"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.  

 

Books in Prone Yoga: September 2014

 

Books Read

Daring: My Passages by Gail Sheehy

And the Heart Says Whatever by Emily Gould

The Circle by Dave Eggers

Books Bought

And The Heart Says Whatever by Emily Gould

Creative Block various

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Fear and Trembling and the Sickness Unto Death by Soren Kierkegaard

This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

I read below my average number of books/month in September, and I'm also writing this entry 19 days into October. Schmeh....I also got a new job! So we're going to concentrate on how proud we are of me for that instead of fewer wpm (word per month in this case) than average. September was full of crying in bed because of depression at current job and anxiety at searching for new one. In case you have not searched for a new job in a while or a restaurant job ever, it involves a lot of walking to places uninvited and handing them something they get far too many of and generally being an unfortunate human which leads you afterwards to crawling into bed out of anxiety from so many awkward human interactions in one day.

Luckily, all this trauma led to some job interviews which led to a fabulous new job. And none too soon, I'm in my final week at old job and literally screamed multiple times at work today, one of which was because the cooks were yelling at me to carry some food out as my pants were literally falling off my body...memories which I will no doubt cherish as I transition away from the horrible pot of horror that is my current job.

Anyway, the books. I read two rather lengthy books and one rather short one. One of the lengthy ones took me a few weeks and the other one a few days. The short one I finished very quickly because I'm obsessed with the author. I actually am not trying to set up a weird logic guessing game here, although I can see why that would seem like what I am doing.

The long book that took me a while to read was Daring: My Passages by Gail Sheehy. I generally enjoy biographies, but they take me a while to read because they are long and don't always chug along at the same speed as a novel. The main exception in my life being the Steve Jobs biography which stands as one of the best books I read in 2013.

Daring: My Passages was alas no Steve Jobs, but it was a fascinating document of the life of a pioneer of womanhood and feminist, Gail Sheehy. I had not heard of Sheehy before picking up the book at Frugal Muse when I was home, but as I read I learned that she is a prodigious reporter and what one might call pop-cultural-anthropologist, pop here meaning literally making cultural studies popular, not influenced by pop music. The title refers to a book she wrote, Passages, defining and categorizing the passages that many adults seem to go through and identify with which apparently was previously unreported.

Reading book length works by reporters is always interesting because they write in such a different way than essayists or novelists. I'm not going to skirt around the fact that my preference is for literary writing, says the student of creative nonfiction who has carried novels everywhere she goes from age 10, but I think it's important for any writer to observe the nuances which separate the forms and acknowledge all of their merits.

Reporters are obviously trained to be the most concerned with communicating information, and I find that this can make their sentences take on a quality of explaining that one might do in a research paper. The greatest reporters (Nora Ephron, pour one out) manage to avoid this, but that's pretty rare. I don't think that Sheehy reached that level, but I don't mean that as a disparagement. Her life contained so many feminist milestones that I wouldn't feel right faulting her for anything. That's why I bought the book in the first place, to assist in my ongoing primer on Women Who Owned Shit in the writing world.

The evidence of Sheehy's feminism lies not only in her own achievements, but in the reverence for the women she describes, such as her grandmother:

[After her grandfather died] “Grandma Gladys had no money and no skills. She had never gone anywhere except in the backseat of a car or a horse-drawn carriage. But she remained true to the self-reliance of her forebears. She promptly learned how to drive, bought a typewriter, taught herself to type, and marched out to get herself a full time job as a real estate agent. For the next forty years she went to work from nine to five every day. She moved in with us when I as a baby, still working. I never heard her complain.”

It's always refreshing when reading about the life of a writer to read about all their setbacks, especially when one's life feels like it is one giant setback peppered with humorous times of pants falling off at work and misogynistic men. Many of Sheehy's books were poorly reviewed or didn't sell, for reasons ranging from being before their cultural time to just not finding an audience. Understanding that the creative life is a battle for everyone, young and an idiot or successful and a real person is endlessly helpful for me to remember.

As inspiring as it is to read about early feminists, it's also crazy to read statements that still hold so true about how men regard liberated women and think to oneself, how are we still here? Read Sheehy describing how many men prefer a prostitute to a sexually liberated woman:

“All these young girls who said yes-yes, but on their own terms, were, well, scary. A paid girl relinquishes all rights to make emotional or sexual demands. She would never call his office the next morning and leave an embarrassing message.”

My thoughts on men's fears of a sexually liberated woman are destined for another section of my website, but glad to know it's a real phenomena.

Someone who I'm sure has lots of thoughts on liberated women is my current favorite writer/obsession, Emily Gould, whose book of essays, And the Heart Says Whatever, I had the immense pleasure of reading in September. I can (and have) (and will) write blog entries entirely devoted to why I am so enthralled by Emily Gould, but most specifically here, ATHSW helped me define one of the characteristics of what I love in contemporary writing: energy. Good words are dime a dozen. Writing well can be learned, and even if you debate that, I think we can all acknowledge that many more people can string words together than people who speak with creative energy and joy, people whose writing makes you want to go out and live.

I would teach And the Heart Says Whatever in a seminar called Books that Make you Want to Live. It made me not hate being young and lost so much. It made it seem like it's all going somewhere, even if somewhere is just another place down the line. It gave me confidence that you can write with grace about the everyday, instead of what the internet tells me these days, which is that I have to go out and have something traumatic happen to me if I ever want to be heard. (Not a great message to send, internet.)

The introduction of the book told me I would love it, because it ended with this paragraph:

“I can look back and recognize the things I've done and said that were wrong: unethical, gratuitously hurtful, golden rule breaking, et cetera. Sometimes the wrongness was even clear at the time, though not as clear as it is now. But I did these things because I felt the pull of a trajectory, a sense of experience piling up the way it does as you turn the pages of a novel. I would be lying if I said I was a different person now. I am the same person. I would do it all again.”

Life.

That sense of unapologetic living, barreling forward towards an unknown future spot, is one of the overarching themes of my life. As always, reading the tenets by which you live in print is endlessly comforting. Another great snippet of that, here on the topic of somehow sensing that you are destined for...something:

“I just knew that I was really good at something, or I could be, if I could figure out what. Free floating ambition is toxic because it means that anyone who has accomplished anything in any realm of human endeavor is the enemy because she might be your competition.”

And I thought I was the only one who resented anyone who has done anything ever!

In a move that will shock approximately no one, I also loved Gould's book because she recounts working as a waitress. I'm obviously partial to stories of writers I admire working as waitresses because I'm like hey sup please be my future life, but also because of the nuances that are so similar across different restaurants and ages and places of waiting tables:

“But large groups of single men were her favorite. Well, they are every waitress's favorite. You could develop a little relationship with them over the course of the evening, figure out who was paying, have some banter with him, make eye contact. As long as you didn't then run into him in the unattended hallway on the way back from the bathroom, everything would be fine.”

Lest you think that there's an unattended hallway on the way to the bathroom at IHOP, (the past six months of my life would have been so much more interesting if there were) I'm speaking here to finding comfort in the ways that waitresses learn to interact with humans, and knowing that the ladies I most admire have been through the same thing.

Another grand one: “The performance, of course, was for the benefit of dragon-shirts friends, and if I would collude with him in it, he'd reward me. This was what always happened to me, with small variations. I think this is what always happens. The waitress's role is always the same: she's a receptive audience for witticisms like 'I'd like an order of you.' It's a ritual that has almost nothing to do with sex and everything to do with dominance, the dude asserting his place at the head of a pack. It's gross, but what are you supposed to do, give every man who walks into the bar a lecture?”

Amen, sister. I'm sure that Emily Gould, like me, is a person who would usually give a gender talk to anyone who did this in average, non employment life. But it's hard for me to listen to people comment on this who haven't lived it, because not lecturing strangers on being misogynists is how you pay rent. It's not a thing I like about society but neither is nepotism and nobody has picked me up off the street and paid me to be myself yet so I'll continue to laugh at horrible jokes and flirt with strangers to get better tips.

A great line that I do not feel like explaining why it is important to me: “The past is not a place you can visit.”

On aging: “This is one of the most painful things about getting older, especially getting older in the same place where you were young: the constant realizations that you could have been doing everything better all along, if only you'd known how to read the map more accurately.” Again I choose not to explain. Both obviously have to do with the place I loved and lived for four years which I choose to only speak about in writing if I am devoting entire passages to it.

As I put down And the Heart Says Whatever I went to check up on Emily Gould's latest tweets and replied to one of them like a true creep. Whatever one day I will make friends on the internet.

Alas, I had to return The Circle to the library so I can't do my usual go back through my dog eared pages (I know I'm rude it was from the library. But isn't that an okay thing? The average person deserves my dog ears because I like good things) and list out the shining moments. So here are some recollections:

  1. I have been a not-huge Dave Eggers fan since A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I thought that not much happened. Name of novel non-withstanding, I continually got the impression that he was too big for his britches.

  2. I found The Circle at the library and decided to give it a chance because I'm interested (when I'm not busy being vaguely jealous of) in the tech world/start ups, and thought that maybe a futuristic one wouldn't make me too jealous to read it. Plus I only like reading contemporary literary fiction (whatever judge me my purchases keep the books alive and yours could too) and it's pretty rare to find a good one at the library.

  3. I loved it. I guess maybe Eggers britches are an okay size. Plus I never hated on 826 or McSweenys, both venerable organizations.

  4. I am usually not a fan of anything futuristic, but the fact that it wasn't straight out dystopian and still imaginable helped.

  5. Created a community and a world, which I always forget usually makes for a great book.

  6. As Jasmine said, who read it right before me, “It wasn't great literature but it was an interesting concept and moved quickly and was engaging.” Pretty apt descriptions.

  7. And a great commentary on the future of social media! All the vaguely recognizable actions of the internet made it just the right level of creepy.

  8. A few too many moments of Hi I'm 1984 for the millennial generation. Like A. we get it and B. really think highly of yourself for that comparison that you obviously carved out.

  9. Narrator was unlikeable in just the right way. I'm saying this as a good thing. You sympathize with her in the beginning, but her eventual descent into suckiness was actually a great aspect of the novel.

  10. All my more specific notes got lost on the notecard that I wrote them on when I returned this to the library and tried to write them down then promptly lost the notes. Alas.

You may notice that I went from buying almost no books in August, back to buying way too many in September. I did not get my new job until October so I can't even use that as an excuse. My excuse is this: I don't care. Books are the most important thing. I can't read them as fast as I buy them, but I will continue to buy them. What better thing could my money go to? I can't think of a single one.

Buying Freedom may seem gratuitous because I've obviously already read it from how much I reference it, but listen: I found the copy I read in a hostel in Croatia. It was a falling-apart godsend. It was just the novel to read to throw myself into a traveling/art induced paranoia about how I interact with the world that I came out better on the other side of. But it was falling apart, and I didn't have space for it when I was done, so I left it with my friends who I was visiting in Palau. But it's such an incredible book and had such an influence on me that I need to have it on hand for reference or lending, so when I saw it at Bluestocking Books I was just like c'mon you need to be in my possession. And here it is.

Next month (aka very soon because October is almost over) features the really incredible Not that Kind of Girl (I note the irony but love them both too much to comment) and me buying literally so many books people are going to start questioning my financial state.

 

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.

Month Two in My Bed: books read/bought July 2014

Books Read

The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol

No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby

Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace

 

Books Bought

This is Running for Your Life by Michelle Orange

Minimalism by Joshua Milburn and Ryan Nicodermus

Should I go to Grad School? By various

Daring; My Passages by Gail Sheeny

The Selected Poems of Frank O'Hara duh

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

MFA vs. NYC edited by Chad Harbach, essays by various

Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace

Promiscuities by Naomi Wolf

Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon

Books Unfinished

Minimalism by Joshua Milburn and Ryan Nicodermus

Probably more but who puts effort into remembering the shitty books they forgot to finish reading?

I spent a portion of last month's entry talking about how maybe I just don't like short story collections and therefore can't finish them. I am now inclined to blame that on specific short story collections I was reading because in a surprising turn of events my first two books this month were both wonderful short story collections that I read and finished quickly.

The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol is a new collection chronicling moments in the lives of characters who fall outside of the traditional definitions of Americans. The style and many of the subjects reminded me of both Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss, both of whom I love.

The characters have unique lives and yet share impulses that connect them to the reader across gender and nationality and situation. The stories explore situations both seemingly mundane and outwardly tragic, but they are united by a crisp voice that varies with each character who inhabits it and come through with insights that are a huge part of the reason I love reading quality fiction.

A gem -

I used to be the kind of person who could eat a really good sandwich and that would be enough,” Tomer said. “And now I walk around and see people laughing, at the movies or wherever, and it's like I'm a separate species.”

Due to the success of my foray into short stories with that book, I decided to give No One Belongs here More than You by Miranda July a try. (July, a try. Nobody will ever get over rhymes and puns if they are me and my friends.) I read this straight through on the plane from here back home in July (July again) and absolutely loved it. Where The UnAmericans chronicled stories about people who are outside the cultural strata of the US, NoBHMTY seemed to focus on the stories of people who follow outside the accepted norms of social interaction, which is something I have more experience with, compared to the no experience I have with being an ethnic minority.

July's voice was elusive but shifted throughout the stories to cater to the personalities of her characters. I found the stories to be creative in plot, content and form, without being so far from the traditions to distract me, which alas may have been the case with last month's unfinished Lydia Davis volume, who I nevertheless recognize as a genius and will give her a try again sometime soon when I have longer to spend on a volume.

The stories were populated with characters who, like myself, have no idea what is going on and feel like they are somewhat behind the times in terms of relationships and doing normal things like having a job and living in general. This was comforting. And again, it was full of the little gems of lines that are why fiction helps us cross the borders of life and realize that we are all idiots running around and some of us just happen to think the same things, and those are the people I look for.

Gems include:

Inelegantly and without my consent, time passed”

We were excited about getting jobs; we hardly went anywhere without filling out an application. But once we were hired - as furniture sanders - we could not believe this was really what people did all day. Everything we had thought of as The World was actually the result of someone's job. Each line on the sidewalk, each saltine. Everyone had a rotting carpet and a door to pay for. Aghast, we quit. There had to be a more dignified way to live. We needed time to consider ourselves, to come up with a theory about who we were and set it to music. “

I would like to point out that this is my thought process for about 90% of every day. Like, dude it is somebody's job to manufacture the little shower rings that you use to keep the curtain on the rod. Somebody started that company. Also the amount of hours of my life that I spend asking people how they want their eggs. Cry. But like I said, that's why I loved this book, it shared my thought processes.

I proceeded to Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, which, if you pay close attention to my life, you already know is the book I purchased when I met David Sedaris and he told me to work at Hooters. This event is going to be chronicled in a few upcoming blog entries which explore the event itself, men saying things, and my boobs, so I won't say too much about it now.

The book itself was what most David Sedaris books are, which is to say delightful. The way that he speaks of ordinary life with such sass and pizazz and turns everyday things into topics worth discussing is really the goal of great nonfiction writing. He always reminds me that good essays are out there, which alas, spoiler, one of next months books discouraged me from believing. With this volume he included something extra humorous which was making speeches for young forensics competitors and interspersing them in the book. Many of the voices seem very unlike Sedaris himself, which prompted one of my friends who didn't realize what they were to wonder why Sedaris, a gay man, was writing essays against gay marriage. Good times.

Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby is actually the book that inspired me to chronicle my reading in a blog post. The book is a compilation of ten years of his writing monthly book columns for the Believer, and thus it is long and took me a while to finish. He was writing the columns because he is famous and for money while I am writing these blog posts so I have less trouble remembering the books I read, but I think those are both equally respectable.

It turns out that my reason for writing this is understood by Hornby himself, who said “I became depressed by the realization that I'd forgotten pretty much everything I've ever read. I have, however, bounced back: I am cheered by the realization that, if I've forgotten everything I've ever read, then I can read some of my favorite books again as if for the first time.” I look forward to the day that I can reread The Secret History or Lit and have forgotten a lot of it. Actually, that happened the most recent time I reread Lit already so great job brain. I do not look forward to it the day that I accidentally pick up a book that I previously didn't finish because it sucked and end up putting myself through the experience again.

Early in the book he reviews Random Family, one of my recent favorites, and he loved it and thought it was just as knowledgable as I did. So here serves your reminder to read Random Family, especially if, as Hornby puts it, you are “attempting to familiarize yourself with what's going down on the street.”

Hornby does a great job of consistently praising literature and fighting for its place in society. Doing this in a magazine that already only literary types read has its obvious drawbacks, but I'm never one to stop someone from fighting the good fight. He brings up a great point that I often felt while in college and trying to talk to people about books and having them continually compared to TV and movies as if they were the same thing:

If we played Cultural Fantasy Boxing League, and made books go fifteen rounds in the ring against the best that any other art form had to offer, then books would in pretty much every time.”

To follow up that joyous note, let's hear this sobering statistic that he throws at us: “A survey conducted by WHSmith in 2000 found that 43 percent of adults questioned were unable to name a favorite book, and 45 percent failed to to come up with a favorite author. Forty percent of Britons and 43% of Americans never read any books at all, of any kind.” I don't really know what to do about this, but it greatly depresses me, and I have been quoting that number at people all month. Just, le cry.

Perhaps what I do about this is read too much, hence my tendency to forget a lot of things I read. I say this because Hornby seems to have the problem as well, as evidenced in this quote which I identified with -

I recently discovered that when my friend Mary finishes a book, she won't start another for a couple of days – she wants to give her last reading experience time to breathe so it is not suffocated by the next. This makes sense, and it's an entirely laudable policy, I think. Those of us who read neurotically, however, to ward off boredom, and the fear of our own ignorance, and our own impending deaths – can't afford the time.”

One last interesting thing to note about Ten Years in the Tub is that in the latter half of the book, Hornby becomes very into reading books for youths, which seems to be a big trend right now, championing adults reading books written for children and teenagers. I can't say that I myself am going to be going out and buying any books for children and teenagers soon, especially any that glamorize death or suicide the way that most of the popular ones seem to do, but I do support people being excited to read no matter the book so if you want recommendations of quality literature for youths this book would be a good place to look.

My last book of July was Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace, which I also bought last month at the wonderful used bookstore in the Milwaukee airport. I think that a lot of people like to claim that F Wallace was overrated, or at least I'd been hearing a lot of that lately, before I picked up this book, and I'm glad to say that reading it revived my original love for him and confirmed my belief that he was not at all overrated. This was, I believe, his middle collection of essays, and though he's lauded as a genius more for his fiction than his nonfiction, his nonfiction is really what I love most. I think that it's near impossible to find good essayists, not because the form is so difficult, but because most people want to be essayists without actually having a very interesting life or without the skill to write well about other people's lives. F Wallace's nonfiction is primarily reporting on other topics, I actually haven't read any essays by him that I would call a personal essay and from what I read in his introduction to Best American Essays 2007 he kind of disdains the form. Which I understand because I've read so many bad ones. But anyway, I'm sure partially because he had the privilege of being a famous writer who was asked to write about interesting things, all of his essays are about great and deep topics. However his level of deep thought about said topics and the many contingent points he makes on them are due only to his talent.

I feel silly listing my favorite essays of the collection because I liked so many of them, but I'll go with a sentence on each:

Big Red Son is the darkly hilarious story of Wallace's trip to cover the Adult Video Network's awards show, and it exposes the inner side of the porn industry and the complications and expected calamities of porn fans meeting their favorite stars.

Certainly the End of Something or Other, One Would Have to Think calls out John Updike and a bunch of other male writers for being misogynists and also throws in some great parody.

Authority and American Usage, a review of a language use dictionary, made me want to go out and buy a language use dictionary and read it like it was a novel. So good job Dave.

The View from Mrs. Thompson's because I have a weird love for essays that relate to September 11th and this is one of the best.

How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart is Wallace's negative review of the 'autobiography' (quotes because is it an autobiography when it's ghostwritten?) of a childhood tennis prodigy which goes on to smack talk sports biographies in general.

Consider the Lobster, the title essay, chronicles Wallace's trip to cover the Maine Lobster Festival. In his traditional fashion he turns this into a critique on the way we consume animals which actually made me want to be a vegetarian. I should say here that this is a pretty big deal because I've lived with and been friends with mostly vegetarians for the better part of five years and have never really considered it until reading this essay.

I was lucky to go home to Wisconsin in July, and home of my youth is also home of a lot of my favorite bookstores, most notably A Room of One's Own, which markets itself as a feminist bookstore. Feminism and bookstores! Two of my favorite things. I also hit up Frugal Muse and the aforementioned used book store at the Milwaukee Airport.

Soon I'm going to embark on the journey of doing some serious thinking about grad school, hence the compilation books Should I Go to Grad School and MFA vs. NYC. I have semi-made the maybe-decision to probably-definitely not apply this year, but it is important to begin thinking about it nonetheless and as much as I'd like to avoid it because I hate thinking about the poor state of academia, to begin thinking about the future. The constant question in my life really is how long can I stand to be a waitress at IHOP while also having an academic mind, and ways to enrich my academic mind while working at aforementioned pancake house.

Alas August will probably be lighter on the books bought because I had to pay a deposit on a house and I am poor now, le cry. My main goal for the month is to try to find a San Diego bookstore that has stocked Friendship by Emily Gould, but to do this I will have to go into a lot of bookstores and if I go into a lot of bookstores I will come out with a lot of books. And I have no money. You see the circle.

When I was home buying books, I picked up Minimalism which is about getting rid of your stuff and living a simple life because the two guys who wrote it were going to be at A Room of One's Own the Friday I was back. I read about a chapter and realized that I didn't need two guys to tell me about how money doesn't make you happy, because I already know that and it didn't take me working in sales for seven years to figure it out. Also, in the words of James Greene, “It's pretty easy to talk about living a minimalistic lifestyle when you're getting paid to travel around the country and talk about it.” Touche, James, touche.

Below is a to read list based on the books I want to eventually find after reading about them in Ten Years in the Tub. Perhaps I will keep doing this because it'd be nice to have a list for when I go into bookstores.

To read

Enemies of Promise by Cyril Connoly

something by Tobias Wolff

True Notebooks by Mark Salzman

A Disorder Particular to the Country by Ken Kalfus

essays by Montaigne

Let's Talk about Love: A Journey to the End of Taste by Carl Wilson

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson