When it comes to reading, I've always opted for articles over books. I'm not sure that's a good thing: online reading often illuminates the things happening in the world, but literature unearths the context it happens in. I want more of the latter, and I've made a concerted effort this year to read more offline. More specifically, I'm trying for a book/week, and as of the first week of May, I'm on track!
Here's what my list looks like thus far.
1. Boy Erased - I stopped in a bookstore in Greenville, SC on New Year's Eve with some friends. I had just finished reading Call Me By Your Name and was looking for something gay and devastating. I'd heard about Boy Erased (primarily the film starring Lucas Hedges, out later this year). Memoirs are tough sometimes, especially when they're written by someone with an interesting story but poor mastery of the form. I think that applies here, and while I think it was a compelling account of the often insidious relationship between the American South and any non-straight identity, I walked away feeling like I'd learned little. That said, it was a quick read and I'll probably see the movie this September, so I'd hardly call it a waste.
2. Walk it Off, Princess - I've been following David Thorne since his 27b/6 days, and have read everything he's come out with. It's all very formulaic, but it's just my type of humor. No exception here - inconsequential but funny, probably a waste of time.
3. Our Man in Havana - My friend Cameron recommended this to me and I'm glad he did. It's old school satire that doesn't suffer from the delusion of a lot of its contemporaries: that the only way to express cynicism is to go for the jugular and make sure your target knows just how you feel. I think it's a trope that plays out a lot in American comedy and is one of the starkest differences when compared against its British foil: Brits are just as happy playing their hand quietly and letting the people paying attention connect the dots.
4. Angels in America - I went to see Part 2 of Angels when I was in college with a friend who demanded we leave at the first intermission because he "couldn't do this gay shit." (No shade to him, he's better now). But having never read it before, I figured it was time. It was as incredible as I had hoped, and has fuelled the ceaseless consumption of all things related to Tony Kushner. I'm seeing the show next month in New York and am very excited.
5. The Autobiography of Gucci Mane - After reading Angels, I was exhausted and needed something light, so I chose this. It was surprisingly informative! I think it provided some helpful context of how a lot of rap gets made, plus a lot of background on the Atlanta rap scene. I have a new appreciation for trap music!
6. Are You My Mother? - Fun Home was a graphic novel that fundamentally shifted my perspective on sexuality and identity. It contains some of the most profound lines of writing I've come across, and I think of it often. This is the follow up, another graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. It was also really disappointing. Where the former found the humor in darkness, this one just kind of...explained it? I'm not sure - I found it all to be very muddled and, worse, uninteresting. Bummer.
7. Wolf in the White Van - I have an effusive and alarming love of all things related to The Mountain Goats, and John Darnielle's books are no exception. I'd read Universal Harvester, but had never gotten around to this one. In an interview, Darnielle makes the point that, in his writing, he's not as concerned with plot as he is with form: he wants things that make the reader ask questions and interrogate assumptions, not so much follow along with the plot. I don't think that's a universal rule, necessarily (and I'm sure he'd say the same), but I thought it made for a fascinating read in a book where very little happens. Had a great time with this.
8. Pastoralia - I tried to read Lincoln in the Bardo last summer and couldn't finish. A coworker asked if I had ever read any Saunders before, and when I admitted no, she figured that was the reason. I figured it would be good to read something else of his, and I really enjoyed this book of short stories. Good, depressing satire - my fav.
9. Little Fires Everywhere - About ten pages into this book, I said to myself, "my mom would love this." (Spoiler: she does, in fact, love this book.) Normally we have very different taste, but I found some great common ground here: a fascinating character study into family, social and cultural dynamics of two families in Shaker Heights, OH. Good stuff.
10. Pretty Mess - I accidentally became a Housewives fan because of increase peer pressure from other gays to watch. I gave in and would classify my viewership as somewhere between "devoted" and "obsessive." Depending on your taste, you could argue that Erica Jayne has the most inspired fashion or the least; I've been characteristically drawn to her obsequious flaunting of her husband's money (which I consider a compliment, not a read), and decided to read her new autobiography. It was ok: sort of entertaining, but so clearly co-written that it was hard to hear it in her voice. It's fun, but thinks its a lot deeper than it is - a lot like Housewives.
11. The World Only Spins Forward - Continuing my Angels related reading, this oral history of the past 30 years of the show was one of my favorite reads of the year. I love oral histories but have never come across one in book format. This was a welcome format change and amazingly thorough.
12. Sing, Unburied, Sing - A bit like Wolf in the White Van in that it's more about style than substance (and no less compelling because of it!), this was a great read in that you don't know what's really happening and it doesn't really matter. A great character study through the lens of a family from Mississippi.
13. Electric Arches - I've been trying to be better at reading poetry, because I'm not very good at it. I'm rarely interested and even more rarely moved (though you could argue the point of poetry isn't necessarily to be profound or emotionally impactful - that's just my preference). This was a mixed bag. I think a lot of it went over my head, but I'm glad to have read it nonetheless. I have more highlights in this one than most poetry books.
14. Eight Flavors - I loved this! Exploring the eight most central flavors in American cooking, which, surprise, are almost entirely from different regions of the world, embedded and reimagined to become the foundational building blocks of American cuisine (whatever that means). The chapter on curry powder was definitely the one I found most interesting - I've had more curry since reading it than I have in the rest of my life combined.
15. There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé - Another attempt to dig into poetry, and another chance to come up short. I really struggled with this. It wasn't particularly relatable (which, again, is a 'me' problem - I'm not the intended audience of the book, so I shouldn't be surprised), but it also felt oblique and sort of impenetrable. I want to give this another crack later this year. Or maybe later this decade.
16. Don't Call Us Dead - I've spoken before about my love of Danez Smith, and this only furthered it. An incredibly moving and captivating account of what it's like to be black and gay and HIV positive, with enough humanity that it leaves space to find yourself in it, too. One of the better afternoons of my year was spent reading this.