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What We’re Reading
Masie Cochran (Associate Editor, Tin House Books): Recently, at the urging of Nanci McCloskey, I began reading David Gates’ Jernigan. She tossed the book to me while packing for a business trip. I skimmed the jacket copy, my eyes widening. “Geez, Nanc, this is super dark and they kind of give it away in the description.” What startled me was something like this “chainsaw that he turns, with disastrous consequences, on his wife, his teenaged son, his dangerously vulnerable mistress—and, not least of all, on himself.”
About forty pages in, I started wondering how Gates was going to pull it off. The novel was quiet, thoughtful, and dark (but not shred-your-loved-ones-to-pieces dark). I flipped the book over and read carefully, “Peter Jernigan, who views the world with ferocious intelligence, grim rapture, and a chainsaw wit that he turns, with disastrous consequences, on his wife, his teenaged son, his dangerously vulnerable mistress—and, not least of all, on himself. This novel is a bravura performance: a funny, scary, mesmerizing study of a man walking off the edge with his eyes wide open—wisecracking all the way.” Jernigan is all of these things. Chainsaw or not, it is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.
Nanci McCloskey (Director of Publicity and Rights, Tin House Books): Breakfast at Tiffany’s is the book that made me fall in love with books. It was on my summer reading list going into freshman year in high school. Before I got the reading list, I read primarily Sweet Valley High and other sweet, but uncomplicated books geared toward young girls. What my thirteen-year-old self loved so fiercely about Breakfast at Tiffany’s was that it was dirty. Bad words and casual sex and characters that you love for doing bad things. I loved Holly Golightly more than anyone could understand. I thought about her day and night trying to unravel the secrets of her personality. Eventually I moved on to love other complicated characters, but she made books exciting in a new way that opened my mind to the possibilities in fiction. The trouble is I saw the movie years later, and Audrey Hepburn became Holly Golightly for me. I’ve watched the movie a hundred times and aside from the initial confrontation with the differences from the book, the movie version became conflated into the book.
I finally read the book again, and I’m going to admit to being a little shocked. I didn’t remember, for instance, that Holly said all those ugly racist things. And she is altogether more raw and complicated than Hepburn’s version, certainly. And as I struggled to reacquaint myself with this harder to love version of Holly Golightly, I’m reminded why books are so important. They force us to ask harder questions, to confront harsher realities.
Shannon McDonald (Publicity Intern, Tin House Books): This week, I’ve been reading Mr. Fox, by Helen Oyeyemi. At first I was turned off by the clever-cute, cat-and-mouse interaction between the two main characters, Mr. Fox (a famous writer with a penchant for killing off his fictional heroines) and Mary Foxe (his fictional-turned-flesh muse), but I’m glad I stuck with it. Once the characters are allowed to actually inhabit their own lives, rather than hover on the surface of them, Oyeyemi’s skill and style really emerge. I’m not quite finished, but I think Mr. Fox is an unexpected and enchanting story—and I mean that in the very best way.
Rob Spillman (Editor of Tin House): Once again, reading across three books at once. John Cage’s Composition in Retrospect, Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse, and Philip Larken Collected Poems. Larken’s gloominess—”On this we blame our last/Threadbare perspectives, seasonal decrease”—fits Brooklyn December, but needs to be countered by Carson’s bright invention/re-invention along with Cage’s faith in the possible—”I welcome whatever happens next.”