I am supine in a plush recliner. A woman is kneeling before me, pressing her thumbs into my feet. My friend Jon, a Chinese-American Tsinghua professor, is next to me in an identical chair. The TV in front of us is switched on a nature channel. The leopard pouncing on an unsuspecting gazelle makes sense in any language.
A man is rubbing Jon’s feet. “Is that your girlfriend?” the masseur asks him in Mandarin, nodding to me. “No,” Jon says, “she’s an old friend.”
“How old is she?” the masseur asks. Jon asks me and I answer 29 in English although I understand the Chinese. Jon translates and the masseur asks him if I’m married. Jon doesn’t need to consult me. “No,” he answers.
“Ahhhh,” the man says, “American women like to play for a long time, huh?” He laughs, and Jon laughs too, in uncomfortable solidarity. The woman rubbing my feet looks up at me and our eyes meet. We say nothing.
Someone in Beijing explained it to me like this: western men think Chinese women are spoiled. Little princesses. They want to be fawned over with teddy bears and expensive gifts. Better to cry in the back of a BMW than smile on the back of a bicycle. Chinese men think western women are spoiled. Little princesses. They say whatever they want and have opinions about everything. They drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes. They are easy, have probably slept with dozens of men before you, but still want respect. I know enough Chinese and western women to know this is both true and also the furthest things from the truth. I, for one, love both alcohol and teddy bears.
Sometimes city life pushes us too hard, hard enough that we push back with the worst versions of ourselves. Forced to interact in situations when we’d rather not, city dwellers know that feeling of frustration as we stand among millions of faces. Those faces are unfamiliar and unsympathetic, and sometimes this makes us a little whiney, other times we spill with an austere rage. There’s the bitch who let the gym door slam in my face that I must admit may not really be a bitch. Perhaps her mind was elsewhere and she didn’t see me. Yes, the guy who body checked me in the crosswalk was staring at his phone, but I can’t pretend I’ve never done that. In New York City I am brought face to face with what drives me crazy about myself and those around me. Every day.
This fact of city life has made me overly polite. I do the little things; I offer detailed directions with a smile, I recommend affordable restaurants to tourists. I say please and thank you and overtip my cab drivers and bartenders. Then a skinny little blonde in her designer workout pants cuts me in line for coffee and I don’t say a word. I rise above; repeal her selfishness with my kindness.
When we’re not slamming doors into strollers or bumping into others, when there’s an interaction that is sought out, it is then that my expectations are heightened. It is in this way that I attempted to make my first Craigslist purchase.
There are quite a lot of good books currently out, and it comes as no surprise that quite a lot of them are by ladies (no offense to men, who we hear can also write very fine books when they put their minds to it). As for our list, which you will find below, there is something for nearly everyone: Y.A., short stories, essay collections, novels, nonfiction, books you might have read a long time ago and probably should read again in their updated states now—they are here. If we missed a book you have been reading and loving that’s out now (or will be very soon), please share it in the fair comments below. Happy reading.
The Impossible Knife of Memory, by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking Childrens, January 7). I read this important Y.A. novel in about two nights flat, falling in love with the characters, the heart-rending relationship between a teenage girl and her dad—a Vietnam vet struggling with PTSD—and Halse Anderson’s beautiful writing and deft plot development and pacing.
A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza Employee’s Guide to Saving the World, by Rachel Cantor (Melville House, January 14). Girl, you had us at pizza. So layered! So warming! So incredibly delicious and also sustaining. (Just like this book.)
The UnAmericans: Stories, by Molly Antopol (W.W. Norton, February 3). It would be easy to feel just a little bit jealous of Antopol. She’s been described as “a writer with the emotional heft of Nicole Krauss and the penetrating wit of Philip Roth,” and this, her debut story collection, was selected for The National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35″ award in 2013. The thing is, it really is that good. She has her own wit that needs no comparison to Roth.
A Life in Men: A Novel, by Gina Frangello (Algonquin, February 4). The darkness in this complex, emotionally deep tale of female friendship and illness and men and women—and how one woman goes on in the absence of her friend—may not be immediately evident in the beachy cover image, but the beauty is.
Watching Mad Men feels a bit like refinishing a wooden chair, sometimes. You’re methodically working away with sandpaper at the arms and legs of this thing, which has been this way for as long as you can remember, and you’re up close and it seems like work, but it’s also strangely soothing, and suddenly you step back after an hour and the whole chair has a different appearance.
At least, that’s how I felt about it last night. Not all that much seemed to happen, because after all, it’s Mad Men; with some surprises the pacing tends to be slow and steady. Yet, by the end of the episode everyone looked a bit different from how they started. We also got a return of Sally Draper (can I please have Kiernan Shipka’s eyebrows?), who’s at boarding school and grown up enough to attend the funerals of her friend’s mothers. And there was plenty of juicy intraoffice politics at Sterling Cooper Draper.
Mad Men is back! I’ll be writing about the show all season. Though we don’t get a glimpse of Sally or Betty in the last night’s season premiere—an episode called “Time Zones” set in January, 1969, in which Don travels to L.A. to see Megan and back—there is plenty to talk about with regard to Megan, Peggy, Margaret, and Joan. Oh, and then there’s the appearance of a woman played by Neve Campbell—where has she been lately?
Also back in the rotation is Freddie Rumsen, the guy who was forced to take a leave of absence from an earlier iteration of Sterling Cooper due to drinking too much. He’s freelancing for Peggy, while Don is now the guy on leave from the ad agency (for two months, at this point) for essentially the same reason Freddie was let go. By the end of the episode we’ll learn that Freddie is actually delivering Don’s work to the agency—Peggy always was a sucker for Don’s messaging, though she doesn’t appear to know it’s his work—but in the beginning we see just the broad face of Rumsen, eyes big and earnest to the camera, pitching Accutron watches. Peggy loves the final line, rejiggers it a bit as her own, and pitches it to her new boss for a slam-dunk. But he doesn’t bite.
And so it becomes clear: Though the end of last season brought Peggy into the spotlight as Don’s heir apparent, it just as quickly pushed her back down again, forcing her to contend with a male boss who doesn’t seem to care about the work. He tells her he guesses he’s just “immune to her charms.” This is new territory for Peggy: Don may not have been in love with her, but he certainly felt a strong creative and also paternal connection to her, and her former boss, Ted Chaough, fell head over heels for his mentee. Peggy’s feeling like just about everyone is immune to her charms these days; when her relationship with Abe ended she was left alone in their apartment, having to deal with tenant issues that he used to handle. In the workplace, even her friendship with Stan seems strained. At the end of the episode, she enters her apartment, falls to the floor, and starts to cry. We’ve all been there. But in Peggy’s lowest moments, she has seemed to possess a kind of dignity and power over her situation, an ability to get through it. Now, it seems like she’s perilously close to breakdown.
*Every generation thinks it’s special—my grandparents because they remember World War II, my parents because of discos and the moon. We have the Internet. Millions and billions of doors we can open and shut, posting ourselves into profiles and digital scrapbooks. Suddenly and totally, we’re threaded together in a network so terrifyingly colossal that we can finally see our terrifyingly tiny place in it. But we’re all individuals. It’s beaten into us in MLK Day assemblies (one person can make a difference!) and fourth-grade poster projects (what do you want to be when you grow up?). We can be anything! Our parents are divorced but we’re in love! Vaguely, quietly, we know we’ll be famous. For being president, for starring in a movie, for writing a feature at 18 in the New York Times.
I’m so jealous. Unthinkable jealousies, jealousies of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel I’m reading and the Oscar-winning movie I just saw. Why didn’t I think to rewrite Mrs. Dalloway? I should have thought to chronicle a schizophrenic ballerina. It’s inexcusable. Everyone else is so successful, and I hate them. There’s a German word I learned about in psychology class called schadenfreude, which means a pleasure derived from the misfortune of others. The word flips into my head like a shaming pop-up when a girl doesn’t get the internship either or a boy’s show is bad. I was lying in bed the other night wondering whether the Germans created a word for its opposite when I realized that the displeasure derived from the fortune of others is easier to spell. I should have thought to coin its green eyes.
I slid into my assigned window seat and closed my eyes. Dear airplane gods, I silently prayed, please, please, please leave the middle seat empty for the next 15 hours. I was still begging the universe for this travel favor when I felt someone settle in beside me. Too bad, I thought. Then I opened my eyes on my dreamy new neighbor.
“Hey there,” he said. He had an Australian accent. His blue eyes and unkempt blond curls were coupled with the kind of three-day old scruff that makes me want to move somewhere mountainous populated by men who chop their own kindling.
“Hi,” I said.
I work in a co-working space. (For all of you who ask me what that is, I say, “a co-working space is a place where you pay a few hundred dollars a month to share an office space with people, and also, how are you such a genius that you have thus far managed to avoid reading the annoying publications in which you would have learned this annoying term?”) In said co-working space, I share a small room with two other writers. We have recently taken to calling our little room The Suicide Suite, because off of it is a beautiful balcony on which we are prohibited from standing as it could easily just snap off the building, like a bad lego. A member of our co-working space’s dog once toddled off this balcony, and as this dog is no longer with us—balcony not at fault here—there is talk of naming it after him. But we’ll have to check with the owner first and right now he is in a foreign country, teaching people to do something which I will forget as many times as it is explained to me.
The biggest subject of the day here at our co-working space is lunch. Lunch is always a problem. There are not many good restaurants in the little town we live in. It’s strange, because there are a lot of really good cooks here, but no one seems to want to do it for a profession. There is a grocery store up the hill that makes good pre-made sandwiches, but sometimes they are out of them, and anyway, I am beginning to wonder if they are a) not very nutritious b) making us fat. Then there are two health food stores, one you drive to and one you walk to. The one you walk to has pre-made sandwiches, too, but they’re a little soggy and while I can’t recall the exact cost, my mind hovers somewhere around the sum of one thousand dollars.
Millions of passwords, credit card numbers and other personal information may be at risk as a result of a major breakdown in Internet security revealed earlier this week.
The damage caused by the “Heartbleed” bug is currently unknown. The security hole exists on a vast number of the Internet’s Web servers and went undetected for more than two years. While it’s conceivable that the flaw was never discovered by hackers, it’s nearly impossible to tell. -The AP
Here is a foolproof guide to changing your personal passwords during this crisis.
Imagine you’re lying in a meadow and Matt Damon is shirtless next to you. He smells like corn on the cob. He whispers something in your ear, something only you can know. Add an underscore, this is your Gmail password.
9 x 9 is 49 and you were born in 1982. Your favorite cousin is 14, but your apartment number is 6. Add it all up. Take a break! How old were you when you realized math would forevermore be irrelevant to your life? Your password is STUDENTLOANS.
(No numbers or special characters. You have nothing of value to be hacked.)
London, spring semester abroad, Day 3, 1997: Things that are different from my hometown of Honolulu: Only 4 channels—all lame. Alcohol at every meal. Employees can smoke in the store, don’t have to be nice. Spice Girl stuff EVERYWHERE. Tapes and CDs cost the same in pounds and in dollars. KFC has no mash or biscuits. “Kleenex for Men.”
Nashville, fall getaway, Day 3, 2013: Things that are different from my current home of Brooklyn: Biscuits all day, every day, bring it. Near-empty freeways. No longer feel urge to change the radio station when a country song comes on. More old people than people my own age on vacation, drinking beer. Induces fantasies of wearing swing skirts. Smells regularly like meat I’d actually want to eat.
The first time I met Bill Murray, I was 18 years old and wearing a miserable brown ensemble.
The garments belonged to my mother, and for unknown reasons I had filched them to add to my own wardrobe in New York: a chocolate, polyester blouse, light-washed jeans, and mahogany, backless loafers in the style of re-imagined Mary Janes. I had just moved to the city for college and the independent film I interned for consisted of a tidy editorial crew (Editor, Assistant Editor, and me.) Rather than cool clothes, I outfitted myself with that spirited, blind alacrity only youth affords. I was thrilled to work on a real film—in the Big Apple!—and anytime a celebrity popped by to visit our director, I feigned (poorly, I’m sure) aloofness. These icons largely ignored my existence, which I considered a common gesture in the feudal world of filmmaking: they noblemen, maintaining an understood distance, to my serfdom.
We all had crushes on our lead actor, Bill Murray (who we called by first name, naturally). “Bill might stop by today,” was a regularly quoted possibility that for months never materialized. Then one afternoon he appeared in our cutting room—very tall, sharply be-suited, his silver hair neatly combed to frame his genial face. I stood statue-still as he approached me, his arm extended.
“Hi, I’m Bill,” he said.
“I’m Jen,” I squeaked. “It’s… such a pleasure to meet you.” It was a phrase I had practiced often—one that, in our Korean family, I never grew up utilizing, but had fancied a polite, white-people-expression I ought to use more often. We shook hands for a good while.