Summer Reading

"Heaven" by Emerson Whitney and "Catherine House" by Elisabeth Thomas

This newsletter has been unusually quiet this July. I have been moving to Madison, WI for graduate school. As the Covid19 pandemic continues, it has been a good time for reading for me. I will be back to full posts next months but in the meantime wanted to briefly share two books that have kept me company recently and which I highly recommend. For more summer reading recommendations, I set up a Bookshop page.

Heaven by Emerson Whitney: Whitney’s book, largely focused on the author’s childhood, asks rare and challenging questions about trauma, queerness, and the nature of self and identity while never sacrificing a sense of precision and beauty in language. A paragraph I love which shows Whitney’s shifts of register: “I don’t particularly like how I look, but this doesn’t constitute anything. My thighs meet in a way I find totally objectionable, like a heart with the point as my ankles, though I am satisfied with myself sometimes, and know what beauty feels like when it crosses me, subtle, like folding a quilt.” This paragraph moves from the specific to a moment of what seems like a lift to something wider: it has a remarkable sense of the slow release of breath. Another incredible three lines that do something similar:

I wrote a poem abut pain.

I wrote three poems about pain.

I turned them into one poem about clouds.

Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas: It feels surprising that the most transporting book I read in this surreal summer was about being trapped “in the house.” The house more specifically is Catherine House, an elite boarding university with a dark secret. What makes the book remarkable again is Thomas’ many changes of register: between suspense and a surprising romanticism. I would say more but so much of the enjoyment of the book was being surprised by what unfolds. An unusually strong debut novel.

Me on my first post-Covid19 bookstore visit, to Type Books in Toronto.