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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
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Sleep Is
For The Weak

Chicago Review Press

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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. → 

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Irreverent. Curious. Vaginas.

Our good friend David Farley recently held a launch party for his book An Irreverent Curiosity. The book is about Farley's adventures in and around Calcata, Italy, a bizarre village famous for once housing a holy relic: the foreskin of Jesus. In the mid-80s, the Holy Foreskin mysteriously disappeared. Farley spent a year in Italy searching for the story behind its disappearance. (It's an amazing book, by the way. It tore me away from Infinite Jest, which is not easy to do these days.)

Anyway. Back to the party! Farley and his wife Jessie—who, incidentally, was my friend way before Farley entered the scene—are friendly with Paulina Porizkova, the supermodel/writer/lovely human being, and she was also at the party. If you've been reading Finslippy for any length of time, you might remember my mentioning that Paulina's mom had been one of my midwives and had, in fact, delivered Henry. The last time I met Paulina, a few years ago, I shared this information with her. Then I got tongue-tied and couldn't think of anything else to talk about, so I backed away, waving and apologizing.

This time I felt a little more confident. Maybe it was all the wine? Hard to say. I suggested to Scott that we talk to her, and he turned this beautiful shade of lavender-gray. I couldn’t hear what he was saying but his mouth was moving frantically. I leaned in. He seemed to be pleading with me not to make him go over there.

"Aw," I said. "You're adorable! Let's go—I'll ask her if I can get her picture with you."

"No no no no," he whisper-shrieked. So cute!

"Oh, come now. At least we can say hello! Remember, her mom was my midwife. It's like we're related."

"I am not talking to Paulina. I had her poster on my bedroom wall. I… no. I will not talk to her."

But we were pushed inexorably forward by the party-tide, and soon we were abutting her circle. Then Paulina turned to us. And said hello.

Before I knew what I was doing I was reminding her that her mother had delivered my son Henry, and then I was showing her my iPhone pictures of Henry, and she was appreciating the pictures in a way that someone who has kids knows they're supposed to do. Scott was smiling and smiling some more. Also waving. But at least not apologizing, which I thought was a step forward for us as a couple. We're learning to socialize! It's never too late, kids!

I decided I was going to regale her with our favorite midwife story, which was when Scott accompanied me to a visit and I complained of yeast infections and Paulina's mom directed me never to wash my vagina with soap. (It was funny at the time.) (You had to be there.) As I was talking I realized that in order to communicate the hilarity of this story, which was not all that funny in the retelling of it, I had to 1) impersonate Paulina's mother, and 2) use the word "vagina" an awful lot. And then I became increasingly self-conscious at how much I was saying "vagina" and how the Czech/Swedish/Vampire accent I was affecting sounded a lot like I was just imitating Paulina, and not in a flattering way. I was horrified for me. Paulina looked concerned, but to her credit, she was not scanning the room for possible exits. I don't think Scott noticed what was happening, because while I yammered on he was sketching Paulina on a napkin.

To my credit, I ended the story quickly and also kept myself from telling Paulina how many stitches her mom had put in my hoo-ha. (That's polite code for "vagina.") Actually I never would have done that, because I don't really know. Maybe Paulina knew? Damn it, I should have asked her.

Miraculously, our new best friend managed to steer the conversation over to a more socially acceptable subject, for which I will be forever grateful. For the next twenty minutes or so we talked about our favorite books. The specific question she asked, which I think is kind of brilliant as a party conversation-topic-when-the-other-people-are-definitely-insane, is a three-parter. 1)What's the book you wish you had written? 2) What book do you read when you want something comforting and familiar? And 3) What book do you think everyone should read?

In response, Scott squeaked something about Noam Chomsky, and then he pulled his shirt over his head and flailed his arms about, shouting, "I'm a headless robot!" Or was that something Henry did this morning? At any rate, Noam Chomsky was mentioned. My responses were 1) To the Lighthouse, because I wanted to impress Paulina, 2) Anything by Laurie Colwin, because it's the truth, and 3) The Master and Margarita, because I wanted to impress Paulina. I'm going to have to think about what my real answers to 1 and 3 would be. The impressing-Paulina choices weren't far off, I think. I'm just glad I didn't say "The Big Book of Vaginas!" or "O, Vagina" or something equally off-kilter.

So. What would your books be?

Reader Comments (107)

1. a) Disturbances in the Field by Lynne Sharon Schwartz. b) Boys of My Youth by Jo-Ann Beard c) Motherless Brooklyn.

2. A Prayer for Owen Meany, Animal Dreams, Good-bye Without Leaving/Happy All the Time/Home Cooking, Paris to the Moon. Also Robert Parker mysteries. And mail-order catalogs. Oh jeez and Child of My Heart by Alice McDermott. That could be (1) or (2).

3. I don't really know about this one. I thought it was great when New York had Native Speaker as its city-wide reading project, but that's because it's both well-written and sociologically unusual, not because I think it's the one book everyone should read. My husband thinks everyone should read The Metaphysical Club, but I didn't get past page 13 (sorry, Louis) so I can't really claim to think it's a universal maxim. OK. I'm going to say Lonesome Dove. And I defend my response with the observation that I don't know anyone who didn't love it, and it's good to know you can love to read like that.
July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTess

My answer to # 2 is the same as your answer to # 2! I adore Laurie Colwin!

You rock.
July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth
What did Polina's mother suggest washing the vagina with (to avoid yeast infections)?

I ask in all seriousness.

Thank you. That is all.
July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth
1) "Skinny Legs and All" by Tom Robbins.2) The Lord of the Rings series by J. R. R. Tolkien, I don't know why this is comforting but I used to read the whole series every year.3) "The Demon-Haunted World" by Carl Sagan.
July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCandace
Elizabeth: Just water. "Don' use soap," she said, over and over. "Only water."
July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlice
Gigglegigglegiggle. About you and soap and vaginas and about Sarah at 5:20 confessing she's only read one book, which was really, really funny once I was already laughing.

I'm going to have to think about these questions. I began Infinite Jest this summer and at 100 pages in my husband made the mistake of saying that he felt I was far enough into it that it wouldn't meet the Vanity Fair fate (I've started that book a million times, brought it on trips, but a new edition and still never gotten past a chapter or two).

Obviously that was the kiss of death. Only picked it up once since then.

But, the family was begging me to finally read all the Harry Potters, so I've been having a summer like I remember from long, long ago, reading while eating, reading while reading the paper, reading while walking up to get the laundry... I've finished 3 and 4 (next step, remembering titles rather than numbers) and am halfway through 5. So it's time to get off the internet and knock off another hundred (FOOTNOTE FREE) pages.
July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJen
1) Infinite Jest, 2) Infinite Jest, and 3) Infinite Jest (until September 21, anyway, GAHHH!!)
July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSue M.
1) "Jane Eyre"2) Any Bill Bryson book or "Tender to the Bone" by Ruth Reichel.3) "Cloudstreet" by Tim Winton. He's Australian and I love him.
July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHeather G
OMG you're reading Infinite Jest?! ME TOO!!!
July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMrs. Kennedy
Yes, GREAT questions!

1. To Kill a Mockingbird2. Bill Bryson's entire canon. The Narnia series.3. The Brothers K by David James Duncan; Real Food by Nina Planck
July 27, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjanatig
I don't even know but man I needed this after a day of reading about bloggy bloggy blog drama and stuff. Vaginas are better. Thanks.
July 27, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbinkytowne
1. Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson2. The Ten Thousand Things, Maria Dermout (not well enough known, but like your berries in the microwave, DO IT NOW)3. Moby-Dick, Melville
July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaura
(1) The Elegance of the Hedgehog -- it is Just So. Stunning and breathtaking and devastating and wonderful.

(2) Through the Looking Glass (and What Alice Found There); American Gods (by Neil Gaiman); anything by J.D. Salinger or William Saroyan

(3) This isn't technically a book, but I think everyone should read "Tracy's Tiger", a short piece by William Saroyan. It is one of my favorite pieces of writing ever, period.
July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMiss B
Love the questions :)

1. The Pillars of the Earth

2. I don't reread books either, but I think A Wrinkle in Time fits the bill.

3. Hmmmm. This is a big responsibility. It has to be really GOOD, and it has to change a perspective, or teach something, or make some sort of DIFFERENCE. Well, there you have it: To Kill a Mockingbird.

Thanks for letting me play along!
July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMegsie
laurie colwin is my comfort read as well. so many people haven't heard of her.
July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLori
1) The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. Except I could not have written it because I am not Indian, and it's one of those "you have to know it" kinda books.2) I never ever re-read. That is all. If I want comfort I do magazines: Cookie, Real Simple. Brainless brain-nothinged brained0out mindcandy. or if i want something in between, the New Yorker.3) "The Road" by Cormac Macarthy. The bleakest damn book that ever made me love humanity.

p.s. Vagina.
July 27, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermomtrolfreak
skipping 1 and 3 for now. But, #2 is definitely Laurie Colwin. Yay for Laurie Colwin. And also Patrick O'Brian's Jack & Stephen series. (really. Try them!) And also John Le Carré's Smiley trilogy. Spies, and domesticity, and 18th-c naval warfare. they're all comforting.
July 27, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjen
1. The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard2. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (yes, I am weird...I'm comforted by a story about a dead teenage girl)3. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Dietrich
Aw, I love Laurie Colwin - she's one of the few authors both my mom and I both enjoy. I keep a book of hers in my car to read in between work appointments, even though I've read the passages a dozen times.

Ok, some other favorites:

- The Giver- Traveling Mercies

July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMegan
Never have I been so entertained by the word vagina - it's amazing how a little Porizkova can spice things up. You have now become a must read! (I'm sure you already were but hey - I live under a rock from Monday-Friday.)

To answer your questions:1. Ulysses by James Joyce but only because it's so damn convoluted it'd make me look interesting.2. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.3. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
July 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNate
I wish I had written Atonement.

I am comforted by Pride and Prejudice

Everyone should read Cloudstreet.
July 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth
Anne of Green Gables (Montgomery)Pride & Prejudice (Austen)Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Kingsolver)Henderson the Rain King (Bellow)Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Dillard)Animals in Translation (Grandin)

July 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJamie
1) Where the Wild Things Are - Sendak2) A Prayer for Owen Meany - Irving3) Of Mice and Men - Steinbeck
July 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDana
Wish I'd written: Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogyComforted by: To Kill A MockingbirdEveryone (especially all the Kingsolver fans out there) should read: The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea
July 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTexasDeb
1. I loved, I lost, I made spaghetti - Giulia Melucci2. Skinny Legs and All - Tom Robbins3. Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman
July 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterL

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