10 Songs Recently Played on My iPod

I know, iPod, right? So dated.

  1. “Two Lights,” Five for Fighting
    • The lyrics of this song are hard to grasp without contextual information, but with this information they are candid, without being cliché, and not so figurative as to draw attention to their poeticality. John Ondrasik’s greatest virtue remains his ability to write meaningful lyrics, especially in the void of 21st century pop. 
  2. “Bedshaped,” Keane
    • A stylistic accomplishment, “Bedshaped” is a controlled performance of lyrical depth, flawless in its delivery, with an underlying suppleness reminiscent of Coldplay. 
  3. “Fast Car,” Tracy Chapman
    • More than just a song to listen to as you’re driving down the highway at night, “Fast Car” possesses that narrative quality that songs today lack, while boasting the voice of a singular artist. 
  4. “You’re the Inspiration,” Chicago
    • Chicago is an underrated, if overselling, band, and ‘80s Chicago is, in all its sentimentality, my favorite. What makes “You’re the Inspiration” the biggest hit to come out of the period is the interplay of its voices, the balancing and counterbalancing of melody and harmony. The layering of voices gives the song depth, while Peter Cetera’s lead commands but never overshadows. 
  5. “Unwell,” Matchbox Twenty
    • How can you not love the opening motif? The transitions are seamless, and vocal artistry is hardly a problem for Rob Thomas. 
  6. “Sunny Came Home,” Shawn Colvin
    • The lyrics of “Sunny Came Home” don’t quite match the tenor of the accompaniment, resulting in a work that undermines and ironizes itself—which is the brilliance of the song. It’s also a better revenge song than Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” (nothing against Carrie). 
  7. “Chasing Cars,” Snow Patrol
    • A minimalist pop song seems like a contradiction, but “Chasing Cars” makes it work with its sensitivity to dynamic and layering, and with its sparse, haiku-like lyrics. 
  8. “Hotel California,” The Eagles
    • An effortless song in every way. Neither overdone nor underdone, “Hotel California” represents the best of ‘70s rock and claims impressive staying power. 
  9. “Drops of Jupiter,” Train
    • An example of a song with meaningful, if self-consciously grandiose, lyrics. “Drops of Jupiter” dabbles in metaphor and hyperbole, which works with the its charismatic singer and sweeping, orchestral accompaniment. The song, which recalls The Beatle’s “Hey Jude,” is more affecting for its compression (I’ve always found the postlude of “Hey Jude” protracted), its command of the metaphor, and the earnestness of its delivery, which is never less than convincing. 
  10. “What a Wonderful World,” Louis Armstrong
    • Can you argue with a classic? 

10 Frightening Books

  1. Inferno, Dante Alighieri
    • What’s scarier than Hell? Here, you have the honor of being led by Virgil on a tour of the nine circles and, in the end, you make the acquaintance of Lucifer. Find a version with Gustave Doré’s engravings—they’re beautiful. 
  2. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
    • Read it for Father Arnall’s sermon on Hell (chapter three), which is almost as scary as Hell itself.
  3. Nightwood, Djuna Barnes
    • Like a good horror movie, half of the scares come from not knowing what’s going on. The other half of the scares come from the extent to which obsession dominates the characters in this book. Bonus points for a final scene of hazy parallelism (possession?) between a woman and a dog.
  4. A Pale View of Hills, Kazuo Ishiguro
    • Ishiguro’s is a subtle horror, which navigates the terrain between the psychological and the philosophical fluidly. Ishiguro is sparing in his clues, leaving only enough to tantalize the reader in the not-knowing.
  5. Steps, Jerzy Kosinski
    • Steps is bizarre and sure to unsettle. At times, it seems that this slim volume is only a collection of perversion and violence, though to the discerning eye, it is always, if improbably, more.
  6. Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre
    • The weight of meaninglessness impinges to claustrophobic effect in Nausea, which, after 200 pages, lingers like the void that surrounds us. 
  7. The Book of Revelation, John of Patmos
    • The final book of the Bible features a cast of characters of immense mythological significance—such as the Dragon and the Beast 666, and, of course, God—doing immensely scary things. 
  8. The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes
    • This short novel relies on tenuous causal links to question the range of human agency. Did I cause this to happen, or is it just a coincidence? The not-knowing is consuming and a source of epistemological dread. 
  9. 1984, George Orwell
    • An unlikely choice, but: Rats! Additionally, the vision of totalitarianism that the novel presents is as relevant today as it was in 1949 (the year of publication), what with contemporary concerns of surveillance and negationism. 
  10. 2666, Roberto Bolaño
    • I’ve mentioned 2666 before, but it bears inclusion on this list, for it details one of the worst sprees of crime in recent memory, with an intentional dispassion that heightens the horribleness of the acts. Read it.

10 Selections from Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life

I’ve been mentioning Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life quite a bit, so I thought I’d provide a, hopefully, spoiler-free taste.

  1. “The world has two kinds of people… Those who are inclined to believe, and those who aren’t. In my courtroom, we value belief. Belief in all things.”
  2. “He was practical; he knew that making a career as a lawyer meant sacrifices, either of money or of moralities, but it still troubled him, this forsaking of what he knew to be just. And for what? So he could insure he wouldn’t become that old man, lonely and sick? It seemed the worst kind of selfishness, the worst kind of self-indulgence, to disavow what he knew was right simply because he was frightened, because he was scared of being uncomfortable and miserable.”
  3. “The axiom of equality states that x always equals x: it assumes that if you have a conceptual thing named x, that it must always be equivalent to itself, that it has a uniqueness about it, that it is in possession of something so irreducible that we must assume it is absolutely, unchangeably equivalent to itself for all time, that its very elementalness can never be altered.”
  4. “If I were a different kind of person, I might say that this whole incident is a metaphor for life in general: things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.”
  5. “Wasn’t it a miracle to have survived the unsurvivable? Wasn’t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely?”
  6. “But although he hadn’t been convinced, it was somehow sustaining that someone else had seen him as a worthwhile person, that someone had seen his as a meaningful life.”
  7. “And he cries and cries, cries for everything he has been, for everything he might have been.”
  8. “He experienced the singular pleasure of watching people he loved fall in love with other people he loved.”
  9. “Friendship was witnessing another’s slow drip of miseries, and long bouts of boredom, and occasional triumphs. It was feeling honored by the privilege of getting to be present for another person’s most dismal moments, and knowing that you could be dismal around him in return.”
  10. “You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will:  the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.”

10 Books I Want to Read in 2016

These are the top ten books I want to read in 2016, ranked based on priority. 

  1. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
    • I need to break into the David Mitchell bubble, and why not start with his most well-known work? Besides, I already have this book on my shelf, and it’s been waiting to be read for some time now. 
  2. The Vorhh, Brian Catling
    • Another book I already own (I didn’t get around to it this break). I’m fascinated by the premise of this novel, which, as I understand it, follows a cast of characters as they converge and diverge in a mystical forest that may or may not contain the Garden of Eden. Exciting, fantastical stuff.
  3. The Royal Family, William T. Vollman
    • Based on the intensity with which a few recommenders recommended this book to me, I’ll read The Royal Family as the inaugural book this summer. 
  4. Fear and TremblingSøren Kierkegaard
    • This one comes recommended by a friend, who read it over winter break. An early modern interpretation of Christianity and the nature of faith by the father of existentialism.
  5. The Book of Night Women, Marlon James
    • Recommended to me by a professor. Marlon James also won the 2015 Man Booker Prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings, which is, of course, a sure, if not certain, stamp of approval.
  6. Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
    • Infinite Jest has been on my radar for some time now, and having recently watched The End of the Tour, I’ve decided I can’t ignore it for much longer. I’ll aim to read this over summer, which I think is the best time to read such a capacious novel. 
  7. Fifth Business, Robertson Davies
    • Another book recommended by a friend, I’m actually being forced into reading this one. I’ve read positive reviews of it, however, which is promising. 
  8. Underworld, Don DeLillo
    • A professor recommended Underworld to me based on my predilection for Roberto Bolaño. I’ve dipped my toes into DeLillo waters with Falling Man and Point Omega, though these are post-Underworld DeLillo works, which I’m told are not the same. It’ll be thrilling to read three massive tomes by Vollman, Wallace, and DeLillo over summer. 
  9. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
    • I’ve been told so many things about this book—that it’s violent, unnerving, and comparable to Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and Dante Alighieri’s Inferno—that I can’t put it off for another year. 
  10. The People in the Trees, Hanya Yanagihara
    • Yanagihara’s first novel. Though I don’t expect The People in the Trees to equal A Little Life, I do hope to be moved the same by Yanagihara’s storytelling and characterization in a more condensed form. It would also be nice to get a grasp on Yanagihara’s oeuvre before it gets larger.

10 Least Favorite Books from 2015

I supposed I should accompany my list of favorite books from 2015 with a list of my least favorite books from 2015.

  1. A Room with a View, E. M. Forster
    • Granted I read this book in a hair salon as I was waiting for my mother, I forgot what this book was about after I finished it. 
  2. The Fall, Albert Camus
    • I just couldn’t get into this one. More difficult than The Stranger, The Fall doesn’t posses the same narrative heft that The Stranger does, making it philosophically denser and unmitigated. 
  3. Notes from Underground, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
    • Another philosophical novel that eludes me. I wanted to get into Dostoyevsky, so I started with this “short” 130-page book. It was the longest 130 pages I’ve read. I’ll read this one, and Camus’s The Fall, again when I have a more sophisticated mind and/or a better taste for existentialism.
  4. Paterson, William Carlos Williams
    • My experience reading Paterson reminded me of my first experience reading “The Waste Land”: basically, wondering, “What is going on?” (Grateful for teachers.) There were some sections of this book-length poem that I liked, though my inability to appreciate the whole made it hard for me to like the poem overall.
  5. The Sound of Waves, Yukio Mishima
    • I (provisionally) blame this one on the translation. The plot drew me, but the patchiness of the prose (translation) prevented me from enjoying the story. I read The Sound of Waves as an introduction to Mishima’s work with the intention of then moving to his masterwork, The Sea of Fertility tetralogy. I haven’t given up on Mishima, though my experience reading The Sound of Waves has lowered Mishima on my list of books to read. 
  6. Monsieur Pain, Roberto Bolaño
    • I discovered Roberto Bolaño during my sophomore year, and read a string of great books written by him (Amulet, By Night in Chile, Distant Star, Last Evenings on Earth, The Savage Detectives, A Little Lumpen Novelita, 2666), so when I read Monsieur Pain I was disappointed. I never felt a sense of the narrative or of the characters while reading the novel. Admittedly, Monsieur Pain is not one of Bolaño’s popular books.
  7. The Woman in the Dunes, Kobo Abe
    • Maybe it is a translation issue with these Japanese works, because I had the same issue reading The Woman in the Dunes that I had reading The Sound of Waves. The plot is intriguing: a man is held captive in a house at the bottom of a sand dune and spends his days shoveling sand. However, despite the promise of its premise, I couldn’t get into the story, which is written in an artificially translated prose.
  8. The Sea, John Banville
    • I had high expectations for this novel, given the stature of its author and the fact that it won the Man Booker Prize. That said, I did not dislike the novel, though I didn’t care much for it. My lukewarm response to the book was drawn out because of the hype it got and because I spent $15 on it. 
  9. My Happy Life, Lydia Millet
    • An underwhelming book in my estimation. Not altogether bad, but what could otherwise have been a compelling story is undermined by language that’s mild at best. 
  10. All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
    • Yes, it won the Pulitzer Prize, but there’s something about a writer who writes, “She wakes to Madame Manec… climbing to the third floor the fourth the fifth” (instead of writing “climbing to the fifth floor” or “climbing the stairs”) and repeats this technique every fifty pages that irks me. I know Marie-Laure is blind, but this over-repetition becomes tiresome quickly.

10 Favorite Books from 2015

2015 was a good year. Here are my favorite books from 2015 (books that I read in 2015, not necessarily books that were published in 2015).

  1. 2666, Roberto Bolaño
    • After working my way through the shorter works of the Bolaño oeuvre last year, I took on this behemoth (at approximately 900 pages, I don’t think “behemoth” is too much of an exaggeration) at the beginning of the year and loved it so much that I read it again.
  2. The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides
    • Not the easiest thing to read about, virgin suicides, but Eugenides writes with such effortlessness that you can’t help but become engrossed. Stylistically, the novel recalls William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.” 
  3.  Cosmos, Witold Gombrowicz
    • In this philosophical novel, two men find a hanged sparrow in a forest and descend into madness (or else they achieve a profound understanding of existence). Of course, it’s about so much more, and features one of the most mocking final lines I’ve read. Plus, it’s short, which makes it easy to read again.
  4.  Blindness, José Saramago
    • In this novel, an “epidemic of ‘white blindness’” descends on a city. Early victims of the blindness are confined to a deserted asylum. And then things get worse. Blindness is a depiction of human depravity too graphic for eyes, which is fitting.
  5. The Painted Bird, Jerzy Kosinski
    • Speaking of graphic depictions of human depravity, The Painted Bird is an unapologetic record of the horrors visited on a vagabond boy during the Holocaust. The veracity of the account is contested, but it’s nevertheless a shocking, beautifully written work. It’s like watching your first rated R movie. Read with caution. 
  6.  A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
    • The first time I read A Farewell to Arms I hated it. When I read it for the second time this year, for a seminar on Hemingway, I loved it. I think that this fact attests to the skill of my professor. More than anything, I appreciated the quality of Hemingway’s prose more the second time around than I did the first. Boasting a well-plotted story and Hemingway’s penchant for scene, A Farewell to Arms takes on the quality of dreams and is as light.
  7. A Guide to Being Born, Ramona Ausubel
    • Actually a collection of short stories, A Guide to Being Born is unlike anything I’ve read. My favorite story, “Poppyseed,” is as touching as it is unhinging. (You can read it here.)
  8.  Snow, Orhan Pamuk
    • This novel was recommended to me by a professor of mine. The novel wrestles with the relationship between secularism and faith, and tries to deduce the place of God in the postmodern state. Excellently paced and complex with engaging characters.
  9. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara
    • This book should come with trigger warnings. Nevertheless, it’s been the most fulfilling reading experience I’ve had this year. This novel gutted me; it’s graphic, overwhelming, and subversive. And, inexplicably, it’s tender. Everything in this novel is irrational, yet potent. My favorite description of the book comes from the jacket: “An epic about love and friendship in the twenty first century that goes into some of the darkest places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light” (italics mine).  
  10. Bluets, Maggie Nelson
    • Only a poet could write so compellingly about her love for the color blue. 


The beach was filled with people walking on the sand. In the hands of each person was a small wooden boat with a paper cube. Children ran in and out of the water, splashing each other, while their parents warned them not to break anybody’s lantern.

“It’s crowded,” she said, as we walked down the beach, looking for a place to lay our towel. We carried our shoes.

“See anyone you know?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people in my life.”

“It nice when they all let their lanterns go.”

I looked at the footprints in the sand and watched the ocean erase the ones within reach.

“There’s a spot.”

I spread the towel. The water reflected the sun.

We sat on the sand as row after row of people waded into the water in their swim trunks, placing their lanterns and wooden boats down and with a gentle push, sending them to sea. Like a fleet of light, the lanterns sailed toward the disappearing sun. The boats cut their way through the water, leaving ripples in their wake. And the lanterns drifted.

“This is nice.”

Her hair blew in front of my face. It smelled like the sea. Another row of well-wishers cast away their lanterns.

A man came up to us with a lantern and a boat in his hands and asked us if we wanted to launch it.

I turned to her. She smiled. “Sure, we’ll do that.”

The man handed us the boat and lantern and told us to go in with the next row.

We got in line. A woman came down the row with a match, lighting each lantern. When she got to us, she said, “That’s a beautiful lantern.”

When everyone’s lantern had been lit, we stepped into the water. The water was cold and seeped through my rolled up jeans, but that didn’t matter. We waded in until we were waist deep, our feet sunken in the sand below. The people around us lowered their lanterns. A woman reached into a plastic bag and began to strew purple and white hibiscus petals. Each petal fell pendulum-like until it touched the water and floated among the bobbing lights.

Together we placed our lantern in the water.

Her hair floated on the wind like a piece of driftwood in the sea.


Dust darkens the sky and falls in clumps on the ground, into crevices and cracks, and litters the pavement like midwinter snow. The dust is falling from the burning building. The building is groaning like the hull of a ship. It’s on fire about halfway up. It’s the smoke that gets to me. Thick black smoke, climbing the sides of the building like a millipede coiled around a stick.

The dust is falling, white and gray, and floating like petals to the ground. Everyone is sneezing. Even as they run from the shadow of the tottering building.

People are running with shirts around their faces, running with their mouths covered by their hands. Their hands are black and covered in soot. The dust is like the shadow of a planet eclipsing the sun, and the building is groaning like a ship. The firemen hold flashlights as they run into the dust.

People grab me and pull me toward them. They hand me a water bottle, a mask, and a wet towel. They rush me away from the rising cloud. It’s blooming like a flower. They turn every few seconds as they push me through a frozen crowd. There’s a pregnant lady sitting in a stroller, watching. There’s a man with his shirt unbuttoned and his pants in a pile around his legs, and he’s watching. There’s a girl standing at the corner, under the shade of a blue umbrella, and her mouth is open and her eyes are too and she’s watching the dust fall.

In Japan, we walked under cherry blossom trees and I held the umbrella over our head, and when a breeze passed through the trees, the branches would shiver and petals would fall, and I held onto you, your hand to my chest, as the ground became littered by flakes of a time long before the petals turned to dust.



The other day I walked to church. It was windy, so I walked with my hood pulled over my head. Puddles had formed in the sides of the street and leaves were floating in the puddles. A man sat on the sidewalk underneath the sign of a CD store. His shoes were torn around the soles and his toes were sticking out. He held a piece of cardboard, asking for money. I saw a rotting banana peel on the ground next to him. I made eye-contact with him. He pointed to the sign. I shook my head. He let his head roll onto his shoulder and I kept walking.

I got to church early. I walked into the chapel and found my usual seat in the fifth row. I sat and looked at the purple and green stained glass windows. I ran my fingers over the back of the pew in front of me. The wood was smooth and cold to the touch. I breathed into my hands and rubbed them together, then stuffed them into my pockets.

During worship, a woman sat next to me. After she had taken off her jacket, she straightened and began to sign in sign language. She was signing to the lyrics of the songs. I didn’t turn but watched her movements from the corner of my eye. She altered the positions of her fingers in succession, flicked her wrist, and, every so often, touched her forehead. At times, she resembled a conductor; at others, she looked like a typist. She signed to the melody of the song, which made me realize that, of course, she could hear. She just couldn’t speak.

When the pastor asked us to introduce ourselves to our neighbors, I turned away from the woman who had been signing. I didn’t know how to introduce myself and how I would learn her name. I shook hands with everyone around me. Then I sat down and stared at the communion cups stacked on the backside of the pew.

The woman touched my shoulder. She had brown hair and brown eyes, and I could see the gold chain of a necklace hanging off of her collarbone. She smiled and held out her hand. Her wrist was thin and on its underside I could see veins. I stood and shook her hand.

I said, “I’m Matt.”

She nodded. She could hear.

I said, “What’s your name?”

She smiled and signed her name to me. I could pick out four discrete letters, or signs, but couldn’t read them.

I shrugged. I checked around for a piece of paper and a pencil but couldn’t find one.

She held out her hand as if wanting me to take it. I raised my hand and held it next to hers. She grabbed my hand and stepped closer. I let my arm slacken. She propped it on her arm and held my hand in the nook of her elbow. Then she pushed up my sleeve and, using her finger, traced her name on my arm. She traced slowly and in capital letters. Her nail ran over my skin and over my veins.


She nodded.

“Short for Victoria?”

She nodded.

“It’s nice to meet you,” I said, offering my hand.

She smiled and nodded and shook my hand and signed something to me.


I live in an on-campus house, in a cul-de-sac off of Theme Row. The house is small and painted yellow and I always enter it through the backdoor. Next to the house is a lamp, and bolted to the base of the lamp is a payphone.

Every night when I walk back to the house, I see the payphone in the halo of light cast by the lamp. The phone is black and there are cobwebs stretched across the dial pad from 1 to 9. The receiver is attached to the phone by a silver ribbed cord that sways whenever a breeze passes.

I walk to the phone every night and contemplate it under the light. I never touch the phone. Instead, I watch it like a child on a hill away from the city watches the stars. It’s like a nightlight. A soft, contained light in the middle of our cul-de-sac. It watches over us while we sleep or lay awake dreaming.

I like walking back to the house at night and seeing the light of the payphone. I tell myself I’ll use it one day to call someone at home. I pull a rusty quarter out of my pocket and place it on top of the box. It slides onto the metal with a soft clank.

A car passes on Alder Street. Its tires emit a soft hum as they roll over the gravel of the road. Its headlights brush the tips of grass on the side of the street.

It’s dark and my roommate is sleeping. I walk quietly into the room and close the door behind me. I put on my pajamas and set my alarm. Before I crawl into bed, I look out the window and glance the lighted payphone. Someone is standing in front of it, smoking a cigarette. He removes the paper from his lips and breathes out a cloud of smoke, which, as it rises, clings like fog to the leaves of a tree. He picks up the quarter that I left on the box and slides it into the coin slot. Then he waits a moment, puts the receiver to his ear and waits for the tone to sound.