What You Should Read This Summer.

Summer's here! Even though we're not out of school, we all act like it- spending a little more time surfing the internet, a little less time inside at our desks. Right around this time of year people start to ask me what to read.

As anyone who's been to a bookstore with me knows, I could go on about the topic of book recommendations forever. Fortunately for you, my hand eventually cramps as I type, so here's the shortlist.

If you really want some page-turners, well, you should have already started a Celebrity Trash Bio Book Club like I told you to a few weeks back. The selections are just getting better and better. If you had ever told me I'd be holding my breath waiting for part 2 of LaToya Jackson's autobiography, I would have told you to shut your dirty mouth.

My Go-To Summer Reading Recommendations:

To understand this list, know that it's based on how quickly your pages will turn, how cool you'll look reading it, and the fact that these reads go hand in hand with the enjoyment of a beautiful summer.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

I always describe this book as "the thinking person's Twilight". You want the story of a girl who lives with her single dad in a town she doesn't quite fit into? Done and done. Minus the cheesy vampire crap, plus the mystery of a young teacher who has a hold on the smartest kids in school.

Pessl realizes she's brilliant even as she's writing (her citations, both true and fictional, will blow your mind), but once you get used to her style, you can go ahead and shun all socializing for the next 2 days.

Immortality by Milan Kundera

Maybe I like this one for a summer read because the opening scene takes place at a pool. Or maybe I like it because Milan Kundera is one of the most brilliant writers I've ever been so lucky to read (we meaning me... and now you). Maybe I've thought about naming my imaginary child Milan. Maybe I've thought about the fact that he's always in the answer to the "who would you invite to dinner, dead or alive?" question.

Kundera's books always leave me reminded that life is beautiful. And if that's not grounds for a summer read, what is?

Forget The Unbearable Lightness of Being; this is his best, and I will never forgive myself for having lent my loved and well-worn copy to the barista at Urban Grind, because I never saw it again. (Emile, if you're out there, can I have it back please?)

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

What? You haven't heard of The Hunger Games? Cool, so should we just forward your mail to under the rock?

Here's why this one makes my list -- it's scenario-specific: You know when it's so hot that you want to stay outside and tan but you can't suffer any longer? You need something to hold you in your chair. This book is it.

The rest of the trilogy is meh, but The Hunger Games has been a crowd-pleaser for everyone I've recommended it to, young and not-young. It's a great reminder of why YA ("young adult") books can have immense crossover appeal (see also: The Book Thief). For people who aren't big readers or have taken a lil break from their reading habits, this is always the book I recommend.

I may or may not have found myself looking up archery lessons after reading it. For those of you who might be camping this summer, this will inspire you to learn something besides how far it is from your campsite to the nearest Denny's.

Anything by Meg Cabot

"Anything" is not the name of the book, it's a general statement -- I just love how she writes. In some literary circles (including my own) I could be assassinated for putting Kundera and Cabot on the same list, but here it is.

If you're going to dive into a light summer read, she's the place to start. She tells her tales in this series through IM/email/voicemails/etc. So she doesn't use filler prose and as a result the stories move quickly, with characters you wouldn't mind being friends with.

This is an author I'd recommend to most women I know; her sarcasm and style make for the perfect beach read for any girl (huge stereotype, and yes, I'm fine with that). But I guess it's not gender-specific. Last weekend I conned my 20something brother to take a photo posing reading the book with this girly cover... and next thing I knew he was 20 pages in, and he finished it.

Cabot never fails.

Fargo Rock City or Klosterman IV by Chuck Klosterman

I have a love-hate relationship with Klosterman. I love the things he thinks and writes about, and I hate that he thought to do it before I did. Fargo Rock City goes hand in hand with the resurgence of 80s/early 90s metal; check the local listings and odds are Motley Crue, Poison, and co. are playing some open-aired pavilion by you. So this is the book to remind you why we loved those bands to begin with. It talks about why music is important to us as teenagers, specifically to him, living out in the booneys of Fargo. I'm always fascinated with stories told through music or using music as a device (see also: Nick Hornby's High Fidelity) Klosterman will tell you trivia you never thought you wanted to know about the leaders of glam rock/metal. My guess is you might just find yourself buying a ticket to see them and relive the good old days.

I'm always surprised by the fact that more people aren't familiar with his work; they really should be. People seem to know his Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs book, but it doesn't hold a candle to these two if you ask me.

Klosterman IV is a collection of essays. In total it ends up being a great portfolio of his range and abilities. I'm a fan of his interviews of famous people in particular. What ever happened to Val Kilmer, anyway?

Need more book recommendations?

Nancy Pearl Presents 10 Terrific Summer Reads
LA Times' Summer Reading List
What I've already read (my Goodreads list)

Must-See: Incendies (2010)

It’s amazing how playing hooky in your thirties has the same enjoyment it did as a teenager. That is, if you had had the nerve to ever step outside the lines during said teenagehood. Yesterday my mom wanted to go see Incendies and I could only make a matinee, so I shut down the laptop and we snuck into a rare almost-empty theater to watch it. (ugh, the only time I played hooky it’s with my mom. I don’t even want to know what that says about me). It’s difficult to write this without providing spoilers, so I’ll keep it short and say that some movies are just important to see, and I think Incendies may be one of them.

There’s something to be said for watching a movie about the immigrant mother’s experience with your parent, who happens to be an immigrant herself. Specifically, Incendies is about a woman whose death prompts (ok, the death doesn’t, the letters she leaves behind do) her children to realize that maybe they didn’t know her at all.

The movie is gorgeous shot after shot of a country in the Middle East. It’s a country torn by violence. Check. And prejudice. Check. It’s set against beautiful views. Check. And troubled history. Check. The truth is, it could be anywhere in the Arabic-speaking Middle East. The fact that this country is never named is as important as any other element of the movie. The acting, as in most powerful films, is as much in its silent moments as in its dialogue. Against this background, the story operates with flashbacks to the mother’s history moving forward while the children retrace her steps.

Seeing this movie reminded me how lazy we can be with our family history. By “we” I mean the children of parents who immigrated to the United States, gave us our Nintendos and our Michael Jackson posters, and didn’t require us to become fluent in their history. Without them spoon feeding it to us, how connected do we choose to be with the lives they led before us?

While every parent can have secrets or a past their kids don’t quite get, parents who have immigrated add another layer to this mystery. The mystery comes from the fact that they have to communicate not only their stories and experiences, but set against a backdrop their children can hardly imagine. A lot of them choose not to take on the challenge of describing a world they know their children can’t envision. So they play along with the new lives they have created here.

As the daughter walked her mother’s village I realized that is an experience many people never have- it takes a trip to the motherland and escaping constant family eating marathons in order to see landmarks that meant something to your parents. We rarely get to meet people who knew our parents in a non-family context. While I have friends who debated pledging the same sorority as generations in her family, I struggle to remember the names of my parents’ colleges.

In the case of Iranian children, our parents’ own memories are further challenged by the fact that, since they left, the street names have changed, as if the country doesn’t want them to be able to remember.

Immigration is a tough experience, particularly when people don’t always choose it. I can’t imagine up and moving to Japan, even though I’ve heard great things about it; getting fluent in Japanese and raising my children so that’s what we speak at home. I can’t imagine them telling me they’re not in a rush to see the United States and that they consider themselves Japanese. It’s unfathomable to me, but that’s basically what happened to my parents.

As the daughter in the film continued moving forward, uncovering step after step of her mother’s secret life, I wondered: was it a question of her not having asked enough questions? Or the right questions? Do we assume if something is important that our parent will bring it up? In many cases, I think we are guilty of thinking it’s easier to just let things be.

For NonBlondes: The Plight of the Brunette

Are brunettes making a comeback?
I sure as hell hope so. Because I have been waiting for this whole curves thing to be in, and it hasn’t happened for me quite yet.
Brace yourselves; Twitter actually made me think.
The other night my friend posted on Twitter that she was tired of short smart brunettes being portrayed as clever but not desirable in movies. HA! I laughed. Then I laughed again. Then I stopped laughing.
This is a topic that interests me mostly because I am arguably a smart brunette (the brunette is not arguable). I love being a brunette and it's something I've only changed on very rare occasions. Three, to be specific:
1: When I came home from college my first semester. My mom randomly suggested lightening my hair over Thanksgiving break while I was home. I now realize it was to distract from what was going on everywhere south of my head, ie. I had become a total porker. Good lookin' out Mom.
2: Blonde highlights. There is a reason people with black hair do not get blonde highlights, and now I understand why. The hairdresser and I argued over my natural hair color and as a result he gave me blonde highlights that were in fact white. They were complemented by really long violet acrylic nails. This was not a high point in my physical appearance history.
3: Red stripes, circa 2000. I wanted to get some rebellion out of my system and had my hair dyed with stripes of magenta when I lived in Argentina. The fact that my rebellious phase came during and after law school is another story for another day.

The short, smart brunette has been the bane of my existence ever since I realized I’m a dead ringer (or so I’m told) for Janeane Garofalo. Which would be fine, except shortly after realizing that, she starred in a movie about how short, smart brunettes are sooooo unattractive to men that they pretend to be gorgeous tall blonds (Uma Thurman) in order to not ruin a good thing. The smart brunette is the girl the dream guy talks to about his conquests, not the target of affection herself. Hollywood being what it is, they gave us the ending where the guy picks the little sarcastic brunette over the tall model (literally) blonde, but who actually SAW that movie? Exactly. And where is Janeane now? Exactly. No one believes it.

As Jon Yang helped me identify, men DO like brunettes… in indie movies. You know, the ones most of America doesn’t want to see. Brunettes like Mila Kunis or Natalie Portman (ideally together. In a sex scene.) But he didn't seem to think brunettes were as shunned as I thought they were.

Last year I actually wrote down my bucket list. One thing on there was to try going blonde, just to see what it was all about. But it’s way harder to go to blonde from brunette than the reverse.
Going brunette has become de rigeur, and all over San Diego you can find beautiful women with light green and blue eyes and pitch black hair or brown hair. Going dark is something people try on. Everyone does it for a little while, then they go back to blonde, especially in Hollywood, as I am reminded every time I refresh my US Magazine homepage (which is done often, I assure you). Going dark is something pretty blondes try on the way celebrities try on fat suits or being ugly to try and win an Oscar.
The hair dying trend is so rampant that once I walked into my parents’ kitchen and my dad stopped in his tracks. The conversation went like this:
Dad: “What happened to your hair? Why is it so DARK?”
Me: “Um… because you’re my dad?... And I was born that way?”
I’ve had hairstylists accuse me of dying my naturally black hair black. Which now I’m actually going to have to do. Because finally nature has decided to honor my wish to become blonde... by giving me greys. Ha ha mother nature, haha. Very cute.

The short smart brunette plays the lead in the movie Something Borrowed. And maybe I get what I deserve by even seeing a movie based on chick lit. Fine. But [warning --spoilers!] in it, said short brunette lives out every girl’s fantasy by not only getting the guy but winning the guy from her blonde friend. But she can only win him over after overcoming her bad self esteem.
Hey world, you know WHY she had bad self esteem? Because little brunettes know their place in society. Ginnifer Goodwin > Kate Hudson?! Short witty brunettes around the world were stunned.
What? Didn’t hear about the movie?
My point exactly.
Now, I have lots of guy friends who say they prefer brunettes. But do they really prefer brunettes, or do they just go for the girls they think they can get? Or if they like the brunette, would they like them a little bit more if their hair was a liiiiittle bit lighter? I'm just saying.
I’ve dreamt of going to other countries, Nordic countries where I would walk off the plane and be greeted by a sea of adoring blondes who would touch my hair and ooh and ahh (or whatever the Swedish equivalent is) over me. Perhaps they would crown me (my dream, I choose what happens). But I have recently been assured by a friend from the region that those countries actually find brunettes even less attractive than over here. And that, my friends, is what we call a reality check.
The good news is that there seems to be a rallying cry, at least from the ethnic corner. A shout out to the Kardashian coven. Oh wait. I said SMART little brunettes.

For the avoidance of doubt, any woman who says she’d rather be considered smart than hot is lying to you. And I’ll put $ on it she’s a short brunette who has spent years teaching herself to spit out that answer.
I know I have.
I know, I know, the short brunettes around me are steaming out their cute little ears. This post is one big betrayal of the sisterhood. Just callin' it how I see it folks. I’m not saying I don’t want to be a brunette, but if you want me to say it’s easy street, I’m gonna say you’re having a blonde moment.
So I asked (out loud)…is the plight of the brunette coming to an end?
Guy friend 1: “I think it’s…”
Guy friend 2: “Yeah uh- I don’t think so.”


The Art of Celebrity Trash Bio Book Club(R)

When I first moved to San Diego, I was intent on finding fellow readers. So I decided to form a book club. I put an ad on Craigslist and called for Literate Urbanites to join me (this name later popped up on another book club in town; how creative). Thus began our book club adventures that created friendships and actually logged one marriage (hey, at least someone got something out of it). But as the years rolled on, and the book selections thickened and wandered into the sciences, I noticed that fewer and fewer people were coming to the meetings and even fewer were actually reading the book.

So, one night on the drive home from a Journey concert (where else to discuss haute literature?) I asked a couple of friends why it was that they never came to book club, and what it would take to get them to come? One of them answered "hey, if you read celebrity bios, then I'd be there". And suddenly it dawned on me- we weren't reading things people, deep down, really wanted to read! And so CELEBRITY TRASH BIO BOOK CLUB(r) was born.

I am happy to report that, one year later, attendance is at an all-time high. People are *adding* other people to the book club list, not asking to be removed. People from other cities are on our mailing list just because they like to read along.

Before you start your very own Celebrity Trash Bio Book Club, it is important to recognize that you are not reading these books for literary merit. Truth be told, very few of them are likely to have any. In some cases you will resist picking up a pen and editing as you read along. Remember, these folks are not famous for being good writers, they are famous because they live outrageous lives and get paid to do so. By lowering your expectations you are likely to enhance your reading experience. You will find that CTBBC quickly weeds out literary snobs, who will not be able to handle things like Janice Dickinson's need. To shorten every sentence. With. Dramatic. Pauses.

Now, let's get to it - here are the basic provisions of running your own successful Celebrity Trash Book Club:

1) Pick a trashy book. A really trashy one.

The trashier, the better. And autobiographies > biographies, as we discovered after reading 4oo pages about Scientology and NOT Tom Cruise, as previously anticipated.

Also- our studies show the more random the celebrity, the better the book. Maybe it's because you have lower expectations for them, maybe it's because they know THIS is their chance to grab at the limelight, so they try harder.

**Tip for Beginners: I always suggest that people begin their club with Motley Crue/Neil Strauss's The Dirt. Whether or not you're a hard rock fan (chances are you aren't, I mean, you are in a book club) -- it sets the bar for complete dishing but through good writing. It's the gateway drug of trash bios.

2) Serve alcohol. Lots of it.
We all talk more $hit when we've had a little something to sip on. Well, you'll be able to fully throw yourself into the ring to discuss Jenna's rise to porn stardom or Michael Jackson's awkward relationship with Brooke Shields if you've had a sippy cup of happiness.

We usually open a few bottles of wine, although some like to mix it up - for Ricky Martin month, we had two moms on the floor with babies, sipping their rum and cokes (Puerto Rican style!). Do what you need to do, but this is another opportunity to set yourself apart from the cafe-book-club set.

3) Consider doing a themed event or dressing up to freak out your fellow readers.

For the Andre Agassi meeting, I decided to put an old mullet wig (that has come in handy more times than I'd like to admit) to use. I answered the door dressed as Andre.

Exhibit A

For Ricky Martin, we themed it a fiesta - Latin wines, chips and salsa, and any other un-PC stereotype we could think of (author's note: much as I love Ricky, his bio was not trashy at all- he's apparently all into "being a good person" and "not dishing dirt" and "not naming names", thereby violating all the ground rules of Celebrity Trash Book Club.)

For Jenna Jameson, we discussed holding our meeting in a local jacuzzi suite. Get creative, it's the least you can do to honor these fine writers.

4. Use multimedia presentations.

Celebrities are overexposed. Which means that, at your meeting, you can tie in multimedia sources to enhance the trashy book club experience. For Andre Agassi, I entertained fellow bookclub attendees by reenacting famous Andre Agassi photographs.

Exhibit B

Then for the Superfreak's autobiography, we watched the Dave Chappelle skits about Rick James. During the Ricky Martin meeting I kept Ricky Martin: Unplugged playing in the background throughout our fiesta, etc. Having a laptop on hand during Celebrity Trash Bio Bookclub is handy, as you can look up rumors, cross-check tales they have told you, and read up on peripheral figures.

5. Have read-alouds.

Read alouds are not just for kindergarten, folks. Some of these books demand to be read out loud to adoring crowds of your 5 closest (and drunkest) friends. Janice Dickinson's autobiography has a particularly salacious passage involving her dressed as a nun and some guy dressed as a priest... in a church in Italy. You get the idea -- the writing is absolutely Shakespearean.

Or, you could revert to the audio book. Andre Agassi's "Open" audiobook features a reader who somehow thought that raising his voice to imitate a woman talking would enhance the listener's experience. Enjoy.

6. Don't give up. Ever.

This item simply refers to my ongoing (one woman) lobby for Don't Hassel the Hoff. We (I) haven't won yet, but if there's one thing I have learned from these celebrities, it's that merit doesn't count for much... perseverance is key.


Kathy Griffin Official Book Club Selection
Andre Agassi Open
Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography
Chelsea Handler My Horizontal Life
Motley Crue & Neil Strauss The Dirt
Ozzy I Am Ozzy
Sarah Silverman The Bedwetter
Anthony Bourdain Kitchen Confidential
Jenna Jameson How to Make Love Like a Porn Star
Ricky Martin Me
Janice Dickinson No Lifeguard On Duty
The Confessions of Rick James: Memoirs of a Superfreak
LaToya Jackson (in progress)

All Rights Reserved.

I have a friend who likes to say "I reserve the right to change my mind at any time." I believe it came up when she was challenged by her husband on having changed her point of view regarding someone else. What? You can change your mind?! This was news to me. For years I have felt like I need to go down with the ship (see also: my endless defenses of Madonna). But my friend has created space so that -- *snap* -- she can change her mind, and through this little clause (she is a lawyer, after all), avoid public ridicule for changing her mind.

Then the other day I was reading Chuck Klosterman's essay about ABBA and that led me to think about a few examples of things that I've changed my mind about through time...


I'm one of those people you have to tear off the dance floor. Until the DJ goes home, I can be found front and center. Forget drinks, forget talking to people, I'm a sucker for music. There are a few songs though that will clear me off the floor in no time ("I Will Survive" and "YMCA" come to mind). In college I recall actively protesting on the dancefloor with my best friend if "Dancing Queen" came on (we'd do a "sit in" just to be dramatic and really prove our point). I'd roll my eyes when I found ABBA in girlfriends' CD collections. To be fair, I still don't like the song, but as it turns out, I now have a soft spot for ABBA.

Previous Stance:
Annoying disco'y pop. Complete mystery to me. Central reason for not watching Muriel's Wedding.

Tipping Point: Finding out that my brother likes them. seeing Mamma Mia (the movie). The fact that the movie was a turning point for me is embarrassing in and of itself.

Current Status:
Love them, am annoyed with Madonna (previous hero) for sampling. Cook while listening to ABBA Pandora station.

2. Country Music

Previously: Made me want to tear my hair out. sound associated with long roadtrips and carsickness for lack of anything else on the radio in the midwest (somehow no matter where you are, the country station ALWAYS works)

Turning Point: Hearing Dixie Chicks' "Cowboy Take Me Away". Buying a signature red cowboy hat in LA. And then- the coupe de grace- finding myself enjoying Taylor Swift being played during a ballet workout; after being horrified i came to terms with the pop country movement.

But really, it was the trip to Nashville this year that cemented it. Nothing like raising a beer in a Honky Tonk bar on Broadway to turn you right around.

Current Status:
I won't put it on by choice but when I hear it I get nostalgic for that awesome trip and maybe even a bit patriotic.

3. Cher

It pains me to write this, but I also appear to have been wrong about Cher.

: Dorky 60s singer who tried too hard to stay young and unnecessarily subjected me to her thonged butt in fishnet stockings during a music video.

Turning Point: Believe album, which I loved against my own will. Her performance in Burlesque, during which I wondered if I could get the name of her plastic surgeon, because she looks younger than I do. Becoming impressed with her fitness.

Current Status: I still don't love her singing, but she's fun and she owns it. I can't avoid imitating her when I sing along, thereby sounding like a drag queen, but it's fun. Aspiring to have her body at 40, forget 60.

4. Being Republican

Just kidding!


Previously: Didn't understand why people stayed home to watch this. Didn't even bother asking what it was about. Figured someone from Party of Five couldn't indicate anything good.

Turning Point: It came out on DVD. Had a friend cancel dinner with me on a Friday so she could finish watching. I couldn't believe that someone would cancel on me for a stupid tv show. I decided to see what the fuss was about and prove my point. I was thwarted and was soon doing pretty much the same thing to other people.

Current Status:
Couldn't get through the last season, but continue to evangelize about the first season and find new addicts. Ongoing imaginary relationship with Josh Holloway.

There are many more examples (I'm sure my siblings and friends would be happy to call me on them) but this is a start. It's interesting to see how your taste evolves even against your own will. That said...

On a related note - Things I Will Never Change My Mind About Hating:

Seinfeld. The theme song alone sends me into convulsions.
Natalie Portman. While I found Black Swan bearable, I continue find her anything but.
Twilight. See this hilarious NPR book review article I wish I'd written.

I won't change my mind about those, but just in case, I reserve the right to.