It’s almost halfway through the year (what???), and this seems like a good opportunity to look back at what I’ve read in the first half and forward to what I might read in the second. I feel like, overall, it’s been a good reading year so far. I’ve found some great new authors and read further in authors I already love, and I feel excited about the books I have on board to read next (which, to be honest, number in the thousands, most of which I won’t get to).
Cormac began his summer vacation last week, and I’m looking forward to more day trips and longer excursions (first to Rochester to visit family, and then to Rhode Island and later the Adirondacks—outdoorsy trips that allow us to stay as safe as possible away from home). Posting may be more sporadic for the next couple months, but I hope not to miss too many weeks. And I hope all of you have good summer reading plans lined up!
First, here are some books I've loved so far this year — not 2021 books necessarily, just what I happened to read in the last six months. Some I’ve written about, but not all:
To Write As If Already Dead by Kate Zambreno. I read this awhile ago and didn’t want to write about it before its publication date. I’m now rereading it and I hope to write about it this summer.
The Natural Mother of the Child by Krys Malcolm Belc. I never wrote at length about this book — I read too many good books to fit them all in — but it’s important and great. Its subtitle, “A Memoir of Nonbinary Parenthood,” sums up the basic idea. I found it thoughtful, smart, and illuminating.
Be Holding by Ross Gay. This is a book-length poem I just finished and plan to reread and hopefully write about it soon. It’s amazing.
Book of Hours by Kevin Young. This is another favorite poetry book of the year. I found it beautiful and moving.
I feel like that’s a lot of great books in six months!
As I consider what I want to read in the second half of the year, let me say, first, that I commit to nothing. I have some books in mind I’d like to read, but I may well change my mind. That said, I would like to read more from my “Authors It’s Practically a Crime I Haven’t Read Yet” list, especially Robert Walser, Roland Barthes, Audre Lorde, and Anne Carson. I would like to read Bhanu Kapil, especially Schizophrene, and perhaps reread Ban En Banlieue. I’m very excited about Migratory Birds by Mariana Oliver, translated by Julia Sanches, which just came out (and my copy recently arrived!). I’d like to read Dionne Brand’s The Blue Clerk and Distant Fathers by Marina Jarre, translated by Ann Goldstein. I’ve been in a rereading mood, so I might reread Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong. I really want to read Yiyun Li’s Where Reasons End and maybe reread her book Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life. But oh man, there are so many books I want to read…
To add to the list, here are some coming out later this year that I’m really looking forward to (quotations from the publisher):
Real Estate: A Living Autobiography by Deborah Levy (Bloomsbury, August 24): the last in a trilogy of autobiographical books. I loved the first two.
Imminence by Mariana Dimópulos, translated by Alice Whitmore (Transit Press, September 7): “A new mother holds her month-old son for the first time, but her body betrays her with an absence of feeling. Disoriented, she wanders with her partner around their plant-filled Buenos Aires apartment.”
The Breaks: An Essay by Julietta Singh (Coffee House Press, September 7): “A profound meditation on race, inheritance, and queer mothering at the end of the world.”
Things Are Against Us by Lucy Ellmann and Diana Hope (illustrator) (Biblioasis, September 7): a collection of essays by Lucy Ellmann!
On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint by Maggie Nelson (Graywolf, September 7): new Maggie Nelson!
Exteriors by Annie Ernaux, translated by Tanya Leslie (Seven Stories Press, September 14th): new Annie Ernaux!
My Darling from the Lions: Poems by Rachel Long (Tin House Books, September 21): “Told in three sections, it's a book about growing up, falling in love with not-great men, and girlhood; a collection that speaks to femininity, divinity, familial shame, Black identity, and modern culture.”
The Child by Kjersti A. Skomsvold, translated by Martin Aitken (Open Letter, October 12): “Narrated by a woman to her new-born, meandering between her enchanted present and her memories of a more difficult past, The Child is a modern exploration of the territory of motherhood.”
Empty Wardrobes by Maria Judite de Carvalho, translated by Margaret Jull Costa (Two Lines Press, October 12, originally published in 1966): “Empty Wardrobes…is a tale of women who are trapped within the quiet devastation of a patriarchal society and preyed upon by the ambient savageries that perch in its every crevice.” Introduced by Kate Zambreno!
Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence, and Grief by Victoria Chang (Milkweed Editions, October 12): “a collection of literary letters and mementos on the art of remembering across generations.”
Lemon by Yeo-Sun Kwon, translated by Janet Hong (Other Press, October 12): “Parasite meets The Good Son in this piercing psychological portrait of three women haunted by a brutal, unsolved crime.”
Brickmakers by Selva Almada, translated by Annie McDermott (Graywolf Press, November 2): “A piercing and passionate novel, set in rural Argentina, about violence and masculinity.”
How many of these books will I actually read? Who knows!
Publishing This Week
New small-press books out this week that I haven’t yet read and am adding to my TBR. Quotations from the publisher:
Boston Adventure by Jean Stafford (New York Review of Books, originally published in 1944): a novel about “an isolated but determined young woman,” and “a provocative story of class struggle, privilege, and poverty.”
Disquiet by Zülfü Livaneli, translated by Brendan Freely (Other Press): “Disquiet transports the reader to the contemporary Middle East through the stories of Meleknaz, a Yazidi Syrian refugee, and Hussein, a young man from the Turkish city of Mardin near the Syrian border.”
Anne-Marie the Beauty by Yasmina Reza, translated by Alison Strayer (Seven Stories Press): an “act of remembrance, a clear-eyed assessment of the hard-edged nature of fame, a meditation on aging--and a wonderfully observant and comic exploration of human foibles.”
New on the TBR
New books acquired (quotations from the publisher):
Migratory Birds by Mariana Oliver, translated by Julia Sanches (Transit Books, 2021): part of the “Undelivered Lectures” series from Transit Books: “A thoughtful, roving meditation on migration, language, and home.”
The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel (Houghton Mifflin, 2021): Rick picked this up for me at our local bookstore as a surprise: “Comics and cultural superstar Alison Bechdel delivers a deeply layered story of her fascination, from childhood to adulthood, with every fitness craze to come down the pike.”
Added to my wishlist (books that have caught my eye but I don’t yet own, quotations from the publisher):
The Black Maria by Aracelis Girmay (BOA Editions, 2016): Ross Gay mentions this book in the acknowledgements section of Be Holding: “Taking its name from the moon's dark plains, misidentified as seas by early astronomers, the black maria investigates African diasporic histories, the consequences of racism within American culture, and the question of human identity.”
With My Dog Eyes by Hilda Hilst, translated by Adam Morris (Melville House, 2014, originally published in 1986): “With My Dog-Eyes is an account of an unraveling--of sanity, of language . . . After experiencing a vision of what he calls ‘a clear-cut unhoped-for,’ college professor Amós Keres struggles to reconcile himself with his life as a father, a husband, and a member of the university.”
Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life by Lulu Miller (Simon and Schuster, 2021): “Part biography, part memoir, part scientific adventure, Why Fish Don't Exist is a wondrous fable about how to persevere in a world where chaos will always prevail.” (Thanks for the recommendation, Melissa!)
The Cormac Report
Blessings on Cormac’s second grade teacher, who was great — he is a comedian and does magic tricks! — and who has his class perform scenes from Seinfeld at the end of the year. Second graders performing Seinfeld? Surprising, but it worked really well. Parents got to see the videos after they were done, and I laughed my way through them. Obviously, his teacher chose the scenes wisely: the most daring one was the “spare a square” scene. Cormac played Kramer a couple times, and he’s a pretty good actor, for being 8. He’s the kind of kid who’s loud and dramatic at home but shy at school, so I was happy to see him let loose and get into the role, with great gestures and eye rolls. All the kids seemed to be having fun. What a great way to end the year.
Have a good week everyone!