Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

September Culture Update

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

As loyal readers may recall, I have a saying about this time of year: “When it’s September, it’s December.” In past seasons, I’ve enjoyed the rapid free-fall into the holidays, but this year I’m experiencing some freak-out. There’s a lot I’d like to accomplish before the calendar turns over into another year. But honestly, rather than attempt to get it all done, I’m probably going to have to breathe into some lower expectations. Sanity matters! As does my physical health.

Meanwhile, a culture update:

1) American-Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang. Delightful, surprising, funny, and smart graphic memoir about the author’s experiences as the only Chinese-American in his school—what it felt like, how he coped, and what happened when he attempted to date. His story is braided together with the ancient Chinese fable of the Monkey-King, which is not only beautifully (and hilariously) rendered but which pays off in unpredictable ways. I found the book perfectly composed, both at the level of the frame and the level of the story. Highly recommended.

2) Season 3 of BoJack Horseman, Netflix. A look at Wikipedia reveals that I am not alone in my assessment of this show. I set the first season down after a couple of episodes and didn’t bother to check out Season 2. But when someone I trusted recommended the third season, I gave it a shot, and I could not stop watching—and exclaiming wonder. It’s not just smarter and funnier; it’s deeper. BoJack is now just as likable as he is lost; his relationships matter, and so does the arc of every other character (even/especially Sarah Lynn). Plus, the storytelling has become wildly innovative, with techniques I’d never seen before (but instantly understood). No opportunity has been overlooked; every moment is densely packed with gifts from the writers. LOVED it.

3) A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry. Another rec from people I respect, and I agree that it’s fantastic and important; I learned a tremendous, crushing amount about India during the Emergency years. But I could barely tolerate it. As I wrote to a friend, the quotient of brutality and injustice essentially broke me, such that I felt my heart closing (and my eyes squinting). The title refers to life’s supposed balance between what is intolerable and what is beautiful, and to me, this book lands heavily in the intolerable camp. Still, I can’t blame a book for an honest portrayal. And the beauty is there. One of my mothers-in-law told me that she found A Fine Balance especially memorable; she read it many years ago and still thinks of it.

4) Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Charming, hilarious, heartfelt story of a foster kid and his antisocial foster father, on the lam in the New Zealand bush. Watch the trailer; it’s everything you imagine it will be, and then some. Emotionally rewarding. Muchos tears. A good movie to see with the hubband, if your husband loves wilderness, feelings, kindness, and teenagers.

Happy December!

Four Excellent New Things

Monday, July 18th, 2016

Two highly recommended reads, a stripped-raw and gobsmackingly brave confessional, and the funniest podcast I’ve ever heard:

1. We Were Feminists Once, Andi Zeisler. The co-founder of Bitch magazine (for which [full disclosure] I penned a few features, back in the day) writes beautifully, passionately, and wittily about the depressing co-optation of feminism by popular culture. Her point is that the transmutation of feminism into a “go-girl” individualist cheer, entirely decoupled from political action, leaves behind the actual societal shifts we desperately need to enact. It also puts the onus of empowerment on individual women, ignoring the structures that have been in place for centuries which prevent/limit/undermine women’s achievement.

At the same time, pop culture’s version of feminism (“feminism”) leeches the power from what is supposed to be a political and social movement by rendering it “judgmental” to call out specific actions as unfeminist. In other words, as long as any woman chooses to do something, we’re told that implying that she might be choosing against the common good is wrong and even anti-feminist. SIGH. At any rate, Once is a fantastic book and a reminder that the work of feminism is very much unfinished. It’s also fiercely entertaining, for whatever that’s worth.

2. I’m Just a Person, Tig Notaro. I read a lot of memoirs by comedians, in addition to a lot of comedic memoirs, and I feel conflicted about them. I find the genre compelling and funny, which is its point. I also love getting to know more about people whose work I admire. But it’s almost inevitable that writers joke lightly about what I take to be serious things, laughing over their pain. It can feel like they’re selling out their wounds for a laugh, which . . . I know, I know. That formulation applies basically to all of comedy, right? That’s kind of what stand-up is? And yet there’s something about the book version of it that amplifies my discomfort and sorrow. I wish everyone had the permission to let the bad shit be as bad as the bad shit actually is.

Cue Tig Notaro’s recent memoir. It’s certainly funny, at times, and it’s always compelling. But mostly it’s real and heartfelt and well told and emotionally present. She’s not trying to make her suffering smaller. It’s the opposite, in fact: She’s diving deep into the details of her now infamous Four Months of Extreme Agony, in which she nearly died from a bacterial infection, her romantic relationship broke up, her mother died in a freak accident, she was diagnosed with cancer in both breasts, and she had a double mastectomy. It’s all right there in the title: Hey, I’m a person with all of the terror and confusion and conflicts and non-knowing that everyone else has, and/but I’m happy to share that with you in my very specific and charming and humble voice. Beautifully done.

3. Elna Baker’s recent segment on This American Life. To say too much about this piece would be to risk ruining its many heart-plundering surprises, so I mostly want to recommend a listen. It’s not long, but it is dense, packed with moments of epiphany and wonder that you’ll need to press Pause on. I had already listened once when I shared it with John, and by the end, his entire face had cracked open and his eyes were wet with tears. I almost can’t believe the degree to which Elna Baker is willing to be publicly vulnerable, particularly because she is in the middle of what she’s relating; she’s taking us through a new, raw, and frightening crisis that’s currently playing out for her and for her marriage. I bow in deference and in gratitude.

4. My Dad Wrote a Porno. A podcast in which a thirty-year old British guy reads his father’s self-published pornography, line by line, and he and his two charming friends deconstruct it. This is the stuff of gut-clenching hilarity, and you don’t even have to feel bad about it, since the father (whose pen name is Rocky Flintstone, natch) is delighted. Just a few quick deets to help convey the beauty of this project:

  • The book is called Belinda Blinked.
  • The heroine’s full name is Belinda Blumenthal.
  • Belinda is a sales manager for Steeles Pots and Pans. Not Steeles Kitchen Supply. Not Steeles Restaurant Wares. Steeles Pots and Pans.
  • Rocky tends to use overly medical terminology to describe female genitalia—and/but he doesn’t have a clear understanding of the landscape. At one point, for example, Belinda’s partner “grabs her cervix.”
  • There is a sex-slave situation in which the safe word is “thimble.”

Start at the beginning, because the jokes build. And don’t listen while riding your bike! There have been accidents!

The Perks of Being a Bedflower

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

I wasn’t planning to spend the bulk of two weeks in bed, no matter how many times I’ve fantasized about it (flashback to 12-year-old me, huddled over a science test, realizing with sudden and self-knowing rue that if only I’d had control over my own life, my first choice for time-spending would involve bed and a book), but hey, my spine does things. And this time, it decided to go on a major strike. Not a petty little Day Without a Melissa. Nope: This was a full-on, massively coordinated, all-points-bulletin French transit strike. Nobody was going anywhere. For weeks.

I made the best of it. And by best, I mean I read books and watched shows. Here’s what rose to the top:

1) Carrie Brownstein, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl. I love the way Brownstein writes—and thinks; i.e., with a smart and sensitive specificity of voice, of herness. I love that this book is so much about how hard it is to tour, as opposed to the glamour that we all project onto entertainment. I love how vital and vivid and evolving her relationship to music is, what it means to her, what she gives to and gets from it. I love what she says about fans’ needs (that they’re bottomless) and how she has to protect herself from them. I love how honest she is about her difficulty in relationships; she refers achingly to romances she wishes had lasted, admitting, in some cases, that she doesn’t understand why they didn’t. Brownstein writes with a plain rawness that doesn’t apologize or pander. It might be defense, but it comes across as power.

2) Lindy West, Shrill. And here’s an entirely different way to be powerful as a woman: big, proud, and loud. This is an absolutely fantastic book, a gorgeous and hilarious and enraging and fiery manifesto by someone who is really killing it as a woman and a person in the world. I can’t recommend it highly enough, for everyone everywhere doing anything. I’m immensely grateful to West for having the guts and the willingness and the strength to keep advocating for human decency (also known as feminism) despite the ceaseless stream of hate that’s directed at her. She’s brilliant and glorious and should be elected not merely president but also queen.

3) Transparent, Season 2. I was an enthusiastic fan of Season 1, but 2? OMG OMG OMG. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the topic of Jewish trauma, and more specifically what Eckhart Tolle refers to as the pain body—as I understand it, the trauma that is passed down through a people over generations—explored so overtly on the screen. And it’s executed so incredibly beautifully, so feelingly, that it’s electrifying. Half the time, I couldn’t believe what I was watching: how smart it was, how careful, how knowing, how deep. Jill Soloway is showing us things we’ve never seen before but that we instantly recognize; another word for that is naming. And she’s doing it with tremendous compassion as well as aesthetic integrity.

4) And . . . um . . . Gilmore girls [sic]? I obviously feel guilty about this, given its Height of Twee, plus the fact that every single character—except, notably, Emily (and Dean, but he has no traits!) (and Jess, but he doesn’t speak!)—speaks in Lorelai. They even put patter into Luke’s mouth, which snips the strings of my suspended disbelief every time. The fast-forward function is important with this show, because there’s an awful lot of filler.

That said, there’s plenty of beauty, too, in the form of strong dramatic moments between mother and daughter that feel loaded and messy in all the right ways. The central premise of Lorelai/Rory/Emily is incredibly rich, such that even in the fifth season, there’s new stuff to mine (although again, retreading is rampant; hence the FF). As a binge-watcher I’ve also noticed the show’s crypto-Jewish sensibility, which is something that escaped me way back in the early oughts, when I would now and again catch an episode on actual television (but would always stop watching b/c of the twee).

One thing I wish: Why can’t they give Rory a boyfriend who’s worthy of her? Lorelai gets them. I understand that the show needs conflict, but I’d be happier if the conflict came from a more authentic place, as opposed to “Dean is a townie with no personality,” “Jess is a bad boy who at all costs remains mute,” and now, ugh, we’re on the path to getting “Logan is an entitled asshole who isn’t even remotely attractive, so WHY WHY WHY?” We’ll see whether I make it into Seasons 6 and 7, about which I have heard depressing things.

Another thing I wish: Less racism. (None, actually, would be my preference.) It’s not just the lack of diversity but where they place the characters of color. I just watched, in horror, as Rory “returned” the African-American chauffeur to Logan, saying, “I fed Frank.” Because Frank is both property to be returned to his rightful owner and an animal that needs to be fed. (Never mind that Frank was with Rory for nearly 24 hours and would have needed more than one meal, not to mention a place to sleep, not to mention relief from a legally appropriate 8-hour-shift.) HOW did the people producing this show miss THAT one?

Macbeth, Again

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

After seeing last night’s Berkeley Rep performance of Macbeth (with Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth, yo!), it was fun to cycle back to my blog entry of 6.5 years ago, after we’d seen the show at OSF. I was reminded of how electrified I was by the OSF performance, which was useful in light of—well, of feeling not a whole lot of anything after the Rep production. (Sorry, Berkeley Rep! The run is either entirely or very nearly sold out, so . . . I doubt this review [reaching, as it will, multiple tens of people] will decrease sales.)

I think the problem was the direction, which made me notice everything that’s weird about the play, especially the pacing. For instance, why is the annoying scene between Malcolm and Macduff, where Malcolm pretends to be abjectly sinful to test Macduff’s loyalty to Scotland, so freaking interminable? Do most directors just cut it from the play? I was also surprised by how brief Lady Macbeth’s hand-washing scene is (though: nicely done, Frances McDormand) as well as Macbeth’s “tomorrow” speech. And then there’s the fact that so many very important things happen in a flash and offstage—the killing of Duncan, the death of Lady Macbeth—whereas the slaying of Macduff’s wife and children, which is admittedly horrifying and important but which you would not expect to see, given the above, is dramatized.

During the Rep production I was struck by how unjustified Lady Macbeth’s murderous ambition is. I mean, maybe this is the sort of thing where Shakespeare is writing for King James, so he can’t imply that a man who became King of Scotland (apparently for 10 years!) would have murdered his predecessors, but wasn’t that just part of Scottish history? (I suppose kings aren’t exactly known for their ability to tolerate reality.) Either way, the play gives the initial impetus to kill Duncan to Lady Macbeth, and . . . I just wasn’t buying it this time around. She gets the letter from Macbeth about the witches’ prophesy, and that’s enough to convince her to plot the murder of a beloved king?

Funnily enough, I think costuming was at issue here. In the OSF production, Lady Macbeth was dressed in a velvet crimson gown (the only spot of color in an otherwise black/gray set and costume-scape); it was as though she was already bathed in blood, and she was instantly identifiable as a site of power. The Rep chose to go full-on period piece (i.e., 1040ish), with costumes in layers of drab cotton and linen, which left Frances McDormand in an Eileen Fisher-style getup (no makeup or hair, either) that broadcast vulnerability, not power. The raw unadornment of this look also siphoned impact away from the sleepwalking scene, in which Lady Macbeth is supposed to be shockingly unraveled and exposed; in the Rep production, she looked exactly the same.

Another costuming issue: With actors playing multiple parts, the costuming should have been different enough to avoid confusion. It wasn’t—to the point where it looked as though Macduff were in the forest with the murderers when they ambushed Banquo and Fleance. Turns out it was just the Third Murderer, looking exactly (literally exactly) like Macduff.

There was some silly staging, too, where characters ran in place, toward the audience, while video of a receding forest was projected on a screen behind them. The audience had to stifle laughter. Oh, and so many cawing crows! I joked to John that Macbeth was most certainly the Thane of CAWdor.

On the other hand, great banquet scene. I’d never seen it played both for horror and for laughs, and while I was a bit worried that the director intended otherwise (i.e., just horror, no laughs), John convinced me that it was a good thing either way.

An addendum to my 2009 question re: witches: Last night I learned from a sign hanging in the bathroom that King James was obsessed with witches, to the tune of writing a book called Demonology and advocating for witch hunts. (That’s . . . not great.) So, now I have a basic answer to “Why witches?”, although it doesn’t explain their aesthetic or thematic purpose in the play.

Bottom line: I wish the director had made a host of different choices. I’d also really like to see a production that isn’t done with such obvious genre tropes but is still horrifying. Like, what if everything were extremely stylish and minimal? Maybe a Calvin Klein version?

Quick Bites

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016

January, you guys. It always slams. Although (as one of my favorite t-shirts says), I brought this upon myself. Every year when we return from our two-week holiday sojourn, I feel an intense compulsion to Set It All Up for the ensuing year, inevitably working myself into a lather about stuff that has a much longer deadline than I’m pretending. Mostly I’m talking about taxes. I should lay off a little on the taxes. (Too late, Chipmunk.)

There hasn’t been as much time to consume culture as I’d like, but we managed to see Anomalisa, which is excellent. Definitely the kind of thing you need to talk about; there was a lot of “What the crap did that mean?” in the women’s bathroom (and in the froyo line) post-showing. For me it was fairly clear what was happening at a basic level; it was the deeper stuff, and the less obvious details, that took some time to get at. And John and I were somewhat at odds in terms of Is this Everyman or Is this Guy His Own Self? (John thinks the former, I think a bit of both.) Point being, though, great movie. Charlie Kaufman is a good thing in this world, even though he appears to be bearing more than his share of the suffering load.

I also read Pastrix, which I had been hoping to get to for some time and which I liked a lot. Smart, funny, vulnerable. I’ve got Bolz-Weber’s next one queued for the nearish future. Oh, and her Moth story is delightful.

I’m also halfway through My Name is Lucy Barton, which I’m very much enjoying, particularly for its almost subversive darkness. The tone feels yarny and homespun but also barbed; everywhere there are stinging little lines, or facts, that stop me cold. I’m curious to see where Strout is taking us, because at the moment it’s hard to imagine. I have a sense of what I’m wanting to see resolved without knowing whether it will be, or of course whatever else will emerge.

Finally, it had been years since I’d read The Line of Beauty, one of my all-time favorites, so I returned to that over the holidays, and it’s as gorgeous and intelligent and complex as I had remembered. Hollinghurst manages to create a protagonist who is immensely sympathetic but also problematic, such that we don’t necessarily question what he’s doing until it all unravels and we think, “Wait—that wasn’t such a good idea, was it? Any of it?” Except that also, he’s essentially blameless. His fault is that he chooses the wrong people to associate with (he sees people as things, and he prefers beautiful, expensive things), but what they do to him—and the AIDS crisis—well, obviously neither of those is his fault.

I also watched the 2006 BBC miniseries, and HOLY SHIT the acting. It’s three hours when imho it should have been six, so I don’t feel that we get the full weight of events. But Dan Stevens as Nick! Such a nuanced performance. So many finely tuned emotions flickering across his face, practically the entire spectrum of human feeling, so perfectly and carefully shown. I read somewhere that Stevens left Downton Abbey because he couldn’t stand the writing, and if so, Mr. Dan, I am feeling you.

That Time o’ Year Again

Friday, December 4th, 2015

We’re in the countdown to Winter Travel (i.e., our annual 2+ weeks on the East Coast), so I’m lumping in my latest recs with my goodbye-for-this-year note.

Recently read and beloved:

1) The Story of My Tits, by Jennifer Hayden. Charming, funny, moving, and beautifully drawn graphic memoir that is much more than the story of Jennifer Hayden’s breasts. It’s the story of her life, more or less, told through the frame of her breasts—and the breasts, bodies, and souls of her mother, father, siblings, husband, children, etc.

I love the way Hayden depicts emotional experience, using dreamlike and visceral imagery to express what can’t necessarily be contained with words. I felt drawn in and held close, which was a privilege and a pleasure. Tits is densely packed with wit and keen observations, sometimes seemingly almost tossed away in tiny details. (I wish the frames were larger, actually, for that reason.) Anyway: highly recommended! A delightful and delightfully warm piece of work, full of tremendous heart and plentiful skill. YAY, YOU, JENNIFER HAYDEN.

2) El Deafo, by Cece Bell. Another graphic memoir, this one intended for young audiences, about the author’s experience as a deaf child in a hearing world. The drawings are incredibly compelling—brightly colored, adorable, and fully felt, with a spot-on sense of perspective and emotional richness. And everyone is a rabbit! Plus, the storytelling is pretty much perfection; it goes right to the heart with its emotional clarity. I wish I could buy this book for every 10-year-old on the planet. YAY, YOU, CECE BELL.

3) The podcast explosion is for real, and the embarrassment of riches can lead to magnificent experiences that are all too quickly forgotten. In recent weeks I’ve heard marvelous and stunning episodes on:

Sometimes, it’s good to live in the modern age.

Okay, peeps. That’s it until 2016. Hope your holidays are warm and bright or, failing that, that you don’t too much mind being in the soup. If you end up there, know that a large portion of humanity will be there with you. And maybe go outside and look at the sky and think about how big the universe is and how you don’t really matter anyway.

I find that helps.

Franzen, Again (+ Two Movies Worth Seeing)

Monday, September 14th, 2015

I thought about not writing about the new Jonathan Franzen novel. I also thought about writing about it at length. I had the idea to pitch a piece called “I am a Feminist, and I Love Jonathan Franzen—Although Not Unequivocally.” But when I began the (inside-my-head) outlining process, I determined that the piece would run to book-length, since my response to Franzen is multiply layered and since he’s always writing and saying (very) problematic things that beg for a response. (Google “Jonathan Franzen Iraqi war orphan” and weep.) Even a recent phone chat re: Franzen with a friend (Hi, Sarah!) ran into the many tens of minutes.

So, here’s what I’ll say about Purity: It’s a fascinating read, but it doesn’t feel like more than the sum of its parts. Its parts are impressive and riveting and beautifully sentenced as per Franzen, but in the end, the emotional connection just isn’t there for me. It’s a convergent novel that doesn’t quite converge.

In The Corrections (solidly maintaining its status as my all-time favorite novel), the characters are so gorgeously and completely drawn that even when nearly everything they do feels problematic (Enid, Albert, Gary), I’m with them. The narration is bathed in compassion (while also finding plenty of space for irony), with insight after insight about family psychology raining down like a shower of illuminating diamonds. (And Franzen spends these diamonds so freely! So generously!) Plus, the structure is impeccably composed. Everything knits together deliciously at the end.

In Freedom, which I also think is a gargantuan accomplishment, Franzen is equally compassionate to his central characters; he dives equally deeply into their unique dilemmas. (He also manages to write about topics—obsessive college friendships between women that have the power to direct the course of a life!—that I had never seen written about before, at least in that way.) And while in some senses I feel that Freedom is the Vilette to The CorrectionsJane Erye (in other words, it’s the messier, more disheveled, less perfect—but perhaps more raw and alive—novel), when I recently read Freedom for the third or fourth time, I appreciated just how carefully constructed it is.

Purity . . . well. The parts are there, as I said. The flame of aliveness . . . isn’t. At least not to me and not on my first read. I find myself wishing that Franzen would choose another structure to work with, another way of writing a novel, that isn’t a convergent multinarrative. Stick with one character throughout? Tell it chronologically? Maybe don’t worry so much about sociopoliticocultural relevance? Because he has written this type of novel twice before (and maybe more than twice? I read Strong Motion, but too many years ago now), it’s starting to feel formulaic.

Two movies worth seeing:

1) Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Beautiful, funny, warm, sad movie about teenagers and death and friendship and art. I wish we lived in a world where this movie, and not The Fault in Our Stars (rendered unwatchable past 20 minutes via painfully awkward script—and I liked the book fine!) was the teen movie about cancer that everyone saw. It’s so much more sensitive and delicate and aware. It’s also funny! Highly recommended.

2) Diary of a Teenage Girl: Darker and more disturbing than the preview (fwiw), and/but really, really good. Committed to realness in a way I love. Integrates art and animation in ways that feel just right. Portrays a teenager from her own point of view, without condescending. Looks at sexuality without the lens of moral judgment but instead the frame of personal experience—i.e., what does and does not feel okay to the person experiencing the sex. Plus, fantastic performances all around, but especially by Bel Powley.

Hot Tub!

Monday, May 11th, 2015

After 13.5 years together and many, many visits to the hot tubs of others/hot springs/mineral baths/hotel jacuzzis, we finally have a round, silky, womblike bowl of happiness in our very own back yard. It only took half a million dollars and about twenty visits from an electrician. But it’s in there! And it works! And we’ve gone in every single night, under the cool and cloudy Oakland skies. HEAVEN.

Now that I’ve returned from my mini-sabbatical, I’m here to report on some recently consumed media.

  • While We’re Young: Noah Baumbach’s latest. When I heard the premise, I worried that it would be a small-stakes movie about manners (and perhaps more specifically/annoyingly, a send-up of hipster accoutrements—too easy!) But it was deeper than that. And more nuanced. And even a little surprising. With fantastic facial-expression acting from both Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts!
  • Second season of Looking: Better than the first, which I liked quite a lot. Alas, there will not be a third season; only a wrap-up special (which, according to me, isn’t needed). My quibbles had been mainly of the “People are talking a smidge too sassily to represent actual humans; please dial down” variety and also, particularly w/r/t the Patrick/Kevin plot, “Things are happening far too quickly and fake-feelings-y for me to invest.” The writers mainly resolved both of those issues in the second season, with but a few slip-ups. Solidly satisfying viewing.
  • Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town: John Krakauer’s latest. The story here is vastly compelling and enraging at the same time, so eminently worth reading/knowing about and also not easy to take in. I have complex opinions that in some cases differ from what Krakaeur is driving at, but I’m smart enough not to post them here. If you’d like to know, find your way to me privately and we can hash it all out in the comfort of email.
  • Mad Men: Yes, I am among the feverish hordes watching this beloved show slip through our fingers and into television history. I am perhaps not among the hordes in that I wish that the show had ended with the “Lost Horizon” episode, which was satisfying in every possible way and included one of the most perfect and soulful scenes in the show’s history (i.e., Peggy rollerskating around Roger in the abandoned office) as well as one of the most kick-ass (Peggy arriving for her first day of work). At the end of that episode, we knew (enough of) what was happening to every single important character, and everything made perfect sense. And then . . . last night. Sigh. I just couldn’t get on board with any of it—like, zero amount. I think I’ll just pretend it never happened.

I’m Not Technically Here, But . . .

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

I’ve decreed April as my (much-delayed and long-awaited) sabbatical*, so I’m trying to avoid le computer wherever possible. However, I wanted to slap a few recent recs up here before I abandon ye all until May.

(Lovely woman we met at the hot springs: “One month is a vacation. Six months is a sabbatical.” CORRECT. But I’ll take what I can get.)


1) So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson. I love Ronson for so many reasons—hilarity, humility, neurotics (neuroticism, heh)—but most of all for his vulnerability. In this book, he’s everything that’s great about himself, and the topic is riveting. And important. And sad. Highly recommended.

2) I’m Not a Terrorist, But I’ve Played One on TV, Maz Jobrani. Similar type of rec here—i.e., a smart, funny guy doing his smart, funny thing—although this is lighter fare, a comedic memoir by a very lovable comedian.

3) No Land’s Man, Aasif Mandvi. A light, quick tour through some of Mandvi’s stepping stones to Daily Show stardom. Fun, basically.


1) Am I the last one to the party re: Garfunkel and Oates? Probably. Anyway, they’re fresh and funny and surprising and adorable.

2) And the very most highly recommended of all . . . Season 4 of Louie, now available on Netflix. I’ve never been so tempted to write a fan letter, because this stuff is pure, gobsmacking genius. In fact, I’d say that it’s movie-making auteurship at its finest. There are three separate plot lines that run multiple episodes, and they’re all very, very great, but my most favorite is the 64-minute Into the Woods, in which C.K. juxtaposes present events with flashbacks in an unbelievably potent and breathtaking way. And the flashbacks! Are gorgeous and excruciating and meticulously directed and marvelously acted! Which is all the more astonishing because the actors are very young—twelve or thirteen, I think? JEZOO, this stuff. I mean. I am in awe. And I am struck by C.K.’s generosity, that he’s spending this genius on a TV show and not making movies out of it. Maybe it’s just easier, because it’s already in place—the funding, the crew, etc.? I dunno. Somebody should give him a heap-ton of money to make a movie.


New show at the Berkeley Rep! Immensely powerful and alive. First thing I’ve seen by the young uberstar Tarell Alvin McCraney, and I am most definitively on board.


You know how I’ve been brushing up on languages via iPad app? Welp, I recently discovered that when I successfully complete each level, I earn “lingots,” i.e., in-app currency to purchase more lessons. Initially, this was an excellent discovery, and I spent my lingots on a lesson about idioms. But very quickly, I began to focus on amassing as many lingots as possible without spending them. Because I am like that. And . . . oy.

A few points for clarification. First, this entire app is free. I am receiving great benefit without paying for a single thing. There isn’t even advertising! Second, these lingots are not viable currency anywhere but within the app. Saving them up does me no actual good. If the apocalypse comes, I will not be rewarded by having saved them; I will not suddenly be able to purchase more zombie-fighting technology (or sun screen, whatever) for having them. The only thing I can buy is more language lessons.

Nevertheless, I am ever so acutely aware that if and when I spend my lingots, I will have no more lingots. (Unless I earn more. Which takes a long time. But which I will probably end up doing merely by virtue of continuing to use the app.)

Recent interaction between me and John:

Me: [Sigh.] I wish I lived in a world where lingots didn’t matter.

J: [Silence, thinking.]

Me: Don’t say I already do.

J: [Silence, sweet grin.]

Me: Next topic!

Happy April, everyone!

Premature/Overdue: A Marriage

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Remember this? Prophecy, as per usual. Because here we are.

And this year perhaps even moreso than most, as my two close buddies are going through Major Life Events—a baby for one, a wedding for the other—which has occupied much of my extracurricular time in increasingly intense and joyous ways. OHMYGODbaby! OHMYGODwedding! has essentially been my state of mind for the past couple of months.

Of course, in the interstices, there’s trying to get even a few household chores accomplished, one of which is to get John a dresser. He has a dresser, technically—or he did, until my tolerance for its presence in our bedroom reached its limit. It was a beautiful piece of furniture, at least on the surface—a sleek, white modern tallboy purchased from the Crate & Barrel seconds outlet—but I became worried that, come the earthquake, it would fall on him and break both of his legs*. And then where would we be? With the hospitals filled with other victims, ambulances nowhere to be found, and me unable to lift him even an inch?

*Inelegantly constructed (i.e., from layers of thick particle board), it weighs about 200 lbs. Not kidding.

True, we could have simply attached the dresser to the wall, but a) we knew we weren’t keeping it, and b) don’t wanna make holes in the wall until I have to. (I have learned the hard way that holes in the wall tend to remain holes in the wall.) So, the dresser is out of the bedroom. In the interim, John has arranged his clothes on a bookshelf next to his closet.

Cue the following conversation, which we had Saturday morning:

Me: I’m thinking bank and farmer’s market today, but I don’t know if I can get to the Bowl.

J: I can do the Bowl.

Me: You did the Bowl last week.

J: Yeah, but you did it for like 10 weeks before that.

Me: I don’t mind doing the Bowl.

J: Okay, but you have to do calligraphy for C’s wedding today, so I can do it.

Me: In that case, I think I might have time to do a little Craigslist dresser-shopping for you.

J: Oh, no. That’s premature. There’s no need for that.

Me: [Chuckling.] That’s . . . premature?

J: [Also chuckling.] Yeah, I mean, we have plenty of time for that.

Me: [Laughing.] You know, some might say that it is in fact not premature at all. Some might say, after talking about this for several years, that it is in fact overdue.

J: [Laughing harder.] Oh, no. It is definitely not overdue. It’s most certainly premature.

Me: [Hysterically laughing.] Yes, I can see how we certainly could not say that it was overdue, not when you’re living out of a bookcase and when there is a giant space on that side of the bedroom.

J: [Hysterically laughing.]  Absolutely. Because we are nowhere near the point where the dresser is actually necessary.

M: [Doubled over laughing.] Not at all! We could go for years like this! With an open bookcase serving perfectly well!

[We laugh so hard at the naming of this elemental difference in perspective that we cannot speak for 30 seconds or so. Then, when we recover . . .]

J: You should blog about this. Premature slash overdue: a marriage.

Yes, my friends, that is in fact a diagnostic/organizing principle about our marriage—that what John would call premature, I would call overdue.

In other news:

The first essay in Meghan Daum’s new book is very much worth the price of admission. It is gloriously honest and scathing and smart, about her relationship with her mother and her mother’s relationship with her mother. I tore through it and can’t wait to get back to it for a second read. I understand that it’s the very point of the book (hence the title, The Unspeakable) that Daum is daring to say what so many people won’t, but I was awed nevertheless by the thrill of bearing witness to such a frank account, by how enlivening that immensely fresh breath of air turned out to be.

We finally got around to Pride, a movie John has long wanted to see and which delivered in all the ways we knew it would—i.e., it’s basically engineered so that you’ll cry every, oh, seven minutes or so. Still and all, in this case I didn’t much mind that level of manipulation. There’s so much to love and to celebrate. An entirely feel-good way to end Thanksgiving and launch ourselves into the slide toward the winter holidays.