It always happens this way. The kids start lining up in front of the school bus again and you think about dressing up for Halloween and fail to dress up for Halloween and you take a slow shower without shampoo and it’s December. The year-end lists start popping up everywhere and you don’t recognize half of the things on them. Your checking account looks sort of hungry and mopey but the screen(s) you’re sitting in front of are offering you hundreds of amazing deals on things you need to buy for all the people in your life who mean a lot to you. You haven’t read the book you wanted to read last summer, your feet are cold, you’ve forgotten to make a doctor’s appointment about that thing that’s been bugging you, you caught some sort of virus from an airplane trip, you’re eating too much but fuck it, you’ve gradually begun drinking two cups of coffee in the morning instead of one and now you get a headache if you try to go back. You had that one night full of soft lights and dancing and garlic toast and a coat that wasn’t yours. You have said “I love you” hundreds of times and actually meant it. There are songs in every car asking you to sing them and smile. You take a minute to sit down and it’s December. You remember how lucky you are. You realize it’s been a hard year. You think about all the things coming up next year that are going to make it an incredible one. You’ve stumbled over something full of grace. You’ve cried in different places every month of the last year. You think if you could collect all the tears in a big jar and pour them out over the balcony, yelling the whole time, yelling louder than you’ve ever yelled before, you might not have to do any of this again. You want to do all of this again. It’s December and the air is crisp and your arms smell like firewood. You’re tired. You’re still alive.
I want to see more girl monsters. Girl giants, girl dragons, hulks & trolls. Scylla and hydra. Girl monsters who are huge and whole. Teeth and plush fur and long muscled tails. Heads enough to see you anywhere. Gleaming green or brown. But girl monsters are usually zombies or vampires. Pale and thin, bleeding or dead. Not Lady Lazarus, not a phoenix from the ash. I want to see how you get strong without being broken first. Get strong and stay strong. Get big and bigger.Terror Incognita (via nogreatillusion)
- Taking a scenic jaunt along Mullholland Drive, turning a corner, and accidentally finding Justin Timberlake’s house. Wouldn’t have even figured out it was Justin Timberlake’s house if we hadn’t noticed the 24-hour security guard at the gate giving us the stink-eye and then, obviously, googled the address, so that one’s maybe on you, Justin?
- Last night we saw Catching Fire at the Arclight (our Katniss, who art in Panem, hallowed be thy bow) and then we ate sushi and then we drove around Beverly Hills looking at Christmas lights. Last time we were here we took a similar drive in the afternoon, “but this is better,” I said to Kevin, “because now I can see inside their houses.” He did not divorce me for being a creep.
- Watched at least 7 episodes of The Cosby Show.
- Skippy Dies, Paul Murray. This is a beautifully-written book that took me forever (for me: a month and a half) to read. There were like 200 pages starting around 300 pages in that were really amazing though.
- Allegiant, Veronica Roth. I was disappointed—this got pretty convoluted, and included a pivotal scene that was nearly a word-for-word recreation of a similarly pivotal scene in HP7. I did so enjoy that first one, though. I think VR will write lovely books in the future about family and love and the strength in vulnerability, but I don’t think this was quite one of those books.
- Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers. Wrote about this mean, magic little book at The Female Gaze this month.
- The first 100 or so pages of The Bone Season, Samantha Shannon. Only in the last year have I developed the ability to give up on books I’m not enjoying. It still feels very bad, like a moral transgression on my part. If books are my religion, I would totally go to confession every time I didn’t finish one. But anyway, this didn’t do it for me and neither did Looking for Alaska which I gave up on over the summer maybe I will try again some day but probably not because life is short thanks for letting me get this off my chest.
- Finally read that science-fiction issue of the New Yorker from last year and only cried three times (Ray Bradbury, Karen Russell, Emily Nussbaum on Doctor Who). Also “Member/Guest,” by David Gilbert; "Victory," by Yu Hua; and "Marjorie Lemke," by Sarah Braunstein.
- Dark Places, Gillian Flynn. I mean, say what you want, but this woman knows how to plot a novel. Very interested in the upcoming film adaptation, featuring the completely nonsensical casting of noted giant Charlize Theron as the 4’10” protagonist.
- The Crucible, Arthur Miller. Deeply unsettling pre-Thanksgiving reading.
- Little Tales of Misogyny, Patricia Highsmith. “A young man asked a father for his daughter’s hand, and received it in a box—her left hand.”
- Excellent Women, Barbara Pym. I picked this up after reading Carrie Frye’s excellent Awl piece about Pym in May, and I’m so glad I did. It’s like if Jane Austen wrote a novel set in 1950s London after the marriage plot window for her heroine has closed; it’s all rationed jam and underlying anxiety about living alone in the world among other alone people. I only wished for an Austen-ier ending (by which I mean: handsome dudes who solve all one’s problems), but that says more about my weaknesses as a reader than Pym’s as a writer. READ IT.
I didn’t change my name when I got married in September, not professionally, not personally, not on the internet. My name is still Katie Coyle for a lot of reasons—the main one being, and in addition to that, it is very phonetically pleasing. I’ve always known that I wasn’t going to change my name. It seems like an extremely outdated practice to me, but most of the married women of my acquaintance have made the choice to change theirs, and everyone has the right to be called exactly what they want to be called, so more power to them. What I can’t handle is the number of times in the last two months alone, that I have been addressed as “Mrs. Katie [Kevin’s Last Name]” or, worse, just the Mrs. in “Mr. and Mrs. [Kevin’s Name].” I thought I would be able to be cool about it, to take it in stride, because I knew it was going to happen; of course it was going to happen. But why not just ask me? It isn’t meant as an insult, obviously, and it’s not like I’m really insulted to be identified as my husband’s wife, because I married him, and everything. It’s just that I made a decision, and the decision keeps being ignored—either consciously, because it isn’t respected, or (more likely) because they’re ignoring the fact that there was a decision to be made. It’s hard not to let that get under my skin, not to feel reduced. (Also: how do you handle this? Especially if it’s being done via mail? Is “Return to Sender, No Such Addressee” necessary or will writing a sincere blog post about it work?)
Anyway, and this is not exactly related but related enough, I’ve been reading Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women the last couple of days and it’s hitting me hard, exactly as you’d want a book to do—I keep having to stop and close it and take deep breaths, even though most of it is very light and funny. The parts that aren’t are beautiful, too. I read it today on the train between two dudes who were reading Hefty Dude Tomes—Ulysses and Thomas Pynchon—and I got a little sad about this slim, lovely book I’m reading, in which nothing much really happens. One time when I was 18, I went to dinner with my friend and her aunt and her uncle. Her uncle was a writer and found out I wanted to be one, too, and he asked me what I wrote about and all I’d written at that point were two slight stories about magical things happening to teenage girls. He was very clearly Unimpressed. “Are you willing to fight in a war?” he asked me. I pretended to think about it, but eventually admitted that I was very much unwilling to fight in a war. That settled it for him. “Well, you’re never going to be a good writer if you’re not willing to fight in a war.” I spent a long time wondering if he was right, but now I continue to write almost exclusively about magical things happening to teenage girls and have published a book before the age of thirty. I thought about this on the train this morning while reading Excellent Women and had a nice laugh about what bad advice that was.
But none of this explains why I’d read each book until way past my bedtime, forcing myself to slow down as I approached the last fifty pages so I could savor every syllable. Or why I’ve spent so much time over the last fifteen years analyzing my favorite passages with everyone I know, until long after the eyes of my friends and my family and strangers on the bus go glassy with disinterest. It doesn’t explain why to this day, nothing quite compares to Harry for me. I read voraciously, across all genres, trying each time to recapture that feeling I had when I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the sensation of two doors opening inside my head—one leading into the outside world, huge and new and endlessly interesting; the other leading inward to myself, whole reserves of memory and emotion and sensation that I did not yet know about or understand. I’ve loved many books in the years since I first read Harry Potter, but I’ve never again had that curious, enveloping feeling, the feeling that the book loves me back.Booktrust sought to find the favorite children’s book in the UK, and what they found happens to be my favorite book, so here I am talking about loving it.
In the pre-Netflix days of my childhood, all the movies I watched came from my parents’ vast library of things they’d taped off television. My favorite of these tapes, watched on a near-weekly basis up until the time I hit double-digits, was the one containing both Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. I watched this tape so often and at so young an age that for a long time I thought that together they comprised one extremely long and confusing film, halfway through which Mary Poppins’s umbrella carried her to an Austrian mountaintop, whereupon she dyed her hair, chopped it off, and immediately began caring for some other stranger’s children.
That this made sense to me at the time seems like an extension of two different facts. The first is that by Mary Poppins logic, all things are possible: telekinetic room-cleaning! Tea parties on the ceiling! Dancing penguins! Extended musical sequences about vagrants! The second is that I understood that children are not always cared for by their mothers and fathers. If they’re very lucky, as I understood it, they are cared for by Julie Andrews instead. I was a ridiculously lucky child, with two present, loving, delightful parents and a crazy-large, local, hilarious extended family of aunts, uncles, and grandparents. But I would have traded every last one of them in, without hesitation, without even a sliver of regret, for the opportunity to jump into a sidewalk chalk drawing.
Hey-oh! I wrote about Mary Poppins the movie, Mary Poppins the book, Saving Mr. Banks, childcare, and Julie Andrews’s face for The Female Gaze this month.
Andrew O’Hagan writes: ‘Joan Didion gave me her hand and she was so thin it felt like I was holding a butterfly’ (LRB, 7 November). A beautiful sentence, but I wondered about the simile’s plausibility. It’s been reported that Didion weighs less than eighty lbs. She’s so thin her doctors have put her on an ice cream diet to keep her mass up. A woman’s hand is said to be 0.5 per cent of her body weight. So if Didion weighs 75 lbs, her hand probably weighs about six ounces. The world’s heaviest butterfly, the female Queen Victorian Birdwing, weighs about two grams. There are about 28 grams in an ounce, and Joan Didion’s hand probably weighs about the same as holding 86 female Queen Victoria Birdwings. It would be difficult to hold them all in your hand because each one has a wingspan of 18 centimetres. The smallest butterfly in the world is the North American Pygmy Blue and you’d probably need thousands of them to tip the scales against one of Didion’s fingers. None of this is to detract from the loveliness of O’Hagan’s sentence. We tell ourselves stories in order to live.
This is the sickest burn.