Thursday, February 27, 2014

Jazz Potatoes


Henry: (Running over, holding a watermelon) Can we get it? A personal watermelon? I think we need a personal watermelon!

Me: Bud, I--

Addie: It's not in season.

Me: Right, it's not in season, that's what I was going to say.

Addie: It's not in season, so it will be too expensive and it won't even taste good.

Me: I guess my work here is done.


Henry: Can I get Cocoa Pebbles?

Me: Not today, only because they're not on sale. You can get the Froot Loops. We'll just tell Dad it was too good a deal and we had to get them instead of a healthy cereal because they were so cheap.

Henry: Swag.

Me: (laughing) Swag?

Addie: Yeah, he's saying that now. He did something and he was like, (head nod) "Swag!"

Me: Um.

Henry: Yeah. (Nods.)

Addie: But then he was like, "wait, are we not supposed to say 'swag'? Is it bad?"


Addie: (dancing)

Me: Feeling dancy?

Addie: Yeah. The grocery store just makes me want to dance.

Me: Me too, kinda.

Addie: I just can't help it. There's all this jazzy music, and these (looks around) jazzy potatoes.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Links to Stuff I Read and Saw

I've been trying lately to be more aware of what's out there in the literary world, to engage more in what's happening. Here's some stuff I read this week that amused me.

This piece in LARB about Frasier Crane raises some good questions about binge-watching and Her-style attachments we form to the characters in fiction. This piece about a biography of Fosse is great, but as a dancer, I cringed at the phrase "intentionally pirouetting himself to death."

I'm not going to AWP Seattle, but Roxane Gay gives some helpful tips in How to Swim in a Sea of Writers.

Twitter is buzzing this morning about even the mere suggestion that this might happen: free residencies for writers? Yay. Jessica Gross rides the rails and kicks off a whole writer/Amtrak thing.

David Ulin is doing good work, as always. Here he is on the Great American Novel and guilty pleasures.

I don't get it, but I want to get it. The Partingtons are officially obsessed with True Detective, but I don't claim to understand yet what it's all about.

On sadness. My friend JA of Old Single Mom gives some concrete advice for walking through that which you cannot go around.

Richard Thomas (whose 15 Highly Anticipated Books From (Mostly) Small Presses I also enjoyed) lists 21 Anthologies Every Author Should Own on Buzzfeed. Another listicle worth checking out: Electric Literature's The Great 2014 Indie Press Preview on their blog, The Outlet.

Interviews: Michelle Richmond with a self-interview at TNB, and Gina Frangello at Zulkey

And this, in parenting (via @GeorgeTakei)

I have still yet to watch a single Olympic event (I could claim ideological reasons for abstaining, but the less exciting truth is that I'm so bored by sports and I've finally decided to embrace that), but twitter mentions of Stravinsky during the Opening Ceremony reminded me to go looking for Youtube clips of Rite of Spring. I'd love to see this version from San Francisco Ballet.

And in other earthy, powerful ballet news, Sacramento Ballet is changing up its spring program, and will be performing one of my favorites, Carmina Burana (set to Orff's very medieval and very literary O Fortuna).

And finally, did you do this too? When I was in 6th grade, my teacher used to make us do this dance when she decided she was tired of us we had too much energy. (Which was, as I recall, a lot.) I've had the song stuck in my head for about two years, and I just figured out the other day that it was called Popcorn. Do you remember it? It's a total earworm. Listen and enjoy.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Gallery Walk

I can't stop thinking about that bird book. Days after finishing Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, I'm still walking around with the story in my head. Wondering about the characters as though their lives continue. It was a meaty read, and I savored it. This lingering feeling, though, after finishing a book, is so rare that I've been trying to think about why it happens. And to observe that phenomenon while letting it happen to me at the same time. Memories from the book keep popping up at odd moments in my day. I keep thinking of all the characters. Dabs of language. Questions I still have.

The Goldfinch is Donna Tartt's story of Theo Decker, caught in a terrorist bombing at the Met as a teen. He loses his mother that day and ends up with the painting by Carel Fabritius (the iconic finch peeking through that trompe l'oeil book cover); the painting becomes his prized, secret possession. Theo's story takes him from New York to Las Vegas and back again over a span of 14 years. He meets a mixed bag of characters--spend any time reading reviews and you'll see the word Dickensian--and falls for a damaged girl who he then loves from afar. The story takes him through casino culture, the world of furniture restoration, bus stops, drug culture, and in and out of various entanglements of companionship. Always, he carries the painting along with some serious feelings of doubt about how to move on without his mother.

In an interview at The Rumpus, story writer Stephen Comer says this of stories that stick to us:
I used to be sad that stories and novels actually end. Now I realize they don’t really have to. That the conversation can go on—does this make any sense? If a novel or a story works, you don’t stop thinking about it; it doesn’t truly end.
By this definition, then, The Goldfinch works. For me. That is to say that the book hasn't ended.

This has manifested itself in my life in an unusual way. Since I finished reading it, my thoughts have started to coalesce around one particular idea of what it meant--to me only, not in the general sense. I've been reading reviews of the book obsessively, searching for my own feelings in them and hoping to see them mirrored back. Confirmed, as though that would matter, somehow. I haven't yet found them. Or not quite. There are certainly a range of opinions, from the earliest reviews that championed and celebrated the book to the more recent comers who want to take on the idea of the long and winding novel, itself.

The writing on this book runs the gamut because it's so popular. Any aspect of the book you can imagine has been covered. There's this piece in Vanity Fair that begins by discussing Tartt's book covers (good stuff on the words there, too: "If Bret Easton Ellis was our Truman Capote, then Donna Tartt was our Harper Lee.") There's this piece at The Millions by Adam Dalva, who sees himself in the main character, Theo. This piece even instructs about how to tweet like Boris.

It's no secret why I'd want to pay attention to book reviews, but one thing I'm trying to measure is my reaction to a negative or a positive review. I've kept myself pretty quiet on the discussion of the idea of negative criticism largely because as a newbie book critic, I want to work. This fight over positive vs. negative continues to be a hot topic (since last fall when Isaac Fitzgerald said in an interview on Poynter that he would only run positive reviews as BuzzFeed's new books editor). It isn't wise for me to rant about the subject. But that hasn't stopped me from trying to gauge my own reaction to reviews: to see how they affect me as a reader and consumer. The argument against negative book reviews is that they will hurt sales. Is this true? I've been conducting my case study of one, and my first test case has been The Goldfinch.

Criticism abounds. Stephen King reviews the book for the New York times, saying, "[l]ike the best of Dickens [...], the novel turns on mere happenstance". NPR calls it a "crowded, exuberantly plotted triumph of a novel", declaring it worth the wait. Tartt's habit of writing a book once every decade or so is a common theme of reviews.

This thoughtful piece from Kamila Shamsie at The Guardian focuses not just on the action of the novel, but the stillness. "The novel changes gear and, for a while, is primarily involved with showing us, affectingly, the dislocation of Theo's life – a dislocation both emotional and physical." Shamsie is right--what makes The Goldfinch work so well is Tartt's ability to sustain interest through the quieter moments of those nearly 800 pages. Tartt makes Theo compelling, flawed. He rings true, without becoming a stereotype of a brooding young man.

James Wood reviews it in this excellent piece for The New Yorker. This experiential piece in The Rumpus calls Tartt's work "catnip for educated people who want to read entertaining but not difficult things about lofty topics and cosmopolitan people." Me-ow. Helena Fitzgerald at The Nervous Breakdown is consumed by the book, yet just flat out doesn't like what it represents. Greg Gwik looks at it in the context of Tartt's other work in LARB. It seems you can consider this book from just about any angle.

Except this, which I have yet to find. There's a moment in The Goldfinch when Theo studies his love interest, Pippa, and remarks that she's small even though she's reached adulthood. That time seems to have frozen for her at the moment of the bombing. They say that tragedy stunts the growth of girls at her school who experience trauma. That their development stops, and for some this means they never fully mature. That, for me, is the essence of Theo and of the novel itself: the stasis that came from the moment of the explosion in the earliest pages resulted in an extended adolescence. And I think Theo resonates with us as a character because we're a nation that's both felt tragedy and adjusted our expectations about what are expectations are of young people. Theo ages, yes. He gets older. But to hear this novel described as a bildungsroman or coming of age novel feels false. The book has has the trappings of the classic story, with the boy growing into a man, but Tartt does something more interesting. She moves him away from school. Away from the city. Away, in many ways, from education, development and the kind of experiences that build up your run of the mill teenage protagonist. Does Theo change? He seems to become more of himself--more of the guilt-ridden young man who ducked into the museum with his mom to escape the rain, and more of his father, the genes of avarice, excess and obsession asserting themselves more obtusely. He is bigger, bolder, more. But changed? A dynamic character? Tartt's novel seems to defy that interpretation.

This fascinates me. And makes it amazing. I haven't yet found that in a review. But I can tell you that I sure enjoyed reading them all. And not one of them made me not want to read the book. A few of them made me want to read it again.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A New Corner

So, Henry's tonsil and adenoid surgery was a much bigger deal than Eric and I expected. And I don't say that to try to compare his struggles to anyone else's--I see it for what it was, exactly, which is an elective surgery. But man. It sucked. Homeboy was in serious pain. All of the conversations I had with people beforehand involved knowing smiles and a little teasing about ice cream and popsicles, and usually proclamations like "it's a good thing kids heal so much faster than adults." But honestly? That's some BS. I think kids just put up with whatever we ask them to because they don't have a choice. His recovery was really difficult, and involved almost two weeks of waking up multiple times a night in frantic, crying pain. It was like having a baby again, only he was an 8 year old, yelling, hitting baby. He's better now and I'm still glad he had it done because he will sleep better over his lifetime. But it was rough. I'm not sure if we collectively think that tonsillectomies are an easier deal than they are because kids used to stay in the hospital for a few days before coming home, or if it's just easy to forget what happens when you're 8. But Hanko had a crappy few weeks, and I wasn't quite sure how to deal with that information while it was happening. Or write about it, without sounding hysterical.

Yes. Things are better now with Henry, though he's lost some weight and his voice is higher. A little more nasal, maybe? All normal, I hear. We're trying to breathe a little in the February calm before spring sports hit and we spend the next four months driving to kid and husband games, pretending Mommy has the fortitude to sit through sporting events and/or speak to other humans in bleachers.

So I haven't written anything here, but I've been productive as hell. That's something. I've been working hard at my (teaching) job, and making book reviews my other job (or, like, faking until making). I had my first book review published by LARB the other day, and I was so happy I cried when it went up. I cried over a book review, you guys. What a turd. It's just one review and I'm like, the smallest fish in the pond, but it feels like the first day I spent training as an apprentice to a professional ballet company. There's something thrilling about even being the worst one in the room. Just getting to that room is a big deal.

This is working out to be kind of an update post, so here are some updates:

I bought a paper calendar for just my writing. Old school. I'm taking it waaaay back, kids. Normally I use Google Calendar synced with my phone for everything--and I mean everything--but it was time to put my writing jobs and tasks in one place that wasn't mixed up with dentist appointments and dinners I want to cook and miles I wanted to run. I needed to write some things in pencil so I could feel the satisfaction of crossin' them out. Check.


I made a corner of my own. I moved some furniture today in my bedroom and shoved a card table into the corner as a placeholder for a desk. Kind of like when I was working on my thesis, only slightly more permanent. We've been talking about buying something to put there so I can write at home, so this is still a temporary fix. I tried it out today and it was uncomfortable, but I didn't have to leave. And the view wasn't bad. I like my outside.

Speaking of outside, I'm weirdly obsessed with sitting in my car lately at work. Maybe this is not the kind of thing a healthy person shares. On second thought, maybe this is not the kind of thing a healthy person does, especially not multiple separate times per day. But an odd combination of factors including the fact that I have a student teacher mean that I have all these breaks in the middle of my work day and I need to be working on things in a silent place. And I don't like working where I can't see the sky. And almost none of the buildings in my school have windows. So I've made it a habit to work in my car during these breaks. Lots of windows. Lots of silence. Freedom from interruption. Boom, office. What's not to like, right?

I just finished the best book, Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch. I'll probably write about it soon because I'm bursting with thoughts and feelings, but I couldn't bear to hold on to this one thought any longer: please read it. And then see art. Lots of art.

My passport came, and I feel like the whole world (pun intended) is my oyster.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go buy some price change stamps. Because I think I'm the only person in the world who bought priced stamps instead of Forever stamps (they were so pretty!) and now I need some 3¢-ers. I know, I know. What a turd.