Sunday, January 25, 2015

My Year in Books: 2014.

Ever since I challenged myself in 2009 to read 52 books in the year, I established some good reading habits to keep up the momentum. I've relaxed on the challenge aspect of reading, since I don't want to deter from reading longer books just because they may take more time.

This year I managed to read 42 books. It was an inspiring year in reading; I discovered a lot of writers partly because I was seeking out original voices and going to book readings in Brooklyn, and partly because I joined a couple of literary groups. I met people in those groups and followed them on social media and heard of a lot of new writers; some of them were even writers themselves.

Here are the the books I read this year in chronological order, the star rating I gave them on Goodreads, and those that are bold became all-time favorite books of mine.

01 The Best American Magazine Writing 2013, ASME *****
02 Powers, Vol 1: Who Killed Retro Girl?, Brian Michael Bendis ***** (re-read)
03 Like Life, Lorrie Moore ****
04 A Story Lately Told, Anjelica Huston ****
05 1800 Miles to Nowhere, Brian Diaz ***
06 Salvador, Joan Didion ****
07 Ms. Marvel, No 1, Willow G. Wilson *****
08 S., J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst ***
09 The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton *****
10 Disgrace, J.M. Coatzee *
11 The Last Thing He Wanted, Joan Didion ****
12 Songs for the Missing, Stewart O'Nan **
13 After Henry, Joan Didion ****
14 The Yellow King and Other Stories, Robert W. Chambers ***
15 Swimming, Joanna Hershon ****
16 The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham ****
17 Powers, Vol 2: Roleplay, Brian Michael Bendis ***
18 Powers, Vol 3: Little Deaths, Brian Michael Bendis ***
19 Powers, Vol 4: Supergroup, Brian Michael Bendis *****
20 Powers, Vol 5: Anarchy, Brian Michael Bendis ****
21 The Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina Henriquez *****
22 Powers, Vol 6: The Sellouts, Brian Michael Bendis ****
23 Powers, Vol 7: Forever, Brian Michael Bendis *****
24 Powers, Vol 8: Legends, Brian Michael Bendis ****
25 Powers, Vol 9: Psychotic, Brian Michael Bendis ****
26 Powers, Vol 10: Cosmic, Brian Michael Bendis ***
27 Powers, Vol 11: Secret Identity, Brian Michael Bendis ****
28 The Most Dangerous Animal of All, Gary L. Stewart and Susan D. Mustafa **
29 Cutting Teeth, Julia Fierro *****
30 Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York, ed. Sari Botton ****
31 The Woman Upstairs, Claire Messud ****
32 Friendship, Emily Gould ****
33 Wild, Cheryl Strayed *****
34 Middlemarch, George Eliot ****
35 Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay *****
36 Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ****
37 Nightwood, Djuna Barnes ****
38 All the Roads That Lead From Home, Anne Leigh Parrish ****
39 NW, Zadie Smith ***
40 A Million Miles, Amy Fleisher Madden *****
41 Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel *****
42 Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed *****

Like I said, it was an inspiring year in reading. One of my favorite new authors, Roxane Gay, who wrote Bad Feminist, had a fun superlative-y way of of recounting her year in reading -- here's me trying to do the same...

My favorite book of the year, and perhaps the last decade--a novel in which I saw myself and my mother and the important stories of of those who rarely have their voices heard: The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

My second favorite book of the year, because when one becomes inundated with apocalyptic premises, this one will sneak up on your and make you realize the beauty in your own world: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

A book dear to my heart that fills me with pride in my friend and honor to have been asked to edit it as it headed towards publication: A Million Miles by Amy Fleisher Madden

Examples of well-written novels that are great reads without having a "relatable" protagonist to root for (something I despise when people evaluate a story): Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro, The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

Example of a not-so-well-written true story with a narrator you're supposed to like but by the end you kind of hate and you were glad when you got some money for it when you traded it in before moving across the country because c'mon, not even a DNA test?: The Most Dangerous Animal of All by Gary L. Stewart (who believes his father was the Zodiac)

She wrote how many pages at what age and won what award what am I doing with my life this is amazing!?: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

Book I tried because of its Celebrated Author but became confused as to why it was any good at all: Disgrace by J.M. Coatzee

Now understand why this marvel is a classic: Middlemarch by George Eliot

Book that started out like watching the pilot episode of LOST and then became the final season of LOST and just...uh...lost me: S by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

Short stories that stayed with me for such a long time I had to take breaks between reading the next story: All the Roads That Lead From Home by Anne Leigh Parrish

Cannot wait for the movie because LUPITA: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Books that made me cry in public: Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

What was the best thing you read in 2014?

Previously: 2009 | 2012 2013

Friday, January 23, 2015

My Favorite Albums of 2014.

Yes, I'm late. It's nearly February of 2015! I will say -- I think I already like more music in 2015 than I did in 2014. 2014, for me, was the year of the soundtrack... and some of those songs weren't released in 2014, but I'm counting it either way.

But I did deem two albums my Queen and King.

St. Vincent / St. Vincent

I've loved Annie's music for a long time, but this one, aptly self-titled, is her best album yet. She's a musical genius whose songs and sounds mesmerize me. For instance, probably my favorite sound or recorded aural moment of 2014 was in the song "Huey Lewis" during an instrumental break that starts around 2:10 and really revs around 2:36. That point that it revs? I remember walking to work in New York and listening to this song for a few weeks straight during that walk -- and pushing up the volume at that moment to drown out everything and get pumped for the day. It still works. Every single song on this album works.


Ryan Adams / Ryan Adams


Ryan has been a favorite for years, clearly, since this very space on the internet is named after a lyric in one of his songs. And this S/T shines with some brilliant moments; some of his best music in years. There's something more calm in him, but with that ever-present soulfulness that I love his music for. It's also coupled with the fact that Jesse surprised me with tickets to see Ryan Adams a week after moving to Los Angeles in December--the sound of the newest songs vibrated within me. When he sang "New York, New York" I began to cry. Then he sang "Dear Chicago" into "Lucky Now" and I bawled; it was a necessary catharsis. I live here now. I love him always.

Here's my Rdio playlist of some songs from my favorites of 2014 -- the rest of the list is below --


Against Me! / Transgender Dysmorphia Blues

The throaty wails and strength remain, it's power and it's beautiful.


OK Go / Hungry Ghosts

The best album they've recorded. The videos are still brilliant -- but I've definitely danced around in my room alone because this music gets me pumped UP.


The Xcerts / There Is Only You

Jesse played this album over and over and over again. And now I love it.



Boyhood - my most listened to song of the year was "Hero" by Family of the Year
Begin Again - yes freakin' Adam Levine is in this movie and on this soundtrack SORRY I LOVE IT
Only Lovers Left Alive - death / life / love / eternity / guitaaaarzzz
Whiplash - what the hell I'm listening to instrumental jazz on the daily now what IT'S SO GOOD
Under the Skin - eerie being eerie

I must mention that Fiona Apple wrote a title song for the Showtime drama The Affair and that song is like eight million times better than that show is and I think I just pressed next episode JUST TO HEAR THAT SONG PLAY OVER THE TITLES. And yet! And yet!!!!! It's unavailable for purchase anywhere. I've looked. If you find it, tell me. I sink back into the ocean...


Honorable Mentions:
The Both / The Both
The Menzingers / Rented World


What about yourself? January has already been fruitful with releases: Sleater-Kinney's No Cities to Love is giving me life, Bjork's surprise early release, Mark Ronson's dance fest Uptown Special is the soundtrack to my dinner-cooking most nights. But we'll save that list for the end of this year...

Here's some of my past top albums: 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2012 | 2013

Saturday, January 3, 2015

New York City you're almost gone.

It’s 2015 now, and I live in Los Angeles. I moved here two weeks ago and it’s been a transition of a magnitude I’ve never experienced before—and I grew up moving every two years in a military family. It’s good, though, for the most part (what move isn’t without its downfalls?).

I don’t fear change or adjustment (probably due to aforementioned upbringing), and I’m looking forward to finding my routine in this wild west. Sometimes I feel as though I was physically launched from New York to Los Angeles as if a cartoon, pried loose like a splinter deeply entrenched in Brooklyn and flailed across the miles to land with a few bumps softened by Jesse’s tight embrace in the sunny December heat of the San Fernando valley.

New apartment, new car, but same friends, same job. New office, right in our new home.

It’s been interesting – no, not “interesting,” what a bland word – it’s been odd, magnificent, thrilling, strange, fun, and weird the past couple of weeks in the road to acclimation. Jesse and I have been married for five years (an anniversary celebrated in 2014), but it’s the first time we’ve found ourselves living in a space that’s all our own. New York means roommates. These last two weeks, though, have been a revelation and we’ve reveled in our newfound independence with each other. We’ve even learned a few things about each other in this two-bed, two-bath that were previously undiscovered or indecipherable in that giant loft space (with various roommates over the years). It’s a bit of a rebirth, an enlightening new view of my husband and this relationship. I like it.

There’s still more thoughts on 2014 to come in their usual form: what I consumed in 2014 art-wise and how it fell in rank by year’s end. I’ve been collecting thoughts on New York the Joan Didion way, of course. That goodbye is formulating somewhere in the back of my mind. I’ve had no chance to really sit down and write the past month—that’s what packing and unpacking and organizing and working a day job and flying across the country with a cat and fretting over big money purchases will do to a person. But, I miss it. I mean to continue the writing routine I established last year, starting here, starting now.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Planes and plains.

A whirling weekend involving impromptu travel plans began promptly at 5:15am Friday morning. I'd fallen asleep only five hours before, the twinge of excitement alive in my stomach making sleep fitful (also to blame: the nocturnally hungry cats). But the adrenaline pumped as my alarm went off and I showered, put on my pre-planned air travel outfit (slouchy dolman shirt, slouchy boyfriend jeans, a study in ultimate comfort) and threw my toothbrush in my backpack.

Arriving at the airport at 6:30am I busied myself near the gate with the iPads available to order breakfast at every seat around. Coffee, bagel STAT. An hour until boarding. Perused internet places, fell in love with some writers, felt even more motivated to write more. Mentally noted some places I could take my characters next time I sat down to write.

Boarding! Got to my window seat, opened my book, and promptly fell asleep. An hour and a half later I woke up and didn't understand why we were still on the tarmac at LaGuardia. WHAT IS HAPPENING?

And that's where everything devolved. We eased back to a different gate due to a mechanical issue with the air conditioning. And then we heard the problem could be solved! With a new part! That would take 4-5 hours to arrive from JFK airport. And so, at 10:30am my 8:30am flight was rescheduled for 5pm.

I was supposed to arrive in Minneapolis at 10:30am, pick up my rental car, and be reunited with husband, band, cool studio/house by noon on Friday. Instead, I did not arrive until well after 9pm. I spent my day at LaGuardia.

The moment that I cracked? I was waiting standby for the fourth Minneapolis flight of the day at 4pm, surrounded by the others from my stranded flight hoping to get on another, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was a co-worker who was sweating profusely.
-- Jessica! What are you doing here?
-- I've been here since 6:30am! What are YOU doing here?!
-- I am going to visit my friends in Minneapolis! I thought I was going to be late, I've been running through the airport. Oh, look my zone's boarding! I hope you get on this flight!
I stood there as she scurried to the gate agent. I watched her drag her carry-on behind her and walk right under the screen that had my name listed as #13 on stand-by priority. And then I started laughing. She'd been in the airport for maybe 20 minutes. And she was on her way to Minneapolis!

As I stood by the window to the new gate at 5pm, waiting for my original flight, I started laughing at the absurdity again. That's right: I was laughing to myself, by myself. When the plane pulled into the gate I was quite shocked. I raised my hands over my head, gleeful and unbelieving. IT'S HERE! I yelled. FULL OF GLEE.

Because many people from the original flight were lucky enough to fly stand-by earlier or get another flight or cancel altogether, I had a whole row to myself when my original flight finally took off at 6:30pm. YUP. I slept most of the way, and the adrenaline returned as I stepped off the plane into MINNESOTA. I nearly dropped to my knees and kissed the ground. But that's gross.

I picked out my rental car, plugged my iPhone into the car, entered the address for the house and I was on my way! It was actually quite a beautiful ride as I drove further into the rural countryside. And then, as it grew darker, I remembered my true feelings about rural countrysides: they are scary.

But I arrived soundly at house Pachyderm, a rental living space and music studio, where Nirvana most famously recorded In Utero. The Motion City men are recording their sixth album there. When I entered the house I was met with complete silence (it was empty since they were recording in the studio building). On first impression, the house looks like it was built in the '60s (it was), but not in the woods of Minnesota, more like the hills of California. Perhaps it was because I was just reading about the Manson murders and the death of the '60s, but I was like, this looks like a murder house. There's orange carpeting and floor to ceiling windows. It's so retro California and at night the windows are pitch black and anybody outside can look in without you noticing. These are the thoughts I have. I mean, serial killers live in the woods, right?

Luckily Jesse met me and showed me the rest of the premises, but he had to get back to recording. He told me to relax, swim in that indoor pool if I wanted (it was very inviting after being in an airport all day!), and just chill out. So, I attempted to. The pool is poorly lit and the bottom of the pool is painted black, so pair that with the giant wall of black windows, I was little skittish. But the pool was warm! It was inviting! I got in and dipped under water. When I came back up I heard a BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! above me, like someone running through the kitchen. It ended up being Justin coming back to the house for something, but that was the moment the water grew cold and I started shivering and I tip-toed back to Jesse's room for a hot shower, locking every door behind me. 

Black bottom pool
The house is very beautiful, but, y'know, it's also feels like MURDER HOUSE at night. MIGHT JUST BE ME?!?!!?!

Saturday, my only complete day to be spent in my husband's presence, was a fun day filled with friends. Fellow MCS wives Lindsay and Jill joined, along with our best man Jason, and other new people. There was a lot of catching up and game-playing while the men wrote and recorded. We drank wine and listened to the progress of the recorded songs. I cannot wait to hear the finished versions of these songs. They have me amped. Lindsay and I are already planning dance moves at future shows. When the guys wrapped up for the evening we sat around the dining room table discussing all sorts of topics, but me, I mostly talked about serial killers.

Discussion about some keyboard parts
Takes three men to get this grill to work
Work work work
And on to another subject entirely. It must be noted that throughout this whole weekend, my best friend in the whole world was in labor. I was anxious with updates and I didn't want to go to bed until I'd heard a baby had been born. So around 2am I was able to breathe easy again and let me tell you, as the first of my close friends to have a baby, the photos of that baby made me weep with joy and dance around because he is beautiful and I am so happy for my friend. 

It was a sad Sunday morning, as only about 36 hours had passed, and I was packing up to leave again. Jesse and I made breakfast and sipped coffees looking at photos of our friend's new baby. Everyone else slowly joined the kitchen congregation and then it was time for me to say my goodbyes even though I'd just said hello. 

The drive to the airport quickly took my mind off any melancholy, however, because it began pouring a solid wall of water and my fear-filled weekend ended on a note of hydroplane anxiety. I made it fine however, because I am an excellent driver. 

I boarded the plane on time, it left on time, and it even arrived in New York on time. As I de-planed I noticed my co-worker that I'd seen on Friday had been on the same flight as myself, too. Oh, oh the coincidences--that we must not ignore, because that's the beauty of life, right?

Funny one because I like it

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Yesterday: the heat.

There were two plans and both involved going to the movies and one was reliant on another factor and included the director doing a Q&A and the other was just two ladies getting together for a subversive comedy. First plan devolved and then the second shortly after. I went home to the cats.

The cats were happy to see me and I was unhappy to see their fur coming off their bodies in swaths. The heat! The air was thick not only with humidity but also cat hair.

I made myself comfortable and heated up my leftover Thai food and got up again to crack open that last Crispin cider in the fridge because did I mention it was hot? The humidity was making my hair reach out to there.

The second season of Orange is the New Black continues to prove that there are still many, many stories out there left to be told (let's stop re-hashing the same stuff, right?) and a lot of those untold stories are that of women and people of color. I admired the brilliant unfolding of the fourth episode with Lorna's backstory. It's just full of the kind of storylines and people I don't see in the media much. More of this! More, please, more.

My attempt to stay cool in the apartment were dwindling as my cider evaporated but lucky for me Adam was nearby and he too enjoys cider. I walked into the bar and he already had two ciders waiting. Somebody asked if we were hydrating by drinking pints of water. Oh no, dear friend. This is cider.

After I flopped onto my bed and slept barely in that warmth. The cat wanted to snuggle like most nights but I had to push him away; what are you crazy? I said.

Tonight, my own personal brand of torture: doing laundry.