12.27.2009

Quotables: Chuck Palahniuk



"Just remember, the same as a spectacular Vogue magazine, remember that no matter how close you follow the jumps: Continued on page whatever. No matter how careful you are, there's going to be the sense you missed something, the collapsed feeling under your skin that you didn't experience it all. There's that fallen heart feeling that you rushed right through the moments where you should've been paying attention. Well, get used to that feeling. That's how your whole life will feel some day. This is all practice. None of this matters. We're just warming up."

12.11.2009

Books I Want for Christmas

It's that wonderful time of year when I can make a Christmas list of things I want. Of course, the list always includes books and here are some of them:

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon. From Publisher's Weekly: Starred Review. Three disparatecharacters and their oddly interlocking lives propel this intricate novel about lost souls and hidden identities from National Book Award–finalist Chaon (You Remind Me of Me). Eighteen-year-old Lucy Lattimore, her parents dead, flees her stifling hometown with charismatic high school teacher George Orson, soon to find herself enmeshed in a dangerous embezzling scheme. Meanwhile, Miles Chesire is searching for his unstable twin brother, Hayden, a man with many personas who's been missing for 10 years and is possibly responsible for the house fire that killed theirmother. Ryan Schuyler is running identity-theft scams for his birth father, Jay Kozelek, after dropping out of college to reconnect with him, dazed and confused after learning he was raised thinking his father was his uncle. Chaon deftly intertwines a trio of story lines, showcasing his characters' individuality by threading subtle connections between and among them with effortless finesse, all the while invoking the complexities of what's real and what's fake with mesmerizing brilliance. This novel's structure echoes that of his well-received debut—also a book of threes—even as it bests that book's elegant prose, haunting plot and knockout literary excellence. (A New York Time's Notable Book of 2009.)


The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist. From Publisher's Weekly: Swedish author Holmqvist's unconvincing debut, part of a wave of dystopias hitting this summer, is set in a near future where men and women deemed dispensable—those unattached, childless, employed in nonessential professions—are checked into reserve bank units for biological material and become organ donors and subjects of pharmaceutical and psychological experiments. When Dorrit Weger, who has lived her adult life isolated and on the brink of poverty, is admitted to the unit, she finds, to her surprise, comfort, friendship and love. Though the residents are under constant surveillance, their accommodations are luxurious, and in their shared plight they develop an intimacy rarely enjoyed in the outside world. But an unlikely development forces Dorrit to confront unexpected choices. Unfortunately, Holmqvist fails to fully sell the future she posits, and Dorrit's underdeveloped voice doesn't do much to convey the direness of her situation. Holmqvist's exploration of female desire, human need and the purpose of life has its moments, but the novel suffers in comparison with similar novels such as The Handmaid's Tale and Never Let Me Go.


Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro. From Publisher's Weekly: Starred Review. Munro's latest collection is satisfyingly true to form and demonstrates why she continues to garner laurels (such as this year's Man Booker International Prize). Through carefully crafted situations, Munro breathes arresting life into her characters, their relationships and their traumas. In Wenlock Edge, a college student in London, Ontario, acquires a curious roommate in Nina, who tricks the narrator into a revealing dinner date with Nina's paramour, the significantly older Mr. Purvis. Child's Play, a dark story about children's capacity for cruelty and the longevity of their secrets, introduces two summer camp friends, Marlene and Charlene, who form a pact against the slightly disturbing Verna, whose family used to share Marlene's duplex. The title, and final, story, the collection's longest and most ambitious, takes the reader to 19th-century Europe to meet Sophia Kovalevski, a talented mathematician and novelist who grapples with the politics of the age and the consequences of success. While this story lacks some of the effortlessness found in Munro's finest work, the collection delivers what she's renowned for: poignancy, flesh and blood characters and a style nothing short of elegant. (Another New York Times Notable Book of 2009.)


Ex Libris: Confessions of A Common Reader by Anne Fadiman. From Publisher's Weekly: The author of last year's NBCC-winning The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, has collected 18 essays about her relationships with books, reading, writing and words. Gathered from the "Common Reader" column Fadiman wrote for Civilization magazine, these essays are all inspired by interesting ideas?how spouses merge their large libraries, the peculiar pleasures of reading mail-order catalogues, the joys of reading aloud, how people inscribe their books and why. Unfortunately, some of these fascinating ideas grow fussy. The minutiae of the shelving arrangements at the Fadiman household brings the reader to agree with the author's husband, who "seriously contemplated divorce" when she begged him to keep Shakespeare's plays in chronological order. The aggressive verbal games waged in Fadiman's (as in Clifton) family are similarly trying: They watched G.E. College Bowl, almost always beating the TV contestants; they compete to see who can find the most typos on restaurant menus; and adore obscure words such as "goetic" (pertaining to witchcraft). At least the author is self-aware: "I know what you may be thinking. What an obnoxious family! What a bunch of captious, carping, pettifogging little busybodies!" Well, yes, but Fadiman's writing, particularly in her briefer essays, is lively and sparkling with earthy little surprises: William Kunstler enjoyed writing (bad) sonnets, John Hersey plagiarized from Fadiman's mother. Books are madeleines for Fadiman, and like those pastries, these essays are best when just nibbled one or two at a time.


The Help by Kathryn Stockett. From Publisher's Weekly: Starred Review. What perfect timing for this optimistic, uplifting debut novel (and maiden publication of Amy Einhorn's new imprint) set during the nascent civil rights movement in Jackson, Miss., where black women were trusted to raise white children but not to polish the household silver. Eugenia Skeeter Phelan is just home from college in 1962, and, anxious to become a writer, is advised to hone her chops by writing about what disturbs you. The budding social activist begins to collect the stories of the black women on whom the country club sets relies and mistrusts enlisting the help of Aibileen, a maid who's raised 17 children, and Aibileen's best friend Minny, who's found herself unemployed more than a few times after mouthing off to her white employers. The book Skeeter puts together based on their stories is scathing and shocking, bringing pride and hope to the black community, while giving Skeeter the courage to break down her personal boundaries and pursue her dreams. Assured and layered, full of heart and history, this one has bestseller written all over it.

12.08.2009

Yet Another Reason To Love Audrey Niffenegger


As I was tooling around on Audrey Niffeneffer's site earlier today I found this little treasure of a response to a reader hoping to find e-book versions of her work:

I am not opposed to the existence of e-books; I know lots of people are wildly enthusiastic about them. But I have spent my life working with books as an art form and I am devoted to physical books. E-books in their current incarnations are still imperfect and they threaten the arts of book design and typography. As a book conservator I am also nervous about the digitization of books: will they be readable one hundred years from now? Or will thousands of books simply vanish as platforms and programs change?

E-books have certain advantages (they are searchable) and disadvantages (they are not beautiful objects in themselves and don’t display images very well). I’m sure they will improve over time, though. I don’t know when or if my books will become e-books. Writing me hostile e-mail about this will not hasten my desire.

Thank you, Audrey! I couldn't agree more. And, even more exciting news, she has started to work on her third novel, entitled The Chinchilla Girl in Exile. I was also informed that "The Night Bookmobile," a story published in weekly installments in The Guardian, will be published as a graphic novel in 2010. If you haven't read this story you can read the first part for free online and will probably want to buy the rest. It's widely creative and appealing to any book lover.

12.07.2009

Do We Ever Say What We Mean?

Christopher Silas Neal

I was catching up on my Modern Love over the weekend and stumbled across “Even in English, a Language Gap”.

The author, Jennifer Percy, states, “Euphemisms, politeness, suggestiveness, sarcasm, irony and passive-aggressive gestures — all risk being lost in translation. In my writing class, I teach my students about subtext. I tell them people alter their conversations depending on whom they wish to address. I tell them people rarely say what they mean, that we are constantly revising our words, that the movement from thought to word is often transformative and strange.”

This statement got me thinking; in relationships, and in life, how often do we say exactly what we mean? How much of our speech is spoken in euphemisms or dysphemisms to avoid or create conflict?

As we are approaching the New Year I have been considering resolutions. Perhaps my resolution will be to speak more candidly in hopes of making my life a little simpler. Rather than relying on others to decipher my subtext I can articulate exactly what I mean when I mean it. As far as resolutions go, this is a lofty one. I can’t exactly measure every statement that comes out of my mouth as being “exactly what I mean”. But, I feel like a step toward that direction will due.

I can’t help but think of one of my favorite Dr. Seuss quotes, “Be who you are say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind”. That basically sums it up. Speaking candidly, I think it’s something many of us aspire to do but few of us actually pull off.

12.03.2009

Quotables: Roy Blount Jr.


Awhile ago I picked up the book Alphabet Juice and I am having a ton of fun with it - mostly because I'm a nerd.

This book is unique and I am going to let the inside cover do the talking: Did you know that both mammal and matter derive from baby talk? Have you noticed how wince makes you wince? Ever wonder why so many h-words have to do with breath?

Roy Blount Jr. certainly has, and after 40 years of making a living using words in every medium, print or electronic, (author of over 30 books) except greeting cards, he still can't get over his ABC's. In Alphabet Juice, he celebrates the electricity, the juju, the sonic and kinetic energies, of letters and their combinations. 

As I mentioned, I am having a ton of fun with this book. It consists of entries that resemble a dictionary but rather than definitions, Blount provides us with a humorous and intellectual take on what makes words so scrumptious.  And, of course, the book is filled with words involving usage and grammar. 

Here are two of my favorites so far:

absolutely

Is heard more and more often in conversation as truth gets more and more relative, whether we like it or not. We need a good solid thumping way of saying yes when, as Alessandra Stanley puts it in The New York Time's, "practically every... drama in prime time is a spooky mystery in which things are never as they seem and nobody can be trusted". Cf. amen

groin

AHD says this is perhaps from the Old English grynde, meaning "abyss" or "hallow," influenced by loin. WIII agrees on grynde (related to ground) but says the oin influence is from the British-dialect groin (related to grunt) meaning "the nose and sometimes the upper lip of an animal (as a swine)."

   (Omigod, I just discovered where oink comes from.)
   If you ask me, groin is a portmanteau of grind, as in bump and grind, and loin.

I also enjoyed Blount's take on Google but the entry is three pages long and in my book, that surpasses a quotable. 

You can read the introduction of Alphabet Juice, courtesy of The New York Times and a review that actually does the book justice, via The Washington Post

12.02.2009

Book Worth Reading: Her Fearful Symmetry




She said, "I know what it's like to be dead.
I know what it is like to be sad."
And she's making me feel like I've never been born.

-The Beatles



While I am partial to Audrey Niffenegger, I am still going to insist that you read Her Fearful Symmetry – Niffenegger’s second novel following The Time Traveler’s Wife.
Her newest novel isn’t exactly a departure from the themes that filled TTTW – namely love that transcends time and place - but Her Fearful Symmetry is most definitely darker than her debut novel and is read as a Gothic Romance. Page by page this novel becomes more eerie and bizarre, but still contains descriptions of romance and love that only Niffengger can employ.
He panicked: How will I remember everything about Elspeth? Now he was full of her smells, her voice, the hesitation on the telephone before she said his name, the way she moved when he made love to her, her delight in impossibly high-heeled shoes, her sensuous manner when handling old books and her lack of sentiment when she sold them. At this moment he knew everything he would ever know of Elspeth, and he urgently needed to stop time so that nothing could escape.

While this novel stands ahead of many others published this year, it won’t be a hit of The Time Traveler’s Wife proportions, nor, in my opinion, should it be. However, Niffenegger had a lot to live up to after her debut and I think she yet again managed to offer an original love story written in beautiful prose.
With that being said, let’s pretend I don’t LOVE Audrey Niffenegger and have an unbais opinion. I would probably mention the ending is given away 50 pages before it actually happens because the conclusion is so painfully obvious after the second it’s alluded to. I may also critique a few of the main characters underdevelopment and suggest the most memorable character was the obsessive compulsive crossword puzzle writer who wasn’t even essential to the plot.
But, I do love Audrey, so read it.

12.01.2009

Quotables: J. M. Coetzee

The first time I read J.M. Coetzee was in my British Lit (1800-present) class. I also remember my tall, dark and handsome professor who taught it. This was also same professor who introduced me to The Moonstone (one of my favorites) in a three-week summer seminar. I’m still disappointed to this day he was married.

Anyhow, I came across Coetzee’s Summertime a few months back and finally picked it up. Immediately after finishing the first chapter it all came back to me why I liked Coetzee so much in the first place (surprisingly enough, it wasn’t because my gorgeous professor had a way of making me fall in love with every piece of literature he taught) and am making it a personal vow to read more of his work.

In this novel-cum-memoir Coetzee describes his earlier self; a “child” in his mid-thirties caring for his father, working on a novel and struggling to become a professor:

The house across the street has new owners, a couple of more or less his own age with young children and a BMW. He pays no attention to them until one day there is a knock at the door. “Hello, I’m David Truscott, your new neighbor. I’ve locked myself out. Could I use your telephone?” And then, as an afterthought: “Don’t I know you?”

Recognition dawns. They do indeed know each other. In 1952 David Truscott and he were in the same class, Standard Six, at St. Joseph’s College. He and David Truscott might have progressed side by side through the rest of high school but for the fact that David failed Standard Six and had to be kept behind. It was not hard to see why he failed: in Standard Six came algebra, and about algebra David could not grasp the first thing, the first thing being that x, y, and z were there to liberate one from the tedium of arithmetic. In Latin too, David never quite got the hang of things—of the subjunctive, for example. Even at so early an age it seemed to him clear that David would be better off out of school, away from Latin and algebra, in the real world, counting banknotes in a bank or selling shoes.

But despite being regularly flogged for not grasping things—floggings that he accepted philosophically, though now and again his glasses would cloud with tears—David Truscott persisted in his schooling, pushed no doubt from behind by his parents. Somehow or other he struggled through Standard Six and then Standard Seven and so on to Standard Ten; and now here he is, twenty years later, neat and bright and prosperous and, it emerges, so preoccupied with matters of business that when he set off for the office in the morning he forgot his house key and—since his wife has taken the children to a party—can’t get into the family home.

“And what is your line of business?” he inquires of David, more than curious.

“Marketing. I’m with the Woolworths Group. How about you?”

“Oh, I’m in between. I used to teach at a university in the United States, now I’m looking for a position here.”

“Well, we must get together. You must come over for a drink, exchange notes. Do you have children?”

“I am a child. I mean, I live with my father. My father is getting on in years. He needs looking after. But come in. The telephone is over there.”

So David Truscott, who did not understand x and y, is a flourishing marketer or marketeer, while he, who had no trouble understanding x and y and much else besides, is an unemployed intellectual. What does that suggest about the workings of the world? What it seems most obviously to suggest is that the path that leads through Latin and algebra is not the path to material success. But it may suggest much more: that understanding things is a waste of time; that if you want to succeed in the world and have a happy family and a nice home and a BMW you should not try to understand things but just add up the numbers or press the buttons or do whatever else it is that marketers are so richly rewarded for doing.

Unless you would like to personally request my review copy, you will have to wait until December 24th to read Summertime in its entirety. But I'll tell you, it's fantastic.

11.24.2009

Electric Literature - Check it out.


I stumbled upon Electric Literature on a great book blog, Book Ninja. Basically, they pair new media with short stories in hopes of promoting the lost art of short fiction. Electric Literature is a glimpse into the future of writing.

Fiction transports us. It uniquely captures the experience of human consciousness like no other art form, revealing underlying truth and opening us to life’s possibilities. Like any creative act, writing fiction carries within it an implicit belief in the future.

Electric literature combines media and literature in a compelling and creative way. They maintain, “We're tired of hearing that literary fiction is doomed. Everywhere we look, people are reading—whether it be paperbooks, eBooks, blogs, tweets, or text messages. So, before we write the epitaph for the literary age, we thought, let’s try it this way first: select stories with a strong voice that capture our readers and lead them somewhere exciting, unexpected, and meaningful. Publish everywhere, every way: paperbacks, Kindles, iPhones, eBooks, and audiobooks. Make it inexpensive and accessible. Streamline it: just five great stories in each issue. Be entertaining without sacrificing depth. In short, create the thing we wish existed.”

The publishing revolution is already changing the way we consume literature. In an era of micro-blogging and short attention spans, it’s brilliant Electric Literature is transforming the short story using new platforms. To them, literature is what is important, not the medium.

 

11.23.2009

I Miss Paris.

So I've got to preface that I found this via my favorite co-worker, Leica. It made me miss Paris and its constant appeal for the hopeless romantics out there, comme moi.

I should also say it's actually a Google ad and the fact it makes me tear up a bit is a problem.


video

Here's the link to the video if you have problems viewing.

I'm Mad at the Oxford American Dictionary

The Oxford American Dictionary named its word of the year 2009 and I couldn’t be more let down; unfriend. Really? Am I let down because the word unfriend has been in my lexicon for the last six years and those is charge of nominating these words took so long to catch up to Generation Y?  Perhaps it’s because the word is completely uninteresting. I understand the award isn’t actually for the word itself but rather the meaning, which speaks to our nation’s over-consumption of social media. However, in my not-so-humble opinion, I can’t help but think the people over at OAD were slacking.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not denying that 2009’s word of the year should reflect our recent obsession with social media; I just think the OAD could have given the award to a more interesting word. For instance, intexticated. Not only is this word much more fun to say, but it’s also funny; distracted because texting on a cell phone while driving. I would also go so far as to say this also describes any social setting where one should be socializing but instead is absorbed in a far more interesting conversation via text, or perhaps dirty texting. Which brings me to another word: sexting – sending sexually explicit texts and pictures by cell phone. Perhaps the people at OAD thought this was understandably inappropriate.

Either way, I’m disappointed. You can check out the other contenders here. What do you think?

 

8.25.2009

Book Worth Reading: No One Belongs Here More Than You. Stories by Miranda July






A few weeks ago I picked up this book at my favorite bookstore in Brooklyn and dove right in. Since I have been doing so much reading for work, I figured a collection of short stories would be prefect, especially for my five-minute commute to work (yes, I have to brag). I read my favorite just the other day while taking the train to the Museum of Natural History to see Journey to the Stars.
To start, this novel was named one of the Top Ten Fiction Books of 2007 by Time magazine for good reason. July is brilliantly creative, depicting stories whose characters often escape into the world of fantasy when reality disappoints them. Each quirky character seems to be part yourself – at least for me – and part everyone you have ever known.
“The Swim Team” depicts a young woman whose lack of a pool does not deter her from giving swim lessons to adults on her kitchen floor. We are introduced to the speaker as having just broken up with her boyfriend:
“This is the story I wouldn’t tell you when I was your girlfriend. You kept asking and asking, you’re your guesses were so lurid and specific. Was I a kept woman? Was Belvedere like Nevada, where prostitution is legal? Was I naked for the entire year? The reality began to seem barren. And in time I realized that if the truth felt empty, then I probably would not be your girlfriend much longer.”
The speaker then jumps ahead in time and describes a group of people she met who had never learned how to swim. As she looks down at her brown linoleum floor, thinking about how it hadn’t been washed in forever, she “suddenly felt like she was going to die. But instead of dying, [she] said: I can teach you how to swim. And we don’t even need a pool”.
The swimming lessons commence on the kitchen floor and are described in such a nonsensical manner that you can’t help but laugh out loud.
“I showed them how to put their noses and mouths in [bowls of salt water] and how to take a breath to the side. Then we added the legs, and then the arms… I taught them strokes I knew. The butterfly was just incredible, like nothing you’ve ever seen. I thought the kitchen floor would give in and turn liquid and away they would go.”
She even goes on to teach dives. “With the meticulous, hands-on coaching method, all dives began with perfect form, poised on my desktop, and ended in a belly flop onto the bed. Elizabeth added a rule that we all had to make a noise when we fell. This was a little creative for my taste, but I was open to innovation.” This last line reminds me of those people who order a super-sized meal with a diet coke. The nonsense of it all, I can’t help but smile.
To end, the speaker goes on to once again address her ex-boyfriend, closing with:
“Who I miss now, tonight? is Elizabeth, Kelda, and Jack Jack. They are dead, of this I can be sure. What a tremendously sad feeling. I must be the saddest swim coach in all of history.”
There is slight repetition in the book since each character in the stories seem to resemble each other in their odd behavior and quirkiness, but July manages this repetition in such a way that is builds a refreshingly risible motif.
Even though I gave away the entire plot of “The Swim Team,” No One Belongs Here More Than You includes 15 other deliciously crafted stories. Absolutely a must read.

8.18.2009

I Hate Irony (and When People Confuse Coincidence For Irony)

Today I got to thinking about the irony of modern communication and its effect on society's communication skills. In an age when connecting and conversing is easier and more prolific than ever, how is it that our communication skills are at an all-time low?

Two hundred years ago communication was limited to speech and the written word. There was no texting or twittering and language was something to be admired. People prided themselves in precision of word usage and pronunciation. Language was like the best kind of boyfriend: rich and romantic.

Fast forward to the 21st century: we tweet in 140 characters or less, spend more time emailing than we do having actual conversations and would rather text in acronyms than use complete sentences. 

(For the record, LOL is a complete and undeniable deal-breaker.)

This little rant has reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite TV shows, Californication. Hank Moody, an attractive, extremely pessimistic, self-loathing, sharp-tounged writer I can't help but love to hate, detests the Internet's effect on modern English as he explains:

"The Internet was supposed to set us free, democratize us, but all it's really given us is Howard Dean's aborted candidacy and 24-hour a day access to kiddie porn. People, they don't write, the blog. Instead of talking, they text. No punctuation, no grammar. LOL this and LMFAO that. You know, it just seems to me that it's just a bunch of stupid people pseudo-communicating which a bunch of other stupid people in a proto-language that resembles more what cavemen used to speak than the King's English."

I couldn't agree more.

I realize I am a hypocrite, as I too blog, text and email one word responses - all from my iPhone that, like Hank, I love to hate.

Let the self-loathing begin.  


8.06.2009

When Did We Start Marketing Ourselves?


Part of my job as an author’s assistant includes social media marketing. Basically this includes using social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and even blogs to promote your product and expand your platform.

With that being said, I was a freshman in college when Facebook was created. I’ve watched it evolve (or perhaps devolve is the word I should be using) from a network where only college students could connect with other college students, via friend requests and pokes, into a tool used by companies and PR representatives to advertise their brands.

Lately I have run into some trouble concerning my Facebook, mostly from a guy questioning why I have certain pictures posted (nothing scandalous, just relating to people I am pictured with), or why I am friends with certain people.

Although we are blessed with a plethora of information, the digital age and all of its wonders is making it harder and harder to keep our personal lives personal. Can we connect with friends and upload the pictures we took last weekend without the whole world judging us? With the advent of social media marketing, are we forced to market ourselves by using sites such as Facebook and Twitter?

Perhaps I should have taken the advice from a good friend I met while living in LA. When I asked him if he was on Facebook his reply was “Absolutely not, I don’t put my business on the street”. At the time I thought that was silly, but now I understand the wisdom of his statement. It is now becoming impossible to keep our personal lives separate from our professional lives. Should my Facebook profile match that of my LinkedIn profile? While I am careful about who sees what, it is becoming apparent that it is impossible to keep up with who sees what, regardless of when it was posted.

I guess it’s time for me to untag some pictures.

8.03.2009

I Know We Aren't All English Majors, But Good Grammar Is Hot.


This weekend I took a copy editing class at the request of my boss. It was a nice little refresher course (I was a copy editor for my college newspaper) and reminded me of a few pet peeves I would like to share.

Incessant exclamation points: For the love of all things punctuation, use exclamation points sparingly.  I understand that these punctuation marks have become more common in the digital age because it is harder to convey emotion through text. However, this phenomenon does not mean you need to use five of them at a time. It just makes you look ridiculous and for me, is a deal breaker. The same goes for question marks.

That and which: These words are NOT interchangeable. “That” should be used with restrictive clauses and “which” should be used with nonrestrictive phrases (also called essential and nonessential). How can you tell which is which? A nonrestrictive clause can be eliminated from a sentence without changing it’s meaning. And as long as we are on the subject, do NOT use a comma to separate a restrictive clause (that), but DO use a comma with a nonessential clause (which).

Redundant idioms: It seems these days people think the more words they use, the smarter they sound. Unless you are struggling to increase your word count on a term paper, I can’t stand the redundancy. Why say “manner of which” when “how” will suffice, or “over-exaggerate” when the meaning of the word “exaggerate” means to overstate? Can we over-overstate? No.

Adverb usage: Many people seem to be confused about adverbs. I can’t decide which is worse, not using them when needed or using them incorrectly. For instance, bad vs. badly. To say “I feel bad” expresses an emotion, whether sympathetic or not well. To say you feel “badly” implies there is something wrong with your sense of touch.

If you feel as strongly about good grammar as I do, you can order the shirt shown above here.

7.23.2009

Is It August 14th Yet?




The month of August is going to be a very exciting month. Not only will it mark my sixth month anniversary since moving to the city (August 15th), and not to mention my sister’s birthday (Happy Birthday, Mel!) but it also brings something I have been waiting three years for. That’s right, my all-time favorite book, The Time Traveler’s Wife, is finally premiering as a movie.

The movie was originally due to release on Christmas day of 2008, but to my dismay it was pushed back (Merry Christmas, Brenna. You will now have to wait 8 more months for the one present you were most excited about). My patience is wearing off. Is it August 14th yet?

I couldn’t be happier with the casting: Eric Bana as Henry and Rachel McAdams as Claire. My only concern is that IMDB has not listed Ingrid as a character. I’m going to be upset if she is not included, as she is an important character that reveals much about Henry before he met Claire.

Check out the trailer here.

And, it goes without saying, if you haven't read it yet pick up a copy asap. You will not be disappointed.  

7.22.2009

Publishing and Dating: Not So Different



After a few more weeks working as an all-around editor, social media marketer and personal assistant, I am beginning to learn a few ins and outs of the publishing world. After considering the last few weeks I have come to conclude that the publishing world is not much different from the dating world (at least here in New York) and this is why:

As an editor, you can’t spend your nights cooped up at home, endlessly going over manuscripts. If you want to further your career (which I do!) you’ve got to get out there and meet as many people in the industry as you can. This means attending book release parties, signings and any other industry event you can manage your way into. It might be easier to come home from work and jump on that stack of manuscripts you’ve got to read, take notes on or edit – but the rewards of finishing up your work early aren’t nearly as exciting as shaking the hand of an editor at Simon & Shuster (which I did last night) or meeting the Ambassador of Sri Lanka (which I also did last night) and telling them a little about what you do.

As a dater (for lack of a better word) you also can’t spend your nights at home gossiping with your roommate about last weekend’s debauchery and her bewilderment of why the guy she is dating hasn’t called her back after he watched her give her number to another guy – it’s not like they were exclusive (but clearly, not a good idea). It might be easier to pick up a bottle – ok two bottles – of wine and lay around in pajamas chatting while watching reruns of Sex and The City. But this behavior will not promote meeting new people and, more importantly, new investment bankers. Sometimes you’ve got to switch up the pajamas and wine for a pair of peep-toed pumps and a dirty martini to get out there. Expand your horizons and your opportunity!

I’ve also learned a lesson of disillusionment. One day, you get a new manuscript and can’t wait to begin working! The synopsis sounds fabulous – it’s got to be good. The beginning starts a little slow, but you swear it will pick up. Keep reading… still slow. Make a few more notes, reader further… crap. It’s not what I expected.

I am going to compare this let down to men. Yes, we have all been there. You meet a cute guy, he asks you out. He seems smart, not too cocky and is tall enough that you can wear heels when you meet again (thank God). You meet again, have a drink or two and become disillusioned by the whole thing. It turns out he is cocky, because he’s so smart, and can’t stop talking about himself. Great. The synopsis seemed promising, but once you open it… crap.

However, in both cases, you’ve got to finish up (making notes or downing your drink) and move on. Not every manuscript and not every guy will turn out as exciting as they seem, but it’s those few inbetween that do live up to their potential, that make it all worthwhile. 

7.17.2009

Book Worth Reading: Prep



When I picked up Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld I thought I was in for a light read. Girl goes to High School and leaves enlightened and changed. Published by Random House, Prep earned the title of One of the Ten Best Book of the Year (2005) by The New York Times Book Review.  After finishing this quick read and allowing it to sink in, I realized this novel reaches much deeper issues.

Detailing the experiences of a midwestern girl on scholarship at a prestigious prep school on the East Coast, Prep is a modern day commentary on social class conflict. Sittenfeld forces the reader to question and challenge their wider social world.

After I began reading, it was hard for me to put this novel down.  I was truly engaged and wanted to know what would happen to our main character, Lee Fiora. 

Lee finds herself at Ault as a shy, awkward insecure 14-year-old. Of course she changes over the next four years, but these changes are ever so subtle and slow that it is realistic. 

I also liked that Sittenfeld portrayed Lee as having ”wisdom beyond her years,” regardless of the cliché.  It is refreshing to find an author who puts so much faith in today’s youth.  For instance, as Lee reflects on a relationship she had ended with a boy who worked in the kitchen at Ault (and didn’t attend the school - a reason to end it as others in her class began to judge her) she considers, “I was wrong, I screwed up – how else can I say it? But there was plenty I learned from Dave. Later, after all that happened between Cross Sugerman and me, I even saw Dave as practice for Cross, as preparation. He made me ready; there are many people we treat wrong, and later, we’re prepared to treat other people right. Perhaps this sounds mercenary, but I feel grateful for these trial relationships, and I would like to think it all evens out – surely, unknowingly, I have served as practice for other people.

The idea of certain relationships preparing, or prepping, you for others is not a thought that crossed my mind at the age of 15. However it is an idea I believe in. There is no way you can prepare for a mature relationship without experiencing the immature ones first. This is not to say each relationship after an immature one will prove to be the ladder, but it does make you think back to those “practice” relationships and how they changed those that would follow. I believe this goes for romantic relationship as well as friendships. 

Overall, I recommend this book for anyone who has forgotten what it is like to be awkward and unsure of your place in the world.  This book will make you think long after you have closed it. While there are many coming of age novels out there, Sittenfeld tells this story so well. I believe the quality of this book lies in its realism.

 

6.30.2009

The Stick Factor: Essential to Memorable Books


Yesterday I had lunch with a Senior Editor at a house that publishes fiction for women.  Not only was she intelligent, (I mean Senior Editor, obvi) but conversation also came easily. We mostly discussed books, movies and pregnancy (she is 5 months along).  More specifically, we examined what exactly makes certain books stand out more than others. I brought up the idea of a book's “stickiness;” a quality that describes how long a book’s themes and ideas remain in your head days, or even weeks, after you read it. In other words, how much does it “stick”.

Looking back on my favorite novels, I’ve come to find that stickiness is an essential element in each of these books. The more I discussed these books with others or the more I contemplated their underlying themes all contributed to their stickiness. 

Think about it. If you had 30 minutes to construct a list of books you have read in your lifetime without looking at your bookshelf or heading to Amazon, what percentage of the total books would make the list?  My guess – 60% (maybe more if you have an insanely good memory, or just haven’t read very many books). And what books would make the list? Those with a high sticky factor.

Therefore, my new approach to reviewing books has changed. I have decided it is best to wait a week or more after I finish a novel to discuss it. Not only will this method allow me to think about the book further, but I will have a better assessment of its lasting impact.

The good news? Mrs. Senior Editor liked the concept of stickiness as well :) 

“Sticky” books soon to be reviewed: Persepolis 2, Shadow of the Wind and Prep

6.29.2009

Thank you, Ben


And she’s back. 

I know it has been a while since my last post – over a month to be a little more precise. A lot has happened in the meantime, including quitting my internship at Heeb to become a personal assistant to a boss-from-hell, only to quit that job exactly four weeks later.  

An old boss (from my college internship at Bleak House Books) also contacted me while he was in the city. Not only is he a great friend, but he is also a great person to know in publishing. First, he invited me to an industry party where I was able to network and meet many interesting people who work in publishing.  Then, he brought me to BEA where I had the oppotunity to meet even more people, including authors like James Patterson and Nicholas Sparks (see above picture).  Seriously Ben, I can’t thank you enough.

The good news? I ended up landing a job as an assistant to one of the authors I met!  Not only does my new boss write, but he also runs a company that helps aspiring writers get literary agents who then go on to help the author get published.  I couldn’t be more excited about my new job.

4.22.2009

Green Reading: Eco-Friendly Tips for Booklovers

While I try to be green on a daily basis, Earth Day has got me thinking more about my not-so-green reading habits.  Generally, I buy paperback books from Amazon or B&N, read them, put them back on my shelf and wait for someone in my family to request one.  While this habit makes for a bookshelf worth bragging about, it has undeniably led to the destruction of more trees than I would like to think about.  In fact, according to Eco-Libris, more than 30 million trees are being cut down each year to produce the books sold in the US alone.  Yikes.  

Thus, I am going to attempt to change my reading habits.  Here is what I’m thinking:

(1) Exchange books with friends: After I read a book I know a friend would love I can mail it to them and request they do the same for me, or gift it to them for an occasion.

(2) Buy used: Amazon offers a ton of used titles, usually starting at around $2.

(3) Hit up the library: While I frequent the NYPL on fifth and 42nd, I haven’t yet been to a library to check out a book. Come to think of it, I don’t even own a library card.

(4) Research which publishers offer books printed on treeless or recycled paper and support them by buying a book or two.

(5) Visit Eco-Libris to plant a tree for every book you read. Accepting Visa and MasterCard, Eco-Libris has made it easier than ever to plant a tree ($5 per tree).  Not only does this liberate your guilt, but Eco-Libris will also send you a sticker to display on your book’s sleeve so you can proudly show off your greenness.  Now that would make for a bookshelf worth bragging about.

4.21.2009

Mass-Market Fiction: Love To Hate It

I confess I am a total book snob.  If you have The Da Vinci Code or anything written by Mary Higgins Clark listed as your favorite books on Facebook, it’s a total deal breaker. However, lately I’ve got to thinking about mass-market fiction and it’s place in the publishing world and I’ve come to realize it is one of importance. 

I recently read a blog by Assistant Professor of English Anne Trubek that maintained Publishers Should Start Using Birth Control, which argued that publishers should concentrate more on creating quality literature, thereby publishing fewer titles, than whipping out hundreds of titles a year for the sheer profitability. While I completely agree with the concept, it is altogether hopeless and highly idealized.  Ms. Trubek is forgetting that, sadly, not all of us are English majors and not everyone can appreciate the quality of great literature.  In other words, she is forgetting the average reader does not go home to curl up with Ulysess or The Sound and the Fury. In order for a publisher to be successful they must publish many books that they hope can become bestsellers in order to publish the few gems that not everyone will buy, but more often than not turn into those Pulitzer winners.

So keep reading your Mary Higgins Clark and Dan Brown novels.  This way, I can rest assured publishers are making enough revenue to take a chance on those great pieces of literature not many will buy in the first year or two, but will inevitably fall into the hands of those who can appreciate it.

I am completely aware my opinion comes across as arrogant, but as I confessed earlier, I am a total book snob.

For those of you who still defend the quality of mass markets I suggest you read this guy’s blog.

4.08.2009

Book Review: Animal Farm


Written in 1964 as an allegory of the Stalin era, this distopian novella aims to criticize socialist regimes. Orwell details the story of the animals of Manor Farm who overthrow their farmer, a man too drunk to care about the conditions of his farm, and reestablish their home as an "Animal Farm". They quickly assert seven animal commandments, namely that all animals are equal. As time passes the smartest animals (pigs) slowly become more powerful than the rest of the animals, leading weekly meetings and allowing themselves special privileges. Soon the other animals begin forgetting the seven animal commandments and the pigs quickly assure them there was only a single commandment: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others". Eventually the pigs begin sleeping in the farmer's house, drinking alcohol and walking on their hind legs- essentially becoming the very figure they worked so hard to overthrow.

Finally, the pigs invite other farmers to Animal Farm to resolve misunderstandings. Napoleon, the lead pig, declares the name "Animal Farm" is abolished and "henceforward the farm will be known as Manor Farm- from which he believed was its correct and original name". Clover, a horse looking in on the pigs and men, notices something had altered in the face of the pigs. "Clover's old dim eyes flitted from one face to another. Some of them had five chins, some had four, some had three. But what was it that seemed to be melting and changing?" After Clover watches the scene for a bit, Orwell concludes his novella with my favorite passage; "No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but it was already impossible to say which was which."

I highly recommend Animal Farm to anything looking for a quick, thought-provoking read. Orwell uses allegory not only to highlight the dangers of totalitarian regimes, but also to comment on what happens after a community establishes their freedom; inevitably that freedom is suppressed and leaders rise again to oppress. There were aspects of this story that reminded me of my favorite short story, "Harrison Bergeron" by Vonnegut- read it.

Animal Farm was my introduction to Orwell and I am going to put Nineteen Eighty-Four on my shelf to read. In her introduction to Animal Farm Ann Patchett highlights the very reason I liked this novella so much; "Like pledges and nursery rhymes, [Animal Farm] stays with us, a promise of what will happen if we ever surrender control of our fate to the system. Orwell never gave his readers the answers, just the worst case scenario for the questions".

On a side note, Animal Farm made me happy to be a vegetarian :)

4.02.2009

Confessions of a Grammarholic.

One of my favorite blogs, Grammar Guard (www.grammarguard.org), ridicules the ungrammatical speech of celebrities, political figures and athletes, to name a few.  As a self-proclaimed grammarian, I find myself struggling to keep my mouth shut on a day-to-day basis when a friend blurts out “who” when the sentence merits “whom”, or when singular-plural agreement is thrown out the window (FYI: everybody = singular). One has to be somewhat of a language nerd to fully appreciate this blog, as Grammar Guard claims, “We’re passionate about language, and so are our readers”.

After perusing the blog today, laughing at celebrities who may be more beautiful than me but could stand to take a lesson in English grammar, I began thinking; why do we use the words we do?  What do the subtle differences between words that are commonly used, sometimes used or misused reveal about the speaker?  Are words a product of who we are or are we a product of our words?  If the way a person drives can reveal their personality type, can’t a study of their lexicon expose the inner-workings of their brain as well? 

While I am rarely inspired to read non-fiction, I decided to check out Amazon to find a book that can answer my questions.  The result: The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature by Steven Pinker.  While writing a paper on second language acquisition in college I read a few chapters of Pinker’s book The Language Instinct and actually still remember it 3 years later, which in my opinion, says a lot.  Anyway, I’m hoping Pinker’s newest book can teach me a thing or two about the relationship between language and the way the mind works.  "In The Stuff of Thought Steven Pinker explores how the mind works in a completely new style- by examining the way we use words.  What does swearing reveal about the emotional brain? What do the ambiguities of dating say about our social relationships? How do semantic niceties- like the ones that got our last two presidents into trouble- unmask our conceptions of time, truth, and responsibility? And what does the spread of new words (such as the mysterious term spam) tell us about social trends?"

 I’ll let everybody know whether or not it’s worth his or her time.  (See, singular-plural agreement- it's not that difficult).

 


3.28.2009

Book Review: Lolita



A rejection of pedophillia, this novel hardly glamorizes or justifies the actions of Humbert Humbert. Rather, the novel offers a look inside the mind of a tortured soul. The moral abombination of paedophilia is delivered as almost acceptable, developing conflict in the reader who feels both revulsion towards this trully terrible act and empathy for this character Humbert who is seduced by Lolita, falls in love and ultimately has his heart broken. 

However, Humbert understands his obsession is driving him insane as he contemplates a poem he wrote and reveals, "By psychoanalyzing this poem, I notice it is really a maniac's masterpiece. The stark, stiff, lurid rhymes correspond very exactly to certain perspeciveless and terrible landscapes and figures... I wrote many more poems. I immersed myself in the poetry of others. But not for a second did I forget the load of revenge". While Humbert recognizes his struggle, he is content with pursuing it. Reading on, I actually began to pity Humbert and his tortured soul; his insanity and most of all his humanity. Humbert begins to understand the full extent of the damage he had inflicted upon Lo. "I happened to glimpse from the bathroom, through a chance combination of mirror aslant and door ajar, a look on her face... that look I cannot exactly describe... and expression of helplessness so perfect that it seemed to grade into one of rather comfortable inanity just because this was the very limit of injustice and frustration--and every limit presupposes something beyond it--hence the neutral illumination."

Spoiler Alert: It is the ending that truly reveals the inner-struggle Humbert has within himself. Humbert tracks down the man who took Lolita away from him- another man who has committed the same sins that Humbert has- and brutally kills him. Because this man represents what Humbert hates most about himself, Humbert is symbolically destroying another man for the same sins he hates himself for committing.

While I struggled through the first half of this novel (describing the most lecherous manipulation on Humbert's part) by the end I was consumed by it. It is an examination of the destructive nature of selfish love: selfishness kills love- it is a black hole that can never be satisfied- it is self-pitting and never looks outside itself. Lolita's words to Humbert years later sums this idea up; "He broke my heart, you merely broke my life".

On the shelf to read next: something a little more uplifting.

3.13.2009

Recession Professions

I have been out of school for almost a year now, sending out resume upon resume to any job that is some-what related to what I want to do: work in publishing, ideally doing editorial. I’ve had a few interviews here and there and mostly get the same response; “we are looking for someone with more experience”. Okay, fair enough. Editing my university newspaper and interning at a small publishing house in Madison (I love you Bleak House) probably can’t compare to someone who has been in the industry for a few years. But how am I supposed to break into an industry that is firing more employees than they are hiring? How am I going to become an editor in a world where people would rather renew their Netflix subscription than their newspaper? Where ebooks are more talked about than actual literature? The thought is somewhat daunting.

I googled recession-proof jobs today and it doesn’t look pretty. Perhaps I should have studied to become a pharmacist (sorry mom) or a computer system administrator.  The only problem with that is that those things don’t interest me. What does is the written word (yeah, I’m a dork). So, the only thing to do is keep plugging away. Hopefully soon someone from HR will discover all the talent and drive I poses.

Okay, time to send out some more resumes… 

Reading Now: Lolita

After running across many references to this novel I decided to pick it up.  I am about half-way through it and am thinking of putting it down for good (I almost never do this). While Nabokov's wonderful use of language is something to be praised, the perverse subject matter has been leaving a sick feeling in my stomach. 

"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins." Nabokov begins this novel with these words, spoken by the aging Humbert Humbert, in which he is describing the "nymphet" Dolores Haze.  From the very start of the novel I have hated the speaker Humbert. His obsession with nymphets, a term used to describe girls between the age of nine and 14 who posses "the slightly feline outline of a cheekbone, the slenderness of a downy limb, and other indices which despair and shame and tears of tenderness forbid me to tabulate," is sick to a point of illness. Not only does he claim these nymphets have the ability to cast a spell over a man, but to be fully appreciated "the student should not be surprised to learn that there must be a gap of several years, never less than ten I should say, generally thirty to forty, and as many as ninety in a few know cases, between maiden and man". A little too twisted for my taste...

While I am tempted to throw this novel in the trash and never look at it again, I feel I have some sort of obligation to Lolita. I can't just leave her hanging in the balance of Humbert... Perhaps this reaction was one of Nabokov's aims; just as the main character is conflicted with his own impulses and desires, the reader is conflicted as well. Just as much as this book is terrifying, it is also gripping to the point where I feel I can somehow help Lolita. 

Regardless, the novel is truthfully written and examines the mind of predator obsessed with this prey. I am going to keep reading, for now.