I’ve begun to quit pumping for the baby. At nine months, it seems to make little difference to her what she’s drinking, not like in the early days when two consecutive bottles of formula would send her into a gas-fueled rage. Correspondingly, I’ve been reading more instead of watching TV on the internet to hurry the time along whilst connected to a machine. Mechanically expressing breastmilk is right up there with eye exams and jogging on my list of Things That Do Some Good But Are Nonetheless Exquisitely Uncomfortable. I will not miss it. I’m quitting slowly in an attempt to avoid a hormonal crash, and all of a sudden the days seem more expansive. This despite the fact that I flew solo with the two younger kids last week while A. and N. were gallivanting about Nova Scotia.
I would love to write expansively and individually about the books I’ve been reading with this new time, but for now, bits and pieces will have to suffice.
The Break, Katherena Vermette. So wonderful to read a book set in my birth city in a community about which I know very little. But so very sad. There is such a gulf in Manitoba between aboriginal communities and white ones, and so many shortsighted and plainly wrong ways of explaining privilege or the lack of it. (So many family dinners spent listening with great frustration to older relatives explain how “that’s just the way it is”.)
Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life, Yiyun Li. I’ve read both her novels and story collections over the past several years, and when I read the essay from this memoir that was excerpted in the New Yorker I knew I wanted to read the whole book. Li uses these meditations on fiction and literary biography to examine her two suicide attempts and her decision to write in English rather than Chinese. The essay on Elizabeth Bowen’s The Death of the Heart, in dialogue with which Li wrote her novel Kinder than Solitude, was especially interesting to me, as I read the former haltingly last fall and really wasn’t sure what to make of it. I think I understand it better now, though I still find her mining of the psyche intense, scraping brain matter down to the neurons. I remember listening to Li being interviewed by Michael Silverblatt on Bookworm a few years ago, and he was positively quivering with excitement, asking her if she had modeled the novel after Bowen’s, though they’re very different. Listen here.
Featherstone, Kirsty Gunn. I read her debut, Rain, last year, and found this one in at my local thrift for a dollar. Two and a half days in a (Scottish?) village unfold in detail after a former resident returns there. Probably should not have read this while sitting poolside at N’s swim lessons, trying not to hear the very loud swim mum discuss her work’s latest restructuring or her parents’ real estate woes, as it kind of killed Gunn’s expansive and really lovely language. Best description of the dawn I’ve ever read. Take that, Homer.
Annihilation, Jeff Vandermeer. Creepy, atmospheric, fun. I came to this after reading a review of Vandermeer’s new book, which I plan to get my hands on after I finish his Southern Reach trilogy. This is the first. I like the odd bit of sci-fi every now and then, and reading one by a man who can write convincingly in the voice of a female character (zero descriptions of women’s hair/eyes/skin tone/body shapes! Amazing!) was positively novel.
Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders. I’m not a Saunders completist by any means, but I probably should be. I can’t think of another writer who looks so lovingly and apologetically on the human condition, which is to say, imperfection. How we cling to things when we should let go; how this can be funny and tragic at the same time. Looking forward to my sister finishing this so we can talk about it.
Butcher’s Crossing, John Williams. Two years ago, someone recommended Williams’ Stoner to my husband, so I special-ordered it from my local bookshop for his birthday. When I told the cashiers the title, their heads whipped around, their eyes bugged out, and both men immediately began to rhapsodize about Williams’ greatness. Stoner is a beautiful book; Williams’ prose is unmatched. But it’s also the most thoroughly depressing academic novel ever written. I mean, wow. So I gave it some time before attempting this western, which was, like Stoner, incredibly cerebral. A young student from Boston named Will Andrews goes to Kansas in 1873. He funds an expedition for a buffalo hunt in the Colorado Rockies. Carnage ensues. This was a kind of interstitial western – not the pulpy or aggrandizing novels of yore, but also not Cormac McCarthy (who I think does more for the idea of the west than Williams does). Also, not Stoner. Sorry, husband.