Volume 3, Issue 52: Outtasite (Outta Mind)

"I know we don't talk much, but you're but you're such a good talker."

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One journalistic chestnut you could count on being regularly trotted out during the pandemic has been the “how this has changed things forever” story. I’ve written a few myself. The general premise of these pieces is that this period of stasis and grief, this time when we have agonized and waited to be over so we can return to life as we’d known it our entire lives up to this point, isn’t just a way station: It’s a fundamental alteration to reality, and one that’s going to last forever. The world as you knew it before? It’s over. We can’t ever go back.

What have we supposedly lost, according to the trend seekers and futurists among us?

Business meetings.
Travel.
Handshakes. (“Swap meets for germs,” as the linked story puts it.)
Mail.
Middle managers.
Signatures.
Plows. (Plows!)

It is the nature of the profession to try to find patterns and precedents in the daily rigmarole, to seek out and chronicle change; no news broadcast will ever lead with, Today’s top story: Everything is fine and is essentially just as it was yesterday. But I will confess an increased weariness with the notion that this period has permanently altered the way we will live in every imaginable way. Because once this is over, people are gonna leap toward the normal, banal shit of the Before Time like it’s manna from the gods.

And we should note again: That time is almost here.

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It is increasingly clear that we are through the worst part of the pandemic. There is still much suffering and loss—2,266 Americans died of Covid-19 just yesterday—but even the few experts who warn of a potential fourth wave agree that, even if such a wave is to happen, it won’t be anything close to the spikes of last fall and the holiday season. Cases continue to drop dramatically—what looked like a slight uptick this week was in fact a glitch in reporting because of storms—and there is considerable reason for optimism not just concerning the new variants but the unlikelihood of the vaccinated spreading the virus. Vaccine rollouts are ramping up, and the major concern among many epidemiologists is not about supply, but demand. With the approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week, it is widely estimated that if you want a vaccine by the end of March or mid-April, you will be able to get one.

March is soon: March is Monday! We are entering the month where it is extremely likely that just about everyone reading this who has not been vaccinated but wants to be vaccinated will be vaccinated—myself included. That will not be everyone in the country, and certainly not everyone on the planet. That will not end the pandemic. But it will be a dawn. It will be an awakening.

You’re already seeing it a little bit. One of my favorite emerging social media tropes of the last few weeks is when someone posts a picture of themselves getting vaccinated, several people in the comments will say something like, “Happy for you!” While they may well ineed be “happy” for them, I suspect the real subtext of this response is “wait, how did you get one when I can’t?” (I recommend instead the time-honored SYRINGE/ARM FLEX emoji combination.) No one should have to apologize for getting vaccinated, whenever and however they did it. It is a fundamentally good thing, both for an individual and the larger society, to get vaccinated. But that we’re seeing vaccine envy—and people are going out of their way to try not to vaccine-shame, even if deep down they may really want to—is an excellent sign. Vaccine FOMO is a good thing. It means we are close. I suspect this will be a short-lived relic of this precise period of the pandemic, when vaccines are starting to trickle out before there is a flood of them. And the flood is coming.

Getting the vaccine-resistant to take the shots will be a challenge, and one that will require a concerted, organized national effort if we are to put a final end to this pandemic. But for now, I think it’s OK to just think about this on a personal level. If you want one, you’re about to get one. Then, for you: This is over.

Sure, you’ll still have to wear a mask in public places, and you may have to wait a little longer for full capacity at a baseball game, or to go hit the 40 Watt. But you can go do things. Normal things. My parents are now free and clear, two weeks out from their second dose, and they are doing exactly what I’d want them to: Everything. They’re taking a trip to Biloxi and then to Louisville and then to Las Vegas. They’re flying to see my sister in Missouri. Mom’s back taking her gym classes at the Y. Dad’s showing off his Camaro at a car show in Daytona. They’ve having dinner indoors at their favorite restaurant tonight. They will be cautious and respectful when they do these things; they will still wear masks and distance and not do anything that would make the non-vaccinated and vulnerable around them feel uncomfortable. But they can do all these things without the fear that they will get sick or that they will make anyone else sick. Which is all I wanted for them. It’s all any of us should want.

And it is telling how normal all of these things are. They are not skydiving, or running with the bulls, or snorting heroin. (At least as far as I know.) They are just doing everyday things, things they have done their entire lives, things that we never gave a second thought to just one year ago. They are just appreciating life, and the world. They’re just living.

That’s what we’re all going to do, I think. That’s why there is all this talk of A Wonderful Summer. It’s not that everyone’s going to start having orgies in the street. It’s that they’re going to walk outside and take a deep breath and eat at their favorite restaurant and watch a dumb action movie and sit in a bar with a friend and talk for hours and go over to a friend’s house to borrow some flour and watch a baseball game and have your kids playing inside with other kids and see someone you haven’t seen in years and get your ass out there and hug some motherfuckers.

See, the thing about the world, the way it was before, and the way it’s going to be, and why they’re the same and they’re always going to be, is that the world is great. All this boring normal stuff we never thought about before, it turns out that it’s glorious. We’re going to get it back, and very soon. And we can drink it all in in big, huge gulps. We haven’t lost too much. And I know it. Because, goddammit, we’re still here.

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WEEKLY BOOK UPDATE: TEN WEEKS TO LAUNCH

Every week here at The Will Leitch Newsletter, we count down the weeks until the release of How Lucky, my novel that comes out May 11. This is the spot for weekly news, updates and pre-order reminders.

Last week, we did a galley giveaway, and three different humans won. Congratulations, different humans! We look forward to your reviews in this spot after you read the book. Please be gentle. Because not everyone will be! In fact, we’re not too far now from the trade reviewers, the folks at Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, who review everything, getting their first crack at How Lucky.

As a critic myself, albeit an amateur one, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t curious about what book critics will think of How Lucky. I do not believe writers and artists and directors who claim they do not care what critics think about their work. I have found the only people who say things like that that are people who get bad reviews and want to pretend they didn’t. People love when critics give them great reviews. Why wouldn’t they? I totally want critics to like it! I worked really hard on this book and tried to make it a really good book! Someone whose job it is to write about books, someone who loves books enough to want to write about them as their profession … shoot, that’s totally the type of person I want to like the book! I will not lie to you and pretend I do not care what critics think of How Lucky. I want them to like it. I want everyone to like it!

This does not mean, to be clear, that I will be devastated or despondent if I get a bad review. Every human is different, and if one doesn’t like it, another person will. (It doesn’t even mean the critic is inherently wrong. Just because I’ll think they are doesn’t mean they actually are. And they’ll be a lot less biased than I am.) I just want more people to see the darned thing, and if it gets a positive review, that makes it likelier that more people will. To be honest, that Richard Russo and Kevin Wilson and Chris Bohjalian—actual, real-life, accomplished writers, big shots, even a Pulitzer winner in there!—raved about the book so much is a certain vindication in its own right. But yeah, of course, I hope critics like it. And I’ll be a little nervous until I find out if they did.

It also got me to thinking: How did my other books do with critics? It has been 11 years since I published a book, so a lot has changed. (I assume all the original reviewers have died of natural causes by now.) So I went back and found the trade reviews for each of them.

  • Are We Winning?A day at the ball park prompts a meditation on family ties in this loose-limbed, beguiling memoir. … Leitch delivers an homage to his dad, a laconic stalwart brimming with manly truths—some imparted while driving a pickup with an open container—that sports bring to the surface. The result is a jaunty, heartfelt, Father's Day–ready celebration of baseball as the ultimate bonding rite.” — Publisher’s Weekly. (My publisher never submitted it to Kirkus, which is a pretty good sign of how much support the last book had internally.)

  • God Save the Fan.Leitch isn’t particularly eloquent when it comes to talking about what he likes. If the players are such prima donnas, and the owners are so greedy, and the media constantly gets on his nerves, why does he even pay attention? … The entire book reads like a blog, and blogs are time-sensitive to the point of being disposable within days. So what does that tell you? Shaking a fist at the sports establishment may work online, but Leitch’s frequently tedious, only periodically amusing manifesto loses something in its translation to the page.” — Kirkus

  • Catch. “Catch could have been a formulaic, light YA novel, but in Leitch's hands, it becomes an authentic narrative of growing up in small-town America … this substantive title will entice both male and female YA readers with its thoughtful, authentic, and romantic young man's voice.” — Booklist

  • Life As A Loser. Hahahaha, nobody reviewed Life As a Loser. Shoot, that book barely had pages.

Anyway! Time to go back to refreshing the Kirkus page. TOTALLY HEALTHY BEHAVIOR YEP.

So: You can pre-order the book right now. If you don’t want to use Amazon, I recommend Bookshop. Pre-ordering is important, though: As a bookseller friend put it this week:

preorders boost bookseller confidence. Having a lot of preorders is an early indicator that the book will sell well and can encourage retailers to increase initial (ie. 'laydown') orders at launch. Did you know that bookstores can RETURN copies to the publisher that don't sell? So there's no risk to stores except loss of that literal real estate on their shelves and STILL 95% of traditionally published books never see the inside of a store. 

So hey, you’re here, reading this far already. Pre-order already.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

  1. Ten Emails From One Year Ago, Medium. I thought this might be a fun way to look at how much things have changed for everybody in one year.

  2. The Case For, and Against, Tony La Russa, MLB.com. I watched this guy every day for 16 years, and I have some thoughts.

  3. Is the Post-COVID Era of Sports Already Here? New York. They are definitely acting that way.

  4. You Can Mute Trump, Medium. Do remember this this weekend.

  5. This Week in Genre History: Army of Darkness, SYFY Wire. This is my BOOM STICK.

  6. Five Teams With Everything on the Line, MLB.com. Poor Phillies fans.

  7. Internet Nostalgia: Will Ferrell’s “The Landlord,” Medium. The baby from this video? She’s now 16.

  8. The Thirty: A New Bobblehead For Every Team, MLB.com. From the bobblehead nerd.

  9. From the Archives: On Woody Allen, Then and Now, Medium. This is a new sporadic series in which I repurpose old pieces to peg them to the news, in this case, Allen vs. Farrow. This is actually a newsletter from April 2019, so if you happen to have not been subscribing back then, it may be new to you now.

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, we discussed “I Care a Lot,” “The Mauritanian” and “Lost Highway.”

People Still Read Books, no show this week, still getting caught up here.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week.

LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK

“The 101 Greatest Endings in Movie History,” many authors (not me, though), Vulture. Careful of spoilers, but this is maybe my favorite non-G&L ranking Vulture has ever done. Compulsively readable.

ARBITRARY THINGS RANKED, WITHOUT COMMENT, FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON

Bands and Performers Eligible For the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—You Are Eligible Exactly 25 Years After the Release of Your First Record—For the First Time in 2021 Based on How Old That Fact Makes Me Feel

  1. Backstreet Boys

  2. Rammstein

  3. Jewel

  4. Garbage

  5. Jurassic 5

  6. The Chemical Brothers

  7. Son Volt

  8. Nate Dogg

  9. Natalie Merchant

  10. Filter

  11. Guster

  12. Deftones

  13. Foo Fighters

  14. Ben Folds Five

  15. Jay-Z

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

Write me, I’m begging, at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

“Quality Control,” Jurassic 5. Just typing “Jurassic 5” up there sent me down a rabbit hole. I think I listened to Quality Control on repeat my first year in New York City, in a cramped railroad apartment in the West Village, wondering what the hell was going on with this crazy-ass city I’d just moved to. I basically just listened to music and played the NCAA Basketball 1999 video game with my roommate all weekend, every weekend. That was 21 years ago, a completely absurd number, if you ask me.

Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section. I even gave the playlist its own photo this week.

My six year old has learned to draw and he is already so much better than I have ever been or ever will be.

I hope he still remembers how to do that Monday. When he goes back to in-person school. Finally. Things may just be looking up yet.

Be safe out there.

Best,
Will

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