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The books I've loved lately
Jonah Peretti shut down BuzzFeed News and it absolutely sucks!!! I’m furious, somehow both shocked and unsurprised, but I’m also a Taurus in Taurus season who is fueled by rage and revenge. The most important goal is finishing the book (still feels like this is theoretical, but I know it will [has to] happen) and then: scheming about the future.
Speaking of the book, I’m obviously doing a lot of reading for it and mostly keeping that reading close to the vest because I am a little insane, but because you are all elite status, you’ll get recommendations for some of the books that have blown my mind, and tidbits of research along the way. So let’s get to it.
Trans Girl Suicide Museum by hannah baer
This wasn’t on my radar at all until I saw a used copy on display at my local shop, Topos. It’s maybe my favorite of the books I’ve read for Better—it’s so rare to find writing about suicide that feels new. I know, as a cis woman, that there are aspects of baer’s experience that I will never be able to understand, but her imagining of suicide as a place we travel through, revisit, get stuck in, greatly influenced my own theories. Buy it at: Bookshop, Hesse Press
Big Swiss by Jen Beagin
This one is a sexy, neurotic, very funny novel about 40-something Greta—a sex therapy transcriptionist who, via audio, falls in love/becomes obsessed with one of the clients and then manages to start an affair with her without telling her what she knows. I listened to the audiobook and this is the rare case where I might not recommend doing so? I didn’t love the narrator’s voice for Big Swiss (the nickname Greta gives the client; she is Swiss) but the story was good enough to override that. More sexy novels about women in their forties, please. Buy it at: Bookshop, Libro.fm
All the Livelong Day: The Meaning and Demeaning of Routine Work by Barbara Garson
Found this one in my Little Free Library and I read it in one afternoon! It came out in 1979 but is, as you might imagine, depressingly relevant. Garson hangs out at workplaces across the country—factories, warehouses, offices, shops—and talks to wage workers about how they’re dehumanized but also how they regain some power. You’ll have to gloss over some dated references (e.g., young people are called “long-hairs”) and Garson herself has an air of condescension, but I’ll devour any snapshot of a specific group at a specific time. Buy it at: Biblio, Abebooks
Liar, Dreamer, Thief by Maria Dong
What a wild ride! Dong plays around with paranoia, surrealism, and (in)sanity in this one, about a woman who witnesses the suicide of the coworker she’s obsessed with, and then dedicates herself to investigating it, no matter how dangerous the mission gets. Things are not what they seem, people are not who they say they are, and there are no coincidences. Buy it at: Bookshop, Libro.fm
I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai
I’m going to be real with you: I never finished The Great Believers. It didn’t grab me! I have it on my shelf in case I ever return to it but, you know, we only have so much time on this earth. But this one!!! I couldn’t read it fast enough!! The structure—written to a “you” we slowly identify, from the perspective of the true crime podcaster protagonist, Bodie—is so surprising and effective, and perfect for audio. The collective ambivalence around what qualifies as assault or abuse, the generational shifting of ethics and norms, the racism and classism built into our institutions—Makkai explores all of it with grace and honesty as these characters revisit a decades-old boarding school murder. Buy it at: Bookshop, Libro.fm
Chief Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny
I’ve literally listened to 16 of the 18 cozy-ish mysteries in Penny’s Inspector Armand Gamache series over the span of three months. It starts VERY strong. It takes place in Three Pines, a teeny tiny village in Canada’s Eastern Townships—if you don’t know what that is, you will! Along with a lot of very interesting Quebecois politics and history!—inhabited by some of the most endearing characters I’ve read in a long time. The first four books are phenomenal literary mysteries, and it’s not surprising to find out Penny had initially planned the whole thing to remain a quartet; many of the rest disappoint but not enough for me to stop reading.
Here’s the thing: These are smart, suspenseful, charming, beautifully written books that cover art, poetry, ethics, Indigenous oppression, sacrifice, love, corruption, addiction, etc. They are also imperfect. There is one Black character in Three Pines, Myrna, and she is… not written with the depth and care of everyone else! Most notably, the fact that she is very large is mentioned every time she appears. The first few times I thought, Well, Penny’s very descriptive of all of the characters’ appearances… But the more I listened, the worse it became and I couldn’t believe (eh) that it was never mentioned in any reviews. Then I found this post from writer y kendall that had exactly the analysis I was looking for, showing the ways Myrna upholds the mammy stereotype. This might be a dealbreaker for you, and understandably so! If not, buy Still Life at: Bookshop, Libro.fm
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