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.

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Every Book I Read in 2015

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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.]

Friday Reads: Well-Manicured

Friday Read: “The Price of Nice Nails” by Sarah Maslin Nir

I, like everyone else on the internet yesterday, read “The Price of Nice Nails,” an extremely well-reported New York Times story on the abuse and exploitation of nail salon workers.  And I, like many people who were talking about the piece, was shocked by the details. Manicurists in the tri-state area are extremely underpaid and face ethnic discrimination. Most of the anecdotes shared by interviewed manicurists are upsetting to read, whether or not you’re a person who regularly gets their nails done in a salon.

A lot of the discussion I’ve seen following “The Price of Nice Nails” has centered on how to support nail salon workers now that their labor conditions have been exposed to the greater (New York Times-reading) population. I read one comment that suggested the only responsible way for people to react is to do their nails at home, unless they could afford to tip 100%. This made me feel conflicted.

my last gel manicure

my last gel manicure

I get my nails done, if not regularly, then semi-regularly. I’m impatient when it comes to performing any sort of beauty routine – I can barely stand spending ten minutes applying minimal makeup each morning – and my nail painting skill level has never risen above kinda shitty. I love having nice nails and I don’t want to do them myself. I also love the experience of getting a manicure. That’s why I spend around $40 – including tip – for a gel manicure at a fancy-ish chain of salons in North Brooklyn every month or six weeks. Every time I get my nails done, I tip 20%. I know that’s not generous, but I thought it was perfectly acceptable. I can afford to spend $40 on my nails once a month. I cannot afford to spend twice – well, a little less than – that once a month. I wondered if I should, in fact, give up this small luxury.

Sarah Maslin Nir, the author of the article, also published this: “3 Ways to Be a Socially Conscious Nail Salon Consumer.” She suggests that the next time you go to a nail salon, you interview your manicurist, look for a timecard system, and pay (not necessarily tip) more. That seems fair enough to me.

Part 2 of the series, called Unvarnished, was published today. “Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers” will be something I read later today. I was also interested in how this all came to be, so I read this interview in the Times with Sarah Maslin Nir, as well as this interview on Vice.

***

What else did I read this week? (And last week, since I neglected to post last week.)

Another story that made me feel conflicted, “Welcome to Pariahville” is about a community of sex offenders in Florida. (GQ)

This, on ZPM Espresso, a Kickstarter project that failed to launch. (NYT Magazine)

Emily Nussbaum on Amy Schumer’s “raucous feminism.” (The New Yorker)

Sheila Heti’s short story, “My Life Is A Joke” (The New Yorker)

Alana Massey on “The Dickonomics of Tinder” (Matter)

An interview with one of my favorite musicians of late, Mitski. (The Cut)

Brendan O’Connor on “The Mysterious Persistence of the Cronut” (NYT Magazine)

“Split Image,” about the hidden life of Madison Holleran, the Penn athlete who committed suicide last year (ESPN)

***

I continue to read Kate Bolick’s Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, but I keep getting hung up on the fact that she never really seemed to be alone? Like, she always has boyfriends, even though she doesn’t really want them. I don’t know. The book is about more than her own life and I’m interested in what she has to say about her “spinster” role models, so I’m going to try to dive back in this weekend and reserve judgment for after I’ve finished (if I do).

I also just purchased 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. This was my own pick for book club this month, so I’m hoping it’s as good as everyone says it is. (It was on this Oyster list of the 100 Best Books of the Decade So Far.)

Flannery

When I was in fourth grade, my family took a trip to Washington, D.C. My memories of this time are few and hazy, though I remember being excited before we went. As a young nerd, two of my favorite things, in general, were museums and U.S. presidents.

I remember that on the drive down from New York, we stopped in Maryland to eat at a Bob’s Big Boy, which my parents were not happy about. It was my brother Jim’s birthday. We stayed in a hotel, something that, as a large family, we didn’t do often. There was a pool there, which thrilled me and my siblings.

I remember standing in front of the White House on a gray day, my youngest brother at the time beside me in a stroller. We went to Arlington National Cemetery to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame. I was sad to find out that the Kennedys had had a baby who died. Growing up Irish Catholic, I was sad to hear about most misfortunes that befell the Kennedys.

We visited Mount Vernon, which I remember being some kind of colossal failure, I think mostly because it was unseasonably hot and my siblings were cranky and bored. At the gift shop, my parents bought me a book. It was full of small biographies of famous American women. I spent the drive home reading it, memorizing details from the lives of women like Edna St. Vincent Millay, Margaret Mead, and Flannery O’Connor, none of whom I’d heard of previously.

Flannery O’Connor was of particular interest, her first name being my last name. I worried that, perhaps, I could never become a famous writer because there wouldn’t be room for two people with the name Flannery in American letters. (Her actual first name was Mary, a fact that has never left me.) However, I felt a kinship with her. She too was Irish Catholic. She had liked animals, which were very important to me as a nine-year-old. She was also, of course, bookish.

I didn’t actually read anything by Flannery O’Connor until my senior year in high school, when our teacher, herself a devout Catholic, assigned several of her short stories in our AP English Literature class. Reading those stories, I felt as stunned as Julian’s mother after she is knocked in the head with a pocketbook at the end of O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” I hadn’t expected the violence, the sharp observations of human behavior, the mysticism. It was then that I became a Flannery O’Connor devotee which I knew, somehow, had been inevitable.

I saw earlier this week that The Paris Review tweeted, in honor of her birthday, this 2012 blog post with a recording of Flannery O’Connor reading her classic story “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Since listening to it, I’ve been thinking about my favorite O’Connor stories, which I’ve shared below. (I’ve linked to the stories, if I could find them on the internet. I can’t promise that the text will be perfect, as I didn’t read through all of them.)

I find that I go back to these and other stories often, both in my mind and in rereading them. My relationship with them has changed over time. When I started writing more seriously, focusing on short stories, I experienced O’Connor’s writing less as a reader and more as a writer. As my relationship with Catholicism grew weaker, I felt less emotionally connected to her expression of spirituality and more intellectually interested in it. Even though I can’t recreate that feeling of being hit over the head that I experienced when I first read her work, I know that Flannery O’Connor has affected me as a reader, a writer, and probably as a human.

Remembering our first encounter, my reading her short biography in the backseat of my family’s car, looking at a photograph of Flannery supporting herself with crutches on the steps of her Georgia home, I think about the little ways in which life is strange and mysterious. And I’m grateful for them.

Haley’s Favorite Flannery O’Connor Stories:

5. “Wildcat”

6. “The Geranium”  / “Judgment Day” (“Judgment Day” is considered a rewrite of “The Geranium.”)

Also, if you’re interested in the life of Flannery O’Connor, I recommend Brad Gooch’s biography Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor

Writing While Female

This past weekend, I finally got around to reading the Rebecca Mead’s profile of Jennifer Weiner in The New Yorker. I don’t read The New Yorker cover to cover like I used to, which I’m sure is due to the fact that I go to the gym less these days. Say what you will about my gym routine, I get a lot of reading done while “doing cardio.” But because I’m lazy about working out, I also am lazy about reading the magazines I subscribe to, so now I pick many of the articles I want to sweat on before I go to the gym, mostly because I’ve seen people talking about them on Twitter. In the case of the Weiner profile, not only had I read a lot of tweets about the article, but I’d also read many tweets about her and what she had to say about the state of fiction being written by women.

As an occasional writer and reader of fiction, the profile gave me a lot to think about. Weiner is right about many things. Reviewers and readers don’t treat fiction written by women the same way they treat fiction written by men. And we simply don’t see much coverage of commercial fiction or the fiction that exists in what New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul called “the vast middle.” I’ve been guilty of not reading – and “writing off” – certain female authors precisely because they write commercial fiction or “chick lit.” I even wrote a little bit about this last week when I talked about my relationship with historical fiction over the years and my dismissal of the genre during college as too fluffy for me, though I read Philippa Gregory novels than I had time for.

I think it’s hard to be a female writer and not care about being taken seriously. I didn’t think I could write anything at all until a few years ago because I felt that no one would care about anything I had to say. I don’t mean that I actively though that. Rather, I dismissed the idea of being a writer for a lot of reasons, and when I finally sat down and thought about it in the midst of an extremely frustrating summer as an unpaid intern the summer after I graduated from college, I realized that underneath all of the very rational reasons I had come up with for not being a writer, there was a fear of being unsuccessful. And at that point I’m sure I thought I would only achieve success if I wrote a big, literary novel.

I started writing anyway. I took a few fiction writing classes at NYU. In one of them, I found one of my biggest fans, an older Swedish poet and writer named Gun, who was a little crazy and a lot amusing. She was always positive about my manuscripts – many of which were sloppy and amateurish – and for that, I thank her. But there was one time when she said that my work reminded her of “chick lit” and I almost lost my shit. I brooded over that one for days, thinking that if what she liked about my work was its chick littiness, then maybe her liking it didn’t matter. Maybe I needed to write differently.

That never really happened, though I did start trying not to judge what I write. I’m a 26 year-old woman and what comes naturally to me is to write about things that I’ve experienced and some of those things are dating and struggling with my weight and working on my self-esteem and generally trying not to fuck up at being a person. Though it’s not totally out of the question, I’m probably never going to be a traditional literary writer. So there’s a chance that, if I do eventually write a novel, someone will classify it as “chick lit.” I won’t be mad about it though. I hope I’ll be happy enough to have written something (or to have finished writing something) at all.

Anyway, just read the profile. It’s good and you don’t need to subscribe to The New Yorker to access it, which is nice. Let me know what you think.