This year was supposed to be a return to reading for me. Like a lot of people, I didn’t have much time for books in 2020—our son was home from daycare for a lot of it, and we were trying to split up working and caring for him, a situation both lucky and disastrous with which many people are only too familiar. Also I had my own book coming out, with all the page proofs and getting-ready tasks associated with that, and then also I was working full-time as a journalist and the news was really, extremely bad.
Rounding the corner into 2021, I was hoping what I think a lot of us were hoping: that the vaccines would end the pandemic, that life would return to normal, and also that I’d start making time for some of the things I cared about that had fallen by the wayside in 2020, like reading.
The first two things didn’t happen, obviously. The third maybe kind of did, although slowly and fitfully, and not always in the ways I hoped.
In February, my family got Covid, and since I got sick last there was this sort of golden time where my husband and son were both better but I got to lie in bed for a couple of days and read. That I think of this as a golden time is probably deeply fucked up, but here we are. I remember that the New York City Test and Trace Corps kept encouraging me to take time off work, even if I worked from home, and I was really grateful for that. I was reasonably sick but I never thought I would die and I just took cough medicine and this really disgusting Vitamin C drink that had been recommended to my husband, and I read God Spare the Girls by Kelsey McKinney. It is about having a sister and growing up in an evangelical church, both of which I am totally unfamiliar with, and so it was an introduction to another world for me. It was just the right thing.
Later on some other months happened. When my son was born in 2018, time stopped for a while and I kept dating things May even though it was August, and that is just what everything feels like now. In the early part of the year, I read Jung Yun’s O Beautiful, which is about oil drilling and racism and violence against women and is also a page-turner in the best way. I also read Jane Pek’s The Verifiers, which is a kind of unconventional mystery about online dating, and which made me feel like maybe a little literary-mystery trend is happening. I am excited for this. I also read Jenny Tinghui Zhang’s Four Treasures of the Sky, which is absolutely devastating.
In the summer, we were finally able to go to California to see my family. Often I read a lot there, but this time I was trying to work so I only finished two books. One was Art Is Everything by Yxta Maya Murray, which is extremely smart, sort of a novel-in-critical-essays. It made me think about writing as making art, rather than just slogging through and producing content, which was therapeutic. The other book was Klara and the Sun, which I read for a friend’s book club. I have seen this reviewed (and also heard it described by friends) as sort of B-list Ishiguro, but I loved it. I loved the way Klara sees in “boxes” that get more numerous and confusing as her neural circuits get overloaded with new information—this feels both very believable as a problem an android would have, and also pretty human.
In California I bought Second Place, which I also loved so much. I am obsessed with Rachel Cusk; I am always really jealous of writers who can write in that way, making ordinary things feel intellectually and emotionally fascinating. Second Place is not autofiction-y in the way that the Outline trilogy is—instead it is based on a woman who once hosted D.H. Lawrence. In some ways what I loved the most was imagining the marsh where it is set.
I am going to forget some things. There have been a lot of times when I’ve tried to read more, such as by reading when my son was playing, but then he will frequently come over and take the book from me and demand that I read it to him and then he eventually gets bored and I have to put the book away and pay attention to him.
Oh! I read Fight Night by Miriam Toews. I love Toews and this one especially had that quality of facing death with joy and laughter. My son was really interested in this one, I think because it has a fist on the front, and he actually made me read it aloud to him for many pages. Eventually I stopped because there were things I didn’t want to explain to him.
I read Matrix by Lauren Groff; I loved this one too. It has a quality of not very much happening even though it spans a whole life during which loved ones disappear, die, and return and also an enormous labyrinth is built around an abbey. I found it very beautiful and also personally interesting because I am trying to write about the past now, a little bit.
I read Luster by Raven Leilani, which I bought in 2020 and put aside for a time when I would be reading for pleasure again. I found this one initially hard to read and then impossible to put down.
Now it is November and I am on a trip. It is the first time I’ve really been away from my husband and son since the pandemic started, and some combination of that plus jet lag plus too much caffeine has left me kind of frozen with anxiety at various points. This state is good for reading and I have finished Katie Kitamura’s Intimacies and Elizabeth Strout’s Oh William! and have gotten most of the way through Olive Kitteridge, which I realized I had not read. I extremely loved Intimacies; I left the hardcover at a friend’s house to save space in my luggage but I already regret it because I want to read it again (also the cover is cool). I liked Oh William! a lot but I think My Name Is Lucy Barton is still my favorite Strout.
For the plane home I bought Rivka Galchen’s Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch and Elissa Washuta’s White Magic, both of which I’m excited about, but I can already feel my reading frenzy subsiding a little bit. I think in 2022 my hope is to have more tranquil times where I am simply opening a book because I want to and not because I am sick or freaking out, but I guess what you could say for 2021 is at least I got some reading done.
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