Monday, September 14, 2015

Upcoming readings

Hello, muchachos! If you are in either Denver or New York, I'M COMING TO YOUR TOWN!

This Saturday, September 19, I'm reading as part of the Denver Small Press Fest, along with Sommer Browning, Brian Foley, Eric Baus, Aby Kapaung and others. The reading is at 5 pm at Metroboom (1231 35th St. Dever 80205).

And next Sunday, September 27, I'm reading in Brooklyn along with Sommer Browning, Chris Tonelli and others, again at 5 pm at Over the Eight in Brooklyn (594 Union Ave). (Apparently Happy Hour in NY is from 6 to 8:30? Amazing; happy hour always ends at 6 here.) Please come and say hi!

Speaking of Chris Tonelli, we had a long conversation over email this spring and summer about poetry and all things related to poetry, such as buildings and clouds; you can read it at the Conversant.

Also, I wrote an essay for the Smart Set about the word "pretty."


Thursday, August 27, 2015


Yesterday was the ninth anniversary of the day I met J. Last weekend, as a kind of celebration but mostly just because I really wanted to, we went on a brief road trip around southwestern South Dakota; we saw Mount Rushmore (so surreal; why did we do this?), Badlands (completely sublime!) and Crazy Horse (depressing af; seeing the plans for what it's supposed to look like feels like looking at paintings of cities on Mars from the 1950s).

I have wanted to visit South Dakota for years. Two thumbs up!

Here's some other stuff I've been up to:


I wrote an essay on the overuse of uncertainty in literature:
Recently, I have noticed an overabundance of uncertainty in literature – across genres, but especially in essays. The tricks we use to appear uncertain – asking questions instead of making definitive, declarative statements, for example – have become tics. Overuse these tricks and the piece assumes a pose of ignorant wonder – What is such & such abstract concept? Who can say? How can we ever know? 
I have been thinking about this since reading an essay on necronyms by Jeannie Vanasco, in the Summer 2015 issue of The Believer. Vanasco was named after a half-sister, Jeanne, who died before she was born – that’s what necronym means; they were common when many children died in birth or shortly after. In the essay, she weaves personal narrative with research on other artists with necronyms, including Ludwig van Beethoven, Salvador Dali, and Vincent van Gogh. I loved this essay, but felt unsatisfied by the ending: “Is that why my father added an i to my name? To remind me that I was my own person?” 
The British technology journalist Ian Betteridge is credited with the adage “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the wordno.” I want to make a similar claim: Any question at the end of an essay can be answered with the word yes. (Same goes, most likely, for poems, short stories, etc.) The question is a kind of weasel syntax that lets the author have it both ways: make a gesture toward profundity without having to commit to it.
I also have a new Blunt Instrument up; this one is on finding work/life balance as a writer:
The second approach is driven by urgency: Find the thing you want to write so much you don’t even have to schedule time for it. I have another friend, a novelist, who said he solved the problem of “writer’s block” by abandoning the high-minded projects he felt he should be working on and started writing the novel he desperately wanted to write. Suddenly he couldn’t wait to get home from his job to work on his novel. Previously, he had had to schedule time for writing and it still felt like a slog. I take a similar approach to reading—I surround myself with books (mostly from the library) and abandon them freely. If I force myself to finish a book just because I’ve started it, I’ll find something to do other than reading, but if I only read what I really want to read, when I want to read it, I’ll make time for reading almost every day.
I am in need of new questions for my column, so if you have any questions about writing, please send them to!


Here are the books I've read since I compiled a list last month:


Nothing Natural by Jenny Diski - Interesting feminist novel about a woman who sort of falls into an affair with a masochist. Constructed almost perfectly like a movie, I realized toward the end, and might even make a better movie than a book, in that Diski tends to let her protagonist think too much (or rather she shows us her thinking too much); it would be nice to just SEE/imagine this thinking. Jane Campion should do it. Has a fascinating ending. 

Women by Chloe Caldwell - Read it on a plane to Seattle. I believe this is what Emily Keeler calls "reality fiction." Made me realize the novella is almost uniquely suited to the story of a love affair.

Find Me by Laura van den Berg - Really interesting to see Laura's work evolve into novel length (if you know her work, you'll recognize many of the same themes from her stories). I grew quite affectionate toward the protagonist (who, perhaps inevitably, I imagined as Laura....)

Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont - Extremely readable family/"domestic" novel. In the vein of Nicole Krauss. 

Familiar by J. Robert Lennon - Fascinating, creepy conceit: The protagonist (whose name is Elisa!!!) has either suddenly switched to a parallel universe where her son isn't dead, or she's had a psychopathic break. Like A Pale View of Hills, it's irresolvably ambiguous. One of my favorites so far this year.


I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son by Kent Russell - Essays. A total dude book, but I liked it anyway, very much in fact. He alternates journalistic pieces on Weird Subcultures (Juggalos, Amish baseball players) and Singular Freaks (a guy who self-"vaccinates" himself against venomous snakes) with a long essay in parts about his dad and their relationship. More and more affecting as you go. He has a knack for a descriptive image, like when he describes a snake's body and head as it leaps to bite like a rope trailing after a harpoon.

Unmastered by Katherine Angel - A loose, or perhaps open, diaristic kind of long essay on the subject Nothing Natural tackles in fiction: the (supposed?) conflicts between desire and feminism. 

The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison - Famously disturbing memoir about a writer's affair with her father in her early 20s; not as disturbing as I expected TBH, in that it's not depicted as a true "affair" (she's more under the spell of a manipulative narcissist).

Between Me and the World by Ta-Nehisi Coates - This is either a short book (~150 pages) or one long essay about what it means to be a black man (or, to a much lesser extent, a black woman) in America, framed as a letter to his son. You learn early on in the book that it was written (not just published) this year, and at first it seems kind of rambly and hastily edited, but about 50 pages in it starts to feel much more focused and therefore more powerful. Lots to think about, like the toll on the body that a culture of fear takes; "the body" is the main theme here. Coates is an atheist, so he takes no comfort in an afterlife for the soul. The soul IS the body he says, and once you destroy someone's body he is gone. I'm glad I read it.


Earlier this summer I was starting to feel like I was in a cooking rut and making the same things all the time (i.e. MOSTLY TACOS), so I've been trying to shake it up. I remembered this recipe for kimchi relish, which I make in the food processor and use like salsa (I add cilantro). It's freaking delicious, great on eggs or any kind of meat. J had some lousy chicken piccata in Rapid City (NOT a food town), so I made a better version this week. I have also been making a curried lentil soup using split red lentils (which cook super fast) and coconut milk. Oh, and I made enchilada sauce with fresh green chiles and then used it for stacked (New Mexico style) enchiladas with shredded chicken and kale as the filling, no cheese (J is off dairy) and was surprised to find that I really didn't miss the cheese.

I haven't made it in a couple of weeks, but my "house cocktail" this summer was tequila, lime juice, simple syrup and a few slices of jalapeno, shaken. You can add other citrus (grapefruit, orange, etc) and cilantro if desired. MMM.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The books I've read this year so far (with commentary)

We're about halfway through the year! It's my mother's birthday! I'm trying a new thing where I keep track of the books I'm reading. This list is mostly reconstructed from memory, so I may have missed a few, but going forward I hope for it to be all-inclusive. Here are the books I've finished so far (I frequently start and abandon books), in no particular order:


How Not to Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg - I love this book! It's about math. The writing is terrific, I learned a lot, I sort of didn't want it to end.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande - A wise and useful book about end-of-life care (assisted living, nursing homes, multi-generational living, aggressive interventional therapies, hospice, etc.). I happened to finish this right before John's grandmother died, at 98. She was still living in her own house: amazing.

The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits - A diary-style memoir covering a few years. I adored it. Neurotic and relentlessly self-examining, never self-flattering. Contains many interesting thoughts on marriage, friendship, and female beauty. 

100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write by Sarah Ruhl - Loved this too. Ruhl is a playwright. Lots of interesting thoughts about theater and art in general and some on motherhood, if you're into that (ditto the Julavits actually). 

Dataclysm by Christian Rudder - This is the guy from OkCupid. Better than I thought it would be, has some really interesting data on race and gender. I recommend Jordan Ellenberg's review of it.

Selected Tweets by Mira Gonzalez - So good. Didn't want it to end, luckily she's still tweeting.

The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum - Essays. I liked this, but the idea that she's writing about "unspeakable" controversial issues is oversold.

Yonder by Siri Hustvedt - Essays. We are interested in many of the same things, but she has a semi-anti-feminist bent that bugs me.

No Man's Land by Eula Biss - Essays. Many on race/class. Very good.


Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb - Translated from Hungarian. Beautiful. Wonderful. Full of fascinating ideas and good jokes. Highly recommended.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler - I finished this just before the new year but I'm including it anyway. Very good, one of those mainstream bestseller books that is completely successful as "literature" too (meaning, you can get sucked into the plot without resenting the writing); my mother and John both read it immediately after me and loved it as well. 

The First Bad Man by Miranda July - Extremely funny and cute. The title is completely wrong for it. It's not about men or badness.

Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offil - Meh. As far as fragmentary metafiction goes, I felt this one was a little overrated. It's not bad at all, but I had the distinct feeling that it could have been better if she'd worked on it longer.

Dancing in the Dark by Janet Hobhouse - This is about straight and gay culture mixing at discos in the 80s. The prose took some getting used to, but all in all I liked it. Somewhat in the vein of Alan Hollinghurst. 

Lillian on Life by Alison Jean Lester - A very quick read, organized into short, essay-like chapters, but on the forgettable side. 

Thunderstruck by Elizabeth McCracken - Just great. I rarely read short stories, but read this front to back. This lady can write a fucking simile. 

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker - Funny, light, a one-afternoon read. Actually includes some good tips for writing poetry!

How Should a Person Be by Sheila Heti - This felt a bit like intellectual candy. I read it in a day or so; it's smart but undemanding. I wrote more about it here.

Castle by J. Robert Lennon - Weirdly feels like a cross between Kafka and Stephen King. Has one kind of essayistic chapter toward the end that I found rather moving and brilliant. 

Here's to You, Rachel Robinson by Judy Blume - This was a mistake/waste of time. I got nostalgic about Judy Blume and tried to read a YA book from the 90s that I was too old for at the time. Guess what, I'm too old for it now, too, but I also think it sucks even by YA standards, meaning, I wouldn't have loved it at 13 either.

Pym by Mat Johnson - Very weird fantastical novel inspired by Poe, very funny, I want to read more by him. 

Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce - I kept toying with abandoning this one, but pushed through. The protagonist has that Play It As It Lays zombie slut thing going on. Not bad, but not entirely my thing.
Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro - I think I read this after the McCracken, feeling in the mood for short stories. I like Munro but I don't remember much about it, except for the extra-long, almost-novella story at the end. 

The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink - Just finished this. A little silly but quite funny; reminded me of a George Saunders story, but novel-length. Like McCracken, worth it almost for the similes alone. (I assume Franzen liked it because it's about birders?!)

Monday, June 1, 2015

"Ornithological Blogpoem" for voice and mobile device

HI GUYS! I wanted to share something cool with you, plus a few new links. First, the cool announcement: an experimental/digital artist/composer named Ben Houge has adapted one of my poems, "Ornithological Blogpoem" (from The French Exit and, before that, the chapbook Thanks for Sending the Engine) into a performance piece for voice and mobile devices. The piece will be performed this Thursday, June 4, premiered by the Berklee Valencia App Choir, which he directs, at the Vox Festival in Valencia, Spain.

Here is a page from the score:

And here's a quick statement from Ben on the piece:
One of the things I like about “Ornithological Blogpoem” is that the structure of it is really evocative of a tree full of birds twittering away (which is a great metaphor for internet communication, e.g., the blogosphere in which these poems first appeared), and I’m hoping to capture that in my setting. The paper score exists for rehearsal purposes, but at the performance, each singer will be reading the music from a web app that will cue when each phrase happens, resulting in the singers all singing in their own independent rhythms. The audience will be able to join in via a different web app that they can run on their mobile devices, which will present the voices of the singers, manipulated to evoke birds chirping. So the performance itself becomes another kind of internet communication. 
Unfortunately I can't be there for the performance, but it's going to be recorded, so if I can share a snippet with you later, I will! 

More stuff:

Title TK: An essay on titles:

Another quality I dislike in titles: a rhythmic sing-songiness, as in Then We Came to the End. All the Light We Cannot See. I Know This Much Is True. (Wally Lamb used the exact same three-foot iamb pattern twice: The Hour I First Believed.) These titles are suspiciously regular in their meter. I distrust them. As far as meter goes I think spondees make for the best, snappiest titles: White Noise. Jane Eyre. Bleak House.

I’ve noticed that people will look at me longer if I’m wearing sunglasses — with my eyes hidden, they forget I can see them looking. Is it still eye contact when something in between obscures the gaze? The sunglasses act like a one-way mirror — I know when we’re making eye contact, but the other person does not. If both parties are wearing sunglasses, the atmosphere becomes louche and permissive as a masked ball, and we can stare at each other all we like, since neither one of us is sure that the other is looking.

Dream Logic: An essay on dreams:

More recurring themes: I am very, very tired and can’t get to sleep. I have to pee and can’t find a bathroom, or when I do there’s no door on the stall and I’m too embarrassed to use it. I’m late for an international flight but I’ve left my bag somewhere in the airport and can’t find it, or I’ve left my boarding pass in the automated machine. I need to get between floors in a hotel or airport or mall but the elevators are rickety or missing a wall or the stairs don’t extend all the way. (Elevators are a dream fear; I’m not afraid of them in waking life.) I’m trying to stop my car but although I’m pressing the brake as hard as I can it won’t stop completely and I crash (very slowly) into a building or another car. I’m very angry at someone and trying to physically hurt them but I’m too weak; my blows are ineffectual and don’t land where they should. Sometimes I’m fighting a woman—my mother, occasionally—and, unable to do any damage with punches, I dig into her face with my nails. Everyone I’ve ever known or cared about is mad at me.

What's up with you? 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


"Since last we spoke," I've written a couple of new essays for The Smart Set (which just got an attractive redesign). Here's one on "the mind of poetry" (the mental state I require in order to read it) and the difference between poetry and prose:
There are probably people who go through life with a permanent mind of poetry. I am not one of those people. I fall in and out of it, and not at will. As I write this, I am not in it, and have not been for three or four months, which is to say, I have not been able to focus on or become absorbed in any book of poetry. Oddly, I have continued to write poetry. I continue to think about poetry, almost daily. As my Twitter feed reveals, one doesn’t need a mind of poetry to talk about poetry. 
But I don’t want to read it. Or – and this is how it feels, when I’ve lost my mind for poetry – poetry doesn’t want me to read it. I can look at the words on the page and feel fairly certain that they represent good poetry, but I remain unmoved and unengaged. It’s like looking at an attractive person when you’re freshly in love with someone else: an empty appreciation that leads nowhere. When I’m in the mood for poetry, it’s not a seduction on my part; it’s more like the poem and I have chemistry.
And another on the art of the paragraph:
In nonfiction, I’m obsessed with what I’ve come to think of as the invisible transition, where there is no clear, necessary connection between two paragraphs, and yet – something happens. The juxtaposition isn’t as jarring as a non sequitur, but it could have been otherwise. In fact I’d argue that what’s mostly “lyric” about a so-called lyric essay are these transitions, these leaps, more so than some inherently “poetic” quality of the language. Invisible transitions make a text feel more open, and inside these openings, essays gesture toward poetry. (Gertrude Stein said “Sentences are not emotional but paragraphs are,” though who knows if she meant it.)
Further, I am going to be doing an advice column for writers over at Electric Literature, called The Blunt Instrument (so named because I will not pull punches; duh).
In this new monthly advice column, I’ll respond to real questions (anonymous or not; your choice) about writing. Questions will be selected based on relevance to the Electric Literature audience and my personal whims. I may not be gentle, but I will endeavor to be useful. You can send your questions to
Also at Electric Lit, a piece about translation and the role of expertise in criticism, "Who Gets to Review?":
Who should review Ishiguro? His novels frequently incorporate elements of fantasy or science fiction without committing fully to the conventions of those genres. Is it better or worse, when picking up an Ishiguro book, to have expertise in fantasy and science fiction? Could that expertise actually prejudice you against the work? In theory expertise should help. It should also help to have knowledge of Japanese folk tales, of post-war exile, of collective consciousness, of the science of memory. I know a little about neuroscience; does it help? I suppose it only helps if you’re sympathetic in the first place to the author’s intentions. It doesn’t help if you come to it wanting either a faithful representation of the world as it is, or a fully imagined fictional world, instead of something in between, a world full of holes. Your eyes don’t collect all the information necessary to rebuild the world in your head; it would be a waste of resources. Instead they collect just enough data to get a sketch, and your mind fills in the rest. (Obviously, there’s a wall over there, and a ceiling above us.) Ishiguro seems interested in allowing us to experience that world in the middle, between the outside reality we have no direct access to, and the internal world, with all our assumptions comfortably in place.
And finally, this little squib (did you know "squib" can refer to a small explosive device or a half-wizard or almost anything?) that I found in my Gmail drafts, intending to use it in one of my Real Pants style columns, but I never did:
One of my mantras is "style isn't personal." I believe that, like taste, style is more a result of your socioeconomic status, your education, your age, your peer group than something carefully constructed out of a variation of free will. Free will isn't really free but it might as well be; it certainly feels free. Similarly, style feels personal.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Some essays, essaylets, essay-things

I wrote an essay on crying (joyous crying, proud crying, frustrated crying, sympathy crying, pain crying) for The Butter. (Thank you to Roxane Gay for publishing it.) Here's an excerpt:

I have always hated Sundays. Everything seems worse on Sunday nights, just like everything seems worse when you wake up at 3 a.m., each obligation and annoyance in your life a heavier burden. The worst kind of tears are frustration tears, when you cross the can’t-take-it-anymore threshold for some usually trivial reason, an inaccurate medical bill or horrible customer service agent. I’d rather cry from physical pain than frustration, though I can’t remember the last time I was injured badly enough to cry. I cried a little when I sprained my ankle doing long jump in high school, but I’ve never broken a bone. When I was 26, I got 13 stitches in my chin after fainting toward a French door and breaking a pane of glass with my face. Amazingly, this did not hurt at all. Not at the time, when I was unconscious, and not later, at any point during the stitching up or removal of stitches. The lack of pain, and the fact that I didn’t actually experience the fall, makes the “memory” cinematic; I picture it happening from the vantage point of the bed in the room; I see me stumble from the bathroom to the French door and down to the hardwood floor, where I later woke up, or was shaken awake.

I wrote an essay about punctuation (arcane commas, wrong commas, double equals, interrobangs, James Salter, Mary Norris, etc.) for the Smart Set. (Thanks to Richard Abowitz for publishing it.) Here's an excerpt:

I read Light Years just over a decade ago, when I was in grad school, during what turned out to be the last year of living with the first love of my life. I remember, as I often do, the room in which I read it, since I inevitably pictured the events of the novel happening in that room. (This creates cognitive dissonance, since Nedra and Viri would have had nothing to do with the cheap futon we used for a couch.) Beyond the languid quality of the prose, the suburban narrative like a dressmaker’s dummy on which to hang all that lush, sensual description, I only remember one scene from the novel, a fragment of a scene, where a man luxuriatingly humps a woman from behind. A cuckolding, with pillows. (One gets an impression of Salter as a man who enjoys sex most especially in the past tense, retelling it to himself.) I can’t help picturing this scene superimposed over that futon, which was only pulled out to serve as a bed when my boyfriend and I were no longer sleeping together, literally or figuratively, since he’d begun sleeping with somebody else.

Also, I wrapped up my Style Guide column for Real Pants. Thank you to Adam Robinson and Amy McDaniel for inviting me to write there. You can find all the columns here.

Here's a bit from the latest one, on youth and beauty

I’m convinced I hit peak beauty at age 25. My husband sweetly insists I look better now, but the numbers are on my side: According to data from millions of users on OkCupid, the men that women rate as most attractive age along with them; at 40, they like 38-year-old men. Men, on the other hand, continue to rate 20- to 22-year-olds as most attractive until they’re 50. (This is called the Wooderson Rule, after the character in Dazed in Confused who says “I get older, but they stay the same age.” Check out Dataclysm by Christian Rudder for more insights along these lines.) Recently I ran across a stack of old pictures from my grad school graduation. “I sure was pretty when I was 25,” I tweeted, and a friend replied, “Just about all young people are pretty.” Certainly everyone looks good in old photographs, with their dated hair and silly clothes and bigger smiles. When I think of old photos, I think of people looking happier.

Thanks for reading! XOXO, Gossip Girl

Friday, March 6, 2015

Some notes toward an essay on male jealousy

Interesting how men will never admit to being jealous; they always claim it’s some other, more refined emotion. (Perhaps protectiveness on your behalf.) They must bristle at the stereotype of the simplistic, brutish, jealous man. But come on: Men often are simplistic and brutish, even when capable of gentleness and complexity.

Men also insist on distinguishing between envy and jealousy, as if we don’t know the difference. What does this buy one, anyway? Someone on Twitter said, “Jealousy is the gin, envy is the vermouth.” I love that, but what could it mean? Wanting what others have makes their wanting what you have more delicious?

In my experience, by and large: When a man is interested in you or has some claim over you, any amount of attention you pay to another man is too much. The assumption is not necessarily that you’re attracted to this third party, but that you’re “leading him on.” (Oh boo-hoo.) For some unclear greater good, you should make the terms of the relationship 100% clear. What men who want this don’t realize is: one, clarity is in the eye of the beholder and two, there are social consequences for that kind of behavior. (To quote Stephanie in Saturday Night Fever, “I bet it begins with a C.”) Further, drawing clear lines can be a kind of provocation, an invitation to cross them. For women, simple kindness is a kind of neutrality – conflict avoidance as strategy.

This expectation that women will define the terms is closely related to the common wisdom that whatever attention you attract from men is your own fault: the “she was asking for it” school of thought. And further, that career-wise you’re consciously using men, manipulating situations to “get ahead.” Multiple times (but only by men) I’ve been told I got one or another opportunity because somebody wanted to sleep with me. The sad thing is, it’s probably true.

Men want it both ways: You’re supposed to be suspicious of all other men and their nefarious intentions, but not the man who is imparting said wisdom to you; he has transcended. But by showing suspicion they are playing their hand: Men are jealous because they know men’s nature.

I have an ex who was rarely jealous, that truly rare specimen. The only time I ever saw him react with jealousy was when we were breaking up, after a five-year relationship. We had agreed to see other people (completely his idea, an idea I went along with only in hopes of saving the relationship). I spoke candidly of flirting with someone at a party he hadn’t attended, my way of proving to him that I was making an effort; later that week we ran into the guy at another event, and I pointed him out. My ex turned hostile. I was astonished – he was jealous! Of this performance I was doing for him!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Reading in Cambridge 2/20 with Daniel Handler & Janaka Stucky

Boston area folks! Please come to my reading, hosted by the Harvard Book Store, this Friday night, Feb. 20. I'm joining Daniel Handler (AKA Lemony Snicket), who will be reading from his new novel We Are Pirates, as well as Janaka Stucky, poet and Black Ocean impresario, whose first full-length book is coming soon from Third Man Records. The reading is at First Parish Church in Harvard Square at 7 pm (doors at 6:30) and includes a Q&A and book signing. Tickets are $5; you can purchase them here. Poetry cures snow madness!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

7 thoughts on style, sex & beauty

I suppose I should save these for my style column, but whatever:

1. Who cares if men don't like red lipstick? Men are wrong.

2. I don't understand why women say they need long shirts to wear with skinny jeans. I see/hear this all the time? The "skinny" in skinny jeans refers to the leg; the ass part is only going to be particularly tighter than other kinds of jeans if they're jeggings. I am much more in need of long shirts to wear with boyfriend jeans, because they sit so low my underwear/hipbones will show if my shirt is too short. (I'm reminded of this absolutely SCANDALOUS shot from the Sartorialist.)

3. Some great things about being in your 30s: a) It's much easier to be hot for your age. Everyone is hot in their 20s. b) The stuff you wear to be "sexy" is actually sexy; in your 20s, "sexy" means trampy. I'm not slut-shaming anyone, I wore trampy stuff in my 20s too. I'm just saying, 30s-sexy is sexier and I knew that even when I was a teenager, I just wasn't ready to pull it off. c) Unrelated to style, when you're 35 you just do what you want and you don't do what you don't want, for the most part. It's the dream. Not that the suffering is over, but at least you skip a LOT of the bullshit.

4. More on 30s-sexy: Buttons are everything. Also: ankles, wrists. (How Victorian!)

5. There's an interesting interview in the new Believer with Dian Hanson, the "sexy book editor" for Taschen, where she says there's a theory (?) that men who are into legs are "introverted, intellectual, passive, shy," because their mothers didn't snuggle them to their chests enough when they were babies, or something like that. Whatever: I feel an affinity for men who are into legs, because I myself find women's legs much more interesting than women's breasts, and I myself am intellectual. (Ha. Ha. Ha.)

6. It's a shame they've become such a Halloween cliche, because fishnet stockings are truly the most flattering optical illusion to legs, exaggerating every curve. I would like a mathematician to explain this effect to me. (The nude, if not black, option is still permissible in some day-to-day contexts.)

7. Also in the Believer, from a brief piece about Philip Roth by an Italian journalist who befriended and made a documentary about him: "It reminded me of a game I'd encountered before with men of power, who first come on to you, and then once they've set their web of seduction, withhold because they expect you to make the decisive move." (Everything is about power except power, which is about sex.)

Monday, February 2, 2015

Thoughts on How Should a Person Be

I've been sticking to my new "strategy" AKA resolution to use the library more, and as such I've been reading a lot. This is all good except for the sad fact that I have to return the books to the library when I'm done with them. I'm especially sad to part with How Not to Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg (featured in my "How Writers Read" series), which I kind of never wanted to end. Super-recommended IF YOU LOVE LEARNING.

On Saturday, I started and finished How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti. I tweeted a little about it and got lots of "engagement" because, clearly, this is a book that a lot of people have read and have strong feelings about, one way or the other. So I thought I'd share some thoughts here (I ain't got the time nor inclination to organize these into a real essay, sorry):

1. Much has been made of the supposed formal innovation of this "novel from life." Miranda July, for example, called it a "new kind of book." Meh. How is this a new kind of book? It's metafiction or it's a fictionalized memoir with some hybrid-y bits (lyric essay, play dialogue, etc.). Are we all in agreement that none of this is new? Great, we agree. (Similar memoir that I don't recall being hailed as a new kind of book: Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn. I guess we've experienced hybridity inflation in the last ten years.)

2. It's to the book's credit that it's entirely possible to read it without constantly being reminded that you're reading something HYBRID and INNOVATIVE and AMBITIOUS. If you ignore all the jacket copy and hype surrounding it, HSAPB is really just a fun read. I could easily compare it to the other two books I recently finished in one day (each): The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker and Think Like a Freak (by those Freakonomics guys). All three books are quite smart, but they're also constructed to go down like candy. They're like healthy candy; you'll think while you're reading them but not too hard. You won't need to take breaks to re-examine your life choices or place in the cosmos.

3. Let's compare/contrast with some recent books that absolutely insist you read them as highly ambitious novelty objects: Reality Hunger and 10:04. I enjoyed these books in real time, but the more time that goes by since I read them, the more distaste I feel for them. (Incidentally, the same thing happened to me with White Teeth.) Reality Hunger is interesting throughout, but why does it have to be so gimmicky? (And all the interesting ideas are borrowed anyway.) And 10:04 seemed designed so that the reviews would write themselves; accordingly every review I read sounded exactly the same and quoted all the same lines. God, how boring!

4. A note on the sex in HSAPB: It's a perfect example of a book that gets called "sexy" in the reviews/blurbs just because the author is an attractive young woman and it includes some sex. The sex in here is absolutely not sexy; it's over-the-deep-end absurd, funny but quite grim:

I don't know why all of you just sit in libraries when you could be fucked by Israel. I don't know why all of you are reading books when you could be getting reamed by Israel, spat on, beaten up against the headboard---with every jab, your head battered into the headboard. Why are you all reading? I don't understand this reading business when there is so much fucking to be done. [...] I don't see what you're getting so excited about, snuggling in with your book, you little bookworms, when instead Israel could be stuffing his cock into you and teaching you a lesson, pulling down your arms, adjusting your face so he can see it, stuffing your hand in your mouth, and fucking your brains right out of your head.

I grant that men might find all this ironical cock worship sexy (of course you do!!!) but that's the point: you obviously find all sex sexy, so describing a book with sex in it as "sexy" is redundant by your standards. It's also demeaning and feels like a way of complimenting the author instead of talking about the book. Dig deeper, assholes.

5. If you look at the "character arc" (someone told me "Sheila" in the book is not Sheila Heti but isn't this true of any autobiographical work?) it kind of goes like this: "I am an empty shell of a person ...... but in my narcissism I want to be recognized as incredibly special, a genius ....... but I also want to be good, how can I be good? my friends are good ........ I will try to be good like my friends ........... I have failed, I am a waste and a fraud .......... but wait, my friends tell me I am good and smart and interesting ......... and if my friends are good ...... maybe I really am special after all!" So yeah if you just look at that it sounds like a really annoying book. But it wasn't, to me. Despite Sheila's being an "unlikeable character" I found it charming and fun to read. YMMV.

Have you read How Should a Person Be? What did you think?