Favorite authors

Catching Up with the Kennedys

Last night I finished reading Let's Pretend This Never Happened out loud to Jackson at bedtime. We'd had to skip over some parts, like the backyard gravedigging and zombies chapter (spoiler alert), because even I didn't want that to be the last thing on my mind before going to sleep. Our favorite chapters centered on Posey the cat and Barnaby Jones the pug. Jackson was often breathless from laughter, and I take partial responsibility for him failing his language test because I'd kept him up reading past 10:00 o'clock the night before. When we had read everything and there was nothing left to read I went and read the acknowledgments page, too, because Jenny thanked "Alice and Eden" on it and I wanted to show off a little. Oh, boy, was Jackson impressed. He looked at me in shock, then he jabbed his finger into my chest, repeatedly (or, as he says, repeatively), and said, "That's you!" I told him how Alice and I'd had breakfast and dinner with Jenny in New Orleans last year when she was spending half her time in her hotel room writing this book, and that Alice had reached out to Jenny a lot more than I had since then, and I wasn't sure what exactly I'd done to deserve a thanks, but that I'll take it, even if I am the less-reaching-out part of the Alice-and-Eden unit, because when a New York Times best-selling author thanks you in her New York Times best-selling book for doing God knows what, it still feels pretty fantastic.

Then I held up a beat-up copy of David Sedaris's Naked that I'd snagged from the donations pile at the library for a buck. "I thought we could read some of the stories in here for our next bedtime book. He's funny."

"I don't know." Dubious face.

"What's the problem, then?"

"I don't know," he said again, "I just think women are funnier than men."

And then I fell over and died. I'd say MISSION ACCOMPLISHED but getting him to believe that women are funnier than men was never the mission; the mission has been more of a general "raise a boy who appreciates women and men for their talents equally, without an overlay of sexist expectations." So I may have done a little cultural over-correction by wiring DVDs of 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation into his brain on repeat while he sleeps. Should I put a testosterone patch on his forehead? I hope this doesn't mean we have to watch more Adam Sandler movies.

I'm tricky like that

This post is sponsored by Chronicle Books. I like books, and people who read are the kind of people I want to know. I've taken somewhat of a break from posting because I was tired of having opinions on the Internet. There are millions of other people telling you what they think on an hourly basis, and I suddenly felt pretty stupid trying to pretend that my opinions had any more value than anyone else's. I certainly wasn't enjoying trying to be heard above the din; I all but abandoned my gig at Babble and last Friday I finally worked up the nerve to quit The Stir. I just wanted to work, go to yoga, sit in the sun, and check my e-mail once a day. So for three weeks, that's what I did. It was heaven.

The rest of my recovery program was given over to trying to organize our new house (read: wandering around Bed Bath & Beyond with an armful of skirt hangers) and reading books. I read The Hunger Games (not much character development but quite a page-turner); Just My Type (a brisk, anecdotal history of typography); I finished the Mindy Kaling book (which read like a chatty, friendly, and sometimes point-free series of blog posts); I started and then abandoned the first Nancy Drew book (but I mean to check it out again later because it was AWESOME); I read and then became very afraid of The Secret (which may be another post down the road, if I can assure myself that it won't give me nightmares); and I've just started listening to The Glass Castle in my car, which is so absorbing that makes me miss freeway exits.

The other part of my reading-recovery was spent cuddled up with Jackson every night at bedtime. Jackson reads plenty for school, but I've always hoped he'd do a little more recreational reading without us turning off the TV and forcing him to. Here's one of the ways I've tricked him into it.

The Worst-Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure Novels are Chronicle's new series for kids. It's like playing a video game in story mode: you get to choose how you get to the end. Chronicle Books is not the first to come up with this idea (I think Italo Calvino took a shot at it, and those Dictionary of the Khazars books that came in Male and Female editions), but it's still a good idea in a nicely-designed package. Jackson immediately snagged the Amazon one and told me he thought I'd like to read Mars. (Here's a trailer for the Mars book.) If you'd like to win all three books for yourself, leave a comment below telling me what your favorite book was when you were a kid and I'll use Random.org to choose a winner.

UPDATE: The winner is Steph (who loves Roald Dahl). Thanks, Steph, and everyone who shared their favorite books.

Day Twenty-nine

Here are all the quotes that I keep on my MacBook's dashboard.

"You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves."  Mary Oliver

"The truth will set you free, but not until it's done with you."  David Foster Wallace

"'Your father and I just expected so much more from you.'"  Sarah Brown

". . . not until a mother's womb softens from the pain of labor, will a way unfold and the infant find that opening to be born."  Rumi

"Everyone thinks writers must know more about the inside of the human head, but that is wrong. They know less, that's why they write. Trying to find out what everyone else takes for granted."  Margaret Atwood

"Don't worry about what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and do that. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive."  Howard Thurman

"Build a vivid image in your mind's eye of what you need." "Intensify your commitment to mastering the work you came to this planet to do."  Rob Brezsny

"Which decision makes you the better version of you?"  Evany Thomas

"The primary moral imperative is to think clearly."  Blaise Pascal

"What is the secret of your serenity?" Said the Master, "Wholehearted cooperation with the inevitable." Anthony DeMello

"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense."  Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Rules for Happiness: something to do, someone to love, something to hope for."  Immanuel Kant

"Use what talent you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best."  Henry Van Dyke

"The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”   Steve Jobs

Day Nineteen

I was at work today looking around for books to add to the Staff Picks shelf. There are a few books that I'm continually putting up there, like The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate and The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, but when all my favorites are checked out I have to start grabbing stuff that you'd reasonably believe a middle-aged woman whose book club only keeps on their e-mail list out of pity would recommend to you. I was wandering through fiction hoping for inspiration when I found an old Wodehouse novel called Jeeves and the Tie That Binds. The inside flap said rather effusively that P.G. Wodehouse published this book on his ninetieth birthday, and that this was his best novel yet, and also that it was clever, delightful, uproarious, entertaining, and fun. Skeptically, I flipped the book over to see if there was more hyperbole on the back:

Nope! But he could still touch his toes. Best author photo ever.

Enter title here

I'm a person who used to read a great deal, but who now watches TV on DVD and embraces the Internet with what little strength she has left in her withered hands. Imagine, dear reader, how I used to power lift War and Peace in one hand and Anna Karenina in the other while shouting like Lou Ferrigno getting a full back tattoo of Edith Wharton's childhood home. My glutes so glossy; my brain so buff. But now, my little atrophied fingers twitch lightly over a touch pad while I wonder if @MindyKaling will ever Tweet back to me. I'm not sure (I GOT PREGNANT) how it happened (AND HAD A BABY). Maybe it happened when I moved to California (AND TURNED 40). Even though I claim to have been reading Emma for the last two months (and it's good! I like it! Don't hit me! Ow!), last week I took a break from taking a break from the bonnets and parasols and snuck off with Steve Martin's An Object of Beauty. I succumbed to the hype, in other words. But a 7-day-express copy from the library fell into my hands, so what was I supposed to do? Let some Montecito retiree whose library card was held together with packing tape read it first?

It was pretty good. It was sort of gauzy. Reading it felt like you were seeing the contemporary art world through a big piece of Press 'n' Seal that softened it and flattened your perspective, and also clung to the edges to keep things fresh. I'm interested in art, but I probably wouldn't have read it if it weren't by Steve Martin. I like Steve Martin. Born Standing Up was really good, though I have sort of a love/not-love relationship with other things that he's done. Like anyone my age who saw him on the Tonight Show when they were fourteen and bought his albums and wore an arrow through her head until her junior high vice principal told her to stop or she'd poke someone's eye out. That's all of us, right? Good.

13 Ways of Looking at a Hamster

I The house was dark. The only moving thing Was the eye of the hamster.


I was of three minds Like a habitrail In which there are three hamsters.


The hamster whirled in its spinning wheel. It was a small part of the condominium.


A man and a woman Are one. A man and a woman and a hamster and a tortoise and a bulldog and a nine-year-old boy Are one.


I do not know which to prefer, The beauty of wanting seeds Or the beauty of having them, The hamster digesting Or just after.


Incomprehensible things were written. The hamster ignored them.


O tan men of Hollywood, Why do you imagine golden beavers? Do you not see how the hamster Scampers around the feet Of the women about you?


I know Mexican accents And lucid, unrepeatable curses; But I know, too, That the hamster doesn't care What I know.


When the hamster burrowed out of sight, It marked the beginning Of one of many sunrises.


At the sight of hamsters Flying in a green light, Even the neighborhood weirdos Would cry out sharply.


He rode over California In a glass hybrid. Once, a fear pierced him, In that he mistook The shadow of his Prius For a swarm of hamsters.


The wood chips are moving. The hamster must be breathing.


It was evening all afternoon. The hills were burning And they were going to burn. The hamster sat In his food cup.

Apologies to Wallace Stevens.

Here, watch me ruin something funny by trying to explain it

I know that not everyone digs Kate Beaton (DANIELLE), but I am not one of them who doesn't.

I've been reading a book about comedy writing that Alice recommended, so I thought I'd take a minute to try to figure out what makes Beaton's cartoons so funny to me. In this one, it's when she lets the king get over-serious about total nonsense, in the exact same way that I am tempted to get over-serious about these cartoons. Irony!

She's also really good at undermining great authors that we've been taught to respect so much that we're afraid to breathe when we're around them.

That appeals to me, as someone who's been somewhat oppressed by higher education, and who read just enough Kierkegaard to make me dangerous at cocktail parties, but not enough to earn more than a C on the final.

The rest of the time, it's the way she has old-timey people speak in the current vernacular.

So, hey! That was uneducational, wasn't it. Sorry, I'm still getting used to this blogging thing again. I'll get it worked out. Don't you worry.

Who knows who's telling the truth?

Playwright Richard Greenberg in last Sunday's NY Times Magazine:

"Well, when someone says they admire your work, who knows who's telling the truth?" he fretted. "But you know what, I appreciate people who are civil, whether they mean it or not. I think: Be civil. Do not cherish your opinion over my feelings. There's a vanity to candor that isn't really worth it. Be kind."


I was talking to Paige the other day for a story she's doing for the Santa Barbara Independent and she was all, how come you never post poetry anymore? And I was all, Whoa! Haven't you heard? Americans hate poetry! Poetry is for fags! And then I realized that it was finally spring and the chicks were chirping and I should lighten the fuck up.

Here's a poem I like a lot, it's the title poem from Lizzie Skurnick's book Check-In.


I'm just calling to check in.
Do I still have to check in?
Maybe this time I'll scoot past the manager,
Slip a five to the Dick
In the phone booth,
Stick a fat book in the fire door.

Or I'll sign a lease on a six-room apartment.
I'll buy a house that overlooks the Hudson.
Mort and the guys
Are coming over Tuesday
To pour a foundation for the outdoor patio.
Better watch your step.

I've been missing you all of these hours.
My love for you is red-hot.
That span between "Hey" and "Good-
Bye" was an elm tree
Burned to an ash-heap,
A sign blinking open and opening.

My love for you is the hotel register
Opened to the thirtieth page
Swimming with brown and blue ink.
My love for you is an overheated pool
And a swollen movie magazine.
My love for you is five o'clock in the morning.

My love for you is five o'clock
In the morning, two sheets
Of paper crumpled at the bottom of the can.
Someone left a bathing suit on the hook.
The air conditioner is turned up to high.
A car is pulling away from a door left wide open.

Used by permission

On a campus that didn't much care for poetry, my college had two poetry prizes. I won one sophomore year, and the other one senior year, which pretty much made me Big Poet On Campus. Every spring, five seniors from colleges and universities around the state were chosen for the Poetry Circuit, where you got to drive around and give readings of your poetry with the other BPOCs. It was very prestigious, and I made the penultimate cut, but in the end I wasn't chosen for the tour. When I expressed my disappointment to my writing teacher, he told me something that I've never forgotten. He said,

"In writing, early success leads to early cronyism, leads to early intellectual death."

When you're twenty-one and so is Bret Easton Ellis and he's famous and you're not, that can give you some hope. But now I'm thirty-eight and so is Bret Easton Ellis and he's still doing okay and I'm blogging, and it makes me wonder: Is this it? I gave up on poetry when I got to the point where I was only writing sonnets and could only think in pentameter; I gave up on fiction because I didn't have the attention span to write a coherent, necessary short story, much less a whole novel.

Way back on November 23, 1985 I wrote in my diary, "Maybe this is all I'll ever write -- journal entries."

Maybe I was right.

Of asphodel, that greeny flower,
I come, my sweet,
to sing to you!
My heart rouses
thinking to bring you news
of something
that concerns you
and concerns many men. Look at
what passes for the new.
You will not find it there but in
despised poems.
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

William Carlos Williams

Can I ask you a favor?

If anyone can find the last Woody Allen "Shouts and Murmurs" piece, it was in The New Yorker probably four or five months ago, and it was actually funny and not goofy or overwritten like the stuff in Without Feathers or Getting Even -- hey, I loved it when I was fourteen, but I mean, all right, you outgrow it, you absolutely outgrow it -- if anybody can find that piece and e-mail it or mail it or fax it to me, I will send you in return a used but still in good condition VHS tape of Mr. Allen's 1979 film Manhattan. This offer is good indefinitely. If for some reason two people find the story simultaneously, I can also offer a slightly more worn backup tape of Hannah and Her Sisters.


One of the things I used to love about reading Salon was that every other Friday there'd be a new story by Mary Roach. I don't know why that stopped, was it last year? Salon is having budget problems, I know, or maybe it was time for her to move on, but if you want to read a really great story about freezing your brain for science experiments, go here right now.