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

Please Don't Feed the Millennials

A few words from good old Google auto-fill to begin the day:

Millennials are lazy

Millennials are the worst

Millennials are doomed

Plug in an S and it gets even better:






Apart from the occasional humor - “millennials are changing the wine industry” and truth - “millennials are poor,” every letter of the alphabet feeds you another negative thing that millennials are. But of course, this doesn't come as a surprise to anyone under the age of – what is it, 26, 25? What's the age cut off for the generation who haven't stopped hearing about how lazy, entitled, and selfish we are since we graduated high school? Or there's my personal favorite, that millennials are going to ruin the nation.

These statements and words have become such cultural touchstones to be considered the gospel. The dangerous thing about a blanket statement becoming the gospel is that people begin restating it as fact without evidence. And since my graduation from college, when this issue became of particular interest to me, I haven't found any examples or evidence – aside from the occasional mention of an overly-privileged millennial (which is an issue I will come back to) – that support this claim that has pervaded our national rhetoric so far as to be considered the truth.

What I've seen in the most reliable type of evidence, real life observations, is a generation who are fighting to not even swim, but just stay afloat against a tidal wave of societal circumstances seemingly engineered to fight their success, all while being flat out told that they are the ones with the problems.

Let's take an oft-quoted opinion: “Millennials are lazy,” and a few facts: “There are fewer jobs available for recent college graduates than ever before. The economy is the worst. 50% of millennials are unemployed or underemployed.”

It is routine to hear of someone my age applying for 70 jobs before they even hear back for a first interview. That isn't one person I talked to once on the train, numbers in that range are what you're going to hear from most every young person who has been on the job market lately. And that isn't necessarily applying to 70 jobs that someone wants and then eventually getting one. Oftentimes, that is applying to 70 jobs that one may or may not want, eventually beginning to apply for customer service jobs because we have to pay the bills, applying to 50 more of those, and eventually getting a job as a cashier, secretary, or server.

What about applying for upwards of fifty jobs is lazy? The research? The hours obsessively checking job websites, writing and rewriting cover letters, researching companies, and talking all your skills into a tiny box to fit what a random employer might want? This work not only ends in no pay but frequently in no acknowledgment whatsoever from the job postings. When I applied for 'real jobs,' I was happy to get a rejection letter, because at least it meant that someone was reading what I had sent them, instead of the norm, which was hours and weeks of work going into a void that might as well have been an empty computer in a walled off office building.

For some people, those searches pay off. Some get lucky. Many have a connection through a parent or relative, et al. But some of us don't have the funds to support ourselves while spending eight hours a day applying for these so-called 'real' jobs, or a well-connected adult who can shepherd us in to the working world, so we eventually have to start applying for the category of jobs that the news media calls 'underemployed.' These jobs are generally minimum wage or close to it. Most of them are in the customer service industry.

I'd like to find one person in America who has actually worked a customer service job for their livelihood who would apply the word 'lazy' to it. Is lazy running around on your feet all day, catering to demanding and often rude people who have connotated the word 'server' with the word 'slave?' Is lazy cleaning people's houses? Is lazy driving rotating herds of drunk people around for eight hours of a night? Is lazy having to reapply for temp jobs every other month because no one is hiring for long term?

Anyone who has actually done these things can certainly tell you that no, it actually requires a large amount of energy, stamina, and willpower. To spend four years in an intellectually stimulating environment that preps you for a certain kind of life only to graduate and find that that life is not now, and may never be, available to you, and to put this mindset that you were trained to have to work in a placid, negative environment and try to retrain your brain every single day to accept your new circumstances is not lazy. It may be a fact of modern life that we will have to learn to accept, but it is absolutely not lazy.

Another category of millennials is those who work in unpaid internships while holding down a day job. I would have thought it was obvious that the concept of working for no pay inherently makes one not lazy, but I suppose to our elders this is not clear. I'll illustrate it as such: if you aren't getting paid to do something, why would you do it? A few reasons come to mind: dedication, passion, belief that hard work now will pay off later. None of these are even close to synonymous with 'laziness.' If you go to work at a low paying job for forty hours a week, only to use your precious few hours of time off to do more work for which you receive little to no recognition and certainly no pay, then you might be called crazy by some, too optimistic by others, but lazy only by people who have never tried to live a life like yours for even a day, even a second.

I can't speak for millennials who got jobs through their parents, or who work in unpaid internships while being supported by their families. What I can say is this: it seems silly to blame the young people who were given something great when everyone around them has shit. It's hard to blame someone for being entitled when they were brought up to be that way, perhaps by their parents funding their every move. Sure, a few of those millennials may be selfish, but they are in the minority, and shouldn't we question the adults who trained them to act that way?

Speaking of which, aren't those adults of our parents age the ones calling us lazy and selfish and entitled in the first place? (I will note here since this is on my blog and thus I am allowed personal sidenotes that my parents are excellent, have never called me lazy, selfish, or entitled, have expressed great sympathy for my unfortunate employment situation, and raised me to work hard and take responsibility for my situation) It seems that this generation is the primary group of people who are so keen on blaming the end of everything on this new generation that has barely had enough time to gather the materials to begin to make their mark on the world, let alone had enough time to full out wreck it.

I'm not going to suggest that the baby boomers purposefully engineered a societal movement to blame the problems of the United States on the millennials, but I am going to say that it seems pretty convenient for them when some of the problems we are facing now can actually be traced back to choices that they themselves made.

Let's take the problem of not enough jobs. Not enough jobs? Maybe there aren't enough jobs because there are too many people. Thanks to the knowledge of my man Jonathan Franzen as communicated in his novel Freedom and the subsequent research and readings it led me to, overpopulation is indeed one of the if not the greatest problem facing the world today. Of course overpopulation has much more catastrophic consequences than a lack of jobs for young people, but this is certainly one of the tangential effects.

Why is the United States overpopulated? All these millennials who have come of age and thus need jobs didn't just pop out of thin air. Oh yes, we were birthed by a generation who decided that they could have as many kids as they wanted without regard to the future environmental or socioeconomic affects of their actions. What's a word that one can apply to people who do things in their own self interest without regard for the future consequences? Selfish and entitled, two that are ironically often applied to millennials, are the ones that come to mind.

Is it possible that part of the reason that this generation spends so much time bemoaning ours and claiming that we will be the death of society is that they are trying to cover up the fact that the damage we're supposedly inflicting was already done by their own hand?

It's worth thinking about. Why the rush to blame so many things on a group of people who have barely had time to understand the modern world, much less make it 'doomed'? Shouldn't the attitude towards a group of people who despite their high levels of education are more likely to be serving you food than learning from you at work be sympathy, not derision? It seems it would be smarter to support our generation in the hope that we will gain the strength to fight our nations problems, rather than waste time in what is effectively talking shit. Extremely well publicized and funded shit talking, but shit talking none the less.

Honestly though, I'm not that worried about being a millennial, and I'm not going to spend any of my precious non working hours considering how we are doomed or how we are going to be the death of the nation.

Instead, I'm going to use my customer service job to learn how to deal with frustrating humans, befriend people from different backgrounds, and work so hard that no one can ever call me lazy to my face. And in my free time, instead of waiting for someone from the last generation to teach me how to do things their way, I'm going to write essays and stories and create things and ideas and communities that help me find my own branch of what I define as success, instead of going by the arbitrary and clearly ineffective parameters set by those before us. The reason I'm not afraid for my generation is that I know I'm not alone in this.

All around me I see people willing to work for no pay for causes they believe in.  People going to law school to challenge societal inequality, teaching in low income neighborhoods to try and provide better opportunities for the next generation instead of claiming they're screwed from the get go. People drive for Lyft or Sidecar during the night and build websites that help them realize their dreams during the day. I'm a lucky member of a herd of buffalo who got four years training in making something incredible out of bare bones material and challenging the problems with the patriarchy and society. I don't have any fears about my peers in my generation, because we've all already figured out the solution to this 'millennial problem' – our identity is no longer tied to the jobs that we can't get. We work hard at the jobs we can get, and then we go home and apply ourselves doubly to the real work, the work that is going to prove to those who have been wasting time predicting our demise that we're not selfish or lazy, and certainly not doomed.