I’m thinking about opening lines today. As the wise Stephen King says, the first line of a novel “should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.” He says, “an intriguing context is important, and so is style. But for me, a good opening sentence really begins with voice. You hear people talk about ‘voice’ a lot, when I think they really just mean ‘style.’ Voice is more than that. People come to books looking for something. But they don’t come for the story, or even for the characters. They certainly don’t come for the genre. I think readers come for the voice.”
What do you think are the greatest first lines in literature? I first thought of “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” from Anna Karenina, and the second Mrs. de Winter saying, “last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,” or of course, Dicken’s “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Here are a few more I love:
Does such a thing as “the fatal flaw,” that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn’t. Now I think it does.
—Donna Tartt, The Secret History
It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.
—Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
—JD Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide—it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills—the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope.
—Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides
Mother died today. Or maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure.
—Albert Camus, The Stranger
Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.
—Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years I was fond of them, and believed them to be trustworthy.
Happy Friday! What is everyone up to? I have three days off this weekend, and am planning to spend it mostly in San Francisco. It feels really good to be home, although I already miss some things about Portland, like the people and the donuts. (I haven’t had a donut since I’ve been back!?). Hope you all survive your Friday, and hope these links help some with that…
Katharine Hepburn was equal parts glamour and sport. No one since has made dressing down look so good. Hepburn was one of the first women to wear men’s trousers, and was insistent on doing so, both on screen and off. How cool do hers look, all wide-legged and comfy? She also preferred oversize collared shirts and blazers, rather than the tight, restrictive dresses that were popular for women in her day. On her fashion sense, Hepburn said, “I wear my sort of clothes to save me the trouble of deciding which clothes to wear.” I like that. She was fearless in her fashion sense, which is certainly something to be admired. Enjoy.
I loved this EP when it first came out, but just rediscovered it after my move back to the Bay Area. (Maybe because of the title – Home). “All My Wishes” is my favorite track. Jenny O’s voice is so compelling and purposeful and tender and passionate, and the lyrics kind of resonate:
I wrestle with my reasons everyday
I listen to my friends and what they say
What they say
If you don’t put out
And we don’t see eye to eye
Then why can’t I leave you?
But you sound so smart
When you’re tearing me apart
I believe you
I believe you
Have a listen–
Are you listening to anything good right now? I’d love to hear…
Celeste Ng’s novel, Everything I Never Told You, is more family portrait than suspenseful thriller, although it begins with a missing teenage girl, Lydia Lee, who we quickly learn, has drowned in a nearby lake. 1970s Ohio is not an easy place to grow up as a Chinese American, and Lydia’s parents only want her to succeed, academically and socially. She appears to; but after her death, her siblings and parents start to realize that they never really knew her at all. We learn why Marilyn, Lydia’s mother, who dropped out of medical school to have children, put so much academic pressure on her daughter. We learn why James, Lydia’s father, the American-born son of Chinese immigrants, is so keen on Lydia excelling socially. It’s a book about secrets and desire, identity and race, gender and achievement. Ng presents an incredibly complex and emotional portrait of the Lee family and reminds us how deeply our family histories shape who we are. The lyrical prose flows at such a perfect pace, you forget you’re even reading. I loved this book.
I made this for lunch recently and felt super healthy and good about myself. I kind of made up the recipe based on other lettuce wrap ideas I found online. I find it really difficult to eat meals without a ton of carbs. (I’m basically on an all carb diet). But after watching this, I’ve been considering NOT eating bread at every meal and trying to cook some really healthy meals. Give this, or a variation, a try. You’ll feel great!
ground turkey meat
1 Tbsp oil (coconut, avocado, or olive)
1 small onion, diced
chopped bell pepper
3 gloves garlic, minced
liquid aminos to taste
red pepper flakes to taste
Salt + pepper to taste
shredded carrots (for garnish)
lettuce for wrapping
Heat oil in skillet, add garlic and onion. Add meat and cook until brown. Once meat is cooked through, add in bell pepper (and any other veggies you want) and seasonings. Stir and sauté until vegetables are cooked. Wrap meat mixture in lettuce, top with shredded carrot, onion, or any other toppings you desire–cilantro, chives?
Have you been reading anything good lately? Even though I’m surrounded by books at work all day, I still struggle to find my next unputdownable book. I asked Terra Brigando, my reading soul mate and great friend, to recommend some of her favorite titles. I’ve read the second two, and also really enjoyed them, but I haven’t read the first. I’m definitely going to check it out. Don’t these all sound dark and twisted and interesting?
The Keepsake by Kirsty Gunn.
Gunn takes us on a dark journey into a young woman’s life and the memories that keep her tethered to self-destruction. Held captive by an older man, the protagonist recounts her mother’s life—abandoned by her husband, abused by her father, and addicted to drugs. The story unfolds slowly and dreamily, and often in lyrically disturbing prose. Many of the passages are fragmented, leaving the reader wondering what is real and what is simply a product of the narrator’s imagination. The story is a testament to the power of our thoughts and the ways in which they can be distorted. Are we forever prisoners of our own memories? Or can we change the future, by changing the way in which we view the past?
The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender.
A collection of short stories, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt is Bender’s first book. Blending the absurd with reality in a way that is both beautiful and troubling, Bender shows us what is it to be human through the struggles and questions of her characters. A girl comes home to find a backpack made of stone; a woman’s lover is devolving and will soon disappear into nothing; a wife learns to love her husband who returns from war without lips; a mermaid and imp begin an unlikely friendship on the campus of their high school. These stories, at once surreal and palpable, will leave your head spinning, and your heart wanting more.
The End of Everything by Megan Abbott.
Thirteen-year-old Lizzie is best friends with her neighbor Evie. Set in the ‘80s in a lazy Midwestern suburb, the girls spend the summer bathing in the sun, talking about boys, and watching Evie’s older sister, Dusty, as she enters into the languid longing that so many teenagers experience. Evie’s father is perfect—good-looking, smart, and loving. But is there something darker there? Then Evie disappears and the neighborhood is thrust into hysteria. Lizzie begins her own quest for Evie, discovering secrets and hidden desires along the way. I love this book for the lyrical writing, but also because Abbott isn’t afraid to take us into the center of the fire, re-examining the relationship between sexual consent, age, and desire.