Whatcha Reading, Jessica Hurst?

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.

Jessica Hurst is the owner of Mercer Street Books, one of our very favorite used bookshops in Seattle. She always has amazing recommendations, and no doubt will guide you to discover authors you don't know but wish you did, and works by authors you do, but have yet to have find.

What are you reading now?

I’m almost always reading four or five books at once, often things that counterbalance each other. If I’m reading something true, I may also need to read something made up. If I’m deep into something long I need to keep a few short books going as well. I often pick up a second book that contextualizes or counters or complements the first book I was reading before I’m half done. And if a book has been recommended to me, I may also read something that I won't tell anyone that I've read just for the pleasure of having a secret. It isn’t a hard and fast rule, but rather a pervasive tendency. In the interest of brevity, I'll just chart the high tide of my current obsession which shows no signs of ebbing.

I'm about half way through The Lady and the Monk by Pico Iyer. I'd never read any Iyer until about a month ago when he was recommended to me by a customer. Now I cant get enough. This one is an interesting read in that it's the most self-reflective of his work that I've read so far. While the previous books have mostly used Iyer as a hyper intelligent lens through which to gaze upon the world, The Lady and the Monk focuses his poetic eye inwards and follows his romantic entanglements with his future wife and with Japan itself.

What did you read last?

It all started with A Beginner's Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations by Pico Iyer. Brief, bright vignettes are clustered together like candles to illuminate already brilliant observations about Iyer's adopted homeland of 32 years. No matter how long he stays, he's never quite an insider. Perhaps, you learn, that's part of the appeal. The fragmented, non-narrative nature charmed the heck out of me and reminded me of other favorites like Fernando Pessoa.

Next I read Sun After Dark (by, of course, Pico Iyer.) Mr Iyer wanders through literal and political darkness in this, my favorite of his books. Chapters on insomnia and how a foreign city acts on you when you can't keep to its normal hours follow chapters that accompany singer Leonard Cohen through his residence at a Buddhist monastery, a place both holy and a depository for Cohen's pain. There was something warm yet haunted about this book that made it a great winter read.

What are you reading next?

Autumn Light by Pico Iyer. Because I find it's best to just let these compulsions play out. In reading, like nowhere else, you can eat until you've had your fill.