August 23, 2017
Staff Picks: End of Summer Staff Reading
As we sit in the last warm weeks of a gorgeous summer here in Milwaukee, we are trying to get in as much lazy reading time as possible before fall hits and the pace picks up. Soon we will be busy with school drop-offs and raking leaves and helping authors with the onslaught of new books published every fall.
We have a wide-ranging crew here in the office with equally wide-ranging tastes. Here's to hoping you find some gems in this list to add to your own reading stacks!
Thus Were Their Faces: Selected Stories by Silvina Ocampo. This is a decent-sized collection of mostly very short fiction. Ocampo was a painter, and her writing heavily features the story's scenery, allowing all of the menaces of the natural world and our own societal architectures to do much of the heavy lifting. Despite being often thought of only in conjunction with her husband, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and Jorge Luis Borges (total honesty: that's how I came to know about her), her writing holds its own.
Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh. This is a ripper collection of short stories, with no duds in sight. Moshfegh's narrative style is often jaunty and the content is consistently demented. Her characters arrive on scene as an honest breath of fresh air in the bizarre mist of sameness now blanketing our increasingly digital lives. Moshfegh captures the beauty of diversity through her own chipped lens, giving readers a more novel kind of ‘different.’ It can be uncomfortable, but also very funny.
Epoxy #4, Epoxy #5 by John Pham. I found John Pham's comics thanks to John Porcellino's comics, one of which I bought in a shop here in Milwaukee last year. After enjoying the Porcellino comic thoroughly, I went online to find his shop Spit and a Half, where I discovered John Pham's Epoxy zines. Starting especially with issue #4 in the Epoxy series, Pham's artistry is total; the illustrations are incredible, the stories are compelling, and he uses the limitations of Risograph expertly.
I'm reading Her 37th Year, An Index written by Suzanne Scanlon, the instructor of the week long writing workshop I took at the University of Iowa earlier this summer. It's an unusual and intimate book of fragments structured alphabetically to simulate an annotated book index.
I'm always listening to an audio book at the same time as reading a physical book, and there isn't anything better for a day at the beach than an English cozy mystery: Anthony Horowitz's Magpie Murders purports to be a mystery within a mystery, though I'm only halfway through so have yet to bump into the twisty turn.
The Hoke Moseley Omnibus by Charles Willeford. Elmore Leonard says, "No one writes a better crime novel than Charles Willeford." This is a British collection of the four Hoke Moseley novels that Willeford wrote in the 80s. Miami Blues, the first book, was made into a movie.
I’ve been digging into a review copy of Grant by Ron Chernow, which is an in-depth, thousand page portrait of an often misunderstood and under-appreciated life. That the man who won the Civil War, served two terms as president, and wrote what is perhaps America’s greatest autobiography is often seen as a bumbling incompetent drunkard is unfortunate, but it is a perception that is remedied by the man that brought us Alexander Hamilton and Washington. I hope it finds its way into the mainstream of thought and resurrects Grant in the same way Chernow’s biography of Hamilton has. Can someone make sure Lin-Manuel Miranda receives a copy?
I started reading A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole; not just for title, but I've been meaning to read this for awhile now. I’m also reading A Tiny Bit Marvelous by Dawn French. It’s hard to find (a Penguin/RH UK release), but so funny!
Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn... then Toni Morrison's Jazz and Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy: City of Glass; Ghosts; The Locked Room in anticipation of a trip to New York.
We finished listening to Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson on our trip. I was interested in her first non-YA release, and the writing is absolutely stunning.
Editor’s note: Aaron’s “trip” referred to above was actually his honeymoon in Puerto Rico! We couldn’t be happier for Aaron and Laurie.
I started with The Handmaid's Tale for obvious reasons, and dove right into my advanced copy of John Hodgman’s Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches, because I needed something the exact opposite of The Handmaid's Tale.
I am re-reading Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. I found a new one (to me) and then went back to start all over. I have not yet seen the movie but don't know how they could possibly do a faithful adaptation unless they split that one book into three movies.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Sanders. Because I've loved every short story collection of his and his piece for the The Guardian titled George Saunders: what writers really do when they write is one of my favorite ever deep dives into the creative process.
Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. Because I'm way overdue.
The Hands of Strangers and Rivers by Michael Farris Smith. This spring I read Desperation Road, Farris' latest novel. I devoured this book, thinking that the author's masterful transposing of beauty and ugliness was on part with Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. I try to never read testimonials on the back of the dust jacket prior to reading a book, but of course, upon finishing the book I see that Wiley Cash has a blurb right on the back referencing McCullers. That, and the book has a quote from Tom Franklin, and I'm into anything Tom Franklin recommends.
Long story short, I'm going back to Farris' older books because I haven't connected with a book quite like I've connect with Desperation Road in some time.
I’m listening to All These Worlds by Dennis E. Taylor. It is the final book in a three-book series. As far as SciFi genre books go these were pretty good. The first book was so good that I immediately re-listened to it, which I generally never do with fiction. I don’t know if the third book will ending being quite as good as the first but it is entertaining so far.
In non-fiction I’m reading Beginning F# 4.0 which is about a “functional-first” programming language that Microsoft contributes to. Despite it sounding like the kind of thing that is 100% work related, I am partially reading it just to learn something new. Most of the programming languages I use are imperative and object oriented. Functional programming languages are comparatively quite different and interesting enough to read about in my spare time.
In case there is any question, I work in IT. It might not be obvious based on what I’m reading, so I figured I’d clear that up.
Ever since I joyously spotted the author in the New York hotel lobby during our January awards, it has been my year of Roxane Gay. I immediately picked up her short story collection, Difficult Women, which I have been slowly savoring story-by-story (the same way I used to make my Halloween candy last until Christmas). The women described so lovingly in Gay’s prose paint a full and complex picture of being female in America. And in my quest to make the journey with them last as long as possible, I shoehorned an entirely new Gay book in between the stories. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body is a deeply moving meditation on the lifetime effects of a sexual assault, and relatedly, how fat people are dismissed and discarded by our society. Riveting and urgent, her memoir is a humbling mirror for us all. Has any author had a better 2017?
I read two books that I loved earlier in the summer - Janesville by Amy Goldstein, a vivid and searing portrait of the domino effects of GM closing their plant in that Wisconsin town, and Reading with Patrick by Michelle Kuo, an immensely personal and important memoir about poverty, education and the power of language. Both books were 5 out of 5 for me. Now I'm reading a novel called I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows about a family in 1930s Oklahoma. Beautiful!
I finished Homesick for Another World, a book of short stories by Ottessa Moshfegh recommended by (co-worker) M. Jantz. Great recommendation.
I am currently reading Eve’s Hollywood by Eve Babitz. The New York Times said it was a good read along with her second book, Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, The Flesh and L.A. I need to finish it so M. Jantz can read it.