Summer Reading

Fall is here. The weight of our own mortality complements the length of our shadows. Pumpkin spice pop-tarts and gingerbread shoelaces for breakfast, dead-leaves-and-butternut-squash casserole for dinner. What did TCR staff read this past summer, aside from thousands of submissions?

I’m a big believer in the therapeutic benefits of sunlight and, because I live in New England, I take warm weather very seriously. I began the summer hoping I would spend it lying on the various beaches of Rhode Island, reading a novel a day, and returning home in the evenings happy and without sunburn. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened, and because of my busy work schedule and a few other unpleasant realities, I had to do most of my reading in short twenty-to-thirty minute intervals. While I’d much rather read on sand, or water, or fluffy green grass, I typically did it in the front seat of my car or at a plastic table in the break room.

Because having to stop in the middle of a chapter when your break time is up isn’t all that fun, I chose short stories and essay collections over novels. An essay collection I liked, and am a little late in finding, was Unspeakable by Meghan Daum. A short story collection I tried really hard to like, but didn’t, was Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes. I also read back issues of literary magazines, picked up from local bookstores and online, which I enjoyed the most and found was a better fit for my crazy schedule. It felt nice to finish a whole story, along with one or two poems, before an interruption. I found a poem—his only published poem—written by a musician I like named Will Butler (frontman of the band Arcade Fire) in last summer’s issue of Tin House. I recommend that poem, titled Oyster Bar, and all music by Arcade Fire as well. –Emily Chase, Fiction Reader

I knew I would be going into working on my poetry thesis this fall, so the the logical choice for summer reading might have been books by poets I admire. Nope. I needed a break, so I reread a few favorite novels. In addition to those, my most interesting read was Einstein’s Jewish Science by Steven Gimbel. Gimbel follows Einstein’s career through the lens of his Jewish ethnicity and young fervor for the faith. Sometimes Gimbel gets too bogged down in definitions as he tries to suggest Einstein approached science with a particularly Jewish outlook. Despite the slower portions, I would recommend it to anyone with a particular interest in Einstein or Jewish cultural figures.
–Randall Weiss, Poetry Reader

This summer I moved to Chicago, where I work at the third-busiest Starbucks in the city. I no longer have a book budget. When I do buy one, I feel guilty. Also, the amount of time I have to read is drastically reduced. As soon as I am in the store, my time is no longer my own. I am constantly on the go. Being a supervisor means that my breaks are not even time to myself. I must constantly be available to answer questions, to ensure things run smoothly. It is a lot of physical and mental work. My schedule is not consistent. I can close one night and have to be back first thing in the morning to open the store. I would love to come home and read. I have a stack of books waiting for me. Often, I’ll pick one up with every intention to read it only to fall asleep after a few pages. I always want to say to them: it’s not you, it’s me. Being behind on what I want to read. Not reading as much as I want, as much as I should, feels like a failure. This angers me sometimes because it’s not like I’m not doing anything. But when my time is limited, something had to give, and it was reading. I hear myself saying: if you wanted to do it, you would find the time. The desire is there. However, when I have time, I want to spend it writing my own book. I want to see friends. I want to explore the city that is my new home.

I’ve reread, in short bursts, some of my favorite books like Paul Monette’s Becoming a Man, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, Wendy Ortiz’s Excavation, Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones, and the Dover Thrift Editions of Great Ghost Stories. I’ve made very slow progress on Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Sarah Einstein’s Mot, Paul Lisicky’s Unbuilt Projects, Wendy C. Ortiz’s Hollywood Notebook, not to mention all the queer theory books I’ve wanted to read. I’m trying to restructure my life so I get to a point where I have the time and energy to read. And this time I’ll appreciate it more because I know what it is like not to have it. It’s a promise I must keep to myself, it’s a promise I must keep to all the possibilities waiting for me in those unread books.
–Brian Kornell, Interviews Editor

I don’t get outside much. I also have three books I’d planned on reading this summer. A list: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, The Pig Who Wants to Be Eaten by Julian Baggini, and The Business of Naming Things by Michael Coffey.

In a grand stroke of economic thinking, I decided I would read outdoors any chance I got, and in an effort to fight my concerningly milky complexion, I would do so with my shirt off. Things went well at the beginning; McCarthy and I started strong, but sitting in the backyard naked from the waist up felt weird, especially considering I wasn’t sure if my neighbors had gone to work, or if they even work at all. At first, I was resolute: I was determined not to let my anxiousness keep me from finishing what I’d set out to do and more importantly, from perfecting my tan. Eventually, this determination crumbled under the weight of my self-consciousness and I gave it up.

Besides, I figured, there was still the weekend at the beach house. It was the perfect opportunity. Two full days with a clear schedule and no distractions, the soft crash of waves, and direct, unfiltered contact between UV radiation and my upper body in a socially acceptable setting. About ten pages of Coffey fell away before I realized how much I missed swimming in the ocean. I became consumed with the thought of how wasted it would all feel if buried my nose in some melodrama about sad drunks, when I could be falling headfirst into the sensory wormhole of summer.

So: I had some drinks, I swam, I ate oysters.

I’m almost finished with The Business of Naming Things. I’ve promised myself I’d pick up Blood Meridian again, but that’s what I said that about Cities of the Red Night and Ulysses last summer. Oh, and it turns out I don’t really tan. I just burn real easily.
–Christopher Walker, Fiction Reader

This summer I read as many things as I could, which is to say I read almost nothing, unless you consider holding a baby and staring off into space reading. I did read some novels from the Library of America’s new Women Crime Writers of the 1940s, both of which were very good, and which I hope to write about soon. I read A House Made of Stars, by Tawnysha Greene. I read Citizen, by Claudia Rankine, on an iPad, which was new for me, and which wasn’t good for the book, because the photos in it took up two pages each, which made as much sense as calling holding a baby reading.

I read a Philip K. Dick novel (Martian Time-Slip) and short stories by Elizabeth Hardwick, Daphne Du Maurier, William H. Gass, Elizabeth McCracken, and Jim Shepard. I read in bed, and I read in the basement. I had trouble focusing on reading, so I read briefly, and quickly, because the baby was calling me away, and the sky wasn’t falling, but I had to check, and check often, to see that it wasn’t. I read some of a book by Helen Caldicott, and had to stop because it was only helping to clarify my dread and premonition of impending loss.

I’ve been reading Robin McLean’s Reptile House, which is very good. It makes me want to write more, and better.

I’ve been reading The Locusts Have No King, by Dawn Powell.

I am not reading enough, not quite as much as I’d like to.
–Robert Long Foreman, Fiction Editor

At the beginning of the summer, I finished Volume I (Swann’s Way) of In Search of Lost Time and about two hundred pages of Volume II. I did all of this reading on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, mostly in a bathtub full of cold water or under a diseased looking coconut tree, because it was very hot and there was no other way to cool down. When I returned home, I found that I could no longer read Proust, because I like it too much, and it was beginning to upset me. I cried, for the only time this summer. This is how I always get. I have been working on a lot of very good books, this way, for years.

Almost all of the following reading I did in bed at home, because I can only really, truly read when I am lying down on my right side. I read some stories by Chekhov and Mikhail Zoshchenko, and I started to read The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, but I got distracted when my daughter spilled her chocolate milk, and I forgot about the book, and then it disappeared. I still haven’t found it. I read part of The Little Magazine in Contemporary America. I read two books by Anne Fadiman, Ex Libris and At Large and at Small, which are two of the best books I can remember reading, and I recommend them for and to everyone far and wide. I read some essays by Montaigne, and I read two Best American Essays collections (2012 and 2003). I re-read Theodore Roethke’s The Far Field and all of Louise Bogan’s poems, and a book called A Poet’s Prose, which is a collection of all the non-poetry Louise Bogan wrote, and which I enthusiastically recommend. I read several literary magazines, but I didn’t really get into any of them. I started reading Emily Dickinson chronologically, which I will now continue through the fall and winter. I read John Donne enthusiastically. I read a lot of poems from here and there. I read How to be Drawn by Terrance Hayes, which I liked even more than Lighthead. I re-read The Trumpet of the Swan because my daughter started it. I read Margaret Atwood’s upcoming novel The Heart Goes Last for a book review. I read A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories of Lucia Berlin, which is outstanding, and contains a very strange introduction by Lydia Davis. I read a bunch of Hilton Als essays that I found online. I started reading The Book of Disquiet “by” Fernando Pessoa. I can tell that this is one of those books that I will work on for years. It’s very good.
–Christine Gosnay, Editor

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