41qR8-Qq-sLTitle: Seinfeldia
Author:Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
Pages: 320
Year: 2016
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Time taken to read: 8 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsis:The hilarious behind-the-scenes story of two guys who went out for coffee and dreamed up Seinfeld—the cultural sensation that changed television and bled into the real world, altering the lives of everyone it touched. […] In Seinfeldia, acclaimed TV historian and entertainment writer Jennifer Keishin Armstrong celebrates the creators and fans of this American television phenomenon, bringing readers behind-the-scenes of the show while it was on the air and into the world of devotees for whom it never stopped being relevant, a world where the Soup Nazi still spends his days saying “No soup for you!”, Joe Davola gets questioned every day about his sanity, Kenny Kramer makes his living giving tours of New York sights from the show, and fans dress up in Jerry’s famous puffy shirt, dance like Elaine, and imagine plotlines for Seinfeld if it were still on TV.

I am a pretty big Seinfeld fan. I’ve seen every episode at least once, though probably more, and I’ve always thought of myself as a young redheaded Elaine Benes, considering she’s a writer/editor and I want to be that, and also she has giant hair and is crazy like me. I’ve also especially been into reading and watching things set in NYC since I moved here three weeks ago. So I really enjoyed reading about the making of the show and the way they blended fiction and reality in ways I had never realized. Obviously the show that Jerry and George try to write is supposed to be the fictional version of Seinfeld, but I did not know, for example, that so many of the little plot lines are based off experiences of the writers, or that so many characters are based off real people connected to the show. I honestly didn’t know that Seinfeld was such a huge deal when it was on the air, and I also didn’t know that it nearly failed for the first few seasons. I read almost the first half of the book in one sitting because it was really fun to read, and it put me in a very funny mood, though I haven’t had time to watch any Seinfeld since finishing it. It only loses a star in my rating because I think it spent too much time at the end on a Twitter account made about what the show would be like if it were set in the 2010s, which wasn’t interesting enough to warrant the amount of pages it got.

Anyway, as much as books are my thing, I absolutely love TV as well, and back in high school I considered trying to write for sitcoms because I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty funny person. So it was fun to read about TV, and if you enjoy Seinfeld too, I definitely recommend reading this book. I imagine the next time I watch the show, I’ll be looking at it very differently, imagining what the actors were going through at the time. Especially because they haven’t been in much else, I rarely think of them as real people, just as their characters. Elaine and George are my favorites, and they feel really real to me. 14233084_1020418368077462_5565011772726706899_nAlso, I went to the famous Tom’s Restaurant yesterday (yep, that’s me in the photo, and yes, that’s my real hair), which Seinfeld fans know is the front of the diner they always go to! I got a half vanilla half butter pecan milkshake, which was phenomenal, and I tasted my dad’s cheesecake, which I also highly recommend. My dad and his girlfriend and my sister came to visit me yesterday and I had the idea to go here for coffee and dessert, and we didn’t tell my dad’s girlfriend where we were going because she’s a huge Seinfeld fan (might have something to do with her being Jewish), and she was so excited when we got there. The book says that Tom’s didn’t really try to make any money off of being a Seinfeld landmark, but they have a big Seinfeld sign out front, and there are signed posters and such inside, so I’m not sure why the author didn’t mention that that’s changed since Seinfeld aired. But anyway, my point is, go to Tom’s and get a milkshake.

13542593Title: The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language
Author: Mark Forsyth
Pages: 304
Year: 2012
Publisher: Berkley (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 3 months, 4 weeks
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads: Do you know why…a mortgage is literally a death pledge? …why guns have girls’ names? …why salt is related to soldier? You’re about to find out… The Etymologicon (e-t?-‘mä-lä-ji-kän) is: Witty (wi-te\): Full of clever humor, Erudite (er-?-dit): Showing knowledge, Ribald (ri-b?ld): Crude, offensive. The Etymologicon is a completely unauthorized guide to the strange underpinnings of the English language. It explains: how you get from “gruntled” to “disgruntled”; why you are absolutely right to believe that your meager salary barely covers “money for salt”; how the biggest chain of coffee shops in the world (hint: Seattle) connects to whaling in Nantucket; and what precisely the Rolling Stones have to do with gardening.

I bought this book years ago, and I think I put off reading it because I knew it was going to be amazing and I knew I was never going to remember anything I read in it. I’m obsessed with words and fun facts, and this is the best book for fun word facts, but I struggle with my memory, especially when it comes to reading. It happens with fiction too–I can’t remember even just the basic plots of books I’ve read more than once. So I felt sad going into this book because I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold onto anything in it. But I tried to write down a lot of the facts I found to be most interesting though, which has helped, and I do plan to read it a few more times to try to solidify the information in my brain a little bit more.

My favorite fact was the one about Starbucks, because ya girl has been a Starbucks barista since 2013, and I love working there (even though after every double shift I feel like it’s taking a couple years off my lifespan). Every barista knows that the Starbucks logo is a siren, and every English major knows the name comes from Mr. Starbuck in Moby Dick. However, only those who read this book will learn of the Vikings in the year 793 and the sedge stream they found and Old Norse and how that led to the Starbuck family and their whaling achievements and a teacher in Seattle who wanted to start his own coffee shop called Pequod. Truly fascinating stuff.

The book starts off with the origin of the word “book,” and, as this is a “circular stroll,” it ends with the origin of the word “book” too. I was nearing the end of The Etymologicon this morning, and my sister was peering at the front cover. Once I realized that we had come full circle and were back at the beginning, I said, “Dang!” and she said, “Isn’t this non-fiction? How can non-fiction be ‘dang’?” Because language is amazing, that’s how. Even if you’re not a word nerd like me, this is a great read for sure.

12543Title: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Author: Anne Lamott
Pages: 237
Year: 1994
Publisher: Anchor (Knopf Doubleday)
Time taken to read: 4 weeks, 1 day
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsis: […] Anne Lamott returns to offer us a new gift: a step-by-step guide on how to write and on how to manage the writer’s life. From “Getting Started,’ with “Short Assignments,” through “Shitty First Drafts,” “Character,” “Plot,” “Dialogue.” all the way from “False Starts” to “How Do You Know When You’re Done?” Lamott encourages, instructs, and inspires. She discusses “Writers Block,” “Writing Groups,” and “Publication.” Bracingly honest, she is also one of the funniest people alive. If you have ever wondered what it takes to be a writer, what it means to be a writer, what the contents of your school lunches said about what your parents were really like, this book is for you. From faith, love, and grace to pain, jealousy, and fear, Lamott insists that you keep your eyes open, and then shows you how to survive. And always, from the life of the artist she turns to the art of life.

Fun fact: this book was published the year I was born. Other fun fact: I am kinda over books about writing. I will say that I enjoyed this one very much, but reading about writing kinda just feels like I’m avoiding writing. I already know all the things a book about writing is going to tell me. Write every day, don’t give up, except maybe you should give up if you’re really not 100% in it because most people don’t get published anyway, and getting published isn’t as great as it sounds, blah blah. First of all, I refuse to believe that getting published isn’t that great. Maybe it wasn’t that great in 1994, but in 2016, a year where Instagram and Facebook exist to show all your enemies from high school that you achieved your dreams and got hot, yeah, it’s probably pretty great. Also, I do write every day. I send at least 5 well-crafted text messages every day. Each one usually has several drafts. I’m not kidding. The other thing about books about writing is that they all seem to be so out of date. Is no one writing anything about what it’s like to write in 2016? I’d like to read something like that, but so far all I can find (and by “all I can find,” I mean “all that’s been placed in my hands by other people without a second of my own effort”) is books about what it’s like to write before computers were a thing. Nobody mails their manuscripts anymore. No one has to call places to do research. We have the Internet now. (And thank god, because I’m so terrified of phone calls.)

Anyway, besides a horrific “are” where there should be an “is” on page 145, I agree with the author of the Goodreads synopsis: Anne Lamott is kind of inspiring, and she is very funny. And in fact, her sense of humor is very in line with mine. If only I wasn’t an infant when she wrote this, we could have been great friends, because I too love to joke about being so mentally ill I can hardly function. That sounds sarcastic, but it isn’t. That’s like 80% of my jokes. Anne seems to think that most writers are really mentally ill, which is interesting because I tend to think of anyone who’s successful at anything as painfully normal and well-adjusted. Sad people can’t get published–we can barely change our clothes! Anne would think that was funny.

So if you’re going to read a book about writing, I’d go with this one. But you should probably just write instead. But in any case, I think if I learned anything from this book, it’s that I need to find a writing community, because that’s what she talks about most. The only problem with that is that I’m afraid of everyone. So, who wants to write with me?


76611Title: A Natural History of the Senses
Author: Diane Ackerman
Pages: 352
Year: 1990
Publisher: Vintage (Knopf Doubleday)
Time taken to read: 3 weeks, 3 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsis: Diane Ackerman’s lusciously written grand tour of the realm of the senses includes conversations with an iceberg in Antarctica and a professional nose in New York, along with dissertations on kisses and tattoos, sadistic cuisine and the music played by the planet Earth. “Delightful . . . gives the reader the richest possible feeling of the worlds the senses take in.”–The New York Times.

This book was given to me as a graduation present from my high school art teacher–only he didn’t actually get around to giving it to me until probably about a year ago, and I graduated high school in 2012. I read this while in treatment, mostly at 3:15 AM, which was when I had to wake up to get weighed and get my blood pressure and heart rate checked, which was always atrocious, so then I had to sit and drink a Gatorade while the nurses watched to make sure I didn’t pour it into the flower pots like some girls did. So I would read this while waiting to see a nurse, and sometimes they would ask me what I was reading, and I’d show them, and they’d read the back cover with looks of total confusion on their faces.

The book is divided up into sections based on the five senses, and each section rambles on about that sense. It’s strange how A Natural History of the Senses is written so poetically, yet it’s full of scientific studies and facts. One of my favorite facts that I wrote down so I wouldn’t forget it is that heart attack patients who have pets live longer than those without, which was extra interesting because when I was in treatment, I thought about how much I missed my cat more than anyone else. Another cool fact from the section on smell is that people can tell just from smelling an article of clothing whether it was worn by a male or female, and a mother can tell if something was worn by her child based on smell as well. I will have to test that out when I’m a mother.

This book gave me a lot of really inspirational quotes to write down as well. My favorites are as follows:

A mind that is stretched to a new idea never returns to its original dimension. –Oliver Wendell Holmes


The bright suns I see and the dark suns I cannot see are in their place. –Walt Whitman

The Walt Whitman quote hit me pretty hard, I think. To me, it means that whether or not I understand it, everything is the way it’s supposed to be. (I dislike the quote “Everything happens for a reason,” because that sounds too cliché, but that’s basically what I mean here.) And maybe this isn’t true for everyone. Probably for most people it isn’t, because it doesn’t need to be. But it was true for Whitman, and I think it’s true for me, because I need it to be true. Otherwise, I don’t know how to accept my life. I have to believe that it has to be this way, it can only be this way, it was always going to be this way, and any other way wouldn’t be right, even if it would hurt less.

In any case, I’m giving this four out of five stars because sometimes the flowery language was a little much for me, and it gets a little sensual at times, which made me mildly uncomfortable. Still, I recommend it to all. Thanks, Mr. Marano. Miss you.

194383Title: Hope and Help for your Nerves
Author: Claire Weekes
Pages: 224
Year: 1972
Publisher: Quid Publishing
Time taken to read: 2 months, 6 days
Rating: 2/5

Goodreads synopsisA proven program that desensitizes over-wrought nerves and eases feelings of anxiety, panic, and depression by using a variety of breathing and relaxation exercises. “I recommend it with my whole heart.” — Ann Landers

Err, okay, ignore the Goodreads synopsis, because it doesn’t make any sense and isn’t actually that relevant. This book basically explains what anxiety is and what panic attacks are and where they come from, and from what I remember (I kinda finished this book a month ago), Dr. Weekes does a lot of reassuring you that you are not alone in your struggles while making sure not to invalidate the fact that what’s happening to you is not normal, which I think is really important. The first half of the book is kind of just about the physical sensations that occur when you’re feeling anxious or having a panic attack, and the second half gets into the emotional and psychological parts. I personally didn’t find any of it helpful because I’ve been through enough therapy to know that I have anxiety, I probably always will, and the only thing you can do is to try to be mindful and stay in the present and wait for it to pass. Or take a nap and avoid your feelings. I only read this book because my mom calls it her “anxiety Bible,” and she sort of thrust it upon me, and I figured it would be fitting to read it while in 24/7 therapy. I’m not quite sure what she got out of it, but my life is certainly no different after reading this.

My next few reviews will probably be rather short, as is this one and the one before, because I took notes on all the books I was reading while in treatment, and then somehow I lost that paper, so I’m going off my memory, which is absolutely atrocious. Bear with me–before you know it I’ll be up to date, and then I’ll be reading again and I’ll have a lot more to say.

26228942Title: Psychology: Adventures in Perception and Personality
Author: Christian Jarrett & Joannah Ginsburg
Pages: 176
Year: 2014
Publisher: Quid Publishing
Time taken to read: 2 months, 6 days
Rating: 2/5

Goodreads synopsis: Psychology: Adventures in Perception and Personality delves deep into the human consciousness and casts light onto the hidden reasons why we feel, think, and behave the way we do. Packed with illuminating real-life examples, introductions to groundbreaking psychologists, and plenty of experiments and tests to unveil the way your own mind works, Psychology has the power not just to intrigue and entertain, but also to change the way you think. Divided into eight fascinating chapters, it covers everything from the real reasons we fall in love to the science behind a good night’s sleep. From extreme disorders to the truth behind the ways we live our everyday lives, Psychology takes you on a journey through the amazing landscape of the mind.

Hi everyone! After six long weeks, I am back in the real world, and I am ready to get back to writing about books. I did plenty of reading while I was gone, although I didn’t exactly follow the list I gave in my last post, but oh well. So, let’s get to it.

I took psych 101 in my last semester of college just for fun, and Psychology: Adventures in Perception and Personality essentially covered everything I learned in that class. I actually bought this book years before taking that class and never got around to reading it until recently. In any case, this book has some interesting information, but the writing is seriously poor. So many sentences are phrased really strangely, and there are a number of grammatical errors. Not sure where the editor was on this one. The structure of the book is poorly done as well. Rather than regular paragraphs, all the information is put in colorful boxes that are arranged rather strangely on the page. I’m not sure how to explain it in words, but I’ll just say that sometimes the structure forced me to turn the page to finish reading one paragraph and then flip back to read something in another box multiple times, which was extremely irritating. As for the content, the chapter about personality was my favorite, but there are all sorts of fun facts about sleep and memory and other things that go on in our brains daily that most people have no clue is happening. There really isn’t much else to say about it. I’m certain that there are many books out there that have the same information but express it far more clearly, so if you’re looking to learn about psychology, maybe browse a little more before you pick this one up.

32532Title: On Becoming a Novelist
Author: John Gardner
Pages: 145
Year: 1999 (first edition: 1983)
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Time taken to read: 3 weeks, 4 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsis: On Becoming a Novelist contains the wisdom accumulated during John Gardner’s distinguished twenty-year career as a fiction writer and creative writing teacher. With elegance, humor, and sophistication, Gardner describes the life of a working novelist; warns what needs to be guarded against, both from within the writer and from without; and predicts what the writer can reasonably expect and what, in general, he or she cannot. “For a certain kind of person,” Gardner writes, “nothing is more joyful or satisfying than the life of a novelist.” But no other vocation, he is quick to add, is so fraught with professional and spiritual difficulties. Whether discussing the supposed value of writer’s workshops, explaining the role of the novelist’s agent and editor, or railing against the seductive fruits of literary elitism, On Becoming a Novelist is an indispensable, life-affirming handbook for anyone authentically called to the profession.

Okay, I know I said I was going to be gone for a while after my last review, but sometimes the rate at which I finish books surprises even me. Well, actually, you’ll see that this book kinda took me a long time to finish, but it’s very necessary that you know that I only got through about the first 20 pages during the first three weeks of reading this book, and the rest I finished over the last couple of days. I actually finished it off this morning at the UPenn hospital after getting an EKG and then discovering that their lobby has rather comfortable couches.

Anyway, as I said, the very beginning of this book took me weeks to get through because it was rather dull, and that is the only reason I’m not giving it five stars. The rest of the book was really great and rather inspirational. I will say that if you’re looking for concrete advice on how to write a novel, this is not the book you’re looking for. This contains more abstract advice. You know, it’s not even that, most of the time. It’s maybe 1% concrete advice (like one paragraph on how to get a literary agent), 9% abstract advice (go to college, or don’t), and 90% inspiration. But not the cat poster type of inspiration. Gardner is more saying, hey, you might not succeed no matter what you do, but don’t you just want to try anyway because fiction is the most magical thing there is? And then you’re like, dang, yeah, it is magical, and now I gotta go write and who cares if it sucks because I’m doing what I’m meant to do. It’s like he wants to say cat poster-like things, but he also wants to be cool and mysterious and indifferent like old professors tend to do, so he masks it by reminding you every so often that none of this really matters anyway because everything, especially in the world of writing and publishing, is all up to chance, and there’s nothing he can say to you that you can follow that will guarantee your success.

And you know, that kind of inspiration works well for me. Gardner kind of reminded me that if I never get published, maybe it’s because I suck, maybe it’s because I’m lazy, but maybe it’s just chance. Maybe I wrote a great story, but the agent who would have liked it was in a bad mood the day she read it, or the editor who would have liked it just picked up something too similar. And maybe that’s just me trying to make excuses or push the blame somewhere else, but maybe because I really believe in my story, and for my own peace of mind, I have to also believe in bad luck. It’s not like it’s hurting anyone else if I don’t hate myself for being a failure, right?

Gardner says that if you are to be a writer, specifically a novelist, you should probably have the following:

“[…] a refusal to believe what all sensible people know is true […] an apparent lack of mental focus and serious life purpose, a fondness for daydreaming and telling pointless lies, a lack of proper respect, mischievousness, an unseemly propensity for crying over nothing […] a strange admixture of shameless playfulness and embarrassing earnestness…patience like a cat’s […] psychological instability […] and finally, an inexplicable and incurable addiction to stories, written or oral, bad or good.” (34)

This really made me feel hopeful because I strongly identify with the person he seems to be describing. (Although, you have surely noticed that I was picking and choosing which parts of the quote to write down. Shh.) Of course this is just one man’s rather poetic opinion, and it is certainly not a rule that you must be like that to be able to publish books, but, if only for a moment, it silenced the voice of self doubt in my head, and a moment is all it takes to start writing. Now, I am well beyond starting writing (click here to read the premise of my current novel-in-progress), but I tend to work viciously on my story for day or a week or a semester and then put it away for a while, while I’m busy with starting a new job or adjusting to new living arrangements. This fact has always embarrassed me, but as it turns out, that’s exactly what Gardner recommends when it comes to writing a novel (as does Stephen King, although according to my boyfriend, Stephen King also recommends doing a lot of cocaine). So, hats off to him for not only excusing but applauding what I thought was laziness but is actually professional technique.

Unless I manage to finish another book in the next 24 hours, I will see you all next month with reviews of all the books I’m bringing to residential with me, those being

  • Psychology: Adventures in Perception and Personality by Christian Jarrett and Joannah Ginsburg
  • The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner
  • The Everything Box by Richard Kadrey
  • Hope and Help for Your Nerves by Claire Weekes
  • A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman

TTFN, ta ta for now!