the written world: of comfort

my husband doesn’t re-read books or re-watch movies, as a rule. and yet he married me, a person who could happily sit down to watch The Last Jedi at literally any time of the day or night; a person who finished Uprooted and simply turned back to the first page and continued as if nothing happened; a person who appears to have a good memory for quotes and passages, but has actually just driven them into her brain through staggering repetition.

i re-read things like it’s my job. like somebody important sat me down as a small child and said, solemnly, “it is your task on this earth to live, to love, and to read Watership Down at least twenty-five times before you’re thirty.” when i read too many new books in a row i get an anxious, dangerous feeling behind my breastbone, as if i’m edging closer and closer to an invisible precipice. sooner or later i have to turn around and run for home.

i don’t pick my re-reads casually; in a lifetime of reading i have a relatively short list of books i can return to again and again. it’s not really about the objective goodness of the book, if there’s even any such thing as objective quality. there are lots of phenomenal books i’ve only read two or three times, mostly because they’re too much work (The Brothers Karamazov), or they hurt too much (Beloved), or they had a clever gimmick that’s more fun the first time (The City & The City), or I’m afraid I’ve outgrown them and they won’t fit anymore (The Catcher in the Rye), or just because I never seem to be in the mood (all of cormac mccarthy).

the ideal book for re-reading has a sort of glow to it. a warmth, like sunshine, or a heat, like love. it has to feel like sitting in a squashy armchair with my legs tucked under me in winter or lying on a towel at the edge of a pool in the summer. anyway, given [gestures at the global pandemic and careening economy and cruel capitalist rhetoric] all this, i thought i’d share some of the books with which i’m constructing my personal blanket fort:

  • everything robin mckinley has ever written, but especially The Blue Sword and Spindle’s End and Deerskin. they offer: girls with swords; girls in love with good boys; girls caught in the spiderweb glimmer of fairy tales they can’t quite escape. also, good dogs.

  • if you dig robin mckinley, you probably also dig naomi novik’s Uprooted and Spinning Silver, and katherine arden’s Winternight trilogy. again: girls with magic and swords.

  • everything lois mcmaster bujold has ever written, but especially Cordelia’s Honor and The Curse of Chalion. cordelia’s honor contains the first two books in the Vorkosigan Saga, and i just love them so damn much. the curse of chalion is an unbearably slow political (or maybe theological?) fantasy with a heart of purest gold.

  • casey mcquiston’s Red, White, and Royal Blue. a straight-up romance, y’all. contains the phrase bitch mcconnell, which i think we all need.

  • chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. even though this is a crushing book full of hurt and anguish, it still feels like escape? maybe because it’s about escape, when we need it most.

  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. look. i know it’s 900 pages. i know it has footnotes. but that’s because it’s not a book so much as a place you can go, a world which will swallow you whole and leave you listening for the distant sound of bells.

  • nicola griffith’s Ammonite. an insufficient number of people have read this book. it’s about a planet of women on the precipice of genocide and the anthropologist who becomes a traveling storyteller and falls in love and saves everybody??

  • n.k. jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. is The Fifth Season technically superior? yes. but 100k Kingdoms has a superior number of hot gods and matriarchies, so???

  • Circe. a retold set of myths full of longing and magic and anger transmuted slowly and beautifully into hope. i’ve only read it once, but i can already feel the re-read coming.

anyway. tell me your re-reads. give me the books that feel like perfect cups of coffee or old-fashioned letters in the mail, the books that leave your heart high and aching.

other reading

  • kentucky’s new governor is doing an amazing job during this crisis. he gives these calm, comforting daily addresses where he gently lectures the businesses that refuse to close down (looking at you, Pike County bingo hall). but i’m not sharing those daily addresses; i’m sharing this facebook post from a kentucky mayor, which begins “listen up dipshits” and improves from there. i choose to believe this mayor is andy beshear’s anger translator.

  • lindsay king-miller has a new essay up at Electric Lit called “writing doesn’t have to hurt” and honestly i think we should all read it? my favorite line: “bleeding on the page mostly just makes a mess.”

  • i just finished andrea stewart’s Bone Shard Daughter, out this September, and if you ever loved the classic big sprawling epic fantasies of the 90s--the complex systems of magic and the dozens of viewpoint characters and the tangled politics--this is like that but actually good. smart, efficient, buttery smooth. i loved it.


it feels like the book-world has stopped spinning--the bookstores are closed and the airports are closed and the publishers are working from home and amazon’s not shipping books right now--but anyway the paperback of The Ten Thousand Doors of Januaryis out on May 14th??? and you can preorder The Once and Future Witches? i would encourage you to go through your local indie, if you can. lots of them are surviving on online orders right now.

other than that...i’ve got a first draft done of my novella (sleeping beauty meets spider-verse, lots of princesses crash together to get out of their shitty stories), and the very earliest beginnings of what i desperately hope will be my next book. it’s way too early to tell, but it might have a kind of glow to it.