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Non-places and new beginnings

The Frontlist
Non-places and new beginnings
By Adam Morgan • Issue #1 • View online
Happy December, friends. I’ve changed a few things.
“The Lakeside Address” was a cute nod to The Lakeside Press, but it didn’t tell you what to expect from my newsletter. So when I left Mailchimp behind for the so-far-superior Revue, I changed the name to The Frontlist, since I spend so much time talking about forthcoming books.
This month, I’ve got 10 December book picks, an exclusive look at Charles Finch’s first sentence, online reading recs, and what I’ve been reading, writing, and watching.

December book picks
December is always a light month for publishers, but here are the new books I’m excited to read.
Here's what I've been writing
Over at The AV Club, I reviewed Natashia Deón’s new novel, The Perishing, her first since 2016’s Grace. It’s very good! I did note that “it has more in common with Deón’s debut—or Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing or Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, books in which the speculative conceit plays third fiddle to characters and settings grounded in reality,” than the book’s packaging might lead you to believe.
Over at Guernica, I spoke with Chicago novelist Julia Fine about The Upstairs House, her contemporary gothic horror novel about postpartum depression and psychosis, and the ghost of the author of Goodnight Moon.
Exclusive: Charles Finch on his opening sentence
There’s an emotional chill in the street today for the first time.
“Is the first line of a book supposed to lead you into the rest of the book or to the second line? I think about that a lot. I like what Min Jin Lee did in Pachinko: Opens with a line that is clearly in the author’s voice, and then dives into the story without ado. Very clean. The first line of my book is inelegant and forgettable, on purpose.”
“The book is about 2020 and starts in March — I wanted to start at the last possible moment, which is I think Walter Benjamin’s advice on how to tell a story. And I wanted the first line to already feel like a blur a little bit, or at least leave a question, because that was the tone of those days to me. So in this book I’m pushing the reader to the second line. Next book maybe I’ll write something that could be read after the last line and mean more than it did at the start.”
Charles Finch, author of What Just Happened: Notes on a Long Year
Here's what I've been reading
Matrix by Lauren Groff
Matrix has gorgeous prose, a remarkable setting, and an irresistible premise (in the words of Constance Grady: “witchy medieval nuns creating a separatist women-only commune in 12th-century England and then writing poetry and bathing in lakes at night.” Still, I often found myself more interested in the form than the story, paying more attention to the sentences than wondering what happens next.
Welcome to Dunder Mifflin by Brian Baumgartner and Ben Silverman
This was a great comfort read. It sounds like a cliché now, but when I binged the first three seasons of The Office the summer after graduating from college in 2007, I fell in love with those characters. I still think Season 2 and 3 are as close to perfect television as we’re ever going to get, though I can’t bear to watch the two seasons after Steve Carell left.
Online reading recs
Here's what I've been watching
Foundation S1 (Apple TV+)
What an absolute mess. I loved the art deco production design, Lee Pace’s campy space emperor, and Laura Birn’s robot mom, but after a really compelling first episode, the rest of season one bounces aimlessly around the galaxy. The only plotline that held my attention was the imperial palace intrigue between Pace and Birn’s characters, but they only accounted for about 20% of the show’s runtime. I’ll give the second season a shot for those two actors alone, but after a really flat finale, my expectations are low.
Succession S3 (HBO Max)
A lot happens in every episode this season, but nothing changes. Three years into this story and the status quo for this family is almost exactly where it was when we first met them. The performances and the dialogue are still rubberneck-worthy but I desperately want something to change. Put Kendall in charge of Waystar for a season. Send Logan to prison. Put Connor in the White House. Have Tom leave Shiv for Karolina. I have a feeling a major shift will occur before the finale, but it’s taking too long.
Personal notes
We’re moving. After ten years in Chicago and three years in Charlotte, we’re headed to Mebane — a small town in North Carolina’s research triangle, just west of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill.
Why are we moving? In 1995, the French anthropologist Marc Augé wrote a book called Non-Places. “If a place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then a space which can­ not… will be a non-place,” he wrote.
He’s talking about airports, train stations, fast food restaurants, big box retail stores — transitory spaces that are “never totally completed,” where people are anonymous and don’t relate to the space with any sense of intimacy.
Could an entire city qualify as a non-place? After three years in Charlotte, I think so.
Charlotte is the 16th largest city in America, home to more than 850,000 people, and zero sense of place or history. It is a tax-driven amalgamation of banks, McMansions, and gentrified strip malls. It has no distinguishing geographic, historical, or cultural features — the latter two by design.
In the 1960s, white city leaders in Charlotte bulldozed an entire Black neighborhood in the name of “urban renewal.” Churches, theatres, shops, homes, and businesses, all destroyed to make way for the lifeless government buildings that now account for a third of Charlotte’s downtown. Historic architecture in the rest of the city was demolished to build things like this.
A sense of place has always been important to me, whether it was the small town where I went to college, or Chicago. I gave Charlotte an honest try, reading as much as I could about the city, seeing as many neighborhoods and landmarks as I could find. There is simply no “there” here, to borrow the phrase from Gertrude Stein. It’s like living in an airport terminal.
So the next time you hear from me, I’ll be in the Triangle, one of my favorite parts of the South. So long, Charlotte! Do you live somewhere with a strong sense of place? Does it matter to you? I’d love to hear from you.
Join me for the 6th annual CHIRBy awards
Join us on Zoom for a night of cocktails and fundraising on Thursday, December 9 at 7pm central, with special host Jenn White, award-winning journalist and host of NPR’s podcast 1A.
CHIRBy Awards - StoryStudio Chicago
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Adam Morgan

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