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Archive for the ‘Books & Authors’ Category

I recently read Taylor Plimpton’s debut novel, Notes From The Night: A Life After Dark, a look at the New York City club scene. While I quite enjoy clubbing, this level of nightlife is pretty foreign to me.  Plimpton’s in-depth analysis actually gives meaning to what may seem like an otherwise shallow or irresponsible existence. And he acknowledges this throughout his discussion. Near the end, he begins to recognize a change in himself and his interaction with the night. In other words, he recognizes that he’s growing up.

The story offers a loose plot that he comes back to as he analyzes each timeframe of a night out. He begins with how and why people go clubbing on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday night. He discusses the concept of pre-gaming — where you go and why. Then the getting in, what him and his guys spend most of their nights doing, and who they meet. Then the dancing, the women… — as I write this I realize how boring it sounds.

The plot takes you through one night — or many written out to feel as one — that he uses to support his analysis. I think I’d have personally enjoyed the story more if the plot was more consistent. I tend to like books for their abstract view, this included, but a little less would have helped balance it. There is only so many ways you can talk about how the dancing crowd taking on a life of its own, or the impact of a beautiful women passing by.

His analysis also ends inconclusive. He never offers an opinion on whether his affair with nightlife was worthwhile, enlightening, prohibitive, etc. I like that it allows you to develop your own opinion, but not being familiar with the lifestyle, I wanted a bit less objectivity.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who loves to analyze the reasons people do the things they do. I’ve never given much thought to the motivating factors for clubbing; it’s brilliantly intriguing in that sense. And beautifully; you feel like he’s talking to you. But if you are looking for a funny story about nightlife antics then you are looking in the wrong place.

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Last night my lovely friend JMay slept over. Since she moved so far away and is still working locally, she reserved a bed at my house — what is apparently becoming a hostel — and we had a slumber party complete with late night giggles, pillow fights and gossiping. Well, not really, but we did tell secrets over dinner, and she did stay up late to help me with an article.

She also bought me a generous and unnecessary present. But one that almost made me pee my pants:

Cooking for Friends by Gordon Ramsay

I can’t wait to whip up recipes this piece of art includes. Some of the pages I already have flagged are…

Curried cauliflower and cheddar soup
Penne with baked pumpkin and rosemary
Thai-style fishcakes with sweet chili sauce
Gilled scallops and prawn brochettes with coriander and chili butter
Roast loin of pork with Bramley apple sauce
Cider and honey roast leg of lamb
Roast rib-eye with caramelized shallot and red wine gravy
Duck breasts with port and cherry sauce
Shepard’s pie with Branston pickle
Spinach, feta and pine nut tart
Spicy cauliflower stir-fry
Strawberry and champagne granita
Caramelized apple pie
Peach, raspberry and ginger crumble
Chocolate chip pancakes with orange brandy sauce

Ok I got a bit carried away… I’m soooo excited to cook from this book.

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It’s not that I haven’t been writing; it’s that I went anonymous. I needed to toy with unveiling more intimate thoughts and experiences in the blogosphere. I did, and that outlet is rewarding both emotionally and in my candid interaction with other bloggies.

Anonymity dissolves the fear of personal disclosure. It’s this reason that I admire memoirists who can so openly divulge not just their actions but their heart’s desires. Emily Gould is one such author.

Tonight I heard her read from her first book, “And The Heart Says Whatever” at the Barnes & Noble in Park Slope, Brooklyn. She read a chapter called Claudine about her childhood, on-again off-again, always-appreciative-for friend. She has an innate ability to build both a mental image and emotional awareness of a two-decade friendship in a matter of pages — and not just a generalized superficial overview. She has a deeply analytical understanding of the role Claudine and her played in each other lives, and manages to thoroughly depict this through snippets of their interaction. I was sitting on the edge of seat… I wanted to know what she learned next.

I’ve read a lot of memoirs, and something about her’s stands above most, if not all. It’s not that she has a stronger story or more exciting existence. Honestly, the tales she includes are pretty mundane — she works in a bar, transfer colleges, takes writing classes, gets a dog, goes to parties, breaks up, makes out and sleeps with men. Yet, each scenario is portrayed with an objective self-awareness. It’s a level of self-analysis that I strive to reach — it also left me feeling extremely naive of my own thoughts.

When I asked her about the in-depth descriptions that flood the book, she responded saying that she actually has a poor memory. I laughed. She had no idea how well I understood the irony of her response. I lack the ability to consciously pull up details and events on demand. But I maintain an unconscious recollection of the simplest most irrelevant details of my day-to-day existence that peak their head on their own terms. It’s all about how you remember… and for me, it’s all emotional.

I have to admit I was a bit starstruck. (Occurrence #2). And I was tickled at her initial nervousness. Having read a few book reviews criticizing her somewhat masochistic and dreary attitude — combined with my disgust for gossip websites — I was intrigued to get a glimpse of her real persona. She was bubbly, giddy, and genuinely touched to be there and have an audience anxious to hear her. It made me fall in love with her as a writer.

As I finished the book this morning I vowed to keep it close at hand. That way whenever I doubted my words — was there enough detail? did I make a point? is the lesson clear? — I can find inspiration. Reading can bring you places you would never dare go in reality, but finding a piece of work that was written from the same place, mentally and emotionally, that your own work comes from is like opening a birthday card full of money. You did nothing to earn the gift, but someone was nice enough to share it with you, and if you use it wisely it can really pay off!

(Apologies to Emily for the blog title, as she mentioned at the reading that the downfall of her book title — which she picked — was that it was easily mockable.)

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I just finished the book, “I Love You And I’m Leaving You Anyway,” by Tracy McMillan—an unedited proof one of my gals picked up at a conference for me. I assume will hit the shelves soon, and expect it to skyrocket to the top of the lists.
It took me a while to get engrossed in, which is the first attribute I rank a book on. The first two-thirds of the book consist of two storylines—her childhood, and her current place in adulthood.
To provide a quick synopsis, McMillan was the daughter of a pimp/drug dealing man who spent the majority of his life in prison, and her mother, a prostitute who gave her up as a baby. The account of her childhood takes you through numerous foster homes, back and forth to jail visits and her teenage years trying to fit into high school, hide the reality of her father’s situation and her chaotic relationship with Yvonne—her father’s ex-wife who marries her father and legally adopts her when he receives his first prison sentence. Continuing from there, she shares her marijuana/alcohol addiction, how her son affected her life decisions and the breakdown of two marriages along with numerous other relationships, all ended by her.
Told in parallel, the story of her adult life begins at the time she finds—yes, finds (online), not meets—her third husband. He fulfills her longing for a strong connection as well as a materially comfortable lifestyle. We enjoy take this ride with her, in detail, experiencing all her joy and excitement as well as the doubts. What I found most captivating is that she exhibits an acute self-awareness and acknowledgment of her fears, but an overriding acceptance that it is all happening for a reason and she is meant to experience the events of her life in order to learn.
And this is the underlying message throughout the book and what inspired me most. She knows she is meant to “ride through” her life. She is a perfect example of how your mental outlook can change what you get from your life, and how much you enjoy it — and it is apparent from the beginning. Having even just a small clue about the book is about, one would expect to open it to be confronted with anger and resentment. But it is apparent from the first sentence that she has accepted her father for the way he is and learned to love herself. It is written with love for her dad and nothing less. Not an easy task for a gal whose childhood dinners with dad mostly involved KFC in the jail’s visitor room.
Great book… stay tuned for it to hit the shelves.

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It occurred to be that I haven’t given thanks in a while. So with Thanksgiving approaching, I thought it was time to share all the things I have been thankful for lately.

The past year has been intense for me and resulted in a lot of soul searching. But over the past couple months I have come out on top of things and feel pretty high on life. Basically, things are GOOD! And the things that could be considered “less good” are under control and in perspective. I really have no complaints. What more could I ask for?

With that said, my list of ‘thankfulees,’ is pretty superficial, fun and, well, self-indulgent; I am working towards a lot of personal goals and therefore being kind of selfish and self-indulgent with my time and energy lately. Aren’t we all entitled to that?

Oh, and all this took place within the past two weeks. (It’s been a busy couple weeks!)

1.    Two weeks ago I purchased a new laptop. As well as having a fun, sexy new toy to play with, I am once again mobile, allowing me to pursue my purposes in life, on-the-go. (And this has helped me reach my embarrassingly low word count for NaNoWriMo.)

2.    On Monday I met my favorite author at Barnes & Noble in NYC—Augusten Burroughs. Along with a room full of dark, dry and wordy literature fans, I got to listen to an excerpt from his new book, question him on his editing process and get two signed copies for me and mom. Woo hoo! I left there smiling like a kid who just got her first pair of ballet slippers.

3.    I had a fun night out. [full-stop]

4.    I watched one of my closest guy friends get married to a truly beautiful and wonderful lady who actually got him to dance. IMPRESSIVE!

5.    I found out our office is closing during the holidays giving us 12 days off over the Christmas/New Year’s time.

6.    Mom and I attended a fabulous Broadway preview of the show Fela! last night! Fantastic music, dancing and somehow amazingly awesome seats, front and center, four rows back. Oh and an awesome French dinner beforehand! Thanks mom!

7.    I booked a trip to Ireland with some of my closest gal friends. So come the end of January, Triple A, Carlita, M and I will be boarding a plane headed for pubs, pints, green countryside, cute men and a 5-star castle hotel—Adare Manor—for 6 nights of hiking, biking, drinking, eating and, well, whatever else they do in western Ireland.

Pretty exciting list of fun going on here, eh?

With that said, it’s back to writing. I am 2,635 words behind my intended word count—and as Caitlin would point out, this was 466 words that could have been added to my NaNoWriMo story. Oh boy!

Make that 481!

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I’m not obsessed with celebrities.

I can’t understand how people get hyped up over someone who is essentially the same species as them. Sure, some of them have an extraordinary talent to do something—something we have inevitably built up to be more worthy than it really is—but they are just people.

The other discouraging factor is the idolization aspect of celebrity appreciation. To us, celebrities are what we choose to view them as. No doubt you can get a feel for one’s personality through interviews, articles and the roles/songs/shows they partake in—but what if you met them and they weren’t what you had envisioned? There goes your idol. And it is this reason that I actually never want to meet Madonna; I have no doubt that my oldest longest obsession would be nothing less than disappointing as she would likely curse and make fun of me.

For the few of you who read this, you know this is not the first blog entry I have started with this declaration. And just like the others I am obviously using this to pre-empt a celebrity interest.

Here it goes:

I just met my favorite author. And celebrity authors are by far more intriguing to me than any other sort.

I just met Augusten Burroughs.

Thanks to Twitter and Facebook fanpages (ELH [thumbs up] this), I was in the loop regarding the tour for his new book and had Google calendared his reading at the Union Square B&N months earlier.

So one and a half hours before he was due to hit the stage I was seated in the second row, continuing to work on day one of NaNoWriMo, wiggling around in my seat in anticipation. While the guy next to me seemed to think it was odd I was writing while waiting for a book signing, being that AB’s writing is the inspiration for my book, it seemed like the PERFECT place to be kick-starting the sucker. (He was from Cali, what did he know… ha!)

AB popped up on stage promptly and read an excerpt from his new book: You Better Not Cry. The excerpt was about waking up in bed next to a naked senior-aged French Santa Claus—and not remembering a thing from the night before. (Seriously, get the book, I couldn’t do it justice if I plagiarized the damn thing.)

I took advantage of having the writer who has inspired the style of my book available for questions and raised my hand as soon as I had the chance. Unlike most of the other questions that discussed the content of his books—his life—and his reaction to his success and media coverage, I just wanted to know how many rounds of editing each piece of work goes through and therefore how similar the final version is to the initial draft. Turns out, it’s only edited a couple times… this guy is good!

After finishing up the Q&A with a long-winded response to “if you could go back and change anything in your life, would you?,” to which he answered a definite no explaining how selecting a window seat on a plane eventually led to how he met his book editor—god knows how it panned out, the guy talks faster than me—he sat down to personalize everyone’s collections.

I waited in line while the girl in front of me attempted to casually give AB her business card because she wanted to ‘interview him for the school paper,’ (so lame), trying to figure out how I could portray the importance his work has had on me and my career (I hope!) without sounding desperate like Ms. Business Card.

It was then my turn.

I didn’t say a thing.

He asked me if I was a student to which I replied, ‘no, I am a magazine editor.’ And then he asked how old I was, to which I said ‘28’—for some reason, I keep forgetting I’m still 27 for a couple more months. And to my flattering surprise he told me I was ‘one of those shape-shifters that could pass for all ages.’ So I laughed and told him that I had recently been told I looked 17.

He agreed—making him the second gay man in less than a week to mistaken me for being close to under-age! But hey, how many people can say Augusten Burroughs thought they were ten years younger than they are? Eh? (Just let me have the moment…)

Anyways, he repeated my moms name as he signed and I told him it was my mother and that she was the one who turned me onto his writing. I then told him that ‘although I couldn’t relate to his life experiences, his style of writing inspired my novel—so thank you.’

And he replied, somewhat more genuinely than I expected, with a “Thank YOU and congratulations!” (No need to tell him were only on day one of writing…)

And that is the reason I am sitting on the LIRR with a post-sex like smile on my face.

Siiigh. I guess I do have a thing for celebrities…

I’m just picky!

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Bill Bryson is one of my favorite authors. His charming accounts of his endless travels never cease to not only inspire me, but also cause spontaneous outbursts of laughter in what usually tend to be quiet environments. He is nothing less than utterly hilarious in his realistic portrayal of his experiences.

The problem with this, is that he is SUCH an inspiring writer, his travel memoirs leave me desperately pining to follow in his footsteps to whichever far-off location it is I am currently reading about.

I mean it when I say he is realistic. I recently started A Walk in the Woods, his novel about walking the Appalachian Trail—or at least starting it; I haven’t gotten far enough into it to know if he completes it. After outlining his shopping experience for more equipment than he ever expected to need, he discusses some of the guide books he read, including one in particular about bears. The referenced story of the child who was dragged out of his tent in the middle of the night by his head (in the bear’s mouth), all because there was a snickers in the tent, would have been enough to deter me from ever hiking again if Bryson didn’t tell it with such wit.

And again, as he’s struggling, on the brink of exhaustion, up the never-ending hills of Georgia. If I had never experienced the sense of accomplishment that follows—the overwhelming pride and satisfaction of reaching the top—I would laugh and say, “Hellll no!”

See, the problem with Bill Bryson is that he describes his experiences, the ups and the downs, and still leaves you yearning for more. I have accepted what I call the “BrysonBug” (a travelbug caused by his tales) and learned from it: I avoid reading anything about a location I am not soon traveling to. I read I’m a Stranger Here Myself—an anthology of stories comparing British and American culture—soon after I came back from studying abroad in England. I could relate. I read Neither Here Nor There (European travel) and Notes From a Small Island (England travel) during the pre-departure phase of my move to England. These left me excited and roaring to go.

Last year I attempted to read In a Sunburned Country (Australia travel) and I had to stop less than a chapter into it. I already felt the bug taking over and I knew damn well—as did my bank account—I wouldn’t be visiting down under anytime soon. (Yet, on a side note, a friend recently moved to Oz so I am hoping for the chance to not only visit but finally read the book that I bought years ago!)

For now, I am going to continue reading, pretending I don’t know that Bryson’s face is still intact and he doesn’t get mauled by a bear—you know, to keep up the suspense—and start planning my own hike. I’ve been wanting to tackle a portion of the Appalachian Trail for a while… this summer seems as good of time as any.

Any hikers?

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