LIKE / WANT / NEED
Bonjour! I’m Erin.
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Category Archives: 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 /
Ira Glass’s thoughts on there being a “taste gap” for creative beginners, gorgeously animated by filmmaker Daniel Sax.
Nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish somebody had told this to me — is that all of us who do creative work … we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, OK? It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good…
A lot of people never get past that phase. A lot of people at that point, they quit.
…And the most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work — do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week, or every month, you know you’re going to finish one story. Because it’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you are actually going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions. It takes a while, it’s gonna take you a while — it’s normal to take a while. And you just have to fight your way through that, okay?
Okay, Ira Glass, I’m listening. Do you guys –any of you who do creative work– necessarily agree with this sentiment? It’s comforting (though obvious) to hear that you shouldn’t expect to be good right off the bat. That like anything else, it takes practice. Glass’s words are simple (and old; this interview is from 2009!), but they alleviate a lot of the (self-imposed) pressure that comes with writing, at least for me.
January 5, 2016 / read / watch /
My year in books:
Book Goal: 25
Books Read: 32 (well, 31, but I’ll finish “The Woman in the Photograph” by Thursday)
Books Set in/About Paris: 16 (one more than last year!)
Books Borrowed from the Library: 14!
Favorite Book(s): “The President’s Hat” by Antoine Laurain, and “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery
Least Favorite(s): “Headhunters” by Jo Nesbø was just terrible. I borrowed it from the library because it involves a series of art heists, but what a disappointment. It read like a shorthand synopsis of a film script Nesbø was pitching to someone else to write in full. At one point, the protagonist hid in an outhouse toilet. Also “My Paris Dream” by Kate Betts. I didn’t think it was possible to write a bad memoir about Paris, but boy was I wrong. Entitled, miserable drivel.
Longest Book: “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt, 784 pages (again.) Having now read this twice, I can safely say I won’t read it a third time.
Shortest Book: “Flore: A Short Story” at 27 pages. I received this as a free download from the author (who also wrote “Paris, Rue des Martyrs,” Adria Cimino).
Funniest: “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster, though perhaps it’s more clever than laugh-out-loud funny
Saddest: “Luncheon of the Boating Party” by Susan Vreeland, a touching (fictionalized) account of Renoir’s famous painting and the stories of each of the models. For non-fiction: “The Hotel on Place Vendôme” and “In The Garden of Beasts” by Erik Larson, both of which focus on Nazi Germany’s rise to power and are just seriously depressing.
Books Bought in European bookshops: Just 1 :(
Prettiest Covers: Hard to pick, as none of them are knock-outs, but I know for sure it wasn’t “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier. It may look like a cheesy grocery store checkout romance paperback, but I promise it wasn’t!
Most Overrated: “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert. Guys, did you know we like, shouldn’t be afraid of our creativity? Groundbreaking stuff here. And “The Little Paris Bookshop” by Nina George. To summarize my Goodreads review: “The Little Paris Bookshop” was neither little, in Paris, nor a bookshop, DISCUSS.”
What did you guys read this year that stood out for you? I’m always taking suggestions for next year!
December 29, 2015 / read / watch /
Have you ever come across a book and just known you were going to love it, before you’d even read a word? That was the experience I had with both of Antoine Laurain’s novels, “The Red Notebook” and “The President’s Hat.” I stumbled upon the former on Amazon, where I usually go down a rabbit hole of “Books You May Like” to find things to add my library hold queue. The premise grabbed me immediately: a man finds a woman’s purse on the street, and in going through the contents to try to find its owner, finds a red notebook with her thoughts and scribblings and starts to fall in love with her. He also owns a bookshop called Le Cahier Rouge, the red notebook. It also happens to be set in Paris, translated from French, but truthfully, that it played into my Francophilia was secondary to how delightful of a book it was. A particularly beautiful, articulate excerpt that resonated with me, given what I went through earlier this year before I changed jobs:
An existence devoted to reading would have been his ultimate fulfillment, but it had not been given to him. He would have had to choose that path much earlier, to have known what he wanted to do…To have had a life plan. At first it had been interested to be recognized as a promising young banker, to climb the hierarchy, to have responsibilities and to earn a lot of money. Up until the day he had started to feel, dimly at first, then more and more clearly, that the man he had become was the absolute opposite of what he really was. Although the dichotomy weighed heavily on him, for a while the money he was earning was compensation enough, but then it could no longer make up for it. The gap between his ideal and his reality was too great. The weight turned into an anguish that was succeeded by the intolerable idea that he was wasting his life –or even that he had already wasted it.
I couldn’t put it down, and when I was finished, I wanted to hug it, re-read it, and find the author, Antoine Laurain, and ask him how he makes writing look so easy and good. (I also have a thing for the name Antoine). Immediately after finishing “The Red Notebook”, I picked up his other, earlier novel, “The President’s Hat” from the library, and started it yesterday. I’m more than halfway through, and that I can’t stay home from work to finish reading it and rub it on my head in the hopes that some of Laurain’s beautiful faculty with words will transfer to me by osmosis or something is torture. Mon dieu.
Really, kiddos, you have to go read them. I haven’t read anything as charming and perfect in a long time. What are you reading these days?
September 4, 2015 / read / watch /
I’ve made no secret of my disdain for the season everyone affectionately refers to as “the best of the year,” while I instead call it “hell.” That’s right, I’m talking about you, summer. Everyone’s all, “I love the sun!” “Woohoo the beach!” and meanwhile I’m over here in the lone patch of shade in the fetal position, scratching at my 38 mosquito bites and trying not to turn into one giant greaseball. I miss winter! I miss the cold and the darkness and scarves! (Yes, I am basically a Scandinavian vampire). I’ve long relied on two things to make summer a little more bearable, though, at least in terms of my vanity: that face wash and scrub are the antidote to my dreaded summer breakouts. I use the face wash every night, and the tea tree oil really helps soak up all that extra oil. It also feels like you’re applying menthol straight to your face, so tingly and refreshing as it feels. I use that scrub once or twice a week just to slough off the inevitable layer of oil build-up. So attractive, I know. Park me in front of an air conditioner and come get me in four months.
Another summer staple? Those sandals! I ordered a pair last year to take with me to Paris and wore them into the ground. I went through two pairs last summer, and this spring ordered a new set to take with us to Italy. Without any breaking in, I walked over 10 miles in them the first day and didn’t have a single blister or moment of pain. They are heavenly. I just ordered my fourth pair to finish out the remainder of the season.
I finished “The Hotel on Place Vendôme” last night and loved it. If you’re a fan of historical non-fiction, specifically the German occupation of Paris, you should add it your Goodreads list immediately. I just started “My Paris Dream,” and so far I’m feeling ‘meh’ about it. It’s all very ‘poor little rich white girl’ who went to Choate and Princeton and runs off to Paris after graduation to “find herself” on her parent’s dime and still finds things to complain about. But, Paris.
And this weekend I completed my descent into domesticity as a Write At Home Wife and bought a steam mop. Mopping is the bane of my existence, which is why I put it off as long as possible and get by solely using Swiffer wet pads. But then I looked at the bottom of a pair of socks and was horrified, so off to Macy’s we went (armed with a coupon, of course). It’s just natural steam, and it sanitizes up to 99.9% of germs and dirt and bacteria. No chemicals, just water, and oh man did it clean my floors to a squeaky clean shine. I might be looking forward to doing it again today.