The writer — now an “advice” columnist for SuperMOOC 2 and 13th Dimension — gives her reading recommendations:
By DEVIN GRAYSON
I tend to read three or four books at a time; usually one for work or research, one or two for pleasure, one for the alleged betterment of myself and/or household and one because someone gave it to me so long ago that I’m wracked with remorse for not getting to it sooner.
Work-wise, I’m currently completing a radio play for Audio Comics starring the Domino Lady; a “spicy pulp heroin” from the mid 1930s created by Lars Anderson. To get in the right frame of mind, I picked up “Farewell, My Lovely,” by Raymond Chandler. This is my first experience with Chandler, despite having been advised to check him out many times before. I expected his writing to be gripping and evocative —which it is — but I didn’t realize how funny it could be. I’ve woken up my significant other on more than one occasion by laughing out loud while reading in bed. The use of descriptive language is astonishing.
For pleasure, I’m wading into “The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013,” edited by Dave Eggers. I loved “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” (which is the kind of book that is so well written, it can make you never want to bother trying to write again) and McSweeney’s, and I appreciate the broad approach the BANR series takes to readable material. These books are kind of like McSweeney’s on steroids. The pieces in the collection are compiled by Eggers and his students at the 826 writing labs, and in addition to the expected short stories, the books include long-form fiction and nonfiction, comics, blogs, articles, poetry, tweets, Yelp reviews and pieces that defy conventional labeling. This 2013 volume includes pieces by Nick Hornby, Jennifer Egan and Lynda Berry, to name but a few. Don’t mistake the diverse inclusions for light reading, though: Some of this stuff gets really dark!
“The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” by Junot Diaz was supposed to be next, but it’s so good, I’ve kind of snuck it in early. I ordered it online after reading his short story, “Monstro,” in The New Yorker. When it arrived, I only meant to check out the first page (honest!), but the next thing I knew, I was at the end of Chapter Three. The eponymous Oscar lives in New Jersey (as did my maternal grandparents), plays D&D and has dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien. The story is culturally specific but also totally universal and highly identifiable. From a literary perspective, this is another book that’s more intimidating than inspiring. It’s a master class in writing that will make you wish you could just read (or talk to) Junot Diaz for a living. No wonder it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
From the “trying to make life better for my household” category, I’ve been looking for guided meditations I can do with my six-year-old before school and have been pretty disappointed with the offerings. The best of the bunch was Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn’s “Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting,” which reminded me how much I loved Kabat-Zinn’s writing, which in turn reminded me that I still hadn’t finished the huge hardback edition of “Coming to our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness” I got for Christmas two years ago, which reminded me that I still have some work to do on mindfulness. Kabat-Zinn’s work is clean, clear, warm and vigorously researched. If you’re looking for a great introduction to the subject, I recommend his seminal text on the issue, “Wherever You Go, There You Are.”
And then, in the bathroom on my Kindle (TMI?), I’m in the middle of “Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet,” by John Bradshaw. I figured that after reading more than 50 books about canine behavior for my Diabetic Alert Dog, Cody, I owed my cat, Cricket, a few research hours. This is a very well researched book that covers everything from cat migration history to kitty brain function and biology while laying out an interesting argument about the current inadequacies of feline domestication (which in turn offers insight into behavioral issues, such as why your beloved house cat is such a fraking nightmare at four in the morning). If you’re more of a dog person, check out Bradshaw’s “Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better Friend to Your Pet.”
Before bed, I’ve been reading “Charlotte’s Web,” by E.B. White to my six-year-old. It’s his second chapter book (we started with Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking) and he absolutely loves it (though having seen the animated movie, he has been clutching on to and compulsively warning his stuffed Twilight Sparkle about the “very sad” ending). For me, revisiting the magical language and unflinching honesty of this book has been wonderful.
Devin Grayson is a writer, a feminist, a bisexual, an atheist, a student of Buddhism, a type 1 diabetic and the step-parent of two amazing boys—one cis and one trans. She also happens to own 14 books on etiquette, because Alfred. “Dear Devin,” which is running both at supermooc.org and here at 13th Dimension — is a contemporary inclusive advice column in which we navigate social graces and political consciousness in this 1st century of the 3rd millennium. Please join us by sending your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.