Weird Intersections

Once upon a time, in a bedroom far, far away, I was a different person. This person that I once was thought about being in the wilderness a lot, and about hiking, and about how it would be to live there.

And then everything changed.

And then everything changed again.

And then I had children (note: "change" is not a strong enough word for that, er, transformation).

And then one of the children, Chestnut, became 15 and had her own, different obsession with the wilderness. As a result of which she ended up reading this book, and then it all came back to me in a rush.


That is the cover this book had when I read it, and I remember the feel of it—matte and papery—and all the specific scenes. Such a strange and immediate work it is, so very compelling. My niece saw it and read it too, with the same immediate powerful draw.

What is it about this book? I do not know. I only know that it's there, and that I am now intersecting with my kids in whole new and strange ways, which I find excellent. Also, if there is a person in your life yearning for the wilderness, this is what you should hand them.

Sci-Fi ‘n’ Me, Or: What Is WRONG With Me?

Chestnut has become quite the adventurous reader. We are talking wide. She's zipping from The Taliban Shuffle to Bossypants to The Three Body Problem, which is where my troubles began.

See, I till like to, when possible, read books that my kids are reading. When is this possible? When they let me know what they're reading, for instance, and don't squirrel the book away so I can't find it.

Dipping into their reading is especially alluring when it's a book I've never heard of. So when Chestnut started reading—and re-reading—The Three Body Problem, I was intrigued. Award-winning sci-fi by a Chinese author I'd never heard of? It sounded world-expanding in all the right ways.

I was never a big sci-fi buff growing up, but I like to think that I've gotten smarter than I was, and that I'm not as—genre-defensive? Is that a term?—as I once was. So with great anticipation, I began.

Here's where real life creeps in (sort of). Through strange flukes of the NYC public school system, both my kids are taking physics this year. I have never taken physics, and when they have run into problems, I have pathetically tried to google my way towards helping them, with middling success. It has not been…pleasant. And then here comes the Three Body Problem, which is chock-full of physics, nanotechnology (at least conceptually), and many, many scientific and mathematical digressions.

I mean, I get it: Science Fiction. Right? Except, oh! How it made me long for Trollope!

What I want to read about, pretty much always, is people. I feel this is a limitation on my part, but it is a truly felt one. And there were people in this book, of course. But they were not, it seemed to me, the author's main concern. Not by a long chalk (ah! What an excellent expression that is).

So: what gives? What makes someone able to engage fully in science fiction? And why don't I have it? And where or how can I get it? It should be noted that Chestnut LOVED this book, and found it fascinating. I feel like I am missing something, both in the sense that I don't have a quality I should, and because that means there are many wonderful books that I could love that I do not.

Is it just a taste thing? Larger? Smaller? All suggestions welcome.


I'm sick. Sick like grownups don't, and shouldn't, get, complete with fever, pathetic whining, texting Chestnut to bring me Tylenol, etc.

Here's the weird thing: the moment my temperature broke 101, I wanted to read one thing and one thing only:


Why? What power do Ms. Beck and Massman wield over me? Have they even written anything else? The Internet informs me that they've also written Fling, which is no doubt just as good at getting a person through a fever.

But what is the situation? Why am I like this? What is it about fevers that makes me want to read 80s trash? (My friend's favorite description from the book: "He had the latest haircut, cropped short on top, yet sensuously long in back.")

I like to think of Beck and Massman as best friends, having an awesome time writing their book (more sex! More Versace! More rhinestones!). But I am grateful to them for getting me through this stupid illness, which I hope will vanish soon, taking all 80s novels with it till next time.

Am I alone in this? What trash do you guys read when you're at your lowest?

The Non-Official Amtrak Writer’s Residency™

Diana and I are on the Amtrak train, coursing along the Hudson River, which is very beautiful and also filled with weird birds in large, thin numbers. I am here, in my unofficial Amtrak Writer's Residency capacity (for official, see here), to keep you updated on affairs literary over the holiday weekend.

1) This book?


Is, according to my niece, really really awesome. I purchased it for Chestnut, who in the proud tradition of her kind, has refused to read it because I bought it "it doesn't look interesting." But fear not! The niece read it with total, thrilled absorption, and is now going to go and find all the other books by Sara Zarr. What does this teach us? Um, probably nothing, as we prove so totally unwilling to learn.

2) This book?

This is what you can put in the room with Diana and say, "Hey, maybe you want to try reading this!" if you are her father and want to ensure that she never, ever reads it.

3) This book?

73.Eleanor Catton-The Luminaries

Is just not that interesting. I wish it were so much more interesting. But alas, it is not. To me anyway.

So there you go. This has been your holiday weekend update. Stay tuned for when I read The Lucy Variations, spurring Chestnut to snatch it from me and read it out of gleeful spite. Oh, and wait! I forgot the super-weirdest reading of all, in case all of this was making too much sense.

Chestnut has been reading aloud from this:


"The old man, covered with mushrooms…."

Happy summer!

Inexplicable, and Yet Not So Inexplicable

What has Chestnut been reading all week? What did she bring to school to read during the last week of classes, and regale other kids with during lunch? Why this, of course.


See, I bought this book for a…project I'm working on. And she immediately found it and cannot stop reading it.

At first I thought this was funny and random, and then she came to the dinner table asking this:

• Did you know that singing off-key is illegal in Kentucky?

• Did you know that whaling is illegal in Oklahoma?

And I thought—wait, this isn't inexplicable at all! This is actually just awesome.