Hey there. How is your 2017 going so far? On the final day of 2016, I woke up in Texas, drove through Arkansas, and went to bed in Tennessee in order to be home in Virginia before midnight on January 1. But in some ways it felt like the "new year" didn't really start for me until I woke up in my own bed on January 2, or until I went to the office on January 3. Or maybe it still feels like it's just getting started, during this time of governmental transition and alarming change.
My microwave stopped making noise a few months ago. Not like it was talking to me or playing music, but it stopped dinging when the timer went off or when a cooking cycle ended. This wouldn't be too big of a problem if I didn't use the timer on the microwave as my kitchen timer, but I do. Even now, as I write this, I'm worried about the vegetables that are roasting in the oven. Do they still make kitchen timers, shaped like tomatoes and eggs and chickens? You'd think I could just set the timer on my phone, but I'm old enough now that if I don't do it right as I'm thinking about it, I run the risk of forgetting. And I'm usually doing seventeen other things at the same time. So it really needs to be right there in front of me. Oh, crap, hold on, I'm overcooking the brussels sprouts.
1. At the end of October, I moderated the closing keynote conversation between Elif Batuman and Porochista Khakpour at BinderCon NYC. It is now available online (follow the link and scroll to number seven on the list). For only $3, you can watch Elif call me the "world's most prepared moderator" and then hear me cackle over the audience's laughter. Elif reads from her forthcoming novel, The Idiot (which is being promoted as a semi-autobiographical novel, so read into that what you will). Porochista reads from a Village Voice essay about Prince. And then I ask them a lot of questions about making it as a writer (do they feel like they've made it?), how to work with editors, how much of their lives is spent on email (hint: at least 90 percent), and writing as Americans of Middle Eastern descent, among other things. I think I also asked them if it feels precarious to be a female writer of color (and that was back in October). Along with being substantive, the conversation really is very funny (or so I'm told). My favorite line is "You can have two dogs but maybe not a horse."
You can watch the entire 53 minutes for only $3 (just ignore how hideous my hair looks—New York was muggy as all get out, raining off and on most of the day, and just after the filming of this I walked through a rainstorm so bad that I finally succumbed to it and spent $10 on an umbrella from a street vendor).
Elif's first book, The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, is a stunning, hilarious introduction to her work, for those of you who are unfamiliar. It is a collection of essays. Her novel, The Idiot, comes out in March. Trust me when I say you should preorder it.
Porochista's first book, the darkly comic and heartbreaking novel Sons and Other Flammable Objects, was a New York Times "Editor's Choice." Her second book, also a novel, The Last Illusion, is mythical and allegorical and satirical and you will be better off for having read it. Her next book is a memoir, Sick, due out in August. Preorder it now.
2. Over the winter break, I drove in excess of 3,000 miles, from Charlottesville to Memphis and then on to San Antonio, up to Austin for a bit and back to San Antonio and finally to Dallas for a night before heading home to Charlottesville. I had two navigators, such as they were: my dogs, The Nickel and The Penny (Six Cents, collectively). While unable—or unwilling—to read the map, they did insist on frequent pit stops.
I am not a fan of road trips. My limited experience with long-distance driving mostly consists of sleeping for hours on end splayed across the backseat, where my parents had placed me in the dead of night so that they could get a head start. (To be clear, this practice ended by the time I was nine or ten.) The farthest I road tripped with friends during college was New Orleans, about eight hours away, and although we took my car and broke up the driving into two shifts, I didn't take one of them. I rode (and probably slept) in the backseat. I went on a few road trips with my in-laws when I was married, first to Abilene and then to a part of Missouri you don't ever want to visit. My former father-in-law only stopped for gas; if you needed to use the restroom, you did it then. I slept in the backseat. Always.
I mention all of this so that you will understand how desperate I felt trying to stay awake over the course of a combined 55-plus hours on the road. I listened to a lot of podcasts. I listened to—and sang along with—a lot of music. I drank coffee. I drank water. I drank Diet Coke and Diet Dr. Pepper. I listened to a book I'm not recommending. I talked to some friends. I talked to my mother, even though I was on the way to visit her (that's how desperate I was).
For almost 22 hours, I listened to The Nix, and I am recommending it, the audiobook in particular. I have written before about audiobooks that grab my attention to such an extent that I find reasons to listen to them—I seek out things to do that accommodate my listening. Station Eleven was one of those audiobooks. The Nix has a single reader, Ari Fliakos, and his performance is phenomenal.
3. Have you heard about Hidden Figures? Margot Lee Shetterly, the author of this book about the black female mathematicians, known as "human computers," who were responsible in large part for the early success of the US space program, is a University of Virginia alumna and lives in Charlottesville. I was fortunate to meet her recently and am looking forward to seeing her headline the Virginia Festival of the Book along with Dava Sobel. If you'll be in Charlottesville March 25, reserve your ticket now. And go see the movie!