The beginning of June feels like it was so recent, but then I recall all the books I read in June and feel astounded by how quickly time passed.
Hopefully you’re enjoying the long weekend for the 4th of July. My ideal Fourth is spent with a crisp glass of rosé (or even better, a white wine spritzer because I’m now 3000 years old and like something even lighter than a glass of wine) reading a good book on a lake. Something about a lake seems far more Americana than a beach or a backyard for the 4th, although all of those options are perfect as well.
If you’re still looking for some books to pick up for the long weekend, a few I read last month stand out. Of course, Becoming, by Michelle Obama is a perfect read, if you haven’t got to it yet. I don’t need to sing its praises any more than literally everyone else on Earth, but it’s light and reassuring enough for the beach, and still substantial enough to hold my interest the whole week.
Like the title implies, reading this book is like being in a dream. Somehow, things are both incredibly vibrant but also confusing and unclear. Told from the point of view of the narrator talking with a boy (not her son) from her hospital (and also maybe death) bed, Fever Dream tells a layered and haunting story of something gone completely awry in a vacation town. As the story unfolds, it’s hard to tell what exactly happened, and what exactly is giving you the heebie jeebies. Our lord and savior Jia Tolentino wrote an incredible review of it for The New Yorker.
Schwebelin just released a book of short stories — Mouthful of Birds — which I’ve already eagerly checked out from the library and hope to swallow up soon.
I did not like Sally Rooney’s first book, Conversations With Friends. I thought it was essentially a better-written romance novel with completely unlikable characters in stupid situations. I had been told that her new novel, Normal People was better, but I essentially checked it our as a hate read.
I did not hate it.
The story and characters in Normal People are far more relatable and likable than the other book. The book follows Marianne — a high school loner with a troubled family life — and Connell — brilliant, shy, but popular in high school — through years of their complicated relationship. There are several instances that punched me in the gut.
Not only is the story of Marianne and Connell intriguing and heartbreaking, but Rooney’s ability to convey complicated emotions, like loss or longing, really shines. The book also uses the relationship between the two characters to examine other issues, like money, intelligence, mental illness, and abuse. Although some intriguing plot points are left unexplored, overall Normal People is heartbreaking, lyrical, and satisfying.
“Life offers up these moments of joy despite everything.”
Like many people living with some form of mental illness, I am infinitely fascinated by the stories of others and their struggles. While I only battle anxiety, a lot of what Esmé discusses in The Collected Schizophrenias felt universal. She is also an incredible writer, weaving technical language from the DSM-IV and other medical texts into her narrative, illustrating how complicated the diagnosis, symptoms, and treatment of schizoaffective disorder can be.
One especially interesting question that Esmé explores in one of her essays is how much of a person is their mental illness, and I’ve found myself ruminating on it a lot. Sometimes we say that aside from episodes of a mental illness, a person is lovely. But a mental illness is a part of a person, so should we be saying that, sometimes, a person is lovely, but other times she is tense and irritable and difficult to be around? She doesn’t have any answers, and neither do I, but this question, like so many others framed mental illness differently for me and made me question the notions I already have around the subject.
Also in the very last essay, Esmé talks about what a lifeline the “sacred arts” have become for her, explaining that things like reading her tarot cards give us something to do when nothing else can be done. I liked this specific bit of insight, given that myself and virtually all of my peers are obsessed with astrology, and she lent a little bit of credibility to that statement. So I will certainly continue getting my aura photographed and letting Co-Star send me passive aggressive notifications daily.