Month: August 2015

The Life and Death of Book Club Attempts

I have been in my current book group for almost eight years, and although I love the books and the company of smart women, what I value most about it is that it did not disband as soon as I joined. Like the other two book groups did. Really, it was enough to give this reading woman a complex. I joined my first book group several months after I graduated from college because I believed that’s what people who graduated from college did, along with living in too-small, overpriced apartments and bemoaning “adulthood.” A woman I met in a writing class at the local Y invited me, and I found myself surrounded by 40-something goddesses who were smart and well-spoken and had read more books than I’d seen in my life. I liked all the women in the group, unusual for a misanthrope like me, and they seemed to like me. All of the women were married (or divorced!), and some had children. Several women belonged to another book group, in addition to ours, although …

10 Books That Have Defined My Life (So Far)

I’ve been taking a break from my own book club this year because I’ve been working on a book — about other people’s favorite books (more on that soon, but it will be out next spring from Regan Arts). So although almost any of you reading this piece would probably be able to put together your own life-in-books article, I feel I’m peculiarly suited to the task as an avid reader who eventually found a way to construct an entire professional life around books, authors and literacy. Here, I’m offering 10 books that not only touched me during the life stages in which I read them but also perfectly illustrate those stages — not just for me, but also for you, I hope. After all, we’re in this together. A very big book club indeed. CHILDHOOD The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf Ferdinand is a great big strong bull who would really prefer to pass his days in a sunny meadow among the flowers. Woven into the words and pictures is a powerful, timeless …

I Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks – And It Changed My Life

What happens when you wake up one day and realize you don’t remember the last book you read? That was me. This isn’t a tragic tale, but it is a story about a little girl who loved to read and grew up losing herself in books and writing in margins and dog-earing favorite passages and then, slowly over time, stopped. And it’s probably one that sounds familiar to you, too. Growing up, I had books that changed my life and shook my foundation with how they were written. Books like The Alchemist, Zorba The Greek, The Fountainhead, and All The King’s Men. I read my fair share of beach reads and quick summer novels too, but it was the life-changing books that made me feel like my inner Wonder Woman was on the rise. I would get lost in words and stories, and it made me feel less nervous about my own future. In my teens and 20s, the future was this audacious and infinite concept and books helped to both ground and inspire me …

My 6 Favorite Travelogues

“Often I feel I got to some distant region of the world to be reminded of who I am.” – Michael Crichton This quote is from a book that probably doesn’t enter many people’s list of favorite travelogues, but it tops mine. The book aptly named Travels, was written by Crichton in 1988, nearly 20 years after Andromedia Strain and two before Jurassic Park. It would be another 10 years before I had heard of or read Travels. By that time, Crichton was a household name. Still, I hadn’t read any of his books until a friend of mine suggested Travels. We were sitting on the beach in Koh Samui, Thailand; he was reading it and intermittently laughing out loud. A book about travel, written by an author known for sci-fi, is funny? I was intrigued. I’ve since read and re-read the book and currently own my third copy. I’ve often recommended and too-often loaned it and never seen it again, hence the need for new copies. What I love about Travels is not just …

Margit’s Note: The First Rule of Book Club…

At least skim the book. 2nd rule of book club: Drink copious amounts of wine. 3rd rule of book club: Try not to disband after a few months. I’d bet that each one of us has attempted, loved and probably struggled with a book club at some point in our lives. Getting together with good or new friends to read and discuss a book sounds delightful in theory — and sometimes it is. And sometimes it’s a failure of messy schedules and pressure to get to the last page in time. But we try it because we love LOVE to read a good book, we want to absorb it, share our joy (or pain) and live inside its pages while we can. Right now I’m slowly tag-teaming two books — the surprisingly subversive Dietland by Sarai Walker and the graphic novel (easy reading!) prequel to Fun Home, Are You My Mother by Allison Bechdel — and, yet, not spending nearly enough time reading books. Somehow buzzy Facebook-shared articles, zombie television, time-passing games (a hint to next week’s theme) …

What to Wear When It’s Hot As Balls Out

I am NOT a hot weather person. Don’t get me wrong. I totally appreciate the more laid-back vibe of summer. I love that it’s easier to find a parking space in my Brooklyn neighborhood for two blessed months, and I definitely can’t complain about the three kid-free weeks I get now that mine are old enough for overnight camp. But when the temperature hits 90 and I have to go about real life (as opposed to sitting under an umbrella on the beach or by the pool), it’s a little unbearable. In July, WNYC tested New York City’s hottest subway stations. One night in July at 7:09 PM, the Union Square L train platform measured 106.6 degrees. I break into a sweat just thinking about it! So what can a girl do to stay cool when it’s hot as fuck outside? For me, I’ve found a few go-to outfits that seem to make things at least moderately better. A few caveats: I’m sorry to say, none of these outfits will likely make it in a …

Henry Rollins Helped Me Become the Coolest Girl in School

In the fall of 1981 in San Pedro, California, I led a double life. By day, I was the senior class co-president, well liked and respected by my peers and teachers, if not Homecoming court-popular. As a student, I was something of an underachiever — I ended up getting into both Berkeley and Oberlin, but I was often bored in class and put in the minimum effort required. I read Sylvia Plath and Kerouac and felt that nobody knew “the real me.” Perhaps all teenagers feel this way. But in 1981 in L.A., there was a home for a certain kind of young person who felt a dissatisfaction, a longing for something unnamed, and this “home” was the punk rock scene. So by night, I was a punk rocker. My female friends and I would don thrift store dresses, ripped tights and combat boots while our male counterparts wore ripped jeans and band t-shirts. We would drive to various nightclubs or halls or occasionally garages to hear bands like The Minutemen, The Dead Kennedys, Sonic …

Story Gone Cold: A Reporter Finds an Unexpected Angle in the Arctic

I bet you can’t find Salluit on a map. Look for Quebec – six times the size of France – then move your finger north. Way, way north to a spot just past the Arctic Circle, which lies at 60 degrees. You can only reach the Inuit town of Salluit by air. There are no roads. And you can only fly into it via Air Inuit, coming to and from places like Aupaluk and Inukiak. I visited in late-December in the mid-1980s. We took a jet north from Montreal to Kuujjuaq, a two-hour flight, before switching to one of the tiny DASH-8s, small aircraft specially designed and built for use on the Arctic’s short frigid runways. The kind of runways where all you’ve got to work with is a lot of snow and ice and little room to maneuver before skidding off into seawater, the temperature of which will kill you within minutes. I was a reporter then for the Montreal Gazette, sent north on an assignment typical of the paper’s tastes. The story was …

Virgin Cocktail Cooler: The “Fizzy Lifting Drink” (Recipe)

  Before I had children, my friends would bring their kids to my home — and I was sometimes ill-prepared. As the only non-alcoholic beverages in our home were coffee and margarita mix, I needed to think fast. Since I’m a huge Willy Wonka fan, I invented this drink to encourage everyone to stay hydrated. Thankfully, this was the most popular and refreshing drink of the day for both the grownups and the little ones.   Ingredients: 1 can lemonade concentrate 2 of the empty cans of concentrate filled with club soda 1 of the empty cans of concentrate filled with ginger ale 1 lemon’s worth of lemon slices 1/4 cup sugar 1 1-gallon Ziploc-type bag of ice that has been smashed a few times with a mallet straws   Slice the lemon into round slices. Sprinkle both sides with sugar. Gently stir the concentrate, club soda and ginger ale together in a pitcher. Add smashed ice. Add the sugared lemon slices to the glasses and pour the lemonade concentrate mixture into the glasses. Serve with …

Charting My Life History Through Best-Loved Shoes

For many women, our teenage years mark the birth of our personal sense of style. At that age, we’re striving to fit in with our peers even as we’re working hard to establish our individuality. What we choose to wear helps us navigate both gauntlets. Teens also focus on differentiating themselves from their parents, and God knows fashion is a powerful way to do that. In every generation, adolescents opt for clothes and shoes (and hairstyles, tattoos and piercings) that intentionally shock their elders in a not-so-subtle attempt to deliver this message: “I’m not you, I’m me. I make my own decisions now, and here’s what I think is cool.” As I began to emotionally separate from my very fashionable mother, I started choosing styles that she would never wear nor pick for me. To her credit, she supported me all the way even when my choices were, in retrospect, hideous. (Anyone else remember Earth shoes?) When I think back on my best-loved shoes from that time in my life, it’s clear that the choices …

Snow & Steam — A Couple’s Tour of Iceland

I saw Iceland for the first time in a friend’s photo: she and her rock-star girlfriend were luxuriating in a pearlescent hot spring surrounded by snowdrifts and billowing steam, explorers on a magnificent alien planet. My husband and I finally explored those hot springs and snowdrifts for ourselves five years ago, and we promptly fell in love with them; we went back two years ago, and we’re planning to go again next winter. We try to play it cool by alternating trips to Iceland with trips to other countries, but the truth is that we daydream about moving there. “Iceland” is a misnomer, and a deliberate one at that: the Vikings gave it a nasty-sounding name to trick other Scandinavians into steering clear of it and settling instead in “Greenland” (which actually is kind of a frozen hellscape). Iceland is green, gorgeous, and breezy in the summer, and temperatures in the spring and fall hover around what you’d expect in New York City, though the daily mini-seasons, when storms blow in and out and the …

Margit’s Note: The Rebirth of Cool

The dashing, leather-jacketed Arthur Fonzarelli pulls up on his motorcycle, pre-shark jump. He takes meetings in the bathroom at Arnold’s, hits the jukebox to play a song and tells the naysayers to “sit on it.” To me, age 12, that was cool. So cool that I plastered his face all over my wall, drew his name all over my penny loafers and asked people to call me Fonzie. Not cool. And now, of course, these days, Fonzie hawks reverse mortgages. Cool is in the eye of the beholder. Sweltering in the August sun, we thought we’d get cool this week — and cool. We’re mashing up stories of frosty drinks and artic adventures along with the other kind of cool — the one that wears Ray Bans, listens to Nina Simone and knows everything before you do. Whilst on a family beach trip last week, I surveyed a few different generations for the definition of “cool.” We couldn’t agree on a person or thing that defined cool. “It depends on the receiver. A nerd might …

15 Women Reveal Their Madonna “Life Moments”

Where were you when Madonna told you to Express Yourself? Had you been living in a Material World? Cherish-ing your boy toy? Desperately seeking a place to Vogue? We asked our contributors and friends for those moments in time when Madge was the backdrop to their lives — the soundtrack, the fashion, the filmic inspiration and even a dinner party companion.   “Borderline” I tried out for Drill Team in junior high to the song “Borderline.” I didn’t like Madonna. I had no desire to try out for drill team. I had no dance skills. The only way you were allowed to try out for drill team, however, was as a four-person squad. So I was drafted by three of my friends to complete theirs. We practiced relentlessly (six times counts as relentless when you’re 13). When the time came to perform and the play button on the boom box was hit, Ms. Carter gave us the head bob that said “YOU’RE ON!” I thought we actually had a shot. Twenty seconds later, I managed …

In Madonna’s Rebel Heart Tour, Expect The Unexpected

Where were you when you first heard Madonna? It’s a question that pop fans who devoured the offerings put forth by MTV and top-40 radio during the ’80s and ’90s can probably answer without thinking. Mine: “Borderline,” off her self-titled debut and an MTV staple thanks to its video, which mixed high art and graffiti and hopscotch. The song’s wounded, yet bubbly production made me dance; Madonna’s effortless cool gave me a glimpse at what bohemian adulthood might be like. The songs of hers that I probably remember best, though, are the ones on her 1986 album True Blue, which served as the official warm-up album for a dance class I took during sixth grade; any mention of the pugilistic actor Jimmy Cagney, to whom Madonna dedicated that album’s feisty “White Heat,” flashes me back to the afternoons of leotards and stretching at the barre. [pullquote] 30 years on, the Material Girl still packs stadiums around the world.[/pullquote] No matter what era of Madonna one remembers most fondly — the crumpled white dress of the “Like …

I’ve Never Wanted Anyone Like This — and I’m Still Looking

I still listen to the radio often when I drive, mostly for the rush of stumbling across a song I love among the commercials. Missing in our current world of all-media-on-demand-all-the-time is the element of surprise I found when I was flipping stations the other night and came across Madonna’s “Crazy for You”. It’s high on my mental list of songs I have to listen to all the way through; I’ll sit in the parking lot and sing to the end before I’ll go inside. It’s 30 years old this year. It’s the power ballad from Vision Quest, a movie I recall nothing about except for the snippets I can remember from the video – Matthew Modine doing pushups, wrestling, then kissing Linda Fiorentino and her enormous hair, like a knock-off Kevin Bacon from Footloose destined for trouble, dissonantly interspersed with Madonna in her best tousled hair, black bracelets and scarves as a bar singer emoting the crap out of “Crazy for You.” I was 14 in 1985, a huge fan with a single huge …

Truth or Yawn: When Did the Material Girl Get So Boring?

I was surfing through radio stations in my car when I first heard Madonna’s latest single, “Bitch, I’m Madonna.” Her new album had been in the press, more due to her recent attention-grabbing antics than the music itself — the topless photos, the skirt that she flipped up to expose her well-toned tush to photographers — but Madonna has always courted controversy. I’d seen her simulate masturbation on stage and pretend to give a blow job to a bottle in the 1991 documentary Truth or Dare; if I was ever scandalized by Madonna, those days are long gone. But listening to “Bitch, I’m Madonna” made me change the station in disgust. I wasn’t shocked, and I wasn’t titillated. Really, I was just bored. Look, I grew up with Madonna. I was a fan. I stacked black rubber bracelets on my arms because she did. I attempted to style my bad perm into her tousled waves. I watched and re-watched Desperately Seeking Susan wishing that I could cultivate her “I don’t give a shit” attitude. Through her …

I Got Dumped – and Madonna Made It Okay

In the summer of 1989 just before our senior year of college, my friend Jen and I confessed to each over the phone that we were really loving Madonna’s song “Express Yourself.” This was a confession rather than a plain old conversation because we both fancied ourselves cooler and more indie than your average pop music fan. But nobody sang about girl power and washing-that-man-out-of-your hair better than Madge did, and we both had men in there that it looked like they might need to be washed out. I hate to say it but, musically speaking, “Express Yourself” hasn’t held up for me. The song was remastered and heavily smeared with ‘80s horns somewhere along the way, which hasn’t helped matters any. But that song meant a lot to me that summer, and its sentimental value has endured. [pullquote]School breaks were no good. Love died over them. This had apparently been proven by science.[/pullquote] The song came out when I had my first serious boyfriend, whom we’re going to call Chad. The guy I’d dated …

She Must Be My Lucky Star

For the first 12 or so years of my life, I was the good girl. My first act of rebellion came in seventh grade when I threw a bunch of baby carrots in the bathroom at church. (I have no idea know why I did this.) Before I could even be accused of the carrot caper, I confessed. Bowing down to authority seemed to be inked into my DNA. While other middle schoolers were experimenting with smoking, I could be found in the school band. I didn’t even play a cool instrument like the drums or the saxophone. No, I played the oboe, and the oboe is just about the nerdiest of the nerdy instruments a junior high schooler could play. Then in 8th grade, MTV came bursting into my room. That year, I spent every afternoon glued to the TV. I was enthralled by Duran Duran’s Hungry Like The Wolf. I escaped through a-ha’s comic book-styled world in Take On Me. I spent hours learning the moves to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. But the song that captivated …

Margit’s Note: Mad for Madge

Bold, brave, annoying, cool, fierce, trend-setting, trend-following, kooky, tired, inspired, diva, mother, lover, talented, hack. In short, Madonna is just like us! (With a little more cash and a gold tooth.) We’ve brought Ms. Ciconne along for our ride since we were teens, and she provided the soundtrack, the raunchy stunts and the idea that anything is fair game in love and fashion. Tear up that sweatshirt, wear your pointy bra on the outside and pile on the rubber bracelets. Express yourself. These days, we want to shame Madonna for not acting her age (she’ll be 57 on August 16), for overly sinewy arms, for trying to be a comedian when she should stick to music, for dating younger men. She gets it harder because she constantly puts herself in the spotlight. She won’t go quietly. The tone of her latest single, “Bitch, I’m Madonna,” is a bit “Hey, don’t forget about MEEEEE.” It’s a feeling that, as we grow older, we all have to combat. When people tell Madonna to chill out and just be a role …

This Story May Actually Make You Want to Buy a Pet Rat — or Two

Here is a tale about two tails. Two long, scaly grayish-pink tails that skeeved me so hard I could barely look at them the first time I saw them. Two hairless appendages that caused me to backpedal furiously on my promise to my son that today was the day that he could finally choose his very own pet rats. We were at the pet store, thanks to my cousin, whose son had a rat of his own. When he showed me a photo of it, I drew back a bit, gave a sidewise look at my cuz and said, “Really? A rat?” She nodded firmly and said, “Annette, it costs six dollars, lives three years, and eats whatever you have lying around in the fridge.” Hmmmm. My son was nine years old at the time and aching to take on the responsibility of a pet. We already had a dog, but she’s always been my baby and barely gives him the time of day unless he happens to have bacon stapled to his shirt. He …

Confessions of a Serial Dog Lover

I have an abnormal love of dogs. At least that’s what a former boyfriend told me when he broke up with me. (see the video evidence.) Which is funny, since I didn’t have a four-legged friend of my own at the time, and I still don’t have one today. But, I have to admit, it is true. I love dogs too much. I am – according to those who know me – the person who loves dogs the most despite not having one. I am obsessed with dogs the way some tweens are obsessed with Taylor Swift, or how the Jennifer Jason Leigh character in Single White Female fixated on her roommate (minus the homicide.) I attribute my affinity for dogs to the fact that I was probably was one in another life. Never, ever walk down a street with me and expect me to ignore a dog. In fact, I can spot a pooch from a block away. My ears prick up. My proverbial tail starts to wag. I absolutely, positively must say hello …

How I Became a Professional Cat Lady

My college roommate and I met our cats at side-by-side animal shelters in San Francisco. Her tabby, Zeke, went home with her that very day, and my black cat, Chuck, also went home with her, as I was still scrambling to get into an apartment. (Here’s to you, Jen, for letting my cat crash with you for a month; thank you for keeping your cool that time he peed on your duvet.) Thus began 15 years (and counting) of what my husband calls “My Cat Goes Mrow” — that is, long conversations in which Jen and I mostly swap Zeke and Chuck stories. You could argue, and I do, that they’re the beast-shaped filters through which we tell each other about all aspects of our lives, but I can admit that they tend to follow the format he identified (“My cat goes ‘mrow’!” “My cat goes ‘mrow’!”). My Cat Goes Mrow is having a moment — call it a decade, really — right now, as you may have noticed. (Robert De Niro certainly noticed when …

The Dog My Mother Never Wanted

“I’m sure I have eaten dog.” That’s what my mother, the World War II survivor, told me one day. My jaw dropped, so she quickly clarified by saying, “Well, when you got meat on the black market, you didn’t ask.” Needless to say, my parents, who were both young Germans growing up in frequently bombed Cologne in 1942 and didn’t have the luxury of pets. But as a typical American middle-class kid in suburbia, I wanted one — badly. I grew up in Ambler, PA in a split-level-filled neighbrhood as, essentially, an only child; my brother was 13 years older and out of the house by the time I was six. There were lots of other kids on the block who had a dog and I yearned for a fuzzy friend who would sleep on my bed and be my best friend and companion. My parents weren’t keen on the idea of a pet, however. It wasn’t a necessity and possibly created more problems. For a short time, my brother had a hamster and my …

Training El Diablo

I’ve known a few friends who put a lot of thought into getting a pet. They research breeds to the point of becoming experts, citing life expectancy and typical health issues at the drop of a hat. They investigate the lineage of prospective pups with a thoroughness that I’d expect one to interrogate a surrogate mother for their child. They spend days, even weeks thinking of names. I, on the other hand, rolled into a pet-store two years ago during an adoption event and walked out with a scrawny, pee-covered little Westie-poo that I wasn’t aware I even had to name. “We need a name for the adoption papers,” the volunteer told me as the puppy squirmed in my arms, alerting me that bio action that might soon take place on my jacket. “You can’t just put ‘TBD’?” “No.” “Puppy?” Dead stares. So I walked around for five minutes, texting friends and family for their votes on some hasty options and came back with “Ollie.” Soon after I got him home, a better name came …

Puppy Love Landed Me in the Doghouse

As soon as my kids knew what a puppy was, they wanted one. What began as a simple campaign of begging and tears evolved into a sophisticated multi-year mass operation. Sweet crayoned drawings of floppy-eared pooches began to come home regularly in school projects, and Christmas lists for Santa all had one major request: P-U-P-P-Y. My husband and I talked it over. I was for getting one; he was against. After years of asking, the kids started to step things up. In desperation, they began to leave pictures of puppies on the fridge on the shopping list, hoping that if they threw “puppy” on there, something might happen. -Milk -Hoisin sauce -Puppy They brainstormed and decided that maybe enlisting the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy as magical soothsayers on puppy progress would get them some answers. After a lost tooth or on the night before Easter, succinct notes were often accompanied by this question: “Will I get a puppy?” [Check yes or no.] “When? -3 months -6 months -1 year I was in a …

City Dog, Country Dog

Owning a city dog is very different from owning a country dog. For one thing, city dogs must be walked. A lot. My terrier, Lucy, gets three or four walks a day (the extra walk depends on my mood and the weather,) whereas country dogs head out unaccompanied through any open door and do their business where they please. No schedule. No leash. No poop bag. I know this because Lucy is both a city dog and a country dog. Along with her human family, she spends weekends at our upstate house, morphing from urban pup to rural pup as soon as we pull in the driveway. One sniff of the piney air and she becomes practically lupine. All fifteen pounds of her turn into an amped-up mini-wolf — hunting, chasing, digging, swimming, and occasionally disappearing into the forest. Lucy is not alone in leading a double life. I know plenty of people who wedge their pooches between kids, coolers and duffle bags as they head out on the Long Island Expressway or wind their way …

Margit’s Note: Woman’s Best Friend

Here at TueNight.com, we’re a bit pet-obsessed. Dogs, cats, even rats — if they’re furry, feathered, or scaled, they’ve probably earned a place in our hearts. As I write this, my cat Alice sits under my desk, one paw over my foot, snoring loudly. At 17-years-old, she’s a relic from the late ‘90s and more beloved than ever. I’m reminded how lucky I am to hear that raspy wheeze, because earlier this year, she almost exhausted her 9th life. A long haired wisp of a kitty with brown, mottled markings and a scratchy, Marge Simpson-like meow, I got Alice in 1998 from the Camden, NJ SPCA. I’d been seeking a companion for my other cat Moby, and a friend-of-a-friend, a volunteer from the SPCA, brought over two cats to my apartment. One was white with black spots that made her almost a twin to Moby. The volunteer thought that would be the one I’d want. But the other kitty was so tiny, she fit into the palm of my hand. A pile of fur. I couldn’t resist her. Her new …