In her new book, Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid used her own experience as a babysitter to explore the transactional relationship that exists when caring for someone’s child. Reid spoke to Concepción de León at The New York Times about the clashes of race and class that drive the action in her novel. “I definitely started from wanting to explore the awkwardness of transactional relationships,” Reid says, “but also bigger themes of ownership, from the small petty ones like ‘Oh, well, she’s our sitter’ or ‘I knew him, so he’s mine,’ to the awkward history of black women raising white children in this country. That just comes flooding back, no matter whether you like it or not, in certain interactions.”
At Jezebel, Jaime Fuller takes a closer look at one of Willa Cather’s lesser-known novels, A Lost Lady, whose film adaptation was a sore spot for the author. “Cather hated the second film so much that when she died in 1947, she codified that fury in her will,” Fuller writes. “Any adaptations of her work, ‘whether for the purpose of spoken stage presentation or otherwise, motion picture, radio broadcasting, television and rights of mechanical reproduction, whether by means now in existence or which may hereafter be discovered or perfected’ were forbidden. The copyright has worn out on A Lost Lady and it’s now in the public domain, which makes it a good time to pick up the book.”
At the time of writing this, I’ve read 83 books this year. Of those 83 books, 60 were audiobooks, 12 were e-books, and 14 were physical books. I read 45 works of fiction, 27 works of non-fiction and/or memoirs, seven YA books, and five graphic novels. Twenty-three and a half books I read this year involved a love affair ruining someone’s life. (The .5 comes from Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman, in which the main character thankfully comes to her senses at the very end.)
I know all of these stats because I keep a
detailed spreadsheet of my reading habits. At first, I only recorded titles and
authors. Then I branched out to include genre and book format. In 2017 I
noticed I was reading a fair amount of books in which people were having
illicit affairs and ruining their lives, so I added a column for this arbitrary
category. I enjoy this nerdy, slightly narcissistic hobby because each time I
add a book to the spreadsheet, I take a moment to think about the stories that
have kept me company over the past year.
A partial screencap of the Spreadsheet
The Spreadsheet, however, doesn’t tell the whole story of my year in reading. Last winter I moved to Paris, France, from New York City, and along with the shift in culture, a major shift in my reading habits occurred as well. I used to work for the Brooklyn Public Library, a job that meant I took home stacks upon stacks of physical books every week. Now, I am a full-time freelancer. As an illustrator, I find myself obsessively listening to audiobooks while I ink and sketch. I’ve passed days engrossed while listening to books like Know My Name by Chanel Miller, A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee, Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot, Gina Apostol’s Insurrecto, and Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams.
On weekday mornings, I am also (if I do say so myself) a sought-after dogwalker in the 6th arrondissement. Like illustrating, dog-walking is another ideal activity for audiobooks. I remember a particular memorable walk with Lola, the half-schnauzer, half-water dog, as we walked from the Tuileries to Gare de Lyon, listening to Lauren Wilkinson’s American Spy.
I’ve listened to so many audiobooks this year that certain streets and train lines bring to mind a specific book. I cried on the RER A while listening to Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. The 95 bus makes me think of all the what-the-fuckery in Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country. Walking up to Montmartre past Opera reminds me of the piercing stories in Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s Sabrina & Corina.
Next year I’ll probably add a column to keep track of the books I’ve been reading in French. This list is nonexistent so far, as I read French at a glacial pace. The three books I’m currently slogging through are Albert Camus’s The Stranger, Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and the first installment of the Hunger Games series.
My move to France also meant that I had to find a home for the sprawling library I had amassed over a decade in New York. I donated more than one thousand books, gave away hundreds, and stored a few dozen at my parents’ house in Houston. I moved to Paris with what I decided were my 10 favorite books (a stack that included Colette, Maxine Hong Kingston, Ann M. Martin, and Victor Hugo, among others.) But living in an apartment without books depresses me, and I’ve been trying to re-build my library here, despite the size constraints of a 30 square meter apartment.
I found myself regularly attending a bi-monthly book swap, where a group of women meet in a cafe to exchange books and talk about them. That was how I ended up acquiring and loving Nina Lacour’s We Are Okay and Zinzi Clemmons’s What We Lose. On occasional trips to the States, I’d come back with a suitcase full of books that included Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror, Randy Ribay’s Patron Saints of Nothing, Mira Jacob’s Good Talk, Malaka Gharib’s I Was Their American Dream, and Bryan Washington’s Lot. These books, along with my “Original Ten,” formed the base of what I hope will someday become my sprawling library in France.
Despite no longer working at the Library, I borrow more books than ever before thanks to my Overdrive app and the online collections of the Brooklyn and Houston Public Libraries. I’ve always kept my e-reader on my bedside. In the hazy minutes before falling asleep, I read Juliet Escoria’s Juliet the Maniac, Rachel Khong’s Goodbye, Vitamin, Angie Cruz’s Dominicana, and Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Thick.
All of these books are dutifully recorded in the Spreadsheet, but I know the act of reading these books will most likely fade over time. I may always be able to recount the story of The Remains of the Day, but will I eventually forget that I read the novel on the hottest day in Paris history, when it got so scorching in my un-air-conditioned apartment that I had to check into a cheap hotel?
I’ll leave that question up to my own memory,
but there is one book in my 2019 spreadsheet that brings with it a reading
experience I never want to forget.
I took a quick trip to Amsterdam in September, my first time in the city. Rain drizzled, and my fingers were frozen. Earlier that day I had purchased a paperback copy of Anita Brookner’s Incidents on Rue Laugier in a used bookshop. To escape the cold, I went inside the American Book Center, a large, cozy bookstore in the middle of town. I found an armchair in the corner and proceeded to read the Anita Brookner from cover to cover in one sitting. When I finally looked up from the book, I was slightly disoriented, not completely remembering where I was. For the rest of the day, I thought about this all-encompassing experience, relieved that such a thing could still happen to me after decades of reading. That was the 61st book I read that year.
Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now.
Before she was George Eliot, Mary Ann Evans translated Spinoza’s magnum opus, Ethics, while she was living in Berlin. For the first time in more than a century, a new edition of her translation will be made available, and for the Guardian, Alison Flood and Lindesay Irvine take a look at how the translation sheds new light on Eliot’s life. “She was basically immersed in this project for a couple of years just before she began writing fiction,” says Clare Carlisle, a reader in philosophy and theology at King’s College London. “It was the last thing she did before she wrote her stories and became George Eliot. A large part of Spinoza’s Ethics gives this insightful analysis of human emotion, and I think that’s something she obviously learned from, because she has this really amazing understanding of human emotions and how they work.”
Image credit: Alexandre-Louis-François d’Albert-Durade
For the New York Review of Books, Maya Millet examines the buried history of the heroines of America’s Black Press. For many people, Ida B. Wells remains the most well-known black woman journalist, but Millet encouraged readers to dig deeper: “[Wells] was part of a much larger network of black women journalists who dared to wield their pens in the names of truth and justice. At a time when all women were discouraged from engaging in ‘unladylike’ activities like politics, the women of the black press were boldly writing about racial justice, gender equality, and political reform.”
Newly announced National Book Award winner Sarah M. Broom recently spoke to the new class of Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant winners about the importance of sitting with unfinished work, and an excerpt from her talk can be found in the Paris Review. “The unfinished work is no less real, or necessary, or powerful than the book,” Broom says. “How we need it, this work, these long, beautiful digressions, these surprises. May we continue to gift writers with the time for wildness. May they ramble, digress, go beyond the edges of all the known and touted maps, may they hew close to the question, to unearth the questions beyond.”
Poet Tommy Pico spoke to Joseph Osmundson for the New York Review of Books about therapy, the New Native American Renaissance, and the language of food, among other things. Pico also discusses the concept of being a poem, referring to the line “Shall I be a poem for you?” from his latest book, Feed. “I’m definitely a poem for my parents,” he says. “You know that Langston Hughes quote about a dream deferred? That’s me to them. They wanted to be poets. But they didn’t come up in a time when that was possible for them. And they had responsibilities, and they had kids, which is not something you’re gonna catch me doing.”
For the Paris Review, Valerie Stivers crafts recipes inspired by literature, and for fall, she turned to Shirley Jackson. Stivers takes on the poisoned meal from We Have Always Lived in the Castle —minus the arsenic-sprinkled blueberries, of course. “Can all witches cook?” Stivers asks. “If the writer Shirley Jackson (1916–1965), a self-styled witch as well as one of the greats of twentieth-century literature, is anything to go by, the answer is yes, and the rule becomes interesting: domestic goddesshood is not quite what we expect from a horror writer, as Jackson was often (mis)labeled.”
At Lit Hub, Sara Wheeler shares an excerpt from her book, Mud and Stars, focusing on Constance Garnett, an “indefatigable worker” who translated the works of Dostoevsky and Chekhov. As she brought these writers further into the English mainstream, the translator gained her fair share of admirers. “Garnett made Dostoyevsky a household name, and he did the same for her. Ernest Hemingway was one of many who admired her Dostoyevskys, as well as her Tolstoys. ‘I remember,’ he told a friend, ‘how many times I tried to read War and Peace until I got the Constance Garnett translation.'”
As the author of two novels, Dina Nayeri uses fiction to inform nonfiction in her latest book, The Ungrateful Refugee. Jessica Goudeau spoke to Nayeri for Guernica about the ways fiction has helped her when working with refugees and their stories. “You have to learn to write fiction in order to learn how to tell the truth,” Nayeri says. “In fiction, if you dare to write anything more than what actually happened, then you’re very quickly told you’re being sentimental. And that would be absolutely true! It’s way more powerful to allow readers to find the power and the emotion and the heartbreak for themselves.”