I Have a TinyLetter Now

Would you like to hear from me more often? Well, then, you are in luck! I am now writing a tiny little TinyLetter. With each edition, I’ll recommend five things that I think are worth spending time on. That’s it! (Last week’s letter included a book, a miniseries, some new music, sandwiches, and a form of low-impact exercise.)

You can subscribe here.

Every Book I’ve Read So Far This Year (2016 Edition)

Hi. Um, hello. I’m having a little trouble opening this post because, well…it’s been a while since I’ve written anything. Really, I’ve written nothing – not even a (private) journal entry – since my last post here. So this is pretty hard to start, even though it’s just a recap of what I’ve read so far this year.

While I haven’t felt much inclination to write – actually, it’s more like, I haven’t felt able to write, because I can’t decide which writing projects are realistic and worth pursuing and am worried about having the time and motivation to complete them – I’ve wanted to read pretty much constantly. My new job takes most of my energy and six months in, I’m still adjusting to its pace and the time commitment it requires. Reading – on the subway, on the chopped salad line at lunch, in bed before I go to sleep – makes me feel good. It temporarily removes me from the cycle of worrying about work. Engaging with a book or an article brings me back to myself and reminds me that real life exists  outside the walls of my cubicle.

I could continue with this sentiment, but I’m sure I’ve written thirteen versions of this post in the last four years, so I won’t. In short, I still love reading! And I still would rather get paid a decent salary (plus benefits) to do nothing but read and generally consume the hell out of all kinds of art and, of course, eat good sandwiches. Anyway, here are some brief reviews (five sentences or less! (or is it “fewer”?)) of what I did read in my spare time between January 1 and March 31 of this year.


Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona is a young shapeshifter who is hellbent on becoming the sidekick to the notorious villain Lord Ballister Blackheart. Together, Nimona and Blackheart set out to expose their kingdom’s Institute of Law Enforcement and Blackheart’s sworn enemy, Sir Ambrose Goldenloin. Even though those two sentences probably mean nothing to you, I don’t want to tell you much more about this delightful and witty graphic novel that’s a little bit fantasy and a little bit sci fi and a lot wonderful.

To get a taste, you can check out the original webcomic here.



Outline by Rachel Cusk

This slim novel contains so much wisdom, I literally want to read it again just to make sure that I’m not overstating. Each of its ten chapters focus on a single conversation that the protagonist, a writer traveling in Athens to teach a weeklong workshop, has with friends, colleagues, or strangers. Cusk brilliantly demonstrates how necessary storytelling is to living and the common experiences that bind us all together. Out of everything I’ve read so far this year, this is the book I’ve recommended the most and the one I’m most likely to reread.



The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

Did you see the movie Carol? Then you know the entire plot of this book.

If you didn’t, it’s about an innocent-ish shopgirl in 1950s New York City who begins an affair with an older housewife that turns, well, kind of dangerous. It’s a smart, satisfying mystery (it is Highsmith after all) and I couldn’t put it down. Best of all, it gave my book club a lot to talk about.



Girl In A Band by Kim Gordon

Even though I’ve been a “fan” of Kim Gordon since I decided to become cool in college, I never knew much about her beyond basic biographical details gleaned from Wikipedia and what I remember of the Sonic Youth chapter in Our Band Could Be Your Life. On second thought, I probably knew more about her prior to reading Girl In A Band than I know about some of my friends today.

ANYWAY, her memoir candidly explains how she became a founder of a very important band and a rock goddess, from her youth in 1960s southern California to her artworld days in Dirty Old New York City, and really goes in on her ex-husband and co-founder of Sonic Youth, Thurston Moore, who cheated on her for years like a fucking scumbag. Also, she has met or is friends with like, everyone ever. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, even though it reads like it was dictated, which I think is my only big complaint about it.


Good-Bye to All That by Robert Graves

As a female Brooklynite of a certain age, it probably doesn’t surprise people when I tell them that one of my favorite books of all time is Good-Bye to All That. Except, gotcha, I don’t mean Joan Didion’s “Goodbye to All That” – which isn’t even a book, it’s an essay – I mean poet/novelist/critic/classicist Robert Graves’ only memoir, which he published while he was still in his thirties, in 1929. It covers his childhood during the final years of Queen Victoria’s reign, his often cruel experience at boarding school, and his time serving with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in World War I. Good-Bye to All That is a beautiful, funny, terrifying (there’s a lot of war stuff), name-droppy (in a good way, though) farewell to English life. Reading it as a twenty-eight year-old amateur historian (and Robert Graves fangirl) was just as wonderful as reading it the first time around, as a twenty-one year-old history student who almost skimmed it but figured she’d get more out of her class if she actually did the assigned reading.


The Infinite Wait and Other Stories by Julia Wertz

I was so happy when I finally read Drinking at the Movies, Wertz’s first graphic memoir, that I couldn’t wait to read more of her work. The Infinite Wait didn’t have the same impact for me, but it was still super funny and relatable and, I think, a really great way to spend a few hours. Wertz is a talented storyteller and a delightful weirdo and I will gladly read anything she puts out. (Check out some of the New York history comics she did in the last year and also her site.)


Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie

Holy hell, I forgot how much I loved reading about the Romanovs. Actually, that’s not quite true, as it’s hard to forget something that’s been one of one’s favorite pastimes since the age of ten, but I hadn’t read anything about them in quite a while and was quite glad that I read this particular book because it was immensely satisfying. It helps that Massie’s subject, the last Romanov tsar and tsaritsa, have one of the most interesting and tragic stories of anyone born into great wealth and fame in modern times. It also helps that Massie writes like a novelist, is more sympathetic to Nicholas and Alexandra than many historians, and gets to share the tale of RASPUTIN, who I still can’t believe isn’t made up. If you’re looking for an entertaining history book, pick this up immediately.


Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

I don’t think I would have ever read this if my book club hadn’t picked it. It’s been on my list for years and I couldn’t bring myself to ever start it. It seems I was right to fear reading Wide Sargasso Sea. Though very short, it was both hard for me to get through and nightmare-inducing. Jean Rhys knows how to write a phrase, though, and I would still like to pick up one of her earlier novels, which seem like they would be more up my alley.



High-Rise by J.G. Ballard

Speaking of nightmare-inducing, here is another book that is just that. High-Rise is about the inhabitants of a luxury apartment building on the outskirts of London, who are compelled to go to actual war with each other. That sentence doesn’t really accurately describe just how intense and gory and scary this book is, which is why I am writing another sentence to tell you that this book is intense and gory and scary. Ballard wrote High-Rise in the 1970s, but reading it today, I felt like he was describing our current society in so many ways, from our government to social media. Also, this is about to be a movie with Tom Hiddleston – it comes out next month – so read it quick.


Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine

This graphic story collection destroyed me. And I didn’t even really like two of the stories that much. I mean, I still liked all of them but it’s just that I liked some of them soooo much that some of the others seemed not really that good. My favorites were “A Brief History of the Art Form Known As Hortisculpture” and “Amber Sweet” and “Killing and Dying”. I’m realizing that I’m not really reviewing Killing and Dying or telling you it’s good and instead I’m just stating “I really liked this” in different ways, so how about I just stop right here and you go read it and then we can talk about what you think about it, OK?


The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Without spoiling anything, I can tell you that this book is about a couple who lives in a lighthouse on an island off the coast of Western Australia in the 1920s, finds a baby washed ashore in a rowboat, and decides to raise her as their own. And there are consequences for their actions. The Light Between Oceans is dramatic in that so-so period drama kind of way. It’s entertaining, but it doesn’t always make sense. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone except for my grandma, who would probably think it’s “too sad” anyway, but it did keep me distracted during an entire flight to Austin, which is saying something.


Coming Up Next Time (Probably):

I’ll definitely “review” A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, as well as a soon-to-be published novel that I liked a whole lot. And I will possibly review Morning Star by Pierce Brown, Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt, and War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, provided I finish them before June is over. 

One last thing: When I was typing “War and Peace” before, I accidentally typed “Wart and Peace” and it made me laugh.

Body Issues

A few weeks ago, a new-ish friend asked me if I would be interested in running a four-mile race with him in Central Park in February. You clearly don’t know me well enough, I told him. If there’s one thing I loathe more than running outdoors, it’s exercising in the company of anyone I know. Plus, I said, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gone for a run in the last few years. There’s no way I could be ready to run a four-mile race in just a few weeks, even if I wanted to.

As I’ve gotten further into my twenties, it seems like everyone around me is more interested in exercise – both for health and for fun. Many close friends of mine, friends who were not runners when we met, have become serial participators in 5Ks and 10Ks and half-marathons. Others have become devotees of pilates or barre or, in a few cases (and I’m still not certain if this is more of a joke than a real thing), jazzercise. One good friend rock climbs at a climbing gym several times a week. He brought me there once and, though I did end up having a good time, I was so exhausted and overwhelmed by the experience that I never went back.

When it comes to exercise, I don’t have a THING. Actually, that’s not totally true. My real thing has become reading The New Yorker while on the elliptical machine or treadmill in the Greenpoint YMCA’s cardio room. I joke about this a lot, but it really is what I do to “work out”. And I don’t do it nearly enough.

I’ve always had a hard time motivating myself to exercise. Even though I know it will make me feel good and may even make me “healthier” – whatever that means – I almost always prefer doing an activity that requires minimal movement, like writing or cooking, to going for a jog or attending a gym class. And I have a hard time buying into the cult of fitness, something that’s only seemed to grow more intense (at least in urban areas) with the rise of non-traditional exercise routines like SoulCycle and fitness startups like ClassPass in the last few years.

This all makes me feel sort of adrift when it comes to figuring out what’s best for me in terms of “staying in shape” or “maintaining a healthy body weight” or any other fitness-related goals I think I should have.

Running really doesn’t work for me. Every time I’ve tried to get into it, even when I was I was a teenager and under the supervision of a coach, I’ve gotten injured. And, as I’ve stated, I seriously dislike group exercise (other than yoga, for some reason). I really, truly am not interested in pedaling on a stationary bike while someone with an extremely toned body spews motivational bullshit into a wireless microphone headset.

Perhaps you’re reading this and thinking, OK, so if you don’t like exercise…then don’t do it. Or maybe you’re saying, Hey, dummy, you should just try doing more of the stuff you know you like and can do, like using cardio machines at the gym or yoga or, even though you didn’t mention this, taking really, really long walks, which is another thing you like to do.

But who knows what you’re thinking? All I know is that my brain vacillates between telling me to not exercise and telling me to exercise and now, at the end of the first month of the new year, it’s driving me crazy.

Of course, I’m always like this. As I’ve said, I’m not naturally motivated to exercise. But the reason I’m super ambivalent about exercise now, more than usual, is because – once again – I’ve developed pretty negative feelings about my body.

I haven’t weighed myself in months, but I know I’m at the heaviest I’ve been since prior to going on Weight Watchers in 2010. (I lost 20 lbs over the course of a year, tried to maintain that weight for another year, and then backslid over time into my old habits of eating and drinking whatever I wanted to and not exercising more than twice a week or for longer than 30 minutes at a time.) My pants still fit, but not really. I make jokes on Twitter about unbuttoning them all the time, but it’s actually because they’re pretty uncomfortable when I’m sitting at my desk all day! I don’t look “fat” or “bad” or “unhealthy”. I just don’t feel good anymore.

I only go to the gym a few times a month now. And that might even be an exaggeration. But I used to go a few times a week. I haven’t gone to yoga in two years; I quit going to my regular class because it interfered with a German class I was taking (and later quit, both because of lack of funds and the severe embarrassment I felt after drunkenly hooking up with a classmate who I’d had a bit of a crush on and who most likely lost any warm feelings he’d had toward me after that night). And even though my gym has a pool, I refuse to even consider getting into it – I know it’s weird to bring up swimming now, but I should have mentioned before that I was a competitive swimmer (of questionable talent) through high school – because it has an irregular lap swim schedule, only has four lanes, is shorter than 25 yards, and looks ill-kept.

I know what I should do to not feel like this (gross): Slowly get back into working out, doing the things that I know I can handle and ramp up the frequency. There was a time I had never jogged on a treadmill or done yoga. I know I can do those things again, but it’s just a matter of…doing them. Or overcoming the fear of doing them. I’m afraid that I won’t “see results” and therefore won’t feel better about myself. I’m afraid of getting too extreme, as I did back in my Weight Watchers days, when I used exercise to punish myself for not being thin enough or good enough or loveable enough or whatever it was that led me to become obsessive about Weight Watchers in the first place.* I wonder if I’ll ever be able to find a balance.

So, I think I’ve been building up to telling you this crazy fact, which is that I’m going to the gym tonight. I brought my gym clothes with me today so that I have to go directly there after work and cannot make up an excuse to not go once I get home. My plan is to walk on the treadmill for a bit and maybe get on the elliptical. I (literally) do not want to hurt myself, so I think taking it slow for now is best.

I probably won’t be running races anytime soon. And I really don’t think I’ll be participating in the 40-mile bike race my dad asked me to sign up for the other day. But maybe I’ll try one of these dumb classes (not SoulCycle, please don’t make me do Soul Cycle) sometime if I can at least get myself back into yoga. And I’m definitely going to attempt to normalize the way I think about myself again, to get back to being OK with the choices I make in terms of food and exercise and not judging myself or comparing myself to other people.

I don’t really know how to end this in a meaningful or very conclusive way, so I’ll just blurt out some final thoughts in the form of a numbered list and hope they are satisfactory to read.

  1. I understand that exercise is an important part of “being healthy” but I really don’t like it! (However, I will admit that most of the time I feel really good after I do it.)
  2. It’s annoying when people suggest different forms of exercise to me or urge me to try something new. It’s super cool if you’re into, for example, barre (which I don’t even really understand, like as a concept) but I’ll do it if I decide that I want to do it and not because you asked me to.
  3. I worry about everyone’s devotion to exercise classes and gyms in general, because they (the gyms, fitness franchises, etc.) are clearly out to make a lot of money off of people who are willing to pay them and not to promote health for all humans. But hey, we’re all (pretty much) participants in capitalism and who am I to tell anyone where they should spend their money? (For the record, I spend most of my money, after rent, on food and booze and entertainment like books and movies. My gym costs $50 per month.)
  4. (If you like exercising and going to classes and those are things that make you happy, please don’t hate me! I want everyone to just do their thing that makes them happy.)
  5. Sometimes I feel bad about my body. Mostly it’s because I look around and I see and hear people talking about diet and exercise. And I compare what I’m eating to what they’re eating and I compare my body to theirs.
  6. But I don’t really want to be a person who is really into the gym and has intense goals when it comes to weight or strength or whatever.
  7. I just want to find the best way to feel better about myself without turning into a crazy person who is obsessed with calorie-counting and/or burning calories. (Or Points. It was all about the Points when I was on Weight Watchers.)
  8. I know I should not care and just run around naked like Lena Dunham or love myself the way I am like Amy Schumer keeps telling me to do but I’m obviously not quite there yet, otherwise I would be doing those things right now.
  9. Sorry for even bringing Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer up –it seems unfair to reduce them to whatever I just did above – but I felt like I should say something about how it’s great that there are people out there who are talking about body positivity, etc. And I wanted to point out that being confronted by those attitudes – which again, are great and important – in the media makes me feel bad for feeling bad about myself.
  10. Anyway, I’m going to the gym tonight. Go, me!


*Hi! I feel like I should talk more about Weight Watchers. So, the thing is, Weight Watchers really worked for me! I lost a bunch of weight and I was in really great shape after a few months on the program. I didn’t constantly eat and drink to excess and I developed a regular exercise routine. However, this all happened at a pretty weird time in my life. I was just out of college, lived with my parents in the suburbs, and was super depressed. Weight Watchers helped me feel a lot better about myself, my ability to make positive changes, and a bunch of other good crap. BUT I now realize I also used my Weight Watchers success to feel superior to other people who maybe didn’t make the best food choices or didn’t exercise and that wasn’t cool. I talked about Points constantly, shamed my friends for eating or drinking certain things, and was just generally an asshole about how much “better” I looked. Even though it gave me some tools and knowledge I can use again in the future to make living healthier easier, I would think twice about going back on Weight Watchers. It’s hard, I think, to do something that’s so completely about oneself and maintain a normal level of compassion for others.

What I Wrote in 2015

I woke up this morning, on the last day of the year, and thought about writing. I consider doing this often, just getting up and writing. Then I did what I do almost every morning. I hit snooze on my alarm and rolled over. When I finally did get up, after hitting snooze a few more times, I had just enough time to run out for coffee before starting work. (My actual work that I get paid to do.) This, I thought to myself, is why I can never get any writing done. Then I proceeded to get angry at myself for not writing enough this year, for not publishing anywhere other than my own site, for giving up on the novel I’d started, for constantly feeling like I don’t have anything to say, for worrying that no one reads or cares about what I do put out there, for getting caught in this same negative thought cycle all too often.

I decided to stop being angry and to do a thing I had promised I would do more often this year and in the future. I decided to be nice to myself. All of the things I didn’t do this year? I told myself that it’s fine that I didn’t do them. I can do them or not do them later. And all of the things I did? They’re great! I did them.

This lead me to make a list of things I wrote that I liked this year. So, here are the things I wrote that I liked:

I wrote about having crushes.

I wrote about traveling to Iceland by myself.

I wrote about being a fan.

I wrote about getting naked with my friends at the spa.

I wrote about losing my job.

I wrote about talking to strangers in New York City.

I wrote about losing my uncle twelve years ago.

I wrote about what I listened to and what I read.

And I’ll write more next year. Just probably not right when I get up in the morning.

Every Book I Read in 2015


one of the many times this year i attempted to match my manicure to the book i was reading

The year is almost over and I’m probably not going to finish another book, so I figured I might as well write up my annual year in reading post. According to my Goodreads account, I read 37 books in 2015. My goal was to read 24 books and I love exceeding goals, so I feel very good and happy about reading 13 more books than I thought I could.

Throughout 2015, I wrote tiny little reviews of many of the books I read. Here are reviews from January – March, April – June, and July – September. And below is my full roundup from this year, without any commentary because I’m lazy as hell today and I didn’t write any last year either.

Top Five (Non-Ferrante) Novels
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
The Group by Mary McCarthy
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

Ferrante Novels
The Story of a New Name
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
The Story of the Lost Child

Novels I Liked A Whole Lot
Talk by Linda Rosenkrantz
Tampa by Alissa Nutting
Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
The Once and Future King by T.H. White

Graphic Novels/Memoirs I’m Embarrassed to Say I Hadn’t Read Sooner
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman
Drinking at the Movies by Julia Wertz

Novels I Love That I Reread
How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Very Good Essay Collections
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum

Unputdownable True Crime Book
People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished From the Streets of Tokyo – and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Parry

Putdownable True Crime Book
Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann

Other Non-Fiction and Memoir I Was Into
So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead by David Browne
Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl: A Memoir by Carrie Brownstein
Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller
Underground in Berlin: A Young Woman’s Extraordinary Tale of Survival in the Heart of Nazi Germany by Marie Jalowicz Simon

Two Engrossing But Ultimately Disappointing Thrillers
The Girl On the Train by Paula Hawkins
The Secret Place by Tana French

Three Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn
Never Mind
Bad News
Some Hope

Sci Fi or Fantasy Books (Some For My Sci Fi-Fantasy Book Club and Some For “Fun”)
Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Golden Son by Pierce Brown
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

Things I Read For My Non-Genre Book Club That I Find Difficult to Classify
Three Tall Women by Edward Albee
The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks

Books I Started and Didn’t Finish
Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick
Stoner by John Williams
Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music by Rob Young
The First Collection of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic by Jessica Hopper
The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy [Note: I have already read this book and got distracted from my intended reread.]