In case you’re a subscriber or have a sudden hankering for a real print magazine, I’m delighted to say that I currently have a letter to the editor in The New Yorker. (It’s the March 11th edition, the one with the skier and cute dogs on the cover.)
I wrote a response to Ian Parker’s excellent profile of Dan Mallory, bestselling pseudonymous author of The Woman in the Window and noted scammer and creep in the publishing world. Dan Mallory has said in a response to the piece that the history of lies that Parker uncovered are due to his bipolar II disorder.
Hmmm. I happen to have lived with bipolar disorder for nearly ten years, and I call bull.
Luckily, The New Yorker was kind enough to ask me to expand on my tweet on the subject to explain why mental illness doesn’t make you a liar, scammer, or cheat. Greed, arrogance, and privilege do.
I hope you’ll check it out! There’s a delay between when letters appear in print and when they go up on the site, so I’ll edit this post with a link when it’s live online.
It’s been awhile! Since, uh, November, in fact. This is unfortunately the longest hiatus I’ve ever had on Maggie Reads, and if you follow me on Twitter, you might have gleaned that it’s for health reasons…again. Oy vey.
The bad news is that I’m not up to writing or reading much more than 280 character snippets at the moment. The good news is that I’m getting surgery in February that should help a lot. It’s going to be a long road back to normal, but I’m hopeful that normal is, indeed, waiting for me somewhere in 2019. I hope you’ll stick around till I get there!
How cool is that? It’s not even one of those weird stub articles that’s written by someone with an axe to grind. It’s a very professional-looking, well-rounded Wikipedia article. I’m honored to be included, though who knows if I’ll last till the next edit.
My cousin also gifted me The Wasp Factoryby Iain Banks and There Thereby Tommy Orange. I’m excited about both but especially about There There since I had it on hold at the library last month but was unable to pick it up because I’ve been so sick. I was crushed to miss it because it’s literally a 4-to-6-month-long wait for it in my local library system! That’s a loooooong time when you’re excited about a book, but now I don’t have to go back to the back of the line (or be back in line at all). Great timing, cuz.
As I said, I also gave a bunch of books for Christmas, with the help of NPR’s 2018 book concierge, which gets better and better every year. (It’s a giant widget of book recommendations that you can filter by all sorts of criteria.)
Here are some of the books I gifted this year:
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startupby John Carreyrou, for my dad: A book about Theranos, a disastrous startup that lied to lots of people about their blood test results and was generally a terrifying/wacky/out-of-control company. The book is written by the journalist who initially broke the story for the Wall Street Journal.
Emergency Contactby Mary H.K. Choi, for my brother who just left for college: A college romance (it’s a YA novel) that takes place mostly through text messages. My brother’s gay and unfortunately this romance is m/f but he loves the premise and promises to forgive me. (LOL.)
Orphan Monster Spyby Matt Killeen and Warcrossby Marie Lu, for my high school-aged brother: These are the only two books that I read before deciding to gift them. They are two badass YA novels that, to me, showed how rich and diverse the YA category is becoming. OMS is about a Jewish teen undercover at a Nazi boarding school and Warcross is about a teen hacker who hacks a futuristic Fortnite/World of Warcraft-style video game. Both totally awesome and (I hope) right up my brother’s alley.
Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel José Older, for my middle school-aged brother: This one’s about a group of orphans banding together and fighting bad guys during the Civil War, except they all have dinosaurs. How cool is that?!?!?! It also has the coolest cover ever:
Best. Cover. Ever. Right? I hope my brother thinks so too!
So, those are all my bookish updates. I hope you’re all having a peaceful end of the year, and if you’re not, I hope you at least have some good books to get you through. I’m not sure when I’ll be back on the blog, but I’ll definitely be back. See you soon!
(And if you’re so inclined, please continue to cite me on Wikipedia, okay? It’s very flattering!)
If you’ve spent any time on my blog–if so, thank you! –I think you’ll soon realize how few books by men I seek out, read, and write about. Scanning back a few months, the last two books by men that I’ve mentioned were Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (in September) and November Road by Lou Berney, in a Friday Bookbag all the way back at the beginning of August.
It’s not that there aren’t books by men that I enjoy. To discount the artistic ability of nearly half the population would be absurd, right? (Ha.) It’s that, for me, reading is personal. I have always read what I want to read, and I want to read about women.
Luckily, at least in this regard, I grew up homeschooled. (The only formal schooling I got before college was one hellish year in kindergarten.) While the experience was a mixed bag, one thing I remain grateful for was that my mother did not insist I read classics, leaving me instead to read…well, everything else.
Before starting this blog, I ran a YA book blog titled “Bibliophilia – Maggie’s Bookshelf” (clearly, I’m not particularly creative with blog names) from 2009-2013 or so. I took it down some time ago–it was full of embarrassing coming-of-age content that I no longer wanted to broadcast to the web–but the experience was profound. It was my first exposure to ARCs, reviews, the ins and outs of publishing, and most importantly, the incredible diversity of books that are out there if you’re willing to find them.
Once, both for that blog and for my own enjoyment, I read 365 books in a year. It’s a great fun fact.
And yet I’ve never read Moby Dick. I’ve never read Lord of the Flies or 1984 or Lolita or Steinbeck or Twain or Dostoyevsky or any of the dozens more defining books of the English-language canon.
It’s not something I’m proud of, per se, because canons exist to create common ground, and no reader is an island. I may not have read Moby Dick but I have read countless other books by authors who care a lot about Moby Dick. To be so unfamiliar with their source material is a loss, not a gain.
But I still don’t know if I’ll ever read Moby Dick, because I value fun–or at the very least, human connection–in what I read, and Moby Dick strikes me as neither fun nor about the kind of humans I care for, although perhaps I would be interested in the whale. If that makes me a bad reader, so be it.
There is also, quite simply, so much else to read.
I once began a college essay with “I have never been fond of feminism as a way of being.” It was an essay for an English literature class; an essay on Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, no less. It’s an essay I look back on with a fair amount of embarrassment, but also, strangely, delight.
Because earlier that same year, I devoured Mockingjay, hunting an elusive release day copy at every bookstore in town. I would soon be introduced to Tris of Divergent. I already loved the kooky, Southern Belle-esque feminine wiles of Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves, about a schizophrenic biracial girl who returns to a Lovecraftian Texas town to fight monsters. I was enthralled by Gemma Doyle, Libba Bray’s Victorian witchy badass who has a vulnerable side, too. I was addicted to Philippa Gregory’s “historical,” smutty novels about the women of Tudor England. Which is to say nothing of Katsa or Lauren Olamina or Offred, or–heaven help me–Bella Swan, or Merricat and Constance of We Have Always Lived in the Castle itself, or the dozens of other intense, prickly, complex heroines who have profoundly shaped my life.
I am delighted by my crappy college essay because it has the broken-clock quality of understanding that feminism, to me, is not a way of being, at least not in any cohesive sense. It is merely–and perhaps that is the wrong word–merely the acknowledgment that the lives of women and nonbinary people are not second-rate. (Revolutionarily.)
Their stories aren’t second-rate, either, something I must have understood already, based on my tastes. Based, as well, on my analysis of Jackson’s creepy, idiosyncratic, lovely novel about two sisters, an uncle, and a sugar bowl. I still think that analysis is quite good; I found that novel to be deadly serious, and still do, just as I find the lives of young girls everywhere to be deadly serious.
If I were to assemble a personal canon, here are the novels I would place most prominently within it:
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
and, yes, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson.
It is not the canon. It is a canon, and I am always re-shaping it. It is a key to my heart and also, somehow, my heart itself. I encourage you to develop your own.
My life is not second-rate. My experiences are not second-rate. And neither of the stories of other oft-forgottens, especially the stories of Black women, Indigenous women, and other women of color. I am always reading–devouring–stories that affirm that truth, however frivolous they seem. (In fact, the more frivolous, the better.) This is an act of self-love and an act of love for the universe.
It is not that I find the male literary canon to be irrelevant. It is that it is a treasure that already has a home and a prominent shelf to itself.
…and newly married, honeymooned, and more relaxed than I’ve felt in what seems like years. So relaxed, in fact, that I can’t quite seem to focus on books just yet. But since I can never stay away from reading (or opinion-giving) for long, I’m sure you’ll see me back here soon. I’ve got a number of library holds and NetGalley requests pending that have me extremely excited, after all. I might do a post this week just about those. Hmmm…
In the meantime, here’s a photo of me and my wife taken just before our ceremony that’s giving me warm fuzzies every time I look at it:
image description: a photo of two very happy-looking people in white poufy dresses. My now-wife Serena is on the left. She is wearing a veil, pearl earrings, and a pearl necklace. I am on the right wearing a tiara. We are embracing in front of a brick background.
Thanks for sticking around, dear readers, and I’ll see you soon!
It’s been an exhausting couple of weeks here at Casa de Tiede! I’ve been picking up extra freelance work, my best friend got married, and my own wedding just keeps getting closer and closer. (Fact: 95% of wedding planning is staring at a calendar and crying.)
The last thing I’ve wanted to do lately is extra reading or writing, so this blog has been neglected. Luckily, I’ve been enjoying lots of other cool media instead, like:
BlacKKKlansman: an extremely intense and interesting movie about a black cop who infiltrates the Colorado Springs branch of the KKK. It’s based on a true story (!!!) and memoir by Ron Stallworth. I checked out the book from the library earlier this summer but had to return it before I could finish it. I really loved the movie adaptation, but be aware that it portrays racism and anti-Semitism in extremely frightening, realistic, and potentially triggering ways, including footage from last year’s deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. It has humorous and empowering moments, plus a great soundtrack, but it’s also tense and upsetting. Your mileage may vary.
image description: a vintage photo of Cannonball Loop, Action Park’s loop-the-loop water slide that frequently trapped or injured guests.
Defunctland: On a lighter note, this astonishingly well-edited and in-depth YouTube series explores the histories of defunct amusement parks and rides, from terrifying regional attractions like New Jersey’s Action Park to high-profile failures at Disney and Universal Studios. Episodes range from 5-30 minutes. They’ll bring a fun mix of nostalgia and schadenfreude (at the expense of greedy park managers and CEOs) to your lunch break.
Cheapest Weddings: This Australian reality show about people planning dream weddings on tight budgets is available to stream on Netflix. It’s funny, clever, and genuinely sweet. The couples never feel like the butt of the joke, even if their preferences are a little…eccentric, as with an unforgettable LARP wedding. I find a lot of reality TV to be cringey and mean, but this series is just right. (And I’m gleaning lots of DIY inspiration from it, too.)
What movies, TV, video games, and webseries have you been enjoying lately? I’d love to hear about them as I head into another stressful stretch. (I could use all the procrastination distraction help I can get.) In the meantime, happy reading, and expect me back on a regular schedule soon!
Apparently the bio–to be included with Jackson’s 1948 novel The Road Through the Wall–was written by her husband, and it includes the following delightful details:
“She plays the guitar and sings five hundred folk songs…as well as playing the piano and the zither…”
“[She] is perhaps the only contemporary writer who is a practicing amateur witch…”
“She is passionately addicted to cats, and at the moment has six, all coal black…”
“She does not much like the sort of neurotic modern fiction she herself writes, the Joyce and Kafka schools…”
I’m a die-hard Shirley Jackson fan and would have loved the article no matter what, but while reading it I was especially struck by how much author bios affect my love of books no matter who the author in question is. Shirley Jackson’s witchy reputation made her career (even as it earned her plenty of angry letters from busybodies), and I’m sure that author bios have held uncanny power over many other authors’ careers, as well.
If an author has a long and quirky bio like Jackson’s, that tells you something about their fiction; Jeff VanderMeer has a particularly strange one included in the paperback edition of Annihilation,an extremely strange–and wonderful–book that definitely has whiffs of Jackson to it.
If their bio is barren of anything other than where they live and their previously published titles, that tells you something too: Rachel Kushner’s bio at the back of The Mars Roomis no more than one dry sentence long, as if the publisher (and author) are asking you to view the book in a vacuum.
Bios rarely make me feel like I know the author better; rather, they add a particular flavor of mystery that, in its own strange way, can make or break my reading experience. They are an elaborate art form all their own. A long and flowery bio at the end of a book as harsh as The Mars Room would have felt tone-deaf in the extreme, but to be left with nothing at the end of Annihilation–or a Shirley Jackson novel–would be a missed opportunity.
Of course, fairly or unfairly, I put the author bios included in memoirs under even more scrutiny. I read Cheryl Strayed’s bio at the end of Wild over and over, trying to glean some extra mystery and meaning from a book that already offered plenty. I did the same to Leslie Jamison’s bio in The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath, a harrowing memoir-slash-journalistic-deep-dive about alcoholism and addiction. I’m not sure what information I was trying to grasp: that she was okay? That she was writing from a place of healed authority? Either way, my expectations were unfair, but I tried to satisfy them anyway.
Such is the power of the author bio. I don’t understand them, but I can’t stop myself from poring over them.
You can read the rest of Shirley Jackson’s lengthy and mischievous bio, along with some other charming biographical details about her work, over at Literary Hub.
You might have noticed that my blogging and reading have slowed down considerably of late–or you might not have. (I am my own harshest critic, after all, and just a tad self-centered about these things.) Either way, I’m undeniably in a reading slump right now and it’s hard not to get so irritated at myself that it makes the slump worse.
The fact that I run a book blog is just the cherry on top: I hate going too long without writing a post or two, and it’s hard to do that when I don’t have any fresh reading to inspire me.
I’ve noticed that I experience a couple of different types of reading slumps. In one, I’m busy or ill and simply don’t have the brainpower to read. Netflix and video games are my “comfort food” relaxation activities, even if I find reading to be more rewarding in the long run. When I’m too tired to read, I just…stop reading, tuning out in front of a screen instead, which causes a slump.
The other type of slump happens when I’m reading a bad and/or difficult (read: dense nonfiction) book. I’m gradually curing myself of the sunk cost fallacy–I’ve become much more willing to bail on a book if I’m not enjoying it–but again, book blogging means that I have to tolerate bad books a bit more than I would otherwise. I rarely bail on a book once I’m over halfway through, because then I’ve put in a bunch of time and won’t even get a review out of it.
Right now I’m in a dreaded double-slump: I’m exhausted and I’m reading something I’m not loving. Wedding planning is fun, but it’s a huge mental drain. Ditto my job right now: what no one tells you about going into freelance writing is that it’s also a lot of reading, for research and communication with clients and such. I’m also finding my current read to be shockingly bad (for the curious, it’s Invitation to a Bonfireby Adrienne Celt) and it’s making reading a total chore while I rush to finish it before its library due date.
I know that this slump will pass in time because the wedding will be over soon (gosh! so soon! I have so much to do!!!), work will cool down eventually, and Invitation to a Bonfire will soon be a distant memory…but it’s so hard to not throw a mini reading tantrum. I want to be back to my regular avid-reading self right now, dammit!
image description: a GIF of Veruca Salt’s epic tantrum from the original Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory movie.
So, I thought I’d throw it out to my readers: How do you deal with reading slumps? I’d love to hear about it, and if you have any surefire cures, I think leaving them in the comments should count as your good deed for the day. Don’t you?