Have you been checking out all the awesome articles I’ve been writing for Mental Floss? Here’s a couple of the most recent ones:
I finally read Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.
I have mixed opinions.
I love Wallace’s short stories and essays, and I’m glad I read this book because it’s hugely influential. But do I think this is a classic book that people should force themselves to grapple with, the way they should grapple with Melville’s Moby-Dick or Joyce’s Ulysses? No, unfortunately not. Infinite Jest feels like a cultural relic of the 1990s. I’ll be curious to see if it’s still around in 50 years.
Here’s my review from Goodreads:
Reading this novel is like hanging out with a smart person at a party. At first, you’re disoriented by his language, but then you get used to it, and you’re like, “Hey, this guy is pretty clever. This is a pretty effervescent dialogue we’re having.” After awhile, it becomes clear the dude is showing off. He’ll do things like make a pun and then look at you to see if you got it. He uses so many acronyms, it’s like he’s speaking in code. And the worst is when he tries to be funny. You smile politely and chuckle, but you’re thinking, “You’re not funny dude. Don’t try to be funny.”
Just when you’re about to try to get away from him, he says something that so perfectly describes a facet of real life that you’re bowled over. You think, “Okay, this conversation is worth my time after all.” That carries you along for a while. But then he starts telling you these horrible stories, one after another, of abuse and animal mutilation and death. It all feels cartoonish and you start thinking that this guy’s worldview is a little melodramatic. Maybe he’s too wrapped up in imagining people doing awful things, and that has skewed his view of humanity. In which case, does this person have anything to say that has meaning beyond being clever?
“Watch me do an imitation of a poor person!” he chortles. Then he does an imitation that sounds nothing like a poor person. You say, “Wait, why don’t you tell me more about that interesting person you mentioned awhile back?” He ignores you. “Let me tell you about my dreams,” he says instead. Then he goes on about a dream about a wraith. You’re like, “Holy cripes, is he ever going to stop with the wraith dream?” He says, “It’s a metaphor.” You try not to roll your eyes.
By now, you’ve been listening so long that you feel obligated to let him get to the point. At the same time you’re fearful that there won’t be a point and you’ve been listening for nothing. You whisper, “Please let there be a point. Please let there be a point.” The party is almost over, and there are so many people you could have been talking to in the same amount of time that you’ve been talking to him. So you wait, fingers crossed as he winds down, for the point.
And, yes, he does connect the dots and tell you what happened to this and that person, but he does it so subtly that it’s anticlimactic. You start shrugging, as in, “Oh, okay, so that happened.” Or: “Hm, okay, that’s why you mentioned that earlier.” Then you say goodbye and head for the door. You know you’re supposed to be a better person for having had the conversation, but in reality, you’re relieved it’s over. All you want to do now is talk about something fun, like sparkly vampires or swamp monsters, as a kind of palate cleanser.
Did you catch my book review in last Sunday’s San Francsico Chronicle? It was on Art Inc. by Lisa Congdon. If you missed it, have no worries: READ IT HERE.
Hey! I’m going to be speaking at AWP 2015 in Minneapolis this April. My panel is called “Yes, Writing Is a Job: People Who Get Paid To Write.”
Marcia Simmons, Ken Walker and Nora Maynard will be joining me. We’ll be talking about the ups and downs of being full-time writers. Here’s the official event description.
Yes, Writing Is a Job: People Who Get Paid To Write
Believe it or not, it’s possible to make a living writing. Four working writers from diverse backgrounds will talk about how they make ends meet through article writing, blogging, nonfiction books, and other projects. We’ll discuss how we get work, the financial realities of the publishing world, and our struggle to balance writing for money with creative endeavors that are closer to our hearts (but harder on our pocketbooks).
SO! I hope you will come see me speak in April. Come say hi if you do.
If you’ve been to my house, you know how much I hate the 1970s wallpaper on the dining room wall. Well, now it’s gone. We have painted over it.
Free at last, free at last.
July was jammed packed. It was the kind of month where at the end of the day you’ll remember something that happened and think, wait, that was this morning? because it feels like it was two days ago.
Here are 8 things that happened in July, according to my Twitter feed:
1. We found out that the NSA has flagged us for extra surveillance.
The month began with the upsetting news that the NSA has labeled people who read Linux Journal as extremists and has flagged them for extra surveillance. They’re doing this because of two anonymizing technologies called Tor and Tails, which the NSA apparently feels are “advocated in extremist forums.” Kyle has written about Tor and Tails in the past, so there’s a good chance we’re among the people being surveilled. That means the NSA is capturing our data and holding it indefinitely. Beyond that, who knows.
We found out about this right before the 4th of July, which put a damper on the holiday.
2. We rode bikes.
In June, Kyle gave me a tricycle. Then we got Kyle a bike and a trailer for Gideon to ride around in, and have been going on rides. I love bikes now.
3. We saw The Punch Brothers.
These musicians are masters at their craft. If you have a chance, you should check out this band.
4. We went to Petaluma Rivertown Revival.
This is an event to raise funds for the Petaluma river. There are lots of bands and food and everyone dresses up in steampunk for some reason. Corsets and mustaches abound. I petted a small alligator.
We visited a meadery in Point Reyes. Here is a picture of the bees.
6. I visited the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa.
I learned a lot about Peanuts and Charles Schulz and have a new appreciation for the comic and the man who drew it.
7. I drank from this contraption.
This is a Kwak Belgian beer, and it was good. But also, I want this … glass? Mug? Science experiment? We’ll call it a glass.
8. We picked blackberries.
Such a plethora of riches at the side of the road right now. I already made jam. I might go again before the season is over and freeze some so we can have blackberry pie this winter.
In fact, I WILL do that.
How’s your summer going?
Did you catch my latest article in Mental Floss? It’s called 10 Crazy Creations of “Plant Wizard” Luther Burbank. It’s about white blackberries, thornless cactus, pitless plums, and the russett potato.
Even if you haven’t heard of Luther Burbank, you probably tasted his work the last time you ate a french fry. In the early 20th century, Burbank created over 800 varieties of fruits, flowers, and vegetables. The “Plant Wizard,” as he was called, had a unique approach to horticulture that was part Darwinism, part Thomas Edison. And while his failures often sound like something out of a sci-fi novel, we’re still eating many of his creations—inventions?—today.
Here are 7 things we did in June, according to pictures I put on Twitter.
1. For Marcia’s birthday, we went to Hog Island Oyster Company in Tomales. They raise the oysters right there, so they don’t get much fresher. You can eat them in the picnic area right by the bay. (Tip to save copious amounts of money: bring in your own food/drink for your picnic.)
2. Marcia also had a birthday picnic/party at Gustafson Winery.
3. Kyle and I went to the Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic, which served to foster my growing
obsession fascination with hot air balloons. Here I am with Gideon.
4. For our 12th anniversary, Kyle surprised me with a tricycle. (I don’t know how to ride a regular bike.) So far I have ridden to a friend’s house and to the grocery store. It feels so much like riding a regular bike, I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not going to tip over. I like going down hills.
4b. Yesterday, Kyle bought a bicycle from a nice man in Glen Ellen. We’re going to get a bike trailer for Gideon and go on eccentric-looking family bike rides.
5. Last week, we took a road trip to San Diego. On the way there, we spent the night at San Luis Obispo. Here’s the view from the downtown mission at sunset.
6. We went to the San Diego Zoo. I do not like this zoo! First of all, it cost $90 to get in. Secondly, it feels like a theme park. Double-decker buses roar by you and zoo workers pester you about souvenir photographs. Except for the pandas, there aren’t any animals there you haven’t seen at any other zoo. If you want to see pandas, go to the National Zoo in Washington DC, where admission is free.
7. We also took Gideon to the beach. It wasn’t his first time at the beach, but it was the first time making sand castles and standing waist deep in the water. I discovered that the beach is approximately 500 times more fun if you go with a child.
There were other things too: father’s day grilling, gardening, writing, reading, a brewing party, hikes, raises, bill paying, art museums, a sudden
obsession fascination with Stephen Sondheim and playwriting in general, an unfortunate case of food poisoning, the first mulberry off my mulberry tree, and so on.
It’s amazing how much can fit into one month. `
My most recent article for Mental Floss is 19 Rare Recordings of Famous Authors.
Click to hear recordings of Hemingway (he’s drunk!), F Scott Fitzgerald, Jack Kerouac, Flannery O’Connor, Virginia Woolf, and many more.