Excerpts Catapult Staff Reads
Novels, TinyLetters, poetry collections, and a funk-soul musical group.
Julia Pierpont is teaching a class with us here at Catapult soon, so yesterday I picked up her debut novel, Among the Ten Thousand Things —a book I loved when I first read it last year—and began re-reading it. In the opening pages, a woman pens a letter to the wife of the man she’s sleeping with: “ You get migraines, right? He told me you do. I get them too, Deb. Do you think maybe it’s him? ” Pierpont’s novel, like Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad , mixes deep intelligence with irresistible entertainment.
—Jonathan Lee, Senior Editor
My current New Favorite Thing is “Hot Goss,” the weekly gossip/culture TinyLetter written by Sarah Baline, A+ human and manager of East City Bookshop in Washington, DC. She’s a smart and snappy writer and, best of all, she ends most newsletters with a book recommendation. It’s a welcome entry in my overstuffed inbox! Sign up here: http://tinyletter.com/hotgoss
—Erin Kottke, Director of Publicity
Rereading Marlena ahead of Julie’s reading at Powell’s . The Vogue article called out my most-most-favorite passage of her book:
“When I hope to become friends with a woman, we usually meet, early on, at bars. Dim places with complicated wine lists and small plates for sharing. We order elegant, expensive things, adjusting our choices to each other. The pretty circle of tuna, the way the raw gems tumble onto the plate when you tap the shape with your knife. . . . After a little while, an hour, less if it isn’t going to work, I begin to notice the way she interrupts and charges forward with her story or asks me question after question. How she requests a second drink—when I do, which is usually before hers is done, or when she’s ready, or not at all. How she eats, carefully moving a portion to her own plate, napkin unfurled on her lap, or if she’s comfortable right away, using her fingers. If she picks. The quality of her listening. Her tone when she mentions her partner, the last person she fucked. Whether she cares what I think. Any and all tics, hand talkers, fidgeters, lip biters, eye contact avoiders, the woman I instantly adored who got too close when she was trying to make a point, who would put a hand emphatically on whatever part of me she could reach and try to touch me into understanding. I notice, and I begin to see the outline of the best friend, the girl she shaped herself around, according to. For so many women, the process of becoming requires two. It’s not hard to make out the marks the other one left.”
The winner of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, this insanely talented group Tank and the Bangas from New Orleans, is my favorite thing on the internet this week.
—Jennifer Abel Kovitz, Associate Publisher
I am finally reading Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett, which is as dappled and wonderfully muddy as the little patch of water that gives the book its name.
—Casey Gonzalez, Creative Project Manager; Associate Editor, Black Balloon
I’ve been having trouble concentrating these last couple of weeks, and this book—full of funny, warm and sharply observed bits of family history and lore—is the perfect story to drop in and out of. The Levis are anti-fascists in Mussolini’s Italy, and the contrast between the beautiful, ordinary details of daily life and the dangerous political climate is particularly moving and chilling—especially in our present moment.
—Julie Buntin, Director of Writing Programs; Associate Editor, Books
I’ve just finished a recent book in the series of poetry chaps being put out by Commune Editions, in this case Miximum Ca’ Canny: The Sabotage Manuals , by Swedish poet Ida Börjel, translated by Jennifer Hayashida. I’m willing to read absolutely anything Hayashida has chosen to work on, and this one was unsurprisingly rewarding.
I’m also slowly working through Compass by Mathias Énard, translated by Charlotte Mandel. This is a lovely sprawling Sebaldian novel in a vein that I find really comforting, where emotional anxieties are swaddled in historical and academic asides—in this case mostly about Orientalism—and sometimes in dreams. Enard won the Goncourt for this and it’s deserved.
—Dustin Kurtz, Social Media Editor
I’m reading Carys Davies’s short story collection The Redemption of Galen Pike , out from the wonderful Ontario-based press, Biblioasis. Favorite stories include one in which a long-gone husband returns, thwarting a love affair between his wife and her devoted friend, and one about the end of the world encountered in a bowl of green peas.
—Megha Majumdar, Assistant Editor
I just finished Sing the Song by Meredith Alling. These stories are like if Alling took the world, threw it into a paper bag, shook it, and then dumped the contents out. By which I mean, each story manages to both encapsulate and amplify all the weirdness of the world in just a few pages. By which I mean, this book is really, really good.
Now I’m reading Barbara Browning’s I’m Trying to Reach You , which I highly recommend if you’re in need of a break from your own brain for a minute.
—Allie Wuest, Editorial Assistant, Web
I recently finished J. M. Coetzee’s extraordinary Life & Times of Michael K , a somber and understated novel about a man living under South African apartheid. Now, I’m reading Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett. It’s an impressive debut novel about a Nigerian man named Furo who, on one random morning in Lagos, wakes up white. I’m only on page 30, but Furo has already snagged a lucrative job and an oddly devoted girlfriend. This satirical novel is heavily inspired by Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. However, Barrett’s stunning depiction of Lagos’s hectic cityscape has been a welcome change of setting from Gregor’s dreary room.
— Leila Green, Social Media/General Intern
I kicked off National Poetry Month by rereading Linda Pastan’s Carnival Evening. It was just what I needed.
What we want
is never simple.
We move among the things
we thought we wanted:
a face, a room, an open book
and these things bear our names—
now they want us.
But what we want appears
in dreams, wearing disguises.
We fall past,
holding out our arms
and in the morning our arms ache.
—Nicole Chung, Managing Editor, Web & Community
I’ve been punctuating other reading with stories from A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin. She’s so good at creating these sort of quaint, gentle, hapless narrators who disarm you with their artlessness and then slice you in half with a moment of brutal insight or beautiful bleakness or wry strangeness—sometimes all of the above packed into one line.
— Olenka Burgess, Publishing Intern
From the descriptive copy:
“Being against purity means that there is no primordial state we can recover, no Eden we have desecrated, no pretoxic body we might uncover through enough chia seeds and kombucha. There is no preracial state we could access, no erasing histories of slavery, forced labor, colonialism, genocide, and their concomitant responsibilities and requirements. There is no food we can eat, clothes we can buy, or energy we can use without deepening our ties to complex webbings of suffering. So, what happens if we start from there?…Shotwell argues [that there is] hope found in a kind of distributed ethics, in collective activist work, and in speculative fiction writing for gender and disability liberation that opens new futures.”
—Dory Athey, Marketing and Sales Assistant