• Amy Stephenson

July 2019 Books

Updated: Aug 7, 2019


chez Valhalla Bar

July! The fourth would've been ten years in San Francisco, so here we are on our first day there, as babies. I went to one thousand farmer's markets and ate one thousand tomatoes, often just sliced on a plate. I saw Carly Rae Jepsen, FINALLY, and cried during Call Me Maybe because there's always something about the catharsis of a room full of people all losing their mind about the same thing that hits something extremely human inside me. It was pouring when we left and we said fuck it and walked home through a literal curtain of water. Then we ran into a friendly neighborhood skunk, hanging out near Hudson Yards.


A few days later was Planet Booty, my only religion. (For the uninitiated, Planet Booty is a trio of hetero-ish dudes loving and stroking and complimenting and dancing on each other to bring you sweaty sexy dance music with a funk twist while using phrases like 'ladies and gentlemen or variations thereof—or lack thereof entirely' and then telling us for an entire minute how beautiful we are before slowly removing their clothes. I dare you to watch their tiny desk concert and not fall in love. When he gets around to the chorus, to 'take off your pants,' it's a joke, sure, but it's more than that, especially live: it's a paean to intimacy, how vulnerability can take the edge off even the most vicious of arguments, how underneath it we're all flesh and fear. I love them, the end.)


We, uhh, saw that Cats (2019) trailer. It was the only good day online. Somewhere, a baby flamingo tried to stand on one leg. We learned that our late thirties are really fucking hard but that we're not alone.



In New York news: We had a blackout, and wandered with our dog around midtown where the city immediately went into Halal cart rule. We watched citizens direct traffic waving their cellphones or white tees for light, I even saw a guy running around handing out tiny white flags for the traffic folks to wave. It was fucking hot as hell, somewhere in the 90s, and so we all piled into parks and sat on the grass and ate dinner outside, and it was strangely lovely.


Tragically, we were not in a superhero movie, although there was one guy on a bike circling the blackout perimeter screaming IT'S THE BEGINNING OF THE END. YOUR MONEY CAN'T HELP YOU NOW. and there was something very Watchmen about him.



Alan dropped his phone while walking the dog and a homeless guy found it, called him from a payphone to tell him where he was. Alan went to meet him and gave him all the cash he had in his wallet, and this city is truly amazing. My neighbors had a renegade picnic on their not-public roof and it was like watching a short story.


I found Loose Lips bumming around The Strand (in some utterly terrible company), so thanks for that, perverts. Speaking of, Dad has a Shipwreck sticker on his hard hat at work, which feels fitting. He's a gentle man who loves the pine barrens, what can I say.



Anyway, here's what I read:

Furious Hours / Casey Cep

Hard to imagine a book more precisely in my wheelhouse, but you'll love it too: murder, the American south, publishing industry nonsense, talking shit about Truman Capote (did you know Harper Lee and Truman were besties?), disabusing us of the notion that Harper Lee just suddenly one day wrote a book that became an overnight icon. She struggled for years, in fact, and the book only became The Book thanks to 1) someone giving her a year's salary to sit down and fucking write it, and 2) the gift of an incredible editor who saw what the draft could be. So, ya know, don't give up.


The murder at the center is dark and racist and tragic but Lee pursues it doggedly and I wish she'd published the book about it but this is definitely the next best—if not actually way better thanks to time and hindsight and Cep's ability to weave the murder into the story of Lee's life and career—thing.



Amber Scorah / Leaving the Witness

Been doing lots more audio, particularly for the "I'm leaving a cult" genre. I did a whole string of them this month, and I'll only tell you about the two I really really enjoyed (which feels like a weird thing to say, but, you know). Leaving the Witness is about growing up Jehovah's Witness, third generation, and gradually, over the course of years, summoning the emotional and intellectual courage to believe in a world outside the only one you've known. Amber moves to China, where her religion is forbidden, with a husband she doesn't love. She has to hide, to keep people from knowing her true purpose in China (proselytizing). In acting out a different person with a different life, she realizes another life is possible. It's about knowing that the only thing you have is yourself, and learning how to believe in it and hold on for dear life—even in the face of an apocalypse you believe is coming. I loved it.


Flor Edwards / Apocalypse Child: A Life in End Times

Just about finished with this one so I'm including it. Flor grew up in Children of God, a fringe nomad group believing they are god's chosen people. She tells the incredibly sad and difficult story of her childhood without self-pity, never flinching from her family's truth of moving to Thailand and begging in the streets for money and food (or trading sex for them). At 12 she leaves, and tries to make a new life in America, and that's where it really takes off. It's about who gets to tell your story, and Flor tells the hell out of hers.



Gilly MacMillan / The Nanny

This is a Future Book: out in September. I know we're all sick of books with titles like this, but, like your Tanas French, your Malins Giolito, your Freds Vargas, I will read any Gilly Macmillan you put in front of me—she's one of my favorite mystery writers. You grow up with a nanny you love to bits and one day she disappears and nobody will tell you why. As an adult, you move back home after a divorce, and as if by magic, your old nanny shows up at your door, happy to help out. Meanwhile, your kid's playing out back and finds a human skull. Your mother is certain it belongs to your old nanny, and that the nanny here now is not what she seems. Rosé-soaked bathtub fluff, I read it in two days. Read everything Gilly does, especially The Perfect Girl.



Deborah Levy / The Man Who Saw Everything

This one's not here till October, sorry. I just finished it a few days ago and haven't been able to pick anything else up yet, so deep is my Levy hangover. A man walks across Abbey Road to get a photo for a friend who's hosting him in East Germany. He is young and freakishly beautiful, wears a string of pearls that once belonged to his mother around his neck. He gets grazed by a car, one of those tiny butterfly effect moments of many in a life. He and his girlfriend break up. He goes to the GDR to bury his father's ashes, as planned, meets a man, falls in love.


Then, the book takes a left turn, and he's in a hospital, older now, as the cast of characters he knows and loves comes in and out. He's 'a man in pieces,' and it's deeply jarring to be inside the same narrator while his brain comes apart. As he jumbles his memories and his present the story becomes a meditation on fatherhood, masculinity, sexuality, love, and the tiny moments, meaningless to anyone else, that make a person.


This book absolutely destroyed me and I loved it so, so very much.


Okay, that's a wrap on July. Thanks for playing! xox



42nd, looking west, toward San Francisco