It may be apocryphal, but supposedly there was a time when you finished a book, sent it in to your editor, and then immediately headed up to the deer lodge with a case of bourbon and a few pounds of hardtack, ready to start the next. No need to block four calendar months for promotion. No need to come up with a clever social media campaign (“I’ll be live-mumbling the entire thing on Slapfish!”), and especially no reason to alienate every last friend and family member by flogging a novel they’ve either already bought or have no intention of ever buying. No, you’d just hit the road with a publicist who looked like Rosalind Russell, hit a dozen cities, keynote a conference, and on the way home offend a ladies’ book club or two. Finis.
After I read the last page of Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, I closed it and put it in my bag. And then I took it back out and read all the praise on the back cover. And then I perused her bio and acknowledgements and all the praise in the first pages. I even read the end page that tells you about cover design and font and whether it is printed on recycled paper. (It is thirty percent post consumer wastepaper. Yes.) I started to read it again. I wanted to wholly absorb it. Study it, like notes for an exam. Make them a part of my brain so I could recollect them easily. Remember the paragraphs like I would remember the chambers of the heart. I needed to repeat each passage immediately.
I wasn’t ready to put it away.
When we were kids, my sister and I loved to watch Bambi—the classic Disney cartoon with the baby deer whose mother gets shot by a hunter, and whose standoffish father, “The Great Prince,” can silence the entire forest with his presence. Continue reading
The following stories are excerpted from VHS and Why It’s Hard to Live.
Coming of Age
Oma said, “Love and hate are not opposites. They are two sides of the same coin.” I didn’t truly understand this until much later, when an ex-boyfriend moved in with a woman he’d always complained about. I think this is also the explanation behind rape fantasies? Oma wasn’t brilliant she was just someone who got old and died. Even brilliant people will get old and die, though. At least, I’ve never heard of someone thinking herself out of death. Perhaps this is what monks meditate on. Though it seems more likely they are notthinking themselves into death. Into a state of acceptance of the death of every day. Like teenagers. In high school a boy who would sneak into my room at night but who would not date me said he envied the blissful fools around us. He said ignorance was the path to happiness, and that happiness was death to the self. It’s a little dramatic, but explains a lot about that time. That happiness is uninteresting has begun to depress me. But I enjoy sadness and wonder if that’s not just coming around the other side? And if maybe death is not the price of living but the prize at the bottom of a cereal box. Something cheap and plastic and infinitely alluring when viewed through the milky cellophane of our imaginations.
Funeral Song Continue reading
America this is deadly serious.
Of the events of the last few days, there is nothing to say that hasn’t already been said in the news or on social media. And there is nothing that matters as much as Alton Sterling’s fifteen-year-old son calling out for his father. Or Philando Castile’s girlfriend praying that this is not how his life ends. Or knowing that one of the murdered Dallas police officers survived three tours in Iraq and had a two-year-old daughter named Lyncoln.
What I can say is this: Our best hope of stopping this shit is to better understand each other. And for that, everyone should read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.
You should read his words about never feeling safe in his own body. You should read his thoughts on watching young white children roam the sidewalks, and knowing that he could never feel truly comfortable letting his own son do the same. You should read about living in a default state feeling threatened, even, or especially, by the people who are supposed to be there for your protection.
It is, as I said in a different post “one of the most humane and touching communications I have ever encountered.” I think that is what we could use right about now.
And it is one part of the story. If you have suggestions on other reading that will bring more understanding to the other parts, please share them in the comments or with us on Twitter.
Read more in our election year series “America This is Quite Serious.”
Watch it with us: Netflix streaming
Romantic comedies are not usually my favorite genre. I’ll watch anything, but I have a lower tolerance for the tired tropes that seem to be fixtures of crowd-pleasing rom-coms, so I end up snorting and rolling my eyes at movies my friends love. At first it seemed as if Lucky Them was going to fit neatly into that paint-by-numbers template: music critic Ellie (Toni Collette) is newly single and has just been assigned to write a story on her rock star ex-lover Matthew, who has become something of a legend since his disappearance ten years earlier. Meanwhile she also meets a handsome young street musician named Lucas (Ryan Eggold) who isn’t fazed by her attempts to rebuff him.
Sooner or later, you’ll have to say something about Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett. This debut collection of linked stories from an English writer who lives in Ireland may be slim, but it’s packed with vivid imagery of a quiet life, and deep reflections from an unquiet mind. It’s excellent, it’s ravishing, it’ll win a ton of awards, it’ll show up on everyone’s Best of 2016 lists. So before everyone starts asking you about Pond, here are some handy talking points.
Pond is like a really intense diary with all the specific names and locations and backstory omitted. One of the best stories (“The Big Day”) takes place entirely within the narrator’s head while she sits alone, waiting for a party to start. It’s all about her inner thoughts.
Yes, but the book moves in both inward and outward directions. It can be incredibly claustrophobic—focused on one person’s whims and daily minutiae—and incredibly expansive—suggesting worlds of detail, meaning, and personality—at the same time.
They’ll Say: Continue reading