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What We’re Reading
Emma Komlos-Hrobsky (Assistant Editor, Tin House Magazine): Everyone told me to read Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. Everyone was right. From talking to Strayed acolytes, I had some idea of the book’s generosity, Strayed’s ability to see a Sweet Pea in each and every one of her writers and thus render them so sweet. What surprised me more was how deftly she also calls folks out on their bullshit, how little she suffers fools. It’s this balance that to me makes the advice Dear Sugar offers remarkable. Strayed articulates the truth of her writers’ situations with such an honesty that when she says that, in spite of the bad stuff, it’s going to be okay, you know Sugar’s right and it’s true.
Heather Hartley (Paris Editor, Tin House Magazine): “There have always been two kinds of breakfast,” writes Seb Emina in The Breakfast Bible, “the everyday and the event.” In his cookbook, breakfast dishes large and small, sweet and savory are defined, refined and celebrated. Emina is the creator and editor of the spirited and very fun blog The London Review of Breakfasts which, in addition to special dispatches from the UK and the US for breakfast hotspots, includes an “Opinion & Eggitorials” section that is not to be missed. Recipes in The Breakfast Bible are comprehensive and clear and there’s no need to look further than this cookbook for all that you need to know about tasty Bubble and Squeak or the best songs to tune into in the kitchen in the section “Songs To Boil An Egg To.” (Spoiler alert: for a classic soft boiled egg, Emina recommends, among others, The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”) Breakfast is served all day every day, on the page.
Michelle Wildgen (Executive Editor, Tin House Magazine): I’m reading the incredibly smart and amusing The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman—it’s one of those books in which the main character’s self is just laid bare, his insecurities, attractions, snobberies and strivings. Everything else in his world is observed just as closely, with that cool awareness that suggests a narrative voice sitting in the corner of the bar, swirling its drink and eyeing everyone’s rather desperate zigzags around the room.
Jakob Vala (Graphic Designer): It’s time for my annual attempt to establish a Tin House branch in Hawaii so I’ve done most of this week’s reading on a plane or beach. I read Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God in the air and discovered that it pairs pretty well with the new Mazzy Star album (though not so well with the sounds of fidgety kids). McCarthy tells the tale of Lester Ballard, a man careening from isolation to brutality and depravity. The story is told by several unnamed narrators, giving the feel of something between gossip and oral history. Child of God isn’t my favorite McCarthy novel, but that’s like saying Old Grand-Dad isn’t my favorite bourbon … it’s still delicious and satisfying. I’m currently reading The Starboard Sea, by Amber Dermont. The book centers around Jason, a senior at an elite boarding school in the late 80s. I’ve barely made any progress, but I’m enjoying the story so far. It looks to be heartbreaking.
Meg Storey (Editor, Tin House Books): Whenever I take a ferry (which doesn’t happen as often as I’d like), I feel like a character in an Alice Munro story: a woman traveling through an isolated and potentially dangerous yet stunningly beautiful landscape in which anything might happen and change her life forever. And so, for a trip to Vashon Island, in the Puget Sound, last weekend, I took along Munro’s 1974 collection, Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You. As with many of her stories, the main theme of the collection is betrayal and the various female characters’ experience with it (whether they are the betrayer or the betrayed or, in one story, both). The more I read Munro’s work, the more I am amazed by how she mines this theme and yet never repeats the same story line: a testament, I think, to the myriad ways in which we all betray each other, as well as ourselves, in both small and large ways. On the one hand, my trip to Vashon was simply a vacation, a relaxing getaway, and on the other hand, it was a time to reflect on the betrayals that have happened in my life and where they have brought me: a woman on a ferry traveling through an isolated and potentially dangerous yet stunningly beautiful landscape in which anything might happen and change her life forever, a collection of Alice Munro’s short stories along for the ride.
Lance Cleland (Workshop Director): As I am of the tribe that waits until they have a solid sandwich size pile of New Yorkers going before taking half a Sunday off to read them, I just now discovered the terrific* Antonya Nelson story “First Husband,” which appeared in the January 6th issue. This is a nasty piece of fiction writing in that, like a changeup thrown on a fastball count, what first appears to be a rather simple story ends up being devastatingly effective. Familial drama is in Nelson’s literary wheelhouse, so it comes as no surprise at how deftly she handles the plot here (a woman, Lovey, is asked to watch her former step-daughter’s children in the middle of the night). What lingers from the piece is how invested (and with such economy) Nelson gets us in Lovey’s relationships with the children, particularly her step-grandson, Caleb. Until recently, I have never given much thought to how hard it must be to be a divorced step-parent. To have that extra distinction added to an already complicated roll-call. “Caleb would grow up and perhaps grow away from her—there was no shared blood, and someday he would understand that. Someday he might untie the knots of those prefixes that labelled Lovey, ex- and step-.” The emotional geography Nelson covers in this short story is remarkable. As such, it will be one of those New Yorkers that makes its way from the Sunday pile to the keeper stack.
*Also terrific is the fact that there is a character named Lance, who vanity dictates is based on me. He appears in one line of the story and is a drunk.