Tag Archives: books

Why a Single-Sex Media Diet is a Bad Idea

These OkCupid guys…. I mean really. It’s one thing to mention that your favorite author is Faulkner. Cool, I dig it. Or Hemingway, or whomever. It’s even NBD to list a couple of books you like that happen to be written by men. BUT, when you go to the trouble of listing 40+ books you love because YOU JUST CAN’T DECIDE, and literally all 42 are by guys… for real?

They probably don’t even notice. If that’s the case, this is highly fixable. If they notice and don’t care/don’t think it’s weird/don’t think women have interesting opinions or stories…. well, that shit is beyond repair. Or rather, it is a problem to large for me to fix with a snarky message or internet essay.

But the fixable ones, the ones who are oblivious but open-minded, these are the ones I write to today, in my new piece for Role/Reboot:

Screenshot_7_3_14_11_54_AM-3Related Post: The last book I loved, The Flamethrowers

Related Post: Breaking down the gender of the authors I read last year

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Books, Gender, Media, Republished!

My Book Club is Famous, and other readerly things

First and most important, my book club is famous. Not People famous or CNN famous or even Jezebel famous, but it is Afternoon Shift famous on our local NPR station, WBEZ. One of our book club members is a reporter and captured some of our nerdery at last Sunday’s book club get-together.

A piece of her interview that didn’t make the air, but that brings me great pleasure, is our discussion of our “Rules of Book Club.” There are many, but my two favorites are:

1. Read the Book because, come on, this is not a wine club, nor a brunch club, though there might be wine and/or brunch. There are limits to what you can contribute and what you’ll get out of it if you haven’t read the book.

2. No Bookclubbing Before Book Club because we all hang out on any number of occasions and in any number of combinations before the designated discussion, save your thoughts and opinions (as best as you are able) for the larger group so everyone gets the benefit of your brilliance.

If you have book clubs, I would love to know how yours works! Ours operates on a nomination system (wherein, every month, anyone can nominate a book, and all the nominations go on a ballot, we vote for two apiece, and the winner is read).

In other random readerly nerdery, have you listened to the Tavi Gevinson Nerdette podcast yet? Also worth a listen:

And lastly, do you ever have that moment where you’re on your way to a new place, and you’re staring at your phone tracking yourself on the map and you’re like… it should be right here. And then you look up, and it it is right there, and if you had used the eyes in your head instead of the device in your hand you would have found it five minutes ago?

So that feeling, that is how I feel about this article about this Atlantic article about “the Netflix for books.” I’m like… um,… we have that already. It’s called the library. It’s actually cooler than Netflix, because it’s free. Also, it’s been around for hundreds of years…. So really, what you’re saying is that Netflix was a “library for movies.” Not the other way around. Respect.

Related Post: I talk about Lean In on the radio with Vocalo and the Morning AMp.

Releted Post: On the radio, talking about feminist dating.

3 Comments

Filed under Books, Chicago

The Last Book I Loved: The Flamethrowers

flameThese are my top five phrases from Rachel Kushner’s strangely compelling, difficult-to-describe, careening novel The Flamethrowers:

“We were a project, a becoming, a set of plans”

“In the way that all buried truths rushed along quietly in some hidden place”

“The important matter of small-town hair”

“Big mustaches, faces barbecued by sun and wind, suspenders framing regal paunches”

“Only a killjoy would claim neon wasn’t beautiful”

Wait, I know the word to describe Flamethrowers: incomparable, literally. I cannot compare it to anything I have ever read before. Sometimes I do a recipe-style breakdown of books–3 parts this, 1 part that, etc– but not with this one. It is no parts anything else, all parts itself. Most books I love occupy familiar space. I love them because they latch on to emotional pressure points, amplifying feelings I already have with new language and insight. SisterlandCurtis Sittenfeld’s new novel, is an example of that kind of book, that lights up pathways in my brain that I like to have lit up.

The Flamethrowers is something else entirely, mapping out new paths altogether, crafting new brain tissue out of matter that it roped in with its bizarre and unheard of magnetic force. It doesn’t fit into any of the rubrics I normally use, and for that, I loved it.

What is it about? Art? Love? Sex? Rebellion? Complacency? Mostly set in the 70s, but dipping into the past to add a little depth here and there, Flamethrowers follows an unnamed young woman (we only know her as “Reno,” so called because that’s where she’s from) who races motorcycles, falls unsuspiciously in love, works as a “China Girl” in a film studio, aspires to artistic innovation, and trips into a life more adventurous and luxurious than she really is equipped to navigate.

And holy hell, Kushner can do phenomenal things with words. I could have picked hundreds of phrases instead of the ones above that have lodged themselves under my ribs.

I also love the way she thinks; read her New Yorker profile. 

Related Post: The Last Book I Loved: Orphan Master’s Son

Related Post: The Last Book I Loved: The Sense of an Ending

2 Comments

Filed under Art, Books

What I Read in 2013

I read a lot in 2013. Some combination of new proximity to my local library, an enthusiastic book club, and my first shot at the quiet and uninterrupted solitude of single-living has resulted in me cranking through the stacks at record pace.

I believe who we read is in many ways as important as what we read. Which voices do we bring into our homes and absorb into our worldviews? Are they just like us? Older? Younger? Poorer? Richer? Colorful?

Some organizations, like VIDA, formalize this count by comparing bylines by gender at major publications. Here’s how my 2013 reading list shook out:

Screenshot_1_1_14_9_55_PMScreenshot_1_1_14_9_58_PM

Included in that blue chunk in the top right were new books like Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go, Junot Diaz’ This Is How You Lose Her, James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird, and Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanahas well as a few overlooked classics, like Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. 

Not that 40 is by any means some sort of definitive line in the sand, but I think it’s interesting that most of what I read (with the notable exception of Veronica Roth’s YA Divergent trilogy) was written by real live grown-ups. You know, not 25-year-olds.

Screenshot_1_1_14_10_20_PM

Lastly, was any of it true? I find that, as I get older, my preference for non-fiction gets stronger. I read more journalism, less bloggery, watch more documentaries, fewer blockbusters, read more memoirs, fewer pieces of fiction. Seems like the real world is plenty full of good stories without having to make them up. Cases in point include Behind the Beautiful Forevers (Katherine Boo) and Random Family (Adrian Nicole LeBlanc). I still read a buttload of fiction, but I only expect the slice of non-fic to get fatter every year.

Screenshot_1_1_14_10_26_PM

So what were my favorites? Read everything I mentioned above (especially the Boo and Adichie). For wild cackling on the train, I suggest Mindy Kaling’s memoir Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? For when you have six solid hours on the couch and you need an epic American tale, pick up East of Edenwhich I finally read and adored this year. For the quirkiest love story of the year about an autistic astronaut and his bald wife, read Lydia Netzer’s Shine, Shine, ShineTo deepen your love of great American cities, read Dan Baum’s Nine Lives (New Orleans), You Were Never in Chicago (Neil Steinberg), or Detroit (Charlie LeDuff). And when you really want to be stunned by what magic tricks a book can do, dare yourself to try Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son.
 
What did you read and love in 2013, and what’s next?

2 Comments

Filed under Books, Gender

The Last Book I Loved: The Orphan Master’s Son

the-orphan-masters-sonFifty pages into Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son I was like, mom, what did you and your book club get me into? It was so bleak! The double whammy of this grim story and the rapidly-graying Chicago skies was leaving me severely depressed. She told me to stick with it, and so I did, and by the end I was crushing the last 200 pages in a solid Sunday afternoon during which I didn’t drink any water lest I have to peel myself off my couch. When I finished, I was out of breath. And I had to pee. 

The Orphan Master’s Son follows a young North Korean named Jun Do (now that I think about it, I assume that’s an intentional parallel to the English John Doe….God, this book just gets more and more brilliant.) We meet Jun in an orphanage where, as the orphan master’s son, he decides who dies by hypothermia (sleeping too far from the fire) and who dies by ingesting toxic chemicals (laboring at the paint plant). And it only gets darker.

But Johnson is a master. He holds you underwater–you and Jun Do–only as long as you can take it, and not a moment longer. When you think you have to stop, when you need to put the book down and watch Golden Girls, or go to yoga, or listen to Beyonce, he lets you–you and Jun Do–get a gasp of air before you’re shoved back under. There’s a bright spot, something spectacularly brief, but it’s enough to sustain you for the next round in the dark. It’s Jun Do on a fishing vessel realizing that the multilingual voices he hears sporadically through his radio are astronauts circling the globe every few hours.  It’s the elderly woman at the prison camp who shows him how to eat fish eggs out of live fish to stay alive in the dead of winter. It’s the sharing of a can of peaches, a last ditch attempt at dignity and self-determination.

In the second half of Orphan Master, Jun Do emerges from a prison camp with a new identity and a mission to rescue the actress Sun Moon and her children. That dunking game that Johnson is so good at speeds up, pushing you down into an underground interrogation chamber and pulling you up into the warmth of friendship and love. The pace speeds up, careening over these emotional highs and deep into the pits of despair (yes, like Princess Pride). The effect is crazy-making, exhilarating, gut-wrenching…

When it’s all over, you’ll be sitting there on your couch feeling all the feelings and even though you haven’t peed in 200 pages, you won’t want to move. Just sit. Process. Breathe. Wait for the feeling in your toes to come back and your heart rate to settle. It’ll take a minute.

Unrelatedly, have you seen these uncensored Instagrams from North Korea?

Related Post: The Last Book I Loved: The Sense of an Ending

Related Post: The Last Book I Loved: East of Eden

3 Comments

Filed under Books

The Last Book I Loved: The Sense of an Ending

Sense_of_an_Ending_Knopf_200Hey y’all, sorry I’ve been AWOL as of late. Much traveling (four states in four weeks), much working, much settling into the new house, excuses, excuses, excuses. Hope to be back at this blog with gusto in the coming weeks!

In the meantime, have you read The Sense of an Ending yet? If you like Ishiguro or McEwan, this slim novel by Julian Barnes is for you. Quiet, pondering, reflective, and philosophical right up until the end (when shit hits the fan like whoa), Ending is, as my friend told me when she recommended it, the perfect book to read in one sitting on a porch somewhere when you’re feeling meditative.

On the surface, it’s a story about an aging Brit looking on his life and contemplating, with the clarity of hindsight (though not as much clarity as he, or any of us, would like) his relationships, how they’ve changed, and how his feelings about them have changed. The writing is beautiful and stately and plays with big questions about cause and effect, and the affects of time and perspective on what we call “history.”

This is my favorite section. As a history major, this paragraph exploring blame is basically like intellectual porn:

“We want to blame an individual so that everyone else is exculpated. Or we blame a historical process as a way of exonerating individuals. Or it’s all anarchic chaos, with the same consequence. It seems to me that there is–was–a chain of individual responsibilities, all of which were necessary, but not so long a chain that everybody can simply blame everyone else. But of course, my desire to ascribe responsibility might be more a reflection of my own cast of mind than a fair analysis of what happened. That’s one of the central problems of history, isn’t it, sir? The question of subjective versus objective interpretation, the fact that we need to know the history of the historian in order to understand the version that is being put in front of us.”

And this subsequent conversation between adolescent students:

“History is the lies of the victors,” I replied, a little too quickly. “Yes, I was rather afraid you’d say that. Well, as long as you remember that it is also the self-delusions of the defeated. Simpson?”

Colin was more prepared than me. “History is a raw onion sandwich, sir.”

“For what reason?”

“It just repeats, sir. It burps. We’ve seen it again and again this yeah. Same old story, same old oscillation between tyranny and rebellion, war and peace, prosperity and impoverishment.”

“Finn?”

“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

Ugh, and the language about time is so beautiful tooooooo:

“We live with such easy assumptions, don’t we? For instance, that memory equals events plus time. But it’s all much odder than this. Who was it said that memory is what we thought we’d forgotten?”

“Is there anything more plausible than a second hand? And yet it takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time’s malleability.”

Related Post: The last book I loved, East of Eden.

Related Post: On pairing classics with new classics. 

4 Comments

Filed under Books

S(Monday) Scraps 108

Screenshot_8_5_13_1_43_PM-2

1. AUTHORS: 50 places every literary fan should visit, according to Flavorwire. I’ve been to one…

2. OITNB: If you are not watching Orange is the New Black I don’t even really know what to say to you anymore. Anyway, Autostraddle has an in-depth look at the differences between the memoir and the show.

3. RACE: After Don Lemon’s awful advice to black people (pull up your pants!) Jay Smooth takes him to task on the Ill Doctrine and explains how pulling up one’s pants does diddly squat to solve institutionalized inequality.

4. PRIVILEGE: Doug Muder’s The Weekly Sift very articulately picks apart the “distress of the privilege” with examples from Pleasantville to Chick-fil-A.

5. BRAZIL: Suketu Meta (author of Maximum City) writes for the New York Review of Books about his experience traveling in the favelas of Brazil.

6. ADVICE: George Saunders, who I love, gave a stellar commencement address to Syracuse about kindness.

Related Post: Sunday 107: Millennial worry, mermaids, Amanda Palmer, etc.

Related Post: Sunday 106: Dustin Hoffman, sex education, Rob Delaney and more

6 Comments

Filed under Books, Education, Gender, Hollywood, Media, Politics, Really Good Writing by Other People

Americanah + Their Eyes Were Watching God

their-eyes-were-watching-god-zora-neale-hurston-paperback-cover-artIf you follow me on Twitter, you recently absorbed a barrage of book quote tweets with either the hashtag #Americanah or #TheirEyes. I didn’t intend to read Americanah and Their Eyes Were Watching God back to back, but now looking over the quotes I loved and the fervor with which I attempted to devour both books, it seems like an intentional choice.

If you haven’t rad Americanah yet, get on it already. This is Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s new one about Ifemelu, a brilliant, sharp-eyed young Nigerian woman who moves to the United States rather than trying to wade through the lethargy she finds in the aristocratic circles of Lagos, and Obinze, her adolescent boyfriend who tries to make a life in the UK. The writing is just flat out phenomenal and totally on-point, especially when Adichie turns Ifemelu’s eye to describing all manner of methods that women use to navigate the world:

“How important it was to her to be a wholesomely agreeable person, to have no sharp angles sticking out”

“Basking in the attention her face drew while flattening her personality so that her beauty did not threaten”

Americanah has thus far been, deservedly, drawing the most attention for its commentary on race relations in the United States. As a Non-American black person, Ifemelu approaches the knotted web of race politics with the dual lenses of insider and outsider. From that vantage point, she writes a blog documenting her observations about the peculiar and particular ways Americans of all colors attempt to engage with our history and our present. For me, I was drawn to Ifemelu as a narrator not for her racial commentary, but rather for her embodiment of the perils and pitfall of 21st century ambitious, educated ladyhood. What to do with all those smarts? What is useful to the world, and what is self-indulgent? Is self-indulgence bad? How much do we compromise for people that we love? How much do we take from our parents and how much do we leave behind? How do you make a life for yourself, and make it one that you are proud of?

Somehow, in the course of my liberal Massachusetts education, I zipped right by Zora Neale Hurston’s epic love story about Janie and Tea Cake, the mad dog, and the muck of the Florida everglades. Coming off the high of Americanah, so explicitly about a woman finding her authentic voice, Their Eyes was an incredible way to deepen that conversation.

If I ever teach a lit class, there will most definitely be a midterm paper assignment on these two books together. If you were recommending pairings of classic work with contemporary fiction, what would be on your list?

Related Post: Mapping the books I read and where I read them

Related Post: Live blogging my reading of Lean In.

6 Comments

Filed under Books

Everything is About Everything: New Media + Old Media

For book club, we recently read Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, a modern, bromantic, technologically-obsessed, Google-worshipping fantasy adventure in which millennial heroes and heroines are obsessed with the idea of Old Knowledge (aka OK). I’m kind of obsessed with Old Media (OM?), specifically it’s intersection with New Media (NM), and TBD Media (TBDM). I think this is a fascinating question:

OM + NM + TBDM = ?????

The combination of Old Media and New Media happens to be in vogue right now. If OM = books, TV, movies, music and NW = Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Blogging, etc., we already have lots of neat examples of these things working together. I’m having fun with mind-mapping right now, so….

mind map

Click to Enlarge

  • The Bling Ring - Sofia Coppola’s strange new movie about a band of overprivileged teenagers who break into celebrity homes uses screenshots of Facebook, sequences devoted to the taking of selfies, and texting as avenues to explore the meta “Pics or it didn’t happen” mentality of the youth (self included).
  • House of Cards - Netflix’ original (and now Emmy-nominated) political intrigue-a-thon incorporates on-screen text messages over images of characters in their own locales. Old school political mastermind Frank Underwood uses new school journalist Zoe Barnes to channel her demographic access into viral and conniving campaign messages.
  • Americanah – The new novel from Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie  is about a young Nigerian couple who follow separate paths (her to America, him to the UK) before reuniting in Lagos decades later. The protagonist, Ifemelu, writes a blog about race from the perspective of a non-African-American black person that becomes famous. Excerpts from her blog are incorporated into the book, and her online presence is treated as a fundamental piece of identity (as many of us now consider it to be).

The real interesting question, of course, is what happens when OM meets NM meets TBDM. What is TBDM anyway? Well, it’s obviously things we haven’t even created yet. Will our media become more multi-sensory? Will we control the stories we watch or be actors in them? Will the idea of created media devolve so heavily that we’ll all just read/watch real life as it happens a la Truman Show? What do you think?

Related Post: Past experiments with mind mapping

Related Post: Quadrant games!

4 Comments

Filed under Books, Hollywood, Media

Sunday Scraps 107

Sunday106

1. GENDER: Dude writes for Quartz about adding a Mr. to his gender-neutral name and suddenly having doors open. Kind of a duh piece, but reassuring nonetheless.

2. BOOKS: Highly useful and equally addictive tool that recommends books based on other things you’ve read.

3. INTERWEBZ: Fun game from MIT where you map all of your email over all time and see how you email the most.

4. MERMAIDS: Excellent NYT essay from the excellent Virginia Sole-Smith on mermaid shows.

5. ART: Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls is awesome in her musical rebuttal to the idiotic Daily Mail who ragged on her for an exposed breast (NSFW).

6. MILLENNIALS: CNN.com comic by Matt Bors about why ripping on millennials is a) old news and b) boring.

Related Post: Sunday 106: Dustin Hoffman, Sex Ed, and Roxane Gay on a race-based VIDA test

Related Post: Sunday 105: Bodies that matter, isolated islands, literacy tests, etc.

3 Comments

Filed under Art, Books, Gender, Media, Really Good Writing by Other People