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Cabin reading roundup
warning: flashing gif in “This Week in Hockey” section
Hello! How are you? Did you miss me? I missed you, of course. I considered putting off the roundup to talk about the latest twitter Discourse, but couldn’t quite work my thoughts out. So instead, the promised roundup—off we go!
I just got back from a blissful week in Tennessee. As planned, I spent as many hours as I could reading on the deck and getting completely eaten by mosquitoes in the process. (Seriously–it looks like I have a skin ailment right now. Mosquitoes love me.) I read eight books including the one I finished on the plane! Here they are in order of me finishing them:
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (reread)
To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
A Perfidious Distortion of History: The Versailles Peace Treaty and the Success of the Nazis by Jürgen Tempke
The Possibility of Life: Science, Imagination, and Our Quest for Kinship in the Cosmos by Jaime Green
Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
Ship Wrecked by Olivia Waite
His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik (reread- and for some reason, this one isn’t for sale on Bookshop- Del Rey, want to fix that?)
Not to toot my own horn and crown myself Queen Of Picking Books To Read On A Deck, but this was a pretty spectacular week of reading. When I’m packing for a reading vacation, I try to think of mood and variety–I like to have a variety of moods, tones, genres, and categories available, so that when I finish one book I can figure out what kind of experience I want to have yet. Not rocket science, I know, but it’s definitely a delicate balance to strike. It was helpful, for example, to have the fizzy romance of Ship Wrecked to turn to after the wholesale emotional devastation of Crying In H Mart. As I said in one of my group chats, “Crying in H Mart? More like Crying In This Chair.”
I also think it’s helpful to have some comfort reads on hand. Both the first and last books I finished on vacation were things I’d read before–I finished The Name of the Rose on the plane. The last time he was in town, my dad was skeptical about spending time to reread. And it’s true: there are more books being published every week than I will have time to read in my lifetime. But I think it’s fun to experience a story at different points in life, to see what you get from it. I read The Name of the Rose in high school and thought it was just the smartest thing I’d ever read. Reading it now, twenty years and thousands of books read later, I still think that–but I can see more of the human relationships behind the erudition than I could twig in high school.
The Possibility of Life, which just came out, was written by a friend of mine from my very first ever job in New York, Jaime Green. She was the literary assistant and I the development associate at a theater company in NYC, working for very little money and typing our little blogs at our desks while we “worked.” She’s written a lovely, thoroughly researched book that covers both the science of the search for extraterrestrial life and the cultural side; I ended the book with a reading list of even more books to check out on the subject. Same with A Perfidious Distortion of History, which, in about 300 pages, neatly dismantles the argument that the rise of the Nazi party was spurred by widespread economic distress caused by the punitive nature of the Versailles treaty. Tempke uses persuasive data to demonstrate that Germany was actually doing really well after World War I; they didn’t have their territory and industry destroyed wholesale by an invading army, so they were able to recover; additionally, the authors of the treaty (including John Maynard Keynes, who in later life regretted writing The Economic Consequences of the Peace) knew that the likelihood of the victors ever receiving the full payment levied by the treaty was low; in fact, only about 2 billion of it was ever paid by Germany.
Tempke argues (persuasively) that it was German refusal to take responsibility for the war that fueled this narrative–in fact, the Germans arrived at the negotiations nullifying the results of the negotiations before they even began. If you’re at all interested in the Great War, it’s a fascinating read and extremely well-written. (Also, I learned from this book that John Nettles, the actor who played Tom Barnaby on Midsomer Murders for fourteen seasons, wrote a book a book about the Nazi occupation of the Channel islands during WWII.)
On the fluffy end of the spectrum, His Majesty’s Dragon and Ship Wrecked were both delightful. Ship Wrecked is the third entry in the Spoiler Alert series of standalones, following actors from a Game of Thrones-like prestige cable show and the curvy women they fall in love with. It was a bit of a slow burn, but the connection between the two main characters was palpable and–once they got together–very steamy. His Majesty’s Dragon was on the opposite end of the steam spectrum–though one TikTok I saw said that Laurence is absolutely in love with Temeraire (his dragon) and didn’t have the emotional intelligence to realize it. The series follows Will Laurence, a naval captain during a fictional version of the Napoleonic Wars, after he finds a dragon egg in a French war prize and bonds with it when it hatches. The books have been reissued with handsome trade paperback editions and I wish I’d bought the next three at Union Ave Books when I picked up the first one. He and Temeraire have a beautiful, mutually supportive relationship, and the story is fast-paced and exciting. Highly recommend.
Crying in H Mart doesn’t need more praise heaped on it, but after having it on my shelf for ages and starting it last month, I brought it to the mountains to finish. Michelle Zauner, popularly known as the singer Japanese Breakfast, has written an unflinching, sensitively drawn portrait of her difficult relationship with her mother and her mother’s death from cancer. Zauner is biracial, and the book is as much about her relationship with her Korean-ness as it is about her mother, and I cried several times reading it. And also had a hankering for Korean food, food being the language Zauner tries to convey her love in when her mother starts treatment.
Titus Groan is one of those books that I can’t believe I haven’t read before. I must have carted my enormous omnibus edition to every apartment I’ve lived in in New York, and this was the first time I cracked it open. I can see the marks that this book left on dozens of other books—the decaying, ritual-bound Groan family in their decaying, ritual-bound castle feel as familiar to me as though I’d read the book before dozens of times. The characters are amazing: scheming Steerpike, scattered Fuschia, poor old mad Sepulchrave the doomed seventy-sixth Earl. Something about Titus Groan’s richness felt like I needed a break from the world of Gormenghast, and so I didn’t continue straight on to the next two books in the series.
The last to talk about is To The Lighthouse, which I’ve never read before. I was inspired to pick it up at Union Ave Books because it had come up so frequently in my reading earlier in the year. I don’t know that I’m smart enough for To The Lighthouse. The prose has such a dreamlike quality that I occasionally had trouble following, but I did enjoy it. Patricia Lockwood’s introduction was fabulous, too, although the new Alison Bechdel-designed cover led several members of my family to ask if I was reading a graphic novel!
All in all, a great series of reads. Not a dud in the bunch; tens across the board. If you’ve read any of these, I’d love to hear about it in the comments–or about your favorite vacation read strategies! And a reminder, if you buy any of these using the links I’ve provided, I get a small commission at no cost to you.
WHAT I’M READING
I really went ham at Union Ave Books (I bought four.) One was the spectacular Last Call at the Hotel Imperial: The Reporters Who Took On a World at War by Deborah Cohen. The high-profile American journalists she follows in the interwar period weren’t familiar to me, but now I’d like to seek out some of their work. I’m also halfway through Quan Barry’s We Ride Upon Sticks–it’s still extremely fun, and hopefully I’ll finish it this weekend so that my cousin and I can have the world’s most belated book club.
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THIS WEEK IN HOCKEY
We’re looking at an all-expansion-team Final Four in the Stanley Cup Playoffs! All four teams are from the Sun Belt: the Dallas Stars, the Carolina Hurricanes, the Florida Panthers (a team I entirely forgot about) and the Vegas Golden Knights. That’s exciting! I am rooting for the Stars, personally, although I will feel a twinge when they beat the Hurricanes. (Sorry, jerks.) Pour one out for Canada and Connor McDavid, though–the best player in the league will, again, not be moving farther in the playoffs. Sorry, Edmonton!
This has been A Faster No, a dispatch on publishing, writing, books, and beyond. Is there something you’d like me to talk about? Leave it in the comments or reply to the email! You can support the newsletter here. If you purchase a book from any of the links to Bookshop.org I get a small commission at no cost to you. I am available for developmental editing and editorial assessment services via Reedsy.