Year in Read, 2018

2018 was the year I realized I should have fewer expectations. This was supposed to be the year I got a literary agent and also a year my mom didn’t get cancer, and neither of those things happened. My collection was too short and my mom has cancer. Good things did happen, though: I married my boyfriend on the winter solstice, I went on the best run of my life on the Oregon Coast, and started work on a podcast. But also, our government separated children from their parents and my mom has cancer.

In any case, I read, and thanks to my husband, listened to books, as well. Here’s my list:

In the Garden of North American Martyrs, Tobias Wolff

A Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

A Hand Reached Out to Guide Me, David Gates (DNF)

Never Mind, Edward St Aubyn

Bad News, Edward St Aubyn

Some Hope, Edward St Aubyn

Mother’s Milk, Edward St Aubyn

No Logo, Naomi Klein

The Wife, Meg Wolitzer*

This is Meg Wolitzer at her best: deliberate, smart, and compelling. I couldn’t fall asleep after reading this book.

The Vegetarian, Han Kang

Wabi-Sabi, Leonard Koren

Pachinko, Min Jin Lee*

If you would have asked me what was going on in my life while I was reading Pachinko, I would have said, I’m reading Pachinko. Centered around ethnic Koreans in post-World War II Japan, Pachinko opens up a whole world, and as an epic family saga, reminded me of the basic pleasure of reading.

Free Food for Millionaires, Min Jin Lee

You Think It, I’ll Say It, Curtis Sittenfeld (L)*

If you’ve read this book and want to discuss whether the narrator in Plausible Deniability is in love with his sister-in-law or really is that emotionally unavailable, hit me up.

The Birth of Korean Cool, Euny Hong

Asymmetry, Lisa Halliday *

After Philip Roth died, I couldn't read enough tributes; Asymmetry was the perfect grief read. Also, I didn’t realize I had a fantasy to be objectified by Philip Roth, but this book scratched that itch as well.

The State of Affairs, Esther Perel (L)*

Kudos, Rachel Cusk *

In this book, Rachel Cusk makes the story of someone else’s dog dying compelling. She can do anything.

Motherhood, Sheila Heti (L, DNF)

The Painted Word, Tom Wolfe

Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado (DNF)

Seeds from the East, Bertha Holt

The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson*

Calypso, David Sedaris*

I’ve never been so high-brow as to think David Sedaris is low-brow, or even mind if he’s mid-brow. Whatever reservations the intelligentsia may have about him, he tackles mortality, family, and the limits of loyalty with wit and honesty in this collection.

LaRose, Louise Erdrich (DNF)

The Folded Clock, Heidi Julavits*

Not much happens in this memoir, but Heidi Julavits is so charming that it doesn’t matter.

All Joy and No Fun, Jennifer Senior (L)

The Two Kinds of Decay, Sarah Manguso

To Save the Children of Korea, Arissa Oh

The Lost Salt Gift of Blood, Alistair MacLeod

All You Can Ever Know, Nicole Chung

Sleepless Nights, Elizabeth Hardwick

The Orphan Master’s Son, Adam Johnson

Becoming, Michelle Obama (L)*

What you’ve heard is true: Becoming is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. Michelle Obama’s coming of age story as a smart, hardworking Southside girl who goes on to be First Lady is a necessary reminder of what’s great about this country.

Blue Nights, Joan Didion

The Savage Detective, Roberto Bolano (DNF)

I’m off of casual misogyny in literature. There’s just too much to read to spend 500 pages with a character who doesn’t see women as anything more than objects.

My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante (L, R)*

I’ve now read, listened to, and watched My Brilliant Friend, and in every form, it’s hard to get into, but ultimately brilliant.

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

No one tells you this because suicide isn’t a joke, but this book is funny.

L: Listened

R: Reread

*: Raronauer recommend

DNF: Did not finish

Previously read: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006

Year in Read, 2017

A lot happened in 2017, but then a lot happens every year. Politically, the year was trash. Professionally, quite fruitful. Creatively, filled with some much needed validation. Personally, well, the personal narrative is private for now.

The analogy of my year came during a half-marathon I hadn’t trained for, when between miles 8 and 9, the crown of my back molar came off on an energy chew. I was lucky to notice it before I swallowed. I held onto the crown in my gloved hand for a mile without slowing down, and then gave it to Bryon, who met me at mile 10 to pace me for the rest of the race. Despite having decaying teeth (this was the year I spent $2000 at the dentist after reading an Onion article), I felt very grateful for my body and my ability to run 13.1 miles at will. I also felt grateful that I already had a teeth cleaning scheduled for later in the week and reattaching the crown wasn’t a problem.

What does that analogy mean? I don’t know, I guess in the face of a lot of bullshit, things mostly worked out for me this year.  

While I check my privilege, here’s the list of what I read this year:

Flash Fiction Forward, Robert Shapard, James Thomas (Editors)
On Michael Jackson, Margo Jefferson
City of Thieves, David Benioff*
The Coast of Chicago, Stuart Dybek
Postcards from the Edge, Carrie Fisher
The Everlasting Meal, Tamar Adler*

Whether because of Trump anxiety, living with Bryon, or generally becoming an adult, 2017 was the year I became a more regular cook. I spent many Sundays watching reality TV and making pasta bake. This book taught me to keep the greens from beets and reminded me of the basic pleasure of cooking.

The Normal One, Jeanne Safer
The Handmaiden’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
Cowboys are My Weakness, Pam Houston

I lent this book to a male coworker with two teenage daughters, and he came back with, “Are women really this stupid about men?” Yes.  

The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy*
The Secret History, Donna Tartt ®*
Transit, Rachel Cusk*
Love and Other Obstacles, Aleksandar Hemon*
Do Not Become Alarmed, Maile Meloy*

I met Maile Meloy on Twitter, and then again in Santa Monica and Denver. She’s lovely, as a writer and a person. This book shows her versatility: you may know her as a soulful New Yorker short story writer, but she’s also a middle grade fiction writer, and a master of plot. I read this book in a weekend, and I recommend it to anyone looking to get lost in a fictional world.

The Seven Good Years, Etgar Keret*
The Plot Against America, Philip Roth ®*

While I love Philip Roth, in the past, I had talked some shit about the glove passage of American Pastoral as proof that Roth was a writer before a master of story. This book features Roth’s lyrical beauty, but also has the kind of storytelling that rivals the best of sci-fi. (I don’t actually read sci-fi, but I imagine it has a lot of plot.)

The Death of Ivan Ilych, Leo Tolstoy
Anything is Possible, Elizabeth Strout*
Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri ®*
Single, Carefree, Mellow, Katherine Heiny
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, ZZ Parker
Laughable Loves, Milan Kundera
How to Leave Hialeah, Jennine Capó Crucet
The Unsettlers, Mark Sundeen
Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout
Music for Wartime, Rebecca Makkai
The Twilight of the Superheroes, Deborah Eisenberg*
The Vanishing Velázquez, Laura Cumming

After seeing Ramiro Gomez talk about Las Meninas, I realized I needed to see the painting in person before I died. About two years later, I met my Mom in Madrid, and we spent a lot of time at the Prado staring at it. Of course life is short and history is long, but there’s something kind of amazing about standing in front of the same painting that Picasso, King Philip, and of course, Velázquez himself stood in front of. I read this book in Spain, and while it’s a bit of a deep dive, it fed my excitement about seeing Velázquez’s work in person.

The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
Leaving the Atocha Station, Ben Lerner ®*

Rereading this book in Denver was the first time I ever wished I had an e-reader; it would have been nice to read it while I was in Madrid. When I came back home to my copy, not only could I catch references to various streets in Madrid, but I also appreciated that Ben Lerner, for all his fussing about, does care about plot and character development.

Transactions in a Foreign Currency, Deborah Eisenberg
My Misspent Youth, Meghan Daum
Sam the Cat, Matthew Klam
Paris Stories, Mavis Gallant
Going to Meet the Man, James Baldwin
Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan
Conversations with Friends, Sally Rooney*

Believe the hype, this is a good book. I read this book while going through a difficult time, and there was something so lovely about losing myself in a slim volume over the course of a weekend. Being a writer has made me understand fiction better but enjoy it less. A great book brings me back to my first love: reading. 

The Burning Girl, Claire Messud

* Raronuer recommended
® A Raronauer reread

Previously read:

2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006

Year in Read, 2016

I’ve been doing this list for more than 10 years now, and almost every year, I make some allusion to the political darkness that has permeated the year. But when I look back on my post from 2014, I can’t remember what act of terrorism my coy remarks were referring to. I’ll probably remember 2016 as the year that America elected a fascist for President, but just in case: Donald Trump became president this year, and I’ve never been more scared and consumed by politics in my life.

So that was the low of 2016. There were a lot of highs. I met a man I love; I bought an apartment with tall ceilings, great natural light, and a perfect writing room; my dog Rex has continued to be a puppy angel; everyone I love remains alive; friends are making new people for me to love; I’ve had innumerable moments riding my bike, running or hiking where I was completely aware of how lucky I am to be healthy; I met one of my literary heroes, Maile Meloy; I finally watched Transparent, I visited L.A., Minneapolis, New York, Austin, and Las Vegas. And of course I read a lot of books.

Here’s my 2016 list:

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey

I like self-help in a there’s wisdom-in the obvious kind of way, but this book didn’t do it for me. 

At Night We Walk in Circles, Daniel Alarcón
Quartet in Autumn, Barbara Pym
Lit, Mary Karr
In Other Words, Jhumpa Lahiri

I love Jhumpa Lahiri, but I can only recommend this book to people who are equally obsessed. For everyone else, the excerpt of this book in the New Yorker is more than enough. 

Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff

Unrelated, Lauren Groff’s sister is an Olympic triathlete. And even more unrelated, Lindsey Buckingham’s brother was an Olympic swimmer.  

Gryphon, Charles Baxter

This was the best short story collection I read all year. Charles Baxter knows how to write a sentence, set a mood, and make you feel. 

Granta Best American Short Stories
About A Mountain, John D'Agata
A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara

Readable, engaging, but also terrible? I almost stopped reading this book with 20 pages to go. It’s suffer porn, and if that’s your thing, have at it.

Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld

Remember when reading was fun? Curtis Sittenfeld does. Her books always charm and delight me, and it’s too bad I’ve never seen a man read her books. This was also the year she got her first story in the New Yorker, after 20 years of trying, which speaks to the value of persistence and also, shame on The New Yorker for waiting so long. Few stories in the New Yorker have been better than an excerpt from Prep or American Wife.

Burning Down the House, Charles Baxter
In Our Time, Ernest Hemingway
NW, Zadie Smith
My Struggle, Volume 1, Karl Ove Knausgaard
2011 Best American Fiction
The Girls, Emma Cline

The best and most honest take on the modern day female experience I’ve read in awhile. Recommended to anyone trying to understand women.

The News From Spain, Joan Wickersham
Leaving the Atocha Station, Ben Lerner
The Lay of the Land, Richard Ford
Open City, Teju Cole

For anyone in the market for a smart novel—not showy smart, but a novel sincerely contemplating big ideas—Open City is for you.

A Manual for Cleaning Women, Lucia Berlin
Swing Time, Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith is just the best. Her prose are engaging, thought provoking, and elegant, and she knows how to tell a story. It might not be a “perfect” novel, but it’s the most ambitious and enjoyable novel I’ve read in years.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers
I Am Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout

Recommended to all writers and to anyone who finds this slim volume at a used bookstore.

Taking Care, Joy Williams
A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry

Previously read: 

2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006

Not Bored

In my last apartment in New York, I lived with Joanie, a kosher vegan public school librarian. She was stubborn and self-actualized to the point that she didn’t engage much with reality. For instance, she once went to France and Germany during Passover, which to me seemed like not an ideal destination for a person not eating leavened bread or any animal products. She was also always running late. Each school day was a panic of breakfast, showering, gathering lunch, and doing all the things that it takes to start the day.

Our other roommate once asked Joanie, “Why don’t you just wake up earlier?” To which she replied, “I just need to do everything faster.”

I feel a bit like Joanie lately. I wake up early enough for two pour over coffees, but the rest of my life feels frantic. I have what? No kids and a mostly 9-to-5 job. But also, I try to write 12 hours a week, I like being active, I just bought a condo, I have friends, I’m in a relationship, I try to read some of the New Yorker and Sunday New York Times every week, as well as finish at least two books a month, there’s a dog, and this quarterly speaker series I run. Ok, I guess there’s a lot going on.

When I think of what I’d like to accomplish in the next three months in my free time—finish a short story, wallpaper a bathroom, begin co-habitating with Bryon gracefully, look for grants for my speaker series, read A Manual for Cleaning Woman, Swing Time, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, and finish the fall Paris Review, and of course, walk my dog, go grocery shopping, maintain friendships, and exercise regularly—I realize I need to wake up earlier. That is, in this analogy, give up some stuff. I’m not sure what. I just keep hoping I can do everything faster, which is an insane and useless strategy.

Ok, so that’s me right now. Too busy, but too stubborn and self-actualized to do anything about it.

From a birthday card I never sent

I hope your birthday is good, filled with ice cream cake and joy. In other projected birthday fantasy news: I hope your day includes unseasonably warm weather, good mail, a new bike in your foyer, and warm wishes from strangers checking your ID. 

Some Goals for 2016

  • To be less regimented
  • To choose life over sleep
  • To travel on a plane with someone
  • To visit Vancouver, Chicago, and Cincinnati
  • To dance more 
  • To take people at their best intentions
  • To see my cousin-niece and nephew 
  • To be healthy
  • To cook a real meal once a week
  • To buy a knife sharpener
  • To buy a drying rack
  • To go to Target
  • To give Rex more baths 
  • To be more generous 
  • To be better at accepting compliments
  • To appreciate every full moon 
  • To be patient
  • To be in the moment 
  • To be proud of myself 

Year in Read, 2015

The Empathy Exams*, Leslie Jamison
Are You Really Listening?, Mary E. Siegel and Paul J. Donoghue
The Ultimate Good Luck, Richard Ford
Moby-Dick®, Herman Melville
Reasons to Live, Amy Hempel
Stories of Frank O’Connor, Frank O’Connor
Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked, James Lasdun
Splash State*, Todd Colby

When your former running store manager publishes a book of poetry, you use a Bodyglide insert as a bookmark.

Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson
Suddenly, A Knock on the Door*, Etgar Keret
There’s Something I Want You To Do*, Charles Baxter

In an interview on Bookworm, Baxter says that wanting someone to do something else is the basic premise of every story. He has a point. 

The Secret History*, Donna Tartt

If our paths crossed in late March, and you asked what was going on with me, I would have answered that I was reading The Secret History. I spent most of my birthday blissed out reading it. It’s very rare and very special to be in the middle of a novel that creates such a feeling of immersion.  

The Anatomy of Story, John Truby

Not wrong. 

Attached, Amir Levine and Rachel Heller
Sweet Talk®*, Stephanie Vaughn

This is Vaughn’s only book, but nearly every story in this collection is a heart breaker. Check out Dog Heaven and Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog on the New Yorker fiction podcast. 

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Mindful Writer, Dinty W. Moore
Stoner, John Williams
The Rules of Attraction, Bret Easton Ellis
One of Us, Asne Seierstad
Wildlife, Richard Ford
Pulphead, John Jeremiah Sullivan
Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari

Honestly, I had to stop reading this because it was stressing me out.

This Won’t Take But a Minute*, Honey, Steve Almond
The Goldfinch*, Donna Tartt
The Story of the Lost Child*, Elena Ferrante

Ferrante fever is real. I left social engagements early to read; I had two dreams about this book while I was reading it. A 1600 page series is a commitment, sure, but if you’re curious about female friendship or Italy, it’s worth reading. Previously.  

Slaughterhouse90210*, Maris Kreizman


New American Stories, Ben Marcus (Editor)
American Pastoral®, Philip Roth
The Days of Abandonment, Elena Ferrante
Tiny Beautiful Things*, Cheryl Strayed

* Raronuer recommended
® A Raronauer reread

Previously read: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006

A Verb Vacation

The last time I was away was Thanksgiving, but the last time I felt really away, when I was using foreign currency and didn’t have a cellphone, was in 2011.

That was the year between my New York life and my Denver one. That summer, I spent a week in the Adirondacks, another one in Bulgaria, hopped through Istanbul and Berlin, and then spent three weeks driving across the country. My time in Germany was brief, maybe four days. But I’ve probably thought about that trip for more hours than I was actually on it. Berlin is a great city for a lot of reasons, but what I loved about being there was feeling very aware of the verbs—reading, writing, and running—that made me happy, and making time to do them all.

For the past four years, I’ve integrated all those verbs into my life. Even without the subway, I still manage to read a lot. I’ve woken up at 6:03 every day to write. After this blog post, I’ll go on a four-mile run in the park near my house. But after four years of such good habits, I’m starting to worry that I’ve duped myself. It’s not that being so verb-responsible hasn’t made me content. But always worrying about when I’m going to write or run, or choosing to read over spending time with people—it’s closed me off from some experiences. I have a feeling there’s more to life than doing the things I’m supposed to be doing.

A friend is meeting me in Seoul, and while I’m packing the addresses of three dozen friends to write postcards to, many books, and running shoes, I’m hoping not to get anything productive done. I’m hoping I’ll be present in Korea, instead of worrying about getting my reading, writing or running in.

No one needs a vacation, least of all me, who just went to New York last month. But I’m looking forward to taking a break from my verbs, if not myself, for a week.

About Those 1000 Words

Before the Autumnal Equinox, I decided I would write 1000 words every day until the Winter Solstice.

I’ve done ok on the challenge. But pretty soon into the fall, I rewrote the rules: dealing with 1000 words a day counted. Some days, I just erased 1000 words. But almost every day since September 22, I’ve done 1000 words worth of work, which is something.

Since before the fall, I’ve been thinking about Cory Gilstrap, a puppet maker I met for Making the Mountain. When I visited his studio, he demonstrated some basic puppet motions, and I asked him how he learned to make puppets come to life. Through his bare hand, he said, “I did this every night before I fell asleep when I was a kid. Didn’t you do that too?”

I didn’t. But Cory’s question got to me. I think most people who end up doing something they love have that relationship with their medium. That is, it doesn’t just feel vital. It feels natural. Almost any artist can claim that their medium is the fastest path to truth: a writer could argue that organized words are the most logical way to express an idea, but so could a photographer about images. For the first time in a while, I started to think about why I’m creating people and scenarios to express a truth.

The other thing about this challenge is that it’s happening during fourth quarter, which is the time of year my job gets stressful. I also took a workshop during this period. On my tissue box on my desk I’ve written “Busy and stressed or bored and depressed.”

Because I knew I was creating a hectic fall, I made a conscious choice to read less for the past few months. On mornings where I had to be at work early, I came home to write instead of read. 

Of course, I made time for the Jhumpa Lahiri essay that came out last month about learning Italian. There’s nothing I can say about the essay beyond recommending it. Jhumpa Lahiri translates words into feelings better than anyone I know. She’s the author who made me want to be a writer. And reading the essay, I just felt delight. That delight feels so separate from the work I’m doing right now. Figuring out if there needs to be two sisters in a story isn’t really fun at all. 

What I realized this fall is that I like reading a lot. That’s the thing I did every night before bed when I was a kid. It’s the thing that feels most natural to me. I’ve really missed it.

In less than two weeks, I’ll be in Korea for Christmas. I’m not bringing a computer. I just want to read books and be present. Let’s be real, I’ll write postcards too, but only because postcards are the best.

This is How the Internet Economy Can Work

For the past six years, checking Slaughterhouse90210 has been part of my morning routine. If you haven’t heard of the blog, and aren’t good at neolexic portmanteaus, Slaughterhouse90210 takes a screen shot from a TV show and places it with a quote from literature. The screengrab and the quote each underscore the other, and together they prove how literature and TV explore universal truths of the human experience. It doesn’t hurt that Maris Kreizman, the blog’s author, has great taste (to me, anyway). There’s something kind of wonderful about seeing my favorite shows paired with my favorite writers (90210/Lorrie Moore, Friday Night Lights/Haruki Murakami).

When news came out that this blog was going to become a book, I was very excited. Not just for the writer, who clearly puts so much thought into making loving and insightful pairings, but for myself. Over the years, this blog has given me so much joy, and I wasn’t able to support Kreizman’s effort in any way beyond liking her posts. A hardcover version of the blog was a way to actually back all the work Kreizman has done.

Her book, which is excellent, wouldn’t exist without the internet, and much of Kreizman’s her work is available for free there. Still, what’s free compared with compensated? In the same way people are asking where their food comes from, I hope we can start asking where our content comes from. When someone makes something great, we need to pay for it.

Onto Fall

Fall is my dad’s favorite season. It’s not my least favorite, but as a prelude to winter, I’m suspect of changing leaves. Maybe this is because I don’t ski, but winter is the worst. The sun is barely out and leaving the house is a strategic decision vis-à-vis layers.  The fresh fruit game is weak and the national holidays aren’t as well recognized.  

Still, every season has it’s time, and trying to stay in summer is a fool’s errand. Fact: fall is going to happen and summer is going to end. Time only moves in one direction, and soon enough people will be saying “I can’t believe it’s June” the way they’ve been saying “I can’t believe it’s September.”

Regardless of my feelings of the changing seasons—or maybe because of them—I’ve decided to take on fall in full force. I got a haircut. I changed my bike to fixed gear. I’ve burned a sage bundle in my apartment to welcome the new season. (This, after all, is my fifth fall in the Rocky Mountain West.)

Most significantly, I’ve decided to do a 1000 word challenge. From the autumnal equinox to the winter solstice, I’m going to write 1000 words a day. They don’t have to be good words, but they have to be new ones. For the past good while, I’ve been editing. And while it can feel very satisfying to change where “I said” appears in a passage of dialog, that obsession is different than creating new material.

We’ll see how it goes. My main feeling right now, having not written 1000 words today but only signing a contract with myself and tumblr about doing it, is that time is going to move forward either way, so I better make the most of it.

I’m writing a short story that features a guy I see in the park who has a dog. Most of the feedback has been like, “Yo, can you put some conflict up in this piece?”–as if conflict were as easy to add as red pepper flakes on a slice of pizza. Every time I see this guy, the part of me that loves to be awkward wants to tell him about the story and maybe ask for a lock of his beard. The part of me that has more social decency just wants to make small talk to find out if he has any drama in his life. 

This morning, for the first time since I started the story, I saw him outside of the park. He and his dog were on the corner of my street. It seemed that they had walked east for a cup of coffee. Maybe he’s writing a short story about a Dazbog barista, because I know there’s better coffee on his side of Cheesman. Or he could have a nascent Cheesman East romance going on. I have no idea what he was doing this morning. I know this guy so vaguely that I’m not sure I would recognize him without his dog.

Charm Offensive

Charm is like a Magic Eye word for me. I know what it means, but my understanding of it is always changing. Officially, and as a noun, charm is the power or quality of giving delight or arousing admiration. But in my head, charm also has an unctuous quality. Salesmen are charming. As a verb, charm is to control or achieve as if by magic. I imagine charming people as vacuous and good looking, without a worry about their phone’s battery life. Under that definition, a charming person wouldn’t charm me.

Of course, I have been charmed by people, and the more charming people I meet, the more I realize that charm, or good charm anyway, doesn’t feel like a noun. It feels like a nascent connection, a small joke that is the start of a larger friendship. The most charming people, to me anyway, listen well and make good eye contact. They aren’t big personalities. They are sincere, almost earnest. They wouldn’t describe themselves as charming, and I doubt they mean to be.

But even with that kind of charming person, there’s a salesman feeling. It comes later, when the small jokes stay small. The really charming ones can get away with it, though. The feeling of potential around them is so great it’s almost better than something real.

Year in Read, 2014

2014 was filled with real tragedies, nationally and internationally. All the while, we went on as individuals, going to the supermarket and through mountain passes, worrying about being late and uncertain what to do when we arrive early. When they make the period piece set in 2014, I wonder how they’ll represent all the mundane that happened amidst all the chaos. In any case, amidst all the chaos and mundane, I did a lot of reading. And here’s what I read over the past year:

My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante

Maybe I’ll remember 2014 as the year I read Neapolitan Trilogy. To be real, I had a lot of trouble with the first 100 pages, but once I got into this series, the next 1000 pages flew by. I’ve never been one for fantasy or multi-part epic, but after reading Ferrante, I can see the appeal. By the time I started the second book, The Story of a Name, I felt like I was living two lives—my own and Ferrante’s.

Orange is the New Black, Piper Kerman

Quack This Way, David Foster Wallace and Bryan A. Garner

My dad followed a link from an American Bar Association email to an interview with DFW about arguing persuasively. He subsequently bought me this book and I enjoyed it.

Maus, Art Spiegelman (reread)

Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg 

I love self-help. I believe in the wisdom of the obvious. From Lean In, I’ve come to think about my writing as a child of sorts, and I’ve fought for mornings to write as if I were trying to make some little league game.

The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton

If Edith Wharton were alive today, we wouldn’t be friends, but I would definitely stalk her on Facebook.

Bark, Lorrie Moore

I mean Lorrie Moore!

Canada, Richard Ford

I mean Richard Ford!

The Humor Code, Peter McGraw & Joel Warner.

The Story of a New Name, Elena Ferrante

S/Z, Roland Barthes

I don’t think I should even list this book. I totally gave up on it because it wasn’t assigned by a professor and I am weak.

Encounters with the Archdruid, John McPhee

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., Adelle Waldman

Two years later, I really liked this book. It was a very smart take on the way we live and love now. Related recommended reading: Sasha Weiss’s take on the Page Turner blog.  

Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs, Caroline Knapp

Men Without Women, Richard Ford

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, Lawrence Wright

I can only hope that Scientology has some dirt on Beck, otherwise this interview is bananas.  

Sabbath’s Theater, Philip Roth

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Haruki Murakami

The Plague, Albert Camus

Those Who Stay and Those Who Leave, Elena Ferrante

Outlines, Rachel Cusk

East of Eden, John Steinbeck

Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham

One of Ours, Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing

I’m writing a short story about the Oklahoma City Bombing, so I read this book. It hasn’t made my short story better yet.

Best American Short Shorts, 2014, Jennifer Egan (editor)

A controversial list.

The Collected Stories of Peter Taylor, Peter Taylor

The Group, Mary McCarthy

Every Day is for the Thief, Teju Cole

10:04, Ben Lerner

I want more people I know to read this book so we can talk about it. That’s not the same as an endorsement. It’s more of a pre-endorsement of a conversation.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, Roz Chast

Home Cooking, Laurie Colwin

Previously read: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006

Jonathan Franzen Once Wrote Something Similar About Smoking*

I was a smoker for a very short time. My cigarette-buying phase lasted two or three years in college and even then, most of my cigarettes were social or finals induced. I would frequently give away packs of cigarettes in an effort to smoke less. After I graduated college, I stopped buying packs, and in the next calendar year, I resolved to stop smoking completely. 

Obviously, smoking is the worst by every metric, including health, appearance, and the capitalist machine. And let’s not forget the smell. The other night, the guy next to me in yoga was a smoker. I could tell because his sweat smelled like tobacco.

I haven’t bought a pack of cigarettes in a half dozen years, but I still smoke about three cigarettes annually, and I enjoy them all. Just yesterday, I considered getting a pack from a 7-11. I didn’t. I was at work and I would feel indicted by the smell on my fingers for the rest of the day. Plus, I would have nothing to do with the other 19 cigarettes. I still sort of wish I could have bought a loosie. Absurdly, I feel like a cigarette would have turned the day around, or at least made it into a day I smoked a cigarette.

I don’t know how people who really smoke ever quit. I was never chemically addicted to cigarettes, but I did, and do, structurally enjoy them. For people whose days are incremented by tobacco, I’m not sure that passing desire for a smoke ever really leaves them. It hasn’t quite left me yet.

The other thing I’ll say about smoking is something my friend once said upon quitting for his 24th birthday: “I feel like I’ve accomplished something: I’ve given myself an addiction and weaned myself off of it.” It’s one of those quotes I remember more than him, though now he remembers it as something I remember.

I think about that line when things don’t work out. For instance, in my first year in Denver, a job and a passing relationship fell a part at about the same time. And while both were disappointing, I did feel like I had accomplished something. I had built something in Denver that could be, and was, destroyed. I smoked a cigarette the day I got laid off, and I didn’t regret it at all. 

*That Jonathan Franzen essay can be found here or in How To Be Alone

That’s a Truth You Gotta Know

It’s mathematically weird how cold it is. Like, it’s already cold at 27 degrees, and yesterday was 20 degrees colder than that. Seven degrees feels different than you’d expect—it’s not super cold when you first step outside. The feel of outside is still more powerful than the temperature. But the cold is there, and after ten minutes, even with a balaclava, tights, wool socks, a neck gaiter, a hat, and lobster gloves on, it starts to feel pretty fucking cold.

It’s not usually this cold in November and even in February, it’s rarely this cold for this long. In any 10-day period for Denver, there’s a Weather Channel sun icon somewhere in the mix. That weather pattern is almost a city ethos—or a city-planning ethos anyway. Whatever snow falls, the municipal response is that it’ll just melt away. Things can’t stay cold forever here. Except right now. It’s cold and there’s about an inch of snow on the streets that isn’t going anywhere.

Weather talk is boring, of course, for a million reasons, but two primarily: there’s nothing you can do to change it and it’s impossible to recreate. I know what that first warm night of spring feels like, but that memory doesn’t do much for me right now.

But Rex, the dog who loves being a dog more than anything, is loving the snow. She gallops through Cheesman Park and covers her nose in the stuff. Snow beads up in her paws, and after our romps, she lets me clean out her feet for treats. Right now, Rex’s treats are just her regular dog food, but given to her in small increments. She’s so eager for them, it’s like she doesn’t know there’s a half-eaten bowl of the same stuff available whenever she wants. I’d tell her, but she wouldn’t believe me.

It’d be great if all this weather and dog stuff were symbolic of something larger. I suppose it could be, but really, it’s just cold out and I still need to walk my dog.

'I'll Ruin You'

You know when you go to bed too early, intent on getting a good night’s sleep, and then you wake up at 12:30, and your body is like, awesome nap, let’s party! 

That happened to me the other night, and with that time, which is not stolen time, but credit card debt time because the exhaustion comes back at a high interest rate, I read the William Finnegan article about fast food laborers. 

Arisleyda Tapia, the subject of Finnegan’s piece, is making $8.35 an hour at McDonald’s and works 30 hours a week. Somehow, she is supporting herself and her daughter in New York and her family back in the DR. I imagine she’s already cut out the lattes.

What struck me about her plight was how far removed she was from the wealth in New York. Not just far from the economy of $70 million apartments, but far from the economy of people serving those people, where the real menial wages are. I’ve been part of that economy, tutoring and babysitting for kids whose careers could be renting out their childhood homes. 

People are willing to pay more for a babysitter who can talk books or a maid who can speak English. Which is fair enough. The service industry is another free market. But I feel like for all the liberal handwringing over how the lowest class is treated, there’s not enough effort to make better service jobs available to them. Where is the dog walking service that employees immigrants instead of hipsters?  

I’m also reading Those Who Stay and Those Who Leave right now, which for a book set in Italy in the 60s, felt very relevant to Finnegan’s piece. I kind of wish Finnegan had included this excerpt from the book in his article:

Can you imagine, she asked, what it means to spend eight hours a day standing up to your waist in the mortadella cooking water? Can you imagine what it means to have your fingers covered with cuts from slicing the meat off animal bones? Can you imagine what it means to go in and out of the refrigerated rooms at twenty degrees below zero, and get ten lire more an hour—ten lire—for cold compensation? If you imagined this, what do you think you can learn from people who are forced to live like that? … The union has never gone in and the workers are nothing but poor victims of blackmail, dependent on the law of the owner, that is: I pay you and so I possess you and I possess your life, your family, and everything that surrounds you, and if you don’t do as I say, I’ll ruin you.