Sunday, August 26, 2018

A LITTLE LIFE, Hanya Yanagihara

I imagine Hanya Yanagihara wandering the streets of lower Manhattan, stumbling upon a small alley-like street, called Lispenard. And in its tucked-away, hidden aspect, finding the beginning of a story. Two boys living in a rundown apartment. Maybe from that humble beginning, a network of relationships and places began to spiral out. Who are these boys? she asks herself. Oh, they went to college together, of course. And was it just them? Oh no, there were two others. A foursome, she thinks. But what happens to them? she asks. Lots of terrible shit, the story answers, because by now, the story is the one in charge.

I mean, my god. This book. The writing was so damn powerful. Insights so astute without being pedantic. The torture, so real. At times, too much. I had to skip, like, five pages where shit gets too upsetting to read. But because I also didn't want to miss any of it, I read two lines of each paragraph, just to assure myself we were still in the torture section.

Since I've abandoned my own recent book project and am trying to be open to new book ideas, I'm honestly not sure what to steal. If anything, I feel like I want to take for myself permission to have a book about characters. Obviously. But a book where the characters are the draw--not some "high concept," gripping pitch. A book that spirals out from a quiet alley into a tornado that does real damage. But real damage in a good way.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018


In the gap between Stamps, Arkansas and San Francisco, California--separated only by a handful of years--these different cultures of self-determination and demand for what is owed.

Coming out of a revival meeting in a makeshift cloth tent, post-religious throes led by the minister: "They basked in the righteousness of the poor and the exclusiveness of the downtrodden. Let the whitefolks have their money and power and segregation and sarcasm and big houses and schools and lawns like carpets, and books, and mostly--mostly--let them have their whiteness. It was better to be meek and lowly, spat upon and abused for this little time than to spend eternity frying in the fires of hell. No one would have admitted that the Christian and charitable people were happy to think of their oppressors' turning forever on the Devil's spit over the flames of fire and brimstone" (129).


"My education and that of my Black associates were quite different from the education of our white schoolmates. In the classroom we all learned past participles, but in the streets and in our homes the Blacks learned to drop s's from plurals and suffixes from past-tense verbs. We were alert to the gap separating the written word from the colloquial. We learned to slide out of one language and into another without being conscious of the effort. At school, in a given situation, we might respond with "That's not unusual." But in the street, meeting the same situation, we easily said, "It be's like that sometimes" (221).

Monday, April 23, 2018


Someone sent me the manuscript of this book before it came out in print. It sat on my desktop for a solid year and a half before I finally got around to reading it. And ohmygod, I'm blown away. I picked it this time because I wanted to see how Gyasi treated the passage of so much time and the excerpting of stories from this massive possible narrative. How do you decide what makes it in and what doesn't when you're covering hundreds of years? I'm grappling with the same questions, so decided to turn to Homegoing for some answers. I couldn't put the book down, so addicted was I to the unfolding of these tragic and beautiful characters. Toward the end--in a truly satisfying moment of everything coming full circle--one character has this thought: "How could he explain to Marjorie that what he wanted to capture with his project was the feeling of time, of having been part of something that stretched so far back, was so impossibly large, that it was easy to forget that she, and he, and everyone else, existed in it--not apart from it, but inside of it" (296). It is this expansiveness and this unseeing (because how could one ever grasp the magnitude of such things) that I felt at every moment in the book, even as we zoomed in so tight to the very specific lives of each character. Much respect. So much to steal.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

THE BIG SLEEP, Raymond Chandler

Thought I'd be all over this's about LA at roughly the same period as I'm working on in my next project. But there's something about the tone or the storyline or the way Chandler has him women behaving like children--even so far as sucking their thumbs--that left a strange residue for me.

But still plenty to steal--from the descriptions of opulence (a la Greystone mansion, where I went to summer camp as a small child) to details about the sounds of daily life (didn't know that traffic lights "gonged"), I'll be grabbing more from Chandler's setting than his narrative. In any case, a classic that I wouldn't feel right writing about LA without having read.

Friday, February 2, 2018


Pachinko was at the top of every list for 2017, plus it dealt with the consequences of a single decision that has repercussions throughout the generations. From Korea to Japan, America and back, it follows a family that harbors a secret--unbeknownst to many of its members.

Jin Lee felt more comfortable foregoing certain scenes to simply tell the reader what happened. At first, it was strange, then refreshing. Major characters die with barely more than a cursory sentence. Something owed to V. Woolf's To the Lighthouse, perhaps.

A few things I'll be keeping in mind as I delve deeper into my own project.

1. I love how Jin Lee keeps her characters so tightly placed in the foreground and history, as it unfolds in all of its dramatic splendor, is mere backdrop.

2. The book doesn't belabor its losses. "History has failed us, but no matter," it opens. And the "no matter" deserves its own analysis.

3. Before this book, I had been struggling with the question of narration in my project. 1st person limited? 3rd person omniscient? I'm not 100% clear that 3rd is the right narrator for my book. I need that proximity to multiple characters and never complete unity with any one in particular.

Monday, January 8, 2018


Picked it up because my next project is catalyzed by an event in the Great War and already know that AQotWF will be the definitive guide to that experience. It gives shape to my wartime hero.

"We were trained in the army for ten weeks and in this time more profoundly influenced than by ten years at school. We learned that a bright button is weightier than four volumes of Schopenhauer....We became soldiers with an eagerness and enthusiasm, but they have done everything to knock that out of us. After three weeks it was no longer incomprehensible to us that a braided postman should have more authority over us than had formerly our parents, our teachers, and the whole gamut of culture from Plato to Goethe."

"It is very queer that the unhappiness of the world is so often brought on by small men."

"No doubt his wife still thinks of him; she does not know what happened. He looks as if he would have often written to her; --she will still be getting mail from him--To-morrow, in a week's time--perhaps even a stray letter a month hence. She will read it, and in it he will be speaking to her." I think about this all the time. I can't not include this. A voice from beyond the grave. Re-animated but entirely different, other-worldly because no longer of this world.

Monday, December 25, 2017


Among other things, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a book about closure--the desire for it, the impossibility of it, and the ultimate realization that the things we anticipate may not arrive as we expect, but that does not mean they fail to arrive altogether. The book was heavier to read than I thought it would be. Because I now have a child? Because the horizon of the book feels so bleak? ...And why shouldn't it, with this opening sentence: "I like to think I know what death is." 

To steal from this one: the interruptive presence of the past in the form of ghosts. Already know who will be ghosting my next book. Waiting for more late night divinations to breathe more life into this story in my head.