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.


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.  


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.


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.