-the cover of The Polysyllabic Spree, by Nick Hornby
Nick Hornby does a monthly piece in "The Believer" called "Stuff I've Been Reading," about "the how, and when, and why, and what of reading—about the way that, when reading is going well, one book leads to another and to another, a paper trail of theme and meaning; and how, when it’s going badly, when books don’t stick or take, when your mood and the mood of the book are fighting like cats, you’d rather do anything but attempt the next paragraph, or reread the last one for the tenth time." For those of you who aren't into reading, let me add that Hornby wrote the novels High Fidelity and About a Boy. I bet you liked those movies, right? Lozo can quote About a Boy. See, I pay attention. I'm bloody Ibiza.
I once turned down an outing w/a cute boy to see Hornby read at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square. "I've got dork stuff to do," I explained. It was the most crowded reading I've ever been to aside from David Sedaris , which actually involved buying tickets. A few weeks later, cute boy cited my choice of a reading over drinking-beer-with-him as one of many reasons he crushed on me. Anyway, now he's married to the same girl he was long-distance dating then, so it worked out for everyone: him, me, his wife, Nick Hornby, Lozo, all the lesbians in the Niagra Falls area, and you.
So right. Hornby's first column (with full text available online) contains more mission-related detail -- I personally discovered "Stuff I've Been Reading" via Hornby's book The Polysyllabic Spree, a collection of 14 such columns, which I read in '04. Last week, while reading The Believer's 50th Issue, I thought: "OMG! I should do something like this on my blog!" That's right; I'm going to talk about the random books I read and I'm floating this idea -- a monthly column -- on a bright burning ray of hope that at least 3-4 people will care?
Also, The Believer (fantastic magazine, p.s.), has a particular favorable-review-only policy, which Hornby describes like so: "The Believer has taken the honorable and commendable view that, if it is attacks on contemporary writers and writing you wish to read, then you can choose from an endless range of magazines and newspapers elsewhere -- just about all of them, in fact -- and that therefore The Believer will contain only acid-free literary criticism." He got in trouble for trying to circumvent this by stating that although he couldn't comment on the overall quality of a certain book, he'd say that Crime & Punishment was definitely better.
I generally believe this too -- there's no point in totally bashing a book, unless it's soooo super-super bad that I no longer care about the author's well-being, like Pure by Rebecca Ray or Smashed or anything by Ann Coulter. Generally I wish good things upon all authors and writers of books, even Dan Brown and Plum Skyes. Also, I wouldn't want a good writer to google themselves, find this, and be like "OMG, who is this nobody saying bad things about me? Where's HER book?" to which I can say: "I'll never tell/I dunno, I can't spell." But also I have an honesty problem. I'm going to see how this plays out, hopefully in the author's favor.
Most of these book links go to my amazon associate account's a-store, which means if you buy something through that link, I'll get about two pennies, and I think by 2020, those pennies will add up to approximately 30 bucks, and then I'll buy everyone their own dog-purse like Tinkerbell and obvs , hook the world up with a Coke. That's not why I'm doing this, I'm only mentioning it 'cause it'd annoy me if you bought a book I talk about by opening a new window when you could just link through here and therefore help Tinkerbell get a flea collar.
Just a few more things:
-I'm following Hornby's format (BOOKS I'VE BOUGHT, BOOKS I'VE READ), with a few of my own additions (MAGAZINES READ, WEBBERNET, and BOOKS BORROWED/LENT OUT)
-When I say (finished), I mean that I started it in another month but finished it during the month in question.
-It's good to have someone in your life who engages with literature even more intensely (or as intensely) than you and can make recommendations -- this role has been filled by many peoples over the years, including my agent when I worked at the agency every day, Krista when I lived with her, Meg/Ingrid/Sheetal/Delp/John while at Interlochen, etc. Right now it's a friend who I'm going to call "B." (named after the second letter of the alphabet -- the first is too confusing, 'cause it's also its own word) because it makes me feel literary and mysterious, like a spy in a really juicy novel by my favorite author James Patterson. JK! Never read JP, but he sounds thrilling. Maybe I'll have a contest about B.'s identity and you could win underpants.
Party of One: A Loner's Manifesto, by Anneli Rufus
A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, by Haruki Murakami
Drown, Junot Diaz
The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories, edited by Tobias Wolff (finished)
Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress - Susan Jane Gilman (finished, audiobook)
A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf
Party of One: The Loner's Manifesto, Anneli Rufus
Re/Search #13: Angry Women, edited by A. Juno & V.Vale
The Safety of Objects, by A.M. Homes - to Alex
The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls - to Haviland
n+1 (literary journal) - from B.
JANUARY ISSUES OF MAGAZINES READ:
New York Magazine (4), The Believer, Marie Claire, Glamour, Nylon, Curve, The Paris Review, Esquire, Bust, Bitch, Missbehave, n+1, Women's Health, Lucky, Vogue.
Pre-vacay, Cait and I went to a tiny used book & music store on 72nd where I got A Room of One's Own and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The latter is likely to stare at me and beg to be read for at least five months, but it had notes in the margins, and so I had to get it, I love other people's notes. The others I got that day at Barnes & Noble -- Drown 'cause Diaz's new novel's been all over the year-end lists & award circuits and I've enjoyed two stories of his in The New Yorker this year (Alma and Wildwood) , The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle 'cause a commenter told me to read Murakami and it was on a front table and I thought "a-ha!" and Party of One 'cause I saw it on a table last summer and have wanted to read it ever since and thought now is the time. A lot of my reading choices are influenced by B&N table selections, which troubles me, w/r/t the ability of B&N to dictate cultural trends.
i. The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories
Though the actual ability to read a ton on vaycay is totally overestimated, especially when your friends are as fun as mine, I do find airplanes specifically conducive to reading -- flying from Newark to Fort Lauderdale, I finished, finally, The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories, which I've owned since the high school writing class I bought it for, back when I used highlighters instead of pens -- I've made an orange mess of Dorothy Allison's (BRILL!) "River of Names" and Raymond Carver's "Cathedral" (one of the best short stories ever written). Apparently we were only assigned a few stories in this book, school is awesome. I've got a few books like that -- unfinished that I carry from apartment to apartment -- and I always end up reading them when I've just finished something else, haven't picked up anything new & exciting that fits my mood and need something to take with me on the train right away, I'm like, OMG, "Hello, you! I want you back now, let's get it on!" and then I pick it up. I'm totally OCD about reading anthologies: I force myself to read every story/essay, even if I've read it before, and I didn't mind re-reading Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried," Mary Gaitskill's "A Romantic Weekend," Kate Braverman's "Tall Tales from the Mekong Delta" and Joyce Carole Oates' anthology staple "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"
It took basically all of December and January to read this book, especially when I got stuck on stories I didn't like, e.g., stories about Native Americans or Pioneers. I'm into post-electricity lit. The anthology was understandably heavy on men w/midlife crisises (and their corresponding issues with alcohol and/or fidelity), and stories related to war veterans. Wolff himself wrote one of the greatest war memoirs I've ever read (In Pharaoh's Army), so it's probs like the Best American Essays that Susan Orlean edited that was suspiciously heavy on birds and nature. It also introduced me to some new writers I want to find more of, through stories like Scott Bradfield's "The Darling" (which I read on the Metro-North, which means I must've read it in early December, which means I suck at life to finish it two months later, wtf was I doing all that time?), Robert Stone's "Helping" and Ralph Lombreglia's beautiful portrait of my favorite kind of dynamic -- the Sancho/Don Quixote thing, aka madness & its sidekick -- "Men Under Water." There were also stories by many other writers I've enjoyed like Stuart Dybeck, Richard Ford and Joy Williams. What a canvas! I feel much smarter now. Good call, Mr. Driscoll or whomevs.
ii. I Also, Coincidentally, Need a Room of My Own and 500 Shillings
I started A Room of One's Own on the plane and felt fully retarded for not having read it 'til now, it's clearly the basis for everything that anyone's ever thought ever, especially women, lesbians, female writers, and smart people. The book itself continued to fall apart (literally) as the trip continued, its pages threatened to fly away at the Tranquility Pool in Key Biscayne, and it's currently bound by a rubber band. Normally the combination of old-school writer + falling apart book + poolside = not gonna happen, but I was totally into it and read it in about 24 hours, even though I was in paradise and the pool was tempting. Also, it was short. Woolf addresses the issue of a woman being unable to write when she's expected to raise children and be financially dependent on her husband -- a burden which has lessened significantly since her time obviously, though not altogether -- and I found myself thinking about how writers, women in particular, are now expected to work full-time, maintain a social life, and somehow ALSO write novels, which's really hard. It's romantic -- the slaving away on one's laptop during the Metro-North commute, scribbling poems on napkins while waitressing -- but it really blows to have to do that.
iii. I Have Been Alone For a Very Long Time
My therapist right now won't talk to me about my desire to cut my social life by 75% (from perhaps two live encounters a week to 1/2 a live encounter) until I'm completely finished reading Party of One: A Loner's Manifesto -- which's billed as "a recognition of loners as a vital force in world civilization rather than damaged goods who need to be "fixed"' because she knows how I get with books. How I get = I want to change my whole life when I get into a writer's particular ideas. So anyhow, I finished it a few days ago (it was an easy read), and I still feel it's time for me to stop apologizing for my inherent anti-social behavior and not let people be mean to me about it! I'm a loner, I love myself, I'm okay, I'm good enough!
Combined with A Room of One's Own, I feel a large majority of my seemingly irrational or psychologically unsound beliefs about the world (and being a writer) have been validated through literature this month. I'm even more self-righteous than I was in '07. It's probs how a lot of people feel about chicken soup for the soul, but I don't like chicken soup because I don't like chicken in that context, I doubt my soul wants any either. My soul is vegan.
The writing in Party of One (which I began reading on a beach chair, pausing frequently to read passages out loud to Cait, like this one: "Someone says to you, 'let's have lunch.' You clench. Your sinews leap within you, angling for escape. What others thrive on, what they take for granted, the contact and confraternity and sharing that gives them strength leaves us empty. After what others would call a faun day out together, we feel as if we have been at the Red Cross, donating blood.") got a bit over-the-top and melodramatic at times and, had I not been in the author's camp, I probs would've found the defensive tone offensive (which I guess was the point) (isn't it annoying how I keep writing in brackets?) but anyhow I loved it, it changed my life, just like it changed the life of amazon reviewer I.B Cooper. This is probs how angsty depressed teenagers felt discovering Elizabeth Wurtzel. It's like "OMG! There I am! This is mememeeme!"
In fact, I've got SO Many feelings on this topic, and was SO inspired and excited about this book that I'm saving it for another post -- next week or the week after. Get excited!
iv. Adventures in Audio
So I listen to audiobooks, which is totally uncool. But I joined audible about a year ago 'cause Krista told me to, and I want to pack every vacant minute of my life with consumption-of-literature and/or archived episodes of This American Life. I'm still perfecting the sort of book to listen to -- nothing dense, important or complicated (you'll miss about 25% of it unless it's for a long road trip), nothing I'm reading to admire the writer's style specifically (no underlining), nothing that might suck (I can't preview it or take it back) -- but I think that short humorous essays are generally a safe bet, e.g., Jonathan Ames' I Love You More Than You Know and Wendy Spiro's Microthrills. In January I finished the brilliantly titled Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress (Susan Jane Gilman), a memoir who's name I'd run across a few times when doing market research for my own book.
The book, like most memoirs, didn't grab me right away -- I'm well-versed in the childhood w/urban hippies stories, and as I read in The Guardian this month, "childhood is never interesting" -- but I was fully engaged by the time she reached adolescence and adulthood and started crushing on Mick Jagger. Refreshingly free of man-hunting stories, Gilman's voice is honest, entertaining and quick and her stories were pleasurable and funny, like good chick lit. (There is such a thing.) Had I read it in print (I should've), I would've probs found it less cutesy than I did -- the reader's voice was grating & my heart is 95% darkness. Oh well, too late now. I listened to it while I walked, washed dishes, waited in line at Starbucks, did crunches, rode crowded trains.
If anyone listens to my hypothetical non-existent book this way, I'd be horrified.
iv/a. Every Girl Is Straight Until They're Not?
When I read memoirs by ladies, I'm always waiting for the moment when they go gay, even when there's no evidence that they will. I just like to imagine that every female artist at least thinks about going gay for a chapter or two, right? Even if it's not in the blurb or anything? I'm like: "This affection for Cindy from down the street is gonna result in nudity real soon, I just know it!" "She says she ADMIRES her college roommate, but she really means she wants to go down on her! It'll happen soon!"
I've plowed through many books waiting for the gay moment and then I'm inevitably disappointed when the heroine marries some kind patient sensitive man 3/4 of the way through instead of getting a girlfriend and riding off into the sunset. These non-female husbands generally have non-threatening names like Tom or Aaron and hover vaguely in the background pointing out the heroine's neuroses which he inevitably finds endearing. So, dear reader, SJG never went gay, though she was presumed gay for a chapter, which's something I guess. Wow, I'm thinking about it right now and it's quite pathetic, really, my attachment to this false hope.
v. Fire Just Waiting For Fuel
B. told me she was ordering Angry Women 'cause she'd heard it had a good section on Avital Ronell, her obsession of the moment, and I was like OMG, I HAVE that book! My Mom picked it up for me at a garage sale randomly last year -- it's "16 cutting-edge performance artists" discussing a wide range of topics "from menstruation, masturbation, vibrators, S&M and spanking to racism, failed Utopias and the death of the Sixties." Given a context (B. wanted the book), I developed renewed interest in it and kept it next to my laptop most of the month, picking it up every now and then, even sitting with it open on my bed and reading it. All in all, I read probs about 20% of the book, though I looked at all the photos, there were lots of naked ladies doing art and being radical about sex.
I heart heart heart books like this even though I might not finish the whole thing 'til 2010. They feel like glorious relics from forgotten times (1991) where I imagine (read: I know nothing) the written word was a vital and revolutionary force in counter-cultural political movements, like the radical pro-sex feminists of this book. I don't think people realize, in general, how hard these women worked -- even as late as the 90's -- to make things possible like women's erotica and Toys in Babeland as well as lending their force to the pro-choice movement and bisexuality acceptance groups. We're still fighting, obvs ... I hope.
Admittedly the only interviews I read from start to finish were Kathy Acker's, 'cause everything she says is magic, and this woman Linda Montano, who does art-as-life stuff, which's what I wanna do some day, except I just wanna do it for fun, I have different plans for what I want to do to changing the world. 'Cause a lot of this work is so fringe-oriented that it almost negates itself by not even reaching the audience who needs to hear it most -- preaching to the choir and alienating the masses. I guess ideally the choir will gain steam and revolt, inspiring the masses.
Anyhow, Montano and Teching Hurst ROPED THEMSELVES TOGETHER for an ENTIRE YEAR. They had a contract: tied at the waist with an 8-foot rope, never touch, and stay in the same room. This woman is serious, it's crazy, I love it. So that's what Tinkerbell and I are going to do starting now. ART AS LIFE, Y'ALL.
I love crazy radical feminists. I don't know what's happening to me, I'm becoming who my mother used to be before she bought a house in the suburbs. With her wife. And her wife's adopted children, one of whom is African-American. NM.
Also I read significant portions of interviews of Susie Bright (who edited the Best American Erotica 2007, which I was in. She interviewed me about it here), bell hooks, Annie Sprinkle and obvs Avital Ronell. Actually the last one I xeroxed so I could read it at the gym, discreetly shading the photo of Ronell naked and dressed in tree branches with my towel. I know I'm not supposed to read serious stuff at the gym, but I'm not gonna be alive forevs, I gotta maximize my time. Abstract theory kinda makes my head hurt, I have to read it slowly to understand, 'cause I'm slow. Mostly, the fact that books like this EXIST -- that enough people made its printing worthwhile, and only 16 years ago -- is inspirational to me as a woman and as an artist and gets me really excited about political and social change. In the 90's. Also, the Ronell interview was really long. I'll finish it though seriously.
MAGAZINES AND THE WEBBERNET (in brief):
I read a lot of magazines, often linking to my fave articles in the auto-fun so you can be my BFF. I'm really digging this new magazine Missbehave -- hot design, interviews of people I like (e.g., Ellen Page, Bjou Phillips) and a voice that sounds a hell of a lot like mine. Also it's great for collages (other great collage magazines include Nylon, Flaunt and Bust). Like Nylon, it's a magazine you really must hold in your hands, the online experience is incomparable.
Of the plethora of magazines I enjoyed this month, my fave articles were Nick Flynn's "The Ticking is The Bomb" from Esquire (the reason for mentioning "The Allegory of the Cave" in our vlog, actually) and Eileen Myles' "Lost in Canada," from The Believer. It's "an elegy to a lost notebook." Also, for anyone who's ever written in the second person (myself included) -- read this. You will need to read this, it will feel necessary.
I have a really bad habit of sometimes reading magazine articles almost all the way through -- through like ten "ctd. on page ___ ..."s and then for some reason, NOT reading the last two paragraphs. It's really unforgivable, I'd hate it if someone did that to my article. I also don't know why I do it. But when B. said she'd enjoyed the Flynn essay up to the last two paragraphs, I was like "erum, yeah, skipped those, holla, maybe that's why I loved it." Then I read 'em, and they were retarded. Cait, the only other person on earth I know of who followed my suggestion to read that essay, agrees. Skip those grafs if you read it. Just thought I'd throw that out there.
Anyhow I'm working on this habit. Like the Obama/Clinton piece I read in New York Magazine yesterday-- the last two graphs were the heart of the article, wouldn't've missed them for the world!
B. lent me Issue 6 of n+1 'cause there was a section called "The Intellectual Situation" that addressed a lot of things I think about alot w/r/t publishing and books, which I read on the return flight to Newark. You guys, airplanes are the best! Except there were these crying children I wanted to kill, I kept looking at Cait and/or Alex and making axe chopping gestures towards the children that their parents would've noticed if their heads weren't so far up their children's over-mediated assholes. Anyhow, the n+1's got a great piece about Gawker that caused a lot of hulabaloo in December for basically declaring its demise and death ("Gawker: 2002-2007") and a brilliant essay that uses the case of the Virginia Tech shooter to explore issues of identity for Asian teenage boys who feel outcast or unsuccessful for one reason or another, like the author of the essay.
I do a lot of internet reading, which's why my eyes ache all the time. B. says I can fix this by doing eye exercises like intermittently looking up from my screen across the room and focusing on a far-away point. This goes back to me needing a room of one's own, like a really big one, with long hallways. I link to things I like a lot in the auto-fun usually, or talk about them, so I won't talk too much about the highlights of my internet travels.
The Myles essay inspired me to dig around and find out more about her (why haven't I heard of her before?!!! I don't know?!) -- and I think she's one of my new obsessions (my other new obsession is Jennifer L. Knox, who's interview in Bookslut made her my instant hero, I want all her books of poetry now). Myles edited an apparently super-important book called 'The New Fuck You: Adventures in Lesbian Reading," which you can buy me for President's Day if you want. Check her out: Eileen Myles Dot Net.
B got a subscription to the Harper's archives this month, which's nearly as exciting to me as Krista's NY Times Plus subscription! This is total dork candy, like I flipped about the Atlantic archives going online for free, too. Since B.'s investment, I've enjoyed many delights, including a fascinating article written about Mary Gaitskill when Veronica came out (" Walking Naked") and probs the best thing I read all month, "A Lie That Tells the Truth: Memoir and the Art of Memory," by Joel Agee. I actually had to call B. right after I finished just to breathe and go "that was amazing." Probs how Lozo feels after watching a really good touchdown kickoff tackle or whatever, omg, you guys, the Super Bowl is on Sunday. Also, I got my hair cut, see:
This will help me read for sure. Also it looks totally different today than it did yesterday, life is so crazy. Cait and I went to that place where they have porn star names, I forget the name of my hairstylist, but she was really serious. It's so trendy, I might really have to go out.