Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The 'Hoff ...

Happy Birthday Week, everyone! And by "Everyone" I mean me!

Every day has brought a new treat. On Monday I got a review copy of Zadie Smith's new novel. Tuesday I had the best Tuna Sub ever (toasted). And today I got a review copy of the new biography about David Foster Wallace. (These books are courtesy of the Jodi, who solicits such things from publishers so that we can keep the fine readers of Minnesota Reads abreast of what's hot and not).

And this is all just ramping up toward more excitement this weekend.

So, here is how I've been spending my time.


Chickpea Leek Soup: This little soup was easy and yum. Chickpeas, leeks, garlic and miso.

Spicy Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps: THIS WAS SO SO SO GOOD! Fake chicken and stuff with a peanut sauce. I turned it into a salad instead of wraps. You know, I'm madly in love with this fake chicken junk called Chick'n Scallopini. Although, when you look for it on Amazon you get a bunch of dog treats instead. So.

"You'll Like My Mother": Good news, Duluthophiles. This movie shot at Glensheen mansion is now playing on a YouTube near you. It's terrifying. And hokey, in an inner-monologue kind of way. Patty Duke plays a pregnant war widow who goes to Northern Minnesota to visit her mother-in-law. But her mother-in-law turns out to be a lying jerk who drugs her and locks her in her bedroom. Meanwhile, there's a lot of weird stuff going on in the house and a snowstorm strikes. I think trapped movies are the scariest. My legs were numb during this one.

Carnage: This is just about the most uncomfortable thing to watch. It starts with two young boys who get into a fight on the playground, resulting in one losing a few teeth. The parents get together to discus it: A liberal bookstore employee and her husband, a salesman and a lawyer and his wife who works in finance. They discuss the situation to death and the latter couple struggles to leave the apartment and then they all get drunk and ouch. It feels a lot like a play, because it is adapted from one. But it's good and it's short.

"The Myth of Pruitt-Igoe": This is a documentary about the time St. Louis built a community of high rises in the downtown area that would become low-income housing. Pruitt-Igoe was good in theory. Like 15,000 people moved in and it was a big celebration and it was clean with nice views. Then the city stopped putting money and effort toward the community and it fell into disrepair. Then it became dangerous. Then the police stopped responding to calls. Just 20 years later, it was demolished. The telling is a little repetitious, but the story is interesting and will have you Googling "what ever happened to housing projects."

Martha Marcy May Marlene This movie is about a young girl who is absorbed into a cult, which is nice and garden-y at first, but then things get a little more violent. That story is told in flashbacks as she adapts to a fancy new life with her older sister and the sort of mainstream existence that requires a bathing suit and not crawling into bed with your sibling when she's banging her husband. It's a good story told in an interesting way, but at one point I did say: "I think I would like the resolution to happen to now."

Layover: We suddenly have some new channel that plays super awful movies, including this one starring -- as Chuck calls him -- The 'Hoff. Movies so bad they don't even have, like, Wikipedia pages. This one is about a super busy business man who bangs a woman in the lost luggage area at an airport, then finds out her husband is the dude he got all buddy-buddy with on the plane and then ends up hanging out with them for a totally terrible and uncomfortable night. It's a thrill ride. I mean, it's really bad. So bad you can't look away.

Yellow Curry Seafood Stew from Restaurant 301: All sorts of creatures of the sea sacrificed their lives to be expertly seared, cooked and dumped into this delicious stew. (These scallops were so freaking good). Also: It was just fun to eat here late Saturday night. Hotel guests were all chillaxing in the lobby,  kids with water wings kept wandering into the restaurant and a wedding party kept stopping traffic to get a certain photo of the newlyweds kissing in the middle of the street. We had the best window seat in the house.

Caramel Apple French Toast from Duluth Grill: You will order this. Your 5-year-old lunch date will get a little wide-eyed about it and lose interest in her chicken tenders. You won't tell her mom that you're sorry, but her daughter wanted whipped cream for lunch.

Yellow Curry and Curry Puffs from Pak's Green Corner: This new restaurant opened in our neighborhood with a good mix of food. I had the curry, which had the best sauce I've ever known, and we had curry puffs, which were super great.

Birthday Cake Ice Cream with Superman Ice Cream Topper from Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream Store: This new ice cream place in an old DQ spot on London Road is so freaking great.

"Stalked" First of all, let me say that stalking is awful and I'm totally against it. But there is something a little gooey and delicious about this show, streaming on Netflix, that takes stories of people who were stalked, provides context from a psychologist and interviews with people involved and also has actors dramatize the series of events. Like the time a stalker broke into a woman's home while she was gone and LICKED HER BATHROOM MIRROR.

It's also just a little irresponsible, journalistically. Like a woman living in DC who was stalked by another woman on the block. The latter is still out there. They flashed photos of her and her daughter on the screen. It doesn't sound like she was charged with anything. But there she is, Jane. Like, she might be sitting at home on a Sunday night and see this dramatization of the time she started dressing like her neighbor, walking past her house all the time and calling the school to tell the administrators that the stalkee was neglecting her young son.

"Friends": We've been watching "Friends" during dinner. Chuck has never seen it before. He believes that Matthew Perry is a great physical comedian. I believe that we can again start looking to the cast of this show for fashion advice. I might finally ask the guy who does my hair for The Rachel.

Interioraeby Gabrielle Giandelli: This graphic novel stars a shapeshifting rabbit that sneaks in and out of the apartments in an anonymous complex. He's collecting information to feed this thing that lives in the basement and thrives on dreams. It's on the better side of okay. I didn't review it.

What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship, and Loveby Carole Radziwill: Carole Radziwill is Bravo TV bait, but only on paper: She’s a 40-something woman with a title, relatively few facial creases, a famous last name, and a limb-by-marriage on the Kennedy family tree. But the new addition to Season 5 of “The Real Housewives of New York” has little in common with her castmates. When it comes to manicured talons and wine screeches, Radziwill’s signature move is no move at all. A surprised blink, an incredulous “Is this really happening?” as a shitshow explodes around her and she ducks for safety behind one of the husbands.

Radziwill’s 2005 bestseller What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship, and Love is the heart-squeezing story of her life before Ramona Singer. She grew up in a small town and regularly visited hard-partying relatives and a grandmother who stuffed stolen groceries into various folds of her body. She saw her exit plan on TV news: Instead of being an observer to life events, she wanted to be at the life events. Radziwill went from an intern to an award-winning career at ABC News. She meets Polish prince Anthony Radziwill, nephew of John F. Kennedy, while working on pieces about the Menendez Brothers in Los Angeles and they eventually get married.
Then there is the cancer.

Full review is here.

What Happened to Sophie Wilderby Christopher Beha: Curses. Right now I’m sitting here wishing that I was in a book club that just finished reading What Happened to Sophie Wilder by Christopher R. Beha instead of not being in a book club and having just finished reading What Happened to Sophie Wilder by Christopher R. Beha. Alone. In a bathrobe. While my boyfriend is lying on the couch next to me, in the early chapters of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

There are so many things I want to talk about. I want to deconstruct characters, especially Sophie. I want to talk about the way Beha writes about religion. I want to talk about dramatic quotes. I want to spoil the ending. (I won’t). You know how some people associate numbers with color? When I think of this book I see a thick hearty sandwich with prettily layered ingredients where every flavor is distinct and fresh and really pops.

Full review here

When It Happens to You: A Novel in Storiesby Molly Ringwald. Ringwald has taken no risks with this story and created lifeless characters dealing with the most cliched problems of life in 2012 in a very surface-y way. If you overheard the dramatic moments of this story while standing in line at the grocery store you’d tune it out. It’s common vanilla woes; It’s white noise.

Full review is here.

Strangers In Paradise Pocket Book 1 (Strangers in Paradise Pocket Book Collection)by Terry Moore: This is a sassy little collection of comics starring an ass kicking woman who is always looking out for her best friend and sort of romantic interest Francine, especially in the case of her awful boyfriend Freddie. Meanwhile, the mob is hunting down Katchoo.

Full review will be here.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Lunching with Lucy ...

I find Lucy chilling on the porch glider. She's wearing a rainbow romper, which she later tells me is her party outfit because it's so colorful. We'd agreed to wear hats on our lunch date and her's is new -- grey felt. Mine's straw and squished because I can't have nice things. I leave it at home. I am wearing the closest thing I have to a tutu and brown bootie moccasins. I'm hoping she'll be inspired by the latter and beg Chrissie for a pair. They have purple ones at Target that would be adorbs.

She hops into the backseat of the car and fastens her seatbelt. She's moderately stoked that "We Are Young" is on the radio, but doesn't sing along. I peek at her in the rear view mirror, terrified that someone else's living, breathing almost-kindergartner is in my hands. "What will we talk about?" I'd texted Chrissie earlier. "Just follow her lead," she responded.

Lucy's staring out the window and then suddenly bursts with tons of info for me: She can tie her shoes, she knows what 10+10 equals, she can read. Her brother couldn't do any of these things before kindergarten, she says.

The restaurant parking lot is a terrifying place to wander with a 5-year-old. She's so much shorter than me. We're going to have to wait, so we sit outside on a ledge and play rock, scissors, paper. I learn that Mickey Mouse trumps paper, but not scissors because scissors can run. We take our shoes off for awhile, then put them back on. When we play rock, scissors, statue another kid walks past and eyes us enviously. Lucy gets a Fruit Gusher stuck in her teeth which won't officially dislodge until she's eaten her chicken. She'd stolen the Gushers from her uncle, she tells me. We try to make the other one laugh, first one to laugh wins.

"It can't be a fake laugh," she warns me.
I think back to the 23 times she's laughed today and wonder which ones were fake.

We get a spot at the counter and I have no idea if she can read a menu. If she can't, she definitely deserves an Academy Award. She closes her menu and tells me she's getting chicken tenders. "Fruit or fries?" I ask her. "Fruit," she says and I'm impressed. She gets a cantaloupe, a watermelon, a strawberry and a blackberry.

"I haven't had one of these in forever," she tells me, cooing over the blackberry on the end of her fork.

She gives me the strawberry and tells me the watermelon is the most delicious thing she's ever eaten. When our food comes, she's more interested in my stack of French Toast covered in cinnamon apples and whipped cream. We both lean over my plate digging at it and I try to remember if I've heard anything about her being allergic to nuts. "I love nuts," she tells me when I ask, like it's insane that someone would be allergic to them. When she isn't looking I steal a bite of her chicken. We discuss the anatomical construction of a chicken's feet -- those aren't thumbs, they're big toes -- and she hops off her chair to use the little ladies room.

I panic again.
"How old is she?" a woman asks when she's gone.
"Five," I say.
"She reads very well," the woman says. "She's very energetic."
"She's a whiz," I tell her. "She's not mine."
"My granddaughter is one," she says. "I can't wait til she's her age."
I nod.

Lucy's still not back so I freak out a little bit and hope she didn't escape out the window. I can see her, a blur of stripes, pulling a jail break. For the second time today I silently pray, though all these years later it is more like an incantation addressed to Jesus. I jump off my chair and peek into the bathroom. She's at the sink washing her hands.

"Hi," I say.
"Hi," she says.
I leave.
She returns about two minutes later and accuses me of stealing her fork, which she actually abandoned in the middle of my plate and which is now sticky.

She wants to see who can swivel their chair faster. (Me). She wants to do this and do that. She tells me she's hallucinating and when I ask her what that means she says she is surrounded by 240 Christas. I recognize that she is going car crazy, so I hurry along the waitress and we leave.

Back at my house we have a mini gymnastics competition in the front yard and one of the triplets watches us and wants to play along. "I can do a cartwheel," she tells us. I encourage her to give it a go, realizing too late that she's wearing a dress and has just flashed the entire neighborhood. I can't remember at what age this becomes inappropriate, so I direct all of my attention back to Lucy and relieve myself of the responsibility of every other child in the neighborhood.

Lucy's cartwheels are better than mine, but she can't do a front walk over so I suppose I win for now.

I introduce her to Orin and then it is game over. These two forge a fast friendship while Hal eyes her suspiciously. She tells Orin to "sit" and seems disappointed that he doesn't respond to the simplest of tricks. Still, she pets him like crazy and takes to calling him "Buddy." Unlike me, she isn't terrified by his claws or this new flesh nibbling phase he's going through.

I wonder if her mom, allergic to cats, is going to kill me when I return her child, now covered in cat hair.

When Lucy's gone I kick a soccer ball around with the 5-year-old from next door. Then I sit on the porch glider and read a comic book. On this day, all I will do is play.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The curious incident of the man with the souped up walker ...

I'm sitting on a bench in a place that feels like hiding. I'm reading on my phone a short story I thought I finished yesterday, but turns out still needs work. It's the light bulb brand of work, though, a new idea to replace one that was dim. It's the first short story with a beginning, middle and end that I've written since college.

An old man comes up the street pushing a souped up walker, sleek black with a basket on the front and another underneath. He stops in front of the bench perpendicular to mine and backs into a sitting position.

"I should have a beeper on this thing for when I back up," he says.
I laugh.
"Nah, I don't think you're big enough to require that," I tell him.

The whole process of fiction writing confounds me. I'm not good at making things up, I don't think, but I don't want to fall into the habit of always pulling exact moments from my own life. What is good, anyway? Would I like my story better if it was by a stranger? What if that stranger was Don Delillo? Would I skip it if it was part of a compilation? Or would I read it and think, "Psh. I can do that."

"I'm just glad I found a place in the shade to sit," the old man says.
I smile. He's right. Aesthetically, there are better places to plop. But this is the only place in the shade.
"Do you know what CenturyTel is?" he asks.
"I don't," I say.
"It says that on this building."
I nod and stare off like I'm thinking about it. I'm not really thinking about it. I'm just thinking about whether I look like I'm thinking about it.

Alice Munro has a short story in this week's New Yorker. Within the first paragraph there is a piece of dialogue that Chuck has said to Orin. It was after we ate tuna for dinner and the cat tried to stick his head in Chuck's mouth. "You like what you smell?" Chuck said to him in a bratty voice. "It's fish. Raw fish." I laughed when I read something similar -- "Meat. Raw meat" -- in her story and sent the photo of the paragraph to Chuck when he was at work.

"Do you think Alice Munro has been listening in to your convos with Orin?" I texted last night.
"He probably let it drop in his correspondence. They're pen pals after all," he said.
"I forgot he advises her sometimes."
"What do you think he's doing on the typewriter every Sunday morning?"
"I heard him use the word 'ubiquitous' yesterday and I was like Zzzzz."
"I heard him mumble 'Child's play.' Then later I noticed a finished NYT Sunday crossword wadded up in the garbage," Chuck wrote.

The man's phone rings. For some reason when I saw him, I thought he was living out of this souped up walker. The front basket was filled, so was the one below by the wheels. Now I see that this is just stuff, not necessities. He talks with a smile; He hangs up the phone.

"I sure do like getting good news," he tells me.
I let my eyebrow indicate "Oh?"
"That was my eye doctor. My glasses are ready for me to pick up," he says.
"Ah, good," I say.
"I've been using a cheater," he says. "A little square magnifying glass."
I laugh out loud at the image, not because it's funny but because it seems like the right response to match his mood.
"I don't even have to go far," he says. "Just down the street."
He stands, takes ahold of the handles of his walker and begins to push away.
"I sure do like getting good news," he says.

I return to my reading and when he is just a half block away, hidden by a building, I hear someone bellowing. Nonsensical stuff, not even words, and a little hostile. It reminds me of being in downtown Phoenix early on a Saturday morning that one time. There was little foot traffic and a man was singing loudly, his voice bouncing off the empty office buildings. Today, lunch hour, people turned to gape at the source and keep walking.

I have no idea if it was my old man, bursting forth with noise after holding it together for our little chat. Or maybe it's someone else and now he's walking past them.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The shames ...

Well, I went to Rochester and now I'll probably never be allowed back in ever again. The social shame is strong, like pulsing, waves and flashes of my own voice in my head. Maybe a person shouldn't drink for 13 hours straight. And maybe if they do, they should cushion the blows with food before they start.

Yesterday I saw a photo of Fannie at the end of the night drinking a large glass of water and thought: "That bitch was drinking water. No wonder she doesn't hate herself right now." What a betrayal. I thought we were all in this together.

I got to the golf course about an hour late on Friday and was whisked by golf cart to No. 7 where my friends were trading samples of home brew for tricks. Golfers sang a school song or competed in a push ups competition or race with resident athlete Princess Linda. My friends were all so adorable and sunny and festive and giggly. So I immediately dipped into ice for a beer, then chased it with another. We were at a fundraiser for, gosh I don't even know what. Our alma mater?

Princess Linda schools someone at the old pushups on one leg trick. 
We ate Cheez Its. We peed in the woods using a single square of napkin. We chatted with the golfers and drank and drank and drank. Fannie, arty and fashionable, decided our shirts needed a little pizazz, so she sent this guy back to the clubhouse for scissors and began doctoring our shirts.

Fannie removed the neck, inserted a V and took off the sleeves.

A dude let me hit a golf ball off the tee. It's been years. Back in the day, when I was good at stuff, my parents used to say I had a great swing. I think now that they were trying to coax me into the family passtime. Golf courses bored me, though. I had a three hole limit before I started to itch with the tediousness of it all. 

Fannie lined up a few feet away to take a photograph and I almost took off her skull with a wayward shot. I was horrified on top of having to hunt down the ball in the woods. The owner of the club, tee and ball looked at me very seriously and said: "That wouldn't have been very funny if you'd killed your friend." No. He's right. It wouldn't have.

We went back to the clubhouse for food and chatter. I toured the kitchen of the restaurant where I'd had my first job. I thought I'd be more nostalgic, but I really wasn't. It's just a kitchen at a golf course, formerly famous for its Yo Burger. I talked much, ate little. I think the effects are obvious in this super cute photograph of my high school friends, where everyone looks like nice people and I look like the manic who is going to suck blood from the jugular of my junior prom date. 

From there we went to a rooftop bar downtown. Pa Pista stopped by to get my car keys so he could take my car from the golf course and back to their house. They worry about things like vandalism and hot wirings, where as I'm more like ... Meh. I'm tired of that car anyway. I was ill prepared to be in public. No money, no ID, my sanity still on No. 7. I have this image of my dad opening his wallet and handing me a $20. It was such a familiar sight, and only a little embarrassing. The boys tried to coax him into staying, but he declined. 

People came and went. I repeated monologues filled with nonsense. We danced. We rehashed. I had an entire text session with JCrew that I forgot. At the end of the night Fannie, Dong and I went to Perkins. We shared a cab back to the hotel, then I took it to my parents house. I only had enough money to tip the driver 50 cents and felt like a total jerk. In retrospect, the fact that I still had $9 at the end of the night means I couldn't have continued to drink too much. Unless people were buying me drinks. And aside from one round of shots, I don't remember that happening. So I must have been riding momentum -- ugly, ugly momentum. 

I slept horribly and woke up after just five hours of sleep. My mom took me to lunch. 
"What do you want to eat?" she asked. 
"Doesn't matter," I told her. "I'm just going to look at it anyway." 

I was surprised to find that my parents didn't hate me on Saturday morning. No pursed lips, no disappointment. We talked a lot about social shame and discovered it is hereditary. Ma Pista gets it after two glasses of wine; I get it after day drinking. I asked Fannie if my social shame was warranted and she paused. 

"Well," she said. "You were more drunk than (when Chuck and I were in Minneapolis two weeks ago). But you didn't do anything stupid." 

That sort of appeased me, but sort of did not. Fannie wasn't, like, attached to my hip and making sure I didn't say every thought that came into my head. 

My dad came home on his lunch break, dressed in his police uniform, and was too cute to register without a Richter Scale. My mom and I drove around Rochester, visiting various points of interests. Houses we lived in, the new high school, the site of a gruesome quadruple murder. 

I probably just should have hung out with those two all weekend. 

I left Rochester and noticed the social shame lessening the further I got from my hometown. It's nice to live up here in Northern Minnesota, far far from the scene of the crimes. I should probably wait a few years before returning to Rochester and/or seeing my high school friends. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Sunflowers ...

ROCHESTER -- It's true that sometimes I turn my mom into a bit of a caricature of herself when I mention her, which is fine because she doesn't read my blog. I think it makes for a better story if  I just boil her down to three features. So I stress the Catholic and the conservative and the dissimilarity of our interests.

Tonight I was getting out of the car after dinner and she was telling me about the story she always tells her friends about me:

"Christa used to want a daisy tattoo around her belly button," her story goes. "And I told her if she ever got pregnant it would turn into a SUNFLOWER!"

This. Never. Happened.

I'm not saying that in the way someone might see their seventh grade class picture and say: "A sheriff-badge sized broach, a checkered vest from The Closet and a side ponytail? I can't believe ... I never wore that!" That happened. It's not good, but even without the evidence of the class photo I would admit it happened. This daisy story, though, did not.

How I Know This Story Isn't True:
1. I know this is going to make me sound stupid, but until about 2 years ago, I wouldn't have known the difference between a daisy and a daffodil. I've never been interested enough in flowers to know what was what. If I were to describe a ring of flowers, I'd never use the name of an actual type of flower because visually it would mean nothing to me.
2. I've gone 35 years without ever considering getting a tattoo. There were a lot of things I considered piercing, but tattoos have never been my jam. I would never even joke about it. In fact, my official stand on it has always been, "I can't get a tattoo because I've never liked any thing for more than two years except the Beastie Boys." (Last year I started thinking maybe I wouldn't mind getting a tattoo. But not around my belly button and not daisies. Also: I've gone on to like Chuck for almost six years).
3. I would never, ever, EVER get a tattoo on my stomach. Even though I've always known I wouldn't get a tattoo, I especially knew that if I did it wouldn't be around my belly button. That is actually among the Top Five places I wouldn't put a tattoo.
4. This isn't even my mom's kind of joke. She doesn't spike the ball. When it comes to comedy, she's more of a setter than a spiker.

"You just don't remember saying it," my mom said, slamming the car door. "Or maybe you were trying to get a rise out of me."
"That's not even something I would threaten. It's just nothing that was even on my radar at all at ALL," I said. "It's the opposite of something I would do. I would make a stranger get a circle of daisies tattoo removed from their stomach before I would get a circle of daisies tattoo on my own."

I was getting peeved. Her people -- friends, family, coworkers -- hearing this story. And they would all think of me as this idiot with the bad taste to consider getting a permanent daisy wreath around my navel.*

"It was a long time ago," she said.

Then my dad stepped in and totally fixed it.
"Well, whatever. You've made up a lot of stories about your mom over the years," he said.

And that? That totally made sense.

"Oh. Yeah. Right," I said. "Why didn't you just say so?"

She just blended and borrowed to make a story that she might even believe is true. It is, at least, true to the version of the character of me she has in her head. So, whatever. (But it's still not true).

* I'm not against daisy tattoos around belly buttons as a rule. I am against daisy tattoos around my belly button.  

Monday, August 13, 2012

On reading: A How To

I am an awful person who does not take seriously book recommendations from people. I have two exceptions: Jodi, the brains behind Minnesota Reads, and the Rock Star Amy Abts, my reading soul-sister whose to-read pile is always uncannily similar to my own. I'm not 100 percent with either of them, but I know them well enough to know when I should take their five-star recs seriously. I also know that if my mom recommends a book, I should bury it in the backyard. I'm never going to want to read about pre-menopausal women living in villages in Ireland or fiction with Jesus metaphors.

I do, however, relish advising people on what to read and sometimes give myself the following tagline: "Reading shit so you don't have to."

A few years ago I remember asking Jodi how she determined what she wanted to read. I don't remember her answer, but I do know at the time I was all judging-book-by-cover mode. I'd walk into a bookstore, dig into the new releases and leave with a stack of five books that I'd selected willy-nilly. That was fine, albeit expensive. These days I prefer a more guided approach -- and the library. But since I wondered that and since I now have a pretty organized system, I decided to pass it along.

Here is everything I can tell you about how to find and keep track of things you want to read.

I subscribe to a lot of book-related sites in my Google Reader. The best of these is Largehearted Boy, a book-music themed site. He posts multiple times a day and usually by the time I wake up there is a curated list of links to author interviews and book-related news (and band interviews and music news) that has cropped up in the past 24 hours. Other regular features include Book Notes, in which an author creates a soundtrack for his/her book, WORD Books of the Week is a compilation of new releases of note according to the staff at a Brooklyn-based bookstore, and Atomic Books Comic Preview, which does the same for new release comic books and graphic novels. This site is a good source for lesser-known titles of note. Stuff that might be released in trade paperback instead of getting a gigantic window display and a huge Oprah sticker on the cover. The majority of the books I read come from something I read on Largehearted Boy.

I receive the New York Times Book Review via email on Friday afternoons. This is hit-or-miss and hugely skim-able. A lot of times the reviews are written by authors I know I like, so I'll read about 1/4 of the review to see if I'm interested in the book. The New Yorker's Briefly Noted section offers a handful of quick hit reviews.

Other good sites include:
Laura Miller's reviews on Salon. She's a once-a-weeker and has more eclectic reading patterns than me.
Page-Turner is the New Yorker's book blog.
Page Views is the New York Daily News book blog, and oddly enough a kid I knew in high school writes about poetry sometimes.
Jacket Copy is the LA Times book blog. I really like Carolyn Kellogg and we usually have similar thoughts on books. If she likes something, I'll read it. If she doesn't, I might take heed.
NPR's book news is here.
The AV Club.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune has a very active book blog.
It's good to know your book bloggers, too. I like Girl Detective. She reads way more than me and a  much more mix of genres, but I totally trust her opinion so she regularly points me in a new direction.
And, of course, Minnesota Reads. I would totally love Minnesota Reads even if I didn't write reviews there.

Speaking of reviews, I make a game of reading them. I ditch out as soon as I see a word that falls into my "disinterest" pile. This is known as the "snooze factor." It's hilarious and a time-saver. Using last week's Briefly Noted section in the New Yorker, it goes like this:

"How Much is Enough?" by Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky: More people in wealthy countries could lead comfortable existences, the Skidelsky's contend, if we did not all life our arms in praise of one lonely virtue: economic Zzzzzz.

"Double Cross" by Ben Macintyre: In the final book of a trilogy Zzzzz.

"Left-Handed" by Jonathan Galassi: Galassi navigates currents of regret and desire in this poetry Zzzz.

(The final book in Briefly Noted was "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn, which I've read and loved).

It's important to know what you like. For instance, I like coming-of-age, memoirs, graphic novels written by women, things set in the 1980s or 1990s, YA fiction. I tend to read a lot of contemporary novels and like to double back to classics occasionally. I thought I hated historical fiction, but I don't really. I also used to hate thinly-veiled memoirs billed as fiction, but I'm over it. I like strong voices, but not distractingly strong. I like funny, but not over the top funny where it feels like a clarinet should be going apeshit in the background. I like true crime and mysteries, but not the hokey formulaic kinds. I like books set in Los Angeles and books set in New York City. I like magical realism and Japanese horror.

I do not like WWII or WWI. I don't like political non-fiction or self help. I hate it when characters leave where they are to go somewhere else to find something. I hate pretty, overwrought writing and stories about sassy women looking for men with titles written in lipstick font. I hate self-deprecating nonfiction by bloggers, though this is certainly a genre I would be most likely to write.

It's also good to know who you like. I love the gruesome horror of Ryu Murakami and the dreamy fiction of Haruki Murakami. Jennifer Egan won lifetime fandom with her well-imagined, innovative "Goon Squad." Don Delillo rules. Joan Didion is a good teacher, Marcy Dermansky writes delicious plots. Steve Martin writes quiet and lovely novels. Charles Baxter is consistently solid, every third book by Joyce Carol Oates interests me. Sometimes a girl just wants to hunker down with a pile of smut by Dominick Dunne. I will forever read everything written by Jay McInerney and Bret Easton Ellis, though the latter is the creator of the most senselessly wretched moment in all of fiction and has revealed himself to be a nightmare in the age of Twitter. Still, I love a good shitshow.

I also read authors who influence or are influenced by these writers. You can find out the influences on Wikipedia and have a helluva time off-roading from name to name.

I will read "It" books, including "Fifty Shades of Grey" and the Twilight series. I like to have a solid, well-considered argument for why something is stupid instead of just saying "I haven't read it, but I know it's terrible." Sometimes I'm surprised. I didn't hate "The Hunger Games" at all. I didn't, like, buy myself a mockingjay broach. But I liked where Suzanne Collins was going with it.

I started out 2012 making a point to read more books by women. I was coming close to an equal split between men and women without trying, but something Jodi once said about how she is a woman who writes and so she wants to support women who write really stuck with me.

At first this was hard to do, up my tally of women writers. But it's like anything: Looking for blue cars on the highway or combing the front yard for Four-Leaf clovers. After awhile, all I was seeing were women writers. I haven't done the math, but I'd guess that nearly 65-75 percent of what I've read this year has been by women. I see no reason to ever read another book by a man, but I will because I like to diversify.

I read at least two books at a time. Usually one is a novel, one is nonfiction. Ideally I like to have something rolling on my Kindle that I can read at lunch or if I have to wait somewhere for something. If I read a very hefty book, like "Infinite Jest" or "The Executioner's Song," I tend to bust through a bunch of fun easy-readers simultaneously. I'm a bit commitment phobic when it comes to long lit, so it's important to have a side project. I always read before bed for at least an hour.

If a book continues to pop up in conversations or other things I'm reading, I consider it a sign from the moon that I'm supposed to read it. That's how I ended up reading "Brideshead Revisited" and I loved it.

I highlight a lot on Kindle, but in physical books I dog-ear pages that have an interesting thought, sentence or even word on it. It's hilarious to go back and try to figure out why I marked a certain page. With library books, I keep a note card and pencil close by and jot lines and page numbers on it as I read.

Goodreads is one of my favorite websites. I use it to find out if any of my friends have read what I'm reading, and to keep track of what I've read. For instance, I know that right now I've read 60 books this year, seven that were absolute stinkers and 10 that have received the highest star count. I reference Goodreads when I make my Best Of list at the end of the year and when people ask me for book recommendations. This also saves me from buying the same book twice. Goodreads also has a recommendations section which considers what you've read and liked and tries to pair you with other stuff you might like. I have no idea the accuracy level of this system, but I like it in theory.

When I'm dinging around on the internet and come across a mention of a book I might be even remotely interested in reading, I immediately add the book to my Amazon Wish List. I have about 300 books right now divided into two categories: Main Reading and Comic Books. I have a hair trigger with this list. Everything lands on it and I regularly weed it after reading a Kindle Sample, or slogging through a few chapters of a library copy.

In the past few days I've added an upcoming novel by Molly Ringwald (because I saw a bunch of interviews with Ringwald from this past weekend), "Where'd You Go Bernadette" by Maria Semple (because I saw that Jodi has a review of it coming up), "Dora: A Headcase" by Lidia Yuknavitch (because I liked her book "The Chronology of Water") and "Manhattan, When I was Young" by Mary Cantwell because Carole Radziwell references it in her memoir "What Remains"). Sometimes books sit on my Amazon Wish List for years. One thing that terrifies me is knowing that at some point I'll die without having read everything I wanted to read.

I don't always buy the books from Amazon. Sometimes I pull up the list when I'm standing in Barnes & Noble. Sometimes I pull it up at the library. Sometimes I download them to my Kindle, first reading the free sample. My Amazon Wish List has made it so that I will never stare dumbly into space and think: "What should I read next?" Pretty much every genre and mood is covered in that queue.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

10-minute egg ...

One thing I've learned from Chuck, besides how to make a perfect hard-boiled egg, is that the most reasonable answer is usually the right one. Or, more pretentiously speaking, the theory of Occam's Razor. I apply this in my own life almost every day, including when I imagined that my hip bone was eroding but then decided it was more realistic that the pain was from the way I carry a grocery basket. This came into play today when I was driving and smelled gas fumes. I first imagined looking down at my fuel gage to see the needle faint into empty, liquid spewing from the car and, obviously, the explosion that would leave half my face maimed and the other half scar-free and inexplicably lovelier for the juxtaposition.

Then I realized I was driving behind a beater pickup truck, the back end loaded with a heap of garbage bags so high they had to be cinched in. The truck chugged its way into a left turn and I thought: "Oh. I'm not going to explode. He's going to explode. Occam's Razor" and I merged on to the highway. But right before we parted I did a double-take, and I'm pretty sure the driver was this old dude who stole $700 from me about eight years ago.

For reasons too inane to explain, I found myself in 2003-ish in desperate need of a new living situation. Luckily, all of my furniture and clothing had been moved from the old carriage house where I was living and into the house's back lawn making the transition much more efficient. I wanted something inexpensive and with character and in my haste ended up with an expensive shithole in a place that required a lot of explaining to pizza deliverers.

It was a rickety brick triplex behind an old church. My apartment was on the top level. The kitchen had an ameoba shaped plywood island. The bathroom had a bathtub with exposed pipes and a poorly configured shower head that made it impossible to keep the wall behind it dry. The ceiling bubbled and leaked. One of my closets was in a shared hallway and off that closet was a raised deck with a rod railing and metal floor that singed my bare feet. But it felt gigantic and there was plenty of room to skateboard, which I thought was a crucial for a successful afterbar.

The landlord was absent for long periods of time, then he would spend a few days lurking around the premises. These were trying times when I felt like I was being monitored. I liked to joke to friends that I thought he was dropping by to change the tape on the toilet cam, except that I wasn't really joking when I said it. He drove an old sedan that was packed with garbage bags and tools for property maintenance. The lawnmower jutted from his trunk. I don't know that he was living in his car, but I know he regularly slept in it parked on the road in front of the house. I dropped off my rent checks at his mom's house. She was a whisp of a thing. A tiny frail older woman with a body quake she had quit fighting.

I didn't actually hate him until I told him I was moving out and he refused to return my deposit. "What about the times I gave you Gatorade when you were mowing the lawn?" I asked. He said I'd ruined the bathroom wall by showering and that the place smelled like cat. He said the place was un-rentable after I left. When I deferred to his higher power, her voice wobbled and she pointed a sharp finger at my chest. She looked like she was writing cursive in the air as she echoed his report verbatim. "He lives in his car!" I said. "What does he know about rentable?"

None of this was true. The wall was certainly worse than it had been, but that was the fault of his creative plumbing. And if it smelled like cat, it's because I had a cat. Toonses wasn't an exceptionally rank cat. He didn't, like, sweat. I'd have given the guy $200 of the deposit if he stated a decent case. Instead he just kept the $700. All these years later I know that tenant laws are strong and that I probably could have gotten my money back if I tried. But (insert boring reasons here).

The place, by the way, was rentable. Chuck and I drove past one night a few years later and I told the new people living in the apartment to take photos and document everything so as not to get fucked by this dude and his vicious taloned mother. They didn't seem worried, though. People.

Anyway, this is all just to say that I saw him billowing plumes of gas fumes today and it was a good reminder that my hip bone isn't eroding.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Pants debate 2012 ...

Since the last time I posted a recap of what I've been doing, Chuck and I went on a quick vacation, I saw Steve Martin standing on local soil and my face hurt from dork-grinning my way through a Gin Blossoms concert. We also went to the world's best street dance and I took back-to-back dinners from food carts. I had Taco in a Bag, which is my favorite food, and a new contender for fried finger food of choice: Jalapeno Pretzel Bites.

In a world where it is normal to say things like: "Ugh. Vacation just went so fast," we had the opposite experience. By the time Chuck went back to work it seemed that we had become people of leisure basking in deliciously long, hot, lazy summer days and that was just going to be the way it was forever.

Anyway, here's what I've been eating, watching and reading.

I love to make To-Do lists, except I weigh them down with super fun things. Then I act like it's a total chore to complete my weekend list. Things like: Ugh. I'm going to go to some comic book stores. Or, Aw, nuts. I promised myself I'd go down to Lake Superior to see how warm the water is.

This one has gone incomplete until recently: Try brunch at Zeitgeist Arts Cafe. I had the Croque Monsieur Benedict with this mushy little potato cakes. It was so great. Not too much food, little curls of prosciutto. And the hollandaise is a gruyere hollandaise.

Me and JCrew hiding out from the Great Hairball Storm of 2012. (What is my nose doing?)
Chuck at the Kom-On-Inn
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter: This movie starring Alan Arkin and Sandra Locke is just as fulfilling as the book by Carson McCullers. Locke is the perfect mix of unknowing loveliness that I'd imagine for the main character Mick Kelly, who is straddling childhood and woman-hood in this slow and lazy stroll through a year in a small town in Georgia and the characters who become enthralled with a deaf-mute man named John Singer.

These little AP English inspired read book-watch movie combos are always even better when both are accomplished through the wonder that is Minnesota's inter-library loan system. I'm really developing a taste for free stuff.

Adventures In Babysitting: Wow. I had no idea that this was a cautionary tale about big cities when I was 12 and madly in crush with Elizabeth Shue as she lip-synched along to "And then He Kissed Me." I think I saw this movie 150 times before I became a teenager and then never saw it again. I do at one point remember being ridiculously sick of it, but I remembered just a few key scenes as we were watching.

The Executioner's Song (Director's Cut): This movie, based on the book by Norman Mailer, is pretty hard to follow. Rosanna Arquette, however, has stunning breasts. It's a nice time capsule to the 1970s. During a lot of scenes, Chuck pointed out a lot of knick knacks that existed in his childhood home. 

Chinatown: It's funny to remember that at one time in the world Jack Nicholson was considered to be an attractive man. In my brain, he has always looked like "The Shining." Anyway, I'd never seen this before and it's good. Private detective, Faye Dunaway, Los Angeles. It's good.

Chuck at Birdhouse
Steve Martin is in there. Not my finest photography
Happy All the Time (Vintage Contemporaries): There are some writers who are good enough to disregard plot in favor of a collection of quirky characters slinging each other with cute conversation. See also: Laurie Colwin, whose 1978 novel is simply the story of third cousins tip-toeing from bachelorhood to couplehood and the difficult targets who change everything they believe to be true about women. What, in theory, could reek of a banter-y rom-com with a “Gilmore Girls” preciousness is smart and lively and potentially something that might have inspired the writer Charles Baxter — the last person I decided could write whatever the hell he wanted.

I really liked this book. Full review here.

The Executioner's Song I thought this book was really, really long. A lot of it was good, but that was drowned out by how really, really long it was.

Gary Gilmore had spent most of his life incarcerated by the mid-1970s when he was released from prison and into the hands of his once adoring cousin Brenda in Utah. She sets him up with a room at his Uncle Vern’s house and he gets a job working in Uncle Vern’s shoe shop. But life on the outside takes some adjustments: Gary needs a car, Gary wants a girl, Gary likes to lift 6-packs from grocery stores. He bumbles along socially stunted and lacking impulse control. When he meets Nicole Baker, a 19-year-old, thrice married, mother of two, Gilmore goes gaga for her. They quickly fall into a passionate and super naked love affair filled with the kind of oozy goozy murmurs about fate and lifetimes and souls that are usually reserved for the bodice rippers that were hidden in clothes hampers 50 years ago.

Full review here

The Lola Quartet This story is about a guy who returns to his hometown after committing the cardinal sin of journalism and he gets wrapped up in trying to figure out if a 10 year old girl his sister saw his his daughter and the events that led to him having a daughter he didn't know about. This means revisiting the members of his high school quartet -- who are all hiding something from him.

This book is clunky and the plot is just too, too contrived. Full review will be here.

Dare Me: A Novel: Ah, yes. A psychological thriller involving cruel manipulative cheerleaders and their equally manipulative new coach. This book is totally delicious.

Full review will be here.

I got these pants on Sunday. When I tried them on at the store, Chuck gave me a solid: "You know what you're doing," instead of responding "THOSE ARE JUST SO CRAZY THEY JUST MIGHT WORK!" which was the response in my head.

I asked a woman working if she liked them. She paused and said ... "Yes."
CHRISSIE said the people at her dinner table did not think they were cute, did not think they were ugly, but did think they were hilarious.
Fannie said she liked them, then asked: "Are you going to wear them in public?"

It has come to this ...

Cat videos. Can't help it. These nerds are adorable.
(I'm not sure why I didn't shoot this horizontal. Rookie).

FILM 1: "Cat out of the Bag" starring Orin and Hal, Rated G
Cat out of the Bag from christa pista on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sausage party ...

We went on vacation to Minneapolis, which sounds like pretty much the dumbest thing ever. It's just Minneapolis. It's only two hours away. A lot of people in Duluth treat it like it's our big backyard playground. But when Chuck and I have time off together, we tend to take trip-trips to places with different fauna. We've overlooked Minneapolis as a travel destination. Aside from parking there to go somewhere else, we just don't really go there. So we went on vacation to Minneapolis. 

But! Before we went on vacation in Minneapolis, we went to brunch in Delta, Wisconsin. The Delta Diner is, like, nowhere. It's about an hour away, past some resorts, through trees and a dogleg to the right. It's a shiny-meets-retro hybrid.

The servers go through the entire menu of these really cool and quirky meals that are like french toast stuffed with dessert cheeses or meats that marinated for 27 hours. I had a take on Eggs Benedict that is two eggs served over cornbread with a chorizo sauce and then my mouth moonwalked and did a backspin.

Then we stopped at a mini flea market in Iron River where I bought a $6 green glass ring and listened to the locals deconstruct the previous night's street dance. (Seems like they had fun).

Then, the next day we went on vacation to Minneapolis.

On Sunday we went to dinner at Birdhouse and ate super delicious foods on the upper deck of what seems to be an old house-turned-restaurant. This was very pleasant and Chuck accidentally mentioned the fact that the first two days of vacation have been so great, and ... 

Then the car wouldn't start.

It skipped the sick groan of a car struggling to start and just played dead. In a mad panic, I busted out a winter question to a guy parked behind us: "Do you have jumper cables?" I saw his face say yes and his brain second-guess that response and then his soul over-rode his brain and made him spit out "Yes," against his will. But he never pretended to be happy about it. (Understandable). He turned his car around to the front of ours, connected the cables, gave it about 13 seconds to fire up, seemed antsy, gave it about another minute and it still didn't work.

"I just don't think --" he said. 
We agreed and he zipped away. 

Then I called for a tow truck. We were told it would be a 30 minute wait. So we stood next to the car and searched the horizon for tow trucks for an hour and a half, a little longer, before calling the guy back and telling him that we'd moved the car to his colon and that's where he could send the tow truck. Although it sounded more like this: "You know what? We don't need you anymore. It's just taking too long." 

Eventually we were saved by QT, who had the car up and running in no time. We drove it around awhile to really make sure the charge took, then proceeded to get funny on a small and delicious amount of beer at the Local. 

Un-charcuterie Plate with Wild Boar Sopprassata

Golden Beets and Arugula
Something Something Lemon Curd Yum
I went swimming in the hotel pool and found it seemingly empty, save for some discarded clothing and a purse. I was about torso deep when a young couple came out of the sauna. He dove into the water, she sat on the edge and then slowly made her way into the water for some synchronized whatever. 

I did my best to stay away from them, which was hard because they didn't give a shit that I was in there with them while they did whatever young couples do in water. Half make out, half splash, some chasing, lots of grab ass. Finally I got bored of trying to stay out of their version a Chris Isaac video  so I sat in the sauna and then left. 

Back in the hotel room I told Chuck about the scene and he said: "I guess I'll let you sit by me, even if you were swimming in boner water." 

(I've since written a song about it sung to the tune of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." It's gotten some pretty bad reviews, but I think it's a nice start. IF ONLY BLOGGER ALLOWED AUDIO UPLOADS!). 

We took the bus to Uptown to go to Magers & Quinn and to try to find a romper at Urban Outfitters (to further complete my transformation into a woman of many costumes). 

That night we met Fannie and her date at Butcher and the Boar for patio dining. Much meat was consumed and many stories of ill-conceived trips around the country were shared. Wine was spilled and eventually we tottered across the street and Chuck and I drank like we were on vacation. CHRISSIE and QT joined the four of us. 

Usually when I drink a lot I'm very self conscious of the fact that I'm drinking a lot and speaking in chapters. This time I just felt fun and festive and when someone mentioned I was hammered I looked around the table and everyone nodded. 

Still, I forged on. 

"We're on vacation," I told the waitress every time I ordered a beer. Which is why we can never go back. 

When our adult friends who had to work in the morning left, we ordered another meal. 

Lobster Grilled Cheese (with egg) "I always order 'with egg' if given the option," Chuck says.

Wild Boar Hot Sausage

Fried Green Tomatoes

On Tuesday we explored all of the ways to exorcise demon booze from one's system. This included canceling the day's activities in favor of a "Friends" marathon and a Do Not Disturb sign. I swore off booze for the rest of my life and wished I wasn't still tasting meat; Chuck decided his favorite Friend is Joey. 
We tested the car that afternoon and it was dead again. We took a bus to Napa and bought a battery. We took a bus back from Napa and Chuck carried it the last half mile back to the hotel. (I tried to carry it for awhile, but he couldn't handle the look on my face -- "Gizmo when they spilled water on him and the other mogwais popped out of his back" -- and just carried it himself). We walked to Target to buy tools. We went back to the hotel and watched videos about replacing car batteries. Then I read 75 percent of a pretty awful book. 
We had a midnight appetizer fest at Barrio and were asleep earlier than I've ever been asleep in my life. 


Chuck replaced the car battery in the hotel ramp. I held things like flashlights, nuts, bolts. It was all very fascinating and easy. Still, impressive. Then the car even worked. We'll probably just build our next car from scratch. 

We went to the Walker and saw an 80s exhibit that included a photograph of buffalo leaping to their death, a piece by a woman who hired a private investigator to tail her for a day, and a Robert Mapplethorpe photograph that challenged everything I thought I knew about anatomy. ("It's uncircumcised," Chuck whispered, right before I giggled my way into the next gallery. I thought it was just wearing a leather pouch).

We stopped at a massive comic book store in Roseville, then cruised home just in time for the start of Spirit Valley Days.