Annotations: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous


I’ve had few reading experiences as varied as my experience with Ocean Vuong’s debut novel. It is apparent, immediately, from the first page, that the novelist is a poet.

I am writing because they told me never to start a sentence with because. But I wasn’t trying to make a sentence—I was trying to break free. Because freedom, I am told, is nothing but the distance between the hunter and its prey.

There are so many moments of absolutely breathtaking prose throughout On Earth, moments that cannot be appreciated except on the physical page—which is to say: do not attempt this novel as an audiobook. It’s read by Ocean Vuong—but don’t. If you’re able to do physical, the words somehow hit harder and feel softer consumed as they were written.

There were sections of this book where the narrative was too fractured (for me) to appreciate. In those moments, I wished I understood poetry better as a form because if I did, I’m sure I’d love those sections, too. As it stands, I need enough form to discern shape, I need my sentences to begin and end, I struggle when they bleed into one another without either. Retrospectively, I suspect this says more about me than this novel’s failings.

But still, all of that said, at the end of this novel, all I could do was take a deep breath and appreciate its beauty. There is so much beauty and poetry in these pages, enough to fill a book.

Favorite words.

“You’re not a monster,” I said.

But I lied.

What I really wanted to say was that a monster is not such a terrible thing to be. From the Latin root monstrum, a divine messenger of catastrophe, then adapted by the Old French to mean an animal of myriad origins: centaur, griffin, satyr. To be a monster is to be a hybrid signal, a lighthouse: both shelter and warning at once.

There is so much I want to tell you, Ma. I was once foolish enough to believe knowledge would clarify, but some things are so gauzed behind layers of syntax and semantics, behind days and hours, names forgotten, salvaged and shed, that simply knowing the wound exists does nothing to reveal it. I don’t know what I’m saying. I guess what I mean is that sometimes I don’t know what or who we are. Days I feel like a human being, while other days I feel more like sound. I touch the world not as myself but an an echo of who I was. Can you hear me yet? Can you read me?

We stopped the truck one time on the side of a dirt road and sat against the driver door, facing a meadow. Soon our shadows on the red exterior shifted and bloomed, like purple graffiti. Two double-cheese whoppers were warming on the hood, their parchment wrappers crackling. Did you ever feel colored-in when a boy found you with his mouth? What if the body, at its best, is only longing for body? The blood racing to the heart only to be sent back out, filling the routes, the once empty channels, the miles it takes to take us toward each other. Why did I feel more myself while reaching for him, my hand in midair, than I did having touched him?

Sometimes being offered tenderness feels like the very proof you’ve been ruined.

Because that’s what mothers do. They wait. They stand still until their children belong to someone else.

They say nothing lasts forever but they’re just scared it will last longer than they can love it.

I’m sorry I keep saying How are you? when I really mean Are you happy?

The door slammed and someone came home and low voices could be heard, the single lilt of a question as it rose, “How was it?” or “Are you hungry?” Something plain and necessary, yet extra, with care, a voice like those tiny roofs over the phone booths along train tracks, the ones made from the same shingles used for houses, except only four rows wide—just enough to keep the phone dry. And maybe that’s all I wanted—to be asked a question and have it cover me, like a roof the width of myself.

Annotations: Bad Dreams and Other Stories


Tessa Hadley is, apparently, a New Yorker staple—six of ten of the stories in Bad Dreams were published first in the magazine (and Deborah Treisman is the first person Hadley thanks in her acknowledgements). If you like the New Yorker‘s aesthetic, I imagine you’ll like Bad Dreams. Enough said.

1. “An Abduction”: At times, the fusty Englishness of this story irritated me. But Hadley does capture a particular summer feeling; the desolate boredom and simultaneous awe that you can only ever feel during the dog days of a summer childhood. There’s also a moment in the story in which the protagonist enters an adult bedroom and encounters a duvet for the first time, embedding the image forever in her mind as the picture of “adult life”—who doesn’t have such bizarre pictures buried in their subconscious? 3 stars

  • Question: Does happiness in adulthood blur memories of childhood?
  • Note: I think I’m annoyed when a contemporary story erases the existence of technology.

2. “The Stain”: The writing is solid here, it just isn’t my taste. “The Stain” reads like assigned high school reading. 2 stars

3. “Deeds Not Words”: …was this a story? Or am I just clouded by my distaste for historical fiction? 1 star

4. “One Saturday Morning”: My problems with this story mirror my problems with all of the stories in this collection: solid, unimpeachable writing that nonetheless feels white and WASPy and workshopped to death. That said, I did like that Carrie (the protagonist) didn’t witness something untoward. Just as The Sixth Sense cannot be done in 2022, nor can Atonement. 2.5 stars

5. “Experience”: This story was one of my favorites in the collection, and I think it’s because it’s one of the few that’s told in first—it feels less fussy. And I liked the subversion—again, Hadley is great at this—of expectation. The reader expects sex, and it doesn’t happen, and that’s somehow more satisfying. 3.5 stars

6. “Bad Dreams”: This story captures the small violences of domesticity, the way perceived wrongs can be stored and hidden; and it hints at how they might snowball …
I also appreciated the idea that reprieve can be found in altering your environment—if you’re not the same inside, it’s disconcerting that the world outside yourself looks unchanged. 3 stars

7. “Flight”: Another competent story competently told that just doesn’t spark much in me beyond objective recognition. 2 stars

  • Note: I like that Hadley’s writing is rarely focused on men.

8. “Under the Sign of the Moon”: There seems to be a lot lurking beneath the surface of this story. That said, I have no idea what those things might be. I also felt there was a flatness of affect—maybe intentionally? To mirror the protagonist’s flattened sense of her life? 2.5 stars

9. “Her Share of Sorrow”: This story (especially the ending, which I detested) is as melodramatic as the novel the adolescent protagonist is writing. 1 star

10. “Silk Brocade”: This story is tied for my favorite of the collection. I especially liked how it zoomed out at the end, stripping the events of the story down to what, of course, they actually are: meaningless history (as all history is). 3.5 stars

  • For some reason—the atmosphere or the tone or maybe just Thwaite Park—this story gave me strong Jane Austen vibes.

Favorite words.

But liking people and even loving them seemed to me now like ways of keeping yourself safe, and I didn’t want to be safe. I wanted to cross the threshold and be initiated into real life. My innocence was a sign of something maimed and unfinished in me. (“Experience”)

Solitude’s like a drug … you use it. You can’t let it use you. (“Experience”)

Since her illness began, at least in the intervals when she felt well enough to read, she had immersed herself in books almost fanatically, trying not to leave open any chink in her consciousness through which she could be waylaid by awareness of her body or by fear or disgust. (“Under the Sign of the Moon”)

Annotations: So Many Olympic Exertions


I do not generally love novels described as “genre-blending”/”genre-bending” or “experimental.” I am not interested in sports (I bring novels to sporting events). I do not read self-help. And yet, Anelise Chen’s experimental novel blending elements of memoir, sports writing, and self-help dazzled me. The prose is accessible but gorgeous; the “reporting” on athletes and sports psychology is riveting; the narrative is emotionally taut. I loved this debut—I can’t wait to read whatever Chen writes next (yes, even if it’s a memoir told from the third-person perspective of a clam).

Favorite words.

To get to the conference, I take an airplane, a shuttle, then walk .21 miles to the hotel.
It is so exhausting to have to ferry around a body, a suitcase, and a head crammed with thoughts.

The only reason Ellen and I get together anymore is out of a sense of mutual obligation. After you’ve known someone enough years, it doesn’t matter if you even like them. Liking or enjoying their company is beside the point. They are a part of you, like a tattoo you can’t wish away.

Pessimists perform best when the world lets them down.

Bodies and what we do with them. The life of the body, the life of the mind. When there isn’t a balance between these two lives, things go wrong. Our well-being is such a complex mechanism of weights and pulleys.
For example, in recent years, I’ve noticed that whenever friends write to me, they tend to include a few sentences about what they’re doing for exercise. They probably think it’s an easy way to relate to my research. They say things like—”If I don’t exercise I feel off-kilter,” or “I like to get my ass kicked.” The crazier the person’s life is or has recently been, the more they need their ass kicked.

Those times when I would be brave enough to make the trek and swim in the pool undisturbed, completely free, I would feel both immense gratitude and immense loneliness all at once. It was beautiful and unshareable, and I wondered if it was beautiful because it was unshareable. Sharing it with someone would have fragmented a moment of pure perception. On the other hand, perhaps it was only beautiful because I was sharing it with an ideal, hypothetical other. This other person would undoubtedly find this sort of thing beautiful, and therefore I did, too. But since that hypothetical other person was not there, I was really just sharing the moment with myself, divided or projected.

Goals are relevant only if they manage to establish a proper distance between ability and desire, encouraging intrinsic motivation. Note that a goal is not the same as a want. Most children do not have a goal when they start a task.

Both the doctor and Alain’s best friend Dubourg believe Alain’s lethargy is caused by lack of will. They call Alain “mediocre” and then “spineless.” For these goal-oriented optimists, minor obstacles are like temporary problems to be solved as you travel from one point to another point. For the goal-less pessimist, however, there is just terrain. Where should I walk to? When a goal-oriented optimist does not act, he very well may be spineless. But when a goal-less pessimist does not act, he is simply making a rational choice.
For instance, when the doctor says to Alain that life is good, Alain replies: “Good for what?” The doctor is unable to answer this very simple question.

The Stoic philosopher Seneca believed we’d all be less angry if we lowered our expectations and demanded less from life. Anger, he believed, was caused by the disappointment that occurs when reality doesn’t conform to one’s expectations. Of his pupils, only the rich would throw a fit over a spilled cup of wine. The wise, on the other hand, understood that fortune was fickle and promised nothing. “No promise has been made for ever this hour,” Seneca once told a grieving mother who’d lost her son. “Stop pretending like death is a weird anomaly, and won’t ever happen to us.” (I paraphrase, but that’s the general idea.)

Annotations: The Fountainhead


All of my favorite novels are beautiful works of art. Their impact, for me, is on an emotional register produced by intimacy with characters, appreciation of language, persistent imagery, inescapable atmosphere. With The Fountainhead, it isn’t like that. The characters are well built (Howard Roark and Ellsworth Toohey, in particular, are singular creations), the language is sufficient, and the imagery and atmosphere do not detract from the story—all statements that I suspect Ayn Rand would consider complimentary. That said, I do not feel that The Fountainhead is beautiful. In fact, I do not especially “feel” anything about The Fountainhead, at least, not in the emotional sense in which that word is traditionally used. The Fountainhead didn’t touch my heart. It did something different, and unusual, and, arguably, harder. It touched my mind.

On the first pages of the novel, Rand writes: “Nothing can be reasonable or beautiful unless it’s made by one central idea, and the idea sets every detail.” The Fountainhead is not a story told for the sake of telling a story—it’s a story told in pursuit of an idea, and that idea sets its every detail.

I can’t comment on Rand’s broader politics, they seem largely at odds with the things I believe, but within the confines of The Fountainhead, I found ideas that resonated. Roark worships work but not money, beauty but only if it’s functional, integrity over kindness. The Fountainhead asks questions like:

  • “Why is it so important—what others have done? Why does it become sacred by the mere fact of not being your own? Why is anyone and everyone right—so long as it’s not yourself? Why does the number of those others take the place of truth? Why is truth made a matter of arithmetic?”
  • “Do you always have to have a purpose? … Can’t you ever be comfortable—and unimportant?”
  • “What is kinder—to believe the best of people and burden them with a nobility beyond their endurance—or to see them as they are, and accept it because it makes them comfortable?”
  • “Reason can be fought with reason. How are you going to fight the unreasonable?”
  • “What is the use of building for a world that does not exist?”

I would give this book 6 stars if I could.

Favorite words.

His face was like a law of nature—a thing one could not question, alter or implore. It had high cheekbones over gaunt, hollow cheeks; gray eyes, cold and steady; a contemptuous mouth, shut tight, the mouth of an executioner or a saint.

There will be days when you’ll stand in the corner of a hall and listen to a creature on a platform talking about buildings, about that work which you love, and the things he’ll say will make you wait for somebody to rise and crack him open between two thumbnails; and then you’ll hear the people applauding him, and you’ll want to scream, because you won’t know whether they’re real or you are, whether you’re in a room full of gored skulls, or whether someone has just emptied your own head, and you’ll say nothing, because the sounds you could make—they’re not in a language in that room any longer …

“Howard, why do you hate me?

“I don’t hate you.”

“Well, that’s it! Why don’t you hate me at least?”

“Why should I?”

“Just to give me something. I know you can’t like me. You can’t like anybody. So it would be kinder to acknowledge people’s existence by hating them.”

“I’m not kind, Peter.”

He worshipped expertness of any kind. He loved his work passionately and had no tolerance for anything save for other single-track devotions. He was a master in his own field and he felt no sympathy except for mastery. His view of the world was simple: there were the able and there were the incompetent; he was not concerned with the latter.

You know, it’s such a peculiar thing—our idea of mankind in general. We all have a sort of vague, glowing picture when we say that, something solemn, big and important. But actually all we know of it is the people we meet in our lifetime. Look at them. Do you know any you’d feel big and solemn about? There’s nothing but housewives haggling at pushcarts, drooling brats who write dirty words on sidewalks, and drunken debutantes. Or their spiritual equivalents. As a matter of fact, one can feel some respect for people when they suffer. They have a certain dignity. But have you ever looked at them when they’re enjoying themselves? That’s when you see the truth. Look at those who spend the money they’ve slaved for—at amusement parks and side shows. Look at those who’re rich and have the whole world open to them. Observe what they pick out for enjoyment. Watch them in the smarter speak-easies. That’s your mankind in general.

Dominique had spent so many summers and winters, surrounding herself with people in order to feel alone, that the experiment of actual solitude was an enchantment to her and a betrayal into a weakness she had never allowed herself: the weakness of enjoying it.

… Dominique realized that what she saw in his face, what made it the face of a god to her, was not seen by others; that it could leave them indifferent; that what she had thought to be the most obvious, inconsequential remark [on his appearance] was, instead, a confession of something within her, some quality not shared by others.

He did not smile at his employees, he did not take them out for drinks, he never inquired about their families, their love lives or their church attendance. He responded only to the essence of a man: to his creative capacity. In this office one had to be competent. There were no alternatives, no mitigating considerations. But if a man worked well, he needed nothing else to win his employer’s benevolence: it was granted, not as a gift, but as a debt. It was granted, not as affection, but as recognition. It bred an immense feeling of self-respect within every man in that office.

“Do you think integrity is the monopoly of the artist? And what, incidentally, do you think integrity is? The ability not to pick a watch out of your neighbor’s pocket? No, it’s not as easy as that. If that were all, I’d say ninety-five percent of humanity were honest, upright men. Only, as you can see, they aren’t. Integrity is the ability to stand by an idea. That presupposes the ability to think. Thinking is something one doesn’t borrow or pawn.”

“You said something yesterday about a first law. A law demanding that man seek the best. … It was funny …. The unrecognized genius—that’s an old story. Have you ever thought of a much worse one—the genius recognized too well? … That a great many men are poor fools who can’t see the best—that’s nothing. One can’t get angry at that. But do you understand about the men who see it and don’t want it?”


“No. You wouldn’t. I spent all night thinking about you. I didn’t sleep at all. Do you know what your secret is? It’s your terrible innocence.”

Roark laughed aloud, looking at his boyish face.

“No,” said Mallory, “it’s not funny. I know what I’m talking about—and you don’t. You can’t know. It’s because of that absolute health of yours. You’re so healthy that you can’t conceive of disease. You know of it. But you don’t really believe it. I do. I’m wiser than you are about some things, because I’m weaker. I understand—the other side. …”

The publishers of his time took pride in stamping their individual personalities upon their newspapers. Gail Wynand delivered his paper, body and soul, to the mob. The Banner assumed the appearance of a circus poster in body, of a circus performance in soul. It accepted the same goal—to stun, to amuse, to collect admission. It bore the imprint, not of one, but of a million men. “Men differ in their virtues,” said Gail Wynand, explaining his policy, “but they are alike in their vices.” He added, looking straight into the questioner’s eyes: “I am serving that which exists on this earth in greatest quantity. I am representing the majority—surely an act of virtue?”

“It’s said that the worst thing one can do to a man is to kill his self-respect. But that’s not true. Self-respect is something that can’t be killed. The worst thing is to kill a man’s pretense at it.”

“One can’t love man without hating most of the creatures who pretend to bear his name.”

“Those who speak of love most promiscuously are the ones who’ve never felt it.”

“I often think that he’s the only one of us who’s achieved immortality. I don’t mean in the sense of fame and I don’t mean that he won’t die someday. But he’s living it. I think he is what the conception really means. You know how people long to be eternal. But they die with every day that passes. When you meet them, they’re not what you last met. In any given hour, they kill some part of themselves. They change, the deny, they contradict—and they call it growth. At the end there’s nothing left, nothing unreversed or unbetrayed; as if there had never been any entity, only a succession of adjectives fading in and out on an unformed mass. How do they expect permanence which they have never held for a single moment? But Howard—one can imagine him existing forever.”

“Most people build as they live—as a matter of routine and senseless accident. But a few understand that building is a great symbol. We live in our minds, and existence is the attempt to bring that life into physical reality, to state it in gesture and form. For the man who understands this, a house he owns is a statement of his life. If he doesn’t build, when he has the means, it’s because his life has not been what he wanted.”

“I never meet the men whose work I love. The work means too much to me. I don’t want the men to spoil it. They usually do. They’re an anticlimax to their own talent.”

“There’s so much nonsense about human inconstancy and the transience of all emotions,” said Wynand. “I’ve always thought that a feeling which changes never existed in the first place. There are books I liked at the age of sixteen. I still like them.”

“… Bricks and steel are not my motive. Neither are the clients. Both are only the means of my work. Peter, before you can do things for people, you must be the kind of man who can get things done. But to get things done, you must love the doing, not the secondary consequences. The work, not the people. Your own action, no any possible object of your charity. I’ll be glad if people who need it find a better manner of living in a house I designed. But that’s not the motive of my work. Nor my reason. Nor my reward.”

“… why do they always teach us that it’s easy and evil to do what we want and that we need discipline to restrain ourselves? It’s the hardest thing in the world—to do what we want. And it takes the greatest kind of courage. I mean, what we really want. As I wanted to marry you. Not as I want to sleep with some woman or get drunk or get my name in the papers. Those things—they’re not even desires—they’re things people do to escape from desires—because it’s such a big responsibility, really to want something.”

“Motives never alter facts.”

“… A truly selfish man cannot be affected by the approval of others. He doesn’t need it. … It’s so easy to run to others. It’s so hard to stand on one’s own record. You can fake virtue for an audience. You can’t fake it in your own eyes. Your ego is your strictest judge. They run from it. They spend their lives running. It’s easier to donate a few thousands to charity and think oneself noble than to base self-respect on personal standards of personal achievement. It’s simple to seek substitutes for competence—such easy substitutes: love, charm, kindness, charity. But there is no substitute for competence.”

“Every form of happiness is private.”

“… Yet the test should be so simple: just listen to any prophet and if you hear him speak of sacrifice—run. Run faster than from a plague. It stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice, there’s someone collecting sacrificial offerings. Where there’s service, there’s someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice, speaks of slaves and masters. And intends to be the master. But if ever you hear a man telling you that you must be happy, that it’s your natural right, that your first duty is to yourself—that will be the man who’s not after your soul.”

He thought—while his hand moved rapidly—what a power there was in words; later, for those who heard them, but first for the one who found them; a healing power, a solution, like the breaking of a barrier. He thought, perhaps the basic secret the scientists have never discovered, the first fount of life, is that which happens when a thought takes shape in words.

… she knew that even pain can be confessed, but to confess happiness is to stand naked …

“The creator lives for his work. He needs no other men. His primary goal is within himself. The parasite lives second-hand. He needs others. Others become his prime motive. The basic need of the creator is independence. The reasoning mind cannot work under any form of compulsion. It cannot be curbed, sacrificed or subordinated to any consideration whatsoever. It demands total independence in function and in motive. To a creator, all relations with men are secondary.”

Annotations: Chilean Poet


There is something incredibly refreshing about a novel that does not concern itself with beginnings and endings, a novel that so resoundingly eschews “plot.” And, of course, I imagine Zambra’s response to this observation would be something like: poetry is plotless, as is life; plot is the fictitious construction of the novelist (which, curiously, begs the question: does Zambra consider himself a novelist?). Whatever Zambra is—whichever artificial genre the market shoehorns Chilean Poet into—the prose is great. I would have spent hundreds of pages more meandering with Gonzalo and Vicente.

Favorite words.

He didn’t want to look at her that way, and yet, at the same time, a certain sense of authority emerged in his head, as if sleeping with someone, or having slept with them, meant you acquired the right to look coldly at their body.

People say that’s what happiness is—when you don’t feel like you should be somewhere else, or be someone else. A different person. Someone younger, older. Someone better. It’s a perfect and impossible idea, but still …

She was incapable of sleeping without pills, but sometimes she decided not to take them so she could remember what she was like, who she really was, like a nearsighted person who decides to leave her glasses on the night table and feel her way through the whole day.

Annotations: The Appointment

Favorite words.

But we never mourned. If anything we performed a new version of ourselves, hysterically non-racist in any direction and negating difference wherever possible. Suddenly there were just Germans, no Jews, no guest workers, no others. And yet we never granted them the status of human beings again, or let them interfere with our take of the story, down to that ugly heap of stones they put up in Berlin to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. Have you seen that, Dr. Seligman? I mean, seriously, who wants to be remembered like that? Who wants to be remembered at the receiving end of violence?

… I have not reached the point yet where I find satisfaction in letting my father down. I reached that point years ago with my mother, but with a mother it makes hardly any difference. It’s not like you will ever be free from her love, from that animal-like affection that would follow its children to the darkest of dens. The kind of love that finds excuses for Marc Dutroux and Harold Shipman. It’s like the slime my mother covered me in before forcing me into this world, and the idea that I was once part of her flesh still fills me with dread. Her love was always too much, too embarrassing, too indiscreet. A father’s love can’t be compared to that. There’s an element of choice in it—it’s something you can win and, of course, something you can lose.

I told him about how I sometimes follow strangers. I don’t remember how I came up with the idea, but I guess something fascinated me about how much power you can gain by overstepping those small boundaries. Most people would be terrified if you suddenly stared in through their windows, and that’s not even illegal—just like following them is mostly within the law. I just think that most perversions are born out of a sense of insignificance, Dr. Seligman. And telling Jason all about them was like a fun way to try them out, another way of leaving myself behind. And it’s quite easy to follow someone.

… it’s one of my many flaws, Dr. Seligman, that I cannot imagine other people’s unhappiness. I felt so violated by society all my life that I refused those people who lived by its rules the right to be unhappy. I always wanted them to smile themselves to death for supporting those institutions and limitations that had made everything so difficult for me, for thinking that as long as you tick all the boxes and follow all the rules, flowers will be growing out of your ass until the end of time. I didn’t want them to be allowed to talk about their pain, I wanted them to suffer from their own stupidity …

But the body others see is never the body we see …

Annotations: Drowning Practice


I am not an “event” person. Birthdays, weddings, holidays—even weekends: I’m not up for whatever it is you’re planning. There’s too much anticipation. The delivery on return is always subpar, and the experience of the actual day is never as good as you’d hoped. I’m of the opinion that the best days are always ordinary Tuesdays.

In that spirit, I also hate twist endings. Or endings presaged by too much hype or mystery. The monster at the end of the book is never as terrifying as you imagined (except, of course, for in The Monster at the End of This Book). So, I had my qualms going into Mike Meginnis’ Drowning Practice. The premise is this:

One night, everyone on Earth has the same dream—a dream of being guided to a watery death by a loved one on November 1. When they wake up, most people agree: after Halloween, the world will end.

The novel asks: What matters given impending apocalypse?

For all 400 pages of Drowning Practice, I dreaded the end of the story, even as I fell in love with the characters. Meginnis set himself up for failure from page 1 with a this-will-be-climactic premise. Would the world actually end? Would it end the way the dreamers dreamt it would? Would it feel like an apocalypse? Would Mott and Lyd survive? Would the “why” of the end of the world be answered?

Without spoiling anything, I will say this: Meginnis nailed it. This ending is one of the best I’ve read—satisfying and imaginative and way better than an ordinary Tuesday.

Favorite words.

“It must be nice to care about nature.”

“I’ve tried, several times,” said Mott. “And I can’t. But you’re right. The canyon is nice.”

“It isn’t nice,” said Lyd. “That’s what I like about it.”

“It’s … indifferent?”

“I’m not sure that’s right, either. People are indifferent, the land isn’t. It’s not even land, it’s just us, looking at the earth that makes it real.”

“Sometimes it seems like you both think that novels are the only beautiful things in the world. That’s not the case. Everybody else doesn’t secretly wish they could do what you do.”

Currently: April 27, 2022


  • Drowning Practice by Mike Meginnis
  • Shit Cassandra Saw by Gwen E. Kirby
  • She Is Haunted by Paige Clark
  • True Heart Intuitive Tarot by Rachel True
  • The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand


Stuck On

Annotations: The Story of the Lost Child (The Neapolitan Novels #4)


I’m still putting together my thoughts about the final installment in Ferrante’s tetralogy. I loved it. Not as much as the second and third installments. More than I love most books I read. Ferrante’s genius is in her ability to capture the minute in a landscape of expansive scope. In her ability to paint an entire life—decades—with intense attention to detail that, because of its complete lack of artifice, never leaves the viewer-cum-reader fatigued.

Is it a perfect novel? No. I wanted more, for example, from the lost child thread. Tina’s disappearance left a hole—but I didn’t feel like Ferrante explored its depth or the quality of its darkness as much as she might have.

Is it an almost perfect novel? Yes, I think so.

I also loved Judith Shulevitz’s thoughts on Ferrante’s style in her Atlantic review: The Hypnotic Genius of Elena Ferrante. “Emotional chiaroscuro” is exactly right.

Favorite words.

To be adult is to disappear, is to learn to hide to the point of vanishing.

Currently: April 15, 2022


  • The Story of the Lost Child (The Neapolitan Novels #4) by Elena Ferrante
  • Shit Cassandra Saw by Gwen E. Kirby
  • She Is Haunted by Paige Clark
  • True Heart Intuitive Tarot by Rachel True
  • The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand


Stuck On

  • Ann Goldstein. This is really just an extension of my Elena Ferrante obsession. But Ann is interesting, too. I attended a virtual event featuring her last week and was surprised to discover she didn’t learn to speak/read Italian until she was almost 40. Lesson: It’s never too late. For those interested, recording below: