Nelson’s The Red Parts

The Red Parts: A Memoir of a Trial
Maggie Nelson

Maggie Nelson wrote a book called Jane: A Murder about the brutal murder of her aunt allegedly by a serial killer who was targeting women in Michigan in the late seventies. As she was finalizing the book, and getting ready to go on a book tour to promote it her family received a call from the police. They had new information on Jane’s murder and they now believed the man long thought to have killed Jane hadn’t and instead another man, who’s DNA had been found on her body, was being arrested.

This is a book about the trail of this new suspect. Its about it means for a family to relive the grief of loss, and what it means to be a writer both documenting, and living through, the murder trial of a loved one.

This being Nelson, its about more than that, too. Its about modern policing, and the use and misuse of DNA evidence. Its about how you move on when someone you love is killed. Its about what it means to go home, or if you even can.

I read Jane: A Murder and The Red Parts back to back in the span of a weekend. If you’ve any interest in strong writing or crime, I suggest you do too.


Nelson’s Jane: A Murder

Jane: A Murder
Maggie Nelson

Maggie Nelson is one of my favorite writers. Her book the Argonauts knocked me on my ass. Its still one of my go-to gift books. I’ve read almost everything she has written and honestly, you can’t go wrong. But if you want to start somewhere really excellent, I suggest the pairing of this book, Jane: A Murder and its pseudo-sequel, The Red Parts.

Nelson’s aunt, Jane, was a free spirit in a conservative town, who went on to college and then law school, only to be brutally murdered while on her way home to visit her family.

Nelson never knew Jane, she was born after Jane’s death, but the life that Jane could have had haunts Nelson’s family. As a means of making sense of it, Nelson goes on a search to understand who Jane was, what her death did to her family, and who killed her.

This book is deeply researched, whip smart, and so compelling I could hardly put it down. It’s the story of a woman who was brutally murdered. Who she was, and what she left behind, but its also a story about sexism and misogyny; ambition and trauma. I was blown away.


Maggie Nelson


Review: Nelson’s Bluets


Maggie Nelson

A meditation on blue, sorta, but also a inquiry into love, life and theory. This is clearly a precursor to the Argonauts. There’s a similar style and tone, moving from the conversational to the theoretical and back. It isn’t as polished as the Argonauts, nor as emotionally compelling, but still an interesting, thought provoking read.

As I’ve written elsewhere, I’m much more drawn to Nelson’s prose than her poetry. This one sits somewhere in the middle – written in prose, but with the kind of hyper careful word choice and syntax that we see in her poetry. An interesting book, clearly an experiment of sorts, which lead to much stronger work later on.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Nelson’s Shiner


Maggie Nelson

This year, I finally came to grips with something pretty fundamental about my reading interests – I don’t really care about prose. I care about ideas, and characters, and plots. I care about history, personal development, and inspiration. But I do not care about a formal experimentation. I don’t care about clever re-workings of language. I don’t, really, care about style.

This is, I think, is why, though I absolutely loved the Argonauts, Shiner, Maggie Nelson’s first book of poetry left me cold.

Poetry is often about formal experimentation, careful parsing of language, tone and meter. These things don’t really interest me. Sure I like a well turned phrase, but I don’t find them necessary to my enjoyment. Got a self-published memoir on a running cult? Full of typos and run-on sentences. I’m down. Got a carefully crafted book of poetry writing by an incredibly talented writer? I’ll pass.

This isn’t to say that I don’t care about good writing, I do. But if all something is is well written, I’ll probably get bored. This is who I am, and this is what I like, but you mileage may vary. If words, for their own sake, is you jam, this might go over much better than it did with me.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

2015: My Year In Books

I set two reading goals for 2015 – to read fifty two books for the year and to have fifty percent of those books be by women. Unlike most of the other goals I set this year, I actually accomplished both of these.I’m pretty happy with that.

Now that I’m a dad who almost never goes out, and a commuter to midtown, reading fifty two books didn’t seem that hard. Neither did reading twenty six books by women. That said, making an effort to read women was something new this year. I am so glad I did it. Without that goal, I doubt I would have read my favorite book of the year, the Argonauts. Nor do I think I would have read my favorite fiction book of the year, Station Eleven.
Also new this year was a resolution to write a short review of every book I read. The theory is, if it is worth reading, its worth jotting down at least 100 words about it. So this year, I did that. The links in this post point to those reviews.

Before we get to the super boring list, here’s some slightly less boring highlights and lowlights:

Best Non-Fiction Book: Tied between The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson and Coates’s Between the World and Me.  Honestly, if you want to be able to think about race in this country today, you need to read Between the World and Me. And if you want to think deeply about love, or gender, or family, or theory, or any combination thereof, you should read the Argonauts. Both books are about 200 pages. You can read both. Get to work.

Best Fiction Book: There were a number of contenders for this title this, but the book the haunted me the most after finishing it, the book that got me talking and thinking the most was Mantel’s Station Eleven. It gets the crown. This was billed as an SF novel. And that it is. But its so much more. If you’re interested in quality fiction, its worth a look. 

Worst Fiction Book / Worst Non-Fiction Book: Usually, I read at least a couple of books which i hated. This year, not so much. If forced, I’d say Kaplan’s Jewish Meditation isn’t very good,  but its not THAT bad. All in all, I picked really well this year.

Some statistics worth noting:
•As discussed above 26 of the 52 books I read were by women, but a pathetic two books were written by African American writers. A single book by a South Asian Indian writer and not a single book by a Latino, East Asian, or Native American. That is embarrassing. I don’t know how far into quotas I want to go with my reading, but I’ll definitely be making some efforts to change those stats in the coming year.

20 of the 52 books (or about 38%) were fiction. That’s less than pervious years, not that I noticed, but perhaps this is a start of trend?

Interested in what I have planned for 2016? Check it out here.

Below is a complete list of the books with my annotation of whether I recommend it for the general reader, recommend it for the enthusiast interested in the subject matter, or if I think you shouldn’t bother at all. Remember, I have no taste.

1. The Organized Mind, Daniel Levitin – Recommended for the enthusiast.

2. Thrown, Kerry Howley – Recommended

3. A Spy Among Friends, Ben Macintyre – Recommended for the enthusiast.

4. Eat And Run, Scott Jurek – Recommended for the enthusiast.

5. Last American Man, Elizabeth Gilbert – Recommended

6. Jewish Meditation, Aryeh Kaplan – Not Recommended

7. Wild, Cheryl Strayed – Recommended for the enthusiast.

8. Critique of Criminal Reason, Michael Gregorio – Recommended for the enthusiast.

9. Baltimore Blues, Laura Lippman – Recommended for the enthusiast.

10. Last Spymaster, Gayle Lynds – Not recommended

11. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard – Recommended

12. In the Woods, Tana French – Recommended

13. In the Kingdom of Ice, Hampton Sides – Recommended

14. All the Old Knives, Olen Steinhauer – Recommended

15. Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel – Recommended

16. You Are An Ironman, Jacques Steinberg – Recommended for the enthusiast

17. Between You & Me, Mary Norris – Recommended

18. Spring Chicken, Bill Gifford – Recommended for the enthusiast.

19. City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett – Recommended for the enthusiast.

20. Just City, Jo Walton – Recommended for the enthusiast.

21. Hellhound On My Trail, Hampton Sides – Recommended

22. The Whites, Richard Price – Recommended

23. God Help The Child, Toni Morrison – Recommended

24. I’ll Have What She’s Having, Rebecca Harrington – Recommended for the enthusiast.

25. Manhunt, James Swanson – Recommended

26. The Miernik Dossier, Charles McCarry – Recommended for the enthusiast.

27. Natural Born Heroes, Chris McDonald – Recommended for the enthusiast.

28. Savage Harvest, Carl Hoffman – Recommended

29. Seveneves, Neil Stephenson – Recommended for the enthusiast

30. Book of Numbers, Joshua Cohen – Recommended for the enthusiast

31. Goddess Pose, Michelle Goldberg – Recommended for the enthusiast

32. Broken Monsters, Lauren Buekes – Recommended

33. Iron War, Matt Fitzgerald – Recommended for the enthusiast

34. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates – Recommended

35. The Longest Race, Ed Ayers  – Recommended for the enthusiast

36. Night Film, Marisha Pessl – Recommended for the enthusiast

37. The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson – Recommended

38. Vegan Before Six, Mark Bittman – Recommended

39. In the Freud Archives, Janet Malcolm – Recommended

40. Classics: A Very Short Introduction, Mary Beard and John Henderson – Recommended for the enthusiast.

41. Dept of Speculation, Jennifer Offill – Recommended for the enthusiast.

42. Martial Bliss, Margaretta Barton Colt – Recommended for the enthusiast.

43. Confronting the Classics, Mary Beard – Recommended for the enthusiast.

44. Riddle in the Labyrinth, Margalit Fox – Recommended for the enthusiasts.

45. The Magicians, Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D.– Recommended for the enthusiast

46. Just Kids, Patti Smith – Recommended

47. I Love Dick, Chris Kraus – Recommended

48. Shapeshifter, Samir Chopra – Recommended

49. Power of the Dog, Don Winslow – Recommended

50. Blue Zones, Dan Buettner – Recommended

51. The Cartel, Don Winslow – Recommended

52. The Big Short, Michael Lewis – Recommended

Review: Nelson’s The Argonauts

The Argonauts
Maggie Nelson

If you’re interested in parenting, gender identity, committed relationships, theory, love, sex, motherhood, queer theory or just gut wrenchingly good memoirs, you really should read Maggie Nelson’s the Argonauts.

Conceived as a set of vignettes, the book tells the story first of Nelson’s marriage to Harry Dodge, a gender queer artist as suspect of language as Nelson is enraptured by it. It also deals indepth with Nelson’s pregnancy and motherhood (and step-motherhood to Dodge’s child from a previous relationship). Spliced throughout it are memories of Nelson’s childhood, and extensive ruminations on major works in feminist and queer theory, poetry, and more.

Nelson is fundamentally a poet. She writes beautifully and honestly about the struggles to make sense of this world, to share it with another, and to bring a new life into it. The book is so good, and so honest, I couldn’t put the damn thing down. The parts on her relationship to Dodge, and on what it means to be a mother, and a family, rang so true.  At times the all these things are raw and hard — at others joyous – and all of it is well written.

I wanted to read every damn passage out loud.

Super good.

You should read it, I’d love to discuss it with you.

Recommended for anyone interested in what it means to live an examined life.

Totals for the Week Ending 8.30.2015

Run Miles for the week: 42.4 in 7:12:40
Run Miles for the year: 995.6
Projected total run miles for the year: 1495.4
Weekly/Daily Average to reach 2k miles 58.5/8.4
Run Streak: 0
Did I hit every session of 18/55? N
What did I miss? One easy recovery run
Runs that were one stupid mile: 0
Days until I beat my old run streak: n/a
Prospect Park loops for the week: 6
Prospect Park loops for the year: 72
Bike Miles for the Week: 0
Bike Miles for the Year: 440.7
Projected total bike miles for the year: 662
Weekly/Daily average to reach 2k bike miles: 90.3/12.9
Swim Meters for the Week 1750
Swim Meters for the Year 8200
Body Weight Work: 0
Total Exercise Time: ~7:12:00
Average Weight: 175
Books Finished: 2 (The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson; Vegan Before Six, Mark Bitmann)
Books by Women: 1
Total Books for the Year: 37
Total Books by Women: 16
Percentage of total books by women: 43.24
Books per week to reach 52 ~.8

Notes: I missed a number of these, which sucks. But here were are. About 8 weeks out from New York and feeling pretty good, all things considered. Did a hard workout on Saturday 16 miles, 10 at marathon pace, which left with me a bit of heat exhaustion and/or dehydration. Either way, I was wrecked. This week is a scheduled cut back week. I intend to do some more easy cycling and finally once again work in a bit of body weight work. After this easy week, it’s the height of marathon training. Excited.