Tweet, tweet

twitter-frustrate

I am not a huge Twitter person. I got into it halfheartedly until the hashtag #YesAllWomen came out and I realized what a social force Twitter could be. Now I’ve picked up a few favorite people that I follow:

@JoyceCarolOates

I don’t think I need to explain this. If you don’t get it, you don’t know me and you’ve never read my blog before.

@rgay

My crush on Roxanne Gay is mainly through her other works, not her tweets but she seems to be on Twitter constantly. She tweets a lot about Barefoot Contessa which is so silly and adorable. Gotta enjoy someone like that.

@Sherman_Alexie

Yes, my top three favorite Twitter accounts are all authors. Surely that’s not unusual..? Sherman Alexie is hilarious in both his writing and his tweets. I recommend following him if you like your humor heavy on the sarcasm.

Reading List

Today’s challenge is a post on your favorite novel. I just did a post on my all time favorite novel, Foxfire by Joyce Carol Oates. Instead let’s talk about where I am in my reading currently.

I recently finished:

Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay

It’s a collection of essays with an obvious general theme of feminism but it also hits on race, weight, dating and sex, sexual violence and other more important topics like reality TV, Scrabble, Sweet Valley High and the Hunger Games. I didn’t agree with everything Gay wrote but every single thing she wrote made me do one of the following things: question the way I thought about or perceived the subject, laugh out loud or cry. At one point I had to close the book and walk away because it was so overwhelming. Much of the book I was cracking up. The entire time I wanted to just call up Gay and ask her to be my friend. She’s a bad ass lady.

What I’m reading now:

Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwyne

I’m only 4 chapters in but so far this non-fiction book about the rise and fall of the Comanche Indians is incredible. I’m learning so much about the history of the Comanches but also the history of Texas and the west. So far, this shit is wild. I don’t know if I would be able to hack it back in the wild west.

What I’m reading next:

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

This is the next book for book club. I know I need to start it pronto but I’m having trouble putting down my current book. It’s a collection of short stories.

For some reason there is simply not enough hours in the day for reading….

The Book For Me

Last week my boss asked me for a book recommendation for her fifteen year old daughter. I read constantly when I was fifteen but there was only one book that came to mind. This book changed my whole life. Maybe if you read it today for the first time as a grown person (or a fifteen year old) it wouldn’t speak to you at all. Maybe you wouldn’t even finish it.

I’ve read it at least five times. Honestly, I think that’s a really conservative estimate.

I have a tattoo because of this book. That’s embarrassing to admit but… might as well get it all out there.

Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang

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I can’t remember all the details but it goes a little like this: The book is about a group of high school girls in the 1950s from the perspective of one of the girls, “the writer”. These classmates don’t become friends until they band together to stop a teacher from being inappropriate with one of the girls. Then they are bound by their experience and it takes over their lives (as things do in high school). A leader has emerged and they follow her everywhere.

The book was everything. It was one of the first books I had read that wasn’t intended for young adults and wasn’t assigned at school. It was one of the first real pieces of contemporary literature I had ever tried. It was dark and overwhelming with its violent and sexual tension. These were girls my age, in a much more oppressed time, but they were wild and chaotic.

And they belonged to one another. They were a community within themselves. Poor, desperate, and out of control maybe but as I read I felt connected to them.  At the time I read Foxfire I think I would have done anything to felt that connected to someone else, to a made up little family.

A woman I worked with gave me the book. Nicole was older, maybe in college or graduated. When you’re in high school you can’t actually grasp how much older other people are. There are grownups and then there’s you. I don’t remember much about her except the moment she handed me the book and I saw it’s pink, black and white cover. She was sitting at the window on one of the tall chairs and she told me I could keep it. Later when I told her how much I loved it, she nodded unsurprised and told me to find some of the author’s other books.

For the next six years I barely read anything else. Joyce Carol Oates is an incredibly prolific writer so there was more than enough material to keep me supplied. She’s written over 50 novels, novellas, over 30 short story collections, plays, books of essays (I took these numbers from a 2010 Wall Street Journal article– there’s more now). Some I don’t care for. We Were the Mulvaneys did not rock my world. I couldn’t finish Middle Age (my mother read it though and said I was just too young to relate).

Others are vivid and their characters are alive to me.  The teenage girl in You Must Remember This who has an affair with her uncle. The woman we follow from childhood as she grapples with sexuality in Man Crazy. The man and woman bound by crime in Because it is Bitter, and Because it is My Heart. Marilyn Monroe in Blonde- a constant mystery. Legs from Foxfire- vulnerable and manipulative and violent. There are imprints in my mind of these characters that can never be erased. I can recall scenes from their stories and how they looked to me, even though I haven’t read these books in over five years.

You know when you’re talking about something and you get really excited so you start talk faster or louder? You’re so into whatever you’re talking about that you don’t want anyone to cut you off or maybe you’re not even aware that you’ve been talking for too long now. That’s how I feel about JCO’s writing.

I don’t read Joyce Carol Oates as much as I used to, but looking over the list of novels she’s written brings back the memory of being in a bookstore and gazing over all her books. What one would I try next? I want to read them all over again.

Favorites:

Foxfire

Man Crazy

You Must Remember This

Because It is Bitter and Because It is My Heart

My Heart Laid Bare

Broke Heart Blues

I’ll Take You There

Heat & Other Stories

Will You Always Love Me? And Other Stories

Faithless: Tales of Transgression

I Am No One You Know: Stories

In case you’re wondering I did a quick count and I’ve read 29 novels/novellas/short collections by Joyce Carol Oates. Yes, that seems like a lot to me, too.

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Anywhere But Here

Today I had a case of the anywhere but here’s. Are you familiar with this? If you have a job, then I’m sure you are. So earlier today, as I thought about where I’d rather be than doing than formatting, I started reminiscing about some of my past life fantasies. Perhaps it will help pass the week for you a little too.

So the fantasy is set in NYC. Imagine a day in early fall when you are still eager to pull out a warm sweater and knit cap but barely need them. My days are hectic. I get up early to catch the subway to Random House Publishing House. I’m the receptionist there (my fantasy starts semi-realistic) but have already established myself as a hardworking go-getter, who spends her spare time reading the slush pile (unsolicited manuscripts that no one else has time to read) and writing notes for those bottom-of-the-rung assistant editors. I read in my spare time at work and at home. In this fantasy, I have enormous amounts of time to spare although I am always running around frantically in the way New Yorkers always seem to do.

I have a second job, because how else do you survive in the Big Apple? My second job is manning the front desk and cleaning studios at the dance school you see in the movie Center Stage. Not the American Ballet Academy, but the one Jody isn’t supposed to be attending. The fun one. I take dance classes for free there and am extremely fit and sexy (duh).

After discovering new and exciting works of literature and dancing myself silly, I audit classes at Columbia or NYU (or both perhaps?). I audit creative writing classes and write all the time. Once, on my way to a reading at the 92nd Y, I run smack into James Franco. He taking some of the same classes and we chat about writing styles and our favorite authors. He invites me to a reading by Joyce Carol Oates.

This was before I read James Franco’s poem about Obama- read here. If you have ever been enchanted by him, this may hurt that a little.

All my fantasy days in NYC start to swirl together, filled with run-ins with famous authors and poets. It is always autumn and I am always writing, getting better, getting closer to the dream of being reviewed in the New York Times Book Review.

Oh, sweet dreams.

 

More “Anywhere But Here” fantasies soon to come. Image

If You Could Have Dinner With Five People Dead or Alive…. Part 1

Nominee #1: Patti Smith

Patti Smith is someone I have loved for a long time but I often forget about her. It’s a terrible thing to forget about such an interesting person but from time to time I do. I first learned about her when I read Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk in high school.

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I don’t remember Patti Smith being a huge part of the book but she was certainly prevalent enough to have a captured my attention: an enigma of sorts. This socially awkward musician/poet/artist who didn’t seem carried away with drugs and maintained herself in the face of a culture of constantly losing oneself. A poet- a real live NYC poet! Oh, if I only dared to dream so high. Later I would see the movie, Foxfire, and hear Patti Smith’s Dancing Barefoot and my love would only become more engrained.

And so Patti Smith has drifted in and out of my life. Recently at a brunch, her memoir was mentioned with incredible praise. Just Kids is well worth the read. I’m only halfway through it and my love is deepening still. Patti Smith is so personable, so humble, so self-aware without being self-conscious or self-involved.

Although Patti Smith apparently doesn’t like dinner parties as she is not particularly social, I hope she will accept my hypothetical invitation.

Nominee #2: Joyce Carol Oates

If you know me, you know this is an obvious choice. I have loved Joyce Carol Oates for 10 or 11 years now. When I was in high school selling tickets at performing arts theater, one of my coworkers gave me her copy of Foxfire: Confessions of An All-Girl Gang. At 15, as an angry confused teen girl who desperately wanted to belong to someone or something, there was no greater gift than this book. It was dark and dangerous, vaguely sexual and haunting. I was Maddy without gang or I wanted to be anyways.

I won’t show you the poorly done, poorly chosen (at least I feel so many years later) tattoo I have that is a result of this book. If you’ve read it-you know.

From that point, I read considerably more JCO books (including those written in her pseudonym) than anything else. I’ve read somewhere between 25-30 of her published works (novels, novellas, collections of short stories, etc) and sadly this means I’ve read less than half of her work. In the world of publishing, her very name is synonymous with “prolific”. And she lives up to this without fault.

When I was in college I wrote my thesis on Blonde, her story based on Marilyn Monroe. I did it poorly and sometimes I think of writing it over, to really get it right this time. I met JCO at a reading of The Falls at University of South Carolina at Columbia. She was incredibly tall and frail looking. She gave the air of not really being there, as if she could just float away at any moment. When I handed her my copy of Blonde to sign, I told her I was writing my thesis on the work. She asked me what the title of my thesis was. I didn’t know. Her eyes widened a little without looking at me and she said, “Good luck with that,” in a way that I knew meant she thought I needed it.

If she came to my dinner party, I would do better.

That’s all the invitations I’m managed to churn out so far. More to come. RSVPs required.