Human Parts
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Human Parts

Harris Sockel

Jul 6, 2015

7 min read

16 Books I Am Almost Reading Right Now

You know those books you’re always, kind of, *thinking about* reading? Maybe you started them, maybe you skimmed them, maybe your mom keeps recommending them and their covers vaguely haunt you wherever you go. Either way, they’re always around, reminding you of their quiet booky existence. Here, some books on my reading list right now, most of which I started but never finished. If I were sixteen people I’d finish all of them tomorrow. Instead, I’ll keep almost reading them, maybe forever.

1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. An epic novel about life and art in a post-apocalyptic world. I loved the first twenty pages — it begins with the death of an actor playing King Lear during a live performance. He dies on the eve of a global flu that kills nearly all of humanity within a few weeks — intimidating, I know, but the writing is as light and realistic as good journalism. This book was pulling me in by my feet and I could feel myself sinking into book-dreams. Then I got a text and had to get back to my life, but I hope to actually finish this book soon (or whenever I take a two-week vacation, because it is thick). It also just came out in paperback.

2. The Chairs Are Where the People Go by Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti. Short, playful essay-answers to questions like “Why do bands break up?” and “Is monogamy a trick?” The kind of social observation that makes you want to just get out the popcorn and slow-chew. There’s a chapter on how to set up chairs for a reading, which looks perfect for anyone who gets routinely annoyed at sloppy event planning. And another on why computers only last for three years (“The typewriter that lasted for fifty years wasn’t built in a world where the machines we type on become a hundred times more powerful every three years.”) A book for the insatiably curious.

3. The Fun Parts by Sam Lipsyte. Hilarious, perverse short stories about neurotic people in (sometimes) New York City. They’re told with that tongue-in-cheek zest that makes them feel like SNL sketches, but longer and with a darker edge.

4. Alone with Other People by Gabby Bess. I regularly bliss out on Gabby Bess’s Twitter, and the poetry/prose in here looks just as honest as her tweets (an excerpt from the book: “here, on your bed, is where you spit into my mouth and onto my face”). Confessional writing — and quiet, observational poems — like this makes me want to be more open with myself and others. I’ve read pieces, but I’m excited to actually read this this summer.

5. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. A memoir about meditating while writing and running. (Murakami: “No matter how mundane some actions might appear, keep at it long enough and it becomes a contemplative, even meditative act.”) Murakami trains for the New York City marathon and weaves his training into his past and his writing. I run, too, and two friends have recommended this to me. Instead of reading it, I think about reading it while I run.

6. One More Thing by BJ Novak. Short stories from the prankster of The Office (and elsewhere, I know). The first story, which I read standing up in the bookstore, had me LOLing by the second period. BJ’s humor is irreverent, satirical, and surprising. There are so many hairpin turns, places where a story starts one way and somersaults by the end. Some aren’t really stories, just thoughts — crazy, inspired, smartass thoughts.

7. The Circle by Dave Eggers. Tech satire set in a near-future where a Google-esque company controls the world and our identities. What happens when we become so comfortable sharing our lives that nothing is private anymore? When we vilify those who keep secrets? Five people I know have recommended this book, and I keep eyeing it in the bookstore without buying it — probably because the idea of a GoogApplInstaSoft scares me.

8. New York 1, Tel Aviv 0 by Shelly Oria. Stories that are out of place, literally. Shelly grew up in Tel Aviv after being born in America, and she writes about relationships that feel oddly off-center. In one story, a romantic threesome falls apart when one of the characters realizes she is the third wheel. There are also some beautiful lines about war in America and Israel (“In Tel Aviv, if you drink or eat or party enough, even the worst kind of war feels like peace”).

9. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. You totally expected this, but I saw a girl reading this book on the train, and the book has been on my almost-reading list ever since. Someone else on the train asked her if it was good, and — in one of those rare moments of train camaraderie (this was the 4, at night, under the river) — she nodded enthusiastically and said yes, it is good! This is a thriller with what looks like a serialized form — short journal entries written by the main character as she imagines the lives of a couple she passes on her daily commute. A whodunit, literary noir. I could definitely see getting into this book in a cabin in the woods, sometime mid-summer.

10. Selected Tweets by Mira Gonzalez & Tao Lin. Tweets are literature, too. Mira and Tao — two of the best tweeters in the biz — gathered their best tweets into a very serious book. These tweets are curated and stitched into a narrative, albeit one full of non-sequiturs. This book has been on my list since I read Zaron’s interview with Mira and Tao in Playboy, and I think it would be almost meditative to read their best tweets cover to cover. I also saw this book in the store last week, and it looks like a pocket bible. I flipped through and saw lots of tildes. Very enticing.

11. Binary Star by Sarah Gerard. A poetic novel about a relationship, framed by the metaphor of a “binary star” — two stars that orbit each other. It’s abstract and fragmented, and Sarah writes about anorexia and that grey feeling of trying to figure out who you’re supposed to listen to when everyone is paid to make you want to listen to them. The good kind of sad book.

12. The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink. Birdwatching, sex, and monogamy. It’s a quasi-environmentalist novel in which angry birds wreak havoc. It has a sense of wildness and whimsy that is hard to define. This is Nell’s first novel, and — from the chunk I’ve read — it seems like she wanted write a non-novel, or something so wild it can’t be encapsulated in a paragraph. One of those cerebral novels that feels like the inside of a single brain fold.

13. The Secret History by Donna Tartt. A murder mystery about a group of privileged college students who take themselves very seriously. A literary novel written in deep detail, as florid as Dickens. Think: Latin quotes, modern-day Greek tragedy, and reading alone in a building with large Corinthian columns. It’s purposefully pretentious. I’ve been almost reading this book for two years, waiting for the right moment to dive in. It’s gotten creepily good reviews, and I hope to read it before the end of the year.

14. The Late Parade by Adam Fitzgerald. Dreamy poems with pairs of words (“ungroomed clouds” “buttered air” “hexagonal flowers”) that rub against each other until they spark. I picked it up in a bookstore last fall — started reading it standing up and photographed a page I loved. Never finished it, but I followed Adam on Twitter and I think about finishing this book often. The poems I’ve read are hallucinatory but still honest, a rare combination, I think.

15. What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe. What would happen if we drained all the water from the world’s oceans? Or if we printed Wikipedia? Absurd hypotheticals are a guilty pleasure of mine, and these explanations are calm, clear and well-researched. Imaginative scenarios made thrillingly real, thanks to the power of Science.

16. Sick in the Head by Judd Apatow. The only things I know about Judd Apatow are that he has facial hair and he produces GIRLS. The cover of this book confirms both of these things. It’s a series of interviews with some of the funniest people alive (Amy Poehler, Marc Maron, Amy Schumer, Jimmy Fallon). I haven’t seen any of Judd’s films or TV shows (aside from GIRLS), but he has a cool, masculine name and seems like an all-around funny guy with Good Ideas. I’ve been almost reading this book for a few days now.

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