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?