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What We’re Reading
Michelle Wildgen (Executive Editor, Tin House Magazine): Recently I reread Endless Love by Scott Spencer, reminded by the latest Hollywood version of it that it is a strange, fascinating book about the ripple effect of an affair between two teenagers, David and Jade, on their families and lives even years later. You never experience the affair in real time, only as told in flashbacks by David and by other characters. For me the draw is trying to get a handle on the affair itself and why it gathered such intensity, on trying to understand the experience of Jade, who though she returns and appears in these pages seems forever an opaque wall to David, even though he is sure he loves her. David’s own state of mind is a puzzle in itself—he is so articulate in his obsessions that you think he must have just been a little unhinged and young in the past, but no, he still is. I’ve returned to this book a couple of times over the years, and it is always fascinating to see whom I identify with each time. I don’t think Jade ever feels fully knowable, but I also think that is because of who is telling the story and cannot see her accurately, and so in the past as I read I often zeroed in on her. But this time I thought much more about Anne, Jade’s mother, whose experience of her daughter’s disastrous first love evokes a complicated mix of envy, vicarious excitement, frustration, and discomfort. I’ll probably pick this book up in 20 years and think, “The undepicted grandparents! How have they reacted to all this, for god’s sake??”
Emma Komlos-Hrobsky (Assistant Editor, Tin House Magazine): This Friday, I find myself in that delectable liminal space between books. After work, I get to go home and muss through the five stacks of books next to my bed in search of this weekend’s reading. Where to begin? Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams, barely pried from the hands of a friend who wanted but didn’t want to lend it? Dinaw Mengestu’s How to Read the Air, passed along by another? On Deception, gifted by me to my dad and then sneakily borrowed back, a collection of Houdini’s writings about the con of magic and the magic of the con? My Kind of Place, the Susan Orlean travel anthology I found at long last summer at Powell’s and then loaned to my mom, and which has finally orbited my way again? And what about the fact that I’ve never read Wuthering Heights? With this kind of abundance of good writing in the world, the project of picking is nearly as nice as reading.
Lance Cleland (Workshop Application Magnet): Look, nothing is going to make you read After Claude by Iris Owens more than her author bio, which is as follows:
“Iris Owens (née Klein) (1929–2008) was born and raised in New York City, the daughter of a professional gambler. She attended Barnard College, was briefly married, and then moved to Paris, where she fell in with Alexander Trocchi, the editor of the legendary avant-garde journal Merlin and a notorious heroin addict, and supported herself by producing pornography (under the name of Harriet Daimler) for Maurice Girodias’s Olympia Press. Back in the United States, Owens wrote After Claude, which came out in 1973. A second novel, Hope Diamond Refuses, loosely based on her marriage to an Iranian prince, was published in 1984.”
Game. Set. Match. Read!
Meg Storey (Editor, Tin House Books): Lying on a beach in Miami, I read Kevin Brockmeier’s The Brief History of the Dead. It wasn’t until I was almost finished that I realized the irony of lying in eighty-degree sunshine in a tourist-laden spot while reading about a woman traveling across Antarctica in search of anyone who may still be alive. And yet, for me, The Brief History of the Dead was perfect beach reading: the ocean reminds me that I am just one small part of a much larger existence and that there are things that lie beyond our shore and that there must be things that lie beyond our world. Brockmeier’s novel posits one possibility for what lies beyond: when we die, we go to a city and live another life for as long as there is someone on Earth who remembers us; when the last person who knew us dies, we disappear. After a plague has swept the world, the sole survivor, Laura Bryd, is the keeper of the souls left in the afterlife city—everyone she ever knew, from the blind man she would pass in the lobby of her office building to her parents. Alternating between the stories of the characters in the city and Laura’s journey in Antarctica, this beautiful book insists on our reliance on others; we exist because of and for others, both in this life and whatever comes next. I just hope the city of my afterlife has a beach.
Thomas Ross (Editorial Assistant): Now that baseball season has started back up, I find it’s pretty easy to sit on the couch and read while my Boston-raised roommate calmly unfurls a huge sail of unrepeatable and grossly specific insults at the Yankees. Recently I read on that couch “Female Killers,” from Karate Chop, the odd, slim collection of Dorthe Nors stories, out from Graywolf. There was something about the story—in which an unnamed male protagonist sits at the computer after an unnamed woman has gone to bed, feeling guilty for looking not at pornography, but at sensational stories about female murderers, before logging off and “going up the stairs to her”—that reminded me of the cool, aloof way my roommate sits alone and curses his rivals. Nors’ prose is similarly without pretense, and seems to well up unbidden from the page, the way Fucking Yankees seems to come from the Red Sox cap across the room, not the guy under it. Nors’ stories are brief and exploratory, not creating meaning, but allowing the story to assemble meaning. They start and end in a way that ignores time. My roommate doesn’t hate the Yankees because he’s from Boston, it’s just that they’re the fucking Yankees.