Category Archives: books

A Sunday

1. The dog and I just played a vigorous game of reverse-fetch, in which she dropped her orange rubber ball off the third-floor deck, watched it bounce neatly off the wood slats of the second-floor deck and onto the roof of my car, and then skittered down the stairs to press her face against the staircase window just in time to watch me run through traffic and fetch the still-rolling ball from a neighbor’s yard. According to Facebook, everyone else in the world is watching football like normal human beings.

2. I recently found my way out of a Phillip Roth Time Vortex (six weeks of slogging through The Human Stain, ten pages at a time, refusing to a) abandon the book or b) stop complaining about the book) and to cleanse my reading palate I very quickly and methodically read Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending this afternoon, and now I feel like my literary karma has been righted once again. What a book!

3. I liked this quote best from Bill Clinton’s long, sweaty, and passionate DNC speech last week, especially after I found out it was off-script:

Why does cooperation work better than constant conflict? Because nobody’s right all the time, and a broken clock is right twice a day. And every one of us — every one of us and every one of them, we’re compelled to spend our fleeting lives between those two extremes, knowing we’re never going to be right all the time and hoping we’re right more than twice a day.


Elizabeth Strout is Love

I’ve tricked the awesome Paper Darts magazine into letting me guest blog for them now and then, and this week I have a piece up about why you are in love with Elizabeth Strout.

If you haven’t read any of her three magical novels, then you must first deliver a swift flick to the side of your head, and then rush out to your local bookstore and pick them up. Now!

Monkey Mind

Just finished Daniel Smith’s Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety (and no, I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve had it on pre-order for two months and then frantically read the entire thing in a day), and three things came to mind:

  1. It’s not easy to write well about anxiety (see any online mental-health message-board for an illustration of this point) because one of the key characteristics of chronic nervousness is that it messes with your focus, ability to concentrate, finish a thought, complete an anecdote, etc. But Smith is nothing if not a lifelong anxiety connoisseur, and he’s proven with this memoir that there exists within us another self (outside the freaked out, bumbling, cuticle-gnawing self) that is capable of rising out of the gristle and articulating the humor and grace and even elegance in the messy knot we call human life. So: Human > Anxiety. It’s a nice equation that this book proves.
  2.  It blows my mind that the world isn’t 100% Buddhist, because when it comes down to it, there is not a single human being who doesn’t understand that the concept of mindfulness is the central ingredient to understanding (and thus coming to terms with) human suffering. In the book, Smith calls his mindfulness practice and thought watching “cognitive behavioral therapy” because that’s what his therapist called it. I’d probably call it meditation, minus the cushion and the intimidating posture.
  3. Buy this book, in case I haven’t been clear. Extra bonus points if you buy it from an independent bookstore near you. (Karma points = +500)


Welcome to summer, you say? Welcome to June, more specifically, and it’s currently 78 degrees outside, which is still not an agreeable temperature for the sensitive cauliflower plant, who has been hunched over on the porch like an old lady with an afghan wrapped around her shoulders, begging us to please bring her inside where she can rest on a proper feather mattress, like the poodle does all day long?

Why, thank you for having me. Here is my advice for the day: quit your job (you never liked the commute anyway, or Paula in Accounting, who clicks her teeth together all day), stretch out on the couch with Elizabeth Strout’s Abide with Me, and read while you eat Pringles chips in that very efficient way where you pull a stack of seven out and then slide them off one by one on your tongue like communion hosts. And then seven more, seven more, etc., until the book is finished, and you can’t decide whether the rolling nausea you feel in your gut is due to the envy you have of Strout’s magical ability to slide between narrative points of view so effortlessly, or from the 78 chips you just ate (not counting the jagged crumbs at the bottom of the tube, which you poured into your mouth with no shame whatsoever).

Also on your to-do list for the week: read Rachel Dratch’s new memoir (even better if you buy the audiobook, so you can hear her read it herself. There are a few jokes that are way funnier when they’re hollered).

omg, awp

Fresh from the AWP conference in Chicago, where I listened to Marilynne Robinson talk about fiction and morality, gazed lovingly at Starlee Kine from the back of a packed panel on radio storytelling, crammed a tote bag full of postcards and journals and pens, ate not enough food and not enough water, and stayed up far, far past my bedtime every night.

Shared a pleasant train ride back up north with an enthusiastic man who announced that he absolutely loves the train because it is so relaxing, before gathering his laptop and power cords up and bidding me adieu for the lounge car, where he leaned back in a booth and slept with his mouth open, snoring (this I know because I passed him several times on my way to get water) for the entire 8-hour ride. He returned to our seat thirty minutes before the train was scheduled to arrive in Minneapolis, pumped my hand and said it was wonderful to have met me, best of luck, and then he put on his hat and stood at the door, waiting for the train to pull into the station while the rest of us turned back to our Words with Friends.

The AWP conference was okay, a little frantic and disorganized (schedule Dan Chaon to speak in a room that can only hold 25 people and you will have a clusterfuck of hatted literary types struggling to push through the door), but it was pleasant to be in Chicago on its birthday and see old friends and laugh hysterically because we were eating dinner at 1:00 in the morning, and we’re thirty years old, can you believe it?

Happy Monday.