Archive | May, 2011

Dear Book Lists

25 May

Dear Book Lists,

Having long lists of books to read makes me feel both slightly panicky—and like I am doing something wonderfully, deliciously right in my life.

It makes me feel panicky because I’m obsessive-compulsive when it comes to to-do lists. People in my life can attest that I get impossible when there’s a to-do list sitting in front of my nose and I can’t interact like a normal human being until every.single.thing. is crossed off. This is a problem as sometimes I write things on my to-do list like, “get published,” and “write book” and “fix apartment” and my personal all-time favorite,  “career.”

No, I’m not clear on what any of those mean or exactly how to go about accomplishing them either.

But having long lists of books to read is wonderfully, deliciously right because it means I’ve been paying attention. I’ve been writing things down when people have been recommending them. I have a list I can refer to when I’m casting about for the next thing to do. I don’t get paralyzed in the bookstore–

This is my brain in a bookstore:

this looks good! but what if it isn’t? what if I hate it? what if it’s a terrible book? what if everybody dies? maybe I should just read the Bible. I don’t want to read the Bible! I mean, eventually. not right this moment. besides, which edition should I read? oh my god it’s been an hour just buy something already. when did books become $17 for a paperback? this is outrageous. oooh, I like the color of this one. wow that is a beautiful cover. why aren’t more covers so beautiful? i should buy this one for its beautiful cover. wait! what about this one? i can’t decide yet, I HAVEN’T LOOKED AT EVERY SINGLE BOOK AVAILABLE IN EVERY SINGLE SECTION.

And so on.

Having long lists of books to read means there are long lists of truly wonderful literature available out there, which helps counter this absurd ennui-esque feeling we sometimes get that all modern entertainment is trash (it’s not) and that “they’re” only writing and publishing crap (they’re not). It means when I look at the list, I can just see long, rain- and sun-soaked days stretching out in front of me in which I don’t hear my mother asking me to empty the dishwasher. (When I was a child, this was actually the most frequent fight in our house— “please stop reading.” Sigh. Youth. We’re trouble. And no, I was not popular in middle school.)

It means stacks of books count as “decoration” in my apartment and that I actually feel like my truest, happiest, most fulfilled and worthwhile self when I am sitting down to work my way through said stack. Maybe other people feel this way while exercising, or while volunteering, or in church. But something about honoring the words, the lives of the characters, and my mind’s desire to follow the line to its end and then begin again on the left-hand side of the page…that’s what I feel like I settle into the world and let it— and myself— just be for a while.

And I forget, sometimes. When I am busy, I often turn to TV to relax, and I spend more hours a day on the Internet than I do reading. And often after flipping through blogs, I can’t settle into a book, and when I have a long to-do list, even if reading is on that list, it doesn’t feel productive enough. It doesn’t move fast enough. It doesn’t give my brain that same hard-wired instant satisfaction of sending ten emails and texting someone and listening to a voicemail and doing the dishes and straightening the apartment and skimming an article and marking up an essay.

But feeling frantic, while it temporarily makes me feel productive and needed and important, does not, in the end, leave me with anything but the craving for more and at higher speeds. Then I end up scrolling endlessly through my Facebook newsfeed and complaining about how boring the Internet is.

So this summer, I honor the book list. I read. I have a mix of high-brow and low-brow, a mix of this’ll-be-good-for-me and who-cares-I-like-it. I have some recommended reads that maybe will help with my own writing, and I have some things that have long been on my list. It’ll be good.

What do I need to read? Leave me a suggestion in the comments and I’ll put it on the list.



P.S. For those of you who care…

Recently Read

  • A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
  • The Good Thief, Hannah Tinti
  • Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber, Diana Gabaldon
  • Bossypants, Tina Fey
  • Veronica, Mary Gaitskill

To Read Imminently

  • Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Tom Robbins
  • What Maisie Knew, Henry James
  • Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion
  • Just Kids, Patti Smith
  • State of Wonder, Ann Patchett
  • Inseminating the Elephant, Lucia Perillo
  • Collected Stories, Amy Hempel

Dear Packing

16 May

Dear Packing,

Does packing for a long trip make anyone else want to set fire to everything they own and go live in the woods with one pair of jeans and one flannel shirt?

Or, alternatively, buy a whole new wardrobe when you get wherever you’re going if such a thing were economically and ecologically feasible?

No? Just me? Ok. Carry on, then.



PS– The trip in question is me, going to Seattle, for a month, where apparently it is still winter even though the calendar belies such views. And yes, I plan on packing the sun in my carry-on if God and TSA will let me.

Dear Bridesmaids

14 May

Dear Bridesmaids,

I saw Bridesmaids this morning and I recommend that you see it too, it’s very funny and quite good, but then the world hurt me a little bit, in the form of my friend who I saw it with saying, “Hey, Apatow figured out how to make a movie for girls and guys: a chick flick with gross-out scenes.”  And I said, “I kind of wish they’d left those out, actually, and let it just be a movie.” And he was like, “You mean a chick flick?” And I was like, “No, a movie for everybody, just without gross-out scenes.” And he was like, “You mean a chick flick?”

I think he was being at least slightly facetious.

And then I got a little bit sad. But! It still belongs more to Kristen Wiig than it does to Apatow, I think, and it’s an excellent movie, and there are a number of articles about how seeing it will encourage Hollywood to give female-centered movies and shows a chance, so if you want to see more female comedies, maybe start by supporting this one (some articles here, here, here, and here). I think it’s a fallacy that movies centered around women need “male-type gags” like food poisoning to be funny. I don’t think women should shy away from body humor– but why not the body humor that comes natural to women, about sex and periods and cramps and breasts and lingerie and waxing and giving birth?

And– why not let female-centered comedies center around female humor, body/bawdy or not? Why do men think movies about women are not for them? First of all, don’t you have women in your lives? Maybe even women you think are funny or whose problems/characteristics/points-of-view you would enjoy seeing made funny? And women watch male-centered movies all the time– we just call them “blockbusters” instead of “dude flicks” or “douche flicks.” Isn’t good writing just good writing and aren’t good movies just good movies, irregardless of gender/sex/sexual orientation?

Anyhoodle. I hope Kristen Wiig keeps writing, I’m glad this movie exists, I like Judd Apatow, so you can just calm down and untwist your knickers. I wish Leslie Mann would write a movie. I bet she’d kill it.

And now being Kristen Wiig’s BFF is on my life to-do list, so I hope she’s cool with that. I’m not as good at doing funny voices as she is, but I’m really good at laughing and I’ve got a great over-exaggerated eye-roll that I bet she’d appreciate.



Dear Ambulance

11 May

Dear Ambulance,

It makes me really nervous when you park outside my house.

So maybe next time, when you go get Subway, you could keep that in mind?



PS. I really want a cookie now. Thanks a lot.

Things I Like on the Internet

4 May

THINGS I LIKE ON THE INTERNET! I know it’s Wednesday but it’s almost finals week and this is the “get shit done fortnight” as my friend Taylor calls it and mostly I just am too burnt out to do anything but look at the internet right now, so maybe you are feeling the same way and want to look with me.

Privilege and the American Dream: or, why we’re actually mad at Gwyneth Paltrow. This article’s kind of beautiful in its simplicity. Seriously, richies, what happened to that tacit agreement we had where you acknowledge that your life is easier and everyone else doesn’t start a class war? [Huffington Post]

Baby pygmy goats stampede! That’s double small! [YouTube]:

Tina Fey writes poetry and prayer and it’s nice and I like it. Even if I’m not sure about this whole “children” concept. [write in color]

Look, guys, I taught freshmen composition for a semester and there’s a chance I’ll do it again sometimes in the future, and I can tell you… this thing is DEAD ON. If I had had these, I would have USED THEM SO HARD AND SO OFTEN. Students don’t understand that their graduate students are full of anger and rage and dirty jokes: Rubber Stamps I Wish I had for Grading Freshmen Composition Papers.  [McSweeney’s]

And its companion….Shit My Students Write ….God, I’m glad I’m not teaching. (I recommend being in a place where loud laughter is tolerated if you’re going to read this site.)

And, finally, Loretta Lynn sings a song to you:

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