Katy Simpson Smith is the author of the nonfiction book We Have Raised All of You: Motherhood in the American South, 1750-1835, the novel The Story of Land and Sea, and, most recently, Free Men. She shares five things she’s reading, watching and thinking about right now. 


1. Monarch butterflies in my milkweed

They came, they laid eggs, the eggs popped into caterpillars, the caterpillars nibbled away all the leaves, and they left. But where did the caterpillars go? Shouldn’t they have made chrysalises? Why can’t I find them? The pupal cycle is only fourteen days, so shouldn’t I have soon seen the next generation of butterflies? Do cats eat chrysalises?

2. Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis

In case the value of physical bookstores needed proving: I was browsing the packed and towering shelves at Powell’s in Portland last summer when I spied a funny title on a spine – Epitaph of a Small Winner – filed optimistically under ‘A’. I pulled it out, saw it referred to as the Brazilian Tristram Shandy, and said, ‘Yes, I’ll take that trip.’ (Nota bene: It’s a trip you too want to take.) I rode my Machado de Assis high all the way back to New Orleans, where a Sunday afternoon found me browsing the cat-patrolled shelves of Blue Cypress Books, and there, filed puckishly under ‘D’, he reared his head again, this time with Dom Casmurro. And now I proselytize for Machado, I who six months ago never knew him to love him. Thank you, bookstores. 

3. MasterChef Junior

Why do small children know to cheer each other on, to weep when their dreams are crushed and then promptly to turn to their peers with open arms and tiny high fives, when adults with all our years of maturation and understanding are so small-hearted? 

4. Beyoncé, ‘Formation

The hundred miracles of this song have all been well dissected by now, and thank God for pop in politics, but let me just add: albino alligators. These are my first memory of New Orleans – me age five, them ghosting around the Audubon Aquarium, haints from a deviled swamp. Waxy white scales like outsize Chiclets. (Yes, they’re technically leucistic; calm down, scientists.) I see there’s a chance Bey was talking about alligator shoes, but I’m going to go with a sunnier interpretation here.

5. The boy who cut off his hand

Did you read this story? Did it make you sit down and stare at a wall in contemplation for the rest of the day? Did it reveal the gap between your own measly self and true conviction?


Photograph © Christopher Michel

Torn Silk and Garlands of Garlic