Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

What are you reading in February?

Illustration for article titled What are you reading in February?
AVQ&AWelcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences.

We’ve expanded the regular AVQ&A discussion prompts to ask several of our regular contributors (and you) a simple question: What are you currently reading? If you have suggestions for future AVQ&A questions, big or small, email them to us here.


Marah Eakin

I first heard about Bill James’ Popular Crime: Reflections On The Celebration Of Violence when Mythbusters’ Adam Savage talked about it on an episode of the Nerdist podcast. He raved about its blend of true crime and media studies and the unique way James used his Moneyball-honed skills to look at how X yielded Y, and so on. It took me a while to get to it, but I picked it up a few weeks back, and I’ve been enjoying it off and on ever since. Each chapter is about a different crime, theory, or motif, and while some of James’ grammatical quirks can get annoying to me as a professional writer (“which” isn’t “that,” Bill!), it’s been a quick and interesting read that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. James doesn’t get quite as into the crimes and I’d like, but he talks about other books that do, and it’s probably better that I have a more sweeping and general sense of how Lizzie Borden’s trial affected the modern judicial process than if I were to spend hours and hours reading some 500-page micro-examination of the case. It’s a great place to start, and James’ theories provide a good launching place for a real examination of the American criminal justice system as a whole.

Caitlin PenzeyMoog

I read Laurie Penny online all the time, not just because she’s a brilliant writer on politics and feminism, but because she has the uncanny ability to distill so many of my own thoughts and fears and emotions surrounding women’s rights and patriarchy into intelligible words. I’ve had her book, Unspeakable Things, on my shelf for a while and I finally read it. “Read” may be an understatement—I devoured it in two days and for the first time in a while I feel optimistic about the future of this weird feminist moment/movement we’re in. Unspeakable Things is a feminist polemic—it is not Lean In or any of the hundreds of guides on how women should navigate patriarchy and high heels in order to succeed. Instead of suffering in an incredibly fucked-up system, Penny argues, we need to burn the system down and start again, because right now it is only working for a very small group of people, a group composed of mostly white men with a great deal of money. Read this book if you’ve ever been called a slut or a whore or some variation thereof; read it if you’ve ever had your thoughts dismissed because of your gender; read it if, like me, you’re enraged that a small group of old men control how much autonomy you have over your body; read it if you’re genderqueer or if you’re a man who doesn’t fit into the impossibly narrow standards of masculinity.

Laura M. Browning

I read and reviewed Maureen Johnson’s third entry in the Shades Of London series, The Shadow Cabinet. It’s worth mentioning again because it’s really a lot of fun, and it’s a good excuse for me to plug the first two books in the series, The Name Of The Star and The Madness Underneath. Appropriate for lovers of ghost stories, London, YA lit, and good storytelling.


I also recently read Emma Hooper’s debut novel, Etta And Otto And Russell And James, a devastating but beautiful story about an 83-year-old woman who decides to walk across Canada so that she can see the ocean. Beginning to suffer the effects of dementia, she keeps notes in her pocket to remind herself who she is (Etta), who her husband is (Otto), and who her lifelong friend and neighbor is (Russell). (I won’t spoil who James is.) Shifting between World War II and the present day, Etta And Otto And Russell And James is a story about love and adventure and humanity, and Hooper’s poetic style captures the beauties and difficulties of rural Saskatchewan as well as the smudged relationship between reality and dementia.

And though I may be the last person on Earth to read it, I also devoured Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park, a YA love story that comes with none of the negative, schmaltzy connotations that “YA love story” brings. It’s a deeply personal story that sidesteps those connotations by relying on the interactions between two 15-year-olds, Eleanor and Park, and Rowell acknowledges both the deeply felt love of teenagers and the improbability of that love working out in the long term. But it’s also about abuse and finding shelter, ’80s rock and superhero comics, and what it means to be a towering redhead in a world of petite brunettes.


Notable February releases, assorted:

  • For those longing for an immersive story and interests include quantum physics, Eastern Europe, and/or electronics: I Am Radar by Reif Larsen (out February 24)
  • For the sci-fi lover who wants a linguistic challenge: The Country Of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman (out February 10)
  • For the wistful reader who wishes magic and parallel worlds were real: A Darker Shade Of Magic by V.E. Schwab (out February 24)
  • For anyone addicted to gripping thrillers, this time a creepy, unnerving thriller: The Damned by Andrew Pyper (out February 10)
  • For the Kite Runner-lover wanting another look at the war-torn Afghan youths: Blue On Green by Elliot Ackerman (out February 17)
  • For the lifelong learner: This Idea Must Die, in which lots of smart people tackle scientific ideas we need to kill and move on from, by John Brockman (out February 17)
  • For those looking for a postmodern exercise that’s still enjoyable: Satin Island by Tom McCarthy (out February 17)
  • For those wondering how the Internet age is affecting and increasing slut-shaming: I Am Not A Slut by Leora Tanenbaum (out February 10)
  • For those thinking about global capitalism’s rapacity but also want a good mystery: The Hunger Of The Wolf by Stephen Marche (out February 3)