Browsing articles from "February, 2013"
Feb 28, 2013

Staircase Review, Vol. 2

20130228-235534.jpgCan I call these posts “volumes”? I’m not sure. I just went around and looked at all the magazines in my house (some Martha Stewart Livings and a few literary journals, and the two InStyles from 2006 that are currently employed in maintaining the shape of my brown boots) and could not find a defined industry standard, and THEN I remembered that that’s why God made the CMOS, but just when I opened my copy, I realized that I was really just procrastinating because I gave myself a job, and that job is to write this post, which means that looking up magazine issue numbering styles is only slightly more interesting than usual and why am I even trying to categorize this with magazines, it’s a blog post, and also have I even seen the inside of my medicine cabinet? I really need to take care of that mess. When I’m done writing this post. Because I have an attention span. Like an adult.

So. These are some books I have read recently.

Bel Canto by Ann PatchettBel Canto by Ann Patchett
Bel Canto is the story of a Japanese businessman, Hosokawa, who cares about one thing, and that thing is opera. Hosokawa is invited to meet his favorite soprano at a state event in (an unnamed) South American and goes, knowing that the party is given in his honor, that the South Americans will expect this party to open up trade, and knowing that he will not do any business with the country beyond this party. He goes to see Roxanne Coss, the soprano. The party is hijacked by Spanish-speaking freedom fighters, who, in their confusion, kidnap everyone at the party: Russian business men, French diplomats, American Coss, Japanese Hosokawa, and his translator. There is no common language but the music.

The book feels like a dream. Most of the dialogue goes through the translator, which almost gives it the feeling of listening to a conversation through a glass against a door. (Sometimes I forgot the translator is there until I see him standing in the corner, translating the conversation I was reading reading, and then I was kind of mad at Patchett because how in the world do you do that with just words?) Relationships form around the sopranos singing, and the hostages and kidnappers begin to build a community, and the reader learns about this through a constantly changing perspective. The book is beautiful and hopeful and heartbreaking, as all the best books are. This is a book I will read again and again.

Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma StraubLaura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub
Elsa Emerson has grown up in the theater her parents own in Door County, Wisconsin. All she wants is to be on the stage, and once she gets her first part, all she needs is to go to Hollywood. Elsa finds her way, is transformed to Laura Lamont, and climbs her way up to being a real-live movie star.

I like this book because it feels like I could switch out the names and it could be about any starlet. It’s a small story about a larger-than-life time and place. It’s a peek behind the kitchen curtains of the beautiful black-and-white women I’ve always watched, but it’s written in a way that feels true, not voyeuristic. I read this just before listening to Beautiful Ruins, and they were almost perfect companions. While Laura Lamont follows the story of one woman through her childhood on the stage, grown-up stardom, and (spoiler alert) eventual aging, Beautiful Ruins twists five or six storylines together to tell a similar story on a grander scale about golden-age Hollywood, success, failure, love and loss.

Around the Internet
The Extraordinary Science of Junkfood
This is how they get you. There’s nothing in here about Trader Joe’s new rocket-ship-shaped cheese crackers, probably because things shaped like rocket ships are intrinsically healthful.

The Secret Burrito
Speaking of which, this burrito is my new life goal. It’s not even that it sounds that good, it’s just that I like secret burrito codes.

Adventures in Amish Fiction
A lit fic reader takes a look at Amish fiction.

Fireside Magazine Year 2
Remember when I told you about Fireside Magazine and how it’s a fiction magazine dedicated to good stories and paying the writers who write them? Well, they’re working on funding year two of the magazine. It’s kind of a long story, but if the Kickstarter gets funded, I get a share in a pony. So, check it out and consider donating.

Happy March, happy people. This is my favorite month, and not just because I have 31 days to drink 31 shamrock shakes.

By the way, that photo is from the library at the Irish American Heritage Center, where I spent a few hours with my family last weekend. This explains why book titles are in a language you can’t read. Unless you read Gaelic, in which case we should have a discussion about how you’re supposed to tell me when you can read Gaelic.

Feb 13, 2013

Happy New Year…Again


I believe very strongly that you are what you do, not what you aspire to do. This sounds like a bad self-help book, but let me explain.

If I introduced myself to you as Jesse, a musician, you would probably, politely, ask me what instrument I play. Oh, I don’t really play anything, I’d reply. I’d like to play something. Sometimes I think very hard about how I’d like a guitar. Maybe I’ll even buy one and take lessons one day. I imagine the conversation would get uncomfortable at this point, and we’d start talking talking about the weather.

You are what you make time to do right now. You are what you prioritize. When I was little, I read books every spare minute I could. I was a reader. Do you know what makes me a reader now? That I read books. Not that I did read books 20 years ago. That I read books now.

I’m not trying to make any grand statements about identity and what it means. That’s above my pay grade. There is more to you than what you do, obviously. What I am trying to say is that if I call myself a writer, but spend all my free time organizing my cabinets because I’m too scared or too intimidated to sit down and write, then I’m not a writer, I’m a person with these great gray shelf liners that really pull my mismatched mugs together. (For real. It’s so orderly in there.)

I also don’t mean that it’s wrong to have more than one thing going on, or that it’s wrong to be in a season of life that changes your priorities or moves them out of your control. I do think that you need to be honest with yourself about why your priorities are different and if they’re really out of your control. Of course, when I say “you,” I mean “me.”

Today a friend asked me how often I write. I rounded the number up and then hid under my keyboard.

January was a stupid month. It was supposed to be a blank slate: Roommate moved back home, 2013 began, and I had a fresh start. I was going to get things done. Instead, I watched a lot of StarTrek. I was sick for a good chunk of the month, and for the rest I felt like a failure relationally, emotionally, professionally, spiritually, domestically, financially, automobily. Some things were not my fault (my car needed a new axel!), some things were (I backed into a parked car!).

I’m not totally sure what January being a dumb month has to do with being what you do, but I do know that I’m tired. I feel like a failure and like I can’t handle this stuff on my own. Like this might be what it feels like to learn humility and to depend on Christ and I don’t like it one bit.

I can’t changes my circumstances, but I can change how I respond to them. I can understand my limits. I can learn. Anne Lamott likes to say that you can start a new 24-hour period any time you like. I want to say that I’m going to apply that to my year, but not in a way that means I get a blank slate. Consequences are okay. I need to learn what I’m learning. I can’t do this by myself and I wasn’t made to. What I want is to drive a stake in the ground to mark the time when I stopped hiding and stopped moping. To take this 45 day period for what it was, and keep trudging. To do what I must do. Happy New Year. Carry on.