The silences of poetry

If you’ve ever been to a poetry reading, you know the silence after a poem is read. It’s a moment of reverence, appreciation, or simply I don’t get it. The rule is that you listen and hold your applause. But after fiery poems or protest poems or poems about sex and breakups, rowdy audiences applaud. Somewhere in that middle ground is a little sound that listeners emit when a poet closes a poem. A sigh, an “mmm,” a subdued acknowledgment that as an audience, says, We are moved.

The Massachusetts Poetry Festival last month was filled with rowdy poetry fans. At one reading by Nick Flynn, the applause started up and he warned that if we applauded for one, we’d better applaud for all or it was going to get mighty awkward. Poet Jill McDonough read a touching (!) poem about a classic Boston subject: road rage. At another headline event held in a church, applause reverberated again and again as Sharon Olds read poems of passion and Eduardo Corral read a poem in which a woman had names for each of her breasts. The atmosphere was electric; I felt like a Baptist ready to shout Preach it!

I’m no poet, but I’ve immersed myself in poetry over the last few years because it’s nourishing. I attended a 5-day workshop led by the brilliant Marie Howe at Omega, a bucolic campus in Rhinebeck, NY, where you could write by the lake or in a hammock or in the garden–real poet stuff. I’ve been enjoying the MA Poetry Festival every year and taking workshops on persona poems or catalogue poems or poetry collages. I’ve been reading more poetry, keeping Billy Collins’ quirky collections on my nightstand. And I’ve been writing poetry, which, according to a handful of real poets who read it, is not a good idea. The problem with a new interest is realizing that you will never be great . . . or even good. It’s a bit depressing, like taking up an instrument and realizing you have no ear or joining a dance class only to realize you are uncoordinated. One must accept one’s suckiness. Still, I resolve to keep experiencing poetry, if only for those moments when a writer lays a poem at your feet and you can offer nothing in return by a reverent silence because there is absolutely nothing to say.

poetry ecard

Give lectures to yourself

I’m not remotely a scientist, nor will I ever be, but I picked up Letters to a Young Scientist by biologist Edward O. Wilson at the library the other day, possibly because of its shiny green cover but more likely because it sounded like a book that would offer good advice to a young person, and I like to consider myself a young person. The science part was somewhat irrelevant.

Still, I learned some interesting tidbits about the field of science as a career (specialize, specialize, specialize) but felt Wilson’s message could be applied to other fields as well. This passage struck me:

“Where would you like to be, what would you most like to be doing professionally ten years from now, twenty years, fifty? Next, imagine that you are much older and looking back on a successful career. What kind of great discovery, and in what field of science [or insert your passion here], would you savor most having made?

“I recommend creating scenarios that end with goals, then choosing ones you might wish to pursue. Make it a practice to indulge in fantasy about science [again, your passion]. Make it more than just an occasional exercise. Daydream a lot. Make talking to yourself silently a relaxing pastime. Give lectures to yourself about important topics that you need to understand. Talk with others of like mind. By their dreams you shall know them.”

I don’t know about you, but when I have been asked to think about what I’ll be doing professionally ten years from now it was always during a job interview. I always had the right answer ready, but I don’t know that I ever thought about my true answer–the authentic one that probably wouldn’t have gotten me the job. It’s never too late to think about goals–professional or otherwise. So that’s your homework. Think about your future self and your goals. Learn topics you’re afraid of but that will help you (Don’t be afraid of math, he tells scientists), and watch that future self manifest.

letters to a young scientist

Literary collage workshop

I like me some good collage therapy–an art outlet disguised as life mapping or vision boards that allows for perusing beautiful images that I collect like a magpie for what I pretend is a work of art. But I rarely find the right images or collect too many disparate images, or don’t have time to arrange them all just so. But in a literary collage workshop at the MA Poetry Festival last weekend, I grabbed materials from trunks of colorful scraps, photographs, stamps, sheets of music, and lines from poems, and realized a sort of jungle theme had emerged organically: a bird, a bunch of bananas, trees.

Time was running out as it usually does when you’re knee-deep in art-making, but the pressure worked. With only five minutes before the next workshop would begin, I started slapping down images on a board in places that felt right, that all worked.

Instructors Missy-Marie Montgomery and Trish Crapo (check out her collages here) shared their own beautiful collage creations inspired by lines of poetry and encouraged us to layer both literally (materials) and figuratively (ideas and themes); one participant said she makes a drink and a collage every night; one young girl emerged with a masterpiece. I’m putting mine up on the wall and telling visitors it’s a rare work by a local artist.

jungle collage


collage with peach

In addition to pages ripped from books (shudder!), the artists brought some pages that had undergone a process using Citra Solv, a cleaning agent-turned-art material that blends the ink on a page to create colorful, abstract designs. You can read it about it on this artist’s blog.



With a minute or two left, each workshop participant introduced their collage, and I had the sudden feeling that everyone had been secret collage prodigies. Still, I loved the workshop, the creative process, the artists let loose from their poet selves. I’m eyeing my books with a new sense of possibility.

collages on display

Best books of 2012

I’m pretty sure all 20 of my readers have been counting down till the moment I reveal my favorite books of 2012. Mind you, it doesn’t mean these books were published in 2012; I just discovered them this year, or felt moved to read them, or they wore me down. In any case, out of the 39 books I read this year, my top five are as follows:


The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin is a gorgeous book not short on descriptions of nature—both wild and human. If you’ve enjoyed Plainsong or any novel by Kent Haruf, you might find a kindred story here about non-traditional families set in a familiar landscape.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes: tricky little thing.

Coral Glynn by Peter Cameron: beautifully wrought period novel. Cameron is a brilliant writer, despite an ever-present undertone of sadness, and this book made me revisit The Weekend, which I read in college when I was young and thought it was scandalous to read about lovers in a book who were both men.

A trio of novels by Tana French: In the Woods, The Likeness, and Faithful Place. This was my first venture into mysteries since the Agatha Christie novels of my youth, and let me tell you: I’d be a mystery whore if the writing in the genre were this literary. In the Woods provides two mysteries for the price of one (but be warned one may not get solved). Despite a preposterous coincidence in The Likeness that the narrative is built on, it was still a fave because of the writing, characters, and generous helping of Irishisms. I just finished her third novel, Faithful Place, and that’s up there too. I’m trying to hold off on reading her fourth book Broken Harbor lest I have to start a fan club.


On Writing by Steven King: I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve turned up my nose at Mr. King’s tales of dogs, killers, and prom queens. But this man can write one inspirational memoir and a scene of joy so profound that it just might make you cry.

The End of Your Life Book Club by William Schwalbe: I suspected this might be a book along the lines of Tuesdays with Morrie (i.e., terrible). The author writes about the informal book club of sorts he has with his mother who is dying of pancreatic cancer. I didn’t think he could crack me. I was just in it for the books and conversation. I mean, I didn’t even know this woman, so I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get attached to her. Yeah. Tears.

Yup, I realize that was six books. Deal with it.

If none of these suggestions float your boat, 1) get a smaller boat or 2) check out this ridiculously exhaustive list of Best Of lists on largehearted boy. And then take three years’ of vacation to begin to tackle just 1% of the list.

And just for good measure, a couple of books I regret struggling through: Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, the much-heralded novella that did nothing for me, and an over-hyped book by a woman who called in to On Point on NPR titled Anastasia by Victor Megne, which reminds me why I don’t listen to that show.

I also started and quit five books: Wuthering Heights (seriously, two Catherines?), The House of Seven Gables (I live in Salem; I should like this. I decided instead to just to walk by the house), Dovekeepers (cut out 400 pages and you might have had me, Alice Hoffman), A History of the Senses (interesting but heavy on the details), and the lengthy memoir What to Look for in Winter (self-indulgent author, but one with an astounding vocabulary).

Happy reading.

Spine poetry

How great is this idea? Select a few books from your shelf  and shuffle them up to “write” a poem. The idea, courtesy of artist Nina Kathadourian’s Sorted Books project I read about on Brain Pickings, is called spine poetry. Brilliant, right? Peruse your bookshelf—or as this artist does: the public library, private libraries, anywhere that houses books—culling those with interesting titles to arrange a poem.

Such an interesting way to discover lines of poetry that might never be discovered otherwise, while possibly even motivating you to dust the bookshelf; it’s also time well spent with your books and even better: a reason to acquire more books.

Here are some lines I discovered:

Love is walking hand in hand,


Enduring love:

the mother garden.

Man and camel

walking into the night;

don’t tell me the truth about love.

Happiness is a warm puppy,

driving over lemons,

the northern lights,

burnt bread and chutney,

the journey home.

Mini book reviews

I’m in an overwhelmed-by-books phase. I started The Likeness when Wild came in at the library, and even though Oprah never personally invited me to be in her book club 2.0 and even though her picks tend to be about the same female protagonist who’s suffered hardship but will overcome, I end up enjoying most of the selections. Wild is one of them. It’s possible I took a day off to read it. In many ways, I suspect author Cheryl Strayed will see the fame Elizabeth Gilbert enjoyed after publishing Eat, Pray, Love. While her book lacks the pizza of Italy and the hunky Brazilian lover, Strayed does compel readers with her tale of hiking the grueling Pacific Coast Crest Trail* with ill-fitting hiking boots and a backpack named Monster.

Now it’s on to The Likeness, which, if you took my advice, you’d be reading too, because it’s by the stellar Tana French. I just saw the Irish actress-turned-writer at the Brookline Booksmith where she did a reading with fellow mystery writer Sophie Hannah, a Brit, who read from The Other Woman’s House. Great, another book to add to the list. The hook for Hannah’s book got me: a woman browsing online videos of homes for sale spots a dead body in the living room of one—but finds the body is gone when she shows her husband.

At the reading, a pug settled in to listen but became more enamored with a woman’s bag and feet that he sniffed, inching closer and closer to both as the woman kept inching them away. It’s a tribute to these two authors and their engaging storytelling that the pug was hardly a distraction. Turns out he was a book lover too. I saw him leave with signed copies tucked under his wrinkled chin.



* I read all 336 pages of Wild believing it was the Pacific Coast Trail and not the Pacific Crest Trail. To be fair, she referred to it mostly as the PCT, but still. At several points I did wonder why we didn’t hear more about the coast . . .

Poetry is so . . . poetic

Roses are red
Violets are blue;
This poem is short
and so are you.

This original poem, my most creative I think, won best amateur poem in the Mass Poetry’s Festival’s newcomer category, which is not a real contest, but should be. I’d have it in the bag.

In reality, the festival breezed into Salem, set up its circus tents of inspiration all over town: workshop after workshop of scribbling poets and readings to recharge writers for months. So much to feast on. So much to plagiarize.

On Friday afternoon, the back yard of the Salem Athenaeum was one giant cliché: a circle of writers sitting under a tree in full blossom, creating poems amongst bird song, sunshine, and wind chimes. Saturday brought more sunshine and poets who could dash off a masterpiece in minutes. On Sunday, carpenter poets read their work, full of hammers and miter saws, in a dark room in the House of the Seven Gables where gables centuries old beamed to see their craftsmen. The day also brought rain, the kind of weather angsty writers need to cultivate a mood and to get down to the business of writing and brooding.

End-of-summer goodness

Goodness: catching a double feature at the drive-in with its vintage refreshment ads and $1 cotton candy.

More goodness: being pleasantly surprised by the quality of Crazy, Stupid, Love. Or was it Ryan Gosling’s abs?

Less goodness: that extraneous comma after “stupid.” That’s just crazy stupid.

Even less goodness: hitting the public restroom after seeing Contagion.

Anticipatory goodness: Dolphin Tale, the adorable new movie based on a true story!

OK, kidding about that one. I feel bad for the dolphin that got roped into that role.

Literary goodness: writers descended on Salem for the literary festival this weekend and tore the place up. What a rowdy bunch.

Actually, they were a sensitive well-behaved flock, passionate about words. Easy to spot, they carried little notebooks and wore berets. They scribbled notes when inspiration struck. They wore black turtlenecks and thought deep thoughts. I went to a panel titled “My Poetry Crush,” and while it was great, I kept waiting for my poetry crush (Billy Collins) to emerge from behind the curtain and declare that crush requited. Caught in traffic, Billy?

More literary goodness: discovering the Improbable Places Poetry Tour that’s based in the Beverly area out of Montserrat College. Poets write on a theme: say, flowers, and the reading takes place in a fitting spot like a flower shop. This month’s theme was ink, so the reading was held in an overflowing tattoo parlor where poets read their work from inside, as if in a fish bowl, while the crowd sat outside looking in, listening. Almost made me want to get a badass tattoo. Like a whisk . . .

Cutest tattoos ever



Yard sale haul

Last week’s yard sale haul, scored in the rain, was exactly one item—one coveted item that I’ve been trolling Craigslist for for weeks where the prices range from $40-$100. In Marblehead, it was mine for $15. I like the way it looks on the bookcase, but I’m hoping to give it a tune-up too and see if it will crank out some good prose, albeit at a glacial pace. Back in the day, I wrote my first short stories on one of these bad boys, sticking keys, correction tape and all. Ding!

This week, I got a cheesy spa kit (made in China! Surprise!) but I like the glass apothecary jars and they came with soap, so I’ll be refilling those suckers ($4); a black and gray zipper dress that promises to be entirely too short, but I can’t resist a zipper anything, especially for 50 cents; a stack of Real Simple magazines, and a funky, colorful necklace for two bucks. Cat not included.

The poets are coming

The Massachusetts Poetry Festival is coming to Salem and I can’t wait to meet Emily Dickinson. I hear she doesn’t get out much, so this should be a treat. Looking forward to connecting with Robert Frost too, if he takes the road more traveled by.

The event starts tonight with readings and continues tomorrow in the cafes, museum, and old colonial buildings all around town with a variety of workshops, forums, and poetry shenanigans. I’m bringing a pen so I can plagiarize all the good lines.

Let me take that off your hands

Looks like I’ll be getting a nomination for the Man Booker International Prize. John le Carré was just nominated for the prize and said while he was enormously flattered, “I do not compete for literary prizes and have therefore asked for my name to be withdrawn.”

Ergo, there’s an opening, and I think it will be easy enough to submit my name in his stead. A substitute, if you will. No need for the prize to go to waste.

Of course, this is just the nomination phase, so I could still lose out to the other 12 nominees. But unlike le Carré, I’m not one to decline £60,000.

The Great Book Anticipation of 2011

I had just read about this new book coming out and immediately ordered it from the library. An email a few days later told me that The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore was already waiting for me at the circulation desk. The librarian handed over the 575-page tome, and without a hint or irony, said, “Due back in two weeks.” Right.

The novel is narrated in first-person by Bruno, a chimp who acquires language and explores what it means to be human. Also, there is chimp-human sex. I just thought you should know.

I discovered this hefty little gem by Benjamin Hale on this drool-worthy list of the most anticipated book preview of 2011. If there’s anything bibliophiles love more than reading, it’s squirreling away a stack of books like acorns for the coming year. And if you live in New England where it continues to snow, you need some meaty books for the winter.

Karen Russell’s writing is beautiful and I’ve been hoping she’d come out with a novel since her short story collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. Her novel, Swamplandia!, grew from one of those short stories and is about a family that runs an alligator wrestling attraction. Uh-huh.

The New York Times reviewed both books today. Clearly, its reviewers take their cues from my blog.

Oddly, I’m looking forward to a memoir called Fire Season by Philip Connors who served as a fire lookout in New Mexico for years. With all that time to sit there scanning the sky, and presumably having to shout “Fire!” only once in awhile, he’s gotta have some interesting thoughts to share.

A new book by Ann Patchett (Bel Canto, Truth & Beauty) is always something to celebrate, except maybe that last novel, Run, that wasn’t so hot. But if State of Wonder is classic Ann Patchett, all will be forgiven. June, however, is a long time to wait. Fortunately, I have the tale of Bruno the chimp to keep me company.

2010 reading wrap-up

Reading in the sun. Second only to the beach.

This has been a rough reading year. One of my resolutions was to revisit the classics (or hell, just visit the classics, since I never had a membership to that old library in the first place) and to read things out of my comfort zone. But I can’t blame my bad year on classics or odd literature. The books I read just didn’t seduce me. And I’ve read a lot this year considering a big chunk of my life was taken up by the homebuying process where the only thing I was reading were inspection reports and bank statements.

Just as I was giving up hope on a happy ending, the last book of the year did what all books should do: grabbed me by the first paragraph and kept on grabbing me (no, not like that), so 2010 went out on a high note. I had just finished The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass (eh) when I spotted The Widower by Liesel Litzenburger on the used book store shelf, so you can imagine that I was not like, Awesome! Another book about a grieving guy. But then I read this opener:

Grace Blackwater is downstairs, saving his life one small gesture at a time. He can hear her straight through the worn wood floors beneath his bed, going about her business as if she owns the place. She doesn’t own the place. He hadn’t called her, but she has come—up the long dirt driveway on her motorcycle at dawn and in through an open kitchen window, using her jackknife to slit the screen that has been repaired again and again with duct tape. Upstairs, in his bed, he has heard even this, the silver blade parting the length of fine mesh with the whir of a hummingbird. Every house in the door is unlocked. Grace likes to do things the hard way. He was glad she hadn’t shot off the locks. She has some talents. He does, too. What are they? He doesn’t know anymore. He sure can’t dance, would make a lousy poker player, doesn’t know any magic tricks, isn’t much for meaningful conversation. He is a champion of deep sleep. He excels at the long rest.

See? You want to keep reading. When I finished the book—this author’s debut—I wondered if she’d written anything since, and in one of those tiny moments of joy, I discovered there was already a new one waiting for me called Now You Love Me. Can’t wait.

Other bright spots on the shelf this year were Mink River by Brian Doyle that contains the most beautiful passage I’ve read all year—and it was uttered by a talking crow; Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert, This Must be the Place by Kate Racculia (a friend and great writer), and the memoir Orange is the New Black.

Worst book last year? Tinkers by Paul Harding. Yeah, the one that nabbed the Pulitzer, but I stand my ground. Dullsville.

The Summer Day

During a yoga retreat this fall, the instructor read us a Mary Oliver poem during savasana, which, when you think about it, might be the best time to receive a poem. In a relaxed, supine position, you can let a poem wash over you and consider it in a way that is not academic; you can simply experience it. I especially love that the theme is partly about summer, a blissful season. Even the word suggests a certain sparkle and warmth and sunshine. So, on this especially cold day of winter, I give you a taste of summer.

The Summer Day

by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

So readers, what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Will you kneel down in the grass, stroll through the fields, or snap your wings open? Will you take a chance, write your own poem, or enjoy each moment for what it is: a moment?

Writing retreat

The good thing about being a writer is that you can be creative and imaginative, crafting any essay or story you want. You get to wear funky clothing and colorful scarves and keep odd hours. You can write in your bathrobe. Occasionally, you write a stellar sentence or sell a piece of writing and other people actually read it.

The downside is the that you’re on your own. No one insists that you work 9-5 or that you finish that poem by 3 p.m. on Tuesday. No one asks you to submit that humorous piece you’re working on because it would be so perfect for their magazine.

So, when my travel writer friend said her writing commitment needed a kick in the pants, I thought, Right. I should rediscover my serious writing persona, and investigated the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. The weeklong writing workshops are costly, so I debated and debated. Great teachers, an amazing location, a community serious about writing . . . But I wanted to go on vacation this summer. And save money. But then I thought about all the half-started ideas that cover my desk that never seem to get written. And I heard novelist Elizabeth Strout mention that she finished Olive Kitteridge while holed up in a cottage in Provincetown. See, writers are required to work in a beach cottage in the dunes of Provincetown at one point or another. It’s in the writer’s credo. And so I signed myself up for a nonfiction class and rented myself a little cottage where I will have a combined writing retreat/vacation from which amazing essays will sprout—or where I’ll at least hang out at the beach and pretend to write.

Elizabeth Strout and Billy Collins

Last week was a literary smorgasbord, which is the best kind of smorgasbord short of cornucopias of food. If not food, then books, I say. Elizabeth Strout, author of the Pulitzer-prize winning Olive Kitteridge, was in town doing a reading preceded by an intimate, entertaining Q & A. You don’t meet a lot of writers who used to study law while secretly reading Nabokov concealed in a textbook. You also don’t meet a lot of writers who know small towns and can write about them so effectively despite living in New York City. And you definitely don’t meet a lot of writers who, when answering a question, say, “I don’t know. But that’s not an interesting answer, is it? Let me make something up.”

Strout was chatty and affable and talked in depth about Olive Kitteridge, the ornery main character and the linked stories that revolve around her. It was like having a book club with the author.

I love to hear writers talk about their writing schedule and discipline and while Strout didn’t lay on the guilt trip I sometimes need to hear (as in, I rise at 5 a.m. and write until noon, eat some nuts, and then write for another 17 hours), she did say, “Writing is serious stuff” and that it should be treated with gravitas. Yes, approaching one’s writing half-heartedly rarely earns one a Pulitzer, which she was too humble to say, and that reminder is a good one. She also writes anywhere—the kitchen table, the subway, the library—and is constantly revising, quite a trick for a writer who writes by hand.

That same night, I caught poet Billy Collins at the MFA reading some new poems and some old favorites. He’s always delightful to listen to. One minute he’s stabbing you in the heart with a sad poem and then he’s making you laugh like a school girl. When he does both, he’s at his best. He said he likes to write poems that start funny and get serious or poems that start serious and get funny—a brilliant concept and one I wish I had employed in this post. Pretend it happened.

Mini book reviews

I closed out the year with three novels:

Americans in Space by Mary Mitchell, is a fun, satisfying read that traffics in my favorite thing: poignancy. The protagonist is a widow with a sense of humor about her difficult teenager and toddler who insists on toting around a ketchup bottle and their eventual return to their lives post-grief.

The Bright Forever by Lee Martin centers on a missing girl in a small town in Indiana during the Vietnam War-era and is told from the perspective of multiple characters. The writing is strong, and Martin makes you want to go out and search for this little girl to ease the pain of her family.

Then We Came to the End is a cleverly told office drama with a splash of British humor—even though the author, Joshua Ferris, is apparently from Brooklyn. Well, the British comment is a compliment, Joshua. This book was a finalist for a National Book Award in 2007, and even better, it has a cool website where you can tour the office—the setting for the book. Check out these stellar opening lines told in the “we” voice of the novel, which makes you feel like you’re hanging out with the characters around the water cooler:

“We were fractious and overpaid. Our mornings lacked promise.”

Come on, that’s better than “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” which isn’t even punctuated correctly, no?

Where the Wild Things Are

In anticipation of the release of Where the Wild Things Are today (hello, childhood), I wanted to share a little story by Maurice Sendak that Jack Kornfield relates in his book The Wise Heart. The book, by the way, is an excellent, accessible exploration of Buddhist psychology peppered with thoughtful anecdotes. And I must mention that Kornfield’s has another book that should win an award for its title alone: After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.

Anyway, here’s Kornfield writing about joy:

When we live in the present, joy arises for no reason. This is the happiness of consciousness that is not dependent on particular conditions. Children know this job. Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are, tells the story of a boy who wrote to him. “He sent me a charming card with a drawing. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters—sometimes very hastily—but this one I lingered over. I sent him a postcard and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, ‘Dear Jim, I loved your card.’ Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, ‘Jim loved your card so much he ate it.’ That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”

Here’s to loving something so much you want to eat it.

where the wild things are

Good review, bad movie

My boyfriend and I saw Cold Souls recently (hello, free passes), and while the premise was clever (what if you could store your soul?) and the movie poster and website were inventive (I don’t know why I think this is an indicator of movie quality, but I do), the movie fell short of what we expected. The flick was something along the lines of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which explored the idea of removing memories, but didn’t quite hit that level in terms of execution. OK, maybe it’s not fair to make such comparisons, but the concept was so similar, it’s hard to avoid measuring one against another.

After the movie, I went as I always do to The New Yorker. You can’t do this before you see the movie because the reviews are so comprehensive and revealing it’s like seeing the movie. The other thing about New Yorker reviews is that they’re so insanely well written, they’re often better than the movie. In this case, it was especially true, even though the reviewer appreciated the movie more than we did. The review has such gems as “Paul Giamatti, who is never going to be mistaken for Danny Kaye, plays himself—or, rather, he plays a convincing version of himself called Paul Giamatti . . . ” and this description: “We may not know what Paul’s soul consists of, but we do get to see what it looks like: a poor, pale squib of a thing, no bigger than a molar, in a glass jar.” Such good writing would have been nice to see in the movie.