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Volume 4, Issue 82: From Where to Eternity
"6,000 years is nothing in eternity terms."
Hey, the book’s out. If you haven’t bought it yet, you should. If you have, you should write a (hopefully positive!) review of it on Goodreads or Amazon or both. I hope those of you who have a copy are enjoying it.
Also, I’ve already started the next one, so I only have a few more of these please-buy-the-book entreaties left for you atop the newsletter. I really do think you should buy the book, though. If you like these newsletters, you will like the book.
I just came upstairs from making breakfast for the small people who live in this house, who, in the tradition of growing boys on Saturday mornings since the age of The Little Rascals, mindlessly devoured whatever was in front of them and then shuffled back to the couch to stare agape at the television. My father and his siblings watched “The Howdy Doody Show;” my sister and I watched “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and “Sesame Street” and my kids watch … YouTube videos of someone named Mr. Beast, a sallow, wispy-mustached man wearing a hoodie you could hide a colony of ferrets in, randomly yelling “Whoa!” alongside videos of roller coasters he’s never been on. At the end of this video, you are encouraged to watch another video of six teenagers dressed up like raccoons playing Minecraft against each other. May children’s dreams only be exceeded by their own imaginations.
So, perhaps to cleanse my own brain pallette, and to wrap up the summer, today I’d like to tell you about some books I read this summer.
One of my dirty secrets as a writer is that I do not, actually, read a lot of books. I read constantly, of course: I don’t want to overstate this, but I would estimate that 114 percent of my personal income goes to newsletter and publication subscriptions. But I’m careful about reading too many books for an obvious and still rather stupid reason: When I am reading a book I truly love, I will, consciously or subconsciously, start writing like that person, morphing my own style into theirs; I just can’t get the voice of a great book out of my head. (This is why basically everything I wrote from 2001-2003 reads like a terrible Dave Eggers impersonation.) As I’ve worked to develop my own hopefully distinctive writing voice, I’ve learned that I need to clear the decks before I begin a major project: I have to empty my head, or at least the front of my head, of writers whom I can’t help but want to emulate. I have to get everybody out of there until the only voice left is my own.
After Labor Day, I will officially be plunging myself into the next book project. It is another novel, set again in the same universe of How Lucky and The Time Has Come, which hopefully will combine the directness and plaintive clarity of the first book with the structural complexity and story mechanics of the second one. I am, more than anything else, an orderly writer: I’ve already mapped out not only the narrative of the book, but also the specific dates each section of it must be finished. I’m on the new-novel-every-two-years plan over at Harper Books, which goes a little bit like this:
May 2023: Hardcover release of The Time Has Come.
May 2024: Paperback release of The Time Has Come, and due date for the next project.
May 2025: Hardcover release of the next project. (Assuming we’re all still alive.)
May 2026: Paperback release of the next project, and due date for the next project after that.
Hopefully this will continue until I die or they stop making books entirely, whichever comes first. (Or until the earth bursts into flame, which will probably beat both of those to the punch.) Learning that I can be productive on this timeline—learning that I actively love being productive on this timeline, that I’ve discovered what I actually do believe might be my creative purpose, well into middle age—requires rigid, almost anal-retentive adherence to schedule: The last thing I’m going to do is screw this up by blowing deadlines. You might like my books, and you might not. But I am gonna turn the damn things in on time.
Thus, every other year, from Labor Day until Memorial Day, I write a book. And we are about to begin. Which means I must, alas, say goodbye to books for a while.
Knowing this, I spent this summer cramming in my reading, like a college student aware that a test lurks at 8 a.m. Over the next eight-or-nine months, books I will want to read will pile up, like newspapers on your doorstep when you went on vacation, waiting for me to read them when I am free to do so again.
In anticipation of this, I’ve spent this summer, a summer which featured a whole book tour across the country and a trip to London, reading like crazy. Here are the best books I read. Consider this my end-of-summer reading list. When you’re done reading mine, read these. The best compliment I can give these books is that I had to get them out of my head as soon as possible.
All the Sinners Bleed, S.A. Cosby.
Cosby’s Razorblade Tears was a fellow Edgar Award nominee (and loser) in 2022, and I got a chance to meet him at the awards ceremony. Of all the great writers there, he was the one I was most in awe of: His books are page-turners in the purest sense, but they pack such realistic detail, and quiet, hard-earned wisdom, in every word that it’s downright intimidating. He is incapable of writing an inauthentic word.
Opposable Thumbs, Matt Singer.
This is not actually out until October, but you should pre-order it. A book about Siskel & Ebert is, obviously, Leitch catnip if there ever were any, but if anything, that made the bar Matt Singer (who, full disclosure, I’ve known for more than a decade, and before that, I never missed the old Filmspotting SVU podcast he and Alison Willmore used to host) had to clear here considerably higher, at least for me. And that makes it that much more impressive how easily he cleared it. This is a comprehensive but never exhaustive history of not just the show, but the two personalities at its center—how they were so different, and why that made the show so great. It also has some great insights about Ebert; Singer gets at the certain remove that he had, as a person, that made him sometimes difficult to break through to one-on-one but is exactly what made him such an incredible writer and critic. Inevitably, this book sent me down many, many “Siskel & Ebert” YouTube rabbit holes. Matt did this whole thing justice—he did it right.
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel.
I’ve not seen the well-regarded HBO show made from this, and I don’t want to. I’ve had people tell me to read Mandel for years, but I finally blasted through this when I was in Montana this summer. She might be the perfect writer? One thing I do not have to worry about while writing this next book is stealing anything from her; I am incapable of writing this well.
No Crying in Baseball, Erin Carlson.
Do you love A League of Their Own? Of course you do. This history of its making, and its cultural impact, is funny and entertaining and inspirational in the same way the movie is. This movie is kind of a miracle, when you think about it, and Erin—my old Yahoo colleague and a fellow University of Illinois journalism alum—captures why perfectly. (This is also the one book on this list I had the privilege to blurb.)
The Coen Brothers, Adam Nayman.
I’m a huge fan of Nayman’s writing over at The Ringer, and his book about David Fincher is waiting for me next summer. His Coen Brothers book is exactly what makes his film writing so enjoyable: Inventive, adventurous, incisive and consistently funny. I found myself thinking about their movies differently after reading this, which was impressive, considering I’d already spent a lot of time thinking about their movies.
The Long Walk, Stephen King.
I first read this book when I was about 12 years old, and I’ve read it once every couple of years since then: I cannot believe King wrote it when he was a freshman in college. This year’s read was special though, because my son William read it for the first time as well. He seemed to like it as much as I did back then, at least until he went right back to watching Mr. Beast videos.
Stay True, Hua Hsu
I just started reading this book this week, and I’m not done yet—it’ll be my last book before entering my sad little writing cave. But it’s incredible and breathtaking and both deeply sad and extremely funny: This is exactly the sort of memoir that reminds you why memoirs can be so great. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen the first few years of college captured so perfectly, at least for this fellow Gen-Xer.
The Zone of Interest, Martin Amis.
Martin Amis died right around the time that the movie version of this book, directed by the brilliant Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin), was dropping jaws at the Cannes Film Festival. I’m ashamed to say I’d never read an Amis novel before, so I decided to dig in. I was staggered by the whole thing, by the audacity of setting a “love” story in a concentration camp, by the incredible tonal shifts he pulls off, by the horror of it all, by how, absurdly, funny of a writer he is, even when describing the most monstrous visions imaginable. I cannot believe anyone even tried to write this book, and that he pulled it off is unfathomable. Of all the books I read this summer, this was the best one. I’m not sure one can be written better.
I look forward to next summer, when I can read books again once I’m done with my own. Maybe Mr. Beast will have a memoir out by then.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.
College Football’s Sad Last Dance, New York. This is the final season of college football as we know it, and I tried to explain exactly why this is so sad and how we got here.
College Football Should Just Separate from the Rest of College Sports, CNN. I’m always eager to do my part to make some money for David Zaslav.
Six Takeaways From Shohei Ohtani’s Unfortunate Injury, MLB.com. Well, that stinks.
The Best Series Remaining the Rest of the Year, MLB.com. Couple really fun ones on the season’s final weekend.
Before we get to the regulars, I was honored to be on the Go Fact Yourself podcast, where I competed in trivia against the wonderful (retired) comic Lisa Lampanelli. They have a gimmick on this show where they have surprise “experts,” experts who are connected to something the guests are obsessed with, which is why I basically did backflips when I got to talk to Ellen Foley—among many other things, the woman who did the duet with Meat Loaf on “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”—about the Bat Out of Hell album. Suffice it to say: This was very fun.
Anyway, listen to it, it’s a blast.
Grierson & Leitch, we discussed “Blue Beetle,” “Strays” and Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine.”
Seeing Red, Bernie and I tore our hair out some more.
LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK
“Vivek Ramaswamy’s Truth,” John Hendrickson, The Atlantic. This piece made a lot of news this week, particularly because of Ramaswamy’s comments about September 11, but it’s a terrific profile by my friend John, whom you remember as the author of the wonderful book “Life on Delay.” (I talked to him about the book on the People Still Read Books podcast.) This is the sort of political reporting I truly love.
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
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CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Girlfriend Is Better,” Talking Heads. The most dangerous place in the world next month is to be between me and a seat in a theatre playing the Stop Making Sense re-release. It is possible I will hide behind a seat while they’re cleaning after every screening so I can just keep watching and watching and watching.
Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.
I spent most of this week writing about the destructiveness of what college football is doing to itself right now, but it must be said: I am way too excited to watch a college football game taking place in Ireland today.
Have a great weekend, all.