Well-Read is a monthly book recommendations column by book critic and novelist Catie Disabato.
During a video conference session with my therapist, I was complaining that ever since COVID-19 confined us all to our homes and their immediate neighborhoods, I hadn’t been able to attend my boxing classes. I expected Therapist Lauren to advise me on how to make something I did at home feel like something I did out in the world, because that’s what every other piece of content I’d been consuming:
Can’t go to a reformer pilates class? Slide around on takeout container tops to get the same workout!
Can’t go to a restaurant? Order to-go from your favorite local spot!
Can’t see your friends? Hang out on Zoom!
But my therapist surprised me by simply commiserating. “Yes,” she said. “Boxing class is something you’ve lost.”
In our scramble to rework our social and (for the lucky ones) professional lives for the digital space, we haven’t made enough space to allow certain things to be unable to make the transition. I could find a boxing video on YouTube, but one thing I can’t find online is my coach Adrian saying “Catie, left foot!” because I’m doing that thing I always do with my left foot, which he has seen me do a million times, and all he has to do is quickly draw my attention to it so I can adjust, correct.
We can have so many things online, but we are also going to suffer some (temporary, hopefully) losses. For me, acknowledging the things I can’t bring into this new normal relieves the pressure I feel to be “okay.” It’s easier to mourn the loss of my boxing classes than it is to pretend some diluted version, alone in my living room, can even come close to the real thing.
One thing I haven’t lost is reading. Despite the extra hours, my reading pace has slowed, and the period of time between when I finish one book and when I pick up the next has lengthened precariously. I’m trying not to put pressure on myself, though, and remind myself that even though technically this column is a work obligation, that right now reading should only be for pleasure.
If you’re looking for pleasure reads at the moment, I’d recommend any of these books published in March just as the shelter-in-place orders were taking effect. I’d encourage all of you to check the website or Instagram page of your local indie bookstore; most of them have developed ordering/delivery solutions. If you’re in Los Angeles, please consider ordering from my beloved Skylight Books. Their biggest wholesaler, Ingram, is fulfilling orders placed on their website while they’re closed.
Pub. Date: March 31, 2020
Look is about a teenager named Lulu who is navitaging minor internet fame (she has thousands of followers on a platform called Flash) after accidentally outing herself as queer. She negotiates her desire and identity through a new friendship (or perhaps…something more…) with an alluring girl named Cass — though Cass comes as a package deal with her charismatic-but-offputting best friend Ryan — in a half built old hotel that oozes Hidden LA vibes.
There were very few books about teenagers with bi/pan/fluid sexualities when I was growing up (and the notable exceptions were mainly written by Zan’s hero and mine, Francesca Lia Block), so whenever I read a novel that young, queer Catie would’ve loved, it hits me like a defibrillator hits a stopped heart. Romanoff’s writing style is also enviously sumptuous and fluid, making it a luxuriously comforting read for anytime your COVID-related anxiety hits a peak.
Pub. Date: March 24, 2020
Lakewood is one of three March-released books I read that allegorically confronted the ills of the gig economy and modern wage slavery. The other two — Docile by K.M. Szpara and Temporary by Hilary Leichter — each had their charms, but the best of the three was Giddings’ novel about a college-aged black girl named Lena Johnson who, in order to reduce her family’s medical debt, agrees to take a very high paying job as a medical test subject despite knowing she could come to serious harm. This book is basically a psychological thriller/horror novel, with all the heightened scares and stakes you’d expect from that genre, but with all-to-real details that keep a gnawing ache in the pit of your stomach; for example, Lena can’t help but notice that all the doctors are white and all her fellow test subjects are Black and Brown people. If I was a marketer, I would probably compare this book to Jordan Peele’s movies.
In a month when so many gig workers and people living paycheck-to-paycheck are experiencing dramatic loss of wages and insecurity around their living situations, Lakewood might feel a little too close from home for some. But if you’re the kind of reader who likes to push on a bruise, this is a great follow-up to something like Ling Ma’s pandemic-core novel, Severance.
Pub. Date: March 31, 2020
When it comes to film criticism, most of the key roles in major publications are still the territory of men; however a new class of female and nonbinary writers are asserting themselves into the space, pulling the historically male-dominated medium away from a space governed by a cishet male gaze.
She Found It At The Movies (with a title that’s a nod to Pauline Kael’s seminal work of film criticism I Lost It At The Movies) is a collection of essays that are unabashedly thirsty. They cover a huge range of styles and subjects, tied together through a love of movies and an exploration of how we find ourselves through our desire. I’m always thirsty — not only for hot people on screen — but also for intersectional diversity, so while perfect representation eludes the editor (and, perhaps, every editor ever) I was pleased to see real attention given to perspectives from diverse communities and a range of sexualities and gender identities represented.