May 23, 2018
Staff Picks: What We're Reading Over Memorial Day Weekend
There are many joys working in an office full of books. The moment you survey the stacks and stacks around your desk and confidently set aside the one you’re definitely going to dig into over lunch. Or when your co-worker pushes a must-read in your hands, that you promptly drop into the tub that night (because, duh, a “must-read” can’t wait until bedtime). Or when a small group of you find yourselves giggling about poop stories at our favorite bookstore (We’re looking at you, Samantha Irby and Boswell Books). We love our life here built on the backbone of books. And with Memorial Day upon us, we know exactly what we’ll be reading over the long holiday weekend. Enjoy!
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, recommended by our pal Katie Freeman at Riverhead. This book is something like I've never read before. Somehow, the clinical and detached language Hamid uses makes it more emotional and attached. And I love the intentionally long run-on sentences.
I previously finished Sing, Unburied, Sing, which is now in Rebecca's hands courtesy of Sally. Read what Rebecca wrote about it. She's smarter than I am.
I’m reading (finally) Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, which has been on my list for ages—it was nice to have our own Sally Haldorson put a copy in my hands! I am finding it a deeply affecting, beautifully written novel that puts me in mind of Morrison’s Beloved for how Ward plays with point of view, the role of the dead in life, and time’s fungibility. Highly recommend!
Not sure what’s next. That’s the best part of finishing a book: we get to choose another!
Sympathy for the Devil by Kent Anderson, I think it’s currently out of print. A top five Vietnam novel for me.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
This is a historical family saga set in Korea and Japan throughout the 20th century. I am reading it because my daughter recommended it and she read it because Roxane Gay recommended it.
Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
I was at The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles just poking around the various shelves and I came across an old, well-worn edition of this book. It intrigued me that it was mainly about a woman moving to Middle America in the turn of the last century. What marriage was like, how roles were like for both sexes, and how life has or really has not changed since that time. I'd like to think that's the main reason I bought the book, but it was the moldy, used smell that I enjoyed (call me sentimental).
I’m finishing up Artemis by Andy Weir. I loved the storytelling and detail in The Martian, so I was really interested to see how he'd create a story about the first colony established on the Moon. Now I’m about to dive into the YA series Scythe by Neal Shusterman. My wife and our kiddo both read the first two books of the series on our last vacation, and both said that it's the best writing since the Harry Potter series.
Belladonna by Daša Drndić
A crushing but important critique of the parasitic remnants of fascism in Eastern Europe, narrated through the lens of an aged and marginalized Croatian psychologist/writer. The narrative is not linear, but Drndić propels the story with her meticulous detail (derived from real-life events and artifacts) and lovely but desolate descriptions of life in late-20th Century Croatia. This is a gruesome book that I couldn't put down and now I can't forget.
The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas
A reminder to me of the unknown worlds beyond our own experiences and our own minds. The book's main feature is Mattis, a slow-witted man who lives with his sister and who struggles to contribute financially to their shared home. Often with great dramatic irony, Vesaas shows Mattis to be as lovely as he is sad and helpless. A quiet book full of quiet humor and big-hearted episodes.
Megahex by Simon Hanselmann
A collection of stories featuring a stoner witch named Megg and her cat and their uptight roommate who is an owl. Despite the characters constantly smoking weed, the stories transcend kitschy drug culture and Hanselmann goes deep into topics like depression and alienation from mainstream society. I laughed harder reading this book than I ever have with any other book. However, since putting it down, it is the more serious side of the narratives that sticks with me.
One of the great gifts of the internet age is that we readers who sift the internet looking for our daily portion of brainfood are exposed to a smorgasbord of interesting essays by intrepid and provocative writers we've never met before. On occasion we latch onto a voice, personality, or perspective that is so pitch perfect to the ear and satisfying to the soul, we develop a kind of crush, setting a Google Alert or following them on Twitter to be notified immediately of their next published work. There are a number of writers whose links I unhesitatingly click through: Rebecca Solnit, Meghan Daum, and Rebecca Traister are three. Peter Coviello is another. I began reading his essays on Los Angeles Review of Books after I happened upon this one shortly after Prince died and I was looking for others who were also grieving our collective cultural loss. I quickly read all of his essays—most a transfixing mixture of pop culture critique and reminiscence, thoughtful scholarship, and personal narrative—that the internet's fount served up. Needless to say, when his book Long Players: A Love Story in Eighteen Songs came out this month I rushed a copy into my hands, and I am feasting on his passion for words and books and music, but most of all, his deep engagement with the big questions of life and love, and the ways we all might find answers to them through every small gesture, every good song. I have Peter Coviello's Long Players turned up loud on the JVC boombox of my heart.
As I think most people who review books for a living would attest, I don’t often read for purely personal pleasure much, even if the books I’m covering are, in fact, a pleasure to read.
I often joke that I need to take a sabbatical to read all the books I’ve been buying for personal pleasure over the past ten years or so, but there are two I’ve picked up in just the past few months that I’m really eager to get to, and which I’m hoping to spend time with over the Memorial Day weekend: The Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, and Country Dark by Chris Offutt.
Day In, Day Out: Women's Lives in North Dakota, edited by Bjorn Benson, Elizabeth Hampsten, and Kathryn Sweney. I've been looking for a counter-narrative to the male- and Western-focused books about the oil boom in my home state, and this one has been patiently waiting for me on my bookshelf since I got it as a high school graduation gift in 1989. I highly recommend it for compelling stories from strong women in a quiet corner of our country.
The Films of Claire Denis: Intimacy on the Border, edited by Marjorie Vecchio. People who know me well can tell you that my cinema heart swoons over the French director Claire Denis. While the majority of her films are difficult to find on DVD or in the theaters in this country, her latest film stars the incomparable Juliette Binoche (Let the Sunshine In) and is getting a wider release. Lucky us! If you, like me, love love love Claire's work, this book is the perfect deep dive into her filmography.
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat. After a full day of sitting and thinking and writing at a computer, I love nothing more than going home and working with my hands in my kitchen. This James Beard Award-winning book is the one that most changed the way I think about cooking over the past year. Nosrat's prose combines the science of Cook's Illustrated with the charm of your favorite aunt sharing her secret family recipes. I love this book!
About Blyth Meier
Blyth Meier joined us to lead our marketing department in 2015 after doing that work for the Milwaukee Film Festival for the previous five years. While she made good use her filmmaking degree at that job, here she returns to her first love—books. As an undergraduate English major at the University of North Dakota, Blyth’s favorite time of year was the annual Writers Conference, which brought many of her soon-to-be favorite authors to the remote Northern Prairie: Peter Matthiessen, August Wilson, Toi Derricotte, Mark Doty, Natasha Trethewey, and Terry Tempest Williams. Blyth lives in the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee, where she gardens, cooks, takes photographs, makes films, and participates in a yearly 24-hour bike race. At 800-CEO-READ, she runs our social media accounts, writes for In the Books, and is the keeper of all our marketing spreadsheets.