I am not, in general, someone who keeps a running catalog of her favorites: favorite movie, favorite book, favorite song, favorite color, favorite number, and so on. A couple of decades ago, if pressed, I might have offered The Shawshank Redemption as my favorite movie, because I have a thing for Tim Robbins, and I also have a thing for Morgan Freeman’s voice, and, of course, it’s also a first-rate story. But then I moved to Seattle and rekindled my teenage love for Singles, which you know all about because I mention it near-constantly, and because it’s the only movie I can actually quote lines from. Still, I don’t know that I’d call it my favorite. That’s a strong word, and it scares me a little. There is only one real exception to my hesitation in naming favorites, and that’s the novel The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, by Michael Chabon. Since I was sixteen, when I first found it on a store shelf somewhere and brought it home, I’ve called it my favorite book.
I’ve now read it four times, the most recent being last week. I’ve been trying to figure out what I love about it. The writing is fantastic, and the narrator is smart and likable and human, and the subject matter – the summer after college graduation, friendship, sex, queerness, the beginning of adulthood – has always resonated with me. But mostly I think I’ve loved the story for how it makes me feel. Four out of four times now, the last few pages have made my chest feel too small, like my organs might blow right through my ribcage – which, I should clarify, is a positive thing. Also, let’s stop for a minute and talk about the way Michael Chabon writes a love scene, like this one on page 94, because, YES.
“… Are you going to kiss me, Arthur Bechstein?” she said.
“Eventually, I’m sure.”
“Now,” she said.
“You look very beautiful, Phlox,” I said, and with my ridiculous heart beating as though I were that first German laborer, ignorant of engineering and about to remove that first wooden support from that first lacy thousand-ton dome of poured concrete, I made a fractional movement toward her lips with mine; then I drew her slightly into the shadow of a little tree and kissed her; somebody coughed. I heard the scrape of her dress against the thin branches, and the faint noise of her lips, fleshy, wet, tasting of lime and gin. I opened my eyes.
“There,” she said, “that’s over.”
We went at it.
Also, writers, everyone: read this!
In other news, I took the Polaroid photos above and below on a recent evening at home. Summer in Seattle is the best summer. Don’t argue with me.
Speaking of Seattle, I recently contributed a “city guide” to A Cup of Jo, and I’m really happy with the way it came out. If you or anyone you know is headed to Seattle soon, please pass it along. Oh, and here, just for you, are a few tips that didn’t make the published piece:
- For a great dive bar, hit up Montana, in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. The graffiti is first-rate, the drinks are cheap and good, and if you’re hungry, you can get a torta at Tortas Condesa, the take-out window next door, and bring it inside. Rachel Marshall, one half of the team behind Montana, is also the force behind Rachel’s Ginger Beer, which you can find in all the best restaurants and bars around town.
- For spectacular beer, Holy Mountain! The brewery and taproom are tucked away in a warehouse on Elliott Avenue, and it looks like nothing from the outside. Persevere, and you shall be rewarded.
- For coffee, my favorite everyday/anyday hangout is Analog Coffee, on Summit Avenue in a residential part of Capitol Hill. It’s clean and spare but also inviting, with the day’s newspaper clipped along one wall for your reading pleasure. I always run into friends at Analog. And if I’m in Pioneer Square, I love Elm Coffee Roasters, which is also a beautiful space with beautiful coffee.
Lastly, I spent a recent weekend at the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute, which is possibly my favorite place on Earth – and ah, there I go, already contradicting the first sentence of this post. Wheeee! While at OSAI, I got to sit in on a class taught by Obama’s inaugural poet and generally wondrous person Richard Blanco. He introduced us to the Adrienne Rich poem “Dedications” (the final section of her long poem “An Atlas of the Difficult World”) and I felt like it was written for me – but also, almost certainly, for you.