SURVIVOR: anna karenina (leo tolstoy)*
CHALLENGER: the passage (justin cronin)

randall flagg

after all that talk of beach reading for our trip to iceland back in march, i packed predictably:** i ended up burning the midnight oil in reykjavik with a massive advance reader's edition of justin cronin's the passage, thanks to a friend who knows of my fondness for vampires, apocalypses, and vampire apocalypses.

cronin, an iowa writers' workshop grad and the author of an award-winning collection of interconnected stories and a novel about a fishing camp in maine, was instructed by his daughter to "write about a girl who saves the world;" less than overwhelmed, perhaps, by the revenues generated by collections of interconnected stories and novels about fishing camps in maine, he wrote about vampires. more precisely, he wrote about an unscrupulous military research project which zaps hardened criminals' thymus glands and (instead of just making them more or less immortal, makes them immortal and) turns them into vampires. for reasons which are never made especially clear, the project's final subject is not a murderer/rapist plucked from death row but amy, a keane waif from iowa whose desperate mother dumps her off with a magical nun. instead of turning her into a twelfth slightly-phosphorescent killing machine which lopes across the country unzipping hapless victims' rib cages like so many bananagrams carrying cases, amy's tweaked thymus turns her into an insufferable child messiah/vampire whisperer who's inexplicably irresistible to government employees such as her kidnapper, fbi agent brad wolgast, a good man haunted by his deeds.

still with me? now it's ninety years later, the beast is loose in the streets of bethlehem, the rats are in the corn, and nearly everyone has long since been bananagrammed. survivors have walled themselves into first colony, a fort which they defend from the "virals" with bright lights and off-putting new social conventions. children born in the fort, for example, are separated from their parents at birth and supervised by guards and caretakers who refer to them as "littles." the fortified-nursery strategy is a perfectly sound one, but "littles" - look, i have dear friends who love and have used the term often and affectionately in non-vampire-apocalypse contexts for years. i'm the daughter of an art history major, "littles" as a term for children takes me straight to the terrifying baby-men who hang with the virgin mary in medieval art, and it creeps me out. know what else was all over the place in the fourteenth century? the black death, and there's a lesson in that. i think we can differ in our feelings about various terms and remain respectful of one another, but don't come crying to me with your buboes, is what i'm saying.***

sister lacey the magical nun is approximated in the fort portions of the story by ida "auntie" jackson, the sole survivor of a convoy of children dispatched decades upon decades ago to escape the virals' assault. sympathetic readers see her cryptic nattering and mysterious tea preparation as a tip of the hat to mother abigail in stephen king's the stand; i decided cronin's a shoplifter long before i got to auntie's uncharming repartee, and i have little patience for characters like her as expository devices anyway. ditto for alicia "starbuck" donadio, a tough-as-nails (hot) maverick soldier type whose bravado endangers the colony. how can i be expected to believe cronin isn't simply exploiting sci-fi and horror fans when he populates his story with other writers' characters?

the passage is a page-turner, make no mistake; cronin delivers some fine action sequences, his highbrow petticoat peeps out regularly in his (non-vampy-death-scene) descriptions, and his plotting is tight. i had a grand old time reading about the end of the world late at night at the hotel borg. that said, i genuinely love some of the houses at which he's trick-or-treating,; going forward (like deborah harkness's a discovery of witches, the passage is the first installment in a trilogy****), i expect substantial proof that he isn't simply in the neighborhood for the sugar.

VICTOR: anna karenina; how does one say "bananagrammed" in russian?

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 how old will cronin's daughter be when she's allowed to read the passage?

02 is it even possible for military medical experiments to be a good idea?

03 who determined that suspenseful horror-novel killings should sound like someone removing a windbreaker and eating a fruit salad in the next room?

04 do medieval baby-men bother you?

05 have you read and/or seen the stand?

06 is being a page-turner an excuse for lack of originality?

07 why do you think cronin wrote the passage?

08 can you forgive me for that weird halloween conclusion? not sure what happened there.

*previous battle here.

**i read zeitoun when we were in montreal this past fall; i was better about not waking joe up and reading him the especially depressing parts this time.

***full disclosure: i call chuck our little bubo.

****per interviews, this is the road novel; the sequel will be spytastic, and the finale will be all-out war, man.

06.24.11: the dirty dozen, part III

08 from helen simpson's "night thoughts," granta 115:
3:48 a.m.

And the media is so disparaging of men over forty, he thought; the way it zooms in on our paunches and spindle shanks, our pendulous earlobes. Another real worry was, he was developing turkey wattles. Ella had noticed it too - she'd called him jowly the other day, she'd pinched an incipient fold of flab while ostensibly chucking him under the chin.

Why can't there be some positive older role models for a change? he fretted. Wherever you went, images of young men in next to nothing were in your face, making you feel bad about your body. His route to work was tyrannized by giant posters of ripped abs, honed six-packs, buff biceps.

In a pathetic attempt to fight back, he'd recently been engaging in a spot of newsagent guerrilla warfare. Now when he bought his paper he made sure to stick some of his pre-prepared Post-it notes to the naked boys on the covers of the women's magazines - notes he had felt-tipped in advance with the words: WHAT IF HE WAS YOUR SON?

09 {sub-list: twelve sorts of person-spackle which are worth what one hands over for them}

i benetint rose-tinted lip & cheek stain ($28)
ii guerlain météorites pearls ($57)
iii lush ocean salt cleanser ($35)
iv chanel rouge allure ($32)
v l'oréal paris telescopic mascara ($10)
vi deborah lippmann nail lacquer ($16-$20)
vii revlon colorstay liquid eye pen ($9)
viii lather ultra light face lotion ($16)
ix tokyomilk absinthe no. 84 lip elixir ($7)
x maybelline colorsensational lipstain ($7)
xi estée lauder double wear ($32)
xii essie nail polish ($8)

10 from eudora welty's letter to the new yorker, march 15, 1933:
As to what I might do for you - I have seen an untoward amount of picture galleries and 15 cent movies lately, and could review them with my old prosperous detachment, I think; in fact, I recently coined a general word for Matisse's pictures after seeing his latest at the Marie Harriman: concubineapple. That shows you how my mind works - quick, and away from the point. I read simply voraciously, and can drum up an opinion afterwards.


There is no telling where I may apply, if you turn me down; I realize this will not phase [sic] you, but consider my other alternative: the U. of N.C. offers $12.00 to let me dance in Vachel Lindsay's Congo. I congo on. I rest my case, repeating that I am a hard worker.

Truly yours.
06.23.11: the dirty dozen, part II

05 coming home last night. no sound required.

06 on the way to work this morning. worth a listen.

Birds singing
in the dark
--Rainy dawn.

(jack kerouac)

06.20.11: the dirty dozen, part I

01 on wednesday we saw measure for measure in central park; it was considerably more renaissance-glam (alexander-mcqueen-esque leather breastplates for the hos! a tech crew of gimp-devils!*) than the pared-down mobile unit version i saw last fall, though it retained carson elrod, my favorite member of the mobile company. can carson elrod be rearranged to spell i am lord voldemort?** anything can happen in repertory theatre. after the show i texted an entry to the number on a flyer in our measure for measure playbills and won tickets to all's well that ends well, so we'll be back in the park this friday. all of the shakespeare in my pockets! call me a hoarder if you like. i don't even care.

02 in digging around for information on the KGB's cold-war-era locomotive-based mobile headquarters in order to send a note on dinner plans for this thursday, i ended up on wikipedia's russian political jokes page.

- Why are the meatballs cube-shaped?
- Perestroika! (restructuring)
- Why are they undercooked?
- Uskoreniye! (acceleration)
- Why are they bitten?
- Gospriyomka! (state approval)
- Why are you telling me all this so brazenly?
- Glasnost! (openness)

there's a subsection, "geriatric intermezzo," especially for jokes about the communist party leadership's escalating decrepitude ("Why did Brezhnev go abroad, and Andropov did not? Because Brezhnev ran on batteries, but Andropov needed an outlet."). it is a fine page.

03 my current subway reading is the 115th granta, on "the f word" (feminism); today's essay is "aftermath," by novelist rachel cusk.*** she's a working mother, and writes that
I read somewhere that a space station is always slowly falling back to Earth, and that every few months or so a rocket has to be sent to push it back out again. In rather the same way, a woman is forever dragged at by an imperceptible force of biological conformism: her life is relentlessly iterative; it requires energy to keep her in orbit. Year after year she'll do it, but if one year the rocket doesn't come then down she'll go.
it's an arresting way describe one's own position; i will never be a working mother, but i know a thing or two about biological conformism, and i think every woman knows the disorienting weightlessness of another woman suddenly in or out of her own orbit, wherever it is. off she shot. here she comes. it does feel like gravity, deep in your gut.

04 my sunday-afternoon-and-nightstand reading, in turn, is david foster wallace's the pale king. an orphaned copy was actually placed in my hands, so i perched it atop my files and squinted at it as i drank my morning coffee for a week or so. i broke down and started reading it on a midnight train ride from the office late last week; i was so work-dazed and ill-rested that i greeted the dust jacket photo as though it were a person. when a sentence exploded across four pages, i flipped back to the jacket: hi. i'm a long way from finishing, and i don't yet know if i'll be interested in talking about the pale king here when i do**** - but i know already that i don't regret the read. i've lacked him.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 have you any shakespeare-related crushes?

02 gamboling gimp-devils! are you on board?

03 do you tend to win things?

04 does this whole communists-on-a-train thing ring a bell with you?

05 how do you deal with mice in the kremlin?

06 have you read any rachel cusk? does that quote make you feel funny?

07 would you be interested in talking about the pale king at some point?

08 what are you reading? is it making you happy?

*our fellow theatregoers were less fond of the gimp-devils, but they served a purpose: as director david esbjornson noted, literalizing evil on earth in his staging of the play makes isabella's refusal to sacrifice her soul for her brother's life more plausible. also they were all witchy and slick.

**in re anagrams, mind you. as far as i know he has no beef with harry potter.

***"not exactly a poster child for domesticity," as one book critic describes her.

****THUNDERTOME is not for the pale king.


1: what if we upholstered a chair with this big piece of denim?
2: too rustic.
1: what if we upholstered a chair with this big piece of denim and wrote FUCK! on it?
2: could work.


storm front

monaco hallway

koi for me

sixth and i ceiling


jms, lmo

newlies at the bar

lincoln's waffle shop menu

national portrait gallery chandelier

{storm front from the train; joe in our hotel's murderous hallway; man-eating koi; the ceiling at sixth & i; that with which we oompa loompa; teeth; afterparty; lincoln's waffle shop; the national portrait gallery}

the good news is that our friends' wedding in washington was a smashing success. the bad news is that almost anyone can trick me into dancing these days.

{full photo set here.}

06.10.11: the dirty dozen {packed for a wedding weekend in washington, dc}

01 stink
02 three pairs of heels
03 four wristwatches
04 coiled green rubber snake
05 bananagrams
06 biggie was right
07 essie trophy wife and chinchilly nail polish
08 the travelin' domino
09 jenny yoo "ella" in capri blue silk shantung
10 the essential daryl hall & john oates
11 bikini
12 equipoise

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 have you been a wedding attendant? how many times?

02 is it acceptable to wear more than one watch at once?

03 which nail polish do you prefer?

04 have you ever gone fountain hopping? would you?


From: 1
To: 2

someone is on the geeky blog that i read...


yep. be prepared for nerds, yo.

From: 2
To: 1

wait. what will the nerds do?

From: 1
To: 2

You know.... nerdy things that... nerds... do?
(This statement is best imagined accompanied by vague hand waves)

From: 2
To: 1

In mildly related news, getting that USB card reader like you suggested was LIFE-ALTERING.

From: 1
To: 2


ps - Sodium Pentothal is LIE-FALTERING
pps - Terribly sorry for that pun.

ppps - no, i'm not.

From: 2
To: 1

You know, I’d never seen that spelled. Now you’re responsible for the thing I learned today, too.

Vaguely, vaguely related nerdy thing: No one (surprise) fact checked Cherie Currie’s memoir about being in the Runaways. She mentions being given “Patosin” to induce labor when she was pregnant, which appears to be a phonetic version of Pitocin? Maybe her editor just figured she knew her drug names (actually kind of a good bet).

From: 1
To: 2

To tell the truth, I had to double-check the spelling.


From: 2
To: 1

I’d never heard the T, so I’d never have thought about the prefix being spelled that way at all. D’you think it’s because after you give it to someone and you get the information you need, you high-five your partner? FAKE SCIENCE

From: 1
To: 2

I was going to respond with an email that dropped all humor, and gave you a very technical explanation of the name. That rapidly became exhausting. So...



my month of no purchases is over, gentlemen.

ye balloons

this is not an illustration of triumph, mind you. this is how i admit that i broke down with like three days to go and bought a helium tank.

guy on fourteenth street: it's balloon time!
LMO: i know!

1: last night i dreamed that i went to san francisco to run a marathon.
2: did you win?
1: i don't know, it never quite started. mostly i tried to figure out what i was going to wear.
2: ah, the quintessential lauren marathon dream.