welcome to our new monthly reading blog.
though you might feel differently, we often feel both oppressed and exhilarated in bookstores and libraries, by what Jorge Luis Borges calls – in the deeply unsettling story we’ve named this blog after – “the formless and chaotic nature of virtually all books,” or, in other words, the fact that “there are no two identical books.” or in other, other words: the sheer, incomprehensible vastness of all the knowledge, thoughts, dreams, poetry, commentary, statutes, research, etc., that we’ve (meaning: humanity) put into words – Borges describes this “Library” as “enlightened, solitary, infinite, perfectly unmoving, armed with precious volumes, pointless, incorruptible, and secret.” we agree with this assessment.
so this blog is our attempt, here at sinkhole, to mentally cope with the oppression/exhilaration we feel in bookstores and libraries, and when reading takes us down rabbit holes – toward other books, podcasts, shows, etc. – that can feel endless.
there’s another reason, however, that we've started this blog: we all really like to talk, and one of the things we tend to talk most about, beyond politics and pop culture and gossip, is books. in other words: we love books, we really do, and we love talking. it just made sense to find a way to put these two things together.
welcome to the conversation.
brendon barnes, culture editor -
I’m reading The Babysitter at Rest by Jen George. It’s a collection of short stories published by Dorothy in 2016, and I originally bought the book for my girlfriend, but it seems I’m more drawn to stories about 30-ish white women who can’t get their lives together than my 30-ish white girlfriend (who has most of her life in fine order). George’s prose is super clean and balances lyrical, interior moments with all the contemporary motifs of semi-gross-out body positivity. There’s fat and blood in these pages, but maybe less dirt and grime than I would like. It’s a little unfair for me to be comparing these stories to those of, say, Lindsay Hunter, but George’s stories didn’t really scratch that dirtbag fiction itch I was hoping they would. That’s on me. Now, to meet George where she’s actually working, instead of getting caught up in my own taste: this writer has a tremendous ability to subtly and quickly build a world that parallels our own and fascinate you with the differences, great and small. The funniest but perhaps least complicated story in the collection is “Guidance / The Party,” in which the 33-year-old narrator is visited by a corporeal, berobed spirit called “The Guide,” who insults her lack of direction in life while helping her cleanse and re-order her life in preparation for an elaborate dinner party. The Guide drinks excessively and routinely falls asleep while the narrator speaks to it. Spoiler alert: she’s super into The Guide. Later, at the party: “Guests arrive between two and three hours late. During this time The Host checks her email and text invitations to make sure she got the date correct. She adds 100 more ingredients to her 10,001-ingredient mole, making it a 10,101-ingredient mole. Additional super secret ingredients: liquefied frankincense and powdered rotten tooth that belonged to The Host, hand ground with a jade mortar and pestle.”
madison bernath, managing editor -
In The Death of Art by Chris Campanioni (C&R Press, 2016), I find myself in a weird intersection of books and technology, of philosophy and ‘90s rom coms. This book makes me imagine I’m on a subway train when Companioni stumbles on and sits beside me. He takes out his phone and shows me a clip of 90210 (the old one—this is important), pictures of his art installation, magazine ads that showcase his body (he was formerly an underwear model). He tells me he doesn’t have a mirror, several times. I’ve counted—I have eight. He tells me of conversations with his girlfriend where talking and writing merge, of dreams where “horizons all resemble Google maps,” of fighting sleep in order to live more thoroughly than anybody else. Like it’s a competition he knows he’ll lose. He tells me about NYC and about Miami and about drinking Malta through a straw with Uncle David and Aunt Nena. He says, “I could tell you that. I could tell you anything.” He says, “I never like to save the first kiss for the very end. Because as soon as it happens, you’re gone.”
I have relationships with my books.
I’m reading another book called Calli Marie Bakes (Brew Five Points). If you haven’t already guessed, there’s flour involved. Calli Marie Webb, though she doesn’t know it, has been in my life for about a year now—via Instagram. When her book came out, I felt we’d reached another level in our friendship, and I bought a stand-up mixer. For a cookbook, this girl devotes plenty of page space to coffee (my kind of lady). Not to mention marshmallows, cold brew dark chocolate brownies, and lavender blackberry cake. She starts with your pantry staples, breaks up the recipes by season, and has a basics section in the back that spans from bread to meringue. I think what’s best about this book is she gives you confidence: (yes) you can make that totally insane balsamic fig pavlova, and (no) you don’t have to be a scientist, you just have to try. That, and the pictures. So many IwishIcouldEatThisPaper pictures.
eric fershtman, editor-
It’s not Abraham Lincoln I find most fascinating so far in working through Team of Rivals (Simon & Schuster, 2006), Doris Kearns Goodwin’s epic interwoven biography of Lincoln and his Cabinet members – it’s Salmon P. Chase, Lincoln’s Secretary of Treasury and future Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Chase, as Goodwin describes him, is awkward, stiff, and pretty much jealous of everybody all the time; he’s both deeply ambitious (to the point, basically, of sociopathy) and deeply moral, and he’s borne with remarkable emotional strength the death of not one, not two, but three beloved wives within a single decade, after which he (understandably) refuses to marry again, instead channeling all of his love and ambition into (1) his quest for the presidency, which he believes for a variety of not-actually-the-case reasons he’s uniquely suited to occupy, and (2) his daughter Kate, who in a very weird way that’s never explicitly addressed becomes a surrogate wife. Chase interests me because his flaws would, I think, prove fatal in pretty much any other politician from pretty much any other era of American politics: he’s got zero charm or social grace and he’s really sort of severe-looking; he’s got a singular, intense focus on the issue of slavery which makes him unpalatable to huge swaths of the US; he jumps from party to party, seeking opportunities to advance his career; and finally, his ambition blends into his morality in really complicated ways that make it tough to tell what he actually believes in. He’s a little bit like Bernie Sanders, in other words. And, too, in a tale that includes some of the country’s greatest orators (like, ever), Chase delivers, quietly, the book’s – and possibly the era’s – most poignant, relevant line: “Sometimes I feel as if I could give up—as if I must give up,” he writes, of all the death and hardship he’s endured. “And then after all I rise & press on.”
rachel kolman, contributing culture editor -
I have a soft spot for comedy memoir, so I’ve been reading through Amy Schumer’s The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo (Gallery Books, 2016). I appreciate that it’s not a sequential retelling of her life, starting with childhood and then her “journey” to fame. Instead, it’s a collection of essays (anecdotes, really), small episodes of her life that are almost stage bits. The first two essays, entitled “An Open Letter to My Vagina” and “My Only One Night Stand” are clearly an appeal to her demographic, but following that is an essay about her parents losing their fortune during her childhood – going beyond the stage bits for some #realtalk. The book tries to assert that “realness” possibly too much, with an undertone of, “I’m actually boring and not an interesting celebrity after all!” However, the strength of the collection is in Amy’s interludes of real actual journal entries pulled from her teens and early twenties, annotated by herself in 2016. That girl in those journal entries is a girl I know well, with all of the body shaming, crappy boyfriends, and future dread that she obsesses over, making her confidence and acceptance of herself now feel even more satisfying. Amy is not a sophisticated writer by any means (in my opinion, the editors let her get away with one-too-many cliches), but her voice is funny, quick, and extremely likeable.
allie pinkerton, creative editor -
The point-of-view drew me in to Hannah Pittard’s book The Fates Will Find Their Way (Ecco, 2011). Teenage boys collectively speculate about what happened to Nora Lindell, a girl from their neighborhood who’s gone missing. I’ve been intrigued lately with the teenage voice, especially the collective teenage voice. At that time, each conflict is huge, and everything seems “us vs. them.” Questions of identity revolve around which group you belong to and how to make the other people in that group think you know you belong there. I spent some of my early teenage years reading books during lunch in the cafeteria, so the obsession with the voice of belonging could stem from that, too.
Through the collective, speculative voice, Pittard gives the reader a glimpse of the murky emotional lives the boys hide behind clouds of pot-smoke. She reveals the ways the boys wonder about what could be, what might be, what was.
nick rupert, contributing creative editor -
Between taking classes as a PhD student, teaching courses of my own, and working on Mississippi Review, I don’t have much time for pleasure reading. On the plus side, I have enjoyed the modernist poetry course I’m taking this semester. Among other writers, I’ve been reintroduced to the work of Marianne Moore, and I’m digging the weird confluence of sharp figurative imagery and her highly scientific conception of the universe, especially in poems like “The Fish.”
As for fiction, I can only day dream about what I’ll read over the summer during my break from course work. My “field of dreams” choices for summer reading might include: Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders; anything by Ben Lerner (he recently gave a phenomenal reading here at the University of Southern Mississippi, and I’m eager to read some of his work); Music for Wartime, by Rebecca Makkai; and Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove. Those would make an ideal start to my summer!
header image: pascal maramis, "books at the hague center" / flickr