The thing is, books are not making me happy the way they used to. It is not books' fault. It is not my fault, really. It is not even isolated to books.
What's happening is my primary pandemic coping mechanisms are strained beyond what they can bear. Not that reading was always the go to for me, especially early on, but once I was able to read again even in a limited way, I relied on it. I have always read at night before bed, but I started reading first thing in the morning. And of course there was a lot of reading in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep--again and again and again--and I'd set my kindle to dark mode and lay it sideways against the opposite pillow and read for a few hours.
I had other ways of coping. I got creative with my cooking, happy to make elaborate dishes and bake cakes simply for the sake of passing a few hours and enjoying the delicious fruits of my labor. I watched so many movies, I would work through a director's entire filmography. I spent a few weeks in early summer 2020 watching every single Japanese horror movie from the aughts that I could get my hands on.
And then I kept doing all of these things for, well, for a very long time. I never know what I want to cook anymore and I haven't baked in months. I haven't watched a horror movie from my Letterboxd watchlist since February. I have just run out of steam.
Books is the hardest, though. Because books have always been my coping mechanism, since I was in fourth grade. I don't know what to do at night if I do not read before bed. I am on track to read less books this year than I've read since 2014, a year when I was working two jobs and caring for two children five and under. Don't get me wrong, I will still crack 100 this year most likely, but in 2020, even with a few weeks where I could barely read at all because I was so anxious, I read over 200.
I need to do something about it. Even when I am really enjoying a book, I can feel that there is a level of pleasure that is just gone. The most I can muster is when I read something fantastic on audio (and I've had several!) but in print, it's hard for me to get excited about anything.
My new plan is to spend this whole month of June not doing my usual reading. Which makes me a little itchy because I haven't even finished reading my July galleys yet! I will read, but I will read physical books instead of my kindle. And I will read old books, books I used to read a long time ago. I want it to be as different as it can be for a while. And then maybe when I come back to the galleys waiting for me, I will feel a little more of what I used to feel.
In the meantime I am hoping to commune with my younger self a little bit. Most of my old books are still in boxes since I am a bookshelf or two short in the new house. (I miss my built ins!) But I have pulled The Good Soldier and Jude the Obscure out, two old favorites that I am not sure if I will still like. I am throwing around a few other options, I remember being in near ecstasy with Absalom, Absalom! at 17, my copy of Madame Bovary is also out on my nightstand. Might get a little crazy and pull out Cancer Ward. Maybe it will be a complete slog. That's okay, I would not hate a slog, actually. It just needs to be something different than what it is.
And today I was reminded that there is one coping mechanism that has gone almost entirely unused over the last 3 years: music. Because I haven't really listened to music the way I used to, I often forget that whole artists and albums exist. Then I find them and get transported back in time, like today when I remembered Radiohead is a band. They are playing right now, and it feels new while it also moves in my brain down this well worn trail that is still there even if it hasn't been kept up for a while.
I have plenty of reasons why I haven't relied on music so much, like that I could only afford Spotify Premium recently. And that I am a Gen X'er from the pre-digital era who spent hours and hours uploading all my cd's (which I still have in one of those big binders!) only to lose all the files when my laptop crashed in the pre-cloud era. And that I spent my teenage years only able to listen to the radio and my one pop music CD (the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack). Oh and there were the years of Graham's baby- and toddler-hood where he wouldn't tolerate any music at all, not even me humming to myself. So yeah I've had to let go of it in various ways. It hasn't been the constant you would think.
So I am gonna get myself a speaker for the kitchen and start blasting it. Less audiobooks while I'm cooking and cleaning and just generally getting things done. I am looking forward to the change.
I will also be getting out of the house when I can, meeting up with other people when I can, trying to do things that add enough texture to everything that I don't feel so reliant on the same things. I am hoping it all works. I am still trying to solve the cooking problem, I am very open to suggestions with that one. Because I can't really stop making dinner for myself and the kids every single damn day.
It'll all be growth, hopefully. Not that any of us can just go back, but that I can find some new way to love the things I love. I really hope so.
Back in April I was very adorable and didn't actually talk about April books because I thought I might actually write two newsletters in one month. So sweet, April Jess. But it is now June. So here are some new ones as well as backlist I've enjoyed:
I can't tell if this book didn't get enough love or if Twitter is just too much of a dumpster fire for me to tell. Nevertheless, I have not found a lot of horror I can really get behind this year but this is on my shortlist of great ones. A takedown of wellness culture and the quest for beauty, which has a whole bunch of interesting body horror (as it should!!!). Walks right down the middle of literary and genre better than anything else I can think of in recent years. Truly worth your time.
A new Megan Abbott is always worth getting excited about. This one is very stripped down and simple, with some old school Rebecca vibes. It considers that most normal of horrors: the men you already know and love. Are they really good? Or have they been able to just show you their best selves and hide the monster inside of them? Is any woman with a man ever safe? I decided this is not quite crime novel and not quite thriller and instead should be called: A Novel of Suspense.
I DNF'd The Idiot years ago but I finally came back to it when someone suggested it as useful for my current writing project and they were 100% correct. The second novel, Either/Or is even better and I had one of my intense audio love affairs with these two, read by the author, in that slight monotone way some authors have that doesn't work for every book but really works for these.
The Goodreads embed is broken for this book though the link should work, my apologies. It is Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe. When Say Nothing came out in 2018 I avoided it because it didn't seem up my alley but I finally read it 3 years later and was mad at myself for waiting so long because it was exceptionally good. With Empire of Pain I knew how good Keefe was but I waited because I didn't think I wanted to be devastated by a book about the opioid crisis. But I'm so glad I picked it up. It was indeed devastating but it was also absolutely riveting, another A++ experience, would have listened to another 18 hours. He is now on the Must Read list.
I make no promises that I will write again in June, we will see how my little experiment goes. But I can say that comments are indeed working if you go to the site and are signed in. Hooray for getting my Ghost to function correctly.