January went on fucking forever, didn’t it? I felt like I had many hours in which to read, though I’ve been busy as hell. There’s been some kind of time dilation in effect. I used my time wisely. I’ve also been getting up early in the morning and spending an hour in mostly silent reading. It’s stupid and privileged and life-changing.
One of the things I read and loved was “Marisa, the Pitch Pine” by Joe Wadlington. This is a lovely little piece of fiction, as sharp as a cinnamon candy. I love stories about fat girls and people who see themselves as non-mammalian and alien to their fellows. I might identify slightly with the protagonist, but it’s also just got killer dialogue. “I just want to see Paula, and maybe four of her friends, drawn and quartered in the Walmart parking lot.” Come on, who doesn’t want that?
I didn’t think the format of this next piece would work for me. It opened up as simple as the poster at the top of a kindergarten classroom before deepening into something complex and fascinating. “Tongue-Tied: A Catalog of Losses” by Layla Al-Bedawi is a fascinating look at languages and the way they come apart inside us and around us. Better than fear in a handful of dust, the author chases grief throughout the years in a single dropped egg. And my heart is smashed there, too.
Syntax and Salt has been consistently delivering some of my best reads over the last six months. If you’re not reading them, consider changing your habits. “Flare,” by Kathryn McMahon is an excellent place to start. It gets at the rage and burning glory in the heart of every girl, and does it in a way I haven’t read a dozen times before. I came away from this one with my fingertips singed.
Speaking of things I’ve read a dozen times before, I almost didn’t read “The Time Traveler’s Husband” by A.C. Wise. The conceit of a time traveler coming out of transit to spend fleeting moments with a partner who is stuck firmly in a time stream that only goes one way isn’t new, but Wise makes it new again. Maybe I’m a sucker for stories of longing, but this one broke my heart with a cold cup of tea. Shimmer is gone and this story came out in November. But it’s online now, and you should stop by to put a stone on this extraordinary literary monument.
In nonfiction, I loved another one from Catapult. “I should hate forever to be a burden to you”: Lessons in Love from Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West” by Jeanna Kadlec. This is one of my favorite literary romances of all time, and Kadlec gets at what was extraordinary about these lovers by connecting them to her own life. It’s touching and tender to hear these women in their own words, echoed across a century by lovers just like them. Read this one before Valentine’s day, and remember that love is strange and bitter and beautiful.
But I wouldn’t be running true to form if I didn’t include a real bummer of an essay in my highlights in nonfiction, now would I? “The Body is a Bill to Pay,” by Laura Eppinger is the stunning sadness this month. This is yet another story in the heartbreaking avalanche of first-person narratives on the poverty of an indebted generation. So much of what I loved about this is deeply personal; I was hungry in college and worked shitty jobs, just like Eppinger. I was derailed by bad teeth more than once, and plunged deeper into debt and despair like the author. This essay hurt me in places where I have felt safe and healed for years now. The next time someone asks me how my generation could be so whiny when they knew what their loan contracts meant, I’m sending them this. They won’t read it, but I’ll know the argument has been made.
The best book I read this month was Seanan McGuire’s “In an Absent Dream.” This is the latest in her Wayward Children series, and the one most concerned with the byzantine and punishing rules of childhood. Seanan is a prodigious talent and a friend, and she doesn’t need me to advertise for her. But any month in which I read one of her books is going to be hard-pressed to show me something better. Read these books and maybe pass them on to a kid in your life who always seems to be looking for the way out. Every heart is a doorway.