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A Year in Reading: Monica Heisey


I always think I am not reading enough, but it occurs to me this may be an issue of comparison. For years I considered myself a very short person with a very small rack, when really I just have a disproportionate number of tall friends with huge tits. In fact, I am five foot six and a half, wear a 36DD, and read forty-seven books in 2022. Next to the year-end lists of other writers in this series, this figure may seem small, even risible, but on its own, I think it may be fine. Remember, this is in addition to a number of screenplays, more emails than I would like, and a frankly embarrassing quantity of articles detailing the goings-on of wealthy strangers in America’s coastal cities.
This was, if anything, a banner year for myself and reading. I spent most of the year before this one writing a novel, and when I’m working on a big creative project, I read less. I am very suggestible and will accidentally write whole chapters in someone else’s style if I am immersed in it in my off-hours. If I’m writing for television I swap genres—when I have a script due is the only time I watch drama or crime stuff, so I can be sure the lazy fart jokes I produce are my lazy fart jokes, and no one else’s. Once I’m editing I can read more—it’s somehow less risky, creatively—and so in 2022, as I edited and re-edited my novel, I dove back into other people’s novels, too.
I have only recently discovered the pleasure of revisiting books—in my twenties I didn’t see the point of rereading something I’d already enjoyed, even less of trying again with something I hadn’t liked the first time around. Like a lot of opinions held and decisions made in one’s early twenties, this was very stupid. But it’s okay! I reread often, now, and have stopped cutting my own bangs. In 2022 I revisited Jenny Slate’s masterpiece Little Weirds, NW by Zadie Smith, Heartburn by Nora Ephron, All About Love by bell hooks, and a bunch of P.G. Wodehouse (my favorite writer to take on vacation). I was excited to read Elif Batuman’s Either/Or, and reread The Idiot to catch up with Selin, like reading old emails with a friend before seeing them for coffee. For the past few years I’ve had an annual tradition where I reread Mrs. Dalloway and The Folded Clock, one after another, and go a little bit insane in what I consider a fun way.

I’m obsessed with something Sheila Heti’s narrator says in How Should A Person Be?: “You have to know where the funny is, and if you know where the funny is, you know everything.” When I find a writer who really knows where the funny is, I read everything they’ve got. Sheila Heti is one such writer, obviously. I’m in a Lorrie Moore phase at the moment, and I’m completely blown away, I can’t believe it took me so long to get to her. I had a Laurie Colwin phase last summer after my friend Rose gave me Happy All the Time for my birthday. In February I cleared out the LAX bookstore’s Eve Babitz section, then in March picked up The Pisces by Melissa Broder and ordered Milk Fed online by like, page four. It’s always nice when you discover an author you love has a back catalogue you can get started on immediately. Mieko Kawakami’s Breasts and Eggs and Geoff Dyer’s Paris Trance were more recent reads, and I’m excited to dig into their other novels.
Some books that came out this year that I enjoyed: I’M A FAN by Sheena Patel rightfully took London by storm and swept me up with it. Pure Colour by Sheila Heti was really something else; in addition to making me think about life and death and art, I simply did not expect that woman to go into that leaf. Hilma Wolitzer’s short story collection Today A Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket was incredible, so languid and horny, kind of retro and modern at the same time. I really enjoyed Ryan O’Connell’s Just By Looking At Him, though it was thematically-speaking a very bad book to read while alone at a bar drinking tangy off-brown wine, my preferred method of consuming literature. Bolu Babalola’s Honey and Spice fell into my lap just in time for a nice summer weekend. Piquant! I liked The Candy House but not as much as Visit From the Goon Squad, one of my favorite books of all time. Jennifer Egan knows where the funny is.

What else, nonfiction? There was a period in the pandemic where, for whatever reason, plot was just not of interest. I got into non-fiction for the first time, and now read a few a year, to learn things and take a break from the interior lives of abjectly horny fictional women. This year’s nonfiction endeavors were Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga, Tenants by Vicky Spratt, and Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages by Phyllis Rose. I also read several divorce-adjacent poetry collections (Meadowlands by Louise Glück; Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds; Glass, Irony and God by Anne Carson) and one heartbreak-related graphic novel (In by Will McPhail).

I read a lot of screenplays this year, mostly for work, to try to get better at writing them myself. I particularly like seeing how different writers do their action lines. Nora Ephron’s scripts have so much personality. On the recommendation of my friend Dolly I read Emma Thompson’s screenplay for all-time great book-to-film adaptation, Sense and Sensibility, which is published with her shooting diary and is full of anecdotes about Hugh Grant being charming in country pubs. I reread the scripts from season two of Fleabag and would like to suggest it is the closest thing we have to a modern-day rom-com on the level of the classics from the ’80s and ’90s.
Currently I am reading Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady, somehow for the first time. I love his observations about English culture as a North American, many of which still feel apt, and how politely all his characters seem to be having their emotional breakdowns. I can feel a phase coming on, so that will probably take me through to the new year. Though I just got Imogen West-Knight’s forthcoming debut, Deep Down, in the mail, and I might sneak her in under the wire.In addition to the above, I also read my own novel, Really Good, Actually, upwards of twelve times, which, whatever your feelings on rereading, is too many. It is out January 17th. Please buy it, for the love of god.

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