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!
Alan King’s newest poetry collection, Crooked Smiling Light, (Plan B Press, 2021) moves from punch to caress, offering the lie of easy and sudden transformation, but in the hard-fought, zig-zag feint of everyday effort. Along the way, the reader encounters metaphors from boxing and marathon, giants of history like Nelson Mandela and Amiri Baraka, Whitman’s Learn’d Astronomer, the Bible’s Goliath, Roy Hargrove and the Black Lives Matter protests. All illustrate a man’s life as he moves from son to father, seeking what we all do—love and a meaningful place in the world.
For our April reading roundup, we’re going dark, with a selection of fantasies and mysteries that take a close look at the often ugly underbelly of the human experience. These books take on dysfunctional relationships, grief, addiction, murder, and even human sacrifice as their subjects. But while the novels in this roundup might have gritty, even frightening, exteriors, at their core they also force us to consider what it means to love and be loved—and how hardship gives us space to reconsider what we value.