Been a hard, hard year.

2016 has been a bear.  No, not a bear — a rabid, vicious beast that was never a cub, but emerged fully mean and snarling.  Wait…  That’s not entirely true.  The first few days were good.  I’d eaten a lot of black eyed peas, so my luck was certain and sure.

But then David Bowie died, and that set the course.  I was strangely devastated by that loss — I didn’t know him personally, but I think so many of us had a personal attachment to him.  He taught us to be different and be ourselves, and we all collectively grieved for him and our formative, golden years.

Soon after — maybe a week — my mother got sick, and simultaneously, my friend died.  And then my cat died, my sweet cuddle buddy, and our house seems empty and still.

And then the worst thing imaginable happened — my mother was gone, too.  I loved her more than anyone, and I’m reeling.  Sometimes it feels like I’ll never be truly happy again, even though she would never want that.  She would be so mad at me for that.

Instead she would want me to find the positive things, and there have been.  I tried writing little vignettes while it was all happening, and it helped me cope.  I wanted a way to save some of this time for my sisters and me, and anyone who loved my mom.  I couldn’t write in a journal, and opening a Word document to write was too daunting.  So I posted little things on Facebook.

Then something nice happened.  My friends sent my stories to Frank Somerville, who has a terrific Facebook page, and he shared one of my little tributes to my mom, and the outpouring of love and support was such a gift to my sisters and me.  It really helped us to read the kind words from good people.  And he said that I was a good writer, and that made me feel proud, despite the miasma of really terrible sadness.

I guess it was a sign from the universe (or my parents — I like to think it was them, looking out for me) to write, and to make it happen because I’ve been daunted for too long. So that’s what I’m going to do.

And I’m linking the Frank Somerville post here so that I’ll always have it, because in Internet time it’s already over, though my grieving has just begun.

Okay, 2016.  It’s time to stop being so cruel.  You came in like a lion, but I’m hoping that eventually you’ll turn into a lamb.

Frank Somerville

Happy Birthday, Judy Blume!


It’s a major holiday today: Judy Blume’s birthday!

This story is a rehash, but it’s one of my favorites.  I even did it for The Moth, and what was great was that young girls came up to me after the show and said, “I love Judy Blume, too!” and we all talked out our favorite Judy Blume moments.  Those bonds run deep.

So this is my old post about meeting her, because it was a Big Deal.  Happy Birthday, Judy Blume!  Countless girls are so glad you were born — and explained how all that worked.

My Judy Blume Story

Memories Aren’t Real Today.


It’s been a long time since I updated — the last one was when I did the storytelling at Shit Creek.  My story was more of a love letter to a friend, to tell him how much I loved him and how much he meant to me.  He didn’t show up, and I was pissed at him.  And I never sent him this, just to be bitchy.  I figured I’d send it someday, but I’d hold on to it when I wasn’t mad.  When maybe he deserved it.  And then I wasn’t mad, and I forgot all about it.

That friend died this morning. I never called him back when I said I would, and I never sent him this love letter.  And now it’s too late.  But I’m sending it to him now, as an offering to him and to the gods of the otherworld, or wherever Bob is going to, so that he will know how much I loved him. And how much I miss him.  And how I now have to change the ending of this story, but I’m not ready yet.  Today I still need to be 15, to be sitting next to Bob on a white metal chair, drinking peppermint tea and listening to The Three O’Clock and looking at the rain and trying to outweird one another.  Tomorrow I will start on the new ending, but for today I want my memories in amber, with a little bit of golden sheen, a little more beauty than reality.  And we will stay young.


My first boyfriend was Donny Osmond.  Heidi Duncan and I would listen to her transistor radio in her basement and while waiting for “Puppy Love” to come on, we’d jump off the steps into a nest of beanbag chairs.  I don’t know what was more dangerous – falling in luv, or a potential concussion.  But then we’d hear Donny and scream and jump around and fight over which one of us he would choose.  Heidi was smaller and bossier – she would always win.  Though in hindsight, neither of us were Mormon and we were only five, so neither of us really stood a chance.

My next boyfriend was Davy Jones because I loved the way his eyes sparkled at me through the TV, and then he was replaced by Paul McCartney, but when I was 12 I realized that John Lennon was funnier and wittier, so he became my Beatle boyfriend.  But then Timothy Hutton came along, and oh my God. He was SO cute AND tragic AND sensitive, unlike all the gross boys at my school, who told me I was ugly and would never ask me to dance at any of the school dances.  Instead I sat on the sidelines of the gym with my friends, wearing my satin shirt and corduroy knickers and Jean Nate After Bath splash, watching wistfully as couples swayed to “Open Arms” by Journey with their hands in each other’s butt pockets, and wondered what it would feel like to have a boy stick his hands in my butt pockets or anywhere else.

Our school had a hierarchal popularity system, which was mapped out by where you sat in the cafeteria at lunch.  The popular kids sat at the A tables, pretty girls and boys together, laughing easily and flirting.  Across the way were the B tables, though boys and girls did NOT sit together and comingle, because the pain of that would have been excruciating. Then there were the C tables, which were the nerdy kids and the foreign exchange students not adopted by the popular girls.  Then there was the library, where the kids who didn’t ever wash their hair or the ones who hunched into the ski jackets they wore year-round hid out.  I was a B table girl, because I did have friends and I also had a mom who packed Hostess treats for lunch and giving them away helped my social status.  A bit.

But then I discovered NEW WAVE, so depending on how you looked at it, I either plummeted to the lower depths of the Stone Valley School hierarchy, or I stopped giving so many shits about how my hair would never feather, which was a good thing.  Either way, my spiky dumb haircut and I heart Oingo Boingo and Madness pins weren’t exactly gaining me any points in the boy department – if they thought I was weird and creepy before, I was even weirder and creepier now.

But then I got to high school, and that was a different battlefield altogether.  The boys were mean in junior high; they were brutal in high school.  My nickname was Medusa, because they said that I was so ugly that if I looked at them, they would turn to stone.  The popular girls let me know that only poor people and freaks wore clothes from thrift stores, and I needed to get a fashion clue.  (It was the 80s.  EVERYONE needed a fashion clue.) Even though that was pretty awful, it wasn’t all bad – I liked my weirdness, and I wore it like a Girl Scout badge. I still had friends, but I was finding more and more that I didn’t have that much in common with them.  When we went to the mall I looked for new records, and they looked for new boys.

In ninth grade, I spent countless hours on the phone as my friends wept and cried about their boyfriends. Well, they talked and carried on, and I hung upside down over my bed and rolled my eyes or read, inserting “uh huhs” where it seemed appropriate.  What did *I* know about anything like that? One of my friends was “doing it,” and when her boyfriend, whom I sat next to in French class, didn’t call her back, she threatened suicide.  That was less alarming than me having to ask him if he was mad at her on a daily basis.  “I had to go to dinner with my PARENTS,” he said.  “Tell her to knock it off and I want my Dark Side of the Moon tee shirt back.” As for me, I had a crush on a senior named Dale Welch, who was a waiter at the local country club and who I mistook for being a punk rocker because he had a cropped haircut. I was wrong – he was a football player, and his hair was growing out from when he shaved his head for the Championships.  But whatever, I thought he was cute and I memorized his license plate and it gave me a boy to write notes to my friends about, claiming that he was a total babe.  Plus he was safe – he would never give me the time of day, so I never had to worry about anything.  My friends may have been “going all the way,” but I wasn’t ready for it.  And in the early 80s, the era of “Little Darlings” and “Foxes” and “The Blue Lagoon,” that wasn’t cool.

But still, I wanted a boyfriend.  “I know someone who would be perfect for you!” my friend Katy told me.  She was a senior at the other high school in town.  “He’s weird, just like you!”

“Uh, thanks?” I said.

“No, I mean, he’s cool… He’s super cute. His name is Bob Smith.”

“You’re lying!” I said.  “There’s nobody named BOB SMITH!”  That sounded a little too much like Jan Brady’s fake boyfriend, George Glass. She assured me that there was, and that he would be the perfect boyfriend.  Except I never met him – she never got around to setting us up before she graduated and went off to college.  But it gave me hope that somewhere out there there was a boy who was weird and cute and cool, and he might like me, too.

One night, in the parking lot after a dance at my high school (where nobody really danced with their hands in each other’s butt pockets anymore), a boy I didn’t know walked up to me.  He had soft brown hair with blonde streaks, cut into an 80s mod wedge, startling blue eyes, and a square jaw, and was wearing a trenchcoat and wing tip shoes.  He flicked one of the little plastic Gumbys I had hanging from my ears.  (I told you I was new wave.)

“I love your earrings,” he said.  I blushed and my knees went weak.  No boy that I wasn’t related to or didn’t know had ever complimented me before, and even then I could probably count those on one hand.  It was love at first sight.

“Oh my God,” I said.  “You’re Bob Smith!”

“You’re Karen Finlay,” he said, as he walked away.  “I know.  I’ll call you tomorrow.”  I thought I was going to PASS OUT.  I didn’t even question how he knew my name much less my phone number, but I was ecstatic.

And he did call.  And instead of spending hours on the phone talking to my friends about their boyfriends, I spent hours on the phone with a real, live boy, and someone with whom I had everything in common.  We talked about our favorite bands, what our rooms looked like, what posters we had on our walls, how much we hated our schools, how much we hated the jocks and cheerleaders, McDonald’s vs Carl’s Jr. French fries…  It was destiny!  I had a REAL boy’s name to write on my PeeChee folders, and scrawled Karen + Bob all over the paper bag cover of my geometry book. We drank peppermint tea and ate gelato at an outdoor café, went record shopping in Berkeley and ate Blondie’s Pizza while sitting on the curb, and tried on clothes at Big Fun and Stop the Clock and Aardvark’s. He gave me my first real kiss in the bathroom at the MacArthur BART station, on our way to a Three O’Clock concert, drunk on wine coolers. He told me how much he loved me and how fabulous I was.  I was giddy, and head over heels in love with him.

But he wasn’t in love with me. “You are my best friend,” he would tell me, and then tell me about other girls he liked.  My heart would fracture each time, especially when they were girls who were either my friends, or who called themselves names like “Nigel Glitz” and wrote  poetry about Nina Hagen.  (Clearly she was WAY more new wave than I was.)  Yet I still harbored a terrible crush on him – I luuuuuved him.  I sat on my bed and listened to The Thompson Twins extended remix “Hold Me Now” MAXI-SINGLE that I had bought at Tower with him, over and over again and cried.  I cursed my stupid red hair and stupid choppy haircut and my big nose and pimples and the wrinkles in my forehead (eye roll) and my obnoxious geekiness.  Why couldn’t I be pretty?  Why couldn’t I be classy? Why couldn’t I be COOL?   Why couldn’t I make up a name like NIGEL GLITZ?  I knew I was kind of smart, not a genius, but at least I wasn’t dumb.  Except I was pretty dumb because I still had my unrequited crush on Bob, long after I knew it was never going to happen.  After all, I had known him for like three whole months at that point.  Three months when you’re fifteen is the equivalent to a thousand years.

More time passed, and my crush faded bit by bit. By then the honeymoon period of our friendship was over, and we started to fight.  We fought because we were each so tormented at our schools, and we took out the aggression and frustration on each other rather than on the actual bullies, because we knew each other could take it.  It was always dramatic and stupid, but it made our friendship stronger.  But even though we were still best friends, I would never be as dazzling to Bob as he was to me. He had changed and expanded his horizons, pushing more boundaries. His soft brown hair in the wedge was now bleached and spiked, and he dressed like someone in Interview Magazine. He liked girls who looked and danced like Madonna.  I did not look or dance like Madonna.  I wrote in my journal how much I HATED Madonna, and that I wished Bob didn’t like her so much, and that I wished that he would stop wearing rosary beads because they looked dumb.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise when Bob came out our junior year.  I think deep down inside I always knew – I wasn’t THAT naïve. But I had been so in love with him – and he talked about other girls so much – I still had some doubt.  “Do you really think Bob’s 100% gay?” I asked our other best friend, Traecy.  She looked at me like I was insane. “You’re kidding, aren’t you?” she said.  “He knows all the words to every Culture Club and Bronski Beat song, picks out shoes for you, and wears more makeup and rhinestones than anyone we know. He’s like a THOUSAND percent gay.” She was right – the signs were all there, but for a long time I refused to read them.  I mean, come on, let’s face it – the first thing he ever said to me was that he loved my earrings, so I really should have known from the beginning, right?  But he had been the boy of my dreams – smart, cute, artistic, funny, and cool, and he was the first boy who made me feel the same way. He showed me that it was a good thing to forge our own path and not fit into the standards others had prescribed for us.  How could I not have helped but to fall in mad, passionate and unrequited teenage love, crying over The Thompson Twins and “Somebody” by Depeche Mode, and writing sappy and heartfelt journal entries and terrible poetry?

And he was brave. Back then, things weren’t quite as open as they are now – it was a different time.  To come out was a big deal in our conservative suburban middle class town, and Bob was one of the first ones of our friends to do so.  If the kids were mean to him simply for being different, they were merciless for being gay.  He was thrown into garbage cans, and was nominated Homecoming Queen.  It was NOT a compliment.  They made AIDS jokes.  It was ugly.  My heart ached for him.

My heart ached for me, too.  I couldn’t help but wonder what was wrong with me that I would fall in love with a boy who was gay.  (And then I went ahead and did it TWO MORE TIMES, but that’s a whole ‘nother story for a whole ‘nother time.)  How weird was I?  But at the same time, it absolved me in a way.  It wasn’t because I wasn’t cute or classy or cool or that my hair was stupid and I was loud and obnoxious – I was a girl.  He didn’t like me because I was a girl.  If anything, he loved me because I was more like a gay boy than anything.  We were both FABULOUS.  Instead of breaking my fragile self-esteem, he actually helped it by encouraging me to be myself.

And despite all the heartache, this story does have a happy ending. I still love Bob to this day.  Not in love with him – I won’t be playing “Hold Me Now” and crying about him – but I love him like family, which is what happens when you’re friends with someone for over thirty years.  And I’m grateful to him – I don’t know what would have happened to me if I hadn’t met him when I did, and if he hadn’t encouraged me to be kooky and have fun.  I still am drawn to the odd and offbeat, and my life is so much richer for that.  And there was someone out there who was weird and cute and cool.  And straight.  And he liked me, too.  So I married him…  And the first dance at our wedding was The Thompson Twins, but it was “If You Were Here” and NOT “Hold Me Now.”

And the most important lesson of all that falling in love and potential concussions are both dangerous, yes.  But they are risks that I am so glad I took.  And I’m super glad I got over that Donny Osmond thing.

But Timothy Hutton…  I STILL have a crush on him.

TONIGHT! Come Relive [my] High School Angst!


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If you are nostalgic for the 1980s when the hair was high (and so were you), or even if you’re not, come down to Lost Weekend video for Shit Creek at Lost Weekend Video in SF at 8pm!  I’ll be telling the heartbreaking story of my first love and really bad haircut.

I hope to see you there!

No Rest for the Wicked – December 2nd

Well, just as soon as I shook off all my nerves from the Moth (which was fun, by the way — thank you to everyone who came!), I have another storytelling event happening on Wednesday, December 2nd, at Shit Creek in The Mission! (Lost Weekend Video – 1034 Valencia St, SF)  I’m super excited to be part of this, with real, live, professional performers and comedians.  I’m no comedian, but I am going to tell a story about the most heinously hilariously decade, the 1980s.

So put on your best new wave apparel and come on down!  The fun starts at 8pm, so you can grab dinner and drinks (I sound better after a few drinks) first.  Facebook invite and information is here.

OhmiGod!  Tooootally.PatrickNagel-Unknown-009


Come to THE MOTH! November 24th


It’s happening — I’m telling a story at The Moth!

Actually, I already did.  Two weeks ago I went, and in an act of weird bravery and/or insanity, I threw my name in the hat and was picked to get up and tell a story.  I had nothing prepared — I did it on the fly, more to see if I could do it.  And I did!  I wasn’t very good (I came in 4th, I think), but I did get laughs, and I did get people coming up to me afterwards.  (My favorite were two girls who ran up to me to say, “We were the ones who were yelling about Dorothy Parker!  We love Dorothy Parker!”  Me too, and I loved those girls.)  It was really important to me to have done it because I didn’t have any friends there (except for one), and usually when I do readings I shill the audience with a bunch of friends to make to look and sound more popular than I really am.  (It works!)

However, I REALLY want everyone to come to The Moth on Tuesday!  Yes, to yell for me so people think I’m more popular than I really am, but it’s also a terrific time.  The other people’s stories are fantastic — and a lot are far more fantastic than mine.  (I’m not just saying that — really, they are.)  It promises to be a great night, and I am super honored and thrilled that I get to do this.  And I would love to see you there!

Tickets are here: TheMothSF

Facebook event here: Event (RSVP Yes!)



Several years ago now, I was standing in front of some nightclub in San Francisco, talking to a few people.  A girl whom I didn’t like very much interrupted me and said, “Oh, GOD.  Is this one of your long and boring stories that no one wants to listen to?”  (After that I didn’t like her AT ALL.)

I wanted to retort with a witty comeback, but I felt punched in the throat. She got on her Lambretta and rode off into the sunset, and I was left feeling tongue-tied and stupid.  And it really, really affected me.

All my life I wanted to be a writer.  I thought that I had stories to tell, and I always had a sense that people actually liked hearing them.  They were never particularly moving stories — my life is pretty run-of-the-mill and undramatic, but I could make people laugh and that made me feel good.  And even if people did think I was long-winded and boring, most people were kind and polite, unlike this woman.

it’s taken me a while to get over it, and I’ve had a lot of speed bumps on the way regarding my confidence as a writer and my ability and mostly my subject matter, but I have grown, and I’ve decided to take her mean comment and use it as constructive criticism.  I think of her and I edit and murder my darlings and omit filler.  I think of her when I think of what I want to write about, and though sometimes her nasty voice paralyzes me, sometimes I can turn around and write something not very boring.  My Facebook posts may still be too long and unedited, but my actual writing can always use improvement, because I want to write and tell stories that at least someone wants to listen to.

And I guess someone does — I am doing The Moth November 24th at The Public Works in San Francisco.  To say I am excited is an understatement — when I got the email I had to go outside and cry and catch my breath.  It is a dream come true — I get to tell a story to lots of people, and hopefully people won’t think it’s long and boring.  Or at least some people will like it.

And I finally have a retort to that mean girl from all those years ago.  Take THAT, mean girl!  I’m doing The Moth!



Book Recommendations!

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Recommending books is pretty much my favorite thing in the world.  As a kid I had my face buried in a book whenever I could, and had little bookplates and made up serial numbers (“ceral” numbers) for an elaborate lending system (mostly ignored) for my friends.  I was an English and Creative Writing major, which meant I got to read my way though college and graduate school.  I worked in bookstores for many years, and now I volunteer (almost) every Sunday at our local Friends of the Public Library Bookstore here in Oakland.  And, well, I’m a total book nerd.  When I find a book that I love, I shout it from the rooftops, post all over the internet, and am so socially awkward that sometimes I don’t even greet my friends before saying, “OH MY GOD, YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK.”

Not that I am terribly highbrow or intellectual, mind you.  I’m slogging through Ulysses which makes me sound much smarter than I actually am.  I read a lot of Young Adult fiction, and I can say that most of that is much better than a lot of the “adult” novels out there now.  But there are so many great adult novels, and books of essays, and memoirs, and history, and…  And..  And…  Sigh.  this year I signed up to do a reading challenge, and pledged to read 52 books this year.  This weekend I discovered I was 3 books behind, so I have to finish 20 books by December 31st.  Gulp!  But since I have about 40 unread books stacked on my bedside table and on the floor next to it, I’m not too worried.  (Except about slogging through Ulysses. It’s tough!)

Anyway, in the past 24 hours, I’ve had two lovely people ask me for book recommendations.  I wish I could be quick on the draw and say, “this one and this one and this one and this one,” but I never can.  Just like I can never remember what record or book I’m looking for in the store.  So I thought I’d pull together a quick reading round up of my favorite books I’ve read this year (or so), just to get things started.  (Previous ones are here and here and here!)

My favorite of the year so far:


Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.  Oh God, I loved this book, and have told everyone I know that they must read it.  I cried big, fat tears on an airplane while reading it, and hugged it when I was done.  That’s pretty much all you need to know.  It’s not often that I hug a book.



I’ve been on a short story kick lately — maybe it’s my attention span, but my admiration for short stories and poetry just keeps growing.  I am not a word economist, so clean and spare and short thrills me.  While I love Lorrie Moore (see other lists above), I read her new collection this year and didn’t really enjoy it as much as I’d hoped.  However, she is the editor of 100 years of The Best American Short Stories, which just came out and I highly recommend it.  Not to read all at once, mind you — it’s 709 pages of some of America’s most brilliant authors, grouped by decade — but it’s perfect for your nightstand or lunchtime reading, to pick up and set down again.


I’ll bet you had to read The Lottery, Shirley Jackson’s chilling and brilliant short story, in high school English class.  And I’ll bet you still remember it.  (How much other classroom reading do you remember?  Probably not much.)  This year I picked up her collection as well as We Have Always Lived in the Castle (good refreshers for the new book that just came out!), and oh.  Oh.  I tried to describe what it was like reading these stories to my husband — that they are so remarkable, so simple yet so frightening and real and absurd and plausible yet fantastic — and couldn’t find the words.  Finally I just said, “This book is amazing.  You should read it, too.”


Caveat:  I have not read A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin, but it comes highly recommended by my dear friend and award winning author herself, Mimi Pond (more on her later), and I trust her implicitly.  I also love the cover.  It’s next on my list, at the ready.



Okay, I’m not one for mysteries and thrillers, which is kind of weird because I loved Nancy Drew more than anything.  I loved her roadster and titian hair and chums Bess and George and her emergency five dollars and department store charge plate and the fact that in every single book, she solved an exciting mystery and it was all neatly wrapped up at the end of 180 pages.  I loved the symmetry and glamour, and guessing who done it.  But as an adult it hasn’t been a genre I’ve really pursued, just a few here and there.  But my friend recommended Tana French’s books to me, and I’m hooked.  They are terrific, can’t-put-down and so smart.  You can start with any of them, really, but In the Woods is first so I’d go from there if you can.


I know, this is the “it” book of the season, but if you want a fast read with twists and turns, and if you liked Gone Girl, you’ll like this.  Sometimes it’s the perfect thing when the world seems to be flying past and you just want to hunker down and not think too hard, but just enough to still feel clever.



I’m sure I’ve probably recommended this one before, but this is one of the best YA novels I’ve ever read.  (I’m jealous I didn’t write it.)  But don’t let the fact that it’s YA fool you — it’s just fantastic, regardless of how old you are.  It will fill you with longing for your teen love, or the teen love you never had.  I finished this one and started it over again.


I have fallen head over heels in love with Libba Bray’s the Diviners series.  It’s the cat’s pajamas!  Set in 1920s Jazz-Age New York, they are so much fun and actually gripping and scary.  But romantic and smart, and so well written, and I love love love that Libba Bray has done her homework and gets the 20s right with a terrific combination of history and sense of place, with slang and fashion and pop culture.  And they are fabulously thick — over 600 pages each, and I raced through both of them in about 2 days.  I was hooked, and can’t wait for the next two.  They really are, forgive my pun, divine.



Here’s some more 20s love and history for you… What Fresh Hell is This?, the biography of Dorothy Parker by Marion Meade, is my absolute favorite biography of all time.  (Yes, partly because Dorothy Parker is my favorite writer of all time, but it’s overall fantastic.)  I was thrilled to find a newer book by Ms. Meade, all about my favorite subjects:  Mrs. Parker, Edna Ferber, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Zelda Fitzgerald, all between 1920 and 1930.  Oh, I LOVED this book.  It is so well done, and portrays these women with heart.  I was sad when the 1929 stock market crashed — not just because it was, well, a terrible thing, but because I knew the book would soon end.


Simply put, Alice Bag RULES.  As a kid and teenager, I was so fascinated with the punk scene — I thought LA must have been the coolest place in the world, and I longed to be a part of it.  Alice Bag reaffirmed those feeling with this book, and her story of the early days of punk in LA.  And despite the title, she is so cool and likable and you wish you could be her roommate.  She genuinely loved that time, but the great thing about her is that there was so much more to her — to this day she’s still finding ways to do good in the world.   THAT is punk rock.


Essays — especially memoir essays — are my favorite things to read and write. Jenny Lawson is a treat because not only does she write these books, but she writes posts that are basically essays on her fantastic website,  The Bloggess. Another caveat — I haven’t read this book yet.  HOWEVER, I feel that I can recommend it based on her previous book,  Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, so if you haven’t read that one, you should.  She’s funny and real and sad and copes with genuine (and truly humorous!) humor, and like Laurie Notaro, I gobble up all the words they write.  (Plus I met Jenny Lawson once and she was sweet and charming and nice to booksellers, so that gives her a huge A+ in my book.)



Okay, I’m bragging again — I’ve met Mimi Pond, too.  Several times.  Well, many times.  She even forced me to break into Norma Talmadge’s mansion once.  Oh, Norma was long dead — even Jimi Hendrix had lived there since then — but still.  It’s a really good story, isn’t it?  But a better story is this one, Over Easy, Mimi’s graphic novel/memoir about working at the famed “Imperial” (we Oaklanders know it’s Mama’s Royal) Cafe.  Mimi is witty and funny and a talented artist, so this whole package is truly a treasure and a delight.  Even if you’ve never worked in a restaurant, you will still absolutely love this book with its sweet and hilarious coming-of-age stories.  And rejoice in the fact that the sequel is coming soon!



I guess it’s been my year of 1920s reading, and I don’t mind at all.  Stewart o’Nan’s terrific West of Sunset is about F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sheilah Graham, and his last years working in Hollywood.  And poor Zelda. I mean, I knew how it was going to end — but I was still sad.  So many books portray Fitzgerald as a crazy, reckless fool (and he was), but this book is sympathetic and respectful.  It will make you want to pick up Gatsby yet again.


Saving pretty much the best for last…  I had a transcendental experience reading this book.  All throughout, the song Clair du Lune plays a part, so I cued it up on my iphone and it played, perfectly and hauntingly and beautifully, along with the final scenes of the book.  I sobbed.  So that’s my recommendation.  Oh, yeah.  it won the Pulitzer Prize, so I think some other people liked it, too.

So…  There are a few recommendations.  And I implore you — do not buy these from Amazon.  Please buy these from your wonderful local bookseller (who CAN and WILL order for you if they don’t have them in stock), or if you don’t have a local independent, order from an online bookseller, just not Amazon.  We need to keep bookstores around for a long, long time.

Okay then!  What are YOUR favorite reads?  Even though I have a huge stack, I’m always happy to hear about more!

Authors in August on Patterns and Tones


Two MAJOR things happened to me in August (as far as writing goes): the first is that I had to renew my domain on this here website, and my automatic payment of $26 came out of my PayPal account.  Which is a great reminder that I need to start back up with my #100 Day thing (I think I have like 80 days to go), and get my money’s worth.  I need to post AT LEAST 26 entries this year!

And okay, that’s not really major, but this is:  I was so excited and honored to be included in Julie Green’s marvelous Patterns and Tones website for her Authors in August series!  Not only was it a thrill to be featured on such a gorgeous site (subscribe and get beauty in your inbox once a week), but to be among such esteemed writers such as Lynn PerilDr. Frank, and Domenic Priore is just the coolest!

When she approached me to submit I was super flattered, as well as touched.  Julie is a extraordinary photographer (she took the photo above — so great!) and artist and writer and speaker and singer and musician and mom…  And most of all, friend.  We’ve been BFFs since 1984, when we met as this weird sleepaway camp in Santa Cruz that our parents sent us to for whatever reason.  Julie and I bonded right away, and snuck out of one of the meals.  (To go to the bathroom.  Sleepaway camp kind of sucks.)  Somehow some boys saw us go into the cabin and they knocked on the door; when Julie answered they covered her with shaving cream.  So how could you not stay friends for decades after an encounter like that?

And decades later, she asked me to submit something to her glorious website.  It came at a perfect time — I was feeling super discouraged and I’ve put a moratorium on public readings until I get something published.  I went back and forth on what to submit, but in the end decided on this one —  I chose one of my favorite pieces that holds a lot of my essays together, and also something that took place in my life close to the time when I met Julie.  It was really fun to see it “in print” with her beautiful photos! What a fabulous collaboration.

So here it is:

Karen Finlay Authors in August on Patterns and Tones

Thank you, Julie, for including me on your fantastic blog — you are the best and I love you!  1984 forever!


Happy Anniversary, Paul’s Boutique!


Twenty-six years ago tomorrow, Paul’s Boutique by The Beastie Boys was released, and it pretty much changed my whole life.  I was obsessed, and I love it even more now than I did back then.  All day KEXP has been doing a tribute and playing all the songs sampled on the album (cost for samples in 1989: $250k — cost in 2015: $20 MILLION), and it has been fantastic.  It blows my mind that these guys — who were in their early 20s when they made it — could put together something so brilliant.

So I have been LOVING today, hearing one of my Top 5 Desert Island albums and all that went into it, and my crush on AdRock is officially rekindled.

So for you on this anniversary, here is my old piece I wrote about The Beastie Boys for Litquake a few years ago, and posted it on my old blog:

B-Boy Bouillabaisse

Enjoy and be sure you listen to Paul’s Boutique this weekend!