Wednesday, November 24, 2010

East Side Story

On this freezing cold (relatively, yeah--but it is cold out there!) day, I decided to watch one of my random movies from the library, settling on East Side Story, which I'd never heard of, but it looked interesting if not great. Plus it's from the library so it's free, so I check out way more movies than I ever watch, and watch just a few minutes of some and return most unwatched. But this seemed a good afternoon for East Side Story, so I went for it, and I watched the whole thing, all 88 minutes of it.


A totally cute gayboy movie, this film has more to it than that. It tackles--without them being the focus or the premise--gentrification, assimilation, and specifically gentrification by gays, in this case (but not only in this case), rich white gay men. However, of course, many of us don't fit into just one category. We can be queer and part of the community being gentrified, for example.

It has a lot of great moments, including the exchange between the closeted gayboy who tells his grandmother he has something important to tell her. She totally already knows he's gay, and she's just glad he's finally going to tell her--but then he tells her something else, and she has to reduce and shift her excitement hugely. None of us have ever been in that position. Ever.

But I think the best part in this sweet but honest and true little movie is the closing shot, which is a Latino nanny holding the Chinese baby adopted by white couple Adam and Steve, with the proud fathers saying goodbye and the nanny and their daughter watching them go.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

I read the first of these books several years ago and loved it, but never read the others. But I bought #2 at a library book sale, and then I put #3 on hold at the library. I have now finished #2 and #3, and put #4 on hold--who knew there were four?

The third book, Girls in Pants, is not the best by most standards, and other readers haven't liked it as much--the consensus seems to be that #1 was the best, and they have gotten worse ever since. But I loved the third, and cried and laughed most of the way through, I think because I'm nostalgic about that period of life--the summer after your senior year of high school, before you leave those friends you've known forever, who've known you forever, and who are your friends in a different way than any friends you will ever have again. The kinds of friends who can walk into your parents' houses without knocking, who know your parents and your siblings and maybe even your grandparents or your aunts and uncles or your cousins or your neighbors. The kinds of friends who are family in a way no one else will ever be. I think that once you have your own family, and maybe children, there are friends, especially other friends with children, who are family in another kind of way, but I didn't realize before I went away to college that my friends in the future would be close friends, but they would not know my family, they would not know my family history, and for those reasons there would be a distance between us that I did not have with earlier friends. Of course, you grow apart from those earlier friends too, but what you share? It stays there.

Friends can be family later on in your life, but never in the same way. Which is not entirely a bad thing. But this book--these books, but especially the third--made me remember that and miss it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Amy Bloom

I just finished Amy Bloom's new(ish) collection, Where the God of Love Hangs Out. I think she is very unlike any other writer I love--she lives in Connecticut, and when I was in college, I got a ride partway to meet a friend, with a fellow Bard student who was friends with her daughter. They lived in the same wealthy Connecticut town. Now, having done some research, I know that that must have been her first husband (she then had a serious ten-year relationship with a woman, and is now married again), and she was wealthier then than she has been since. But I still think of her as a white, upper-middle-class, Connecticut, therapist (now full-time writer and professor--formerly at Yale, now at Wesleyan), writer. Not what I usually read.

Nevertheless, I always love her stories. It's like reading Cheever--the stories are not about people I know, but the details are so real, so vivid, and there is enough overlap because her characters are thoughtful, well-drawn human beings.

Also, she is one of the few writers I read who deals with interracial relationships in a real, true way; when others write about/mention these relationships, the race is irrelevant, as we're supposed to believe it is, in our post-racial society. Or it's the whole story. But Bloom, while not foregrounding it, also very deliberately does not erase it. Four of these stories are about Julia, a white woman who had two children with her black husband, one her stepchild (his child by an earlier marriage) and one her child with Lionel. These characters were in earlier stories of hers, as well. The stories are not about her being white and her children being black, but that is part of the reality of the situation.

I will keep reading her books. Every book she writes.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

More Pat Murphy Interview Quotes...

& these tips are from this interview. A bit dated (the interview is from 2000), but still great, and in this age of the Kindle, perhaps more relevant than ever:


Review the book you love online in a newsgroup, on a webzine, on an e-commerce site, or on a personal web site. This is an easy way to tell a lot of people about a fabulous book. People pay attention to reviews. Hey--authors read reviews. With a good review, you can make an author's day.

When asked what you want for your birthday, or Hanukkah, or Christmas, or any other gift-giving occasion, answer with your favorite author's current book.

Give books as presents. If someone has a favorite author, buy that author's latest title. If the gift recipient doesn't have a favorite author, buy a book by an author you like. If your friend likes the book, you've done the author a big favor by creating a new fan.

Ask for books by your favorite author at your local library. If the library doesn't have a book, request it. Checking a book out of the library helps establish that there's a demand for that author's work. Demand leads library systems to buy books.

Tell writers how much their work has affected you. Go to readings—even if you can't afford to buy the book. Urge your local library bookstore or your school to invite the writer to do a talk, a reading, or a class visit. Sometimes writers just need to know that someone is listening.

Talk about books and authors at work, among friends, and in other not-necessarily literary environments. If you belong to a writing group, recommend your favorite authors to the group. If you add a book to your reading group, tell your favorite bookstore what you've done and buy your books there. The bookstore may put them out front on

Point to good books in the bookstore and tell people, even total strangers, "That one is great." If you see someone looking at a copy of a book you like, encourage them to buy it.

Carry around a copy of a book you love. Read it on buses, in waiting rooms, and in other public places. Be prepared to wax eloquent about it—spontaneously or only when asked; that's up to you.

Just because a book is out-of-print doesn't necessarily mean you can't get it. Lightning Print Inc. is currently asking for suggestions for books to reprint. You can vote now at their web site:

Nominate your favorite authors for awards. Any year that you are a member of the World Science Fiction Convention, you can nominate and vote for the Hugo Award. Nominate gender-bending works for the James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award ( and works with gay or lesbian content for the Lambda Literary Award. If you subscribe to Locus Magazine, you can nominate works for the Locus Poll and Survey. And yes, it's worth taking the time—awards make a difference to an author's sales and that helps keep books in print.

Above all else, keep reading!

& something else from that interview, extracted, apparently, from Murphy's lecture notes for a lecture on pulp novels from a class she taught on science fiction: "All art provides unearned instant gratification: a gratification necessary to our psychic well-being. C.S. Lewis was once moved to observe that the only people to whom the word 'escape' is a pejorative are jailers."

Yeah, more great stuff:

"When I teach writing, I sometimes have students describe a character's home or car. 'Don't describe the character,' I tell them, 'but show me what the character is like by showing me where they live.'"

The City, Not Long After

Still reading Pat Murphy books, and I bought two copies of The Wild Girls remaindered at Powell's, one for me and one for Megan. I also bought a cheap massmarket used copy off The City, Not Long After, since in this awesome interview she says that The City, Not Long After is one of her three favorites of her books and the library doesn't have it! Published in 1989, The City, Not Long After is a post-apocalyptic novel set in Seattle. Reading it, I kept thinking how Parable of the Sower is so much better, but then I realized the world is big enough for more than one post-apocalyptic novel. It's fiction, Elissa.

Plus Murphy's and Butler's post-apocalyptisisms (heh) are so different. Butler's America dies because of, according to Publishers Weekly, "global warming, pollution, racial and ethnic tensions and other ills." Murphy's America is struck by a plague spread by monkeys representing the peace movement. And the best part of The City, Not Long After is that the few survivors ultimately end up in a war, of course--the bad guys, led by General Miles, are conquering city after mostly-abandoned city in their effort to recreate "America," but then they try to take over San Francisco, a city of artists and poets and ghosts that don't necessarily think recreating America is such a good idea. Ms. Migsdale tells Foursquares' (their name for General Miles) representative, "You seem to think joining together into a larger and more powerful nation is automatically good. We don't necessarily agree. Personally, I've always thought that nations were tremendously overrated. I can't say I was particularly proud to be an American; I never cared much for America as a whole, though I liked my neighborhood well enough. I've always favored a somewhat looser structure, more like the city-states of early Greece."'

But unable to convince the Americans to go away and leave them alone, given the choice of fighting a war or surrendering, San Francisco's citizens insist on fighting a Gandhi-style war, and instead of killing people they are simply marked as dead, with DEAD by and the name of who "killed" them painted on their face, and the agreed-upon CERTIFICATE OF DEATH placed in their pocket or on their chest. The certificate read, "Please consider yourself removed from combat. Look at it this way--we could have killed you. If you don't stop fighting, we really will kill you next time. Signed, the People of San Francisco."

Okay, so it's not Parable of the Sower, but it's pretty damn good.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Last Lecture

Last year a student told me I have to read The Last Lecture, it's the best book she's ever read. I'd never heard of it. But she's a thoughtful, good kid, and she was so excited about this book. So I put it on hold at the library, it came, and then it sat on my shelf of library books unread for a long time. I renewed it several times. But it's little, so finally I just read it.

Apparently it's huge; a quote from the book, "Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted," is, according to Amazon, the seventh most highlighted quote of all time on Kindle.

The student knew nothing about my exciting health stuff, so she didn't mention that this is a book written by a dying man. But yeah.

It's also a book about learning to be humble, about living your life as fully as you can in the time you have (something that feels more urgent when you know you don't have a lot of time, but something that is good for all of us to do anyway), a book about giving people a chance to "surprise and impress you," and just generally a book about wisdom. Wisdom gained, that most people don't get the chance to pass on. This guy has--had--a lot of wisdom, too. Full of short chapters with pithy titles like "A Bad Apology Is Worse Than No Apology," and "Don't Obsess Over What Other People Think," this is a short book worth reading, filled with lessons one man wanted to pass along. He was a smart guy paying close attention. Note that I did go through Erma Bombeck and Andy Rooney phases (when I was reading every book in my house), but if you did too, then this one might be for you.