Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Jessica Mitford

This is Jessica Mitford. If you don't know who she is, you should read Leslie Brody's biography, Irrepressible: The Life and Times of Jessica Mitford, which I reviewed for Bookforum.

(you have to sign in, but it's free! also bookforum is great!)

(i am seriously thinking of switching to Tumblr, you guys)

Apparently J.K. Rowling considers herself to be most influenced by Jessica Mitford. Fascinating, huh? So much so that she named her daughter after her. Pretty nice name!

If you're interested in more about the Mitfords, or the Mitford sisters, there are Jessica's letters, Unity's biography, or many many books by Nancy and Jessica. So have at it!

Friday, September 03, 2010

auf Wierdersehen!

Dear Readers,

I'm off to Berlin on Sunday for ten whole days. It's my first vacation in two years, and I'm very excited about it. In my mind, the Berlin I know is the Berlin of the movies. I think I'll have to realize that the war's been over for a while and that Berlin, like New York, is a city that constantly changes. If you have any last minute recommendations about where to go or what to eat, please let me know in the comments. I'll be back with a fat post and pictures!

auf Wierdersehen meine mieze!


Fraulein Jessica

Friday, August 20, 2010

Snobber's Favorite Books

Last week, a friend of mine asked me if I had a list of my favorite books posted somewhere and I realized that I didn't! Not a real list, with explanations and such. So here, friends and readers, is a list of my top ten favorite books. Some are linked to prior ruminations of mine. Though my affections wax and wane, these ten are pretty solid choices, no matter what.

1. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Though To the Lighthouse and Orlando occasionally compete for the representation of my Woolf-obsession, Mrs. Dalloway is the novel I recommend for Woolf-virgins. She's at the height of her powers here in 1925 in this story about life, love, and the moments of being that define who we are.

If you ever wanted to read a Holocaust novel that's about anything but the Holocaust, Sophie's Choice is a great pick. If you're a downtrodden editorial assistant or aspiring writer, find solace in the character of Stingo. (This transference works even better if you are a South to North transplant). Though the romance in this novel borders on melodrama, it's descriptive moments of Brooklyn and love and sex are completely transcendent; Stryon's lyricism borders on book porn. This novel's first read is so enjoyable you will spend the rest of your life trying to duplicate it.

3. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Probably the most beautiful book written in English by a non-native English speaker. Perhaps it's Nabokov's Russianness that turns his appreciation of the English language into our pure, unadulterated joy. And with a tricky subject manner, he still makes us love and despise these characters equally. When I talk to people who haven't read this novel I just think, what? What are you doing? You know nothing until you have read Lolita.

Master of misanthropy, Bernhard's energy for hatred turns into an obsession with life through our failures and hopelessness in the face of fate. Our narrator recounts the suicide of his friend Wertheimer, who gave up at music school when he realized he couldn't compete with likes of Glenn Gould. Bernhard's endless repetition, his constant droning of sorrow and spitefulness becomes the chant of genius. You will want to read everything he's ever written. And you should.

I say with ease that this book changed my life and continues to change my life every single time I read it. Stumbling upon this thing when I'd just moved to New York and had no idea that Salinger had written anything else besides The Catcher in the Rye was a pure delight. His sheer brilliance at writing dialogue is, in my mind, unparalleled. His books are some of the only ones that can make me laugh out loud and weep like baby. Nine Stories comes in at a close second here, but Franny and Zooey is truly a religious experience.

After reading this book, the only thing I wanted to do with my life was write. I had no fucking idea that it was even possible to write books like this, and my whole body was jittery with excitement. Every single page of this thing is smart, moving, and stylish. If you are at all interested in the genesis of the nonfiction novel, or creative nonfiction, or if you're just into crime writing, oh holy Lord, get off your butt and get a copy of this book. In this same category I'd place Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem and Janet Malcolm's excellent The Silent Woman.

7. I Love Dick by Chris Kraus
If you are a feminist, and you find yourself exasperated at trying to explain the difference in how art created by women is treated versus art created by men, then look no further for your BIBLE. This pseudo epistolary novel cum treatise on women's art and identity is so fucking good. It will incite a fire under your ass. The good kind. Her honesty and fierceness on sex, love, respect and never-ending struggle between the private and public make this a must-read.

8. Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald
Attempting to describe this book is like trying to describe the Mona Lisa. Why is it so transfixing? I could offer my own explanation, something to do with it's hypnotic rhythm and it's love of sorrow and nostalgia but, just, if you have the time and the energy, just. read. this.

9. Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
Though I love his showier The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay almost equally, there is something so beautiful about this book that I return to it again and again, always finding something new in its pages. Grady is your typical washed up, pot-bellied, middle-aged novelist who's looking for something to quicken him - he finds it in James, a struggling student with serious issues, maybe a pathological liar. The two find themselves involved in a messy affair concerning Marilyn Monroe's fur-lined jacket she wore when she married Joe DiMaggio. The descriptions of James' writing versus Grady's writer's block are heartbreaking and beautifully written. The perfect winter book.

10. Atonement by Ian McEwan
If I could relive the first time I ever read the chapter when Cecila drops that goddamned vase into that goddamned fountain, I'd be a happy woman. Atonement has practically everything you could want from a novel and so much more. The sheer horror of this book, how quickly it turns from beautiful to horrible and yet somehow remains gorgeous throughout - it's McEwan's masterpiece and I don't think he'll ever be able to top it. Even if you aren't that jazzed about the plot (which I think is fantastic) McEwan's sentences are some of the best in English letters today.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 1966

Until last night I had never seen "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" which is odd because I love Virginia Woolf. Not that the play necessarily has much to do with Woolf herself. I'm not sure how faithful Mike Nichols' film adaptation is to the play, but I experienced such a range of emotion last night watching the movie. In the beginning, all the one liners and epithets George and Martha lob at each other are incredibly funny - but by the end of the movie I was deeply depressed. Also, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton are both really good in it. It's strange how no movie stars in this day and age are really talented actors. We've gone from actually talented larger than life personalities to simply outrageously attractive people with no substance whatsoever. I was struck by the deep sense of stasis that all four characters are mucking around in - all trapped in their little jail cells. In the beginning I was trying to keep track of how many drinks were consumed but within fifteen minutes I had lost count. I'd like to resolve to never be this unhappy. Regardless, it's an incredible film. I'd love to read the play and see a great stage production if someone will revive it.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Marina and Ulay

I've been reading When Marina Abramovic Dies, a biography by James Wescott that was published in March during her residence at MoMa. Ever since I saw The Artist is Present, I wanted to know more about Abramovic's personal life. Wescott worked with Marina on the book, and it's undoubtedly slanted a bit in her favor - however, if you're looking for a biography with a balanced look at her work and her private life I highly recommend it. Unfortunately it's more of an "art book" so it's not great for subway rides. I just keep it by my bed and read a little of it every night before I go to sleep.

Marina and Ulay's relationship is the center of the book and of Marina's life - they were together for nearly twelve years, living and working together in intense intimacy. They had originally planned to walk towards each other from the opposite ends of the Great Wall of China, meet in the middle, and get married. When they actually did it ten years later they walked to each other over the course of ninety days, embraced, and went their separate ways. Ulay married his translator from the trip shortly thereafter, and Marina returned to New York. I can't imagine the heartbreak she must have felt (not to mention the exhaustion) on that plane ride home. As she wept when they met on the Wall Ulay told her, "Don't cry; we have accomplished so much." And Marina would go on to accomplish much more without Ulay. I think her incredibly lucky: it was possible for her to do the work. And it has sustained her. At 64 years old she glows.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Catching Up

Shameless Self-Promotion:

Since we last spoke, I wrote a little ditty for one of my favorite sites, The Awl, on how to cast a film adaptation of Les Miz so it will be as successful as Twilight. It was great fun working with Natasha Vargas-Cooper, who edited the series on musicals and is the author of the new book Mad Men Unbuttoned.

Later, I romped over to This Recording with a piece on Spielberg's oft-overlooked masterpiece, Jaws, in honor of shark week. Check it out for more on Richard Dreyfuss' surprising attractiveness in 1975 and Moby Dick analogies.

Today I made my debut at The Rumpus, an incredibly smart culture focused site, with a review of Jeffrey Meyers' The Genius and the Goddess. You may remember my mentioning the book a few posts ago. Though the book intends to be about the marriage of Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, the finished product is really more of an unflattering, even offensive biography of Marilyn. I've pointed out the issues I had with Meyers' approach.

My professional website now includes a "News" section so you can keep up with the latest, if you are so inclined.

Promotion of others:

In non-Jessica related news, I really enjoyed reading Laura Shapiro's piece on Shirley Jackson at Slate. I also loved her sketches of Hill House that were posted on Writer's Houses.

Richard Morgan's piece on being a freelance writer at The Awl really encompasses everything and more about one of the most difficult, oftentimes obnoxious jobs ever. The section where he describes pitching an idea and having it rejected only to find it on the site several weeks later written by the editor who rejected it is something I think all writers have encountered. I felt this piece. Hard.

Chelsea Biondolillo compared her MFA rejections with famous rejections throughout history at McSweeney's.

Coming Up:

- There are quite a few more book reviews in the works, and an academic paper which I hope you will enjoy.
- For ten days in September I'll be in Berlin, so if anyone has suggestions or recommendations on Berlin-related things, please let me know.
- Soon I hope I will be a proud owner of an iPhone, which means more posting and more images on the blog.
- Exciting professional news to be shared.
- Dying to read Tom McCarthy's C. - will someone send me a copy? Pretty please?
- Currently reading Hans Kielson's Comedy in a Minor Key. Francine Prose called him a genius in the Sunday Book Review and she's probably right.
- Also dying for the new Bernhard, My Prizes. You may remember my Bernhardian worship which began a few years back with The Loser.
- Very, very excited to see the film adaptation of Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. I wrote about the new Sci-Fi a ways back here on the blog.


Hello. And thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Columbine, by Dave Cullen

Although 9/11 and Virginia Tech might ring a little louder in our ears in 2010, I will always remember coming home from school on April 20, 1999, turning on CNN, and trying to make sense of the footage at Columbine High School, both horrified and unable to take my eyes of the screen. Dave Cullen, a journalist for Salon and The New York Times, was one of the first people to report on the shootings, and nine years later, his book, Columbine, recounts the entire story of the murders.

Though this book is not nearly as well-written as In Cold Blood or as compelling as Helter Skelter, Columbine is a thorough account of the events leading up to the shooting, the murders themselves, and their awful aftermath. Cullen describes how Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold initially planned on blowing up the school entirely; they had set nearly 100 bombs throughout the Cafeteria , in the common areas, and in their cars, which, if they had been successful, would have killed practically every person on campus. When the bombs didn't go off, Harris simply took to the top of the hill and started shooting at random. Though the spree would only last forty-five minutes, (until Harris and Klebold returned to the Library where the bodies of the ten people they murdered lay to commit suicide) that day, 15 people would die.

I, for one, didn't know about the bombs until I read this book. Cullen also recounts the myths of Christian martyrdom that flowed through Littleton, Colorado, after the murders, Cassie Bernall's being the most famous. Yes, myths. Apparently, according to eyewitness accounts and testimony from most of the kids in the Library, it was Val Schnurr, not Cassie, who answered "yes" when Harris asked her if she believed in God. Though she had been injured, she survived. Cassie, on the other hand, had no chance to say anything to Eric before he shot her in the head as she hid under the table, her hand also wounded as she tried to shield her face from the blast.

Most moving in Cullen's account is the struggle of the parents of the children murdered and injured that day. Some blame the parents of the killers, only the killers themselves, or blame no one at all. One, who had struggled with mental illness, walked into a pawn shop, asked to see a gun, and when the attendant stepped away, loaded it and shot herself in the head while her daughter was still recovering from her wounds at the hospital. Cullen also describes the Klebold's confusion and pain over Dylan's actions, and how difficult it was to bury him without an uprising from the community.

Eric Harris was a textbook psychopath. His journals indicate as such. Both he and Klebold had been arrested for theft. Harris' parents, in particular, his father, Wayne (a Marine) recognized how sick he was and tried to get him help, first through therapy, and then through a more strict, rehab-like program. He passed the program with flying colors, just a few weeks before he would go on a murderous rampage. Cullen suggests that Dylan, a depressive love-sick loner, was drawn to Eric because he offered a release from his pain.

Columbine is an engaging, impressive book of investigative journalism. Cullen does very little speculating: all the quotations in quotes in the book are actual, cited quotations, and they make up most of the dialogue. If you are looking for a compelling summer true-crime read, this is your book. But don't expect to be uplifted by it. Aside from classifying Eric as a psychopath (using the DSM IV), Cullen doesn't try to explain why he thinks Eric and Dylan did it, or attempt to "make sense" of the tragedy. Even in this thorough accounting of the events, there is no answer to the question "Why?"

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Summer of Literary ADD

A list of books I have begun and not finished this summer, thus far:
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
A Time of Gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermor
The Man Who Loved Children, by Christina Stead
The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson
Paris Trance, by Geoff Dyer
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer
The Dud Avacado, by Elaine Dundy
Bomber County, by Daniel Swift
I Was Told There'd be Cake, by Sloane Crosley
Stranger than Fiction, by Chuck Palahniuk

Of those, I will finish:
The Man Who Loved Children
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
Possibly The Dud Avacado

One book I read this summer and loved:
Molly Fox's Birthday, by Dierdre Madden

One book I devoured like there was no tomorrow, then felt terrible: Columbine, by Dave Cullen

The book I have been waiting to read for several months that is finally arriving tomorrow because I had to order it overnight from Amazon because I simply cannot wait any longer: The Genius and the Goddess: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, by Jeffrey Meyers

Two books I am so excited about I might explode: My Prizes: An Accounting, by Thomas Bernhard, and C, by Tom McCarthy

P.S. Dear Marilyn, how the hell did you do this to your hair?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Madison Square Gaga

This is Madison Square Garden last Tuesday night a few minutes before Lady Gaga took the stage. As you can see, there are just a few people there. I bought my tickets several months ago, and the two following shows on Wednesday and Thursday were also sold-out. The premise of the show is a Wizard of Oz like journey, where Gaga and her dancer friends are trying to make their way to the "Monster Ball." Along the way, they are met with many obstacles, including the F Train (quite possibly the worst subway line in New York), darkness, a twister, and a giant piranha that eats Gaga during "Paparazzi" and spits her back up. If you are a lover of spectacle, I don't need to tell you how much you should plunk down the cash and just go see this tour.

As Gaga went through practically all of her discography, she spoke about how much she loved New York and that even though she had been through hard times (drugs, bad boyfriends) she never gave up, and neither should we. She told us never to let anyone tell us we weren't worth it. She told us to put our paws in the air and to celebrate ourselves and to celebrate freedom. While these are all vague, general incitements to the power of indiviuality, I can't think of a better role model for the group of girls sitting behind me who probably ranged from 15 to 25 in terms of age. I could hear them singing the lyrics with Gaga, and I was pleased.

The sheer force of Gaga is impressive; if you're a hater and don't understand why she's so popular, I encourage you to watch her perform live, under a battlement of heavy clothing and heels so high they are practically stilts, Gaga dances, sings, and yells like a fiend from Hell, somehow never falling down from exhaustion or losing her voice. Her strength and her confidence is simply unparalelled. It is overwhelming and inspiriational.

Gaga herself was emotional. Playing three sold out nights at MSG is no small feat, and she knew it. She shined her disco-stick on the audience saying "let me get a loook at you." Her voice broke with tears. During "Bad Romance," when Gaga jumped, the entire auditorium was set in a blaze of light, almost like lightning had struck - she was stuck in mid-air during this moment, almost as if she were ascending to heaven. It's a snapshot I'll never forget.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mean Girls

Women (and men, perhaps) of the blogosphere, do you ever find it more difficult to cultivate friendships with women than you do with men? I do.

The reasons are mostly obvious, the most apparent being women are more competitive with each other for men, jobs, accolades, looks, wealth, etc. Do you agree?

I will freely admit that I am violently competitive and have been since the day I was born. Playing sports in middle school and acting in high school really helped me to work through my competitive nature, but since college (where I mostly hid out and allowed my self-esteem to be destroyed by an arrogant ignoramous) I've found there's really no where for my competitiveness to go - no filter, no scapegoat.

Am I too abrasive, too raw, and judgmental? (Is it me?) I try my best not to be a bitch. I am opinionated and wouldn't have it any other way. There are just some women no matter how hard I try that will feel compelled to cut me down, make me feel uncomfortable, and tell me my behavior is inappropriate. I don't really feel that anyone (with minor exceptions - my mom, my boyfriend) should be able to tell me that I'm out of line. What do you think? Do you allow your friends to chide you on what they consider to be crude behavior?

In the company of men I am simply more myself, and not so obsessed with seeming "fair," or "appropriate," and not nearly as competitive. Please don't get me wrong: I really like women. I find them to be intelligent, emotional, beautiful creatures and I am blessed that I have friendships with a few women--and these ladies I trust. But it's not easy to find that kind of a connection. Not easy at all.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Girl Power

Yo, if you're looking for a great summer dance album with substance to get you geared up to face your daily demons, look no farther. Check out my review of Robyn's new album, Body Talk Pt. 1 over at Planet Magazine. You can thank me later.

Do you think Robyn is "Team Bella" ?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

For Neda

I just watched this new HBO documentary For Neda on the murder of Neda Soltan during the protests of the Iranian elections. You probably saw the horrifying video of Neda's murder on YouTube or a news site - in the video as she's out protesting she's shot and bleeds to death. This documentary explains the events leading up to Neda's death, both in her personal life and in the country. It answers the question "Who was Neda?" And "Why did she die?"

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Alejandro, and more.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Lady Gaga's long-awaited video, Alejandro:

Gaga looks like Evita Peron meets page-boy meets Madonna. The Fascist streak in this video is fairly appropriate to my reading material right now. I just started The Rise and Fall of The Third Reich and it's absolutely fascinating.

  • In un-related news, my column at Bookslut is up. This month's is on Henry James' The Turn of the Screw. The issue also contains a delightful piece about stalking Dave Eggers, and a review of Justin Cronin's new epic vampire novel.
  • My friend Peter will be on Jeopardy tonight if you want to tune in at 7pm EST!

I have been wildly allergic to everything lately, and I have five million thousand reviews to write, so I apologize in advance if there is radio silence on the blog. You know I still love you.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Molly Fox's Birthday

Deirdre Madden's Molly Fox's Birthday is an absolute pleasure.

I reviewed it at The Second Pass. This novel is beautifully written, introspective, smart, and moving. Flavors of Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway make it the perfect summer read -"life; London; this moment in June."

Neither I nor Molly Fox are in London, but boy, this book is good.

Friday, May 28, 2010


I don't really know whether to write this piece about Norman Mailer, or Norris Church Mailer, or James Walcott, who wrote this impressive piece for Vanity Fair called "The Norman Conquest." It's a little odd that I find this piece so entertaining, since I've never read any Norman Mailer (please leave suggestions and advice as to what I should do about this in the comments). However, Walcott's piece is pretty much one of the most whimsically well-written bon-bons of literary reportage that I've read in a while.

Really what I'd like to read is Norris' memoir, A Ticket to the Circus. She was married to the dude for thirty years. In a piece in the NYT a few weeks ago, she claimed that sex was the glue (no, the honey, she corrected herself) that held them together through his insatiable philandering. I don't know whether to respect Norris or hate her. Was Mailer really a genius? You'd have to be pretty great in the sack and a genius and really love your children for a woman as beautiful (and smart) as Norris to stick by you, right?

Walcott's piece was born as a comment to all of the Mailer paraphenalia coming out of the woodwork the past few months. His cook/assistant has written Mornings with Mailer, then there's Norris' memoir, and a mistress memoir by Carole Mallory barfingly titled Loving Mailer. (The jacket! THE JACKET OF THIS BOOK). If you're stuck trying to chose, New York Magazine has this very handy dandy breakdown of the memoirs of Mailer's women.

Wow. I hope when I die there are people vying to tell about my literary legacy. I guess I had better start stabbing people at parties.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sweets through the Bittersweet

Yesterday my review of Kate Moses' Cakewalk went up at The Millions. I hope you'll read the review and the book, a memoir of Kate's childhood and her difficult relationship with her parents. At the end of each chapter she includes a recipe, from a sweet featured in the chapter. Though the recipes are a nice addition (and delicious, I might add - I made her peanut butter cookies) what really rings solid and true about this book is Moses' struggle to come to terms with her parents' marriage and her mother in particular.

I know I have always expected my family to be loving - and I'm very lucky that most of my relatives are supportive. However over the last year I've had to accept that simply because I share DNA with someone doesn't mean they will be a positive, supportive presence in my life. After years of emotional abuse, I've just stepped away. I'm open to the idea that things could change, but I don't expect them to.

Moses' book made me realize that the people who truly love us love us for who we are, flaws and all. Those are the people we want to keep around - they want to see us succeed, see us happy, see us live in the city we love, make a life with the person of our choosing, and encourage us towards fulfillment. This message seems like it should be commonplace, but in looking back at my life I have allowed myself to spend too much time with hurtful, negative people who are intent on tearing me down and seeing me fail. I'm done with those people, and I'm ready to appreciate those in my life who make me feel good about who I am - or who I'll become.

So pick up a copy of Kate's book. She's a fantastic writer - you may have heard of her last book, Wintering, about Sylvia Plath's last weeks. Read a few chapters, bake a cake for that person who loves you for who you are - there are plenty of recipes to choose from.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Whoa! and Beeswax

I changed the layout of this blog after six years of the same damn thing. What do you think?

A few weeks ago, I watched Beeswax (which is currently streaming on Netflix, fyi) - a very cinema verite film about identical twin sisters floating through life in Austin, Texas. A.O. Scott had some very lovely things to say about the film when it was in theaters last year. When I say "real-life cinema" I mean it: the twins are played by actual identical twins. They, and all the other actors in this movie are "unprofessional actors." Watching Beeswax is like watching your friends talk in front of a video camera. As time (and the internet) marches on, I suspect we'll see more films like this one: unscripted and amateurish, uploaded to YouTube or Vimeo. Making movies is expensive and getting an independent film distributed is near to impossible.

Andrew Bujalski, the director of Beeswax, has been called the "Godfather of Mumblecore," and with no-name, non-professional actors, he's creating movies closest to the original meaning of Mumblecore in comparison to some of his compatriots who have gone off for more mainstream success. However, according to his wikipedia entry, Bujalski is now at work on a screen-adaptation of Benjamin Kunkel's novel, Indecision, for Paramount pictures.

Mumblecore is an American independent film movement that arose in the early 2000s. It is primarily characterized by ultra-low budget production (often employing digital video cameras), focus on personal relationships between twenty-somethings, improvised scripts, and non-professional actors.

Beeswax tells the story of twins Jeannie and Lauren, who, after a relatively lazy and comfortable life, have to come to terms with some major changes. Jeannie, who is wheelchair-bound, finds herself in a legal dispute over the ownership of her vintage store with her absentee partner. Lauren is smugly unemployed, going through the motions of trying to find a job but unsure of what she wants to do. Merrill is Jeannie's former-boyfriend - she brings him back into her life under the guise of needing legal advice as he's studying for the Bar. To say that anything really happens in this film would be to misunderstand it, but in the vein of Sherman's March, it is deeply enjoyable. It's refreshing to see young people struggling for stability and meaning in their lives - real young people, who aren't inexplicably wealthy or attractive like 20somethings in Hollywood movies. The actresses who play Jeannie and Lauren are strikingly beautiful in a unique way, very muscular, Amazonian women. Beeswax feels almost New Wave in its reluctance to offer us anything more than a splice of life permeated by mood and sideways glances. It's the ripple-effect from these subtle details that makes Beeswax truly compelling.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Young Female Novelists

I asked and you guys answered!
A list of 20 female novelists from Dilettantsia readers:

1. Vendela Vida
2. Julie Orringer
3. Asali Solomon
4. Becky Curtis
5. Karen Russell
6. Sarah Shun-lien Bynum
7. Ceridwen Dovey
8. Judy Budnitz
9. Leanne Shapton
10. Nicole Krauss
11. Nell Freudenberger
12. Marisha Pessl
13. Curtis Sittenfeld
14. Jhumpa Lahiri
15. Selah Saterstrom
16. Rivka Galchen
17. Lydia Peelle
18. Rachel Cusk
19. Zadie Smith
20. Ann Patchett

There are a few ladies over 40, but really: who cares? As William but it best in the comments: "40 is a pretty tough number though. Everybody loves a phenom (for the first 10 minutes at least) but by and large the rule of 10 hits novelists just like anyone else." For the record, Virginia Woolf didn't publish her first novel, The Voyage Out, until she was 33; it had been a work in progress for nine years.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Got Women?

Virginia, HELP.

On Wednesday night, my friend Trish asked me who were my favorite contemporary female writers. I named one in particular: Sarah Manguso. If you haven't read her memoir, The Two Kinds of Decay, please do so immediately. But what about novelists? Fiction writers? Trish asked. Oh, I thought - well, Mary Gaitskill: Veronica. Well, Trish said, yes, but who else? And younger? I was stumped, and upset.

So who are your favorite*
  • Female
  • Contemporary
  • Novelists
  • Under 40
*favorite meaning you are a fan of their work(s)

Later, I came up with Zadie Smith. That was it. Is it just me or is there a massive black hole in fiction? Where are the young female novelists? Do they exist? Are they having trouble getting published? Is it just that women are all writing non-fiction pseudo memoirs right now? What the hell is going on? Please leave some names in the comments and prove me wrong!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Metropolis Restored

Fritz Lang's unbelievably progressive film Metropolis has long been a favorite of movie buffs all over the world. Made in 1927, Lang anticipates skyscrapers, television, elevators and highways in this story of industry and corruption.

However, since its original premiere in Berlin, most viewers have found the film confusing and a bit aimless. After the movie was released, there were complaints about its length (2 1/2 hours) and it was cut down by thirty minutes, and the excised film was presumed destroyed. Not so! In 2008, Fernando Pena, a film archivist, found a copy of the complete Metropolis in the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aries. Film Forum in New York and select theaters across the United States are now showing the restored version during the month of May, with a DVD release to follow.

I saw the restored version on Monday night, and it was well worth it. What's interesting: the missing parts only survive as 16mm transfers, so it's easy to discern as you watch the film which are the new scenes. The character of The Thin Man, who was practically removed from the last version, plays a much larger part. The acting abilities of the main characters are fully exhibited, and major plot points that seem completely essential to the understanding of the film's vision have been restored. This film is now engaging and heartfelt. I spent most of the time gasping and wondering how the hell Fritz Lang managed to film scenes that feature angry mobs, burning at the stake, and large-scale Ayn Rand like cities without the help of special effects. Metropolis is truly a marvelous example of ingenuity and cinematic genius.

The restoration is not only a triumph for film scholars - it's an absolute delight to any audience member. Go and see it now!

Monday, May 10, 2010


As a kid, I loved flying. I still love the liminal space of an airport - you're neither here nor there, in some in-between world, where one can talk on the phone and read magazines and think about life. But now flying scares the hell out of me. The last three flights I've taken have been turbulent and bumpy. Last night especially - there had been "strong winds" at LaGuardia and every time the pilot tried to descend, we hit turbulence.

How are we ever going to get down? Will I get off this plane alive? How crazy is it to get in a giant metal tube and propel oneself across the country? Please God, I thought, if you let me get off this plane, I promise I'll stop worrying so much, I'll stop flipping out about other people, stop reading so much stop thinking so much. Just let me live.

It's Monday morning. I'm alive, I'm at work. I had to let three L trains go by this morning. I open my Google reader to find criticism on a piece I wrote. I'm not an academic! I don't have the time nor the funding to sit in the library all day! (Believe me, I wish I did). I'm broke, etc. God dammit, and here we go. First world problems, right?

I wish I could stop thinking and just start living.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Around the Interwebs


Dear friends, I apologize for neglecting the blog as of late, but you will find me a few other places on the internet this week.

I made my debut at The Millions with this piece on Food and Writing. Publisher's Weekly then mentioned it on their morning report.

At This Recording I wrote an essay on one of my favorite writers, Sylvia Plath.

My monthly column at Bookslut is up, this one on Suzanne Collins' Sci-Fi Young Adult novel Hunger Games.

And lastly I've had a great deal of feedback on my review of Emily Gould's And The Heart Says Whatever at Time Out, including a nice nod from Jezebel.

As always you can find all my published clips at

Thank you for reading!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Summer Reading

It's practically May, and you know what that means: it's practically summer. Time for long lazy afternoons in the park, reading in the sun. I've been running around (out of town) but I'm looking forward to the summer months when I can finally get some reading done. Here are a few books I'm excited about reading:

Miss Lonelyhearts (and The Day of the Locust) by Nathanael West
An Education, A Memoir by Lynn Barber (the basis for the film)
A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg (author of food blog Orangette)
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Summer Cooking by Elizabeth David
Memento Mori by Muriel Spark
and, if I like that, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
and if I like both of those, the new biography of Madame Spark
Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin

I've been doing a lot of food writing and reading over the past month. I hope to have something up for you all to read about the genre very soon. I just finished Judith Moore's collection of personal essays on the intersection of life and food, Never Eat Your Heart Out. It was fantastic; I highly, highly recommend it. (It's out of print but you can find it without a problem on aLibris)

I also do a fair amount of re-reading in the summer. My favorites:

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
The Unabridged Diaries of Sylvia Plath
Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan
Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Come to think of it, I pretty much re-read these books all year.

What are your summer reads and recommendations?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Emily Gould's "And the Heart Says Whatever"

Dear readers, you can find my review of Emily Gould's collection of essays And the Heart Says Whatever in this week's Time Out New York here, along with a few recommendations of my favorite memoirs and tell-alls. Thank you as always for reading. xoxoxo

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Songs of Sorrow: Lady Gaga

Paparazzi: Love and obsession. Facebook stalk-age. Anxiety to leave the communal space. Jealousy, rage, and the thin line between love and hate. The beauty of a lover can never be recreated outside of the relationship.

Poker Face: The mix of shame and excitement on being attracted to the same sex. "Bluffin" with your "muffin" because you only fall in love with men. Distraction. The need for orgasm. Ultimate power over the situation. Control.

Money Honey: Being your girl is all the money in the world. Of course, actual money would be nice, too.

I Like it Rough: Feeling insecure about your sexuality because you want to have sex more often and rougher than your boyfriend does. Men raised by women and only women. No rage, no play, the same, boring. You want the throw down. You get labeled as a slut. Little does he know you are the best thing, you are "shiny."

Bad Romance: I would rather have your resentment and anger than nothing at all.

Alejandro: Your jealousy makes me sick. Let me be free.

Monster: Your girlfriend tells you she slept with that guy, and he was an asshole. You sleep with him anyway because you are stupid. He totally consumes you, then dumps you on the side of the road. Ultimate pain.

Speechless: Daddy issues. Enough said.

Dance in the Dark: Your boyfriend thinks you're fat. You burn and seethe with rage and self-loathing. You are gorgeous, but he makes you feel like you're nothing. You dance in the dark with your friends. Depression and suicide loom. You hope and work back to self-confidence.

Telephone: I will ignore you because you refused to acknowledge me.

Teeth: There is no man who can equal your power. Torn between feeling wonderful about it, or awful. The overwhelming solitude.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present

On Sunday I went to MoMa to see "The Artist is Present," a retrospective of Marina Abramovic's work. And Marina was present, sitting on the second floor of the museum in a brilliant, flowing red dress. At 62, Abramovic doesn't look at day over 38. I jumped to the conclusion that she must look healthy and young because she gets to live her passion every day. Even if that passion is sitting in MoMa, staring at strangers.

Or carving a pentagram onto her stomach using a razor blade.

Or cleaning hundreds of cow bones for the Venice Biennale.

Or handing 72 objects of pain and torture to an audience and telling them "do to me what you will."

Or screaming at the top of her lungs until she lost her voice.

Or standing in the center of a blazing star until she lost consciousness from the fumes.

Or breaking up with her partner and collaborator by each of them walking the Great Wall of China from opposite ends, only to say goodbye once they reach the center.

The list goes on.

Obviously Abramovic can't been in twenty places at one time, and I don't think the Great Wall will fit in MoMa, so most of these pieces are exhibited through video. A few of them, however, are performed by actual human beings. (No, sadly not the pentagram piece). As a patron you do have the option of entering the exhibit by walking in between two naked people (Marina and Ulay in the original below).

I walked in between two naked guys. At first I was nonchalant about it, but after squeezing through I felt a surge of euphoria closely followed by panic and shame. Both of them looked wildly uncomfortable, and hot. MoMa had the heat on, and everyone was sweating - even the naked performers. Squeezing past them with a bag, a purse, a heavy coat and my big military boots wasn't easy. After, I felt bad. It's strange to look at art and have it look back at you. One performer, naked, laying on a slab that came up about waist-high in another room was covered in a skeleton. He looked at me, I looked at him. I tried to focus on looking at his body as a whole, avoiding eye contact, but I couldn't. He seemed sad, in pain. I wanted to bring him some water.

After the exhibit I was so exhausted (mentally, physically, emotionally) that I collapsed on my living room couch and didn't move for nearly two hours. I was overwhelmed by Abramovic's body of work, both in its scope and its nature. There's no distinction between Abramovic and her canvas. She is her canvas. I can't think of any kind of living that's more alive and real. Surely there will be haters who think the exhibit useless, but to hell with them. This exhibit is an inspiration. I walked out of MoMa feeling violated in the best way possible, thinking to myself: how can I live and feel and work on this level? I want it. No matter how uncomfortable. I want that kind of work. Every day. So now: how to do it?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Adventures in Babysitting

Hi friends. I wrote this essay about babysitting for This Recording.

I hope you enjoy it, and as always, thanks for reading.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Warning: Fashion Post

I feel somewhat (somewhat, okay?) vindicated by the fact that The New Yorker, tastemaker of snobs, recently published a piece about the website Polyvore. Alexandra Jacobs does a much more thorough job of explaining what Polyvore is in those five pages. If you care about clothes, and you are not familiar, I highly recommend you check this website out - it's essentially an outfit-builder and it tells you where you can find each piece. Whenever I'm looking for inspiration I search the collections others have built. You can search for any term you want. Since it's finally getting warmer here in New York, my current favorite search terms are "spring," "spring in New York," "Michelle Williams," "Chloe Sevigny" and "Jane Birkin."

Happy Spring!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

On Travel

Since I was young, I have always loved to travel. Whether it was a long eight hour drive down to Florida to see my Grandpa, or a quick weekend to D.C. or Philly, or even just a jaunt to a small town in the middle of nowhere in Georgia, I love to travel. Traveling reminds me of when I was young, when I was a student and I had no serious cares in the world, aside from your usual teenage dramas and first heartbreaks. Honestly, while I love living in New York and I love my people here, I'm still trying to figure out what kind of career I need to pay the bills and to keep me sustained and fulfilled in an emotional sense. It's really difficult. If I had my way, I would write full-time. Traveling, even if it's a brief getaway, makes me feel like I'm seventeen again, with my journal and my books, settling in for a long train ride, ready for newness, ready for anything.

When I was eighteen, my mom and I tagged along on a University of Alabama study abroad program called "In the Footsteps of Virginia Woolf," the best trip I've ever taken in my life thusfar. We traveled all over England, to London, to Kent, to Sussex and finally to Cornwall, and when I stood on our hotel balcony I could see the pulsing light of Woolf's lighthouse. I got to watch my mom's face light up with joy while we walked through Vita Sackville West's garden at Sissinghurst. I saw Woolf's original manuscript of Orlando, handwritten in purple ink, that she gave to Vita, installed at Knole.

I've visited Andalusia, Flannery O'Connor's home in Milledgeville, Georgia, where she lived her entire life and wrote there - I saw her typewriter and her crutches.

I've held Sylvia Plath's childhood valentines to her mother in my hands. I've also held two feet of her hair, braided, in my bare hands at the Lilly Library in Bloomington, Indiana.

I've walked through ancient cemeteries in the UK, kissed the Blarney stone (after some intense anti-bacterial wiping) and taken down epitaphs from decrepit tombstones in Massachusetts. I've danced with Frenchmen and Spaniards in Madrid, even though I barely speak French and speak absolutely no Spanish. I lit a candle for my Grandmother in Notre Dame. I walked through the house where Nathaniel Hawthorne was born, and the house on which he based The House of Seven Gables. I dropped my favorite childhood necklace into the bay in Sausilito.

While standing in the Monk's House garden, where Virginia and Leonard Woolf's ashes are buried next to each other, I watched a big black cat cross through in the blinding sunlight.

For me, traveling is about forging a physical connection with places and people, particularly of the literary and historic persuasion. There's nothing I love more than the idea of a trip to Sleepy Hollow, or a visit to Amherst, to see Emily Dickinson's house. Being there situates you closer to the work, to the writer. I think literary excursions are the most romantic excursions.

And while there are still so many places to go and so many things to see, as I recount these past travels I feel a bit better about sitting inside being stuck at a desk on a gorgeous spring day. You know, I feel lucky.

Monday, March 15, 2010

In Which Cooking is an Analogy to Life Itself

I've just finished reading Cathy Erway's The Art of Eating In - you may recognize Cathy not from the name of her book but rather the name of her blog "Not Eating Out in New York." Cathy made a promise to herself and her readers that she would not eat in restaurants in New York, cooking all her meals at home, for two years. The book is a recounts her culinary struggles and triumphs. Gimmicky yes. Inspiring, also yes. For instance: last night I was out until 11pm, and I hadn't eaten dinner. Normally I would've rushed into some restaurant, totally ravenous, spent about $40 on booze and food, and gone home feeling guilty for my overindulgence. Thanks to Cathy's influence, I went straight home and looked at what I had in the cupboards. Some whole wheat pasta, parmesan cheese. Quickly, I whipped up some delicious cheese and pepper pasta and was totally satisfied, without spending a cent, without overeating.

Until this past year, I looked at cooking with disdain and apprehension. Cooking was for people with too much time on their hands, for housewives, or naturally talented chefs. But after doing some experimentation, I quickly learned that cooking at home can be healthier in that you control the ingredients, and certainly it's cheaper. In Erway's book she calculates she spends $20 on groceries one week (this is obscenely off - I spend about $60, but then, I'm cooking for two) for eating in. In a week where she eats-out every meal, she spends $221!

I do a fair amount of cooking at home now that I live with my boyfriend. Before cohabitation, as a single gal cooking for myself was a bit of a downer. Combine the social aspect with a kitchen in Park Slope that looked like something out of Taxi Driver, and there wasn't much of an incentive. I ate a lot of veggie burgers, cheerios and tater tots. Most of my meals I spent eating out, spending time with friends, or on dates. I was always jealous of my roommate and her boyfriend, who made intensely delicious dinners (usually on Sundays). The smell from the kitchen was devastating. And sadly, they never really offered to share. Understandable - groceries cost money. But I would have gladly chipped in.

This year, I hosted a Thanksgiving dinner at my house and 12 people attended. Everyone brought a dish (or even two) so thank goodness for that. But I was in charge of the turkey, and I was absolutely terrified. If you haven't ever cooked a large bird, I recommend doing so. It will teach you a great deal about yourself. Slaving over a turkey for six hours was agonizing: constantly basting, ensuring that the bird won't be overdone, and giving yourself a facial every ten minutes from the heat wave of the oven. Watching my friend Sue, who is a culinary master, carve the thing once it was done was like watching someone slaughter my first born child. At one point, I had to leave the room. To make matters worse, herding 12 people into sitting down at the table is near to impossible. And the bird was getting cold. All my work for naught! As Madeline Kahn says in Clue, "Flames, at the side of my face. Flames."

I lost all politeness and composure, barking orders for people to sit the fuck down, shut up, and eat. My boyfriend was embarrassed and ashamed of my behavior. But how could he understand? He had been helpful, yes, cleaning the apartment and going out to buy snacks from Chinatown. But these sort of errands in no way equal the massive amount of pressure combined from cooking the main dish and hostessing. I don't think he will ever fully forgive me for "losing it" at Thanksgiving. I tried to apologize to my guests, citing frustration and fatigue. Who knows if they even heard me over the clinking of silverware.

What Thanksgiving (and subsequent dinners) have taught me is that no matter how upset you get, for whatever reason: whether it's culinary, professional, or personal, you cannot allow your emotions to get the best of you. You must keep a stiff upper lip in public, and if you want to explode or rampage in private, go right ahead. (The gym, too, can be a wonderful safe haven for working out stress and anger issues). But the dinner table, in the company of guests (even if it's just your partner) is never the place to engage in combat with yourself. If you're type A, like I am, you must approach life in the same way: always striving for perfection. Well, it's more about the process, isn't it, than the end product? We should all just enjoy the "doing." Who cares if your place-mats don't match?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


I might as well just come out and admit that I'm not a very good blogger. I don't update enough, and for that, I apologize.

So, what did we all think about the Oscars? I was very pleased and shocked - I didn't think they would give The Hurt Locker Best Picture, too. So that was a welcome surprise. Congratulations to Kathryn Bigelow!

As I've been getting my life back under my control after the summer / winter of hellish unemployment and disaster, I'm thinking about life-goals, dreams, and aspirations. Que the soundtrack to Last of the Mohicans. Y'all, what I've been thinking lately is life is so damn short, right? Why not go after everything you want, relentlessly? As the weather's been improving (and therefore my mood) I'm coming out the muck and for the first time in months I'm able to appreciate who I am and where I am. What about you? I've received several e-mails and messages of Facebook as of late, thanking me for my writing and encouraging me to keep at it. I want you all to know that I find these kindnesses so empowering and I'd like to say: right back at you. If you aren't doing something that makes you happy, right now, get on it. Just, get on it.

In further news, it's gorgeous outside and all I can think about are sunglasses.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Shutter Island

Props to Scorsese's legal team, because I Google-searched for a total of three minutes before I became exhausted for a photo of Michelle Williams in Shutter Island. This was really the only one I could find, which is a damn shame, because her part in the film happens to be the most beautiful and compelling.

It's alright, I understand why there aren't any photos: this is a twist-ending movie based on the twist-ending book by Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River. If everyone was allowed to post stills willy-nilly on Google, well then, what fun would the movie be?

The answer is, it's still fun, regardless of whether you know the twist ending (I called it on Twitter about a month ago) or not. Shutter Island is Scorsese's attempt at film noir. Unfortunately, for him and for us, he ends up closer to M. Night Shyamalan than to Hitchock.

Teddy, played by a beefy Leonardo DiCaprio, and his partner Chuck, the dreamy Mark Ruffalo, are called to Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of patient Rachel Salando. Of course, by the time they get there, it becomes obvious that Teddy has bigger problems than finding Rachel. For one thing, he's wracked with anxiety and flashbacks to his tour in Germany during WWII, and visions of his wife, who died in a fire in their apartment.

Most of these flashback scenes are the reason to see this film - visually stunning, eerie and gorgeous, Michelle Williams (in a beautiful yellow house dress evocative of her Vera Wang at the Oscars with Heath) seems to get more and more beautiful as the years go by. It's no wonder these scenes are the ones that appear in the trailer. And DiCaprio does a pretty good job at playing tortured. That said, I will still never be able to see him as a man. Every time I look at him, I see this:

That said, after the twist, Leo's brutish performance morphs into something remarkable. The same goes for Ruffalo, who, after a simple costume change, becomes a completely different person. The other actors, who are so talented that their supporting-status in this film is practically insulting, Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow, seem to be playing down to the nature of the film. It's jarring - but appearances by Emily Mortimer and Jackie Earle Haley round out the ensemble.

Unfortunately, the stylistic music just gets annoying as hell, and the jumpy, black-out mental institution prison hallways are a bit much. This film houses none of the suspense of Taxi Driver or even The Departed (please, I don't expect Taxi Driver every time). Sadly (and predicatably) WWII is used solely for shock-value. Overall, there's too much silliness here for the film to get visceral. It's not a complete failure, but it is a failure, I think, for Marty Scorsese. Or perhaps this just isn't his genre.