Wednesday, June 27, 2012

'inside there is the deep quiet...'

"Inside there is the deep quiet of protection and near-abandonment. You hear the hum of the lights, turned on as needed; that’s it. There’s a phone to make outgoing calls on the fifth floor. To me the stacks are the most sacred space in the library, yet here nobody’s telling you not to talk. You’re on your own. It’s a situation for adults."
(Ben Ratliff, Grazing in the Stacks of Academe, about Columbia University's Butler Library)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

'sad eyes like sharpened daggers, you'll never walk only stagger...'

I am a sucker for pathos, it is true. Especially, probably not surprisingly, when it comes to adolescents and drugs and death.

I've been watching Skins, a rather shockingly graphic British television series about a bunch of fucked up to varying degrees teenagers. 90210 gone bad, if you will.

The acting is good, the music is decent, and the stories are dirty and mean and sweet.

Sid, one of our angsty young heroes, wakes up one morning to find his father dead in his easy chair, presumably from a stroke or some other abruptly instantaneous demise. (The father, a gentle and worn down soul, still has one hand curled around a glass of whiskey; the other dangles a cigarette burned down to the nub.)

Sid, in shock, goes to school and spends the day staring into the void, not telling anyone about the nightmare that is waiting for him back home. Later that night his best friend Tony drags him out to a club to see Crystal Castles, and this is what happens there. Pathos enough to make you cry. (And buy a Crystal Castles song, at least if you are like me, and a sucker for such things.)

Friday, June 22, 2012

the zombies & me

I never really thought of myself as a zombie type of gal. All the horror novels that Ari read when we were kids gave me the heebie-jeebies. (Let's be honest -- just reading the descriptions on the backs of those books were enough to give me the heebie-jeebies.) Certain episodes of Little House on the Prairie gave me nightmares (there was some scary shit in that show, I swear!). Jaws kept me out of the lake (yes, a lake) for almost an entire summer. And though I was preoccupied with armageddons of all sorts as a kid, zombies never really figured into my end-game scenarios.

And yet here I am, all tangled up in Newsflesh and The Walking Dead, and I'm not quite sure how that happened.

It sort of started with a walk down Central Park West a couple years back. And then there was Nathan's birthday gift not long after that. And then I watched a couple Romero movies. And the 28 Days Later movies. And then Nate & Shanna gave me some socks for Christmas with ZOMBIE written up the sides. And then I kind of got obsessed with the geopolitical machinations behind World War Z. (Just ask Evan, who had to put up with my incessant ramblings about this on many a long subway ride home...) And now ridiculous articles like this jump out at me from the boiling troubled sea that is our chronic information overload these days.

Nick and I were talking the other day about the many ways in which ebook-readers have changed the way we read, not the least of which is the sense of privacy they provide. I might not read quite so much YA dystopian fiction or zombie crap if everyone on the bus could see what I was reading every day.

Then finally yesterday morning there was this in my inbox, which made me chuckle out loud and think fondly of one of my absolute favorite childhood books:

"I tried to arrange a zombie apocalypse, just for you on your special day, but it didn't quite get off the ground.  Or out of the ground, as it were. At least ... I don't THINK it did ..."

And with that, my friends, comes what I am sure is this very surprising confession: I am a zombie type of gal.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


A dear friend of mine celebrated her thirtieth birthday earlier this week.  We first met during the summer of 2005 and have celebrated our birthdays together, in one way or another, ever since.  This year she is upstate at a writing workshop carving beautifully sad prose out of the life she is living now, and out of lives she is just beginning to learn:

Thirty, by then, was the shoreline coming closer, the way an outline finds itself filled with green, and then, finally, trees, as you move toward it.
(Erica Sklar, What Happens When You Turn Thirty)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

book give-away!

Adachi, Jiro - Island of bicycle dancers
Adamson, Gil - The Outlander
Agee, James - Death in the family
Alexie, Sherman - Indian killer
Alexis, Andre - Despair and other stories
Allende, Isabel - Kingdom of the golden dragon
Allison, Dorothy - Trash
Anderson, Lorraine - Sisters of the earth
Arenas, Reinaldo - Before night falls
Asimov, Isaac - I, Robot
Bailey, Tom - Grace that keeps this world
Baker, Ellen - Keeping the house
Bakopoulos, Dean - Please don't come back from the moon
Banks, Russell - Sweet hereafter
Basho, Matsuo - Narrow road to the deep north
Baudelaire - Les fleurs du mal 
Baudelaire - Selected poems
Baxter, Charles - The soul thief
Beach, Sylvia - Shakespeare & company
Beers, David - Blue sky dream: a memoir of America's fall from grace
Birney, Betty - Oh bother! Someone's afraid of the dark (Winnie the Pooh)
Blaire, J. H. - Caliente! The best erotic writing in Latin American fiction
Bollmann, Stefan - Frauen, die lesen, sind gefahrlich und klug
Bounds, Gwendolyn - Little chapel on the river
Bowles, Paul - The sheltering sky
Bradford, Richard - Red sky at morning 
Brite, Poppy - Exquisite corpse
Brockman, John - What is your dangerous idea
Brockman, John - What we believe but cannot prove
Brown, Rachel - All the fishes come home to roost
Casey, John - Half-life of happiness
Chabon, Michael - Wonder boys
Chaltas, Thalia - Because i am furniture
Chopin, Kate - The Awakening
Clarke, Susanna - Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
Cleave, Chris - Little bee
Coates, James - Armed & dangerous: the rise of the survivalist right
Codrescue, Andrei - Involuntary genius in America's shoes
Coetzee,J.M. - Inner workings
Cole, Marjorie - Correcting the landscape
Coupland, Douglas - All families are psychotic
Coupland, Douglas - Eleanor Rigby
Coupland, Douglas - Hey Nostradamus!
Coupland, Douglas - Miss Wyoming
Crutcher, Chris - Deadline
Daly, Mary - Beyond god the father
Daum, Meghan - Quality of life report
Davis, Claire - Winter range
DeLillo, Don - The body artist
Deyo, L.B. - Invisible frontier: exploring the tunnels, ruins, and rooftops of hidden New York
Diaz, Junot - Drown
Dillard, Annie - The living
Duberman, Martin - Stonewall
Ebershoff, David - The 19th wife
Eck, Diana L. - Darsan: seeing the divine image in India
Edwards, Kim - Memory keeper's daughter
Ekman, Kerstin - Blackwater
Ekman, Kerstin - Forest of hours
Ellis, Bret Easton - America psycho
Ellis, Bret Easton - The informers
Ellis, Bret Easton - Less than zero
Ellis, Bret Easton - Rules of attraction
Epel, Naomi - Writers dreaming
Evans, Polly - Kiwis might fly
Fallada, Hana - Every man dies alone
Fitch, Janet - White oleander
Ford, Clyde - The long mile
Frayn, Michael - Headlong
French, Tania - The Likeness
Frey, James - Million little pieces
Frey, James -  My friend Leonard
Glass, Julia - Whole world over
Gordon, Philip - Winning the right war
Greenberg, Michael - Hurry down sunshine
Haigh, Jennifer - The Condition
Hamsun, Knut - Victoria
Hennessy, Michael - Borzoi practice book for writers
Hersey, John - Hiroshima
Hesse, Hermann - Demian
Hinton, S.E. - Some of Tim's stories
Hoge, James F., Jr. - American encounter: the United States and the making of the modern world
Holmqvist, Ninni - The Unit
Horsley, Kate - The Changeling
Irving, John - Cider house rules
Jentz, Terri - Strange piece of paradise
Johnson, Denis - Seek: reports from the edges of America & beyond
Karr, Mary - Cherry
Kasischke, Laura - In a perfect world 
Kavenna, Joanna - Birth of love
Keaney, Brian - Jacob's ladder
Kesey, Ken - Demon box
Kesey, Ken - One flew over the cuckoo's nest
Kinsley, David R. - Hindusim: a cultural perspective
Klages, Ellen - Green glass sea
Knapp, Caroline - Drinking: a love story
Korelitz, Jean Hanff - White rose
Krauss, Nicole - History of love
Krist, Gary - The white cascade
Kundera, Milan - Unbearable lightness of being
Lakoff, George - Don't think of an elephant!
Lansens, Lori - The Girls
Larsson, Stieg - Girl with the dragon tattoo
Larsson, Stieg - Girl who played with fire
Lewis, C.S. - Mere Christianity
Lindbergh, Anne - Gift from the sea
Lynch, Jim - Border songs
Machiavelli - The Prince
Males, Mike A. - Scapegoat generation: America's war on adolescents
Martel, Yann - Life of Pi
Martin, Valerie - Trespass
McClintock, Barbara - Adele & Simon
McEwan, Ian - On Chesil Beach
McLarty, Ron - Memory of running
Meyer, Stephanie - The host
Miles, Jonathan - Dear American Airlines
Mills, Mark - Amagansett
Mintz, Sidney W. - Sweetness & power
Mowat, Farley - Never cry wolf
Myers, B.R. - Reader's manifesto
Naifeh, Steven - Mormon murders
Olsson, Linsa - Astrid & Veronika (gorgeous, excerpted here)
Packer, Ann - Dive from Clausen's pier
Peacock, Robert - Sleep: bedtime stories
Pessi, Marisha - Special topics in calamity physics
Petterson, Per - Out stealing horses
Pham, Andrew X. - Catfish & mandala
Phillips, Arthur - Prague: a novel
Phillips, Glasgow - Royal nonesuch
Powell, Julie - Julie & Julia
Proulx, Annie - Close range: Wyoming stories
Quinn, Daniel - Ishmael
Rechy, John - City of night
Reiken, Frederick - The odd sea
Rettenmund, Matthew - Boy culture
Robinson, Mary - An amateur's guide to the night
Rosenstone, Steven J - Mobilization, participation, and democracy in America
Rosman, Abraham - Tapestry of culture
Roth, Philip - American pastoral
Rousseau - Basic political writings
Russo, Richard - Empire Falls
Sachar, Louis - Holes 
Salerno, Marie - New York pop-up book
Salzman, Mark - Lost in place: growing up absurd in suburbia
Salzman, Mark - The solois
Salzman, Mark - True notebooks
Sapolsky, Robert - Why zebras don't get ulcers
Saramago, Jose - All the names
Saramago, Jose - Blindness
Saramago, Jose - Gospel according to Jesus Christ
Sartre, Jean-Paul - Nausea: the wall and other stories
Searles, John - Boy still missing
Selby, Hubert, Jr. - Requiem for a dream
Shengold, Nina - Clearcut
Shields, David - Remote: reflections on life in the shadow of celebrity
Shokeid, Moshe - A gay synagogue in New York
Simpson, Helen - Getting a life: stories
Slonim, Ruth - San Francisco: the city in verse
Smith, Ali - The accidental
Snicket, Lemony - Series of unfortunate events, 1 & 2
Stahl, Jerry - Permanent midnight
Stein, Garth - How Evan broke his head & other secrets
Stein, Gertrude - Paris, France
Steinke, Darcey - Jesus saves
Strachan, Mari - The earth hums in B-flat
Styron, William - Sophie's choice
Takaki, Ronald - Strangers from a different shore
Tappon, Philippe - Parisian from Kansas
Tayman, John - The Colony
Townsend, Julia - Zeynep: the seagull of Galata Tower
Trachtenberg, Peter - 7 tattoos: a memoir in the flesh
Tritle, Lawrence - From Melos to My Lai: a study in violence, culture and social survival
Troyan, Sasha - Forgotten island
Turnipseed, Joel - Baghdad express
Vonnegut, Kurt - Welcome to the monkey hous
Wallace, David Foster - Girl with curious hair
Winterson, Jeanette - The PowerBook
Winton, Tim - The Riders
Whitehead, Colson - Zone One
Winter, Alison - Mesmerized: powers of mind in Victorian Britain
Woodward, Bob - Plan of attack
Wolf, Linda - Daughters of the moon 
Woolf, Virginia - Mrs. Dalloway
Wright, Robert - Nonzero: the logic of human destiny
Yoshimoto, Banana - Amrita
Zevin, Gabrielle - Elsewhere

Thursday, June 07, 2012


Sally Chapman, a year or so ago, left a comment on something I'd posted on Facebook. A little while later I got a message from a friend, a fellow Barnard alum, saying something along the lines of, "Oh my god, you're friends with Professor Chapman? I saw her name on your post and had heart palpitations. She was the scariest professor I ever had!"

This made me laugh at the time because Sally never struck me as particularly scary. She was charming, hilarious, and sure, sometimes scathing and always sharp as a dagger, but scary seemed a stretch. (Of course, my lack of terror may have been a direct result of my lack of enrolling in any of her courses during my years at Barnard.)

We met Sally through my father, the two of them becoming good friends during their shared years at Barnard despite coming from entirely different disciplines (she going into chemistry in a time when women were even more sorely outnumbered in the hard sciences than they are now; he plowing through pre-WWII German economic history with a passion that I never quite understood). And as was the way with so many of my father's friends, he loved her, and so we came to love her too.

The last time I saw Sally was in December of 2010. I had just begun attempting to sell some of my knitting and she had purchased one of my first pieces. We messaged back and forth and I offered to drop it off at her office over in Altschul. Oh I was so excited! (And so thankful for this encouragement, and for an odd sense of in some small way still being looked after by my quirky and lovely Barnard professors.)

The following summer she was diagnosed with kidney cancer.  It's a decidedly brutal diagnosis to get, terrifying in its harsh statistics of survival. It's also a disease predominantly diagnosed in men, and she joked even then about how after a lifetime of being a woman in a man's world professionally, she was still stuck with being a woman in a man's world. She decided to write through the process of treatment, the process of coming to terms with an incurable disease, and the process of how to share this terrifying experience with the world around her, in an amazing blog called, simply, a cancer journey.

She fought as long as it was possible to fight, and chronicled the battle along the way with such down-to-earth and quick-witted clarity that it seems almost shocking. And when it was no longer possible to fight, when the doctors had done all they could do, she carried on and wrote through that too.

I did not know her well, but my heart breaks for her mother, her siblings, her students and colleagues, her friends and relatives.