Monthly Archives: July 2009

Stuff Heather Thinks is Super Great

Boy, do I like a lot of things this week!

Joshua Ferris. A few days ago The New Yorker published a story of his called  “The Valetudinarian,” which I may be a tad positively biased toward seeing as I heard him do the first half of it at a reading, but regardless, this story is worth checking out: funny and sad and kind of demented.  Though I still prefer his first New Yorker piece, “The Dinner Party,” which is similarly heartbreaking and hilarious.

David Malki (again). Steampunk jokes?  Mr. Malki, you are killing me.

“Hard to Live in the City,” Albert Hammond, Jr. Confession: I first heard this song on Gossip Girl.  But I didn’t rediscover –– and recall how much I loved  –– it until last week at writing camp, when my brilliant kabinmate played it on her iTunes.  What a great song!  The slight growl in Hammond’s vocals makes it feel as if New York sidewalk grit got onto the recording.

The Facebook group for advocates of a library-themed Ben & Jerry’s flavor. My vote goes to “Gooey Decimal System” –– though if we’re also considering literary flavors rather than strictly library ones, I’d like to suggest “The Grapes of Deliciousness,” “The Amazing Adventures of Caramel and Choc,” “Of Ice and Lemon,” and “Wuthering Bites.”

Zombie hip-hop. I am not that into zombies, generally –– not as much as Rachel, anyway –– but I simply cannot resist a group dressed in petticoats and breeches, jerking around like the hip undead.  Particularly if they are choreographed by Wade Robson:

Pop-jazz. Don’t ask me what the difference between “pop-jazz” and “jazz” is; I don’t know.  And I don’t care, really, as long as the genre keeps producing routines like the one Jeanine and Brandon did to Jordin Sparks’ addictive (if clearly derivative) “Battlefield”:

Jason from SYTYCD. In honor of Jason’s being kicked off, I offer the routine I should have mentioned here a few weeks ago, and the moment in time when Jason went from pinchable-cheeked innocent to Y-chromosomed young adult in the eyes of the voting public:

“Gravity,” Sara Bareilles. What is up, you must be asking, with the pop music, Heather?  You are regressing to your teenybopper roots.  To which I say, when did I ever stray that far from my teenybopper roots?  Furthermore, this song is quietly heartbreaking.

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oh! indecisiveness is me!

I returned from writing camp with eight books more than I left with, and I have seven of those left to read.  This past hour, when I went out to pick up the mail and return a library book, I discovered that not only did the town library finally buy its own copy of Oscar Wao, but McSweeney’s mailed me the package of back issues (and The Believer’s Book of Writers Talking with Writers) that I ordered in a frenzy last week during their clearance sale, because all of those issues were five dollars each and how can one resist such a proposition?

So now I have twelve different options for reading, but am equally intrigued by all of them, making it impossible to decide which should come first.  A dilemma, a great and terrible dilemma!

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the evening shift, day 348

A fiftysomething man in mechanic’s uniform, wearing a sewn-on nametag and muttonchop-like Fu Manchu, walks up to the register and I say, “Hi, how are you?”

“Tired. But now I’m wide awake…. Heather,” he adds, leaning slightly forward and squinting at the nametag pinned to my chest. I consider he might be in his sixties, not fifties, and hope this gesture is due to rheumatism or something similar. I begin to ring up his purchases when, after a few moments, the man remarks, “Why, look how white you are! You don’t have time to go to the beach?”

What.

I admit that I went to the beach yesterday, in fact, but as I don’t tan –– rather, I just burn, peel, then go pale again –– I wasn’t taking any chances, so I had SPF-45’d it.

“Well… you look like you got a little color on your arms,” the man says, and moves his hand as if to touch the body part in question. “Though the rest of you is very white.”

I pick up a can of Campbell’s and shove it in a plastic bag in order to keep my arms out of reach. “Yes. I am pretty pale all of the time.”

A line has formed behind him and he’s swiping his credit card even as he continues talking about my skin. When he leaves and I turn to the next customer, a kindly-looking woman, it’s such a relief. At least until I’m handing her a receipt of her own, at which point she looks right in my eyes and says, “Heather, honey, may I give you something? It’s very important.” And out of her purse comes a Jesus tract: It’s Simple to Be Saved.

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summer book club 09 returns: this time it’s personal

I have just come back from two weeks of vacation. There are two things you do on vacation: get sunburned and read books. We’ve already discussed the first, so let’s move onto the second.

The Five Forty Five to Cannes, Tess Uriza Holthe. I liked this book! I did not like it as much as I had hoped to, but I liked it. It’s a collection of linked short stories, and enjoyed some more than others. The main story – that of an American millionaire (Chazz) and French waitress (Claudette) who fall in love, but have their marriage torn apart by his manic-depressive disorder – was not actually super compelling. But the side stories – the elderly Jewish woman who sees Chazz in Cannes, or the young Roma boy whose brothers sell him drugs – are sometimes really special. Overall I would give it like three and a half stars, but maybe it was just overshadowed by the other really wonderful things I read?

Sideshow, edited by Deborah Noyes. I got a copy of this because I love circus stories and the “carnivalesque,” as my pretentious comp lit teacher calls it. It totally delivered on that: bearded ladies! Plural! Very small people! Giraffes! I did not find myself super impressed by the writing, but then had to remind myself that it is technically a YA book, and maybe I should stop being an English major sometimes. It is okay not to write papers! Giraffes are great!

Ask For A Convertible, Danit Brown. This has all of my favorite things in it. Israelis! Jews! Israeli Jews! Sweet, awkward teenaged sex! Ruminations on identity and ethnicity and nationality! Weird, morbid, adorable elementary schoolers! Elvis impersonators! I don’t know if you can tell, but I really enjoyed this one, and it is fantastic. As someone who writes and reads, I feel like there are two kinds of really good books: the ones that are so intimidatingly good that you feel like it’s not worth picking up your own pen ever again, and ones that spur you on to pursue your own literary greatness. This was one of the latter, and therefore an absolute pleasure in every sense. I highly recommend it.

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz. You may recall that this won a Pulitzer. In light of that, there’s very little praise that I can give it without being redundant; you might be better off just reading some of the glowing reviews it has received from every other literate person on the planet. I will add that my favorite parts are, I think, on pages 199 and 277 respectively. Also, that I have a few (very respectful) questions for Mr. Díaz; having read the original short story, I can’t help but notice that there were a few noticeable changes made in the novelization. Not huge, plot-changing ones, but individual words. (I am not embarrassed to admit that I really do remember the exact wording of the story. It’s that good.) This baffles me. It sounds cheesy, but virtually every sentence in the original New Yorker story was perfect. Why change it? In the time in between the two works, why did “attacked” seem more appropriate than “raped”? I don’t remember the word “toto” being used at all in the original; where did that come from? I recognize that it’s pretty uppity to criticize a Pulitzer prize winning author’s choice of words, but I’d really like to know.

What Was Lost, Catherine O’Flynn. This is one of those books that I immediately flagged as Something Heather Would Like. Heather, listen: it’s set in the UK, it features a precocious young girl who wants to be a detective, a glum but endearing mall security guard, and an acerbic young woman stuck in a soul-deadening retail job. Actually, this sounds like something you might have written. It was mostly good! It’s one of those books that deals with the numbing nature of contemporary living, and whose characters struggle to throw off the apathy they’ve developed and feel alive again etc. Some of the feeling-alive-again moments were not entirely convincing for me (“You know what, lame boyfriend who I’m only with out of habit and is a symbol of my resignation to a boring life? You’re dumb and I don’t love you!”) but the end is kind of creepy and haunting and well done. It also has an interesting angle of discussing “mall culture,” and the rise of the shopping center in the UK. There are these great little vignettes taken directly from the heads of mall shoppers that are really almost better than the central narrative.

Things I am reading now: Now Is the Hour, by Tom Spanbauer, and I’m Down, by Mishna Wolff.  Both have been well reviewed, the former by my favorite blogger and the latter by the whole literary community. So far my feelings are mixed. I will share more later!

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Stuff Rachel Fucking Hates

Sorry this is hella late, and also sorry about the extreme lack of blogging this week. Peter probably would have done an admirable job filling in, but sadly Heather and I didn’t have it together enough to make that happen. I apologize! I still hate a lot of stuff! Perhaps it will even serve as a kind of update.

Sunburns. I was unhappy when I got sunburned in between my shoulderblades last week – exactly the spot that you’re not able to scratch or apply lotion to yourself. But then I got sunburned all the way up and down both legs, and decided that was much worse. I am a thick-black-rimmed-glasses-with-skinny-jeans kind of girl, and let me tell you that tight denim is not soothing to sunburns. Also, I just scratch constantly now, and I think my coworkers think I have fleas.

The crick in my neck. In the past two weeks I have slept in two planes and a variety of cars all over the East coast, after flying to and from California and then driving to and from Jersey. Once in Jersey, I slept on a daybed, which as far as I can tell is a glorified futon covered with throw pillows. I hate to sound like a whiny old lady, but goddamn did I miss my Tempurpedic neck pillow. This shit hurts.

Not going to writing camp. Aaaaaagh you have no idea how jealous of Heather I am. I bet Thisbe makes fucking fantastic cranberry muffins or scones or whatever.

When my shit breaks. While I was in Jersey, my laptop stopped working. Again. For the third time this summer. You know, the summer where I am trying frantically to pound out my thesis. This was irritating, but I tried to be Zen about it. After all, what’s a thesis? But then, in a fucking Perfect Storm of technology disasters, my GPS literally exploded into different pieces, and then the next thing to break was my fucking car. If I finish this blog entry before the desktop PC I’m writing it on fucking bursts into flames, I’ll be impressed.

Cyberchondria. I recently accused Heather of having this, – the tendency to research the (extremely common and innocuous) symptoms you’re experiencing online, and conclude that you have a fatal disease ranging from pancreatic cancer to Japanese encephalitis. And while I’m still 100% sure that I was correct and justified in doing so, I have to admit that I succumb to it sometimes too. Most recently my thing is magnesium deficiency. Frequent tension headaches? Check. Back pain? Check. Itchy eyes? Grinding teeth? Sleep spasms? I have even managed to convince myself that I maybe have a mild case of “tingling/numb hands.” If you need me, I’ll be over there, eating magnesium supplements with a spoon.

More to come later! More lists! More updates! More imagined medical conditions! Stay tuned!

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Stuff Heather Thinks is Super Great

The trailer for Where the Wild Things Are. Made me feel like a kid again.  Man, is there anything Dave Eggers could do that I wouldn’t like?

Writing camp. The reason this Super Great list’s late by two days is because I was away at an intensive writing conference for the week, holed up in a log cabin and a chicken coop.  Tonight I have returned, tired and plastered with bug bites but joyful and triumphant all the same.  I learned a lot, met great people, and ate tasty food.  In short: a perfect week (minus the profusion of mosquito bites on my legs).

Chickens. Soft, hilarious animals.  Who knew there was such a thing as a “lap chicken”?

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I caved to curiosity and actually bought this a few days ago.  It’s amazing!  The zombie bits fit surprisingly well into the original narrative.  I am impressed.

Thisbe Nissen. An excellent writer (read Out of the Girls’ Room and Into the Night! do it!!), talented cranberry-muffin-baker and altogether wonderful human being.

Campfires. So much more fun than I remembered!  If only the rest of Girl Scouts had been that nice.

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Rachel will have to take over this week

because I am at an academic conference until Sunday. Really this means I get to hang out with a rooster that looks like Snuffleupagus and people who, regardless of sexual orientation, call their significant others their “partners.” Today I got locked in the chicken coop!

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