10/21/16 3:35pm


A few years ago Paula Mejia had to pick a topic to write for her thesis as a student at George Washington University’s English graduate program. Around that same time came the call for new proposals by Bloombury’s 33 1/3 book series, each of which spotlights a particular noteworthy album. “[Professor and author] Gayle Wald was my thesis adviser at the time,” Mejia says now, “and I went into her office and I said, ‘I have a crazy idea. Can I write a thesis that is academically-rooted and use it as a way to enter this proposal for the series?’–not expecting it to get picked up at all.”

Mejia’s eventual choice was the Jesus and Mary Chain’s 1985 debut record Psychocandy. An album that has since gone on to become a bonafide classic, Rolling Stone ranked it as one of The 500 Greatest Albums of All TimePsychocandy combined heavy feedback-drenched guitar, reverb production, moody lyrics, and catchy girl-group pop melodies into a glorious noisy rock record, courtesy of Scottish brothers Jim and William Reid. You can hear traces of the group’s influence on ’90s British shoegazing bands like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, as well as current acts like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. A few years ago, the Jesus and Mary Chain did a series of shows to commemorate Psychocandy‘s 30th anniversary.

“The perception that they gave that they were either totally freewheeling or didn’t give a shit. It’s so surprising to know that they stayed up in their bedroom, drinking tea, and meticulously plotting out this whole thing. It was all premeditated. For that to seem so effortless is kind of an incredible skill in itself.”

What started out as a thesis idea for Mejia–a Brooklyn-based freelance music writer whose stories have been published in Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and The New York Times —has now become the latest addition to the 33 1/3 series. Featuring interviews with the album’s main participants, including singer Jim Reid, bassist Douglas Hart, and drummer Bobbie Gillespie (later of Primal Scream), Psychocandy the book not only discusses the album but also provides the social and cultural context behind the music.

To coincide with the book’s publication, Mejia will be appearing at Greenpoint’s WORD bookstore on Oct. 25 in discussion with Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffeild and Kristen Yoonsoo Kim. Mejia recently spoke with Brooklyn Based about the genesis of her book and love for the Mary Chain. (more…)

10/20/16 12:07pm

win_feminism_reductress“Should I be planning a funeral for my sense of humor?” I wondered during the second presidential debate, as Donald Trump loomed behind Hillary Clinton and then threatened to have her jailed. I should have been laughing at my friend’s Jaws jokes, but instead I climbed underneath the bar, hugging my wine and wishing for Xanax. Before I started sitting shiva for my laughter, however, I remembered that amid the steady stream of alt-right memes and clips of Trump telling Billy Bush exactly where he likes to grab women, the internet also provides escapes from the political melee swirling around us. Reductress is one of the best ports in the storm.

Billing itself as “the first and only satirical women’s website,” Reductress, which launched in 2013, applies its simultaneously absurdist and biting humor to the conflicting streams of advice thrown at women on a regular basis. It’s that balance that makes the site worth returning to. Plenty of writers are as precise and cutting, and others just as wacky and absurd, but it’s the blend that makes Reductress stand out. Their targets include not only the mainstream women’s magazines (parodies of which are low-hanging fruit at this point), but the personal essay industrial complex, make-up blogs, and corporate attempts to cash in on feminism. The articles have an Onion-like sensibility (“Danielle Doesn’t Usually Post on Facebook, But This Is Important“), but with a keen ability to mock the tone and format of so much of women’s media (“I’m Not a Basic Bitch. I’m a Boring Woman.“).  Other must-reads include make-up tips from clowns (“foundation, foundation, foundation”), and my current favorite: “100 Acts of Self Care That Still Won’t Be Enough to Get You Through The Election.

After three years of eliciting laughs, groans, and knowing sighs from their readers, founders Beth Newell and Sarah Pappalardo are gifting readers with Reductress’s first book, How To Win at Feminism: A Guide to Having it All (And Then Some), out next week on Oct. 25, with a launch party at powerHouse Arena in DUMBO that evening. Editors Beth Newell and Sarah Pappalardo told me that they’d been interested in writing a book from the beginning, but feminism’s ever-increasing mainstream acceptance (or co-option) was the inspiration for chapters like “How to do more with 33 cents less” and “The nine circles of hell for women who don’t help other women.”

I chatted with founders Beth Newell and Sarah Pappalardo over email about the book, the site, and staying both funny and sane even when current events are making it harder than ever. (more…)

10/11/16 1:38pm


Kate Bush. Prince. Madonna. Morrissey. Britney Spears. Lady Gaga. Adam Lambert. Beyoncé. They all, in varying degrees, owe their fame, success and fashion sensibility to glam rock.

Defined by a combination of camp, excess, satire and irony, glam, or glitter rock was just as revolutionary as punk or hip-hop.  If that made you raise your eyebrows, here are three reasons why: 1) glam rock, especially in the 70s, had a theatrical and bombastic quality that merged avant garde art and mainstream pop; 2) it pushed the theatricality of music forward, hinging on each artist’s ability to shock and mesmerize audiences through outrageous costumes, makeup and stage props; and 3) it challenged perceptions about sexuality and gender roles. (more…)

10/05/16 2:15pm

The only thing that might be more radical than the plot of Nicotine, is author Nell Zink’s imagination. Publisher Ecco.

The epic myth around novelist Nell Zink precedes her books. For instance, before I picked up her new novel, Nicotine, I knew that Zink got her start as Jonathan Franzen’s pen pal talking about birding, about which they both are passionate. Franzen, possibly America’s most famous living novelist, implored Zink to publish. Her first book, The Wallcreeper, came out in 2014, and her second Mislaid, was published in 2015. I also knew that Zink churns out her books complete (including revisions) in three weeks total. The excitement around the author offers up the impression of a recent college grad, instead of a 50ish expat who spent the 90’s editing a punk zine. Forging her own path, Zink has created a buzz by being the publishing world’s L’Enfant terrible, but at 50 rather than 20.  (more…)

09/16/16 12:47pm


If you are already a MariNaomi fan, a student of comics and graphic novels, or a devotee of Retrofit Comics, a publisher and comics store in Washington D.C., skip ahead because you don’t need convincing.

But if your main association with comics is bloated superhero franchises I’m here to tell you that there’s a whole world of emotionally complex, deeply personal and delightfully weird comic art out there. Give it a chance. And maybe start with I Thought YOU Hated ME, the new comic from MariNaomi, an award-winning author and illustrator, who is a panelist at the Brooklyn Book Festival on Sept. 18.

I Thought YOU Hated ME traces the fraught friendship between shy, cautious Mari and rambunctious tomboy, Mirabai. Women of all ages will recognize Mirabai from grade school, whether you were her, or you were victimized by her. She’s the girl who says, “Isn’t that an ugly color?” and then when you agree, says, “Actually, I was kidding. I think it’s pretty” just to see if you’ll switch your opinion.

Over the years, though, Mari and Mirabai mature and their friendship deepens. While inseparable as teenagers, they’re also both fixated on their own adolescent tunnel vision–each thinks the other is way cooler than she is, and at the same time intimidated by and a little in love with her best friend. (more…)

09/16/16 11:18am


This weekend the Brooklyn Book Festival will pack the borough with some of the world’s best wordsmiths and the readers who love them. One of the local talents–and sure, it’s cliché that Brooklyn is full of writers, but it also happens to be true–that we’re most excited to see highlighted in this year’s festival is Helen Phillips. She’s a professor of creative writing at Brooklyn College and has published two books in two years, a dystopian fairy tale of a novel called The Beautiful Bureaucrat, and an incredibly engaging book of short stories titled Some Possible Solutions. 

Phillips’ work is full of sharp observations about modern work, life and marriage; unsettlingly familiar alternate realities; and a deep anxiety about the future. She’s speaking on a panel titled, Something Strange in the Neighborhood with writers J. Robert Lennon and Kaitlyn Greenidge at 3pm on Sunday. We chatted with her on the phone about New York, science fiction and motherhood.

They way you write about New York, or maybe it’s just the urban environment in general, reminds me of Paul Auster. The city is recognizable, but somehow like you’re looking through a special filter. The shapes are right, but there’s another, sort of foreign, distancing element, too. 

I feel like walking around the city it’s not hard to feel like moments of the futuristic, the dystopian, the surreal are always near at hand. To get there in fiction it doesn’t feel like I have to push that far to find those elements, like the dazzling sunset over the skyline of Manhattan where you realize that the colors are so vivid because of the pollution.

At the same time, I’m from Colorado and one of the great journeys of my adult life has been to live in an urban environment, and it’s a magical experience for me, so some moments in my work are dystopian versions of the city, while others are love songs.

Can you point to some of the love songs for me–I got more dystopia in Some Possible Solutions

09/06/16 11:20am


The Story of a Brief Marriage, the debut novel from Anuk Arudpragasam (who will be speaking on a panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival on Sept. 18), takes place over the course of less than 24 hours. We follow Dinesh, a young man who has lost his entire family in Sri Lanka’s civil war and now lives in a makeshift camp with other evacuees, driven toward the coast by an advancing army, numbly passing his days trying to help the perpetually wounded, shifting nearly mutely between the baseline tasks of survival–eating, sleeping, somehow passing the hours.

The anxious tedium changes when he marries Ganga, a young woman in the same circumstances. This is not a tender account of passion blooming in the most unlikely of places–Ganga’s father brings the two together out of practicality to help both of them avoid conscription by the rebel army, and because he would like very much to die knowing that his daughter has a husband.

Fans of Nicholson Baker will hear echoes of that writer’s obsession with daily minutia in the fluid stream of consciousness. We dive deep into Dinesh’s inner life as he moves through his day, which begins with the horrific aftermath of artillery fire on the camp, and ends with the same.  (more…)

08/29/16 11:14am

9780374229702When you are expecting your first child, well-meaning friends, family members and total strangers love to regale you with horror stories about how difficult it is to have an infant. How you’ll never sleep again. How the baby will cry for hours on end. How life as you know it is soon to O-V-E-R. (The last part is absolutely true, though not necessarily in a bad way.)

I actually found my son’s early months to be mellow and almost soothing compared to the intense anticipation and anxiety leading up to his birth.

No, I find his toddlerhood–he just hit 18 months–to be much more challenging than his infancy. And part of that is due to the fact that I’m not just supposed to be caring for him, feeding him and making sure he gets enough exercise, stimulation and sleep. According to current educational trends and aspirational parents everywhere, I’m supposed to be cramming his little head with numbers, letters, colors and shapes at every turn. It’s a weird pressure that has cast a pall over playtime for me.

Or I should say, DID cast a pall over playtime, until I read The Gardener and the Carpenter, a new book about the way children learn by Alison Gopnik, a developmental psychologist and author of The Philosophical Baby  and The Scientist in the Crib.

Gopnik argues that the whole idea of “parenting” as a modern task that we are supposed to master, like whipping up gourmet meals each night in our chef’s kitchens and cultivating a yoga practice that includes various acrobatic feats, has little to do with what young children actually need to learn about the world around them. If you think about this for a minute it’s a very liberating idea, and one backed by an immense body of research, both from Gopnik’s child psychology lab at U.C. Berkley and from her colleagues in the field around the world.


08/26/16 11:02am
Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan (James Veall)

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan Photo: James Veall

“If we don’t get married, engaged or even nail down a boyfriend soon—my god, we might as well as go ahead and book a room at Singapore Casket because our lives would already be over,” says Jazzy, the main character and narrator in Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan‘s debut novel Sarong Party Girls.

Jazzy is a twenty-something Singaporean on an urgent mission: to find a rich, white, ex-pat boyfriend (an ang moh) to marry and have a Chanel baby (half white/half Singaporean) with. As part of the hunt, she and her sarong party girlfriends frequently go to clubs where they are treated like VIPs, down drinks with abandon, and hook up with guys who may have potential. To the casual observer, Jazzy might appear to be a gold digger whose main concern in life is avoiding the fate of her former friend, Sher, a sarong party girl who eventually married an ah beng (a Singaporean man) and settled down. Through her adventures and mishaps with men both white and Singaporean, Jazzy explores the often uncomfortable mix of romance, status, and money in her world.

While Sarong Party Girls (published by William Morrow) is often hilarious, it’s also a sobering read as it raises questions about misogyny, gender politics at work,  class differences, and materialism. In addition, the book also gives the reader a sense of modern Singapore in showcasing the clash between old traditions such as the bustling wet market, where old-timers go buy fresh produce and seafood in outdoor stalls; and new ones, such as the hipster nightclubs that young people frequent. An essential ingredient to the authenticity of the book is Tan’s use of Singlish–a patois spoken by most Singaporeans that’s a mixture of English, Mandarin, Malay and other languages—which Singapore’s government is trying to discourage through its “Speak Good English“campaign. For Jazzy and her friends Singlish is the lingua franca of all informal spaces. It comes in the form of shared wisdom: “This matter of getting an ang moh husband–if we are smart–it’s best to try and fasterly settle.” And is also the language of their own thoughts:  “But then I thought about how chio I looked tonight. In my Seven jeans, my backside was super power!”

The vivid details as well as the language can be traced to Tan’s background as journalist and a native Singaporean. She arrived in America at age 18 to study at Northwestern University and later worked as a staff writer for The Wall Street Journal and The Baltimore Sun. Prior to Sarong Party Girls, Tan wrote the memoir A Tiger in the Kitchen and edited the fiction anthology Singapore Noir. The former Brooklyn Heights resident spoke to Brooklyn Based about the story behind her first novel.

What inspired you to write the book? (more…)

07/14/16 12:40pm


Upon reading anything West writes, however, it is immediately obvious that she is not only not humorless but affirmatively funny as hell, that she has a smart, confident, original voice that rises above the garbage pile of what passes for discourse about feminism on the internet, and that she is refreshingly unafraid and unapologetic.

The first time I ever heard of Lindy West was when she caused an Internet firestorm in 2012 by writing a post for Jezebel entitled “How to Make a Rape Joke.” The essay was both a response to an unsettling confrontation that had recently occurred between comedian Daniel Tosh and a female audience member who objected to a rape joke in his standup set and also a venting of West’s growing frustration with some irritatingly persistent assumptions in the comedy world: that rape jokes are inevitably funny, and that women who object to them only do so because “we are uptight and humorless, we don’t understand the mechanics of comedy, and we can’t handle being the butt of a joke.” (more…)