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What We’re Reading

Emma Komlos-Hrobsky (Assistant Editor, Tin House Magazine): I have plenty of gripes with the prose in Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer’s blockbuster about the infamous, disastrous 1996 Everest expedition of which he was a part. I have plenty gripes more with the way Krakauer weasels a sort of self-exhonoration by talking up his insufficient respect for the mountain, his own culpability, et cetera, et cetera. And yet, I can’t stop reading and re-reading this book. I’m a sucker generally for adventure narratives–the testing of limits, the provisioning and the training montages, the time spent in real wilderness, the confrontation with problems so much bigger than my own. But what gets me about this book, whatever its flaws, is how shaken Krakauer clearly was, clearly is by the events he’s describing. Even as Krakauer does a certain amount of pandering to his audience, his real feelings of guilt lie just below that surface, and  where he lets himself scrape against those feelings, I’m terrified and transfixed.

Jakob Vala (Graphic Designer): A friend in Seattle loaned me Victoria Finlay’s Color: A Natural History of the Palette, when I mentioned that I’d only packed work for the train ride home. It kept me entertained despite a crowd of rowdy German teenagers and disgruntled businessmen. Finlay offers sordid details on the complex (and sometimes deadly) histories of ten colors. From Aboriginal pilgrimages in search of ochre mines to the connections between black dye, Spanish pirates, and British colonization, Color is an entertaining mix of history, politics, and travel writing.

Meg Storey (Editor, Tin House Books): I just reread Twilight of the Superheroes: Stories and I’d forgotten how brutally and wonderfully honest Deborah Eisenberg’s short stories are. The world is fucked up and we are fucked up: planes fly into the buildings we see every morning from our terrace; soldiers in a faraway desert march across the TV screen; the man we trusted becomes abusive; our sister is in the psych ward; Grandma has dementia; and somehow our older brother has grown up to be a pompous conservative asshole (how are we related to these people?). In the midst of all this, our sister calls to tell us that we really should spend Thanksgiving dinner with our family. Eisenberg portrays her characters and their interactions with a straightforwardness that is cathartic, exposing their (and our) vulnerabilities, neuroses, fears, and shortcomings. If you are having mixed feelings about spending Thanksgiving with your family, I highly recommend you read “Some Other, Better Otto.” Here’s a sneak preview:

“Oh, dear!” Laurie exclaimed. She had an arm around Portia, who was crying.
“What in hell is going on now?” Wesley demanded, slamming down his newspaper.
“I’m afraid Bea and Cleveland may have said something to her,” Laurie said, apologetically.
“Oh, terrific,” Wesley said. “Now I know what I’m paying them for.”
“It’s all right, sweetie,” Laurie said. “It all happened a long time ago.”
“But why are we celebrating that we killed them?” Portia asked, and started crying afresh.
“We’re not celebrating because we killed the Indians, darling,” Laurie said. “We’re celebrating because we ate dinner with them.”
“Portia still believes in Indians!” one of the little boys exclaimed.
“So do we all, Josh,” Wesley said. “They live at the North Pole and make toys for good little—”
“Wesley, please!” Corinne said.
“Listener poll,” Portia said to her fist. “Did we eat dinner with the Indians, or did we kill them?” She strode over to Otto and held out her fist.
“We ate dinner with them and then we killed them,” Otto realized, out loud to his surprise.

And do try to keep in mind what William, Otto’s lovely, even-tempered boyfriend, says to him after they return home from Thanksgiving: family is “broadening. You meet people in your family you’d never happen to run into otherwise.” Happy Thanksgiving!

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