Today’s VUBE is a beautiful Regulars Recommend with delightful friend of the store Erin Watson!
Erin Watson is a Southern person living in Chicago. She makes zines, writes poems, and works for nonprofits. Even though she has read Infinite Jest three times and is absolutely humblebragging about that achievement right now, she'd far rather talk your ear off about the collected works of Claudia Rankine or Tove Jansson. She hopes this makes her less unbearable as a person.
Erin co-hosts Other People's Poems at Uncharted Books, where she has recited poems by Morgan Parker, Mary Ruefle, Ursula Le Guin, Jamaal May and many more. She also knows the North Carolina state toast by heart and has recited it to many a pot of grits in quar. Although she identifies as a pacifist she would dig up Kingsley Amis's sexist trash corpse to punch him back into the grave. She is the proud guardian of the Basil dog, as pictured in the Daily Basil updates in a previous VUBE.
Back when we all first went into quarantine I thought that more time to read would be an upside. This was hilariously hopeful, because I am an anxious person who works in social services, and therefore when I get done with a typical workday my brain feels like a big sad puddle of unseasoned overcooked ramen. I know I'm not the only one. Many friends have described similar reading experiences. It all feels like that mimetic iconic Twilight Zone thing where the guy's trapped in the library forever and his glasses are broken. Anyway and nevertheless I have soldiered through quar on a steady diet of old favorites and new, very gentle literary treats. Here are some of my faves in the quar-reads genre, along with a couple bonus recommendations for how to choose good books to go on the back of your toilet (one of my most valuable skills IMO).
WHAT MAKES A GREAT QUAR-READ, ACCORDING TO ME, AN ANXIOUS PERSON WHO WORKS IN SOCIAL SERVICES AND HAS WET RAMEN NOODLES FOR A BRAIN:
- nothing seriously heinous happens (war, genocide, pestilence, untimely pet death, etc)
- I can wander away from it mid-story (to go stress-eat Cheez-its on the couch while watching old Muppet Show sketches) and pick back up where I left off with minimal confusion
- cozy vibes, often from descriptions of nature, loving relationships, gently mocking jibes at the expense of the powerful, etc.
Here are the quar-reads I have personally delighted in!
The Book of Delights by Ross Gay - My therapist, a fellow poetry nerd, recommended this to me back in early March aka "the before times." Boy am I glad she did; it feels like it was written for a brain like mine in times like these. While I'm perpetually too stressed to read Actual Poetry which requires deep and close attention, page-or-two musings by a poet on the delight of the day are wonderful bite-sized treats. The book is a series of micro-essays around something that poet Ross Gay has personally found delightful, written over the course of a year, starting and ending on his birthday. I also find birthdays to be a delight, and the loving way Gay describes his own birthday, his mother's, and other delights such as bringing a tomato plant on an airplane is just a gorgeous brain massage. Also it is very important at all times and especially right now to read Black authors!!! Read them in every genre! Give them your money and attention!!! If you think Black folks aren’t writing in a genre you like to read, ask yourself why you think that (hint it’s probably because the publishing industry, like society at large, upholds white supremacy)!!!
Ahem, anyway! This book is recommended if you wish Maggie Nelson would write antiracist collab essay-meditations with Pema Chodron, with a nice garnish of the beautiful naturalism of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek for good measure. My therapist and I agree: read this book it’s good for your heart and brain.
Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson - IT WOULD NOT BE MY VUBE APPEARANCE WITHOUT A MOOMIN YELL. Even though Moominland Midwinter is my favorite of the Moomin novels, this is the first one in the series and the one you should start with In These Troubling Times. The Moomins, if you have incorrectly not read any of Mattie's prior praise thereof, are a family of cute hippolike trolls who live in a peaceful valley. They are also canonically ACAB socialists, read more in my Moomin Arcana zine, available for purchase at your favorite store Uncharted Books. (note from your bookseller: we are hoping to have some copies of these when we make our grand re-opening next Wednesday! Should the stars align! The stars may not align but we’re working very hard to make sure they do!)
In Comet in Moominland, there is trouble in Moominvalley and the trouble is A COMET, GROWING OMINOUSLY IN THE SKY! So Moomintroll and his friends take matters into their own hands and go on an adventure. It's written for a middle-grade-ish age group so you don't really need to focus on "long sentences" or "intensely nuanced character development" to get into this book. And the plot confronts uncertainty and absurdity with tenderness. Also it has delightful pictures so it's really easy to find something good to focus on even if words are starting to swim around on the page due to stress, for you, and by you I of course mean me.
Permanent Record by Mary HK Choi - If you love youths and teens and aspire to be forever a teen in your heart, this is a sweet escapist teen read for you. It's a romantic, sweet, and very funny young adult novel narrated by Pablo Neruda Rind, an early-20s NYC burnout dude who works at a bodega and has a passion for snacks - and for a mysterious, beautiful fellow snack-lover who drops by his workplace to purchase hella ice cream with her AmEx Black card one night. Pablo’s relationships with his friends and girlfriend and family are all just the right amount of aspirational, fantastical, and deeply felt. I recommended it to my mom and she said the descriptions of snack foods made her hungry. The chapters are short, the zingers are numerous, the dudes say “bet” just like my 21 year old brother and his friends, I am very old but vicarious youth via YA fiction is forever.
Pair with your favorite salty/sweet/multi-textured snack combo and a nice cannabis experience if that’s your vibe. “Blunts of the future. Elegant. With rounded edges. As if a Scandinavian designer made them to be sold at the MoMa store.” - a quote from this book that I cackled at IRL.
Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse - The Jeeves and Wooster novels have been a depression-reading standby for me since I studied abroad in England in 2005. I think of them like Simpsons episodes: they follow stock characters through outlandish schemes, and then at the end of the episode everything is reset, however improbably, to the way it was at the beginning. Recommended if you like dry British wit, slapstick, and very inventive adjectives for the way a dapper man might arrive in a room (Jeeves often "shimmers" in, which is how I aspire to make my entrance in all circumstances). Not recommended if you can’t metabolize the racism and sexism endemic to white British dudes 100 years ago. This recent New Yorker piece by Rivka Galchen does a great job explicating why Wodehouse is so ding dang hilarious without overexplaining the jokes. Professional tip, on the off chance that your favorite store Uncharted Books doesn’t have any Jeeves and Wooster books, many of them are available on Project Gutenberg! Other collections with Jeeves in the title are also good, this one is just my favorite because it contains the following perfect set of sentences: “In that case, tinkerty tonk."
And I meant it to sting.”
WHAT AN ABSOLUTE ZINGER, MY DUDES. I just adore it.
The Greatest of Marlys by Lynda Barry - I had to narrow myself down to one straight-up comics collection for this list; Calvin and Hobbes was my initial thought but some of the social commentary in there hits different now that we live in dystopian technohell. If you've never read any Lynda Barry please know she is one of my heroes of creativity and I will forever cherish an octopus she doodled for me in one of her books (because an octopus is my own personal doodle of choice).
The Marlys comics (aka, for some reason I totally forget, “Ernie Pook’s Comeek”) were Lynda Barry’s breakout success back in the early 90s. The characters are incredibly sweet and strips like this one are just ideal for summertime. Some real shit happens but honestly it’s mostly a comic about how sometimes you have a crush on a boy so you draw pictures of cars for him to pass off as his own, or sometimes your brother really loves bugs, or sometimes you eat cold hot dogs in the kitchen. Or feel different running around with your cousin in the dark in your underpants one summer night. Like. Look at this comic and tell me this is not Peak Summer Shit. It cannot be done. There is None More Summer.
Marlys is a friggen' queen and a legend and people should be out there stanning her much more broadly than I have seen, personally, in my corners of internet. Also these are almost entirely one-shot comics (ie the entire story arc takes place on a single page) so it's a great back-of-the-crapper read as well.
As a side note boy HOWDY do I ever have refined opinions on back-of-the-crapper reads. One tiny ancillary sadness in this time is that no one can come over to enjoy my current selections (a very good minizine by local zine fiend Anna Jo Beck, a collection of Emily Flake's Lulu Eightball comics, and my perpetual household crapper-adornment, The Psychic Sasquatch and Their UFO Connection, the world’s most self-explanatory book).
Thank you for reading my quar-read opinions! Please come find me on the internet and talk about books with me. It is my favorite thing and I miss it dearly.
Tinkerty tonk, with great fondness, etc,
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