June was long enough into quarantine and mass insurrection that I was able to read again as I grasped the rhythm of loneliness balanced against crowds in protest. So I read some really good things this month, and I wanted to share.
On a steady diet of the same kind of superhero stories these last few years has been like unlimited Cheetos; it’s great at first, and then it’s sickening and you’d kill for a cucumber. I’ve really enjoyed superhero stories that depart from the same old tired narratives where a man has too much power and an illogical evil. This one by A.T. Greenblatt is a good look at what exceptional people often go through: alienation, disappointment in the self, and humiliation. Uncanny Magazine has always got good ones, and you should read them more often. Or subscribe!
I also love most things I read at Diabolical Plots, including this lovely, homey haunting by John Wiswell. If you’re the kind of person who has always felt you could easily be at home in a haunted house, this one’s for you.
I have no chill at all when it comes to Sarah Pinkser stories. She writes like no one else, and it’s always clear, unflinching, and full of the threats you never even imagined peeping around corners and enlivening her stories like a downed electrical wire. “Two Truths and a Lie,” published by Tor dot com, is a story that hits hard for me. I have always been fascinated with the process of self-mythologization, and have never completely trusted my own memory. Armed with the half-forgotten strangeness of early childhood and the humane grief that manifests in hoarding, this story will shake you. I cannot recommend Pinsker’s work enough.
These last few weeks or months or years, depending how close you look, have been hard for those of us who loved the Harry Potter books and must now deal with their author posting hateful things about trans women. Gabrielle Bellot is another writer whose bylines I will always click on, and her take on this, on the relationship between art and the artist, on being a fan of someone who hates you, are the best word on all this ugliness.
This one’s just a fun one-shot about a specific anxiety that I found very funny. If you only have a minute, spend it on this.
Every once in a while I read something that I cannot get over. I sit and process it while it burns its way into me, never to be forgotten. I have followed with great enthusiasm the toppling and destruction of Confederate monuments and statues of slave-owners. From the opening: “I have rape-colored skin,” it is clear that Caroline Randall Williams did not come to this discussion to coddle anyone. This is a blistering statement on the meaning of those monuments, on the body as a monument, and I am still not over it.
“The Purpose of a House” by Emily Bernard touched deeply on a subject I’ve been mulling since quarantine began: how do we measure and grieve the loss of incidental contact when we cannot have it? She weaves this question through her own experience of the publicized and inescapable brutality committed against Black bodies. She writes powerfully about the way we exchange power and support in touch and in gaze, and the entire piece hits so hard at soft places.
In books: I read Ian McDonald’s “Time Was,” a queer time-travelling novella that I whipped through in about an hour. Very romantic, gorgeous prose, Anglophilia for everyone. It’s a little long on war, but I’ll tolerate it to see two men fall in love.
I’m reading Nabokov’s “Ada.” It’s thick and difficult and that motherfucker makes puns in four languages. If anyone is reading this right now or has read it recently, please come sit by me on the virtual couch. I am dying.