You Call Me Crazy Like It’s a Bad Thing

When you’re a kid, making friends is effortless. You’d eyeball one another on the playground for exactly 3 seconds and then say “Hey, I like that you can spin 12 times on the tire swing without hurling” and they would say back “I like your side ponytail even though Melissa said it looked stupid.”

“Melissa smells like onions.”

“Yeah, I heard her mom tried to give her up for adoption like, five times but there were no takers.”

“Explains a lot.”

Sigh. It was so much easier back then. I bet Melissa still smells like onions. She just seemed the type.

But when you get older it’s harder to make friends. It’s like something happens between the ages of 10 and 25. Some kind of guard goes up. I’ve been at the library almost twenty years and I work with my best friend Kathy. We actually never formally met. Seventeen years ago she would see me writing at a table before I started my shift and we’d do that “I want to talk to you but we’re at that point where we only know each other’s first name and have spent three months vaguely smiling at one another when we passed each other.” And then she saw me reading a book or I saw her reading a book and the rest is history. Now I can text her without any self-doubt (or evidently self-control): “Hey, is it normal that I want to throat-punch the kid in that book you recommended to me?”

furiouslyhappyI want to be best friends with Jenny Lawson. I probably said that when I wrote a post about her first book but it bears repeating. It goes double now that I’ve read her second memoir Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things.

This is Jenny’s disclaimer on her own book:

“This is a funny book about living with mental illness. It sounds like a terrible combination, but personally I’m mentally ill and some of the most hysterical people I know are as well. So if you didn’t like the book then maybe you’re just not crazy enough to enjoy it. Either way, you win.”

How could I not fall a little in love with her and want to go to her house and raid her kitchen and watch stupid TV shows or just spend hours texting back and forth because we both have this thing where we don’t like to leave the house and even if we like people we’d rather not be around them sometimes?

In Furiously Happy, she divulges things people like me want to know (because I’m going through them too.) Here are some of my favorite chapter titles:

“I Found a Kindred Soul and He Has a Very Healthy Coat.”

Jenny goes to pick up a prescription through a drug store drive-through. While waiting for the pharmacist to ring up her prescription she notices a box of dog biscuits sitting next to the register. This sends her on a mental quest to find out what the hell that box of dog biscuits is doing there, opened. Maybe someone returned them because they were stale? And then she realizes dogs wouldn’t really care if they were stale biscuits. Spoiler alert: she watches as the pharmacist reaches into the box and eats a handful. While she questions whether she’s high right that moment and seeing things, she debates whether or not to say anything. “But I didn’t, because I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to accuse the man giving you drugs of eating dog food.”

Good call.

“How Many Carbs Are in a Foot?”

Jenny thinks she must be one of the last people on Earth who hasn’t tried kale or quinoa but she’s still gun-shy from the time Victor made what she thought was rice that had gone bad. Victor explains to her that it’s risotto and Jenny says “The stuff Gordon Ramsay is always yelling about? This is very disappointing.” She argues that she would eat a human foot if it was smothered in enough cheese and butter but Victor argues she wouldn’t because she can’t even finish the damn risotto. She can’t tell if that was a dare from him but she’s lactose intolerant anyway. “Everyone else at the dinner party would be tucking into their cheesy-butter foot, and I’d have to eat my foot parboiled and plain.  That’s my struggle. And it’s very real.”

“The Fear”

Jenny can make just about anything funny (see cheesy foot) and still get a serious thought out there. She’s no stranger to self-harm and even prefaces this chapter with a  trigger-warning for those who might read it and have their own dark thoughts start flooding in. Jenny has engaged in self-harm for years, from picking at her cuticles until they bleed freely to pulling her hair out by the roots. She writes about being labeled as broken when she is diagnosed with a ‘personality disorder.’ She tells her psychiatrist that she isn’t broken. “I just…I just hurt…inside. And when I tear at the outside it makes me feel less torn up on the inside. I don’t want to die. Really, I don’t. It’s not a lie. I’m not suicidal. I just feel like sometimes I can’t keep myself from hurting me. It’s like there’s someone else inside of me who needs to physically peel those bad thoughts out of my head and there’s no other way to get in there. The physical pain distracts me from the mental pain.” I want to give Jenny Lawson an award for this, the biggest YES! SOMEBODY GETS IT award for saying all of this out loud and at the same time acknowledging self-harm (in any form) is not a teenager’s domain.

“It’s Like Your Pants Are Bragging at Me.”

I don’t know why, but a lot of women’s clothing does not have pockets. This might explain why I buy my jeans in the men’s section. Either that or there’s a whole underlying issue I should talk to someone about. But I NEED pockets. Jenny’s husband Victor says women don’t need pockets because they have purses. Jenny has to explain to him “No. We are forced into purses because we don’t have pockets. Imagine if I ripped all of your pockets off of your sweet pocket-pants right now and you had to carry them around with you everywhere. You have like…seven pockets in those pants. Imagine carrying seven pockets with you at the carnival. You can’t. You’d need a purse. Then you’d get on the Zipper and it’d be fine for a minute until your purse popped open and all your stuff was being poltergeisted around the cage at you like you were a kitten in a dryer full of batteries, and then your phone gave you a black eye. This is all based on real life, by the way.” All I can say is I started slow clapping when she used poltergeisted as a verb. Victor, as usual, is flabbergasted and says “Pocket-pants don’t exist. They’re called cargo pants.” Potato tomato, dude.

“Voodoo Vagina.”

What book wouldn’t be complete without a vagina in there somewhere? Jenny’s friend Kim mailed her a home-made, educational (well, thank God it was educational) felted vagina. Kim makes them with babies inside them (felted ones, not real ones although that would be fascinating to see) to teach her children about where babies come from. Jenny studies the felted vagina and starts to wonder if the pubic hair on it is real and if it is, she needs to scour her hands immediately. She starts to think yeah, this is how voodoo dolls are made, adding human hair makes it become a voodoo doll. So technically the felt vagina with the seemingly real pubic hair is a voodoo vagina. Jenny left the vagina on her desk to go get her camera to take a picture and when she returned the vagina was gone. The cat was happily ripping it to pieces. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t real pubic hair but doll hair you can buy from a hobby shop.

What a time to be alive.

So, Jenny Lawson calls herself crazy repeatedly through the book and I’ve taken up the call as well. She explains that calling yourself crazy isn’t a demeaning mental illness or making fun of other people with mental illness. We ARE mentally ill and technically we ARE crazy. Just take a look at my therapist’s notes. She probably wrote CRAY CRAY with a bunch of arrows pointing at it the first time I talked to her. So embrace mental illness. Don’t let anyone make you feel less because you know your brain is sometimes like a test pattern at three in the morning on that one TV channel that comes in clear for 45 minutes a day. And if anyone throws you the side eye for calling yourself crazy, just tell them it’s okay. Jenny Lawson said you could.

Bookstagram, Publishing, and the Castrati: We Chat with YA Author Jennifer Bardsley

Readers, I have a special treat for you today! As the library ramps up in preparation for her March 4th (2pm!) visit to the downtown library as part of the Everett Reads! community reading series, I caught up with local YA author and Everett Herald columnist Jennifer Bardsley to talk about everything bookish! For a primer on her incredibly addicting Blank Slate series, check out my review of book 1, Genesis Girl.

big-picture jennifer bardsley

 

First, tell me about you! What’s your background, and how did you get into writing?

In 2007 I was a stay-at-home mom who wrote a blog called Teachingmybabytoread.com as a way to keep my skills as a former elementary school teacher fresh. I loved blogging since it was a way to connect with people all over the world. I also enjoyed reading my local newspaper, The Edmonds Beacon, but noticed that none of the columnists represented the “mom demographic.” My limited success as a blogger gave me the idea to pitch The Edmonds Beacon with a column idea about what it was like to be a modern mom. I wrote up five sample columns and an introductory email, pitched them my concept and waited. And waited. And waited. They never emailed me back. Crushed, I filed those columns away in a drawer.

A month or two later, I saw a copy of The Weekly Herald and decided to brave it. I gathered up my courage to submit my idea to them instead. That’s how my column “I Brake for Moms” was born. After four months in The Weekly Herald, “I Brake for Moms” moved to The Everett Daily Herald where it has been for almost five years.

In the middle of all that column writing, I also wrote fiction. In 2013 my manuscript landed me my agent, Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Agency, and in 2014 Genesis Girl sold to Georgia McBride of Month9Books in a two-book deal.

genesis girl jennifer bardsleyHow did you get the idea for Blanca, a character who has never used the internet nor had her image ever posted online?

Prepare to be grossed out. I based the concept of Blanca and her Vestal Brethren on the castrati from opera’s shady past. In the seventeen and eighteen hundreds, some young boys in Italy were castrated in the hopes that they would become famous opera stars who could sing the highest notes. They were sent away to special schools where they lived and breathed music. Most of the castrati did not become famous. They were sent home in disgrace, scarred for life. But the castrati who succeeded were superstars. 

Yikes!  Even aside from that, the whole Blank Slate world is so eerie! I can see this becoming a distant reality.

I know, right? From computers to car phones, to cell phones, to smartphones; it’s only a matter of time before there is a technology advancement that is user-friendly in a way we can’t yet imagine. Maybe it will be like finger chips, maybe not, but it will be cool.

What books or authors would you recommend for readers like me who enjoyed reading Genesis Girl and Damaged Goods?

A classic SciFi book that I love is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. There’s a new television show based on it coming to Hulu that I’m excited about too. A SciFi series I enjoyed that came out recently is Survival Colony 9 by Joshua David Bellin. It’s cli-fi, meaning climate change meets science fiction.

damaged goods jennifer bardsleyI’ve always wondered about something. Is it more difficult to write the first book in a series or the second?

Damaged Goods was way easier to write than Genesis Girl because I had already done the hard work developing the characters. I wrote out an outline, turned on my computer, and banged the book out in four months. Then I spent the next year revising it.

What sort of advice would you offer a writer aspiring to make the leap to becoming a published author?

If you are writing fiction and you want to be traditionally published, you need to write the entire book first before you query agents to represent you. Agents then take the book on submission to publishing houses. If a house buys your book, it takes two to three years for your manuscript to be published.

However, with nonfiction it’s entirely different. You write a thirty to fifty-page outline and marketing plan for your proposal, and send that directly to publishers.

The quick way to bypass all of those steps is to self-publish. There are lots of indie authors who earn a ton of money because agility helps them capture hungry markets. Instead of guessing what topic will be popular with readers in three years, indie authors can write and publish books that are hot at that moment.

Bookstagramming is a big part of your presence online, one that I really enjoy following. How do you get your ideas for your beautiful layouts?

I love your account too! Instagram is a great way to meet new friends.

I keep a box of random knickknacks in my library that made it easy to style photos. Winter is tricky, but once the weather warms up I cut foliage from my garden to use in photos. My friend Jenn Eagan of @jennegan26 gave me good advice. “On bookstagram, more is more. If you think there are enough objects in your photo, add a few more just in case.”

Do you have different approaches for writing your column and your novels? Or does the process tend to be about the same?

Having a newspaper column has taught me a lot about discipline because I have a due date every week. I keep a notebook in my purse to jot down ideas if I get inspired, but generally I have a topic rattling around in my mind for a few weeks before I write it out on paper. Then a few days later, I revise it.

With fiction, I spend months and even years coming up with a concept first, before I start writing a book. The traditional publishing market is so competitive, that unless you have a killer idea, it feels like you are doomed.

I’m so curious about your writing environment! Do you have a dedicated office or workspace?

I used to have a dedicated writing space in our home library, but then my poodle Merlin took over that room and now it smells like dog. Luckily it’s the only room in the house that smells poodly, but it’s no longer my preferred place to write. These days I am much more likely to type on the computer in the niche next to our kitchen.

Do you have any other upcoming projects? You know I’m eagerly anticipating more Blank Slate novels!

Damaged Goods has a conclusive end, with just enough wiggle room to write a third book if my publisher is interested. It all depends on how this second book does. Stress!

author event march 4 jennifer bardsley

 

What can our readers expect when you come to the library on March 4th?

I have a game prepared that involves dice, fake money, information about the path to publication, and some inside secrets about what it’s like to be an author. I’ll follow up with questions from the audience.

Thank you so much, Jennifer, for taking the time to chat with me! I can’t wait for your visit March 4th at the main library!

Jennifer: Thank you so much for having me!

Narrators of Distinction

I’ve always found choosing a good audiobook to be complicated. Not only do I want the title to be interesting and compelling, there is also the added layer of the quality of the narration. It can be the greatest book in the world, but if I find the narrator’s delivery dull, grating or outright annoying I won’t touch it. On the flip side, if I discover a narrator I really like I will often give a book a listen even if the narrator is reading a title I wouldn’t normally touch with a ten foot pole. So clearly the narrator is key, but how exactly do you choose a good narrator?

One of the easier ways is to take a look at the Audie awards. The Audies are awarded annually by the Audio Publishers Association to titles deemed to have excellent narrators in a wide variety of categories. While this year’s awards won’t be until May 31st, the APA has just come out with all the titles that have been nominated. This list is an easy way to look for titles with potentially great narrators. Listed below is a partial list of the categories and titles that have been nominated for the 2017 awards. Feel free to look at the full list of all the titles and categories, via this link, as well.

audies1

Autobiography/Memoir

Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded by Hannah Hart, narrated by Hannah Hart and Judy Young

The Rainbow Comes and Goes written and narrated by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt

Best Female Narrator

Another Brooklyn: A Novel by Jacqueline Woodson, narrated by Robin Miles

The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien, narrated by Juliet Stevenson

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, narrated by Bahni Turpin

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Best Male Narrator

End of Watch by Stephen King, narrated by Will Patton

Jerusalem by Alan Moore, narrated by Simon Vance

Fantasy

The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson, narrated by Michael Kramer

Fiction

America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie, narrated by Cassandra Campbell

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes, narrated by Juliet Stevenson

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History/Biography

Paul McCartney: The Life by Philip Norman, narrated by Jonathan Keeble

Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick, narrated by Scott Brick

Humor

The Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith, and Idiocy written and narrated by Rainn Wilson

Black Man, White House: An Oral History of the Obama Years by D.L. Hughley, narrated by Keith Szarabajka, John Reynolds, Fran Tunno, Cherise Boothe, Dan Woren, P.J. Ochlan, Gregory Itzin, Paula Jai Parker-Martin, Mia Barron, Ron Butler, and James Shippy

You’ll Grow out of It written and narrated by Jessi Klein

audies4

Multi-Voiced Performance

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom, narrated by Mitch Albom, Roger McGuinn, Ingrid Michaelson, John Pizzarelli, Paul Stanley, George Guidall, and more

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, narrated by Audra McDonald, Cassandra Campbell and Ari Fliakos

Mystery

Crimson Shore by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, narrated by Rene Auberjonois

The Crossing by Michael Connelly, narrated by Titus Welliver

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny, narrated by Robert Bathurst

audies5

Narration By The Author or Authors

Dear Mr. You written and narrated by Mary-Louise Parker

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo written and narrated by Amy Schumer

The View from the Cheap Seats written and narrated by Neil Gaiman

Non-Fiction

Hillbilly Elegy written and narrated by J.D. Vance

Romance

First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, narrated by Nicole Poole

The Obsession by Nora Roberts, narrated by Shannon McManus

audies6

Science Fiction

Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster, narrated by Marc Thompson

Thriller/Suspense

Cross Justice by James Patterson, narrated by Ruben Santiago Hudson and Jefferson Mays

Home by Harlan Coben, narrated by Steven Weber

audies7

Young Adult

Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, narrated by Carla Corvo, Steve West and various

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco and James Patterson, narrated by Nicola Barber

Winter by Marissa Meyer, narrated by Rebecca Soler

Funny Strange or Funny Ha-Ha

I’ve always had a weakness for stories that live at the intersection of funny and weird. Straight up hilarious or bizarre is great in a story, but when you combine the two it produces a strange feeling of unease that I find oddly gratifying. If you have ever laughed at a situation or occurrence while reading a story and simultaneously thought ‘why the heck am I laughing at this’ then you know what I mean. Luckily, I’ve recently read three short story collections that are chock full of stories that fit the bill. Some veer a little more toward the strange and others toward the funny, but many of the stories are smack dab at the rarefied intersection of weird and funny. If you enjoy these types of stories as well, or just want to try something new, the short story collections listed below will definitely be worth your limited reading time.

American Housewife by Helen Ellis

americanhousewifeThis collection definitely brings on the funny as the author sets out to wittily skewer contemporary domestic mores and the traditional roles of women in the 21st century. She does so by taking a seemingly ‘normal’ situation and ramping it up to absurd levels with the story veering off into the truly bizarre: ‘The Wainscoting War’ records the email war between two neighbors as they try to claim the right to decorate their shared hallway with deadly results. ‘Hello! Welcome to Book Club’ is the story of the initiation of a new book club member who begins to realize that the book club wants to control more than just what she reads. ‘My Book is Brought to You by the Good People at Tampax’ is a standout and details an author’s subjugation to her book’s sponsor as it takes over every aspect of her life. While these stories are consistently funny, most head toward strange with pleasing results.

Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh

homesickThe stories in this collection are more somber, but still provide some outstanding tales blending the humorous and the strange. The author has a knack for creating characters that are at once obsessive, slightly neurotic, and definitely odd but still sympathetic. You may just end up chuckling at their life situations in spite of yourself: ‘Bettering Myself’ is the story of an alcoholic teacher at a Catholic school who ensures her employment by fudging her student’s test scores. ‘Malibu’ introduces you to an odd nephew and uncle who spend their days in front of the TV, except to go out to find the perfect place to deposit the uncle’s ashes when he dies. ‘The Weirdos’ details a woman’s breakup, sort of, with her truly bizarre aspiring actor boyfriend who is convinced aliens exist and that the local crows are after him. The emphasis is more on the strange in these stories, but the funny is definitely there as well.

Children of the New World by Alexander Weinstein

childrenA near future where technology has taken a disquieting and frighteningly plausible turn is the setting for most of the stories in this work. The author is great at creating a sense of unease, but is also capable of creating a strong sense of sympathy for his characters and their predicaments. While strangeness abounds in this collection, there is definitely a lot humor-but be warned that it is mostly of the dark kind:  ‘Children of the New World’ details an infertile couple’s anxiety at having to delete their virtual children due to a computer virus. ‘The Cartographers’ is the story of a programmer who has developed a program that can beam other people’s memories into his own brain, causing him to not know what is real and what isn’t. ‘Rocket Night’ introduces us to an elementary school where parents gather annually to decide which of their children is least liked and then launch the unfortunate student into space. If you don’t mind your dystopian strangeness mixed with a little dark humor, this is the collection for you.

Enjoy these short story collections and free yourself from having to determine whether they are funny strange or funny ha-ha. Happily they are both.

Evicted by Matthew Desmond

Enjoy this last review from intrepid librarian Sarah as she heads off into a bright future:

Evicted : Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

evictedHarvard professor Matthew Desmond spent years in Milwaukee following tenants trying to find affordable housing. He also tracked landlords dealing with tenants who have fallen behind on their rent, and eventually end up evicted. This is a very timely piece, as housing prices are skyrocketing in most major cities, and people are struggling to find safe havens for their families. Desmond painstakingly looked at data in the housing market, eviction and court records to piece together a picture of a reality that has not been well researched.

There are lots of reports on low-income housing’s effectiveness and availability. What has been left behind are the people who are trying to make it in the regular rental market, as it can take years to get placed into low-income housing. The tenants’ life stories and fixed incomes can contribute to their ability (or inability) to pay rent each month. Desmond tries to humanize both the tenant experience, as well as the landlord business model, and the epic magnitude of our nation’s housing crisis. He argues that housing is a basic human right, especially in a country as wealthy as the United States.

His citations and research are a bit daunting, but his work is very readable and disseminated in simple terms. I appreciated his closing arguments, which provided ample plausible solutions. I was fascinated to find out our government spends more on tax breaks for home owners (i.e. mortgage interest deductions), than breaks for people trying to find a roof to live under. Being homeless can set off a wave of unfortunate circumstances. By supplying safe shelter to our citizens, we can begin the process of helping people chart their own success.

Spot-Lit for February 2017

Spot-Lit

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2017 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction.

Comfort Music

In times of stress and tribulation, some turn to comfort food. But I find my comfort in music. A single song can change the course of my day for the better. And so today I share with you my Post-Holiday Guide to Comfort Music.

bixOld-timey jazz is one of my go-to genres when seeking comfort. As a former trumpet player I admire the brilliance of Bix Beiderbecke (pronounced Bick Spiderbeck), an extremely influential musician whose heyday was in the 1920s. Bix, as I call him because it’s easier to type, played in a variety of dance bands during his short career (he died at age 28) and left a legacy that persists 100 years later. For your comfort, I recommend Bix Beiderbecke Volume 1, Singin’ the Blues.

bobwillsWestern swing is another source of succor for me, and so I turn to the king of Western swing, Bob Wills. Picture old-time country (you know, the good stuff) combined with big band, except the solos are played on traditional country instruments, and the musical language leans more towards country with a slight nod to jazz… Well, it’s a wonderful hybrid. And for your comfort, try Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys: 1935-1947.

yourhitparadeSpeaking of the 1940s (notice the clever segue), I do love me the purdy songs from those post-war years. Your Hit Parade, The Late ‘40s features fantastic jazz and pop from that golden age. Listening to those tunes I can just picture the yuge tube radio in my neatly trimmed suburban home, slipper-clad feet on the ottoman, wisps of fruity smoke climbing eagerly towards the heavens. Sarah Vaughn interprets Black Coffee as only she can, Tommy Dorsey delivers The Huckle-Buck. Comfort for all.

thompsonFor beautiful Celtic/folk/folk rock/rock, there is none better than Richard Thompson. One of the greatest guitarists ever, Thompson is also a superb songwriter and a most excellent singer. Walking On A Wire (1968 – 2009) is a nice career retrospective, albeit nearly 10 years behind now, ranging from early folksy work with Fairport Convention to more recent rockers like my personal favorite, Bathsheba Smiles. His music is intricacy veiled in the guise of simplicity, complicated guitar paired with delicate melodies, tunes that will stick with you for days. Listening to this man’s music is indeed a comfort.

buzzcocksMoving on to music from my college days, Buzzcocks are a British punk band that started in the late 70s, and 40 years later they’re still going at it! Singles Going Steady is a compilation of their early hits from the 70s and 80s. Unlike what you might think punk is, the songs are catchy pop gems, generally not political, often steeped in teenage experiences, and most assuredly wielding a hard edge. So many good memories, much comfort provided.

ecAnd as the sun sets on today’s music-of-comfort we turn to the best of them all, Elvis Costello. I was first introduced to his music at a high school dance, saw him at my first rock concert, have performed his songs and stolen his dry cleaning (well, not really). Stylistically, this guy is all over the place, from country to jazz to power pop to acoustic rock and everywhere inbetween. His first album, My Aim Is True, remains in my heavy rotation even after 41 years. Songs like Welcome to the Working Week, Alison and Mystery Dance are perfect pop masterpieces. Check him out and you too will receive comfort.

We all need comfort at times and music is an amazing healer. Check out some of these titles, or look into your own favorite genres to find nourishment for the soul. Oh, and let me know if you find my dry cleaning.