Have You Seen This Man?

His name is Damien Rice; Irish singer songwriter and main stage artist of my favorite moody soundtrack. Listening to Damien usually leaves me emotionally exhausted and exhilarated. He captures perfectly the tenor of heartbreak. Sadly the last album he released was in 2006 and I miss him. So if you’ve heard any news, let me know.

Noteworthy Books

The book update is long overdue, I am very behind my 100 books goal but I am steadily catching up. I’m only going to blog about the books that stood out these past few months.

Everything Ravaged Everything Burned by Wells Tower:

This collection of stories was superb. Wells Tower constructs sentences expertly. I constantly found myself reading individual sentences over and over, in awe at the punch a few rightly chosen words strung together produced. These stories were a thing of literary beauty. Books like  this are not for everyone. There are pretensions that sometimes accompany the designation of being bookish. Some of these are: a proclivity to use big words (guilty), casual name dropping of famous authors in conversation (the serious ones and yes guilty again), earnest discussions about recent articles in the New Yorker or The New York Times, and a tendency toward literary fiction. What is literary fiction exactly? Basically it’s one long inner monologue of everyday mundane living. It often displays in heartbreaking detail the losing battle of life, the ridiculous coping mechanisms we use to get through life’s obstacles. There aren’t any loud explosions, no superheros, monsters, or epic romances. My favorite type of literary fiction contains stories of people getting pummeled by life and coming out on the losing end (i.e. anything by Richard Yates) or resigning themselves to mediocrity. This is a grim view of literary fiction but it is by no means comprehensive and does not do justice to the beautiful writing but again this type of story is not for everyone.

Recommended for book snobs (my favorite).

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder:

This book reduced me to blubbering tears on the train. I stopped wearing mascara the couple days I was reading this book in anticipation of the tears. Paul Farmer is an amazing human being. His very existence has changed my life. To read about a man who took a no nonsense approach to aiding those in need, who fought against the establishment bare knuckled, and also traveled miles and miles on foot to visit and treat one person. He is a superhero, if that sort of thing even exists. I was humbled by the way he treated the poor and desolate. He didn’t just acknowledge them in some sort of citizen high to citizen low demeanor but got down and dirty, became one of the people, advocated for them, became part of their families, he met their needs on various levels, he treated each of his patients like they were his own mother, father, daughter. It’s one thing to be generous with your money it’s a completely other thing to be generous with your life.

Recommended for everyone, yes you please read this book.

The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene:

I haven’t quite finished this book yet. It was a bad idea to think this was good train fodder. I quickly had to relegate this to the weekend intense read shelf because I had to start taking notes to visualize the concepts he was writing about. Greene does a great job of breaking down superstring theory into manageable pieces for those who don’t regularly frequent the physics and math world. I’m really enjoying this book but really wish I had a theoretical physicists friend on call to talk to about it.

Recommended for math and science folks or those with even a fleeting interest in theoretical physics. There is a NOVA mini-series based on this book that is worth checking out.

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson:

There always seems to be a mystery thriller everyone is talking about and/or reading. Currently it is the Stieg Larsson trilogy. I read the first book Girl with the Dragon Tattoo last year and really enjoyed it. I waited for the 2nd book to come out in paperback before buying it. The story in this second installment was predictable and yet still really enjoyable. It was nice to get swept up in a world of intrigue. I can imagine the Bourne Identity type movie these books are going to make (I think I heard rumor of this getting turned into an American movie). The cliff hanger of an ending easily segues into the third book which unfortunately is still in hardback. I will wait a few months before picking up the third book and seeing how the adventures of Lisbeth Salander play out.

Recommended for lovers of mystery thrillers and those eager to get swept up in a mystery adventure.

Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Friday Night…

I had a very interesting evening. It started off very unassuming. I had a date with a boy that I met playing softball. A guy who up to the very point I walked into the restaurant seemed 100% normal. We had gone to a book signing together a week ago and had a wonderful discussion about books. He’s athletic, bookish and not bad on the eyes; ostensibly a real winner until our date yesterday.

We exchanged semi-flirtatious emails and made plans for dinner Friday night.  I walk into the restaurant and find him seated at a table in the corner with an older woman. I walk over a little befuddled but manage to compose myself and say hello. He introduces the woman as his mom. Yes folks he brought his MOM!! At this point I am completely disoriented and actively searching for cameras because I’m surely getting Punk’d. I sat for a moment perusing the menu and making small talk. The crazy thing was they acted like it was completely normal (am I the crazy one here). I excuse myself to “wash my hands” in the bathroom and come up with a game plan.

I have endured my fair share of awkward moments. I’ve sat helplessly enduring boring dates, stood guard as girl friends had cringe worthy conversations with boys, I’ve even sat and played board games with a then maybe boyfriend and his back in town surprise visit ex-fiance. I sat in the bathroom texting friends in a digital cry for help but ultimately decided ENOUGH I will not endure an evening of mortification and confusion. I got back to the table said I wasn’t feeling well and promptly left. Very rude uncharacteristic behavior for me but I pull the alternate universe card because this situation was not normal.

I went to a movie alone (Knight & Day which was pretty entertaining) to indulge in some mindless activity. Grabbed a quick bite, headed home to open a bottle of wine and a new book. If you think that the Friday night mayhem is over you are mistaken.

I wake up to some commotion in the living room sometime after 11ish. I hear muffled cries and my roommate’s boyfriend on the phone with the police. I go into the living room and see both of my roommates huddled together. One of them visibly sobbing and very shaken up. I discern details from the phone call and a whispered exchange between my roommates. My roommate was MUGGED, just around the corner from where we live. A couple of guys ran up behind her, hit her on the head and ran off with her purse. We spent the next hour canceling her cards and she gave a statement to the police. 6 policemen got to our apartment in less than 20 minutes. They canvassed our neighborhood and thought they found the guys. Turns out they didn’t. New York just got very real this evening. My roommate is ok. She is understandably still a little shaken and wary. We are evaluating whether or not to change our locks.

I ended the last few minutes of Friday helping to calm my roommate. It was a horrible Friday evening. Thankfully Saturday started off beautifully. My friend Aaron called at around 1:30 which is weird because he called (which he never does) and it was such an ungodly hour. I called him back and got news that he proposed to his long time girlfriend Lorraine. It was wonderful news and turned my mood around. So today I will think twice before giving my phone number to a random guy, walk a little more cautiously late at night, thank God my roommate is physically ok from the attack, and celebrate the engagement of a wonderful couple. Happy Saturday everyone.

Summer summer summer time..

Yes that’s right, it’s time to sit back and unwind. The unbearable heat has made me call “retreat!” (temporarily) on my battle plans for fun this summer. The air conditioned buildings offer a welcome respite from the wall of humidity that awaits outdoors. Sitting indoors has allowed me wonderful glorious time getting lost in good books and short stories in the New Yorker. There will be book review updates shortly. For now I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned about the crazy New York summer.

1. Expect the unexpected:

This has been a typical weather report for the past month or so. Hot as hell with intermittent thunderstorms (WTH?!). This little California girl is used to the gradual relaxed changes in the weather. The weather has been quite temperamental. I’m always sure to pack a small umbrella on any given day.

2. Quality over Quantity:

Summer means free outdoor activities. There are free movie nights on a decommissioned aircraft carrier, in Bryant Park, on rooftops. Free concerts at 7am and 7pm. You can see Al Pacino in a Shakespeare play for free. Not to mention my usual favorite activities of book signings, lectures, comedy shows by various brainiacs & literati. Right now, I could plan something to do every night until the end of August with an alternate B plan. It’s exciting and overwhelming how much the city has to offer. After a mini-break into hermitage for a few days I was once again reminded that I burn out easily and need to take it easy. So now I choose more wisely.

3. Street fairs at your doorstep:

There is a street fair or festival somewhere in Manhattan every Saturday & Sunday. This past weekend there was a street fair right outside my door. Most of these are pretty generic. You can get kabobs, fruit, gyros, crepes, people selling t-shirts, jewelry, the New York Times always trying to get me to buy a subscription. The festivals are a different matter all together. Festivals are usually themed (i.e. bbq, <insert minority group> pride, science). You get better food, performances, lectures, and free stuff at festivals.

That’s all for now, it’s time for me to make myself some cool refreshment. Hope you’re having a nice summer thus far, stay cool.

Sometimes I pinch myself

I am a huge nerd. Some people get excited when Lady Gaga comes through their town. I get excited when my favorite author/public radio personality/scientist comes through town to give a lecture or do a reading. For many years I forced my poor siblings to attend these events, events that were few and far between in the Bay Area.

Now that I’ve made the move out to New York I am constantly pinching myself at all of the amazing events I’ve been able to attend. Tonight for instance, I attended a This American Life themed edition of Selected Shorts hosted by Ira Glass. Two of my favorite podcasts combined to put on a show live. One of my favorite comedians Mike Birbiglia was also there to regale us with one of his hilarious stories. It’s been shocking getting to see in person the voices I’ve heard through my headphones so many times. Tomorrow night I get another dose of Ira at The Talent Show.

I’ve seen Malcolm Gladwell at Barnes & Noble. Neil DeGrasse Tyson at the The Daily Show. Stephen Colbert reading from To Kill a Mockingbird at Symphony Space. Donald Glover (Community) & John Lutz (30 Rock) at the Upright Citizens Brigade. Jonsi from Sigur Ros and Madeleine Peyroux at the Blue Note. I went to a lecture the other day on what was going on with the Large Hadron Collider that was sold out! These are the types of things I get to attend every week. I often turn to my friend (who not only willingly but eagerly joins me at these events) in a shocked breathlessness whisper “I can’t believe we live here!”

Atticus Finch (making American men feel inadequate for 50 years)

I attended an event tonight at Symphony Space to celebrate Harper Lee’s birthday and the influence “To Kill a Mockingbird” has had on the American psyche for the past 50 years. Panelists included Authors and actors:  Libba Bray (award winning young-adult novelist Going Bovine, winner of 2010 Printz Award), Oskar Eustis (Artistic Director at The Public Theater), Kurt Andersen (novelist and Studio 360 Host) ,Jayne Anne Phillips  (novelist and National Book Award finalist Lark & Termite), filmmaker Mary McDonagh Murphy (author of the upcoming book Scout, Atticus, and Boo) & Stephen Colbert (who let’s be honest is the only panelist I really cared about). The highlight of the evening was Stephen reading a chapter from the book.

The panelists discussed how the book affected their lives and the way they thought it had affected America. Oskar Eustis shared an anecdote about of a little girl he fancied and how she said “I want to marry a man like Atticus Finch”. Oskar went on to say that the Atticus Finch standard has made him feel inadequate as a man and after having kids, an inadequate father. He said this jokingly of course, but like most jokes there was a sad sad truth behind it. Atticus is not your typical hero. He isn’t overly militant, he is understated and determined. He does what’s right because it is right and doesn’t make a show about it. He is wise, generous, humble & compassionate. With his kids he is patient, honest, and tries to instill in them good values by example.  I want to echo Oskar’s girl’s statement. I want to marry a man like Atticus Finch too!

The panel discussed Harper Lee and the mystery surrounding why she never wrote again. Today (April 28th) is Harper Lee’s 84th birthday. She has rarely done interviews or made appearances. I think the general consensus was that she never wrote again because she could never live up to the anticipation. To Kill a Mockingbird was too much of a success for her to write anything again. I guess we’ll never know. Personally I think she is more than happy with the masterpiece she has contributed to American literature.

I read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was in 4th grade. My mom took us to the library almost every week and it was on one of these excursions that I stumbled upon and into the world of Scout Finch. I think even at that age I was able to glean so much about what integrity looked like, what justice was, how entrenched social constructs were hard to change but it didn’t mean you shouldn’t try if they were wrong.

I love this book. I loved the movie too. Thank you Harper Lee for giving us Atticus, Scout, Jem, Dill & Boo. Happy Birthday.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
- spoken by Atticus Finch, by Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Visit Me!

Hello friend,

This is Karen, remember your friend that haphazardly followed her dream to live in the Big Apple. In case you were wondering I miss you and think you should visit. If you do we can go to some of these places.

I would love to share with you why I fell in love with this big crazy city.



I’m From the Ghetto (apparently)

Image from siliconvalleydebug.com

I listened to the most recent episode of This American Life this morning and found myself getting pretty riled up at the first story about Mt. Pleasant High School. You can listen to the story here or download the podcast on iTunes.

There has always been a stigma associated with East Side schools. We’re all knife wielding gangsters, throwing up gang signs, dealing drugs and having babies way too young. I’m not saying that element doesn’t exist, it absolutely does but I think it discredits the more prominent population of East Side kids that end up doing something productive with their lives. I’m always baffled at the people who are afraid of venturing out to the East Side, who turn their noses up because the girls on the volleyball team don’t have matching shoes. Life isn’t easy for most kids in the east side but that doesn’t mean they don’t come from loving homes, that they don’t want the very best for their lives, that they’re not trying to make the most out of what they have. I hate it when someone tries to tell you how to live your life without knowing a damn thing about you. I loathe the citizen high to citizen low attitude. I sincerely hope that Steve Poizner gets a clue about how insulting and terribly written his description of Mt. Pleasant High School kids was. I also hope that East Side schools are able to get the money to give these kids the education they want and need.

Thanks Ira for defending the East Side (I knew you would)

My Neighborhood

I live in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The UWS comprises the neighborhood between 59th & 100th, Riverside Parkway and Central Park West. I’m really lucky to have found myself in such an eclectic neighborhood. There are many recognizable landmarks in the area and so many things to explore. Here is a sampling of places I enjoy in my neighborhood.

My sister running around with the dinosaurs in the AMNH

The American Museum of Natural History & Hayden Planetarium: 81st Central Park West

This is my favorite place in the city. I could get lost in this museum all day and would love every minute of it. This place is huge and houses some of the coolest displays of animals and artifacts I’ve ever seen. The thing I love most is the Hayden Planetarium, which coincidentally is curated by my favorite astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson. This is the perfect place to take children, roaming through the halls is sure to spark those little imaginations. Also perfect for big kids like me.

Levain Bakery: 167 W. 74th

The cookies at this bakery will make you weep they are so good. I’m getting a little misty just thinking about them. The bakery is small but the sweet smell of chocolate chips will let you know you’re close. I’ve only had the cookies here but I hear the baked goods are pretty tasty. They don’t offer a ton of variety at this place but what they do, they do very well.

The Shops at Columbus Circle: 10 Columbus Circle Avenue

This place is right at the south west corner of Central Park. You can see the CNN building nearby and get some macaroons at the famous Bouchon Bakery. The shops are pretty upscale but the building is beautiful and full of all kinds of modern amenities. The bathrooms have tv screens, so you can watch Wolf Blitzer and wash your hands at the same time. I really want to catch Anderson Cooper or Christiane Amanpour before they head into work whenever I’m around the area. Mostly though I like to hang out and read at the Borders.

Zabars: 2245 Broadway

This supermarket is an institution. They stock the best bread, baked goods, cheeses & other specialty goods around the city. They’re known for their quality and is as close to a one stop shop as you can get here in NY. This place is also completely bonkers at all hours of the day. The bread & coffee here I can vouch for personally, they are excellent. It’s a good place to pick up a packed lunch to take to Central Park.

That’s it for now. I’ll post more when I discover more noteworthy places in the neighborhood. Better yet come and visit and explore with me.