We’ve expanded the regular AVQ&A discussion prompts to ask three of our regular contributors (and you) a simple question once per month: What have you read in the past month, or what are you currently reading? This month, assistant editor Andrea Battleground, senior editor John Teti, and writing fellow Katie Rife share their favorite books read in the last month. If you have suggestions for future AVQ&A questions, big or small, email them to us here.
After the emotionally wrenching experience of reading Roxane Gay’s debut novel, An Untamed State, I was very excited to dive into her new collection of essays, Bad Feminist. While some of the pieces included have appeared elsewhere online over the past few years, many of them were new to me. It’s a disconcerting experience to read so much of Gay’s nonfiction after consuming (and being most familiar with) the voice in her fiction. Oftentimes when reading a writer who produces both fiction and non-fiction, it can be a distinct experience to consume one or the other, almost as if they are written by two different people. But it eventually became clear to me that—whether disclosing the psychological warfare that is a Scrabble tournament, or acknowledging the irresponsibility with which the media treats rape (a tightrope the writer negotiates well considering she neither exempts herself as a member of the media nor wears her own personal experience with that particular subject as a talisman), or spinning a tale about the horror and aftermath of one woman’s Haitian vacation—Gay speaks with the same voice and the same heart in all she writes. And it’s a voice I’d love to read page after page after page.
After reading several of Saeed Jones’ essays over on BuzzFeed, I was inspired to pickup the 2013 Pushcart Prize winner’s second book of poetry, Prelude To Bruise. Though I would never suggest that demographics make a personality, Jones’ has done well making a name for himself by plumbing his experience of coming of age while black, gay, and Southern. Jones’ book is all the things I love for poetry to be—confessional, rhythmic, mysterious—yet he avoids being repetitive by experimenting with a variety of styles. Some poems veer more toward a Gwendolyn Brooks style, while others practically scream their E.E. Cummings influence. Some read very well on the page, while others are so intricate with their alliteration and inline rhymes they would be well served in a performance setting, such as the title poem. Anyone interested in even more from Jones should also note his spectacular Twitter game.
After recently diving into the first season of Showtime’s Masters Of Sex, I was intrigued enough by William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson’s strange relationship to read Thomas Maier’s biography of the sex researchers, which has the same title and provided the basis for the TV show. I was astounded to find how much of the first-season drama was rooted in actual events, especially after I had read criticisms that the show’s rendering of Masters played too much into the fading trend of male antiheroes. As I learned, the Michael Sheen version of William H. Masters is hardly a drummed-up antihero. In fact, the TV version is often a softer, more likable take on the real Masters, especially when it comes to the sexual relationship between the two researchers. The show portrays Masters and Johnson’s affair as a heady mix of affection and ambition while the book depicts a colder, more coercive pairing. I do recommend the book to fans of the program, as it sheds insight on creative decisions made by the Masters Of Sex writers. That said, I find myself flagging as I near the end of the tome. After some tame but mildly interesting opening chapters, the book’s excitement builds at its midpoint—the period depicted on the show so far—and then it flags again. I feel like I’m stuck in Maier’s refractory period right now.
I also recently read Andy Weir’s The Martian after Samantha Nelson and Mike Vago recommended it in our best-of-2014-so-far roundups. Their glowing praise was on the mark. It only took me three days to blaze through this story of an astronaut stranded on Mars after a mission goes awry. It’s a salute to scientific ingenuity told in gripping fashion. I missed train stops and stayed up way past my bedtime, because I couldn’t stop reading this book. And this was a debut novel! I can’t wait for Weir’s next work.
One of my favorite small pleasures is sitting alone in a bar and reading, a pastime that seemed uniquely suited to Rosie Schaap’s barroom memoir Drinking With Men. The book itself was much like an amiable drinking companion—a pleasant enough way to pass the time, but things got a little awkward when religion came into the mix. I began to check out around the time Schaap started going into ecstasies about soccer, but to extend the bar metaphor I stuck it out until last call. Drinking With Men didn’t change my life, but her call for a place where “a woman might stop by, sit herself down at the bar, and quietly read, reasonably confident that no drunks would menace her” is one that I can certainly get behind.
Notable September book releases:
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (out 9/2)
10:04 by Ben Lerner (out 9/2)
The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad) by Tana French (out 9/2)
The Children Act by Ian McEwan (out 9/9)
The Dog by Joseph O’Neill (out 9/9)
Lovely, Dark, Deep: Stories by Joyce Carol Oates (out 9/9)
Perfidia by James Ellroy (out 9/9)
Prelude To Bruise: Poetry by Saeed Jones (out 9/9)
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (out 9/16)
Wallflowers: Stories by Eliza Robertson (out 9/16)
Wolf In White Van by John Darnielle (out 9/16)
Stone Mattress: Nine Tales by Margaret Atwood (out 9/16)
Rooms by Lauren Oliver (out 9/23)
How To Build A Girl by Caitlin Moran (out 9/23)
The Zone Of Interest by Martin Amis (out 9/30)
The Assassination Of Margaret Thatcher: Stories by Hilary Mantel (out 9/30)
The History Of Rock ’N’ Roll In 10 Songs by Greil Marcus (out 9/2)
The Beat Of My Own Drum: A Memoir by Sheila E and Wendy Holden (out 9/2)
Angry Optimist: The Life And Times Of Jon Stewart by Lisa Rogak (out 9/9)
Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History Of Saturday Night Live (SNL 40th Anniversary Updated And Revised Edition) by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales (out 9/9)
Lincoln’s Gamble by Todd Brewster (out 9/9)
Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words by Malka Marom (out 9/9)
My Life As A Foreign Country by Brian Turner (out 9/15)
Thirteen Days In September by Lawrence Wright (out 9/16)
Cosby: His Life And Times by Mark Whitaker (out 9/16)
Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage Of The Flesh by John Lahr (out 9/22)
The Short And Tragic Life Of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs (out 9/23)
Not That Kind Of Girl by Lena Dunham (out 9/30)
Scandals Of Classic Hollywood by Anne Helen Petersen (out 9/30)
On Immunity: An Innoculation by Eula Biss (out 9/30)