Monthly Archives: January 2008

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Crushing and being crushed by the GRE

I took the GRE today. In Fairfax. Two hours away. During my naptime. And they wouldn’t let me bring my candy or my Chapstick into the room with me. And I had to ask for a key to use the bathroom, which I hate. And I felt all this pressure to “know things” and to “do well.” But despite all of that, I think I did okay on the test. I was surprised considering that in lieu of studying last night, I went out for Mexican food and then watched The Thing, starring Kurt Russell. Kind of a great movie.

Lying in bed last night I was all excited (!) because I was going to take a test today (the challenge! the novelty! the possibility that the testing staff would pull me aside halfway through and say, “You are the smartest person ever to take this test. Don’t worry about finishing. Enjoy this bag of jellybeans instead.”), I asked Darren to hit me with some vocabulary words for me to define. He only offered me one: fag-a-tronic. I was stumped. It didn’t do much for my confidence. Fagatronic? Can that be a verb? I couldn’t even use it in a sentence.

I still don’t know how I did on my essays, but I am hoping that the inspired joke I made about fat stunt people with osteoporosis will earn me extra points.

Don’t you want to know about my dumbass dream?

I haven’t abandoned my blog, but I have been v. b.z. and v. d.pressed. I will make a full comeback next week, but for now, here is a taste to whet your appetite.

MY DORKY DREAM

I am at the Jefferson Madison Downtown Regional Library, which will always be my favorite local library even though its employees occasionally play the game of “Lose the books Wistar returns and then hire a collection agency to send her scary invoices for $90.” I’m trying to make conversation with the librarians, but they are ignoring me. “Hey guys,” I say. “Did you see Art Garfunkel’s reading list in this week’s New Yorker? Who would have guessed?” Then I go looking for Martin Amis’s novel Money. But the fiction section isn’t where it used to be on the main floor! The fiction section is up three flights of stairs, and to get there I have to walk through a gift shop selling cheap jewelry and across a meditation area with chlorinated, 50-meter reflecting pools. And I keep cursing at all the people drinking Mocha Frappiatos and pawing through fashion magazines. “Shit,” I say. “Where are all the f-ing books?” Then a hot guy opens an unmarked door beside the coin-operated carousel and I see a sign for Fiction A-Am, and I am home.

Now who’s a bigger nerd, me or Art Garfunkel?

The Atlantic Online

The Atlantic Magazine has recently archived over a decade of its complete issues online. Some of the incomplete content goes back 150 years. My recent reads:

Index of Literary Interviews, with Kazuo Ishiguro, Jonathan Franzen, Andrea Barrett, Salman Rushdie, George Saunders, and many more

Where Great Writers Are Made: Assessing America’s Top Graduate Writing Programs by Edward J. Delaney (UVA professor Christopher Tilghman is heavily quoted.)

The Angriest Man in Television by Mark Bowden (article about David Simon, the creator of HBO Baltimore drama The Wire)

Recent Fiction 

Classic Book Reviews from the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Great Expectations, Middlemarch, Les Miserables, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Lolita, and more)

The Atlantic has also compiled “highlights” with featured content like Twenty from the Twentieth Century (with Einstein, Picasso, and MLK Jr.), and Flashbacks.

Happy reading.

GoodReads, I love you

Sign up for GoodReads.com. It’s the new MySpace.

But FaceBook was the new MySpace, which was the new Friendster, which was the new AOL chatroom.

Sign up for GoodReads.com.¬† It’s the new sitting alone in the high school cafeteria before the internet was invented hoping everyone will notice the pretentious book you’re reading.

Unfair Home Exchange

The BBF and I recently dropped $99.95 to sign up for homeexchange.com. Home Exchange is like Wife Swap, but with houses. Those of you who lack both wives and houses are basically nonentities in this new global economy.

The concept behind Home Exchange is brilliant. You own a house in Malibu and you have always wanted to visit Barcelona. A homeowner in Barcelona has always wanted to visit Malibu. They trade houses for a few weeks. [Wait – this sounds like a great idea for a bad romantic comedy.]

Brilliant! Except once you log into the site, you see that every other house listed is a) a mansion; b) a mansion overlooking the Cote d’Azur; or c) a mansion with a helicopter landing pad on the roof. The BBF and I are advertising our proximity to Monticello and our washer/dryer hookup, and other homeowners are advertising their yachts and heated pools. So I’m not sure this home exchange concept will work out for us. We need something in the quality of life area between Homeexchange.com and Couchsurfing.com. But I’m still hoping someone on the former site will say, “Forget Manhattan. Forget Paris. I want to wash my clothes in a modest ranch home in Charlottesville, Virginia.” And P.S., we include the use of a station wagon.

Free the novel from the writer!

I have the day off and it’s snowing, so I spent the morning on the couch reading Dominick Dunne’s A Season in Purgatory, a book that definitely lives up to its reputation as a page-turner. The story seemed increasingly familiar as I read: Connecticut, Catholicism, cover-ups, panties. I Googled the book and duh – it’s based on the murder of Martha Moxley.

A Season in Purgatory reminded me of a literary issue I’ve been meaning to address in my blog for a while. Now that I am famous and at the pinnacle of my writing career, I think the time has come.

What’s up with all the novels narrated by “writers”? It seems like every other book I read is narrated by a fictional author – an impassive observer who loiters in the background of the story and then later writes it down. In the first half of Season, for instance, the narrator lurks woodenly around the members of a charismatic Irish Catholic family (the real protagonists of the book) and absorbs their secrets. The narrator later becomes a famous author, as do most of these fictional authors who live out the real author’s bestselling fantasies.

But there’s an obvious flaw in this narrative construction. Writers are so BORING. They don’t DO anything. They’re constantly taking NOTES. They never get LAID. They’re more interested in writing about life than in living it. Which is all well and good in reality – we can sometimes even dupe people into thinking we’re interesting – but I’m so sick of writers infiltrating the fictional world. Can writers really not remove themselves far enough from their own heads to give their main characters a profession that is not writing? As a reader, it’s easy to hear the narrative voice as an autobiographical voice, and then you are distanced from the fictional dream. Also, you are annoyed.

Don’t get me wrong – in a great story, I quickly get over my annoyance with this literary device. I love Philip Roth’s Zuckerman novels and even the narrator in A Season in Purgatory redeems himself in the second half of the book (i.e. he stops writing). But I’m still frustrated by the lack of creativity in these ubiquitous plots chronicled by fictional authors.

I know we all want to think that writing is an inherently interesting profession. There have been writers who have lived epic, soap operatic lives. But most writing takes place in isolation, in acute observation, in painful self-awareness. . .in abstraction, not in story. Hot dog vendors are way more interesting than writers. Ask John Kennedy Toole.

Why can’t more writers write writers out of their writing?

[Full disclosure: both the narrators in my unpublished novel are writers. But one is a really bad writer and the other one writes diet books.]

P.S. Sorry for geeking out yesterday about my C-Ville press. When the BBF came home from Court Square, he congratulated me and said, “The important thing is to act cool and nonchalant about the positive press. Whatever you do, don’t blog about it.” I was like, “Too late.”

I’m still blushing

I just discovered that my website is featured in my favorite local paper! I always read Nell Boeschenstein’s column because we seem to share taste in all things internet, so I was thrilled to be mentioned. Thanks Nell!

I have to mention that I was at Court Square Tavern tonight when I picked up the C-Ville, and when I saw my name in print I experienced the simultaneous needs to throw up and to call my mother.

Rob Sheffield’s Love Is a Mix Tape

I just read a memoir that the mass of my Charlottesville friends (and my little sister) have been raving about for months–Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffield. Rob used to live in Charlottesville with his wife Renee [Rob, did you eventually get annoyed at all the accented e‘s you had to insert into Renee’s name when you wrote this book? By the end, were you cursing her parents for giving her a name that consumes extra typing time on an American keyboard? I ask because I don’t know how to insert one accented e into Renee’s name, and you had to insert about a thousand. Then again, if my BBF was from South Africa and had a Xhosa click in his name, I’d probably find a way to incorporate it into our love story.] [Maybe I should save these burning questions for your book signing on Tuesday.] [January 22nd, 5:30 pm at New Dominion Bookstore].

You might guess from the title that Love Is a Mix Tape abounds in pop culture references. Rob drops names of songs and their authors, B movies and their stars, fanzines and their Corner Parking Lot writers, chain restaurants and their steaks. I expected this proliferation of names to annoy me, but it didn’t. In the context of the book, the names fit. The pop culture references were always the common ground between Rob and his wife, what brought them together when he was a Boston Irish boy and she an Appalachian girl, and it makes sense that he should use them to draw in the reader as well. And we all miss the 90s.

This book is sad, and it’s populated throughout by people who were sad: Kurt Cobain, Jackie Kennedy, Virginia Woolf, Rob. And sometimes by sad pop music (I know I’m not the only girl who has cried to Cruel Summer by Bananarama). And even the Brooklyn kitchen cabinet stocked full of dance party mix tapes is sad, because many of the songs were selected by Renee, whom Rob loved and still loves, even though she’s gone. Rob gives great depth and substance not only to his rock and roll marriage, but also to every relationship that is informed by pop, that thrives on pop. Love is greater than we are; so great that we need to harness great songs and great poems and occasionally even Applebee’s and Hall & Oates to tell its story.

Working Full Time

I’m tired. I’m drained. I haven’t had any time to write. I think I’ll stay home today to recharge my batteries.

What do you mean work is every day?

Things I am embarrassed about today

a) I spent an hour on a blog post last night, but it meandered from World War II to Britney Spears to T.C. Boyle and by the time I was done writing I realized that I had written about absolutely nothing.

b) Today I drove around town running errands with my windows open because it was so warm. Only at my third stoplight did I realize that I was blasting my audio book about porcupine sex. I’m sure it was thrilling for my fellow travelers.

c) The professor I work for reminded me today that in college I had emailed him some of my poetry. I was mortified. I recently reread these undergrad poems and they are raw, personal, and badly written – not exactly the glimpse into my subconscious that I want my employer to have taken.

d) I am afraid to post blog entries. I am afraid because I put my URL in the personal statement of my application to graduate school. What was I thinking? Now I will imagine my academic future hinging on each post. Learned professors might be sitting in front of their computers thinking, “Ew. Ballet porn? We don’t want this girl in our program.” My psychological helper person says that I’m a troublemaker. But isn’t that the kind of asshole everyone should want in a classroom?

e) I did not grow out my nails while the BBF was in Africa (I think his plane has taken off from the continent by now). But they are polished and well moisturized. My New Year’s resolution to partake in a nightly dessert of 50 sit-ups also failed, but that is nothing to be embarrassed about. I tend to lose weight while the BBF is away because when left to my own devices, I just consume red wine and chocolate for dinner. I worked at Ben & Jerry’s years ago and I lost weight then as well. All I ate was sample cups of ice cream and bananas meant for splits.

f) I’m not embarrassed about anything else. I actually feel pretty good. After two glasses of wine, I’m not even reluctant to admit that I watched Hot Rod with SNL’s Andy Samberg last night. I can’t wait for my boy to come home and return me to a healthy state of nightly vegetables, serious documentary films, and ideal companionship.