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?
Having And Being Had by Eula Biss
Eula Biss began writing Having And Being Had (September 1, Riverhead) shortly after she and her husband bought their house, in a gentrifying neighborhood in Chicago. Biss comes from a working-class background, had something of a bohemian young adulthood, and was uncomfortable with the comfort that comes with owning a home. With her latest book of nonfiction, Biss interrogates such contradictions surrounding labor and art-making under capitalism. “Work, in fact, is interfering with my work, and I want to work less so that I can have more time to work,” she writes of her teaching job at Northwestern. The sentiment will be familiar to any artist who isn’t independently wealthy or is without a benefactor. The book is strongest when Biss identifies what she calls a “literal symbol,” something that “stands for what it is and for something else, too,” as when she talks about biking in a city where cars dominate the road or selecting funds in her retirement account. “I’ll have to choose a priority, he says, because the same company that offers a generous maternity leave might do something destructive to the environment… I want nothing to do with this, I think. But I want to retire.” The book began as a diary, and the whole thing reads like a manicured journal. Biss notes what others have to say about work, without quite synthesizing it with her own thoughts and experiences. The result feels like someone hopping from stone to stone to get across a brook; Biss skims and keeps moving, as if to keep from falling in. [Laura Adamczyk]
The Night Swim by Megan Goldin
Former Reuters reporter Megan Goldin follows up her bestselling 2019 debut, The Escape Room, with another thriller that takes its cue from a 21st-century invention: the true crime podcast. The Night Swim (August 4, St. Martin’s) is told mostly from the perspective of Rachel Krall, host of the popular Guilty Or Not Guilty, who is drawn to the (fictional) small town of Neapolis, North Carolina, to cover the rape trial of local golden boy Scott Blair. (The trial appears to be modeled after the Brock Turner case; Scott is also a championship swimmer.) As Rachel gets to know the players on all sides of the case—the lawyers, local law enforcement, Scott’s family, as well as Kelly, Scott’s accuser, and her parents—she’s intrigued by letters she’s receiving from the enigmatic Hannah, urging her to look into the mysterious death of her sister, Jenny, a few decades prior. Naturally, Rachel discovers an unlikely tie that binds both cases. What elevates The Night Swim above mere page-turner is its subject matter: Goldin unflinchingly explores how women who survive sexual assault hold emotional damage that can affect them for the rest of their lives. It makes for a gut-wrenching read at times, but a very worthwhile one. [Gwen Ihnat]
Shine by Jessica Jung
When it comes to K-pop, you won’t find too many commonalities between its loyal fans and vocal detractors. But if there’s anything that we can glean from those who are somewhat in tune with the finer details of the industry and those who engage in total speculation, there appears to be, at minimum, a shared curiosity regarding the professional culture behind the glossy images and sharply rendered bops. This month, I’ve been gathering insights from a presumably reliable source: K-pop legend and former Girls’ Generation vocalist Jessica Jung, who has woven some of her personal experiences throughout an enthralling novel, Shine (September 29, Simon & Schuster). While fans won’t exactly find the no-holds-barred tell-all that they’ve been clamoring for since Jung exited South Korean megalabel SM Entertainment in 2014, they will get to follow the cleverly crafted journey of Rachel Kim, a Korean American teen and DB Entertainment trainee who hopes to debut with Seoul’s most anticipated up-and-coming girl act. Rachel’s road to stardom is riddled with fascinating (and perhaps inspired by real life) potholes—a suave veteran idol named Jason Lee, ruthless mean girl and fellow trainee Mina Choo—that greatly exacerbate her trek. Although I’m certainly not impervious to the more dramatic threads of Jung’s engaging yarn (seriously, who is Jason supposed to represent?!), Shine’s heart beats with a story of a girl who struggles to navigate both American and Korean spaces, wishes to win the approval of her headstrong, feminist mother, and strives to overcome fear and naysayers in order to pursue her lifelong dream. It’s an all-around charmer. [Shannon Miller]