300 Arguments

300 Arguments by Sarah Manguso published by Graywolf, is a spectacular little book, spilling out arguments and conversations inside Sarah’s head. It’s irresistible. I read it on the train, tripping through,


“Preferable to accepting one’s insignificance is imagining others hate you.”


“Rock faces, bodies of water, the crotch of a tree.  It’s harder to personify the sky.”


She deftly dances from thought to thought like skipping from one lily pad to another.


In an interview with The Guardian, Manguso talks about how, after her illness, she met with a boy but she wanted to make sure the boy knew she was sick.  She was afraid he would think she was the kind of girl who went to public school.  She was a private school girl, not a public school girl.


I remember dating boys in Virginia.  I had to explain high school; I was at special pains to explain that although I did not go to public school, I came from nothing. I was nothing. It took way too long. The whole story of the cult and its snow and brutality spilled out on dates until I couldn’t bear to date.  I would have said anything to make sure the boys of summer didn’t think I had fancy pants. In Arizona, it was easier, I learned not to talk about high school.


We defend our own tribe.

“People congregate according to their relative levels of luck,” Sarah Manguso writes.


I come from the tribe of strivers, of dreamers and workers. My tribal members have dirty boots. We comb our hair with our fingers.  We like fries and vodka.  We have written whole stories in mud.  We have woken up to sunrise; we have jumped off docks into cold water. Sometimes I think our whole life is cold water.


The tribe I come from is blessed. We have sunrises and sunsets.  We have the moon. We have our writing, our painting. We have the morning. We have stories.  We have our friends.


300 Arguments is fingers tapping on the ideas of the world.


I also read The Poor Clare by Elizabeth Gaskell on my travels. It’s a Gothic slow windy story in the tradition of the Bronte sisters.  We’ve got lost children, curses and saints.  It’s an elegant little book reprinted by Melville House.  The story is all sadness, the nuns dying in the dark. I like reading slowly, gingerly, like I am finding my way forward in the dark. Who’s there?

Published in: on September 23, 2017 at 8:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

BAD STORIES BY STEVE ALMOND, coming out in spring 2017

“The book argues that Trumpism is a bad outcome arising directly from the bad stories we tell ourselves. To understand how we got here, we have to confront our cultural delusions: our obsession with entertainment, sports, and political parody, the degeneration of our free press into a for-profit industry, our enduring pathologies of race, class, immigration, and tribalism. Bad Stories is a lamentation aimed at providing clarity. It’s the book you can pass along to an anguished fellow traveler with the promise, This will help you understand what the hell happened to our country.”

New York is a blur. Lunch at Gramercy Tavern with Larry and lots of buzzy talk about publicity and the new Steve Almond book we’re publishing. Meeting with the New York Times and talking about Steve Almond book, the NYRB, Florencia Ramirez on Sirius radio which I set up when I was here in August, the reading at Poets House, so amazing to hear Edward Hirsch read Gabriel and Elise Paschen and Ellen Rachlin were wonderful. Cornelia Street, a seamless organic event with Sebastian Matthews, Chelsea Clammer and Kathline Carr and then last night with Cathy Woodard who rocked it, Florenica who charmed us and Pope Brock, who carried the audience around in his pockets. We made it happen on a Saturday night at KGB.


Yesterday after breakfast with Phyllis Levin at Sarabeth’s on Amsterdam, I walked back to Chelsea. End of day: 28,000 plus steps. Today, I am walking to the Brooklyn Book Fair. If I lived in New York, I would be thin because I like walking here. A lot of excitement about our current books and about the spring season including Chloe Schwenke’s trans memoir, Debbie Moderow’s book Fast into the Night on dog sledding and Steve Almond’s book Bad Stories on what happened to this country.


“Like a lot of Americans, Steve Almond spent the weeks after the 2016 election lying awake, in a state of dread and bewilderment. The problem wasn’t just the election, but the fact that nobody could explain, in any sort of coherent way, why America had elected a cruel, corrupt, and incompetent man to the Presidency. Bad Stories: Toward a Unified Theory of How It All Came Apart is Almond’s effort to make sense of our historical moment, to connect certain dots that  go unconnected amid the deluge of hot takes and think pieces. Almond looks to literary voices—from Melville to Orwell, from Bradbury to Baldwin—to help explain the roots of our moral erosion as a people.”

Published in: on September 17, 2017 at 4:57 am  Leave a Comment  

And after it became obvious that the strange rain would never stop…

And after it became obvious that the president was doing everything

in his power to make the world safe for nationalism

his brilliant military mind having never realized

that nationalism itself was the idiotic superstition

which would blow up the world…


Published in: on September 4, 2017 at 6:57 pm  Leave a Comment  


Just finished the book Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh.   Everyone has a miserable life.  Some are more miserable than others.  There’s a kind of literature called pain porn.  This book is sad and it gets sadder.  There were no fun parts or funny parts.  Otessa Moshfegh is a really good writer.  She describes each scene with adroit elegance.   I’ll be interested to read her next book.  The book turned a turn a corner from darkness into darkness.

Published in: on September 2, 2017 at 8:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Heat

The heat is unbearable. It was 110 degrees today in the Valley, the heat blistering the sidewalks, the steam rising.  Fires popped up all over the California map.  When I walked this morning, the heat sizzled through the palm trees.  Zooey walked along lightly on the sidewalk feeling the wind in the fur, but the wind carried heat.


I know the other morning dog walkers.  The guy in his wheelchair with the beagle, the elderly Japanese man with a cane, the Sikhs, the Russians, the Pakistanis and the Armenians. The one man said to me, “What is this heat?” He is from India and his wife speaks very little English.  They always seem very happy to see me.


“I don’t understand the heat,” the man with the Australian shepherd said. “Just remember,” I said, “There is no global warming.”


“Of course not,” he said. “it’s a liberal conspiracy.” We both smiled and the heat thickened the air.

Published in: on August 31, 2017 at 6:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hollywood Bowl, Pink Martini

The first time I heard Pink Martini in concert was at the Hollywood Bowl seven years ago.  It was the first time Ari Shapiro sang with them.  That concert had a flow and magic to it.  At some point, it felt that I’d always been there listening to the torrent of China Forbes’ music.  They sang the Betty song, and the whole concert was seamless like a symphony.  The next time I saw them in concert, was similar, a lilting story that I entered.


This time was more like a series of musical pieces strung together.  Each piece beautiful on its own way, but not a coherent concert.  At the point, they stopped and Thomas Lauderdale laid out everything they had to sell, I felt that the concert had really fallen apart.  I love China Forbes. Her voice feels like thrilling water pouring over you, but I think part of the point of a concert is being lost.  I’m also not sure about Storm Large.  Her branding is very different than Pink Martini’s.  Both are exciting and energetic, but somehow don’t seem to blend.  Thomas Lauderdale is beautiful, a genius, and a musical magician.  I look forward to the next Pink Martini concert.

Published in: on August 30, 2017 at 6:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Eclipse

The eclipse stunned us. The sun turning black like it did on the day Christ died. You wonder what you would have made of the sun being swallowed by darkness before science. You wonder at what you would have made of your country swallowed by madness before this year. You would have said it wasn’t possible as the sun disappeared. You would have said America is better than this, and then here we are.  Nazis walk our streets and the combed over one applauds them. The sun emerges again, but who will we be after all? As Americans, we feel shame. We feel the darkness everywhere.  The narrative of this country is teetering on the edge of madness. There was a moment when it seemed the sun was lost, if you lived in the Midwest.  America is not lost, but the Obama years seem now like a distant memory.

Published in: on August 22, 2017 at 3:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Blue drinks

The first time I bought a drink I wasn’t old enough, and I was alone.  I just walked into a bar and ordered something blue.  The drink came, a Rum Blue Island Splash in a tall glass, and I ate some of it with a spoon and drank the rest.  I had some French fries.  I was in Richmond working as a babysitter.  Everyone I knew was fancier than I was.  I lived in a small room which I had rented, and I spent five dollars decorating.  There was a Japanese scroll on the wall and a piece of fake gold fur on my bed.  I remember the Rum Blue Island Splash and the fries.  But mostly I remember transgressing in public.  No one stopped me as I drank my blue drink.

Published in: on August 21, 2017 at 7:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

To the Greek

It’s always been the family tradition to go to the Greek restaurant at the Ventura Harbor in the summer and tonight’s the night.  The kids used to love the dancers. I love the boats in the Harbor, I love the reminder of Greece which reminds me of breathing and swimming although we’ve watched Greece collapse over the years yet still retain all that beauty and magic. Rituals sustain us.


Like the dog following me around the house from room to room as I shut out the lights. She loves being in a house of writers and publishers. Our absences from the present world delight her. She seizes those moments to raid the trash can, steal the cat food.


Paying attention isn’t good for everyone.  Ask any kid who is reading comic books when they should be doing homework. “The worst kind of parent,” my son once told me “is the unemployed parent who has nothing to do but be vigilant.  Vigilance is a terrible quality in a parent.”

Published in: on August 11, 2017 at 9:27 am  Leave a Comment  

And yet, after all this time,

you can’t let go?


Set it down.

Set down the basket.


Leave the basket on the shore.

Go for a swim.


You do not want to be the girl

in the little red coat


Always carrying the basket.

Always in danger of being eaten.

Published in: on August 9, 2017 at 12:48 pm  Leave a Comment