In our monthly book club, we discuss whatever we happen to be reading and ask everyone in the comments to do the same. What Are You Reading This Month?
As per my 2016 pop culture resolution, this year I’m attempting to read mainly books by women—maybe even only books by women, if the cards fall right. To that end—and in continuing a much older resolution to read Pulitzer Prize winners—I’m about halfway through Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I’m enjoying it immensely: It’s deeply intimate, chronicling a 13-year-old boy’s life after becomes a victim in a terrorist bombing, which alters the course of his life in ways minute and profound. It’s that blend of the inwardly personal and outwardly universal that makes The Goldfinch so compelling—though I’ve never experienced anything like the protagonist, Tartt’s ability to write from within someone else’s head is heady and engrossing. What annoyed me about Tartt’s The Secret History shows up here, too; her fixation on moneyed New Yorkers is still a bit of a turn off, but in The Goldfinch she does a much better job to avoid romanticizing the elite than she did in The Secret History.
In much lighter fare, I spent my holiday break from work catching up on the stack of comics that seems to have been reproducing all over my bookshelves in the past year. (Not to say that all comics are light, but I’m digging the ones I can breeze through for fun.) My favorite of the bunch is Gotham Academy, Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher’s lighthearted take on grimy, grungy Gotham City. It’s an ideal comic for people like me who don’t have the depth of DC/Batman knowledge that’s often a prerequisite for other ongoing storylines of superheroes; Gotham Academy falls squarely into YA territory, and that’s totally fine. It follows Olive at her time in school, and yes, it is like Harry Potter, with a Hogwarts-like setting and supernatural occurrences. But it stands on its own, both in terms of its YA school setting and its setting within Batman’s world.
So far my 2016 reading is all about trying to stick to my new year’s resolutions. So I’m plowing through Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up. I recently moved, and am committed to keeping my new space as clutter-free as possible, which makes my life infinitely easier for a variety of reasons. I’m not following all of Kondo’s rules, because frankly, sometimes she sounds a little nuts. For example, I find it difficult to thank an ugly piece of bric-a-brac or a pair of fat pants for their service before tossing them to Goodwill. And Kondo obviously wrote her book before she became a mother, as kids make the tidying process a lot more problematic. But we all have to start somewhere, so I’m trying to follow Kondo’s credo that if the object doesn’t bring me joy, it’s outta there.
I’m also trying to read with my kids more this year, since I’m achingly cognizant of the fact that I only have a few years left before they quit speaking to me altogether. So we’ve been having a lot of fun with the Roald Dahl canon: We finally got through The Witches (thank God, because my Grand High Witch voice was really tough on my vocal chords), and are now midway through Matilda. What’s great about diving so far into Dahl is how unequivocally kid-centric they are: So far, children consistently get the best of the adults, and everyone is all the better for it. There are no great and valuable lessons here except that sometimes grownups, like the witches or Matilda’s headmistress, suck, and most kids, like Matilda and Charlie and James and The Witches’ boy-mouse, are brilliant. And compared to Matilda’s mom and dad, my parenting appears absolutely stellar, so, everybody wins. Next up: The BFG.
As usual, I took some comic cues from our resident comics writer, Oliver Sava, and tore through Harrow County Volume 1: Countless Haints. The “Southern gothic fairy tale” from Dark Horse’s Cullen Bunn (The Sixth Gun) and Tyler Crook (Bad Blood) contains issues one through four of the comic, which introduce protagonist Emmy, a girl on the cusp of 18 living in the provincial town she soon hopes to escape. Her dreams, however, are deferred once she discovers her connection to an assortment of eerie things occurring in the deep dark woods that surround her town. In an effort to save her own life, she must not only accept that she is the reincarnation of a powerful witch, but also embrace the unusual powers that come along with this birthright. Bunn’s writing brings to mind the novels of Kent Haruf, as both authors are able to make a small town seem both familiar and foreign—Bunn by throwing “Haints,” a Southern term for the undead, into an otherwise realist depiction of a hardworking town that becomes wholly envisioned through Crook’s straightforward brushwork. That he manages to use watercolor but avoid a soft or dreamlike result and instead offer a finely tuned close-up of the this small town, ghosts and all, is a plus. Crook’s work also helps to pace the book—a must when creating the tension horror requires—as the settings slowly become more ominous through darker colors and larger shadows. If you like Wytches and need something to tide you over until the next release, Harrow County is a horror comic for you.
Another recommendation, this time from an old friend, brought me to Denis Johnson’s “legendary” Jesus’ Son. The collection of linked short stories focuses on a rotating cast of drug addicts and its narrative structure is often as chaotic as the highs and lows of the characters, reflecting their altered mental state. “Work” was a clear standout for me, perhaps because it’s one of the few positive stories in an otherwise consistently dark read. The story begins with the narrator and his girlfriend shooting up heroin in a hotel room, but ends with him reflecting on a recent day of hard and almost honest work that leaves him with a rare sense of accomplishment and feeling of satisfaction.
The other bit of positivity comes at the end of the collection, when Johnson writes, “All those weirdos, and me getting a little better every day right in the midst of them. I had never known, never even imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us.” It’s an especially interesting close, as it pushes the reader to reevaluate everything that came before it, essentially ordering them to find the beauty in the bleakness and even challenges the effect of one of the book’s more famous lines, from opener “Car Crash While Hitchhiking”—“And you, you ridiculous people, you expect me to help you.”
Lastly, I received The Napkin Art Of Tim Burton in the mail, and paged through the textless, mini companion to The Art Of Tim Burton. It’s neat little book, showing the inside of Burton’s mind as he travels the world, quickly sketching ideas out on napkins. The presentation is impressive—140 6-by-6 pages with two pull outs, and a fancy silver foil-stamped black cloth cover—making it a great gift for any fan of Burton’s signature style.