Category Archives: writers

25 before 26

tomorrow is my 25th birthday.
wowza.

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.)

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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.

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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.

currently

reading:

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!

Jeanette Winterson: A short piece, and commentary on “minority lit”

Quite simply, Jeanette Winterson is amazing.

Her work is beyond beautiful, and I will be sure to feature many of her amazing books on this blog. But since I am away from my bookshelf (which, of course, features a small Jeanette section) I offer this non-fiction piece of hers that appeared in the New Yorker in 2002. Thematically it deals with two of my favorite subjects: books and family. Jeanette is able to offer poignant insight into both, of course.

It may help to be a little familiar with Jeanette’s background, so if you’re so inclined, check out her bio.

Her first book, the semi-autobiographical “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit,” was published when she was only 26 (!) and deals with religion, growing up, coming out, and family. If you’ve read it, the above linked New Yorker piece may be especially resonant. The book, in my opinion, is not her strongest (as first books tend not to be), but is a very important piece of work that is definitely worth reading. I love that although the books does deal with the protagonist’s coming out and trying to find her way as a queer woman in the world, Jeanette insisted that it should not be considered strictly “queer lit.” In an interview about the book on her site (which, I am finding out as I write this post, is a pretty cool site full of geek-out material for JW fans such as myself), she says of the book: “I’ve never understood why straight fiction is supposed to be for everyone, but anything with a gay character or that includes gay experience is only for queers.” Well said. Right on, Jeanette!

This makes me think of when I saw Toni Morrison speak a few years ago–she has amazing insights into the racial-izing of fictional characters (essentially, that unless specified as otherwise, readers most always assume a character is white, which is, of course, horrifyingly anglo-centric). It’s amazing what the average reader will assume about a work of fiction, especially when biographical criticism enters into the picture. It’s even more amazing (and offensive) the way that hetero-normative/anglo-centric culture assumes that books/movies/news/etc that deal with queer and minority issues/characters are only for queer and other minority people. Of course, majority culture assumes, as Jeanette points out, that straight/anglo-centric books/movies/news/etc is appealing and accessible to everyone. Talk about majority privilge! So, what? Faulkner should speak to and apply to all people, but Richard Wright’s “Native Son” should really only speak to people of color, and “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit” should only speak to queer people? Give me a break! Of course, minority groups may celebrate, draw strength from, and enjoy “their” literature. But should that excuse the hetero-normative/anglo-centric majority culture from dealing with the issues and literature of minorities (of all kinds, the queer minority included)? Have we not something to learn from all people, from all minority experiences? Can the majority culture ever be toppled if it opts-out of allowing all literature of merit to percolate in the brains of the masses? I think not.

I will conclude this post/ramblings about minority lit now, as it has certainly wandered far from Jeanette’s short New Yorker piece. Read and enjoy!