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Jul. 2nd, 2015

reading tiger

addendum to yesterday

But if it *was* the same story, it would be called "East End Story." I will let you imagine the rest, choreography and all.

Jul. 1st, 2015

reading tiger

Wednesday Summer Reading

Still working on Get in Trouble. I am also reading a lot of stuff as research for some stories I am working on, so I'm now the happy owner of one of those old dual editions of "Romeo and Juliet/West Side Story" that you had to read in high school, plus an old Pulphouse short story paperback edition of "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper." (Different stories. I promise.) Also some critical studies, because that's how I roll.

In bedtime story land, we are at the final! climactic! conclusion! of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, which, like Girl at the Bottom of the Sea is basically just one long flashback in the middle, isn't it? But with more philosophy, I think. Like, there are serious moral issues being weighed by the rats here! And although the story does eventually weigh in on which choice is better via plot device, it doesn't feel too heavy-handed (although as a writer I still regret that Jenner doesn't get to make a go of it on his own, on his own terms).

Jun. 24th, 2015

reading tiger

Research Ecstasy!

"[Interviewer]: What was the most difficult part of researching it? Because it’s so incredibly thorough. I also thought maybe you could talk about the difficulty of writing it from any number of vantage points.

Jeff Chang: I never actually have any problem researching. I'm so...what do they call it? There's an actual name for this. It's research ecstasy. Like, I could stay in and research something all day and all night and for weeks and years and never actually write. You just get caught up in your own research ecstasy."

I am so tickled to have a phrase for this phenomenon now.
reading tiger

Reading Wednesday

I am still slowly making my way through Get In Trouble. I am not sure why I read short story collections so much more slowly than novel-length fiction. Also I have been derailed by my own writing a little bit this week, so I'm not complaining.

Jun. 17th, 2015

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Reading Wednesday is on Summer Vacation

Last week was the last week of school for the kids. This week we are taking as a true vacation, no camp, no child care, nothing but hanging out together. One predictable consequence is that my reading time has been sparse. I've started Get in Trouble by Kelly Link and I'm catching up on my magazines again.

Jun. 10th, 2015

reading tiger

Reading! Wednesday!

I finished Michelle Tea's Girl at the Bottom of the Sea, which is the middle book of a trilogy, about half of which is one long flashback (that happens to be another retelling of "The Little Mermaid," the second this month thanks to reading "Kittatinny" to the kids). So, meh but not blah. I look forward to the next book, which should be set back in the real world and filled with people, not magical bottom-of-the-sea beings, and I believe that will be to its benefit.

Jun. 9th, 2015

reading tiger

on "no judgment"

I left a short note on this subject here earlier today, in a post that was meant to be private. But I'm going to expand just a little bit here.

"No judgment" spaces inherently uphold the status quo. They prioritize niceness over insight, and they define niceness as lack of conflict rather than as lack of personal attack.

Why I ever thought that spaces like this would be good for me, I don't know. I'm dense sometimes. I will try to remember.

Jun. 3rd, 2015

reading tiger

Is It Wednesday Again Already?

I've been reading Michelle Tea's The Girl at the Bottom of the Sea, with intent of reading it aloud to my children sometime soon. I don't like it as much as I liked the first book; Syrena the gruff mermaid, who was so wonderful the first time around, can get a little one-note here. And also I had a delayed bad-but-quirky-and-personal reaction to a minor plot point in the first book that is referenced early in the second. But I am still enjoying myself.

Meanwhile, I read the first of Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat books to the kids, which they enjoyed. I know, not entirely age-appropriate, perhaps. It was fine. But man I had forgotten how twee those books really are. On second thought, maybe they are rather age-appropriate after all. We've moved on to Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, in which I had to explain right off the bat that I had had pneumonia once and survived just fine, and April had even had febrile hallucinations once and survived just fine too, so maybe we could read the rest of the book without panicking about Timothy. Considering that this is a talking-animal book, after all, it's so far pleasantly un-twee and quite nicely written. Apparently I'd forgotten that, too.

May. 27th, 2015

reading tiger

Reading Wednesday Makes Music History

"The title of this book is not entirely accurate. There's Ellen Willis' Beginning to See the Light, though it wasn't all music writing, and then her posthumous collection that was. Of course Lillian Roxon's Rock Encyclopedia from 1969, Caroline Coon's crucial 1988: The New Wave Punk Rock Explosion and the collective, life-changing Rock She Wrote. We should be able to list a few dozen more -- but those books don't exist. Yet.

The title of this book is about planting a flag; it is for those whose dreams (and manuscripts) languished due to lack of formal precedence, support and permission. This title is not meant to erase our history but rather to help mark the path.

This book is dedicated to those that came before, those that should of been first, and all the ones that will come after."

Ladies and gentlemen, Jessica Hopper.

I am 3/4 through the gilt-edged pages of this book. (I know I mentioned this last week, but again: gilt edges! One of the things I like about this book is that it's making a bold statement not just in its title but right down to its design, which is why I included a picture of the cover.) It opens, after a short essay from 2002 that stands as an introduction, with the essay that turned me into a Jessica Hopper fangirl, "Emo: Where the Girls Aren't." Then we get several intriguing sections titled geographically ("Chicago," "California) and thematically ("Real/Fake," "Bad Reviews," "Faith," "Strictly Business"). I like that they are organized this way rather than, say, chronologically, because the added interest from, say, following up the emo article with a profile of Chance the Rapper (in the first section, "Chicago") is tasty and worthwhile.

One of the things I like most about Hopper is her casual style. It's not sloppy exactly; but it is strikingly warm. There's been a lot of talk swirling around this book (see above as to how this book, published by a small press, is designed -- literally -- to provoke a lot of talk) in regards to the fact that women music writers do not get to do gonzo Lester Bangs-style self-centered hangin' with the band writing, because among other things, girls hanging with the band are groupies not writers, amirite? All of which is just to say that Hopper manages to have a loose, warm, casual tone (some of my favorite pieces here are from her blog tinyluckygenius, see also the Tumblr version) while still maintaining critical rigor. A lot of ladycritics, myself probably included insofar as I get to be considered in the same sentence as La Hopper, tend more toward a detached analytic tone because being cool and detached and analytic shows that we're serious, see?* It's a way of claiming authority. "Fuck you, I'm no groupie, I am a braniac who just happens to love pop music in that postmodern 'everything is a text so here's my book report on the latest vinyl reissue' way. I am too cool for school, and I mean that in the emotional barometer way -- I'm no screaming fangirl and my pulse is always steady, Freddy."

I like that Hopper manages to claim authority just by showing up and not even bothering to hear that maybe she shouldn't be there, much less why. And I like even more that she's now doing so in explicit solidarity with other women writing about popular music. We all belong here, she says. This might be the first book, maybe, kinda, sorta, by a living female rock critic, but now that the door's open, let's get this party started.

Also I think she wrote the Lana del Rey article that I kept trying and failing to pitch a while ago there.

And she wrote the very best non best-of article in existence, "Old Year's End," which should really be required reading for aspirational music writers everywhere. "This year, almost all of the money I made writing was in blurbs, charticles and show previews that are between 300 and 80 words instead of essays. I had to write way more stuff, but with not much space to extrapolate on big ideas (if the band even has them) or theories (if I can even conjure them)., and what I write is more about the "good vs. bad," interesting vs. not, and then make a joke or two."

P.S. Once upon a time an editor said to me, "you come across more like a fan than a critic [in this particular column]. Can you rewrite?" No.

* Just to be clear, this style is also for me personally my native tongue. I am a grammarific nerd who has learned to speak the vernacular when needed; for me Hopperesque styling would be a put-on. I am not cool.

May. 20th, 2015

reading tiger

Reading Wednesday Belatedly Celebrates Mother's Day

I bought Ayelet Waldman's Bad Mother because of a case of mistaken identity. I mistook her for a different mom-writer with a vaguely similar name, located on the other coast. Ayelet Waldman is local; she is the wife of Michael Chabon and, thus, located at Ground Zero of the Berkeley Parent phenomenon. Even more so, she was briefly Internet-famous for writing an essay saying she loved her husband more than her kids and publishing it in Salon. Heaps of concern-trollish scorn ensued. And so this book was born.

When I purchased Bad Mother, then, I was not one of the folks who was consciously aware of this backstory and hoping for some more juicy bits. I was expecting a light and snarky book that maybe inappropriately wallowed in being a "bad mother" in the way that I express glee at forfeiting Berkeley Parent Points by feeding my kids French fries. You know, bad but not too bad. A mild protest against the impossible social expectations of capital-M (liberal, white, middle-class) motherhood.

I got a lot more than that. Right out of the box, Waldman challenges exactly that kind of Bad Mother Lite posture as the guilt trip coping mechanism it is, and then wrestles with where exactly that guilt trip comes from in the first place. This book is not a structural critique of the institution of motherhood, but it is aware that there *is* a critique and that it is much-needed, and that informs the personal essays that make up the book. In other words, I came for the snark and instead I got a fairly meaty, thoughtful meditation on some personal dimensions to contemporary motherhood. Overall, I was surprised and pleased.

My favorite Berkeley Parent moment in the book was when someone leaned over while in line at somewhere like Arizmendi Pizza and said to Waldman, who was bottle-feeding her infant, "you know, breast is best." And got a weeping meltdown about how her baby was born with a palate defect and *couldn't* nurse in return. Me, I would not have wept. I would have screamed the same content, spittle flying, until someone called the cops.

I particularly appreciated her completely frank discussion of the medical abortion she sought out between her second and third kid, thanks to an amniocentesis that turned up a rare trisomy. It wasn't clear whether the trisomy would cause any problems or not. She aborted anyway. But it wasn't an easy decision and, in a book called "Bad Mother," you can guess the emotions it stirred up.

There is one essay, near the end, that fell flat for me. It was a naive discussion of patriotism and kids from a liberal, post-Obama, pre-Ferguson POV, filled with optimism for the best of what America could be. In the wake of Black Lives Matter et al, it was a little painful and I imagine Waldman probably knows it and regrets it now. That's OK. She was smart enough not to end the book there, so between you and me and the author we'll just pretend it never happened. Or await her follow-up essay. Either way is good.

Meanwhile, my copy of Jessica Hopper's book arrived a day or two ago. It has *gilt edges*. This tickles me enormously.

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