At the insistence of a friend, the reader started reading the new Ben Lerner novel, The Topeka School. On the first page, a fictionalized version of the author as a teenager delivers a lengthy speech aboard a boat; while he speaks, his girlfriend quietly slips into the water and, without his noticing, swims away. This seemed to the reader a cue of sorts, so out of solidarity with the girlfriend, she closed the book and stopped reading. (Later, in secret, at a snowy haunt upstate, she would read it cover to cover, though this was also a lie.)
The reader had been doing this a lot recently—not reading, that is—at first out of exhaustion, then depression, then moral principle, and then for sport. She did not read on airplanes; she did not read in Texas, where it is against the law anyway; she did not read on the uptown train, and so, for balance, she did not read on the downtown train either. She did not read at home, where the conditions were perfect for not reading. She tested herself to see how much she could not read in one go; the answer turned out to be thousands of pages.
But she could not do it forever, and so she did read Kristen Arnett’s Mostly Dead Things, a sweltering novel about a depressed lesbian taxidermist in Florida, and she did read Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House, an experimental memoir about queer domestic abuse, and she did read Jordy Rosenberg’s epic, ambitiously horny Confessions of the Fox, to describe which the reader had been forced to coin the term auto fan fiction, supposing this to denote the metafictional practice of autofiction as fused with the brazen wish fulfillment of fan fiction.
Sitting on the beach, she read a bad book. She almost wrote about it, but in the end, she didn’t. (The beach was closed.) She did, by accident, read The Prisoner of Sex, Norman Mailer’s bombastic assessment of women’s liberation from 1971. That seemed to knock a screw loose, and the reader really fell off the wagon now, devouring with a forgotten ferocity Lorenzo Pack’s How to Die and Julia Calder’s Now, Tacoma and Alice Watanabe’s The Operator and Michael Go’s We Ran Out of Ice and Magnus Bjorgsen’s newly translated poetry collection Zoo. It helped that none of these books existed.
More from A Year in Reading 2019
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