Recommended Reading 003

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud by Anne Helen Petersen

“While there are notable differences in the complexity, nuance, allusion, artistic innovation and experimentation found in mass, mid, and high culture, the argument that one is intrinsically more valuable that the others is, of course, fundamentally elitist. It’s not accident that this sort of cultural work…is often the pet project of men, generally with vested interests in maintaining hierarchies calibrated to their particular and exclusive definitions, which delegitimize culture that provides pleasure and meaning to audiences largely composed of women. If we authenticate and declare our worth and class in no small part through the objects we consume, then labeling the objects consumed by women as ‘less than’ effectively delegitimizes and devalues women’s place in the world.”

 

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

“Shopping reveals the id in all of us. At blowout sales, I am ready to cold-cock other women also trying on size 10 work-appropriate cocktail dresses that hide their shame (upper arms) while promoting their glory (elegant pinkies and/or pillow-butt). In the changing room, attempting to shove your misshapen body into the size you think you should be rather than the size you are usually leads to some form of weeping while screaming, ‘IT’S FINE, I’LL JUST WEAR A BAG OF FLOUR AROUND MY BODY UNTIL I DEHYDRATE ENTIRELY AND CAN DIE IN PEACE.’ Opening your closet to find that you hate every item of clothing you have ever bought is a specific circle of hell: hanger after hanger of poly-cotton blend T-shirts, all with thick layers of deodorant crusted on the armpits, every skirt ironed so poorly it’s on the verge of unravelling if you swivel too fast in it, your shoes just leather hunks you force your bunions into.”

 

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

“I began to feel afraid, occupying someone so accomplished. And yet, I was comfortable in there. And suddenly, wanted him to know me. My life. To know us. Our lot. I don’t know why I felt that way but I did. He had no aversion to me, is how I might put it. Or rather, he had once had such an aversion, still bore traces of it, but, in examining that aversion, pushing it into the light, had somewhat, already, eroded it. He was an open book. An opening book. That had just been opened up somewhat wider. By sorrow. And–by us. By all of us, black and white, who had so recently mass-inhabited him. He had not, it seemed, gone unaffected by that event. Not at all. It had made him sad. Sadder. We had. All of us, white and black, had made him sadder, with our sadness. And now, though it sounds strange to say, he was making me sadder with his sadness, and I thought, Well, sir, if we are going to make a sadness party of it, I have some sadness about which I think someone as powerful as you might like to know. And I thought, then, as hard as I could, of Mrs. Hodge, and Elson, and Litzie, and of all I had heard during our long occupancy in that pit regarding their many troubles and degradations, and called to mind, as well, several others of our race I had known and loved…and all the things that they had endured, thinking, Sir, if you are as powerful as I feel that you are, and as inclined toward us as you seem to be, endeavor to do something for us, so that we might do something for ourselves. We are ready sir; are angry, are capable, our hopes are coiled up so tight as to be deadly, or holy: turn us loose, sir, let us at it, let us show what we can do.”

 

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

“I wanted what she had wanted, what we all want: everything. We want a mate who feels like family and a lover who is exotic, surprising. We want to be youthful adventurers and middle-aged mothers. We want intimacy and autonomy, safety and stimulation, reassurance and novelty, coziness and thrills. But we can’t have it all.”

“You have an affair because you are not getting what you want from your loved one. You want more: more love, more sex, more attention, more fun. You want someone to look at you with lust–after years of laundry–transforming you into something radiant. You want it, you need it, you owe it to yourself to get it. To live any other way is to be muffled and gray and marching meaninglessly toward death. You want what she gave you at the start (but what you had hoped would expand and intensify instead of shrinking until you find yourself so sad, so resentful, you can barely stand to be you).
You have an affair to get for yourself what you wish would come from the person you love the most. And then you have broken her heart and she can never give you any of it ever again.”

Why the Novel Is Necessary

My husband showed me this poem the other night and I couldn’t get over how perfectly captured it was.

Why the Novel Is Necessary but Sometimes Hard to Read
by Marie Howe, from her book The Kingdom of Ordinary Time

 

It happens in time.  Years passed until the old woman,
one snowy morning, realized she had never loved her daughter . . . 

Or, Five years later she answered the door, and her suitor had returned
almost unrecognizable from his journeys . . .

But before you get to that part you have to learn the names
you have to suffer not knowing anything about anyone

and slowly come to understand who each of them is, or who each of them
imagines him or her self to be–

and then, because you are the reader, you must try to understand who
you think each of them is because of who you believe yourself to be

in relation to their situation

or to your memory of one very much like it.

Oh it happens in time and time is hard to live through.
I can’t read anything anymore, my dying brother said one afternoon,
not even letters. Come on, Come on, he said, waving his hand in the air,
What am I interested in–plot? 

You come upon the person the author put there
as if you’d been pushed into a room and told to watch the dancing–

pushed into pantries, into basements, across moors, into
the great drawing rooms of great cities, into the small cold cabin, or

to here, beside the small running river where a boy is weeping,
and no one comes,

and you have to watch without saying anything he can hear.

One by one the readers come and watch him weeping by the running river,
and he never knows,

unless he too has read the story where a boy feels himself all alone.

This is the life you have written, the novel tells us. What happens next?

 

Recommended Reading | 001

Mr_Penumbra's_24-Hour_Bookstore  Alice Munro

Heat  On-Beauty-book-cover

 

I wanted to start a series, and it didn’t take me long to come up with the topic. As anyone who knows me, even a little bit, can tell you, I am a major bibliophile. There are only two things I absolutely must do every single day, and one of those is read (the other is eat, and that could really be the subject of another series…). I am always, always reading.
One of my favorite things about reading is the community it brings between people. I love asking and being asked the question, “What are you reading these days?” It’s so much more personal than a bland, “How are you?” and it opens up a whole new side of someone that you might not otherwise get to see. Books are by far the best educators I can think of; they bring playfulness and creativity to a subject, open up imagination, teach history and language, unfold the human condition, and evoke all the emotions you can imagine. What classroom have you been in that does all of that? Books are my friends. Books are the path I have traveled on my entire life. They show me myself, they show me the unknown, they show me the faces and facets of so many things. I would not be who I am, and I would not have the passion for life that I do were it not for the books that brought me here.
So, I’m starting a series on books I’ve recently read and loved. They will cover a pretty wide range of topics, so hopefully you’ll come across something you haven’t before. I’d like to be clear that I certainly don’t think I know everything about books; quite the contrary. A lot of the things I tend to read these days are things I probably should have read years ago. Most of the titles you’ll see today, for example, were written back when I was in high school, almost a decade ago. I’m a little late in catching up, you see. But it’s ok! I’m here now, awakening to authors whom the rest of the country have lauded for years, and now I’m understanding why. That’s what I love about books; they tend to find you right when you need them. It’s kind of spiritual, in a way.
I hope you enjoy this series, and I’d love to hear what you’re reading these days! It is, after all, my favorite question. So without further ado, the first installment of Recommended Reading. With each title I’ll give a super-brief summary and/or why I liked it, and a favorite snippet. Here we go!

 


Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
, Robin Sloan

I loved this book- it was a quick and easy read that kept me on my couch for two straight days. Weighing in on the importance of both technology and books, this novel undertakes one of our modern debates: how do we improve our world, what can (or can’t) technology do for us, and why do we still need books and the people who love them? Take all of this and throw in a Dan Brown-type secret society, and you’re in for a fun, yet thoughtful ride.

“I pushed open the bookstore’s glass door. It made a bell tinkle brightly up above, and I stepped slowly through. I did not realize at the time what an important threshold I had just crossed.
Inside: imagine the shape and volume of a normal bookstore turned up on its side. This place was absurdly narrow and dizzyingly tall, and the shelves went all the way up–three stories of books, maybe more. I craned my neck back (why do bookstores always make you do uncomfortable things with your neck?) and the shelves faded smoothly into the shadows in a way that suggested they might just go on forever.
The shelves were packed close together, and it felt like I was standing at the border of a forest–not a friendly, California forest, either, but an old Transylvanian forest, a forest full of wolves and witches and dagger-wielding bandits all waiting just beyond moonlight’s reach. There were ladders that clung to the shelves and rolled side to side. Usually those seem charming, but here, stretching up into the gloom, they were ominous. They whispered rumors of accidents in the dark.”

Runaway, Alice Munro

This was my first time reading this award-winning author, and her short stories are absolutely breathtaking. Understated yet powerful, Munro weaves tales of small-town folks where most of the action happens under the surface. Her lyricism alone is enough to keep you enthralled. Like the show Mad Men, it’s what ‘s not being said that gives these stories their depth and impact.

“After that they spoke about the coolness of the evening, how welcome it was, and how the nights had lengthened noticeably, though there was still all August to get through. And about Juno, how she had wanted to come with them but had settled down immediately when he reminded her that she had to stay and guard the shop. This talk felt more and more like an agreed-upon subterfuge, like a conventional screen for what was becoming more inevitable all the time, more necessary, between them.
But in the light of the railway depot, whatever was promising, or mysterious, was immediately removed. There were people lined up at the window, and he stood behind them, waiting his turn, and bought her ticket.” (from “Tricks”)

Heat, Bill Buford

A somewhat bumbling but energetic home cook, Buford wanted to know what it was that separates a restaurant cook from a home cook. So he went to work for Mario Batali at his famous Manhattan restaurant, Babbo, and his journey from kitchen slave, to Italian pasta-maker and butcher is hilarious, eye-opening, and just plain fun. It made me realize that I will never be a professional chef, but I certainly do love reading about their swashbuckling ways back in the sweat and heat of a restaurant kitchen.

“Again the ticker tape. This was starting to feel like a sporting event. Sweat was running off my nose, and I was moving fast, as fast as my concentration allowed, flipping, turning, poking, being burned, one row pointing to the right, another to the left, poking again, stacking up meat here, rushing over the branzinos that had been waiting for a spot, turning, the flames in the corner of the grill still burning, fed by the fat cascading off the new orders. Again the ticker tape. My mind was at full capacity, with only one stray thought, a question, repeated over and over again: What happens if I fall behind? And still there were more: lamb medium, lamb m.r. What’s wrong with these people? I was surrounded by meat. Meat on the grill. Meat on the seasoning tray. Meat on the resting tray, in big heaps. So much meat that it no longer seemed like meat. Or maybe it seemed exactly like meat. It was tissue and muscle and sinews. And still more orders. ‘This is the buzz,’ Memo whispered, still behind me. ‘This is what you live for,’ Andy said, picking up plates from the pass, adding, mysteriously, ‘it feels really fucking good.’ And the remark remained in my head for the rest of the night, and I thought hard about what I was feeling: exhilaration, fear, weirdness, some physical-endorphin-performance thing. But good? It was, I concluded, my first glimpse of what Mario had described as ‘the reality of the kitchen’– a roomful of adrenaline addicts.”

On Beauty, Zadie Smith

A rivalry between two men becomes heightened when their families begin to intermingle against their wishes. The more these families get to know the others, the more the cracks in their own worlds begin to show. Some of the most beautiful writing I have come across in a while, where the simplest of sentences can stop you in your tracks.

“Her little audience guffawed, pretending to a worldliness none of them had earned.
Ron gripped her chummily round the shoulders. ‘The wages of sin, etcetera,’ he said as they began to walk, and then, ‘Whither morality?’
‘Whither poetry?’ said Hannah.
‘Whither my ass?’ said Daisy, and nudged Zora for one of her cigarettes. They were smooth and bright, and their timing was wonderful, and they were young and hilarious. It was really something to see, they thought, and this was why they spoke loudly and gestured, inviting onlookers to admire.
Tell me about it,’ said Zora, and flicked open the carton.
And so it happened again, the daily miracle whereby interiority opens out and brings to bloom the million-petaled flower of being here, in the world, with other people. Neither as hard as she had thought it might be nor as easy at it appeared.”

Life as Paradise

I read a quote by Leo Buscaglia today that said, “Life is a paradise for those who love many things with a passion.” It made me stop and think. Am I living in a paradise? Am I pursuing the things I love with a passion? I like this quote because it implies that we are in charge of how great our life can be. Of course bad news, bad days, and bad circumstances will come our way. But we can choose whether or not we view our life on the whole as boring and lackluster, or as a happy paradise of our own making, filled with things we are passionate about.

So how do I make my life a paradise? What are the things I love and am passionate about? And then, how can I pursue those things on a day-to-day scale? It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking long term or big picture, but I really think that it is small moments that are the most important. Daily decisions and small acts make all the difference- and they are much more attainable!

Buscaglia’s quote really made me desire to live more passionately, so I’m starting by writing just five things I love most to help remind me to take pleasure in the small things and small decisions, and build my own paradise.

1. Books- I have to make time to read, even just one chapter, every day. I definitely feel it when it’s been a couple of days without this time.
2. Aesthetics- I love putting together images of beautiful things. Something about a cozy space, a flower in bloom in a jar, or a gorgeous Christmas party makes me so happy. Now that I have an apartment of my own (shared with my husband, of course), I love finding images and shops that help me express my aesthetic. Sometimes, it can make all the difference in one’s mood.
3. Small businesses- If given the option between a chain or an independent store, I’ll almost always head for the latter. There is so many beautiful, unique things to be found by the creative, passionate types who open their shops, and I love supporting their creativity.
4. Food- I do love cooking, but I love eating even more. Now that I have my evenings free, I’ve been meal planning and trying out new things almost weekly. It’s been a good exercise in learning, patience, and health.
5. Relationships- This reflects not only my desire to cultivate the beautiful friendships I already have, but my desire to truly see people. I think of all the people who work in customer service who often get mistreated or simply overlooked by people in a hurry or in a fluster. I do not want to miss all the beautiful people in the world because I was too busy thinking about myself. (I think what this really comes down to is being present in the moment, but that’s another post.)

What are your passions? How can you make your life a paradise? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What Makes Me: Books

“Books are at the core of who I am.”

This is the last sentence I have written in my current journal. Sometimes when I write, things come out of me that I do not consciously think; they are just written without being thought. This was one of them. I do not know how this happens, but I have learned over time to pay particular attention to the things which I do not consciously think. While this thought about books may seem obvious- my love of them is well known to both myself and those in my life- the fact of it is, I did not fully realize that they are my core. 

I have spent my entire life reading. My mother says I only wanted to play with books, long before I could read, which even still was at the early age of four years old. I would ask for the same story to be read to me night after night, until the pages were lovingly tattered. My favorite trips as a little girl were to the library with my father, where I would pick out a different Dr. Seuss book each time, and (if it wasn’t checked out), the book “Bunnies and Their Sports.” We had to see if that book was available every single time. I never liked sports myself, but boy did I like those bunnies. 

I began advancing quickly in the books I would read. In first and second grades, I skipped up to the next one for reading class, and I loved the challenge of James and the Giant Peach, and the silliness of Sideways Stories From Wayside School. In the fifth grade, our teacher got us all a book as a Christmas gift, and I remember feeling such pride that she knew I was advanced enough for the 400-page tome of Little Women at the age of ten. 

My family lived in the outer suburbs growing up, and it was a 30 minute drive to anywhere of importance, and I used those car rides to devour page after page after page. My books revealed not only themselves to me, but myself to me. I found my thoughts and feelings, previously unknown or unable to be expressed, jumping out at me from the page, screaming at me, “You are understood! You are not alone in this!” Books were both a comfort and an inspiration. 

I still feel all of these things today. I am drawn to almost everything- fiction, classics, travel memoirs, children’s stories, theology, essays, and creative non-fiction. I still tear up, perhaps more now than ever, at the beautiful turn of phrase the author chose, wondering how they were able to put their thoughts into words in such a mesmerizing and straightforward, but shockingly beautiful way. I still cheer when a character finds validation and meaning, and I am still cowed by the subtle evil and coldness a villain can carry within them. 

Books change people. They bring to life so much that is often left to lie dormant or unsaid within us. They can can make one feel known. They can inspire. They can challenge. They can infuriate. They can make one laugh and cry within the same chapter. They can bring hope that humankind is not all bad, that there still is goodness in the world. They can entice the imagination. The can incite one to action. They challenge, they comfort, they woo, they stir, they stab, and they soothe. They are everything to anyone who needs them. 

Whether or not we think they do, the books we read shape us. From childhood on, these stories become part of our story. They teach us how to treat people, how to love, what courage looks like, what pain feels like, and how humility and selflessness can cover a multitude of sins. We can experience the beauty of poetry, the fierceness of the animal kingdom, the expanse of the universe, and the magic and hope brought by a lonely wizard. Books connect us not only to ourselves, but to the people and world around us. 

To say that I love books does not do it justice. When I am reading, I am whole. I am lost in story, in challenge, in knowledge, and in myself. I find the core of who I am in them. 

Acceptable Reasons for a White Breakup

  • @aol.com, @hotmail.com, or @yahoo.com email address. If your choice of email service providers reflects upon you, what does it say to have your emails and your grandmother’s come from the same place? Religious inspirational forwards are just one step away.
  • Lack of familiarity with Russian authors. Theoretically you could be at a party and a discussion of Pushkin or Solzhenitsyn could break out. If your mate interjects with “Who is Pushkin?” there is a good chance you will lose most of your friends and potentially your job. Having a spouse with a good grasp of literature is a bit like a bicycle helmet—it’s probably not very attractive, but it’s great to have in emergencies.
  • Dave Matthews Band CD. It’s bad enough to be seen with a CD collection (how did the rest of 1999 turn out?), but to be seen with the messiah of fraternity boys on every continent is completely unforgivable. This one is so bad that even if it was purchased ironically, there will always be the question “Maybe he’s actually into that Crash song… OMG what if he wants it to be our wedding song?” That fear alone makes a breakup completely justified.
  • Discovery of The Da Vinci Code on shelf. White people would rather have you look through their medicine cabinet than their bookshelf. You can go to rehab for Vicodin addiction; you can’t go to rehab for Dan Brown.
  • Affinity for processed sugars. This needs no explanation.
  • Ordering a Miller Lite. If this needs to be explained to you and you are dating a white person, then there is a good chance that someone is on the verge of breaking up with you.
  • Agreeing with something said on Fox News. Even if it was a weather forecast, this is unaccetable. 

—Excerpt from Christian Lander’s new book Whiter Shades of Pale