The Sacred and the Profane: A Not-So-Holy Reading List for Your Holy Week Vacation
There’s more than one way to go about one’s reading in the four glorious non-working days we have been blessed with for being a predominantly Catholic nation. There is, of course, the default of immersing oneself in spirituality and the sacred; I have, if you must know, a grandmother who still insists on reading four books that detail Jesus Christ’s death on yonder cross, four books that only use slightly different diction. But that’s not everyone’s brand of devotion. And so, darling Reader of the more profane persuasion, there is the decidedly more uncouth—but no less reflection-provoking and contemplation-demanding—reading list with which to spend your vacation. Well, then. Here you go, fellow bibliophilic heathen:
Auletris: Erotica, by Anaïs Nin
If you are the sort of person who has completely absconded with any religious trappings, and have already made plans to hide away in a hotel room for four whole days, how better to ramp up the sinfulness by reading recently discovered erotica penned by undoubtedly one of the masters of the form? Auletris is a long-lost collection originally written in 1940—back then, in a time much missed, writers were commissioned by discerning perverts a dollar for every page of erotica. Nin became the master of a veritable cabal of your typical old-timey starving writers, typing away at their rented typewriters all manners of smut. It is truly cause for rejoicing that such poetic, lyrical, dangerously on-the-edge, jesus-I-can’t-believe-she-wrote-that text has been returned to us from moldy drawers. It’s like pixie-fragile Anaïs is languidly waving at us from wherever she’s dancing the flamenco in the afterlife: The truest blessing.
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
There can never be enough love among adults for books marketed toward teenagers. The Hate U Give—do forgive the text-speak—is a powerful YA novel about a girl caught in a too-real America of rampant discrimination and selective justice. This, all on top of what it means to be a sixteen-year-old young woman—“woke” or otherwise—surviving, thriving, and navigating one’s way into adulthood. Critics all over have called it essential reading, not just for how it represents the Black Lives Matter movement, but because it’s a book that demands to be read by anyone who cares about what the future has in store for the human race.
Borne, by Jeff VanderMeer
The Netflix-beholden among us have seen the adaptation of VanderMeer’s Annihilation, and since we’ve talked about that book and The Southern Reach Trilogy that it belongs to before, let’s focus on its much less publicized sibling. Borne is post-apocalyptic in a manner that VanderMeer fans have grown familiar with: Creatures whose origins could only be guessed at, their capabilities and needs and desires and purpose only to be witnessed from a very safe distance. But, of course, we have an intrepid scavenger at the core of it, who brings home a creature she would name Borne—it looks like a sea anemone, all tangly and intricate. But it behaves, somehow, like the most aloof cat. Oh, and the book opens with a gargantuan cyborg bear terrorizing what remains of the human race.
Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff
I know, I know—a vacation means that you’re given a sort-of-free pass on thinking about what a horrible upside-down piece of excrement the world of become, especially politics, but think of Wolff’s book as a piece of political intrigue, or a black comedy of bumbling fools, or pretty much just high-stakes chismis. Detailing the first nine month of the—and it still feels goddamned weird to say this—Trump presidency, Wolff takes us through one diplomatic misstep after misstep, one political disaster after another, one act of misogyny or bigotry followed by heaps more. And with the reality TV star at the helm of the shitshow that is the base of the most powerful country in the world. It makes for giddy, frustrating, bang-your-head-against-the-book reading, which can be fun. Spoiler alert, though: President Trump is incompetent, not a very good person, and has an undisguised disdain for anyone who isn’t white or in possession of a penis.
A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking
When I learned of Stephen Hawking’s recent death—that last burst into stardust by arguably the brightest mind this generation has had the honor to share breathing air with—it was through a message that said, to wit, “And you thought the world could not get dumber.” For a lot of us, Brief History was a our introduction not just to Hawking, but to a mind-defyingly complex science written in a way that our decidedly un-genius brains could comprehend. Here was Hawking, whose own life could be the stuff of weepy memoirs, telling us about the secrets of the Universe, the reasons for its vastness, the possibilities for its origins—and he didn’t dumb it down. He respected his reader, and he never stopped making science awesome. In every word of his writings, it was clear that he was a scientist first—someone who studied; if he were lucky, someone who discovered. And with that calling, came the wonder—and he never hesitated sharing that wonder with us. The world is poorer for the Professor’s death—and it’s up to us to keep asking questions, as this book and all of his other books, bid us to do. Ask questions about life, about the Universe, about the pinprick of a matter that may have led to us here, the possibility of a grand design, God itself, everything.