In-between times: Selected readings

What is time? Matthew McConaughey says it’s a flat circle. I say it’s a slippery devil I can’t get hold of. Which means I haven’t done monthly books on a, well, monthly basis lately. So here is a curated collection of what I’ve read in the in-between times.

They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us – Hanif Abdurraqib

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This is the first book I’ve read by Hanif Abdurraqib, but I’ve loved his essays on music and culture for a long time. Abdurraqib is everything – eager to engage in new and old content, wary of the world but full of love for some of its inhabitants, a quivering soul with some great stories about the punk scene in Ohio in the early 2000s. In this essay collection, he writes about everything from Prince’s unparalleled Super Bowl performance in 2007 to Carly Rae Jepsen. Nothing I can say will do his writing justice; it’s poetic and personal and wrapped up in empathy. I can’t wait to read his latest, the just-released “Go Ahead in the Rain,” about A Tribe Called Quest.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation – Ottessa Moshfegh

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It was just a month ago, but feels like eons since I read this book. Like I was living a different life – I think that’s the effect of Moshfegh’s writing; she seizes your mind and pulls it into a different plane while you’re reading. (I know, isn’t that what all reading does? Reading Rainbow travels? Not like this. Not like Moshfegh does it.) Whatever world she’s created is jarringly different but has all the same scenery as modern life that you feel like a zombie in an alternate world.

An unnamed young woman in 2000 New York decides to narcotically enhance her life by sleeping as much as possible. She finds the worst psychiatrist imaginable and gets endless prescriptions to aid in this endeavor. During her fleeting waking moments, she is addicted to watching Whoopi Goldberg movies on VHS and has to find ways to keep her drug cocktail calibrated for maximum unconsciousness.

I’ve heard this book described by multiple sources as “utterly depressing.” And maybe my mind chemistry is addled, but that wasn’t my first impression. Sad, yes, but Moshfegh is too good for this to just be a sinking stone. This was…funny. Darkly so, but it took the concept of alienation and pushed it into another universe. The protagonist doesn’t only want to escape from the world, but her own inner one, too. Moshfegh steers us through the narcoleptic fugue states and arrives at something almost hopeful.

Presidio – Randy Kennedy

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I couldn’t have asked for much more in a thriller – oddball characters on the fringes, a beautifully rendered setting, and a unique plot. I read plenty of trash, but I can’t add this one to the garbage barge. The writing is insanely good, taking types like the loner criminal and making them much more interesting. In 1970s Texas, Troy Falconer is a car thief who goes home to help his brother Harlan look for his wife, who vanished with his money (catfishing has been a thing for a long time). They steal a car to start this quest, and oops, there’s a Mennonite girl in the back. Martha Zacharias doesn’t want to go home. Her backstory is a shock to the system. As the unlikely companions careen toward the border with police in pursuit, we read snippet’s of Troy’s journal, a study in leaving society and not needing your own identity. And the SCENERY.

Early Work – Andrew Martin

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This book was almost like a millennial video game. Unmotivated dude with outside funds languishes in a college town, half-heartedly teaching at a women’s prison and drifting through life, drinking like he has gills, while the med student girlfriend he doesn’t deserve works nights at the hospital. He meets a woman also drifting but attuned to her writing impulse. They mess around. Nothing really happens, but I suppose that’s the point. Back to start, Player 1 begin again. And I liked it.

Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win – Jo Piazza

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I don’t know. I seem to have gravitated toward candy of late. The titular character is a successful Silicon Valley woman who decides to run for Senate in her native Pennsylvania. While Piazza is great at capturing all the insanity of a political campaign, this was like a Glamour magazine profile ballooned to 300 pages. Entertaining but ultimately unsatisfying, as the author wasn’t willing to actually give this book an ending. Will there be a sequel? Was she afraid that people would think she wrote a Hillary Clinton redemption tale? God forbid.

Past Tense – Lee Child

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Hello again, Jack Reacher. He is still my favorite. He’s my Hobbes (as in The Rock’s character from Fast and Furious, not Calvin’s friend. Big and stony, but a heart of gold). I just bought yet another from this series at the airport, because those brick paperbacks make me ridiculously happy and my flight was delayed. Jack would’ve had a better idea of how to deal with minor setbacks like that.

I always wonder how Child will come up with the next plot for this series – what could Jack possibly do that hasn’t already been done? Well, has Child got just the thing. In this outing, Jack is planning to hitchhike from Maine to California (he doesn’t own anything but the clothes on his back) when early on he sees a sign for the town his father was born in. There’s more going on than I care to impart here, but he embarks on a fascinating tour of its various records offices (maybe work on this part a bit?), beats some people up, and finally makes it out to a place purporting to be a motel but is really where rich people go to bow hunt…other people. Some Canadians need saving. Reacher’s dad may not have told the truth about his life. Child spools this out in a suspenseful way, as he usually does, and I couldn’t stop reading. But then, I’m a tad biased.

Casualty: Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret – Craig Brown

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The setup is hook-y – who doesn’t want to hear about all the naughty things Princess Margaret said to the Beatles and every single other famous person who ever met her? Brown’s glimpses are just such episodes, lists, diaries, and imaginings about the Princess. I admire Brown’s commitment to his subject matter, as he seems to have read everything ever published or said in that arena, but I had to abandon ship. However creative, the entries kept having a snark level I didn’t know I could take hundreds more pages of. I would say sorry, Margaret, but I don’t think she’d have cared.

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