Category Archives: books

been awhile

well, hello.

it seems I have been absent for some time. well, here I am, alive and well. but the 3 people who read this blog probably already knew that.

I am in the golden state, the place of my birth, the place from which I have been absent for a long time, the place about which joan didion wrote:
“in at least one respect California—the California we are talking about—resembles Eden: it is assumed  that those who absent themselves from its blessings have been banished, exiled by some perversity of the heart.”

no comment, as my own heart resembles something like a ‘perverse’ blend of half California poppies, wine, and ocean water, half crawfish heads, jazz, and Louisiana river silt.

but enough about that.

here is what I am currently reading:

– “listen to this” by alex ross (non-fiction): the new yorker’s music critic on, well, music, from classical (a term he hates) to bjork.

– “st. lucy’s home for girls raised by wolves” by karen russell (fiction): a delightful story collection in the tradition of marquez and katherine dunn. it only mildly depresses me that this book was published when russell was only 25.

– “the purity myth” by jessica valenti (non-fiction): a righteous political powerhouse about america’s (namely the christian right’s) obsession with young women’s virginity, and how it reduces and sexualizes young women’s worth and morality to passivity and virginal “goodness.” valenti kicks ass. this book, in my case, is definitely “preaching to the choir,” but as my sister reminded me recently “even the choir needs practice.”

– “the new kings of nonfiction” edited by ira glass: a collection of essays by glass’s favored writers from malcom gladwell to susan orlean. published a few years ago, and something I’ve always meant to pick up. so far, it’s excellent. of course my love of ira glass is documented.

– “p.t. barnum: america’s greatest showman” by the kunharts (a father and two sons–nonfiction): an awesome illustrated biography of p.t. barnum. as far as historical figures go, I may or may not have a mild obsession with barnum. what’s not to love? insanse hubris! the circus! freak shows! animals! ridiculous (if not exploitative) business-savvy! I’m loving this book, especially all the awesome photos, posters and ephemera from barnum’s circuses and museum in NYC (which burned down in 1865—oh if only time-travel were possible!).

– “the partly cloudy patriot” by sarah vowell (nonfiction): I LOVE sarah vowell, and since her new book “unfamiliar fishes” (about the 1898 annexation of hawaii, which I cannot wait to read) has a library check-out wait-list from hell, I am biding my time by reading through her back-catalog. this is one of her more well-known books, a collection of essays about this here country, and I’m, of course, enjoying it. her piece about visitng disneyworld with david rackoff  is particularly hilarious.


completely unrelated, here is a picture of the cake I made last weekend of father’s day:




very soon, I will be moving across the country. I started on packing my books today, the majority of which will be in storage for a few months on the other end. of course, I can’t be cut off from my *whole* stash for months, so I am allowing myself one small box of handpicked special, “must-have-keep-accessible” books for the limbo.

it is not full yet (YESSSS!), as I have yet to pillage my poetry shelf, my current reads shelf, and cookbooks. but here is what will be the bulk of the box—I thought they all looked so nice together, I had to take a (shoddy) photo:

top row: the house of the spirits by isabel allende, the torturer’s apprentice by john biguenet, jitterbug perfume by tom robbins, gabriel garcia marquez, collected stories of vladimir nabokov, the passion by jeanette winterson

second from the top row: interpreter of maladies by jhumpa lahiri, bird by bird by anne lamott, the world and other places by jeanette winterson, lust and other stories by susan minot, bad behavior by mary gaitskill, collected stories of carson mccullers

second from the bottom row: the complete stories of flannery o’connor, the little prince by antoine de saint-exupery, don’t cry by mary gaitskill, the bloody chamber by angela carter, famous fathers by pia z erhardt, reasons to live by amy hempel

bottom row: like life by lorrie moore, nine stories by j.d. salinger, cathedral by raymond carver, fifty famous fairy tales, even cowgirls get the blues by tom robbins, to kill a mockingbird by harper lee


25 before 26: continued

here are the remaining 15 items on my “25 things to do before I turn 26” list.

* take more pictures

* be IN more pictures (I’m always the one taking them, and while it sounds selfish, it would be nice to see a record of myself in my photo chronicles)

* get another tattoo

* go on a hike [the californian in me is hysterically laughing at the former new yorker in me who aspired to go on but ONE hike! how silly. since being back in CA I’ve been on quite a few]

* submit for publication at least once

visit a US city I have never been to [new haven, ct, whatup! home of my best pal, yankees obsessed with bacon pizza, and the heart-stoppingly wonderous and swoon-worthy beinecke rare book library at yale]

* write more cards and letters

* knit something other than a scarf

* spend more time with my sister [we live in the same area code now and are pretty much attached at the hip]

* give meditation another chance

* learn to use my camera’s manual settings

* re-read “King Lear”

* learn to cook something new that can become a “standard” for me (some of my already-standards include: french onion soup, roast chicken, butternut squash soup, pumpkin bread, steak au poivre, quiche, enchiladas…) [fantastic biscuits, no-knead bread {finally}, fierce chocolate cake]

* spend more time outdoors [see “go on a hike” above!]

* learn more about opera

25 before 26

tomorrow is my 25th birthday.

in the spirit of the occasion, I made a list of 25 things to do before I turn 26. they are in no particular order, and some seem much more do-able that others.

here are 10 of them:

* grow something edible [basil, strawberries]

*take a trip out of the country [c0mpleted 12/2011, Mexico… although I *did* know I would be doing this before I made the list… hmm…]

* complete two stories I feel good about

* visit the Guggenheim museum

* get a haircut [chopped an donated a 17″ braid in april!]

* start a retirement account

* Read “The Best American Short Stories of the Century”  (which is 57 stories and 788 pages)

* visit my brother in Maine [made the voyage to maine in january—brrrr!]

* wear fun lipstick more often [a little early to call but so far 2011 is my lipstickiest year yet: there’s no red too bright, nor no pink to hot for me!]

* make a cheesecake from scratch

stay tuned for the remaining 15.

happy birthday to me.

highly recommended radio

I love radio. and radio podcasts. so naturally, free downloadable podcasts and free online streaming of awesome radio shows are two of the best things ever.

seriously, if you’re not on this train, then it’s time to get hip to the boogie. (I like a good mixed-metaphor now and then). many great shows make a weekly free podcast download available, enabling one to listen at her leisure, such as while riding the subway.

I’ve long been a fan off the universally-loved-and-adored this american life. I have a gigantic crush on ira glass. (I mean, who doesn’t? my best pal F saw him in an airport once and I nearly died of jealousy, insisting that she tell me the story at least three times.)


the show is brilliant and just one of those things with a totally well-deserved sterling reputation. there isn’t much bad to say about it. (although it was hilariously referenced in an early 2000’s teen tv show as “that show where the know-it-all-hipsters talk about how fascinating ordinary people are”–this primtime incident was subsequently mentioned on TAL by mr. glass himself). TAL’s short-lived tv show was lovely, too.

I also enjoy the new yorker’s fiction podcast, where each month, a writer chooses a story from the new yorker archives to read and discuss. I actually find a lot of the discussion (just a few minutes between the reader and the magazine’s fiction editor) to be boring, banal, and pedestrian. (wow that sounds like something a stuck-up jerk would say–but trust me, I’m not one). the questions posed by the editor quite often seem so arbitrary, lame, and beneath the quality of the work being discussed.
but I love the podcast anyway, as it does amazing things like allowing me to hear mary gaitskill (be still, my fiction-loving heart!) read nabokov.


By the way, I had the good fortune to see my homegirl m gaitskill in the flesh last month at the brooklyn book festival—reading from her most recent book on a panel about “primal impulse in fiction”  (swoon!)—and was blown away yet again by just how fabulous she is. (at this point I will also mention that we share the same birthday).
I also recently listened to a reading of that stalwartly seminal work of american short fiction that’s de-rigueur in high school english classes, shirley jackson’s “the lottery.” I hadn’t read it since high school, and was so thrilled to find it even creepier and masterful than I remembered. absolutely chilling.
this week’s podcast is also nice, a reading of raymond carver’s “chef’s house”, which is totally classic carver. although, it’s markedly similar in plot to a posthumously-published (I believe) story  of his, “call if you need me” (from the book “call if you need me: the uncollected fiction and other prose”, which I received for my 20th birthday).  in many ways, I think,  “call if you need need me” is a much better (but perhaps “less carver-ish”) piece. in fact, hearing “chef’s house”, lovely piece though it is, just made me want to read “call if you need me” for the 1,000th time. I’m not sure of what the editorial process for “call…” was like, but I would suspect that mr. lish, carver’s editor (and subject of that famous debate/discussion), did not have a chance to take a crack at it… interestingly enough, according to the commentary of the “chef’s house” podcast-reading, mr. lish also didn’t have a chance to edit “chef’s…” hmm… what a fascinating topic: the nature of editing, how far is too far, and where the line between revealing and sculpting/manipulating a writer’s voice is. so whatever one’s opinion of lish and carver’s relationship may be, we can at least thank them for making us think about it in a way we might not have collectively done otherwise.

look at me, I start talkin’ radio an end up on fiction. that happens with me I suppose; it’s a conversational hazard–I’ll nerd out and start beginning sentences with “so back to the cultural and gendered biases of the term ‘magical realism’…” and saying asinine things like “so you’ve read ‘court in the west eighties’ by carson mccullers, right?”

in fact, I wanted to write this post to give props to another radio show, aside from TAL and the NYFP, one with which I have only recently become totally obsessed (I’m a scorpio like that)–the genius that is radiolab. two parts hardcore science-stuff and one part funny, insightful chatter.  it’s just the right type and presentation of science-y stories to a scientifically-curious-but-not-so-much-inclined chap as myself: stories about the science of the afterlife! of monkey language! whale rescues! malcom gladwell lectures! stories about nuns! jane goodall! (who is back on my hero list in bold-faced type, p.s.) head on over to their website and stream episodes while you work; you will be pleased.



re-reading the fabulous louise gluck’s pultizer-winning the wild iris. it’s a triumph of a book that I highly recommend. I read it a few years ago, and have since read most of her other work (her now-0ut-of-print the triumph of achilles is my favorite). at first, I liked this, but upon re-reading it I’ve developed a new appreciation for it, especially due to my new interest in botany, and since it’s fall, which is the best season for poetry. I’ll let the work speak for itself so you get the idea…

from “lamium”

“living things don’t all require
light in the same degree. some of us
make our own light: a silver leaf
like a path no one can use, a shallow
lake of silver in the darkness under the great maples.

but you know this already.
you and the others who think
you live for truth and, by extension, love
all that is cold.”

she blows me away.

next is dusk and other stories by james salter. I was recently introduced to his work via the new yorker’s fiction podcast (check it out if you haven’t already), episodes of which I like to listen to on the subway (sometimes reading on the train makes me queasy). they featured his story “last night”, which chilled me to the bone… an incredibly sharp, deft, and beautiful piece, which I subsequently listened to three more times. “dusk…” not the collection “last night” is from, but it was what was available at BPL, and so far I am enjoying it. very hemmingway-esque.

the rose’s kiss: a natural history of flowers (yeah, I’m not crazy about that title, either) is suiting my botanical interests quite nicely. written by peter bernhardt, a botanist and bio professor at SLU, it explores the science and cultural implications of flowers and plants. interesting stuff. I was looking for a book about rose hybrids after visiting the wonderful rose garden at BBG, as I was fascinated by the myriad of variations of color, petal variety and density etc. the cute, racehorse-eque names didn’t hurt in piquing my interest either (“betty white,” “betty boop,” “bourbon,” “brave heart,” “careless love,” “golden fleece,” “falstaff,” “clytemnestra,” etc.). I stumbled across this book in the science of plants section of the BPL.

lastly, the collected stories of ellen gilchrist, who was recommended to me by my friend, sarah. I plan to dip into this one this evening. review forthcoming!