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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

Some Books
I'm In...

Sleep Is
For The Weak

Chicago Review Press

Home - Middle Row

Let's Panic

The site that inspired the book!

At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it.

Lets-Panic.com → 

Monday
Apr142014

May I Gently Suggest: Teen Angst Edition

These are two very different books about teenaginess. Teenagedom. TEEN LIFE. 

God, I remember how much I hated being called a teen. I remember taking a resort vacation with my family and my older siblings were like, “Don’t you want to check out the teen activities?” Then they snickered while I stormed off with my copy of Dubliners and my full array of head gear. 

Anyway! Now that I’m well past that point in my life, it turns out I can read books about teenageness without feeling any empathy or even a twinge of discomfort. Except that that is a filthy lie. After reading these, I am awash in adolescent memories, and I think I’m breaking out again. Or maybe that’s perimenopause. I hear that’s a thing. At least now I don’t have the headgear? (I think I need a retainer, frankly, but on the other hand fuck that. Being an adult means you can curse all you like. Someone bring me a fucking cocktail.) 

So the books I am gently suggesting to you, they are very different and I think their weaknesses and strengths complement each other delightfully. Let us discuss!  

 

First, there’s THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. You may have heard of this one. It’s all the rage. The movie is coming out soon. So many people recommended it to me that I ended up avoiding it, because I am just that contrary. But finally I gave in to peer pressure, and I’m glad I did. (Kids: your friends are not always wrong!) TFIOS (as the insiders call it) is funny, compelling, and wrenchingly sad. I can’t emphasize that last part enough. I knew going in that it would be sad. I was like, yeah, sure, teens with cancer. Bet it’ll have some dark humor. What I didn’t expect was that I would wake up the day after finishing it sore from crying so much. TFIOS is its own workout. If your eyes aren’t normally puffy enough, read this book. Problem solved. 

Reading it as a grownup renders the reading experience extra-hard, I think, because you feel not only for the teenagers but also for their parents. Without spoiling too much, you can probably guess that the families here get put through the wringer. I’m not saying that teenagers wouldn’t feel sad for all involved parties, but I can’t imagine Teen Me would have related quite as strongly to the adults. So: read TFIOS, but be prepared. Be prepared for your spouse to come to bed only to find you weeping violently and then he’ll get angry at the author for making you cry like that and you’ll yell at him to leave you alone because you still have a chapter left. Buy extra tissues. 

For me, the weakness of TFIOS was that I didn’t quite believe these teenagers were… teenagers. They recite poetry to each other. They think things through. They are far more sophisticated and witty than I ever was. I mean, maybe I was kind of a dope. I can fully get behind this idea. But you know how even the wittiest, smartest teenagers are super-duper lacking in good judgment and will do things so profoundly stupid you can’t believe it’s the same person? That kind of thing never happens, here. On the other hand these are teens with cancer and maybe they’ve had to grow up fast. That’s a possibility. I just think that the version of teenagers John Green shows here is…aspirational, shall we say. Maybe teenagers need that. “Look how witty I could be,” they might say. “Time to memorize some poetry.”

On to the next book! 

Jo Ann Beard’s IN ZANESVILLE is a great contrast to TFIOS. I was crazy about Jo Ann Beard’s collection of essays Boys of My Youth (check out that title essay—talk about wrenching) and I was recommending it to a student when I accidentally discovered that she had since written this novel. It’s a crime that more people don’t know about this book. It's a crime that I didn't know about this book. 

IZ (yeah, I'm abbreviating it) is about two best friends trying to find their way into adulthood, getting into trouble, falling out of friendship and back in, and it reads like maybe the author read my diary. I loved, loved, loved it. The deep affection I felt for the angsty teens here was something I missed in TFIOS. These are the kinds of girls I remember being. Well-meaning. Flailing. Anxious. Thoughtless. Dopey.  

Here’s the first paragraph, which may be my favorite first paragraph ever: 

“We can’t believe the house is on fire. It’s so embarrassing first of all, and so dangerous second of all. Also, we’re supposed to be in charge here, so there’s a sense of somebody not doing their job.”

Is that not brilliant? Can't you immediately picture these two goofy fourteen-year-olds, making an utter mess of things, trying to abdicate responsibility for the fire while it is occurring? And it only gets better. The entire book is a harrowing and hilarious in just that way. I believed that these kids existed. I worried about them. 

I do have one problem with IZ, but it’s kind of a book spoiler. I’ll just say I didn’t think the book quite realized its potential. I think you can have a literary work that also has an exciting plot, and this novel frustrated me a little in that way. IZ is wonderfully evocative in a way that TFIOS isn’t, but on the other hand, The Fault in our Stars goes, shall we say, all the way. In Zanesville is something of a tease. 

 

What's this CentUp button all about? CentUp is a way for you to express your appreciation of my work via sweet cash while also giving to a good cause. See the bottom of this post for details. 

 

 

 

Tuesday
Apr082014

How not to carry lunch. Also: about "CentUp"

A couple of months ago I joined a writer’s collective, which is like a writer’s space except you get your own permanent desk and also you get to say you’re in a “collective.” It feels good, guys. Collective. Good mouth feel.

The collective is about a half-hour walk from our place, or a couple of subway stops, but now that’s it’s sort-of spring I’ve been walking. I bring my laptop, of course, which is shoved into my backpack, and I also bring lunch, which is usually in a separate cross-body lunch pail thing that I bought for Scott and promptly stole for my own use. Marriage! In addition to the various straps of my laptop backpack and lunch-pail-bag I’m almost always listening to a podcast on my phone, because we all know there’s nothing worse than being alone with your thoughts/feelings.

On my way there today I stopped for a coffee and because I’m not a sick monster I removed my earbuds so that I could hear the nice barista tell me how many twenties I owed her. Somehow all my straps and wires got tangled, and while I waited for my coffee I sorted it all out. I thought. (Foreshadowing.) I left, coffee in hand, earbuds back in my ears, feeling like a normal human being who knows how to carry things. The rest of the walk I was getting some odd looks, and I couldn’t tell if they were admiration or pity. (Or both? Is that possible? And what would that look like? Someone work on that expression for me.) There were some sad smiles directed my way. Or maybe that guy just had a sad face? I figured that either 1) I looked amazing or 2) my fly was wide open. #2 was a negative so I decided to feel good about myself, even though I was encumbered and feeling increasingly sweaty.

When I reached my destination I got a load of myself in the mirror by the elevator and saw that my lunch pail had shifted at some point. Or I moved it. It was probably my fault. It was no longer across my body. The straps were now dangling from around my neck, the lunch sack landing between my boobs. How could I not notice that it had hiked all the way up there? I was carrying last night's leftover like a St. Bernard would carry his barrel of whiskey. Maybe people figured my mom hung it there right before pinning my name to my coat sleeve. Or maybe that’s where I keep my external heart pump. I was a little embarrassed, but more than anything I was surprised that people were giving me looks that seemed maybe sort of positive. People are good. Most people. The ones in downtown Brooklyn, anyway, where you're allowed to look a little off. If I had been in Soho I’d probably be set upon by German tourists, or a gang of hungry models.

***


On a totally different note, I wanted to explain this CentUp button you may have noticed at the bottom of each post. CentUp is a way for you to express your appreciation of my work via sweet cash while also giving to a good cause. Each contribution you make is split 50/50 between myself and whatever charity you choose. (Currently CentUp has a choice of seven charities, but they plan to expand their lineup over time.) You can donate as little as a penny, or as much as a trillion dollars. OR MORE. Infinite dollars.

But seriously, even donating a little lets me know which posts you particularly enjoyed and want to see more of. And then I can post more. Plus you're helping the world. Try it out!  When you create your CentUp account, you automatically get a dollar to try the button and see how it works. You don’t need to enter any credit card information for this step.

Here's an informative video about CentUp. Enjoy!

CentUp.org from CentUp on Vimeo.

 

Saturday
Mar292014

M.E. in Trouble

My short story "M.E. in Trouble" was published in PANK magazine a few months ago. It’s a little more experimental than most of my stuff, and experimental is sort of their thing. The whole issue is great, so if the story appeals to you, you should buy it! Or subscribe! We need more independent journals like PANK. Also PANK is fun to say. You have to shout it. PANK.  

I actually wrote this in graduate school. Which was, uh, 15 years ago. I submitted it to a bunch of places with no success, and I gave up on it. I’ve abandoned plenty of stories before, but this one really wanted to get out there, apparently, because it wouldn’t leave me alone. So I dug it out, had some trusted readers look at it, and made the necessary changes. I made the mistake initially of keeping it to myself and deciding it was confusing but it was SUPPOSED to be confusing because it was ART. 15 years later, I got over myself and fixed what was broken*. I also did my research and sent it to a place that featured non-traditional work. Not only was it published, but (bragging alert) the editors at PANK nominated it for the Pushcart Prize. I like happy endings. (Uh, not that you'd think that, if you read this story.)

*The only thing I refused to change was the character’s name, because okay, maybe “M.E.” is weird and sounds like ME, but that’s the guy’s name. It just is! I couldn’t do a thing about it.

Read the whole thing here.


Wednesday
Mar262014

Time to boil dinner! 


I’ve written before about the other Alice Bradleys. Let’s talk about this one.




This Alice Bradley was, among other things, principal of the Fannie Farmer School of Cookery from 1915-1944. The cookbook pictured above (actually more of an advertorial pamphlet, Other Bradley) promised salads both alluring AND new, and it delivered, but today I’m going to a highlight an even more glorious example of Ms. Bradley’s expertise: The Alice Bradley Menu Cook-Book.

 



Now, I’m no expert on semi-aspirational Depression-era cuisine, but if I had to imagine what it was like, it would guess this. The meats are boiled; the sauces are white. Many of the foods are mock-foods. There’s always one extra step that tips a relatively inoffensive side dish into pure horror. Take, for instance, “Date Salad.”


1. Wash and remove pits, stones, whatever you want to call them, sure.
2. Fill with peanut butter: so far I’m on board.
3. Oh, wait, the peanut butter should be mixed with some WHAT THE NO NO NO—
4. Curl up into a tight ball and shriek with your mouth closed until you stop imagining peanut butter and mayonnaise together.
P.S.: Why isn’t she saying what the shredded lettuce is dressed with? I’ll tell you why: it’s French dressing. It’s always French dressing. Back when Alice Bradley was in charge, only the French did dressing.

Next up: this.

 

I’m sure Alice Bradley was a nice person, but only a monster would think to cream celery.


Let’s cleanse our mental palate with some Jellied Cabbage Salad, shall we? This one, at least, sounds…adventurous? I don’t know, I’m broken. Hey, what can we serve this with OH GOD NO.



Okay, Chili con Carne is, well. Huh. There’s no French dressing in it, and that’s something. But isn’t this a little more…boiled than the kind of chili we’re used to? Is that…enough seasoning? I mean, I’m not the Principal of any School of Cookery, so who am I to say?

Finally, an alarmingly simple breakfast suggestion. I looked really closely at this one, and I’m pretty sure there’s no boiling or surprise mayo anywhere in here. I’m not sure, though. I don’t know that I can trust my own eyes.



Next week: we look at some of those alluring (and new!) salads. They have a spicy secret. (Hint: it's not mayonnaise. Usually.)