Lucky for you guys, I’ve been on a deranged one-book-a-day schedule since the beginning of the pandemic (no social life = more time for reading). Plus, I’m now in a excellent two-person book club so really all is quite rosy. This is the first edition of What I read this week but I have high hopes it won’t be the last (do let me know if you enjoy it, I’m historically quite bad at keeping book journals).
Books I read this week:
The Company She Keeps by Mary McCarthy
Love, Kurt: The Vonnegut Love Letters by Kurt Vonnegut
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
The Surrender by Toni Bentley
Abandon Me by Melissa Febos
One by One by Ruth Ware
Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie
Three Poems by Hannah Sullivan (started)
Okay, let’s begin with the best ones. Love, Kurt is a must-read: he was an extremely funny and extraordinarily talented writer by the time he was 19 and these letters are really fucking romantic. He loved this girl so much! He even went on to marry her and have three children with her. Also he was in the military during World War II and some of these letters are written during the war, which is v interesting from a historical perspective. I’ve read a lot of writers’ love letters (Anais Nin and Henry Miller, Rilke and Lou Andreas-Salome, Nabokov and Vera, Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Hardwick, Margaret Mead to multiple people) and they’re usually wonderful but (it must be said) occasionally boring. But Vonnegut’s letters are never boring.
I also highly recommend Abandon Me by Melissa Febos: the language is lyrical and it’s emotionally very powerful. It’s a memoir about the author’s destructive love affair and her experience reconnecting with her birth father. The writing reminds me a lot of Maggie Nelson, so if you like Bluets or The Argonauts I suggest checking this out.
The Company She Keeps by Mary McCarthy was also extremely good. She’s a very talented writer and extremely scathing (the Wall Street Journal described her as a ice queen. From the article:
She was never sharper than in her sensational debut “The Company She Keeps” (1942), a novel of loosely tethered stories centered on the autobiographical Margaret Sargent. As Margaret makes her way through bohemian Manhattan, she meets a Hogarthian gallery of frauds and hypocrites. The opening story, “Cruel and Barbarous Treatment,” introduced McCarthy’s lashing sarcasm by following the operatic stages of an affair that Margaret has begun chiefly because it makes her mundane daily life seem tragic and literary
The book is structured as six vignettes, and there’s some shifting of narrative voice (both second person and third person), and it’s very clever and bleak and observant and wonderful. I’ve also read The Group, which is her most famous novel, but I prefer this one. Plus, in addition to being described by the Times as the cleverest woman America ever produced, she was really beautiful:
Okay, onwards. One by One is a sharp and funny murder mystery that takes place at a ski lodge where an avalanche happens, disconnecting several shareholders of a music-social-network startup from the outside world. The Surrender is a memoir about anal sex written by a former Balanchine ballerina. Yes, really. It’s… a lot, but I can promise you’ll probably never read another book like it. Foreign Affairs is about parallel extramarital affairs conducted by two Americans in England. I read it because it won the Pulitzer Prize and because Emily Nussbaum, whom I worship, said she loves Lurie’s novels, but to be honest it didn’t do that for me. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell was interesting. Some context from Wikipedia:
The novel is a spinoff from Rowell's novel Fangirl. "Simon Snow" is the name of the fictional series of novels that the protagonist in Fangirl (Cath) is a die-hard fan of. Carry On, Simon is the name of the novel-within-a-novel-based-on-a-book-series that Cath is writing in Fangirl. However, Rowell has said that Carry On is a novel written by herself, and should not be seen as Cath’s fictional work “Carry On Simon”, which features in Fangirl.
So basically, it’s a fictional book mentioned in another book Rowell wrote, but it’s also very clearly inspired by Harry Potter (Simon Snow, the protagonist, is the Chosen One, and it takes place at a magical boarding school, and there are Draco Malfoy and Hermione stand-in characters). It’s good YA and I like Rowell’s books. Would check out if you’re a Harry Potter fan.
I usually read quite a few longform essays but I have been busy helping my brother with his never-ending college applications so there will be no essay section this week. But I will say really enjoyed this (quite dark, about suicide) and this (two lovebirds breaking out of jail).
Okay, that’s enough of my week in books. It’s currently Tuesday morning and I’m trying to decide whether I want to buy some tie-dye socks from Alex Mill. I have an appointment for renting ski gear in the afternoon. I worked out for the first time in weeks (!!) last night. Editing is going… okay (chaotically). Sending love and hoping your week is going well!