This is the panic: dread tunneling through your pores until it reaches your stomach and floats there like oil atop the Gulf of Mexico, a flush of your sweat glands followed by an obsessive thought process—that slow-moving Ferris wheel that tumbles into self-reassurances, then denial. Not the muttering-to-yourself soothing denial, more like the you-have-twelve-personalities-and-Timmy-just-took-over denial because you have an entire day to get through. Like when you’ve left the house for work and your psyche whispers: I think you left the stove on. You know the panic. But this panic isn’t attached to the stove you may not have turned off—you don’t even use the stove in the mornings. It doesn’t belong to the did-I-lock-the-front-door? fear. The panic is worse because it’s legitimate. It’s worse because it multiplies.
There are so many books, and I will never get to them all!
Not the muttering-to-yourself soothing denial, more like the you-have-twelve-personalities-and-Timmy-just-took-over denial because you have a day to get through.
You don’t just feel it in the library or the bookstore or standing in front of a friend’s bookshelf or scrolling through Goodreads. You feel it when the book in your hand whispers: You know who this writer reads? Or you’re engrossed in an article and wonder, is there a biography of this person? What novels were written during this period that would place me in time?
I’ve been lost in a bit of research lately. The kind of research that’s truly enjoyable because it matters to one of my characters. It involves folktales and eye-widening monsters that live in the bayous of southern Louisiana. What other folktales have I missed? And let’s not forget Mythology. But whose? I learned Greek and Roman mythology in high school, but it’s not the mythology of my ancestors. I’m a product of the Celts and Saxons and Vikings. The books stack. The shelves buckle. The mind spins as the body panics.
Here’s what I’m reading now:
“Muse without a Trace” by Brian Moynahan for Vanity Fair. Mr. Moynahan passed away in April but has left us with more than a dozen books and countless articles.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer. This is my bedtime novel. I sink into the sheets and Arthur Less’s blue suit at the end of the day and travel the world.
Love in the Void: Where God Finds Us by Simone Weil, because philosophy and mysticism to me are a wrap in a cashmere blanket with the biggest mug of Peruvian coffee by my side. And while I do have the Peruvian coffee, I can’t actually afford a cashmere blanket because #books.
E.M. Cioran’s On the Heights of Despair. Come on, the title alone. Plus philosophy. Plus, how many Romanian writers have I even read? Also, this was an inspiration for Will Alexander’s poetry collection Across the Vapour Gulf (which is on my Next Up list).
Parker Posey’s memoir, You’re on an Airplane, because I grew up watching her in the 90s and she’s funny and sincere and has something to say, which she says well. #ilovemydogtoo
And finally, Strindberg A Life by Sue Prideaux. I haven’t read any Strindberg … yet. I haven’t even seen the film adaptation of Miss Julie … yet. Strindberg wrote more than 60 plays, three books of poetry, 18 novels, and nine autobiographies (move over, Kim Kardashian). It’s so much. It’s more than I will ever get through. It’s a full-time job for life. I can’t. What about all of the other wonderful books out there? What about all the books being made right now as I type this that I don’t even know about because they haven’t yet been birthed and bound? (Insert Ujjayi breathing here.) It’s okay; it’ll be okay. Start with the bio and go from there.
- Across the Vapour Gulf by Will Alexander (poetry)
- So Much Synth by Brenda Shaughnessy (poetry)
- The Man Among the Seals & Inner Weather by Denis Johnson (poetry)
- Waiting for God by Simone Weil (letters & essays)
- The Chandelier by Clarice Lispector (magic … oh, and: novel)
And perhaps: Circles in the Sky the Life and Times of George Ferris by Richard Weingardt
I love Virginia Woolf, Kazuo Ishiguro, Dorothy Allison, Jesmyn Ward, George Saunders, Larry Brown, Tim Gautreaux, Clarice Lispector, Kevin Barry, Nick Flynn, Julian Barnes, Jennifer Egan. My Goodreads is in constant chaos. I have stories in places including QWERTY and SmokeLong. I’m in the process of revising a novel. In lieu of flowers, please send good vibes.