Today is World Book Day, an annual observance designated by UNESCO to celebrate all things reading, from books themselves, to authors, illustrators, and bookstores. To mark the occasion, we wanted to see what the larger group of Verge staffers have on their night stands, in their bags, on their Kindles or phones, and on their “currently reading” list.
Here’s what we’re currently reading:
Tasha Robinson: I used to be one of those people who read one book at a time, period, often in one or two sittings. Then the internet and Netflix happened, and I started working culture-writing jobs where I was usually working on 10 projects at once, and my attention span disappeared. I really regret that. But it does set me up nicely for books like Moranifesto, my current slow-burn obsession. I first ran across Caitlin Moran, “Britain’s filthiest feminist,” on NPR’s Nerdette podcast, and her sense of humor about gender, art, world events, and everything else is so ribald and snarky and unapologetic, she immediately colonized my politics and my brain. I’ve since read all her books, fiction and essays alike, but I’m savoring Moranifesto one short, topical column at a time, because it covers so much diverse ground. Favorite part so far: her discussion of internet anger, and how it’s just “fear brought to the boil,” and why people respond so rabidly to online anger because they can feel the fear and weakness behind it. “Remember,” she says, “Internet anger is like your savings account. You only want to break into it in extreme emergencies.”
Other current reading projects: I’m pondering my way through Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness Of Being (which chugs along nicely with story, then chokes on strange philosophy), I just finished Ursula Vernon’s upcoming wacky, delightful kids’ book Giant Trouble (the latest in her Hamster Princess series), and I’m midway through Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer-winner The Underground Railroad, which is mesmerizing. Every single one of these is an actual physical book, because I am a book Luddite, and I’m fine with that.
Andrew Liptak: I’ll echo what Tasha said. The internet has killed my attention span when it comes to reading. The solution, I found, is to vanish into the wilderness of upstate New York, far from the internet and any sort of cell signal, with a stack of books. I did that recently and burned through a bunch, including Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140. I’m already plotting my next escape. In the meantime, I still have that stack of books. I’m currently finishing up John Kessel’s fantastic novel The Moon and the Other, about civilization on the moon, matriarchal societies, and individuality. It’s an interesting, and thought-provoking novel that I’m taking my time to work through. In addition to that, I’m working on finishing up Brian Staveley’s next fantasy novel, Skullsworn. He’s going the Rogue One method with this book, spinning out a standalone story in the world he created in his Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne trilogy. It’s a short, violent, and enormously entertaining book.
While I read a lot of fiction, one of my goals this year is to read more nonfiction. I’ve been picking away at a handful of books recently. Eccentric Orbits: The Iridium Story by John Bloom, about the company’s experience with its private satellite fleet, which is really interesting so far. I’ve also got Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race that I’ve been reading, which is what the movie was based on, and which is a really enlightening history. Finally, I’ve recently discovered Zoe Fraade-Blanar and Aaron M. Glazer’s Superfandom: How our Obsessions are Changing What We Buy and Who We Are, which is proving to be a fascinating read about online behavior.
Too many books, not enough time. I’m already feeling the weight of the books that are coming out in May and June that I’d like to get to.
Chaim Gartenberg: I like to be in the middle of at least four or five different books at one time. Or rather, I don’t like to be, but between the stack of physical copies next to my bed (my preferred format), combined with the various eBooks on my Kindle Voyage and iPhone for when I’m commuting means that at any given time I tend to be reading multiple books at any given time. And that’s not even getting into when books will get put on hold because a new, more exciting entry in a series I like just came out. Right now, I’m just finishing up Word by Word by Kory Stamper, a lexicographer and editor for Merriam-Webster dictionaries. It’s been a really interesting deep dive into how both dictionaries and the English language in general get made.
In the stack on my nightstand, I’ve got bookmarks midway through in Ken Liu’s fantastic The Grace of Kings (which I’ve been meaning to read for a while now) Robert Jackson Bennett’s upcoming City of Miracles, and Daryl Gregory’s Spoonbenders (out in June). And divided up across my digital devices are ebooks of James S.A. Corey’s Caliban’s War, Claire North’s The End of the Day, and Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough, all of which are in various stages of completion. Of course, all that can and will get easily derailed if something new catches my eye when browsing along the internet or my local bookstore.
Adi Robertson: Like Chaim, I’m always midway through at least a few things, several of which I assume I’ll never finish. I’ve got three basic categories: giant books I keep by my bed and often pick through over the course of years, medium-sized ones just small enough to keep in my bag and read on the subway, and ebooks I keep on the battered five-year-old Nook I can throw in a purse.
In category one, I’ve just made my way through England’s Dreaming, Jon Savage’s 700-page history of the Sex Pistols (and, by extension, the entire early punk movement.) I started it ages ago and then rediscovered how entertaining it was — particularly the sections about contemporaries who haven’t been mythologized the way the Sex Pistols were.
Category two includes The Horror on the Links: The Complete Tales of Jules De Grandin, Volume One, a recently collected series of stories from Seabury Quinn, an early pulp writer working around the same time as H.P. Lovecraft and Conan the Barbarian creator Robert E. Howard. I’m hoping to write a bit more about it later, but suffice to say it’s as much an anthropological artifact as a literary endeavor. I’m just finishing up the second upcoming installment of Aliette de Bodard’s fantastic Dominion of the Fallen series, The House of Binding Thorns, which is great and should be on everybody’s book list.
Category three includes a couple of books from the second-wave feminist writer Andrea Dworkin. If you’re a modern feminist engaging with Dworkin’s arguments on a theoretical level, you’ll come away with a lot to criticize. But you don’t need to agree with her politics to enjoy her writing, you just need to be willing to put that disagreement aside — something we’re eager to do with plenty of 20th-century male authors. It’s worth it, because her work is both forcefully uncompromising and poetic in its hyperbole.
Sarah Bishop: Like most of my colleagues, I have a rotation of books suited for specific purposes currently in my life.
My commuter read is the preferred author’s text of Neverwhere. I’ve read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, his Anansi Boys, Coraline, Smoke & Mirrors, Sandman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Good Omens - I’m a fan. But I’d never read his first book, Neverwhere. Of everything thus far, it seems his protagonist is lovingly modeled after its creator, and it’s refreshing to meet one of my favorite authors in his first bound text. (The novel comes as an adaptation of the BBC series, which he wrote.) Like most Gaiman books, the magical world is just out of sight, the execution performed between the lines. It’s not an entirely satisfying way to enter a new world but falls on the scale between Grossman and Rowling. Perhaps one day he’ll present a Tolkien-esque encyclopedia that maps out the resounding magical theory connecting his novels - that would be the next book on my reading list.
My nightstand book (really stored in the crevice between my pillow and headboard) is Guantánamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi. It’s a difficult book to stomach and probably not what I should read before sleeping, but I highly recommend it for anyone that got through Dave Egger’s Zeitoun. Now more than ever, I’ve felt it’s necessary to make myself uncomfortable and build empathy. The casual human tone helps you move around the book’s many classified redactions enough that you can imagine yourself at the Bay.
I’ve also got a YA novel floating around, serving as an emotional reward in the same ways as binging old Parks & Rec or New Girl episodes. Daria Defore’s Sparkwood is a romantic mystery fairy-fantasy tale from Less Than Three Press. There are fairies living in a mirror-world of a town in upstate Washington - and that world is responsible for the death of our protagonist’s brother. It’s a quick read, but the characters are adorable and it’s well-plotted, and would be tantalizing for the curiosities of its intended audience.
Lizzie Plaugic: Unlike apparently everyone else here, I'm a one-book-at-a-time kinda person (I keep one in my bag always and I can't be carrying a library onto the subway). Right now that book is Atticus Lish's Preparation for the Next Life. It's difficult to describe briefly without making it sound trite or tacky, or like it's trying really hard to win a book award (which it did), but if I can't dissuade you from thinking that, Lish's writing will. Released in 2015, Preparation tells the story of Zou Lei, an undocumented immigrant from northwest China living in Flushing, Queens, and Brad Skinner, a young Iraq veteran struggling to adjust to life after war. The two meet in a warehouse in Queens when Skinner is looking for a massage, and bond over their mutual obsession with fitness. Lish's breathless, unfriendly prose mimics the disjointedness of city life and the precariousness of existence for his two protagonists. Although this could technically be considered a love story, it's less about romance than it is about survival.
(Oh, and if you're wondering, it's a paper copy. I like other commuters to be able to see what I'm reading (let's not pretend we're all not performing all the time anyway) and no way am I bringing an e-reader into my bed like a Diane Keaton character trying to use a gift from her well-meaning but ultimately detached children).
Andrew J. Hawkins: As a parent of a small child, most of the novels I find myself reading these days are board books and brightly illustrated adventures featuring talking teddy bears, mischievous dogs, and dumb little rabbits who like to talk to the moon. When I do get time to read for myself, it’s in fits and starts. My days of devouring a book a week are long gone. Now it takes months. And unlike most, I can’t bring myself to abandon print books for e-readers. To me, a dog-eared paperback is the only way to go.
I just finished Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, which I’ve recently learned is going to be turned into a TV show by Lin-Manuel Miranda. And I’ve just picked up Leviathan Wakes, the first book in James S.A. Corey’s epic space opera series The Expanse, which is already a successful TV show on the SyFy network. This might lead you to conclude that I’m some shallow guy who only reads books that are or will become TV shows. Glancing at my bookshelf, I see the entire A Song of Ice and Fire series, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians series, and a ton of graphic novels like Preacher (AMC show), Sandman (currently in development hell), and Y: The Last Man (optioned by FX). So yeah, no comment there.
I have a couple of serious, non-genre books that I’ve been meaning to get around to. My wife just bought me City of Night, a cult 1963 novel about gay hustlers in New York City. I also keep picking up and putting down Garth Risk Hallberg’s blockbuster debut City on Fire. Am I obsessed with books about old New York City? Glancing at my bookshelf, I see Please Kill Me, Up in the Old Hotel, City of Glass, The Alienist, Dreamland, Empire Rising, and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. So yeah, another no comment there.
Mariya Abdulkaf: I’m currently leading a social justice reading group and we’re currently discussing Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. It’s a non-fiction book about how mass incarceration in the US has created a racial caste system similar to Jim Crow and slavery. It’s a powerful book that really puts into context something I have spent little time thinking about: America’s penal system and the grave disproportionate consequences the "war on drugs" has had on poor communities of color. I’m also currently reading The Central Park Five by Sarah Burns and The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis, which are both really good books and pair well with The New Jim Crow. I don’t read any fiction even by authors whose non-fiction works I admire like C.S. Lewis.
I have both physical and Audible copies of each book. I like reading my physical copies during my 45 minute commute to and from work. Then I listen to the Audible versions of each book throughout the week at home. I take this approach to reading in order to fully comprehend and experience complex pieces.