Book Spotlight Recommendations staff favorites

Book Spotlight: Aug 9–Fog

by Public Service Associate Juliana

Aug 9–Fog by Kathryn Scanlan (2019) | print

Spare • Experimental fiction • Literary realism

Welcome to another Book Spotlight! Today’s feature, Aug 9–Fog, will appeal to those who gravitate toward literary realism.

Literary realism: a literary movement that represents reality by portraying mundane, everyday experiences as they are in real life. (Master Class)

All the books currently checked out on my library card contain the subject “everyday life”, books by Tove Jansson, Virginia Woolf, Kathryn Scanlan. These books highlight the beauty of the day-to-day, the minutiae of real life. This results in leisurely paced narratives that focus on character rather than plot; nothing much happens; characters talk about the weather, daily routines and what they’ll watch later on TV.

Scanlan’s Aug 9–Fog takes place over the course of one year, noting the passing seasons and little things like pulling weeds and having someone over to visit. I had to wonder what it is exactly that made me so instantly obsessed with it. In a note at the beginning of the book, Scanlan describes the source material which comes from an 86-year old’s diary. She asks, “Why does it compel me so? Isn’t it terribly banal?” I too, asked these questions. Why did I want to carry the book around with me? Why did I want to reread it and absorb the phrases as part of my own lexicon? Scanlan says, “The diarist’s voice, her particular use of language, is firmly, intractably lodged in my head.” I too, find the diarist’s voice in my head saying things like, “eyes got the glimmer”, “a grand day”, “leaves sure coming down”.

I think the appeal is that her language and the narrative itself feel familiar but also fresh at the same time. A slim 110 pages, it’s something to read in an afternoon. It tells a story through an accumulation of sparse details with lots of white space on each page. I love this book mostly because I love diaries and have ever since I was a kid reading Ameilia’s Notebooks and the Dear America children’s series. But I also love this book because it’s unconventional and makes me remember why I love creative writing. It represents the type of project that tugs at you, that won’t let you go, that pulls and pulls until you help it find a shape.

Book Summary

“A stark, elegiac account of unexpected pleasures and the progress of seasons. Fifteen years ago, Kathryn Scanlan found a stranger’s five-year diary at an estate auction in a small town in Illinois. The owner of the diary was eighty-six years old when she began recording the details of her life in the small book, a gift from her daughter and son-in-law. The diary was falling apart — water-stained and illegible in places — but magnetic to Scanlan nonetheless. After reading and rereading the diary, studying and dissecting it, for the next fifteen years she played with the sentences that caught her attention, cutting, editing, arranging, and rearranging them into the composition that became Aug 9–Fog (she chose the title from a note that was tucked into the diary). ‘Sure grand out,’ the diarist writes. ‘That puzzle a humdinger,’ she says, followed by, ‘A letter from Lloyd saying John died the 16th.’ An entire state of mourning reveals itself in ‘2 canned hams.’ The result of Scanlan’s collaging is an utterly compelling, deeply moving meditation on life and death. In Aug 9–Fog, Scanlan’s spare, minimalist approach has a maximal emotional effect, remaining with the reader long after the book ends. It is an unclassifiable work from a visionary young writer and artist — a singular portrait of a life revealed by revision and restraint.” –from the publisher

Notable Reviews

  • “If you ever wondered what life was about, if you ever felt yours was not ‘exciting’ enough, if you ever turned in vain to highbrow books that might tell you, then you should read this book, for the ordinary diaries of ordinary people will reassure you that yours is no different than anyone else’s — friends die, flowers come fast. This one, written half a century ago by an elderly woman, has been artfully arranged by Kathryn Scanlan to reveal the simplicity — and hidden poetry — of all our lives.” –Mary Ruefle
  •  “[Aug 9–Fog] is a fascinating chronicle of Scanlan’s obsession, but, more than that, it transforms a seemingly ordinary life into a profound and moving depiction of how humans can love and live. Scanlan’s portrait of an everywoman feels entirely new.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
  • “[Scanlan’s] project will certainly compel strong reaction, but the product is absolutely fascinating. Its poetic identity comes from its epigrammatic structure; its imagistic touch. A dream-like narrative emerges here, as if from the titular fog . . . A terribly melancholic book that somehow manages to carry affirmation; perhaps it is in the transcendence of the old woman’s voice, its dogged survival to our digital present.” –Nick Ripatrazone, The Millions

More by Kathryn Scanlan

  • Kick the Latch by Kathryn Scanlan (2022) | print
  • The Dominant Animal: Stories by Kathryn Scanlan (2020) | print

Read-Alike Authors and Titles

  • The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal by Lily Koppel (2008) | print
  • Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett (2017) | print
  • Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry (2004) | print

Explore More

On an episode of The Backstory podcast from February 2021, the host invited Casey Affleck to meet Kathryn Scanlan and have a conversation. What Affleck reveals is that he happened to be at the Harvard Coop Bookstore on August 9 where he serendipitously came across Scanlan’s book, Aug 9–Fog. Because it featured the day’s date, he was driven to take it off the shelf and read it right there in the aisle. Immediately inspired, he bought multiple copies to share with the other actors who were part of the film he was working on called The World to Come (inspired by the short story of the same name by Jim Shepard). The movie has a diary component and Affleck knew Scanlan’s book would help inform the characters. After reading Aug 9–Fog, it’s easy to understand the influence it might have had on the movie.

  • The World to Come dir. by Mona Fastvold (2021) | dvd
  • The World to Come: Stories by Jim Shepard (2017) | print