I Will Only Stay Friends with People Who Read The Argonauts

As I read The Argonauts, I thought again and again how influential it would have been for me to read this book when I was in college. Not that it wasn't influential now, but it summarized and went so far beyond everything I've learned and thought in the past six years that I couldn't help but wonder how incredible it would have been to view Johnston and society through the lens Maggie Nelson so intricately crafts.

When I reopened it to begin my notetaking for this review, I just wanted to start reading again – the book is so rich in thought, in intimacy, in creativity, pure beauty of words, that I continually want to tattoo it's most poignant sentences into my brain so I can utilize them as frameworks through which to view the world every hour of the day.

The Argonauts is a polemic on queer family making in the twisted society we live in, a reflection on how individuals fuse to make a life, a conversation with all the best theorists that have ever lived on the most pertinent questions of conformity, society and identity today. It quarrels with the questions and contradictions that ostensibly make up a partnership – the one at the core is what words can express, and what remains inexpressible, but there are hundreds more – how to pick what parts of this society are salvageable, and what must be destroyed, what can be lived with and what must be burned. Nelson interrogates what it means to live in and abide by the social construct, and blows it up in ways that even the most revolutionary minded of us may not have imagined. Paradox is at the heart of this incredible book, and how to live with the multitude of paradoxes that life presents. Nelson interrogates language itself, in relation to gender, thought, and pretty much anything you can imagine. To me, The Argonauts was about everything – everything that goes into making a thoughtful and artistic life within the galaxy of other people. 

Nelson's writing contains such crystalline, accurate turns of phrase such as 'feral with vulnerability,' 'in heart or in art,' as well as longer analyzations of the feelings that I know I and probably many people I interact with have inhabited at one time or another but never been able to put so eloquently into words: “In the face of such phallocentric gravitas I find myself drifting into a delinquent, anti-interpretive mood.”' “busting the avant garde's mythos of itself was, even then, my idea of a good time.”

At the heart of The Argonauts (other than paradox) is Nelson's partnership with artist Harry Dodge, who is genderfluid, and their journey into the beautiful terrain of queer familymaking, choosing which parts of the traditional family model to salvage while throwing others forcefully out the window. The book also goes deep into describing Dodge's revolutionary work, and the ability to see his artistic process alongside Nelson's writing process is an incredible gift. This loving portrait and Nelson's singular writing style meld to create the belief that life is a conversation, with theorists, with lovers, with friends, with family, with ideas and art and our surroundings.

Reading The Argonauts forces you to think in a way that questions everything that gives itself a name and rules, everything that abides by a definition – how structures are built and maintained, how language both controls and frees our abilities to move as individuals in relationships and in society. Nelson purports that we must be willing to hold all aspects of our lives and our culture up for critical examination. Just when you think you know what is coming next, Nelson flips the map and creates a new key – she interrogates the use of heteronormative as a buzzword, she attempts to vilify marriage as an institution by breaking it from the traditional set while acknowledging that the desire to get married is by virtue putting faith in it's system. She questions pretty much everything that self congratulatory radical people repeat on the internet, and our brains are richer for it.

Nelson's words blend seamlessly with the all star theorists she peppers throughout her pages, cementing her in my personal A team of contemporary and classical thinkers. She breathes interdisciplinarity onto the page, and gives an intimate, hard won portrait of a union of artists, which feels like a treasure to be let in on. This is a book for people who love thoughts and theory, words and how they can or, in some instances, cannot communicate the essential truths one finds in life. It is a book for people who care deeply about making art and making a family, whatever type of family that is. It should be required reading for all humans, but for now I'll settle for all the thinking humans that I know would love it as much as I did.  

Book Review: Paulina and Fran

I was hesitant to read this book, because the author, Rachel B. Glaser, is intimidatingly young. I don't know how intimidatingly young – not for lack of trying, the internet just wouldn't reveal her exact age to me, but young enough to freak me out since she already has a story in New American Stories as well as a collection and this novel.

However, Paulina and Fran is about one of my consummate favorite topics, female friendship, and the author lives in Northampton, where my best friend lives, so I decided to buy it for my best friend for Christmas and then if I got stressed out while reading it I could remember that I had to do it for gift giving.

I'm glad that I decided to get over my insecurities and read it, because despite (or more likely because of,) the author's young age, the book took place in such a familiar setting (weird person college) that it was comforting, funny, and relatable despite some moments of questionable metaphor and some forays into outlandish plot land.

The book begins in the titular characters junior year of college, but we meet Paulina and Fran and their social galaxy separately before their friendship begins. Paulina is an intense storm of hair and personality, hungry for social status and callous about the worth of her fellow students. Fran is a quiet artist, amiable to her friends and surroundings to the point of becoming too comfortable and trusting. They are set up to be enemies, as Paulina is in an ongoing feud with Fran's best friend, who Paulina calls 'the venus flytrap,' but on a study abroad trip to Norway they gravitate to each other after Paulina decides that the rest of the students are imbeciles.

Of course, I immediately identified with that impulse, because that's how I attached myself to most of my friends. These comparisons to my life in college were frequent throughout the novel, and I'm sure I wouldn't be unique in that – anyone who went to a small liberal arts college with weird hookups and heavy drinkers can appreciate the odd home feel of the novel.

The emotions and sentiments that the characters express characterize not only college but also the dramatic and perilous feelings of coming into your personality while young -

“Paulina studied herself in the mirror, admiring her hair, which hung in elegant auburn curls, but faulting the dress for failing to express her mood."

Descriptions like this one accurately depict this (this being, a few years ago) particular moment of youth – when one is always on display, hungry for every social interaction, trying to expertly mix a cocktail of social life and art.

It's still rare to find a book that takes the social lives of women seriously, that depicts their concerns as real without devolving into self deprecating, male influenced commentary. This book was superb on that front – the thoughts expressed regarding friendship were accurate and biting without apology.

But at the same time, the writer weaves in acknowledgment that this moment of life is a passing phase, and I remembered so accurately that feeling where you're feeling such intense emotions but also totally aware that you are a little bit ridiculous:

“A tidal wave of nostalgia knocked everyone over before anything even happened.”

The occasional ridiculousness of the characters, their words, their emotions, their actions, worked for the majority of the novel – but there were times when they became too absurd or maudlin to be believable, even within the universe of a hipster liberal arts college. 

Glaser clearly has the blend we all dream of – an equally artistic and intellectual mind, as evidenced in her descriptions of her characters and their conversations and settings -

“Her nose wasn't simple”

“In a tragic use of alphabetical order...”

The book feels more alive in the descriptions of the characters and their age and setting than it does in it's supposed topic, the friendship of Paulina and Fran. The universe it creates is beguiling and interesting, but the friendship is less so. Paulina and Fran drift in and out of each other's orbits in the months and years after the Norway trip, extending into adulthood across New York City and the Midwest, which is not implausible (though other elements of the tail end of the novel certainly are.) They both retain a mild obsession with each other, but there isn't enough grounding as to why. Perhaps that is only a critique someone whose female friendships take place on the backdrop of Victorian dramas would level, but regardless – the ways the women interact are not the most fascinating aspect of the book.

More fascinating, for me, was the novel as a portrait of a subset of culture, a study on the habits of youth. The descriptions of the ways the characters interacted with the world while in college rang true, time after time -

“Once Paulina endorsed something, she raised it too high in her regard.”

“This party sucks,” Fran said, “everyone is jut making up theories.”

“It's hard to be your age – there's maybe too much freedom, or too much pressure”

“Everywhere Fran went, she inhabited like her bedroom. Her joy, her moping – none of it was hidden.”
“At school she'd seen herself as special, but in the weeks since graduation the world had slowed and now it was clear that everyone was as insignificant as the scrappy backyards one passes on trains.”

But after their graduation, things take a turn for the absurd. Having lived in all the worlds the novel inhabits – college, post college in random cities, post college in New York City, the college aspects rang so much truer than the life in random cities or in New York. Again and again, events took place that were too silly to even take as artistic license.

I'll have to wait till my mom reads this one to hear if it's a worthwhile read for people who didn't go to college in the past 3-6 years. I hope it's artful descriptions withstand it's unrealistic moments for people who weren't experiencing the moment it so accurately portrays.

 

Book Review: Global Weirdness, Climate Central

Alas, it is the time of year again where I must read a depressing environment book to remind myself of the true state of the earth. Not that I needed much in the way of reminders this year, because it has been 60 degrees for about half of the past month in New York City and apparently it snowed in parts of Southern California today. But I digress.

In my continual effort to become an autodidact of climate change, I bought “Global Weirdness / Climate Central,” a compendium of short entries on the various components of the climate that interact to make up the current state of the world. Since I am no science human, I need to spend a significant chunk of time reading climate books for laypeople to inundate my brain with the basic information so later I can go and read more science heavy books. This is also what I do with economics by listening to Marketplace every day and hoping that eventually the words and concepts seep into my brain via osmosis.

The modus operandi of Global Weirdness was “to lay out the current state of knowledge about climate change,” which it does in sixty digestible 3-5 page polemics, based on reports from scientists and journalists at Climate Central. Even reading each chapter heading would give you a small climate change primer – but the entries are generally so coherently explained that even those of us whose brains are least acclimated to science words (aka, myself) can easily grasp the concepts. It delves into deeper science when necessary, but I never felt like I was lost in the jargon or that I was missing out by not having significant prior knowledge.

As the writers explained many different manifestations of climate change – melting ice in the arctic, the proliferation of clouds, changes in vegetation, ocean acidification, they connected the specific effects of these disparate elements to the larger trends that will dictate the future changes to the planet.

One theme that emerges is that humans, plants, animals, and certainly the earth itself, could theoretically survive many permutations of the climate, but we have acclimated very particularly to the way we live now – what with building giant infrastructures and reproducing millions of spawn every year. In other words, we were at the optimal circumstances, we adapted to them, and it's not that it's impossible to change, but what with the billions of humans and the structures they inhabit it'll be quite a difficult task, and will probably involve a not-desirable amount of death and destruction. As the book puts it -

“It's one thing for a small band of people to pack up camp and move a couple hundred miles to a better location if the climate changes. It's a very different thing to try and move a city like Cairo or New York or Shanghai because the sea level is rising. It' svery different to relocate the farms of the Midwestern United States up to Canada – along with the highways and railroads and power lines that serve them – because it's become to hot and dry to grow grain.”

The book utilizes well thought out and, thankfully, simple metaphors to help us through the basics of what is happening to the earth - in one of the most often repeated examples, they describe the amount of excess CO2 in the atmosphere like a bathtub with a slow drain - in the past 200 years we've really let the faucet go to town in dumping out CO2 into the atmosphere, but the drain isn't getting any larger. So the natural processes that we've always relied on to keep the earth at a livable equilibrium can't keep up with the water (CO2) gushing out into the atmosphere (the bathtub.) If I feel comfortable paraphrasing a scientific analogy, I think it's safe to say that the authors did their job. 

The team of writers behind Global Weirdness manage to avoid the doomsday speak that is pervasive in much of the literature and print about climate change, despite the fact that most of the information they communicate is relatively doom-ish. This is a powerful choice, because it doesn't let the reader negate the information for being over apocalyptic, but still communicates the dire circumstances in ways that are difficult to deny. (Although deny them idiots will, as evidenced by how few people seem to believe that the world will be drastically altered within our lifetimes.)

The book serves as a useful primer on pretty much any topic within the realm of climate change that one could delve into, and because of that it doesn't dive particularly deep into any one area. That worked for me, because it gave enough information to help me choose which topics to do more research on, and the necessary information to not be lost in a more in depth work. I'd highly recommend this book to anyone who gives a shit about the environment but doesn't know where to start with how to turn giving a shit into actual action and knowledge. 

"Love Me Back" by Merritt Tierce, or I Swear I have good reasons for only having read one book this month

I have been putting off writing about what I read in November, because the ah, amount is really embarrassing.

TO BE FAIR: It was my first month actually working full time at my new job, and update: I work a lot now. I worked maybe 28 hours at IHOP in a really big week, and now I actually get overtime. Nobody cares about how different restaurants are structured so I won't detail, but not only is this restaurant so busy that there is literally never the possibility of getting cut three hours early as there was at IHOP, but we also have a lot more to do after the shift is done. I love it so this is great for my sanity, but not as good for my reading time.

However, I'm sure I'll manage to get back to my usual average since I am no longer spending three hours of my day in bed crying (cry-hop.) The real problem was obviously that my best friend came to Southern California for 10 days, hence I got literally none of my usual mental work done while she was here. But this is of course not a problem at all because I miss her and wish she was here all the time.

Anyway, after all that explanation, here is the fact: I only read one book in November. For shame!

Book read November 2014

Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce

Luckily the only book I read this month was a great book which accomplished many of my goals in reading: contemporary literary fiction, check, female author, check, relates to my life an intense amount because it is about a waitress....check.

Obviously, two of those are traits that almost every book I read has. I pretty much only read contemporary literary fiction or essays and I would say ¾ of the books I read are by female authors. But although I often read books by women who have worked as waitresses (Emily, Cheryl <3) I don't often get to read a book where the main character actually is a waitress! Joyous day!

Love Me Back is the story, told in episodic lyrical prose, of a young mother, Marie, who is employed as a server at a variety of low to high end restaurants. The beginning shows her drifting between jobs at places from chains like Chili's to daytime cafes, and the bulk of the novel follows her time at a swanky steakhouse.  It interjects with passages exploring Marie's accidental pregnancy at age 16.

Since I only read one book this month, and the one book relates to my life, I will also take this as an opportunity for some commentary on serving. Every server has a holy grail, the job that is the top of their niche, and although we can obviously change niches. The high end steakhouse represents the holy grail of fine dining servers, or really anyone for whom fine dining is a realistic possibility, of which I am not one because I am bad at things like not having a personality and following very stringent guidelines.

I was very lucky to get my own personal holy grail serving job as only my second serving job in San Diego, working at one of the two busiest brunch places in the mid-city area, very famous in San Diego and actually in the world. Breakfast serving is its own niche, due to the pace, high turnover, and desire to get up early, get your shit/money done, and leave rather than the normal serving routine of doing...whatever during the day and then killing it at night. Those who know me would think I would prefer this since I don't think I ever woke up before 11 AM in college, and now I have to wake up between 6 and 7 on the reg, but I actually prefer this because then when I leave I can get everything done, rather than dreading work all day.

Anyway, the book also deals heavily in my other favorite topic...promiscuity! Only somewhat joking. I really do count women who do what they want sexually and don't give a shit what anyone thinks among my favorite topics. The character also happens to be a mother, but unlike I don't know, every book in the very popular motherhood cannon, her daughter lives with the child's father and the narrator spends a lot more time worrying about how to deal with the crazies at her job and the revolving door of men in her life than what type of diapers her daughter needs or generally spinning words out of the problems about motherhood. Which, as I'm sure I continually offend people by saying, is just not something I'm interested in reading because it is literally the textbook example of a problem you just wanted to have and then brought upon yourself and decided to spend forever complaining about.  (I am referring here to most of the books I find myself reading that involve motherhood, where the characters with children desperately pined for children and then went on to spend mucho time complaining about them.  Not about unwanted pregnancies.  I'd love to read a book about an unwanted pregnancy.  Please recommend one now.)

But this book is not a mother who pined for a child complaining about it and other middle class homeowner problems, it's the opposite, which is working class people with real problems that they did not bring upon themselves being baller and salt of the earth and dealing with their shit alongside other salt of the earth folk who entertain and destroy things simultaneously.

I found my first great line on the first page, which is always a good sign.

When discussing a date she went on - “The Gordon Parks exhibit was my idea and I knew it scored with him – maybe made him think of how I could be an accident, a good one lodged in the mire, just waiting to be sprung.”

Well it doesn't take an expert critical thinker to figure out why I like that one. I am obviously the good one lodged in the mire.

The narrator comes in from the beginning with a strong and distinct voice, a voice that if you heard the person talking in real life wouldn't come off as literary fiction but the author is so adept that you can read her skill even through the colloquial vernacular. Aside from the obvious solidarity of the smart waitress, Tierce also gives her narrator an inner monologue that I identified immediately with: as she does lines of coke off a surgeon's bathroom counter after she gets anxiety when they're about to have sex:

“Don't worry, I said to myself. We're leaving.”

As I reread the parts of the book I annotated while I was reading it, I find myself getting swept up and wanting to read it again which rarely happens, except anytime I let myself near anything by Emily Gould or Jonathan Franzen.

It would be interesting for me to have someone else read this book, because I'd like to know if the bits of knowledge and wisdom she drops about waiting tables are as interesting to the average reader as they are to me. A few of these gems -

“I didn't understand how to be a wife or mother. But there were rules to being a waitress. The main one was don't fuck up. Another was whatever you skip in your prep will be the one thing you need when you're buried.”

“You may think you'll be waiting tables but really your job is to walk fast in a circle for six to eight hours every day.” Truer words never spoken.

“To do a good job at a table you have to care. Whatever show you're doing, wherever else your mind is, you have to put a twist of real on the very end of it. The people are waiting for that and if you don't pull it out they know and they don't like it.”

“This is the thing about the service industry, you can get trained to be slick and hospitable in any situation and it serves you well the rest of your life. Once you figure out that everything is performance and you bow to that, learn to modulate, you can dissociate from the mothership of yourself like an astronaut floating in space.”

I love how Tierce elevated the very working class job of waiting tables to high art through her prose.  She took the truths of a profession that so many Americans do without any real representation in art and spun them into literary gold, inspiring to people like me who are continually trying to make our lives into art when our lives look from the outside like the opposite of art.  It's also so rare to find a female narrator who is in control of her sexual self and makes the choice to go against the culturally accepted chaste woman paradigm.  Additionally, the book is funny.  Again, I'd love for someone I know to read it who isn't a server so I can see how well the customer service humor translates to those who have not spent any time in our lovely little hell.  But I think it would translate well, because everything that Tierce describes in the book translates well, things I understand and things I've never known, brought to life by her electric prose.  

 

Month in My New Fancy Bed: Books of August 2014

Books read

Blue Nights by Joan Didion

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

Friendship by Emily Gould

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

Scarecrone by Melissa Broder

The Sixteenth of June by Maya Lang

Books gifted 

Friendship by Emily Gould

Books bought 

The Sixteenth of June by Maya Lang

I managed to get a lot of reading done in August, despite moving – or perhaps because of moving, because I didn't have internet for the entire month. I was also poor due to paying a deposit, so I only bought one book, the other acquisition of the month having been a gift from my mother because I mentioned wanting it and she is a nice lady. It's good that my mom picked it up at the good old University Book Store back in good old Wisconsin, because after checking Warwicks and browsing the bookstores around Hillcrest, I couldn't find Friendship anywhere. This is disconcerting regarding my opinion of San Diego bookstores considering that it is a new and famous book by a famous in literary circles if not street famous author. I am keeping an eye on all of you.

It's probably the first month I've only bought one book in since the days when my life was filled with kegs and social experiment parties instead of hours alone with books, but the money calls.

The month began with a true gem of a book, as everyone probably knows because I'm sure I'm the last one on the block to read it – Blue Nights. Similar to every other young person who somehow fashions themselves to be a writer, I have loved Joan Didion since my first days of being assigned her work in my wee years as a student in Nonfiction I. Perhaps my most intense (re: embarrassing) connection with her work is the numerous times I read Goodbye to All That and cried a lot during my months preparing to leave college. I'm pretty sure I had it permanently open in a tab on my old computer. Cool, Becca.

Blue Nights is somewhat of a memoir about her life after the death of her daughter, Quintana, but one of the things I loved about it was that it didn't have the traditional structure of a memoir. The chapters were each musings from a different perspective or time frame about her daughter, and the displacement helped shape the tone of the novel and put us in Didion's shaky, to say the least, mindset after her daughter's death.

Didion's writing has a quality of excavation, as if she is examining every detail of her life as an anthropologist would an ancient site, and it is visible even down to the individual sentence. She also, in this book, has an incredible grasp of the passage of time and living in the present moment: after listing off a variety of objects that elicited depressing responses re the passage of time, comes this line:

“In fact they serve only to make it clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here.”

There was only one moment in the book, isolated on one page, where I took issue with Joanie (I feel like she'd hate me referring to her as Joanie,) In discussing the idea that her daughter's life was privileged, she writes

“Privilege is a judgment....an opinion....an accusation. Privilege remains an area to which – when I think of what she endured – when I consider what came later – I will not easily crop.”

I get that what she's saying is that since her daughter died at a young age of a horrible malady, she shouldn't be accused of having led a privileged life. I feel...that is problematic. (Another liberal arts college word, much like privilege.) The way in which Quintana died was truly horrid, but that is separate of her privilege growing up. The day to day life of growing up privileged is arguably easy, and adult life in the professional world I imagine to be far easier than becoming an adult without connections, which Quintana presumably had. Bad things can still happen to people with privilege, but bad things don't happen less to people who aren't privileged. Horrible incidents and growing up with privilege are two separate realms of life.

In other words, poor people's children die young from horrible diseases too. Unimaginable tragedy strikes most people at some point, regardless of if they grew up with a silver spoon.

So basically I just don't think it's something she needed to mention in the book. In talking with one of my friends about this passage, he guessed that it might have been a response to how some people reacted to The Year of Magical Thinking, which I haven't read, but I don't think that the response to people calling you privileged after a tragedy is to say that you aren't privileged because horrible things happened to you. The people who aren't privileged can easily just fire back at you all the horrible things that have happened to them, and the whose life is worse contest isn't one I ever like engaging in.

Anyway, I loved the book, that was just a small but interesting hiccup I had. Gem: “We still counted health and happiness and love and luck and beautiful children as 'ordinary blessings.'”

Alas, I did not love the next book I finished, The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison. I had been reading it on and off for a few months because it was on my kindle app (which I never use anymore thanks to Emily Books created by Emily Gould...what nobody is obsessed) which I read at the gym, and because it kept annoying me so I had to keep leaving it behind.

Here is the thing: as a writer of personal essays myself, I'm always very excited about essay collections. Unfortunately, this often ends in disappointment because some people want to write essays but don't actually have enough to say to write a whole book of them. Thus I end up bored and wondering how this person got an MFA, got essays published in journals, got an entire book published, of their self-absorbed chatter.

The reason I'm working at IHOP (etc) instead of applying for MFAs in nonfiction is because I want to experience more of life before I go to school to get a graduate degree in writing about my life. This is different than it is for people getting MFAs in poetry or fiction because you can create at any age, but it takes more life experience to write about your life experience. All my professors told me this and I agreed with them, so I'm wondering why there aren't more professors or graduate program advisors giving their students this great advice. Everyone pretty much knows that a writing program can only teach you so much. It's hard to teach creativity, but you definitely can't teach interesting things happening to you.

Not very many interesting things happened to Leslie Jamison, nor did she talk about them in the interesting way that makes personal essays a form that I love so much. I actually believe that a talented writer can take even a humdrum experience and in the telling make it applicable to universal truths as well as make it exciting to read. Again, Jamison didn't do that. She took small pithy experiences and didn't make me have this so called empathy for her at all in the telling, because she related to how they made her feel and how they affected her life and how hard everything was for her. And nothing else. When she wrote about abortion, she didn't relate it to any greater struggle or how women are treated in society, she just talked about how it kind of sucked but not really. If that were enough, I'd have a lot of essays to read because a lot of women get abortions. But that isn't enough. Enough is to make us laugh and cry at the same time, to make us ask questions and wonder and think about the stories that comprise our lives in new ways. Instead, I just wanted it to end so I could leave the gym.

I honestly don't remember half the essays, even though I'm looking at a copy of the title page right now, but I'll surmise what I do remember: medical actor sounds like someone who wants to be a writer said, what will be an interesting side job that nobody has written about before so I can write an essay about it? The could have been interesting essay about a weird disease where people think things are growing in their bodies was tedious and made me annoyed with even the most sympathetic characters. In Defense of Saccharine was an essay defending liking sweet things, to which I say, if you like something, you'll make more of a statement by liking it unabashedly than by penning an entire essay trying to defend yourself for liking it.

But nothing, nothing could have prepared me for the last essay in the collection, Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain. My female pain is that I wanted to stab myself after reading a THIRTEEN SECTION LONG essay about some mysterious sadness that some females feel and trying to get everyone to feel bad about it.

I have a lot of things to say about this.

Most of them are angry.

Perhaps I will write a separate blog entry detailing them all.

I don't want to write more than a short paragraph ranting here, so I will pare it down: a great way to make men and women who hate on women think its okay to hate on women is to talk about how weak and in pain we all are. Especially in vague, non descriptive language that leaves the reader wondering what exactly you are talking about in the first place. I'm characteristically an easily saddened person, but I don't need to go around writing long boring essays about it. Instead I try to figure out the things that make me sad and figure out how to be less sad about them so I can go on living my life. If I do write about them, I explore the specific issues rather than making up, well, a 'grand unified theory of female pain,' which, and this will be my last word on the topic, isn't even a theory because after reading the entire thing I could not gleam even the beginning of a weak hypothesis.

I'm moving on.

Gave some current fiction a chance with Astonish Me, always a scary prospect because so much fiction is bad. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead wasn't....bad. I don't know if I will bestow good on it either, though. I really liked most of the book, actually. I was engaged in the story of a former dancer who helped a very famous dancer defect from Russia. I wanted to keep reading. I was bored by her woes of being a parent as I usually am when reading books that involve parents, because the only thing going through my head is 'you did this to yourself, you did this to yourself, you did this to yourself.' I loved the protagonist's other dancer friend, who was a baller and lived a life dedicated to art instead of having children, I actually often think of this character now when trying to explain my desire for my life to people. The plot thickened, I was happy, the language was nice, the way the story jumped in time was effective.

Then the end came and I wanted to throw the book against the wall because for what seems like the millionth time in a book, it resolved itself with an improbable coupling of two characters who would never be together in real life and demeaned the value of one of the female characters with the choice. I won't go into more detail but is it really that hard to create an ending that isn't a complete cliché? Honestly it marred the whole book for me.

Thankfully, I had my new favorite, Friendship, to turn to after these disasters. I have developed a bit of a writer-crush on Emily Gould over the past few months, from some things I've read of hers online and her quippy twitter presence that reminds me of myself and Naomi enough that I think we should just all be friends. She also seems to be a nice real life human because when I made a funny joke responding to something she said on twitter, she favorited it and replied back, which was probably the most exciting thing to happen to me in July.

Friendship proved to be just as good as I anticipated it to be. It follows two best friends who have reached their late twenties with not much to show for it and are trying to navigate lives that seem to be spinning out of control. Just my jam since I am in my early twenties and my life is showing no signs of ever being in control in the first place. It's funny, well written, and so, so, relatable.

I think it was especially relatable for me because of the specific type of best friendship it describes. I think many people have a best friend, but few people have found or put in the effort to have a true life companion best friend. A friendship like that is a relationship. It takes on a life of it's own. You may shower together, fight in ways that could break anybody else up, think in the same patterns, create keg race tournaments, people will ask if you're having a party tonight when they mean at your best friends house. It helps when the people in it aren't dedicating their time to actual relationships, ha. Anyway, Emily Gould clearly gets it – I instagrammed this passage on the instagram that my best friend and I both use:

“I meant 'happened to either of us,' but we are a couple, in a way. I mean, we're life partners. All these people' – Amy gestured at the couples walking by them at the outdoor flea market, eating grilled corncobs and tacos, grinning at each other in Ray-Bans – 'are obviously going to break up once their sexual chemistry peters out. But we'll be together forever.'”

The characters are also the same type of people that my friends and I are. Trying to make it in creative professions but working other jobs, consistently trying to toe the line between being a good employee and showing the true snob colors. Believing in idealistic things but also liking nice things like new clothes -

“And there was Sam's charming Marxist thing of thinking that restaurants, new clothes, et cetera, were frivolities that only served to keep workers addicted and enslaved by the capital. Amy agreed with him about this, in theory, but she loved wearing a new outfit for the first time, ideally to a restaurant.”

Another one that resonated with me personally was this sense that even though we're all liberated and feminism and great, there is this kind of pull back to domesticity that I can see everywhere from the media to my friends. I sometimes worried that I was the only one who was experiencing discomfort with this, but of course not – Emily Gould to the rescue.

“I guess I'm talking about this weird vapidity that women seem to aspire to,” Amy said. “This kind of US Magazine editorial voice that infects people's conversations and lives. Just fetishizing...children and domesticity and making it seem like they are the goals of women's lives, the only legitimate goals women's lives can have.”

The most life changing book of the month award goes to Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, because I am a vegetarian now. I have not fully made the transition yet, AKA when the new IHOP specials included a waffle with BACON AND CHEDDAR CHEESE baked into it I had to try it, but I am in the process. It really isn't that hard, except for eating out. Anyway, this lovely work of nonfiction by one of my favorite writers who oh snap, I get to meet next week back at Redlands.

I am going to save my main reviews of the book for an entire different blog about my choice to become a vegetarian, but suffice to say the book laid out the reasons why not consuming meat is a great choice in well written and very clear prose. It covers everything from factory farms, to how the animals are mistreated – a light word, tortured would be better, to the environmental concerns, to the concerns for our bodies. Safran Foer makes a fair argument, interviewing both factory farm workers and owners of farms which only use sustainable agriculture and kinder slaughter methods.

Stay tuned for my full review once I meet him next week EEP and write the review. Yay.

Scarecrone by Melissa Broder was a lovely book of poems from the monthly Emily Books reader which I read while on my breaks at IHOP. A lovely image, I know, the poor waitress reading poetry to sustain her dying brain on her breaks. Cliche but alas it is true.

I picked up The Sixteenth of June by Maya Lang at Warwick's when I was about halfway through Friendship and realized that if I didn't go buy a new book before it was over that I would be depressed when I finished. Alas the selection at Warwick's was not up to its usual standards. I found this little book, which follows a family and one of the son's fiance's through a day (the sixteenth of June, obviously) on which many events transpire, including a funeral, and, you guessed it, a Bloomsday party. Okay you probably didn't guess it unless you are James.

Anyway, I bought it because of the basis in Ulysses nerdism. For that purpose the book was good, it had enough in jokes and references to keep a Bloom fan sustained, although they were mostly surface level things that could've been figured out from looking up the book on Wikipedia. I was hoping for some episode alignment with chapters but alas. Anyway beyond that the book was...fine. I was kept entertained for the most part. It was well written in the way that people who were trained for a while in how to write well write things, without much creativity or energy. The characters circumstances were interesting enough, and even though the plot was a bit contrived it was still entertaining.

My main beef with the book was that the protagonist was mostly the worst. The book jacket said it described people who fell out of the societal standards of happiness, and while that may be true, it basically was about privileged people with privileged people's problems. Yeah the main character grew up in a 'normal suburban house,' but growing up in a normal suburban house and then going to Harvard still qualifies as privilege. She has an anxiety disorder that involves pulling out her hair – but then ditches the therapy someone else is paying for to try and doesn't make any effort to work on it. Not making an effort doesn't constitute a lack of privilege.

It was enjoyable enough, with some moments of insight. But for the most part Lang's book served to deepen my mistrust of current fiction.

On to the next month, where I've already read a big ole memoir of a big ole feminist journalist, Gail Sheehy, and and am started on the amaaaaazing And the Heart Says Whatever by my obsession Emily Gould. After that I'll be embarking on NW by Zadie Smith in a cross country book club with some fellow Johnston alums, and perhaps some theory. Other than that, only my too many books overcrowding my two bookshelves will tell.