Trouble Reading? Us too.

I have a friend who worked as a tour guide in NYC before *gestures at all this*. She regularly made the trek by ferry from Lower Manhattan to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island with a gaggle of tourists. She visited so much that she began to feel as though Lady Liberty were speaking to her as the ferry approached. To my friend, her voice sounded like Owen Wilson’s (she’s a gifted storyteller). I share this because I think the books on my bedside table might start talking to me, and they won’t say anything nice.

Even before we woke up in Stephen King’s nightmare, I had trouble diving into a good read. It has taken me longer to become absorbed in a book, and I can’t blame my phone for it. Our current circumstances have made it even more challenging. This informative Vox piece explains that we can’t concentrate these days because we’re anxious (duh). While anxiety manifests differently in all of us, we generally can’t concentrate because we’re living in uncertain times, and our search for the answers reinforces this uncertainty. Hence why we can’t read more than a page of the latest Emma Straub after our deep dive into antibody tests.

Not only have I not been able to read, I haven’t been able to write. I took the vacations days I had planned for LL’s wedding, imagining all the reading and writing and organizing and learning I would get done. I had outlined this post almost two weeks ago, envisioning the blogging benchmarks I would smash by the end of the month (the ego knows no bounds). Then Memorial Day rolled around, and all I could do was bake cobbler and watch Sweet Magnolias (the ego seeks solace in Ben & Jerry).

During this time, I reorganized my bookshelves to collect all the books I hadn’t read. It’s half a Billy bookcase. The guilt and inadequacy are crushing. And what makes it worse? Realizing the only books you really want to read are “beach reads.” I want charm and decadence and hometown crushes. The things the guy in your MFA program would put his cigarette out on (who am I kidding? He vapes now). The anxiety-guilt-inadequacy spiral becomes a vortex.

It has taken a pandemic to learn this lesson: have compassion. Will the world stop spinning if I don’t read 10 chapters of Manhattan Beach this weekend, or pen 6 posts a month? Am I less of a person because of those things? The answer is obviously no, but it’s harder to reach that conclusion when it seems our output is the only thing we can control these days. We all need reminders to find enjoyment where we can, and let go of the judgments of others. Emma Straub put it best: “the only feeling that people should have about books they haven’t read yet is HOPE!”

Now, instead of anticipating taunts, I imagine soothing voices coming from the spines on my shelves, saying they will be here when I’m ready. The itch for an afternoon spent watching the sun pass over the edges of a paperback is slowly returning, and I hope to spend more days this summer (safely indoors or masking in the sunshine) tucked into a book. Whatever book I freaking want.

Until next time,

EV

The Happiest Hour – 5/9/20

Here ye, here ye: everyone’s favorite cringeworthy teenage obsession is making a comeback. That’s right: Midnight Sun hits shelves this summer. 14-year-old EV would have been out of her mind that it publishes the week of her birthday. DD has suggested a Twilight-themed sleepover to mark this momentous occasion.

Here’s what you missed this week:

  • Who knew NYT critics had a lot to say about books and breakfast? (NYT)
  • In honor of Mother’s Day, find out which literary mother you are (I’m Marmee). (NYPL)
  • Here are some of the more surprising titles readers are choosing to get them through quarantine, from the greatest tastemakers around–booksellers. (The Strategist)

 

Cheers,

EV

The Happiest Hour – 4/11/20

It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again: frozen margaritas make everything better.

Here’s what you missed this week:

  • Are all you cool cats and kittens feeling aimless after bingeing Tiger King? These reads are better than the meat that falls off the Walmart truck. (NYT)
  • You could use some of this free time people keep saying we have (if you see mine, please send it back home) to catch up on the classics. Or you could check out these drawings and get back to your puzzles. (LitHub)
  • What does The Drinking Club love more than a good happy hour? Judging people, especially about their books. (The Guardian)
  • The minute this is over, we’re treating ourselves to one of these. (BookRiot)

 

Cheers,

EV

The Drinking Club Could Use Some Magical Thinking Right About Now

I hope everyone is staying healthy, safe, and well stocked on their wine. I don’t think many of us are far off from throwing in some Baileys to our whipped coffee one morning. The days blur, the stress builds, and you can’t unwind with a peaceful walk along the NYC riverfront because there are TOO MANY PEOPLE OUTSIDE.

As we wait for the next shoe to drop with each news alert, it gets harder to remember the petty grievances we once held, while the memories of happy hours and brunches and movie nights begin to feel like a part of a good dream you just remembered. Now seems like as good as any time to recap what The Drinking Club was up to before it all went to hell in a handbasket (I know this update is months late. I KNOW. The shame is relentless):

  • We read Cherry, and probably got ourselves banned from a posh Midtown wine bar. It might have been for calling the waiter out for his bartender’s crappy pours. It might also have been for leaving six credit cards to split a bill out of spite when said waiter suggested that “Venmo was a thing.” We have no regrets.
  • We read Daisy Jones & The Six, and feasted on grandma pizza and roommate horror stories in DR’s cozy new studio apartment.
  • We read Where The Crawdads Sing, and had very polarizing reactions to it. Some of us also stood on an Amtrak train from Baltimore to get to the gathering, and were probably not the greatest company.

As fate would have it, The Drinking Club gathered about a week before we were told to stay home for the foreseeable future (but not before buying all the yeast we could get our hands on). I had recently ditched MV for another club member, moving into a spacious and sunny bedroom in MM’s apartment. We gathered in my new living room that Friday night, inhaling sea salt chips with our Cabernet Sauvignon and letting loose after a long week. We spent a significant amount of time discussing bodily functions (were we possessed by 12-year-old boys?) and getting LL to dish on all the wedding planning updates (which has now, sadly, been postponed to 2021). It was my turn to select our read, and I chose a book by my favorite author, one that had been sitting on my shelf for nearly two years. The author: Joan Didion. The book: The Year of Magical Thinking, her exploration of death and grief after her husband suddenly died and their daughter became gravely ill. None of that is relevant to today at all.

This was not the cheeriest read, I will admit, especially once you know Quintana, Joan and John’s daughter, dies after the publication of the book. However, those of us that worship at the altar of Joan know that she can make dried paint sound fascinating. What is captivating about her writing is how perfectly she can distill a feeling or experience to the reader. She unravels our most complex actions into their simplest truths, removing any bias to show them as they are. In Magical Thinking, she untangles her grief thread by thread, taking us along as the time from John’s death grows from days to weeks to months. She documents her cool responses in moments of crises, her refusal to accept his death, and her overwhelming sadness as she puts her mourning on hold to care for her daughter. The moment she buys hospital scrubs at UCLA sticks with me still. This scene encapsulates how warped her reality is, and understandably so. Her world, at that moment, is one of trauma. She dissects this and her lowest moments scientifically, but also with compassion. This, combined with her in-depth reporting, gives the reader an unparalleled look at grief on a larger scale, as well as how it infects an individual.

If I’ve learned anything from this book, it’s that we won’t understand how our current crisis has changed us until we are well past it. We will develop quirks that will seem strange to our future selves, but were essential to coping during these quiet days. I’m hopeful Joan will be with us on the other side of this, helping us understand why we did what we did. No one will be able to do it as well as she can.

The Drinking Club is supposed to gather later today, where we’ll hear how DR is accomplishing her very necessary work at a hospital, how DD is managing working from home, and how AM is managing with her relatives in the age of COVID. MM and I will brag about the donuts we made (they were phenomenal). We’ll remind LL how much we’re looking forward to celebrating her wedding in 2021. And we’ll be grateful for each other, our health, and the books that helped us through this time. But mostly we’ll be grateful for the wine.

Until next time,

EV

The Happiest Hour – 4/4/20

Grub Street said it best: “[Ina Garten] has read the room, and what the room needs, she has decided, is a giant, neon-pink pitcher of Cosmopolitans, for one, preferably gulped down well before noon.”

Here’s what you missed this week:

 

Cheers,

EV

The Happiest Hour – 2/29/20

Bear with me–I’m in a fugue state after spending the week trapped in a conference room, making sure the snack basket remained bountiful. My palms now sweat anytime I see M&Ms.

Here’s what you missed this week:

 

Cheers,

EV

The Happiest Hour – 2/7/20

2020 pulled a fast one by giving us an extra week of January. And man, was it brutal. To give you an idea: I spent this evening in an elementary school running boxes of Girl Scout cookies up flights of stairs while contemplating how epically the American math curriculum has failed us.

Here’s what you missed this week:

 

Cheers,

EV

The Drinking Club Ends the Decade

I know, it’s been a while. You don’t have to tell me. I spent the last 6 weeks staring at my inbox, tormented by unopened newsletters and bookmarks I wanted to share but couldn’t find the desire to jot down. That sounds melodramatic, coming from the least active blog of the least dedicated book club, but that’s what happened. Bookstagrammer, I am not. But I missed writing down the weird and wonderful I found and sharing it with all two of you. In the next year and decade, I’m vowing to keep in touch more, and to be kinder to myself and the rest of us when we just need a minute.

Not only has this December been chockablock (love this word) with best of the year lists, we’ve now had to cope with best of the decade lists. No one wants to remember what was cool in 2011, because then we’d have to remember what we were wearing, and doing. And we can no longer stomach the amount of Four Loko necessary to wipe those memories.

So, to close out the year, here are The Drinking Club’s Top 5 Books of the Decade that We Didn’t Read. We will read them, at some point. Maybe. After combing through these roundups, it occurred to me I must have had my own year of rest and relaxation (also known as the Grey’s Anatomy binge).

I should mention the rest of The Club was not polled for their recommendations. It’s entirely possible AM and DD have read these (and reread these), being the best of the bunch. We’ll catch up in 2020 with everyone for their input, and let you know what we’ve been up to (including the wine bar we’re no longer allowed into).

Without further ado, and in no particular order–the list:

5. The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

I started these, but had to pause after Book 2 when I started to feel like the doll thrown down the sewer drain. Ferrante’s writing is visceral and infectious. I plan to return to Naples and Lena’s story, but this time in smaller doses.

4. A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

I received this for Christmas the year it was published and was ecstatic. I’ve picked it up several times over the years…to put it in a moving box. Now it laughs from its perch on the bookshelf, knowing I will have moved again before I read it.

3. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

This one also sits on my bookshelf, a couple of shelves below James. It doesn’t mock openly; it stares cooly from a corner spot. It knows how unworthy I am of it.

2. There, There by Tommy Orange

I will put my name on the NYPL waitlist tomorrow, and receive my digital rental in 8 months. I’ll read 60 pages in two weeks, and then wait another 7 months to finish it.

1. All the Drinking Club books

While I joined The Club late, even I haven’t read all the books selected over the years. I should probably start here.

 

Stay gold,

EV

The Happiest Hour – 11/8/19

For anyone feeling like they had a crappy week: at least you didn’t meet a bestselling author in the bathroom while your hands were submerged in your mouth, extracting your Invisalign.

Here’s what you missed this week:

  • For anyone who has been personally victimized by Regina George, or Twitter. (Buzzfeed)
  • It’s the end of Oscar book season in France, and we want to know how we get on the invite list. (Literary Hub)
  • In honor of this #grateful season: America’s first banned book, written by the Lord of Misrule. (Atlas Obscura)
  • Read on for useful tips for combatting the Lit Bro. (Literary Hub)

Cheers,

EV