Whatcha Reading, Rufi Thorpe?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Rufi Thorpe is the author of the novels The Girls From Corona Del Mar, and most recently, Dear Fang, With Love (which I unabashedly gushed over). She lives in Calfiornia, and aren't we curious what this is gonna be about?

What are you reading now?

I realize this is peak nerd, but I’m reading Carl Sagan’s The Dragons of Eden, which is about the evolution of human intelligence. Sagan is trying to synthesize anthropological evidence, evolutionary biology, psychology and computer science to paint a portrait of how our intelligence and consciousness arose. I’m always a sucker for the hard-problem of consciousness, and I think when I was younger I was more interested in mystical or abstract/philosophical explorations of those central questions. But after having children, our animal nature has just never been clearer to me, and so I have had to consider human beings all over again in a new light. Sagan is accessible and funny, but the ideas are complicated and fascinating, the kind that make you gasp in the bathtub and close the book because you are dizzy with tracing the ramifications.

What did you read last?

Horse Heaven by Jane Smiley. I made a commitment to myself for 2017 to read the entirety of both Jane Smiley and Margaret Atwood, which is really the ultimate form of self care because neither of them can write a book that is less than brilliant. I’ve mostly been listening to the audiobook versions. I do a lot of reading for my professional life — to blurb or review or just keep up, but I tend to choose audiobooks for my pleasure reading, and then I listen as I do dishes, fold laundry, walk dogs, drive. I love audiobooks too because they read slower than I would read the text visually, so I have room to think a lot about what the writer is doing and why and how. With Horse Heaven, which is a massive multi-threaded novel set in the world of horse racing, I fell in love in a way I’m not sure I have since I was eight and first reading Anne of Green Gables. You know that feeling of just never, ever, ever wanting the book to end? That you would willingly trade your own consciousness and life in order to exist solely in the matrix of the fictive world? That is how I felt about Horse Heaven. And I don’t even like horses!

What are you reading next?

Well, Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward is definitely on my list. I’m always extremely interested in books about prison or people getting out of prison. Prison seems to me to be the sort of elephant in the room of modern life. The US has about two million people incarcerated in either prison or jail, 1 in every 37 adults is under some form of correctional supervision. We have no coherent social position in terms of why we are doing this. No one is clear on whether incarceration is meant as punishment or rehabilitation, and meanwhile we have overwhelming evidence that spending time in prison does nothing but further criminalize people and make it less likely for them to find gainful employment and build a happy, functional life. And yet, in a single year we can spend $81 billion on corrections. We invest so much of our energy and our resources as a nation into a system that apparently does nothing positive at all. It’s so irrational that you know it is at the very heart of everything that is wrong.