Lit Hub Recommends: Midsommar, Carmen Maria Machado, and Shirley Jackson
Also, a New Book from the Creator of BoJack Horseman.
Heat makes me less inclined to stick with books that don’t immediately grab me (wait, I think I just figured out what a beach read is), so I have started a lot of books this month, and also cast them aside like a woman in a painting, sweating on a divan. Two books that passed the heat test: Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys (oh, have you heard of it??) and Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman. Both are utterly gripping in completely different ways. The former is propulsive and gorgeous and completely devastating, while the latter is funny and strange and perfectly sparse. I also recommend the movie Midsommar, particularly if you’ve just been through a breakup (I haven’t, but I wish this movie had existed for breakups past). It’s horrific, yes, but the trailer belies how laugh-out-loud funny it is. Apologies, fellow patrons of the Nighthawk Prospect Park.
–Jessie Gaynor, Lit Hub social media editor
I don’t watch scary movies, but I do read their entire plot summaries on Wikipedia. After read-watching Midsommar (not to be confused with the excellent Midsomer Murders), I decided to reread my favorite “scary” story, “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. I tried to remember what it was like to read it for the first time, to not know but also to sense, implicitly (foreshadowing!) what would happen to poor Mrs. Hutchinson who arrives late, drying her hands on her apron after finishing the dishes. “Clean forgot what day it was,” she says. Oh! Because I have the Library of America edition that includes both The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, my only choice this weekend is which I’ll read first. (It’s WHALitC, for obvious reasons.)
–Emily Firetog, Lit Hub deputy editor
There’s not a new season right now, but like everyone else, I recommend all of the old seasons of Bojack Horseman, the creator of which has a new book out. Both the show and the unrelated book are tragic and hilarious and make you feel terrible, but at least you’re feeling something. I also recommend this t-shirt, which I first saw in a vintage shop in Montreal last weekend, and then tracked down on the internet because I’m so passionate about it. I recommend that someone buy one (in a size small (I’m baby)) for me thx.
–Kevin Chau, Lit Hub editorial fellow
I’m currently immersed in Yuri Slezkine’s The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution, which is exactly as long as you think it is (1000 pages+). I recommend this book to those who wish to demonstrate their physical strength in public and show off that they can read a giant Russian history book one-handed, but also I recommend this book to everyone, ever, in the world, because it’s so fantastic. At first glance, this is a lengthy tome inspired by a Tostoyan approach to lyrical history, ostensibly concerned with the history of an apartment complex that was home to much of the early Soviet elite—and was subsequently depopulated by Stalinist purges. Within this apartment building, however, lay the central irony of the revolution—those who believed deeply enough in an idealistic system to embrace violent, repressive means of revolution, were soon enough subjected to those same mechanisms of repression. From this central irony, Slezkine, always concerned with how the micro fits into the macro, zooms out to look at the Soviets as just another bunch of millenarians (and to understand what an insult that is, you’ll have to pick up the book). If you’re intimidated by the size of the thing, you can just tell yourself what I’m telling myself—since Slezkine spent 10 years writing the book, if you finish it in less, then hey, you beat the author!
–Molly Odintz, CrimeReads associate editor
This week, I started Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir, In the Dream House, which I was expecting to be good. But I wasn’t expecting it to be this good. I mean, it is achingly good. Like, it’s embarrassing to say that about anything, and especially about a book, but honestly, it ticks all of my boxes (sorry, too much Love Island*): it plays with language and form, it is cool and also desperate, and like all the best metafictional works, it is a story that is also about telling stories—and in this particular case, it manages to engage on yet another level, asking who is allowed to tell stories, and when, and what it costs.
*This is a lie; there can never be too much Love Island
–Emily Temple, Lit Hub senior editor
This month I’d like to recommend two superb (if somber) books—one fifteen years old, one brand new—which I just happened to read alongside each other over the past couple of weeks. The former is Out Stealing Horses, Norwegian author Per Patterson’s melancholy and quietly devastating 2004 novel about a man retiring to a small cabin near the Norway-Sweden border in the wake of his wife’s death. As he chops wood, walks his dog, and tends to his property, Trond unpacks memories of a fateful summer fifty years earlier—the last he spent with his beloved father. The latter is Irish academic and essayist Emilie Pine’s remarkably candid and unsparing debut collection, Notes to Self. In six powerful, unflinching confessionals, Pine writes about the events and observations that have shaped her as a person: her father’s alcoholism; taboos around menstruation and female pain; adolescent loneliness and drug use; sexual violence, both witnessed and suffered; and the grief of miscarriage and infertility.
–Dan Sheehan, Book Marks editor
Everyday details and daily rhythms receive the most loving attention in Margaret Renkl’s Late Migrations, an essay collection that weaves between stories of life and death, Renkl’s Alabama childhood, oral histories told by her elders, and chronicles of the wildlife outside her front door. I can’t put it down right now; it’s a book that makes me want to be outside as much as possible, even in the sweltering New York City summer.
–Corinne Segal, Lit Hub senior editor
I was born in Detroit and, having left it, all I can seem to think of is that city’s beautiful people and turbulent history. I happened to learn of Black Liberation theologist Reverend Albert B. Cleage’s work while reading Lawrence Lucas’ Black Priest, White Church (which I’ve recommended on this site). How does one encapsulate Reverend Cleage in a little paragraph? From the brume of urban malaise rose a radical conception of what African-Americans’ relationship with Christianity (a sort of stand-in for white institutional power writ large) should be. Having decided that formalized religion as practiced by most Black Christians was just the other face of bondage, Cleage became a schismatic, scandalously forming the Shrine of the Black Madonna (the predecessor of the Pan-African Orthodox Church) in March 1967, a few months before the summer rebellion in Detroit. In Black Christian Nationalism, Cleage outlines the logic of white supremacy which he urges Black nation-builders to reject. It is a key work of the 20th-century American canon that sounds like it was written yesterday.
–Aaron Robertson, Lit Hub assistant editor
Andrés Barba’s Such Small Hands is without a doubt one of the most haunting and beautiful books I have read in a long time. It starts with a car crash that kills seven-year-old Marina’s parents and follows her to an orphanage, where she invents a sinister game that changes the lives of the other girls. The eerie plot will have you turning pages, but the delicate and particular piercing of language will give you pause. (There’s a lovely passage in which Marina first arrives at the orphanage and is looking around before she meets the others. She examines the beds with their names on them and remarks that the names are empty; they don’t have girls inside them yet.) It’s a slender gem, and I can’t recommend it enough.
On an entirely different note but still on the subject of how women relate to women (there; that’s a segue, right?), I’ve been putting off saying goodbye to Abbi and Ilana for a few months now, but last night I finally sat down and consumed ALL OF THE LAST SEASON of Broad City. And what a fine farewell it was. (No spoilers, but the first episode of the fifth season takes place on Abbi’s thirtieth birthday and it’s told entirely in Instagram stories, which sounds annoying but is actually brilliant.) If you have seen Broad City before, I recommend re-watching it, because the attention to detail in every scene is wild and you’ll catch things you never saw the first time (i.e. a jolly new New York transplant in the background of a crowded A train returns disgruntled, battered, and bruised in the background of a crowded A train many episodes later). If you’ve been living under a rock and have yet to partake in this show/religious experience, know that I am very jealous of you. Clear your schedule, call your best friend, and get ready for some shenanigans.
–Katie Yee, Book Marks assistant editor
I recommend not watching Lost. I tried it out this week, and it’s for the birds.
–Dwyer Murphy, CrimeReads managing editor