This is the first installment of our reading roundup. Each month we’ll chat with a few of our Penmob editors to see what they’re reading – Because reading and writing go together like peanut butter and jelly. So, writers: What are you reading?
I’m a little embarrassed by how short my list is in comparison to Adam’s and Alex’s, but I read a lot of Facebook posts, so it probably balances out. Just kidding. It doesn’t balance out at all.
- We Are Never Meeting in Real Life – Sam Irby’s new collection of essays is getting love all over the place. I first fell in love with Sam’s – We’re on a first name basis – funny as fuck writing through her blog and taught her first collection of essays to my undergrad students at the University of California, Riverside. I interviewed her about the book for Brooklyn Mag.
- Pulphead – I’ve been meaning to read this collection of essays for a while now. I feel like I got to grad school and everyone had read books on some reading list I’d missed out on in life. As a Kentucky writer, I probably should have come across John Jeremiah Sullivan sooner, but oh well. I went to a reading he did in Lexington and got my copy signed.
- You Can’t Touch My Hair – Phoebe Robinson writes for shows like “Broad City” and is the half of the “Two Dope Queens” podcast that isn’t Jessica Williams. I like to stay in the loop on other Black women nonfic writers, so I’ve been working my way through these essays.
I read lots of books simultaneously, and rely on the kindness of strangers on the internet for new recommendations. Here are a few that I currently have my fingers in:
- The Tin Drum – This had been on my Amazon queue for a long time although I didn’t really know why, or what it was even about. As it happens, The Tin Drum was a huge and groundbreaking piece of post-WWII German literature, and I’m unequipped to say much about it. It’s excellent and difficult and worth all the energy it asks of you.
- In Zanesville – For personal essays, I’ve never read a more flooring collection than Jo Ann Beard’s The Boys of My Youth, so I was excited to get my hands on her first novel. It’s told through the first-person lens of an adolescent girl growing up in a small Midwestern town. Many of the topics Beard writes about could so, so easily devolve into cliché, but she never does. If you want a concentrated dose of her writing before going out to buy her novel or essay collection, start with her New Yorker piece, The Fourth State of Matter.
- Go Tell It on the Mountain – I was familiar with James Baldwin’s essays from my college English classes, but not his fiction. After getting stunned silent by I Am Not Your Negro, I thought it’d be best to start his work from the beginning. Go Tell It on the Mountain is Baldwin’s first novel. It’s a semi-autobiographical account of his religious upbringing in Harlem, and his presence in the writing is as powerful as ever.
- The Body Artist – I nerd out over Don DeLillo. His prose is a fingerprint; it captures a deep anxiety about the way the world works that I’m hard-pressed to find anywhere else. On a recent trip to NYC, I raided a few used book shops and The Body Artist was part of that haul. It’s super short but pretty obscure if it’s the first book of his that you pick up; I recommend starting with his novel White Noise, or his more recent short stories, see if they’re your cup of tea, and stumble outward from there.
- A Burglar’s Guide to the City – Another used-book-store-impulse-buy. I’m a spectator to the fields of architecture and civil engineering, but the founder of a blog that I follow recommended this book. Think: the course materials for Urban Planning 101 explained to you via a heist movie.
- Socrates on the Beach – I don’t have a good way to describe Joseph McElroy’s writing other than this: he’s best read through bleary eyes. Socrates on the Beach is an essay that examines his own writing as an act of thinking. There’s nothing easy – emotionally or syntactically – about wading through another person’s thoughts, and it certainly doesn’t lead to easy answers. But it’s rewarding for its own sake, for making us be not so alone in the universe. As McElroy himself put it later, he writes sentences that wander, change course, “suggest what it is to be awkwardly alive.”
- Toughlahoma – A tour de force novella about language itself, set in a fictionalized Oklahoma, and is also a kind of fan-fiction retelling of the bible. It’s a thrill to read a narrative that defies all conventions, and makes for a great intro to the work of Rescue Press.
- Making Shapely Fiction – When does a slew of sentences become a story? When do series of events become a narrative? This smart book on the craft of writing fiction really altered the way I view fiction and storytelling, and helped me creative an objective lens to view what can sometimes feel like a sprawling genre. An excellent read for anyone looking to edit or workshop their peers writing. And besides, you need to learn the rules in order to break them.
- Madness, Rack, & Honey / Collected Lectures – Mary Ruefle is a badass. Her use of language is concise and tours the reader through a massive array of poetic experiments. Combine that with the collection of lectures she gives on the nature of poetry and writing during her time as a professor and you get a deeply involved and educational experience.
- The Hot Zone – The real life horror story about an Ebola outbreak in a chimpanzee facility, expertly told by Richard Preston, a staff writer for The New Yorker. I had the amazing opportunity to study under Preston when he was visiting Iowa, and he’s a true long-form journalist. His dedication to telling people’s stories is boundless, and the amount of care he puts into structuring his narratives is evident. There’s a sequel coming up about the recent Ebola outbreak, and I can’t wait. (for the book, not Ebola)
Adam’s honorable mentions:
- Writing on Writing:
Reading anything good? Tweet us your book suggestions.