A ~good vibes only~ post, plus book recs
Welcome new subscribers! I’m Jillian Anthony, and this is Cruel Summer Book Club, a newsletter about change, heartbreak and healing. Today’s newsletter will be a bit different than usual, so here’s some of my favorite past posts. I hope they send you comfort today. Thanks for being here.
Let’s try something different. Today, I’m just going to share some good stuff that’s happened to me lately. It’s a ~Good Vibes Only~ post.
Yesterday was my Fully Cooked Vaccination Day! I’m two weeks out of my second Moderna shot, which means my #ShotGirlSummer has officially begun!
Today in *big fat happy personal news*: I am moving to Austin, Texas on June 1! That’s only 21 days away, and yes I’m counting.
I first visited Austin for a work trip during SXSW in the spring of 2019, and something significant stayed with me. As I moved out of New York and wondered where the hell I could make a new home, my mind kept pinging, “What about Austin? What about Austin?” So I decided to spend the month of February there to find out. And everything just *clicked*. I made friends easily. I went on great dates. I loved running along the riverside and could see a clear vision of my life there, summers spent roasting in swimming holes and biking along the Greenbelt. Even through the devastating winter storm (my place lost power for four days and water for eight), I was so well taken care of, and impressed by how Austinites cared for one another.
So, last month I found a perfect East Side sublet for the summer—my landlord chose me to temporarily take over her home out of 50 interested people, even though we could only meet over video. This big win is mine, and I’m cherishing it.
There are few times in life when the universe points a big red arrow down a path built just for you, prefaced by a blinking neon sign that screams, “THIS WAY BABE!” I would be a fool not to listen. I’m on my way.
Finally, several of you have asked me for more book recommendations. I’m going to share some with you today, inspired by a lovely correspondence with a CSBC reader.
Joseph W. emailed me to introduce himself after he subscribed to the newsletter (he found me through a Sex and the City podcast I was a guest on back when I was a sex and dating columnist); I responded, and we’ve been chatting it up since. He’s an elementary school librarian on the East Coast, so he’s immersed in literature in a way I deeply covet. He emailed me about writing poetry with first graders, singing along to Aretha Franklin after reading her biography with second graders, riding his bike on spring days, listening to podcasts while he walks his dogs in the park. I imagine his life romantically, set to a piano soundtrack, soft, blurred edges.
Joseph and I exchanged books we’d read and loved lately. We both read How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell, a book I enjoyed but was nothing I expected it to be, a slow, academic march into stillness. I was in the midst of reading Alexander Chee’s essay collection How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, a book I’d suggest to any writer, or anyone interested in more fully knowing themselves. I gave The Hobbit another try after I just couldn’t get into it as a teen—it was the whimsical, easy read I craved during this season of languishing, perfect for reading poolside in Vegas while my body temperature rose just enough to rejoin the living.
“To write is to sell a ticket to escape, not from the truth, but into it.” –Alexander Chee
Of Big Friendship, Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow’s ode to putting our platonic relationships first, I wrote Joseph: “I loved Big Friendship for the language it gives to specific structures within friendship, like ‘stretching’ for the periods we as friends need to bend for each other when tough or stressful things happen in our lives. I also loved how it centered friendship as the greatest loves of our lives rather than romantic relationships, because a few of my friends and I really live that way, and I hope to always keep that in perspective. We don't put friendship on the pedestal it deserves as a society—I feel I learned tools to be a better, more aware friend through the book, most of all that you WILL face hardship in friendships, as any relationship, and you HAVE to talk about it so it gets better. Having the hard conversations is a lesson I just keep learning.”
I told Joseph I had just finished Confessions of an Art Addict by Peggy Guggenheim, a droll retelling of a fascinating life of an art dealer. “I love to read about highly adventurous women, especially in their own words,” I wrote. “Any recommendations?”
What Joseph sent me in return is one of the most touching gestures I’ve received in a long time.
“I've been slowly amassing a booklist of memoirs for you (consider it my spin on ‘making you a mixtape’),” he wrote back, “and I think I am finally ready to send.” The last time someone sent me a list of books created with me in mind was a decade ago, in a burgeoning romance with my grad school boyfriend. I didn’t appreciate it nearly enough then, but I won’t make the same mistake this time.
A few of Joseph’s cherished recommendations, shared with his permission:
West with the Night by Beryl Markham
The author describes growing up in an Africa that no longer exists, training and breeding race horses, flying mail to Sudan, and being the first woman to fly the Atlantic from east to west.
This book is considered one of the progenitors of the "highly adventurous woman" memoir, co-signed by none other than Ernest Hemingway himself (which may also give you an idea of the time period in which it was written)!
Self-Portrait by Celia Paul
The author, one of Britain's most important contemporary painters, intimately reflects on her life as an artist through her own words, journal entries and memory, bringing to life her intense decades-long relationship with esteemed painter Lucian Freud.
Given your appreciation for art history, I thought I would include this, as a different kind of adventurousness—one deep into one's own psyche and the many tensions therein.
A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
A series of autobiographical essays draws on key moments and relationships in the author's life to explore such issues as trust, loss, and desire, in a volume that focuses on a central theme of losing oneself in the pleasures of experience.
I recommended this because a) it's Rebecca Solnit, so if it's even tangentially related (a la her book Wanderlust: A Cultural History of Walking) I will probably recommend it and b) here, she not only documents journeys she has taken in various portions of her life, but also deftly enters a meta-textual journey of its own, through variations on a theme.
I already borrowed Solnit’s book from the library. And here are a few of my favorite memoirs and essay collections by women (presented without Joseph’s level of poeticism, for now):
For the first time, I’m tracking everything I read in 2021 on Goodreads, if you’d like to friend me there. And I would love to hear your recommendations for books about the world’s most adventurous and fascinating women—email me or leave your picks in the comments.
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