Oh, I love this book. It’s totally caught me by surprise (I tried to tackle it when I was 18, and tossed it aside after the first few pages), but the language, the scope, the ideas– I’m a huge fan. And I’ll be sad to leave St. Petersburg and Moscow when I’m finished. I rarely do books that are this long (my translation is 736 pages). I’ve read “It” and “The Stand,” both by Stephen King (and each of those suckers are over 1000 pages), but those were about blood and creepy crawlies and clowns with teeth and severed limbs and bloated corpses, so you know, the pages kinda fly. But those books are also about love and the pain of being alive and trying to find yourself and your purpose, and so is “Anna Karenina,” and I just can’t put it down.
It’s full of all the throbbing questions that I am constantly rolling over– who am I? What’s my purpose? What is the real power of love? Is there any point to living? Should I just drink more vodka? Does the pain go away? And the language. I know I’m reading a translation, but there are some passages that are too beautiful. I’m just over halfway through and I want it last and last.
“All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.”
Foolish Heart, Steve Perry
Biggest Part of Me, Ambrosia
How Long, Ace
Strange Magic, ELO
Strawberry Letter 23, Brothers Johnson
If You Could Read My Mind, Gordon Lightfoot
Wishing on a Star, Rose Royce
Do It Again, Steely Dan
Sailing, Christopher Cross
Lotta Love, Nicolette Larson
I Just Got To Be Free, Minnie Ripperton
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, The Band
Dancing in the Moonlight, King Harvest
The Darktown Strutter’s Ball, Alberta Hunter
I see New England, summer, late 1970’s. I see bicycles and wraparound porches with swings on white houses at the end of a street. I see the families that only come up for the summer, martinis, crossword puzzles, wood-paneled station wagons with cloth seats. I see bare feet and men in short shorts and ice cream and cousins visiting from out of town and embarrassing photos. I see dogs without collars. I see halter tops that tie above the belly button and beach umbrellas and a job at the restaurant on the pier, the restaurant that always smells like fried clams, even in winter, I see moms with too much time on their hands. I see girls with ideas, girls with agendas, girls lying in the sun eating fruit. I see fireworks. I see a family fight through a picture living room window. I see a motel room off Route 22, I see a gray morning. I see pastels, ginghams, ribbons. I see hair pulling, teeth gnashing, learning to smoke, learning to drive, kissing, I see sitting on the hoods of cars. I see one sibling teaching another how to dance, packages in the mail, I see being excited to get back home.
I have about 21 days until I head to Los Angeles for a few months (I went to buy a monthly Metrocard a few days ago and realized I didn’t need a 30-day card. I definitely got a little emotional at the Metrocard machine and the guy waiting behind me was definitely like “Keep it moving, sister, cry on the subway.” Oh, New York.)
I’m looking forward to the trip– my west coast to-do list grows each day– but there are those little every day things about New York I will miss.
New York, I miss you already…
- going to work four nights a week– it’s been six years of slinging beer and serving fries and yelling at drunks, but my coworkers are my second family and sometimes we laugh so hard I start crying and I have to clutch onto something to keep my balance.
- late night trips to the Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene.
- getting to see a play once a week– I know Los Angeles has a theater scene, but I’ll miss the New York stage. Before I go, I’m going to try to see Belleville and The Flick and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
- reading on the subway
- taking the Sunday Times to brunch at Sun in Bloom in Park Slope (gluten-free baked goods! wahoo!)
- my family– they threw me a going away brunch and didn’t make me feel bad for drinking about fifteen glasses of champagne and slurring my words and tearing up when they told me how happy and excited they are for me. They made me give a practice acceptance speech and they are so supportive and my sisters text me daily with words of encouragement and I’ll miss them all being so far away.
- my little studio apartment
- getting an ice cream cone on warm days and walking through the West Village
- my friends– laughing and game night and talking about movies and laughing and car bombs and shrieks about who went home with someone unsavory and laughing and sleeping on the couch and holding new babies and BBQs on rooftops and watching “The Voice” for ten hours straight and laughing and birthday gifts and going away parties and drunk text messages and laughing and laughing and laughing. If I think too much about how much I’ll miss my friends, I’ll be crying and crying and crying.
There’s more, there’s always more to miss, and I am looking forward to the change. But sometimes I also want things to stay exactly the way they are.
This is just. The best thing. The Ideal Bookshelf project features portraits of book spines. Painter Jane Mount and writer Thessaly La Force have published a book with interviews and bookshelf paintings from 100 writers, actors, chefs, musicians, designers, artists, and directors. My favorite thing to do when I first meet someone is browse through their books– I love peeking at new bookshelves packed with books I recognize, love, can’t wait to read, have never heard of– and the Ideal Bookshelf is like a really great Suggested Reading list. Above is David Sedaris’s ideal shelf.
It’s funny. Sometimes I have a hard time seeing myself or understanding how others see me. I’ve always used books as a way to help me recognize myself a little more. I read and my identity feels less shifting, I feel tethered to my own experience in a new way. Which seems paradoxical– I need something outside of myself to keep me attached to what’s inside of me– but there is something about the bond between writer and reader, something about the recognition of the same thing across time and space that makes me feel less lonely, more at home. Some books, some stories, some words just stick, become a part of me, make me find myself in a whole new way. Yay. I love that books have the power to do that. Here is what my ideal bookshelf might look like (for now– it’s always kind of changing, huh?). These are some of the books I keep coming back to, that I think of long after I’ve put them down, that I can see echos of in my own life.
My Ideal Bookshelf
- The Known World, Edward P. Jones
- It, Stephen King
- The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcolm
- The Color Purple, Alice Walker
- Consider the Lobster, David Foster Wallace
- Demonology, Rick Moody
- After Henry, Joan Didion
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling
- What I Loved, Siri Hustvedt
- The Secret History, Donna Tartt
- The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
I went to see The Suit at BAM tonight. Based on a short story by South African writer Can Themba, The Suit is the story of Matilda and Philomen– a seemingly happy couple who learn to relate to each other in an entirely different way when Philomen learns of Matilda’s infidelity. There is music, there’s dancing, there’s not much of a fourth wall, there’s audience participation (I think this is the only time I’ve seen a show and felt tempted to pop my hand in the air and beg to be included on stage), and I was reminded of the many ways that theater can work, what it can do. The stage is sparse, actors play multiple roles, characters address the audience, musicians are onstage– there was an in-between quality to this world and this story that I think theater can capture so beautifully. But there was also so much specificity, and when the narrator tells us that this story could only take place in South Africa– during its regime of violence and oppression, of fear and no safety, of hate and hope– you understand. The story feels immensely personal, but it gestures to the world outside of the couple’s bedroom– a world where musicians and working men are killed daily and neighborhoods are destroyed– and it’s hard not to see the symmetry between Philomen and Matilda’s loss and a character singing “Strange Fruit” after learning of a musician’s execution.
We all need stories like this. Stories of life and love and hope and loss and fear and doubt. I sometimes find it hard to relate to theatrical depictions of blacks– our pain and suffering feels paramount and seems to squeeze the life force out of everything. But this story gave the characters some room, they had space to be free to live in a way I often don’t see on American stages. It’s not surprising to me that the company touring the production is French. There was so much life presented tonight. I recently saw the film adaptation of Les Miserables and was amazed by how dead everyone seemed– there was no fire, no passion, no heat, no breath. The Suit had a pulse. It throbbed and showed us how life is everywhere all the time– the good parts and the difficult parts– and there is beauty to be found in our encounters with that life.