I recently read Jessica Au’s Cold Enough for Snow—a meditation-style novella that blurs the line between interior monologue and impressionism. As the narrator travels through Tokyo with her mother, she contemplates her love for art and Greek drama, the reality of her memories, and the distance between parent and child. Separation is explored in the resentment and shame the narrator feels towards her own cultural duality, as well as the ways in which she imagines her mother’s own cultural experience following her move away from Hong Kong. Themes of place, art, and literature are explored, and so is the concept of taking up space (and a lack thereof). By the end of the story, I was left with a great sense of dreaminess and wonder, questions about the transferral of parental identity, and a fondness for Au’s storytelling.
Very infrequently does a poet arrest their reader in so few pages and with such a delicate touch as does Noreen Ocampo. Following her debut micro collection Teaspoons, Ocampo’s Not Flowers continues her exploration of the soft, the familial, and the power of memory. The poetry of Not Flowers reads with the serenity of a Studio Ghibli meadow combined with the timeless Victorian illustrations by Kate Greenaway, curating a fantasy-adjacent field of poetry combining memory and the senses. Nonetheless, Ocampo’s Not Flowers remains deeply rooted in the present, utilizing the power of sensorial memory to curate the speaker’s soft, loving contemporary moment. Ultimately, Ocampo disrupts the seemingly dichotomous relationship between being a flower versus a “not-flower” and finds tenderness and nostalgia to be elements of strength, rather than of weakness.
In Muriel Spark’s Memento Mori, a cast of quirky, petty, and endearing septuagenarians struggle with aging while death lurks offstage. Rheumatism, hearing loss, dementia, creaky bones, leaky bladders, and missing teeth afflict this alternately lofty and low-class group. These 70-plus-year-olds muse and gossip over long-gone affairs of the heart, assorted past sexual liaisons, and engage in “the Will game,” dangling the promise of inheritance in front of their offspring and former household help. Meanwhile, enduring desires, scads of regrets, and still fuming resentments crowd their thoughts.
Within the first essay of Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space, I encountered a Joan Didion quote with which I am familiar. It is a quote that exemplifies what Amanda Leduc does in this book, which is as much an exploration of the ways that Western fairy tales reinforce and embody beliefs about disability and happiness as it is a retelling of her own story as a disabled person. It is a reminder that the stories we tell, why we tell them, and who is or is not included in them matters.
The quote is: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”
It’s August! And we have three remarkably tasty reads that turn genre fiction on its head. This month, you’ll find short stories so delectable you’ll swear some passages came straight from the pages of cookbook. Plus, we’ve got a feminist Western to satisfy all your cowboy cravings and a book of literary science fiction full of violins, Faustian bargains, and donuts. Order up!
A few days ago, a friend sent me an article about a black hole at the center of the Milky Way, which scientists recently captured on film for the first time. The author writes: “despite its ‘supermassive” designation, is not very large in the grand scheme of things.”
In 2017, I decided to read every day. A simple task, unqualified by subject or quantity. I thought I could be successful. To an extent, I was. Though I missed often, my days began to arrange themselves around reading. I took books everywhere. Metro-rides, restaurants, grocery stores. Eventually, office spaces. You see, 2017 was also the year my mental health decided to abandon me. It took me forty-two days to read my first full-length book in many years (Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.) When I finished reading it, I inscribed the month—August, I think–—on the first page.
It’s finally June. After what feels like an infinitely long winter, there’s time and space to lay in the grass with a book (or two, or three). The days are long and made for contemplation – which is why this month we’re bringing you a variety-pack of thought provoking books, from a summertime romp from the 80s to particle physics to a metaphysical mystery. Happy reading!