I woke up this morning at 8am to a slightly buzzy hangover, the result of a few too many beers, chased by a disgustingly sweet gel a fancy thai restaurant deigned to call a “Kiwi Caiparinha”, combined with the stress of finding that I had left my keys inside the house and my cousin was off gallivanting with doctors who had no business thinking he was cute. This was actually a blessing in disguise as I drunkenly zigzagged to the nearest Starbucks (the “Bearbucks” as it were) and sat for two hours, wherein I embarrassingly nodded on and off quite a few times while drinking copious amounts of water and iced tea. The hangover could have been much worse.
After the lovely bus ride to Potrero Hill I nervously stuttered into my first poetry class. This was basically me spending $80 to reaffirm that I hated poetry. To the extent that was my goal, it was a total failure. But more on that another time.
After the class, feeling energized by my new-found tolerance of poetry, I hopped back on the bus and headed to Green Apple Books, a famous independent bookstore in the Inner Richmond district of San Francisco. Green Apple, nestled in an area that can best be described as “this is where all the real Chinese people live, eat, and shop”, is a fantastic bookstore that is built for hours of perusing. I can get lost in the floor to ceiling shelves, slowly making my way over the creaky floor boards, through the nooks and crannies of the store, hoping that a title, author, or subject will trigger my “oh yeah, I wanted to read that!” impulses. I went down to Green Apple with the intent of picking up two books: A Lorrie Moore book and Kay Ryan’s new book of poems. Kay Ryan is a Bay Area native and the current Poet Laureate. We read a few of her poems in class. They weren’t horrible.
Of course, I made the mistake of stopping at the ATM at lunch. This was one of those generic standalone ATMs that charge you idiotic fees to get your money. It also displays your account balance despite the fact that you explicitly told it not to. Well low and behold, the US Government had found my account number and decided to give back my hard earned money. Either that or I am unwittingly part of an elaborate Nigerian embezzling scheme involving an Ethiopian prince named Mr. Jackson. Either way, I wasn’t going to ask questions.
Buoyed by my temporary sense of wealth, I ended up with…hold on…let me count it up…13 books, 2 literary journals, 2 magazines, 2 greeting cards, and a pack of 15 postcards illustrated by Nikki McClure. Most of the books were used, so I was feeling good about that, at least. Here were the highlights:
- The Best of It: New and Selected Poems, Kay Ryan
- Self-Help, Lorrie Moore
- Hello Kitty Must Die, Angela Choi
- The Figured Wheel, Robert Pinski
- Twentieth Century Pleasures, Robert Hass
- Maps & Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands, Michael Chabon
- American Woman, Susan Choi
- Cream City Review, Volume 33, Issue 2
- The SPIN 25th Anniversary Issue
- Poets & Writers, May/June 2010
- No One Belongs Here More Than You, Miranda July
After the book raid, wherein I had to shoot some eye daggers at a middle-aged man who loudly told his daughter “We can just get it at Borders”, I wandered back towards my bus stop and decided to stop into Pho Clement, a mediocre pho restaurant nestled between a hipster joint and a Chinese hair salon. My Timbuk2 back was literally overflowing with books. I didn’t want to waste a plastic bag (I know, I know, I’m a hippie) so I tried cramming everything into my messenger bag. I was able to stuff them all in except for three, which I carried. As I dumped my bag onto the familiar red vinyl chairs at Pho Clement to a loud “THUD” that seemed to startle all the patrons, I set the remaining three books onto the matching red table. Against the deep red background, the bright yellow jacket cover of Miranda July’s book stood out. After placing my order with the overly friendly waiter, I settled in and started reading.
Unlike with music, I’m not particularly evangelical about books. Sure, I’ll tell people if a book is good or worth reading, but I don’t get overly excited about them. It’s not that I don’t read good books. I do. I read books that I enjoy quite a bit. (AH CRAP! I just realized I forgot to get Seth Stevenson’s “Grounded”. Blurgh!) But it’s rare that I love a book so much that I blabber on about it.
So with that caveat, let me say this: Pick up Miranda July’s book, “No One Belongs Here More Than You.” I’m familiar with Miranda July through her involvement with the Portland artists’ community. Her name gets bandied about quite a bit by my favorite bands and visual artists. She recorded an album for Kill Rock Stars, is best friends from high school (in Berkeley) with Johanna Fateman of Le Tigre, she directed a Sleater-Kinney video, etc. Anyway, if you follow the Portland scene at all then you’ll recognize her name. I had heard that she had put out a book of short stories, but I guess I buried that piece of information in the back of my head. It wasn’t until I was wandering the aisles of Green Apple and saw that bold yellow cover that I remembered.
I’m not saying that it’s Gatsby or Infinite Jest. It’s very simple prose. She’s not trying to show you how many big words she knows, or hit you over the head with repetitive, flowery imagery just because she can. You’ll finish it pretty quickly. But her stories and her style had me sputtering with laughter in the restaurant and on the bus. And seriously, books never make me actually laugh out loud. It is simple, it’s clipped, and it’s slightly conversational. Not unlike my writing style, I suppose. But her writing has a fantastic absurdist quality to it that really pulled me in and then broke my heart.
Here’s an excerpt from “Majesty”, a short story about her dream of meeting Prince William:
I typed “royal family” into a dream-interpretation web-site, but they didn’t have that in their database, so then I typed “butt” and hit “interpret,” and this came back: To see your buttocks in your dream represents your instincts and urges. It also said: To dream that your buttocks are misshapen suggests undeveloped or wounded aspects of your psyche. But my butt was shaped all right, so that let me know my psyche was devloped, and the first part told me to trust my insticts, to trust my butt, the butt that trusted him.
That day I carried the dream around like a full glass of water, moving gracefully so I would not lose any of it. I have a long skirt like the one he lifted, and I wore it with a new sexual feeling. I swayed in to work; I glided around the staff kitchen. My sister calls these skirts “dirndls.” She means this in a derogatory way. In the afternoon she came by my office at QuakeKare to use the Xerox machine. She seemed almost surprised to see me there, as if we had bumped into each other at Kinko’s. QuakeKare’s mandate is to teach preparedness and support quake victims around the world. My sister likes to joke that she’s practically a quake victim, because her house is such a mess.
What do you call that exactly, a dirndl? she said.
It’s a skirt. You know it’s a skirt.
But doesn’t it seem strange that the well-tailored, flattering piece of clothing that I’m wearing is also called skirt? Shouldn’t there be a distinction?
Not everyone thinks shorter is more arousing.
Arousing? Did you just say “arousing”? Were we talking about arousal? Oh my God, I can’t believe you just said that word. Say it again.
Don’t say it! It’s too much, it’s like you said “fuck” or something.
Well, I didn’t.
Do. Do you think you might never fuck again? When you said Carl left you, that was the first thing that came into my mind: She will never fuck again.
Why are you like this?
What? Should I be all buttoned up, like you? Hush-hush? Is that healthier?
I’m not that buttoned up.
Well, I would love to go out on that limb with you, but I’m going to need some evidence of unbuttonedness.
I have a lover!
But I did not say this, I did not say I am loved, I am a person worth loving, I am not dirty anyhere, ask Prince William. that night I made a list of ways to meet him in reality:
Go to his school to give a lecture on earthquake safety.
Go to the bars near his school and wait for him.
They are not mutually exclusive; they were both reasonable ways to get to know someone. People meet in bars every day, and they often have sex with people they meet in bars. My sister does this all the time, or she did when she was in college. Afterward she would call and tell me every detail of her night, not because we are close — we are not. It is because there is something wrong with her. I would almost call what she does sexual abuse, but she’s my younger sister, so there must be another word for it. She’s over the top. That’s all I can say about her. If the top is here, where I am, she’s over it, hover over me, naked.
That’s little bit of a taste.
I read a lot of books where, even while I’m reading it all I can think is “Dude. You’re only reading this book because you think you’re supposed to or so you can tell people you read it. You’re really not enjoying yourself.” *cough*Kindly Ones*cough* Not once did I think that with Miranda July’s book. I’m about halfway through — I started a couple of hours ago but was interrupted by my pho slurping (not a good “reading while eating” food) and a cramped bus ride home. The stories are short, they are alternately amusing and heartbreaking, and you never really know where she’s going. But this has been a really entertaining read so far, which is really all I ask for in a book.
Also, check out her website for the book. It’s adorable.