29 October 2008

Get back to work!

I have no way of verifying this, but I'm pretty sure I saw Jonathan Safran Foer last night.

I happened to be at Joe's Pub for Mike Daisey's new show, "If You See Something Say Something." (I have to write a proper review of it, but in short: Go see it!) He passed by me while I was standing in the line for the bathroom afterwards; he looked straight at me and I almost did a double-take.

I was tempted to call after him "Hurry up and write your third book!" But I didn't, because honestly I was too shocked to see him. When I moved to New York I expected the streets would be thick with writers, but they manage to stay pretty well disguised.

28 October 2008

ToTT: I Was A Child Flexitarian

This post ties in with my forthcoming review of Dawn Jackson Blatner's THE FLEXITARIAN DIET -- tune in November 12 to "Talk of the Town with Parker Sunshine."

Last week I mentioned the word flexitarian, which as far as I can find surfaced sometime in the early oughts to describe an eating pattern that is partially, but not completely, vegetarian. But the concept was not new to me -- in fact, even though I didn't know it, I've been a flexitarian most of my life.

As I mentioned in my review of the diet book SKINNY BITCH, my mom is a vegetarian, and as the primary (really only) cook in the house she incorporated a lot of veggie-friendly dishes into our diets. Mom gave up meat in college and, over the protests of my grandmother, stayed that way through 3 healthy pregnancies and never looked back. She never tried to get us to become vegetarians, and she still made hot dogs and chicken nuggets and so on, but we probably ate veggie more than half the time -- I wasn't exposed to the classic meat-and-potatoes meals except at my grandparents' house.

These days my siblings and I are all content omnivores: I gave up meat for a summer and swore off most red meat for 8 years, but right now I would consider myself a flexitarian of circumstance: I don't make meat very much because it isn't convenient. It takes longer to make than a PB&J and, if you forget about it in the fridge (as I am wont to do), it spoils faster. But I don't think I was adversely affected by eating less meat as a kid; I didn't always like my mom's cooking, but we were all well fed.

Announcing the next Talk of the Town pick

26 October 2008

The Feminine Mistake

Can we be frank? This book scared the shit out of me. But in a good way, I think.

In THE FEMININE MISTAKE, Leslie Bennetts argues that too many women are willing to give up on their careers and become "full-time mothers," to their detriment later in life. (The quotes are employed because as one of Bennetts' subjects points out, what mother isn't a mother all the time?) Because women traditionally have not worked while raising children, young married women are all too willing to give up careers they don't love (instead of finding work they like better) to stay home.

If women stay home, they normally don't keep up with their fields or add to their skill set, so if something should happen to their husbands (death, career-ending injury, divorce) they won't be prepared to re-enter the workplace. Even if they want to, the workplace might not take them back in, dramatically decreasing their earning power over time. Yet society still looks askance at working moms, some even going as far to say that women shouldn't have any children if they won't "raise them full-time," i.e. stay at home to take care of them.

The real scariest part of this book is the first 150 or so pages, in which Bennetts reveals interview subjects who have made what one might call "the feminine mistake": By staying at home they placed their economic trust in their husbands, and that was a Big Mistake. These middle- to upper-class women belong to the demographic for whom staying home is a choice, but now they have no choice, and it scares them.

As a twentysomething I don't normally dwell on my career in 20 or 30 years. (Or 20 or 30 months, for that matter.) But while I was reading this book I could not stop thinking about issues like housework parity and maternity leave. I really got the sense that this book was for me, partly because of Bennetts' invoking of a 2005 New York Times story in which a very small survey of Yale undergrads led to the conclusion that most women in my generation would prefer to stay at home. The claims the article makes have since mostly been debunked, but I still got something out of this that a woman who has already made kids and made some of those hard choices might not. (There are some chapters for them as well, including one to reassure working moms that their job gets easier when their kids, like Bennetts', become teenagers.)

It's not a perfect book by any means; I would have liked Bennetts to find more subjects like the woman who was able to re-enter the workforce after 3 years out by continuing to stay active in her field. And she might have further addressed one of the key components to why so many women, and not just doctors and lawyers, find it so difficult to work and raise a family: That workplace policies, traditionally been written by men for men with wives at home, fail to take into account the needs of two-income families and working moms in particular. And okay, some of her advice amounts to "Stop feeling sorry for yourself!" but on the whole, I would recommend this book to all of my female friends (and some of my male friends as well). Even if they violently disagree with it, I think it would lead to a great discussion.

25 October 2008

Unbookening update: Victory!

...or rather, a willingness to admit defeat on the small scale.

I won't have time to get to the library for the rest of the month, but I reached my goal of getting my number of books out down to 3. Didn't have time to read all of my returned volumes, but they will always be there if I want them.

And now, my stack of unread magazines whispers, "Recycle me!"

24 October 2008

Finally! Read Like Sarah Palin

About two months ago I e-mailed the Republican presidential campaign on a lark. Late in August I wrote about what Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden liked to read, and I was hoping to do the same with Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who was even less well known to me than Biden. (Much less; I believe my response to the announcement was an "Arrested Development"-style "Her?") Unlike Biden, Palin didn't have a Google-friendly answer, although I found evidence that at some point her Facebook page listed "favorite books."

I never heard back from official campaign brass, but I suppose they have many more important tasks than dealing with impertinent bloggers with no political influence. But I discovered today that Palin was saving the exclusive on what she likes to read for People Magazine, which is why she ducked Katie Couric's question about her favorite periodicals last month like so:
Palin: I've read most of them, again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media.

Couric: What, specifically?

Palin: Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me all these years.

Couric: Can you name a few?

Palin: I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news, too. Alaska isn't a foreign country, where it's kind of suggested, "Wow, how could you keep in touch with what the rest of Washington, D.C., may be thinking when you live up there in Alaska?" Believe me, Alaska is like a microcosm of America.
Here's the scoop from People:
SP: I'm a voracious reader, always have been. I appreciate a lot of information. I think that comes from growing up in a family of schoolteachers also where reading and seizing educational opportunities was top on my parents' agenda. That was instilled in me.

What do you like to read?
SP: Autobiographies, historical pieces – really anything and everything. Besides the kids and sports, reading is my favorite thing to do.

What are you reading now?
SP: I'm reading, heh-heh, a lot of briefing papers on a lot of issues that are in front of us in this campaign.

What about for fun?
SP: Do we consider The Looming Tower something that was just for fun? That's what I've been reading on the airplane. It's about 9/11. If I'm going to read something, for the most part, it's something beneficial.
Not for nothing, but I haven't read THE LOOMING TOWER. Maybe I should get on that.

23 October 2008

Read to Listen: The Next Life of the Short Story

This week at work I rediscovered the glory and delight that is the New Yorker fiction podcast. I was assigned to a set of tasks I would characterize not necessarily as boring but certainly as repetitive, requiring my full visual attention but not a lot of calculation. While sifting through a lot of stuff*, my mind would wander too easily, so I turned to my trusty iPod and was delighted to find several months of short stories, read by contemporary authors (Louise Erdrich and Jhumpa Lahiri among them), which I had downloaded but never enjoyed.

I have been a New Yorker subscriber for a while now, but the stories read on the podcast are almost always new to me, because the readers pick a story out of the New Yorker archives. In fact, some of my recent favorites were from authors I had never heard of before, like Jean Stafford ("Children Are Bored on Sunday) and Mavis Gallant ("When We Were Nearly Young"). As someone who doesn't seek out short stories regularly, I think they make excellent fodder to be read aloud in this form: You can absorb the whole story in one session (yet go over it again if you please) and get enveloped in it in a manner I find difficult when I'm reading the paper magazine, being distracted by the cartoons and so on.

There have been so many predictors that the short story will die, but what if it just needs the excitement of a new format? Vladimir Nabokov probably never wrote a story imagining that it would later be downloaded on the Internet and played back in an overheated** New York skyscraper, but it's a great addition to my literary diet.

*Compulsory corporate obfuscation
**They turned the heat on a few weeks ago, while it was still in the 70s outside. The jokes about "Bikram work" are wearing thin.

22 October 2008

Filmbook: "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" (2008)

The trailers for "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist," the recent teen comedy and YA adaptation starring Michael Cera and Kat Dennings, alluded to what I discovered was true about the film: It's not all that faithful to the book. It is, however, faithful in the right ways.

Because ...INFINITE PLAYLIST the book is narrated by its titular characters, one chapter after the other, the reader is limited to what they see and know. A strength of this approach is that you come to know Nick and Norah far outside the lines of what they reveal to each other, but the chapters which consist of more contemplation than action (for example, Norah stands in a grubby bar bathroom and thinks about her ex-boyfriend) would not be as dynamic onscreen.

To cope with this problem, the film version of ...INFINITE PLAYLIST enlarges the roles of a few very secondary characters in order to give them agency, so the camera can follow them around sometimes. Norah's drunken friend Caroline (played Ari Graynor), the person who drags her to the concert where she met Nick in the first place, gets her own wavy-lined journey when she's trying to get home, and Nick's bandmates along with a new friend (Jonathan B. Wright of "Spring Awakening") are driving around in a van looking for their own fun. We even get a brief vignette or two of Nick's ex Tris (Alexis Dziena) dragging her new arm candy around after Nick. These paths along with those of Nick and Norah cross and intersect throughout the film in a way that reminded me of the crazy night depicted in "Sixteen Candles"... only thoroughly 2008, so there are cell-phone mishaps.

Despite those changes, and the fact that Nick and Norah spend more time together in this movie than they do in the book, "...Infinite Playlist" did a great job of capturing the tone of the book, something I frankly thought wouldn't be possible. Sure, celebrity cameos and an exquisitely gross scene in the Port Authority are added for leavening, but the notion of their night together being a Manhattan fairy tale is still maintained I think by the end, which is truly joyous. After I saw this movie, late on a weeknight, I wanted to stay up all night just for the fun of it. And despite the grimier aspects, I was surprised by how much New York is, like in the book, a character in the movie: the real agent of change that connects Nick and Norah, who may never have met had they stayed home in New Jersey. In other words, it was exactly the movie this book deserved.

Filmbook verdict: If you can set aside your cynical worldview, read the book and see the movie.

21 October 2008

Talk of the Town Tuesday: Announcing the next Talk of the Town Pick

My next "Talk of the Town" review will air Wednesday, November 5th. You will note that this is the day after the election. Yes, Virginia, there is life after 24-hour CNN vigils. (I think.)

Anyway, we'll probably all have become heartily sick of politics by then, so we're going to tackle our first health title, Dawn Jackson Blatner's THE FLEXITARIAN DIET. A former notable word of the year according to the New York Times, "flexitarian" is defined by Blatner as "a flexible approach to dieting without giving up meat" by adding more vegetables for your diet.

Proponents of flexitarianism tout the health benefits as well as savings (buying less meat!) and the addition of more delicious options to one's repetoire. Is "loose adherence to the meat-free diet" a better option than either going full veggie or staying omnivorous? And can an on-the-go, cooking-impaired person (i.e. me) go "flexitarian"? Find out Nov. 5.

20 October 2008

19 October 2008

Three Frugal Indulgences I Love (and two I don't)

It's not often I read a book on a subject on which I consider myself an "expert," but FRUGAL INDULGENTS would definitely qualify. Having lived in New York for a year and a half, I am all about trying to get the most out of my money. It's fitting that I mooched this book (subtitled: HOW TO CULTIVATE DECADENCE WHEN YOUR AGE AND SALARY ARE UNDER 30) because that's just the kind of smart thrift the authors promote. Here are some of their tips I loved and some I will not be cultivating:

Great ideas:
Cutting back on fancy food in order to go out. Authors Kera Bolonik and Jennifer Griffin are spot on when they say that eating out is both an expensive pursuit and one that's very easy to cut out. Nowhere is this more true than at work -- peanut butter sandwiches four times a week equal a concert ticket; two months of that can be converted to a plane ticket.
Shopping in a way that makes your life better. Bolonik and Griffin aren't absolutists; their only sin is not to go out and have fun at all. But they advise using your dollars in a way that will have the greatest benefit towards your life as a decadent person. The chapter on clothing actually breaks down your basic wardrobe options into categories by where to find what you need among vintage stores, retail and "simulacra-wear" (Gap and Old Navy-style basics).
Looking on the bright side. Some of the authors' advice is clearly tongue in cheek -- take the section called "Bed: The Poor Man's Opera," in which it is argued that sex is free entertainment -- but the overall tone of this book is pretty congratulatory. Far be it from them to shame you because you don't make a lot of money; rather, your determination to make it by any means necessary should be congratulated. For this reason I wish I had read this book when I first got to New York, instead of getting depressed because I couldn't save 15 percent of my miniscule income.

Not so great:
Not having a budget. Different systems work for different people, and even I don't have a hard-and-fast, down-to-the-penny budget any more. FRUGAL INDULGENTS talks a lot about maximizing your entertainment dollars (i.e. if you're going to a first-run movie and you have to pay full price, go to a fancy indie theatre to enjoy it the most) but not so much about the big picture. But it would be useful to read this book along with a more traditional personal finance book that will tell you the rules, even if you choose to break them.
Relying on richer people to get you things. Maybe I'm just bitter because I don't have any friends with expense accounts, opera subscriptions (what, with family circle tickets just $23?) or giant apartments for which they need a house-sitter. It's not the concept of getting by with help that bothers me, it's that as we all know, people can be unreliable. If you're steering towards an uncertain generosity, you could be headed for a crash.

Overall, I'd recommend FRUGAL INDULGENTS; it's a fun read that will make you think about how to have more fun with the money you have. I will consider myself a proud member of what they call the nouveau pauvre.

18 October 2008

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off

I'm in kind of a reading rut right now. I realize it may not seem that way because I am always looking for and recommending new titles, but outside of my critical activities nothing has really grabbed me this month:
  • I read about two-thirds of OFF THE BOOKS: THE UNDERGROUND ECONOMY OF THE URBAN POOR, but couldn't bring myself to finish it. The book is written in the style I think of as "term-paperish," in which Venkatesh repeats his thesis multiple times in each chapter. I get it -- in the neighborhood he studies, the underground economy and the pursuits it encompasses (ranging from you-really-should-report-that to carries-lots-of-jail-time) touches everyone around and for many people forms their only source of income. The explication of the term "underground economy" is excellent, but the repetition is tiresome.
  • I enjoyed the essay collection THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT MY FATHER (IN THERAPY) to the extent that I was familiar with the authors therein collected. The essays, picked and edited by famous blogger Heather Armstrong of Dooce.com, are all from bloggers, but the ones I really liked were from blogs I had already been reading, like Que Sera Sera and Sweet Juniper. Of course, I don't know if I enjoyed those because of the context provided by the blogs or just because there is something about the writing style that I loved. I didn't hate the others -- only for one did I find myself counting the remaining pages -- but it didn't
  • I think I'm just not a Joseph Conrad person. Weekday by weekday I'm getting through THE SECRET AGENT, and... I just don't get it. I know I'm supposed to be more engaged because it's about Terrorism and The Individual Versus Society, but I just can't get a grip on any of the characters; they all seem so flat and uninteresting. Is it me, or is it Joe? (World to Ellen: It's you.)
In the past I would break up a reading rut by going book shopping, but holy cow, have I done enough of that. Instead I'm picking up my latest library request, Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD, and hoping that will help. I was bowled over by McCarthy's NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN last year and from what I heard this book is even better. (It has also been adapted to the screen with Viggo Mortensen starring, although it's currently in post-production limbo.)

16 October 2008

National Book Award nominees are announced: My mostly uninformed opinions

Mathematically speaking, I am much more informed about this year's field of National Book Award finalists than I was last year, when I hadn't read any of the competing books. This year, I read and reviewed... one. So if Rachel Kushner, author of TELEX FROM CUBA, wins the National Book Award for fiction, I am going to look remarkably prescient in my reviewing choices.

Instead of trying to pretend as if I have read the rest, I will now analyze them on what little information I do have. Hey, you were warned by the title!

Fiction: I have to give the home-field advantage to Marilynne Robinson, a somewhat late bloomer whose last novel GILEAD won the Pulitzer Prize. (She's also a graduate of Brown University -- or rather, Pembroke, the women's college that was then affiliated with Brown -- so hurrah!) If HOME, which is a follow-up to GILEAD ("sequel" is a dirty word here), is as good as her previous works I think she will definitely get it. TELEX FROM CUBA got a New York Times Book Review cover, but I didn't love it, nor did I see that Times rave really reflected anywhere else. I'm penciling in THE LAZARUS PROJECT as my dark-horse, because if this Boldtype review is correct, I will love it, but the books I love don't usually win awards. I have never heard of Salvatore Scibona's THE END or Peter Matthiessen's SHADOW COUNTRY, so I am going to assume they have no chance, according to the 2000 rule.*

Nonfiction: I've probably read the most about the Drew Gilpin Faust book, THIS REPUBLIC OF SUFFERING, so I'm anointing that the front-runner. But THE HEMINGSES OF MONTICELLO by Annette Gordon-Reed could act as a spoiler, since they are both about pre-1900 American history (unlike the rest of the field). And it is an election year, which means dark horse THE DARK SIDE: THE INSIDE STORY OF HOW THE WAR ON TERROR TURNED INTO A WAR ON AMERICAN IDEALS (Jane Mayer), would send a powerful message to the Powers That Be. I'm thinking it's Mayer for the win. Also-rans: Joan Wickersham, THE SUICIDE INDEX; Jim Sheeler, FINAL SALUTE.

I will refrain from picking in the poetry and YA categories, because if you thought this batch of picks was uninformed, you've got no idea what's in store for you in those departments.

Kudos to FSG and Knopf, the Chanel and Louis Vuitton of publishers, for getting two books each in the nomination pool.

*In all the fiction picks since 2000, there has only been one year in which the winner was unknown to me at the time. Short sighted? You bet, but I assume that while the people voting on these prizes are better informed than I am, they will probably be most familiar with the books that have penetrated the farthest. Tune in November 19th when I am humiliated by how little I know and the awards are given out.

15 October 2008

Someone else's life

According to UNICEF, one billion children in the world live in poverty. That's half of the world's population of children.

My childhood was full of fictional books about kids like me trying to get by: THE BOXCAR CHILDREN dived into dumpsters to furnish their house, while Dicey tried to scrape together $100 to take care of her siblings in Cynthia Voigt's HOMECOMING. I thought these kids were cool in their resourcefulness, but I never really thought about the implications of homelessness -- it was just a game to me.

I don't know what it was like to grown up in poverty and I'll never truly understand what that is like. But I can seek out books that will expose me to those lives like Adrian Nicole Leblanc's RANDOM FAMILY and David Simon's THE CORNER. The latter book so moved me I started volunteering around the corner after I finished reading it. But even if reading a book doesn't spur you to do something about poverty in your backyard or in a faraway country, the onus is on you to expose yourself intellectually to the problems of others -- whether it's reading about microfinancing as a means of empowerment or a few plucky orphans with chipped plates.

This post was part of Blog Action Day, an online initiative to get bloggers to focus on one issue for a day. To read more entries, visit BlogActionDay.org.

Some of my picks:
It Doesn't Have To Be About The Money [Escape From Cubicle Nation]
My Poverty-Fighting Superheroes [Wise Bread]
Donate Your Piracy Savings To Reduce Poverty [TorrentFreak]
How To Make Yourself Happier During The Economic Crisis [Gretchen Rubin/ HuffPo]

13 October 2008

Little Donne

Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town to'another due,
Labor to'admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly'I love you, and would be lov'd fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me,'untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you'enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
--John Donne

Tonight I went to see the New York premiere of "Doctor Atomic," a new opera about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project at the Met. (I learned about it from this 2005 New Yorker article.) I am by no means an opera expert so critically my thoughts on it overall are disorganized, but I was really moved by the Act 1 finale which uses this poem as lyrics for Oppenheimer on the eve of the first big nuclear test. Those last two lines... exquisite.

11 October 2008

Google's way of telling me I should go out more.

And it's so very subtle:

So... anyone want to tell me anything?

10 October 2008

"An Exciting Journey Through Sermons": Sarah Vowell Makes Everything Funny

Title is Vowell's own description of her book, THE WORDY SHIPMATES.

On her way up to the stage, on the very first stop of her tour for her new book THE WORDY SHIPMATES, Sarah Vowell was flanked by no less than nine people. (Among them was, I believe, Riverhead publisher Geoff Kloske; I didn't recognize the others.) This wasn't as humorous as it was puzzling; the crowd at the Union Square B&N here in New York didn't seem like the acting-up type, and clearly they were already big fans of Vowell, the "This American Life" contributor and professional history buff with the voice of a Pixar superheroine. As the bookstore liaison described her as "one of the coolest, funniest smart chicks around," I saw a segment of a smile -- perhaps a quarter -- creep up her cheek.

So maybe Sarah Vowell doesn't crack herself up as much as she does the rest of us. In a sense, that makes her work a public service: Not only did I learn more about Garfield from her last book ASSASSINATION VACATION than I ever did in history class, I got a good chuckle out of it! THE WORDY SHIPMATES tackles the subject of the Puritans, who are not known for their giggle-inducing exploits, and Vowell read an excerpt about John Winthrop's sermon which coined the term "City on a Hill." (This phrase was mistakenly attributed to Ronald Reagan during the recent vice-presidential debate.) She describes Winthrop's text ("A Model of Christian Charity") as describing "an America that might have been" as well as "a teetering stack of self-congratulatory Biblical comparisons" -- only to cleverly undercut the trenchant analysis with, "Of course, this America does exist. It's called Canada."

It's pretty clear why Vowell chose the Puritans as the subject of this book, which is "more head trip than road trip," and just as clear that Vowell is tired of explaining those reasons. (Need a hint? Watch her recent appearance on "The Daily Show." Need it all explained to you? Check her interview with DCist.) She'd rather "go all grandpa" on the Bible book 2nd Samuel ("King David's serial-killer years"), Winthrop's own personal journal entries about the relationship between the colony and its disapproving mother country, or the amazing cast she's lined up for the audio version of SHIPMATES -- for which she promised John Slattery, Catherine Keener, Campbell Scott and John Oliver, among others. But I have no doubt that THE WORDY SHIPMATES will make me laugh -- and if writing it didn't make her at least smile, hopefully her next book, a history of Hawaii, will.

  • Another person from my reading notes: Don't ask about Showtime or "The Incredibles 2"!
  • I can't wait to read her contribution to the STATE BY STATE anthology, which I just bought. (She represents longtime home state of Montana.)
  • Is Sarah Vowell coming to your city soon? She's in Brookline and Cambridge, Mass., tonight and tomorrow and heads to the West Coast next week (Wednesday night in LA, Hank!) before looping back through the Midwest and the South (Oct. 28 in Austin). Check out the full lineup at BookTour.com
*Sarah, I am so, so sorry. It's Friday and I couldn't help myself.

09 October 2008

And the Nobel Prize for Literature Goes To...

Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio. Who? And members of the media media covering the book world scatter to frantically Google this French author (the first to win in 23 years) with whom I am not familiar, even though he was considered the favorite.*

The biggest news this year is that, as foreshadowed last week, the committee did not pick an American to win. (Wouldn't it have made for a great bait and switch had they done that?) I think it was imprudent for the Academy secretary to say that Europe is the center of the literary world -- seems pretty shortsighted -- but I'm not sure where I would pick as that center.

Good thing he already has plans for a platform: When asked in 2001 what he would do as a Nobel winner, he said
I don't know for the Nobel prize but I know what I would like to talk about publicly. I would like to talk about the war that kills children. This, for me, is the most terrible thing of our age. Literature is also a means of reminding people of this tragedy and bringing it back to centre stage. [International Business Times]
As for the works of this "ecologically engaged" "explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization," if you can't read French, it looks like you can pick from THE MEXICAN DREAM, THE ROUND AND OTHER COLD HARD FACTS and ONITSHA. I have not read any of these; if you have, let me know!

*Out of the last 10 years, I have never had of 3 of the authors prior to their Nobel elevation (along with Le Clézio, I was introduced to Gao Xingjian and Imre Kertész because of this committee).

08 October 2008

I try

...not to be swayed by other reviews of books in the news too often, but I'd say "refers to male genitals as ‘the scorpion’s tail’" is as good a disincentive as any.

07 October 2008

Talk of the Town Tuesday: Thanks for voting!

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Polls Powered By MicroPoll

Here's where I would have next month's book, only I haven't chosen it yet because of a variety of factors (namely, being thrown off by travel and whatnot). I appreciate your feedback, though, and the next Talk of the Town segment will air November 5th. All I know is that it will not be a political book because Lord knows we will all need a break from the election by then.

05 October 2008

Reading On The Road: Home Sweet Home

I am indeed at home this weekend (my parents' house to be technical, but it will always be home to me) for some family affairs. Of course, I'll be taking advantage of the mostly unplugged down time to catch up on some reading. Here are my picks for this lazy fall weekend:
  • Cereal boxes. My parents have always had a large library of cereals, and their containers encompass such a wide variety of genres, from the playful fiction of Cheerios to the weighty yet informative Grape-Nuts.
  • Movie listings. I've read these at least 20 times while trying to plan a group outing because no matter how many times I look them up, I always find one family member who insists a 3:15 movie is completely out of reach if we leave at 2:45 because what if we don't have time to get popcorn? Tragic.
  • The kitchen calendar. Truly the definitive familial work of the 21st century; comes encoded with such a wealth of symbols and references, it's practically written in its own language.
  • My brother's college essays. The form exemplified by Didion or Wolfe has given way to the stark themes of nihilrealism, a form of writing that delves so deep into minutiae in efforts to appear longer that it is, in fact, about nothing.
  • The TiVo Wish List. A damning indictment of contemporary culture and of how much my sister, who isn't even living at home right now, adores procedurals. (Except CSI: Miami.)

04 October 2008

Read-a-Thon 2008: I missed the boat!

If only I didn't already have plans for about 2 of the 24 hours comprising Deweymonster's Read-a-thon 2008 in 2 weeks! The idea of trying to read for 24 straight hours, commenting on the blogs of other people who are also reading for 24 hours, well... that's for the reading equivalent of a Major League Baseball player. And I might as well name this blog, Wormbook: T-Ball Edition.

Don't be like me. Clear out your calendar for October 18 and starting at noon GMT (8AM EDT), you read. For 24 hours. Or until you have reached The End of Literature. See? Now 24 hours doesn't sound so bad.

03 October 2008

Unbookening Month 8: Library Temptation

The Eighth Month of the Great Unbookening
5 books gotten on Bookmooch (I am ashamed. I know.)
17 books checked out of the library
12 books received for review
Bought 1 book (AMERICAN WIFE)
Received 1 book as a gift (KILL YOUR FRIENDS)
= 36 books in.

6 books given away on BookMooch
17 books returned to the library
Gave 9 books away
= 32 books out.

4 more books in than out, even though I skipped the Housing Works book fair. (Lisa, I swear to you, I would have been completely helpless.) Yikes. And I just bought four books online (which I haven't received yet). Looks like I'm going to have to start reading full-time; anyone want to sponsor me in that endeavor?

My goal was to get down to 3 library books. Right now I have 11 out... which is not great, but better at least. And I only added one book to my list of holds, which -- like all the others -- looks to be a long time coming.

Books read in September 2008
121. Brad Meltzer, THE BOOK OF LIES
122. Philippa Gregory, FALLEN SKIES
123. Jennet Conant, THE IRREGULARS
124. Alex Hutchinson, PURPLE STATE
125. Louise Erdrich, THE PLAGUE OF DOVES
126. Lauren McLaughlin, CYCLER
128. Joseph O'Neill, NETHERLAND
129. Jeanne Fleming & Leonard Schwartz, ISN'T IT THEIR TURN TO PICK UP THE CHECK?
131. Louis Bayard, THE BLACK TOWER
133. Katie Crouch, GIRLS IN TRUCKS
134. Francine Prose, GOLDENGROVE
135. Curtis Sittenfeld, AMERICAN WIFE
136. Emma Donoghue, THE SEALED LETTER
137. Lesley Dormen, THE BEST PLACE TO BE

02 October 2008

Granting her slightly more than $12 grand in checking

Is Tina Fey going to write a book? Oh please oh please:
Fey, who has made two return appearances on SNL to satirize Palin, has been too busy to meet with publishers face to face.

One source familiar with the talks said that her book is not being pitched as a memoir, but instead as nonfiction humor, more in the style of author, screenwriter and film director Nora Ephron.

Pardon me, Page Six, but I believe you meant "Nora Ephron... but funny." From reviewing a few celeb memoirs a year I can confirm that most of them are hilarious in how bad they are, but if Fey were to do something more creative -- like Jon Stewart's AMERICA: THE BOOK -- I think this could be huge.

I do, however, find it funny that the latest enthusiasm is attached to her portrayals of Sarah Palin (funny because they're scary) and not to her amazing and underwatched sitcom, "30 Rock" (funny because it's true). Maybe costar Alec Baldwin would be so kind as to write an intro in the voice of her onscreen boss Jack Donaghy? The title of this post comes from one of my favorite Fey/Baldwin conversations on the show, about Liz Lemon's financial situation:

Jack Donaghy: So, what do you do with your money? Put it into a 401(k)?
Liz Lemon: Yeah...I’ve gotta get one of those.
J.D.: What? Where do you invest your money, Liz?
L.L.: I have, like, 12 grand in checking.
J.D.: Are you an immigrant?
Politically incorrect? Yes. Hilarious? Clearly.

01 October 2008

Blogger Book Tour: Lesley Dormen's The Best Place To Be

If you somehow haven't read it yet, Melissa Bank's instantly successful novel THE GIRLS' GUIDE TO HUNTING AND FISHING presents a chronicle of a woman growing up through various episodes, mostly involving some man, which don't so much build as layer over each other to deliver a portrait. Often imitated but never duplicated, Bank's work is also probably the most popular contemporary novel in stories, but retains the chronological orientation of a more classic novel. Much more interesting -- and more difficult to pull off -- is the out-of-order sequence of Lesley Dormen's book THE BEST PLACE TO BE, in which each story acts simultaneously as a self-contained story and another shade to the portrait of New Yorker Grace Hanford.

The first inkling I got that this book wouldn't be just another Bank pretender was the mention, in opening story "The Old Economy Husband," of... well, a husband. Dormen doesn't try to build suspense over whether her character, who in later chapters is single, attached and having affairs, will ever reach that conventional chick-lit milestone of getting hitched. And honestly, Grace's relationships with men in THE BEST PLACE TO BE often take a back seat to other relationships in her life, from the disappearance of a close friend in college to the strain she feels trying to communicate openly with her mother. Each story is built up over a string of sensually evoked moments, from an early dinner of lobster tails to the sight of her husband reading late at night in a hotel tub.

Grace's career is secondary to the novel, true, but her life is not without event, albeit the kind of small turns of which most lives have been built. But as we travel back in time, a portrait develops without the self-consciousness of "explaining" how Grace ended up the way she is in "The Old Economy Husband." Her rocky rapport (often lack thereof) with her father and stepfather are turns in themselves, not (or not merely) insights into her future relationships with men. These causal relationships are so often forced in the service of epiphany or drama, it's a relief that Grace herself isn't able to reconcile all these stories of her past into her current self. That might not be the best place to be, but it's a place we can all get to.

This is the first stop on Lesley Dormen's blog book tour for the paperback release of THE BEST PLACE TO BE. You can download a PDF excerpt from the book at Dormen's Website, LesleyDormen.com. Didn't enjoy my take on the book? Wander over to Maw Books Blog on Friday for the second stop.