one after another, endlessly.

 

brendon barnes, culture editor -

Per a recommendation from the hosts of My Favorite Murder (a comedy/true-crime podcast that used to be great and now is just fine), I’ve been listening to a nonfiction audiobook called Whoever Fights Monsters (St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 1993). The book, written by Robert Ressler and Tom Shachtman, details Ressler’s decades of experience profiling serial killers - a term he himself created. Since James Comey’s written testimony went public, I couldn’t help but pay extra attention to Ressler’s sentences, and he writes in the kind of clean and lucid prose you might expect from someone who has had to exercise great control over language in order to conduct useful interviews with multiple murderers. In the book, he shortchanges his own personal history in order to get right into the heart of how he profiles criminals, using examples both well-known and unfamiliar to true crime junkies. Profiling, Ressler admits, is an art, but seeing how and where physical sciences and psychology intersect with his process has been very compelling. Early in the book, Ressler lays out the crimes of Richard Trenton Chase and how Ressler himself was able to create an eerily specific profile (based only on information from the crime scenes) that, once Chase was captured, corresponded perfectly to the killer. For fans of true crime nonfiction, or anyone who wants to indulge in some real competence porn, this book is worth considering.

 

madison bernath, managing editor -

This month I reached into my backlog and pulled out a couple of books I was ashamed I’d never read: Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist (HarperOne, 25th anniversary edition, 2014) and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1986). It’s been a distressing few weeks.

The Alchemist should be uplifting. Pursue your Personal Legend. Triumph over obstacles and know that they are only a part of the journey. In the end, you will find your spirituality and self-fulfillment. Only, I didn’t identify with the ambitious boy who set out to achieve his Personal Legend. I didn’t even identify with the crystal shopkeeper who knew his Personal Legend and was afraid to obtain it for fear of disappointment. According to Melchizedek, the king of Salem, your Personal Legend is “what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is.” But what if a person has forgotten their Personal Legend, or, perhaps, has never had one? If you know your true destiny, there’s a lot of spiritual advice this book to help you obtain your goal. If you don’t, you’ll wind up finishing the book with an ache in your heart, not for what you didn’t achieve, but for never knowing what you wanted to accomplish.

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is probably the scariest novel I’ve ever read. She isn’t one to make up worlds from thin air. Everything in the book is based on reality (WWII, Puritan law, world events of the 1980s), and that is what is so frightening. In this story, the US Congress and President are shot down. The deed is blamed on Islamic terrorists. Emergency safety laws are enforced, supposedly temporary. Instead, rights are taken away little by little until all that’s left is a society where women cannot own money or property, and the only legal sexual acts are state-sanctioned ceremonies. Handmaids are, essentially, sex slaves. The horror of this book is that, though the end result does seem completely insane, Atwood renders the decline of society in a way that’s familiar. The grief and bewilderment of Offred, our protagonist, is not unlike the stories recalled by Holocaust survivors. Atwood reminds us that we are not stable. That our world can change on a dime. People are not safe from each other, and civilized society is not inherently “good.”

 

eric fershtman, editor-

Years ago, as a still-very-much-acned sophomore in college, I took a survey course on science fiction literature. Of this course I remember basically nothing, except I do recall reading the first few chunks of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation (Doubleday & Company, 1951-53) – I can remember Hari Seldon, the famous psychohistorian – psychohistory being the mathematically-derived practice of predicting human-group behavior – and his mysterious plan to spark a second Galactic Empire from the rapidly extinguishing embers of the first, and I can remember Salvor Hardin (whose initials, coincidentally, are Hari Seldon’s initials, backwards), the very first Mayor of the Foundation, and by far the savviest and most aphoristic, rescuing the tiny colony from its first, and simplest, Seldon Crisis, and wresting political power from the Encyclopedists – the original, incompetent administrators of the Foundation – in the process.

I remember Foundation because the politics are realistic and cool and because Asimov was clearly interested in interrogating the various theories of history, and more particularly how events might collide such theories together – I’d slogged through War and Peace only months before that course; I knew the Great Man Theory of history, in which events are dictated and controlled by, yes you guessed it, solitary, luminous figures, was essentially dead and the sociohistorical theory had risen to take its place. Asimov, in his Foundation series – to which I’ve just returned, after a nearly ten-year hiatus – attempts to chart a new course, the aforementioned ‘psychohistorical’ theory of History. This theory accounts for human behavior, unlike the sociohistorical theory, but only within groups; it appears to break down, as Asimov acknowledges in the second two books, Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation, in the presence of truly extraordinary individuals, like the Mule, who can control other people’s emotional states, and puts this power to use engendering loyalty in various powerful figures across the Galaxy. Thanks to this superpower, the Mule establishes an Empire within five years of bursting onto the scene, but – when he dies, so does his Empire, because no other man has the power to control minds the way he does.

The series is full of uncomfortably relevant historical lessons like this one; Asimov, decades and decades before our past couple of US presidents, figured out that one cannot rule by personality alone – something far more robust is needed, or else your legacy dies with you. Ultimately, Asimov abandons the project about four hundred years into its history; where he leaves off – with a combination of two Foundations – one physical, which has survived conquest and despotism, and the other mental, a kind of deep state of men, utterly hidden, who step in to control and correct events when they veer from the Seldon plan – steering the Galaxy toward Empire (itself not the fundamentally good thing that Asimov implies it to be), is not comforting. But it is interesting, and worth the read.

 

rachel kolman, contributing culture editor - 

Continuing in the thread of reading female comedian memoirs, I finished Rachel Dratch’s Girl Walks into a Bar (Avery, 2013) this month. It’s incredibly funny. And also particularly well-written – Dratch knows how to keep chapters short, anecdotes amusing, and to self-deprecate in a way that’s still sort of charming. Her behind-the-scenes SNL days are perhaps the best chapters of the book, but even when the memoir transitions into meeting her husband and getting pregnant in her forties, Dratch doesn’t linger too long in the romance. Dratch makes sure to keep the same sassy tone and quippy energy to not become overly sappy or emotional. It’s a quick read (just over 200 pages), and next to Tina Fey’s Bossypants, perhaps my favorite female comedy memoir I’ve read (sorry, Amy Poehler).

 

allie pinkerton, creative editor -

Brit Bennett’s The Mothers (Riverhead Books, 2016) has been on my list a long time, so I was excited to get to it this month. It’s a character-driven novel that follows teenage Nadia through a tumultuous period after her mother’s suicide. Nadia and her boyfriend, Luke, get pregnant. Nadia fears she may be judged after she gets an abortion and goes to college across the country. When she returns after graduation, Nadia and Luke reconnect and begin to have an affair, even though Luke is married to Nadia’s best friend, Audrey. The affair ends when Luke asks Nadia to lie to Audrey.

A group of older women who attend Upper Room, Nadia and Luke’s church, judge (and pity) Nadia. Bennett writes these sections in first-person plural, and in these sections the reader definitely feels the pressure that Nadia feels as she tries to keep her past from interfering with her present.

Bennett writes amazing sentences. Each word is carefully chosen, and I admire her attention to detail on the sentence level while still being able to juggle layered characters with complex problems. The Mothers asks interesting questions about how we handle the pressures of expectations placed on us by people we love.  

 
 

let us know what you're reading - leave a comment below, or send us a mini-review (300 words max) of a book you love through our contact page. we'll share 'em.

 

an infinite number of hexagonal galleries.

 

brendon barnes, culture editor -

My partner hipped me to The Name of the Wind (DAW Books, 2007) by Patrick Rothfuss, and though I wasn’t reluctant to read it, life kept putting it off in all the ways life can. Months ago, though, I started listening to Unattended Consequences, a podcast hosted by Rothfuss, and became interested enough in his fantasy aesthetic and his regard for rules and tropes of heroic fantasy, that I bought the audiobook version of The Name of the Wind, read beautifully by Nick Podehl, and have been loving it ever since. This novel is the first in a planned trilogy; the second part has been released, and there are some other, shorter works in its canon, but fans eagerly await the finale.

In the novel’s outer frame, Kvothe is working as an innkeeper with his friend Bast. When a Chronicler arrives, he and Bast entice Kvothe to spend three days narrating the story of his life, a life that people know bits and pieces of through rumor and innuendo, but lack the full picture. For example, why is Kvothe called “The Bloodless,” or “The Kingkiller?” Kvothe’s story makes up the inside of the frame, and there are periodic interludes to catch up with what is happening at the inn.

When my friend Adoma asked for fiction recommendations that could completely take over her life for a little while (because, politics), I and several of her friends independently each suggested The Name of the Wind. It is rare to find a book of such length (662 pages in the hardcover edition) that reads so tightly, and is so full of rich detail and carefully realized characters. To be reductive, this story feels like a much more mature – and perhaps better-written – version of Harry Potter. Especially in this first novel which, so far, sees Kvothe growing up in a caravan of traveling actors and musicians, suffering immense personal tragedy, living on the streets of a Byzantine city for three years, and hustling his way into a revered university wherein he can continue his study of all the magic he would need to set his world to rights.

Oh. And Lin-Manuel Miranda is working with Rothfuss on adapting the novels into films and television series. Why Lin-Manuel? Because, before anything else, Kvothe is also a world-historic musician and singer. So, these adaptations will likely be dope. And while I normally advocate watching a filmed adaptation of a story before reading the book, I think starting with the books here is a good path. They’re just too fun to ignore.

 

madison bernath, managing editor -

Right now, I’m in the midst of that effortful editorial reading Eric mentions below (spoiler alert). Jack Kerouac lived in Orlando—the city in which I currently reside—when he wrote Dharma Bums. That little bit of history was forgotten until a man named Bob Kealing reported on the fact in 1997. Now, that house is a home to a writing residency, the Kerouac Project. I was kindly invited by Geoff Benge, Vice President of the Residency Program, to read submissions. I’ve worked on a few magazines, and I know what it’s like to sift through the slush pile. This was an especially interesting experience for me, though. The reading began blindly, with no reader knowing what any other reader had voted, until a few days ago when Geoff revealed our choices to each other. I felt like I was at an orgy, and someone just flipped the lights. Who am I in bed with? Who was actually into that strange thing? Multiple people? Holy smokes, I guess I’d better give it another shot. Seeing what other people find intriguing makes you reexamine your own inclinations. I’m finding beauty in places I didn’t look hard enough at before, embracing the new and the strange.

 

eric fershtman, editor -

There are various types of effortful reading: there’s the breathlessly engaged sort of reading you do when you’re reading a blockbuster book series like Game of Thrones or Harry Potter, or when you’ve reached the denouement of just about any good narrative and the big picture’s hewing into view; and then there’s the alert-and-focused kind of reading one does when reading to extract specific information as, e.g., a student does who’s seeking the perfect quote to include in a research paper; and then there’s the editorial sort of reading, which comprises most of what we do here at sinkhole, which is a little bit defensive and kind of a bummer, because you’re reading hyper-critically, to try and pick out anything that’s wrong – editorial reading is like that annoying friend who, when you’re watching a movie, just can’t keep him or herself from pointing out all the dumb little plot holes and ruining the whole experience for you.

There are these sorts of reading, and then there’s the other kind, the glorious, effortless, zoned-out kind of reading, in which your eyes are clearly touching the text but your brain’s not gleaning any information; it’s peaceful disjunction: you’re engaged in the act of reading, which is pleasurable, and quiet, and nice, but your mind is elsewhere, lost in thought or memory, which is equally pleasurable, and quiet, and nice. Certain books have a lyrical quality to them which tend to induce this state – which seems at first blush to work against the author’s purpose of transmitting information, but: there is more than one way to entertain, and a book that sets one thinking, even if it’s not about the book’s own professed subject matter, is a good book, in my book.

That’s what Rick Bass does in The Black Rhinos of Namibia: Searching for Survivors in the African Desert (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012). At least for me. The book is an environmental travelogue, about Bass’s trip to Namibia to see and hear about the endangered black rhinos, and to see and hear about the various conservation efforts underway to save them. However, his writing is so singsong, so lulling, that I just kept falling into these weird little reflective reveries. Which, because life has been so terribly busy lately, was, frankly, wonderful. I’ve not retained a single bit of information from the book, and yet it has left its mark, for which I am grateful.

 

sean ironman, design editor -

I’m reading James Wright’s The Branch Will Not Break (Wesleyan University Press, 1963). I have a bookshelf overflowing with books various people suggested to me and this was on it. I forget who suggested it to me and why, probably because I’m always looking for poetry recommendations.  I don’t think there’s much to say about a poet who is a Pulitzer Prize winner. Wright’s poems are haunting in a way that comes out of nowhere. Each line hits. The everyday, familiar language is direct and effortlessly leads the reader through each poem. Poems catch me completely off guard. For example, in “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota,” the speaker describes their simple surroundings of trees and hearing cowbells, and out of nowhere the poem ends with, “I have wasted my life.” Wright places the reader in the moment with the speaker and these deep thoughts surprise me but feel so real, as real as any image he offers. I’m only about ten poems in, but so far, the poems are striking, intimate, and precise. Each line displays the work of a craftsman in total control.

 

allie pinkerton, creative editor -

I picked up Kevin Wilson’s The Family Fang (Ecco 2011) because the blurbs on the back said it was literary and fun at the same time. I was in the mood for fun, because politics. The Fangs—Caleb and Camille, and their children Annie and Buster—are performance artists interested in spectacles: Caleb and Camille get married fifty times to draw attention to the façade of the institution; Caleb sets himself on fire and carries Buster in his arms through a mall.

Annie and Buster (often addressed as Child A and Child B by the larger art community) do not have free will as children to decide whether or not to participate in their family’s art. There’s even a scene when Caleb and Camille reveal they rigged the school’s production of Romeo and Juliet so their children would play the lovers. Here Wilson gets into the darker side of performance art – the pain caused by facade.

The book alternates between scenes of Annie and Buster’s tense childhood and their bewildering adulthood, when they are pulled into another charade after their parents go missing unexpectedly.

Are Caleb and Camille dead? Is this just another performance? What does it mean that the parents would leave their children to pursue art? It is here that Wilson seems to be making a specific comment to his audience – other artists, supposedly, as this is literary fiction – How far do you go for your art? Who will you hurt?

 
 

let us know what you're reading - leave a comment below, or send us a mini-review (300 words max) of a book you love through our contact page. we'll share 'em.

 

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.”

 Pair with: Episode #17 of the Washington Post’s Presidential podcast and Ken Burns’s recently restored documentary series Civil War.

 

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!

 
 

let us know what you're reading - leave a comment below, or send us a mini-review (300 words max) of a book you love through our contact page. we'll share 'em.