Candyfreak: The Bad Influence of Steve Almond

Last weekend was the summer version of the semi-annual Harvard Bookstore Warehouse Sale. Mike, my boyfriend, had been asking me when it was happening, so when I got the email with the date, I knew Saturday was booked. The staff was friendly as usual, overly grateful for the crowd’s patience with their slow computer system. They passed out free water and bite sized candy bars. I chose a Snickers while I stood in line holding Steve Almond’s Candyfreak, which I’d found in the used section of the warehouse and thus paid 60% off the cover price for. Take that, Amazon.

Mike’s on summer vacation, and has been venturing further into the world of reading physical books rather than listening to audiobooks all the time. Our porch and the weather has thus far complied, letting us sit for hours in each other’s presence, racing the setting sun as we just finish one more chapter, only speaking to one another to share a funny-but-out-of-context-and-so-not-funny portion or ask what a word means. It’s my favorite kind of bonding, of the nerd variety.

We read on the porch Saturday night after the sale, and then again on Sunday. On Monday, I took the bus that runs in front of my apartment rather than walking the few blocks to the T, all so I could read more about small, independent, suffering candy companies across America, and hoping Steve Almond would drive by to see someone reading his book. I’m one of his fangirls.

I finished the book on Monday night, which means that in three days, I ingested more book-per-day than I had in a long time, and also more chocolate-covered almonds/pretzels than I meant to. If you don’t like chocolate, small companies, introspection, or Willy Wonka, this isn’t the book for you. This is like the book version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, if, you know, there wasn’t already one. Here’s a grown man, known for his humor and deadpan manner, who becomes a groupie for candybars. And not your run-of-the-mill Snickers and Butterfinger variety. Almond (he points out the irony of his last name) goes on a pilgrimage to the remaining independent candy companies, and–get this–tries Peanut Chews, Goo Goo Clusters (I especially appreciated this southern shout-out), Twin Bings (ew) straight off the line!

But most of all, what Almond accomplished with this book, is to make me stop into more convenience stores, stare at their candybar selection disapprovingly, and walk out, leaving the person behind the counter wondering what I stole.

What are you doing on April 23?

Hopefully I’ll be giving away copies of Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto or Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. (I heard an awesome Radiolab on that book, and it’s officially on my list!) I heard about World Book Night just in time to apply before the February 1st deadline. If I’m chosen to be a giver, I’ll be spending the night handing out free books in Inman Square pretending it’s my job. You think people will leave cookies out for me?

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The Joy of Books

This little film is the perfect reason to nerd out this morning. I’m pretty sure this is what happens at Harvard Bookstore every night. Love Raymond Carver hanging out in the window as the shopkeeper leaves.

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Books on Fire

So guess what? I got a Kindle Fire for Christmas. I know, who didn’t, right? (Just kidding, I’m sure a lot of people didn’t.) The immediate benefits I’ve seen from this little bad boy is my ability to read my current read, Infinite Jest, anywhere. That includes on the bus, with my piles of scarves and gloves and hats (yes, multiple hats). Trust me, I’m a big fan of physical books, the weight, the smell, the physicalness of them. I’m no stranger to the romance of pages crispy from a coffee accident, of the sweet anticipation that builds as the stack of pages in your right hand wanes and the stack in your left hand waxes. But romance aside, there is not always a big cozy chair with a piping hot cup of coffee and a free afternoon available to me. And for those times, I can still save face with my book group by saying, yeah, I’ve finally caught up to our page count.

I’ve also been struggling recently with the ever-growing stack of unread New Yorkers on my bookshelf, and I think subscribing to magazines on the Fire will help with that guilt. I renewed my subscription to Poets & Writers on the Kindle, which means I won’t have to worry about ensuring I get my money’s worth when I move apartments this fall. I don’t have anything to say on the specs of the thing, but I will say that for someone with some pretty strong ties to books, I’m pretty satisfied. Don’t worry, I have a sweater that proves I love books.

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Poets & Writers & Me

I’m convinced that Poets & Writers compiled their most recent Inspiration Issue just so I would renew my subscription. What else could explain the reason I am currently reading the magazine cover-to-cover, something I don’t think I’ve done with any other magazine subscription. At first, I thought that the magazine’s arrival was perfect timing for my impending travel to Georgia for the holidays. Then, on the plane, I realized that it was perfect timing as my last issue of my previous subscription.

Melissa Madenski’s Why We Write article reminds me that I’m lucky, as a writer, to benefit creatively from tragedy as much (usually more) than from happy times:

I don’t know what made me persist, what made me rise on icy mornings, shake myself awake and perch by the coffeemaker. When people said I was disciplined, I knew the truth. It would take more discipline to stop writing than to continue.

Then there’s Frank Bures’s “Inner Space: Clearing Some Room for Inspiration” with a take on technology’s infringement on the writer’s creative space that is not accusatory, but rather empathetic, gentle. With humor and just the right amount of personal anecdote, Bures presents a very real obstacle to the issue’s subject of inspiration without pointing fingers or damning Google.

I suppose I’ll get back to finishing the issue, and my internal struggle of to renew or not to renew.


An infinite read.

Things are finally starting to settle down a bit, finding a place for new job alongside sleep, leisure time, SSR (sustained silent reading), and etc. This past weekend was spent mostly at coffee shops and at home, either reading or writing or watching Best in Show. I’m chugging along in Infinite Jest and I’m convinced that if it weren’t for a group of people reading along with me, I’d take a whole lifetime to read this book. I learned quickly that bookmarks in the footnotes and my current place were not optional. I have a working list of words to look up and another list of quotes and general favorites from the text. First impressions: Holy shit, this is way more accessible than I imagined! Then, holy shit, there are so many people I need to make a diagram of diagrams of characters. Then, Oh, cool, I’ve been to Beverly. 

I’m stoked to be reading it, and more tempted than ever to invest in a Kindle Fire.

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Back in with the old, still room for the new

I finally got around to reading an interview a friend sent me a while back. Avi Solomon of Boing Boing interviewed Jack Zylkin, inventor of the USB Typewriter. I remember hearing about this thing back when he first announced it to the world, typewriter nerds everywhere rejoiced, including me.

But there seems to be something deeper at work here. More than just some mad scientist who’s fusing the past and future in some unnecessary but novel creation, Zylkin is trying to preserve something that our increasingly fast-paced lives are losing room for. The key is that Zylkin isn’t trying to do away with the conveniences of, say, an iPad; instead, he’s trying to highlight the benefits of a typewriter — nostalgia, sure, but also focus and tangible results — while taking advantage of data backup and storage.

“The other thing is that technology today is so disposable! For example, no one thinks about passing down their iPhone3 as a family heirloom (they probably are selling them to buy iPhone4s) but the typewriters I work on have been around for about 100 years and still look and work great!

Lastly, there is also real nostalgia for the olden days of communication, where you could look forward to receiving a letter or an invitation in the mail (as opposed to a twitter or an evite). Hopefully the USB Typewriter will help reclaim some of the intimacy and specialness of the art of letter writing.”

A man after my own heart. Read the full interview here.

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Back to regularly scheduled programming

Aaaand we’re back! After a week in Georgia with family, I came back to a snowstorm and a brand new job. The snow mostly affected Western and Central Massachusetts, so we were merely inconvenienced while walking to get our pizza, but some people have been without power this whole week, my boyfriend’s family included. It might have been a more productive week had we lost power, though, but instead I vegged out each night, watching scary movies and going to bed early. That all ends this weekend, when I plan to start Infinite Jest. I’m working on a review for The Last Werewolf, but until then I’m soaking up all kinds of technical books at my new job.

I can say that XML in a Nutshell by Elliotte Rusty Harold and W. Scott Means is understandable for a complete n00b like myself, and I felt prepared when I was being trained on how we use the XML program that we do. I’m currently working my way through Adobe InDesign CS2: One-on-One by Deke McClelland, but it’s helping me learn the program by actually using it, which is always the best way for me.

Anyway, I don’t want to completely bore you with all of the technical reading I’ve been doing. Is anyone participating in NaNoWriMo? One of the TNGG: Boston writers is covering it, and I’m excited to hear some of the interviews he gets.

Zone One: Expanding the ‘zombie canon’

I’ve been going off the literary deep end lately: Watching The Walking Dead, reading a book about werewolves, even playing Left4Dead on my boyfriend’s Xbox (when he’s not there). Maybe it’s the current cultural climate, the feeling that anything in government goes, that despite what we’ve always been led to believe, there, in fact, are no rules. The world’s threshold of possibility is suddenly limitless, to a terrifying degree. That’s my explanation, at least, for this seeming resurgence of zombie culture fixation.

This is all to say that I am very, very excited for Colson Whitehead’s Zone One, out last week. I’ve requested it from the library, and I’m devouring (like the brains of the living) (sorry) interviews and reviews of it. So if you’re at all interested, I’ve compiled some of my favorites.

Colson Whitehead on Zombies, ‘Zone One,’ and His Love of the VCR, The Atlantic

The living dead take Manhattan in ‘Zone One’, Seattle Times

‘Zone One’: What Happens When Zombies Take NYC, NPR Books

The Thinking Man’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, WSJ Speakeasy Books

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The Real in Fiction: Emily Rapp’s “Notes of a Dragon Mom”

Our experiences have taught us how to parent for the here and now, for the sake of parenting, for the humanity implicit in the act itself, though this runs counter to traditional wisdom and advice.

-Emily Rapp, “Notes of a Dragon Mom”

This article made me think of Leah Hager Cohen’s The Grief of Others, the way knowing your child will die can change you, change everything. The way saying that and knowing that seems like the most obvious, silly observation, and yet you can’t stop looking away, can’t stop observing the ruins. While this is different in its truth, its realness, it is the gut from which Cohen’s story — and stories like it — come. And seeing a woman of letters write about the experience in a way that can communicate and empathize with others in situations similar and startlingly different is why I write. It’s why I read. It’s like those zombie films (I’ve been watching The Walking Dead, forgive me), where all they really know to do is search for anyone — everyone — who is, like them, still alive despite it all.

This is a love story, and like all great love stories, it is a story of loss. Parenting, I’ve come to understand, is about loving my child today. Now. In fact, for any parent, anywhere, that’s all there is.

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