Archive for March, 2010

Memories of Yore

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Is the name of my newest blog category.

Yesterday when I was writing about reading binges, I remembered the MS Read-a-Thon of my youth. It came around once a year. They handed out packets with pledge forms, and the idea was to get people to pay you per book. And then to read for a month. And then collect.

I did it a few years in a row. I even canvassed in neighborhoods where I didn’t live. (Bold, I know.) And what I remember most is, a) people pledging for the most part 10 – 25 cents a book; and b) then being impressed and perhaps slightly annoyed when I came to collect—having read 10 books.

Of course, the guy who pledged 50 cents a book (thank you, Jennifer Baker’s father) had more of a right, but still. Five dollars? In 1980? Was that a lot back then?

For MS?

I also remember fretting terribly over whether the A Very Young X series—coffee table books comprising beautiful photos with some text—qualified. At some point I decided that a few of them were okay, so in addition to re-”reading” A Very Young Dancer, which I had read multiple times and of which I could never get enough, I “read” A Very Young Rider and possibly A Very Young Actress. And maybe even A Very Young Skier?

Heh. A Very Young Skier. I was really pushing the envelope on that one.

Googly Eyes

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

You guys, I read two more books!

Have you ever gorged so compulsively on books that your head feels over-storied? I think in this case, so many of the premises are similar (middle-aged, middle-class white people in America dealing with ill health and troubled relationships) that the plots and characters are merging in particularly confusing ways.

I have to slow down.

Probably I need some kind of recovery program.

In the meantime, as ever, your humble reviewer:

1) The Believers, by Zoe Heller. Smart, acerbic, and highly entertaining. Scathing, actually—at least, there’s a scathing mother who’d be impossible to take if Heller hadn’t meted her out in digestible (deniable?) doses. Thankfully, Heller moves swiftly among three other characters, the woman’s children, each of whom gets his/her own plot.

It’s amazing how much Heller gets done in so few words. I was expecting dense writing (which I am not against) and was pleasantly surprised by both the economy and the pace—almost too brisk for me, since I’m a teeth-sinker. Still, a really good book about marriage and family relationships. Plus a scaldingly angry matriarch.

2) The Husbands and Wives Club, by Laurie Abraham. Fantastic reportage by a writer who spent a year witnessing a couples’ therapy group. Abraham is curious, humble, intelligent, and humane. And I could not have been more impressed with her research: She delves deeply enough into John Gottman’s storied work to discredit some of his science! Brilliant!

I can’t wait until John reads it and we break it all down together, which is a hobby of ours. Meantime, I’m putting THaWC on the Highly Recommended list. (New blog category!)

In other news, I have received my first request for an opinion about your life. Or at least, about something. However, it’s one of those questions that I spend most of my time pondering (How do good relationships work?) and about which John and I have considered writing a book (though I Jewishly fear I will be smote with divorce for presuming to know), so I probably won’t respond to it here. But if you happen to be wondering what makes good relationships work, you might want to read the Abraham book. Plus this.

Well, Paint Me Green and Call Me Gumby!

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Get a load of this. With the help of my excellent web designer Nico, I just figured out how to check the stats on my website/blog. And, like, I’m getting 100 unique visitors a day! And 400 – 800 daily page views!

Who are you people?

And how come you never comment?

Could you be mostly bots? (Hello, bots.) Seriously, though. I wonder if my hosting site does count the spam-bots that daily regale me with their insidiously vague comments. (“Love your post!” “I think a doctor could take care of this problem!”) Otherwise, I’m at a loss, since I’ve done zero by way of publicity.

In other news, I must give credit for the title of this post to a random commenter on TWoP, expressing his/her bemused surprise at last night’s Survivor outcome. (Don’t judge me.) It’s such a great line, I might need it on a t-shirt.

Love to all 100 of my fans,

M

In Which I Opine about Topics of Interest (Including Your Life)

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

I hereby announce a new blog category: My Opinions about Your Life.

Okay, it doesn’t have to be about your life. It can be about anything. But, the point is, it’s my opinion, and you’re requesting it.

I know, right? Everybody already wants my opinion. I’m simply giving you (plural) a forum to request it. It’ll be entirely anonymous (for you). And Internet-public (for me). God, I really put myself on the line for you. I am the Tyra of blogging, sacrificing myself for your make-believe future modeling career.

Let’s start the way all user-generated content begins, with a fake submission.

Q: Melissa, what is your opinion of Trader Joe’s chocolate-covered almonds with turbinado sugar and sea salt?

A: My opinion is that a) you should never name your sugar after something that sounds like a cross between part of a motor and Arabian headgear; and b) they are way the fuck too salty.

Love,

Melissa

Two Books and Movie

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Yesterday morning, reaching for a shirt at ground level, I threw out my back. Yay! (Ha. No.) Anyway, the result was entire day in bed. And the result of that? I read the new Lionel Shriver novel and watched a rented movie. Results:

1) Breakfast with Scot: Sorely disappointing. Such a cute trailer! So many promised laughs! But the movie was dour and way too butch. All those gay men who saw it at film festivals must have walked out when the hockey plot hijacked the musical theater plot.

We should have done the same. But we watched on, ever hopeful. When at long last the redemptive final scene made its flaccid appearance, I said to John, “We’re not going to cry now, because it’s so poorly written and because we’ve seen this coming all along, right?” And he said, “Wrong.”

2) Let the Great World Spin: (Finished on Saturday, but please indulge me as I shoehorn the review into this slot.) A loaner from a friend (thanks, Doug!). You know, in general I am against multi-narratives. And here’s why. For me, a novel is about depth. It’s about spending multiple engrossing hours with 1 -3 (maybe 4) characters and following them through a series of events that takes hundreds of pages to tell. If, instead, you want to present me with 12 characters, each of whom gets anywhere from 10 – 40 pages, I would advise writing a series of short stories.

LtGWS is well written (if humorless), with impressive insights into character and plenty of lively turns of phrase. I enjoyed the first 100 pages, when I thought we’d be returning to the people we’d taken time to know. And we do return to them—in passing, through the eyes of others. So every 20 pages, we’re required to meet someone new and become interested in their story. Feh. I wasn’t. (Sorry, Doug!)

3) So Much for That: Oh, Lionel. You guys know how she and I have this really conflicted relationship? (She doesn’t know, but you do.) Her latest novel may be the least successful of the lot—written, apparently, as a treatise on a theme instead of an exploration of character. The point is apparently to novelize the misery that is the current health care/insurance system in the US (Although, new law! Hooray!) and, I mean, who doesn’t know? Does anyone not know?

Plus, a novel is not an argument. At least, I don’t think it should be. A novel is a world. A novel is the world, in a sense. And as one of Shriver’s great strengths is creating indelible characters, it’s surprising that she would ever resort to using them as mouthpieces. Resort she does.

Other issues: She breaks #2 of my cardinal rules! The cheapest one! And she has a character, with no build-up or warning, very conveniently shoot himself in the head. Cheaper still! She also has a character, out of character, undergo penis enlargement surgery. AND she ends the novel with a fantasy that is somehow supposed to wash over the grief of four deaths.

I wasn’t buying it.

Though here is one thing about Shriver to appreciate: She may be obsessed with money (she is obsessed with money), but because so often in popular media, characters with little or no apparent income live lavishly without once mentioning money, it’s nice to have a writer get real about finances.

On the negative side, Shriver is also obsessed with physical appearance. Her women are always, always thin, unless they’re subservient cows, for whom she has nothing but contempt.

Sigh.

Also [SPOILER ALERT], if you’re going to read one novel in which a 50-year-old woman dies hideously of cancer, I don’t recommend¬† following that up with another where the exact same thing happens.

On Shushing, Plus

Friday, March 19th, 2010

I’m a pretty big fan of Linda Holmes, the NPR pop culture blogger who got her cult-crit writing start on Television without Pity (nom de plume: Miss Alli), recapping The Amazing Race, Survivor, and various flash-in-the-pan delights like Married by America. (That show was its own kind of death.)

Back in the day, I would sometimes watch a series Holmes covered just to read her witty recap. And these days I’m a regular consumer of Monkey See. She’s smart; she’s funny; and she knows, as John would say, a kabillion amount about pop culture. Way more than I’ll ever know, or need to know, or want to know—but from her I’m usually interested.

Once in a while, though, Holmes writes something that feels not entirely honest. As in, her recent disquisition on movie-theater shushing. Her basic point: Please don’t talk while the movie is running, especially if it’s a serious movie, because then she’ll have to shush you. And she hates shushing you.

Okay, sure. I’m with her. But then she says that if you shame her for shushing you, she won’t be ashamed. And . . . I don’t buy it. My sense is that she will be ashamed. That’s why it’s so hard for her. Because she’s used to being the shushing nerd, and she hates that role.

And, you know, ME, TOO. I hate being the shusher, too! But years ago, I learned a special trick from a friend, and it almost always works, and today I’m going to share it with the world. (All ten of you.)

And that is this: If you ask nicely, there’s nothing to be ashamed about! And nobody sasses back! It’s like, instead of doing what Holmes did (as per her own account), which was—yep—shaming the talkers, just say, in your nice voice, “Hi, there. Would you please be a little quieter?” It’s feel-goodness all around.

In other news, is anyone watching Kell on Earth? My beloved friend Vicky, who tapes cable television for me, has added this show to my queue. And . . . I need to detox. Truly and for reals. Toxins must exit my body in some form. Maybe a cleanse? Anyone?

Chronic City

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Minutes before leaving for Tahoe I eked out a photo finish of Jonathan Lethem’s new novel. My impression was, in a nutshell: page after page of walloping, head-smacking, sentence-level genius plus multiple conceptual coups in the service of . . . what? A theme that feels pretty much played out.

So, in the end, a feeling of falling from a pretty great height with an empty-ish thud.

Still and all. It’s worth it, because the prose is gorgeous, and those conceptual coups are truly mind-blowing, like unforgettably surprising and magical and breathtaking and wish-I’d-thought-of-that good.

Those Brooklyn Jonathans. They have some very powerful noodles.

Exit, Complaining

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

I’m about to remove myself from los interwebs for a few days (Tahoe, LOOK OUT), so I thought I’d leave you with two niggling complaints. Now you can get all riled up about things you can’t control, just like me!

What’s bugging me lately:

1) Women whose email accounts are under their husband’s name. I do a bunch of social media work for one of my clients, and in that role I interact quite a bit with customers. I’ve been shocked by how common it is for (presumably) married women to use an email account with their husband’s name on it. I’m forever getting emails from some dude or other who turns out to be a woman with the same last name.

WOMEN. For the love of personhood. CLAIM YOUR NAME.

I have no issue with a shared account, btw. But if it is a shared account, why does it have the man’s name on it?

2) “Eliminate expectorating.” Easy target, but the YMCA has a notice up about how we’re all banding together to prevent the spread of H1N1, yadda yadda. And one of the items is “Eliminate expectorating (spitting) in the pool.”

You can tell somebody missed the E.B. White lesson about writing simply, although somewhere in his/her subconscious a little voice pleaded for at least a parenthetical definition of “expectorate.” Not enough to get the message across, apparently: On all the notices in the women’s locker room, someone has crossed out “Eliminate” and written “Not.” So now we have “Not Eliminate expectorating (spitting).”

Oy. Whatever happened to “Don’t spit”?

Glowment

Monday, March 8th, 2010

So, we had the Academy Awards. Feh. Any hope of investment I might have had was quashed when Where the Wild Things Are, hands down the best non-obscure film of 2009, failed to get a single nomination. Not even for costumes.

Academy, I revile you.

On the other hand, any day that James Cameron does not win Best Director is a good day for me. And since it takes him 3-4 years to heave one of his teeming leviathans from the depths, I’m probably safe for another few Oscar ceremonies.

In other news, when I rousted myself from the four-hour reclinathon that is Watching the Oscars, I discovered a rather fetchingly dewy version of myself in the mirror. My hair had greased itself into a perfect sort of fashion-do, and my skin had a rosy glow.

M: Hey, Sweetie. I look kind of cute right now.

J: Um, you always look cute.

M: Okay, no. That is the opposite of true.

J: No, really.

M: No, really, YOU. I’m having a moment.

J: Hmm.

M: Look at me. I don’t get it, but I’m glowing.

J: You’re always glowing.

M: Oh my God! I’m having a glowment! That’s what this is!

J: [Chuckling.]

M: That is a very good word I just made up.

J: That is a very good word.

M: You know, word coinage is not the easiest job on the planet. I really scored with this one.

J: Yeah.

M: I could, like, market it. For a facial cream or something.

J: [Groan.]

M: Okay, yeah. Maybe we should just keep it to ourselves.

Lit

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

I think we can all agree that I am on a Good Book Run. Yesterday I finished Mary Karr’s most recent memoir, Lit, having devoured her first two in prelude.

This was my favorite. Partly, I think, it’s the content: There’s little as satisfying as a redemption arc, and the story here is addiction/recovery. Also, recovery is notoriously hard to capture in interesting language, especially since it comes prepackaged in a familiar lexicon.

AND so often in recovery narratives, the drama of addiction overpowers the serenity of sobriety. There’s a bit of that here, but in general Karr-of-the-crackerjack-Texas-wit finds surprising and electric ways to talk about surrender.

One oddity: She can’t stop apologizing for her spiritual life. She must mean to make her book more palatable to the all-head, no-body academics she lives and works among, to dial their Freak Detectors back to Low for as long as it takes to get through the testifying. But it feels skittish.

Also, Karr occasionally breaks through the fourth wall to give her reader instructions, including, basically, “This next part is about my childhood, and if you’ve read my other books, skip it.” What is that? Embarrassment? The section turns out to be only a few paragraphs, all helpful reminders, even to someone who read both previous books in the last month.

Which reminds me: What Karr doesn’t apologize for is repeating verbatim nuggets from the other memoirs, stand-out phrases that capture concepts and people. And that, too, surprised me. For someone with such a sharp and original voice, I’d think it’d be a point of pride to avoid repetition.Though maybe, it occurs to me now, they’re Homeric epithets? But she’d need to use them more, in that case.

All of which leads me to feel: One more revision. With a better editor.

However. Still a fantastic book.