Books that have bummed me out recently

No rant, I’m just tired. I don’t feel excited about anything.

I’ve been reading the free books out of the office and it’s been fairly depressing. Some writers I used to like are doing things I just can’t get behind. Writing really long novels about New York starring dead celebrities. Circlejerking each other in ‘critical essay collections.’ Turning weirdly centrist. I guess all your heroes eventually disappoint you but these weren’t even my heroes, more just people I could rely on to write something I was interested in.

I’ve always been pessimistic about poetry and writing in general. I ran into an old professor last year and he said, ‘you were just about the unhappiest undergrad I ever met.’ Which is weird because I don’t remember being anything but happy to be in his class. I guess I’m sensitive about poetry being the thing I love but also one of humankind’s most annoying inventions. I’m always willing to sell poetry out in the name of really good fiction.

The past few weeks I’ve been up to my neck in bad fiction, which I thought I would find less dismal than reading poetry I didn’t like but turned out to be worse. The straw that broke the camel’s back was this book called Peach by Emma Glass. I should say that I more skimmed than read it and then read the Goodreads reviews, but check out this opening sentence:

Thick stick sticky sticking wet ragged wool winding round the wounds, stitching the sliced skin together as I walk, scraping my mittened hand against the wall.

Jessica Sullivan called the book ‘more like a 96-page poem than a novel,’ which rankled a bit but also made me laugh. Fiction that’s horrible to read? Just call it poetry!

The spectacle of excess that is PUBLISHING churns out this stuff.

I was reading A Separation by Katie Kitamura the other day, which I liked OK, when I discovered, in the middle of a $25 hardcover, a big fat typo. The book is out from Riverhead, an imprint of Penguin. This is the big dogs! And still no one could be bothered to read the entire thing through… just one last time before they sent it.

Of course, that person would probably be an underpaid, overworked assistant…

OK maybe a little bit of a rant.

The last book I read was called Fire Sermon. I have a soft spot for literary fiction that’s basically erotica but this book had me gritting my teeth. It’s a first-person narrative of an affair between a married professor and poet told largely through email and ugh, they just have so much money. At the end the professor and her husband who rapes her, whom she hates and lies to, grow old together in a nice house in the countryside.

I could just not read this stuff and then not get angry about it, but this is what the ‘reading public’ is exposed to. This is what they buy. It’s not lost on me that all three of these titles were aimed at a heterosexual female audience, which I assume is the largest contingent still buying books.

But I’m (almost) a straight woman and I want more!! I want a book where there are no errors, where the writer isn’t doing fresh-out-of-grad-school stuff, and is able to picture life outside of being upper middle class. Please, no more literary allusion or analysis.

I just want to read something I connect to, that entertains me without pandering… I know it’s out there, but sometimes I struggle for months to find it, even as the books on my desk keep piling up.

Sports Bra

Are the straps load-bearing? Will the dog
        evade the leash? How many inches

between cup and bust’s width? Does a tree
        make its own shade or does the storm

fill seedbeds with darkness as it passes?
        Can I run in it?

My poems have been lame recently so I’ve been finishing some really old ones. Here’s what happened to a poem that used to be called ‘Shorts with Inner Brief’ (a title I’m definitely saving for something else).

In praise of taking pictures

I spent several hours this afternoon posting pictures from my camera roll to one of my finstas (promptly suspended for nudity on account of a single nipple pic, BTW). Posting the pictures is a way of keeping them somewhere I know I can come back to them. I can see things I couldn’t before: a false smile, a friend I didn’t value enough, how hideous a favorite pair of pants was. I got back on social media after a breakup last summer and before that hadn’t posted any personal content in about three years. In those years I took hundreds of photos and never looked at most of them again, mostly of my ex and our cat. Going back through them is painful but also a good reminder of how quickly you forget what your life used to be like. It’s too easy to feel like today, yesterday, the past few months, is all there is.

There was another shooting today, a couple of hours ago. College campus, two dead, several critically injured. It’s finals week which means everything feels dazed and unreal unready—I remember. It’s been a horrible week. Game of Thrones and the Avengers movie making my timeline suck shit, et cetera. When I came into work this afternoon we all sat in our cubicles silently. What even is there to say?

The past few years have been very shitty, from my personal microcosm to the world in general. Tucked between the selfies and the graduation shots and vacation pics and the pics of my ex sleeping are photos of cut wrists (not all mine), screenshots of death notification emails, pics of my now-dead dog. Screenshots of fights I don’t even remember. Giddy candids of friends I don’t talk to anymore. It’s the most accurate history I’ve got, less subjective than memory, diary entries, or old poetry.

I don’t know why I still care about keeping a record. Mostly it just makes me sad. But I think it has something to do with how likely it seems that it will all be negated in a shocking act of violence, either the slow kind or the quick. Why bother to cull the excess (delete the blurry stuff)? Even the accidental screenshots are proof of life.

When things seem unimaginably bad, I find myself looking at all the photos I have of houses, which I’ve been taking since I was in high school. An overgrown front yard in Oakland, a collapsed duplex in St. Louis, turkeys across from my dad’s place in Jersey, the cheaply erected apartments-for-gentrifiers on my block in Bedstuy covered in half-assed snow. The first short story I ever wrote that I was proud of was called “Little Blue Houses” and it started just this way: I saw a house, I pictured life in it, and I made something that felt human. It feels important that I remember how to do that, especially on days like this.

I’ve been posting stuff on Substack and here. It’s easier to get personal on Substack bc newsletter format but I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to switch over.

Love Is Not Constantly Wondering If You Are Making the Biggest Mistake of Your Life by Anonymous

Love Is Not Constantly Wondering If You Are Making the Biggest Mistake of Your Life

Love Is Not Constantly Wondering If You Are Making the Biggest Mistake of Your Life by Anonymous

August 2, 2004

Anne’s apartment is kind of messy, and there is rarely food there, and nothing in the way of TV or video games or things like that. But that’s not the reason you don’t like to spend the night there. The reason you don’t want to spend the night there is stuff like this:

“Hey, wake up!”

“Mmph… wha… ?” 

And that was the moment Anne dropped the snake on your face.

Fast Machine by Elizabeth Ellen

Fast Machine

Fast Machine by Elizabeth Ellen

Yesterdays Are All Around Us

Yesterdays are all around us as we sit in your paint-chipped kitchenette, playing Gin and drinking bourbon from the bottle. You have a newfound habit of disclosing to me every opportunity we’ve missed for things to turn out differently than this. A week ago you informed me of your aborted proposal last Christmas. You blamed the weather. The city had been ill equipped to handle so much snowfall, you reminded. I remembered the impassable streets, your father shoveling for hours. I remember every detail of that Christmas acutely: your hand slipping up my thigh in the front seat; returning your smile from across the dining room table; falling asleep on your chest in your brother’s bed, your arm guardrailing me in. The details of that Christmas are not so different from the details of every other day we spent together the last six years. They are no more or less bone-crushing than the other five hundred thousand I am involuntarily overtaken by at any given moment of the day. They are no more or less a cause of agony than the knowledge that our lack of matrimony may be a direct result of a city planner’s failure to purchase salt.

I’ve been waiting twelve hours to be allowed into your lap. In the meantime I’ve made a note of everything that is the same or different since the last time I was here. There are more sames than differents. I am unsure if this surprises me. When you are in the bathroom or otherwise occupied, I walk around, leaving little bits of myself as I go: an eyelash, a ticket stub, a sticky note onto which I’ve written: things fall apart. As I do so I take account of the items I’ve left on previous occasions: a bottle of Bailey’s, a plastic frog, a bag of dog bones. I am unsure about assigning a word such as “hope” to the fact that they have not been discarded.

I didn’t put up a tree this year. Nor did I cook a turkey or carve a pumpkin. This is probably obvious, but for some reason I felt the need to say it out loud.

At midnight you set down your cards, look at your watch. I take this as my cue. I make my way to you and you don’t fight me off. Every fuck now has the potential to be our last. Because of this I am unhurried and deliberate in my actions. I am conscious of remaining conscious. I am wary of drifting off. There is the pull towards last Christmas, toward the winery that was closed along with every other business for four days. I visualize us surrounded by barrels. Peter and Ashley standing on either side. I am unnoticing of your glances. I lean against you, your arm supporting my head. I breathe in your mother’s dryer sheets. I could stand like this for hours… if only the lack of snow.

I push forward; fill your mouth with my breast. The application of teeth ensures I remain. The second the pain diminishes I miss its reminder. I say, please, please, but my mouth feels flooded with wine. I procrastinate an ending. I remain completely still, cling motionless surrounding you. Every movement brings us closer to my departure. I will never know the words you were prepared to speak. I want to hear you say it one more time: for you, for you. Your eyes are closed when I reach inside my mouth to extract the gum, stick it on the underside of the table. I think about the person who will find it, what words you’ll speak to her.