Snapshots From An Offline Life

What’s up bros????????

A lot has been going on, but as usual most of it is too boring to bother telling anybody about. I don’t find it boring but I recognize that it mostly is boring to others. For example: I got a book contract FINALLY!! But when I tell people and then they ask me “oh what’s your book about?” in my brain I’m just like “say as few sentences as possible” but no matter how few sentences I use I can still see the person’s eyes glaze over. It’s crazy that capitalism is destroying our world but when somebody writes a book about it it’s impossible to make it sound interesting. I need to work on this.

But anyway, I got a book contract. My experience with peer review was unusually agonized and protracted, delayed by stuff totally outside of my control, which was very challenging for me. Whenever the ball is in my court I am FINE. I loved writing the book, I loved revising the book, I do these things quickly and with pleasure. But waiting as month after month after month after month dragged by and nobody knew what was going on or why the one reviewer was so late…as the date my tenure file is due draws nearer and nearer. I feel you can see in my face that I have aged unnaturally quickly because of it all. Five months of interrupted sleep, nightmares, and constant all-day obsession are not good for one’s skin. Literally my husband told me “what’s wrong with you, you look crazy” and when I said “what do you mean??” he said “you’ve got intense bags under your eyes and your eyes look weird.” My human husband said that to me, to my face.

It is obviously not important in the grand scheme of things, but we are all just dealing with what’s in front of us. When the final report finally came in and the editor told me to “celebrate!” I burst into tears and cried in my husband’s arms and wailed some embarrassing things. We immediately went to the Game Stop and bought a Nintendo Switch so I could play the new Zelda and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since (joke (sort of))

I really believe in peer review. When people take it seriously it’s amazing and powerful. It is also excruciating and nerve-wracking. Them’s the breaks!

Other things going on:

I joined an 80s style gym, by which I mean it is pretty basic and run-down and full of old ladies, like the gyms I grew up waiting around for my mother in. I’ve definitely fallen into that middle aged rut where you are perpetually joining gyms and getting excited about finally starting to regularly exercise again and then four months later you realize you failed and have to start over. BUT THIS TIME IT’S GONNA BE DIFFERENT ha ha ha. Specifically I want to go to aerobics classes constantly, every day of the week if I can. It is so much fun. Taking a Zumba class with a bunch of old New England ladies dancing to out-of-date hip hop. Sign me up! So far I’ve gone every day for one week. We’ll see what happens. I’m also obviously doing that middle aged thing where you’re like “look at all these old ladies, ha ha” and then you realize they’re probably like six years older than you. Look upon my works ye mighty and despair

I pickled garlic scapes

I grew a ton of stuff in my garden

I hate the cherry tomatoes I chose to plant this year. Fuck this variety; never again I say. And I mentioned this to my friend who is a farmer and her face grew thunderous when she heard what variety I’d planted and she yelled oh FUCK that shit. Whoever invented this variety is truly a monster; I think his name is “Matt” because the variety is called “Matt’s Wild.” Word to the wise. They may be blight resistant but it’s not worth it.

I believe I have solved the fruit fly issue: keep the compost in the freezer and put little jars of apple cider vinegar with a drop of dish soap around the kitchen. I will report back on this in September as we actually haven’t reached peak fruit fly season yet.

I forgot that I have to start getting mammograms now that I am forty and then my doctor reminded me and this depressed me

I started trying to wear sunscreen every day. Success has been middling on this goal so far

We had an epic 7 day heat wave that entailed spending a lot of time sitting in the basement so the dog wouldn’t die

I’m playing so much Breath of the Wild that my real life has become psychedelic, like I’ll walk past a decorative ceramic ball sitting on someone’s porch step and think “I wonder what I’m supposed to do with that” or I’ll see a tree branch laying artfully on the ground and think “I can’t pick that up because my weapons cache is full”

Through a complicated set of circumstances we were given a really fancy juicer for free and I have been making “sour juice” that’s mostly kale and lemons

I read every Tana French book essentially in one sitting and now am devastated that there aren’t any more–anybody got any French-esque recommendations? If you’ve read her you know what I mean by this

I’m playing the piano a lot, and exclusively am trying to learn Bach inventions and Joplin rags. Somehow these seem similar to me. Something about contrapuntal writing and syncopation.

I have decided I don’t care that much about going to Tanglewood. I think New Englanders do “outside hanging out” in a weird way I don’t like.

At the same time, I have recently realized that sitting outside at night in New England is not necessarily impossible; I sat outside til midnight the other night and only got two mosquito bites. So maybe these things are not hard and fast rules, which I am glad to learn.

This whole summer I have been doing almost nothing but working on my book and some articles I have going on. I spend the whole day in my office typing. I don’t know if I will regret this when I am old or not, but it’s just the way it is. Meanwhile, my husband is doing things like taking apart our windows to figure out how they work so that he can replace the sashes himself. He did this because the other day I broke a window through carelessness. He just sighed when it happened. Leo is Virgo’s cross to bear in this way; Leo is constantly like OOPS and looking guiltily at Virgo and then Virgo has to figure out how to fix whatever happened. I’m sorry honey. I also apologize for blaming my character flaws on astrology, which is a cop-out and not cute. Anyway he’s learning a lot about windows, for example our windows are “double hung,” which means you can lower the top half as well as raise the bottom half. We never knew that! And he’s doing wild amounts of yard work, and identifying every plant in our yard and how to care for it and what its uses are. And trimming the hedge and building things and fixing the hole in the roof and paying all the bills and making informational calls to contractors and roofers, and vacuuming and managing the vet appointments and bathing the dog and figuring out direct deposit and ordering me new credit cards and researching dentists and taking the car in for oil changes and dealing with the trash and recycling. I don’t do ANYTHING for this family aside from making the bulk of our income and doing a lot of pickling. I guess I’m also in charge of cleaning the bathroom, so that’s something. I also wash the windows once a year, which I find deeply, profoundly satisfying. I have a squeegee and everything.

And speaking of jobs, Gary got one! As you may know, he retired from teaching after ten years of being ABD and teaching college as an adjunct. He was tired of contingent precarious labor and also tired of this kind of intellectual and affective labor that is impossible to shut off. He wanted to go back to straightforward work where you clock in and out and don’t have to think about it when you’re not there. He’s been applying to all kinds of cool weird jobs in our town, and just got one, working weekends at a bookstore. He came home exhilarated after his first day. “I worked all day doing concrete tasks and now I’m home and am not thinking about it at all and don’t have to think about it again until next weekend!” I am happy for him even though I would rather chew off my own foot than have a 9-5 job ever again.

Oh god, we saw “Hereditary” and I am still deeply haunted. It was over a week ago and I still can’t get up to go to the bathroom without my heart pounding out of my chest–the other night I woke up and even though I was in bed with my old man I still got so scared I couldn’t go back to sleep, I kept imagining a shadowy form emerging next to the bed and I felt like I would pee my pants, and it was so hot that Gary wouldn’t let me cling to him and so I had no comfort. It was the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, which is saying something because I have seen all the scary movies, and been very scared by many of them. But nothing holds a candle to this shit. It was so wild. It was during the heat wave and we just wanted to go see a movie to get into the air conditioning. We have lately been even more out of touch with pop culture than usual and had heard NOTHING about the movie, and literally chose it only because the time worked and it was showing in the one good theater our local shitty cinema has. I vaguely perceived from the poster that it was a horror movie, but that was fine because I love horror movies. I was like “oh boy I love Toni Colette” and that was kind of the end of my understanding of what the movie was. LITTLE DID I KNOW. Jesus Lord alive. I have never, NEVER been so disturbed by a film, and I’ve seen some crazy shit in my time (married to an experimental film scholar). The theater was almost empty–it was just us and then two or three people sitting alone, which became more and more creepy as the movie went on, these mild rustlings from lone watchers in the dark behind us. The movie starts and you think it’s just an artful but straightforward haunted house movie–like, it’s great, the atmosphere is great, the music, the setup, really unusually inventive sound design so I knew Gary was loving it, etc. We were like “ooh this is gonna be a good movie!” and settled in for a fun time…but then there’s this hideous turn and the movie becomes about really different stuff than you thought it was going to be about. It’s very very affecting and scary in a conventional sense but it’s also disturbing on a psychic and spiritual level. There are images from that movie that I swear will haunt me for the rest of my days. I watched the entire second half with my hand covering my mouth, in an “OH MY GOD” gesture. I couldn’t even look at or lean on my husband; it was so horrifying I couldn’t bear to have contact with another human being during it. I haven’t been that scared in a movie since Blair Witch Project and this was 1000 times scarier and more upsetting than that. It was like Rosemary’s Baby, The Babadook, and the Witch put together and made exponentially more disturbing in every conceivable way. Honestly it was shattering. I kept thinking WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING or like OH GOD WHO WILL I BE WHEN THIS MOVIE FINALLY ENDS, HOW WILL I RECONSTRUCT MY LIFE

It seems like I’m over-selling it and I’m sorry but this is authentically how it felt to watch. It was truly a full body experience. I wouldn’t have ever thought a movie could be so affecting. When it ended we sort of staggered out and looked at each other’s drawn, pallid faces and Gary goes “Jesus…..CHRIST”

We both said “I can NOT go back to our house right now” so we went to a bar to try to drink away what we had just born witness to. We sat down at the bar and the bartender was like “you guys look fucked up” and we said “we just saw Hereditary” and he goes “ohhhhhh god I just saw it too” and gave us free drinks. So the story ultimately had a happy ending and it all worked out

Now that I’ve said all this you might be thinking wow, that movie sounds awful, but you’d be wrong, it was probably the best movie I’ve ever seen. Not one second was wasted; every single element was so carefully, consciously constructed. They simply nailed it. It was tremendous, a tremendous cinematic accomplishment. I assume the person who wrote it is a serial killer but I must tip my hat to them nonetheless, as well as to the director and the cinematographer and all the actors and the sound designers and the composer. Well done to all!

I really feel like anyone who says this movie didn’t affect them is either lying or is an actual graphable psychopath. It’s like people who claimed to have seen the twist in the Sixth Sense coming–no you fucking didn’t, and why do you think it makes you seem cool to pretend you did?? Don’t @ me

Remember how I went to see Sixth Sense in the theater by myself at a matinee, and the theater was absolutely empty and I sat right in the middle, and then right as previews were starting another solitary woman came in and sat DIRECTLY NEXT TO ME?? In the actual next seat? This is still by far the weirdest thing I have ever witnessed a person do in public. We never spoke or acknowledged one another. Just me and a total stranger watching the entirety of Sixth Sense alone in a huge dark theater next to each other in silence. OMG I just remembered Sixth Sense also stars Toni Colette

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America’s Top Impulse Purchases

The other day I had a couple of hours to kill while waiting for my old man to go to a doctor’s appointment, so I went to the fancier co-op in the other town we were in. I love to go in there and wander around because it’s so much bigger than our co-op and has so many more types of olives; also they sell beer and wine. They also have a bigger variety of local apples than our co-op, but it’s not apple season yet so in this particular instance that was a moot point.

But! As I was in line waiting to check out, I made what may prove to be the single most awesome impulse purchase of my entire life. Everyone I have told about this purchase first made fun of me and then, after listening to me talk about it for several hours, admitted that I was indeed wise and good for having made it. It is none other than an issue of America’s Test Kitchen magazine titled BEST EVER SIDE DISHES

I have never watched America’s Test Kitchen and didn’t know what it was, but the cover of the magazine promised to teach me how to actually make good versions of common side dishes that are always made poorly, and I was like, huh, that sounds like a problem someone I know has (it’s me). I took it outside and sat at one of the picnic tables out front and ate pre-made vegetarian sushi and read the magazine and literally within three pages I was already excitedly texting everyone I knew to tell them I had just made the best impulse purchase of my entire life.

They use science and carefully-repeated experiments to figure out the best way to do stuff! It sounds so fun in there, like a lab. Each recipe is prefaced by a long narrative description of the problems and possible solutions the dish poses, written by whichever cook ultimately solved the problem. It’s so great because you’re nodding along as you read: yes, yes, that IS what always happens to my potato salad! Yes, that’s EXACTLY why I hate cucumber garnishes! I learned so much. For example: ASPARAGUS

I make pretty good asparagus. And in general asparagus is pretty hard to fuck up, in my experience, it’s not like you have to be Julia Child. I usually toss it in oil and salt, and then either roast it or sautee it, maybe throw some garlic in there. And it turns out…good! Little squeeze of lemon. Sometimes I have wondered “how do you get it all charred and crispy without it turning to mush?” and suspected that there’s something I’m missing, but googling it just always turns up the method I already use, so I figured I just didn’t have “the touch” or maybe I didn’t have a fancy enough pan. Boy was I wrong! It turns out that cooking it in oil means either it gets mushy before it gets browned or it gets browned before it gets cooked adequately, depending on what level of heat you crank it up to in desperation, but steaming it first and then sauteeing it (which solves the texture issue) not only loses a bunch of its flavor but is a huge pain in the ass and takes two pans instead of one (I also appreciate the pragmatism of America’s Test Kitchen; they’re always trying to find a way to do something in one pan and/or faster). The test cook was like “if only I could steam it and brown it AT THE SAME TIME.” So they took it down the hall to the science consultant, who pointed out that oil has 0% water and butter has 20% water, so if you melt half oil/half butter in a skillet, put the asparagus in, cover it with a lid, and let it cook on medium for a few minutes until it starts to get tender, THEN take the lid off and crank it up to medium high, you’ll cook it properly while still saving enough time for a good char. I tried it that very evening. READER, I MARRIED HIM

It worked like a charm! The most perfect asparagus, made by little ol’ me in my boring pan on my shitty 1970s era electric stove! I was so exhilarated.

I have also learned how to cook beets, although I will never use the technique again because it’s wasteful (wrapping individual beets in tin foil: fuck you). I just tried it to see if the asparagus narrative was a fluke. It wasn’t.

They have articles on squash, risotto, stuffed peppers, deviled eggs, gratins, corn on the cob, etc. In every case, they take a classic side dish and discuss the conventional problems with it. Gratins are so good when done right, but are so often done poorly, so they’re watery and sick instead of creamy and rad: why, and how can we fix the problem? Why the HELL is tabouleh always so disgusting? Oh, here’s why! It’s a very effective and compelling approach to recipe-writing. I learned so much about batter-frying.

My only beef with America’s Test Kitchen is the completely bonkers over-reliance on paper towels. What on earth?! These motherfuckers use paper towels for EVERYTHING. I don’t see how all the Costcos in the world could supply enough paper towels to keep up with their demand. People, just use a dish towel! Rip up a brown paper bag from out in the garage! Dear lord. I haven’t bought paper towels in probably four years and I never will again (probably not true). Ditto the use of saran wrap. Cover with saran wrap and let sit for 15 minutes?? Jesus Christ. “Every time I cook a meal I like to throw a pound of plastic into the ocean”

Anyway after this life-changing impulse purchase we watched a bunch of episodes of the TV show and it was similarly revelatory. We kept gasping and pointing at the screen and yelling I KNEW IT. We learned so much about cast iron, vegetable stock, and how to brown a steak, which we will never do but which was interesting. And indeed there was an entire segment just on which paper towel holder is the best (the heavy duty one that holds an industrial-size roll, obviously). If they would only change the title to AMERICA’S TOP PAPER TOWEL USERS I would be happy. I also finally bought an oven thermometer, inspired by this show. It turns out that my oven—which I have developed a conspiracy theory about in terms of my unverifiable feeling that there are wild discrepancies between what’s shown on the dial and the actual temperature—actually just needs more time to pre-heat than its readiness light indicates. Good to know!

This magazine puts to shame the only other magazine I have impulse purchased, which was a copy of Martha Stewart Living that promised to give me good ideas for lunches. IT DID NOT. They were all just sandwich variations; I know how to make a damn sandwich Martha.

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Switched on Zelda

Boy oh boy oh boy

A lot just happened! Well not really. Anyway, it’s summertime and we are doing some pretty epic yard chores, and that’s been interesting. I think I have told you before about this Japanese knotweed situation out here in good ol’ New England? It’s a noxious invasive weed that looks like bamboo and grows like some alien creature sent here to overtake the planet. There’s a decorative hedge of it planted along the north side of our house. When we first looked at the house, we’d never heard of Japanese knotweed; we said ooh, how lovely, what a lovely privacy hedge! Our realtor had a look of dread on his face and just said “you gotta stay on top of this stuff or it’ll kill you.” We were like ha ha New England men with their grim approach to yard work. So we blithely bought the house and moved in and enjoyed the knotweed and then on the first super cold day of autumn we arrived home to find it razed to the ground, our house naked to the outside world. It turned out that the knotweed is actually on our neighbor’s property and he–at that time, an ancient old man named Al who is now dead–hired guys every autumn to come chop it all down and take it away. “Huh, that’s odd” we thought, but we also have learned quickly that when ancient old men who have lived in New England for their entire lives do a given chore there is zero chance they don’t know what they’re doing. THEN however, the next spring, when the knotweed popped back up and grew at an alarming rate, like half a foot a day honestly, suddenly Gary started finding knotweed all over the yard, and he researched it, and discovered that it’s in fact an extraordinarily tenacious super-weed invading our neck of the woods and destroying property wherever it goes. He unearthed some horrible story about a New England guy whose yard was so overtaken by the knotweed that the property became worthless and he committed suicide. We also learned that it’s incredibly powerful and easily spread—for example, a single LEAF off of it can propagate if you for example get the leaf stuck on your shoe and then track it into someone else’s yard. This is why Al hired special guys to come cut it down and dispose of it, because you can’t just compost it or take it to the dump because it will spread. I think they burn it in some sort of EPA-approved bunker (probably not but basically). Gary developed an obsession with the idea that he himself had unknowingly spread knotweed all over the neighborhood. For a few months whenever we went on walks he would see knotweed and he’d blanch and talk for days about whether or not he should go knock on the person’s door and apologize. We developed a character for him called “Johnny Knotweed,” the shitty reprobate cousin of Johnny Appleseed. In his Johnny Knotweed form Gary steals around the region at night, clumps of noxious knotweed clinging to his elfin boots, laughing gleefully as he sows discord betwixt neighbors.

Anyway that was a long preamble to simply mention one of our big yard chores, which is we got a big pile of fancy dirt delivered by a dump truck and we covered the shorn knotweed with two feet of dirt (on top of a thick plastic tarp our new neighbor, Matt, had already weighted down over it with cinderblocks) and planted native grasses on top. No one had any hopes that this would actually resolve the knotweed situation but we did hope to tamp it down a bit. Already shoots of knotweed are thrusting heroically out of the dirt and into the air. This means that the shorn-to-the-ground stumps of knotweed are growing despite a total lack of sun and air, and growing so powerfully that they are BREAKING THROUGH A THICK PLASTIC TARP AND THEN ALSO 2 FEET OF DIRT. It’s terrifying.

And to be honest I personally miss our knotweed hedge, because it was beautiful and it hid my office from the street. Now I sit at my desk and just look out at the neighbors’ cars and it sucks. Still, one must sacrifice for the good of one’s community.

And we planted some other stuff too.

Some of the stuff in my garden is dying and I don’t know why. Everyone on the internet is cheery about it: that’s just part of learning to garden! But it feels hard to just sit and watch the nice ground cherry bush slowly wilt and die. Or like just one of my six brussel sprouts is dying. Why?? And my tomatoes aren’t flowering and I can’t find a straight answer about it. I’m also frustrated by how hard it is to figure out how much you are supposed to water. Every single gardening site on the internet says “water one inch a week.” Excuse me but WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT MEAN. Then I found a website that was like “everybody says ‘water one inch a week’ but what the fuck does that mean? Here I’ll explain it” and then their explanation was just as mystifying and unhelpful. Get a rain gauge?? What the living hell are you talking about, college boy; I just want to know, when I’m filling up my ol’ watering pail from the rain barrel, HOW MUCH WATER DO I DUMP ON AN INDIVIDUAL KALE PLANT, AND HOW OFTEN DO I DO THAT. Jesus Christ

Garden Talkin’

Gary has a new conversational segment called “Rants n’ Tan’ts” based on his tendency, in normal conversations, to go on long rants that require long tangents in order to be understood. For example the other night he talked for approximately seven hours about how the shallow depth of field the cinematographer had chosen in a movie we had just watched had irritated and distracted him. This required a long tangent explaining a number of terms and the ramifications for the various choices a cinematographer could make regarding them. These moments are challenging for me because I love him and want to be interested in the things he’s interested in, and I also want to be as good a conversational partner for him as he is for me–he always listens intently and (seemingly) with pleasure to my weird monologues about, like, the role the honeycrisp plays in the whole arc of apple season, or my lengthy summaries of Stephen King novels–but honestly sometimes these monologues of his are so extremely technical and focused on such a fine-grained level of detail (Virgo stuff) and delivered in such an unchanging deliberate tone that my big-picture Leo brain just can not deal with it and I have to actively wrench my mind away from wandering, sometimes only to find that I’ve missed important details in the monologue and now have to pretend I was paying attention the whole time. Anyway we are now saying that these moments constitute a conversational “segment.” “Lets go now to Gary, with ‘Rants n’ Tan’ts!” and then it’s just Gary talking in a very patient and deliberate voice for fifteen minutes about racking focus.

As someone who is also extensively over-educated I definitely relate to the experience of having intense, all-consuming, highly-detailed interests that are difficult to explain briefly and that very few people actually want to talk to me about in the first place, so I get it. I have rants n’ tan’ts of my own, for sure. When you have spent ten years exclusively thinking about a topic it can turn even the chillest interaction into a conversational quagmire. E.g. a query as simple as “what did you think of the concert?” must be approached with extreme care and self-consciousness, lest you subject your interlocutor to a long disquisition on the incorporation of Platonic idealism into German Romanticism and how it had all kinds of interesting aesthetic ramifications that then generations of crazy people obsessed over and that obsession shaped concert culture in profound often fucked-up ways that now contemporary concert programmers are trying to rebel against but they often do so in a way that is extraordinarily problematic with regard to the relationship between aesthetics and systems of power and anyway that’s why you didn’t like the concert

In conclusion: WHO CARES

I finally got reader reports on my book back and they are really good, so to celebrate I went to Game Stop and bought a brand-new Nintendo Switch and went home and played Breath of the Wild in the basement for three hours. Never tell me I don’t know how to celebrate.

I can’t say anything about BotW that hasn’t been said already by others but…holy shit. There was already a part that made me cry–when you make it to the edge of the plateau and you finally have your paraglider and you stand looking out at the magnificent vastness of god’s creation wondering where you will end up. I cried because of the Romantic Era.

The guy at the Game Stop and I had an awkward and ultimately fruitful interaction. He’s also a person with intense detailed interests that not everyone else holds or understands, and I’m an ancient old late-adopting technophobic crone who has never played a game on anything beyond the GameCube and even on that I exclusively play Wind Waker and nothing else. I’m like Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar when he’s a pilot or something but then goes forward 70 years in the future and hops in a new spaceship to go explore the universe. For me going instantly from GameCube to Switch is like using an appliance in Europe, you’re like “I didn’t know technology had advanced to this point,” like the washing machine is both a washing machine and a dryer and it’s somehow as small as a shoebox and is housed inside of the refrigerator and it runs on good thoughts and a single drop of dish soap and it also can convert cash into bitcoin and ultimately you get confused and throw all your clothes out the window down onto the street. Anyway, he was explaining the difference between the Wii U and the Switch to me and I was nodding and like “uh huh, uh huh” but then my questions were all just like: “so I can play Zelda on this.” And he’d be like “…uh…yes” then he’d talk more about graphics and technical specs and bitrates and programming difficulties and some finer points of comparison between various controllers and I’d nod again and then be like “so what you are saying is that I can play Zelda on either of these, but this one is better.” He would always pause after one of my questions, clearly because I wasn’t really making sense to him and he was trying to understand what I was getting at. He also kept trying to tell me about other games, as part of selling me on the Switch. “So they just released a new Mario Kart” e.g. and he’d go into all the details about the superiority of that game to others and I’d be nodding patiently and then he’d be like “I can hook it up and show you if you want” and I’d just say “NO.” Full stop. Like sonny get it through your skull: I am an old nerd and I exclusively want to play Zelda games and you already sold me on this Switch ten minutes ago when you pointed out that they will probably make other Zelda games for the Switch but that the Wii U is over and there will be no more Zeldas for it. “You had me at hello”

We also went to the Apple store because my phone camera broke, and there we interacted with yet more nice young men with intense specific interests who spend their days interacting with stressed-out idiots like me who don’t even understand what most of the words related to Apple products even mean. While we were waiting, a small child hysterically playing with a Bb-8 droid lost control of it and it flew off the table and shattered on the floor and the Apple guy standing nearest me just spoke calmly into his bluetooth without batting an eye and said “we have a Bb-8 down, repeat, a Bb-8 down”

To unwind myself once summer starts I have a new tactic. I go to the library and I get a huge stack of garish female-driven and usually -authored thrillers à la Girl on the Train and I just blow through them as fast as I can, flinging each one onto the floor when I’m finished, whereupon my husband picks them up and returns them to the library for me without comment. They are all terrible but reading them is weirdly soothing. All of their plots are just about how much men hate women. There are a bunch of different lady protagonists who are affected by men who hate women in different ways. Lots of times there is a scrappy lady detective who endures sexism in the workplace and who gets obsessed with solving the crime because of her own history of abuse or something. Often at the end two women who hate each other will band together to destroy the menacing man, so the books are weirdly about sisterhood within patriarchy even though all the main characters including the women are disgusting. They’re SO bad but I get why they are a new bestselling genre, in today’s world. In addition to maybe five of these I’ve also read an Ian McEwan (the one about the judge) and this book called “Smoke” that’s kind of a steampunk fantasy about a 19th century England in which everyone’s emotions emanate from them visibly in the form of smoke, and the class system is all based on smoking, like the rich people send their kids to brutal boarding schools where they learn to rigidly control themselves so that they never smoke, whereas the lower classes smoke freely and are filthy with their own passions all the time. It was actually really good, and ended up being kind of a political screed against classical liberalism, which I enjoyed.

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