It is presumptuous, actually incorrect, and most of all blasphemous for me (a heathen) to pretend to know what Jesus (a sky ghost) would give for Christmas (the Santa holiday) but look at me go on anyway. And a hearty goodbye and a shruggie emoji to all the subscribers I’ve offended one sentence in to this newsletter! I understand if you must unsubscribe immediately, it’s probably for the best.
Every year I think I’ve read, like, 376 books but for the past four or so years I’ve actually read closer to 30 or 40. I know this because I clear off a few shelves each January and add freshly read books as I go, a running tally. Then I photograph them all over the holiday break, keep the ones I loved, and disperse the rest (usually by donating them to the “take a book for free” shelves at the airport.) Thirty or forty books a year is a sharp upswing from the handful of books I read during my early parenting years (combined!) and probably the even fewer books I read in college (that were not assigned) because being forced to do anything (reading, swimming, cooking) makes me hate it with the hot angry heat of a thousand suns. (sorry) (for) (all) (the parentheticals.) Anyway, when I started to write more I started to read more. I finally, finally, got past the myth, “Well if I read other people’s writing it will totes mess up my own extremely precious and fragile writing.” That is absolute horse shit. You have to know what’s out there, you have to feel the magic of great writing —and yes, occasionally suffer through bad writing but don’t suffer too long! Life is too short to finish books you hate. GOODWILL THAT SHIT IMMEDIATELY.
If you don’t believe I’m not all that well-read (why wouldn’t you? Meet me), I invite you to consider the first call I had with my now agent. He reeled off a bunch of authors who he thought I was in league with or my writing was perhaps stylistically or subject-wise in their ballpark. I remember furiously trying to scribble the names down, mangling the spelling of each. When I got off the phone I thought, “I bet I would feel flattered if I knew who the fuck any of those people are.” That’s when I seriously got back into reading. I have a lot of ground to make up and I can say with not a small amount of pride that my bookshelves are groaning, I carry a book just about everywhere I go, and digging back into old books from college (there was some assigned reading that had an impact! It’s possible!) has been a deeply meaningful experience. The ability to read is the greatest gift we’re given in this world. It’s free. It gets us out of our own lives as well as the digital hellscape we’re all beholden to (if we’re talking paper books, which I am, I just cannot with e-readers, sorry.) We can do it just about anywhere (maybe not while swimming.) And while, yes, giving someone a book can be as fraught and off the mark as giving someone music, this is the proverbial case of “it’s the thought that counts.”
Also: support your indie bookstores! It’s not just about trying to fight the behemoth that is Amazon (good luck with that, listen to this if you want to see how impossible that hill is to climb), but supporting the people in your community who help make it a community. They do the lion’s share of supporting authors by holding readings and events, they help make real connections between authors and readers, and are just nice, smart people! Shout out to Phoenix Books, The Vermont Book Shop, and Northshire Bookstore for supporting me here in Vermont! Don’t know what your loved ones like to read? Get them a gift card from their local store and let them choose. Easy squeezy.
Okay, to the books I loved in 2019. I hope you’ll find something in here to give to a friend, a lover, your mom, your dad, or reconnect with someone you haven’t talked to in ages. Mail them a book! Imagine how surprised and touched they’ll be, unless the title of the book is something like TURNS OUT I ALWAYS HATED YOU SO HERE’S A BOOK, BITCH. Let’s bring back more real life connections in 2020. Ha ha ha ha WOW it’s almost 2020! 2020. Oh God.
I liked just about every book I read this year which, hooray! There was only one book I was pissed about and I think it was more a case of 1) being totally mislead by a blurb by A Very Famous Author That Was Clearly A Fucking Lie and 2) the jacket copy and promo of this book not being representative of what the book actually was. Ugh, still mad. Don’t jerk me around on a hardcover I paid for with my own money! ANYWAY:
• JUST THE BEST BOOK: I’m just going to kick off with one of the best books I have ever read in my life, laugh out loud funny, single sentences that feel like an entire conceptual humor piece, incredible turn-your-brain-inside-out command of language. You know when you watch a show that is so layered with jokes or insights that it’s like a firehose, you’re laughing or thinking so intensely that you miss the next joke or thought or scene entirely? This book is like that. PRIESTDADDY by Patricia Lockwood.
• BOOKS THAT REMIND YOU FARTING INTO A WORD DOC AND CALLING YOURSELF A JOURNALIST / ESSAYIST ISN’T HOW IT WORKS: One old, one new. A window into a completely bygone era with Nora Ephron’s SCRIBBLE SCRIBBLE and the absolutely incredible reads-like-a-thriller SHE SAID by Jodi Kantor and Meghan Twohey.
• BOOKS FOR BEST LADY FRIENDS: I recently gave my three closest friends these three books because in very different ways they reflect and deepen so many of the incredible conversations we’ve had over this past year. I found myself repeatedly thinking yes. Yes, this. FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, FLASH COUNT DIARY: MENOPAUSE AND THE VINDICATION OF NATURAL LIFE by Darcy Steinke and ORDINARY LOVE AND GOODWILL by Jane Smiley. Of special note on that last one—it is utterly timeless and was first! published! in 1989! It could’ve been written last week. I’m obsessed with it and what it says about marriage, parenting, how we view ourselves and our values, life, just all of it.
• LIGHTEN IT UP: Sometimes you just want to have fun with reading (I guess that’s an option?) and you could not do better than two new gift books that are out from two incredibly funny, talented ladies I happen to know face-to-face. THAT WAS AWKWARD: THE ART AND ETIQUETTE OF THE AWKWARD HUG by the excellent New Yorker cartoonist and humorist Emily Flake and BUILD YOUR OWN CHRISTMAS MOVIE ROMANCE by one of the best humor writers in existence, Riane Konc.
This is the first year in a long time, possibly ever, that I felt like just about every book I read was a gem. This newsletter would be far too long if I went into every single one that I found surprising, challenging, transformative, or meaningful. Gosh, isn’t reading great? Just look at that first photo and buy them all-ish!
BOOKS COMING IN 2020
Just because a book isn’t out yet doesn’t mean you can’t buy it. Preorder a book you think someone will love and give them a card at the holidays telling them what’s coming. If someone preordered books for me to enjoy over the coming year I would think that person is the best and smartest person around (and someone who understands that preorders are a huge help to authors! Read why here.) Here are a few upcoming books that I’ve either been lucky enough to read in advance or just can’t wait to get into my hot little hands:
• BOYS & SEX: YOUNG MEN ON HOOKUPS, LOVE, PORN, CONSENT, AND NAVIGATING THE NEW MASCULINITY by Peggy Orenstein. Just imagine the look on your teenage son’s face when this is unwrapped on Christmas morning! Too bad our culture / world / lives has made this moment ENTIRELY NECESSARY.
• WOW, NO THANK YOU. by Samantha Irby. I laugh a lot in real life but laugh very little when I’m reading, especially when I’m reading humor because I’m a profoundly broken person. Samantha Irby is one of the few writers who not only gets me to make outloud laugh sounds with my mouth but also leaves me with legit tears streaming down ma face and my hand clapped over ma mouth. So good.
• HERE FOR IT by R. Eric Thomas. Are you reading his regular column in Elle? Wow, what’s wrong with you. He’s another one of those (rare) writers who makes you laugh *instantly*, just reading a single sentence or his take on a situation. I’m so so so looking forward to this essay collection.
IF YOU WANT TO SPLURGE …
… and can actually snap up one of these before someone else does, these paintings by Jeremy Miranda just make my heart stop every time I see them. (You can follow this particular collection of his work on Instagram here.)
WRAP IT ALL UP …
… with the absolute opposite of Typical Wrapping Paper with this new gorgeous wrapping paper from March Party Goods (brought to you by one half of makelike, the same design studio that makes all this incredible wallpaper!)
NEW FROM ME
I have been deep in book writing lockdown and I find myself completely, thoroughly shocked to be so very into it. I’ll save that for another newsletter but all this to say, I’m doing precious little writing outside of my next book. One piece that I managed to get out onto the Internets is this one which is both filthy and unloved. Please clap: Flyover State Erotica for Journalists (McSweeney’s)
THINGS FROM ELSEWHERE
• BEST. CROSS-STITCH STORY. EVER: When I saw this thread on Twitter back in October I thought I was going to *lose it*. Anyone who hits estate sales can identify with coming across uncompleted projects of the person who died. But who does anything about it? This is a must read (Also: 1. be sure to read the comments 2. Go back to her regular feed and read the updates since the original thread! There are a lot of them! Including this piece that just came out two days ago. 3. Check the #ritasquilt hashtag on Instagram. You need this story in your life.)
• HUMOR: I’m a big fan of making fun of insipid corporate speak, especially since I have to communicate using insipid corporate speak all the time. This is yet another piece that I can not believe (what the fuck, McSweeney’s readers?) didn’t blow up. So here I am, doing my li’l part, to get more eyeballs on this thing. So, so, so many sharp details in this piece. “Help! Our Idea Has Legs!” by Thatcher Jensen (McSweeney’s.)
• HOW TO WRITE SATIRE: Speaking of written humor, this is a great primer by Alex Baia on how to write satire if that’s a thing you’re curious about. I’ve definitely used this as a check against my own work since I sort of stumbled bassackwards into humor writing, initially adjusting my work by feel—or feeling 1000% baffled about why something didn’t work.
• AUTISM: Gonna try v hard not to dwell for 5 whole minutes on the intensely scary lack of safety net for so many adults on the spectrum in this country. And instead feel touched by this story of an ICU nurse who adopted a man with autism so he could qualify for the heart transplant he desperately needed.
• PERFECTION: “My So-Karen Life”. Not to take anything away from their storied history of investigative journalism, all those Pulitzer Prizes, etc etc etc but this is possibly the most intricate, spot-on, funny-ass, carnival-of-words, conceptually amazing thing I have ever read in The New York Times and I am dying. I am seriously considering printing it out and framing it which is creepy but also, JUST FUCKING READ IT ALREADY. Good goddamn grief I love Sarah Miller.
• ALUMINUM CHRISTMAS TREES: How. Do I get. To Houston. And stuff all these trees down my pants and run?
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