I’ve just had the extremely strange experience of being happy when a book broke the spell I was under and revealed itself to be a book.
I’d already begun an adversarial relationship with this book—How High We Go in the Dark, a novel in short stories about a pandemic that begins with the release of a virus through melting permafrost. I was lured in by the promise of black humor in the idea of an amusement park for plague-ridden children, so that they can die on a roller coaster instead of a ventilator. In retrospect, I have no idea why I thought that would be funny—I guess I was imagining the ad campaign—and in the hands of author Sequoia Nagamatsu it is… not funny at all, but poignant and terrible and true, like the first 2/3 of the book, intertwined stories of people dying and grieving, of those who leave and those who stay behind.
I put it down at the half-way mark, pretty much unable to cope with the sincere bleakness of the whole thing.
But I was reading it with a friend, and SHE finished, and so I picked it up and attempted a “professional read”—the kind of thing I might do to prep for an interview, quick, uninvested, at a remove from the story. This effort failed as the ways the stories and characters were intertwined began to become clear, which was as satisfying as such revelations always are, and I got caught up again—caught up and distressed by the very real mixture of tragedy and grocery lists.
And then things got a little less real, and a little too tidy, and pieces clicked into place with the distinctive sound of the deus ex machinus (although a very GOOD deus, let me be sure to say) and I was able to shake my head clear of it in the manner of Dorothy post-Oz.
It was only a book.
And honestly, drawing out that feeling seems to be to be in itself an achievement. I liked the book a whole lot more once the author allowed me to leave it behind, to step free of it in a shedding of an unwanted coat. I can think about it now rather than resolutely setting it aside, and I’m grateful for that—and weirdly, later in the week when I had to have and sit with a bunch of hard icky feelings (instead of just pretending everything was fine, always the easier course) I found myself referring back to the book, and how the characters struggled with exactly that.
So it helped?
That is… definitely not exactly a recommendation. Do with it what you will, I say, and it it is lighter fare you seek—as I 100% did in the days after putting it down—then let me serve some up!
The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz, Modern Mexican Gothic meets , I don’t know, The Devil Wears Prada? This is everything it promises to be—5 young writers invited to a retreat with a reclusive, mega famous feminist Stephen King (not that he’s not a feminist, he totally is, but I think you get what I mean) and OF COURSE EVERYTHING IS NOT AS THEY EXPECT and it is just buckets of fun. This is an “if it sounds good to you grab it” situation. (It’s also a Book of the Month, so if you’re into that you can snag it there).
Twice Shy, Sarah Hogle. Ok, this is for the rom-com lovers among you. Do not buy this as your first rom-com. This is giving all things genre here—inherited house, forced proximity, cinnamon roll hero, plucky heroine, banter, imaginary coffee shops, southern small town setting yet we get the Loch Ness Monster in there too—and it is deeply deeply sweet and exactly what I needed. I loved it for the very self-aware protagonist and her refusal to be defeated by anything or anyone, and also her relentlessly goofy choices, and maybe you will to. But if you need a starter rom-com, please go immediately to Beach Read. This is not for beginners.
And for anyone out there on the fence about Jenny Odell’s Saving Time, this might save you the price of a hardback—or not, if it still sounds like your jam. I was hoping for another meditative read about how we use our time and how to treasure it and enjoy it rather than wonder where the heck it went, which I am always up for. But her thesis here (which I am probably dumbing down and possibly missing some points of) is more “when time became regimented it became a tool of capitalism, here’s how and why that’s bad” and… yes to people timing bathroom breaks being bad, but at the same time all I could think was “but I LIKE knowing exactly what time trains are and not making some weird guess based on the position of the sun in the sky”.
I don’t really think she was arguing against that… and yet she kind of was. I mean, yay nature but also yay being able to make an appointment at the DMV instead of just sitting and waiting. So… I’ll re-read 4000 weeks, I think. But if you’re looking for a book about the history of clocks and Daylight Savings Time then… I have found it for you!
TWO MORE QUICK THINGS:
Gretchen Rubin ( The Happiness Project, The Happier Podcast, etc, etc) has a gorgeous new quiz. Which of the Five Senses do you use LEAST—and how could changing that make you… happier? I am game to explore my mine (hearing!) with a bird song app and maybe a nice silence immersion (does that really count?!) but mostly I enjoyed the experience of the quiz itself, which is beautifully interactive and became a fun reminder of all the things I already do and can do that let me appreciate the world via the senses. Find the quiz HERE.
I’ve realized I haven’t been asking y’all to pre-order Playing the Witch Card lately. Please do! Pre-orders tell booksellers that readers are excited about a book, make them stock more and propel books onto best-seller lists, which give authors happy feelings, unlike the feelings discussed above.
So. If Practical Magic meets grown-up Gilmore Girls strikes you as a fun read, pre-order Flair’s story of loading up her teenaged daughter to head home to Kansas after finally ending a marriage that never should have begun, pursued by everything she’s fleeing, from her ex to her flaky erotica-writing mother to the family Tarot deck she stole as a child. You know she’ll have to face up to it all—feelings, magic, and the universal challenge of hanging on to the people you love at the same time as you let them go. PREORDER HERE
Hey. Did someone forward you this? Get your own!