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READING LIST: Books To Yearn To

. 5 min read
READING LIST: Books To Yearn To

by Leah Williams

I love yearning. It’s one of my most treasured hobbies. I think most people love yearning. It’s why we have crushes. It’s why, anytime in middle school or high school or college when I was stuck in a boring class, I would pick someone at random—passably attractive, boring enough to project upon—and imagine us building a beautiful family together, instead of listening to the day’s lesson. I didn’t have to know them well; in fact it was better if I didn’t. These weren’t real crushes, and I would never act upon them, or even want to. They were just objects of my endless yearning.

My favorite romances all involve a lot of yearning. Pride and Prejudice? They don’t get together until the very end. The Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy? It takes Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom, both at their hottest, three long movies to finally bone. I am constantly rewatching Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, which is built upon yearning glances. The second one doesn’t even have any kissing!

Being trapped inside all the time with limited human interaction has made us pros at yearning. Remember at the beginning of the pandemic when everyone was watching Normal People? That was about yearning.

Yearning is escapism. Lately, I’ve found myself gravitating more and more towards stories that make me yearn. Sometimes they’re explicitly about yearning, sometimes it’s an underlying theme. As we near the end of the pandemic—freedom and normalcy so close I can taste them—I am yearning, and reading about yearning, more than ever.

Kink, edited by R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell

It’s a personal policy of mine to read anything Carmen Maria Machado puts out, so I picked up a copy of Kink immediately after its release. Kink is an excellent new anthology of literary fiction on sex, edited by R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell. Its contributors are some of my favorite contemporary writers, like Machado, and also Alexander Chee, Roxane Gay and Brandon Taylor.

Kink features tales of rough sex, tame sex, sex workers at their jobs, couples bringing in a third. It made me yearn for a party or a bar, for a funny, sexy anecdote from a friend of a friend’s coworker, for the freedom of telling a racy story to someone you probably won’t see again. It makes me yearn for a date—even a bad one—because then, at least, I’ll have the story.

Love in Color: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold by Bolu Babalola

Babalola, one of my favorite follows on Twitter, gets yearning. Love in Color is a collection of short fiction based on myths from around the world, all about love. There are tales from West Africa, Greece, the Middle East. There’s even just the story of Babalola’s own parents’ love. Love in Color is rich and fun and beautiful. Babalola does a lovely job of capturing romantic love at all its stages. Her book made me yearn not only to fall in love with someone new, but to build a life with a best friend and partner.

Love in Color is like the mythologies I loved to read as a kid, all grown up. I had been looking forward to this book’s US release since last year, and it did not disappoint.

Love in Color was released in the UK last year, and comes out in the US in April.

If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, translated by Anne Carson

You simply do not have yearning culture without Anne Carson. Her wide breadth of work was constantly mined for melodramatic quotes during Tumblr’s heyday. Hell, I have an Anne Carson tattoo.

Carson does fascinating work on these translations. We only have one complete poem from the ancient Greek poet Sappho; the rest are fragments. Carson uses line breaks and em dashes to indicate the lost text. I have never seen blank space used like this, and it’s effective. It’s like reading the ghost of a poem.

The yearning of If Not, Winter is romantic, certainly, but it’s also academic. I lust for being able to read Sappho’s complete works, but they do not exist. They will remain unattainable. There’s a freedom, however, in reading poetry that is fundamentally impenetrable.

Poetry can be intimidating. When I recommend poetry to friends, I sometimes feel like I’m assigning homework. It’s easy to get wrapped up in trying to correctly interpret the work and miss the chance to lose yourself in the beauty of the language. I get it. (Famously, I once wrote a paper on a poem and the only comment my professor left was, “um… no.”) But with If Not, Winter, the pressure is off. We know we won’t ever completely understand what Sappho was trying to say. It’s lost now and it will remain lost, so you can just relax and sink into it; you can feel without thinking so hard.

Feed by Tommy Pico

God, do I yearn for a normal life: for outings with friends and dates and meeting new people. Feed is funny and poignant, and made me miss being a person. Yes, I am recommending another poetry collection.

People think of poetry as self-serious and inaccessible, but a lot of poetry is fresh and modern and not hard to read. Pico is endlessly entertaining without lacking depth. The best experience you can have reading poetry is a moment that makes you think, “Oh, someone else thinks and feels this way; I am not alone.”

Pico covers everything from identity (Pico is Indigenous) to being a young intellectual to dating, all with a sense of humor and intimacy. It’s that breed of great writing that makes you feel creative and inspired and intensely jealous. I yearn to write nearly as well as Pico does. For me, the mark of a good book is when I find myself sending pictures of my favorite passages to friends. I had to stop myself from doing that on every page. Read Feed, and then read every other book of Pico’s you can find.

Leah is a bookseller and freelance social copywriter. Get to know her better: @leahgwilliams