What I'm Reading

Stardust by Joseph Kanon
Coming out in the fall, the next novel by the author of The Good German. It's so good I kinda want to lick the pages.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Pumpkin Carvers

I met my friend Nancy last night for dinner and shopping in Union Square, one of those quintessentially New York nights out. We went to Zen Palate, a vegetarian Asian restaurant where everything looks like it could be meat, except you know it’s not. We both had the “Sweet and Sour Sensation,” which is essentially the same thing as the Sweet and Sour Chicken served at other Chinese restaurants, except made with soy. They redid the d├ęcor to look more upscale—low booths with pillows instead of chairs—but if you eat in the regular restaurant, you can still get 2 entrees for $20, so I don’t entirely get it.

Nancy and I have been friends for years, since we both worked at Penguin and she was my Nora Roberts book hookup. There are many things I love about Nancy—her spark, her fabulous, over-the-top, “make more heads turn than mine does” laugh, her creativity, the fact that we can talk about anything, the more outrageous the better. She’s one of the most fun people I know. We were in DC once, and she went back to the hotel early with our sick friend, while I stayed out. As I rolled into bed in the middle of the night, I accidentally woke her up. She turned to me and asked, “Hey pumpkin, did you have a good time?” and then fell right back to sleep. That’s Nancy.

But what I love most about Nancy is the way I feel when I’m with her. She makes me feel smart and witty and cute when we’re together, like people who aren’t with us are missing out. Maybe they’re just staring because we’re so freaking loud, but I think they’re a little bit jealous.

We were walking around last night, giggling madly and taking turns telling stories, when we came up with a new dating term. See, it seems one of her friends recently went out on a third date, and she invited the guy to her place. Third date. Staying in. The writing was on the wall. She bought wine, lit candles, put out crackers and cheese. And then told him her plan for the night—to carve pumpkins. Wait. Huh?

Nothing says “I can show you a good time” like pushing cozy domesticity WAY too early in the process. He, of course, trotted out the “I’m not looking for a girlfriend” line. Relationship over before it even started. We all know the bunny boilers, the “break up with me and I will make your life a living hell” girls. Well pumpkin carvers are the girls who give off such an air of desperation that they might as well be wearing a sandwich board that says, “I dream of picking out china patterns.” Pumpkin carvers. You heard it here first. Feel free to propagate it.

Monday, December 4, 2006

What I'm Reading

I’ve been reading the Janet Evanovich Stephanie Plum books. It’s a bit of a moral dilemma for me. See, I normally don’t believe in supporting any author who has played an active role in making one of my friends miserable. And she tried to get one of my friends fired a few years back. Every publishing person has at least one Very Bad Author. You see their name on an upcoming pub schedule and cringe, because you know that every bit of the process will be painful. My personal VBA, I’m convinced, sold her soul to the devil to achieve her fame. There’s no other way to explain why she has lost any shred of humanity. My friend Polly used to really like her work, but had to stop reading her after the second or third time I called her crying. For ethical reasons, I don’t want to like someone else’s VBA, but the truth is that she’s a great writer. She’s funny and sarcastic, and the books make me snicker out loud. So I guess it’s only fair. If you’re one of the people who’s been banned from my VBA, you’re allowed to start reading her again. What’s good for the goose…

My friends Tink and Carolyn did a reading at Borders yesterday. Carolyn read from her brand-new novel, Rain Village, which is about a girl escaping her abusive childhood by learning to master the trapeze and joining the circus. It’s beautifully written magical realism. I read it years ago in manuscript form and couldn’t get the characters out of my head, so it’s so great to see it published. Check it out.

Tink’s book, A Rip in Heaven, came out a few years ago. It’s true crime, about a tragedy that happened in her family. While they were on vacation, her two cousins were raped and murdered, and her brother was falsely accused of the crime. It’s wonderful, but not exactly easy to read emotionally. And as she said, “A pregnant woman in a sparkly red top crying isn’t exactly festive.” So she read from her novel in progress, about Irish gypsies, which sounds like it’s going to be great. I took the bus to the reading, one of my first adventures in carlessness, and learned a valuable lesson. People who take buses during the week are commuters. Once you leave Manhattan, though, people who takes buses on weekends are just poor. At one point, I saw another young, professional-looking couple on the bus, and it made me feel better for a second. Then I took a closer look, and realized I knew them, and they were going the same place I was. Sigh...

I also just finished Disobedience by Naomi Alderman. It’s wonderful, literary fiction set in an Orthodox Jewish community in London. The main character is a modern, bisexual woman living in New York. When her estranged father, a respected rabbi, dies, she goes back to the community she fled years ago. It was smart and illuminating and just in general wonderful. I loved it for the writing, but also for that “peek into another world” aspect, the same way I’m always fascinated by books about the Amish.

Friday, December 1, 2006

On the First Day of Christmas, My Sister Gave to me…

Despite the fact that we spent our childhoods trying as best we could to make each other’s lives miserable, my sister Jean is my best friend. She’s the next one up from me agewise, and was almost 8 when I was born. (For those of you doing the math at home, that will make her 40 in 6 months. He he he.)
Ours was not normal sibling fighting. It was a 15-year battle. We did dishes together after dinner every night, and at one point there was a rule that we weren’t allowed to speak, look at one another, breathe on one another, or cross to each other’s side of the double sink. We were vicious. Before she got married, we got in a fight so big that she threatened to kick me out of her wedding and I suggested she try the personal ads to find someone else to wear the dress. Not our best moment. But some time before she had her first son, we started to realize the other was tolerable. By the time she had her second son, she made me his godmother. By now, we’ve reached a state of complete codependence, if that word can have a positive connotation. Despite an intense fear of big cities, she surprised me by showing up for my 30th birthday last year. We email daily, and talk nearly as often.
And every so often she does something so incredibly sweet that I almost can’t believe it. Today was one of those days. Jean made me an advent gift. For the non-Catholics out there, advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Jean gave me a big Christmas gift bag, filled with 24 individually wrapped presents—one to open each day in December. But wait—there’s more. Each gift was wrapped in Winnie the Pooh wrapping paper, my very favorite. And once I unwrap the presents, there’s a little post-it note stuck to each one with a note from her. She did this for me a few years ago, and I still have the Post-Its saved, they made me that happy.
I opened the first gift today, and it was a copy of her Kathy Mattea Good News CD (her very favorite Christmas CD), and a note that said “I hope you derive as much joy from this as I do!” And while I undoubtedly will, it can’t even compare with the joy I derive from her.