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  • Amy Stephenson

June 2019 Books



June was a fucking whirlwind: It was Book Expo, wine on the pier, plotting the novel, meeting Alison Roman. It was a night of unexplained fireworks shot off from a barge in the Hudson that went on for 20 minutes, viewed from eye level as if by magic—we were already on the roof when they started. It was a blog post about my ankle going viral, my inboxes filling with horrific solidarity in the face of cruel doctors and lawyers who want to help me sue.


It was jogging along the river, friends visiting, brunches and brunch-for-dinners and rooftop rosés and cat-sitting in the Village.


It was also ten days in San Francisco starting with pedicures and ending with the chillest wedding celebration I've ever had the pleasure of attending, every person I love in one room laughing and telling stories and drinking. Clams and peas lovingly devoured before a night of board games. Someone saying I'm "like a vacation" and me having to go cry on the deck. Shipwreck, the show that changed everything in my life, back for one sweaty night, whiskey and lipstick prints and tiny pencils and lash glue in the kids section of Booksmith, yelling till my voice gave out, rum punch at Alembic. We handed victory to Amanda when we went British, I think. DnD at the hotel, poolside, the round glass table covered in dice and beer, exactly as stoned as I wanted to be. A magical secret forest in the tenderloin. Kabuki baths and a whole day of warm silence. The Apothecarium, god bless it. We came back to New York summer in full bloom, the boats coming and going as ever, the parks full of fidgeters, I can't wait to see what happens next.


Sometimes it's amazing all the things that can happen in a month.


All this to say: I only completed three books in June, none of which are out yet. But here they are, and, if they interest you, I would suggest you either A) pop their release dates on your g-cal so you'll remember to buy then when the time comes (I may or may not have an entire calendar just for this), or B) straight up pre-order from a bookshop of your choice. Without getting preachy: if you're someone who considers reading their personal lifestyle brand, and you're willing to shell out $12 for a BOOK SLUT enamel pin (for sale at Booksmith) but not $16 for a paperback, I would gently urge you to think about that. I'll link the books up to indiebound for ya.





Kate Elizabeth Russel / My Dark Vanessa


There's a lot to unpack here. Frankly, this one doesn't drop until 2020 and I can already hear The Discourse clear as a bell. It's about a student whose English teacher seduces and abuses her, and how that follows her through life, and what it takes to come around to the idea that something you always saw as positive and opt-in was actually extraordinarily damaging to you. It starts with him complimenting her poetry and handing her Lolita, and leads to other brazen acts of grooming and seduction.


It's going to be huge, and that's because it was well written and I could tell a lot of care went in to the telling of a very difficult story. That said.


The plot mirrors almost exactly a much richer and better book, down to some very particular details. In 2014, Wendy Ortiz published a memoir called Excavation, wherein her English teacher ... compliments her poetry and hands her Lolita in a brazen act of seduction and grooming. Of course, an English teacher complimenting a young girl's poetry and handing her Lolita in an act of seduction and grooming is well in the realm of the imaginable, and so I have no idea if Russell ever came across Excavation, and I'm making no accusations here. What I want to get at is: Wendy's memoir is taken directly from her journals, it took decades to write, it's real and true and changed me and my ideas about teenagerdom and abuse forever, and frankly, the only reason I'm talking about My Dark Vanessa here is to tell you that no matter how loud the chatter around this one becomes, you're better off reading Excavation, not least because Wendy doesn't thank "the self-proclaimed nymphets, the Los I've met over the years ... who see themselves in Dolores Haze" in the acknowledgements, which felt like a strange taste to leave a reader with.


Okay, go read Excavation, one of my favorite memoirs of all time, and on to books that didn't make me want to shower for three days after finishing them.




Jami Attenberg / All This Could Be Yours


Here's one that comes out in October. I love Jami with my whole heart, and her books just keep getting better. This one is about a family in New Orleans and what happens when the patriarch dies and his secrets begin to leech out. It's about the vacuum a toxic man can leave in his wake, and the things we do when we're in pain we can never express.


To make it About Me, like I'm fucking wont: my grandfather was an alcoholic who died in vague circumstances which to this day have never been fully explained. He was on a docked boat (Captain Gary, friends with the Jaws captain IRL, I stg), watching a Yankees/Red Sox game, he went over, stayed there for a looooooooooong time before anyone called to tell my grandmother. The boat was owned by a retired cop, it was never seized as evidence, it is very likely there was a fight, we don't know. He died that night with a blood alcohol level that, and I'll never forget this, one of the doctors said was high enough that it would have killed me.


Anyway, it turned out that he was also a gambler, which nobody knew, and his debts were such that my grandmother lost her house and her belongings and her life in an instant, watched it bob away in the Great South Bay. The family then cleaved: those who thought mourning was appropriate one one side of the chasm, and those who remembered how monstrous he was when they were young—how he spent every holiday at the bar and took to-go cups of gin with him to drive home because he physically could not stop drinking, the ones who couldn't forget the angry man he was before he disappeared down a bottle, the man who terrorized his five children, the man who took everything from my grandmother in one mysterious night—on the other.


I was stunned by how much I felt this book, felt the family at the heart, how much it reminded me of my own family (my family is slightly more toxic, to be sure). I felt a jolt somewhere in my stomach every time the narration would flip, just briefly, a paragraph or two, at the very end of a chapter or section, from the self-absorbed misery of the characters in the family onto, say, the clerk behind the counter—just briefly to remind you that the world exists, that people exist, that we're not suffering alone. Just a flick of the wrist. Me behind the counter at the bookstore, wondering when everyone had decided I was a search bar and not a human.


It was gorgeous and you'll love it.




Jia Tolentino / Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self Delusion


This one's an August release. You don't need me to tell you that Jia is a masterful essayist and that reading a collection of hers will make you want to quit writing forever because literally what is the point, but I will.


This is a masterful essay collection and will make you want to quit writing forever because literally what is the point. I love the connections between seemingly random things: ecstasy and religion, for instance, that reveal both in new ways.


The essay at the beginning absolutely slayed me dead: it's about Online and self-perception buckling under the weight of performance. It's about the sly shift between web 1.0 and 2.0 and how being liked became an economic incentive and how our sense of scale is fucked now. As someone who's been Online forever it was like all the things I needed to read about what the hell I'm doing On Here every fucking day.


Anyway, it reminded me about the best bits of Berger and Postman but through the eyes of a woman—a perspective we desperately need. I devoured it.





And finally, I'm not finished but I'm in the middle of Furious Hours because true crime is always where my heart lives and it is VERY GOOD.


I also did a whole mess of reading about the cult (?) my aunt was in when I was growing up (YOU ARE LEARNING A LOT ABOUT ME TODAY I GUESS) for a novel I am attempting to write: they believe that time and space don't exist because we are all one person—god—and our perception that we inhabit bodies that move through time is a manifestation of our guilt for rejecting god/ourselves and that the way to *triple checks notes* stop time is to radically forgive yourself and others to come back into the god-fold. This of course means that sickness and bodily injury aren't real and that personal individuation is also a scam. Folks: I read their entire manifesto—it's public domain (much to their chagrin, because they want to charge you money to read it)—and it was... a lot.


Thanks for playing and for letting me talk about BOOKS and if you want to talk to me about them I am always down for that: the comments are open.


And just like that, I hit my word count for today. Go hit yours.



thanks, san francisco



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