Newsom Trumps Beauty, Much Like Landis

First off, I looked upon this book as a treasure capsule that would comfort me with its lure of nostalgia, as I settled into a new city across the country.

New York is a city that brings on ideas of self-empowerment. If you’ve lived there, you probably already learned how to care for yourself,  and how to navigate through seas of faces. Having moved to a city of smiling ones as opposed to the familiar morose variety, I haven’t quite abandoned my efforts to establish boundaries. So my iPod follows me out the door, buds in my ears, cell phone in my back pocket.

I’m the sort of girl who texts when attending concerts solo, to keep from getting lonely.

In comes Joanna Newsom.

Muscial Trapeze Artist

She’s a new discovery for me, paying tribute to my musical geshe. After listening to her latest epic contribution. I searched the interwebs for videos of her live shows. Watching her create music with her body, her mouth the imperative guide, there’s an element of comfort and empowerment her passion induces.

I’m an especially big fan of “Easy.” ~“Tell me your worries, I want to be told…”

She is who I listened to as I read:

Normal People Don’t Live Like This by Dylan Landis is a book that appeals to the sad, lonesome reader. I’m going to take it even a step further and say this book is about womanhood, and the responsibility of raising a young girl.

The interconnected stories of Dylan’s novel take place in the 70’s and 80’s in New York’s upper west side. This is also my native neighborhood. Like an old blanket long since robbed of its original softness, that part of town pulls me into its silken arms and lulls me to sleep to the sound of trash compactors.

Dylan, even in pulling from the past, provokes her protagonist, Leah to engage with the present. Her life. She sits on a gradually deteriorating platform of adolescence, attempting to be mesh with the socially elite, and missing the mark by the force of her own anxiety. Throughout the ingestion of the book, I found myself urging her forward into the unknown future. But Leah is a stubborn character, set to stand still for fear of falling apart. With most young adults we look to the parents for clues, and in this book Leah’s mother, Helen, does not fail to satisfy our suspicions.

The middle-aged anorexic, obsessed with illusion of control; an appetite satiated by the sound of crinkly paper covered hangers, and fresh paint. You’ll have to read to learn more about her. I found Helen to be the most fascinating character in the book.

The men in this narrative are tender, when the they appear in the story line. Mixing melancholy impressions in, they fail to save the women from themselves, and so disappear quite quietly without further mentioning. This leaves room for a soft curiosity, but not enough; Leah and her counterparts are the main attraction.

An interesting twist to the literal snapshots of Leah behaving badly with her friends and enemies, is the few open-ended glimpses we see of Leah, her mother, and a friend all at different points in the future. A window of loss, and incredulity, I hoped for good fortune to aid these women to see their own beauty. That is the real truth of this book. While these stories may not have been written with the intent of channeling women’s universal struggles, the characters are irrevocably relatable.

Young girls smoking cigarettes and lying about it, winning the admiration of the toughest girl in school just to prove she can. Adult actions made by young adults who’ve barely begun to familiarize themselves with the transformations of their own bodies. Puberty in all of its facets.

Dylan in my mind promised me much, like Ms. Newsom’s pleasant resemblance to the beloved Joni Mitchel, with her book of stories recalling the city forever safe in my heart, no matter the distance.

So, I sit here on Alamo Square, a site frequented by tour buses and photographers capturing the infamous Painted Ladies, my gaze turned up at the clouds, thinking. About Leah, and the little girl within me who understands. Who sleeps on the spine of books and days like these.

Pick up the the book on Amazon, or if you’re in San Francisco, City Lights.

This city has great book shops.


The Convalescent ate my Pessimism

I’ll be honest, sometimes I have the mind of an insect. A bright neon sign has been known to attract my gaze for whole minutes and make me forget my present reality. So when I was simply strolling around without an aim in the local bookstore, selecting The Convalescent by Jessica Anthony had no other motive except the attraction to its beauty; and it is a good-looking book.

The cover had an edge unfamiliar to me, everything detailed to the finish of the side pages with engravings on the cover and the details so elaborate I couldn’t resist removing it and unfolding the sides to fully absorb the image in its entirety. A man is beautifully sprawled across the surface with his face hidden, with only nerve endings shredded to ribbons exposing the stories, loves, elements surrounding his life, or any life.

Upon the first page I fell for the hero, Rovar, his self-deprecating comments, comic and endearing in their honesty. They encapsulate the life he has been granted since birth, the life of misfortune sadly fated to him by his ancestors. There’s no doubt that he is indeed pathetic, but I continue to wonder as I read on, the rollercoaster of chapters telling his story first, the history of his ancestors second; There has to be love coming his way, some stroke of good fortune.

“…Other people are always busy doing big and important things like running for president or voting for president, or thinking about running for president.  I sell meat out of a bus...”

He is kind, he is generous, he is more than he is and yet all he can do is shrug. Accept his supposed fate as a diseased dwarf living and selling meat off of a bus.

“I am the last remaining descendant of a line of the worst sort of losers on the planet.”

When I grabbed this book off the shelf of new bestsellers I hesitated before making the purchase. This book was a collector’s item.

To add the proverbial boot, Katherine Dunn’s recommendation sold me. The author of a book detailing the life of a circus family forever won my heart with the tender tale-telling of her wonderfully twisted novel Geek Love .

That’s all we’re given. A couple of recommendations, a beautiful painting, and a butterfly etched curiously into the cover.

For me, it was an abundant lot and I hope that readers who haven’t picked it up yet will consider doing so now. The underdog rarely gets his or her due, and that is exactly why this book is so important. In every environment there is ugliness, what Ms. Anthony reminds us is within each facet darkly colored with downfalls and tribulations there is beauty. Sometimes somewhat fragmented, but still visible to those who know that in life there is more than just a point.

We are always doing more than living.

By the way, this book made me listen to Radiohead incessantly. When I was in college, I found that Thom Yorke’s voice made me cry more than smile. There’s another bit of ugliness and beauty in that too.

*Amazon’s selling Ms. Anthony’s book at a pretty good price. Brilliance and great writing is just a click (or two) away