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January was a great month for reading; I’m on my fifth book of the year so far, and, surprisingly, not one of them was about, or set in, Paris. Lest you think I’m slacking on my Francophile duties in 2017, here are just a handful of books on my to-read list. Some of these were gifts (my family knows me so well!), some are in my library queue, some were purchased with gift cards (again, people know me well), and one of them (“Shakespeare & Company”) is on my to-purchase list when I get back to Paris (45 days!). I’m trying to expand my literary horizons this year and read books outside of my comfort zone, but I can’t resist the pull of a Parisian page-turner.
What are you reading these days?
My year in books:
Book Goal: 30
Books Read: 34
Books Set in/About Paris: 13 (three less than last year)
Books Borrowed from the Library: 11
Favorite Book(s): “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles, “32 Yolks” by Eric Ripert, “Hotel Pastis” by Peter Mayle, and “Read Joan” by Jennie Rooney
Least Favorite(s): Oof, I read some stinkers last year. “Maestra” leads the pack as possibly the worst thing I have ever read, ever. I’ve read ingredients lists that were more well-crafted and intelligent. But there are some other joyless slogs, too: “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” (the Lisbeth Salander series needed to die when Stieg Larsson did), “Murder in the Marais” (I actually thought this was a bad translation from French, given how poor the writing was. It was not.), “The Fall Guy” (what saddens me most about this one is that the author, who can’t write, teaches writing at a college level).
Longest Book: “The Greater Journey”, by David McCullough.
Shortest Book: “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles
Funniest: “Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris. I was the last person on earth to read this one, I’m sure.
Saddest: “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi
Books from Book of the Month: 3
Prettiest Covers: “The Spy” by Paolo Coelho and “Paris in Winter” by David Coggins (the latter was filled with his illustrations, too)
Most Overrated: “The Woman in Cabin 10” by a mile. A weak copy of “Girl on the Train,” which was a weak copy of “Gone Girl.” And it was written at a sixth grade reading level, max.
You can read all of my reviews for these books over on Goodreads (let’s be friends!). Are you doing a reading challenge in 2017? I’m aiming for 30 this year again. We’re about to enter the most unintelligent administration in this nation’s history, so I consider this year’s challenge a moral imperative. Read, read, read, kiddos.
January 17, 2017 / read / watch /
Because I couldn’t bear to have my heartbroken election post at the top of the page any longer, here is a playlist of songs that have become something of a writing security blanket for me over the last three (!!!) years. My incredibly talented friend Herbie compiles a mix CD for me every year for my birthday, and I’m not ashamed to admit that’s where more than a few of these songs came from. The songs on this playlist either get me in the mood to write, help me stay in that headspace, or are so intrinsically linked to my novel from constant looping on repeat that they have formed an unofficial soundtrack (I want to live inside of that Active Child song; two of my characters already do). I listened to Buzzcut Season by Lorde multiple times a day when I lived in Paris (my neighbors must’ve hated me…), and almost wrote an entire blog post about one line of that song: “And I’ll never go home again.” I came home from Paris, but I didn’t really come home, because those weeks I spent there, writing, became my home. I don’t know, it sounded better in my head, but the song itself still does it for me. I know I threw in a bit of a curveball with that Shostakovich Ballet Suite by the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, but I heard that song on the classical station about eight or nine years ago, and was stopped in my tracks. It is, to this day, one of the most beautiful compositions I’ve ever heard, and I’m not just saying that as a biased former-ballerina.
Happy listening, kiddos! Let me know if you end up streaming or downloading any of these & if they give you as much encouragement as they do me.
November 16, 2016 / read / watch /
I’ve been mentally compiling this post for months; every time I go to Barnes & Noble I’m greeted/assaulted by yet another novel on the “New Fiction” table about someone’s wife. The wife of someone with a notable profession or occupation or designation. This is a somewhat strange trend in women’s literature that’s appeared in the last few years that, if the covers above are any indication, has gotten way, way out of hand. (I searched “wife” on B&N’s website and this wasn’t even all the results from the first few pages.) There seems to be no end to the interpretations: there’s the wife of a ringmaster, the wife of a tea planter, the wife of a tiger (um?), the wife of a traitor, the wife of a widower (wait…), even the wife of a Nazi officer. There’s the 19th wife (I haven’t read it but I’m guessing/hoping it’s about a polygamist family), the silent wife, the secret wife, and a wife who is ~unseemly~. There’s a wife in Paris and a wife in California. There’s even the absolutely confounding “My Husband’s Wife.” (Your husband’s wife IS YOU.) So many wives! So many novels about women, women ostensibly interesting enough to string a whole book around. And yet! This sub-genre of women’s lit has relegated these interesting, novel-worthy women to secondary characters in their own stories. Women, even when they are the protagonists, are only defined by their relationship to men.
Oh, the rage.
To be fair, I’ve only read “The Paris Wife,” (because of course I have) and I fell in love with McLain’s interpretation of Hemingway’s first, long-suffering wife, Hadley. Do I get why it was titled “The Paris Wife”? Sure. Could it have easily been titled something else entirely, something befitting the struggles of the main character, her resilience in the face of infidelity, her selflessness and goodness? Yes! But nah, she was married to Hemingway right when they first moved to Paris, so naturally her story became, “The Paris Wife.” She was just his wife, after all. Merely an extension of her husband. Except she wasn’t! She was strong-willed and independent and the title on the cover was so unbefitting for the character inside the pages.
I have the same reaction when I see other women’s social media profiles that start “Wife, mama,” and list a thousand other descriptions based solely on their relationship to other people before listing anything about themselves as an individual human being. I’m my own fully-formed person who isn’t defined by her husband, and I would never expect Jamal to say he’s “a husband” first when meeting new people. I have never described myself as a wife first. And that isn’t a deliberate, feminist choice, or a slight to Jamal. I speak French, I’m working on a novel, I drink an obscene amount of tea, I can pick things up with my toes, I slept with a nightlight until I was in my early 20s, I listen exclusively to classical music on the radio, and I have a membership to the Louvre. I’m a writer who happens to have a husband, I am not a wife who writes occasionally. If you boiled my existence down to my identity as Jamal’s spouse, I would become “The Senior Vice President of Solutions Architecture’s Wife,” which says absolutely nothing about me and everything about him. I think that’s what is so infuriating about all of these titles, especially because the books go on to say everything about the women. Maybe publishers don’t think people (read: men) would buy them otherwise?
I saw a tweet recently, in response to the hideous comments about glorified-sexual-assault made by one of the candidates for president, that fit this post perfectly. Lots of men came out to express how disgusted they were by the comments…not as human beings with morals, but rather as husbands and as fathers of daughters. Because if you can’t even title a novel about a women with deference to the actual woman, why wouldn’t men only think about women in relation to themselves? The tweet read: “Fun fact: in addition to being wives and daughters and mothers and sisters and grandmas and aunties, women are also people.” A novel concept (pun very much intended).
October 18, 2016 / read / watch /
I am so sorry for the continued, lengthy lapses between posts here. Whenever I think about the heyday of this blog (and blogging in general, it seems) a few years ago, I am awe-struck that I was able to somehow churn out 3-5 posts per week while working full-time. How? These days, I am writing like the wind, it just isn’t here. I’m making progress on my novel, every day, but I still feel guilty when I neglect this blog for weeks at a time. I do have things to share with you! I am still reading your blogs, too! I promise to be better at blogging. Maybe not as good as I used to be (seriously, where was I getting all that free time?!), but better. I miss you, kiddos.
My “To Read” pile…
(It’s only gotten more out of hand, and every book I’ve read has been replaced by at least two more.)
I’ve never been interested in subscription boxes. Paying $10 or $15 or even $30 per month (or week!) for a few makeup samples, or prepared meals, or clothes, or even treats for Fitz, who has the fun habit of throwing things up on the regular, seemed like a waste of money. My friend Herbie turned me on to Graze snack boxes when we worked together, but I would end up eating all four snack packs the same day the box arrived, thus defeating the very purpose and name of the thing (I have never been one for portion control). My sister-in-law gifted us a week of Blue Apron dinners, which were surprisingly delicious, the pre-portioned ingredients and step-by-step photo instructions appealing to someone with as little kitchen aptitude as I have. But after our free trial I wasn’t about to spend $60 on three dinners every week. I have such sensitive skin and such a carefully honed skincare routine that Birchbox always seemed like too much of a wildcard. But I get the overall appeal of subscription boxes; we live in an increasingly digital world, where it’s easy to have everything delivered, especially surprise boxes of goodies chosen by someone else. Who doesn’t love getting packages in the mail? As someone who does the majority of her shopping online, trust me, I should be a subscription box company’s target audience. But none of them ever made me think, “I have to have that.”
“Is there anything more satisfying than to keep abreast of the best new books of our time as they appear? In reading them, in enjoying them, in talking with others about them, we feel our day taking shape.”
And then I discovered, through a Facebook ad no less, Book of the Month. Originally founded in 1926, the once-upon-a-time mail order subscription service started by a copywriter and a publisher has been modernized and rebranded for the internet age, and includes monthly selections chosen by a panel of judges (other writers, a celebrity guest-judge). Five new choices are released the 1st of every month (today!) and you get a few days to make your selection before the (branded, of course) hardcover of your choice is mailed directly to your door. You can add an additional book for an extra fee, and the subscription length runs either one, three, or 12 months. If none of the titles in a particular month float your boat, you can skip that month.
Even though this is right up my alley, I wouldn’t necessarily have signed up for Book of the Month unless I’d found a coupon code (I literally buy nothing full-price). A three-month subscription is $14.99/mo, but if you use the code READ50 you can save 50%, making it about $7.50 per book. Not a bad deal! I chose my first book this morning; when you sign up you select a few genres that interest you, and BoTM makes a suggested selection for you each month based on those interests. You can always change to another title, and it shows you what percentage of other subscribers choose each title. In my case, the suggested selection, “Siracusa” by Delia Ephron, was spot-on.
I am in the middle of two other books, so hopefully I finish those before my Book of the Month arrives next week. What are you guys reading these days?
This post was not sponsored or paid for in any way. I found the coupon code through a Facebook ad and was not compensated for sharing it here. Book of the Month did not contact me nor ask me to write this post. (Though if they wanted to, I’d take some free books!) All opinions expressed are my own.
August 1, 2016 / read / watch /
You have to write every day. You can’t always write well, and sometimes you can’t write at all, but if you’re not there at your desk trying, then you won’t succeed. Before then, I had thought of writing as something akin to divine inspiration. I would wait for the muse. Turns out you have to be dressed and ready for the muse or she will never come.
Jay McInerney on meeting Raymond Carver, as told to The Paris Review
July 29, 2016 / read / watch /
File this under: Greatest Invention Ever, cross-filed under: Thanks, France! (I’m running out of room in that latter filing cabinet, quelle surprise).
Two French bibliophiles, Quentin Pleplé and Christophe Sibieude, were buying snacks at a vending machine in 2013 when one of them postured (because really, this is literally what I fantasize most French men walk around discussing): “Wouldn’t it be better if these dispensed short stories instead?” A year later the pair had developed a prototype machine that did just that, and by October of 2015 they had their first public installation at the Tourist Information office in Grenoble. They’re called Short Edition, and they call themselves the Distributeur d’histoires courtes — the distributor of short stories. Their website says, “Notre ambition est de voir fleurir des Distributeurs un peu partout pour promouvoir la lecture – et l’écriture – et pour faire connaître nos auteurs.” (“Our ambition is to see blooming Distributors everywhere to promote reading – and writing – and to publicize our authors.”) The machines are tall cylinders with just a few buttons, marked with numbers corresponding to the length of time each story takes to read. If you have only one minute while waiting in line at a teller, press “1”, and a short strip of paper spits out of the machine. If you have a longer lunch break later on in the day, press “5”, and a slightly longer story prints out for you. And the best part is, they’re free.
The stories are randomly selected by the machine when you press a button, but have to have first made the cut and been chosen by readers on their website, though, oddly, the majority of the stories printed by the machines are written by authors who wish to remain anonymous. These have actually been perfect for me to practice my reading comprehension en Français. The best of the stories are published in traditional, physical book form, or as audiobooks, or e-books, and now, in the machines.
Why a machine that distributes literature? A 2013 poll by Institut français d’opinion publique (Ifop), “found that seventeen per cent of [France’s] population had written a manuscript of one kind or another, most of them unpublished.” Short Edition has been a free publishing platform for writers since 2011, and estimates they have 10,000 authors and a readership of around 150,000. In an interview with The New Yorker, Sibieude said:
The written word isn’t dead…Smartphones have blurred the limits between our professional life and our distractions. The paper format provides a break from omnipresent screens. People may not have reacted so strongly to our vending machines six years ago, when smartphones hadn’t become essential to all parts of our lives yet.
Men after my own heart!
I caught a segment on Short Edition on CBS Sunday Morning this weekend my first thought was that this was just too good to be true. My second thought was to figure out how quickly I could get to Grenoble. (My third thought was, “How well can I translate my own novel in French?”)
But maybe I don’t need to go as far as Grenoble after all. Director Francis Ford Copolla recently installed one in his café, Zeotrope, in San Francisco. I’ve never been to the city by the bay, and this might make the perfect excuse! You can rent the machines from Short Edition for €500/mo., which seems like a worthy investment. (I’m looking at you, Starbucks!).
July 12, 2016 / read / watch /
Sorry for the slow start to the year around here, but I have a very good reason: I got a new job! Well, that only accounts for the last two weeks of January; the first two, I was buried under a blanket of unemployment and self-loathing, and couldn’t rally any consistent enthusiasm for blogging. But thank you to everyone for the good vibes, because it worked! The universe delivered in an unexpected way, and the best part is, I still have a few days off each week to focus on writing! Although, there have been more than a few episodes of The X-Files in there, as well. Happy February, kiddos!
February 1, 2016 / read / watch /