BOOK PERSON | Vol. 29
Kait McNabb has 14 books next to her bed right now and they all sound fantastic— essays, pop culture criticism, micro-fiction and more.
Despite the last two days of torrential rain, I am still on Team Autumn. The katsura trees in my neighbourhood are turning red and gold, emitting their toasty caramel smell; I have unpacked all of my sweaters; I’m ready to revisit my unmet 2020 goal of perfecting the chicken pot pie.
I always associate fall with reading longer, deeper books, though I’m not really doing that yet. I raced through Beautiful World, Where Are You last week. Because you can read 8,000 critical takes online, I won’t bore you with mine, but I liked it a lot; it was both more ambitious and more structurally inventive than I expected, based on the superficial similarities to her last two books. I’m re-reading Seven Fallen Feathers and just finishing a new story collection, Glorious Frazzled Beings, both for work. I’m waiting to buy Matrix as a treat when I finish my upcoming reviews.
As usual, I am very light on non-fiction, but this week’s BOOK PERSON has inspired me to balance those scales. Kait McNabb is a shark movie blogger, an editor, the life partner of last week’s BOOK PERSON (cute, right?), and one of my favourite people. She also reads a lot of great nonfiction and is maybe the only person in the world with a funny anecdote related to All Quiet on the Western Front. Settle in, friends: this is a good one.
Where are you from, and where do you live now?
I was born and raised in the loveable trash pile of London, Ontario and have lived in what I feel are too many cities, finally landing in the beautiful Saskatoon, Saskatchewan where the people are cool, the city is magic and the leaders are garbage.
Describe your literary tastes.
Chaotic. For the last few years I've read a lot more nonfiction than fiction (I love a deep dive and an essay collection!) and this year decided I would read more fiction and try to figure out what I like. I've been bouncing around ever since.
What is your favourite bookstore in the whole wide world?
Can I say the library? I loved the charm of Courtelyou Library in our old neighbourhood in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. The children were out of control, the old men brought in full breakfasts (it was no food allowed), the DVD section was A+ and they ordered in whatever book you wanted. There was also an annual cheap book sale and the best taco truck outside for walks home.
How do you choose your books?
Recommendations through various newsletters, lists, friends, parasocial connections and to be honest, the cover. Like most wine I buy, if the label is nice, I'll give it a try.
Do you keep track of what you read? If so, what’s your method?
The dreaded Goodreads user over here! I started using it pre-Amazing takeover and have enjoyed the community of reader pals I've cultivated there, the yearly challenges and ease of tracking. Normally, I'm a pen and paper kinda gal, but this just works for me.
What are the last five books you read?
Malibu Rising, Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Secret to Superhuman Strength, Alison Bechdel
Detransition, Baby, Torrey Peters
How To Pronounce Knife, Souvankham Thammavongsa
Mary Jane, Jessica Anya Blau
What book is next to your bed right now?
Too many. It's part everything coming in from the library at once and part pandemic panic ordering. Sorrow and Bliss, Meg Mason; A Touch of Jen, Beth Morgan; Daughters of Sparta, Claire Heywood; Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, Laurie Colwin; Migratory Birds, Mariana Oliver; Nightbitch, Rachel Yoder; One Last Stop, Casey McQuinston; While We Were Dating, Jasmine Guillory; Edie Richter Is Not Alone, Rebecca Handler; Objects of Desire, Clare Sestanovich; Skye Falling, Mia McKenzie; Somebody's Daughter, Ashley C. Ford; A Special Place For Women, Laura Hankin; God Spare the Girls, Kelsey McKinney; The Very Nice Box, Laura Blackett.
What draws you in while reading?
I've never thought about this before! Upon reflection, I would say what draws me in is when a book feels cinematic. When my brain lights up and can see the characters, the setting, the situations, feel the moments and emotions and feel invested in the characters whether it’s good or bad, fiction or non.
What's the best book you read last year?
Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes. I read this going into Pandemic Summer #1 and it was the perfect mix of devastation, romance and charm that I needed. Reese Witherspoon needs to make this into a movie so we can all experience and ogle a good Dean.
Also, I'm cheating, but Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino. Creepy poems aside, I love Jia's writing and how she thinks about and re-conceptualizes things and the connections she draws from seemingly innocuous stuff to reflections of our society at large.
Did you ever read a book for school, or out of a sense of duty to the classic canon, and find it was unexpectedly good?
Know that I hate myself for saying this, but Catcher In The Rye. Look, I was an angsty teen girl in Grade 11 when I read it and felt it a soothing and cathartic balm. Yes, I have since changed my opinion, but I hold that feeling of being 16 and enjoying it very near and dear.
Do you have a favourite genre?
Non-fiction! Give me an essay collection! Pop culture criticism! Weird deep dives! Juicy memoirs! I'll take it all!!
Were you a big reader as a child?
I had my moments! I will take this opportunity to properly thank the BookIT reading program sponsored by Pizza Hut for single-handedly making me literate and developing a fondness for reading (and pizza). Giving kids a huge holographic button to put book stickers on and rewarding them for reading with a free personal pan pizza and trip to the dessert buffet is the greatest, most effective literacy program that has ever existed. Also, I reread Little Women a lot.
Do you read poetry? If so, do you have a favourite collection or poem?
I do! I am what you would call a super dense person, so poetry has always been above my understanding. However, I try to read at least one poetry book a year to aid said understanding and usually end up reading a few (though I'm none the wiser). My faves are There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker and Life Of The Party by Olivia Gatwood.
Are there any "classic" books you genuinely love?
Moby Dick! I read it many years ago as part of a book club and was (a) not thrilled at the prospect, (b) surprised I finished it and (c) equally surprised I enjoyed it. This book has stayed with me. It's all true that it is very long (or at least feels very long) and that there's a lot about the mechanics of whaling and the benefits of spermaceti and its use lighting candles and whatnot, but there are absolutely beautifully written moments interspersed throughout about the sea, the whales under the starry night and human struggles. It all feels so rich and cinematic. A classic for a reason in my books!
What's your favourite book that no one else you know has ever read?
Again, I'm pretty dense, so I'm sure lots have read what I've read, but here are my first thoughts:
Screen Tests by Kate Zambreno: a fun little work of micro fiction and movie stars.
The entire ECW Pop Classics Series: impassioned defences of beloved pop culture artifacts is my jam.
Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet by Claire L. Evans: A truly fantastic and engaging historical deep dive of the Internet, which, objectively, feels like sentence that shouldn't exist!
Have you ever felt betrayed by a book?
You'll Grow Out Of It by Jessi Klein. My most searing Goodreads review to date! (jk) I felt betrayed because this book was about how the writer was a tomboy and now a Tom Man (her words) and basically set up as a subversive look at navigating the word as an "outsider" of femininity. Except it was none of that!! and she never engaged with any of her themes!! especially that of being a Tom Man!! Which she is decidedly not by the end of the book!! I think there's a different, better book in there than the one she wrote. She's clearly a good writer. But every time I watch Big Mouth, I get annoyed all over again.
What's a book that you've changed your opinion on over time?
There are certainly a lot of books whose authors have marred my opinion of them because the two feel linked: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, This Is How You Lose Her and Drown by Junot Diaz, Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (don't @ me). I used to think Consider the Lobster and Other Essays by David Foster Wallace was the pinnacle of essay writing and would constantly refer to it for inspiration. However, as my world expanded and other influences came in, he and his books, thankfully, fell away.
Have you ever lied having read a book to impress someone?
OH PROBABLY. I've definitely lied about finishing a lot of book club reads and school assignments and just hacked my way through those discussions (sorry! I'm a very slow reader!). I guess I wasn't trying to impress so much as not be caught. All Quiet On The Western Front comes to mind. I got an A on my project, which was basically repurposed Matthew Good Band lyrics written as a soldier's wartime diary, I'm embarrassed to say. And no I never read it.
What's your comfort read? How many times do you think you've read it?
Anything by Hanif Abdurraqib. He is my favourite writer and brings me comfort because anytime I read his work — regardless if it's his poetry, essay collections, criticisms — he makes me want to write. He reminds me how much I love to write and how great it is to feel deep love for something be it a song, movie, moment or beyond. His thoughts, intention, introspection in his writing are sublime. Every time I read his words I feel nourished. He spreads so much joy with his writing, even when he is talking about the darkness. I recommend starting with They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us. Only Hanif can make you respect a band like My Chemical Romance (jk! Love what you love!) Also I once saw him in person at the Brooklyn Book Festival and he was the coolest-looking person I have ever seen in my life, hands down.
Which book do you give most often as a gift?
I don't have a go to and instead like to theme a book to a pal! A lot that I have mentioned, I've gifted, but my two most recent are:
To a travel-obsessed friend: All Over the Place: Adventures in Travel, True Love, and Petty Theft by Geraldine DeRuiter
To an interested-in-astrology friend: You Were Born for This: Astrology for Radical Self-Acceptance by Chani Nicolas
What book would you give someone if you wanted them to really understand you?
Shit, Actually by Lindy West and Crystal Clear by Jaya Saxena. I write a blog about shark movies that I like to think/hope/dream is a hybrid of the hilarious irreverent style of a full force Lindy West in Shit, Actually and the personal, observant and unexpected nature of Jaya Saxena in Crystal Clear. These would be my dream books to write, but probably about shark movies and creature features. You would glean that I like yelling about movies and non-sequiturs.
What book are you most excited to read next?
Welp, all from my embarrassingly long list above and I've got to say Nightbitch because our intrepid BOOK PERSON leader keeps recommending it. Not on said list (yet): Sometimes I Trip On How Happy We Could Be by Nichole Perkins, Afterparties by Anthony So and People We Meet On Vacation by Emily Henry.
What's the best book-to-movie adaptation you can think of?
The two best to me are Jaws (naturally) and Annihilation, for very different reasons! I am an on the record as an obsessive and devoted Jaws fan and one of the things I love about the movie is the writing. Screenwriter Carl Gottlieb took an overly complicated book about a corrupt mayor menaced by mobsters, an extra-marital love affair, and a killer shark hunted by three unlikeable men and made it into a movie about the morality of America with complicated endearing characters and amazing humour! Not to mention Roy Scheider’s style is on point.
Annihilation was an exciting book to movie transition because they are totally different from one another! I loved both the book and movie and thought they were each a great interpretation for that medium.
Is there a book you've been meaning to read, but just haven't gotten around to it yet?
A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib; She Found It At The Movies: Women Writers on Sex, Desire and Cinema by Chrstina Newland; and Annabel by Kathleen Winter (it was thoughtfully gifted to me years ago by my partner and sits on my shelf mocking me).
What's the last book you devoured as fast as you could read it?
The Meaning of Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey. Give me a 1990s/2000s era pop icon tell all and I will read it as fast as I can!
What's a book that took you a long time to read, but was ultimately worth it?
Seduction: Sex, Lies and Stardom in Howard Hughes' Hollywood by Karina Longworth. I love Karina Longworth and her podcast You Must Remember This. While I found her episodes on this more engaging (so cinematic!) I love her approach to writing, research and analysis.
Has a book ever fundamentally changed your opinion about something?
Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May: I am a Marie Kondo stan, but diverge from her on one point: seasonal wardrobes. I live in a damn frozen tundra in the winter and fireball in the summer and thus require different clothing and switching out of wardrobes. May's book changed my thinking on allowing myself to do that but also the joy of transforming your house and life during winter (and spring and summer) to enjoy the season.
What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon: I am a Maintenance Phase devotee and reading this book continued to open my eyes even more to the blatant discrimination and inhumane treatment of fat people.
Crying In H Mart by Michelle Zauner: Slowly, as I reflect on this book, I think it is teaching me to be nicer to my mom and forgive her for the things she could not be.
What's the most romantic book to give as a gift?
The one they talk about all the time! The most romantic book ever given to me was Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West, not because of the subject matter, but because it was a cover edition that I had accidentally donated in a fit of KonMari-ing and regretted. Barring that, I would say Love In Color: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold by Bolu Bablola. Or you could just gift some Jasmine Guillory and get busy.
What's a book that helped you believe in the fundamental decency of humanity?
Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob. Not because she exposes the fundamental decency of humanity but because her actions in trying to address and learn from humanity's downfall is an act of human decency itself.
Have you ever read a book about your hometown?
Hahaha no. I would love to read a book set in London, Ontario in the 1990s though. I lived in Vancouver for a hot minute and always loved the world created in The Beggar's Garden by Michael Christie (a Rain City Book Club pick way back in the day from Lizzy Karp!).
What is a book that makes you hopeful for the future?
How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell. I hope we all slow right the fuck down and capitalism dies.
Free-for-all: tell me about a book you love that didn't make it into your answers above.
Your Art Will Save Your Life by Beth Pickens. This inspired me to keep going!
Speed round! What pairs best with…
… celebrating your COVID vaccine? All The Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to Be Famous Strangers by Alana Massey
…a summer afternoon at the beach? Beach Read by Emily Henry
… a big plate of salty french fries? Arbitrary Stupid Goal by Tamara Shopsin
… a long weekend with no plans? We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry
… a road trip? The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries by Jessa Crispin
… a breakup? We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irby
… a snow day? Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory
… a park blanket and a picnic? Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
… a really fancy hotel room, plus room service? Open Book by Jessica Simpson