“Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert

February 6th, 2016

Elizabeth Gilbert is a controversial writer. Some people love her books, some hate them. Some people think she’s a great writer, others think she’s terrible. Eat, Pray, Love was an international mega-bestseller, one that I liked a lot. I never read her two following books, Committed or The Signature of All Things, but I heard similarly divisive things about them.

The wildly divergent opinions on her and response to her work is a big reason I enjoyed Big Magic, her book on “Creative Living Without Fear.” She discusses her work, the responses to it and her response to it so lightly, so un-offendedly, that it’s a pleasure to read. And that’s even before she talks about creative process, how ideas are living things that can thrive or live and die, or how writers shouldn’t quit their day jobs. It’s not even just about writing, either, but in general about living a creative life, and doing things that stretch your brain or body in ways that are joyful and celebratory.

When I talk about “creative living” here, please understand that I am not necessarily talking about pursuing a life that is professionally or exclusively devoted to the arts….I am speaking more broadly. I’m talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear. (p. 9)

This is an excellent book to borrow from the library, and would be a delightful gift for the creative and curious people in your life. I’m afraid if I recommend it too highly than one of the many people who doesn’t like Liz Gilbert will say they can’t believe they paid $25 for it. But there’s a lot of smart stuff in here, alongside a lot of common sensical stuff that might be dismissed as obvious. But, especially for writers, there is a great anecdote about Gilbert and writer Ann Patchett that I liked so much I shared it aloud to my husband.

Others who have read it, what did you think?

This Puzzle is the Enemy of Joy

January 21st, 2016


That was the title of the one-star review I submitted at CB2 for the puzzle pictured above. The rest of the review was:

I bought this as a gift for a good friend, and I can’t apologize enough to her. This puzzle is a fun vacuum. Many, many of its pieces are so close in shape to others that it has numerous “false friends” or connections that seem right and need to be undone when other parts come together. Thus, much of this puzzle is done by tedious trial and error. This is not only NOT fun, but also problematic because the puzzle is not sturdy enough to withstand the necessary attempts to fit the pieces together, and many of the coatings on the connector nubs separated from the cardboard, so the end result is a puzzle with many sticky-up-py flaps.

This present would be a great gift for someone you DIDN’T like, as it would send them into a spiral of frustration, and make them question their self-worth that they can’t complete a simple 500-pc. puzzle. This puzzle would be lovely if it had better shape differentiation in its pieces, and was better made to withstand more than one connection attempt. As is, it is a very expensive pretty box that, like Pandora’s, only brings pain and suffering when opened.

Interestingly, I got a confirmation when I submitted the review, and another that said it was live and gave me a link. But when I clicked the link, it went to the general site, as happened when I clicked the link for customer service. Badly done, CB2.

When I searched the site for the puzzle, both the item and the reviews (the other review besides mine was also one star) were gone. Did they remove it because it sold out, because they don’t wish to offer a shoddy product, or because the reviews were so damning? I don’t know. But it’s gone and I still had some spleen to vent about it. Thus, I am posting it here for my fellow puzzle geeks to be warned in case it’s still out in the world: pretty box but bad puzzle.

Great Graphic Novel Gifts FOR EVERYONE

December 11th, 2015

This could easily have been genderfied and written as Great Graphic Novels for Girls, but that does everyone a disservice. What I love about this list is that these books are for all ages, genders, whatevers. Most of them feature strong female protagonists, and many are written or drawn by women. But the titles in this post have been read and approved of by no girls in my house, just my 40-something husband, myself and our 12 and 9yo boys Drake and Guppy. Heroes are all shapes, colors, sizes, and in some comics, species. Here are some of our family favorites.

nimona2Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. Nimona is a young woman who wants to be the sidekick to a supervillain. But the villain she pesters isn’t so villainous, and the hero who opposes him isn’t so heroic. The government is doing bad things, Nimona has a secret, and everything gets exciting and intense on the way to a very satisfying ending. Nimona is a terrific adventure, and perhaps our family’s favorite book of the year.

boombox_lumberjanes_001_aLumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson and many more. I have to admit. I bought the first issue, read it, didn’t love it, gave it to my boys, who did love it, then I didn’t read it again. Till last week. When I devoured all twenty issues and wonder how the junk I didn’t immediately fall in love with this series about a group of five friends at summer camp who get into magical hijinks. Because now I am totally in love. The friendships, the magic and myth, the humor, the art, all creates one of my favorite ongoing series in a long time. It was originally scheduled as an 8-issue mini series, but early critical acclaim and strong sales got it the nod to be an ongoing series. It’s collected in two 4-issue trade paperbacks, or an awesome hardcover edition of the first 8 issues as well as all the covers and song mixes. The hardcover Lumberjanes To the Max edition would make a GREAT holiday gift and would stand up well to the multiple readings it is sure to get.

marvelMs. Marvel trade paperbacks volumes 1-4. Marvel made the news when Muslim teenager Kamala Khan was gifted with the powers of Ms. Marvel. Kamala’s a normal kid, living in Jersey City, with overprotective parents and the new superpowers don’t make life easier at all. The creative team of G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona has been strong and steady in the spinning out of Kamala’s transformations. This series is fun and sweet, but with a serious core about tough issues that make it one of my favorite releases every month. Buy all the graphic novels, then pick up the relaunched Ms. Marvel #1.

squirrelCompletely un-serious is The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, another super heroine in the Marvel universe, rescued from obscurity as part of the Great Lakes Avengers, and given her own book last year that kept selling out. Doreen Green is a computer science student at a community college but secretly has the powers of…you guessed it, a squirrel. Which wouldn’t seem that intimidating, and yet, she is super strong, fast, plus her squirrel sidekick Tippytoe gives her inside information against the bad guys. There is a running commentary at the bottom of every page, and this comic makes us laugh out loud. The two graphic novels collect the original series, and the new series is 2 issues in–look for them at your local comic shop.

smile1Smile, Sisters, and Drama by Raina Telgemaier. Smile is the artist’s own story of how she knocked out her permanent teeth when young, and had a long strange journey to replace them. Sisters is the sequel about her challenging relationship with her sister, and Drama is a standalone graphic novel about a girl in the drama club. The stories and art are charming and easy to relate to.

eldeafoEl Deafo by Cece Bell has a similar feel to Smile–a young girl loses her hearing, and has to navigate girlhood with hearing aids. The characters are drawn as rabbits, and this is a moving tale.

powerupPower Up is a miniseries that is about to finish. The last issue, #6 is due for release on December 23. It’s about a group of four oddballs–underemployed Amie, middle-aged mom Sandy, construction worker Kevin, and Silas the goldfish–who receive superpowers without warning or explanation, though they’re immediately attacked by enemies before they can figure it all out. They have to figure out how to work together (and communicate with a FISH) and I can’t wait to see how it ends.

These titles are just some of our favorites–I don’t have the time to go into the others we’ve enjoyed–check the links out for more info on Roller Girl, Mermin, Zita the Space Girl, Bandette, Secret Coders, and Cleopatra in Space. These are just the ones we’ve read–there are so many more we haven’t gotten to yet! So visit your local comic shop to see these lovelies in person. It is a great time in comics, with a wealth of diverse titles across the genres. Go–read–enjoy!

Fall 2015 Books

November 16th, 2015

I have been meaning to write this post for weeks, and now that I finally sat down and did, I’ve ended up deleting most of it. Argh! Quit? I don’t think so. Here’s my post-summer reading.

lathe1The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin. For one of my book groups about a man living in a future dystopia who can “fix” things by dreaming. LeGuin gives good dystopia.

askingAsking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture and What We Can Do About It by Kate Harding. I sought this book out after I read Jon Krakauer’s Missoula. Harding’s book is smart and provoking about how we can fix seriously broken systems and attitudes.

secrethistoryThe Secret History by Donna Tartt. I re-read this for one of my books groups. I thought it would be interesting to re-visit, as I’d read it when it came out and my memories amounted to little more than: cool secret, too long, cream cheese and marmalade sandwiches. After a second reading of this big book crammed into a small package with small font, margins, and spacing, I remember a lot more detail, but the summary is the same. Great idea, great writing, way too long for what it is, and I prefer Tana French’s homage, The Likeness, to Tartt’s original.

jekyllDr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. For one of my book groups as a Halloween read. I enjoyed reading this novella again because it is different from what everyone thinks they know about the book.

nomercyNo Mercy graphic novel by Alex de Campi illustrated by Carla Speed McNeil. I’m a huge fan of McNeil’s and her Finder is one of the longest running comic series there is, and one of my favorites. Here she’s doing the art for someone else, but the result is still terrific in this story of a group of mostly pampered smart kids who go on a trip to South America and things go horribly wrong.

graveyardThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, for one of my book groups. A re-read, and one I mostly read aloud to my kids though we did get the audio book from the library and listen to Neil himself read it, which I highly recommend. There is also a bigger production but I think the author reading was quite perfect. Graveyard Book is a boy-who-lived story, reminiscent of many others, but Gaiman’s spooky spin on details makes it fresh and engaging.

And, as anyone who has visited the blog lately knows, I’ve been leading a small brave group of readers through Infinite Jest while reading a commentary, Elegant Complexity, for help in parsing its IJs many mysteries. I highly recommend the group read for Infinite Jest. We started with the 70ish pages a week schedule done by Infinite Summer groups, but slowed down to about 40, which was so much more manageable. This was my second time through IJ, and I found it rich, challenging, and enjoyable.

So, that’s it for the last few months–a mixed bag indeed: sci fi, sociology, modern literature, Victorian lit, a graphic novel, a children’s book, Infinite Jest and a commentary. Whew!

What have you read/enjoyed this fall?

INFINITE JEST readalong pp 941-THE END!

November 10th, 2015


Don’t you feel now that you’ve finished Infinite Jest that dropping the book, like dropping the mic, is appropriate, and makes a satisfying meaty thunking sound?

Oh few, happy few, we band of readers, we made it!

First, brief summeries:

pp 941-958 Hal in room while Mario and Coyle who is young watch a disturbing JOI film accomplice, in which we learn why Stokely McNair was nicknamed Darkstar, for his KS mark. We find why Troeltsch was coming out of Axford’s single–he switched rooms, I’m guessing because he ate cheese about Pemulis. Coyle is Stice’s roommate, and noticed that the furniture is indeed acting weird. Is it JOI as the wraith who claimed he couldn’t affect physical objects, but which the Coke can proved otherwise?

Hal notes that Otis P Lord had the monitor removed, presumably from the bed next to Don Gately which was getting the weird metal braces put on in pages 918-920. Hal remembers JOI’s advice to Orin about adult films, which is both touching about JOI and yet another log on my furiously flaming bonfire of hate for Orin, who next to Randy Lenz might be THE WORST. (Discuss).

Hal also knew, as he knew of the powdered milk, that CT and Wayne had both slept with Avril.

p 958 Joelle back to Ennet House and in future tense says hopes for quarantine, and will tell Pat about wheelchairs, presumably making connection with Marathe’s appearance and chat previously. Sees Middlesex County police, who probably are there for Don’s old suspended license infraction (463).

p 958-960 narrated by someone in a veil but maybe not Joelle? Someone named Mikey with a temper who talks about acting badly then going back to apologize

pp 960-964 ADA that Don fears meets with Pat, and talks about how he’s trying to make amends to Don and we learn how complicated things are for him, too. Unlike Mikey of the previous section, he can’t bring himself to apologize. Yet.

pp 964-971 Back to ETA but it’s anonymous first person, not Hal and we get the backstory of Barry Loach, and could we love Mario more?

Poutrincourt is missing–could that be her covered in snow in the stands? If not, who? WHO?

Reference to Brothers K who are perhaps analogs to the Incandenza Bros: Mario is like Alyosha, Hal the rationalist Ivan, and Orin the shitheel to women Dmitri.

pp 971-972 Orin’s uppance has come.


pp 972-981 Don at present is in fever and his tube is finally removed (it might have caused fever based on smug doc’s comment on p 921. He then regresses in time to finish the story about Gene Fackelmann, which was horrific, but was not even Don’s “bottom: that led to sobriety, which would taken even longer. Don is at a low point, but we know he rises from what went previously. The book finishes on the to-me Gatsby-ish:

it was raining out of a low sky, and the tide was way out. (981)

Heidi has already commented that she thinking poor dead DFW threw poor dead Linda McCartney under the bus in this section, but since it was the music chosed by soon to be poor dead but pretty non-likeable Bobby C, I don’t think it was an endorsement.

The book’s non-ending urges you to go back to the beginning and read again looking for details, looking for how to explain why a year later Hal and Gately along with John Wayne will be digging up JOI’s head, which is on both p 17 but also part of Gately’s fever dream about a sad kid on p. 934.

In describing JOI’s artistic intention on p 839:

His most serious was was: to entertain.”

In the commentary I’ve been reading, the excellent Elegant Complexity by Greg Carlisle, GC asks,

What could be more entertaining than a novel that espouses conversation and interchange about interesting questions that are difficult to answer definitively, thereby promoting the ongoing connection of the participants in those conversational interchanges? (479-480)

And but so: Congratulations. What did you think, and what questions linger?

INFINITE JEST readalong p 902-941

November 2nd, 2015


It’s the penultimate post for the Infinite Jest readalong, #InfiniTC, which was supposed to end in September but had to be stretched out so people could fit this honkin’ book into life.

We remain mostly with Gately in bed, intubated, in the hospital.

pp 902-906 Don Gately had a promising football experience in high school but got kicked out for low grades, then started doing drugs regularly, and then poof, no more football.

pp 906-911. Hal again, thinking about one of his dad’s films with a droning professor. Pemulis comes in and tries to talk to Hal but it interrupted by other kids. Why the section-ending sentence, “Then this to began to seem familiar.”?

pp 911-916. Gately after HS became an enforcer for Whitey Sorkin.Though he did little enforcing once he started he couldn’t stop.

p 916. Pemulis goes to his stash but the ceiling tiles are down, the stash is gone.

pp 916-934. Don recalls how his friend Fax got caught in a scam and how he was killed. He had to drag the story out of this then girlfriend Pamela Hoffman-Jeep (echoed in the character name Shanna Mallwae-Tweep on Parks & Rec?, who are fans of the show, hence the lawyer’s office name on one of the episodes.) And Lyle appears as a wraith–can he do this if not dead?

p 934 Joelle is taken by Steeply.

pp 934-938 a horribly detailed description of what a Dilaudid binge looked like. *shudder* Ending with Don having a dream in which a sad kid (Hal) digs up something and mouths, “Too late”. (Jim’s head?)

pp 938-941 We have Steeply in the Charlie Brown narrator Qs, with Joelle’s answers, that she was in only two scenes of IJ and that any master would have been buried with Jim, who is buried in one of the overgrown parts of the Convexity.

I very deliberately did not binge and read till the end so I could try and limit my talk to just this week’s pages. Meet us back in a week and we can talk about the whole damn thing. You have questions? I have answers! Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

Next week, 11/10/15: The End!

INFINITE JEST readalong pp 855-902

October 26th, 2015

We’re in the home stretch, everyone! Fewer than 80 pages to go! Hang in there, or catch up already, because reading this is a process, and finishing is an event! We are mostly going between Don and Hal in this section, and Hal comes to life, even as he hardly moves, in ways he didn’t previously in the book. Unlike last week’s section, we don’t see the wraith in Don G’s room.


pp 854-864 Don wakes to Joelle in his room for real, wiping his brow, and he doesn’t remember her previous visits. She talks about a meeting she went to, he realizes that if he treats the pain like sobriety, just taking it a moment at a time, he can abide.

He hadn’t quite gotten this before now, how it wasn’t just the matter of riding out the cravings for a Substance: everything unendurable was in the head, was the head not Abiding in the Present but hopping the wall and doing a recon and then returning with unendurable news you then somehow believed. (861)

Don imagines then tries not to entertain fantasies of him and Joelle in the future. He reminds himself she’s only about three weeks sober, yet it’s more like 9 days, so his subconscious is already playing with him.

In Boston AA, newcomer-seducing is called 13th stepping and is regarded as the province of true bottom-feeders. It’s predation. Newcomers come in so whacked out, clueless and scared, their nervous systems still on the outside of their bodies and throbbing from detox, and so desperate to escape their own interior, to lay responsibility for themselves at the feet of something as seductive and consuming as their former friend the Substance. To avoid the mirror AA hauls out in front of them. To avoid acknowledging their old dear friend the Substance’s betrayal, and grieving it…One of Boston AA’s stronger suggestions is that newcomers avoid all romantic relationships for at least a year. (863)

(Aside from yrstruly who got in a relationship at 6 months with someone who had 9 months. The relationship lasted five years, exploded spectacularly, and is a great example of why the “no relationships in the first year” suggestion is rock solid and should be respected.)

pp. 864-876 Hal continues to narrate in first person. A display says it’s 11-18 but in reality it is 20 November as noted on p. 851. Time is slippery in this section and in the book in general. Hal encounters Ortho Stice, who has his forehead stuck to a window in a weird suction event. Ortho says someone (the Wraith?) had been behind him a while back and asks if Hal believes in the ‘parabnormal’. Hal goes for Kenkle and Brandt, the janitors, whose banter is reminiscent of the gravediggers in Hamlet. They ask Hal why he looks like he’s laughing, and we get another incident, as happened with Kate Gompert and Kevin Bain, where hilarity and grief are hard to tell apart. Troeltsch comes out of Axhandle’s room, raising (NB not ‘begging’, an incorrect usage at which DFW would likely shudder) the questions of where Axhandle is, and why Troeltsch is in the room. (Hiding from Pemulis because of the Tenuate/Seldane switcheroo that caused the John Wayne on-air meltdown?) Also, who is the figure in the bleachers letting themself get snowed on?

pp 876-883 Transcript of official meeting about an upcoming PSA to be released in the Year of Glad for kids featuring Fully Functional Phil, literally an ass, telling kids to avoid mysterious cartridges. Tine Jr is tapping a ruler (like the one his dad uses to obsessively measure his penis?) and Tine Senior is annoyed but also tapping with a retracting pointer (like the retracting ruler he takes on the road to measure his penis.) We have more of the absurdist humor of the Inner Infant meeting, and while the cartridge is blamed on those pesky Canadians, we the readers know it originated in, gasp, BOSTON. And if it spreads, then the year of Glad will have a whole bunch of people who are both glad and flaccid receptacles.

pp 883-896 Don gets a visit from a doctor who tries to talk him in to painkillers and his sponsor who advises him to ask for help. But then, it’s a dream! Gately is reminded of how much he loved Demerol

Kite used to say Gately shot cement instead of narcotics. (893)

He’s visited by McDade and Diehl who have just come from visiting Dooney Glynn, who accepted painkillers for his diverticulitis, further tempting Don. They say that Lenz has been seen, high and in disguise, and that he likely has the missing .44. (This is before Lenz is taken by the AFR to the Antitoi’s shop), yet the gun wasn’t listed among Lenz’s possessions in the inventory on pages 717-718.

pp 896-902 Hal gets dizzy and goes into Viewing Room 5 to lie down. On the bottom of p 900 and then 901, we get details of Avril and Tavis, which are that Avril’s dad married a homodontic (like Mario, or not?) dwarf who brought an infant into the marriage, which was Charles, so if Avril was adopted by the new wife, she would be the adoptive sister of CT, plus a half sister, as they would have the same adopted mom and different dads. In any case, effed up. Both Hal and Gately are horizontal, and yet are mentally lively narrators. Are they the heroes of non-action, from p. 142?

What did everyone else think?

Just two more weeks: catch up and keep up!

11/3 pp 902-941
11/10 941-981 THE END

INFINITE JEST readalong pp 809-854

October 19th, 2015

Imagine this on Gately's forehead

Imagine this on Gately's forehead

And, once more into the fray as we begin the last chapter, 28, of Infinite Jest.

I’m going to jump right into the summaries. This chapter reminded me of the run-on ones in Ulysses where breaks were few and far between.

pp 809-827 The return of Don Gately! Yay! Don is one of my favorite fictional characters. I might even be a little in love with him. He’s in the hospital, the ceiling is breathing, and Otis Lord whose head is in a TP post-Eschaton is next to him in the room. Don keeps having bad dreams and people keep showing up and sharing deeply personal stuff with him. He’s in pain, not on drugs, and can’t respond.

pp 827-845 More Gately, and a ghost, and it’s JOI, and Gately wonders why JOI isn’t haunting his son, but hey, maybe that’s why Hamlet went mad, seeing his dad’s ghost and all. Ghosts apparently can zip around really fast, and appearing to someone and talking with them in their head is really difficult.

pp 845-846 is a short section, but things come together. Randy Lenz is the worst, isn’t he? And, well, poor Tony. Canadians are going to do bad things but in the service of their country, so that makes it OK. Where is Kate?

pp 846-851 Gately dreams of Joelle and there’s more tragic backstory. Gah.

pp 851-854 Hal returns, in first-person POV! 20 November is four days after the Gately section, and is in the period between Interdependence Day (hence the Gaudeamus at the start of the section) and the Whataburger tournament, and there’s supposed to be an exhibition with kids from Canada, though we know they’re going to be delayed and replaced with AFR guys after mirror shenanigans(though usually it’s the FLQ who do mirror stuff) .

Hey, aside from the moderator here. I just learned TODAY that Whataburger is an actual southwest purveyer of burgers! I thought it was just an IJ joke, a fake company.

And, that brings us to the end of this week’s section. Who’s still with me?

A favorite sentence, though this section had many great ones:

“The whole right side of himself hurt so bad each breath was like a hard decision.” (818)

Just three more sections/weeks till we finish on November 10, just in time for the next Minneapolis meeting at Indeed Brewing of Books and Bars, which will be for Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book, as some of you know.

10/27 pp 854-902
11/3 pp 902-941
11/10 941-981 THE END

INFINITE JEST readalong pp 755-808

October 15th, 2015

Welcome back, Infinite Jest-ers. This post is a little late due to my cramming in the ending of Donna Tartt’s Secret History, which I now regret, as that book is way better for the first 3/5 and cramming in the rest on a beautiful sunny day, albeit on a porch, filled me with retroactive resentment.

Also because, ahem, a handful of you are slacking, though of course for perfectly understandable reasons because, life. Anyway, let’s all of us make an effort to catch up/keep up for these next few weeks, and the final chapter, 28.

This was the penultimate chapter, 27. It was the longest, as Circe was in Ulysses. Also, do you see a resemblance in these two images?


I posted this during the Ulysses readalong, and it’s from Amanda Visconti’s Literature Geek, and it’s a chart of the crossovers of the many characters in the Wandering Rocks chapter of Ulysses.

It looks kind of like this from Brain Pickings on visualizing Infinite Jest, no?


Chapter 27 is when many of the many characters overlap, and we find out much more about all of them.

Fair warning. If this seems like DFW is ramping up to weave all the threads into a satisfying whole in the last chapter, I’d say instead to beware of the holes. Like Penelope, he’s weaving a lot, but not with the goal of a whole tapestry, but rather a hole-y one. (Oh, I shudder to think at the puns Vince might make, here.)

He said the books was like a Sierpinski gadget, depicted on Pemulis’ wall in the book, and it is full of holes:

Sierpinski gadget

I’m going to have to leave this for the moment and go to work, so a more detailed breakdown of the pages to come, but for those who are up to page, please comment and ask questions.

Greg Carlisle in Elegant Complexity, notes that chapter 27 is concerned in each subsection with horrors, secrets, pursuits, and surprises.

A few quick notes before I go.

1. Did Pemulis HAVE to put up that joke flyer about how often 17 goes into 56? Would Avril be so hell bent on expelling him? Also, why DOESN’T he now shout from the hilltops that Avril was diddling John NR Wayne? Did Wayne let that out in his Tenuate induced verbal vomiting?

Oh, Mikey Pemulis, I fear for you, I really do. Did you notice how he was removed from the main text, and only appeared in notes to reflect his disappearing status in the novel?

2. Don Gately is similarly mostly missing in this chapter. He’s shown sleeping in a flashback to before the Nuck event from last chapter, then he’s getting his brow mopped by Joelle. Carlisle notes that there’s a Don Gately shaped hole in chapter 27.

Oh, and how about Molly Notkin’s interview, one of several things that gives us tons of info we’ve been wondering about, like the acid attack, like how Avril might have been diddling Orin, and yay Molly for giving fake names and saying Joelle is far away. Go, Molly!

Avril has an ONANTA blue blazer hanging in her office, is it from the urine analyzer, and did she confer favor on him to protect Hal? Why is there pom pom hanging out of her trash can days after Pemulis caught her with them with John Wayne? Has there been a repeat performance?

More later.

And here is the more, later! Edited to Add (ETA, heh, heh)

pp. 755-769 Mario is on walkabout filming, then going to see Avril, who is so creepy as a mother trying way too hard, perhaps explained by coming from two generations of abusive alcoholics.

pp 769-774 Mario and Hal talking but not connecting. Mario is asking Hal for specifics, but Hal is talking about dreams.

pp 774-782 Kate Gompert went into a bar where Marathe is, they bond and Marathe offers to take her to see the Entertainment.

pp 782-785 Hal admits to Mario that he’s been smoking pot, and they talk about lying. Note 332 has the now offstage Pemulis tutoring Hal in math plus giving dodgy advice to Hal about quitting drugs.

pp 785-787 Johnette is filling in for Don at Ennet House when Hal comes in asking for a guide to meetings in the area, which were also known as “Where and Whens” when yrstruly, the moderator here, was attempting recovery in DC

And for your entertainment, a DFW-ian digression. Before leaving rehab, I was handed a Where & When and told to pick the meeting I would attend on release. There was one near where I lived that night. I walked to it in the January cold, up and down M Street but there was no number that matched the address, only a black metal gate on an alley in the approximate space where the address said it was. I shook the gate and called out, then returned home, paranoid that this was a sign from the universe, and that I would promptly start drinking again because I hadn’t followed directions. I called the number on the booklet, and was told that since the booklet was so new (the opposite of Hal’s problem) it listed the address of a meeting that was moving, and was still in its old space, about a block away. I went there the next day, and continued to not drink.

p 787 is note 324 with Pemulis again offstage counselling poor Possalthwaite.

pp 787-795 Molly Notkin is interviewed by Rodney Tine Jr and the USOUS and we learn that Joelle really is hideously injured behind the veil. Molly steers them away from Joelle by giving false info.

p 795 is note 334 where Pemulis is given the shoe by ETA.

pp 795-808 is an excruciatingly detailed segment on how Hal goes to the wrong meeting because of an outdated guide. He sees Kevin Bain, older brother of Marlon, Orin’s former doubles partner. This section walked the line between funny and painful. I was amused by the guy feeding yogurt to his teddy bear.

OK, I’m off now to detail the next section, but wanted to embiggen this one properly. Hope this helped.

INFINITE JEST readalong pp 711-755

October 6th, 2015

Soccer season is giving me the howling fantods, y’all. Thus, this will be brief.

Your song for this week is Violet by Jeremy Messersmith because it’s about a girl who got assaulted, like Kate Gompert, who keeps seeing violet, rather than the usual running-theme in IJ of blue.


Streaks of earth matted in her hair
Beaten down, but she won’t scare
Blinks her eyes, battered green and blue
Ignorance can leave an awful bruise

So get up!
Get up!
Come on and get up, Violet!

Blade of grass in her aching fist
Sets her jaw, no she won’t quit
She’ll take the fight to streets and avenues
A little dirt can make a flower bloom

Anyhoo, the reading this week.

pp 711-714 More Blood Sister.

pp 714-716 Poor Tony has snatched purses and Kate Gompert is hurt while Ruth is in pursuit and there’s a creepy smell guy who yells about being “a witness”

pp 716-719 Randy Lenz again, delusional and high on coke, following some Chinese women and about to snatch their bags. Oh, we hope this dude gets what’s coming to him, in his sombrero and fake mustache.

719: AFR is going to get more agressive in trying to find the master copy of IJ the movie. Bad news for the family.

719-721 Poor Tony’s POV, running.

721-723 Marathe and Fortier in the Antitois, looking for tape, still

723 Fortier is the guy who came to Orin’s hotel door in past.

723-24 Joelle has dreams of teeth.

724-728: more in the Antitoi’s. FLQ is rival Canadian terrorists, whose dog Lenz killed. AFR has a teacher (Poutrincourt?) student (Wayne?) and new recruit (whom?) at ETA. Defensive in bed refers to something earlier about MIT being “in bed” with ONAN Defense.

728-729 Lenz has snatched bags and run, in same region as Poor Tony is running from Ruth.

729-735 Marathe pretending to be addict. The real note 304, which we now understand much better later. Who is Bernard Wayne, the one who didn’t jump? Creepy guy who talks to Marathe is Kate G’s witness.

736-747 Joelle cleaning while Marathe is downstairs, looking for her.

747-751 Marathe in Pat’s office, thinking about killing her, sees two blank smiley cartridges (promoted from ETA’s dumpster by Clenette presumably)

751-2 Joelle still cleaning.

752-755. Darnit, Marathe was the horrible person who killed the mute Antitoi brother. Sniff. Even if he has lost stomach for work, he still did it. Sigh.

That’s all I got for now. Late for work. What did everyone else think?

To end of section for next week, 808.

INFINITE JEST readalong pp 665-711

September 30th, 2015

Blood Sister design by Chris Ayers

Blood Sister design by Chris Ayers

Welcome back! Time is short, the post is late, and I’m tired, so I’m going to jump right in.

pp 666-673 A bunch of the younger ETA boys are in the tunnels, underneath the Ortho/Hal game, cleaning up as punishment for the Eschaton debacle, yet also as an excuse to look for a large rodent that Kent Blott claims to have seen. My little boys also like dark, small spaces, so I thought it interesting to contrast young to older boys, and to females, even “the butchest” ones, thanks for the sensitivity, DFW, who never wastes an opportunity to verbally kertwang on a large or masculine female. They put a bunch of unlabelled tapes in bag. Clenette is later seen carrying a full backpack of dumpster pilferage. Could a copy of the Entertainment be heading down the hill?

PP 673-682 The match, again, this time with Steeply talking to Thierry Poutrincourt. They talk about transcending or getting sucked into celebrity.

pp 682-686 Older brother Matty Pemulis in a bar, sees Poor Tony walk by–is this after his seizure on the train? A horrifying childhood rape story similar to the one told about the woman with the catatonic adoptive sister. Yikes. No wonder Michael Pemulis is dead set on never returning to Allston.

pp 686-689 After supper of the match, Hal goes up the viewing room, starts to watch old tapes of his dad’s, note: all of them labelled.

pp 689-691 Poor Tony survived the seizure! But, I fear for his long term viability.

pp692 Geoffrey Day almost misses Lenz. Penises.

pp 692l-698 the difference between mild depression, anhedonia, and clinical, like Kate Gompert’s.

pp 698-700 Kate Gompert and Ruth Van Cleve, and then these are the women Poor Tony is pursuing, thinking about snatching their purses.

700 Troeltsch, surrounded by Seldane, or is it the Tenuate he’s “promoted” from Pemulis’ stash?

Pemulis checks his DMZ stash in the ceiling.

Lyle hovers.

p 701 Schtitt and Mario go for ice cream. Similar to downhill swooping of AFR kidnappers with WHYY guy.

Avril calls Moment Magazine.

pp 701-711 Joelle is in hospital, mopping brow of unconscious Don. He lives! Hal watches Blood Sister: One Tough Nun, based on his father’s experience in Boston AA, and people keep coming in to watch with him.

Vince wanted to know on Twitter if note 290, about Blood Sister and the veiled character, is addressed to the reader: how she may or may not be actually physically scarred, and the older kids hope she’s not as that would be too “gooey” or sentimental, or obvious. Is DFW poking at the reader’s curiosity about whether Joelle is really scarred under the veil, or just hiding her debilitating prettiness?

Gotta get to work, so this is all I’ve got this week. What did everyone else think?

Only six more shortish sections to go! Is anyone going to throw caution to the winds and just read on through?

10/6 pp 711-755
10/13 pp 755-808
10/20 pp 809-854
10/27 pp 854-902
11/3 pp 902-941
11/10 941-981 THE END


September 29th, 2015


Sam Bohrman is a friend of mine, so my review of her book can’t be unbiased. That said, Ruby’s Misadventures with Reality is a delightful, hilarious romp of a mystery/romance, and I highly recommend it. If you like mysteries, romances, or comedies, this is a fast, fun read. Think Bridget Jones set in Kansas with The Wizard of Oz instead of Pride and Prejudice as an influence, and you’re on the right track.

Ruby O’Deare is kind of a mess. She has interfering parents, her taste in clothes far outstrips the paycheck from her not-very-fulfilling job with a Mean-Girl boss, and there’s a weird guy named Todd crashing on the couch in the apartment she shares with her friend Ming. The mystery we begin with is not typical of crime novels:

…if only she knew how she’d gotten here…Under her borrowed bathrobe, her skin was covered in fine purple grit, as if she’d run through a sprinkler and then rolled in grape-flavored Pop Rocks. Waking up at the zoning commissioner’s house covered in what she could only assume was purple sex paste with a smooshed party hat under her pillow–it just didn’t add up, not for a temp attorney who spent most nights Facebooking in front of The Bachelor.

From there, Ruby stumbles, sometimes literally in her high heels, among shady real estate deals, a suspicious death, and whether or not Noel, the cute zoning commissioner likes her.

Ruby is daffy and misguided, but is smarter than anyone–including herself–gives her credit for. Her charm and resilience in the face of her own frequent ridiculousness make her a character I cheered for even while I shook my head at her not-so-good choices.

If you are looking for realistic crime, or complex true-to life characters, you have come to the wrong book. If you’re looking for a sweet, silly escape, you’re in the right place. I look forward to the further (mis)adventures of Ruby.

ALLEGIANCE by Kermit Roosevelt

September 28th, 2015


I received a free review copy of Kermit Roosevelt’s Allegiance from his publisher, but would have sought out this book in any case. I enjoyed Roosevelt’s first novel, In the Shadow of the Law, and was intrigued by the premise of Allegiance, when I read about it.

Allegiance begins just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news. I was in New York, the Beta house at Columbia, with constitutional law books on my desk and last night’s drinks in my head.

Caswell “Cash” Harrison is just finishing law school, and feels the pull to enlist. His family and his girlfriend’s family discourage him. He’s drafted, but fails the physical, and instead is awarded a plum job as clerk to a Supreme Court justice in DC. But once in DC, he is in way over his Main-Line, privileged-white-guy head.

Cash is a noir-like protagonist, a good but rather slow guy being manipulated, but by whom? There are spies, tough guys, even a femme fatale of sorts. Just as he begins to suspect something’s wrong in the courts, someone he knows is killed. He vows to figure out who did it, but is meanwhile hampered by his own naivete, friends who might be enemies, and overlapping mysteries. Who is manipulating the court cases about Japanese internment? Is there a conspiracy among the Supreme Court clerks? Are other cases about business or land being thrown? Who might be moving against FDR in his New Deal plans?

Roosevelt, a professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, has a convincing and engaging way of writing about the law. His book is ambitious, reflecting deep research on legal history and the cities of Philly and DC, while weaving in a series of complex historical mysteries. Having lived in both cities, I appreciated spending time in them during a different era, and Roosevelt’s writing skillfully evoked both time and place. As I read, I wondered whether any of these were red herrings, or if they all tied together. They did, in complicated and interesting ways. I also appreciated the connections to modern discussion of race, immigration, and discrimination. Racism and fear and war continue to plague the United States, even as we think we’ve learned lessons from the past.

The vision and scope for Allegiance are impressive. While I found it didn’t quite succeed completely–the pace sometimes lagged with certain mysteries being dropped while others moved to the fore, there were rather too many squash and tennis games for me, and Cash was sometimes frustratingly clueless–I both enjoyed and admired it overall. The enormous amount of historical detail and research that went into it, as well as the insight into past legal battles over race and discrimination, make this a timely, involving read.

INFINITE JEST readalong pp. 620-665

September 22nd, 2015


Welcome back and apologies for being a little late with the post. I accidentally spilled coffee on my laptop, but she has graciously continued to live, so here we are again.

I don’t know about you, but I’m finding the 40-ish pages a week (plus the killer 6-page tiny-type endnote this week) much more manageable than the 70 page hauls. I hope you’re finding it better, too, and that we can all keep pace together (ahem) for these last several weeks together, during which we’ll read the last two of the 28 sections of the book.

So after last week’s rip-roaring segment o’action, we are back to lots of inaction, as well as some sneaky back and forthing in time. It’s easy to lose track of time in IJ, and one of the features of the guide I’m reading, Elegant Complexity, is a set of chronologies of the subchapters of IJ. I often have to remind myself that Marathe and Steeply are meeting in May of YDAU, while most of the action at ETA and Ennet House is taking place later that year in November, all of which takes place before the very first chapter, which featured Hal at his interview.

pp 620-626 12 November YDAU There’s a repeat of some of the stats on the Interlace teleputer, then the draining of the duck pond, then the WHYY engineer gets kidnapped by the wheelchair assassins.

pp 627-638 11 November YDAU Suppertime, Stice has earlier almost defeated Hal but not, arguments about powdered milk, we are reminded again that Hal keeps secrets. He knows about the milk. Hal sees Clenette going down the hill to Ennet House with a full backpack (of what?) where she will later take place in stomping the Canadians, because this section happens a few hours before what we read last week. Stuff is moving around at ETA. Hal is sober and not happy about it.

pp 628-648 1 May YDAU Back to Marathe and Steeply on the ledge. Steeply tells a long story about his father and his unhealthy attachment to the TV show M*A*S*H.

Nerdish aside: didn’t M*A*S*H run on Monday nights, originally? I remember Monday night was TV night in our house when I was a girl. We’d start with the Muppet Show at 7:30pm EST, then Little House on the Prairie from 8-9, and M*A*S*H till 9:30, which was bedtime. I could look up and confirm, but it’s a very strong memory.

Isn’t Steeply’s tale a little too on the nose about his dad and how it reflects the entertainment? Is he lying?

Coincidence that the theme song to the show is “Suicide is Painless”?

pp 648-651 13 November YDAU 0245h. This is almost exactly 24 hours after shit went down in front of Ennet House. Kate and Geoffrey Day have a weird interaction that is actually like lines not meeting yet they still kind of do, talk about depression.

pp 651-662 We rewind a bit on 11 November YDAU to the match between Stice and Hal, commanded by Schtitt, and watched by “Helen” Steeply. Discussion about how ETA tries to prepare kids for the Show without getting chewed up by it. There is a segment in here that shows Don snoring and wearing a sleeping mask, but this is BEFORE the shit went down so we still have no idea what happened to Don the night before.

pp 663-665 Letters between Marlon Bain and “Helen” Steeply with a killer 6-page endnote. We learn Orin is a terrible liar, and the Moms is perhaps not as giving as she would like to be perceived as.

Given that David and his mother Sally were estranged after the publication of IJ, I suspect there’s more than a little of Sally in the character of Avril, and not just the grammarian.

Saprogenic, which I always thought meant ’soapy’ actually means growing out of decay, which is rather an odd choice for a greeting card company. Then again, Bain is obviously an odd duck. He was the one who was the constant sweater while he was at ETA, similar to DFW in real life.

I’m writing from Barnes & Noble, so don’t have my copy of IJ. I’d assumed they’d have one here I could reference–they don’t. Why? But I can’t list any of my favorite sentences, but one belonged to Marathe, something like, “The cuteness, it had fled.”

What did everyone else think? Did anyone else have to restrain themselves from racing ahead, trying to figure out what happened to Don? I think I’m getting to a point at which I’ll just need to flat out finish this cusser.

Let’s meet here in a week on 9/29 to discuss the next part of section 27. Reminder of the rest of the schedule:

9/29 pp 665-711
10/6 pp 711-755
10/13 pp 755-808
10/20 pp 809-854
10/27 pp 854-902
11/3 pp 902-941
11/10 941-981 THE END

INFINITE JEST Readalong pp 575-619

September 17th, 2015

Welcome back, friends and fellow readers? Who’s still with me? Please check in on the comments if just to say hey.

Well, pages 575-619: shit happens, huh?

Art by Benjamin Birdie

Art by Benjamin Birdie

Art from this page.

This will be a quick first swipe at an entry, as I’m blogging by the seat of my pants. I’ll try to embiggen it later.

We resume on page 575, midway through the 26th section.

p. 575-589 Lenz and Green. Tragic backstory for Green. Lenz kills dog, and Canadians are alerted. Green hides.

pp 589-593 Mario has insomnia and takes long walks, often past Ennet’s [sic] House, and hears an old tape played through an open window, presumably Joelle’s. He sees a “wide, square-headed boy” working, and while this is Gately, it made me pause to think of him as a boy, since he’s really young and not much older than the privileged kids at ETA.

pp. 593-596 Details of what Gately’s working on.

pp 596-601 Orin, who just gets more despicable as the book goes on. But he’s clearly under the eye of the AFR, so I fear he’s going to “hear the squeak” at some point.

pp. 601-619. Holy cats, y’all, STUFF HAPPENS. This is the most happening section of the book so far! Cars are about to be moved, Lenz oozes in, obviously high, Don is kindly worried about car tickets (as any of us who have lived in cities can painfully empathize with), and SHIT GOES DOWN. Don is shot, defending Lenz! Bruce Green is also continuing to be a stand-up guy. Don realizes Joelle is that lady from the radio. Security shows up, there is the matter of whether anyone there will eat cheese, and my goodness, I just loved this except for my favorite character Don, getting shot.

Two things in conclusion. One, my friend Steven brought up that Don as a character is similar to Leopold Bloom–earthy, not too bright, trying to be good. While Hal is like Stephen Dedalus–too smart for his own good, abusing substances, headed for trouble.

Two, my own theory about how DFW spreads his own psyche among his characters. I think Hal contains his oversmart, addict self, while Orin is more of the tennis player DFW actually was. I think Orin and his predation on women is some of DFW’s ugliness on display, while I think Don Gately is kind of a wishful ideation–what he might be if he were less overwhelmingly intelligent, and a better, kinder person. Then perhaps he would be worthy of Joelle, who is a pretty direct analog to Mary Karr.

OK, more later. What did everyone else think?

Also, idea: what about a Sunday salon where we meet up and just read that weeks pages together?

INFINITE JEST readalong pp 538-575

September 8th, 2015

lenz Image infohere.

Welcome back to the Infinite Jest readalong. I hope you’re hanging in on this new reading schedule with less pages.

Ha, ha! Usage joke! The Moms would have the Militant Grammarians of Massachusetts bombarding my blog with complaints and urging me to correct that to “fewer” pages.

Anyway, I was cruising along the reading this week, thinking, 38 pages, walk in the park! That is, till I got to end note 234, a 6-pager of Orin and “Helen” Steeply. D’oh. That slowed me down.

Orin, as another person is described in this section, “does not overwhelm with brightness, it is true.” (569) I think I might dislike hanging out with Orin more than I do with Marathe and Steeply, who were absent from this week’s pages. Speaking of, let’s get to those pages, shall we?

p. 538-548 “It is starting to get quietyly around ennet House that Randy Lenz has found his own dark way to deal with the well-known Rage and Powerlessness issues that beset the drug addict in his first few months of abstinence (538).” We are treated, in gruesome detail that I KNOW will horrify all the cat people reading this, and you are legion, to Randy’s messed-up ways of managing his anger. On his walks home from meetings, he started torturing and killing rats, then cats, then dogs, but managed not to cross over to humans. Bruce Green, he who was abandoned by Mildred Bonk and tiny incontinent Harriet Bonk-Green, asks Lenz if he can walk with him home from meetings, and that messes Lenz up.

Reading Randy’s section I wondered who the hell was narrating it, because it was full of errors, like calling Joelle “Joe L.” (a totally understandable mistake that someone in recovery would make given the usual use of last name letters.)

Side note: one of my favorite memories of recovery meetings was coming up with epithets for people rather than last name initials. One guy was Furniture Mark, another was Adapter Phil; we’d adapt to the conventions and work around them.

So, it probably isn’t Don writing this down, because he knows Joelle’s name. And at the bottom of page 556 are the words crepuscular and threnody, neither of which Don could spell; those are Hal words. But it can’t be Hal either, because Hal would correct Randy’s malapropisms, like “ravacious” herds, or “cableyarrow.”

So is DFW narrating the book, including bits and pieces of the voices of the subjects in these sections, while maintaining the authorial omniscience to wield worlds like crepuscular and threnody? (Both of which are awesome, by the way, and the latter was on my long list of cool names if I had a girl kid, which I did not.) Or is Hal narrating the ETA, Don the AA, Marathe the Marathe/Steeply, and then there’s crossover in who’s telling or editing the story? There is way too much calculated design in this book for me to think that this isn’t deliberately messing with us the readers.

Back to the book, though.

Early November YDAU, p 548-9, Rodney Tine is in Boston to deal with difficulties about the video.

LATE P.M., MONDAY 9 NOVEMBER Y.D.A.U. P550-553. Pemulis interrupts Avril and John “no relation” Wayne in the midst of some pretty pervy role-playing that makes us wonder what her relationship with Orin was. I’d previously assumed it was Tavis’ name she’d written on the car window in the steam that JOI later saw, but maybe it was Orin’s?

While I admire Pemulis’ moxie, I wonder if this exchange on 11/9 with “I probably won’t even waste everybody’s time asking if I’m interrupting,” might have been the impetus for him getting called on the blue carpet the next day on 11/10 for last week’s uncomfortable waiting room segment, pp 508-27.

WEDNESDAY 11 NOVEMBER YDAU. p 553-559. More Lenz and Bruce Green, with Lenz having the chutzpah to do coke in the bathroom of the recovery meeting.

p 560, brief interlude with Hal in his room.

Immediately back to Lenz and Green, 560-2.

SELECTED SNIPPETS…WEDNESDAY 11 NOVEMBER YDAU. 563-5. So, while I dislike the interchanges with Marathe and Steeply, I love the banter between Don and Joelle, with Don holding his own: “Joelle, you’re maybe about the last person to be taking somebody’s inventory about weird ways they dress, under there, maybe.” (taking someone’s inventory means being judgey about someone else. The only inventory one is supposed to take is one’s own.)

And we get further evidence, as if we needed any, that Randy Lenz is a sleazebag.

p 565-7 Orin, with a “putatively” Swiss hand model.

p 567-74. Idris Arslanian is practicing being blind. Anton “Booger” Doucette is having a meltdown with Lyle in the weightroom. Pemulis gives Idris a lesson on annulation, and then strikes a bargain with him for clean pee (though this takes place the day after the surprise in Tavis’ office from last section, at which clean urine would have helped out Pemulis, Hal, and Ann Kittenplan, all.)

p 574-5. Orin is not so bright. Now that Steeply has gone, the wheelchairs are back and have the same accent as the hand model who was an exact fit for Orin’s various fetishes.

This was the first half of the 26th section–only two more long sections after this. We’ll finish up chapter 26 next week.

Till then, what did you think?

2015 Summer Books!

September 7th, 2015


I thought, hey, it’s been a long time since I blogged about books. Maybe I’ll do one post on all the books since I last reviewed one. Hey, maybe I can do one on summer books! The upshot of this, minus my internal back and forth, is that I haven’t reviewed a book since the last of May, which seemed like a coincidence until I realized, 1. Summer and kids home and b. new part time job at comic store. So for the purposes of this post, summer counts as June 1 to Labor Day Monday, which is today. Because I said so.

Graphic novels

SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki. A collection of the online webcomic by the artist of This One Summer. Weird, but compelling.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. My 9 and 11you boys and I LOVED this book. A girl warrior wants to be the sidekick to a villain. But the villain isn’t so villainous, the hero isn’t so heroic, and Nimona isn’t what she seems. So good.

ODY-C v. 1 by Matt Fraction. A gender-bent space opera re-telling of Homer’s Odyssey. Bat$hit crazy, beautiful to look at, and boggling to experience.

Ms. Marvel v. 3 Crushed. I love Ms. Marvel, the awkward teen superhero, and so do my boys.

Unwritten v. 11 Apocalypse. I was worried this series would have a vague ending. Hooray! They stuck the landing! A great end to a great series, perfect for lit nerds.

The last clump of graphic novels I read in May I didn’t love. June’s batch knocked it out of the park. Loved ‘em all.

Kids and Young Adult Books

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. A terrific love story, about a teen who just happens to be gay.

Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones. My boys had balked at reading this first book in the Chrestomanci series, so I read it aloud. They LOVED it and toward the end we had to read in huge chunks as they didn’t want to stop. Diana’s books are classic, and great for fans of Harry Potter, as her books were an influence on Rowling.

Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson. Recommended to me by my 11yo son. A novel in free-verse poems about Lonnie, a foster kid separated from his sister. Lovely and moving. I followed it with

Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson, which neither my son nor I loved as much–it was letters, not free verse poems.

Story of a Girl
by Sara Zarr. I read it because young adult authors Carrie Mesrobian and Chrisa Desir did a close read of an amazing long passage in it.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. This book is flat-out amazing. An artist autobiography in free-verse poetry of Woodson’s life, which started in Columbus, Ohio, then moved to South Carolina, then New York City.

Crossover by Kwame Alexander. A novel in free verse about a teen boy who plays basketball, fights with his twin brother, and struggles with his parents and their rules. I didn’t love it as much as Brown Girl Dreaming, but it probably would have more appeal to boys.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Some would argue this is an “adult” book, but on this reading, it struck me that the heroes and villains are very clear cut–there aren’t many ambiguities to this book. Racism is far more complicated than this book implies. But it is as moving, as silly and sad, as ever.

Guy in Real Life
by Steve Brezenoff. Out drinking one night, teenage Lesh literally runs into a mystery girl. Grounded by his parents, he starts playing line role-playing games, and tries to strike up a friendship at school with the girl. I have no interest in D & D type games yet I fell hard for this book. The characters are great, and there is a twist toward the end that I didn’t see coming but made perfect sense, and made me see many things in new ways. A great book to give kids about the hazards of internet life.


Remember when I used to read primarily fiction? I’ve become a memoir junkie.

Tailings by Kaethe Schweyn. I was lucky enough to hear the author read part of this aloud at a local event. It’s about her year at a religious community during and after a painful breakup, and about how she puts herself back together. There is nature, religion, and coming of age all intertwined in beautiful writing.

Baghdad Express by Joel Turnipseed. I didn’t know I knew the author of this book, but when I figured out I did, I finally read this memoir of the early Gulf War from the perspective of a young Marine and philosophy student. With meditations on time and growing up, it’s not what you’d expect from a Marine’s memoir.

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola. Hepola, an editor at Salon.com, was a blackout drinker for decades before getting help. She is extraordinarily honest, sometimes funny, often tragic, in telling her story.

H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald. In the aftermath of her father’s death, a woman gets and trains a wild bird. This book is filled with astonishingly beautiful prose, as well as nature and history. I was enraptured.

Other Non-Fiction

Although of Course You End up Becoming Yourself by David Lipsky. The transcript of the interview over days that Lipsky did with David Foster Wallace at the end of his book tour for Infinite Jest in 1996. It’s the basis for the film The End of the Tour, which I found pretty good, though not great. Lipsky is significantly absent in the narrative, and I’m not sure who OK’d putting the afterword BEFORE the book, but whoever did should be given a smack to the head. But it was a joy reading great gouts of DFW and trying to puzzle him out.

Missoula by Jon Krakauer. A harrowing investigation into a series of rapes and accusations in a college town in Montana.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This could also have gone under memoir, as it’s written as a letter to his teenage son, but since it’s about race and the world today in all it’s messiness, I think it goes way beyond memoir. It’s not a long book, but a deep one. Everyone should read it.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. I recommended this to my parents before I read it, then they read it and kept bugging me to read it. A searching and moving look into the process of dying in the US, which does not devolve into a simplistic “should” narrative, to its immense credit.


The Girl on the Train. I raced through it and it started strong but finished weak, I thought. A great premise, about a woman who is blackout drunk witnesses a crime. But since in blackout, she can’t make long term memories, she can’t simply remember. But then, she does. Sorry, but this book’s ending really annoyed me.

Blasphemy by Sherman Alexie. For my book group, a lifetime collection of the native-American author. I’m glad I finally got around to reading him, as his voice and views are distinct and powerful.

Meadowlands, poems by Louise Gluck. This was a companion read to Homer’s Odyssey and Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad, but came to me via Tailings by Kaethe Schweyn. A series of poems about the breakup of a relationship, as well as poems written from the perspective of Penelope in The Odyssey.

Ruby’s Misadventures in Reality by Samantha Bohrman. A silly, fun murder mystery and romance. It made me laugh aloud many times.

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert. A fast fun romance about a young chef who falls for a food critic who panned her restaurant, which kills her dream. It’s set in Milwaukee and full of delicious food and local details. I now owe my younger son a coconut cake, as he was as mesmerized by the cover cake as I was.

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher. If you have been in academia, you should read this book, a novel in letters, but specifically recommendation letters. At first it’s funny, but then it gets oh-so-sad, but this is an utter gem of a novel.

And that’s it for my summer reading. It was a blast and I loved so many of these books. Only one–The Girl on the Train–was truly disappointing. I finished 28 books (many of which were fast reads like graphic novels, kid books and romances, but still–lots!) How do I do it, many friends ask? My kids are older now–9 and 12 and able to take care of themselves. Also, my house is a mess and I do laundry infrequently and I do not have a full time office job.

INFINITE JEST readalong pages 489-538

August 31st, 2015

OK, here we go, Infinite Jest pages 489-538, chapter 25, the last whole chapter we’ll read, as the rest of the book is the last three chapters. Images from BrickJest.

Page 489 — PRE-DAWN, 1 MAY — Y.D.A.U. / OUTCROPPING NORTHWEST OF TUCSON, AZ U.S.A., STILL: Steeply and Marathe discuss the possibility of an Entertainment “master”; Steeply asks if Marathe has ever been tempted to watch it.


Page 491 — WINTER, B.S. 1963, SEPULVEDA CA: James Incandenza helps his father isolate and try to fix a squeak in the bed, in the aftermath of which he gets the idea for annulation.


Page 503: At a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, Ken Erdedy does not want to hug Roy Tony.

Page 507: Marathe admits to Steeply that some people, including a “damn good man” were “lost” while there were experimenting with the Entertainment.


Page 508 — 10 NOVEMBER / YEAR OF THE DEPEND ADULT UNDERGARMENT: Hal and others await punishment for the Eschaton disaster; an introduction to “Lateral” Alice Moore’s office. I found this section hard to follow–it jumps back in time to the last time Hal was summoned to the office, while he watched Tavis offer little Tina Echt a “totally unthreatening lap” and got an apple from Avril.

Page 528 — PRE-DAWN AND DAWN, 1 MAY Y.D.A.U. / OUTCROPPING NORTHWEST OF TUCSON AZ U.S.A., STILL: The Marathe and Steeply show continues. Steeply argues that America is not the only culture in which people are drawn to things that could “entertain them to death”.

Page 531 — 0450H., 11 NOVEMBER / YEAR OF THE DEPEND ADULT UNDERGARMENT / FRONT OFFICE, ENNET HOUSE D.A.R.H., ENFIELD MA: Don Gately tells Joelle Van Dyne of a bar fight in which one of his crew got shot and died; he also asks about the purpose of the veil and her membership in the Union of the Hideously and Improbably Deformed (U.H.I.D.)

In his analysis of this section, Greg Carlisle in Elegant Complexity, notes that this section is about Orbits, Circles, Attraction and Repulsion. Marathe and Steeply go round and round, like Joelle and Don do at the end, and like Don and his crew did physically with the guy who’d been shot. Annulation is about circles, a hug is a circle, as is the circle at the NA meeting. Joelle describes herself as fatally attractive, like the Odalisque in JOI’s film and the tape discussed by Marathe and Steeply. Tavis is either smaller or bigger than life.

What did everyone else think, and how is the adjusted pace?

For next week on 9/8 we’re reading the first part of chapter 26, which is 538-575.

9/15 pp 575-619
9/22 pp 619-665
9/29 pp 665-711
10/6 pp 711-755
10/13 pp 755-808
10/20 pp 809-854
10/27 pp 854-902
11/3 pp 902-941
11/10 941-981 THE END

Infinite Jest readalong pages 442-489

August 28th, 2015


I’m late this week with the blog post but school and soccer and the state fair all started this week, so forgive me. It’s been kinda crazy around here

This week we’re talking about chapter 24 which covers pages 442-487 in Infinite Jest. This chapter was mostly about the mind (dreams and memories) and the head.

p. 442 Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. More Don Gately at AA. I found this section interesting, as it repeated some Don in AA stuff we’ve read before. I know that DFW and his editor Michael Pietsch edited this book closely, so I don’t think it can be a mistake. Why do you think we’re getting things about Don and sobriety again, like how the people thank him after he’s honest, or driving around? There is new stuff, though, such as his alcoholic mother.

The fish story on p. 445 was later the basis for DFW’s famous Kenyon graduation speech, This is Water, which you can watch on Youtube here.

DFW was given pressure during his life for including too much fact in his fiction, and too much fiction in his supposedly factual non-fiction pieces. The “Tough Shit But You Still Can’t Drink” group name seems like a perfect DFW name rather than a real one, which I bet some of them are (like Advanced Basics.)

p. 449 Very Late October Y.D.A.U. Hal has bad dreams about shattering teeth. Mario is upset that Madame Psychosis is gone, and we learn in note 180 that Corbett Thorp drove Mario to the radio station to investigate, learned she performed behind a screen, after which he became agitated.

p. 450 9 November Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. More about ETA. It’s confirmed that Tavis might be Mario’s father. Tavis

knows what James Incandenza could not have cared about less: the key to the successful administration of a top-level junior tennis academy lies in cultivating a kind of reverse-Buddhism, a state of Total Worry. (451)

The section goes into detail about grueling tennis drills and ends with Hal telling Schtitt that inside the head is “Where I’m going to occur as a player.” (461)

Next section, 461-469, Don is the cook and gets to take the car to go shopping and drive dangerously. Don’s accidental killing of Fortier is no longer on the books, but his driver’s license issues could come bubbling up at any time, rather like the memories in the earlier Don section. Don doesn’t want to go back to prison, not because he’s afraid of the inmates, but because it’s easy to use there and there aren’t many recovery meetings. During Don’s intake to Ennet House Pat Montesian told him about blackouts.

I recently read Sarah Hepola’s memoir Blackout. In it, she notes that the latest science says that blackouts happen at about a blood alcohol of .30. The person continues to function, but others can’t tell when the blackout starts or ends. What happens in the brain, though, is the hippocampus shuts down, stops making short-term memories, so the person is simply reacting to what is going on around them, and then not storing what happens.


p 470-475. Marathe and Steeply again, discussing overloading on pleasure, brain stimulation, government experiment called MK Ultra (probably referenced also in the recent movie, American Ultra).

Back to Ennet House 475-480 where Don takes the car out, and while driving recklessly hits a cup that hits the door of the Antitoi brothers, and then the point of view switches for the rest of the chapter from 480-489.

The Antitois are Canadians, sent down to be a tiny cell of rebellion, which they’ve done by selling drugs to people (Poor Tony, Pemulis). Lucien is the big stupid one, not unlike Don Gately, who likes to sweep and made his own broom. Too late, he hears the squeak. The AFR assassins interrupt his brother Bertraund’s dinner of Habitant soupe au pois, used as an exampe by Marathe earlier in the book, and demand to know if the brothers know where the master copy of a certain cartridge is. Like Fortier, killed by Don, Lucien doesn’t understand and dies a gruesome death.

For next week, we’re reading our last entire chapter (chapters are marked by moon thingies), which is 25/28. The last three chapters will all be split up into small chunks, as they’re the longest.

What did everyone else think, and why do you think the Don G. repetition? I’m suspecting it’s because someone else narrated an earlier section (Hal? Joelle?) but Gately himself narrates this one (note the use of the racial slurs, as Gately does.)

Here’s the rest of the schedule as a reminder. Meet me here next Tuesday and I should be back on track blogging up to page 538.

9/1 pp 489-538
9/8 pp 538-575
9/15 pp 575-619
9/22 pp 619-665
9/29 pp 665-711
10/6 pp 711-755
10/13 pp 755-808
10/20 pp 809-854
10/27 pp 854-902
11/3 pp 902-941
11/10 941-981 THE END

Infinite Jest Readalong ch 23, 380-442

August 18th, 2015

The last section, which alternated between Eschaton and Boston AA, was about triggering situations. This section (the 23rd moon) is about hygienic stress. I’m going to both recap and comment, so let’s see how this goes. I’m writing this well in advance of the pub date of this post–look at me; I’m so responsible!

P 380:


Mario’s puppet film adaptation of his dad’s ONANtiad, explaining Gentle’s administration, Tine’s role (did he remind anyone else of Dick Cheney, written years before Cheney held power?), and how the convexity/concavity came to be.

p. 386. Lyle and a kid named Marlon Bain who sweats a lot. David Foster Wallace also had problems with excess sweat. Lyle counsels other kids who sneak out of the film to get advice.

p. 390 more Mario’s movie, with alternating headlines, some of which we’re told is false. This is an interesting echo: DFW put a lot of fiction in his “fact” non-fiction writing, and a lot of fact in his fiction. Hard to tell sometimes which is which.

p. 394 “Do not underestimate objects” says Lyle to Ortho Stice, whose room gets rearranged while he sleeps.

p. 395 Hal thinks about some of JOI’s movies

398: more headlines and puppet movie

407: The Eric Clipperton story, about the kid who brought a Glock onto the court and threatened to shoot himself. It mirrors how Gentle threatens to bomb his own territory.

410: Hal, and the history of advertising, the fall of network TV and advertising.


Marathe and Steeply argue about soup, and personal choice. Steeply doesn’t have a lot of ground to stand on, so to speak.

430 Clipperton is accidentally properly ranked, flips out and visits ETA. There was video of Clipperton when he finally shot himself, in the company of Mario and JOI, but it was buried with JOI along with a bunch of other stuff.

434 Yay, back to Don Gately, who “sunlights on the side.” Wow, how about that job, eh? I thought my “secretary at a tanning salon having to wipe up people’s sweat” was bad.

436 The sad Nestle Quik story feeds back into Mario’s film and we are shown how the subsidized time came to be based on naming rights and Chinese menus.