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!

BEAST CRAWL! Saturday, July 11th

You guys, you guys!  I am super thrilled to be part of this weekend’s Beast Crawl, here in Oakland!  No kidding, you can type my name into the search box here and my leg of the event pops up.  (Go ahead and do that.  I’ll wait.)

(See?  Wasn’t that COOL?)

I’m part of Leg 3 at The Naming Gallery from 8-9, and I am so stoked!  I’m with pretty star-studded writers (J Otto Seibold, um, *gulp*) so I’m already freaking out.  But absolutely thrilled.  And I will be even MORE thrilled if YOU’RE there.

So be there!  It’s going to be a blast!

(and no, I have no idea what I’m reading yet…)



I know that many of you are planning your summer vacations, deciding where to go and what to do and picturing yourselves on beaches or ancient cobblestones, or there may be Mouse Ears involved. Not me — I don’t tan, so I don’t go to the beach.  We’re broke, so no ancient cobblestones for us.  And no Mouse Ears, either.  Nope, my summer vacation is going to be spent the same way a lot of my summers were spent as a kid — reading a book.  But not just any book.

I was born on June 16th, which I always rather liked because it was smack in the middle of the month and the middle of the year.  (Which can make it confusing when looking back and figuring out how old I was in, say, 1993.) I like that it’s during the summer.  I like cake and parties and making it a special day.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I discovered the literary significance of that day: it’s Bloomsday, the day that James Joyce’s Ulysses takes place.  I’ve always thought that was great, that I had a literary birthday, perfect for the quarter Irish that I am…  But have I ever read it?  GOD, NO.

I was always way too intimidated to try to read it, though I’ve wanted to.  And almost an obligation in a way, right?  I mean, come on.  It’s my birthday, I’m part Irish (though my dad acted like he was 100%), I was the worst English major EVER and should try making up for that by reading things worthy of that degree…  It’s been on my list for years.  I’ve even been to Shakespeare & Company in Paris, and even the original location where Sylvia Beach got in all that trouble for this very book.  But seriously, this very book is very scary.  (I couldn’t even make it through A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man — how could I possibly think I could read Ulysses???)  I wish I had taken a class on it, but I never knew of any.

Somehow all of this came up in conversation in New York last week, and my friends, who feel the same way and want to read it, too, and I decided that we were going to do it.  We are going to embark on Ulysses! If we all read it together, kind of like a remote Book Club and have online discussions, we can get through this.  And just a chapter a week, so it’s not too intimidating.

So next week, on Bloomsday, we are starting!  I must admit, I am really, really excited about it.  I’m so glad that I’m finally reading it, and reading it with my like-minded and intelligent friends.  I’m going to treat it like school and highlight and make notes.  And then we discuss in our little Facebook group.  Oh, the modern age…

Despite a busy summer, I’ll be holed up at home a lot of the time, and you may see my with a soon to be dog-eared copy of Ulysses under my arm and looking frazzled and bewildered (though I’ll be looking smarter in about a year when we’re done).  And hey, I figure if Marilyn Monroe, who was far busier than I am could read it, then what am I waiting for?

Yes I said yes I said yes!