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  • Amy Stephenson

August 2019 Books

August, man. I got a cold that became bronchitis that became pneumonia. Most of my time was spent sleeping and coughing, punctuated by the occasional bath. I re-watched the first season of Twin Peaks for comfort. I am savoring the new season of Mindhunter. Succession has been so good I'm angry. I started a new Stardew farm.


I did a few things, before I realized how sick I was. I visited the Whiskey Castle, my favorite New York secret place. Hung out with a very friendly bartender who made the world's tiniest cocktail. It had moonshine and melon in it, it was delicious.



I'm 34 years old and still can't tell when I'm sick. The morning I was diagnosed with pneumonia, I walked to the lab where I got my chest x-rays taken, because there was no convenient subway and I didn't want to pay for a cab. By the time I got home I was wheezing and sweaty and my legs ached. When Alan got home, I said "I think I'm really sick," and cried right in the kitchen.


What happens is that I feel sick and then I imagine that I'm being dramatic, that my life is cushy and easy and resting and recuperating is lazy, I convince myself that fresh air and exercise are good for me and that I should do them. So I do. I run myself into the ground and tell myself I'm fine.


Similarly: I'll bring a jacket out with me, and when I get cold, I won't put the jacket on because I feel like I shouldn't be cold. It never occurs to me that regardless of the temperature, if I am cold, I could just put the jacket on. I don't know what it means.



The thing about pneumonia, which I forgot, is that your body never has enough air in it, and a single flight of stairs would knock me out for an hour, send me coughing until my stomach ached. Once you start coughing you don't stop because it's a dead cough, non-productive, like there's just a bunch of rocks hanging out inside your lung.


I was supposed to go to San Francisco for a long weekend, and had to cancel. Instead, I drank cough syrup with codeine, and it tasted like maraschino cherry juice laced with poison.


I cooked a lot, because that's about all I could handle, and I could lie down on the floor when I got winded or change my pants when I coughed so hard I peed a little (this happened, more than once—pneumonia is truly hell—but thankfully I'm not alone).


August is the perfect month for cooking, and despite only one trip to the farmer's market before I got REALLY sick (when I was only a little bit sick), I managed to make the most of it, I think. Here are photos of all the pretty foods:



I wrote. Another 10,000 words on what is looking more and more like an actual novel. But until it is, here are the novels other people wrote that I read last month. *smooch*



Jeanine Cummins / American Dirt: A Novel


This is about a mother, Lydia, living in Acapulco, Mexico, running her bookshop. She meets a man with whom she shares the same relatively obscure taste in books, and becomes friendly with him. He's a regular at her shop, they take photos together.


What she doesn't know is that he is the leader of the cartel, and her husband has just written a scathing exposé of his life and crimes. When the exposé is published, he comes for her family.


From there, the book is an account of Lydia's journey with her son as they try to reach America to escape the cartel violence of their hometown. It's got a solid 4.8 rating on goodreads at the mo, and I imagine when it comes out next year it will be all anyone talks about. The movie based on the book is already well under way.


For me, I liked it enough to finish it, despite the fact that it's not the type of book I normally reach for. That said, it was VERY hard to read. Despite the hope that undergirds the story, it's a brutal tale of desperation and abuse, one trauma after the next. I'm so curious to see what the reception is when it hits shelves in January. Also, the cover is gorgeous.



Lesley Kara / The Rumor


I keep an emergency stash of trashy mystery ARCs around the apartment specifically for when I get sick or whatever and just need something to keep my brain from eating itself. This is one of those!


The Rumor is about a single mother who uses a rumor she heard about a child murderer living in her town to make some friends. She becomes obsessed with the case, as does the father of her child, and the further they dig to find the truth, the more their lives begin to unravel.


The twist got me, for sure, and I flew through this thing in about a day. I suspect you will too.



Chanelle Benz / The Gone Dead


This is a fucking incredibly stylish and readable debut about a woman returning to the Mississippi delta of her youth (with her dog in tow) to sort out the house her father, a famous black poet, left to her in his will.


Her father died 30 years ago and she hasn't been back since. When she arrives, she learns the house is tiny and secluded, and that the day her father died was not as cut and dry as she once believed.


A gorgeous part-thriller part-southern novel, Benz tackles the small stuff—the bug bites, the humidity, the bourbon on the porch—with the same seamless grace as the big stuff: racial tensions, class disparity, memory and trauma. And of course: the melancholy of the south drips off of every page.



Alice Feeney / I Know Who You Are


Rare that I like a thriller writer enough to purchase a hardcover, but for Alice Feeney? I would.


Actress Aimee wakes up one day and her husband's stuff is everywhere it should be—but he's gone. So is $10,000 from her bank account. When the police start looking into it, there's footage that seems to show that SHE was the one who emptied the account. And from there it only gets weirder.


A deeeeeeeply fucked up unreliable narrator with a scarred and fractured childhood mixed with her current-day glamorous starlet lifestyle make for a compulsive and complicated story that will have you physically moving yourself farther away from the pages as you read them!


I loved this book so much I can barely stand it. Her first one, Sometimes I Lie, is currently in production for teevee and will star Sarah Michelle Gellar, and I can't fucking wait.



Madeline Stevens / Devotion


Full disclosure I am only JUST about to finish this one but I'm including it here while it's fresh.


Yes, the nanny story has been done to death, but this one's fresh, I promise. Ella is living in Brooklyn and dead broke, until she gets a job nannying for Lonnie and her husband. Lonnie is oblivious and has no boundaries, but she's also white and rich and beautiful, so she gets away with it. And Ella becomes obsessed with her, with the two of them even trading identities at Lonnie's writer's retreat upstate.


Weird, funny, and disturbing, it's a book about power and lust, about the inherent glamour some people seem to have, about femininity, about the lengths we go to to become someone else. It's creepy to the max, absolutely oozing atmosphere, and has momentum to spare. I really, really liked it.




dispatches from a quarantine



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