Hey there. This is coming to you from a Hilton in Tennessee, an unexpected stop along my road trip home after visiting my parents over the winter break. Thanks to the #SouthernSoaker that ushered in this year, I am behind a day and have another eight hours ahead of me. I don't mind the drive—to the contrary, I like the time alone in the car, listening to David Sedaris read his latest book, Calypso, and then discuss that and many, many other things with Dax Shepard on his Armchair Expert podcast. At some point each day I also switch to Pandora just to remind myself (and the Penny, who usually lifts her head to shoot me a side eye that I'm certain says she doesn't need to be reminded) that my dreams of becoming the next Reba McEntire died sometime around fourth grade. (Kelly Clarkson should thank me for that, as it obviously left that door open for her.) But I had planned to be back in Charlottesville by now.
The Penny loves a good hotel. (She did her hotel happy dance when we stopped in Texarkana last night.) She's an excellent traveler, and an example of the power of positive reinforcement. All she really needs is a snack of chicken somewhere along the way and she's good to go. But I think even she is ready to be home.
If you follow me on Twitter or Insta, you know how obsessed I am with Patrick Radden Keefe's forthcoming book, Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland. Read this, from 2015, and preorder the book. Or just preorder the book and thank me when it arrives and you devour it in two days, like I did.
Two other books I am obsessed with and have posted about that you should get your hands on ASAP: Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom (which I actually nabbed off the shelf at Parnassus Books on my way through Nashville last month, a little early) and Maurice Carlos Ruffin's We Cast a Shadow. Not only will you have the pleasure of reading great literature that is challenging and of the moment, but you will also know what everyone else is talking about.
I'm judging the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Award for Best First Book once again this year. I won't divulge which book is getting my vote, but I will say that I had read all but one of these before this list of finalists came out and there is no wrong choice:
Nana Kwami Adjei-Brenyah, Friday Black
Jamel Brinkley, A Lucky Man
Francisco Cantú, The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border
Lisa Halliday, Asymmetry
R.O. Kwon, The Incendiaries
Tommy Orange, There There
Tara Westover, Educated: A Memoir
One more note: I'm doing an event with Leslie Jamison in Charlottesville on January 18 as part of the paperback tour for her book The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath. Please come through if you can.