Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Graphic: Libby McGuire

In our monthly book club, we discuss whatever we happen to be reading and ask everyone in the comments to do the same. What Are You Reading This Month?

A Cosmology Of Monsters by Shaun Hamill

The first few chapters of Shaun Hamill’s debut novel, A Cosmology Of Monsters, may be slightly concerning to those suffering from H.P. Lovecraft fatigue, an understandable condition given how pervasive Lovecraft’s influence has been on the horror genre for the past, oh, century or so. But stick with it, as A Cosmology Of Monsters takes the basic idea of ancient monsters from mind-shattering dimensions to some unique and empathetic places. (Hamill also lightly pokes fun at Lovecraft’s pompous writing style, which is refreshing.) The novel follows the Turners, a troubled clan of haunted-house entrepreneurs in small town Texas, across multiple generations and unimaginable tragedies, all told from the sometimes godlike perspective of youngest son Noah. And although the tall, hairy creature with the glowing orange eyes and long black cloak who becomes Noah’s best friend and magical mentor lurks around the margins of the story, the book’s supernatural sequences are crisp and concise, startling blips in the overall rhythm of a family life that’s not exactly ordinary, but still firmly rooted in reality. In this way, the book is an object lesson in truly effective horror storytelling, proving that the best way to make you afraid for a character is to make you care about them first. [Katie Rife]


Nice Try: Stories Of Best Intentions And Mixed Results by Josh Gondelman

Author, stand-up comedian, and award-winning late-night writer Josh Gondelman lays bare his many good intentions and how often wanting to do the right thing can still lead to disaster in Nice Try: Stories Of Best Intentions And Mixed Results. It’s a quick and amiable read, full of stories about failing in the face of adversity, with the occasional win (often with an asterisk). But Gondelman isn’t just taking readers for a stroll down his own personal “best intentions lane”—Nice Try is as much about Gondelman’s own deep dive into the distinction between “nice” and “kind,” and how far a leap the latter is from the former. “Niceness” is something you can fall into through indecision, while “kindness” is a quality that only comes through practice, something we have to work at even as some of the more malevolent people around us make it nearly impossible. Nice Try reaches that revelation gradually, through poignant stories of bungled pet adoptions and recognizing that anger is a valid emotion even for a self-described pushover. [Danette Chavez]

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple


The film adaptation of Maria Semple’s 2012 blockbuster novel, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, came and went last month without much of a ripple, but the book should hang around as a bible for the drop-off school mom who may be longing for the creative life she once had. The movie failed to capture the book’s epistolary setup, which veered between gossipy emails, ship logs, transcribed TED Talks, and the diary of Bernadette’s daughter, Bee, who eventually pulls the whole thing together. The structure makes for an engaging read instantly familiar to anyone trying to navigate the world of parenting an elementary school student (my favorite chapter is the memo from the school fundraiser, full of bolded buzzy language like “drill-down” and “move the needle”). Bernadette’s love for her daughter never wavers, but still she makes an escape—her search to find herself again eventually leading her to Antarctica. Tracing her travel itinerary across this wide variety of formats is simultaneously insightful and joyous. [Gwen Ihnat]

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