Books I Read This Summer

After four years of book overload in college, this summer was my first opportunity to read whatever I wanted (!), as much as I wanted. Although I generally loved the books my professors chose, the freedom to jump randomly from reading about MTV’s The Real World to a fictional Jewish settlement in Alaska to 19th century Russia and back to California highways in the 1960s was wonderful. In the past, I’ve written up lists of books I hope/plan to read during a season, but inevitably I get sidetracked and end up down a rabbit hole of related reading far from what I originally intended–so, this season, I decided to put together a retrospective list of texts I enjoyed.

Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls / David Sedaris
This one sparked a lot of conversations about the widespread addiction to Fitbit buzzing my friends are currently experiencing. I’m also looking forward to attending his reading in DC this Thursday!

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius / Dave Eggers
What is real, and what is imagined? Is there any real benefit to drawing strict lines between our imagined and experienced lives, or are both necessary for survival?

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union / Michael Chabon
Gritty, suspenseful, made me crave latkes.

Anna Karenina / Leo Tolstoy
Kind of a cheat, as I only had about 300 pages left. Luckily, that last hunk of prose ended up unfolding in a series of rapid, devastating turns.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? / Maria Semple
Took me out of my mind during a particularly difficult few weeks, and actually managed to make me laugh. Wildly creative and surprising.

Swann’s Way / Marcel Proust
Another cheat–I only had the last 50 pages to go. Wistful and made me crave madeleines.

Consider The Lobster / David Foster Wallace
“Host” made SO much more sense when I discovered that it had originally been published online by The Atlantic. “Up, Simba” was a terrific read as the presidential debate season kicks off. Just full of curious ideas and creative phrases.

Hell’s Angels: A Strange And Terrible Saga / Hunter S Thompson
I was shocked by how quickly I devoured this one–two plane rides, and that was that. Uneasy, ambivalent look at a group of unusual people, with an appearance by Ginsberg and some great commentary on 1960s politics that still feels fresh and relevant.

I’ve started my fall reading with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between The World And Me, which is as excellent as I knew it would be from following his work in The Atlantic. I have a feeling that this will send me back to Angela Davis’s first autobiography, which I partially read for class during my last semester of college, and from there, who knows? I’ll write up another list in December.

This Week in Delgadia: The Toast, Swann’s Way, and Buffy Trivia

This past week marked the start of chilly mornings, which made me equal parts happy and distressed by how much time has already elapsed since graduation. But: Job interviews and writing tests have been are things that are happening, freelance things (about Angela Lansbury!) are also happening, and I even got scooped on a story last week which seems like a sign that I’m onto something with this writing thing. Overall, I’m still waiting for the next chapter to start, and eager to find the job that will take me there.

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In the meantime, I’ve been spoiled by all of the good books that I didn’t have time to read while I was still in school. Nearly a year after I started, I finally finished reading Swann’s Way. It’s an understatement to say that the book is lovely, just like it’s probably cliche to praise the dreamy rhythm of Proust’s endlessly stacked clauses. I feel pretentious even admitting that I read it, even though most of it was for a modern lit class last fall semester. But for real: The plot is spellbinding, Proust has a lot of interesting things to say about art and the senses, and it’s one of the best explorations of memory ever committed to paper (or Kindle, if that’s your thing). Be warned, though, that Proust probes the fact that love has a tendency to make people very sad.

I’m still working through Consider the Lobster (a collection of David Foster Wallace’s essays), currently midway through the uncut version of his report on John McCain’s presidential campaign against W. in 2000, a version of which appeared in Rolling Stone. After spending most of the summer reading fiction, it’s refreshing to read nonfiction that pushes the boundaries of the form with DFW’s iconic use of footnotes, charts, and other interruptions.

I also visited Barnes and Noble today for the first time in ages, and after months of weeding through disorganized used book stores I have to admit that it was refreshing to find the books I was looking for in predictable places, clean and in stock. I bought Hunter S. Thompson’s book about Hell’s Angels and The Crying of Lot 49 and then put myself on a strict diet that will hopefully prevent me from OD-ing on white male authors.

Trivia of the week: I revisited The Elected while working on a cover letter this week, which naturally got me onto an internet tangent that ended on a Buffy the Vampire Slayer wiki. Did you know that Blake Sennett (lead guitarist, Rilo Kiley; lead vocalist, The Elected) played warlock Michael Czajak in that episode where Buffy’s mom goes into PTA-nightmare-mode trying to stamp out witchcraft in Sunnydale? Me either, but it’s true nonetheless:

Blake Sennett was one of the first musicians I saw perform a live show, with Rilo Kiley while they were touring with Coldplay. I was 13 years old and sitting next to my dad, and I remember being mortified by the way he introduced the band: “Hey there, all you sons of bitches!” The curse words were electric, and at the time I was terrified that my father would know I thought so.

Internet gems: This wild longform story about a girl who pretended she was in high school for over a decadeThis beautiful old Dear Sugar letter about jealousy, which every unemployed person should be politely asked to read. Ann Friedman’s take on Kim Davis. What actually happened when Liberty University felt the Bern. Why reading online is different. Scottish illustrator extraordinaire Anna Doherty, who is a friend of one of my old roommates and almost certainly doesn’t remember meeting me, just launched a bookshop and I want to buy every adorable-yet-decidedly-off-kilter thing in it. Kyle MacLachlan’s use of puns and this emoticon —> ; – ) make his Twitter officially the best on the internet. Did you know that standard shipping from Top Shop is free?

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I took this photo back in the beginning of August, near the end of our interview after a leisurely brunch at Can Can, on Cary Street. Moments after this was taken, my hands were covered in red clay.

And finally, I wrote some new things! I’m thrilled to be on The Toast for the first time this week, and many thanks go out to Malena Magnolia for giving a lovely interview and just generally making damn good art. I also wrote about snack guilt and was surprised by how many people ended up reading it.

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Documentary Now!

I visited a friend in her new townhouse in Herndon this week. We befriended one another in an 8th grade science class, bonded over a shared love for garlic and music, and have kept in touch since then, loyal and sporadic.

The townhouse is one of many in a curving sheet that reminded me of a set of impenetrably perfect veneers you might obtain from a plastic surgeon. In V, Thomas Pynchon writes in gruesome detail about the intricacies of a nose job, and I imagine veneers are the same kind of thing. You’d have to shave down the original teeth into scary, jagged posts for the veneers to fix onto. Vampiric fangs covered over by placid perfection, developers’ lust for gobbling new land. The townhouses, uniform and gleaming, shared that disquieting lack of history and imperfection.

The rhythms of our lives have changed significantly since we talked about pores and braces and first dates. I met up with my friend after she got off work, at around 6:00 PM, and by 10:00 I was on the way home while she and her two roommates prepared packed lunches to take to work the next day. We sat at her kitchen table and talked about how bizarre all the change has felt, the way we sometimes wake up feeling like uncertain children and other days wake up with no patience for anything that stands in the way of powering through the day’s work.

Luckily, the timing put me on an empty, highspeed stretch of the toll road in time to catch Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson talk about a collaboration with The National, in which the band played “Sorrow” for six hours straight, on NPR. I heard The National perform the song in Richmond a few years ago, and many many times while falling asleep on overnight buses and trains during the winter I backpacked in eastern Europe. With all of the traffic constantly choking northern Virginia, accelerating to 75 on an clear road is a rare pleasure.

Similarly, it had been a while since I read a quick, satisfying page turner. I burned through Where’d You Go, Bernadette? this week and thought it was lovely and surprising. The story is a series of emails, letters, notes, magazine articles, transcripts of TED talks, and occasional bursts of narration that create a frame for the story. It was unpredictable and wild, but somehow it managed to feel plausible the way Bringing Up Baby or Big Trouble do–you sense that life is generally too mundane to ever produce a series of such fantastic events, but while lost in the story you get excited thinking for a moment that it might be possible. I’ve also rarely read a book that embraces so many timely references to popular culture and technology–it probably won’t age well, but reading it today, it felt uncommonly present.

This week also brought a lovely gift that I’ve been anticipating all summer–Fred Armisen and Bill Hader’s IFC collaboration, Documentary Now! The Atlantic‘s review sums up the season and it sounds super promising, with the added bonus of putting all the things I learned in the Documentary Film class I took in college to good use.

I also wrote something new for XO Jane, and I’m afraid of the comment section, so if you happen to take a look, please feel free to relay any non-trolly things people may have said. Over 400 readers have shared it, which is frankly terrifying, but it felt good to push myself to think about ghosting from a contrarian perspective. I’ve got new work coming out in early September through an outlet I’m really excited about and a handful of pitches floating around still, and I’ll post them all here when the time comes.

Maybe it’s a product of largely working from home, but I’ve been getting rid of things like crazy this summer. T-shirts, uncomfortable pajamas, jewelry I’ve pushed out of the way to find the jewelry I actually wear, books I didn’t like (see ya, Anthem), sheets from the extra long twin bed in my first college dorm room–I’m itchy to see it go.

And the getting-rid-of-things spree has been reciprocated in other areas of my life. This week has featured a soundtrack of songs that have punched me in my post-breakup heart. My favorite Rilo Kiley album, this and this and especially this by Grandaddy, and also a lot of Sondre Lerche and The Strokes which never fail to cheer me up. Change is sometimes rough, but at least there’s good music out there, ya know?

What I’m Reading Now

After spending nine stellar days perched on the edge of Harlem in New York City, I’m back in Virginia. I don’t think I could ever live in New York–I couldn’t stop marveling at the mountains of trash bags heaped in bloated piles on every street–but I will miss the endless options for eating out. Erik and I roamed Harlem, the Upper West Side, and even braved the subway to Greenwich Village in our search for snacks and used clothes. I picked up a beat-up copy of Odelay! and a pristine two-disc set of Stars’ In Our Bedroom After The War, and a green flannel and a flowered skirt, and Erik patiently picked through heaps of ties until he found a few solid additions to his collection.

I thought my cabin fever would return with a vengeance once I arrived back in Leesburg, but even my fairly small town has proved capable of yielding surprises. For the past year, I’ve driven past a long-empty strip mall around the corner from my folks’ house, only to discover this week that a Hershey’s ice cream shop has taken up residence in one of the storefronts. Is Hershey’s Ice Cream an East Coast thing? A central East Coast thing? Either way, when the employee at the counter offered me a rewards card, I wisely refused. I sat at one of their metal tables with an old friend from high school for hours the other night, watching a storm illuminate the parking lot in flashes and ignoring the families who eyed our spot. Driving home through sheets of rain, feeling my car hydroplane momentarily on pools of water turned mirror-like by the stream of oncoming headlights, I thought of how much I have changed since the time when this landscape was most familiar to me. I’ve been taking the Metro into DC more and more often lately, shifting the center to my social life in ways that are unplanned and refreshing. Last weekend, Bridey Heing and I adventured all the way to a launch party hosted by The Intentional in a strange little warehouse-turned-art gallery/studio/apartment where two friendly dogs romped through the crowd and no one remembered to buy water and way too many WMHs (white male hipsters) stood around sipping from beer cans. Some of the art displayed there had been featured in The Intentional‘s most recent issue, and would likely be hanging on my wall right now if I had endless money. (Bridey is a freelancer and all around good person, and you should subscribe to the Tiny Letter she launched this morning.)

I’ve got 200 pages of Anna Karenina left to go, but the volume was too fat to drag across six states, so instead I finally read some issues of The Atlantic that I’ve been saving. I was a subscriber in 2014, and I let all twelve issues pile up, unread until New York. Reading them there gave me the odd sense of traveling back in time. Our Airbnb host, Lloyda, was lovely and endlessly hospitable, and her spotlessly clean apartment was cluttered with air fresheners that occupied every shelf and table in little pairs. I hadn’t seen an air freshener like that–one with a wax cone inside, and two plastic halves that you twist apart like an Easter egg–and it reminded me of a green air freshener that had sat in the basement of my childhood home and the way my mother always warned me not to touch the non-child-safe wax. So instead I stared at it, wondering at its danger.

I don’t even remember receiving the November 2014 issue of The Atlantic, probably because UVa’s campus was imploding after the Rolling Stone article came out, but two articles were especially astounding. One was the cover story, a predictably wonderful article by Hanna Rosin about a sexting case that unfolded a stone’s throw away from Charlottesville in Louisa County, Virginia. The article taught me what THOT stands for, which made me feel old in a good way, and I loved the way Rosin took teen girls’ sexuality seriously, and the way she explained why some adults don’t. A second article jumped off the page because it unpacked a landscape close to where I’m currently living. In “The Urban Future of the American Suburb,” I learned about Michael Caplin’s quest to transform the Tyson’s Corner area into a city in its own right. I transferred from Amtrak to the Metro’s Silver Line on my way home and sat near a window so that I could spot the half-finished buildings and plazas mentioned in the article, and there they were suddenly, whooshing below me, and then they were gone again.

Online this week, I’ve read about the postmodern idiocy of Minions. This weird court case in Charlottesville. A list that cracked me up for days. The Planned Parenthood story that has everyone all upset. This WordPress help page, because I broke a website that I’m getting paid to fix by accident. This sad article about heroin, and this obituary which is extremely brave and for that reason even sadder. President Obama engaged national discourse about race, and Trump did too, but in a different way. I finished watching Season 1 of True Detective, which more than lived up to the hype, and then decided not to bother with Season Two. Instead I’m watching Murder, She Wrote, unironically, because I actually like it and might explain why at a later time. Say what you will, but Jessica Fletcher kicks ageism’s ass.

tumblr_n4mgq1qNvf1rw31jto1_400This weekend I’ll be finishing up a story about Wylder, formerly known as Save the Arcadian, and another long, collaborative piece about what went wrong in Virginia colleges this year. I’ll continue the great X Files rewatch of 2015 so that I can be extra-ready for the new miniseries that’s coming out this January. I might even make it out to the National Building Museum’s indoor beach, which looks too cool to be real. I’ll be writing pitches. I’ll be drinking Earl Gray. You know where to find me.

Dreams

After a lifetime of sleeping mostly in blackness like a dark TV screen, I decided last year that I wanted my mind to be active during the night. I had read that opening your mind to dreams would bring them on in a rush of color and light, and I wanted my brain to feel that activity, that animation, that could refresh my creative life. In the moments before sleep overcame me, I welcomed dreams with a mental whisper that gave them permission to light up my mind.

The sleeping kind of dreaming has been a dark experience at times, with images flashing deep in my brain all night long. Some mornings I wake up exhausted from talking to people, some of whom I know and others who are inventions of my tired mind. I pay visits to old dreamscapes, confounding mazes of rooms and scenarios that exist in a world of their own. One night, after listening to radio stories of police brutality, the dreams turned graphic, violent. Another night, while dreaming lucidly, I cleaned out my dream refrigerator and cooked for my friends. But my brain felt alive in a way that it hasn’t in years. My sense of self grew more cohesive, intentional, focused. I slept more deeply, entangled in those dreams, and fell asleep more quickly as they provided a solid place to land while falling asleep.

But there’s been the waking kind of dreaming, too, while scrolling through apartments on Craigslist. I stare at maps of Charlottesville, zooming in on purple dots and redecorating empty rooms in my mind. I envision the shared office space that I may need to rent, or create. I make note of storytelling classes I want to take and interviews I want to conduct to balance the solitude that comes with a writing life. I wonder what gym I will join and hope that I won’t end up paying what some friends call a “fat tax” – an unused gym membership that thins a bank account while a body remains unexercised. I sit quietly, thinking of what it would be like to live in a house that doesn’t let winter gusts in through thin windows, far away from the shouts and smashes of drunken herds of college students roaming after nightfall. I dream of what it will feel like to hold my written, edited, printed, and bound thesis, and what it will be like to cringe next year while flipping through this early attempt at scholarship. I hope that I will cringe. I want my writing to get better.

The nonstop cycle of reading and writing has started to give me brain fog, too. By the end of a long day, I choke out questions and answers while E and I cook dinner. My head feels fuzzy from the strain of too many ideas. Was it Don Delillo who wrote a novel about 9/11, or did he create a database disguised as a novel, and is that what we interface with? Are Clay Shirky and John Unsworth friends or sworn enemies? And how many times do I need to study OHCO before remembering what the acronym stands for? (It stands for Ordered Hierarchy of Content Objects. I just looked it up again.)

My thesis led me straight into the weeds, where my scattered brain struggled to put ideas together. Scraps of information gleaned from haphazard research confused and frazzled me. I’m on the brink of my revision phase, and time is slipping away. Last weekend, I sat down and read everything I’ve written, embarrassed but also relieved to find a few good pearls among the refuse. I wrote a new outline, a focused plan of attack to tame the unruly information that has piled up in Word documents. I’ve got new editors who have helped me to flesh out and frame some of my smaller ideas in articles that will be published soon (you’ll be able to find them on my “Clips” page once links are available).

Somehow, in the midst of all the chaos, I’ve scraped out some time to inhale stories that are becoming lifelines for me. Going to the gym means listening to The American Life for an hour, each lap on the track a little penance for the pleasure of hearing a true story, well-told. I’ve been reading articles on David Carr’s syllabus and eagerly gobbling Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s mini-series “Love in the Time of Bae.” The Manifestation-Station has broken my heart again and again. Copies of The Atlantic have piled up on my bookshelf, and I greedily dream of sprawling in the sand near my grandparents’ beach house in the aftermath of graduation, seeing what the world has been up to while I have been sucked through the whirlpool of job searching and class taking.

I wonder about my waking and sleeping dreams, about how mundane and peculiar they are, and about the cliche tossed at high schoolers and soon-to-be college grads on disposable greeting cards each year. “Follow your dreams,” they instruct us. “Follow your heart.” But how, when dreams and hearts are constantly in flux, and more often than not fixed temporarily on things that, under examination, are weird and confounding?

But then I remind myself that life feels fuller, richer, and more satisfying than ever before now that these dreams have settled in to stay. Weird, confounding, exciting, and strange, they are glimpses into all the things I didn’t know I wanted to examine. They keep me reading, writing, and searching for more.