Category: Reading/Writing (Page 1 of 84)

Week in review (Jan 31, 2018)

Opening credits

Several months ago, I wrote a column for my dad’s newspapers about life as a new mother. Now I’m working on another one, about the part that technology played in our first year of parenting.

Recently I read my friend Jasmine Warga’s second book, HERE WE ARE NOW. On the surface, it’s about a daughter reconnecting with her long-lost father, who has become a rock star. But on a deeper level, it’s a love letter to music, to immigrants, to artistic ambitions, and to the messy ups and downs of relationships of all kinds. I adored it.

I also found a very pleasant surprise at the end: my name in the acknowledgments!

Feel-good funny

While This Is Us and The Good Place were on winter break, I needed some well-written, light-hearted TV. I decided to try Brooklyn 99, and it did not disappoint. Like Michael Schur’s other creations (Parks and Recreation, The Good Place), the show focuses on characters that are basically good people, who care about each other, their work, and the world at large. That’s not necessarily a great setup for comedy, but the characters are so quirky, and they play off each other perfectly.

Rosa is my favorite — for some reason I am often drawn to the “tough chick” — but even as I say that, a part of me wants to take it back and make a case for each of the other characters. I love them all, and can see pieces of myself in every one.

A voice for the voiceless

The Shape of Water is not a feel-good funny movie, but there were, to my surprise, several moments where I laughed. (“No, no, don’t play with the kitties.”)

I did not love The Shape of Water the way so many people seem to, but I did admire its beauty, its ambitions, and its themes. I find myself thinking about it a lot, which is just as significant as loving it, I think, but in a different way. It’s a story about outcasts, and how hungry we all are for love. Sally Hawkins was tremendous in the lead role, and Michael Stuhlbarg sneakily wormed his way into my heart as Dr. Hoffstetler.

Speaking of tough chicks…

I’ve been a Taylor Swift fan from the beginning, but I’m not against an artist evolving with the times. (I hope to be given that opportunity myself, after all.) Overall, I’ve enjoyed her progression over the years.

That said, I was pretty wary of her latest album, Reputation, after hearing the first couple of songs. It’s not that they were bad, but… The heavy-synth sound is not my thing, and the petty, repetitive lyrics did not impress me.

I’ve now had the chance to listen to the entire album on Spotify, and on the whole I’d say it’s fine. Not great, but fine. The Old Taylor is, contrary to reports, still alive and well (particularly in “Don’t Blame Me” and “Getaway Car”) and the New Taylor is, if not excellent, at least interesting.

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My favorite books of 2017

You lose a lot of reading time when you’re taking care of a baby — or at least I did. I read fewer than 10 books in 2017. I did read tons of articles, and several short stories, but still. It’s a little bit sad.

I think not reading as much also has a noticeable impact on my writing. Less input, less output. So lately I’ve trying to make reading more of a priority, even if it’s just for a few minutes before bed each night.

Anyway, these were my favorite books in 2017, in order of when I read them:

   

I talked a bit about the three YA titles over at We Heart YA. Here, I want to share a few lines from HOMEGOING, a book that grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go. I loved the characters, the themes, the back and forth “twin” structure. It’s brilliant and beautiful, powerful and moving. (I actually doubled over in agony at one point!) My top favorite of last year, no question.

It had created an impossible situation, and those who had been determined to stay on the fence found themselves without a fence at all.

Among other things, this line reminded me of the 2016 presidential election.

She was staring at the bark on the palm trees, the rounded diamonds crisscrossing against each other. Each one different; each one the same.

I love the simplicity of this image, and the beauty and truth of the observation.

“There should be no room in your life for regret. If in the moment of doing you felt clarity, you felt certainty, then why feel regret later?”

That is something I really struggle with. I agonize over decisions, even dumb little ones sometimes, and if I later find out that a different choice would have been better, I have a hard time letting it go. What a useless way to spend my time and energy. And worse: it’s me undermining myself.

I’ve been working on it, though, and I think I’m getting better.

The word hit her like a memory. Though she had never been there, she could sense its presence in her life. A premonition. A forward memory.

love that phrase, “a forward memory.” I have had that feeling before, but never had a name for it. Such a strange and beautiful thing.

(Early in my relationship with Andy, we broke up. I remember so clearly this feeling in my gut that it wasn’t The End, that it couldn’t be. I just knew in my bones that there was supposed to be more to us, as if I had already seen it, already lived it. Happily, it turns out I was right.)

Evil begets evil. It grows. It transmutes, so that sometimes you cannot see that the evil in your world began as the evil in your own home.

Such a smart, important, and difficult truth.

“Just because somebody sees or hears or feels something other folks can’t, doesn’t mean they’re crazy. My grandmother used to say, ‘A blind man don’t call us crazy for seeing.'”

I never really thought of it that way, but it’s a good comparison. A good reminder of how and why to respect other people’s perceptions.


For previous years’ favorite books, click here.

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LANDLINE by Rainbow Rowell

I first read LANDLINE back in 2014, shortly before my wedding. This was intentional, as I knew the book focused on marriage — what it’s like and what it means. Not that I was totally clueless about those things. Andy and I had been together for 9 years already, and living together for the vast majority of that time. For us, the wedding was sort of a formality, albeit a joyful one.

Last year I re-read LANDLINE (the audiobook version this time) and found myself drawn to many of the same insights about love and commitment and building a life together.

She hadn’t gotten to say “I love you” — Georgie always said “I love you,” and Neal always said it back, no matter how perfunctory it was. It was a safety check, proof that they were both still in this thing.

Andy says “I love you” to me every morning before he leaves for work. In some ways, it’s perfunctory. In same ways, it isn’t at all.

Georgie never thought she’d be old enough to talk about life in big decade-long chunks like this.

It’s not that she’d thought she was going to die before now — she just never imagined it would feel this way. The heaviness of the proportions. Twenty years with the same dream. Seventeen with the same man.

Pretty soon she’d have been with Neal longer than she’d been without him. She’d know herself as his wife better than she’d ever known herself as anyone else.

It felt like too much. Not too much to have, just too much to contemplate. Commitments like boulders that were too heavy to carry.

It astounds me that Andy and I have already spent about a third of our lives together. Before long, it will be half. And then more than half…

Neal was where Georgie plugged in, and synced up, and started fresh every day. He was the only one who knew her exactly as she was.

I actually think Andy feels even more this way about me than I do about him?

“Just because you love someone,” she said, “that doesn’t mean your lives will fit together.”

“Nobody’s lives just fit together,” Neal said. “Fitting together is something you work at. It’s something you make happen — because you love each other.”

“I’m not saying that everything will magically work out if people love each other enough… I’m just saying,” he went on, “maybe there’s no such thing as enough.”

Even though Andy and I have a pretty healthy and functional relationship, I try not to take it for granted. I try to remember that, as natural and “easy” as it feels now, getting to this point did take some work, and staying the course will too.

OK, I’m going to present the rest of these excerpts without my commentary. I think Rainbow’s words capture and convey everything all on their own anyway.

You don’t know when you’re twenty-three.

You don’t know what it really means to crawl into someone else’s life and stay there. You can’t see all the ways you’re going to get tangled, how you’re going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten — in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.

She didn’t know at twenty-three.

“How’d you know he was the one?”

“I didn’t know. I don’t think either of us knew.”

Heather rolled her eyes. “Neal knew — he proposed to you.”

“It’s not like that,” Georgie said. “You’ll see. It’s more like you meet someone, and you fall in love, and you hope that that person is the one — and then at some point, you have to put down your chips. You just have to make a commitment and hope that you’re right.”

“No one else describes it that way.” Heather frowned. “Maybe you’re doing it wrong.”

Obviously I’m doing it wrong,” Georgie said. “But I still think love feels that way for most people.”

“So you think most people bet everything, their whole lives, on hope. Just hoping that what they’re feeling is real.”

“Real isn’t relevant,” Georgie said, turning completely to face Heather. “It’s like… you’re tossing a ball between you, and you’re just hoping you can keep it in the air. And it has nothing to do with whether you love each other or not. If you didn’t love each other, you wouldn’t be playing this stupid game with the ball. you love each other — and you just hope you can keep the ball in play.”

“What’s the ball a metaphor for?”

“I’m not sure,” Georgie said. “The relationship. Marriage.”

“I take for granted that you’ll be there when I’m done doing whatever it is I’m doing. I take for granted that you’ll love me no matter what.”

“You do?”

“Yes. Neal, I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” he said. “I want you to take that for granted. I will love you no matter what.”

Georgie felt herself sliding out of control again. “Don’t say that. Take it back.”

“No.”

“Take it back.”

“You’re crazy,” he said. “No.”

“If you say that, it’s like you’re telling me that all the insensitive things I do are okay. It’s like you’re just handing me ‘no matter what.’ You’re pre-pardoning me.”

“That’s what love is, Georgie. Accidental damage protection.”

The future was going to happen, even if he wasn’t ready for it. Even if he was never ready for it.

At least he could make sure he was with the right person.

Wasn’t that the point of life? To find someone to share it with?

And if you got that part right, how far wrong could you go? If you were standing next to the person you loved more than everything else, wasn’t everything else just scenery?

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My dreams, and her dreams

Earlier this summer I was watching the auditions for So You Think You Can Dance, and one of the contestants said this after getting cut from the show:

“Dancers get told no all the time. You just have to keep going.”

Simple, full of grace, and true. I found myself nodding, thinking about how much this applies to writing/publishing too. I’ve faced hundreds of no’s already; I’ll face hundreds more.

Then I realized, I spend a lot of time thinking about my own dreams and ambitions, but now I have to be a steward for my daughter’s dreams and ambitions too. It’s intimidating, but also a privilege.

I probably won’t know what her dreams are for many years to come. Big or small, I hope she reaches them all.

IB Houston continued 012

When I was younger, it felt very important to me that my writing career be established before I started a family. I wanted to be an author first, a wife and mother second. But that isn’t how things happened.

I would be lying if I said it didn’t bother me sometimes, my inability to achieve that goal. But at the same time, I wouldn’t change any of the decisions that led me to this place. I wouldn’t trade Andy or IB for any amount of professional success.

Fortunately, my dream of being an author is never out of reach. There’s no expiration date on good storytelling or writing.

And I know dozens of writers, either personally or by reputation, and some of them are parents, some of them aren’t. Either way, it has no impact on the quality of their work or the trajectory of their career.

As for achieving X before age Y… I get why people care about that sort of thing, but really, it’s just a number. The words on the page don’t know whether you’re 19 or 49. Just write them.

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Stuff worth reading

“Daily Momentum: A Little Progress Goes a Long Way” by Andrew Roe

Unlike many writers, I don’t do daily word counts or weekly page counts (too much pressure for something as fragile as writing), and I try not to get fixated on writer friends posting about their productivity on social media. Instead, when I’m working on a book or short story, I’ll ask myself a few simple questions before I go to bed at the end of the day: Did it get better? Am I farther along than I was yesterday?

If the answers are yes, then I consider that a successful writing day.

“When Writing Is Actually About Waiting,” an interview with Hannah Tinti

I had aspirations of a certain kind of life—personally and professionally—that seemed to hinge on specific goals. If I can just finish this draft. If I can just sell this book. If I can just, if I can just. You think these landmarks are going to solve your problems, or give you some sort of deeper solace. But they don’t. That’s why it’s better to wait without hope. At least, that’s my reading of the line. To let go of the dream that something or someone will come along and magically solve everything. That’s a form of vanity, or a form of fear. It’s the wrong thing to hope for.

I taped these lines over my writing desk because they’re also a powerful reminder about staying in the moment, deep inside the work, without worrying about some future result.

I don’t write every day. It ebbs and flows. But when I have a project that I’m working intently on, I tend to write at night. I think it gets back to that same word: stillness. The world starts to fall asleep. The emails stop coming in. The phone and texts go quiet. Even social media slows down. It’s almost like there’s more energy in the air for me to access. From 11 p.m. until 2 or 3 in the morning, that’s when I write my best stuff. You feel like you’re doing it in secret. That nobody is watching. All around you, people are dreaming. You can almost get yourself into a dream-like state. That’s much harder to do in the middle of the day.

“How YA Twitter Is Trying To Dismantle White Supremacy, One Book At A Time” by Sona Charaipotra and Zoraida Córdova

“When people who’ve historically held positions of privilege feel their privilege threatened, or like they won’t get a ‘free pass’ anymore, they can sometimes perceive that as reverse discrimination rather than an evening out of the playing field.” – Sandhya Menon

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