I am officially, finally, kicking off a formal Magpie book club! For those of you who live in New York and would like to be included in the in-person meetings, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. (If you’ve already emailed me, I have your details on file!). I will be sending out an email invitation with details on location, date, and time at the end of next week, but will be capping the first meeting to 10 ladies so that we can have a genuine conversation — so RSVP ASAP if you can come to reserve your spot! (First come, first served!)
For those unable to attend in person, please join us digitally or in spirit: our first book will be Anjali Sachdeva’s All the Names They Used for God, a collection of “alluringly strange” short stories that my hero Roxane Gay described as “one of the best collections I’ve ever read. Every single story is a stand out…The writer wields so much confidence and control in her prose and my goodness, what imagination, what passion there is in this work.”
I’m drawn to this collection for a few reasons:
a) Roxane Gay’s endorsement;
b) short fiction is great starter fare for a book club, as — if you’re unable to read the entire thing, you can at least comment on the specifics of the select stories you did read;
c) it’s a book by a woman who writes about a wild and unwieldy spectrum of subject matters that cut across nationalities and time (John Milton writing Paradise Lost? Check. The kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram? Check.) The boldness and bravado are already stirring to me.
d) I’ve already read and discussed Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, which, in my opinion, would be an ideal book club book. Lots to unpack!
Let’s aim to read it by June 1st — I will share the book club discussion talking points and provocations I’ll use at the in-person meeting in a future post in case you’d like to host your own little satellite Magpie book club or would just like to mull them over yourself and share your perspectives here, in the comments. I’ll also share some of the observations we make in our in-person book club after the fact!
I’m deeply excited about this book club for so many reasons. For starters, I so look forward to your comments/reactions/recommendations when it comes to books, and I like the idea of elevating that strand of this community. I also look forward to meeting many of you in-person after knowing you virtually for years. And, finally, I have an auspicious feeling that everything is coming full circle in my life with its launch: for many years, I wanted nothing more than to be a professor, talking about books with a roomful of avid, insightful readers, and this book club community gives me that opportunity, albeit informally and with the roles a bit muddied (in that I’m just as much a student as anyone else in the book club).
If this book isn’t your cup of tea, my two oddball runner-ups (don’t judge): Gucci Mane’s autobiography, which has received rave reviews but just didn’t feel like the right start to my book club, and Sunburn by Laura Lippman, a book of “psychological suspense.”
Now, onto what I just finished…
Book Review: Nemesis by Peter Evans
Four stars. I found this book about Jackie Kennedy’s relationship with Aristotle Onassis endlessly riveting, shocking, and provocative. It certainly advances a different, less flattering vision of Jackie — one in which she appears money-driven, insecure, stubborn, status-obsessed, and self-involved. However, unfavorable portraits of Jackie are not uncommon these days as we collectively rewrite “the Camelot years” for what they were — and Evans’ primary achievement in the book is instead a bold claim: he opines that Onassis was involved in the assassination of RFK (!!!). However, this conspiracy theory wasn’t the most mesmerizingly outlandish part of the book, which, to me, was Onassis himself. He is a Bad Dude, embroiled in many shady business and political dealings in his time — and yet. He is fascinating. I couldn’t stop reading about him, puzzling over him, closing my eyes and attempting to imagine what Jackie and Onassis’ cadre of other beautiful jetset mistresses saw in him. Here is a true self-made billionaire (yes, billionaire) who spared no expense (every evening started with Taittinger and Beluga caviar) and lived a glamorous, flashy life with some of the most stunning women of his time, but one who was also garish and impolite and something of a persona non grata in some of the higher social circles to which he aspired. He was a man who was both mercilessly cruel and outrageously extravagant to those he loved. He was drawn to dark attractions — political coups, drug trafficking, shipping scandals, money laundering, wire tapping (true mafia stuff!) — and yet there are moments in the book where he seems a sad, lonely, bitter, broken-down soul. A human who had been through some tough stuff.
The stories in this book are unbelievable. And I mean unbelievable both in the sense that they are astonishing and that they are difficult to accept as truth, especially since Evans often asserts them as fact when they are instead recollections from the fast and loose jetset with whom he cavorted, and — well, are they the most credible sources?
I also took issue with the book’s prurience — everything is about sex, or at least in Evans’ opinion it is. At certain points, his writing borders on the voyeuristic in a way that feels deeply implicating for its author. I remember some of our friends were over while I was midway through it, and I commented: “This book pretends that everything is motivated by sex.” One of our friends (a man) replied: “Well, it is. Not sex exactly, but I would argue that most things happen because of intimate relationships between men and women.” Wow! That threw me for a loop and left me thinking for some time.
Even still. The disproportionate amount of time the author spends excavating the intimate details of the relationships between the crowd of celebrities that populate this book felt overly salacious and even at times exploitative and libelous — and for what? Often, his commentaries on this topic felt neither here nor there, and I found myself rolling my eyes or shrugging: what is this adding to anything?
All that said, I must marvel at the caliber of Evan’s investigative journalism: the book is heavily researched and he has the footnotes to show for it. What’s even more appealing about it is that the majority of the book’s details come “straight from the horse’s mouth” — that is, straight from those people involved, which affords a sense of reality TV-viewing vs. stagey re-enactments in a made-for-TV documentary.
Strongly recommend this for any fellow Jackie enthusiasts, especially coming off the heels of the podcast about her, which I absolutely adored, and which painted her in a decidedly different light.
(This book also dovetailed nicely with some of my thoughts on using precise language, and I referenced his occasional showmanship in style there.)
Book Review: The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
Three stars. From one salacious read to the next — this book is a borderline explicit adult novel. I was initially drawn in by the improbable plot set-up, which had the look and feel of one of my absolute favorite romantic comedies: the under-the-radar Picture Perfect, starring a young Jen Aniston and an awkward Jay Mohr. (I still watch this movie yearly.) The main character feels relatable, realistic in her anxieties over her budding romance, and the detailed interior monologue rang true to me (“what did he think about this?” “but he said this…”) I further appreciate that we have a main character who is smart, well-educated, driven, and dedicated to her job, as I feel that so many of the books I’ve read in the chick lit category portray women working in vaguely glamorous publishing/magazine jobs, or with jobs that are curiously absent from the narrative. This book (at times forcibly) attends to her career, making it a part of the narrative itself, even though it does feel a bit “tacked on” at times (i.e., Why are we spending so much time talking about this when it’s clear that this is just a foil or convenience to the main plot?) All-in, lightweight, lascivious fare.
P.S. I have had my eye on one of the beautiful yellow floral print Self-Portrait dresses for the past few weeks (love this one and this one), and then Rebecca Taylor came out with this similar, stunning style. Get the look for less with this beaut from Banjanan, or this style from BBDakota.
P.P.P.S. Ordering a set of these for our family summer stationery.
P.P.P.P.S. Still enjoying the comments that occasionally roll in responding to this post!