Thursday, December 29, 2011

Favorite Books I Read in 2011

I read both Great House and History of Love in 2011 and I would include them both on my favorite books of this year. I like the structure of the novels and I love her writing style. I may have liked History of Love more, though it seemed less successful in terms of how the narratives came together. But I liked the premise of it more. However I loved both novels and highly recommend them.

Another favorite book I read this year will actually not be published until 2012. But my friends at the bookstore loaned it to me. I love the way Wild weaves together the stories of Strayed's life. It is a touching memoir, but it is also entertaining. It definitely made me want to plan a big backpacking trip. Highly enjoyable.

I chose this book perhaps because I just read it. Son gave it to me for Christmas and I read the whole thing on Christmas day. It has a compelling story line and it clearly and eloquently written. A very enjoyable mystery.

I am a big fan of Hemingway, so I can't believe it took me so long to actually get to this book. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. It has the pacing of general musings, but the book contains may insights and classic great Hemingway lines.

I absolutely loved big parts of this book, but they basically made me want the novel to be a traditional novel that stayed with the characters I loved and not move on to other characters. That said, I still really liked this book. Well-written, moving, everything a novel should be.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Ghosts of Thanksgivings Past...

When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of all the days I spent with my family and with friends who felt like and were, for all intents and purposes, my family. And I think of the lovely days spent with the family Jason and I have made. So I wanted to remember all the different Thanksgivings I can (which might not be many, given my brain)

  • I remember many Thanksgivings with my Mom. That's when I started making apple pie and it became a tradition, for me to make apple pie for Thanksgiving, so I've made...well, a lot of apple pies over the years. Sometime during the Bellingham years I started making the pie with maple syrup, which is So! Good! This year I'm not making an apple pie. At least not for Thanksgiving. But I will probably make one.
  • Since we moved to Utah, we've spent a few Thanksgivings with my Dad and his wife, usually up in Idaho. I have some cute pictures of Ross making cranberry sauce with Grandpa. I do remember being a difficult eater (vegetarian!) at a few Thanksgivings there, so I'm grateful that no one complained about me (openly to me).
  • My first Thanksgiving at college (U of Oregon), I went with my friend Amy to spend Thanksgiving with her family in Fresno. I remember that they were very nice. We took the train down, which I remember being very fun. I freaked out about finals on the way back, so I'm sure I was a royal pain (sorry, Amy!). 
  • I spent many Thanksgivings in college with various friends. I remember several Thanksgivings with my friend Stephanie and her husband. I think we were all vegetarians, so I can't remember what we ate...I also remember that one year we got a potted Christmas tree and made homemade decorations, which was so fun.
  • One year my boyfriend and I drove up to Washington to spend it with my sister Lisa and her husband, who was in the Navy. I had almost forgotten about that. It was a long drive, but it was fun and I remember that Lisa made those potato rolls!
  • What about all those years in Seattle? I really don't remember. I do recall spending one Thanksgiving with my boyfriend's sister and her husband and some other people. I remember the food was good. 
  • One of the most memorable Thanksgivings in Bellingham was the one I spent with Alison and Jen and Mark. Jen made the most delicious salmon, and I made pie, of course, and we drank lots of wine. We had bread from the bakery! Then I remember running down the street with someone's dog. And we had delicious coffee after. I truly felt like I was at home that year, exactly where I wanted to be.
  • Another memorable Thanksgiving in Bellingham was spent with Christina and Devon, and Christina's sister and my friend Steve. We made salmon wrapped in romaine leaves (so good!), and I think I made pie. I was supposed to go do a shift at KUGS, but I was too drunk (I think. Or that was just the excuse I used). So bad! I think that was 1997.  I'm not sure, but this may have been the same Thanksgiving that Tommy tackled me during a friendly game of touch football. I'm pretty sure the team made up of Devon, Christina, and her sister won. 
  • Why can I not remember every Thanksgiving specifically? 
  • We spent many warm Thanksgivings in the little breakfast nook in the house we just moved out of. It was cozy. Jane came over once or twice. It was here that I started the soup and salad on Thanksgiving Eve tradition. It was there I first tried the constant basting Martha Stewart thing which, I will note, I am not doing this year.
  • I'm trying to remember Thanksgivings at the first house in Salt Lake City, but I can't remember any specifically. I do remember cooking a turkey breast, but I think that was for Easter. 
  • Last year we went to Suzanne & Michael's, which we are doing again this year. That is a good tradition, one I hope we will continue. It is always nice to have dinner with people who are also super into food and, more importantly, wine.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

That Time of Year

Yes, very high brow. I take my title today from Shakespeare. But not for any real reason. Not because my message today has to do with death and dying or even the dying of the light. But, of course, it does. This poem is in my mind or, at least, the first two lines. I love the hesitation of "When yellow leaves, or few, or none, do hang." I love the commas, maybe there are some leaves, maybe none. You know, fall. Perhaps it is my impending birthday (43!!) perhaps the fact that I have been reading Gilead and also "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."
Perhaps it is just that literature, in general, is obsessed with death and dying. Perhaps because I have been working on a story that is about death and grief. Why? Why would I choose such a dark subject? Well, I have to say it chose me, the voice, the subject. It's the only time I've ever cried while writing fiction. Am I crazy?
But really when I say "That Time of Year" what I mean is that we all, all of us, students, teachers, parents, children, drivers, passengers, walkers, runners, all of us are TIRED. We just want it to end. "IT" is various things: school, this day, this week, this hour, this semester, this round of grading, this session, this conversation, this writing assignment, this, this, IT.
I should also note, with sadness, that fall is about the earth, plants, many things, dying. The light also. And a colleague passed away last week. So perhaps this post is about death after all.
And I'll end with this: "Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I'm Grateful!

A very old truck at Rio Mesa
It's October. Actually, it's been October for awhile. Somehow, not very painfully, I convinced myself to do this challenge that my sister is doing. It involves a few things: 100 sit ups and 50 push ups per day; 100 mile in the month (run, bike, etc.); try two new fruits and two new vegetables; keep a gratitude journal. I've not been 100% successful on any one thing, though I have been good at keeping my gratitude journal.
In general, I frown on such displays of sentimentality, but I must admit it's been good for me. It's caused me to pause and consider what I've been doing, which I think, in turn, has caused me to be more grateful in the moment. I like to think feeling gratitude has also caused me to pause, mid-stride, to appreciate the world more as I'm experiencing it, rather than waiting until the end of the day.
And so, I'd like to share some of the things I'm grateful for. With pictures.

Laughter. We laughed so much at Rio Mesa. There is just a general giggliness around women; something in it conjures up junior high, when to laugh was the easiest thing we could do. Sylvia’s stories about her childhood in the tent; Nicole’s general good humor

What is grateful about a Monday? The endness.

       Sleep. Often, it is needed.

         Fall weather: I love it when the leaves change and the air is crisp, but yet the afternoon can still be sunny and warm.

      Soup! This one does not need explaining.
        Trees: they give us oxygen and also when their leaves change: damn! Gorgeous! 

And so, friends, in conclusion, I am grateful and I am chronicling my gratefulness each day. Oprah and I recommend it. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hey Girl,

I cannot let this go unremarked. Firstly, he's hot. Second, Derrida? The genuis behind this clearly has too much education and maybe a little thing for Ryan Gosling. Sound like anyone we know?
You should also check out this, which is funny, but not quite as.
I hope you are enjoying this fall break and accept this gem as a token of my esteem.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Things They Cathedraled: Redux

In my mind, a mash up of Tim O'Brien and Raymond Carver due to my students'....shall we say turbid prose? But also, I want to say torpid. In any case, it's a mess in there (my brain) and I blame students.
How did the blind man carry a rucksack full of mosquito repellent? How did Ted Lavender draw a cathedral with no pencils? Why did they all smoke so much pot? And is it easier to see the cathedral if you shut your eyes? There's your moral.

In a few days time, she wrote, it would be fall break. And then there would be sparkling wine,and cocktails. All the comforts afforded those who could purchase them. But first there would be midterms to grade, and then a few more papers, and a test to write. Then after that, she would make a sweet potato cake, as consistent with the season, and perhaps there would be mulled wine, with cinnamon and little cloves and also some orange. And then there might be coffee, some with whiskey and certainly there would be red wine, for it came in bottles and she knew where to get those.
So in the coming days, there would be comfort, but for now it was a motherfucking cathedral war inside her brain which was, admittedly, small.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

I'm not Dead!!

I'm alive, although just barely.
I have spent this alternatively cloudy/sunny day inside doing such things as: grading, making tacos, taking a bath, drinking a ginger tea/whiskey/lemon/honey concoction, surfing the interwebs, etc. Now I am trying to collect myself into a semblance of what one might call a "person" so I can go out into the world and interact with others. It's touch and go at this point...
and I have more grading to do...

Saturday, September 03, 2011

It's not that I've been BUSY...

It's just that I moved (meaning packing, loading, unloading, unpacking) and then school started. Also, who doesn't have towel racks, nary a one, in a house? So husband has been installing towel racks while I look on approvingly. Also we had a gate built, which involved no actual work on my part, but also some approving-looking, and some fetching of ice water, which really was the least I could do. Also, moving, it turns out, requires that one download all kinds of owner's manuals for things one is now the owner of and has not previously seen before, that is, an air conditioner and a sprinkler system.
While we are on the topic of stupid things the previous owners did (that was the topic, right?), who sets the sprinkler system for half-an-hour per day? Every bloody day? People who like to water their grass, I'm supposing. I read the owner's manual, but it didn't take (because I don't understand why one would need three different watering plans for four stations, see, it's like algebra!!), so I'm going to let Husband field that one, along with installing just one or two more towel racks.
I think, perhaps, there are some boxes I have not yet peered into, because their depths hold those items I have deemed not necessary to my daily survival, yet. But soon the day will come when I actually need a sweater, and then I'll have to go looking for it (the way I was looking for blankets last night at 11 pm).
Did I mention my new house is awesome and has a kitchen that I could twirl in? Well, I could. It also has windows and a cute little table. I already made bread, for god's sake, but mostly that was because I had some blueberries that were just about to go bad.

Friday, July 08, 2011

I'm a Lover, Not a Hater

I am famous, or is it infamous?, for not liking things simply because other people like them, perhaps too much. This applies to, maybe, Rolling Stone magazine, U2 during a certain era (because I liked them before!! before you people even knew about them!!), Brad Pitt, ice cream, running skirts, Pilates. Oh, you know. The list could go on.
No where, (no where!) is this behavior more heinous than in Reading and Book Recommendations. If a book hits the best seller list or if everyone's book club happens to be reading it, well, that's a guarantee that I will sneer when I see it, will dismiss it out of hand, will began to hate it without having read a word of it. I am most famous for hating Memoirs of a Geisha, so much so that I had to read it so that I could then defend my dislike of it (which persisted even after I read it!).
Books I still have not read because other people liked them to much: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (or maybe it's the title?); The Secret Life of Bees; Life of Pi; Everything is Illuminated; Special Topics in Calamity Physics (to my credit, I tried to read this one. And I hated it. Also, I hated the aknowledgements where she thanked her nanny for watching her two children while she closed herself into her office and wrote for 9 hours a day. Now why would I hate that?)
I resisted reading The Help. Everyone LOVED IT!!! IT WAS SO GOOD!!!
See, when someone tells me that, I think, it can't possibly live up to the hype and I don't want to read it, because I hate being disappointed. Almost as much as that, I hate the conversation where someone asks me if I've read a book they love and I exclaim (because I cannot help myself), "Oh! I hated that book!" And then this book lover looks at me as if I have just stated that I hate freedom, and puppies, and apple pie (for the record, I love apple pie). (See also: my reaction to "Forrest Gump." You can imagine, right?)
So I resisted reading The Help because I didn't want to hate it. But then I saw the trailer. And I love Emma Stone (hello? Easy A?). And then, because I wanted to see the movie, I have to read the book. It's some weird compulsion. So I got the book from the library and I started reading it and now I want to read it all the time and I really like it and it is so good.
So I promise, from here on out, to be, perhaps, maybe, a bit more open to liking books that, you know, everyone else likes too.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I Can't Possibly Rank My Favorite Female Comedians

So here they are, in no order, but a list nonetheless.

  • Since this whole notion was brought on by my recent viewing of "Bridesmaids" (why did I wait so long to see it? Why? I could have seen it, like, 10 times by now!): Kristen Wiig. So many favorite clips to choose from. But this one was a favorite for a long time. For awhile, Son would say, "Did somebody say baby?"
  • Tina Fey: Okay, this one is obvious. It's difficult to pick just one reason why she's so amazing. But this clip from SNL shows it all. She's a great writer & just funny. Also, why hasn't she made more movies with
  • Amy Poehler: Doesn't get enough credit for how crazy funny she is. But this HIGH-larious clip shows her stuff. Also, Parks & Recreation is rapidly becoming my favorite show. 
  • Maria Bamford: She's not just on Target commercials, oh no, she also refers to Target in some of her jokes. But, just watch for yourself. This is one of her jokes. 
  • Rachel Feinstein
  • Melissa McCarthy (I can't find any comedy clips). But she is SO FUNNY!
  • If we're going old school: Jane Curtain, Gilda Radner, Madeline Kahn.

There are others. I just can't remember their names.

Who have I (inadvertently) left out?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon for Real People

Okay, I like French cuisine just as much as the next gal (actually, a little less), but seriously, Julia Childs? Really?
Here is my interpretation of what Julia tells us we should do. Obviously we have to remember that this cookbook was written when women who would make this kind of thing were NOT working and also probably only made it for some kind of big dinner party (or wine club, like me). But even so, the four plus hours this took....might have been worth it, because I'm only doing it once? Maybe.

  1. A 6 ounce chunk of bacon: what is 6 ounces? Can't things just come in fractions of pounds? I mean, 8th grade was SO long ago. But, this did give me the chance to go to Tony Caputos and visit the extremely handsome men who work there and say intelligent things like: Do you have the kind of bacon that comes in chunks? Can I have some? You're cute.
  2. Cut bacon into "lardons." Okay, Julia, I get it. You're "French." But what the fuck is a "lardon"? And if you have to say, (parenthetically) that it's a stick, can't you just say stick in the first fucking place? I mean, can't you?
  3. "Simmer rind and bacon for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts of water." Why boil bacon in water? I'm sure there's a good reason, but can't you tell me what it is?
  4. Why does my casserole dish have to be enameled and fireproof? Am I in danger of catching something on fire? What? A dish?
  5. How many dishes do I need? Why so much with the "remove to a side dish"? Have you seen the extremely petite kitchen in which I am working? Julia Child, have you seen my kitchen?
  6. 3 lbs. lean stewing beef cut into 2 inch cubes. I get the whole cubing thing, I really do, but you know what? I have no idea what an inch is. Here's what I do: hold up my finger and go, how much of this is an inch? And then I use that as a guide. But Julia Child probably had huge hands, like, Shaquille O'Neal hands, so she couldn't just say, half a pinkie, because, you know, of her fucking huge hands. 
  7. "Dry the beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp." This is what we call Spa for Beef. Seriously? Dry it? Like, get out a towel and pat it down? Oh Julia, what would Freud say?
  8. So you're browning the beef and the bacon and then taking it out of the pan and then putting it back in the pan and then putting all that in the oven and then taking it out and turning the oven down. Woosh! Who needs a drink?
  9. "Stir in the wine." About time! Now I can really get behind French cuisine that calls for 3 cups of wine, which leaves some left over for you know who. Yeah, me.
  10. So you stir all this stuff in and then put it in the oven for 2 to 3 hours. Okay! Finally, a break! I can sit and drink my "leftover wine" and do something else for a few minutes. What? There are two other recipes embedded in this recipe? Fuck!
  11. Brown-braised onions: I'm not sure who invented these tiny little onions that need to be skinned and treated as if they, too, deserve a day at the spa (hot tubbing in beef stock & herbs which have to be wrapped in tiny blankets, i.e. cheesecloth), but I'm pretty sure it was the devil.  By the way, this is one of those whole other recipes embedded in this recipe, but you don't know it until you are halfway down the page.
  12. Sauteed mushrooms: yeah, that sounds easy, but first you have to clean them, and then they, too, need to be treated with kid gloves, which means you can't "crowd" them in the pan, or else then they feel like they are on the subway in Paris and then, you know, they get mad. 
  13. Okay, here's the fun part: "pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it." In layman's terms what this means is that you dump the entire contents of the casserole (beef, bacon, carrots, onions, sauce) out, and then, in my terms, paw through the mushy carrots and onions to find the bits of beef and bacon (gold!). Try not to burn your hands. Don't swear, the kids will hear. Don't put your finger in your mouth (gross!), but get every bit of beef. Did you?
  14. Also, who washes a pan and then puts the shit back in there? I wiped the gross bits off the top and then put the meat back in. Julia Child must have had a maid to do that part.
  15. Then there's this whole bit about skimming fat off the top, which I did, for awhile, and then I was like, Done! And I just poured the sauce over the meat and put the top on.
  16. Then I looked at the clock and I was all, when is wine club? Because I need a drink of wine, stat.
  17. I told my wine compatriots not to tell me if it wasn't the most delicious thing ever. And they didn't.
  18. (Actually, it was damn good. Julia sure knows her shit, but I'm not sure I'll be delving into that experience again soon.)

Friday, June 10, 2011

What HAVE I been doing?

Every day feels packed with activity, but when I look back and reflect on what I have done the past month....umm.....what?
Plus Hightouch blogs the list with such linguistic proficiency, I thought I'd just do the list, because you know, it's a list.
1.     So I guess I've been working on a novel, off and on, for almost 2 months and I haven't yet reached the 50,000 word mark, but, hey, I'm giving myself...more time.
2.     We went to Boulder, Utah for the long weekend (remember that long weekend?). We stayed at Boulder Mountain Ranch (highly recommended), went to our favorite coffee place (Kiva Koffeehouse), saw some slot canyons (I'm too much of a baby (claustrophobic) to actually go in them, but most others did), ate some bacon, went to an architect's cool house & had ribs (yum!!), did a hike, then drove home in a rain/hail storm (what?!).
3.     Reading: a disappointing Icelandic mystery (not by my beloved), a few good books (Rae's new book; I Think I Love You; Ross MacDonald; Box of Matches); the newspaper, etc.
4.     Eating and Drinking: I like wine and I think summer is made for drinking.
5.     Started an eating/exercising challenge:  because I thought I needed to start drinking less and doing other things more, like taking daily walks, stretching, and making sure I ate enough. So far, mixed results. I probably do drink less, over all, but on a few days I still drank a lot (I blame my wine friends), and I can never quite eat the right amount of blocks (Zone alert!). But, I have been pretty active and I am stretching...more.
6.     Started running again: two runs. That's a start.
7.     Had my body fat tested. Ask me what my body fat percentage is. Go ahead, ask me.
8.     Crossfit. This goes without saying. 
9.     Submitted one essay to one place. Again, it's a start.
10. Hey, I finally organized the Crossfit Women Trainers get together. That's something.
11. I did some (very little!) yard work.
12. I've cleaned my house a gajillion times for people who want to come look at our house, which is for sale.
13. Finally trying to do some personal maintenance: brows. Today a haircut, tomorrow a pedicure. Progress!
14. Swimming: once, but still.
15. Independent study with 3 students: this is only one hour a week, but still, somehow, it feels like more.
16. Staring into space: I'm good at this.
17. Ushering Son through his last days of school: this seems like it would be easy, but involved a lot more driving around than expected.
18. Baseball: Son has like 12 games a week (exaggeration!) plus practice, so I have to sit and talk to my friends while he makes excellent plays at first (go Son!), which is, you know, super taxing.
19. Cooking things that really take no cooking: like carrot sticks and tuna.
20. I saw a movie!
21. I told Son he could have a sleepover, so now I'm preparing for that: buying lots of vodka for self-medication.  

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chick Lit: What is it?

I know use of the term "chick lit" can cause people to have instant hernias or it can make them feel like they want to scream or have a cocktail. But I am thinking about this term today because I recently read I Think I Love You by Alison Pearson and then yesterday I saw "Something Borrowed" which is based on a book by Emily Giffin.
Both of these books take on relationships between women as their central themes, although they both follow the traditional Romantic Comedy formula: girls  love boys, or the same boy, and this affects or might affect their friendship, obstacles are overcome, the girls each end up with the boy they should end up with, sometimes causing the disastrous ruin of their friendship. One of the important sub-themes of Romantic Comedies, however, is the hurtful way some women treat other women.
The formula of Romantic Comedy necessitates a reliance on stereotype: women love to shop! blonde women are fun and bitchy, not troubled by intellectualism! brunettes are brainy and compassionate! the best male friend is also intellectual and cute in a geeky way and he's  in love with the nice girl! But she doesn't love him! I could go on...but I know you all understand.
Now after watching the movie "Something Borrowed" which was definitely the standard formulaic Romantic Comedy, and having read I Think I Love You over the weekend,  I start to wonder whether Romantic Comedy and Chick Lit are the same categories, basically, and whether Chick Lit can ever be more than the formulaic women centered fiction we think of, or would it be possible for a woman to write a book that is considered Chick Lit that fundamentally changes the definition of Chick Lit, or if a book defies that narrow formula it's just not considered Chick Lit.
I know this is not a new discussion, but I was bothered by a few things in "Something Borrowed." One is the notion that getting married means choosing between your female best friend and your male soul mate. It seems, in this configuration, you can't have it both ways. Obviously this is not realistic, but I wonder why so many Chick Lit novels set this up as a fundamental conflict.
The second question is why, when a novel has an important relationship at its core, is this novel automatically deemed less important or weighty than a novel that takes on some other kind of issue?
No, these questions might never be answered, but I guess this is what is on my mind.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sometime Someone Says

Sometime Someone Says

something about creation arising
out of destruction
out of the end of one
thing another
thing sometimes arises

and i was thinking of this
as i took a sledge-
hammer to a story and
then it became some

it became a

Monday, April 04, 2011

Weekend Watching

Two pretty cool movies that were good, as you can imagine, for totally different reasons.

Monday, March 28, 2011

I don't want you think I'm not Reading....

Because I am. Maybe too much, because I'm not finishing anything. Well, here's what I'm reading right now.

And of course, still, Bleak House. Oh, The Dickens.

Monday, March 21, 2011

What Children Make Possible

I have a guest blog up over at my friend Rae's blog.
You can read it here.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Quiet Americans by Erica Dreifus

What I love about short story collections is also what can put me off: the coherence of the stories. So it is refreshing when the stories in a collection hang together in a way that each story complements or adds to the others, and yet still brings something fresh to the mix. Some people might call this unevenness in a collection, but I think unevenness occurs when some stories aren’t up to the craft or storytelling of the others. I actually don’t like story collections where the stories are overly-thematically linked, or where I feel the stories hit the same note again and again.
The Quiet Americans includes stories in different styles, with various narrative approaches and most of the stories reach a consistently high level of craft and storytelling. The first story in the collection “For Services Rendered,” set a tone that would not have been welcome if it had been maintained for the entire book.  Luckily, the second story, “Matrilineal Descent,” employed a different structure and voice. The jump between the two modeled the leaps that occur throughout the book. While the book overall presents some coherent themes relating to the Holocaust, family, survival, and secrecy, different stories deal pick up various strands, some themes disappear only to be picked up a few stories later. The different stories and themes accumulate to evoke emotions and ideas that resonate together without becoming overbearing.
“For Services Rendered,” which starts the book, begins with a Jewish doctor in Berlin, then follows the doctor and his family to the United States. I understand why this story starts the book. The book begins in Germany and moves to the United States, just as the stories demonstrate the shift from the effects on one generation to how those effects filter down through generations. But I really loved the next story, “Matrilineal Descent,” and one reason might be because the voice shifts so radically, from a more distant, observing third-person to a third-person that is really a first-person with very specific views about the story. The voice of this story fantastically weaves  opinionated asides into a story that is told almost like a fairy tale. I was glad that later stories dealt with characters who were part of this family, and I found myself wishing that there would be even more stories, continuing the lives of these characters. Perhaps there is a novel in there, waiting to be finished.
Overall, this collection won me over slowly, story by story. I was a bit worried that the stories might focus too exclusively on the generation who survived World War II and the Holocaust, but what I ultimately enjoyed about these stories was the ways in which they traced the influence of that generation on each successive generation, not just through genealogy, but through omission and exclusion as well. The stories connect to one another in meaningful and sometimes surprising ways, illuminating the silences and secrets in our dark pasts. 

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Things missing from my house

  1. That nice lady. You know, the one who comes and brings you clean towels and empties the trash and changes the sheets. You know, the one who does, basically, all the things you don't want to do.
  2. Loads and loads of people. Most of whom you don't know.
  3. Lots of books. I have a lot of books, but they would fit in like, 10 boxes. They would not, for example, fill up those many rooms in the basement or maybe not the basement of the Marriott.
  4. That sweater. That I lost one night and found the next day, right where I lost it. And then I lost it again. And didn't find it. (Maybe it's with Nicole's hat? In the AWP museum of lost things? Because it was in DC and apparently, there? There's a museum for everything.)
  5. Hightouchmegastore. And that's sad, because she's a good roommate. But she's a little sick and she probably missed The Historian and also her child/ren. But if she wanted to, I would let her live in my cold basement. 
  6. Any sense that tomorrow is Monday and therefore a work day, that is, a day on work must be done. Because, basically I sat around all day feeling tired, doing laundry, and letting the interwebs eat what is left of my brain. 
  7. Terrance Hayes. He, also, could live in my basement. Or wherever.
  8. Sleep. But it will not elude me for long.
  9. Tapas. I ate at the most excellent tapas bar in DC. I want the tapas people to be my live-in personal chefs. 
  10. Absurdistan. I heard Gary Shteyngart read on Saturday night and he's like, totally fucking hilarious and I thought, oh, Middlebrow read that book and loved it, I'll read it when I get home. But he gave it to his BFF because, apparently, if MB likes a book and you don't jump on it immediately slathering like a hungry daschund, then he sulks and is all like, you don't like what I like, and then he gives the thing he likes away so that, eventually, when you decide you do like it, he can be all like, oh, I said you would like it, but no, you didn't take my word for it, you had to talk to Shteyngart himself and then you're all, oh, he's funny, give me the book. So, in other words, I'm going to have to get my own copy. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Review: Forgetting English by Midge Raymond

The eight stories in this slim collection revolve around the theme of displacement. The sense of alienation underlying all these stories is literal; all the main characters are away from home, usually in a foreign country. But the sense of alienation becomes metaphorical because the women in these stories are emotionally wounded, alienated from their former lives and from themselves. Each has experienced an unsettling emotional situation that causes her to flee from home. Most of the stories begin well after a heartbreak of one kind or another, a husband’s affair, a lost job, the end of a romance.
Forgetting English refers to the characters presence in non-English speaking countries, namely Tonga, Africa, China. The title is interesting also because most of the protagonists seem unable to forget their troubled pasts, they are unable to “get on with their lives,” as a self-help book consulted by the narrator of “Rest of World” instructs.
The endings of the stories do not provide easy epiphanies or even the hard won insights of suffering. Many of the stories end with a single image that reflects the protagonist’s emotional state; The image of a female penguin mourning the loss of her chick in “The Ecstatic Cry,” or the memory of touching the cold face of a stone figure in “Translation Memory.” Only “Never Turn Your Back on the Ocean” ends on a positive note, the narrator following the sound of a man’s voice in the dark.
Together these stories express a deep longing for connection among characters who have somehow become estranged from themselves and others. The overall tone is one of melancholy and reflection. I prefer short collections of short stories, because, like the stories themselves, they can be read in a shorter space of time, the effects of each story accumulating into one complex experience. This collection is emotionally and stylistically consistent, and the events of these stories accrued to create the sense of a weary traveler who wants to return home, only she doesn’t know where that is.
You can purchase the novel here.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Currently Reading

1. Correction of Drift by Pamela Ryder (FC2)
2. The Possessed (Actually, Jason is reading this, but I picked it up and it's good)
3. Bleak House, Bleak House, Forever Bleak House (loving it!)
4. The Private Patient (not really. I need to go pick it up from the library. Then I will be reading it.)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

We Need to Talk About Kevin Review

I just finished We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver and my timing couldn't be more canny. Or is it uncanny? In any case, as I surfed the internet this weekend for news and updates about the shootings in Arizona, my fictional mind was entrenched in this story about a high school shooting and the fallout for the family. Narrated by the mother of the school shooter, Kevin, the novel is a series of letters to her husband, Franklin. The letters allow her to investigate her own role in Kevin’s crime. The novel is, from the outset, an interrogation of our culture’s tendency to blame the mother, but the novel doesn't let her off easy. She is telling the story from her own limited perspective and so she is, by definition, unreliable. But she also doesn't let herself off easy, continually questioning how she might have mothered differently.
The novel is incredibly well-written and compelling. The style is neither overwhelming nor flat. The narrator has a tendency to be strident, but her tone and language are consistent with her position in the novel. Overall, I found the novel interesting. 
Did I like it? As a writer, I admire it. Shriver embraces the ambiguity and she doesn’t let her narrator, or her readers, off the hook. Every mother will find at least one small thing to identify with in this novel, and that identification will be horrifying. As a mother, I couldn’t help but study myself and my child’s behavior a little more closely as I read this novel.
As a reader, I’m not sure I would recommend it to another reader. It is not enjoyable or pleasurable or entertaining. Reading this book was like living in the world since the shootings on Saturday. While reading this book, you can’t pretend that bad things don’t happen; in fact, you have to confront that reality. And, what’s more, you have to live the reality of bad things, without any of the good things to offer needed relief.
I can, however, recommend two other Lionel Shriver novels: The Post-Birthday World and The Female of the Species. The Post-Birthday World is the more lighthearted of the two. The novel begins on a significant birthday and takes as its departure a kiss. Two narrative paths take off from this moment: one in which the main character goes home to her boyfriend, who never knows; and a second narrative, in which she leaves her boyfriend and begins a new life with the man she kissed on her birthday.
The Female of the Species focuses on the later life of a famous anthropologist. Narrated by her longtime assistant, it follows her as she returns to the site of her first big discovery, and then as she falls in love with a much younger man.

All of Shriver’s novels are well-written. I never found her style overdone or distracting, though she is given to Britishisms, even when her characters are American. She tends to gravitate to the darker side of life, and ambiguity. The stories she creates are compelling. I plan on reading her latest novel, So Much for That, soon. But right now I need a break. Time to go watch some TV. 

Short Story Collections by Women

In 2011, I want to read more books by women actually published in 2011. I'm forever trying to catch up and, like many things in my life, it just ain't going to happen. So, instead of trying to catch up (which I'm still going to try to do anyway, knowing I will fail), I'm going to try to read a lot of books published in 2011.
Dear readers, will you help me? Please recommend books that were published in 2010 or are about to be published in 2011. By women. I am going to begin by focusing on short story collections, but I will expand that.
I love to read, and I have strong opinions, so I decided I'm going to post reviews here regularly, along with continued commentary about my life in general.
Watch this space for a Lionel Shriver recap, coming soon.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Why I Cry or Get Weepy: One Mother's Explanation

There are many reasons why one (i.e. Me), might become weepy or cry, sob even, for no apparent reasons. But, lo, there are reasons. Let me walk you through them.

  1. Bad things have happened. 
  2. Bad things have happened that involve children. 
  3. Bad things have happened and the reasons for these things are so complex that I feel overwhelmed, because I don't even know which one to feel bad about first.
  4. Bad things have happened and the people who suffer as a result are so widespread and the reasons for their suffering are so complex that I don't know who to sympathize with and so I sympathize with all of them. 
  5. I become afraid the bad things that have happened elsewhere might also happen here. 
  6. I become afraid that the Reasons Given for the happening of bad things might overlap with things I have done or thought, and thus that I, inadvertently, might cause bad things to happen.
  7. I sympathize with the people who also may have contributed to or have failed to stop the bad things from happening. 
  8. I sympathize with the people who do bad things.
  9. I look around me & I despair.
  10. I look around me & feel grateful.