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What We’re Reading

Jakob Vala (Graphic Designer): Jim Grimsley’s Winter Birds was rejected for decades, by American publishers, who called it too dark and depressing. The book is terrifying. Told in second person, this autobiographical first novel tells the story of eight-year-old Danny Crell. Danny and his youngest brother, Grove, are hemophiliacs—their world is full of knives.

Most of the story takes place over Thanksgiving, when their father’s malignant rage comes to a devastating climax. But more chilling than the eruptions of violence are the quiet attempts at domesticity and the hours of vigilance between attacks.

Grimsley’s writing is exquisite and jagged. He establishes a world where hope is possible, but very far off.

Michelle Wildgen (Executive Editor, Tin House Magazine):  All my library books came in at once and so suddenly my piles of books carry a deep emotional charge as I choose which ones I can get to within the allotted time frame. Anyway, one that made it through the gauntlet is Charles Graeber’s The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder, a journalist’s telling of nurse Charles Cullen’s various crimes (he is suspected of up to 400 killings), the hospitals’ craven disregard for, oh, say, the patients at his mercy, and the incredibly daunting investigation that finally shut it all down. Part of the reason I wanted to read the book was because, when the news hit the papers, my father’s many siblings all said, “Hey! That’s nurse Charlie! He was Mom’s nurse!” He didn’t hurt my grandmother, luckily. What defies imagination in this story—again, other than the hospitals who dithered and withheld info while they knew he was playing lotto with adulterated IV bags—is just how frighteningly trusting any hospital patient has to be. And from a writing standpoint, I remain in awe of reporters who manage to sift through piles of info and testimony and all kinds of professional jargon and from it build the story that is taut, psychologically acute, and damning.

Heather Hartley (Paris Editor): Witty, wacky and radically fun, Raymond Queneau’s 1959 novel Zazie in the Metro spills over with slant meanings, word play and parody, making for a super fine read wherever you may be this early August—lazing in the hammock, hanging out poolside, or maybe riding the Metro, the dream of 9 1/2 year old protagonist Zazie who comes from the provinces to Paris to spend a couple days with her Uncle Gabriel, a female impersonator with a penchant for city slang who lives with his wife Marceline above the Cafe Turandot. All Zazie wants to do is ride the Metro, which is all she can’t do because there’s a public transportation strike (a very true-to-life Parisian detail). Adventures are had by all on the high—and low—streets of Paris in the taxi cab of crazy Charles and out on the streets with a bunch of tourists under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. En plus: Zazie in the Metro is equally delightful in English or French. En plus en plus: Louis Malle’s dynamite and darling 1960’s version of Zazie, with Catherine Demongeot and Philippe Noiret.

Emma Komlos-Hrobsky (Assistant Editor, Tin House Magazine): For the past two weeks, life in Tin House’s Brooklyn office has been all-consumed by our move to a new space. (We’ll miss you, pie shop downstairs! We embrace you, walls without labyrinthine mouse apartments!) As a result, most of thereading I’ve been doing has been…well, less than substantive. That does not mean, though, that it hasn’t been brilliant. The “it” I’m thinking of specifically is the joke website Bad Kids Jokes. Bad Kids Jokes is a cache of the rejects from another joke website—seemingly a British one, given the kids’ predilection for “your mum” and “trousers.” The best of the jokes are part Zen koan, part Beckett, filled with kid pathos and mangled spelling. I love, for example, Q. “why do sharks have eyes” A. “so they dont eat there best pals,” or the one-line stand-up routine “who hates math i khow i do.” If you’re not reading Bad Kids Jokes, you probably have a less deviant sense of humor than I do, but you are also not living.


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