We moved from Brooklyn to Iowa City in mid-2020, so it was my first winter in the Midwest, and the coldest temperatures I have ever encountered (no one was more shocked than our elderly and sparsely furred Chihuahua). In the earliest part of the year, in the wake of the election, after months of running as though I were training for a nonexistent marathon and watching old episodes of Bake Off to quiet my anxiety, I went to an artist residency. It was a weird and sort of desperate thing to do in the middle of a global pandemic, in the middle of winter. After a blissful few days, my retreat was diverted by a medical crisis and I ended up with family in Boston for a a stretch of stricken weeks, unable to walk, cultivating a new relationship to pain. Pain is anathema to close reading, and so mostly, I read the closed captions on garbage movies and Reddit threads about sciatica and spinal discs. Reading was re-reading, and in the months that followed included the magnificent Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong (roundly loved by my all-writer Zoom book club), Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights, Anne Boyer’s The Undying, and perennial re-reads Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia Rankine, The Father by Sharon Olds, Monument by Natasha Trethewey.
On the last day of March, I published my third book, Girlhood, and for a couple of months mostly read from that into my computer’s camera. Far-flung friends appeared through that portal and their faces filled me with a kind of aching joy. I re-read my brilliant wife’s brilliant second book, The Renunciations, which came out in May. I also managed to work in a bunch of excellent forthcoming books: Lydia Conklin’s story collection Rainbow Rainbow (out in May 2022), Jami Attenberg’s memoir (out this January) I Came All this Way to Meet You, Sasha LaPointe’s debut memoir Red Paint, Melissa Chadburn’s forthcoming debut novel, A Tiny Upward Shove (out in April 2022), as well as Larissa Pham’s Pop Song, Hanif Abdurraqib’s A Little Devil in America, and five excellent novels: The Very Nice Box by Eve Gleichman and Laura Blackett, Detransition Baby by Torrey Peters, The World Cannot Give by Tara Isabella Burton (which felt as though it was written precisely for my pleasurable reading tastes), and Vanessa Veselka’s epic The Great Offshore Grounds.
I vowed to read solely for pleasure for the month of June and succeeded at that. Mostly, it was mysteries and mystery-adjacent novels, which are my go-to pleasure reading genre (my favorites over the years are compiled here), including but not limited to, We Have Always Lived in the Castle (another perennial re-read), which we listened to on audio as my then-fiancé and I drove from Iowa to Cape Cod. Once we got there, we spent weeks doing nothing but napping, eating, going for long slow walks, and getting married in a tiny elopement ceremony. Among the books that spun my limited attention like sugar: Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin; The Book of Lamps and Banners by Elizabeth Hand (the latest installment in her Cass Neary series); The Less Dead by Denise Mina; Something in the Water, Mr. Nobody, and The Disappearing Act by Catherine Steadman; Fierce Little Thing by Miranda Beverly-Whittmore; The First Day of Spring by Nancy Tucker; The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (for the umpteenth time); Bad Habits by Amy Gentry; True Story by Kate Reed Petty; The Turnout by Megan Abbott; and One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston. In July and August, slowed by the Iowa summer heat (which is less publicized but just as pronounced as its winter cold), I read The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel, Pilgrim Bell by Kaveh Akbar, Horsepower by Joy Priest, A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet, Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu, Self Care by Leigh Stein, Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler, Consent by Vanessa Springora, I Hope We Choose Love by Kai Cheng Thom, The Hard Crowd by Rachel Kushner, The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy, Intimations by Zadie Smith, Vesper Flights by Helen MacDonald, Excluded by Julia Serano, Toufah by Toufah Jallow, My Body by Emily Ratajkowski, The Body Is Not an Apology by Sonia Renee Taylor, and the unputdownable noir memoir Tell Me Everything by Erika Krouse (out in March). I also worked my way through copyedits of proofs of my fourth book, Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative (also out in March).
Fall is my favorite season because it fills me with my favorite feelings: hope, nostalgia, a kind of supercharged melancholy, gratitude. Also, it is the time of my favorite clothes: boots and jackets and sweaters. Also: show me the libra who doesn’t love autumn, doesn’t love a celebration and especially one in her honor. My second pandemic birthday was a good one, spent eating sheet cake and visiting the nearby raptor center. All of this bounty creates in me a voracious reading appetite, so, like most falls, mine was a glut that began with two massive and exquisite biographies: Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford and Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee. Both were alternately tragic and hilarious, and brimming with historical literary gossip. I also read the delectable We Do What We Do in the Dark by Michelle Hart (out in May), Mrs. March by Virginia Feito, Who Is Maud Dixon by Alexandra Andrews (I’m still sad to have finished this book), as well as Funny Weather and Everybody by Olivia Laing, Bright Archive by Sarah Minor, Little Rabbit by Alyssa Songsiridej (out in May), Borealis by Aisha Sabatini Sloan, Hideout by Louisa Luna, The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris, A Separation and Intimacies by Katie Kitamura, Hamnet and I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O’Farrell, The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi, Beautiful World Where Are You by Sally Rooney, and Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen.
It has been, in some ways, one of the most bountiful years of my life, and in others, the absolute loneliest. My lonelinesses have always been treated best by books. I am immensely grateful to these authors and the ones not mentioned for keeping me company with their words when I could not see so many of my beloveds, and for making the sometimes unbearable bearable.
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