Well-Read: April 2020

Well-Read is a monthly book recommendations column by book critic and novelist Catie Disabato.

Guys… April… frankly, I don’t even know what to say. 

Sometimes I feel like crying because I haven’t seen or touched anyone I love (or even like!) in weeks, and sometimes I feel like crying at the prospect of quarantine ending because life outside of my apartment has been nothing but anxiety-inducing for over a month. I feel burned out by 6 PM and I can’t do more than two things a day. Los Angeles is in the middle of our now-familiar April heatwave, and every night at sunset, when the temperatures have finally dropped to a bearable level, I take a walk with a mask on, slipping it up over my nose and mouth whenever I’m within 100 feet of a neighbor.

I’m lucky I live in a neighborhood where I can walk and have my own space. I’m grateful for an apartment I love and the ability to pay the rent on it. I’m fortunate enough to have enough loved ones in my city that once I can see them again, I’ll get the pleasure of being surrounded.

I’m also fortunate that one of my favorite authors, Rufi Thorpe, has a new novel coming out this month. And even though many novels that were supposed to be published in late spring have been pushed in hopes of a more normal publishing landscape later in the summer, it was still a nightmare to narrow down the incredible field this month to just three recommendations.


The Knockout Queen by Rufi Thorpe

Pub. Date: April 28, 2020

Rufi Thorpe is one of the only contemporary authors I know (including myself) whose work I believe will find devoted readers long beyond her lifetime. She somehow finds a balance between feeling timeless as well as contemporary — and that’s the recipe for longevity. Also, if you ask me who my favorite contemporary writer is, I’ll say Thorpe’s name faster than anyone else’s.

Her third novel The Knockout Queen is about a pair of teenagers in Southern California: Michael, a not-quite-out gay who is looking for love in all the wrong places (Craigslist) and his best friend Bunny, who sprung up to 6’3 and doesn’t know what else to do with her body except create violence. Though the novel mostly takes place while the two are still in high school, it’s also a story of not being able to shake the things that ruled a past self. It’s an easy, speedy read, which is exactly what I’m looking for right now.

Perfect Tunes by Emily Gould

Pub. Date: April 14, 2020

I’ve been reading Emily Gould’s writing since 2008 when I arrived in Oberlin College with a suitcase full of H&M sweaters and all the arty kids from Manhattan (when they graduated, they’d move to Brooklyn) told me about Gawker like it was insane I didn’t already know all about it. A few years later, I remember getting clandestine-drunk at the one Oberlin bar (the Feve, which also had a great falafel sandwich) and passionately defending Gould’s right to write a memoir at age 27. I remember how harsh critics were online because she believed her perspective was worthy and important. But nevertheless, she’s had an unmistakable impact on young women who believe their lives are worth writing down.

Gould was one of the last to get backhanded by an old-school style of misogyny (before a new, clandestine, insidious kind of misogyny took hold of the publishing world) but, basically, she’s outlived it, by virtue of having great taste as an editor of her own imprint Emily Books (RIP) and also by being a great writer of fiction.

Her second novel, Perfect Tunes, unmistakably captures the feeling of being a young woman who is sure of herself despite inexperience, and what it’s like to look back on that version of yourself with newer, older eyes. Like Thorpe’s novel, it feels essential, while bringing you outside of our immediate circumstances.


Glitter Up The Dark: How Pop Music Broke The Binary by Sasha Geffen

Pub. Date: April 7, 2020

One thing (one of many!) that Cinnamon editor Caitlin White and I have in common is a deep love of pop music, and my second recommendation this month is a book she’s also grooving on. Sasha Geffen’s first book examines why music has historically been a haven where it’s been socially safe to experiment with and explore alternatives to historical styles of gender expression. Geffen delves deeply into the history of popular music to illuminate topics that are essential to the current cultural landscape. This is the exact kind of thing I want to discuss at length the very next time I’m allowed to throw or attend a cocktail party.

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