17 May 2014

Top Five

If you forced me to name my top five right now....

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
The Log of the S.S. The Mrs. Unguentine by Stanley Crawford
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
Middlemarch by George Eliot
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

(eeeek I can't do only five books, I love books too much, I just can't! Even six was hard)

Boogie Nights
Before Sunrise
Battle Royale
The Prestige 

27 July 2013

This Is Where I Leave You

So I read This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper a few months ago, but I saw that they're making a movie of it so it made remember this book again and reflect on it.  First off, I'm not always a fan of good books turning into movies but my feelings are largely cast-contingent.  And the cast looks, like, perfect.  Mostly.  Rose Byrne and Jason Bateman are PERFECT for those roles.  The only miscasting I'd say, would be Adam Driver.  I love him on GIRLS, but I imagined the character of Philip to be a little more rock-n-roll.  But he's a good actor, so it'll be interesting to see what he does with it.  Another actor I love, Connie Britton, seems like a great casting choice except it's a little hard to picture her as a Jewish mother.  But the mother character is... um... anything but conventional if you read the book. So it'll be fun.

Onto the book.  I love stories about family.  I love comedy that is born out of character, that has an inner heart.  I love non-tidy situations that have multiple colors and not just black and white/right and wrong. This Is Where I Leave You had all of that.  And it's just like... so funny.  And so heartbreaking.  I mean, really it has everything you want in a book.  The writing is fluid, it doesn't feel plotted, thematic, didactic, or intellectual.  The narration feels organic.  Too often I can feel the writer trying to impress me or make me laugh or make me weep.  And because I can feel the "trying" part of the writer, I am thus neither impressed nor laughing/crying.

This brings me to another point about trying.  When the artist/writer has anxiety or preoccupation with "results" it really is an art-killer.  The characters and the story can't live because the writer's ambitions are TOO LOUD for you to hear anything over it.  And this is why I feel most young novelists are just sooooo bad.  Because they want so bad to be good.  It's like that marble-trick section of Seymour, An Introduction that Salinger wrote:
"Could you try not aiming so much?" he asked me, still standing there.  "If you hit him when you aim, it'll just be luck." He was speaking, communicating, and yet not breaking the spell. I then broke it. Quite deliberately. "How can it be luck if I aim?" I said back to him, not loud (despite the italics) but with rather more irritation in my voice than I was actually feeling. He didn't say anything for a moment but simply stood balanced on the curb, looking at me, I knew imperfectly, with love. "Because it will be," he said. "You'll be glad if you hit his marble--Ira's marble--won't you? Won't you be glad? And if you're glad when you hit somebody's marble, then you sort of secretly didn't expect too much to do it. So there'd have to be some luck in it, there'd have to be slightly quite a lot of accident in it."

Writers: don't aim.

Throw those marbles with all your heart, but let them land wherever they land.  Don't aim. Because I can see you aim, and then I can't see the marbles.  It becomes about YOUR victory, not about the greater big picture things. It's a hard thing for a young ambitious writer to do.  Same thing goes for acting, really. I started booking work when I stopped trying to be good, and just focused on the story and character without giving two shits about getting the part or impressing the casting director.

Jonathan Tropper knew his subjects and characters from the bottom of his heart.  He tossed them in an interesting situation (sitting Shiva) and let the marbles go.  And even if it was plotted, it didn't feel that way.  It didn't feel like he was aiming, and therefore I (the reader) was able to feel.  And boy did I ever.

Also, the book was never boring.  Too often, when writers are aiming to be witty or deep or interesting it ends up being boring.  That's why the bird section of Franzen's Freedom was boring... because I started to hear Franzen himself.

26 May 2013

Male Protagonists, mindset fatigue, reality TV

The last three books I read both had great male protagonists.  The first was Frank Bascombe in The Sportswriter by Richard Ford.  The second was Judd in This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper.  The third was Duncan in Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby. (though Juliet's narrative voice is really split between 2 men and 1 woman.  Like a rom-com version of Franzen's Freedom. Ha!  I like that).  I read these all in the course of, 2 months I think?  And I really enjoyed all of them, especially Ford's novel.  But being in the male psyche/narrative voice is really starting to tread on me.  All of these men, when they encounter other male characters, they describe them in terms of behavior. (Unless the man has an obvious physical feature: he has waist-length hair, a face tattoo, or he's an amputee). HOWEVER when these male protagonists encounter other female characters, they instinctively assess her physical appearance FIRST, and then draw conclusions about her character from said appearance. Here are two descriptions that the character of Frank Bascombe gives:
(about a man) "Fincher is the kind of southerner who will only address you through a web of deep and antic southernness, and who assumes everybody is earshot knows all about his parents and history and wants to hear an update on them at every opportunity...He is nodding like a banker, his blond and grayed head a pleasant puzzle of fresh financial wranglings. He crams both hands in his pockets and gives whatever's down there another stern jingle...He is the perfect southerner-in-exile, a slew-footed mainstreet change jingler in awful clothes--a breed known only outside the south"
(about a woman) "...a swag of honey hair with two plaited strips pulled back on each side in a complex private-school style. Skin the clarity of a tulip. Long fingers. Pale blond skim of hair on her arm, which at the moment she is rubbing lightly with her palm. Khaki culottes. A white cotton blouse concealing a pair of considerable grapefruits. She rests a hip against the door frame. Below the culottes' hems her legs are taut and shiny as a cavalry saddle. I don't exactly know where to look, though the big smile says: Look square at what you like, Jack. That's what God made it for.
Now. Frank Bascombe is not a misogynist. He's not even a jerk. He's just a dude, an intelligent and good guy if you ask me. And the wonderful thing about books is that you can go inside the truth of a character's head. So writers certainly shouldn't write what men OUGHT to think, they write what their character's DO think.  And that's good. And listen. hey. I know men appraise my physical appearance on an almost minute by minute basis. It's part of their biology.  And before you go getting all prickly and defensive about that my male readers, know that I'm NOT saying there's anything wrong with it. There isn't, really. I think I'm just a little fatigued by these novels constantly REMINDING me of this male pattern of thought. Especially as I'm in an industry (filmmaking) that's already unabashedly flooded with the same value system of feminine pulchritude.

I think the last great female narrative voice I read was in Sheila Heti's How Should a Person Be? Which was really enjoyable and all kinship-feeling-y.

I guess I'm writing this post, not because I think it's bad for me to read all the masculine narrative voices, but because I'm beginning to realize that I should be more conscious of WHAT I choose to read and WHEN. Maybe I should have followed up The Sportswriter with Elizabeth Strout's new novel. (bc OMG like HOW GOOD was Olive Kitteridge?! SO GOOD) Especially since I tend to personally take on the mindsets and worldview and even the tempo of whatever book I happen to be reading at the time. It's probably the actor in me that does this. So this is just an observation in world views that are influenced by the media you consume. So. On a more prevalent note: it may be "easier" to watch Honey-Boo-Boo, but it's not really great for your health. Be mindful of your choices. An oreo is delicious, and having it as your daily meal may be easy and satisfying, but in the end it causes you more fatigue.  And the very fatigue you're trying to "escape" by watching/choosing mindless entertainment is the very late-onset fatigue you're creating by watching too much of it.

This is turning into a rant. But I think it's because some of my very intelligent friends watch stupid reality shows or read stupid Twilight books because they just want to "relax".  Which is fine. But. Moderation, ya'll.  Otherwise? You're just creating more fatigue.

I can't believe I *sort of* just compared Richard Ford to reality TV.  That's not my intent.  Ford is one of the better writers I've read in my adult life. He takes plainness and makes it poetry.

I guess I'm just saying that I should mix it up a bit. NEXT I'm re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird. A good and noble American Novel. That ought to get me back to myself!

29 January 2013


January isn't even over yet and I've already finished 4 books!  (to be fair, one of them I started around Christmastime) Here we go:

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart - well-written, intelligent, compassionate, and heart-breaking.  I liked it so much that I bought....

Absurdistan also by Gary Shteyngart.  It started out great because it had such a character-y protagonist.  Both large and lovable.  The energy of it reminded me of parts of Confederacy of Dunces or Everything is Illuminated with the latter book especially having parallels with Judaism, family and such.  But what started out great soon ended up as a vehicle for satire.  The book became less a story about fathers and sons (which I think is what it was aiming for), and more a vehicle for satirical commentary.  SIMPLIFY. (which is something I need to tell myself to do more often)

The Theory of Light and Matter by Andrew Porter.  This was a collection of short stories.  Beautiful prose, haunting imagery, contemplative stories.  But it didn't stay with me after I finished it.  There are Hemingway stories that have remained in me since I read them over 10 years ago.  I don't know why these stories are so great, but they didn't stick with me...

How Should a Person Be by Sheila Heti.  This was funny, honest, brutal.  Thoughtful.  I prefer books that are huge in scope though, and this one was very personal.  Reminded me of Miranda July short stories. 

05 January 2013

How to say goodbye to a loved one

I found this quote from Final Gifts in a Huffington Post article.   This is the kind of stuff that matters, guys.

How To Say Goodbye To A Loved One
"First and most important: Meet the dying person where she is. She may be in denial, and denial is a fabulous crutch. You don't pull a crutch out from under somebody. Try to validate the feelings behind the denial. So imagine your aunt says, 'Let's reserve a house at the lake this summer. I loved the weeks we used to spend there.' You don't rush out to make a reservation; you reminisce with her about those good times. She's living in memories much kinder than her reality.
"But let's say she tells you, 'You know, I'm not going to live much longer.' The door's open. Be honest, direct. Tell her you hate that this is happening. Tell her it mattered that she was here. Tell her how she enriched your life, that she won't be forgotten. This is no time to pussyfoot. For God's sake, don't tell her she looks great, or that she'll pull through. Pretending creates a chasm of loneliness for the dying. Can you imagine if you were in labor, and no one in the room would acknowledge that you were giving birth?
"Toward the end, dying people tend to withdraw. You know how when you drop a pebble in a pond, the rings ripple out? For a dying person, the rings go in. It doesn't matter what's happening in politics or sports or the next room. Eventually all that matters is 'I'm hot. I'm cold. I love you. Do you love me?' At that point, all that's required is your presence. Be quiet. Put your hands on hers. That's it."
-- Maggie Callanan, hospice nurse since 1981 and coauthor of the celebrated book Final Gifts
Eventually all that matters is 'I'm hot. I'm cold. I love you. Do you love me?' At that point, all that's required is your presence. Be quiet. Put your hands on hers. That's it.

19 December 2012

This has become a twice a year blog

But twice a year is better than nothing.

The last book I read that I loved was Canada by Richard Ford.  He was like a more approachable Cormac McCarthy and I mean that in a good way.  I'm jealous of writers who can write with such strength, grace, and economy.  My writing nay, my whole SELF, is the opposite of that.  Let's be optimistic and call it my "abundance".  Yes.  My cup runneth over, I am abundance.  Economy has no territory here.  Maybe that's why I love Hemingway so much.  That terseness, that masculinity.  Maybe it complements my abundance.  My imagination fills up big spaces.  They give me earth and minerals, and I plant the flowers.  YEESH even that last sentence reeks of me: floral, poetic, TOO MUCH.  But who cares?  I am a person who is filled with joy and passion and curiosity.  I want nothing more than to understand people and to feel understood (which is why I love books so much; they do that for me) so perhaps my longing for this leads to my "abundant" personality.  But boy sure I could learn a thing or two from McCarthy, Ford, Hemingway.  By saying less they end up saying more.  I ought to trust people.  I fear misinterpretation.  But interpretation is just that--interpretation.  It's theirs, not yours.  And that should be a good, wonderful, human thing.

What else?  Book-wise.

Read Never Let Me Go.  It was not as sad as I wanted it to be.  But sort of lovely and gray.  Like it's raining all the time and you're quietly looking out your window.

I have about ten pages left in Super Sad True Love Story and I am avoiding reading them because I don't want it to end.  I love this book so much.  Go read it.  It's by Gary Shteyngart.  It's a bit frightening because we're actually not that far off from the world he is describing.  I see it everywhere.  However, my glass-half-full personality will always try to see the beauty in this "new world".  Instead of shaking my head at the lack of connection, I try to imagine a new type of connection.  I try.  That people are always, and will always, be loving each other.  Even if it's in a way that I don't understand.  There's always hope.  Plus, I'm the girl who still writes hand-written letters to her friends.  I love my friends.

Merry Christmas

28 July 2012

Jennifer Egan

I really liked Egan's Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad.  So I decided to pick up one of her first novels: Look at Me.

Well, she has come a long way since then.  Look at Me shows glimpses of the brilliance she showed in Goon Squad, but overall it just felt like an MFA thesis piece.  She's reaching for theme too much in the book and shaping the characters' voices to meet said themes.  I strongly feel that the characters should be allowed to live on the page and not be merely mouthpieces for the writer's theme.  The characters let you know the themes, not the other way around.

The only living character really, was the YOUNG Charlotte character.  She was real.  But the Older Charlotte (the narrator) was all over the place.  The whole "shadow self" concept I buy as a THEME, but I don't buy that the elder Charlotte was a character who did this type of searching.  The "mirrored room" theme was too heavy handed.  Or at least the groundwork was not strong enough for me to believe that the elder Charlotte thought in these types of concepts or spoke in this type of voice.

The young Charlotte character was pretty good though.

03 May 2012

It's almost halfway through the year...

and I've only read like 6 books.  Shame on me.  Usually I'm at at least 12 by now. But I'm making a movie and sewing a ton of puppets so time has been less. Here's what I've read:

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Everyone thinks this should have won the Pulitzer. It was good... but as a girl who has read every single Pulitzer prize winning book of that past 15 years, I can tell you that it is not *there* yet. It was really great though.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffery Eugenidies.
This was the 2nd Eugenides book I've read (the first was Virgin Suicides). It was wicked fun. And as someone who studied Victorian literature, post-bacc, I loved the subtle references.

Middlesex by Jeffery Eugendies.
I loved The Marriage Plot so much that I got this book.  I had a bit of trouble getting into it. It was smart, but I didn't emotionally connect with it. Kept waiting for Callie's balls to drop lol.

No on belongs here more than you Stories by Miranda July
These are very true-feeling short stories. What you call "quirky" I call "true". It's how we think and behave, not what is necessarily sensible or polite.

First-Time Director Non-fiction.
I am directing a movie. So I read this book. That's pretty much all I can say about it.

Grammar of the Shot.
So I could communicate in the same vernacular as my Cinematographer, Gaffer, Grip, Electrician, AD, AC, etc.

Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke
This is of that category of books I call "sophomoric" but affectionately.  I like sophomoric shit every now and again; I mean Whitman is like my JAM.  So there you go.

24 February 2012

Love / Hafiz

Even after all this time
the sun never says to the earth
"You owe me"
Look what happens with a love like that
It lights up the whole sky


12 December 2011

Books I have opinions about

OK, I will get to these eventually, but here are the books I've read in the past month:

Blindness by Jose Saramago
Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

I also read a few Miranda July short stories.

I need to write about all three of these books because I have very succinct things to say about them but
I've been busy with 826LA, auditions, and producing a short film I wrote. More on these books soon!