Sunday, October 21, 2012

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

I bought this book because I had a couple of hours to kill and am already reading Middlesex, but didn't have it with me, and didn't want to be reading two books that were going to take me a few weeks to finish. I found it to be surprisingly delightful and also surprisingly political.

Mindy Kaling, best known as Kelly Kapoor on The Office, on the idealized high school experience and how she can't relate to 90210, Party of Five, or, the worst offender, John Mellencamp's "Jack and Diane":
" ... I guess I find 'Jack & Diane' a little disgusting. As a child of immigrant professionals, I can't help but notice the wasteful frivolity of it all. Why are these kids not home doing their homework? Why aren't they setting the table for dinner or helping out around the house? Who allows their kids to hang out in parking lots? Isn't that loitering?
"I wish there was a song called 'Nguyen & Ari,' a little ditty about a hardworking Vietnamese girl who helps her parents with the franchised Holiday Inn they run and does homework in the lobby, and Ari, a hardworking Jewish boy who does volunteer work at his grandmother's old-age home, and they meet after school at Princeton Review. They help each other study for the SATs and different AP courses, and then after months of studying and mountains of flashcards, they kiss chastely upon hearing the news that they both got into their top college choices."

Mindy Kaling, you are the best.

I also loved this, from the book's conclusion:

Why didn't you talk about whether women are funny or not?
I just felt that by commenting on that in any real way, it would be tacit approval of it as a legitimate debate, which it isn't. It would be the same as addressing the issue of "Should dogs and cats be able to care for our children? They're in the house anyway." I try not to make it a habit to address nonsensical hot-button issues.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Telegraph Avenue

I thought I was a huge Michael Chabon fan, but maybe I'm just a huge Kavalier & Clay fan. I found this book to be, for one, overwritten, for two, full of characters that I wasn't interested in and, for three, really similar to Wonder Boys in terms of the story, pacing and even, sort of, the characters. It's possible I'm categorizing Chabon in my head now less as "one of my favorite authors" and more "one of those authors, like John Irving, who are forever reorganizing the same several elements over and over again into every single one of their books."

Like Wonder Boys, the novel takes place over the course of just a few days, during which everything unravels. The way it all comes apart at the end is great, but I would have rather read a more conventionally paced novel about how all the main characters met and their lives over the 10-15 years, if not longer, that led up to the events of the story.

The one character I wished the book was about was Gwen Shanks, a midwife who is 9 months pregnant herself and having serious problems with her career and her marriage.

Chabon's portrayal of out-of-touch lefty activists who oppose just about everything was right on the money but I can't say I enjoyed it all that much due to having started my journalism career in a lefty college town and covered some seriously long-winded meetings. It just made me think, oh god, THOSE people.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Brooklyn Book Festival 2012

I've barely posted here since changing jobs in November, which involved 8 months of a 1.5 hour commute. That's 1.5 hours each way, 3 hours per day. I moved closer to work, but somehow there still isn't the amount of time in each day that there used to be. But, I wanted to get down a few things before I forget them.

1.) The festival seemed much more crowded this year than in the two prior even though I personally thought last year's lineup was stronger. It was a really nice day out. Also, it's great that reading and books are so popular, and the festival is free besides, so what is there to complain about. But in order to get a seat at a lot of panels, you had to get there early enough that it wasn't possible to attend a panel in the prior time slot. For example, Dan Savage was speaking at 5 pm on a panel with the theme "Marriage and Monogamy," but the seats in that venue were all taken by about 4:45 or so. The 4pm panels ended at about 4:45, 4:50, so if you had been to one of them, it was near impossible to see Marriage and Monogamy. But, again, it's free, so nothing to complain about really. I just shouldn't plan a back-to-back agenda in the future.

2.) The diversity of voices really is remarkable. The last panel I went to (since Marriage and Monogamy was filled up at 5, the 4pm panel was my last) featured authors writing about the wars in Iraq and Afganistan: one long-haired hippie type journalist, one bespectacled blowhard of a novelist, and two clean-cut military veterans. I wouldn't say the panel "worked" exactly, but E for effort. The novelist was the moderator and I have no idea where he got this fact from, so, grain of salt, but, according to him, it was the first panel discussion about the wars EVER to feature actual veterans of said wars. It sounds implausible until you look at the statistics re: who is featured in debates about women's healthcare (which, the fact that that's even a topic of "debate" ...), Planned Parenthood, etc and find that it's generally around 70% men. Maybe vets get about as much say about wars as women do about our own lives.

3.) The list of people I saw, which does not include Edwidge Danticat or Dan Savage, who were, in my mind, the "main events" of the festival schedule:

Peter Kuper
Mr. Fish
Fly (that's what Mr. Fish and Fly call themselves. They're radical comics artists)
Jonathan Gray
Naomi Wolf
Carlos Andres Gomez (most insightful author of the day; I'm going to buy his book for a friend when it comes out next month)
Kate Bornstein
Hanna Rosin
Tyler Boudreau
Anna Badkhen
Brian Castner
Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya

I spoke briefly to Brian Castner, one of the above-mentioned clean-cut vets, after the panel. I had never met him but we seem to know a lot of the same people; his comments crop up a lot in my Facebook feed. His book, The Long Walk, is getting great press and even though the panel he was a part of was a little choppy that's no reflection on his work.

It's a much shorter list than last year, due partially to what I was saying about rooms filling up. Also I should have gotten my stupid ass out of bed early enough to see Tom Frank at 10 a.m. I am a huge What's the Matter with Kansas fan.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

An important day in history

Today, following a presentation at my local bookstore, I got to meet Jennifer Egan. I told her how much Look at Me ( meant to me, and how I could relate so much to both Charlotte, the main character, and to Irene, a sort of frumpy writer/academic type who writes about her. And she said it's her favorite of her books, and that it means the most to her of everything she's written.


too starstruck to yell eek or anything. I was so nervous I almost didn't get in the autograph line, but I'm glad I did.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Intimates, by Ralph Sassone

Lately it often seems like all I do is work and commute, and when I get up before 6 and ride the subway for over an hour, sometimes all I have the energy to do is listen to podcasts, or sometimes not even that, just endless Neutral Milk Hotel and Magnetic Fields (who I'm going to see tomorrow!). But I did read another Jhumpa Lahiri collection (Unaccustomed Earth, which, like Interpreter of Maladies, saves the best for last), and now I'm almost done with The Intimates, a novel about teenage and early 20-something best friends.

The weirdest thing about The Intimates, which took me forever to diagnose, is that it's supposed to be set in the present, but feels like it's set in the past. It goes along feeling like I'm not sure when, mid 90s or so, then all of a sudden it'll be like "Robbie wanted to send Maize a *text message*" like see, we're all modern now, I used the term "text message." Every now and then someone pulls a cell phone out of a bag, which isn't even the right way to say it. Say she pulled her phone out. If it's in her purse, it's not a land line phone. Compounding this, the main characters live in Chelsea when they're broke recent Brown grads. This is quickly explained away with oh they were excited to find a cheap place there and not in Bushwick or Inwood but they should have been in Bushwick or Inwood. Crappy tenement housing in Chelsea for 22 year olds? 90s, at least.

Also Brown University is never identified, either. Robbie just goes to college in "Rhode Island" and Maize studies semiotics. What is gained by not just saying they're at Brown? Semiotics is 100 percent identified with Brown University. The alumni of that program include Jeffrey Eugenides, Rick Moody, and most famously to my mind, Ira Glass. I don't know what number of people read non-best-selling novels, but I'm going to guess that the Venn diagram with "people who picked up The Intimates at their local independent bookseller" and "people who know they're at Brown once the word 'semiotics' is bandied about" has a whole lot of overlap. What could be the point of the omission? Either say that's where they are or go to the trouble of making up a fictional place.

All this adds up to, the events in this book don't belong anywhere in time or place.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri

My all-time favorite subway read. So absorbing that I forgot the chaos and congestion around me -- although my headphones help with that too. The last paragraph is so beautiful that I almost cried on the A train.