Friday, May 28, 2010

Leftovers is what I want, don't need no fine cuisine

Sometimes there's nothing more delicious than...the same thing you ate yesterday, reheated. One day's plunder is another day's provisions. Oh, leftovers, how I love thee.

Do you ever find yourself with too much food on your plate at dinner, even if it's delicious? Well, I am here to tell you that somehow it tastes even better as a pick-me-up during the workday! I like to think I compensate for my decadence-verging habit of eating out so frequently by making those eats last for two or sometimes even three meals. It's a good week if each day's dinner rolls smoothly into the next day's lunch.

Of course, there are snags you can hit. What to do when you eat your whole dinner in one sitting, horror of horrors. Or when, perplexingly, you accumulate an ever-expanding roster of leftovers that you are unable to keep up with. Maybe your generous family dines with you and gives you all their leftovers to add to your stockpile. Maybe you made enough pasta to keep you in starch forever. Maybe a friend drops in unexpectedly for lunch, or your sister takes a break from jury duty selection to meet you for soup dumplings. What, then, hypothetically speaking, of course, is to be done with Tuesday's tasty carton of mee goreng, languishing in the fridge? You must dig your way out from underneath your hoarding of culinary treasures, which can take some time. Perhaps you won't even make it until Friday. Speaking of which, it's just about lunchtime...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


This blog regrets to inform you that it is recovering from a glut of proofreadery and does not currently possess the requisite words to form a full and coherent post. While languishing, it has discovered a nice instance of proofreadery on the internet and directs you to it. Also pretty amusing is the relevant corrections page itself (titled, amusingly enough to this Franzen fan, The Corrections), wherein the editors apologize for their erros, but do not hesitate to name and blame the guilty.

Also, this blog's favorite blogger (or second-favorite, depending on whether today it prefers goblins or freedom) returns. Yay!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Whine review

2010 is not shaping up to be a good year for the subway. Its bouquet reeks of snow, mud, monsoon, and drippy rivers through Atlantic Avenue, with notes redolent of stronger, more audacious, and just plain more eau de rat.

It is difficult to sell this year’s vintage. Service cuts threaten on all sides. Small children may have their free rides taken away. Jay-Z might have been just Jay if he grew up by Marcy Avenue today; my friend who lives in Battery Park City could never venture uptown again. As for my own d(r)ear line of choice, it regularly makes me late, has six service changes on the weekend—all of the least convenient nature—and sometimes just fails to show at all.

But the main problem with this year’s vintage is the bubbles that permeate the delicate liquid, increasing throughout the subway's fermentation process. That’s right, ladies and gents, the passengers! It is unclear whether your reviewer has just become more curmudgeonly in her old age, or whether this year’s crop has actually come up lacking. But in the past several weeks, the subway’s denizens have not been up to par.

Rather than a crisp, clean bouquet, these characters have some more, shall we say, McSweenian aspects. Their enormous backpacks shove your diminutive correspondent in the face as she gamely struggles to stand upright. Their stentorian voices loudly, passive-aggressively incite each other to ever-increasing rage at the inconvenience of your correspondent’s bag, wedged in between them. Or perhaps they do not even notice your wee columnist at all, and keep walking determinedly over her feet, tempting her to kick them and/or bust out some of those moves she learned in self-defense class in 8th grade. She is a bit rusty but is sure she could figure something out.

Even if a train is less densely populated, that is no excuse to return to the consistently high quality riding experience of the oh-so-beautiful days of yore. Your correspondent finds that even these trains are filled with unexpected bursts of flavor, such as an extremely waifish preppy-looking character determined to position her slight frame such that she blocks all possible seating options on both sides of her on the otherwise empty bench. With an adorable look of concentration, she peruses her absorbing tome, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Oh, the readers! In those much-mourned days of yore, your correspondent would find kindred spirits. O for wistful young ladies reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Or those mustachioed plaid-shirt bedecked sensitive readers of Murakami novels. Even the child, lips pursed in concentration, reading her way through Harry Potter on who knows what rereading. One day your correspondent even saw someone reading the same book on the same day she was; mystical auras ignited in the air outside the L train.

These shabby late days, you’re lucky if you encounter anyone reading a book at all, even if it’s Why Men Love Bitches. (Do they? Guys?) You may even be lucky if you see one of those suddenly-prevalent Kindle readers, scrolling blankly away beneath an ad for Kindle covers. What’s a snob to do?

In summary, this year’s MTA merlot is rarely worth its price of $2.25 a glass. But you probably have no choice but to drink it in.

Disclaimer: Your reviewer seems, over the course of this calendar year, to have become smaller (don’t ask her how this is possible), more claustrophobic, and angrier. In short (ha, ha), she is becoming a more concentrated version of herself. All the better to concentrate on addressing these important concerns!

Disclaimer #2: Your reviewer also humbly submits that you try Calvin Trillin’s
Feeding a Yen, which covers wine-satirical grounds far more hilariously than she could hope to do.

Monday, May 17, 2010


Maybe books should come with movie-style ratings. I don't want to censor anyone, mind—you should feel free to read about child molesters and torturers carving up their victims if you want. Me, I'm not so inclined, and would largely prefer to avoid that kind of situation. Which can be tricky, as you'll see.

About six months ago, lured in by all the hype, I read Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Which I enjoyed. I wouldn't call it the best literature ever invented, and I did wind up with that sour taste in my mouth that I get after racing through a book for plot alone...but, for what it was, pretty good. The one thing that left me feeling ambivalent was the graphic description of some of the criminals' victims. I guess I'm pretty squeamish—I certainly don't watch violent movies, and I don't even like reading violent scenes very much. The descriptions in Dragon Tattoo were pretty creepy. I remember sitting alone in my room reading when my phone vibrated (good timing, S.—!). I screamed.

So it was with some hesitation that I decided that I did want to read the sequel, The Girl who Played with Fire, after all. And I did this past weekend. And it was pretty violent. But it didn't bother me. There are a couple of reasons I can think of why this might be the case. First off, the violence is plot-advancing, and plot-relevant. It forms part of a puzzle that the book, a mystery/thriller, sets out to show the reader. So it doesn't feel gratuitous. I understand its purpose. If I pick up a book in full awareness that it's a mystery focused on murder and sex crimes, fine. That's my decision. And if the writing advances that goal, fair enough.

Another facet that made this violence non-gratuitous for me (and this is more true of Fire than the more stomach-turning Dragon Tattoo) is that most of the victims of violence more or less deserved it. They made choices that got them caught up in a crime web, choices where they often victimized other people. Or, even if they didn't deserve it exactly, the victims could defend themselves. There's something fairer, to say nothing of more interesting, about an equally-matched fight. (This is not true about two of the murder victims, but—a third point—the murder scene itself was not described, so that helped. And please don't think I want people to be desensitized to murder in reality—we don't know the details, so it's okay, whatever—I am just talking about my ability to read and enjoy a crime novel, here.)

So, Fire more or less dispatched, and less disturbing than I'd feared, I did meet my violence-reading Waterloo this weekend, in the form of a book I'm proofreading. This book has thriller-esque qualities, but I would not say the plot centers around them. It has defenseless victims—a child who is raped, a paralyzed woman who can't defend herself—and, moreover, their suffering is described in detail (including from the perspective of the rapist). As proofreader, it's not my job to pass judgment on whether I like the book or not (in many cases I don't, particularly). But this book I would have liked. It was pretty thoughtful, funny (I know, right, but actually it was, and it's being billed as a black comedy), and full of interesting screwball characters. I found the end of it extremely moving, and a reminder of how people can find redemption in this world. But in my opinion the violent scenes were so gratuitously disturbing that they wrecked the book for me. Without them (and I am talking about a page and a half, total, of a novel over 300 pages long) I would have recommended the book to people. Now, I actively feel like the quality of my life has decreased as a result of reading it. I'm sure this will pass, but it's not a feeling you like to have from your job. And, of course, when it's your job, you can't stop reading because you feel like it. Maybe I should ask employers to sign waivers to the effect that no one suffers unduly in the pages I proof...

Thoughts? I know my tolerance for reading and watching (even fictional) violence is really low. (Funny thing about my full-time job, hey?) Would you be bothered if you read the sorts of scenes I'm describing? Would you put the book down? Am I overreacting? Would you be more or less likely to read such a thing if you were getting paid to do it? More or less disturbed by the fact that you'd read it?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

These are a few of my favorite things

And a few of my favorite things are: Bookshelves!

Yesterday I picked up a fine pair of shelves from a nice neighbor down the street. I carried them home one at a time, laboriously. The stretch of my block has never seemed so epic! With just a tiny bit of help from kind housemates, the shelves went up the stairs and were assembled in my room, to aid and abet the overcrowded set of cubbyholes the room's former tenant left me.

I've always found the process of arranging books on shelves to be uniquely satisfying. Psychologists talk about a state called "flow," in which you're completely swept up in the task at hand. I've been known to partake in this meditative state when I'm drawing, doing theater, walking, (still too infrequently) practicing piano. In my mind, it's a feeling that I'll do something until it's done, and that I'll have an intuitive sense of when I hit that point.

And this feeling comes out most strongly when I'm arranging books. There's an intuition to it, a self-devised, obscure categorization process. It's sort of feng shui, or balancing the space, or something. I will not bore you with the details of my process, save to say that it's based on book content as well as size and who knows what else. Strangely, this time one set of books seems to be colored exclusively in the red family; the second half of that shelf tends more to blue.

After rearranging to my heart's content yesterday, though, I discovered a problem: too much empty space! I don't want the shelves to be too full for me to make new (increasingly selective) additions. But these new ones aren't even a third covered. I think this weekend it'll finally be time to finally start cleaning up my room at my parents' house...

How about you? Can you capture your meditative sense of true self whilst arranging paperbacks on boards? Do you have another activity that works better?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mad World

I so often take the long way home. Last Thursday instead of jetting into the subway, drawn by the oncoming sunset, I walked from my piano lesson on the Upper East Side to the upper bound of the Q at 57th and 7th. I took most of the walk on Madison Avenue, realizing I hadn't experienced it in some time.

Up through high school, when I spent (too) much time on the Upper East Side, I did walk a lot. But I didn't notice the buildings the way I do now, the bizarre mix and mingle of them. I thought I'd take a minute to call your attention to a few of the odder sights I encountered, nestled within the otherwise innocuous grand buildings and gleaming brownstones.

First up, check out the statue perched atop the Hermes store. (You'll have to scroll down a bit.) I want to say the building is ugly with all of its glass. But there's something appealing about it all lit up in the twilight, to say nothing of the incongruity of the equestrian up there. Very Napoleonic if you ask me.

Then there is a mansion on 64th and Madison (of which the internet declines to provide me a picture): stately yet inviting, the windows looked warm on this unseasonably-cold evening. Apparently home to something like JPMorgan Private Customers (I can't recall exactly and the internet is shadily unclear).

I think the winner of the most beautiful building award probably resides just a block down. Similar to the other banky edifice (and similarly, 20-grumpy-minutes-later-ly, unlinkable), it's apparently home to BNY Wealth Management. If I were richer, no doubt I would know what this meant. Alas, only window shopping for me.

Speaking of, I will leave you with a perplexing window display for a certain perfume: full of bold inquiries about whether you have made it "down" to the High Line (gosh, it sure is far away from the lives of the rich & famous up here), and, at least for this viewer, idle ruminations about whether one would want to smell like elevated train tracks. Suppose, in fairness, they refer to the (beautiful! scented!) flowery aspects of the now-park...but I find it a peculiar campaign. I think I will stick to scenting the park in its full, three-dimensional, downtown glory.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Proofreading mission

My mission, as I chose to interpret it: Proofread two books this weekend. I couldn't really accomplish this at home, because I tend to doze off or use the internet or something. Instead, I prefer a café. I am always in search (and rarely in receipt—why did you close, 7th Avenue Tea Lounge? Whyyyy?) of the Platonic ideal one. And now, after a 48-hour not-even-slightly-exhaustive test run, in case you should ever need to know, I bring you:

Places to proofread a manuscript, on a scale of 1–5*:

IC: Located on a tiny, charming street near the water, IC's a lovely quiet little place with tables. Their mocha's a little bitterer than I would like, but overall the experience is satisfying and peaceful—and conducive to reading many pages. Cons: Closes at 6 (burn that midnight oil, why don't you); MADLY OVERCROWDED on weekends (luckily not the case on Friday early evening).

T: Always feels a little overpriced. But they've got pear-prosciutto-parmesan panini (4 p's of awesome)! Can't go wrong with that, especially while sitting outside and watching dusk gradually descend over the Heights. Patrons at other tables give me funny looks, no doubt wondering why I'm holding a book in one hand and flipping over manuscript pages with the other. (Answer: checking reprints against previously published texts. You don't want to say the air was cold and camp when you mean damp, do you now.)

GS: I really want to like this place. But I have to conclude that it would be easier to like it if I also liked a) patronizing, holier-than-thou baristas; b) table hogs; c) apparently café-provided newspapers (nice in theory, I'll grant) strewn about haphazardly; d) people with their dogs inside, sitting at tables (admonishing "stay" in a way that is not encouraging); e) extremely bitter chocolate. (I put part of a pack of sweetener in my mocha. Forgive me; I have sinned) Once I did get a table, it was a nice one; points also for playing the entirety of "Graceland."

CT: A bit off the beaten track for me, this one's in Queens. The semi-spaced-out counterguy gets my order wrong, but the drink he gives me is cheaper and, while not what I wanted (a coffee- instead of tea-based beverage), it's not bad. Lots of windows, open door—very nice for someone who feels the call to be outside while it's light out. Less nice since yesterday's windstormorama and I get a bit tired of the flecks of grit of suspect provenance flitting over my pages, my computer, my water glass...

C4: Hit this one early in the morning: probably wise, since it's tiny. Coffee cups likewise tiny, but not a bad thing if you're roaming the café wilderness for a change of scene while proofing ~350 pages in 48 hours. Comfy couch, a corner table...all well and good until the stereotypical, ubiquitous Slope-type couple with requisite child in tow descends. Said child's pretty well-mannered...but I find it difficult to proof effectively while her parents animatedly discuss the travails of the...kindergarten, is it?...admissions process. 'S what I get for trying to do this job in public, I suppose.

B: Don't actually eat my baked good (a grasshopper bar) here—that's for dessert tomorrow!—but do find an out-of-the-way bench to sneak in yet a few more pages. Unfortunately, as in so much of Brooklyn, its Sunday early-afternoon proves a mob scene; also, the bar is delicious, but I'm not feeling the place's vibe somehow. All those wooden benches in a row does not a cozy café make.

Tired out from walking to and from all these places and a brief stint of tutoring (to say nothing of proofing all those pages), I get home in a bit of a mood. Solution? Time for some good old-fashioned home cooking. Cheers you right up and then you have enough leftovers to eat for, like, the next five days. Mission accomplished.

*Names obfuscated because I am just that wary about the internet sometimes, particularly when I am casting aspersions upon some things. If you want to go to any of these places, drop me a line and I will supply you with full details.

Friday, May 7, 2010

This is just to say, dear readers...

that I am proofreading three books at once right now (with probably two more in the works) so activity here may be a bit patchy for the next couple of weeks. I do have at least one Good Idea for a future post, though, so stay tuned! And wish me luck, and energy, and eagle eyes...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bokononist on Brooklyn Bridge

Busy busy busy, with an undetermined but rapidly expanding number of editing jobs. Will the brave forester and the cowardly doctor become zombies? Stay tuned!

To take a break from the travails of our heroes, I imagine myself on the Brooklyn Bridge. Walked across it just yesterday, dodging tourists' photo shoots (how many pictures feature me, I wonder, couched in foreign albums) and the occasional bicycle, marveling again that more careless pedestrians don't get mown down. They're everywhere! Took C.—, formerly self-described tourist, with me on a walk across the bridge a few weeks ago; by the time we were done, he didn't feel like one anymore. Countless people standing scenically and obliviously in the bike lane (that is I guess the optimum place to get a picture of yourself beskylined) can do that for you.

Astonishingly, I never thought to walk across the bridge until M.— came to visit the summer after our sophomore year. Ever since, I've used it often. It helps that a couple of jobs I've had are right on the Brooklyn side; also helps, now, that my primary employer is just a few blocks away. On lunch hour I've even been known to make it to Brooklyn, touch down, and return just a hair before 2.

I like walking across the bridge in rain or cold (or both!) to avoid the flocks of people that cover it on nicer days. I try to be patient with them, though; they don't have the luxury of walking it whenever they want, the way I do. And if I'm too fed up, there's always the Manhattan or, dangerous in a different way (a story for another time, perhaps), the Williamsburg. One day I will walk across all three of them. Maybe when this spate of books has passed.