dies · happy dance · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee

35721123Summary from Goodreads:
From the author of The Queen of the Night, an essay collection exploring his education as a man, writer, and activist—and how we form our identities in life and in art. As a novelist, Alexander Chee has been described as “masterful” by Roxane Gay, “incomparable” by Junot Díaz, and “incendiary” by the New York Times. With How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, his first collection of nonfiction, he’s sure to secure his place as one of the finest essayists of his generation as well.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is the author’s manifesto on the entangling of life, literature, and politics, and how the lessons learned from a life spent reading and writing fiction have changed him. In these essays, he grows from student to teacher, reader to writer, and reckons with his identities as a son, a gay man, a Korean American, an artist, an activist, a lover, and a friend. He examines some of the most formative experiences of his life and the nation’s history, including his father’s death, the AIDS crisis, 9/11, the jobs that supported his writing—Tarot-reading, bookselling, cater-waiting for William F. Buckley—the writing of his first novel, Edinburgh, and the election of Donald Trump.

By turns commanding, heartbreaking, and wry, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel asks questions about how we create ourselves in life and in art, and how to fight when our dearest truths are under attack.

I will tell you right now that I was in Michael’s buying fancy writing/drawing pens when I got a DM from Rachel Fershleiser (bless you, lovey) asking me if I would like an early galley of Alexander Chee’s new book. Which I had been coveting hardcore. Pretty sure I shrieked out loud in the checkout line.

I have been waiting since DECEMBER to tell y’all about this book.

“To write is to sell a ticket to escape, not from the truth, but into it.” – “On Becoming an American Writer”

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is a collection of essays – some previously published elsewhere, some brand, spanking new – that outline Chee’s development as a writer and provide a peek into his experience growing up as a queer, biracial kid in Maine. Meditative pieces such as “The Curse” and “The Querent” give way to heart-breaking examinations of identity and lost love in “Girls” – a powerhouse essay anthologized in The Best American Essays 2016 – and “After Peter.” (Note: I will never not weep reading “After Peter,” it is sublime.) Chee then takes us on a tour of the Struggling Writer’s Life: jobbing as a yoga teacher, tarot reader, and cater-waiter (“Mr. and Mrs. B”), getting an MFA (“My Parade”), various living arrangements (“Impostor”), and creating a garden (“The Rosary”). At times, he is wry and cheeky in pieces such as “100 Things About Writing a Novel.” And then, if you have read his previous novels Edinburgh and The Queen of the Night, he quietly turns you inside out with “The Autobiography of My Novel” and “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel.” (Side note: if you haven’t read his novels get on that because you are seriously deprived of amazing sentences.) The order of essays builds over the course of the book to a moving examination of what it means to be an American writer, especially at this present time, in “On Becoming an American Writer.” 

Alexander Chee has a gift – he can write sentences that just stick in the mind like tiny bits of grit, to be worked over and polished and revisited.

“That afternoon, I tried to understand if I had made a choice about what to write. But instead it seemed to me if anyone had made a choice, the novel had, choosing me like I was a door and walking through me out into the world.” – “The Autobiography of My Novel”

These are not complex sentences nor filled with over-flowing description but are complex and beautiful in their simplicity. It is such a privilege to read his words. I could read them forever.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is out on Tuesday, April 17. Bravo, Alex. Thank you so much for your beautiful book. I look forward to making as many people as possible buy this book.

ETA: I would like to introduce you to another writer, Brandon Taylor, who stans for Alexander Chee even more than I do and writes far more eloquently and intelligently about Chee’s work than I could ever possibly hope to write. Please read his essay about How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, “Sad Queer Books: When You’re a Queer Person of Color, Writing is Tough Yet Vital,” at Them. Keep an eye on Brandon, by the way. He’s going to blow us all out of the water.

Dear FTC: You know I rubbed this galley all over my eyeballs when I got it.  I’ll be buying a copy whenever Alex manages to get himself to Iowa for a reading so I can be weird and awkward in person and gush all over while he signs it (and the galley, too).

dies · Extra Extra · happy dance · stuff I read

Pre-order alert: New Alexander Chee essay collection!

35721123“To write is to sell a ticket to escape, not from the truth, but into it.”
– “On Becoming an American Writer,” Alexander Chee

Y’all, mark April 17, 2018, on your calendar, get your pre-order in at your bookseller, prepare your spring reading nest. Alexander Chee’s new collection of essays How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is stellar beyond words. I’ll have a longer review much closer to the review date.

Dear FTC: I read a paper galley of this book offered by the publisher and I’m surprised I’m still alive to tell you this because I almost died in the fancy marker pen aisle of my local Michael’s when Fersh’s text message appeared to ask if I wanted a galley. There may have been shrieking.

happy dance · Readathon · Reading Diversely · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai (Forbidden Hearts #1)

29422692Summary from Goodreads:
One night. No one will know.
That was the deal. Every year, Livvy Kane and Nicholas Chandler would share one perfect night of illicit pleasure. The forbidden hours let them forget the tragedy that haunted their pasts—and the last names that made them enemies.
Until the night she didn’t show up.
Now Nicholas has an empire to run. He doesn’t have time for distractions and Livvy’s sudden reappearance in town is a major distraction. She’s the one woman he shouldn’t want . . . so why can’t he forget how right she feels in his bed?
Livvy didn’t come home for Nicholas, but fate seems determined to remind her of his presence—and their past. Although the passion between them might have once run hot and deep, not even love can overcome the scandal that divided their families.
Being together might be against all the rules . . . but being apart is impossible.

*screams with delight* I saved Alisha Rai’s Avon Romance debut to read during Readathon this weekend and I inhaled the whole thing and then had to resist immediately re-reading it.  (I re-read it last night because all the heart-eyes.) Hate to Want You comes out swinging, with a second-chance-enemies-to-lovers romance with a twist: Livvy and Nicholas been having one night of HAWT sex every year for ten years since they broke up.

Until this year, when Livvy didn’t show up. But now she’s back in town because her mom got sick and ALLLLLL the drama is waiting in the wings to start up again.

Y’all, this book is extremely hot and sexy and very, very raw. Everybody’s got some problems in this book, none of them immediately solvable with a single conversation: Livvy and her mom have issues, Nicholas’s dad is a shitty piece of work, Nicholas’s sister has some stuff, Livvy’s twin Jackson has his own problems, their older brother Paul has died and his widow Sadia has financial and emotional stuff to work through (tl;dr: the town soap opera is the Kane-Chandler family feud/war/dramarama). And it’s so, so goddamn good. Big ups to Alisha Rai for writing the scene where Livvy has an honest talk with her aunt about women’s emotions and relationships (you’ll know it when you read it). Also Maile, love that woman.

Now, I know that the next book is Jackson’s but I really, really hope there’s a book planned for Eve.

Hate to Want You is out today! GO, go, go!  Why are you still here? Go buy it/borrow it (please, no stealing). And then go pre-order book 2 (can we do that yet?).

Dear FTC: I read the digital galley two times, and now my nook has a copy all for its very own.

happy dance · stuff I read

Dance to the Piper by Agnes de Mille

Summary from Goodreads:
Born into a family of successful playwrights and producers, Agnes de Mille was determined to be an actress. Then one day she witnessed the Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova, and her life was altered forever. Hypnotized by Pavlova’s beauty, in that moment de Mille dedicated herself to dance. Her memoir records with lighthearted humor and wisdom not only the difficulties she faced—the resistance of her parents, the sacrifices of her training—but also the frontier atmosphere of early Hollywood and New York and London during the Depression. “This is the story of an American dancer,” writes de Mille, “a spoiled egocentric wealthy girl, who learned with difficulty to become a worker, to set and meet standards, to brace a Victorian sensibility to contemporary roughhousing, and who, with happy good fortune, participated by the side of great colleagues in a renaissance of the most ancient and magical of all the arts.”

Strangely, I think I read Dance to the Piper before, or tried to, because the early sections of the book were crazily familiar. When I was a child, I read any and all dance biographies or memoirs I could lay my hands on, which were pitifully few given my local public library. I read Alicia Markova’s constantly, understood most of Margot Fonteyn’s, was frightened by Gelsey Kirkland’s, but I didn’t understand Agnes de Mille’s.
1) de Mille wasn’t a ballet dancer so was immediately of less interest to me (tutus and toe shoes were my jam)
2) She didn’t take ballet lessons until she was an adult but she still wanted to emulate Pavlova (*cue scoffing from one totally stuck-up kid*)
3) She went on and on about her own dances which I had never heard of or seen (I knew she had choreographed Oklahoma! but this was completely prior to that and made no sense).

It didn’t take.

Well, I’m so thankful that NYRB Classics printed a new edition and that they contacted me out of the blue and offered a review copy. A re-read almost 30 years later – with a much wider dance education and modern classes under my belt, not to mention a dance minor – really made the difference in my understanding.  de Mille’s memoir is not only a chronicle of her experiences as an itinerant, aspiring dancer in an era when America was developing its idea of the art form apart from classical ballet but also the very early silent motion picture era when her father moved the family West to join his brother Cecil (yep, that de Mille) in California. Her story is a testament to how your dreams and goals change over time.  She never gives up her dream of being a dancer, and her determination to keep with her ballet training was a major influence on her later choreographic style, but she slowly turns from classical ballet to an original contemporary or modern style.  We would never have had Rodeo without her.

A few chapters are a bit uneven in places, and clearly shows mid-century psychological theories around the edges, but de Mille captured everything so brilliantly.  Dance history fanatics will goggle at the sheer number of mid-twentieth century dancers de Mille interacted with both in the US and in England. For a memoir supposedly delivered to her editor in a grocery sack, the sentence-level quality of writing is excellent.

(Must also point out an introduction by the dance critic Joan Acocella)

Dear FTC: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

happy dance · thanks

Surprises from my Secret Santa!

I received my Secret Santa package about a week ago but I’ve been really remiss in blogging about it (particularly as I would remember while at work and had no picture of what I actually received).
Well, my SS was Jill of Book, Books Everywhere and just look what was in my package!

Talk about getting spoiled!  I almost cried when I opened the box.  She sent EL Doctorow’s Ragtime (something I keep thinking I have then get home and realize I don’t have it), Tasha Alexander’s And Only to Deceive (my SIL says those are good), Richard Paul Evan’s The Christmas List, and Patricia Miller Mauro’s Safe from the Past AND chocolate (yum, yum).  Thanks so much, Jill!  This December has been hard, what with Mom’s diagnosis and surgery and all (she’s doing so well, we’re all so thankful), so a lovely box of Christmas cheer and book love was just what I needed. 
Thank you many times!  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
happy dance · stuff I read

Sourcebooks is the place for goodies on JA’s birthday!

In honor of Jane Austen’s birthday (December 16) Sourcebooks is offering the ebook editions of Darcy-inspired fiction for $1.99! 

There’s a “Darcy for everyone”:

Darcy and Fitzwilliam
A Darcy Christmas
The Darcys and the Bingleys
Darcy’s Voyage
Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star
The Man Who Loved Pride and Prejudice
Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy
Mr. Darcy Goes Overboard
Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife
Mr. Darcy, Vampyre
The Pemberley Chronicles
Pemberley Ranch
Searching for Pemberley
The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy

I picked up Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star, The Man Who Loved Pride and Prejudice, Searching for Pemberley, and Weekend with Mr. Darcy (not listed on the Sourcebooks page but found for $1.99 when I ran “sourcebooks+darcy” into the B&N search engine).  I find that I enjoy the Austen-inspired stuff more when they use the works for inspriation as opposed to writing “sequels” or “variations” with the original characters and settings.

The special pricing runs through December 30 so get ’em while they’re hot!

(I also picked up Penguin’s Holiday eSampler for free…just in case you’re looking for more holiday deals.)

happy dance · random

Who needs love?

So every year at the store we go from Christmas signage to Valentine’s Day signage – with a brief stop-over for New Year’s resolution-type books – in a blink.  So for six weeks we get to live with the Valentine’s Day table brimming with relationship, sex, and dating books in varying shades of pink, pink-er pink, and red.  For someone who is always acutely aware that Valentine’s Day is SAD (Singles Awareness Day) it can get old fast.

So I got to thinking “Why not an anti-Valentine’s Day type of display?” Not neccessarily against Valentine’s Day, per se, but one where the love stories don’t end happily or not as the reader would wish.  Also known as no HEAs (Happily Ever Afters).  Just for a little balance.  And would be full of good books to read.  Why not, indeed.  So I made one (with input from a few other booksellers – the display is buried in the fiction section but I plan on catching unsuspecting book browsers with the sign “Who needs love?”):

The Time-Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman
Brick Lane by Monica Ali
The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
On Love by Alain de Botton

I deliberately went with more recent novels than classics (because if I did classics, Anna Karenina would be front and center followed by Jude the Obscure and Wuthering Heights as well as very obvious plays from Shakespeare).  Do you think I’m missing anything essential?

(Looking at this list again I must have had Booker awards on the brain….)
ETA: One or two things on the display that slipped my mind writing this post.

cats · happy dance · parents · thanks

I haz a happee!

A happy new house!  Be prepared for a long post with gratuitous photographic displays!

 So Thursday, December 30, I went to the bank and signed my life away…but I got the keys to my new house!  I stopped by Lowe’s for painting supplies, picked up some lunch, changed out of my suit (I, apparently, am the only person I know who dresses up for a house closing, but I have a suspicion that the loan officer is happier loaning a large sum of money to a person who looks like a professional, not a dumpster-dweller), and headed over to my new house with a few things.

Including the house-warming present from my bank.

Now that the house was mine, I could think about what I wanted to do with the rooms in the new house. 

The master bedroom needed a coat of paint, not too far from the starting shade of blue, but the original job was really shoddy (did they thin the paint before using it?).

The smaller bedroom, my office, needed several coats of paint to cover up that ghastly shade of Pepto-Bismol pink and some work to cover really bad drywall patches (this is not as pink as it should be but I was having trouble getting the correct exposure because the lighting in that room is really dank, also on the list of things to change).

Mom and Dad came down to help – Dad to help paint and Mom to get started on the kitchen (see below for what was up with the kitchen).  We weren’t done with painting that evening – it was just too many walls to paint (even with Jess and Jackie coming over to help) and we needed another full coat in the office to cover the pink, even though we’d started with a tinted primer.  So back to the condo for bed:

Which was really the couch because I had to start taking the bed apart for the movers.  I didn’t go to sleep until nearly 2am because I was also taking apart the stereo system and packing all the clothes in the drawers in my room.

Up at 6am and I took the cats over to the new house.  Which involved tricking two highly suspicious felines into their carriers (also known as giving up on doing it nicely and dropping them butt-first into the carriers), packing them into the car with all their toys, blankies, and new litter boxes, and taking a (mercifully) short car ride with two howling animals.  They were installed in the downstairs bathroom, known as “the cats’ bathroom”, for the day.  Then I raced back to the condo in time for the water heater guy to install the new water heater (old water heater was peeing water on the floor at the condo), the movers to come for my furniture, and the contractor to fix the drywall (I was practically paying the buyers to take my house).

 It was like a circus!! We found little kitty hoards under all the furniture. 

After the movers left, Dad and I worked on more painting – we didn’t finish until Saturday (!) but the results were well worth it.


My bedroom has a much more saturated blue color – along with a more even paint job – so it feels very calm and peaceful.  The cats felt more at home once we got the bed made (when I let them out of the bathroom they wouldn’t go anywhere without me, even crying to get me to come downstairs so they could use the kitty box; Chaucer would stand at the bottom and cry to have me to come down and get him).
My office turned out to be AMAZING!  The color is Bimini Blue and after a coat of tinted primer and two coats of color it looks exactly like the card.  I’ve got a little touch-up work to do, still (and we got a bit of paint on the woodwork), but I’m busily filling up my bookshelves with books.
So, do you want to hear about the kitchen?  The kitchen was a disaster.  The oven was beyond disgusting (I’m sorry I didn’t remember to take a picture), like multiple-years’-worth-of-cooking pizza-directliy-on-the-racks-without-a-pan level of dirty; we had to vacuum the ashes out of the bottom after running the cleaning cycle.  My mother, who is quite good at getting kitchens in order, spent nearly three days cleaning cabinets, even borrowing the putty knife to scrape God-only-knows-what off of cabinet bottoms.  She made me promise that the next time I buy a house I request on the offer to have a professional cleaning done prior to close (and that goes for my brothers and sisters-in-law, too). 
In the end it turned out to be a very nice and clean kitchen with a low wall looking over the foyer where Chaucer likes to sit and vulture the food. 

I swear that I cleaned my condo unbelievably well prior to the sale on January 5 – it took two days and you could have eaten off the floor in the bathroom where the litter boxes sat. True story.

I had the carpet cleaned at the condo prior to closing.  It was so sad to see it empty – even though I am happy to be well rid of it, it was my first house and I cried when my realtor called to tell me the sale was completed. 

Bye-bye old kitchen, it doesn’t even look like I lived there (or anyone, for that matter).

Among the surprises at the new house, I was gifted with a large porch swing (they asked if I wanted it and I said I didn’t care because I already had a swing…so they left it) and multiple junk drawers full of old makeup, barbie shoes, hair-ties, nails, screws, keys, crap, about $3.50 in pocket change (which I fed to the Peanut-Butter Bear Bank), and these:


I think these are what I used to put notecards on but they were holding up the shower curtain in the upstairs bath!  Not only were they slobs, they weren’t very smart because these bad boys rust!  Classy!
So my new house is slowly coming together.  The cats have settled in nicely (I found favorite toys upstairs on the third day, so they adjusted quite well; Dante has found his old hiding places again).  I’ve got a lot of boxes left to unpack – and I don’t have any nice living room furniture as yet – but it feels like home now.
Welcome, friends! (My youngest brother and sister-in-law gave this to me for Christmas a few years ago – I never had a satisfactory place to hang it until now).