Saturday, December 25, 2010

And The Heart Says Whatever by Emily Gould


The collection of personal essays And The Heart Says Whatever by Emily Gould couldn't be more similar to How Did You Get This Number. Both are non-fictional stories about girls in their twenties who move to New York City from suburban American upper-middle class households to become writers and work in publishing. The writers themselves, however, couldn't be more different. While reading Sloane Crosley feels like talking to a socially-adept, amiable acquaintance at a cocktail party, we never really get through her polished, put-together image to her real self. Her carefully crafted stories with their witty language and intricate sentences are funny and quirky, but always appropriate enough to tell to an older family member, or a co-worker. Sloane's squeaky-clean persona is wrapped in enough mystique and glamor, that we want to be like her, well-traveled, successful, but still likeable. While we look up to her, we can't help but wonder about what her real personal life is like, because she never quite lets the reader behind her closed bedroom door. Perhaps Sloane's stories are good enough without the need to give up her privacy, but in the age of reality shows, our voyeuristic inclination takes the best of us and we request the airing of dirty laundry of everyone who comes our way. Sloane's best story in my opinion, and in the opinion of most critics, “Off the back of the Truck,” stands out because of its authenticity compared with the rest of her stories. We not only get a glimpse into her love life for the first time, but also because she shows us a new side of her, one that is vulnerable and not so well put-together.

The author of And The Heart Says Whatever, Emily Gould, is a stark comparison to Sloane Crosley. If reading Sloane's stories feels like talking to her at a cocktail party, reading Emily's work feels like talking to your roommate while sharing a cigarette on a Brooklyn fire escape. She'll tell you about that time she de-virginized a high school freshman at the end of her senior year, or when she play-wrestled with a butch lesbian and then came into work with a huge bruise on her arm, taken for a mark left by an abusive boyfriend. She is anything but polished and well put-together in her interactions with others, showing up for a job interview at a publishing house in a skirt that is not only too short but also covered in cat hair, and when asked to talk about the last movie that she saw by a potential employer, she compares the film to porn.

Unlike Sloane Crosley, Emily is not afraid to face and discuss those events in her life that show her in an unfavorable light. She admits to making questionable choices, opening herself up be judged. She confesses to cheating on her boyfriend of six years and then embarking on a series of meaningless, sex-based relationships, that instead of filling a void, end up creating one. She is also not afraid to seem vulnerable, when describing her panic attacks, which she started having on a regular basis when moving to New York. She wonders whether they were caused by her habitual pot smoking, which would numb her feelings and render her especially sensitive to the effects of the real world when she was not high.
Emily Gould's most unethical decision, which she fully acknowledges herself, is exactly what makes her book so interesting: her oversharing of private information with perfect strangers. She started her writing career by blogging, revealing things about her personal life, which her boyfriend wanted to keep private, to several hundreds of people. After quitting her publishing job, she went on to write for, where she wrote a gossip column about New York's media industry. In addition to writing about her private life, she now began to disclose the juicy secrets of the rich and famous. The amorality of Emily's writing began to grate away at her relationship with her boyfriend and eventually contributed to its demise.

I think anyone who ever had to end a long-term relationship, go through the indignities of an entry-level job, or tried to make it in the big city, will appreciate the unpretentiousness, humor, and sadness that permeate these stories.
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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Exploring New Territory: Sloane Crosley's How Did You Get This Number

A monument to Columbus, depicting his departure for the New World from Portugal, described in "Show Me on the Doll"

Sloane Crosley's collection of essays invites the readers into her life with authenticity and slightly self-deprecating humor. Her unique, personal experiences reveal universal truths about friends, relationships, and family that we can all relate to. We follow Sloane as she travels to Paris, Lisbon, and Alaska, deals with roommate and apartment woes in Manhattan, and recalls her childhood in the 'burbs.

This is Crosley's second collection of personal essays, following her debut I Was Told There'd Be Cake. In How Did You Get This Number, we meet a slightly older, more worldly Sloane, who is now grappling with the inevitability of turning thirty. To avoid accusations of never having lived in the moment in her twenties, Sloane sets out to prove to herself that her childhood dreams are not dead in “Show Me on the Doll.” Because she wanted to do so as a child, she spins a globe in her apartment, lets her finger arbitrarily point, and travels to Portugal as a result. Because now she is an adult and can do something this ambitiously adventurous and irresponsible. Her trip to Portugal in the wintertime and by herself turns out to be very lonely at first. As she wanders the streets of Lisbon, the readers get a real feel for this cold, ancient city with its tiny unidentified streets and steep slopes. Sloane unenthusiastically tours the Europe's edge and she also discovers the edges of her comfort zone. However, the trip takes a turns for the better when she meets amateur circus clowns.

In “Off the Back of a Truck,” Sloane falls in love and gets her heart broken. As she decorates her first studio apartment with luxurious rugs and doorknobs supplied by her “upholstery guy” at a great discount in shady transactions, another kind of deception takes place in her personal life. Sloane's intense heartbreak is described so well in some sentences, that we visualize several scenes as in a film: her pain is so great that she can't get herself into bed and falls asleep on one of her newly acquired fancy rugs. Humor and sadness interweave, a trait so characteristic for all of her essays.
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Monday, May 10, 2010

Stories from the Melting Pot: Ha Jin's A Good Fall

Chinatown in Flushing, Queens
From National Book Award–winner Jin (Waiting) comes a new collection that focuses on Flushing, one of New York City's largest Chinese immigrant communities. With startling clarity, Jin explores the challenges, loneliness and uplift associated with discovering one's place in America. Many different generational perspectives are laid out, from the young male sweatshop-worker narrator of The House Behind a Weeping Cherry, who lives in the same rooming-house as three prostitutes, to the grandfather of Children as Enemies, who disapproves of his grandchildren's desires to Americanize their names. Anxiety and distrust plague many of Jin's characters, and while the desire for love and companionship is strong, economic concerns tend to outweigh all others. In Temporary Love, Jin explores the inevitable complications of becoming a wartime couple or men and women who, unable to bring their spouses to America, cohabit... to comfort each other and also to reduce living expenses. With piercing insight, Jin paints a vast, fascinating portrait of a neighborhood and a people in flux.
                                                                                                                                     -Publishers Weekly
My personal favorites were the title story, "A Good Fall," about a Buddhist monk's unimaginable struggles with poverty and injustice as a Chinese immigrant living in New York, and "A Composer and His Parakeets," in which a musician forms a funny, touching bond with a parakeet.