Monthly Archives: February 2008

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The bookshelf philosophy of mine, mine, mine, keep out

Today I feel compelled to weigh in on the vital blogworld debate over which books you are ethically allowed to display on your bookshelf. On one side you have the people who believe you should display only the books that you have read cover to cover. On the other side you have the folks who believe your books should manifest your aspirational self: you have never actually read the Dostoevsky novels on your bookshelf but you consider yourself the kind of person who reads Dostoevsky.

Fortunately I have now read enough books that I can relax and just buy the ones with appealing jackets.

My Mistress’s Sparrow Is Dead

A Good and Happy Child

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The NYTimes is not letting America get stupid

Front page headline updated six minutes ago:

William F. Buckley Jr. Is Dead at 82

Mr. Buckley marshaled polysyllabic exuberance and a refined, perspicacious mind to elevate conservatism to the center of American political discourse.

Someone studied for his SATs.

I’m not cynical; I just hate your movie

Several friends have recently accused me and the bbf of being cynical. Cynical because we both hated the movies Little Miss Sunshine and Juno. I would like to point out that just because I rolled my eyes throughout Juno, that doesn’t mean those same eyes didn’t tear up when I read about Diablo Cody’s stripper friends watching the Oscars:

They burst into tears when they heard Cody’s name. “She proves that if you follow your dreams, anything can come true,” gushed Charlotte, a busty brunette. The girls have even made a plaque for Cody that reads in part: “Dedicated to Diablo Cody, who has taken our calling to new levels.”

Would a cynical person be so moved by the image of some pole dancers being inspired by a lousy screenwriter? No. And for the record, Darren and I don’t hate everything. We both enjoyed the animated penguin film Surf’s Up.

Cheating on your diet while you’re sleeping

I have given up alcohol for a little while, but last night I chugged two glasses of vodka and Crystal Light lemonade in my dream. I woke up feeling hungover and ashamed, but luckily I am not a sleepwalker.

A book review of The Ministry of Special Cases in four parts


Your only son was probably drugged and thrown out of an airplane. And yet you know you will never see a confirming body, because it’s disappeared with the rest of the victims of Argentina’s Dirty War. And your wife alternatively visits morgues, searching for her son’s face, and stares out her apartment window, waiting for him to walk around the street corner. And while your son is both living and dead – the most painful characteristic of the desaparecidos – you still have to work your day job knocking Jewish names off gravestones. You still have to walk through the cemetery, the cruel reminder that bones should always belong to someone and that someone should always belong to bones. Meanwhile you don’t feel guilty that the last time you saw your 18-year-old son, right before he was taken away by the secret police, you told him that you wished he’d never been born. You know that in the intervening days of torture chambers and one-way flights, he has grown up enough to know that you didn’t mean it. And so you walk around with part of yourself erased. Half your nose is missing because a plastic surgeon lopped it off to pay a debt. Your son has your nose, and he wanders with it somewhere, like a character in Gogol. You have exhausted all means of seeing your face again.


Englander and Rivka Galchen:

At some point, early on, I decided I liked the speed of pen and paper. It slows me down. I like the way it looks. And that doesn’t mean I won’t write the next novel on computer. I just might. And I just might do it in six weeks. And it just might be called The Big Booby Car Chase and contain one sex scene, one fiery car chase, and end with the bad guy shot in the eye, and the hero in love.

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Someone help me cut this sandwich diagonally

Actress Brittany Murphy is causing problems on the set of her new movie, according to Page Six.

“She’s extremely difficult. When she gets to the set, it comes to a grinding halt. She’s so hot and cold, you never know.” According to our sources, Murphy insists on having diagonally cut peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the crusts removed. “She needs one every hour. It’s painstaking – her assistant takes about a half an hour making each one,” said one crew member.

I’m not a gourmet chef, but I calculate that I could remove the crusts from a sandwich, slice it diagonally, and probably even add a toothpick garnish in less than 30 minutes. I might even be able to accomplish the feat in under 30 seconds. This tells me that I should move to Hollywood, where sandwich-making standards are at rock bottom, and then I could amaze everyone with my godly talent. After I have impressed the celebrities with my de-crusted peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I will further blow their minds by sticking a straw into a juice box.

I’m a blogger, but I also have feelings and wisdoms

I am facing my first big blogging dilemma. I am reviewing Nathan Englander’s debut novel, The Ministry of Special Cases, because Englander is coming to town for the Virginia Festival of the Book and when he arrives I want all my friends to be ready with erudite questions and posters for him to autograph. The book is excellent – I read it all in one sitting like it was Harry Potter – but I also want to tell you exactly why I liked it and why the people who didn’t like it were wrong.

And here I face my dilemma. The Ministry of Special Cases is a literary book and so it deserves a literary review. On the other hand, that’s what the back sections of newspapers are for. But I don’t want to demean the novel and myself by being all cutesy-funny-bloggy. I don’t want to turn ten years of Englander’s life into “A Postmodern Book Review Related through Dialogue between Wistar and Her Argentine Ex-Boyfriend Luis” (even though I thought about it).

So I’m not sure how I’m going to do this. If I hadn’t already lost three quarters of my reading audience, I might launch into the book review right now. But no, this kind of thing requires long-term planning, nail biting, another strip of bacon, preliminary bloggings, some upper body exercises, American Idol, and this New Yorker article about Abu Ghraib (cited in the back of Ministry). I also have to learn to restrain my innate facetiousness and self-obsession before the big day, much like Michiko Kakutani has to hold back her own fun-loving and adorable nature when reviewing for the New York Times.

I didn’t go ballistic at Ikea this time

Yesterday the bbf and I spent FIVE hours at Ikea shopping for a kitchen. Usually when I make the Ikea trip, it takes me exactly one hour to curl up on a floor model futon and cry, or drown my stress and misery with Swedish cinnabuns in the store’s food court. But this time I was patient, I didn’t get overwhelmed (couch! fake tv! huge shopping cart! screaming child! couch! loveseat! couch!), I treated everything like a big game of House Tetris, and I even treated myself to a Buffalo Chicken Quesadilla at Pizzeria Uno’s as a reward for good behavior. Still, I will not risk going back again for at least another week, when I have to return or exchange everything we bought.

I’m a meth addict, and so can you!*

This morning I read about a father and a son who have both written memoirs about the son’s meth addiction. And they’re being published at the same time! How awkward is that? I can just see the two men sitting around the kitchen table a few months ago.

“Dad,” says the son, “I think I am ready to conquer my demons. I’m going to write about my meth addiction. Maybe my cautionary tale will connect with some young, would-be meth addicts. Maybe I can keep them off drugs, and in the process, make a name for myself.”

“Son,” says the father, “That is some major bullshit. I started writing about your meth addiction first.”

The New York Times article gives the father’s memoir top billing. I hope the son’s meth addiction wasn’t originally brought on by the pressure to prove himself to his competitive father, because if so, that kid will probably be smoking a whole lot of crystal come book tour time.

I wonder about these awkward moments whenever there are two writers in one family. Do Amy and David Sedaris have to check with each other before submitting a personal essay to the New Yorker? Did the Sedaris siblings wrestle for who would first chronicle their crazy childhoods? I would have fought to the death for the right to unveil The Rooster. Anyway, I want to get this stuff straight before my sister Margaret and I start shopping our competing memoirs:

How I Survived My Formative Years with a Self-Obsessed Older Sister Who Always Ate All the Ice Cream by Margaret Murray


I Love Ice Cream and You Can’t Have Any: A Childhood by Wistar Murray

*I am trying to drum up some good lawsuit publicity for my blog by rearranging other peoples’ headlines/book titles.

The Virginia Festival of the Book is ready to kick some ass

I’ve been browsing this year’s crop of authors on the Virginia Festival of the Book’s webpage, and the list makes me proud to live in Charlottesville. Yes, C-Ville already has bragging rights for being home to the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, and that after-hours diner that serves a hamburger with a fried egg on it, but we are also cool enough to entice TWO Tantric sex experts (who I’m pretty sure are having sex with each other), a former Black Panther, and an authority on American swimming pools to come to town for the world’s best book festival.

And this year I do not have to love the luminaries from afar because I. . .am attending. . .the Authors. . .Reception! In fact, anyone with $25 is attending the Authors Reception, but I plan to make a powerful impression. I have been studying the headshots and bios of the Festival participants so I will be able to approach them confidently at the party:

Me to Famous Author – Hello, aren’t you so-and-so who wrote such-and-such, my favorite book of all time?

Famous Author – Why yes! Aren’t you lovely! Here, have a book contract. [In my fantasy, authors give each other book contracts and cash advances.]

Me to Another Famous Author – Hello, aren’t you so-and-so who wrote such-and-such, my favorite book of all time?

Other Famous Author – Send your novel manuscript to my Manhattan office right away. Let’s get you a book contract!

I have bookmarked a few people who I am most looking forward to accosting at the reception. Here is an abbreviated list:

1) Taylor Atrium, author of The Headmaster Ritual. He’s adorable. He’ll probably be hitting on me all over the place. And I will humor his advances because he got his MFA from Virginia.

2) Nathan Englander, Author of The Ministry of Special Causes. I plan to review his novel on my website. This will be a special treat for all those who have not been lucky enough to read my college English papers, in which I analyzed every book through the lens of either masturbation or cannibalism.

3) Colm Toibin, author of Mothers and Sons. I gave this book of short stories to my grandmother (who has EIGHT sons) after falling in love with the author on NPR. She found it depressing, so I am sure to find it invigorating.

4) George Garrett. I probably won’t get a chance to talk to him since he will most likely be occupying a golden throne hoisted by underprivileged child poets.

5) Vigen Guroian, because he’s a professor at Loyola Baltimore where my baby brother plays (Division 1!) lacrosse. I want to convince Guroian to keep an eye on my brother and make sure he gets enough to eat.

6) The Tantra people

7) Jonah Lehrer, author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist, even though virtually every book critic’s response to this book was “No, Proust wasn’t.” This guy is only a breath over 18 and he has already taught at Oxford and written a bestseller.

8 ) Lisa Russ Spaar, poet and UVA professor. I just think she’s really nice and also talented. I will probably share my hors d’oeuvres with her.

So I think we’re all pretty psyched now for the Virginia Festival of the Book. Authors, try to psych your way into getting out your checkbooks, drafting our contracts, and/or preparing your laudatory jacket blurbs for my debut novel. In return, I will try not to stalk you after the reception is over.