blogging about books

Caiti Borruso
PO Box 34582
San Diego, CA

electronic mail:
@ gmail . com
On reading this year (2021)
January 4, 2022

The kitchen hutch, in December. (Photo/photo theory, mugs and glasses, and a stack of New Yorkers, mostly. But book categories are malleable. Also: a crate full of card games, mealybug particles, and a bag with two ornaments in it.)

* I meant to have this completed before 2022, but I didn’t. I came down with a bad cold instead.

I read a lot this year. Or I read more than I had read any year prior. (I aimed for sixty books and I reached sixty, five hours before midnight.) I kept a physical log of it this year, in addition to marking things off on Goodreads, because I like thumbing through my little notebook and using tally marks. I like my weird notes to myself. My friend M sent me this notebook right after I moved to California, when I was very depressed, and it’s perfect for keeping track of books.

I don’t remember reading most of them. I thought this year would be better, but it was not. Every Saturday, for most of the year, I woke up and sat on the beanbag in our living room and read a book, or went to the library and then read a book. After I went away for my summer of grad school, I began going to bike meetings on Saturday mornings, and then walking to the library close to our house, which finally opened again at the end of July. It’s the smallest one in the library system, with very little room for social distancing, and the city’s mayor tried to cut funding to libraries to increase funds to the police this year, so the reopening dragged on. But when I got back from school, it was open, and I managed to divert all of my holds to this library. And though I have to cross a gnarly intersection on foot, where three different major roads knit together, it’s a nice walk, past a vintage train and car museum, an empty trophy shop, and an oddities shop owned by someone I know of. Before that, I was driving all the way to the library at the bottom of the hill, next to the Ikea.

I read Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz in January, leaning on the washing machine to keep it from crawling across the room, and underlined things in perfect little loops from the bouncing of the machine. I wrote about feeling feral; it’s a feral book, a scraping kind of book; I write: Desire is something that’s fled from my body this year, like sap being tapped from a tree with each passing day. I am no animal. I read The Dutch House by Ann Patchett and felt sad for empty houses and sad for families that get pushed together and pulled apart. The beginning of the year was excruciating; my MFA program was discontinued, and it became this awful fight-for-the-program while also trying to make work, which was impossible. Reading was impossible, except in determined spurts. Like watching YouTube videos, or scrolling through my phone, or watching the Bachelor franchise, it was a portal from one time of day to another, a way to survive an hour. In January and February I read Women, the New York School, and Other True Abstractions by Maggie Nelson and felt so excited; I had figured out how to use the inter-library loan system and procured a book I couldn’t find online. But I was more excited for how reading it made me feel: like I had a place for the kind of writing I wanted to do. Women, the New York School, and Other True Abstractions situated me somewhere, the same way that Die, My Love did. It gave me permission.

March was the worst month in memory; Jeremy was vaccinated before me, but even still things felt dire. There was hope and there was the bottom and mostly I lived at the bottom. But I read We Do This Til We Free Us by Mariame Kaba, who reminds us, time and time again, that hope is a discipline. A book I underlined and underlined, one I’m glad I purchased. I got my first shot sometime in March, at an empty Charlotte Russe in an outdoor mall, and there were pom-poms and I was pushed through a secret hallway to the food court, to wait in a bright plastic chair under the skylight. The stories from The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans stick to the inside of me still. I bring them with me to the mall. 

April is a particularly good month for books: my first outing, post-vaccination and -inoculation, is to a bookstore a twenty-minute walk away, for Independent Bookstore Day. I buy a Sharon Lockhart book and Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler, which somehow I’d never read, and when I get home I read Parable in a day, and I write: I am still flush with feeling from this book — I finished it less than an hour ago and got into the shower and even let myself be judicious with a new bottle of shampoo — still flush with the feeling of being alive. What a gift that books can do that. Immediately after finishing it I read (but don’t finish) one of Mike Davis’ books about Los Angeles and destruction, I can’t remember which. (I didn’t finish it, so it’s not in my little notebook. If I tracked all the books I didn’t finish, the pages would become much more cluttered.) When I moved to San Diego, I tried to seek out books about it, so that I would feel more welcomed in a time that wasn’t welcoming, which led me both to Davis and to The Mothers by Brit Bennett, which I read in the summer of 2020. Parable of the Sower technically begins somewhere in southern California, if not in San Diego then close to it, and takes place so close to now that it is eerie and warms me, too, and convinces me that maybe I should get a gun.

And before the day out at the bookstore, I read, very quickly, No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood. I’m wary of books that are purportedly about the internet, or of the internet, and have that as their main thesis, but when Lockwood drops the relative irony and writes, purely and genuinely, about her dying niece, it is one of the most beautiful things I have ever encountered. Crying in H Mart is the first book I read in May; it is much more conventional, but it makes me think about my own mother and her sickness. It makes me sad. I reread Dept. of Speculation, which makes this the third year in a row I’ve read something by Jenny Offill, and I reread Mumbai New York Scranton by Tamara Shopsin, who somehow manages to be generous and private at the same time, a balance I want to understand. I think it would require being a different person than I am. Whenever books end up on my reading lists for school, I buy them — I love underlining things too much not to — and so although I’ve read it before, I buy a copy of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, a book that deserves to be reread and reread and reread. I go back to New Jersey in May, for the first time in one year and one day. I don’t even remember if I brought a book; I was there for nearly three days, making frantic loops to see my family and Ellie and Maria and the city. I panicked in the kind of way one panics after being away from a place for a long time, the kind of panicking that leads nowhere useful. (Does it ever?)

And I go back to California for three weeks and try to eke out more reading for school; Nox by Anne Carson, which I spread out on the floor in front of me. A Little Devil in America, by Hanif Abdurraqib, the writer I’m most grateful to be alive at the same time as. I go back to New Jersey very briefly before driving up to Ithaca. I find books inside Convention Hall in Asbury and feel shocked that they are here, books that I would want to read, that are new and not merely serial romances, or thrillers, yellowed and wrinkled with bath water. My mother buys me ¡Hola Papi! by John Paul Brammer from the little cart on the boardwalk. We eat creamsicle Italian ice with custard on top.

At the end of June I’m back in Ithaca for the first time in two years, with a fervent crush on anyone who will look at me, after so many months of not being looked at. I begin writing something that still sort of sticks. I swim. I drag books into the river with me, where I bob among the people I love, pretending to read but mostly getting a little sunburnt and pruney in the water before thunderstorms. I swim laps in the pool. I bring Memorial by Bryan Washington into the bath with me, after it has already been doused in a surprise storm, and I sit outside Will’s screen door while he rearranges all the pages of his own manuscript on the floor, while the wind ruffles the pages for him. I borrow his copy of Cosmogony by Lucy Ives, someone I aspire to write like, but someone who Will is actually writing like, or writing beside. At the used bookstore in town I buy an old Aperture book that came out after David Wojnarowicz’ death, and the next day I go back to get a funky copy of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. (The photographs in my copy are falling out.) I reread the very last chapter, or appendage, again — one of my favorite pieces of writing, and that phrase: the grief of incommunicability. In the first half of July I develop a routine that is how I’d like my life to look: I get up and swim laps, I meet Mike at the library and read, or write, for a few hours. I eat something for lunch and then go to the lab to scan, or develop pictures, or think about pictures. We sit and talk about writing. My body settles, which it never does.

When I get back from Ithaca, at the tail end of July, I have a signed copy of With Teeth by Kristen Arnett waiting for me, which I read very fast and feel like I need to read again. (I felt this way the last time I got home from Ithaca, too: that I had absorbed too much information and was temporarily full, unable to bring anything else in or put anything else out, wading in my own head.) At the beginning of August I read Loudermilk by Lucy Ives. This year I hated being in an MFA program and desperately wished I had dropped out when the pandemic began. And yet the summer I spent in Ithaca was the best part of the year. It’s allowed me health insurance, yes, and I’m so grateful for the people, but to be part of a program that is being discontinued, and have to do an extra year of instruction and loans and emailing — it has taken up a lot of the energy that I wish had gone to writing instead. It didn’t.

Nonetheless, reading has been the thing that has pushed me forward: because I set a goal for myself, because there was still not much to do, because sitting in the corner on the beanbag chair and reading is one of my favorite things to do. And my library reopening: I know my librarians now that I see them more often, and we talk whenever I am there picking up holds, and being recognized when you walk into a room is a way to feel useful in a place; my librarians notice when I’m not there, and ask about what I’m reading, and when one of them finds out my goal for the year she tells me to boost the numbers with poetry. In August I read Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler and then Writers and Lovers by Lily King, one of those books that has a big house in it and a lot of quiet warmth and someone biking regularly along a river. I read While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory. (I love her books. I also read both of Casey McQuiston’s books this year, but they don’t hit quite the same note as Guillory for me.)

At some point, once school was over for the year — and technically, for a long time, for me — I leaned back into reading whatever I wanted. The nature of my MFA program is such that I can do that, but I no longer had to write about what I was reading (hence this blog), and I no longer had to show up and justify what I was reading. I wanted to read books that made me feel warm; I’d been listening to the Girls Like Us podcast and decided to reread the Sisterhood of Traveling Pants books, all four of them. I knew all of the words as I read them: I was being carried along with them. It’s been a while since I reread them, probably since high school, and I could see so many things that accidentally formed the ways I thought.

In October I read the new Sally Rooney (goes down easy, as her books do), and then I read Craft in the Real World by Matthew Salesses. Craft in the Real World rearranges everything I’ve thought about being in an MFA program and about writing itself, about audience and tone and language. It’s maybe one of my favorite books from the year. I’ve always shied away from books about writing, because I never believed that I was actually a writer and thus deserving of reading them. (At the very tail end of the year, a book I started but didn’t finish: A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders, another book about writing that has explicitly rearranged ways of thinking and also made yearn for a proper degree in writing, one day, or to simply sit and talk about it for hours on end without interruption.) I float through some books that I don’t remember a word of.

November: I read Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor; I don’t read very many short stories this year, or any year, really, and I am always so enticed by them. On the couch at a lakeside lodge in Big Bear, I read A Burning by Megha Majudar. Here we have reached the end of the year where the things I read are fresh enough that I can’t write properly about them, or: I like to read things more than once to write about them. I tiptoed back into reading books about New York and New Jersey, because the year prior they made me so homesick and sad that I could not. LaserWriter II by Tamara Shopsin goes in an afternoon, the kind of dusty room I want to spend the rest of my life working in. On Lauren’s couch the day after Christmas, languishing in the sun and warmth from baseboard heating, Happy Hour by Marlowe Granados. And when I arrive home six days early from New Jersey, back to the library books that would have been overdue if I hadn’t come early: I finish Answers in the Form of Questions by Claire McNear, which I also bought for my grandfather while I was home. And a few hours before midnight, I finish My Life by Lyn Hejinian, which I read an excerpt of last year and hadn’t stopped thinking about, a book that makes me want to write sentences, very good ones.

I have no intention to write an exhaustive list of books or reading, because so much reading happened in between: all of the printed-out things I read for school this summer, my classmates’ manuscripts, newsletters (partial to Hung Up by Hunter Harris and anything Ben Seretan writes to accompany his music), letters from pen pals. The first twenty pages of many books. Synopses of books that led me to order them from Thriftbooks and place them on my now-teetering to-be-read pile. In April, my bookshelf arrived, and I rearranged all of the books to accommodate. Jeremy brought his record collection home, so I read liner notes and learned how to properly palm a vinyl. I returned a lot of books to the library that I hadn’t finished. I wrote things that will be in two books next (this) year.

I anticipate rereading more this year, because it takes at least two readings to write about something, and because it’s a nice thing to do, and because my tastes and energy have changed. For the past three years I’ve read regularly, with a goal, and it’s helped stake out my tastes for publishers and writers and methods the way that working with photobooks did. Who publishes what, and all of that, and what gets published and why: in some ways it’s much more evident with photobooks, because of how much smaller it is, the whole world of it. But — all of this is to say that I’m happy to be reading and to be writing about it, and I find endings to things like this difficult, so — until the next one. (With less of a gap, this time.)