books

Wise Words from Junot Diaz

The best book I read this year, and probably ever, was Junot Diaz‘s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. (Yes, yes, I know it came out a few years ago—I go through phases of devouring books, then not reading any for months!) From page one, I was floored by Diaz’s use of language. His voice is incredibly unique and authentic, and he puts words together in rhythmic ways that I’d never heard before, let alone could conceive of doing. As a writer, I can’t even be envious of him. To me, Diaz exists on some other level, one that I—and, quite honestly, most other writers—could never even strive to achieve. (It was no surprise to me that he was just awarded a MacArthur “genius” grant.)

Diaz’s new book, This Is How You Lose Her, came out in September and it’s at the top of my reading list. Accordingly, he’s been in the press a lot, recently. But of all the things I’ve read about him, one quote has stuck in my mind. It’s from a Real Simple piece in which famous authors were asked to impart the valuable life lessons they learned from other works of literature. Diaz’s answer was:

I grew up dirt-poor in the Dominican Republic, and when my family moved to the United States (I was six), my new home felt very hostile and cold. As a kid who wanted protection, I read Watership Down, by Richard Adams. It’s about a group of rabbits who are forced from their home and encounter another warren of well-fed rabbits. The displaced animals realize that their fat kinsmen are safe because a farmer has turned their burrow into an outdoor refrigerator. At just eight years old, I realized that security is sometimes too high a price to pay for your freedom. Kindling bravery is a daily challenge: not hiding away in safety, not settling for whatever is just good enough.

Those are such wise words to remember at any time. But right now, when I’m in the middle of a time of change, they ring especially true.

What quotes have motivated or inspired you, recently? I’d love to hear!

(Photo via Jezebel)

How Do You Pass the Time on Long Car/Bus Rides?

When it comes to physically getting from place to place, I don’t necessarily think the journey is just as important as the destination. I love spending weekends at my sister’s place. But since I don’t drive, it’s not easy to get there. I have to take a torturous six hour bus ride or five-hour train/bus trip.

I don’t mind the train. Amtrak is pretty comfy and I can work on my laptop when the WiFi is functioning. The bus is another story. I get carsick reading or typing, so the only thing I can do is plug into my iPhone. For six hours straight. I’ve found that listening to This American Life and audiobooks is the only thing that makes the trip doable.

I first started listening to This American Life when I needed to pass time in a similar fashion. A few years ago, I was working a freelance gig that involved lots of, um, mindless busy work. To motivate and entertain myself, I queued upВ TAL–and what a difference that made! I was flying through my assignments and TAL episodes. Within a week, I’d listened to a year’s worth.

TAL makes long trips go by just as quickly. I love how Ira Glass and his correspondents put a quirky spin on every topic they tackle. I’ve yet to come across an episode that isn’t fun, accessible and heartfelt. It’s reporting and storytelling at its best. Not everyone could make the Brazilian financial crisis so entertaining. (I loved that episode–and I usually glaze over/can’t understand anything that involves economics.) Or decide that in order to write the perfect break-up song, you’d have to get Phil Collins’ advice. Or make a story that you’d find in a small town paper (about a school maintenance man on a power trip, for example) way more compelling than any movie that’s been produced recently.

Audiobooks work just as well. Since I was one of the few people on earth who hadn’t read or watched The Help, I figured I might as well listen to it. The audiobook was very well done, with four women, including Octavia Spencer, narrating as the characters–and, at a 18 hours, it lasted several trips. Now, I’m finishing up The Lost City of Z, by David Grann, one of my favorite New Yorker writers. He attempts to retrace the footsteps of Percy Fawcett, a British explorer who went missing trying to find an ancient city in the Amazon.

How do you pass the time on long trips? Are you an audiobook or TAL fan, too?

(Photo via Swiss Miss)

What Do You Read on the Subway?

The other day, I came across the awesome blog Underground New York Public Library, via Gothamist. Photographer Ourit Ben-Haim goes around NYC capturing subway riders who are deeply engrossed in their books. Her shots are gorgeous and really capture the individual little bubbles we all inhabit when we’re on the train. Plus, it’s cool to see what other New Yorkers are reading–and it’s inspiring me to add to my reading list.

Here are some of my favorite shots; see more here:

What do you read on the subway?В (I’m usually paging through the latest issue ofВ NY MagВ or listening to an audiobook. Though as of late, I’ve also been doing some reading about happiness/mindfulness during my morning commute, which, I’ve found, is a nice way to start the day.)

(All images via the Underground New York Public Library’s Facebook page)

NYC Rooftops

NYMag.com has an awesome slideshow of photos from a new book, Up on the Roof: New York’s Hidden Skyline Spaces. Architect/photographer/pilot Alex MacLean shot more than 200 buildings from the air, giving viewers a glimpse of the city from a rather elusive vantage point.

There’s definitely aВ voyeuristic appeal to looking into/upon buildings–I’m guilty of scoping out other apartments’ swank terraces and covetable outdoor spaces from high-up windows. (A girl can dream, right?) So I’m definitely planning to check out MacLean’s book.

In the meantime, a few of my favorite images:

MoMA, 11 W. 53rd Street, Manhattan, NY 10019

300 E. 34th Street, Manhattan, NY 10016

Brooklyn Grange, 37-18 Northern Blvd., Queens, NY 11101

(Photos via NYMag.com; more on Up on the Roof here)