Whatcha Reading, Clare Johnson?

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.

Clare Johnson is a Seattle-based (and Seattle native!) visual artist and writer. Her writing has appeared in Poetry Northwest, Shake the Tree, and Raven Chronicles. And, of course, we feature selections from her long-term auttobiographical Post-It Note Project each week on our Instagram (there's always lots more to see on her Instagram). She has a few posters of the project available — contact her through her website for details.

What are you reading now?

Answering this publicly brings up some real insecurity, a quick gulp of seriously, what AM I reading??? Seeing other writers’ answers is always a little intimidating; before agreeing to the column I had to do some mental checks about whether I could answer truthfully and still maintain any semblance of dignity. Upon consulting my conscience, I decided to be bold and disclose I’m currently reading Waterlog, by Roger Deakin. A close friend sent it as a surprise random February gift, recognizing it as a weirdly perfect fit....an observation so astute that my ex-wife had also given it to me over a decade ago, back when we were together in England and I was longing for places to swim outdoors. My reading habits are fickle and slow, confusing to even myself, so despite agreeing that this book seemed written exactly for me, I also had still never gotten around to reading it. The sweetness of my friend’s gesture made it newly urgent and special, so I started the newer copy. Big surprise, if you are me, this book about swimming in the British Isles is ABSOLUTELY PERFECTLY DELIGHTFUL. The author travels all around the UK, and just, you know, goes swimming everywhere. And talks about it A LOT. Being immersed in his nerdy enjoyment of each swim’s specifics is the perfect antidote to living in the season where I can’t swim outside every day. It’s dense with water-centric British vocabulary, validating the now-invisible part of me that became an adult there, with Deakin wandering in a strangely natural way into fascinating quirks of history, place, politics, community and lost landscapes, even mystery (what happened to all the baths in Bath...?). I cannot get enough of this.

What did you read last?

A mixture of books, but not in a glamorous “I’m such a good reader” way—more in a haphazard, “I don’t have a good reading routine set up in my normal life” way. Despite loving reading, I’m pretty slow to finish books. Reading at bedtime is hard on my insomnia, and I’m still working on treating reading during the day as a valid part of my work, rather than a crazy indulgence. I am also DEEPLY COMPELLED to re-read everything, further slowing my progress on new stuff; I recently re-read Alys, Always, the first novel by (my former student!) Harriet Lane. I can’t get over how real her prose feels—descriptions of characters, feelings, and especially the North London setting are all shockingly spot-on, like her words found a silent part of me, perceptive and concise in that clever “yes! exactly!” way, yet sneakily unlabored-feeling. She also pulls off a masterfully subtle character twist that floors me every time. Mixed in there I also read Instruments of the True Measure by Laura Da’, a little late (I bought it at her BREATHTAKING book launch last November) but uncharacteristically fast—collected, her poems make arresting page-turners. Like a series of perfectly executed moments opening clear-eyed cracks in the brutal vastness of erased histories, delicately, determinedly, isolated but also gathering unspeakable heft. I already want to re-read it back-to-back with her first book, Tributaries. I also just finished The Best Bad Things by Katrina Carrasco; my parents gave it to me for Christmas with a tag saying “Can’t remember what this is exactly, maybe you asked for it or know why we’re giving it to you?” I had no prior knowledge of this book, but guys, my parents know me well. Inspecting its jacket, their reasoning was instantly clear to everyone. This novel is like Deadwood meets 1880s Port Townsend....but starring an unstoppable queer biracial gender non-binary Pinkerton Agency Women’s Bureau former detective!!!! ALSO SUCH RUTHLESS WOMEN. Not a feel-good read exactly, and definitely not for the faint of heart—every chapter could be titled More Injuries For The Main Character. That said, someone please make a movie of this ASAP.

What are you reading next?

Well apparently I need to figure that out. Sublime Subliminal by Rena Priest has been waiting patiently in my stack of please-pay-attention-to-me-NOW books on my bedroom floor. Reading with her at Lit Crawl was such an honor—her poetry feels uniquely friendly and fierce, cunningly playful and also urgently serious. In a confusing juxtaposition, Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked is also in that stack, and may win because I impulsively borrowed it from someone who probably didn’t realize how long it takes me to get my act together, reading-wise. I was staring at their bookshelf all through a game night, noting a serious Nick Hornby section—including two copies of this (maybe I’m embarking on a project of only reading books people own two copies of?). I got curious to see how I feel about Hornby as a grown-up. It sounded fun—I have memories of laughing out loud reading About a Boy in my freshman dorm room — but now I also recall an itchy sadness — and just overhearing the movie version of High Fidelity a few months ago made me unspeakably grouchy. Now I’m nervous the generous book owner could be reading; don’t worry, I do always return everything! At the same time, lately I’ve caught myself longing to re-read (for the 5th time?) The Monkey’s Mask by Dorothy Porter. It’s billed as “an erotic murder mystery” but key to know is the hard-boiled ex-cop-turned-private-eye is a dyke, and the whole thing is Written. In. Verse. Some of my favorite poetry ever. It’s also past time for another Easy Rawlins mystery by Walter Mosley; life is better when I read at least two a year, and Bad Boy Brawly Brown is up next. If you haven’t read this series STOP EVERYTHING AND GO DO IT. Flawless plotting and atmosphere, jaw-dropping sentences, a joy to read and yet also leanly un-frivolous, interweaving the worthy ugly questions of our flawed country into every piece. I mean, but this is all just my opinion. It’s ok if you don’t like what I like.