn’t happen again when I read it almost a year later. Reader, I was very wrong. This is one of the most gut wrenching, stark, and poetic examinations of grief I have ever read.
• “I'm 17 years old, what can you tell me about love? MAURO, LEUVEN, BELGIUM / How do I not have my heart broken? JENNY, PARIS, FRANCE” Read the glorious answer from Nick Cave in The Red Hand Files Issue #177.
BUT YOU SEEMED SO HAPPY is out now. You can find my copywriting and creative direction work here. You can find my writing-writing work here. You can find me on Twitter. You can find me on Instagram. Please do not find me in real life, the world ONCE AGAIN doesn’t work like that anymore.