Lit Hub Recommends: Archives, Teen Capers, and Coffee Dates
Also, Books! We Like Books!
There’s a lovely poem by Jean Valentine on the subway right now, and in addition to making me happier to get on the 1 train, it has also sent me back to Door in the Mountain, Valentine’s 2004 National Book Award winning volume. Watching her mind unfurl over five decades is a quiet astonishment. Some of her poems have the scudding particularity of a remembered memory. Others the majesty of a fjord. They’re so still you can barely feel them move at all. Time bends through the poems gently, forcibly. It shapes everything including the shaping mechanism itself. Still, for a book that mourns, that cries out at loss, there’s so little dejection in these poems. Valentine takes the remains of living and stands at the edge of what can be perceived and waits for an opening. Hearing her earn turn is like winter’s music.
–John Freeman, Lit Hub executive editor
It’s been a few weeks since I read Lisa Locascio’s Open Me, but there are several scenes and lines from the book that continue to haunt me and stir up things I haven’t felt first-hand in years. While Locascio can and does write gorgeous sensory detail, she’s just as accomplished at navigating her characters’ emotional, sexual, and sociopolitical landscapes and the tensions and euphoria that arise from them. Parts of the book have an almost fairytale quality (here’s looking at you, Bluebeard) but they’re balanced out by the fact that Locascio doesn’t ignore the politics of her setting and the thornier parts of her characters’ lives. It’s an excellent novel about a young person growing into their sexuality and early adulthood, but it’s also so much more. While not the most apparent (or directly corresponding) companion to Open Me, I can’t help but think of the Cocteau Twins’ genre-defying music as an emotional parallel to the highs and lows of Roxana’s surreal adventure abroad. I’ve been listening to their album Heaven and Las Vegas as I write this, and Liz Fraser’s acrobatic vocals—alternately ethereal and visceral—sound a lot like the weird, dizzying feelings that Open Me conjures up so well; from desire to despair to discovery, both of the self and the outside world.
–Miriam Kumaradoss, Lit Hub editorial fellow
Over Thanksgiving, I read Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley for the third time. Elsewhere on this very website today you can read my thoughts about it (it’s very good, and you may be shocked to hear that I recommend it). But what I’d really recommend in this space is not The Talented Mr. Ripley in particular, but rereading books in general. This is sometimes difficult for me. I am very aware of the limited number of books one can read in one’s lifetime (you see how I use “one” to distance myself from death, and let me tell you that it’s not working), and I like to keep lists of the books I have read, and so I feel compelled to be reading a new book all the time. And yet! It is so nice to revisit a book from years ago that you loved and have mostly forgotten—it feels comforting but can still surprise you—and still nicer to read the same book every year at a certain time, so it becomes not only a comfort but a ritual, a family member you look forward to seeing at the holidays. When I was growing up, my father did this with The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I think I will continue to do it with The Talented Mr. Ripley. After all, sociopaths make every holiday more fun.
–Emily Temple, Lit Hub senior editor
Do you love shitty Christmas movies? Did you watch The Parent Trap, The Lizzie McGuire Movie, and The Princess Diaries over and over again as a kid? Have you been wondering what Vanessa Hudgens has been up to lately? Boy oh boy, do I have recommendation for you! Netflix’s The Princess Switch is a delightfully terrible movie about a modest baker from Chicago (Vanessa Hudgens) who flies to Belgravia (probably located near Genovia) to participate in a baking competition. There, she runs into her doppelgänger: a duchess (also Vanessa Hudgens!) betrothed to the prince of Belgravia! The duchess just wants to know what it’s like to live a normal life, so they switch places. Prepare yourself for close-calls, snowball fights, and horseback riding. There’s even a scene in which two of the characters curl up and watch a Netflix original Christmas movie! Meta.
–Katie Yee, Book Marks assistant editor
This week I’m recommending The Little Drummer Girl, not because John le Carré or Alexander Skarsgard need my help peddling their wares, but because I just want to make sure everyone is aware of how batshit crazy espionage schemes got in the 1970s, and also aware that batshit craziness, that ornate, idealistic, ambiguous, byzantine, dreamed-up on a late-night amphetamine jag craziness is more or less the focus of this series, which is also incredibly stylish to boot, shot by Park Chan-wook in some truly memorable locations, with some truly memorable clothes. Just do your best to get the AMC app working and watch this thing.
–Dwyer Murphy, CrimeReads editor
This week, because I’m a bastard, I’m going to recommend two books that you can’t even buy over here yet. As a matter of fact, one of them you can’t buy anywhere yet. However, what you can and absolutely should do is add them to your Spring 2019 reading list, because they’re good. Damn, damn good. The first is Conversations with Friends author Sally Rooney’s much heralded, and already much-garlanded, Normal People (Hogarth, April 2019). It’s a brilliant, achingly compelling psychological portrait of a two young Irish on-again-off-again-lovers, told over the course of their final high school and college years. The second is Erin Somers’ razor-sharp and fantastically witty debut novel, Stay Up With Hugo Best (Scribner, April 2019), which tells the story of a broke, caustic, and newly unemployed twenty-nine-year-old writers’ assistant who is invited to spend Memorial Day weekend at the Greenwich mansion of her former boss and teenage crush (the titular Hugo Best—a legendary comedian and talk show host who survived a sex scandal with an underage girl a decade previous and has now been semi-forced into retirement).
–Dan Sheehan, Book Marks editor
Decades ago, a friend wrote to Adrienne Rich about living alone after a breakup: “Having a lot of space and time with myself—living alone—I feel as though I’m healing and being more in touch with ‘me.’ At first the loneliness frightened me—but I am experiencing it through and it’s O.K.” Any one of my friends or I could have sent the same message to the group chat in a confessional late-night moment. The letter, along with other notes and papers from Rich’s life, was in a box on the top shelf of a storage closet at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn, the largest archive in the world dedicated to lesbian life. It’s a uniquely special place for me and many others, holding within it the evidence of what survival looks like over the course of generations: satirical and serious and erotic writing, activist planning groups recorded on tape, protest buttons, portraits, and letters like the one I found on fear, loneliness and fortitude. I almost fell off a ladder retrieving the box; let it be known that if I have to die before my time, that’s the way I’d like to go. (The risk-averse will find easier-to-reach items! And for the non-NYC-based, there’s also a digital archive
–Corinne Segal, Lit Hub senior editor
Africanist scholar and translator Wendy Laura Belcher describes The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros (co-translated with Michael Kleiner) as a “gorgeous masterpiece of early African literature” written in 1672 “by Africans for Africans in an African language about an African woman.” That sums it up, but there’s so much more. A beautiful hardcover edition of the first English-language translation of this hagiobiography—and one of the few translations from the original Ge’ez that exist—of an Ethiopian saint who spearheaded a non-violent resistance movement against Portuguese Jesuits was published in 2015 (a teaching edition was published earlier this week). Extensive introductory material, annotations and illustrations make this an especially engaging reading for anyone interested in the life of a badass woman who wasn’t afraid to leave her influential husband, find solace and solidarity in a community of religious women, and flip the bird to European protocolonialists.
–Aaron Robertson, Lit Hub assistant editor
We at Lit Hub have been called upon to share recommendations more than usual in the past few weeks—hope you’re excited for that sweet, sweet year-end content!—so though I’ve read some good books lately, I have to save those recommendations for a different list. (Is there a word for a tease no one cares about?) Anyway, this week I recommend scheduling a pre-work coffee date. This is a pretty specific recommendation, as it really only works with friends who live very close by. It also helps if you’re both trying to write things and you lie to each other and yourselves and say you’re meeting “to work” but then you just end up chatting the whole time. Anyway, if you can swing it, it’s a very nice way to begin a day! I’m an aspiring morning person, and it’s nice to mix up the routine with an actually-fun morning activity. (It’s also a good way to squeeze in time with those friends who are always scheduled to the gills.) In the immortal words of 30 Rock‘s Tracy Jordan, “Did you know that in the morning, they have food, TV, almost everything! It’s pretty good.”
–Jessie Gaynor, Lit Hub social media editor