My list of books to read this month

Severance by Ling Ma

I activated my Book of The Month Club membership again. I have started and stopped before, based on no fault of theirs, just my indecision about whether paying $15 a month for a book is worth it when I can request and read it for free from the library.

Here’s what I’ve decided: While it’s true that I’d save money if I just used the library, I’d also have to wait a long time for my turn on the wait list. With new releases, I always have to wait at least a few weeks. That means I’m never really sure when my request will come in, so I end up borrowing other books, and then when the book finally does come in, I have to drop everything to finish it before it’s due back. There’s no way you’re getting an option to renew on a HOT new book with a wait list. It’s stressful!

Therefore. I found a compromise. I bought a year’s-worth of BOTM membership so I don’t have a weird, unnecessary panic attack every month I get charged for a book. I saved a little buying the 12 books up front, but I did it more for the mental freeeeeedom. Now that it’s all paid off, I feel like I’m getting gifted a free book each month!


First up, I chose “Severance” by Ling Ma. Three reasons.

1) My brother, who is a voracious reader and librarian, recommended it to me.

2) It has a really rad minimalist book jacket that I just want to own and have on my bookshelves. I’m so book-basic sometimes and I don’t even care.

3) The story sounds really intriguing. Candace Chen is a first-generation American, busy New Yorker, and #bossbitch Millennial doin’ it fo’ herself… and is increasingly disillusioned by what all of that means—and doesn’t. Soon, Shen Fever consumes the city and, in its zombie-crusted aftermath, Candace joins a group heading to Chicago for survival. However, Candace is hiding a mystery that could soon put her in danger with her apocalyptic pals.

“Rather than an Average Joe, Ma gives us a Specific Chen, conjuring an experience of the apocalypse through the lens of someone whose variegated identity is not an exotic distraction but part of the novel’s architecture. The chapters of ‘Severance’ alternate between the narrative present—in which Candace, having been rescued by the survivors fleeing New York, tries to adapt to their tense group dynamics—and extended flashbacks that take us through her life, in reverse. The layers of Candace’s distinctive personal history are peeled away slowly, imitating the tentativeness and ambivalence with which many second-generation immigrants reveal themselves, caught between the desire to belong and the longing to be known.”

Ling Ma’s ‘Severance’ Captures the Bleak, Fatalistic Mood of 2018,” from The New Yorker

The Best American Essays 2018 edited by Hilton Als

I so enjoyed my recent read of “The Best American Essays 2016,” I decided to give the newest edition a go. Editor Hilton Als won the 2017 Pulitzer in criticism, and I look forward to reading his picks.

I’ll admit, I didn’t understand what an essay was before I read the compilation in BAE 2016. I’d wager my misconception is common, since the literary version of the form is so different from what we all slogged through in undergrad. I think they’re so great! A potent mix of journalistic technique, creative narrative, and critical transience, a well-done essay can give your brain something to chew on for days, months, years.

Most pumped for: Leslie Jamison’s entry, “The March on Everywhere.” I just read her book “The Recovering” and am, predictably, smitten. Aaaaand, turns out she edited BAE 2017, which means my to-read list just got one entry longer.

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