You Might Be Able to Go Home Again. Maybe.

I am tired of no one paying me. I am tired of blogs being boring. I am opening up Old Hag again. Here’s my essay about why.

June 12th, 2010 at 1:51 pm

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“To Kill a Mockingbird” turns 50

One of the nicest/weirdest parts of BEA 2010 was realizing I was in a book I totally did not know I was in — one with a huge big wall and anniversary edition thinger, yet! The director Mary McDonagh Murphy filmed a wondrous documentary about the fiftieth anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird at BEA last year — and now it’s coming out accompanied by the book Scout, Atticus & Boo: A Celebration of 50 Years of “To Kill a Mockingbird“, which collects all the interviews from the film. So weird to be in a book with DAN RATHER. Updates as they come.

June 1st, 2010 at 8:22 am

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BEA 2010 La Press Clippings

Only good picture ever taken of me by snapperati

After this Library Journal panel write-up for our BEA 2010’s “You’re Reading That!?!—Tackling Crossover YA/Adult Readers” posted, I ran into my brother on the subway and was like, “Did you see? Did you see? I talked about you in my panel!” And he was like YEAH you called me NERDY. And I was like hello VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER FIVE TIMES. Seriously, though, everyone should read Jaws.

May 28th, 2010 at 7:35 am

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Upcoming events and prayers for warmth

Hello all in this COLD COLD SPRING. A heads-up on two events about which I am more than thrilled, though again, I would like it to be less cold. This Friday, the 23, at 6 p.m., I am reading at NYC’s midtown Center for Fiction for Girls’ Right Now’s CHAPTERS reading series, with a line-up of other talented teen authors, by which I mean teens, not those who write for teens, not that there’s anything wrong with them, either, usually. Then SUNDAY MAY THE 2nd, at a time I do not know yet, I will be reading in the Sunday’s at Sunny’s series, located in wonderful Red Hook, Brooklyn, not far from the IKEA and Fairway that certainly were not there when *I* lived there, you gentrifying mofos. I would so love to see you there! I will bother you all some more about this in upcoming days with more links and ics etc. but just so you ARE APPRISED. (More on events page.)

Here is pretty poster again:

April 18th, 2010 at 2:54 pm

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Does blogging matter? How about panels?

At times the session felt like a support group, acknowledging that even the most beloved blogs have a natural life cycle: enthusiasm, devotion, love and, finally, exhaustion. Distinct from books, blogs are laboratories for passionate pursuits — where the profit motive can be put aside to accommodate expression and experimentation. It’s clear that virtually no one earns a decent living off blogging, so revel in the liberty of being beholden only to your interests. And when that interest flags and you begin to repeat yourself, as Guy LeCharles Gonzalez forcefully argued, quit and move on to the next thing.

The LA Times’ and Bloomsbury’s Peter Miller wrote a very nice round-up of our SXSW panel, Why Keep Blogging?, on which I joined Guy LeCharles Gonzales, Josh Fruhlinger, Scott Rosenberg and the lovely Emily Gordon. I would like, of course, to say yes, except of course I became OBSESSED with the 97 pages of Tweets the panel got (people cover panels on Twitter!), as well as IRL people saying we were the best panel at SXSWi. (This happened 3 times, and though one of them was Peter, I am certain it was indicative of a larger movement.)

Considering that this is one of the two articles covering the panel, I think the greater question should probably be, Does blogging matter if it does not cover your panel about it?

Also, here’s a video of the very Scott Rosenberg discussing blogging. There’s nothing from the rest of us, but I think my wet hair looks more decent than I had thought, thank God.

March 18th, 2010 at 10:57 am

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Chapters reading series at The Center for Fiction

I was thrilled to be asked to participate in Girls Write Nows’s Chapters Reading series! It kicks off with next week with Dolen Perkins-Valdez. Mine’s April 23rd. Here’s the entire upcoming series below.

February 18th, 2010 at 5:49 pm

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Examination Passed

Shelf Discovery voted on of The Book Examiners 10 best books of 2009!

January 20th, 2010 at 1:35 pm

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Constant Comment

You would think that since I’ve been on the internet for 97 years I’d be accustomed to commenters — but sprung full-blown, as I was, from the serene foreheads of a literary blog and a women’s blog, I had no idea what it was to be subject to hundreds of people yelling at me aggressively in (sic).

HOWEVER. Thanks to the torrential traffic floods of the Daily Beast and Politics Daily, I have been yelled at for about a week and am starting to get the hang of it. (A friend who combs through to send me the best ones has been a particular help: “I MAKE NO EXCUSES, FOR BEING A MAN.”)

The following stories below are listed in order of appearance and, as it happens, rank abuse. The silent LAT story seems a little lonely and dreary in comparison, so feel free to rail away here.

In the LA Times, I explain why the movies Precious, The Lovely Bones and Twilight do better by their heroines than their literary counterparts:

In Today’s Movies, Girls in Peril Face Many Horrors

At first blush, the heroines of the films “Precious,” “New Moon” and “The Lovely Bones” seem to have little in common — except that they all started out as characters in novels.

Precious is an abused, teenage mother who can barely read. “New Moon’s” Bella is a vampire-in-waiting who lives to be courted by a glittering heartthrob of the undead. Susie, the narrator of “The Lovely Bones,” is the product of the kind of suburban idyll for which Kodachrome was invented.

Yet despite these diverging narratives, these girls are deeply, sweetly ordinary. All three want to feel comfortable with what they see in the mirror. All three want the boy they like to kiss them. All three would prefer not to be social outcasts, all three want happy family lives and all three will never, ever get any of these things.

In the Daily Beast, I explain why Elizabeth Gilbert is truly worried about her relationship with her readers, not her new husband. (If you have difficulty, as many, many did, there are capsule explanations here and, brilliantly faint-praisedly, here):

The End of Single Women

Given our culture’s fascination with getting to the happily ever after, why is it always so unsatisfying to hear from someone already there? Is it that details prized from the circumspect spouses are almost belligerent in their banality? (See Michelle Obama on Barack’s morning breath.) That the narratives themselves are so ludicrously one-gendered? (When’s the last time you saw a husband wrestle in print about a marital bed he still enjoys?) Or that a genuinely frank admission peskily seems always to herald a union’s complete demise? (Commence countdown on the wife half of the recent Times piece who admitted in the first paragraph to hating French kissing.)
Perhaps it’s the problem of writing about marriage at all—since there’s no greater act of hostility to a character than to saddle her with anything so tedious as a devoted spouse.

In Politics Daily, I wrote about how I wish famous wives would cool it with the marriage memoirs. Then AOL put it on the welcome screen. This–for me, at least–was fairly epic, but I have recovered. Sadly, avant le deluge,  the first and best comment was removed: “Another example how females ruin everything, it just never ends”. That would have set the tone, I know it.

Staying True?’ Most Marriage Memoirs do Anything But

Like Elizabeth Edwards’ “Resilience,” scorned-wife screeds are most pertinently a thinly veiled opportunity to bash an ex’s paramour. (Edwards’ book might as well have been illustrated by a photo of her giving Rielle Hunter the finger.) And, like many conjugal postmortems, “Resilience” also loses its authority by trafficking in a deeply implausible transcendence. You’d find it a lot easier to buy Claire Bloom’s “Leaving a Doll’s House” or Mia Farrow’s “What Falls Away” were those literary f-yous not directed entirely at the gentlemen in question.

But my biggest quarrel with the quickie marriage memoir (oh, the worst kind of quickie!) is that they suggest the most interesting thing that can happen to a woman is something a man does to her, not something she does.

Last, I would also like to draw your attention to an actually important, and very sad thing: the death of the wonderful poet Rachel Wetzsteon, author of a wonderful pantoum about Vertigo as well as many many other astounding works. (“Madeleine for a While” was so unfindable by Google and so on my mind for so many years, I finally wrote Threepenny Review‘s Wendy Lesser to tell me the author and poem.)

Wetzsteon’s most-cited poem after her death, it seems, is Sakura Park, the title poem of her eponymous collection.

Sakura Park
by Rachel Wetzsteon

The park admits the wind,
the petals lift and scatter

like versions of myself I was on the verge
of becoming; and ten years on

and ten blocks down I still can’t tell
whether this dispersal resembles

a fist unclenching or waving goodbye….

Read the rest — I’ve stopped on my favorite image of these many years — here.

January 15th, 2010 at 7:15 pm

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Attention, Dearest Fine Lines readers and Shelf Discovery fans!

I’m sitting here working on pieces on New Moon, The Lovely Bones, and Push‘s transition from page to screen, as well as dissecting the particulars of Elizabeth Gilbert’s new memoir Committed, and I was suddenly overcome by a semi-procrastinatory but genuine RUSH of gratefulness to you all. I don’t know that in the years of Fine Lines or since I’ve been able to adequately thank you for your wonderful comments, emails and assorted contributions to the uncovering of this miraculous period of now-not-forgotten literature.

Your memories, questions, cover scans, and CORRECTIONS (I know! Let’s blame copyeditors! Though it was pretty much all me!) about these works and MY transition from screen to page have meant more to me than I can say.

Happy holidays! And let’s raise a tattered copy to the authors we love,




TANGIBLE GOODY P.S. It is impossible to send presents to you all, but as thanks of a sort, I’d like to give away 5 free copies of Shelf Discovery to you people. All you have to do is tell me about the young adult work that means the most to you. It can be in any form: a sentence, a review, an essay, a poem, an MP3 or video clip. Feel free to tell me the funny story of your attempt to churn butter, or write a wish list of recipes you’d like to cook from fave YA books. It’s all you!

I will select THE BEST for free copies of Shelf Discovery, and I will also feature ALL submissions on my blog and Facebook (unless requested not to).

You can submit as:

Deadline is January 1st.


Cannot wait to hear from you!


December 20th, 2009 at 2:19 pm

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Book covers and race: A writers private collection –

It’s not surprising that the callousness with which this decade’s publishers have apportioned disembodied female parts across thousands of covers should have spilled over into race, but the “Liar” scandal seems like as good a place as any to ask why girls who’ve already lost their faces should have now have their ethnicities masked. One would think a publishing industry, constantly fretting that it’s on the verge of extinction, would be grateful enough to its massive female readership to not constantly keep its female depictions on the edge of erasure.

My vintage cover gallery of old YA novels with black people on the cover (“Book covers and race: A writers private collection“) plus my memories of a childhood reading said.

December 12th, 2009 at 12:33 pm

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Yes! That is Vera Farmiga, as surprised as I am to note that I have 9,000 articles up this week on the apparently inexhaustible topics of marriage, child-rearing, discrimination and health care, though I only traffic in one and I pay for it dearly. (Health care.) In brief:

This July, Bloomsbury put a white girl on the cover of Justine Larbalestier’s Liar, the story of a black girl, leading to a larger discussion on the paucity of black people on covers, to say nothing of black girls. For this weekend’s Los Angeles Times Book Review, I dig up my old childhood covers — riddled with black people! — and discuss reading every single one of my parents’ collection except “The Black Jews of Harlem.”

Tonight, my sister-in-law and I were looking at text messages of the Tiger Woods case and saying it was too sad a story to even follow anymore, though we did for five more minutes. AND YET. Earlier this week I wrote a piece on the Mom Factor during the sex scandals for the Daily Beast.

THEN for same…I mentioned Tiger in my piece about female cheaters and Up in the Air, which movie may — though one hopes not — herald an era in which females exercise a similarly inexplicable duplicity. (I would also like to point out to that commenter that I KNOW ABOUT Nola in She’s Gotta Have It. She just is such a bobble-head Spike Lee fantasy I didn’t want to include her.)

The perils of the Professional Parent are discussed in my defense of Sandra Tsing Loh, who is very funny and allowed to leave her husband and drive around with her daughters pulling over by the side of the road to read if she wants to, for God’s sake. (I just liked being able to describe a body of people as “researcher[s] of fashionable slingwear.”)

I wrote recently about why Men Get Important Literary Prizes, Even If They’re Dead, And a Woman That Year Wrote A Better Book. I think I wasn’t supposed to, but no one has sent the secret book judge police after me yet.

And last, the most recent dispatch on my quest to get my insurer to reimburse me for THINGS THEY NEED TO, a series designed to point out why it doesn’t matter if we insure everyone if BlueCross still keeps hanging up on me. I have spent about $64 on copies filing appeals with various heads of state and agencies, and I will keep you in the loop.

Merry Christmas and, more pertinently, Happy Chanukah! See you in the New Year.

December 11th, 2009 at 11:09 pm

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Dad Men and other works of note

It’s happened — the writers who brought down the media by sitting around in our pajamas crafting brittle insights next to a cup of cold coffee have now become too lazy even to blog. Which is to say, I keep updating here and here instead of HERE…even though here updates to there! I’m sure someone could craft an ontological exploration of how various media migrate to “realness” in the minds of the user, but you might be better off just friending me there until my brittle psyche thrusts me still elsewhere.

IN ANY CASE, I just wrote an ontological exploration of Jonathan Safran Foer and Michael Chabon’s recent works on fatherhood, and am linking to it here, with some other recent items below. It’s like 1997.

Foer is the kind of adult for whom a pre-Huggies life was rudderless. Once he finds out he is going to be a father, “I began tidying up the house… I had my glasses adjusted.” Before becoming a father, the divergence between his thoughts and actions is laughable: Although he says he is a vegetarian, he sometimes eats meat. As his gifted son picks up nursing like a champ, he looms magisterial, the globo-historical import of what he consumes profound: “Seconds after being born, he was breastfeeding. I watched him with an awe that had no precedent in my life… Millions of years of evolution had wound the knowledge into him.”

There is nothing wrong with falling into wonderment at one’s own child. (It is contraindicated over the long term.) There’s also nothing wrong with being against the wholesale ripping of beaks off innocent chickens to keep Tyson Foods in business, an image Foer returns to frequently. Who, after all, is for a food system that, among other things, routinely releases a geyser of fecal matter into the air to spray neighboring crops? The problem is that Foer suddenly cares—and, by extension, so must we—because some day one micrometer of that shit might fall on the head of Jonathan Safran Foer’s son.

Read the rest in the Daily Beast.

A month ago (see?) Milwaukee’s Mitch Teich interviewed me about Shelf Discovery, and we had a lot of fun. You can listen to the entire interview here.

A few weeks ago, Sheilah Kast’s Maryland Morning asked me to read my contribution to Rob Walker’s Significant Objects project on the air. Apparently found objects bring out my affectless, alienated side. Better that than BUYING found objects myself on eBay, I say. You can see the whole project here.

More in a month!

December 1st, 2009 at 8:00 pm

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Updates of no consequence (TABITHA IN BLACKFACE!?!)

Even in the life of a writer and book reviewer, one finds one periodically likes what one reads or likes what one writes. This happened two–two!–times this week. The first excerpt is a review of something I enjoyed reading, Michelle Huneven’s absolutely laying-waste-to-the-land-and/or-competition Blame, which I reviewed for NPR.

When a character accidentally kills a mother and daughter within the first 20 pages of a novel, a reader might expect the author to dedicate the remaining pages to picking through the resultant mental debris….

As Huneven takes us through the predictable consequences — two years of jail time, crippling guilt, stunted relationships and a lifetime membership in AA — it’s impossible to not be scared straight by her vivid and disturbing depictions of Patsy’s post-tragedy world. But even more frightening is Huneven’s detailing of the harsh truths of the mind and how it can, when unchecked, incrementally warp our lives. As Patsy suffers through a withholding lover, a limited marriage, a compromised friendship and a derailed career, she can’t change anything until she’s made to see how much she has visited these punishments on herself.

Read the rest here.

The second is something I enjoyed writing! It’s an essay about the mother who created a line of black Barbies for her daughter, which is a sweet gesture but likely to backfire, as in the case of piano lessons and other acts of enforced childhood uplift. Here, I had the opportunity to not only confess to rampant Barbie mutilation but also tell the as-yet-untold story of racial integration, Bewitched, and the signifying panda:

Some of you may remember the “Bewitched” episode in which Darren’s white clients visit on Christmas and give Tabitha a white doll, her black friend a black doll, and a baby whose parentage they can’t quite discern a stuffed panda. Darren and Samantha gently rebuke the couple for their racial absolutism, and as the show closes, the baby clutches the black doll, Tabitha plays with the panda and the black girl with the white doll. (Or does the black girl get the panda? This is why I would have failed the LSATs: “If three children have a panda, a white doll and a black doll to share, and each can’t play with their cultural signifier…”)

The episode’s point was that children are too innocent to see color. (And, implicitly, that there is not way to express biracial identity without crossing species, but that’s another issue.) But as a biracial panda-person, I lived in terror of someone giving me a biracial doll, or a doll that had any utility beyond dollness, for that matter. What was the adult asking me to do? Drag it out every Christmas, like an ugly grandma sweater? Confirm in my crayon thank-you it had validated my identity?

Read it all here. AND

OMIGOD I forgot they put Tabitha in blackface!


I FORGOT, I SWEAR! Never again. Sadly the panda part isn’t in the clip:

October 26th, 2009 at 9:35 pm

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Have achieved hashtag status; all else is grass #shelfdiscovery

shelfdiscoverytileadI have always wanted a bunch of people on tap to do my job so I could lie down but have never figured out exactly how to swing it. Luckily for me, the delightful blog Booking Mama has stepped in with a Shelf Discovery challenge that will yield pinch hitters if not a permanent staff in the important work of rediscovering and celebrating neglected YA classics. Here are, briefly, the rules:

The Shelf Discovery Challenge will run for six months (November 1, 2009 – April 30, 2010). To join me in this challenge, all you need to do is grab a copy of SHELF DISCOVERY and pick out what six books you want to read (of course, you can read more than six!) Then, after you read a book, just write a “book report” to share your thoughts with others!

If Booking Mama agrees, I also have a prize I would love to give to the winner. Although it might be more of a runner-up prize. I always think runners-up get very neglected in the prize department, except in the case of last night’s Top Chef, in which Michael Voltaggio’s deeply mistaken belief that he is a nice guy briefly spilled over into his actually being one. IN ANY CASE. Please enter early and often, at least up until April 30, 2010. God, what will be HAPPENING by then! We may not even have books, or an Internet! But what we will definitely have is Judy Blume. Good luck!

October 22nd, 2009 at 1:38 pm

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