Let’s All Buy JD Salinger’s Old House, Have a Kegger

Ebenezer Maxwell HouseOK here’s a great idea: let’s all pitch in some cash, not too much, whatever we happen to have lying around, and buy the rural New Hampshire house where famous American hermit J.D. Salinger lived for a while. It’s for sale, according to Curbed, for less than $700,000, and it is super pretty.

As reported by the Valley News, Salinger purchased the place in 1953 after separating from his first wife, by which time he had achieved both critical and commercial success with the 1951 publication of The Catcher in the Rye. He made the move to Cornish from his apartment in Manhattan (300 57th Street), and it’s in the small New Hampshire town where his reputation as a recluse solidified, but according to a 2010 article in the New York Times, Salinger was a relatively active member of the community.

Salinger, who sold the house in the ’60s but stayed in town, is said to have voted in elections, attended town meetings at the Cornish Elementary School, and been a mainstay at $12 roast beef dinners at First Congregational Church in nearby Hartland, Vermont. Locals, embodying what one resident once described to the New York Times as “the code of the hills,” have boasted since his death in 2010 of misdirecting the throngs of eager English majors that came looking for their resident writer. According to the owner of a local general store, just how far these misdirections took Salinger pilgrims “depended on how arrogant they were.”



What The Last Five Feature Films I Saw Taught Me About Money

I am Groot.

Spoilers below.

Guardians of the Galaxy: In the future, money will be called “units” and will be instantly transferable from one person to another, I guess by telepathy or or telepathic internet or something. Everyone will be obsessed with getting as many units as possible even though there’s no reason to buy anything. You will only need one outfit and you’ll wear it all the time, and nobody ever goes grocery shopping in space. Also, Walkmans last for decades without ever wearing out or running out of batteries.

Even though there’s no real reason to have units, people (and raccoons) will still do a lot of stupid things to get as many units as possible.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: If you are a rich person, you’ll do everything that you can to increase your net worth, including releasing a deadly toxin over New York City and then attempting to sell the government the antidote (which is conveniently made from Ninja Turtle blood). You also invest a lot of money into a mecha suit for a mob boss, for reasons unknown.

If you are a Ninja Turtle, you’ll outfit your home with used furniture (including an entire wall of boomboxes) and somehow have enough money to order out for pizza even though you don’t have a job.



$100 Worth of Ice Cream From a Man Named Bubby

Screenshot 2014-08-18 16.01.27Thank you Grub Street, thank you Bubby’s High Line, the restaurant in the Meatpacking District of NYC, where said ice cream can be purchased. And lastly thank you AMERICA, land of the free (well, free for some people, and def not free for ice cream):

It includes 16 scoops of ice cream, pretzels, pecans, peanuts, chocolate-chip cookie crumbs, chocolate and caramel syrups, rainbow sprinkles, whipped cream, and, of course, a few cherries on top. This behemoth serves eight to ten Americans, but there’s also a $50 “Little Kitchen Sink” sundae with eight scoops of ice cream which can probably feed eight to ten people from any other place in the world.

16 scoops of ice cream does not seem worth $100. $20, sure. $30, even, if we are at a restaurant. But $100? Those better be some artisanal-ass pretzels.

Anyway, Happy Monday. I hope there is ice cream where you are.


The Year We Saved $10K: Playing The Hands We’re Dealt

The Parent Trap

Today’s “The Year We Saved $10K” stories both come from people who claim their stories are “boring” and “not dramatic,” but NO SAVINGS STORY IS EVER BORING.

Annecara: My story is pretty boring. My husband and I are DINKs, and we basically just auto-transfer 20-30% of our paychecks into our savings account every month, which has totaled more than $10k a year since about for the last three years. The percentage we save has gone up and down, depending on circumstance (for instance, our mortgage just increased by $400 a month, so we lowered our savings amount to compensate) but the only time we haven’t saved at all is when I was out of work at the end of 2011. READ MORE


How To Become a Math Person, Vol. 1

MathnetAn article on Quartz makes the argument that we should not think of math ability as innate and ourselves as either “math people” or not.

This 2007 National Institutes of Health Public Access twin study, using relatively transparent methods, estimates that genes account for somewhere in the range from 32% to 45% of mathematical skill at age 10. That leaves 55% to 68% of mathematical skill to be accounted for by other things—including differences in individual effort. (Other estimates of the percentage of variation of mathematical skill in kids due to genes range all the way from 19% to 90%.)

How do we fix the problem? How do we act as though we have faith (in ourselves) so that faith will be given to us? It’s easy:

spend time doing math in the kinds of ways people who love math spend time doing math. Think of math like reading. Not everyone loves reading. But all kids are encouraged to spend time reading, not just for school assignments, but on their own. Just so, not everyone loves math, but everyone should be encouraged to spend time doing math on their own, not just for school assignments. If a kid has a bad experience with trying to learn to read in school, or is bored with the particular books the teacher assigned, few parents would say “Well, maybe you just aren’t a reader.”



The Cover Job

Peter Mendelsund is associate art director of Alfred A. Knopf Books, which makes him perhaps the preeminent expert among those who judge books by their covers. He’s designed covers for everything from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to classics by Dostoevsky, Nabokov, Joyce, and De Beauvoir. Last week, he published two books: What We See When We Read, an incisive exploration of the phenomenology of reading, and Cover, a monograph of his best work, which includes his thoughts on designing and several short essays from authors.

I talked to Peter the other day about his work as a cover designer, which began eleven years ago, after a past life as a classical pianist.

So, you were a classical pianist for many, many years, and you mention in Cover that that you still self-identify as such. Is the pleasure you get out of designing at all different than the one you get playing?

Oh yeah, it’s different in kind and degree. The joy I get out of playing piano—there are very, very few things in life that match that particular form of communion. Of course, it’s also hard work, but when it’s going well it’s just one of the great feelings a person can have. If one is playing great music, if you’re playing Bach or Beethoven, and you’re playing it in a way where things are working properly, then your self dissolves, and it’s absolutely a transcendent experience. And nothing, nothing, in design matches that.

It’s not like I’m sitting in front of my InDesign documents swooning. I wish I did. Designing evokes a much narrower range of emotions; that range is somewhere between cool, which is one response, and oh, that’s pretty.

You say in Cover that with book design “clever” and “pretty” are the main benchmarks of quality—that design doesn’t need to deal in profundity. Is that really true, though? Looking at some of your covers, I find profundity. Is that incidental, or do you aim for that?

Well, what you’re trying to do is make something that structurally maps the text. So if there is some unintentional profundity, it has to do with the way the author has written the book and the way the reader has read the book. You’re gonna bring your own experience and feelings to bear on it. I don’t think there’s ever been a moment where I’ve said or felt, “this cover is really profound.” It’s really profundity by association—if it’s a great text, Dostoevsky or whatever, then you connect the experience of reading with the paratext.



Stress-nesting During a Season of Turmoil


It was a bad week on the heels of a bad month. If you are reading this in real time I hardly have to tell you about it, but in case you aren’t: Gaza, Ukraine, Ebola, Michael Brown, Robin Williams, Ferguson, Ferguson, Ferguson—what am I missing? Probably a lot. Anyway, there was all of this, and then suddenly the lamp situation in my dining room became untenable.

The lamps were as they had been for years—one chunky thrifted table lamp, one spindly Ikea floor lamp; one with a white floral Ikea shade, one with a mustardy-gold Ikea shade—but a couple weeks ago I rearranged some art on the adjacent wall and re-centered a bookcase/credenza thing under that art, and the lamps had never quite been the same since. I had never noticed until then how wrong they were together, how unbalanced they appeared, how even the light they cast clashes—how they just didn’t go. I was able to deal with this for a while, but one morning last week I woke up, looked at my phone, looked at the news, walked into the dining room, saw the lamps, saw everything that was wrong with the lamps, and could no longer tolerate any of it.

So I went to Ikea. Twice. I bought two new matching shades, brought them home, realized they were also totally wrong, but in different ways, then returned them for a second spindly lamp base and a second white floral shade. I thought symmetry must be the answer. I was going to set up two identical lamps, one at either end of the bookcase/credenza thing, and my problems and possibly even all the problems of the world would be solved. And maybe this would have happened, but when I finally got home and set everything up the way my brain told me it should be, I turned on the lights and my heart sank. The new shade cast a crisp clean white light, but the old shade cast a muddled yellow light—just like a cheap shade would be expected to after three years of baking in its own heat. It had degraded so gradually—so like a human body—that I never noticed, at least not until I noticed, and then it was all I could see. Even with the lamps off I knew one wasn’t like the other and it made my brain burn. I couldn’t bear it.

This is how it goes, how it has always gone: When I cannot control the bigger world around me, I turn to the smaller one. READ MORE


It Has Been Made Clear to Me That I Cannot Have It All

I Dont Know How She Does It

This morning I woke up at 6:30 and the baby was still asleep. He usually wakes up at six and we all sit in bed talking to him for like an hour, praying he will go back to sleep soon, but today he is sick. I got in the shower, ate breakfast, got dressed, packed my bag. He was still asleep. I opened my computer to check on the site, tried to start working, but we had no coffee in the house and this was just not going to happen. I laid in bed and just stared at him for awhile, looking at the clock. I paced the apartment, put a granola bar in my bag, went and stood over his little bed. I can’t leave for work until I feed him, and then I have to leave immediately after I feed him so I can get the most of my 2.5-hour window. Two and a half hours is kind of pushing it, even, but sometimes I am gone for three. At two hours I start to get antsy. Guilty. My boobs start to hurt and I imagine the baby to be fussing and I’m panicking a little while I search for an image to go with a blog post. If I finish my work and come home early I am the family saint, a hero. “Look who’s here! It’s your mama!” The baby is smiling, I’m wondering if this means I get extra credit. Can I leave again after I feed him? Go do more work?

Before I sit down to nurse him I have the tote bag by the door, my shoes on my feet, hanging off the bed. I check Twitter on my phone and favorite articles to blog about.

He finally woke up at about 8:30 today. He stretched, made some noise, closed his eyes again. “Shit child,” I thought, “I don’t have all day!” READ MORE


Books That Are Worth The Money

indie ebookstore, basically1) Books you have read already, perhaps via the library, that you know that you will want to reread

2) Books that activate the release of serotonin in your brain simply by the sight of their spines because you love them so much

3) Books with pretty spines

4) Books with pretty titles

5) Books that help define your tastes, opinions, and proclivities to strangers who might be in your apartment and looking at your shelves

6) Children’s books, because you will read each of them ten zillion times until you have them memorized and can rattle them off while walking down the street. “Up! Up! The sun is getting up! The sun gets up, so up with you! Up ear #1, ear #2!”

7) Reference-y books that you can reach out for in times of need, like Bird by Bird

8) Anything by Anne Lamott, really READ MORE


The Cost of Climbing


I have been known to joke (repeatedly, like a dad who’s come across his favorite pun) that when you cross the border into California you are issued your choice of the following: hiking boots, a surfboard, or climbing shoes. When I moved to California two years ago I picked the third option and never looked back. It’s gotten expensive.

This is what rock climbing has given me: a place to direct my over-analytic, grad-school-fried brain instead of ripping my own hair out and/or developing a drinking problem; mad shoulder and back muscles that look pretty great underneath my back tattoo; the ability to open any jar, no matter how stubborn. I’ve also come to a new understanding of my physical self—from a “person so averse to strenuous physical activity that she climbed trees to hide from the gym teacher in high school” to a “person who gets crabby if she goes more than a day or two without climbing”; from “slightly neurotic person who does, in fact, think about ‘thinness’ as a goal” to a “person who definitely is going to crush this boulder problem.” I cannot possibly overstate what this has done for my mental health. Plus, my abs have never been stronger.

I usually spend two to three hours at a stretch in the climbing gym. Of this, maybe an hour and a half to two hours is spent climbing. I climb until failure—until I can no longer grip the holds, basically—and then spend half an hour running on a treadmill plus another half hour doing stretches, push-ups and ab exercises. Fortunately, I’m a grad student, so my schedule is flexible enough that this is feasible. But it does mean that climbing is my primary non-work activity and I don’t have a lot of time for other hobbies or workouts. I am grateful for the forbearance of my non-climber friends who graciously allow me to pester them with the zeal of the converted. READ MORE