reading out of a rut
I was stuck, and the thing about being stuck is that it feels like you’re never going to be unstuck. You probably remember the dark day two Thursdays ago when this letter didn’t appear in your inbox. It’s not that I didn’t try to write. I thrashed around on the page like a fly on sticky paper, but in the end, I decided it wasn’t good enough to ask you to read it.
But I got back on track last week, and the more I think about it, the more I can connect it to a rare reading slump. Throughout my life, reading has been like a trip to the museum. There are new words, new experiences, and new perspectives to try. It’s hard not to be inspired. And in times of lean creativity with this newsletter, I’ve usually been able to lean on book recommendations to fill the calendar. It’s a great way to do some writing without the heavy lifting of a brand new prompt.
The only problem was I couldn’t even do that because I had no new titles to share since my last book post. It’s not that I haven’t been reading. I got through a hundred or so pages of a book I chose not to finish, I picked through a New Yorker or two, and obviously my eyes are scanning my phone for as many hours a day as yours are, but I’m just not reading the way I used to, when found time was almost always cause for cracking a book.
In past years, this might have worried me, but realizing that I’d gone for a spell without reading a good book freed me up to be more selective. I can now trash books that aren’t working for me and really lean into the feeling of finding a book that I can’t put down.
It’s reminded me to be patient, to discard things that aren’t working for me, and enjoy the ones that are.
In the spirit of sharing, here are the books that inspired me…
The Netanyahus by Joshua Cohen
The 2022 Pulitzer winner is a campus novel, history lesson, and highly fictionalized retelling of a real event all wrapped in one. It’s loosely based on the story that literary critic and professor Harold Bloom told Cohen about the time he was tasked with arranging a campus visit for Benzion Netanyahu (Benjamin’s father). It’s funny even when it plods, and the calamitous crescendo is not one to miss.
Little Rabbit by Alyssa Songsiridej
Much like A Sport and a Pastime, Little Rabbit is the right speed for reading on the beach with one arm blocking any eyes that didn’t bargain for a sexy passage. It’s no beach read, though, as the protagonist, a 30ish queer female writer who’s taken with a much older straight male choreographer grapples with identity issues around sexuality, privilege, and power. As she’s absorbed into his world, his predilections, and eventually, even his work, it’s hard to tell what she wants and what she’s telling herself she wants.