~Post by Jenn S.
We’ve arrived at that point in the year when everyone suddenly realizes that summer is half over and they have nothing to show for it. No one is not surprised by the fact that we are at the midpoint of July and soon enough August will be upon us. In Austin, Texas, that means that we’re mentally gearing up to sweat like we’ve never sweat before. But this week, it’s raining (!?!), and so I thought I’d fill you in on my summer reading so far.
g r a p h i c n o v e l s
I started my summer off with Fun Home and got so hooked on the form (books! with! pictures!) I decided then and there that I would spend the whole summer reading only graphic novels. Both of Bechdel’s books are memoirs, but, loosely. Fun Home tells about Bechdel’s father, and Are You My Mother? you can probably guess. I preferred Fun Home, which I read poolside in about a day. Bechdel’s honesty, the attention to detail and to movement in her drawings, her humor, and her cutting sadness make this a story that lives. And she reproduces other materials—pages of books, photographs—in a way I wish I could copy. It may be time to learn to draw.
Other graphic novels on my list include: Lucy Knisley’s French Milk, and Craig Thompson’s Blankets and Habibi. Plus bookseller, graphic novel enthusiast, and friendly neighborhood chicken wrangler Danithan made me a great list to continue my graphic education. On his good word, I think I’m going to start with Jeff Lemire’s Essex County and Josh Cotter’s Skyscrapers of the Midwest.
e s s a y s
Marilynne Robinson’s When I Was a Child I Read Books
Truth time: Marilynne Robinson is one of my favorite authors these days, and I would read just about anything if she wrote it. When I heard that she had published this collection of essays in the spring, I was pretty jazzed. I mean, first of all, when I was a child, I read books, too! And when I was an adolescent, I read books. When I was a teenager, books saved my life. When I decided to become an adult, I read so. many. books. And when I needed a job, I decided to make one out of reading books. This collection spoke to me. Robinson’s essays are heady, so I’ve been taking them slowly. One essay at a time, one page at a time, sometimes one mind-bending sentence per day. She writes about religion, politics, and growing up in Idaho. She’s kind of an imaginary grandmother to me, so these essays are a form of deep literary comfort. Like oatmeal cookies and bourbon, but for the soul.
m e m o i r s
Mary Karr’s Cherry
I think this might be the perfect summer book. Karr revisits her childhood in small town Texas, and everything about her story reminds me of the joys and sorrows of being a kid. Endless neighborhood bike riding, clubs formed and disbanded, wild crushes, dramatic friendships, angst and restlessness and the rich, imaginative interior life that being young is all about.
Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
Winterson is another great living fiction writer, and her memoir is about growing up adopted in Manchester, England, with a religious fanatic for a mother “who kept a revolver in the duster drawer, and the bullets in a tin of Pledge.” This one doesn’t remind me of my childhood (thank god!), but it is enthralling to read. Winterson is hilarious and heartbreaking, all at once.
Janet Groth’s The Receptionist
One of my jobs sometimes requires that I sit at a reception desk, so I picked up this book to read at work. I haven’t finished it yet, but I have a whole new perspective on the inside knowledge and immense power one can wield from behind a front desk. Groth grew up in the middle of Iowa in the 1950s and then landed herself a job at the offices of The New Yorker right out of college (happens all the time…) In this book, she writes about what it was like to work for twenty years as a receptionist on the eighteenth floor at the magazine, fending off marriage proposals from John Berryman and managing the bad habits of all the famous writers and editors under her jurisdiction. It’s like old time celebrity gossip for nerds.
f i c t i o n
Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be?
So much has already been said about Heti’s new book that I don’t know what’s left for me to say. When has an experimental novel written by a lady received so much attention? The answer is, um, never. In the history. Of time. Many people compare this novel-from-life to Lena Dunham’s work on the HBO show Girls, and while I see some resemblance, I prefer the comparison Michelle Dean’s review makes between How Should a Person Be? and Fiona Apple’s new album. Combine the two? Sheer bliss. (Plus, this book got everyone’s favorite snooty, dull New Yorker critic James Wood’s panties all in a twist, which I’d say is a pretty high recommendation.)
What else should I add to my list?