Bookshelf: Weird Winter Collection

I’ve been digging into an odd assortment of books lately.

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The Summer Book by Tove Jansson was recommended to me by a hotel guest and I found it completely charming. Easy to read but so thoughtful. It’s mostly about the relationship between a grandmother and a her 5-ish year old granddaughter. Full of insights that at first seem to simple and obvious but continue to resonate with you.

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Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart was also pretty easy to read because he’s a compelling storyteller. That said, I found the main character—a self-obsessed finance exec on the down and out— to be wildly irritating. Which I’m sure is part of the point. But when I finished the book I did breathe a bit of a sigh of a relief to have him out of my life. To anyone out there who hasn’t read any Shteyngart, I highly recommend starting with Super Sad True Love Story.

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Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver. The Poisonwood Bible is one of my absolute favorite books, so unfortunately I think every other book Kingsolver writes has a nearly impossible challenge of meeting those expectations. That said, I’m a sucker for books that take place in the same physical spot but over different periods of time, so I definitely enjoyed that element of this book. Like with Lake Success, I found most of the characters to be kind of irritating in all honesty. I also had limited patience for all the, “Oh Trump won’t win, he can’t!” talk in both this book and Unsheltered. I don’t find the dramatic irony entertaining at this point in time. We’re still too deep in this mess.

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After slogging a bit through those last two books I was like, gimme something I’ll binge read in a day. Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers it was. Loads of suspense, switching between points of view just when you started to find one character’s flaws suffocating, some interesting thoughts on the world of “self-care”. For some reason, Big Little Lies struck me as more plausible, but I still thoroughly enjoyed devouring this book in a day.

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I’ve known about the Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel for years, and a reeeeally strange variety of people in my life love it. Most of whom read it at a pretty young age. It’s “prehistoric” fiction, looking a clan of Neanderthals who take in an orphaned Cro-Magnon girl. Lots of nature descriptions, lots of early religion. I haven’t finished it yet, but there’s apparently also a fair deal of prehistoric sex to come as well which was definitely what stuck with a lot of my friends, haha! So far it makes me want to eat beef jerky and go for long walks across grassy plains.

Bookshelf: Recent Book Binge

I have been on such a book binge recently, picking up books back to back to back to back. Some real gems too.

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The Last Samurai by Helen Dewitt. So bizarre. A real challenge at first because of how it's written (no quotations marks, the narrators interrupting themselves, very long and detailed excerpts about Greek and complex math and all kinds of esoteric subjects) but I'm glad I stuck with it. She must be the most particular and frankly, fucking brilliant person. I haven't read anything quite like this before.

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The Folded Clock: A Diary by Heidi Julavits. So damn good. She's confessional but not cheap about it and the writing is deceptively simple but so spot on. She makes meaningful essays about seemingly mundane things look so easy and it all feels cohesive together. I have her debut novel coming in the mail any day now and I am so excited to read some of her fiction. I have such a huge literary crush on her right now.

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My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh. I don't get the hype. About halfway in I finally read the summary thinking there had to be something more to the book than this wealthy, beautiful, young white woman literally sleeping her way through depression... but there isn't really. The build up to 9/11 also felt weirdly... exploitative? Obvious? Moshfegh has such an impressive list of awards for her other writing, which of course does not mean everything, but what I'm saying is, I'm going to give some of her other writing a try.

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There Are No Grown Ups by Pamela Druckerman.  I'd picked this up rather dubiously, worried it would feel like one long ridiculous op-ed about how the French have better sex. And yes, there are many pages devoted to exactly that, but I also found myself pretty damn entertained. There's some shock value throughout, but some real tenderness too.

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Motherhood by Sheila Heti. Liked it sometimes. Hated it sometimes. The whole thing is an internal debate about whether or not she should have a baby. I wonder what I would have made of it had I read it well before having a kid of my own. Some of it was an interesting journey through someone else's mind, but by about halfway through it was all I could do to not shout OH MY GOD DON'T DO IT PLEASE DON'T DO IT YOU SO CLEARLY DON'T WANT TO DO IT! 

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How Should a Person Be? by Shelia Heidi. I read her novel right after because, like I mentioned I'm planning to do with Moshfegh's work, I wanted to give her writing another chance, especially in a different genre. Except I'm not so sure how fictional this novel is considering the main character is a write named Sheila who has a deep but tumultuous friendship with a woman named Margeaux and the book is dedicated to a woman named Margeaux. I don't know. It kind of reminded me of "Frances Ha" which some people went absolutely gaga over for how "realistically" it portrayed female friendship but I guess i just haven't had friendships like these so both works left me feeling...slightly annoyed honestly. (And for the record, I am NOT one of those women who has "just always gotten along better with men".)

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Little Labors by Rivka Galchen. I haven't finished it yet because it is so wonderful I am trying to make it last. Much like Julavits, Galchen is a fucking MASTER at showing you what seem like slivers of daily life but are actually windows into your entire life as a whole. On the surface, it's reflections mostly about early parenthood which is unsurprisingly extra meaningful to me right now. But unlike with On Motherhood Too Soon, where I felt like reading it was too soon and muddying my own experience, Glachen's writing has instead helped bring moments of my own life as a parent into better focus for me and made them even more delightful. Or at the very least funny. I highly recommend this one!

Bookshelf: Late Winter/Early Spring

Should we come up with a better term for "late winter/early spring"? Wring? Nope. Springter? WOW. Both of those are terrible. What I'm trying to say is for the past month, you wake up in the morning and never know if it's going to be snowflakes or daffodils or both. 

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Any weather is good reading weather though as far as I'm concerned, and here's what I've been devouring lately:

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Winter by Ali Smith. I read Autumn a few months ago and was so excited when the second of the four book collection came out so quickly after. In all honesty I think I preferred Autumn, but don't get me wrong, Winter is absurd and lovely too. Lots of different points of view which is always a narrative fave of mine. A little less experimental in the language but still some satisfyingly unique voices. Maybe my only actual beef with is was that it was taking me a while to finish while winter outside was also taking its sweet time to wrap up too...

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I Am Not Famous Anymore by Erin Dorney. Erin was one of the Inn's Artist Residents in 2016 and I have been SO EXCITED for this book to come out! She writes erasure poetry, which basically means taking existing texts of some kind, removing words, and creating poetry from what remains. In this book Erin used statements made by the oh so strange actor Shia LaBeouf. It is such a hilarious concept. And so well executed! I think the poems would be rad even if you didn't know the story behind them. 

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The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui. I'd seen this around and had been intrigued and decided to pick it up after another Artist Resident, Grant Snider, recommended it when he was here this winter for his Residency. It's fantastic. Such a good marriage of global and personal history, such compelling illustrations. I can't believe she didn't start painting and drawing until this late into her career!

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Setting the Table by Danny Myer / Be Our Guest / The Customer Rules by Lee Cockerell / Front of the House by Jeff Benjamin. We have so many exciting things happening at the Inn right now in terms of expansion-- we've added a new nearly full-time employee, we put a new metal roof on the motel, we're finishing up the barn renovation-- all in time for the beginning of high season and so, I wanted to make sure that our service stays even more stellar than our physical property. 

I read Setting The Table when I first started dreaming about opening a hotel of my own, and it was absolutely worth a reread. It all felt so theoretical the first time around, and now, almost five years in (!!!!!) I can finally relate to it specifically with my own experiences of when we've gone above and beyond for a guest or when we'd fallen short, what it's like hiring and managing people... I will forever be a fan of his idea that no matter how badly an interaction with a guest begins, you get to write the last chapter of that story. And that in fact, the stories that begin the worst are often the ones that folks will go on to tell their friends, so you better deliver a great ending!

Be Our Guest and The Customer Rules are both of the Walt Disney hospitality training family. Walt was not only a rad storyteller and visual artist, he was also an epic host who was so, SO good at building a world for guests using all of their senses to delight them. Some of it was kinda crazy corporate and conservative (women had to wear pantyhose until 2010??) but I definitely learned a thing or two. I like their phrase, "Everything speaks". Aka, every little detail of your space-- from the smell of the hand soap to the feel of the carpet under your shoes to the conditions of the baseboards-- all tell your guests something about your place, so make sure it's all saying what it you want it to.

Front of the House was more restaurant specific but helpful nonetheless because we are trying to bring it up a notch in our little bar. All in all this book made me mostly grateful that we didn't open a restaurant, haha!

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For Bread Alone by Mohamed Choukri. I brought this one to Morocco with us (more on that trip in another post soon!) because I like to read fiction written by local authors when I'm visiting a place but OH MY GOD WHAT A FUCKING HEART BREAKER. It's an autobiographical novel (translated by Paul Bowles) that follows a young boy as he grows up under the terrible rage and abuse of his father and the grief of his mother who keeps loosing children and the general hardship in the streets of northern Morocco in the forties. If say, A Little Life wasn't sad enough for you, try this. Still, glad I read it. 

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And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I was Ready by Meaghan O'Connell. TOO SOON. I never would have bought a book about pregnancy and early motherhood right now for myself, but my mom had read it and when she finishes books she gives them away instantly like they're going to start rotting on her bedside or something, so I took it and ooops. Some people find comfort in other people's "unflinching" accounts of whatever they're also going through, but I find that it kind of... muddies my own experience? There are too many opportunities for direct comparison. All that said there were parts that were objectively funny and I completely understand why so many people would enjoy it.

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My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. Oh my gosh this is one of the most charming books I have ever read! I actually haven't finished it yet because I have been savoring it, little by little, each evening, but I've been recommending it left and right. (After it was sent to me by another Resident Artist, Dasha Tolstikova-- thank you Dasha!) It's a hilarious account of a 10 year old boy who moves with his British family to the Greek island of Corfu for a year. Durrell would go on to become a famous zookeeper, naturalist, and conservationist so it's about half wacky family drama and half keen observation of flora and fauna. I've never read so many spot on similes about water and trees. His writing has fine tuned my eyes for spring. 

Speaking of, it is suddenly gloriously sunny out after a stretch of gloom all day so I'm going to pop outside with this book right now!

Bookshelf: Reading With a Newborn

In the last few weeks of my pregnancy I read greedily. (See my picks here.) I was so afraid that I would never be able to read a book again. Ok, if not ever again then at least not uninterrupted again for a really long time, and not at the cost of taking a nap I desperately needed instead for a really long time, ya know?

 I did most of my summer reading in the garden. *Sigh*

I did most of my summer reading in the garden. *Sigh*

So I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out I could read with a newborn! I just had to read a little differently.

First off, physical books were just about impossible. Hardcovers in particular, because they're awkward and heavy and pointy and always trying to close themselves and in those first few weeks Amina felt so... delicate and breakable and nursing her was still a bit of a two handed dance each time. So I switched to ebooks on my phone and it was a GAME CHANGER.

Second, the only remotely sensible time to read was in the dark in the middle of the night while I was nursing and trying oh so hard to simply STAY THE F*CK AWAKE as she ate. So again, ebooks on my phone were the way to go.

So here is the pretty bizarre collection of books I read in the first month or so of Amina's life, as the rest of the world slept soundly around me:

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The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. This was required reading at my middle school for my brother but somehow not for me and I've always meant to give it a go. (He hated it, but I think we have literal exact opposite taste in books, so.) I wound up really enjoying how brief the chapters are, how much like poetry they read, and the fact that there isn't much of a through-narrative I had to keep track of. All very handy for blurry reading.

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson. I'd tried this two different times since it came out and was intrigued but just didn't have the patience for it. Figuring I had what felt like ALL the time in the world as I fed my adorable milk monster through the night, I was able to actually enjoy meandering through the history of a traditional English house. Really it should be called 10,000 Facts About English Sayings And Objects In Your House That You Can Share At Cocktail Parties. Or, People Really Weren't That Into Privacy Until Recently.

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick. Ok, first I have to say that I CANNOT with the title and I CANNOT with the pose and the outfit on the cover. However, the inside? Hilarious! Oh so personable, with such an enjoyably sassy voice. It's a kinda fascinating window into that awkward time in someone's career right as they're starting to make it big but they're not there quiiite yet and there's no guarantee they will be and they're still living with Craiglist roommates but also going to the Oscars... By the time I finished I thought Damn, I want to be her friend. (You hear that Anna? Are you out there..?)

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae. Steven and I really liked Season 1 of her HBO show Insecure and so this seemed like a good idea. I probably shouldn't have read it right on the heels of Scrappy Little Nobody because I was getting a little awkward-storied-out. Which is totally my fault, not the fault of the book. So I'm going to officially recommend it because I did enjoy it despite that. Though my god, it sent me back to 6th grade in some really visceral and yes, awkward, ways. 

A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn. In an effort to tack away from funny-memoirs-written-by-accomplished-women and head back towards the land of tidbits-of-history where grey haired white men like Bill Bryson roam in sweater vests with snifters in hand as the elucidate you on this or that matter I chose this book. Which funnily enough was also required reading at my middle school. (Yes, I went to a pretty progressive school.) But OMFG THE HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES IS DARK AND SO F*CKED UP. I mean, I knew this. I knew this! And like I said, I'd already read some of it for school back in the day but my god. Everything awful is so much worse when you have a little baby! I think I probably cried my way through three chapters and then was like, F*ck it, this can't be good for me or Amina. She doesn't know I'm reading-- she doesn't really know anything right now-- but she can probably feel that I'm crying and that's not not exactly the cozy, welcome-to-the-world vibe I'm going for. So I'll have to finish this one another day.

Seriously... I'm Kidding by Ellen Degeneres. Aggressive tack back towards funny-memoirs-written-by-accomplished-women gave me Ellen, because she always makes me giggle. And giggle I did! But this book basically felt like her stand up. And I only really like to watch stand up for like half an hour at a time, maybe once a month, so again, this was another kind silly choice on my part. So I actually never finished this one either but it so happened that by then Amina was no longer eating for such insanely long stretches in the middle of the night and so, I could suddenly stay awake without needing to read. 

All of which meant I could finally return to reading physical books at other times of the day again! So I jumped back into Ali's Smith Autumn, deciding to start from the beginning again and gosh I loved it. LOVED IT. 

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It's tender without being cloying, absurd without being twee, experimental without being so just for the sake of it.  think I've recommended it to forty different people since finishing it.

So there you have it! Can't say this is my Recommended Reading For New Mothers, but it got me through!

Bookshelf: Nine Months Pregnant Reading

I read approximately 10,000 books my last few weeks pregnant. It was the best way to keep my mind off all the waiting. Here's a few of 'em:

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Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. About the absurdity of office life. Could have been so mundane but was somehow hilarious. Told in the second person which can sometimes feel forced in other books but it was perfect for this story.

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht. I didn't read this when it first blew up. I'm her age and was working on my own writing so let's get real-- it was 100% jealousy that kept me from this during its initial wave of awards and popularity. At first it felt a little... overworked? Or precious? Or MFA workshop-y? But by about the halfway mark I was all in. It's strange and haunting and I'm now looking forward to whatever is next from her. 

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Obviously a tough read since it's about a family tree, half of whom stay in West Africa and half of whom are captured to be slaves in America. Each chapter is a new character which gives the whole book a delightfully fast pace for something so intrinsically heavy. By the end though, I felt like a few too many characters were living conveniently historically "interesting" or symbolic lives. Like they were checking certain boxes. Prisoners coal mining in the south? Check. Union organizing? Check. Harlem Renaissance? Check. Drugs and single parenthood? Check. Still, a satisfying read. 

We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irby. The BEST book in this stack. SO. FUCKING. FUNNY. When I read her first chapter, which is a fake application to be on the Bachelor (or maybe it's real??), I seriously couldn't stop laughing aloud. I think Steven had to leave the room it was that annoying :) Such an original voice, such a unique perspective. I've read a lot of memoirs recently but I don't think I've ever read a more bracingly honest and shine-a-light-on-it-ALL-no-matter-how-"bad"-I-might-look one ever before. And you just never knew what she was going to say next. I'm a fan of hers for life now. Kiiinda wish I could meet her in real life despite the promise of her title though...

The Readymade Thief by Augustus Rose. Fast paced, totally bizarre mystery that combines teenage runaways with the dark web and raves and DuChamps. Devoured it in one day. Sometimes mysteries just really hit the spot.

One Day We'll All Be Dead And None Of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul. Amusing, tender. I'm always interested in second generation stories (her folks are from India and moved to Canada where she was raised). Not as laugh-out-loud as Irby's memoir above, but I don't think it was supposed to be quite as outrageous. Her chapter on the cyber bullying she's experienced as a woman was particularly good.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. Another read-it-in-a-day affair. The kind of book someone would lovingly call "a guilty pleasure" or "trashy" but I think that undersells how smart it is. Wanted to read it before checking out the HBO show which Steven and I started the night before last. So far so good! Adaptations are always hard. 

Transit by Rachel Cusk. Just lovely. One of those books that's not really "about" anything. The opposite of books like Big Little Lies or The Readymade Thief which are soooo plot driven. It's that kind of writing that brings you deep into someone else's mind and points out the details of daily life with such graceful nuance that when you look up, suddenly everything and everyone around you seems more interesting. It made me want to reread Pond.

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta. I loved reading The Leftovers. (Haven't watched the show yet, probably because reading it felt like watching show.) So I was inevitably a little disappointed by this one in comparison. It was hard to care about the characters who were all adrift and making questionable decisions while  being mean to each other. Maybe especially so since I was pregnant and thinking a lot about parenthood and role models.

Currently reading Autumn by Ali Smith and What Happened by Hillary Clinton and LOVING them both! Autumn is surreal and delicious and so original. What Happened is well, also unfortunately surreal. Also incredibly important and insightful and even funny. Amina is posed next to the book because I think about how one day I am going to have to explain to her what the f*ck happened.

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Bookshelf: The Argonauts

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

A good line or two:

"How does one get across the fact that the best way to find out how people feel about their gender or sexuality-- or anything else, really-- is to listen to what they tell you, and try to treat them accordingly, without shellacking over their version of reality with yours?" (p.53)

"We bantered good-naturedly [after watching the movie X-Men: First Class] , yet somehow allowed ourselves to get polarized into a needless binary. That's what we both hate about fiction, or at least crappy fiction-- it purports to provide occasions for thinking through complex issues, but really it has predetermined the positions, stuffed a narrative full of false choices, and hooked you on them, rendering you less able to see out, to get out." (p. 82)

Got me thinking about:

Oh so much about intersectionality in identity politics (especially on the heels of events like this), about how Americans define family, about how I perform my gender, about pregnancy. WHAT A FREAKING MIND. This books has been recommended to me by so many different people and I've been putting off reading it knowing it would be a good one and oh, was it a good one indeed.

How inviting and approachable her writing is not at all at the cost of being whip-smart and subtly layered. 

Consumed:

In one quiet evening with the dog in the garden, on our stoop, in the living room... as Steven was out brookie stalking with Todd of Espous Creel who was on the hunt for one big guy in particular he knew had been lurking for days. And they got him!

Put him back too of course.  

Bookshelf: Homing Instincts

Homing Instincts: Early Motherhood on a Midwestern Farm by Sarah Menkedick

A good line or two:

[On being pregnant and living in a cabin with her husband in rural Ohio after years of international adventure.]

"I've descended from some imagined terrain of exceptional into which I've always placed myself, always sought to be placed, and become ordinary. And then I see that I have been ordinary all along. How, I ask myself, can the most common of all human experiences be so overwhelming? How can it be so transformative and yet banal, so widespread and so unique? I've always associated the transformative, the unique, with being jarred out of commonness, out of familiarity. With being out: exterior. But now... I range no farther than the centimeter thickness of the notebook and find transformation." p 60

Got me thinking about:

Well, fucking EVERYTHING. Because of course this is kind of my life right now. Being pregnant out in the countryside, content and present in a way that would be unrecognizable to my Thai tuk-tuk riding, Timbuktu-dwelling, twenty-something self. I underlined quite a bit of this book, felt personally seen and also imbued with empathy for others who are different from me in that way that only good books can do. 

Where Menkedick feels a gravitational pull home to Ohio after years abroad in China and Mexico and other far flung locales, neither Steven nor I are returned home by moving to the Catskills. (I'm from Brooklyn, he's from the suburbs of D.C.) We did not come here to live a bucolic dream of farm and family and simple pleasures. We came here led by my desperately hungry professional ambition to open a boutique hotel. We came here so we could literally sell that dream to others for $199 a night and in the process we, accidentally, oh so obviously, found it for ourselves. Menkedick spends a lot of good paragraphs wondering if this contented stillness she experiences in the American countryside is a narrowing of her life, if this is an artistic and moral failure, if this is settling for less, giving up. I've asked myself the same things. But with less and less frequency. Where the physical and emotional experience of pregnancy is a major catalyst for this change for her, my pregnancy finds me having already drastically changed from the person who, like Menkedick once "associated the transformative, the unique, with being jarred out of commonness, out of familiarity" and now finds it everywhere, especially nearby. I can only assume motherhood will change me further. How exactly I of course don't know yet. But I'm no longer so surprised by the prospect of change.

Consumed:

Outside in gloriously warm weather, my feet propped up in a laughably pregnant-woman pose. Pen in hand.

*Btw, thank you to reader Anna who emailed me to recommend this book!*

Bookshelf: So Many Books

I don't normally read a lot of books simultaneously. I mostly prefer to just dig into one voice, one story. But in tidying up my bedside table I realized WHOA; I've got a lot of very different reads going on right now...

Top to bottom:

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. Loved it! Short, spooky, evocative.

South and West by Joan Didion. I know it's just a published notebook of observations, so I suppose it's not really fair to criticize it for this but... it just feels like a handful of moments. I can't say I'm enthralled. Not a popular opinion, I know!

The Idiot by Elif Batuman. I have to admit I'm having a hard time with this one too. I'm halfway through and still feel like nothing much has happened. There are some great descriptive moments that appear but all in all... I'm gonna finish it though.

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich. So. Fucking. Sad.

I'm Supposed To Protect You From All This by Nadja Speigelman. Loved it! Was shocked by just how-- and please forgive me as I use an overused review phrase--unflinching it was as a portrait of her mom, her grandmother, and herself. 

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson. Reads like a bunch of blog posts, which isn't surprising given she's a blogger and most of this material comes from her blog. Sometimes that's jarring, but when you're in the mood for this type of manic, dark humor and fast pace, it really hits the spot.

Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles. Very strange. I've read and loved a lot of what her husband Paul Bowles has written so that's why I picked this up. It's always interesting when two writers are married. Inevitably you compare their work. Hers is so much more irreverent. Both seem to be intrigued by what it means to be a foreigner somewhere-- unsurprising given that they spent most of their lives as Americans living in Morocco. 

All Grown Up by Jami Attenburg. My favorite in this pile! I read it in one day. Funny, sad, and felt oh so true. 

Celine by Peter Heller. I just loved The Dog Stars so fucking much that I'm afraid nothing else he writes will ever compare. Sigh.

What To Expect When You're Expecting. Informative, obviously. And I've still got several months to go!

 

Bookshelf: The Tsar of Love And Techno

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

A Good Line Or Two:

They may begrudge us, may think us unambitious and narrow-minded, but someday they will realize that what makes them unremarkable is what keeps them alive. (p 83)

Got Me Thinking About:

How I never want to live in Russia.

How this is THE BEST book of interconnected short stories I've ever read, no hyperbole. Sometimes books like this can feel like the author was too intimidated to conquer just one big plot. But this, this felt like it had to be in this format. 

Consumed:

So slowly. Probably too slowly. At times I had to reread dozens of pages because I couldn't remember all the characters from the last time I picked it up. It was just such a sad book I had a hard time wanting to dig into it each day. 

Bookshelf: White Teeth

White Teeth by Zadie Smith.

A good line or two:

Once the car started to fill with carbon monoxide, he had experienced the obligatory flashback of his life to date. It turned out to be a short, unedifying viewing experience, low on entertainment value, the metaphysical equivalent of the Queen's speech. (p. 11)

Got me thinking about:

How I couldn't get through On Beauty when I tried it 10 years ago. The characters were just so fucking irritating. How these characters are too but at least there are a whole slew of 'em so you don't have to spend too much time with any of them!

How supremely intelligent and thoughtful Smith sounds in every single interview I've ever read with her. 

How damn good she is at dialogue.

Consumed:

In front of the wood stove over two gloomy days.

Bookshelf: Private Citizens

Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte

A good line or two:

"--or like the over-groomed beard a perfect emblem of masculine ambivalence emerging from a progressive subculture rooted in regressive nostalgia and pride mingled with shame not to mention sincere aestheticism performed through ironic mediums--" (p. 202) (Part of a HILARIOUS party scene monologue that goes on for literal pages.)

Got me thinking about:

When Steven and I lived in The Mission in San Francisco during the same time depicted in this book. Kinda riiight as the second tech bubble was beginning. Oh my gosh he just NAILS the scene. In a rather exaggerated way, but I think that made the reading all the more enjoyable.

How punishing authors can be to their characters.

How excited I am to meet the editor of this book, Margeaux Weisman, when she comes to the Inn as one of our 2017 Resident Artists!

Consumed:

Mostly right before bed which made for some manic, talk-y dreams. 

Bookshelf: Women

A good line or two:

But now it is occurring to me that by offering you these details about Finn, I could ruin things for you as well. I could tell you her favorite book of poetry or how she liked her hamburgers cooked, or the words tattooed across her knuckles. But depending on what I tell you, I could lose you. (p 6)

(Btw, I should really be highlighting one of the oh so many good sex scenes, but I don't wanna spoil 'em for you!)

Got me thinking about:

How Joan Didion talks to the reader in this casual, breaking-the-fourth-wall kind of way too. 

How I know only women who have been surprised by same-sex attraction in their own lives after years of identifying as straight, not men. 

How people are simply never ever going to tire of writing and reading about love and sex.

Consumed:

In one sitting. Knowing it was about an intense but relatively brief affair I wanted to experience the whole up/down passion, drama, heartbreak in one fell swoop. 

P.S. Caldwell's essay collection I'll Tell You In Person is also great. Personal, vivid, precise.

Bookshelf: The Arab of the Future 2

The Arab of the Future 2: A Chilldhood In the Middle East, 1984-1985 by Riad Sattouf

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(Please forgive the coffee stain.)

A good line or two:

That last panel, where he's called on and it turns all red. LOVE it. (p 103)

Got me thinking about:

How on earth he remembers so much about his childhood! And how so very good he is at capturing a child's logic and point of view without getting twee or condescending.

About what's going on in Syria these days... Ugh. And how I almost went to do a Modern Standard Arabic program there one summer during college but decided to go back to Morocco instead. In some ways I wish I'd gone, to have seen it. Not that this book's portrayal of village life in Syria reads like travel advertisement in any way but still. 

Consumed:

Greedily. I always have to force myself to sloooooooow doooooown when reading graphic novels. I'm a word person first and foremost, so it's tempting for me to just read it as quickly as I can. But what a terrible way to enjoy a graphic novel! The pictures of course tell half the story, if not more.

P.S. This is the second book in a series. I can't wait for the rest!

Bookshelf: You'll Grow Out Of It

You'll Grow Out Of It by Jessi Klein

A Good Line or Two:

My butterfly Agnes B. dress with pockets may as well be a ziplock bag filled with old shrimp. (p 56)

Got Me Thinking About:

The delicate dance of self deprecating humor. Too deprecating and it can be plain old sad and just depressing to read. Or worse: it can come off like a humble brag or whatever the self-deprecating equivalent is. (You know, like when a Cinderella look alike starts whining about being "fat" after one bite of a mini cupcake?) Fishing for a compliment! That's what it's called. Anyway. I think totally Klein nails it.

How much I never, ever want to do stand-up comedy.

How much I've been enjoying reading memoirs lately and how it makes me ask myself, "Why do I care? Why the fuck do I care what happened to Jessi Klein in high school art class?" and I think the answer is mostly, "I enjoy the way Jessi Klein writes about what happened to her in high school art class" followed, sometimes, depending on the author, by "I can relate to her" (which is really just a way of saying "Isn't it nice to feel understood?"). 

Consumed:

In front of the wood stove (now that it's freezing on the regular again). At the Phoenicia Diner counter, trying to not laugh aloud. 

Bookshelf: Pond

Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett

A good line or two:

[This is actually a whole chapter in its entirety called "Willful Thinking"]

Pads upstairs, scrapples about beneath ottoman, locates green flip-flop. Straightens, eyes bed. Thinks, hmmmm, stylish. Foxford blanket, textured curtains, suave bolster, a bit of broderie anglaise and so on. Then: have I had breakfast? Swiftly glances over the banister. Sees empty bowl and smeared spoon at the edge of the desk. Next to a bottle of Hawaiian Tropic. Factor 15. Thinks,

perhaps that was from another day.

(p 51, line break intentional as in the book)

Got me thinking about:

What slaves we are to traditional storytelling and how refreshing it was to read something that threw that shit to the wind. This is a novel, but not really. There's essentially no plot and Bennett zooms you in so close to the narrator's life and perspective, throws you in with zero context directly into the narrator's brain and it's SO FUCKING CONFUSING at first. But once you surrender, once you accept that you will not be given such pedestrian, hum-drum details that you think are so necessary like where/when/how/why then oh my god, what a ride. What a ride!

How some writers have such an uncanny ability to walk you through the perhaps insane, certainly illogical, progressions of someone else's mind in such minute detail. How they can make you relate to anybody. Virginia Woolf and Miranda July came to mind a bunch while reading.

Consumed:

Before bed, a little each night. Slowly. It's one of the only books I've read in recent memory where I wanted to truly savor it, make it last. 

Bookshelf: Today Will Be Different

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

A Good Line Or Two:

"Then, in a prison move if there ever was one, I reached across and rifled around Luz's desk, touching as much of her personal shit as I could"  (p 48)

Got Me Thinking About:

How much I LOVE a book with a strong a voice. Especially one that's self-deprecating, slightly unreliable, and funny. It's the most sure-fire way for me to feel like a character is real. It also makes me read the book compulsively because I feel like by putting it down I'm walking away from an actual conversation that might go on without me. 

How I've yet to come across a novel that has a book within a book with illustrations that I like. (City on Fire also comes to mind.) Most of the time I'd preferred to have simply imagined it. 

Consumed:

In one evening! Couldn't help myself. Went to a bookstore yesterday after an appointment (oh, the joy-- all you city people don't ever take for granted that you an walk to a bookstore!), bought an armload including this one which wasn't even for sale until today. (Thank you employee who shall remain unnamed at an unnamed bookstore for sneaking that to me early!)

Bookshelf: Gold Fame Citrus

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

A Good Line or Two:

"Punting the prairie dog into the library was a mistake." (p 1)

First line of the book. Gosh, I laughed so hard when I read that.

Got Me Thinking About:

Water. We live in the New York City watershed; our creek becomes NYC's drinking water. It's very wet here, it's very protected here. It might not always be. 

And Watkin's article in Tin House On Pandering that I read a few weeks ago which is what prompted me to pick up her book. What a mind! What a voice! You should read the whole thing. Really! I'll wait.

Welcome back! Wasn't it amazing when she said this?:

The stunning truth is that I am asking, deep down, as I write, What would Philip Roth think of this? What would Jonathan Franzen think of this? When the answer is probably: nothing. More staggering is the question of why I am trying to prove myself to writers whose work, in many cases, I don’t particularly admire? ...

I wrote Battleborn for white men, toward them. If you hold the book to a certain light, you’ll see it as an exercise in self-hazing, a product of working-class madness, the female strain. So, natural then that Battleborn was well-received by the white male lit establishment: it was written for them. The whole book’s a pander. Look, I said with my stories: I can write old men, I can write sex, I can write abortion. I can write hard, unflinching, unsentimental. I can write an old man getting a boner!

She can write like a man, they said, by which they meant, She can write.

Mic drop. Right?

Consumed:

In the house, as a wedding party joyfully raged on in our meadow. See, I shut down the Front Desk/Bar at 3pm when the ceremony began and didn't have to re-open til 8:30am the next day for coffee, buuuuut I did have to stay on-site and be available in case of any kind of emergency. And Steven was out of town. This book made for a wonderful companion.

Bookshelf: Ways To Disappear

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey

A Good Line Or Two:

By noon, Beatriz had written in her first novel, the heat in Brazil was an animal’s mouth. It would swallow anything to feed itself. (p 99)

Got Me Thinking About:

The subtle art that goes into translation. The trust that must exist between writer and translator. How strange and particular it would be to spend your life working with someone else’s art so intimately.

How I’ve studied so many languages—French, Mandarin Chinese, Modern Standard Arabic, Moroccan Arabic, Bamanankan, Spanish—and how it’s always at my most fluent that I feel most acutely my failure to fully express myself.

Consumed:

Also in the stack of books gifted to us by a guest who works in publishing. (She edited this one!) In a hammock, so happy that summer has finally arrived. 

Bookshelf: Modern Lovers

I love books. I wanna talk about 'em more. So I'm introducing a new every-so-often feature here: Bookshelf


Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

A Good Line Or Two:

Sometimes even the brightest people had truly no idea. (p 67)

Got Me Thinking About:

How growing up in Ditmas Park today sounds a lot like growing up in Park Slope in the 80s/90s. Which I did. Skateboarding, innocent debauchery in the park, the culture and excitement around new restaurants, diversity that you knew was shifting and maybe even disappearing. 

How everyone is the center of their own worlds.

Consumed: 

So easily. Mostly tucked in bed, midday, as a break from daily madness at the Inn. Straub is one of those authors who can write about a world you already know, but show you all the nuances you haven't taken the time to notice or think on.