Category Archives: Books

August ‘Everlasting’

It’s not often that you pick up a book and the first paragraph speaks to your situation in time and space so exactly that it makes you take pause and say, “Wow. Yeah.” That’s what happened this afternoon when I opened ‘Tuck Everlasting’ and read this:

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain. These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.

Isn’t that amazing? So beautiful and poetic and then it throws that provocative bit in at the end, so completely reeling you in. Somehow I never read this book up until now. And now I find myself with eight-hour shifts of work with very little to do. Which is nice.

That opening paragraph makes me wish I wasn’t in this crowded, urban place. Makes me wish I didn’t have the luxury of escaping into my apartment and turning on the A/C. That’s not the August that Natalie Babbitt is writing about.

The Woodstock of Poetry!

Because I now believe in poetry and all of its possibilities and because I spent many years being oblivious to poetry, I’ve created a new website!  My ultimate, ultimate goal is for people far and wide to say, “Poetry is fun,” “poetry is relevant,” and “poetry is pop.”  Because even if all of it’s not, there’s plenty of it that is.  Like this (to give an extreme example).

If you’ve ever been saddened by having to dissect a dense, ancient poem in school, PoetryStock.com aims to make you happy again!

If you’ve ever wanted to write a series of haikus about the pH level of shampoo (or something), PoetryStock.com wants to hear them!

If you’re up to this challenge that Nietzsche poses — “A subject for a great poet would be God’s boredom after the seventh day of creation” — PoetryStock.com will smile.

And he will, too.

There are plenty of places to post your poems on the internet, but Poetry Stock is different because there will be an annual poetry celebration connected to it. Also, there will be a podcast that gives poets a chance to read a poem they’ve posted on the site and talk about it (or whatever they want) for a few minutes.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing this month. Lately it’s always something other than this blog…but I love this blog. This blog was the first real outlet I ever had to express my thoughts and try to craft them into something people would enjoy. So I’ll always be grateful to this blog. And even if I don’t always put regular blog posts on it, I’ll at least let it know what I’m up to.

P.S. This child is smarter than I’ll ever be:

Library Finds. Library Fines.

I paid off a collection of library fines this evening that totaled $15.75.  A lot when you consider that libraries, by design, are meant to be free.  But not a lot when you consider just 1 hardcover book can run you upwards of twenty-five bucks.  That $15.75 comes from a total of 13 different books.  Thought I’d share some of the highlights from the list. 

The smallest fine came to twenty-five cents.  That because I neglected to return The World According to Mister Rogers.  I have no regrets about this fine or this book.  I borrowed it to complete research on the one-man play I was writing about Mister Rogers.  I’ve since sold the two year rights to that play and they paid me more than a quarter, so I came out in the black.

The highest fine is also my most recent one.  $2.25 for an overdue copy of The Best American Essays: 2010.  I actually called to refute this fine because I thought that I had returned the book.  I spent about fifteen minutes looking for it in my apartment, purses, shelves–nothing.  Then, several days later, I found the book inside of a bookbag I hadn’t used in awhile. 

Most unfortunate fine: 75 cents for a book titled The Hidden Power of Dreams.  I don’t think I read more than three pages of this book.  I picked it up because I saw the spine and said to myself, “Yes, I do think there is hidden power in dreams.  I will read this and affirm that thought.”

The receipt the library gave me after I paid is almost 19 inches long.  I was worried that the guy at the circulation desk would tsk me.  Tell me I’m a lazy, irresponsible person for accumulating fines I could have easily avoided, as well as keeping materials from other library patrons in doing so.  But I don’t care.  I look at this long receipt and I feel a distinct sense of pride.  To me the receipt and the fines say–You read.  You’re literate.  You like ideas and information and the written word.  You like them so much, you hoard them.  You carry them around with you everywhere and you know you have to return them at some point, but not today.  Or, maybe it is today, but what can ya do?

I hope the NYPL appreciates my money.  I could use that money, but I know they can, too.

“What I am is a writer…” (taking comfort in the insight of others)

George Orwell means a lot to me.  I don’t know more than the basics about him, and I haven’t read all that much of his work.  But I credit him, in part, with helping me realize I am a writer. 

Writing for me isn’t everything, but it’s extremely high on the list of the things that define me.  The things that make me feel like a worthwhile person.  The things that I think about and mean to do each day.

I suspected I was a writer for a long time, but it wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that it felt like a confirmed fact.  That was the year my English teacher assigned Orwell’s 1984.  Even though I was an avid reader, I often didn’t finish the books teachers assigned (A Tale of Two Cities).  I was a big fan of the mystery novels I regularly took out of the library at the time, especially Mary Higgins Clark.  Fast-paced intrigue and sex and crime.  I think I might have actually read too much as a teenager.  Often I stayed holed up in my bedroom instead of making efforts to lead a fulfilling social life.  I guess I’m not much different today…

Anyway, I did read all of 1984.  And at the end of the semester, my teacher gave our class options for the final project.  We could either write a regular essay about some of the themes in the book, or, we could opt to do a creative project.  It was 2004 at the time, so the creative project would be a twenty-years later epilogue to 1984.  Which is kind of brilliant and makes me think my teacher actually enjoyed being one.

I was one of the only ones who chose to write the epilogue, I think.  But my excitement toward the assignment made up for the rest of the lack of enthusiasm. I got really into it.  It was the first time I’d ever sat down and composed a legitimate short story.  The assignment required only 8 pages, font size 12, double spaced.  In the end, I wrote 20.  There was intrigue and sex and crime.  I read it over and over again I loved it so much.  And I titled it: “2004: The Love Child.” (Because Julia has a baby. And Winston is the baby daddy. Sex! Crime! Intrigue!)

I don’t think I still have a copy of that piece.  It probably disappeared along with an old hard drive.  But I remember the feeling it gave me.  If I had to pick one word to describe that feeling, it’d be empowered. 

I’m reminded of all this because I recently took a copy of George Orwell’s Why I Write out of the library.  Held in the hand it feels like a chapbook, which I guess is what it is.  A chapbook of essays.  I haven’t gotten very far.  I’m on page 9 out of the 120.  But Orwell writes something in these early pages that struck me.  He writes about the “four great motives for writing.”  Reading it felt like getting a long awaited diagnosis from a doctor and finally, finally knowing what’s wrong.  Only in this case, just what is.

I don’t know if I’m allowed to reprint this much of the text, but I’m going to do it anyway in light of how much I love it and want to share it.  He writes:

They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living.  They are:

  1. Sheer egoism.  Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc. etc.  It is humbug to pretend that this is not a motive, and a strong one.  Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen – in short, with the whole top crust of humanity.  The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish.  After the age of about thirty they abandon individual ambition – in many cases, indeed, they abandon the sense of being individuals at all – and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery.  But there is also the minority of gifted, wilful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class.  Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.
  2. Aesthetic enthusiasm.  Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement.  Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story.  Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and not to be missed.  The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or a writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc.  Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.
  3. Historical impulse.  Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.
  4. Political purpose – using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense.  Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.  Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias.  The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

It’s like the Myers-Briggs personality test for writers. At this point, I think I’m mainly motivated by aesthetic enthusiasm, secondarily by ego, a pinch of politics, and history lastly. I’m curious what other identified writers feel about this. If they think there’s truth to it and what motives they identify with.

I know this post is already long, but writing this reminded me of something else I recently read. It made me feel better about the periods in my life when I haven’t been productive or creative. It made me feel glad that there are people out there who understand the solitude and introspection and idleness that often accompany the days of a writer.

It comes from Emily Fox Gordon’s new book of personal essays, Book of Days:

What I am is a writer, and during the twenty years when I was producing nothing, covering my existential nudity with an inadequate garment composed of patches of housewife/graduate student/mother, I was serving the writer’s apprenticeship, letting the world trickle through me to leave behind sedimented layers of impression.  All through my protracted apprenticeship I felt anomalous and apologetic, subject to fits of self-loathing and panicky self-consciousness, inclined to take refuge in the comfort of grandiose fantasies.

I confess, sometimes imagining that I’ll truly live the life of a writer (my version of it) feels itself like a grandiose fantasy. But it is comforting. And it’s one I badly want to be my reality.

What’s next?

Sometimes I feel like I pick up the perfect book at the exact time I need to be reading it in my life.  Several years ago I took the Pulitzer Prize winning Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt out of the library.  I remember it being an enthralling read.  But I couldn’t get through it because it just left me so unbearably sad.  Passages left me bawling.

When I returned it to the library they said I’d damaged it and they wouldn’t take it back.  I’d have to keep it and pay them $30.  I was broke at the time, and as much as I love the library, I cursed it the whole drive to the bank to withdraw money.  And then I returned to the library with the $30 and I’d been crying so my face was all red and my eyes were puffy and I really thought that the book had been damaged when I took it out, but I’d borrowed it for so long that I couldn’t remember (and I might’ve been locked out of my house in the rain one day and the pages of the book might’ve gotten damp).  So I handed the librarian the money and she looked at me full of concern, and she was like, “What’s the matter?!”  And that made me more upset.

I know.  It’s a sad story.  But Angela’s Ashes is way more sad.

Anyway!  Right now I’m reading Continue reading

Hey, read this thing I read! And watch this thing I watched!

I was reading “The Onion” yesterday during my commute. And I got so engrossed in an interview with Jonathan Franzen. I’ve never read any of his books, but this dude has shit figured out, so much so that I’ll have to seek out his work. I really like what he has to say about reading and writing and communicating electronically.

I couldn’t trim this down, it just all speaks to the core of my being:

I think novelists nowadays have a responsibility—whether or not my contemporaries are actually living up to it—to make books really, really compelling. To make you want to turn off your phone and walk away from your Internet connection and go spend some time in another place. I’m trying to fashion something that will actually pull you away, so I’m certainly conscious of the tension between the solitary world of reading and writing, and the noisy crowded world of electronic communications.

I continue to believe it’s a phony palliative, most of the noise. You have the sense of “Oh yeah, I’m writing in my angry response to your post, and now I’m flaming back the person who flamed me back for my angry response.” All of that stuff, you have the sense, “Yeah, I’m really engaged in something. I’m not alone. I’m not alone. I’m not alone.” And yet, I don’t think—maybe it’s just me—but when I connect with a good book, often by somebody dead, and they are telling me a story that seems true, and they are telling me things about myself that I know to be true, but I hadn’t been able to put together before—I feel so much less alone than I ever can sending e-mails or receiving texts. I think there’s a kind of—I don’t want to say shallow, because then I start sounding like an elitist. It’s kind of like a person who keeps smoking more and more cigarettes. You keep giving yourself more and more jolts of stimulus, because deep inside, you’re incredibly lonely and isolated. The engine of technological consumerism is very good at exploiting the short-term need for that little jolt, and is very, very bad at addressing the real solitude and isolation, which I think is increasing. That’s how I perceive my mission as a writer—and particularly as a novelist—is to try to provide a bridge from the inside of me to the inside of somebody else.

Whoaaaaa. I posted this mainly because, as a writer of stuff and reader of stuff and user of electronic communication devices and stuff, I want to come back and refer to his words, like, every day of my life from now on. Especially when I’m sitting at my laptop and I’ve been sitting there for hours typing and clicking and scrolling around Facebook and I start to feel like a shell of a person:

It’s hard to exist.

I’m struggling with existence again. As usual. It’s so lame. And it’s also the least lame thing ever.

An old friend texted me a few minutes ago saying, “I hear you’re some kind of comedian now.” And I texted back, “I’m not sure what I am. What are you these days?”


I was riding the subway on Monday, and I was eating a turkey sandwich. The turkey sandwich part isn’t so important, except that the train was crowded and I was dropping lettuce on myself and I felt sort of bad, but not that bad because the woman sitting next to me was eating an apple.

In an attempt to avoid eye contact with any Q Train passengers who might be watching me eat, I started studying advertisements. One in particular caught my eye. For a few reasons:

1. It was for a book and I like those.

2. The concept for the book turns the author into a whore.

3. I’ve long thought about writing a book just like this. Well, sort of like this:

“Publisher’s Weekly” ascribes this book to the “stunt-blog memoir genre”. There is a gimmicky feel to this genre, but it can be done really well! I don’t care if Oprah plugged it, I really enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. Shit was inspiring. I also enjoyed Danny Wallace’s book Yes Man that inspired the Jim Carrey movie I didn’t see.

But as far as stunt-blog memoirs go, this has gotta be one of the most stunt-bloggy of them all. Maybe I’m just upset I didn’t think of doing it myself. I mean, how can you really go wrong when the backbone of your stunt-blog memoir has these kinds of stats:

IF OPRAH WERE… A NATION her 51.4 million weekly viewers and magazine readers would equal more than the population of Canada (33 million), Spain (40.3 million) or Argentina (39.9 million).

IF OPRAH WERE… A PILE OF GOLD she’d be equal to 24,000 14-karat gold bars.

cnnmoney.com reported in January that Oprah ranked second only to Google as the biggest brand newsmaker of 2006. Behind Ms. Winfrey were Amazon, eBay and iPod.

IF OPRAH WERE… A NATIONAL ECONOMY what she’d pump into the U.S. economy would be slightly more than the GDP of the Bahamas. See more here.


The only thing left to do now, now that I’ve accepted I’ll probably never figure out the big existential questions, is figure out what to spend 365 days of my life doing that I can convince a publishing house will make a memoir and make them money.

Actually, my old friend texted back to tell me what she is these days, and it sounds like the perfect title for a stunt-blog memoir: Nomadic Barista.