What We're Reading, Vol. 6
Valentine’s Day comes and goes, and every year, it feels like there’s a little switch in the air. It’s still winter (at least for those of us up north), but its darkness is gone. There are early flowers, and little bits of color begin to work their way back into our lives. January’s sense of rebirth, if anything, grows stronger. More cleansing, more good intentions. And hopefully more, meaningful reading.
Here’s what we’re pouring ourselves into or quietly reading this month:
My last couple of weeks of reading (or admittedly, not reading) have been about resting after finishing and defending my thesis. I bought a lot of books while in London in late January, but I admittedly haven’t done much with them yet, as I’ve been listening to my body and what it wants and mostly sleeping. I did, however, pick up Eve Babitz’s Sex & Rage after hearing what an engaging and fun read it is… but it hasn’t gripped me yet. Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry, on the other hand, has me pleasantly surprised. I was resisting picking it up because it deals with an affair between a twenty-five year old writing having an affair with a much, much older male writer in New York – a dynamic I never really want to read about, but Halliday does a fantastic job with it. It’s a profound but funny read, and what I’m most excited to keep reading this week. Otherwise, I have Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City and a few James Baldwin essays sitting on my bedside table to balance things out with a bit of non-fiction.
I finished The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Wang recently and was deeply moved by how honest, humane, and well-written it is. This is an in-depth look at the author's experience of schizoaffective disorder, which is something I've been diagnosed with as well. As part of the schizophrenia "family" of diagnoses, so to speak, it's a deeply stigmatized condition, and to find depictions and explorations of the illness that affirm one's dignity and experience is rare, and something to be treasured. The essays in this book draw on history, popular culture, medicine, and spirituality to contextualize and meditate on the implications of the illness, the experiences it produces, and how one navigates the world with it. It's a profoundly thoughtful, tender, and brave work, and one I greatly recommend to anyone seeking to understand more about mental health.
Right now, I’m reading My mother she killed me, my father he ate me: Forty new fairy tales - edited by Kate Bernheimer and Carmen Giménez Smith. I'm only about a third of the way through this, but it's already deeply affected my thinking recently. While some of the stories have been a little disappointing, there are others in this that haunt and compel, glowing from the page. It's a beautiful celebration of how innately feral, fierce, and primal fairy tales are, and the old, old ways of knowing we still retain. As someone obsessed with fairy tales and folklore, this is an invaluable read, as it depicts wonderfully the lasting power these tales and the archetypes and patterns they carry have on us as human beings.
I just started The Silence of the Girls by Pat Baker, a book that I bought last November but only just picked up. In 2018, the book that shook me the most and that I loved to distraction was Circe by Madeline Miller. In a way then, I was looking forward to getting my hands on something similar, without really thinking that I probably still needed a bit more time to process. So now that a bit more time has passed, I have finally dived into this new book. The Silence of the Girls is the story of the Iliad told mostly from the point of view of Briseis. The first person is engaging, and I think it’s a good strategy for such a retelling as it results in a very emotional narrative. I look forward to reading more as I have heard a couple of sections are narrated by Achilles – an interesting choice for a book that is about the ‘silence’ of female characters.
February’s been a bit of a cold slump for me – who knew the shortest month could feel so long? And yet, we’ve reached just over the middle and I can’t say I’ve cracked anything that’s kept me hooked enough to keep going, so I fell back on my trademark poetry and short stories. As it is the month of love, I’ve been grazing everything from Shakespeare’s Sonnets to Cleo Wade’s Heart Talk, with a dash of Clarice Lispector and Dorothy Parker to keep me just a little bit up to my usual snark. I don’t usually read all the way through, more so hop around each as the mood strikes. Looking to embrace my own roots, however, I’ve just started Sandra Cisneros’ My Wicked Wicked Ways. Her first poetry anthology, it captures everything I’m looking to read at the moment, and from the very introductory line, “these / are my Wicked poems from when. / The girl grief decade. My Wicked nun / years, so to speak. I sinned,” I have a feeling this one just might pull me out my winters daze.
I am currently reading Mayhem by Sigrid Rausing, a memoir about addiction — not my usual choice of book because it’s a terribly sad and difficult subject, but for some reason it caught my eye in the bookstore. Rausing moves back and forth between the present and the past, recalling her upbringing while trying to make sense of her brother and sister-in-law’s addiction to hard drugs. At a time when the opioid crisis is at the forefront of American life and fatal overdoses occur regularly, I feel it’s important to remind ourselves that addiction can touch any community at any time, and we would be wise to familiarise ourselves with its symptoms and signs.
This month has been back to university and back to course reading for me. However, I’ve been reading and re-reading Anne Carson’s translation of Antigone to get me into the play as I am performing as Antigone this year in my university’s Greek Play. To distract from the stresses of second term I’ve also been returning to my old favourite, Harry Potter.
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