how to survive a plague

on friday the 13th my downstairs neighbor showed me his new tattoo of a cleaver, a little bigger than a quarter in size. my neighbors like to talk to me about tattoos. "i've actually never seen that movie," i said, and he said "what?" and i said "friday the 13th? i've never seen it" and then he said "oh no it's not about the movie, it's friday the thirteenth," and i said "what?" and he told me that there are a handful of tattoo shops in new york that will give you a tattoo on friday the thirteenth for thirteen dollars and i realized that up until that point we had been talking about completely different things. "i have four," he said, pulling up his shirt to show me the rest of his forearm. the cleaver, a pot i think? a couple of other things i couldn't quite make out. maybe a small monster. "i want to get a whole sleeve," he said, "but all i got the money for is thirteen dollars at a time."

right now i think about small goals, like when you are running farther than you would prefer and you pick a tree not too far off and run to that and then pick another tree and run to that one and repeat this process until you get to where you meant to go. a sleeve of tattoos one thirteen-dollar friday the thirteenth at a time. the book of dust comes out tomorrow and then halloween, a dear night, and then it's time to go look at the bergdorf-goodman christmas windows, then first snow, then star wars. if i need a break i can take a bottle of whiskey and the dumbest book i can find to the beach and sit by myself for a while. i am partial to an appallingly terrible series of procedural novels about a lady medical examiner who solves crimes. everyone around her is incompetent all the time and hidden conspirators are constantly moving against her. she is the best at everything and rich and attractive. she never makes jokes and spends a lot of time telling the reader that death is not funny. despite her many enemies she invariably triumphs. she cannot be undermined and drinks black coffee; i find her convictions soothing. 

i haven't really felt like talking. my throat hurts, i sleep too much. the cat likes it when i'm sad because we spend a lot of time in bed.

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right now i am reading madelein thien's Do Not Say We Have Nothingwhich is beautiful and not, like, uplifting exactly, but the kind of thing i didn't know i was looking for until i found it: it's the story of an extended and diasporic family, a generation of classical musicians who lives through mao's cultural revolution, and their children, who come together in the tiananmen square protests. the novel moves back and forth through time and place but its characters are so rich, so compelling, its mysteries so haunting, its storytelling so beautiful, that all its diverse tributaries flow seamlessly into a single narrative about surviving the unsurvivable and what it means to live for art--a story that, you do not need me to tell you, is more relevant than we might prefer these days. the writing about music is next-level sublime.

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also i read justina ireland's Dread Nation  which is definitely all the things that people are saying about it: frightening, subversive, smart as fuck, incisive, provocative, and not fucking around, but it's also funny as all hell, which i cannot stress enough, and which makes its toothy, savage satire even better. jane is one of my favorite YA heroines in recent memory: tough, funny, vulnerable, compassionate (sometimes), prone to bad decisions (sometimes) and good jokes (all the time), loyal, and smart. watching her slash her way through the grody undead and the creepy living was one of my more cathartic reading experiences this year, which is saying a lot, considering the year. keep your eye out for this one, y'all; it's out in april.

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if you are looking for something delicious, might i suggest Slow Days, Fast Company, eve babitz's champagne-popping take on high-glam los angeles life in the 70s. structured as a loosely linked series of meditation-vignettes, ostensibly dedicated to a mysterious suitor whose favor the narrator is trying to keep, babitz's takes on everything from heterosexuality to avocados are so magnificently funny, so sublimely observed and perfectly rendered, that the book is more a master class in how to set and demolish a scene in five hundred words or less. much has been made of babitz's sexuality (do yourself a favor and skip the introduction), but seriously, who cares: this is a writer who could turn a housebound month devoid of human contact into a pithy gem on any topic of her choosing. a formidably gifted writer who makes flawlessly crafted breezy one-liners look as easy as falling into a swimming pool.


some others: dorothy b. hughes' terrifying and peerless take on the L.A. noir, In A Lonely Placeis one of the more brilliant subversions of the genre i've ever come across and makes raymond chandler look like hello kitty (there is some sexual violence but it's mostly fade-to-black; the ending is masterful; even if this stuff is feeling like perilous territory for you right now i recommend it); myriam gurba's fierce, formally inventive Mean, out next month from emily books/coffee house press, probably the funniest book about sexual assault you'll read in a while and a refreshing upheaval of victim/survivor stories; laia jufresa's beautiful, moving Umamiabout a small community of neighbors making peace with their pasts and remembering the better parts of their lives--if you're looking for something that will take you out of yourself and leave you on a brighter shore, a little teary but well-rested, you couldn't be in better hands.

what are you reading? what should i read next? i want one of those old-school fantasy sorts of books hardly anybody writes anymore about a girl in a bookshop who leaves 1996 for faerie and has a good wander, do you know the kind of book i mean? pass em on if you've got em. and hang in there.

keep loving, keep fighting

xoxo sarah