Friday, December 30, 2016

The Big Book Post

Let's do this.

Books read this year, in order:

Jan: Furiously Happy, by Jenny Lawson
Jan: Prisoners of Geography, by Tim Marshall
Feb: Tales of the City, by Armistead Maupin
Feb: MaddAddam, by Margaret Atwood
Mar-Apr: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon
May: Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, by Sarah Vowell
Jun-Jul: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks
Aug: The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro
Sep: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs
Sep: Between You & Me, by Mary Norris
Oct: Don't Get Too Comfortable, by David Rakoff
Oct: Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
Nov: What If? by Randall Munroe
Nov: The Refugees, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Dec: A Natural History of the Senses, by Diane Ackerman (haven't finished, will count for 2017)

I finished 14 books toward my reading goal of 17. Goodreads also reports these interesting bits:

  • My 14 books amounted to 4,567 pages (which is a lovely number, but probably inaccurate)
  • My shortest book was Comfortable and my longest was Kavalier
  • Peculiar is the most read book on my list this year; Refugees is the least (because it's not out yet). Prisoners is the highest rated.
It was a good year for actually enjoying the books I read. I gave five of them five stars: PrisonersMaddAddam, Kavalier, Between, and What. The lowest rating I gave a book this year was two stars, and I gave that rating to Mistook and Buried. It was a weak summer.

About the authors:
I read a startlingly low four books by women this year (Senses would have made it five).
I read three books by authors who are deceased (Vonnegut, Sacks, and Rakoff). Vonnegut and Sacks would have been the oldest and second oldest authors this year if they were alive, but of the living authors, Atwood is the oldest (b. 1939) as she was last year. The youngest author is younger than I am (Munroe, b. 1984).
Eight were born in the USA (Lawson, Maupin, Chabon, Vowell, Riggs, Norris, Vonnegut, Munroe), two are/were Canadian-born (Atwood, Rakoff), two are/were from the UK (Marshall, Sacks), Ishiguro is from Japan but lives in the UK, and Nguyen is from Vietnam but lives in the US.
This year I read my second Lawson, my fifth Atwood, my sixth Vowell, my third Ishiguro, and my second Vonnegut. The other nine authors were new to me. I will certainly read Chabon and Rakoff again.

About the books:
It was an even split between fiction and non-fiction.

Fiction: 7
2 Sci-fi (MaddAddam, Cradle)
2 Fantasy (BuriedPeculiar)
1 Historical (Kavalier)
1 Short Stories (Refugees)
1 Plain Ol' Fiction (Tales)

Non-Fiction: 7
2 Memoir (Furiously, Between)
2 Science (Mistook, What)
1 History (Lafayette)
1 Geopolitics (Prisoners)
1 Essays (Comfortable)

The oldest book I read was Cradle (1963), followed by Tales (1978) and then Mistook (1985). All the rest were published in or after 2000, including five in 2015 (Furiously, Prisoners, Lafayette, Buried, Between). The newest book I read was a galley of Refugees, to be released in 2017.

Time periods range from that of Arthurian legend (Buried) to the American Revolution (Lafayette) to WWII (Kavalier, Peculiar) and slightly after (Cradle) to the seventies (Tales, Refugees) to the distressingly near future (MaddAddam). Locales include NYC, Valley Forge (and other Revolutionary War sites), Vermont, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Texas, Florida, the Canadian Rockies, San Lorenzo (fictional island in the Caribbean), Cairnholm (fictional island in the Irish Sea), Prague, Vietnam, Antarctica, all of Earth (as explored in Prisoners), and the various places on Earth and in space imagined in What.

Tales is the first in a series I hope to continue.
MaddAddam is the last in a series.
Peculiar is the first in a series I probably will not continue.

Kavalier won the Pulitzer in 2001.

I watched the TV miniseries of Tales with Laura Linney.
I read Peculiar with the intention of seeing the movie, but did not.
I anxiously await the TV adaptation of MaddAddam, and I pine for a movie of Kavalier.

Book Clubs:
I read Peculiar as part of a book club, but no one else read it (which is fair, because I hardly ever read the books we choose). I encouraged my fellow editors at work to read Between, but no takers yet. I'm currently reading Senses as part of an impromptu book club with two friends.

Why these books?
Prisoners: saw it at Community Bookshop
Tales: swiped it from a friend who was purging for a move
Kavalier: saw it at Housing Works for $3
Mistook: swiped it from a friend's coffee table
Peculiar: book club
Between: received it as a gift
Comfortable: public radio demanded I read Rakoff
What: received it s a gift
Refugees: a former Borders coworker gave me a galley
The others: I'd read the authors before

For 2017:
  • Finish Senses
  • Something from the ambitious pile: Guns, Germs, and Steel; Game of Thrones; A People's History of the United States
  • More Rakoff, Murakami, Vonnegut, Chabon
  • Belgravia (Fellowes), Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out (Yan), the new Mary Roach
  • How I Paid for College (Acito), which two people independently of each other told me I should read, one day apart (granted, they saw it on my shelf)
  • The Elements of Style (Strunk/White/Kalman) and Remembrance of Things I Forgot (Smith), which I received as holiday gifts
Thanks for reading, nobody!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

I spent the weekend before the election with my fellow Lesbian and Gay Band Association members at our annual conference in Palm Springs. It had been three years since I'd attended the conference, and it was great to see old friends and be one of the 300+ LGBTQIA musicians from all over the country (world?) making music and marching our message of equality through the streets.

The election, and ensuing inauguration, was of course a topic of conversation at the conference. LGBA marched in both of President Obama's inaugural parades, and before that played on the sidelines of President Bill Clinton's inaugurations. The board of LGBA, and in particular their Inauguration Team, is experienced in the management of a huge massed band performance in the presidential inaugural parade, and as such had already started planning our involvement in what many of us hoped would be the 2017 inauguration of President Hillary Clinton. The LGBA board planned to apply for the inaugural parade regardless of the outcome of the election, following a decision made in 2008 to apply for every presidential inauguration thereafter, irrespective of the president being inaugurated. The rationale (I assume, as I have never served on the LGBA board) was that LGBTQIA Americans deserve representation in this national event, and as their marching band, we should be that representation. I venture that most of us, at least those of us supporting Hillary, were concentrating on getting Secretary Clinton elected and not really considering the possibility that Trump might win, and what that would mean for our inauguration plans.

So the LGBA Inauguration Team took registrations from members so they could begin preparing our parade contingent and our application to the Presidential Inaugural Committee. They were promoting registration hard at the conference, as these members who'd traveled to Palm Springs were many of the people who would likely travel to DC for the inauguration. There was a lot of excitement around it (over 500 registrants by the end of the weekend), and many of us even bid our fellow members farewell at the end of the conference saying "see you in January," considering it a fait accompli.

Two days later, the election results hit us, as they hit many other people, like a ton of bricks. The high we felt after such a successful, fulfilling, and celebratory conference gave way to worry, anger, and fear. What would happen to our marriages and adoptions? To our immigrant partners? To the reproductive rights of our female members and friends? To the rights and safety of or members and friends in likewise marginalized communities? Political action was and still is being taken: petitions signed, representatives called, calls to action posted and shared.

Thoughts returned to LGBA's potential involvement in what would now be an inauguration of Donald Trump. Our Facebook group flooded with members' opinions on what to do now. Some felt it was important to still apply and represent our community, especially now in the face of opposition. Others felt it was tantamount to support of President Trump and unacceptable. Some said performing in the inauguration would be an act of political protest, and we shouldn't shy away from a challenge. Others countered that any protest held from within the parade would have ramifications: jeopardizing our future in inaugural parades, possible immediate removal from the parade, possible risks to our safety.

I simply deflated. The inaugural parade is a hard gig. It's the dead of winter. It's preceded by days of intense rehearsal. With inauguration day on a Friday, it would require at least three days off of work. All of that was worth it for Obama and it would have been worth it for Secretary Clinton. In no uncertain terms, it was decidedly NOT worth it for Trump. In the survey that LGBA put out after the election to reassess its members intentions and seek feedback for the way forward, I indicated that I would not go.

This past Sunday, the LGBA Inauguration Team announced that it would not be applying for the 2017 presidential inauguration. Reactions were of course mixed, as was to be expected based on people's opinions before the announcement, but everyone appreciated the hard work that went into their deliberations, and the difficult situation they and the board were in. Although I feel for my fellow members who were determined to march in the parade no matter what, I am glad we will not be confusing the general public and especially the LGBTQIA community by participating in an inaugural parade for President Trump. Marching in an inauguration is an honor I've had twice, and I will have it again, but not in January.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Mid-year book post

At the start of the year, I put all of the books I wanted to read in 2016 in a pile (see photo at right), and that pile has remained there since. I also set a Goodreads Reading Challenge of 17 books, one up from last year. The 16 books in the pile plus the one I was reading at the time (Jenny Lawson's Furiously Happy) equaled the 17 books I would aim to read that year, deviations permitted of course. So far I've read four books from the pile: MaddAddam, Tales of the City, Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, and Prisoners of Geography. I'm also allowing myself to count The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay as a pile book since the Chabon (and the Murakami, Rakoff, and Vonnegut for that matter) were really just placeholders for any book by those authors. Add to that The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (long on my to-read list when I saw it on a friend's coffee table a few months ago) and The Buried Giant (impulse purchase at BookCourt) and those are the eight books I've read this year, which is quite a bit shy of the goal. If I can read Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (book club read) very quickly (it's going well so far), I'll have four months to read eight books, which I suppose is possible if I choose wisely (thinly).

Stats so far:

  • Slightly more male than female (5/3), and only getting maler with Ransom Riggs.
  • Authors' ages cover a 40-year range from the 42-year-old Lawson to the recently departed Oliver Sacks, who would be 83 years old. The oldest living author is, as usual, Margaret Atwood (76). The spread is pretty even with the largest break being between Ishiguro (61) and Maupin (72).
  • Even split between American (4) and foreign authors (3 Brits and 1 Canadian).
  • There is also an even split between books published last year (Prisoners, Happy, LaFayette, Giant) and books published before that (MaddAddam in 2013, Kavalier & Clay in 2000, Wife for a Hat in 1985, and Tales in 1978). I haven't read any books published this year, and if I continue drawing from the pile, I won't. 
  • Another even split between fiction and non-fiction. The novels go from the time of legend (King Arthur) to the distressingly near future (according to Atwood), with stops in WWII and the seventies, and focus on San Francisco, New York, and Great Britain (Atwood goes all over North America). The non-fiction cover medicine, geopolitics, the American Revolution, and mental illness, with a generous dusting of humor in the last two.
  • As to their provenance, three were gifts: Happy, Prisoners, and LaFayette. MaddAddam and Giant were relatively recent bookstore finds (Community and BookCourt) and I picked Kavaier & Clay up at a Housing Works. Tales was given to me by a friend thinning out her collection as she prepared for a move, and as I already mentioned, the Oliver Sacks was swiped from another friend's living room.
Likely candidates for the rest of 2016: Invisible Cities (look how thin it is!), something by David Rakoff, Between You & Me, and Cat's Cradle, unless another skinny Vonnegut crosses my path. I already picked up and put down The Skeleton Crew and Trigger Warning, but they may deserve another shot. I may also read The Cursed Child if a copy of it lands in my hands.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Look at all the things you've done for me

In March of 2005, I was a new gay in the city. I was working at the now-defunct (like so many things) Borders in the Time Warner Center, and my coworker Vinnie invited me to join him for an evening at the Duplex, a piano bar in the Village which I'd heard of but never been to. Behind the bar was the hilarious Poppi Kramer, our beautifully belting waitress was Kate Pazakis, and musical prodigy Brian Nash was on the keys. They all sang, and they all had us in stitches. I was amazed by the talent in the room and I was having the time of my life.

Shortly after my introduction to the Duplex, Vinnie brought me to the Friday night open mic show in the upstairs cabaret theater, called "Mostly Sondheim." The format was two hosts plus a pianist, usually Brian, who took turns singing and calling audience members from a list on a clipboard to come up and sing as well. It went from midnight to 4 which occasionally fit in with my erratic retail schedule. It quickly became my favorite thing to do in New York City.

Over the years I brought many friends with me to Mostly Sondheim, and it became their favorite thing as well. I got up the courage to sing once ("Someone to Fall Back On," awkwardly, reading the lyrics off of my phone). Most of the time I just sat and enjoyed the show, usually leaving at around 2, but lately being unable to tear myself away until the end.

And speaking of the end, last night was the final Mostly Sondheim. We managed to get seats right up front. The stage was full of current and former hosts, with Brian at the piano. At the start of the night, each of them presented their favorite "Sondheim ending," in which you finish your song with a visual or vocal flourish, usually mimicking or mocking a Broadway diva, or sometimes just being plain ridiculous. Over the course of the night, each of the hosts on stage sang. They were interspersed with Mostly Sondheim regulars, most of whom had a story about how they were shy when they first started coming to the show, but now they can belt with the best of them, some of them even having performing careers. The hosts also shared their favorite memories, occasionally making us cry, and the closing number was "What I Did For Love," which had many of the hosts themselves weeping as they sang.

Favorite NYC places closing and long-running events ending is a fact of life, but when it's something like Mostly Sondheim, that's been around since I first moved here, it's hard to see it go. It makes me regret all the Fridays I didn't go, but the regret is far outweighed by my gratitude for all the Mostly Sondheims I did attend, making me laugh so hard I couldn't breathe, knocking my socks off, and inspiring me. I wish all the best to the hosts as they go on to bigger and better things, whose shows I hope to track down to ease my Mostly Sondheim withdrawal.

I'll close with this. One regular Sondheim-goer composed a song about Mostly Sondheim and performed it last night (and last week). The tune has been floating around in my head since, particularly the refrain which ends, "I'll meet you there at Mostly Sondheim." The lyric isn't just nostalgic, but also an indication of a bright future, that this tradition of musical theater lovers gathering in bars to hear each other sing will continue. And even when we're not together, we have what Sondheim, and Mostly Sondheim, gave us to bring a smile to our faces.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

No Standing Anytime

It has taken at least two years, but the NYC Department of Transportation has finally discovered my secret special bonus parking area. If you click here, you will read the fantastic tale of 50 feet of unadulterated parking bliss. Once upon a time, there was a stretch of curb in Sunset Park untouched by parking regulations. Alack, that age has expired, and now I live in an era of abject misery announced by the words "NO STANDING ANYTIME" emblazoned upon a red, rectangular sign.

When I first encountered this unfettered block two years ago, I couldn't believe my eyes. "Can it be?" I wondered. I can just park here for days? Months? YEARS? My parking here will not encumber street sweeping, nor will it incur a meter fee, nor will it anger the City of New York in any other way? It was the holy grail sought after by every motorist in the five boroughs, and now it is gone.

Two months ago I was laid off from my job. Since then, parking hasn't been a huge concern; I've parked wherever I could find a spot, and then moved the car the following morning if necessary. Tomorrow, I start a new job that, for the first time since 2009, and the first time since I've moved to the neighborhood, requires a subway commute. I drove home from Manhattan-based festivities this evening at the relatively early hour of 7:30pm, figuring I'd park my car in my faithful secret special bonus parking area, where I could leave it for the entire week. I arrived at the block, which I will now not hesitate to tell you is 4th Avenue between 38th and 39th Streets in Brooklyn, to discover the aforementioned red rectangle telling me the news I've been dreading for years: NO STANDING ANYTIME.

My consolation prize is the recent discovery of a stretch of curb that, to the untrained eye, appears to be a vehicle ramp, but upon closer inspection is actually legal parking. The business has two legal entrance and exit ramps, and between them is a space long enough to accommodate two parked cars. The business has poured asphalt along this curb effectively connecting their two ramps and enabling entrance and exit anywhere along their property, but the signs clearly state that parking is legal between the two ramps any time except the 1.5 hours a week when there is street sweeping. I've been parking there for a few weeks, and so far experienced no repercussions from either the business or the authorities. Aside from street sweeping, the only scourge is the tendency of cars to park in the dead center of the curb, taking up a space large enough for two cars with their one fat ass. It is not as perfect as the secret special bonus parking area, but that was a gift from heaven and as we all know, the parking god giveth and taketh away.

Happy Easter.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

30 thoughts on dating

  1. I'm great. Everyone should like me. I should just be able to pick one.
  2. I'm a cold, unfeeling robot and I'm surprised anyone likes me at all.
  3. I don't need a man. He would just get in the way. Being single is great. Masturbation is fine.
  4. If he will cook, I will wash the dishes.
  5. If I can be in a relationship by June, I will join the CSA again.
  6. I can tell he likes me more than I like him and I just don't want to deal with it.
  7. How kind of him to be so frank with me about his lack of interest in seeing me again. It really does make it easier. Excuse me I have to go cry in the bathroom.
  8. Online dating seems such an unnatural way to meet.
  9. Meeting a guy in a bar seems sketchy.
  10. I don't want to date one of my friends; it might ruin the friendship.
  11. I will text him once after the date and if he doesn't respond, it's his loss.
  12. Maybe he's busy.
  13. I should really just stop worrying about men and concentrate on what I want to do with my life.
  14. I would like to date a man with the same name as me. I think it would be delightfully confusing for everyone else.
  15. I should have cleaned my apartment.
  16. Etiquette says hat comes off, baldness says hat stays on.
  17. I can't say exactly why I didn't like him. He's really nice. We just didn't click.
  18. Ugh. He likes all these books I've never read.
  19. I suppose he was abducted by aliens. That's the only logical conclusion.
  20. Somebody hold me too close.
  21. Marry me a little.
  22. I'm not interested in kids, but if my partner wants kids I'm open to it.
  23. He just didn't react to things they way you would expect a normal person to react.
  24. I hope he cancels.
  25. I don't flirt. I don't smile. The best I can do is make eye contact and say, "How interesting."
  26. I want him to be the smart one and me to be the creative one.
  27. I liked him a lot, but in my head we've already had a relationship and broken up.
  28. There's this one very minor thing about him that annoys me, so if it doesn't work out that's fine.
  29. How can I be a good boyfriend when I don't even know who I am?
  30. Don't beat him in Scrabble too badly the first time you play.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Going a bit overboard on the book data analysis

As an exercise in making charts in Excel, and to feed a data analysis compulsion, I've created these visual representation of my past nine years of reading. This is possibly the tip of the iceberg, so beware.

My reading tends slightly more towards male authors than female authors, which I thought would have been the other way around. In the above chart, individual authors are counted a maximum of once per year regardless of how many of their books I read (although I do try to limit myself to one book per author per year). In the case of books written by multiple authors, both authors are counted, except in one case of a compilation (Care to Make Love in That Gross Little Space Between Cars?: A Believer Book of Advice). 2015 is only so manly as it is because I read two books by two authors each (Good Omens and Welcome to Night Vale).

This chart clearly demonstrates a preference for fiction (everything before and including purple) over non-fiction (after purple). Included in my vague "General and Other Fiction" category are humorous fiction, mystery/thriller, short story collections, and young adult that doesn't fit into other genres (young adult fantasy is counted as part of fantasy, etc), as well as things that I can only think to describe as "plain old fiction." "Autobiographical" is a category that includes memoirs and collections of autobiographical essays (like David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell's books before she went full-on history), and I put Hyperbole and a Half in there too since that's where it fit best. Hiding in "Other Non-Fiction" are humor, geography, and self help.

Possibly more to come!