Friday, November 30, 2012

recent reads

I finally got a chance to take in the long awaited NW, by Zadie Smith. Smith wrote both White Teeth (when she was 25!) and On Beauty, two of my favorite contemporary novels, and after hearing this review on Fresh Air recently, I was....concerned. Particularly because my attempts to get the The Autograph Man have been pretty dismal - to the tune of ten pages or so. My adulthood and general busy-ness has made slugging through a novel just because I feel like I should seem very unappealing. As in, it never gets done.
ZS goes to some pretty experimental, Jonathan Safran Foer-esque places with her writing in NW, especially in the opening section, which initially put me off a bit. The book follows four characters - Leah, Keisha, Felix and Nathan - who are linked (some more closely than others) by their childhood in Caldwell, a subsidized housing project in NW London.  It bears mentioning that much of this book is probably far more awesome if you're familiar with the city - Caldwell itself is fictional, but the other towns, neighborhoods, etc are the real thing. As in most of her other books, the characters are widely varied and often mixed in their race, upbringing and faith, and yet they all come together, largely due to their geography. After the first section (from Leah's POV) Smith sort of settles in to a still unusual but infinitely more readable writing style. Thank god.
It's a bit difficult to explain how these four characters interact without revealing some late plot points. I've yet to find a decent review that attempts to do so. I went into reading NW with no knowledge at all, and it made the experience very, very odd. It wasn't until the prose sort of realigned into a semblance of normality that I was able to hang on to what what happening. There was a lot of flipping back and forth through pages as my brain sluggishly put together the overlapping pieces of  narrative, and I'm not sure whether a) I've gotten stupider, b) Smith meant it to happen that way, or c) she just missed the mark in terms of clarity. Obviously the shift in style was intentional, but was it necessary? When I came to the last page, I felt like I needed to re-read the whole book with the foundation of the character map that had finally come together in my brain. I respect Smith highly, and am tempted to just trust the fact that she is infinitely smarter than I, and this was a carefully constructed rollercoaster of discombobulation, but perhaps that's letting her off the hook.
So, let's just say NW is a ride. It's definitely stuck in my head. I recommend it highly - just be ready to focus, and try to stamp out your desire to know everything right away (and make it through that first segment - maybe it won't rub others the wrong way, but it damn near made me a quitter). The story sort of swirls and builds to a conclusion, one that isn't even near as artful as White Teeth, but is still maintains its own brand of conceptual, ambiguous genius. And for the love of everything holy, call me up so I have somebody to break this whole thing down with.
(left image copyright New York Magazine, right from Amazon)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Now that I've finally put a few stressful super exciting, very large projects to rest, I've got some fun things to share. First up is the Girls: Fact or Fiction show at Light Grey Art Lab. A few months ago, Emma alerted me to submit my idea for the show. I was faced with a terrible choice - which fictional heroine to choose? After many late nights and manic text message sessions (my favorite nixed lady was Carmela Soprano, courtesy of Scott) I finally settled on a tribute to that angsty, curly haired first lady of late nineties prime time WB soaps: Felicity Porter. See above for a portrait of the haircut heard round the television universe. For what it's worth, I'm pro short-hair Felicity (although her prolonged, mullet-laden grow-out stage is a cautionary tale for the ages), and Team Ben. Obviously.
If you happen to be in Minneapolis on December 7th, go see the show! It promises to be a festival of illustrated ladies. You can also order the accompanying book, if you're in to that sort of thing. I'll be back in LA, rewatching Felicity episodes and feeling nostalgic.

Monday, November 26, 2012

thank bank

This Thanksgiving was a good one, with an abundance of friends and food - not to mention so much wine that we've got liquid leftovers for months. Scott and I were in charge of booze and baking (our specialties) and we also brought the out-of-towner fun with the addition of our friend Bree, who is quickly becoming a turkey day mainstay on loan from Phildelphia. We spent the day eating and drinking between long-distance family videochats, and ended the festivities with the traditional viewing of Home Alone and an extra piece of pie (Kissell even busted out the air mattress for the ultimate in comfort). Needless to say, I am thankful for the 5% stretchy fabric content of my jeans...and all that other gushy stuff.

Monday, November 19, 2012

(pop) kulture klub

(images are my own crappy screengrabs, you're welcome)
Life lately has been a bit hectic, as expected this time of year. Something about the holidays really puts that anxious air of excitement into my blood, regardless of what's going on, but in addition, I'm working against (with?) a few big deadlines at work and getting little-kid antsy about the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas festivities. Amidst all this work and play, I've got a weird backdrop of culture filtering into my brain from various sources.
Reality Bites has made it's way into a grotesque number of conversations lately, mostly thanks to the fact that Lisa Loeb's Stay (aka my top Karaoke pick, and therefore a regularly bar-chat topic) plays over the credits. I re-watched RB the other day for the first time since graduating college, and it was heartbreaking, pathetic, and so, so, real, all at the same time. It also contains a scene that's sure to inspire early-20s nostalgia for even the most stone-hearted - this will make you want to call your best friend and drive in a car with the windows down.
And, finally, almost a year after I jumped in to my noble quest to watch Dawson's Creek from start to finish (thank you, Netflix Instant), I've done it, for better or worse. Let's be real here. The first season was groundbreaking. The second through fourth seasons were best served to a half-asleep, wine-swigging audience (see: reasons it took me 11 months to watch this show). The fifth season, with the addition of Kim Kelly / Busy Phillips as Audrey, increased watchability tenfold. By the end of the sixth season, I found myself shedding actual tears over a teen prime time nineties soap, so. Disclaimer: this outpouring of emotion was greatly aided by the fact that the original Paula Cole song reappeared in the credits for the last two episodes. Thank god. At any rate, DC does a great job of conjuring up my own late high school memories, which was...sort of enjoyable. It's television candy corn: not particularly good, and certainly has zero nutritional value, but every once in a while it just really hits the spot. And, if you actually have seen this show, and had any doubt about my feelings: Pacey and Joey forever.

Monday, November 12, 2012

november adventures in baking

Crisp, cool weather arrived abruptly in Los Angeles over the weekend. It was a long-awaited but welcome cozy surprise, although it did make it pretty hard to crawl out from under the blanket cocoon on Saturday morning. Naturally, my first instinct was to bake, and not just anything - something that would fill our apartment with that smell of fall and anticipation of the coming Thanksgiving holiday (next week?!). After a Very Serious discussion with Scott of our baked good preference - him: muffins, me: cookies - I settled on these scones, with a recipe adapted from one I found on the King Arthur Flour website. They turned out pretty amazing, if I do say so myself. This was my first foray into the scone world, and after my breakfast this morning of a warmed scone and espresso, it certainly won't be my last.

you'll need...
2 3/4 c all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar (I used my unprocessed cane sugar, rather than regular white)
1 T baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter
2 large eggs
2/3 cup canned pumpkin (not pie filling - just plain old pumpkin)
extra sugar and cinnamon, plus about 2 T of milk for coating
optional, based on allergies and preference for health v. deliciousness
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup finely chopped candied ginger (Trader Joe's has a really good option)
1 cup cinnamon chips

-Mix together all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the butter (I chopped it up a bit to make it easier, since I mix everything by hand) and incorporate until crumbly. Stir in optional nuts, ginger and cinnamon chips. Separately, whisk pumpkin and eggs together thoroughly. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until the mixture holds together.
-Flour a large baking sheet (you can also just line it with parchment, if you really have your shit together and have that sort of thing lying around the house) and scoop the dough onto the pan. Divide it in half, and shape into a circle. Pat down until the circle is about 3/4 to an inch thick. note: this will make a dozen reasonably sized scones - leave it as one or divide in thirds for larger or smaller if you like.
-Coat the outside of each circle with a little milk, and sprinkle with a bit of cinnamon sugar. Slice each circle into 6 pieces, pizza-style, and pull each little wedge out until there is about a half inch of breathing room for each.
-Chill the pan with the uncooked scones in the freezer for about a half hour while you preheat the oven to 425 F, then bake the scones for about 25 minutes, or until the edges look baked through, not doughy (you can also do the old toothpick cake trick-if it comes out clean, you're good to go). The edges will be golden brown. Best warm, great room temp as well. Store in an airtight container - you can also freeze these if desired.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


(image courtesy of Justin Hunt)
Last weekend, in the spirit of the idea that the best laid plans are made over margaritas, Scott and I headed to our friend Justin's place (he of the amazing VHS hearth) to watch Space Jam. It doesn't get much better than flamin' mac and cheese with a side of Michael Jordan. The best part of the night was not, however, the rediscovery of MJ's off the charts acting skills. Midway through the evening, Justin brought out the aptly titled Book of Questions, an old-school composition notebook filled with questionnaires, a sort of extended interview diary that puts every journal I've had to shame. The conversation that stemmed from flipping through the pages felt like how I imagine a very private, wine-laden dinner party with Terry Gross would unfold. It's weird how a list of questions immediately makes a person feel....important. Secrets were spilled, emotions ran high, and q-tips featured prominently in the discussion.
So, naturally, I was delighted to find that J has scanned the entire notebook and put it on the internet. You can download it here - not a typed out version, but the real, honest-to-god handwritten pages, complete with spelling corrections, various versions of handwriting, and paper thin enough to see a ghost-preview of the following page. Check it out (and if you want to have haunting nightmares for weeks, don't forget to peruse the Morgue photos while you're at it).

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

spooky / scary

I thought for a while about what I'd post today - my blog feed, facebook, and reliable news sources are all flooded with reminders to vote, and for whom / what. We voted by mail weeks ago, and I feel solid in my choices. But there's so much I can't control. I have a lot of anxiety wrapped up in what's going on in Minnesota, though there's nothing I can do aside from encouraging my midwestern friends to vote no x 2. I have a similar amount of headspace panic with regards to the presidential race, but I did my part, and am trying to breath deeply and remind myself of that. Mostly, I just want everyone to take the extra few minutes and vote. It's important, even if you don't believe what I do.
So much for just posting a little diversion about my end-of-October shenanigans. Too bad, you get a double feature! Please see the photos above for documentation of Scott's Johnny Knoxville (sadly, no evidence exists of my failed attempt at Bam Margera, or my hastily assembled Sabrina the Teenage Witch), some spooky cocktails, an abandoned dum dum, and my "this stuff was just around the house" Gwen Stefani impression. Halloween was weird this year, but at least I got my candy corn fix.

Friday, November 2, 2012

friday throwback

My family has a lot of photos. My twin brother and I are well documented throughout the years, everything from the obligatory baby cuteness, sports team pictures and prom pics to recent snaps, taken when we come back to visit. They still fill our childhood home, in frames on the mantle, stored in folders on the computer, hard copies and old negatives filling organized boxes in my mom's closet. But you've got to dig a bit deeper to find pictures of my parents. Part of it was the time, obviously - no online archives of every event stashed in weird corners of the internet - but my mom in particular has very few photos of herself. Recently, she found this photo, taken around her 19th birthday, and I asked her to scan it and send it over, complete with her handwritten description from the back of the picture. I'm fascinated by my mother at this time in her life - clearly my mom, but so obviously a different person entirely, more than fifteen years before I was born.