Hey there. It's been a long, hectic, often difficult three months since I last wrote. April truly is the cruelest month (Eliot was onto something). There has been too much travel, too much insomnia, too much depression, too much anxiety. If you also struggle with any of this, know that I sympathize and wish you well on your journey.
I'm writing this from San Antonio, where I'm visiting my father. (I have livetweeted some of the visit, and posted some pics on IG.) Here is some context for our relationship.
Do you know about the Literaryswag Book Club? I know you're aware of Literaryswag, because I have written about it and the founder, Yahdon Israel, has guested here—and we did a giveaway! Since Yahdon's guest letter, he has started a Literaryswag Book Club. It meets monthly in Brooklyn, but members located anywhere in the world receive each month's book, and the first month of your subscription you also receive the Literaryswag "Members Only" enamel pin. This is special. Yahdon is keeping a map of everywhere the pins reside, and though they have made it out of the US, there are still some thirteen states that remain pinless. (I know one person who could fix that Delaware problem, hint hint). You might wonder why I joined a book club I will almost never be able to attend. You might've noticed I'm a big fan of Yahdon and all the work he does as a literary citizen, and it makes sense to me to support this endeavor, to help bring it along. Also, Yahdon has impeccable taste. I trust his book selections—they will most likely be essay collections I'm not up to speed on yet, or novels I haven't yet read, even poetry collections that have escaped me. If you're so inclined, try it out. (Also, just a note: Cratejoy, the platform that manages the Literaryswag subscription, has some really fun options. It wouldn't be the worse place to find a gift for someone.)
1. Have I told you about Amanda Eyre Ward? She lives in Austin, which is where I first read her work (& then met her). I've read her books chronologically, as they've come out: the novels Sleep Toward Heaven (I truly cannot say enough good things about this novel), How to Be Lost, and Forgive Me; the story collection Love Stories in This Town (be prepared to reconsider the staying power of the short story); and the novels Close Your Eyes (which is just phenomenal) and The Same Sky. So I was jazzed when I learned of her newest novel, The Nearness of You. It's a page turner. It's plane reading in the best sense. When reading on a plane, I like to be totally engrossed, unable to recognize my environment for the pressure-controlled metal tube that it is. Bonus for anyone with any knowledge of the geography of Texas or New England (but especially Texas): you will know so many of the settings and references that you will feel like an insider and be immediately invested in the story.
2. In March, I participated in the Virginia Festival of the Book, the state book festival, in Charlottesville. It's a wonderful event that keeps getting better each year. Longtime subscribers might recall my letter about last year's festival. I had four events this year—an onstage conversation with photographer Jeanine Michna-Bales at the opening of her exhibit Through Darkness to Light: Seeking Freedom on the Underground Railroad; a panel on debut novels; a panel on literary publishing; and the lit fair. Much like last year, as I left the panel I moderated on Friday morning, "Emerging Voices: Critically Acclaimed Debut Novels," an audience member told me that it was the best panel she'd ever seen at the festival. The panel took place in a large space at the downtown library and was standing room only. All of the books—for three authors—sold out. I was quite proud. (If you've seen me moderate anything where books are available for sale, you know that I basically just shill for the authors.)
Here are the authors from that panel and their debut novels, in the order in which I recommend you read them:
Emily Fridlund's History of Wolves takes you on a trip through the Minnesota winter, with foreshadowing and foreboding masterfully woven into the lyrical prose. (No actual wolves involved.)
After Disasters, by Viet Dinh, enters the world of disaster relief—a rarely seen subculture—and tells the story of the immediate aftermath of an earthquake through the perspective of four different characters. Tensions and emotions run high, propelling you through the book at a brisk clip.
Jung Yun's novel Shelter is both a family drama and a thriller that introduces plot twists in almost every chapter, yet they don't feel manufactured. This book will keep you up nights—you will be unable to put it down until you've reached the end. (And then maybe unable to sleep?)
3. Since I'm in San Antonio, I'll recommend The Night Shift, an ensemble medical series about a group of ex-Army doctors who now staff an ER at the fictional San Antonio Memorial Hospital. There are three seasons. I watched it on Netflix. It looks like it's also available through Amazon and maybe NBC.com. I clicked into it initially because of the SA connection—you don't see many shows set here—but stayed with it because of the storylines. And I can't think of a show with as diverse a cast as well as a diversity of stories told. (I'm not saying it's perfect, or that it doesn't have its cliché TV moments; there's a reason it was canceled after three seasons.)
I'll try not to be such a stranger. Let's hope the rain in April really does bring us flowers in May.