On Keeping a Quote Book

Maybe it’s just my milieu, but just about everyone I know has read Joan Didion’s iconic essay “On Keeping a Notebook.” I keep many notebooks, which means they all have a different purpose, all spend much of their lives half-filled, and all fight for space in my (very heavy) purse or my (very crowded) shelves.

But of all of these, my quote book is my favorite.

It started as a Word document on my computer nearly a decade ago, a collection of lines I loved from the books I read for English class. The first entry came from The Sorrows of Young Werther. Later, full passages from Sense and Sensibility, The Virgin Suicides, and The History of Love. Movie quotes began to sneak their way onto the (figurative) page. I tucked these phrases away like a squirrel with an acorn, storing them for when I needed them most.

But as I added and reviewed and reread my Word document over and over again, it began to feel like I hadn’t taken all the care these words deserved. And so I started a quote book, painstakingly copying the lines I had collected over the years into a somewhat standard notebook I owned. I used colored pens, a different color for each source, my cursive loopy.

I am both careful and impulsive with my entries. I have added lines from movies, musicals, articles, even Tumblr I cannot get out of my head. I have included every phrase I’ve highlighted from a particular book read on my Kindle, even if I can’t remember why I called it out in the first place. There are months where I make a dozen entries; there are many months where I make none.

But I always feel better after copying those words down. Some of the quotes have begun to feel like old friends.

Sometimes, my quote book feels like an extension of my diary, an odd charting of my moods and ages, my successes and disappointments. Reading over some of my favorite passages take me right back to where I first read them; I recall my emotional response to them as much as the words themselves.

There’s a line from Almost Famous (which, conveniently I copied into my quote book):

“I always tell the girls never take it seriously, if you never take it seriously you never get hurt, if you never get hurt you always have fun, and if you ever get lonely just go to the record store and visit your friends.”

I feel that way about my quote book.

Reading is, in my ways, a radical act of empathy. For a successful reading experience, you have to step outside your self and connect with someone else. Writing, too, requires the same effort. You never know what could resonate.

On a Kindle, you can see the phrases people highlight most often, which is sometimes fascinating and sometimes annoying. In either case, the underlining draws your attention. In a few cases, I wonder why anyone would mark that portion. Other times, I’m grateful other readers have pointed out a beautiful line I might have otherwise missed. It feels like cheating, like I am just going along with public opinion.

Mostly, though, I love that my quote book feels sometimes like a scrapbook of my life, all these past version of me accumulating into a whole. The lines I loved 10 years ago aren’t necessarily the lines I love now. I can see myself change, see myself grow, within these pages. I make sense of the world in words, and sometimes the only way I can work through a problem is by repeating the words of someone else. These lines are like a magnifying mirror, something that reflects your image in a way you might not have seen it before.

There’s something beautiful about having a physical manifestation of the things you loved, the people you were, the ideas to bolster you as you move on to other things. I have lines I can recite from memory and lines I can’t remember copying. Every so often, I’ll reread a book and find new phrases that knock me out. So I’ll grab my pen and write them down in the same color as the original.

I’m a big believer in everyone having a quote book. Not just because I am a person who loves to remember, not just because I have an odd fascination with the subject of permanence, but because I believe that words provide comfort, and I like to see how that translates and transforms as the years go by. I may not be sixteen any more, but I can flip to the front of my quote book and remember exactly what that feels like.

Top 10 Favorite Moments from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

 

I’ve written already about my love of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Now that we’re in between seasons, I need to both occupy my time and get my fix, so I’ve made a list of my Top 10 moments of the show so far. In truth, making a “Top 10 Favorite Songs from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” would have been a tall order, so this was damn near impossible. The writing/music/choreography/etc. on this show is just so sharp. I’m sure next month I’d be able to update this with an entirely new set of scenes/images/lines.

Without further ado:

10. Paula and the ice cube tray. Girl, we’ve all been there.

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9. Darryl: I like women – I like sleeping with women! I like the way they smell, I like the way that they – the feel of their skin, I like their… bird-like voices. I mean, does that sound gay?
White Josh: Nope. Sounds like a serial killer, but a straight one for sure.

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I’m guaranteed to like pretty much any scene White Josh appears in. He’s the voice of reason of this show.

8. These costumes.

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So I’m not the biggest Jebecca (Joshbecca?) fan, but I really dig these groovy outfits.

7. #humbleandblessed

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We’ve reached the hashtag portion of this list. This comes from “I’m a Good Person,” and I repeat it in conversation often. Honestly, why isn’t this used all the time?

6. #gurlgroup4evah

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Look, I always love Rebecca and Paula, but one of the great joys this season was seeing Rebecca explore other friendships with some unlikely allies. Heather has been one of my favorite characters since Season 1. She started out as Rebecca’s unenthused neighbor; it took a while for her to find her place in the show’s universe, but she–like White Josh–is one of the show’s best secondary characters. I can’t wait to see where this girl group goes in Season 3.

5. “You’re pretty, and you’re smart, and you’re ignoring me, so you’re obviously my type.” This is the line I knew I’d be rooting for Greg.

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4. This moment. I don’t know how the show got around S&P to air “We Tapped That Ass,” but I’m so glad it did.

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3. Paula: Honey, be yourself.

Rebecca: What?! Who? No! Ew. Ugh. Who wants to be that?

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2. The lyrics “For some reason you’re now on the top of my to-do list/let’s get this over with/so I can focus on other tasks.”

I know exactly what it says about me that this is the sexiest thing I have ever heard. Also, Scott Michael Foster is scrumptious in every frame of this video. The entire Santa Ana wind episode should be a national treasure.

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1. This song.

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If you’ve even been a high-achieving woman, I think you know how this feels.

 

What I’m Watching: An Appreciation of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

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My favorite screenshot from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

I’ve talked extensively on my previous blog and in real life about the increase in my television consumption once I started working in publishing. Since I read all day, sometimes I want to relax with another storytelling medium.

My TV shows have ebbed and flowed over the years. In college, my friends and I watched 30 Rock, then Parks & Rec. We committed to old episodes of Daria and Summer Heights High. But those shows have gone since then, and I had little to take their place.

For many years, I loved The Mindy Project, which I watched every week, but I stopped this seasons; the show lost some of its spark without Danny, and I felt like I kept watching Mindy in the same situations as she had been in earlier seasons. None of the characters seemed to be growing or maturing; the ones that did moved on (Peter, for instance).

Two of my favorite shows at the moment hail from the CW: Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Apparently, hour-long comedies are now my thing. Jane the Virgin is pure fun: mystery, love, family, novel writing. I love the way it alludes to, pokes fun at, and upends the telenovela formula. And although a certain update this season was heartbreaking, it’s really reinvigorated the story. The three-year jump has been particularly effective, and reminds me of the last season of Parks & Rec, where it also worked so well.

But my favorite TV show–by far–is Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I haven’t loved a show as much as this in I don’t know how long. There is not enough time for me to detail everything I admire about the show. I want to be smart when talking about television, but I’m not, so I’ll point you to this fabulous piece by Emily Nussbaum, which is what convinced me to give Crazy Ex-Girlfriend a shot.

Since I’ve become obsessed with the show (I watched the first five episodes over Winter Storm Jonas weekend in January 2015), I’ve made it my mission to proselytize. The title, coupled with the key art from the first season, had made it difficult for me to give the show a shot. It wasn’t clear that the show was mocking the term “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” The show opens with Rebecca Bunch, a successful and miserable attorney with mental health issues, who has a breakdown the day she’s offered the position of partner at her law firm. She runs into her camp boyfriend, Josh Chan, in the throes of this. He mentions he’s moving home to West Covina, California. Rebecca thinks that it sounds like a place where she could be happy. So she quits her job and moves there, much to the astonishment of everyone who knows her. At her new law firm, paralegal Paula suspects that Rebecca’s not being truthful about why she moved to town, and finds that Rebecca is obsessed with a guy named Josh Chan. Rebecca has been hoping to run into him, and meets his friend Greg at the bar where Josh had been sitting minutes before. Greg likes Rebecca; cue the love triangle. By the end of the pilot, Paula vows to help Rebecca get Josh, becoming her best friend.

But what really makes Crazy Ex-Girlfriend unusual is the fact that it’s a musical comedy. I always bury the lede on that point (for a former singer, I have an astonishing number of friends who dislike musicals). Rachel Bloom, who stars and co-created the series with Aline Brosh McKenna, is a writer and comedian. The songs cover (and sometimes skewer) everything from women getting ready to go out to female friendship to guilting mothers. If you’re unfamiliar, “The Sexy Getting Ready Song” from the pilot is probably a good place to start. The songs can be crass and sometimes hit a little too close to home. But I love that the show is unapologetic about showing how difficult it can be to be a young woman in our society, particularly one dealing with mental illness. The show has evolved over two seasons in a fascinating way, and the season 2 finale had me frantically texting everyone I know who watches (which is now a large number; perhaps I should consider becoming a missionary?). I cannot wait to see where the show is going in Season 3. It’s only getting more brilliant.

If you’re a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fan, please let me know! I always love finding more people to talk about it.

The Joys of a Bookstore

New year, new posts!

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The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles

After a rather lackluster few months, I’m back. And excited to share what I’ve been reading.

I’ve been in a bit of a book slump. Nothing was holding my attention. It’s not that I wasn’t reading– I was doing plenty of that for work– it’s that I couldn’t work up the enthusiasm I usually have for recreational reading.

Because I believe very strongly in recreational reading. I chose to work in publishing because I love to read and share books. If I’m not doing that, then what’s the point? (Because the pay certainly isn’t.)

In early December, I was rooting around for some comp titles for an acquisition, and I kept coming back to two books: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. I hadn’t read either, but after scouring online descriptions, reviews, and those first chapter previews on Amazon, they seemed like the right fit. So I added them to the list. On a trip to L.A.’s The Last Bookstore the next week, I spotted both on the shelves and purchased them.

Turns out, they were just what I needed.

I’m going to be writing about both novels later, but the two books have reminded me of the joy of bookstores and the power of finding exactly the right book at the right time. I know that serendipity has changed my life. The influence of the right book at the right time remains a constant for me, but as I’ve noticed over the past few years, bookstores have changed for me.

I have loved bookstores all my life. Hours spent at Bookstar in Studio City, at Vroman’s in Pasadena, at the late Portrait of a Bookstore tucked into Aroma, at Bart’s Books in Ojai. Lately, it’s been McNally Jackson, Shakespeare & Company, and The Last Bookstore.

Bookstores represented the thrill of discovery. I will never forget waiting in line for the next Harry Potter book, wondering what would happen next. I still remember exactly where I was standing when I picked up Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian (the Barnes & Noble at San Francisco’s Union Square). I can still tell you about the shelf talkers at Vroman’s.

I love bookstores for the opportunity to discover something new. But lately, that something new has become more elusive. I work with books every day, I flip through Publishers Weekly every Monday, I read Shelf Awareness on an almost daily basis. As a result, I know of most books– especially the books most likely to capture my attention– before they even come out. When I go to a bookstore, I see the same books that have been circling my mind for months.

There are some bookstores that reliably turn up something novel (pun intended). McNally Jackson does an exquisite job of mixing popular reads with gems from smaller presses. I remain impressed by their fiction organization by country and region, which gives greater voice to underrepresented works in translation. I know I won’t see the same 50 books face-out that I always do there.

I get my thrill of discovery these days somewhere else: my inbox. It’s hard to begrudge that. Nothing makes me happier than reading a submission and getting that feeling– a flutter in my chest, a tapping in my feet. I call it “getting hoppy.” I get so excited I (literally) bounce through the office, and I pop into people’s offices because I just have to tell someone about what I’m reading.

And sometimes, if I’m lucky, I get to see finished copies in a bookstore– the kind where I did and still do browse. Because even in a digital world, bookstores are still magic. The right ones lead you to the right book; sometimes one you didn’t know you needed.

And in 2017, we need that more than ever.

Two Great Books, One Bad Reading Month

The Disappearing Spoon and Attachments

I managed to read two recreational books in October. Which is both tough to admit and deserving of some slack. Ask me how many pages I read for work in that same period! It was a lot.

In short, The Disappearing Spoon took me about three weeks to finish. Attachments took me one day. Welcome to my reading life.

The books couldn’t be more different.

I read Sam Kean’s excellent The Violinist’s Thumb a few years ago. Genetics is a pet interest of mine, and I found the book delightful and engaging. It took me a couple years to get to The Disappearing Spoon. I had a bad experience with chemistry in high school, which squelched any possible affinity for the subject. But The Disappearing Spoon made chemistry interesting. Kean has a great way of drawing out personalities and making them fit together into a coherent narrative. The book is full of surprising anecdotes, and he explains science in a way that makes it accessible to the layperson (i.e., me). I’m by no means an expert, but I feel like I’ve made up at least a little of my embarrassing lack of chemistry knowledge.

A couple weeks ago, I was hanging out in a coworker’s office on a Friday afternoon and spotted a copy of Attachments on her shelf. I asked if I could borrow it. I’ve read most of Rainbow Rowell’s books– Eleanor & Park, Fangirl, and Landline— but I hadn’t yet made it to her debut adult novel, Attachments.

I read it in one gulp on Saturday. A lot of novels dealing with multiple forms of media and formal techniques (in this case, emails) get bogged down in replicating the exact format. (To; From; Time Sent; Subject; from latest to first message) Attachments did away with that. In fact, the conversations appeared more like instant messages more than emails. Despite taking place around Y2K, it feels remarkably fresh.

The story revolves around Lincoln, the IT guy assigned to read the emails of reporters at a local newspaper. Beth, a movie critic, and Jennifer, a copyeditor, send a lot of personal emails to one another, which get caught in the company filters. Lincoln is supposed to send them a warning, but he doesn’t. Instead, he finds himself looking forward to reading their notes to one another and realizes he’s developing feelings for Beth.

My dad once asked me what the equivalent of a “rom-com” was in books; well, this is it. I loved every second of it.

At times, Lincoln seems a little too good to be true; but so do all of Rainbow Rowell’s male leads. But if you follow her on Twitter (which I recommend) and have seen the incredible creations (culinary, craft, horological) of her husband, can you really blame her?

Sunday, December 3

Good morning!

I’ve been remiss in taking photos of my breakfast, so instead here is the charcuterie plate I made for Thanksgiving. I consider the Thanksgiving charcuterie plate an integral part of the day (much like the Beaujolais nouveau).

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Featuring prosciutto, Rosette de Lyon, sweet dry Italian sausage, Petit Billy goat cheese, Fromager D’Affinois with truffles, Istara cheese, Marcona Almonds, and assorted olives. Not pictured: pâté.

I am nothing if not serious about the charcuterie.

Over Thanksgiving, I had the great pleasure of The Madwoman Upstairs, which so many friends have recommended to me. I found it delightful. It was just the fun and bookish read I needed for my vacation.

My parents have been staying with me since shortly before Thanksgiving (we went to the Hamptons for a couple days) and just left yesterday.

Wednesday night, we saw Billy Joel perform at Madison Square Garden, which was amazing. The concert was one long sing-along in the best possible way. And I never say no to a sing-along.

Today I’m participating in Handel’s “Messiah” sing-along at Judson Memorial Church. I’m not religious, but remember what I said about sing-alongs? It’ll be the perfect kick-off to the holiday season. Well, that and my apartment decorations.

Happy Sunday!

 

Gilmore Girls Revival– or, What Do Characters Owe Us?

Caution, spoilers ahead.

(Really, I mean it.)

Another disclaimer: I haven’t fully worked through all of these ideas. Perhaps I’ll come up with something more coherent in the next few days.

I watched Gilmore Girls on Friday. I started in the morning, made it through half of “Winter” and saved the rest for that night. I finished after midnight, and kept trying to press the button to the next episodes in hopes that it wasn’t really over, that there was another installment of four episodes waiting for me because 1). how could they end the revival on a cliffhanger and 2). how could they end it like that?

Gilmore Girls was the first television show I loved; it was the first television show I watched as it aired. True, I caught on during season 5, but no matter what was going on in my life, I was parked in front of the guest bedroom television on Tuesday at 8 o’clock. I started drinking coffee because the Gilmores drank coffee, and I wanted in on some of the fun. Like many young Gilmore Girls fans, I identified strongly with Rory. She loved books and pop culture and talked really fast. And yet she always had a boyfriend. She had friends. She had this fabulous college life, what I hoped that mine would be. It comes as no surprise to those who know me that I had a hard time in high school; Rory was proof that if I kept working hard, I would find a way out.

And I did. I loved college. I followed my passions, I made friends, I moved to New York, I got a great job, and somewhere along the way, I didn’t need Rory Gilmore to pave the way any more.

Gilmore Girls actually led me to some of my best friends from college, one of whom walked up to me at sophomore housing draw, told me I looked like Rory Gilmore and asked if I needed a roommate (I did).

I looked forward to the Gilmore Girls revival for moments. I parsed every bit of online fodder for clues. Much of many of my friends’ chagrin, I am a Logan fan (I like Jess every time I rewatch the Jess seasons, but he abandoned Rory!), and I was thrilled to hear that he would have a major role in the revival, particularly because he and Rory ended on such an unhappy note in the original series.

I was delighted by the first three episodes revival, even though Rory’s flailing (and failing) unnerved me. At thirty-two-years old, Rory Gilmore was supposed to have a vibrant career. She wasn’t supposed to be broke and living at home while other people succeeded. I kept wondering when she would pull herself out of it. And I have spent enough time in publishing to know that writing a book, especially a memoir, is not the answer to financial security. In a crowded memoir market, a book like that needs to wow publishers, and although I would have believed in the original series that Rory could write a book to command a huge advance, I’ll admit that I was starting to doubt her in the revival.

And the boys. Rory’s relationship with Logan problematic, but I still rooted for them. I kept waiting for the moment Logan would decide to leave his fiancée, Odette. Odette was his father’s choice of a partner, and he was putting his family’s opinions behind him in season 7.

And that ending. Rory, thirty-two-years-old and living at home with very few serious career prospects, pregnant. (Presumably by Logan. Presumably from their last Life and Death Brigade adventure together.)

That’s the ending we get for Rory Gilmore?

Have a kid. That’s the fulfilling, feel-good answer to her feeling lost?

I was so distressed, I didn’t think I’d sleep all night. I woke up in the morning depressed. My family was driving back from our Thanksgiving vacation, so I had a lot of quality time staring out car windows, which got me thinking, what do characters (and their creators) owe us? And also, when did Rory Gilmore become a feminist icon?

Over the years, people have poked holes in my idolized idea of Rory Gilmore, pointing out that she is a little, well, boring. She doesn’t have the spark Lorelai has; she follows. And I hate to admit that they’re sort of right.

Rory’s wanting so many things, particularly career-wise, made us think of her as a young feminist (which is not to say she isn’t). But those career plans didn’t really work out. And now we’re left with a Rory who seems to be falling into parenthood by default. The world has beaten her down, she is giving up, and now she’s going to be a parent.

That ending doesn’t leave me hopeful, it doesn’t leave me happy, it leaves me sad. Because it’s not just that Rory is having a baby (presumably; obviously, there are other options available). It’s that Rory Gilmore, perfect and confident and frequently praised Rory Gilmore, failed. No one wants to say it in the show. But Rory failed. And it feels like a whole generation of girls who watched the show dreaming of big careers and fulfilling lives, failed with her.

A baby is not a salve for that.

The Gilmores and creator Amy Sherman-Palladino don’t owe us anything. This show is their creation. They should end the characters’ arcs the way they see fit. The last four words have been in the works for decades. And I understand the appeal of the full-circle ending.

Characters take on lives of their own for fans. We mold these characters into whomever we need them to be. But Rory Gilmore returning to Stars Hollow with her tail between her legs and pregnant doesn’t fit my vision of Rory. It doesn’t fit the vision of Rory’s life so many of us had imagined ten years later.

I don’t need Rory Gilmore anymore. I made my own life. I found new role models. But that doesn’t mean that I wanted to see her story end in a way that seems antithetical to all that she once represented to me.

If the revival has a sequel, I’ll still be there. Rooting for Lorelai and Rory (and maybe Logan and Jess, too).

Sunday, November 20

Good morning!

This is my book: Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link

This is my breakfast: baguette tartine and coffee from Eric Kayser

Come join me at the table:

It took a couple weeks after the devastating election, but I’m back to posting here. Although things quite haven’t returned to a baseline of normal (I doubt they will any time soon), I went to see Manon Lescaut at the Met. Anna Netrebko was singing the title role, and I had been looking forward to the performance for months. I had never heard her live before, and it was worth every single penny. She is extraordinary in every sense in this role. On Wednesday, I had breakfast with a friend visiting from out of town. This week also included a couple business lunches, and plenty of work to keep me busy.

Yesterday was Big Game, Stanford vs. Cal. It’s one of the highlights of my year. I watched with the rest of the Stanford young alum group—and some Cal fans and a rowdy Colorado crew— at Finnerty’s in the East Village ($5 well drinks for Stanford alums? Yes, please!). We won. 

Coming up this week is Thanksgiving, and my family arrives Tuesday night (hi, Mom and Dad!). We’ll be in the Hamptons Thursday-Saturday, then back to the city for another week of family adventures.

Happy Sunday!

Sunday, November 6

Good morning!

Sorry I missed last week! I wish I had a good reason, but I was just tired. Also, I had been reading the same book for three weeks. But I’m back!

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Here is my book: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell (finished last night) and Harriet Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders by Julianna Baggott.

Here is my breakfast: Eric Kayser baguette tartine and coffee (let’s be honest, this is my weekend breakfast 90% of the time).

Come join me at the table:

Last weekend and Monday I celebrated Halloween. A friend and I went out last Saturday night to a couple parties; I dressed as Holly Golightly and toted Cat with me across the city all night. On Monday, I passed out candy to young trick-or-treaters in my building.

Last night, my aunt and uncle came into the city for a jazz concert at Carnegie Hall. We had a fabulous dinner at Molyvos before seeing Madeleine Peyroux perform at 10 PM. It was a wonderful show.

Today is the New York City Marathon, which I’ve nicknamed “the most inspiring day of the year.” I’ve watched from Central Park every year since I moved to New York. So I’m off this afternoon to Mile 25 to cheer on the runners with hot chocolate in hand.

Happy Sunday!

 

Sunday, October 23

Good morning!

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Here is my book: The Disappearing Spoon

Here is my breakfast: coffee and baguette tartine at Eric Kayser (pictured)

Let’s sit down at the table:

My friend Shelley was here to visit Wednesday-Friday. We watched the third and final debate in my living room, complete with #hottoddiesforhillary. On Thursday, the Eric Kayser on 74th, where I have had breakfast almost every weekend morning since I moved to New York three years ago, reopened after a fire five months ago. Although at first I didn’t enjoy the disruption to my routine, the closure did help me branch out with my neighborhood breakfast options.

I have a cold this weekend, so I’ve been staying in reading, writing and editing, and catching up on all the TV I’ve missed in the past week.

Happy Sunday!