In Largehearted Boy’s amazing Book Notes feature, authors explain how certain songs inspired them. We were touched by novelist Kate Christensen‘s contribution to the series, and we created a Spotify playlist so you can listen to the songs in order while reading her essay.
Here’s more from Christensen’s essay: “Nostalgia is a powerful drug. Under its influence, ordinary songs take on dimensions and powers, like emotional superheroes. The following is a list of songs that will forever and irrevocably remind me of particular times, experiences — people I’ve loved (truly, madly, deeply) and, inevitably, lost.”
Follow this link to get a Spotify invite for the free service. Once you have an account, check out our Kate Christensen Spotify Playlist and our Haruki Murakami Spotify Playlist. We love making music mixes, so we will create more playlists for writers. If you have more ideas for a particular playlist, you can always add your suggestions in the comments section–we will update our mix. (Link via Ed Champion. Photo via Ronnie Farley)
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.
Back on May 21st I made the audacious announcement
that I had just read the book of the year, which is to say that I'd just finished Stone Arabia
by Dana Spiotta. Audacious because I'd already been singing some pretty sweet blog tunes about many a fine read this year. Audacious because I've not yet read the forthcoming Ondaatje or Otsuka, or, indeed, the entire fall line-up. Audacious because, well, who am I, anyway?
But if one must stand on a cliff, why not stand on Stone Arabia?
This brother-sister story is original, foundational, heartbreakingly sad and heartbreakingly funny, and I don't need to repeat myself, because I called it back in May.
But, hey. It's nice to have some company in that assessment, and so I give you here Kate Christensen's words, published today, on behalf of the New York Times Book Review.
Christensen calls Stone Arabia
"a work of visceral honesty and real beauty." See what else
she has to say.
And if you want to know what big question lies at the heart of this novel, listen to Dana herself, live from YouTube.
At the Awl, Kate Christensen and I discuss her latest novel, The Astral, and many other things, including cheating hearts, failed marriages, bad therapy, male muses, inner dicks, and (briefly) her next book, Gin on the Lanai.
“I write about people wrestling with various internal conflicts in ways that ripple outwards and cause more external conflicts,” she says. “Repressed, obedient, ‘good-citizen’ characters interest me very little because there’s little possibility for change in them. I’m a very old-fashioned writer. Change is what I’m after… Flux is exciting; struggle and discord and trouble fascinate me.”
Kate Christensen has an essay in the latest Elle on writing “In a Man’s Voice.” (She’s an expert on the subject; three of her novels, including the upcoming The Astral, are narrated by a male character.)
I’m so determined to convince you — all of you, men not exempted — to read it that I sought, and got, permission to run an excerpt. Here’s the opening:
The phrase “dick for a day” used to be bandied about quite a bit by me and many other women I knew, mostly fellow writers, back in the 1980s, when we were young and ambitious but unsuccessful, our tone somewhere between wistful yearning and pugnacious wrath: “If I had a dick for a day, I’d show them” — “them” being overrated male writers, ex-lovers who’d treated us badly, and, frankly, men in general. They had all the luck. We were stuck being women.
I grew up in an all-female family — two sisters and a mostly single mother — and we often bonded, in part, by disparaging men and feeling superior to them. My charismatic, handsome, intelligent, crazy father, a Marxist lawyer, disappeared from our lives (led off by the cops in handcuffs for beating my mother; I was the one who called them) when my little sisters and I were young, three years after my mother had divorced him. After that, my mother struggled to raise us without child support or help, during a time when she was working toward a doctorate in psychology from Arizona State University.
As my family saw them, men were untrustworthy, weak, and selfish. Our mother taught us to get along without them, to get along without much of anything, and to live well and have fun anyway.
But even after he was gone, I still loved my father. I looked Norwegian, like him, with a long face, strong jaw, thin mouth, and flashing eyes. And, like him, I was verbal, easygoing, and low-key on the surface, and, deep down, proud, socially paranoid, full of self-loathing, and prone to rage at injustice. Until I was nine, I was my father’s “son,” the one he could talk to. And after he left, I still felt like the boy — the ambitious, hotheaded one. I never liked dolls or played house. I read and wrote, climbed trees, collected rocks, rode my bike, and befriended boys, platonically. Although part of me yearned for a husband, a house, and kids, most of my brain was single-mindedly determined to do whatever it took to be a successful published novelist, and that part of me felt male.
In spite of my family’s attitude toward men, I loved, admired, and identified with them. I envied them, too — their power and autonomy, their freedom to be selfish, to walk away, to start over, to get angry, to speak frankly without appearing to give a damn what anyone thinks. Men were assholes, women were victims; men were active, women passive. Given the choice, I would have preferred to be an active asshole. Instead, I kept writing.
After a lot of floundering around, post-MFA, with bad relationships and worse jobs, I published my first novel, In the Drink, when I was 36. Its first-person narrator was a woman, but I was writing in a consciously male genre I privately called Loser Lit. I wanted my female narrator, Claudia Steiner, to join the ranks of Lucky Jim, Gulley Jimson, and Peter Jernigan. Claudia is a hard-drinking ghostwriter who’s in love with her seemingly unattainable male best friend, in debt, hapless, and bleakly, comically gritty. As I wrote the book, I was sure I was breaking new literary ground. Reviewers (all of them female) felt otherwise: When it came out, In the Drink was lumped with two other recently published, superficially similar books by women; ours were collectively hailed as
The second season of Chapters, the reading series I curate for Girls Write Now, begins this Friday, March 25, when our delightful first guest, writer and mentor Emma Straub, reads from her new story collection, Other People We Married. Join us at 7 p.m. at the historic John Street Church (no affiliation).
Coming up: Anna North, America Pacifica, on April 29; Tayari Jones, Silver Sparrow, on May 20; and Kate Christensen, The Astral, on June 17.
Ok folks, here’s the WORD from us today: We are having as awesome event this Thursday night – you should come. Seriously. No excuses.
Here’s the scoop on what we’re calling our night of Sangria, Sorbet & TROUBLE!
Acclaimed author and WORD friend Kate Christensen will be here to read from her new novel TROUBLE, a vibrant story of female friendship and midlife sexual awakening that takes place in NYC and Mexico City — a great summer read! Bonus special guest, literary diva Maud Newton, will join Kate for a discussion about the book. And the very best part? You can listen to the reading and conversation while sipping sangria and sampling a variety of snacks from local vendors – salsa & chips, sangria sorbet and Mexican chocolate cookies. (Local businesses working with us include Dandelion Wine, The Brooklyn Salsa Company & Wine Cellar Sorbets; plus we’re making the cookies from a recipe in Sarah Magid’s new book Organic & Chic – that we had an event for last week)
You can RSVP for the event on our Facebook page. Please do! We hope to see you this Thursday, June 18th - refreshments start at 7:30, reading & conversation begin at 8:00 with book signing to follow. It’s going to be fabulous, we hope you can join us.
Until then, learn a bit more about Kate in this short WORD Interview we did with her. She shares info about her next novel, which just happens to take place in a building located right here in Greenpoint.
1) Do you have a favorite WORD?
An ever-shifting tide of them. This morning’s pet word is LAPIDARY.
2) What WORDS do you live by?
“Let nothing human be foreign to me.”
3) What was the last book you read?
I’m in the middle of G.K. Chesterton’s THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY.
4) Any idea what you’ll read next?
5) What is the last book you bought someone as a gift?
I bought Julie Klam’s PLEASE EXCUSE MY DAUGHTER for my sister.
6) What are you working on now – anything you can tell share about your next project?
My next novel is called THE ASTRAL — yes, that Astral, the huge red ghetto castle on India Street. It’s about a 57-year-old male poet whose wife of 30 years has booted him out of their Astral apartment for writing love sonnets to imaginary women (she doesn’t buy the imaginary part). Their son is in a mind-control cult and is about to marry the female leader; Harry tries to rescue him in order to win his wife back, but of course nothing goes as planned…
7) We know you live in the neighborhood, do you have a favorite spot in Greenpoint that you can tell us about?
Besides WORD? I love McGolrick Park. It feels like a beautiful old Eastern European park tucked into North Brooklyn.
The lack of posting around here should not be construed as a lack of activity. This has turned out to be a week with high demands from other aspects of my bookish life: Emerging Leaders, McNally Jackson (we -- by which I mean me -- are on Facebook AND Twitter now), a new blogging project (info TK), and mostly, working on Greenlight Bookstore. I've tidied up that other blog of mine (and Rebecca's) to reflect the evolving reality of our project, and in hopes that we'll be seeing some more traffic soon. We've also got a real estate lead that involves so many unknowns I can't even explain it right now, but it's potentially really exciting. So I've been kinda distracted.
I do, however, have a pile of recently read graphic novels I want to write about, and not one but TWO thrilling not-yet-published books in my bag: the new Kate Christensen, Trouble (out in June) and the new Jonathan Lethem, Chronic City (out so long from now I don't even know the date -- the book is still in manuscript form). So as soon as I'm done frantically tearing through those two I'll be posting frenzied fangirl reports. I'm also meeting one of my contemporary author heroes Jim Lynch, author of The Highest Tide and Border Songs, tomorrow afternoon, so I hope to report on that as well.
So with renewed promises I beg your forgiveness, and hope you can be satisfied with more to come. Happy reading!
During the past two years, my professional life has had its share of ups and downs. As part of this, I actually spent ten months not working in a library at all. I got my MLS right out of undergrad and after spending a year looking for my first position, I spent five years working in various library systems. And I enjoyed what I was doing . . . mostly. But I realized that I had lost a lot of my enthusiasm for libraryland. I felt so cynical and burned-out. It was like I could only see the limitations and the disadvantages of whatever project I was working on, could only see the laziness and disrespect of patrons. I didn't want to do something that I used to love.Have a plan. This is one thing that I wished I had done: have some kind of plan for what I was going to do. I drifted from one thing to another, without any clear-cut end in sight, which caused me a lot of anxiety. It ended up all working out, but I could have saved myself some stress.
So I took a break. I tried my hand at writing a teen novel; I spent a lot of time with my family; I took a part-time job at a crafts store. But I slowly grew to realize that I missed working in a library. Now that I've been in a new position for nearly two months, I've realized that my break was truly a good decision on my part. It's given me a new sense of energy and excitement for the library profession. Plus, it's taught me to better handle stress and politics, something that there's plenty of in any job!
If you're feeling like I felt, and wondering if perhaps you should take some time away from libraryland, allow me to offer you the benefit of my wisdom without the burden of my advice.
Beware of burning your bridges. I stayed active in ALA, even continuing my committee memberships. I also kept in contact with my librarian friends and became a very good patron of my local library so I could remain aware of what trends were going on in literature and teen services. I even attended ALA Midwinter in Seattle in order to do some networking and apply for jobs. Staying involved indicated that I was still invested in the library profession, something I believe helped me a lot when I was applying for jobs. And it helped me get caught up a lot easier once I started my new position.
Keep your friends close. It would be easy to completely cut yourself off while you lick your wounds. But don't ignore your support systems: your family, your friends, your colleagues. When you're going through an experience like this, you'll want to have people to whom you can talk, vent, complain, and discuss issues. Plus, you never know when one of those people might learn about something that will help you, either professionally or personally.
Do something. Don't just sit around twiddling your thumbs. Take a class, learn a new skill, volunteer. Make the break be meaningful, so that you can stretch other parts of yourself. Amongst the things I did on my break, I learned how to sew and got interested in creative writing.
You might not have the option to just up and quit your job. I was lucky in that I was able to get financial support from my family to allow me to do this. I realize that 'taking a break' is easier to say than do. But if you're struggling professionally, I really recommend taking the time for a sabbatical. You might discover that it's time to try something else, or you might get fired up about being a librarian and want to come back. It was a scary time for me, but I'm so thankful that I did it in retrospect. So why not think about it?
Here are some links to articles that discuss burnout and stress and how to deal with them:
Job Burnout: Know the Signs and Symptoms
Running on Empty: Dealing with Burnout in the Library Setting
Surviving Jobs You Loathe
Nicole's Burnout Blues