What to read when: you need a high-brow gift
What to bring when you visit your smarty-pants friend "upstate"
Say you’re headed to the Hudson Valley to spend the weekend with your bougie friends who have recently come into possession of 1) children 2) a rescue dog 3) a “fixer upper” country home with a mother freaking POOL. Even though they act like simple folk at times (they once served you Triscuits), the rustic-chic thing they’re doing is mostly chic as hell.
You will bring an orange wine to their house, natch, but what else can you bring? Flowers are gonna wilt on the train, plus they have their own wildflowers growing around their aforementioned pool.
Here is what you gift them:
The book: If this isn’t the book for right now, then I don’t know what is. Matthew McIntosh’s brilliant novel “theMystery.doc” follows a flailing writer and his young wife as the writer tries, with little success, to pen the follow-up to his unexpectedly successful first novel. But the world in which the author is writing now isn’t the world in which he previously published. “theMystery.doc” takes place post 9/11, and the traditional form of the novel just can’t hold everything the world has become, and is becoming.
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The why: What makes a human story? What makes a human human? The author— both the fictional one in the book, and the book’s author, Matthew—search for the answer to this question in the form of film stills, pages of edited writing, blank pages, photographs, discarded novel chapters, text, and so much more. This book is about a world failing and not failing, and it’s about a marriage and a profession doing the same. It is a MASSIVE book that will be a conversation starter when it’s put out on the coffee table. It also happens to be beautiful and intensely moving. It’s my go-to gift for smart people who are kind of anti-capitalism, but also like receiving host and hostess gifts. Enjoy!
Shelf-life appearance: If you are lucky enough to know Aaron Hicklin of One-Grand Books in Narrowsburg, NY and/or the incredible arts festival he founded called “Deep Water” in the same town, then you will know what a truly informative, engaging, and meaningful conversation he led me through on his podcast “Shelf Life” which just came out this week. (One thing we tackle is the children’s birthday party that changed the course of my life and kinda catalyzed my memoir.)
Literary citizenship is the answer to (basically) everything: This Lit Hub conversation on how I didn’t get anywhere in my career until I became a literary citizen explains 1) what I consider literary citizenship to be 2) why my interviewer, Mira Ptacin, is a perfect example of such citizenship and 3) things that I did wrong as a younger writer when I was trying to get ahead. Please give it a read— I think this interview will be helpful to any writers wondering, “Is there something I’m doing wrong that nobody has told me about?”
Case in point! Last week I had my last in-person event for “The Year of the Horses” this summer, and I was in conversation with none other than Dani Shapiro. And guess who was in the audience? Lisa Taddeo. Could you die? Listen, I live in the woods, people. I don’t have an MFA. Any friend I’ve made in the literary world is one I’ve made from schlepping into an urban area to listen to live storytelling, buy books, and/or drink beer with other writers. These kinds of connections did not magically fall into my lap. And they’re not superfluous: I don’t make writer friends just to have names inside a rolodex, I make and nourish my writer friendships because I love the people I am friends with and admire their work, deeply. I say this to follow on the point I’m making above: we are in the business of relationships. Storytelling is all about relationships. You must forge meaningful, selfless relationships with writers, agents, foreign scouts, editors, literary magazine founders…people from all over this beautiful literary stratosphere if you want to enjoy the hustle and the fruits of your hustle. The friendships are what make the hustle fun!
Pizza time post book event. Photo credit, Michael Maren.
As long as the airplane cooperates, I’m off to France next week for all of August. (I know! It’s merveilleuse!) My house and cat will be in the capable hands of some of my favorite writers and artists who have come to appreciate Chester’s companionship and editing skills over the years.
As for you— what do you have planned for the coming month? I hope you get some lazy, unstructured, summer playtime in.
Thanks for being here,