10 of Hannah Sternberg's Greatest Hits


Editor’s Note: Hannah Sternberg is one of the most promising Millennial writers I’ve worked with over the years. Check out her debut novel Queens of All the Earth, an elegant, sensitive, coming of age story. (See my review here.) The roots of Hannah’s literary skills are evident in her lifelong reading and film consumptions and the deep thinking they’ve inspired. This assortment of 10 of her most popular and engaging articles show some of the ideas and influences that inform her fiction. I can’t wait for Hannah’s next novel and her future creative endeavors. Also check out the previous collections published this weekend: 10 of Walter Hudson’s Greatest Hits and 10 of Kathy Shaidle’s Greatest Hits.

 – Dave Swindle

1. October 1, 2011: Literary B-Sides: Five of the Most Under-Rated Books from Famous Authors

It’s time to get over the trauma of high school English class. These wonderful novels won’t bite.

2. February 6, 2012: Five Comic Books You’re Waiting, Wanting, Begging, Longing to See on TV

We’re tired of dreaming for a proper adaptation of Sandman.

3. January 21, 2013: I Hear You Like Bad Girls Too

A good girl takes Lana Del Rey’s relationship advice.

4. May 10, 2013: The Five Most Surprising Movie Adaptations

Screw the book, these were better.

5. May 5, 2013: Likes Long Walks on the Beach, and Porn Goddesses

What happens when husbands demand their wives meet the XXX-rated style in the bedroom?

6. May 15, 2013: Stop Expecting Your Friends to Show Common Decency

Flaky friends. No, they’re not great.

7. May 29, 2013: Advice for Grads: Stop Working So Darn Hard

Get over yourself, get a job, and stop caring so much about everything.

8. June 6, 2013: Four Childhood Activities You Should Never Give Up

Acting like a kid could make you happier, healthier, and smarter.

9. July 17, 2013: Bad Advice: Slaying Facebook Trolls

How to silence people who refuse to be defriended.

10. March 15, 2014: Five Secret Emotions Only E-Reader Addicts Understand

Diagnose your affliction; seek support in fellow sufferers.

1. October 1, 2011: Literary B-Sides: Five of the Most Under-Rated Books from Famous Authors

It’s time to get over the trauma of high school English class. These wonderful novels won’t bite.

I don’t want to read that.

“School ruined Catcher in the Rye for me.”

We’ve all heard it. You can replace the title with any other seminal book that’s been assigned in high school or college. Did you think you’d like Jane Eyre more if you hadn’t been required to write a monograph on “Birds as semiotic systems of delineating boundaries by transgression and submission”? Or that you might have enjoyed A Passage to India if it hadn’t been your rude introduction to the five-paragraph essay? Maybe you would have got more out of Moby Dick if it weren’t for that smelly kid next to you who kept raising his hand every frickin’ time the teacher asked a question.

I’ve conducted my own experiments on whether school ruins books. (As a side note, there is a faction that contends that books ruin school.) My experiment took the form of never doing my homework in high school. After finishing (and mildly enjoying) Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, only to discover that my thoughts and observations on the book meant little in how I was graded, I resolved never to read another book assigned during advanced English class. Instead, I would just memorize what the teacher wanted us to write about the books in our five-paragraph essays, and I would regurgitate my way to the top. It worked, at least superficially – I passed the class with flying colors, and I think the teacher is still a little afraid of me. It wasn’t until I read Jane Eyre as a young adult that I realized I may have passed the class, but I hadn’t won anything.

Soon I started rediscovering the books I had skipped in high school, in all their beautiful complexity, grittiness, fervor, and enchantment. Perhaps skipping these books in high school saved them for me; perhaps my period of rebellion is what I needed to grow through to appreciate them fully.

Sometimes it takes a new perspective on an author to rehabilitate their famous works for a reader. “B-sides” by famous authors are more than hidden treasures that can prolong your enjoyment of that person’s writing; they are keys that can unlock their more famous works. I was missing something in my required-reading days. It wasn’t the books I was missing. It was the piece of me that could read and love those books. Some of these b-sides planted the seed for that part to grow. Keep reading to learn more about the five best literary b-sides to rehabilitate literature for any English class survivor.

First: Gay Dudes Are What It Took to Make Me Love Literature

5. Maurice by E. M. Forster

Maurice Hall dreams that one day, the perfect counterpoint to his soul will appear, and a voice will proclaim, “This is your friend.” While studying at Cambridge together, Maurice and Clive Dunham become more than friends, but the magic doesn’t last. Published posthumously, Maurice is E. M. Foster’s only novel about a gay relationship. In typical Forster style, delicate layers of feeling accumulate around a single era in a person’s life. The scenes in which Maurice and Clive experience their most happy day together are exquisitely sweet and painful, with the longing for that tender moment when first love and youth seem like they will last forever. Maurice is what gay literature should be: filled with sincere humanity and insight, not bitterness or political polemic.

Experts claim that in the original version of A Room with a View, E. M. Forster intended to write Lucy Honeychurch as a male character conflicted about a budding gay romance with George Emerson. I’m relieved he didn’t do that, as A Room with a View has a surprisingly subtle understanding of the relationships between men and women. On a more personal level, I identified with Lucy Honeychurch at a time in my life when I felt lost and confused in the same way she did, which is why, years later, I based my first novel, Queens of All the Earth, on the story of A Room with a View. But Forster’s other works, which are sometimes the fodder of high school reading lists, are considerably more pessimistic, thematically ambiguous, and generally a pain to read. A Passage to India and Howard’s End might be rewarding after a few stretches and some warming-up, but try to sprint through them cold and you’ll pull a muscle. Maurice, like A Room with a View, is a gentler novel, untinged by the bitterness that creeps into Forster’s more famous works. And it’s a refreshing break from the paradigm of current gay books and movies, which shout, “You have to accept me because I’m different from you and differences make us special.” Maurice is a quiet, simple statement: “I have a heart; I feel; I long for love and a stable life, like you.”

4. Billy Budd by Herman Melville

Foretopman Billy Budd is so handsome and well-loved on H.M.S. Bellipotent that the ship’s master-at-arms, John Claggart, absolutely must destroy him. This compact tale of envy, resentment, and injustice has inspired an eclectic array of adaptations, including an operetta by Benjamin Britten and E. M. Forster, and a film by French director Claire Denis. Melville’s thick vernacular style becomes suddenly more comprehensible when read aloud, like a sailor telling a story. And then, through the heavy ornate tangles of the prose, a seething spellbinding tale emerges that will grip readers to the very end. Sadly you won’t be able to use your copy of Billy Budd as a blunt instrument for effective self-defense in the same way you could wield virtually any hardback copy of Moby Dick, but its brevity has other advantages: when I say it will “grip you to the very end,” I mean it – you can actually get to the end of this one.

Next: The Ayn Rand Novel Ayn Rand Doesn’t Want You to Read

Romances about social unrest give you a whammy of love to the jaw

3. Shirley by Charlotte Bronte

Luddite riots in a Yorkshire factory town provide the backdrop for a love quadrangle between a shy local girl, a rugged factory owner, a fiercely independent heiress, and her penniless tutor. Bronte’s work on Shirley was interrupted by the deaths of all three of her siblings. The break is evident. After 50 pages that set up the bones of the plot, the novel resumes with a low, melancholy wail. Shirley‘s characters tread uncertainly where Jane Eyre’s bold heart carried her through in Bronte’s more famous novel. This is evidence of a writer whose world has just been shaken. But Bronte’s attempt at a “large-cast” tale is engaging, with the personal depth and optimism of Jane Eyre and the proto-feminism of Villette.

The Bronte b-side college professors love is Villette, Charlotte Bronte’s autobiographical tale of the bitterness of an Englishwoman’s life in Europe teaching spoiled French girls in a boarding school. Perhaps the professors have given up on Jane Eyre because the idea of a marriage making an ending happy is hopelessly passe. Villette is devoid of such naiveté, along with anything else that might make a novel enjoyable. If you’re ever assigned Villette in a college course, bring in Charlotte’s tragically neglected b-side Shirley and quote its scenes of passionate love and longing. It’ll be the most satisfying F you ever earn.

2. We The Living by Ayn Rand

Kira Argounova, daughter of a bourgeois family in St. Petersburg just after the Russian Revolution, is the passionately strong-willed witness to the horrors of communism in Ayn Rand’s first novel. Rand wrote this autobiographical tragedy before she’d disciplined away the last of her pity for her own characters. Though it’s less focused as a political critique, it contains more emotional insight than the famous Atlas Shrugged. The love triangle between Kira, a cynical aristocrat, and an idealistic Communist Party member explores realms of moral ambiguity that Rand later rejects in her black-and-white worldview. We the Living is a chillingly real portrayal of life under communism, physical and spiritual, written at a time when little information on the brutal Soviet regime was available to the West.

Next: The Best Literary B-Side

I’d cast Romola Garai as Franny.

1. Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger

Franny Glass, disappointed by her phony boyfriend and hypnotized by an obscure book on spirituality, sinks into a wordless, coma-like torpor that only her brother Zooey can wake her from. Franny and Zooey is a distinctly feminine take on many of the same inner conflicts that rage through Catcher in the Rye. This slim novella encapsulates a world of disaffection and confusion in only two dialogue-driven scenes that unfold like a play. Readers turned off by the caustic Holden Caulfield of Catcher in the Rye may find themselves drawn to ephemeral Franny.

I remember Catcher in the Rye was one of the few assigned books I’d enjoyed reading in high school. That’s why I tried as hard as I could not to pay attention during class discussions of it. I also remember being a little afraid of the book; a fear that kept me from falling entirely into it until much later. I bet many young readers have felt that fear, even when they won’t admit it to themselves and others. It’s because Catcher in the Rye was never written to be a “young adult book” as we understand the term today. The “young adult” book market barely existed when Salinger wrote his most famous work, and an honest look at the book reveals that it was probably meant for adults, if it was meant for anyone. Young adults, in Salinger’s estimation, would have been just that: young adults. In today’s literary market, “young adult” fiction is written for children; and teachers make a mistake when they assign Catcher in the Rye to children. Franny and Zooey skirts that ambiguity: it is obviously not a book written for children, and that’s why it’s rarely, if ever, assigned to them. Many fans of Salinger value Franny and Zooey higher, however. It’s a more delicate, but harder to digest, book, and it also reveals a side of Salinger that may come as a surprise to those who clutched Catcher in the Rye as the flag of teen rebellion.

Reading is not, as we’ve been told, a solitary enjoyment. Reading is not a self-contained activity. School can and has ruined books, but they can be saved. And books are sometimes only waiting for you to grow into them; that’s why it’s said you never read the same book twice, because you’re a different person each time you pick it up. If you read Pride and Prejudice in a surgical waiting room while a loved one was dying, you may not come away with fond memories of that book. If you had The Greatest Thought Ever on Leaves of Grass but you never got to tell the class because the doofus next to you squealed all the answers before anyone else got a chance, you might feel bitter about the book afterward. Sometimes it takes many books to rehabilitate “ruined” literature in our minds. In the meantime, Pride and Prejudice and Leaves of Grass are still waiting for you to come back to them.

2. February 6, 2012: Five Comic Books You’re Waiting, Wanting, Begging, Longing to See on TV

We’re tired of dreaming for a proper adaptation of Sandman.

Comic books (or graphic novels to those who care) have had plenty of big-screen opportunities, especially in the superhero genre. But many of today’s cutting-edge, literary-minded comics would make even better television. Just as comics have grown more serious and respected in the last few years, so has television – no longer just the bastard child of film, television is now an art in itself, and like comics its writers tell long-form stories that explore characters with depth and complexity. Here are five comic book series that would never fit into the standard two-hour feature film treatment, but would make killer TV.

5. Sandman

Neil Gaiman’s seminal 10-volume series seems to defy adaptation. It tells the story of ten god-like creatures who represent the passions that push and pull all conscious life; the main character is the personification of dreams, Morpheus, a tortured wanderer growing weary of his immortality. Surrounding him is an epically sprawling cast of human, animal, and mythical creatures from the past and present.

Accompanying Gaiman’s storyweaving is a phalanx of artists: instead of maintaining a uniform artistic vision throughout the series, Sandman featured a succession of guest artists who illustrated each storyline in their own distinct styles.While many fans of Sandman will likely claim that it’s Gaiman’s inventive storytelling and larger-than-life characters that make this television-worthy material, I’d hold that it’s actually the art that sets it apart from all the other epic fantasy that has been hitting screens lately. Because Sandman is as much about the look as it is about the story, it would be a great opportunity to experiment in a new form of television art: instead of having a team of revolving directors step in to direct episodes in a single style, let a series of directors take each storyline and tell it in their own way. The actors could unify the series, but the visuals would feature the same kaleidescope that made the original comic so unique.

4. Meridian

On Demetria, islands of land float in the air above a planet of uninhabitable toxic oceans. City-states built on these islands engage in a medieval push-and-tug of wars and negotiations based on trade and transportation. In a delightfully steampunk flourish, the main mode of transportation between the island city-states are flying galleons which harness the wind in sails for propulsion and steering, while anti-gravity engines keep them afloat in the air.

Meridian‘s publisher went out of business before the story could reach a satisfying conclusion. However, it lasted long enough to prove its potential as a fantasy that could appeal to both young adults and grown-ups, with a light touch. It also had the potential to evolve over several seasons, with a plot that offered many opportunities for development and a solid core cast of characters. The main character, Sephie, is a strong, intelligent female character who avoids both fantasy stereotypes of ditzy damsel and sexy Amazon. Before the series’ cut off, the story already had several promising twists, including mistaken reports of a death, love triangles, and palace intrigue. And any fan of the original, truncated series wouldn’t mind seeing it finally brought to a conclusion on screen.

3. Hark! A Vagrant

This is my wildcard choice, especially because it really is more of a true comic, rather than graphic novel: no overarching storyline, just a series of page-long vignettes. I also have an intense fondness for this little comic; at the risk of sounding like a hipster that you’ll want to punch in the face, I started reading Kate Beaton before she’d published her books, on her little blog that I told all my friends about, and I am absolutely overflowing with happiness at her success.

Hark! A Vagrant is the name of Kate Beaton’s blog, featuring comics about famous authors, historical figures and scientists, with segues into her own life and reflections on childhood, infused with an exuberant, innocent, life-loving sense of humor. A sad Napoleon who’s addicted to cookies, a whimsical sailor who falls in love with a mermaid, and a pack of quirky, cheeky American Founding Fathers are a few of my favorite recurring characters.

Of this list, Hark! A Vagrant is the series I think would be most difficult to adapt. I could see it becoming a quirky, madcap and brainy sketch comedy show. The technique of this adaptation eludes me, but the reason I chose the series is because it’s a tone I wish I saw more of on TV. Kate Beaton is unafraid of cuteness. Not cloying, put-on cuteness; real cuteness, the cuteness that comes from being earnest about things like happiness and love and loss and longing. It’s surprising how much cuteness can come out of sadness, in a person who can capture the sweet in bittersweet. And it’s smart. Not just because of the historical name-dropping; it’s clever, with layers of referential humor and the plain old humor of human relationships. Kate Beaton packs a lot into a single page. I would love to see some of that spirit and intelligence animate a TV comedy.

2. Zot!

Picture My So-Called Life, the short-lived but iconic coming-of-age television series from the 1990s starring Claire Danes as a high schooler struggling with the pressures of friends, family and a fruitless crush on a gorgeous upperclassman. Now, add a superboy with jet-powered flying boots and you have Zot!, Scott McCloud’s 1984 comic series about average American high schooler Jenny Weaver and her boyfriend, a superhero from an alternate universe. When Zot gets trapped in the real world, however, Jenny winds up being the one who teaches him about surviving bullies, divorce, peer pressure and evolving friendships. Zot! could be the TV series for kids who aren’t even cool enough for glee club. McCloud addresses the issues that trouble teenagers with a light and whimsical touch, making this the perfect material for fans of realism and fantasy alike.

1. Fables

Snow White and the Big Bad Wolf have been exiled from their fairytale Homelands, along with the rest of Fable population, by the armies of the Adversary. The exiled Fables have set up shop in our modern world, secretly governing themselves under the leadership of Mayor Snow and Sheriff Bigby. Besides keeping Fabletown law in our mundane world (a large part of which involves concealing their true natures from the clueless mundies), the heroes also work to defeat the Adversary in the Homelands so they can return.

Writer Bill Willingham’s fabulous epic deserves fame not just among graphic novel readers, but literary critics. Willingham succeeds as a writer because he understands that for characters to feel real, a healthy dose of cynicism should be mixed with an even greater dose of affection and humor. His characters and worlds feel real, sometimes gritty and sometimes comforting, because he has mastered the fine line between too-sugary and too-dismal. And he’s a masterful story-weaver; one of the things I respect most about his series is that when a character, or pair of characters reach their happy (or not-so-happy) ending, that storyline fades into the background and others step into the spotlight. This way he avoids torturing any single storyline for lack of anything better to do; and his supporting cast is so real and fleshed-out that when one of them steps forward to be the hero of a new storyline, there’s no feeling of being cheated out of watching the characters you really wanted to follow. In fact, the writers of many existing shows should take a page out of his book.

I often watch new TV series and wonder, “Did the writers ever think about where this could possibly go in seasons two, three or four?” ABC’s new show, Once Upon a Time, was inspired by Fables, but I don’t see the same potential for a long run in it. In Once Upon a Time, it’s a curse that keeps the fairytale characters in the real world; where does the story go once the curse is lifted? In Fables, the device of an enemy with armies and the power to move back and forth between the mundane and fairytale worlds offer endless possibilities of plot development, political drama and action without getting worn-out. In Once Upon a Time, the cast of characters is also restricted by the premise: the characters are all trapped in a single, small town. In Fables, an endless number of Fable characters roam all over the world, again opening up possibilities for side-plots and variety.

The bigger point is that it isn’t just the familiar fairytale characters that make Fables such a compelling and successful story; it’s the storytelling mastery of Bill Willingham, the attention to details, the foresight for plot development, and the care he takes in crafting his characters into fresh individuals. Character, storytelling and art are what set apart my picks for this list; but each of them also represents something missing from television right now, whether it’s ingenuous gaiety or multi-layered plots that take a little bit of thought to crack. Together, comic books and TV shows can overcome their bad reputation for being “lesser” arts, to show the big kids how it’s done.

3. January 21, 2013: I Hear You Like Bad Girls Too

A good girl takes Lana Del Rey’s relationship advice.

You might have heard of Lana Del Rey because she’s the internet’s favorite singer to hate. Or you might have heard of her because you actually enjoyed one of her songs on the radio. Sound a bit contradictory?

Lana Del Rey sings retro-inspired, whispery pop songs about slightly trashy women with a serious case of heartache. You can picture her heroines telling the story of the man who walked out on them over a cigarette and coffee in a local diner, mascara running down their cheeks. She’s a bad girl from a James Dean movie with a heart of gold. Her music is catchy, melancholy, haunting; it has a quality that reaches out and taps you on the shoulder if you’ve ever been dumped, and whispers to you about feelings that other songs missed. When she croons “I will love you until the end of time,” or “Heaven is a place on earth with you,” in a minor key, she reminds you of that half-life of love that keeps burning on even after the relationship ends. And she’s not fighting it — she’s just feeling it. Even in “Video Games,” a song in which she’s still with her boyfriend, when she sings “better than I ever even knew” the listener gets the impression that things are not perfect.

Lana Del Rey is good music for suspense. She’s good music for sun-draped summer days. She’s good music for a long drive to see someone for the first time in what feels like a long time.

She’s a good bad girl for good girls to listen to.

The other distinctive feature of Lana Del Rey is she can’t do a single thing without every hipster and tabloid blog on the internet jeering her for it. It’s become such a distinctive facet of her career that you can’t discuss her or her music at all without running into internet-hate problem.

What gives? First of all, hating her was made trendy by sites that make lots and lots of money by writing cruel things about people. She’s not perfect, but her crimes are no worse than those of other pop stars who have gotten off with far less derision: take a stage name, or flubbing a performance.

The fact that she’s unafraid to sing about women’s vulnerability without irony or apology is another less discussed reason why music commentators and tabloid writers hate her so vitriolically. She doesn’t follow their script of how empowered gender-neutral young folks these days should talk about love, so she must be mocked into silence.

What has she done to piss them off so much?

(In pretty much every video featuring this guy, she winds up dead.)

Lana Del Rey is a Romantic with a big R: the stormy love, tossed by fate kind of Romantic, and I like her music for the same reason I like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. When life seems dull or I feel numb, I borrow emotions from the artists who express them wildly and vibrantly.

When a lot of girls I know communicate more by texting their boyfriends than they do in person, there’s something romantic and alluring about Lana Del Rey’s retro heroines who hang on the telephone like Blondie: something to crave about a vintage rendition of love where you’re together when you’re physically together and truly apart when you’re not. There’s mystery and vulnerability in not keeping tabs on each other’s every movement. It doesn’t make her song’s heroines happier or more secure – often the opposite – but it makes their romance feel more real. It’s hard to tell, from her lyrics, if her songs really belong in a pre-cellphone era; but their feelings do.

And when she’s not being retro, there’s something sad and true about “Video Games,” in which Lana sings in a minor key about the pleasure of a lazy afternoon with her man playing video games, but gives the sense that the TV is really between them.

Lana Del Rey appeals to good girls because she’s the quintessential romantic bad girl: sultry, pouty, with thin white tee shirts and tiny denim shorts, the kind of girl who’d be leaning up against her boyfriend’s hot rod in the school parking lot. And what makes her most appealing is her vulnerability – that hidden sweetness, and softness, that gives her a kind of frayed innocence beneath that bad girl image. Critics have dismissed this image as highly calculated; but having a calculated image never stopped the same critics from praising Lady Gaga. I think the real reason they despise Lana Del Rey’s image is because it challenges the feminist idea that women should ball up their vulnerability and stuff it in the back of a dark, dark closet because it’s totally useless and also highlights gender differences, which are verboten. Women don’t have a special kind of vulnerability that’s different from men’s — stop singing about it! You’re just pretending, putting it on for a show.

What’s she singing that upsets them so much? She’s singing about women who still miss the men who wronged them. She’s singing about regretting the loss of innocence. She’s singing about bad choices — and she’s calling them bad, not “alternative.” She’s singing about vulnerability and femininity and putting her man’s favorite perfume on. She’s singing:

This is what makes us girls
We don’t look for heaven and we put our love first
Don’t you know we’d die for it? It’s a curse
Don’t cry about it, don’t cry about it
This is what makes us girls
We don’t stick together ’cause we put our love first
Don’t cry about him, don’t cry about him
It’s all gonna happen

And she’s not singing it as a cultural statement or a tongue-in-cheek critic of gender roles or a condemnation of women who crave the company of men; she means it.

What’s so appealing about listening to a woman sing about abject misery over and over again? Maybe it’s that she feels it.

There’s a theory called “hyperreality” that states that over-exposure to TV (and later, the internet) has made current generations numb to reality. Instead of viewing TV or internet images as pictures of real things, we instead view real things as potential pictures to be shown on TV or the internet. We struggle more with the concept of real things in front of us that could physically affect us because we experience most of the world through a lens.

I think there’s a form of hyperreality that affects relationships too. If you spend more time texting your boyfriend than you spend in his presence, is he your boyfriend or do you visualize him as a specific ringtone and a welcome name on your screen? Do you have feelings for him, or feelings for hearing from him? When he shows up on your doorstep, do you feel a jolt of pleasure, or is it like he’s been there all along and it’s just a bit more difficult to run down and unlock the door instead of simply sliding a button on your phone? People have relationships on Facebook that are more meaningful to them than the time they spend together. Their dates exist to provide more pictures for their profile. Even if you didn’t mean to fall into this pattern, it’s so easy it seems unavoidable. A lot of us just become numb.

Numb to what specifically? To distance, I think. And distance suddenly appears to me to be one of the most important parts of establishing closeness in a relationship. Lana Del Rey’s heroine suffers when her men disappear, not because she misses their texts, but because she misses their bodies, their real presence in her life. And that feeling seems so much more real than the disappointment when a guy you sorta liked unfriends you online.

When you’re in touch with someone 24/7, the times you’re together physically blend with the times you’re “practically together” electronically. For Lana Del Rey, it’s more simple: when her man is away, she hurts.

It’s not just this that makes her feel so distinctly, though.

Lana Del Rey doesn’t protect herself. From anything.

She is the anti-advice columnist, loving all the wrong men for all the wrong reasons and making all the old mistakes. But I think I like her for the same reason I read advice columns so furtively, almost like a nervous addict – it’s not for the advice. Whatever the columnist tells the seekers to do is whatever I would have told them, too – it’s the things that keep me from being an advice seeker myself. No, I love reading about the problems. I don’t know if it’s schadenfreude or voyeurism, or just the same pleasure in dramatic stories that I get from trashy novels or Twilight.

It’s the inverse of the pleasure I get from Jane Austen novels, in which there is one set of characters who find the neat and orderly solution to their problems by acting exactly the way they should, or learning and apologizing when they don’t. Instead, it’s like getting a peek at the lives of all the women in the backdrop of these stories who are always getting knocked up by the man the heroine believes is her one true love at first. Lana Del Rey is one of those women.

So why am I, self-proclaimed good girl and sensible dater, so seduced by the idea of living a little bit more like Lana Del Rey? Because she feels everything so keenly.

She (I should say, the character she “plays” in her songs) doesn’t live according to a careful formula for avoiding pain, bad experiences, or risk. She doesn’t follow the “rules” for obtaining her own coin-operated boy. Okay, so she pushes her rule-breaking to a fault, but there’s something to be appreciated about being unafraid of being foolish in love.

Ultimately, if you make all the right decisions, you still aren’t guaranteed a tranquil and pain-free existence — the world is too chaotic to allow for that. And while it isn’t a reason to cave into complete hedonism, it is a reason to take a few risks here and there — perhaps even emotional risks. Lana Del Rey’s retro heroine feels so keenly because she’s made herself vulnerable to feeling, and to pain. Vulnerability isn’t a simple concept and it doesn’t mean a person is weak. It means she’s not so afraid of life that she hides all her best parts behind a bristly husk. There are different kinds of vulnerability as well, and many that actually take great courage — especially certain shades of vulnerability in love. It’s possible compulsive rule-followers like me have followed our patterns more out fear than wisdom. And that’s why a good girl like me likes Lana Del Rey. A craving to be a little less wise and a little more vulnerable. A craving to be less numb. And a craving for the kind of music that is unapologetically feminine.

4. May 10, 2013: The Five Most Surprising Movie Adaptations

Screw the book, these were better.

The critics are chattering about Baz Luhrmann’s highly anticipated The Great Gatsby. They fall into two camps: those who watched the movie for itself, and those who closely compared it to the book. Even though I appreciate F. Scott Fitzgerald’s seminal work, I’ll be going to the theater as a member of the first camp. Adaptations are rarely successful when the goal is a strict translation of the book to the screen. Even if a movie’s based on a book, I try to judge it as a movie in its own right, as if the book had never existed. Just to prove how unimportant The Great Gatsby’s faithfulness to the book is, here are four examples of absolutely amazing, beautiful, gripping, classic movies (and a TV show) that took an existing story and threw expectations out the window to make something completely original.

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5. The Adaptation Most People Don’t Know Is an Adaptation: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Did you know that O Brother Where Art Thou?, the Coen brothers’ rollicking adventure comedy through the Depression-era South, is a loose retelling of Homer’s Odyssey? If you didn’t, pick up the DVD and rewatch it (well, you should rewatch it anyway even if you did already know because it’s that good) and see if you can recognize the sirens, the cyclops, and the hydra.

4.The Adaptation the Author Hated: Breakfast at Tiffany’s

I can’t think of better proof that a movie’s faithfulness to the book means nothing about its quality. Truman Capote, author of the original short story “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” originally wanted Marilyn Monroe cast as Holly Golightly, and famously ranted when he heard that Audrey Hepburn was cast instead: “Paramount has double-crossed me in every way.” The movie, which catapulted Hepburn from screen darling to enduring style icon, also abandoned the second half of Capote’s plot.

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3. The Adaptation That Just Keeps Going: Sons of Anarchy

Shakespeare may have employed a five-act dramatic structure, but Sons of Anarchy is rumored to round out its story at the end of a seventh season to come. While producers say the series about a brutal California bike clan is only inspired by Hamlet, enough of the elements of the original persist to squeak it onto this list. Though the series got off to a rough start (critically), it’s been gathering more acclaim as it unfolds, drawing viewers into its dark re-envisioning of a centuries-old tale of incest, murder, power, and madness.

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2. The Adaptation That Was a Bigger Deal than the Book: Dr. No

There’s no denying the success of Ian Fleming’s James Bond series of novels, but there’s an even smaller chance of claiming they’re a bigger deal than the movie franchise they spawned. It was the James Bond movies that defined a genre, in substance and style. Combining the noir undertones of the previous generation with the explosive action that would soon overtake movies, the James Bond films gave a face to a formula and enshrined a character not just in movie history, but in our cultural history. Even if you’ve never read a James Bond book or seen a James Bond movie, you know who he is, and you’ve probably heard a Bond song, too.

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1. The Adaptation That Defined Childhood: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

This is yet another movie disowned by the author of the original book; Roald Dahl was so furious at the liberties the filmmakers took with the story that he refused to allow them to adapt its sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. But Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory became a cult classic for its exuberant, child-like, and quietly wicked telling of the story of a poor boy who won a golden ticket to the world’s most magical chocolate factory. And the song from the film that became a classic, the wistful and poignant “Pure Imagination” first crooned by Gene Wilder, wasn’t even in the book at all. That song is childhood, in a few simple bars. Too bad Mr. Dahl — who got childhood so well in so many other ways — never came around.

5. May 5, 2013: Likes Long Walks on the Beach, and Porn Goddesses

What happens when husbands demand their wives meet the XXX-rated style in the bedroom?

Slate’s Dear Prudence advice column is a social barometer of sorts, so when columnist Emily Yoffe pivots on a major issue my ears twitch, because change must be afoot. This week’s chat with advice-seekers revealed a shocking reversal: Prudie is actually advising readers to cut back on the porn:

When I started writing this column I had a very laissez-faire attitude toward porn, but it’s irrefutable that excess consumption can interfere with normal sexual expectations. It’s one thing if your husband made a reasonable request. … It’s another thing if he’s withdrawn from you sexually, has refused to address this, then announces he can’t get turned on by you if you don’t look like the people on YouPorn. …you two need to talk about how hurtful his behavior has been over the past year, and that you hope he understands that putting his demands in such a demeaning way is not likely to turn you on.

What was the husband of this letter-writer requesting? That the woman shave down under or he wouldn’t get intimate with her. The bald eagle (aherm) look has grown so immensely popular this year it’s actually made headlines, and most commentators agree it was popularized by porn’s hairless superstars.

Okay. So porn is as standard (and standardized) in American males’ homes as sliced bread. Old news. What’s new news is that someone besides the ultra-feminist anti-porn crusaders and the ultra-Christian anti-porn crusaders is saying in a major public forum that maybe porn is not so healthy for relationships. Well, excess porn.

For what it’s worth, I don’t support the censorship of porn that’s performed (and consumed) by consenting adults. But I do object to the tacitly ubiquitous attitude that “porn is okay, and if you object to it you’re a prude, because everybody watches it.” It’s another form of political correctness. Let’s see a healthy dose of skepticism.

What if the letter-writer’s husband’s request was demeaning because porn is demeaning? Not just of women, but demeaning of sex. There’s no mystery, no curiosity, no concealment, no effort. Just spoon-feeding the viewer his or her chosen fantasy, organized by aisle. No wonder advice columns are flooded with letters from the significant others of porn addicts — addicts whose appetite for the screen is insatiable but who lose all interest in the real deal.

Contrast the porn of today — the unique style of porn pioneered by the sexual revolution — with the cabarets and pin-up girls of the generation before. One was wrapped in the idea that what you were about to view was illicit, dangerous, adult, edgy. The other is wrapped in plastic and sold in bulk so you don’t have to wait an extra moment before self-indulgence.

For a movement that embraced sexual freedom, the sexual revolution sure made porn unsexy. And real-person sex unsexy, if the letter writer above is any indication.


image courtesty shutterstock /  prodakszyn

6. May 15, 2013: Stop Expecting Your Friends to Show Common Decency

Flaky friends. No, they’re not great.

Mindy feels you.

Hello Bad Advice readers! This week I got a question that I’ve heard many times from friends, mostly millennials, who get the classic “I’m not really standing you up because I texted you five minutes ahead of time” line from their friends. As we emerge from social hibernation this spring, take heed: all your friends are jerks. Get used to it.

Dear Bad Advice,

Have you ever had a friend that seems to always bail on plans? Not only do they bail, but do they wait to the very last possible minute to not-so-gracefully bow out?

A close friend of mine is almost ALWAYS doing this to me and it absolutely drives me nuts!  Now, I hate double-standards, but are they necessary when it comes to teaching people a lesson?

Is it wrong for me to give her a taste of her own medicine a few times by doing the same exact thing she repeatedly does to me? Or, is this too childish?

I should note that I hate confrontation and yes, I admit to being a bit passive aggressive sometimes to avoid it.

Fed Up with Being Stood Up

This is going to sound like bad advice, but stop expecting your friends to show up for things. If they don’t give a crap about you, don’t give a crap about them.

You got excited for a fun evening out, you picked out a cool outfit and cleared your schedule, and you even started thinking about all the funny stories you wanted to share, when phssssssssssssssst, you got that text message that bursts your bubble.

Getting stood up by a friend stings no less than getting stood up by a date.

Flakes of the world, listen closely:

Your friend made time for you. She probably turned down other invitations she got for that evening to be with you. She postponed hobbies or chores or phone calls with other friends and family to hang out with you.

You might say, “We all have cell phones and I can text her five minutes before I was supposed to meet to tell her I’m not coming.” Guess what? YOU’RE STILL RUDE.

A nice person cancels at least 24 hours ahead of time so her friend has time to make other plans for the evening if she wants to, and so she doesn’t spend all day getting her hopes up about something that’s not going to happen.

A nice person gives a compelling reason for why she cancelled — if you promised someone your time, you owe them a reason for why you can’t give it to them.

A nice person doesn’t make plans for an evening when she’s already promised someone else to be somewhere else at the same time. Either work it out so you can visit one friend first, then the other friend later; or decline the second invitation and honor the one you’ve already accepted.

These all sound like stodgy etiquette rules. But they have real meaning. They’re about showing your friends that you respect them, that you value them, that they can count on you, that you care about their feelings and they’re important enough to you to make time for them. If you’re nodding your head as you read them, then I don’t see how you’d think that treating your friend with as much rudeness as she treated you is going to make anything better.

Have I broken those rules? Heck yes. And I’m ashamed to admit I’ve flaked on friends too. We’re all human, and I bet even you, flakee, have been the flaker once or twice. But when you’re really invested in a friendship, you try not to make it a habit. And when you notice that one of your friends has turned flakiness into a long-standing pattern, it might be time to look at your friendship.

This is going to sound like bad advice, but don’t try to teach your friends better manners — just adjust your expectations. And ditch the friend if she’s that annoying.

Being a good friend is hard work. It’s about more than just showing up when you feel like it, to do the stuff you want to do. It’s about supporting each other and showing each other that you care. Sometimes it means going to that Carpathian folk dancing recital she’s in that she’s too embarrassed to tell anyone else about, or taking her to dinner to listen to her talk about her promotion when you’re bone-tired and just want to go home. Because she does the same for you when you need it.

If your friend is one of those deep, meaningful relationships that you want to keep in your life, then you need to talk to her openly about her flakiness and how much it hurts you. Chances are, if she cares about you, she has no idea she’s hurt you as much as she has, and just telling her might be enough to get her to try harder to show up.

In friendships as well as relationships, communication is important. Passive aggression is not communication — it’s a form of manipulation. A relationship isn’t healthy when two people start manipulating each other to make a point. It’s time to put on your big girl pants and talk to your friend. And I mean talk to her — don’t send an email because it’s too easy to overstate your feelings or misread hers that way.

You also need to be prepared to accept the fact that some people are flakes. And that even if your flake friend tries hard to make it to more of your friend-dates, she’s still going to ditch every once in a while — maybe because she’s bad at keeping a calendar, maybe because she was being thoughtless, maybe because she’s easily distracted by shiny things and she’s been standing in front of the Swarovski two blocks from your place for half an hour. Another part of friendship is accepting your friends the way they are, warts and all. Some folks are just airheads about schedules. If your friend is that way, try to meet her in the middle — if she makes more of an effort to honor her promises to you, you can also try to be a little understanding when she doesn’t.

The truth is, no one likes a sermon on manners from a friend. But once you’ve cleared the air on the specific incidents when she’s hurt you, the best way to teach your friend good manners is to set a good example. And I don’t just mean don’t be a flake. I also mean don’t be a manipulator.

A lot of life is choosing your battles. If this friendship isn’t a deep and meaningful part of your life, don’t bother with the talk, and don’t try to “teach her a lesson” by flaking on her, either. Just stop hanging out with her so much. I mean, life is too short to spend it hanging out with jerks.

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I have a few really flaky friends. I mean, clinical-strength flaky. There’s probably something about them in the new DSM. I used to get extremely upset and confused when they didn’t show up to things — and then I got to a point where I just rolled my eyes and thought, “Okay, it’s just Desdemona being Desdemona.” That’s because I stopped leaning on them as the kind of friend I expected to show up when it was really important to me, and I relegated them to the wider “just for fun” friends group.

The truth is, if she’s not going to make an effort at all to honor her dates with you, then stop making them. Or, stop setting up nights where just the two of you hang out, and only invite her to events where you’ll already be hanging out with friends that you can count on — that way, you’re not high and dry when she cancels. If she’s been a serial absentee friend, you’ll be surprised by how quickly you can phase her out of your life… because she never really bothered to show up in it in the first place.

7. May 29, 2013: Advice for Grads: Stop Working So Darn Hard

Get over yourself, get a job, and stop caring so much about everything.


This week, I’d like to offer some Bad Advice to recent college graduates. Here are some pointers, practical and spiritual, on how to cope with adult life. Share them with a grad you know and it might actually get him or her to stop bugging you with questions about how to be a grown-up.

Personal Life: This may sound like bad advice, but pay your friends for rides, and go to a bar by yourself every once in a while.

1) Whenever a friend drives you somewhere (especially if you asked them as a favor), offer them gas money. Okay, this is less of an “adult life” thing, and more something you should have learned since you were old enough for you and your friends to drive, but it becomes more important as your friends move off their parents’ bankrolls and start getting those fun student-loan notifications in the mail.

2) Friendship is a lot harder when class schedules and a multitude of school-run clubs don’t bring you together on a regular basis, and you no longer live in a building full of people your age who freely socialize between rooms or suites. So, put the work in on the friendships you want to keep: schedule lunch meet-ups or happy hours, ask your friends about their days (because you are no longer spending most of it playing Rock Band or going to class together — he might have done something you weren’t there to witness!), and then honor your commitments.

3) If you feel all alone in a new city and there aren’t many people your age at your office to befriend, join a Meetup group, take up a hobby, go to a networking event, and, in the meantime, while you build up your group of friends, don’t be afraid to do stuff alone. Don’t sit in your apartment by yourself every night because you’re still getting to know folks. Some people are so scared of being seen in public without a companion that they’d rather stay inside all the time and get to know no one at all. Don’t be one of those sad people.

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Work Life: This may sound like bad advice, but don’t work too hard.

1) Work hard, but don’t overwork yourself. I know many people approach work like it’s homework: as if it were possible to actually tie it all up neatly at the end of the day, “hand it in,” and leave the office with all your tasks fully completed. In the work world, the “semester” never ends, you never take the final, and you never “finish” all your work. You finish projects, sure, but new ones roll in continually, and then you find yourself drowning in the stack of simply undoable things — low-priority assignments that you will never find the time to complete. If you approach work like school, and think you’re only done when everything is finished and “handed in,” you will drive yourself insane. So work hard — but cut yourself off at a reasonable hour, go home at the end of the work day, and finish the rest tomorrow.

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2) On that note, take vacations. School used to set your vacation schedule for you. Most offices have a certain number of days they’re closed for national or cultural holidays, but you also get a stack of vacation days to use at your own discretion. So use them. There will be no perfect time to use them — no time when your office grinds to a halt so you feel comfortable leaving without missing any work that needs to be done. Just pick a time that doesn’t overlap with, say, a major project or conference, then give your boss plenty of notice (about a month, if you’re taking more than one or two days off), and go. It will make you a better employee, too — you’ll come back refreshed and more focused. Don’t burn yourself out. Your vacation days are part of your compensation, so don’t throw them away by not using them.

3) The receptionists, personal assistants, and office administrators are often some of the savviest badasses in your company. Don’t be a stuck-up prick like so many people my age I’ve seen, who think that just because they’re a junior associate flabbergaster to the executive vice flabbergaster that they’re above someone with decades more experience than they have at solving the everyday problems of life in an office. Be nice to the receptionists, befriend them, offer to help them out from time to time, and learn from them. Don’t hassle them. If they drop the ball on something, give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they just have an awful lot on their plate (because as companies downsize, these already overworked people probably just got a whole lot more duties). Instead of getting mad, offer to help finish the task yourself. And listen to them — even if some of them don’t have a four-year degree like you do, they are most likely smarter than you are.

Love life: This may sound like bad advice, but get better at breaking up with people. It will make you a more honest person, who is ready for the right relationship when it comes along.

1) Women: believe what men say to you about what they want. There is rarely ever a hidden meaning. If he says, “I’m not ready for a relationship,” that is not material for hours of discussion between you and your girlfriends about what he really means. What he really means is he doesn’t want a relationship (or at least, not one with you) and you’d better move on. You’re a grown-up now; that means facing reality even when you don’t like it.

2) Men: don’t chicken out. I know plenty of girls who cry about guys who “led them on,” but I also know enough of the guys who’ve done that to know they’re not always cold-hearted liars… a lot of them are just too pansy to let a girl know they really don’t want to be in a serious relationship, so they passively let it drag on and on hoping she’ll get the message. The sooner you’re honest with her, the sooner you’ll both be able to move on to someone who makes each of you happier. You’re a grown-up now: that means saying things even when they’re hard.

Love's not a fairy tale, but that's not a bad thing.

Love’s not a fairy tale, but that’s not a bad thing.

3) Don’t date a person hoping to change him or her. Change comes from inside. It can be encouraged by people who love and support you, but only you have the power to change yourself; so don’t try to change other people.

4) A good relationship is hard work. Love will not fall out of the sky while violins play softly beneath the shade of a tree by a rippling pond. You might meet the person you love in a serendipitous, beautiful way — but no matter how innately compatible you are or how adorable your cute-meet story is, if you want to have a serious, long-term relationship, you have to work at it. Don’t forget #3 though; work doesn’t mean you’re constantly trying to change each other. Instead, you’re growing together. Don’t take each other for granted. Don’t assume your partner’s love, respect, and devotion is automatically granted to you because you’ve been together for x months or years already so you’ve moved into that “comfortable” phase where you can stop trying to earn it all the time. If you want comfortable, date your imaginary friend.

In a relationship with a real person, every day you wake up thinking, “I should send him something nice today, I know he has a lot of work to do,” or “I didn’t thank him enough for that one thing — I should remember to say something today,” or “I was kind of a downer yesterday, but he’s so positive — I’m going to try to be less whiny today, to show him I appreciate him listening to me.” And when you do that, you start making yourself better as a person — not just in your behavior to him, but in your behavior to others. Then you’re not just thinking, “He’s so positive, I should try to complain less when I’m around him,” you also start to think, “I wish I were more like him — I’m going to work hard at being less grouchy in general.” A good relationship has the power to change your life, make you better, and teach you more than many other life experiences — but it’s not free. Like the most rewarding things in life, you have to earn it.

8. June 6, 2013: Four Childhood Activities You Should Never Give Up

Acting like a kid could make you happier, healthier, and smarter.

I still treasure the memory of the day when my friends and I were walking home through the park at the end of a long afternoon of educational play (wandering museums, visiting landmarks) and one of them started a game of Red Rover and we all ditched our bags to join in.

I was twenty-three at the time.

Growing up isn’t just inevitable — it is a good thing. Growing up, when done properly, hopefully results in being wiser, less selfish, and potentially taller, which is helpful for reaching things. But while there is a time for setting aside your childish things, there are a few childhood activities that grown-ups could stand to gain a lot from reintroducing into their lives.

1. Random, Unannounced Racing

Remember when you were all walking along to some destination and one person broke out into a sprint, the universal signal for everyone else to start running to catch or overtake him? Have you stopped doing that because you’ll ruin your shoes, or you’re just plain scared of appearing undignified? Whenever you’re scared to do something fun, ask yourself: whom exactly are you trying to impress?

When you grow up, something weird happens to your view of physical activity: instead of being a possibility in all situations, exercise becomes something you confine to the gym or running club or organized sports, and when you’re not at one of those, you’re supposed to sedately float along through your work and social life. At your next gathering, challenge yourself: what could you do with all your friends besides just sit or stand around?

2. Hide and Go Seek

You can play this creatively as a grown-up. Meeting a friend at a store or museum? Play a game of finding each other. Send each other clues via picture messages. Start a game with a group of friends — make it a date, in a local park.

It’s creative, playful, and relatively non-competitive. Playing hide and go seek might not just provide a little exercise — it could also sharpen your imagination as you seek more interesting and inventive places to hide. And it’ll certainly give you and your friends something to talk about later, besides their least favorite coworkers or how expensive gas is.

Just don’t take it to Portlandia levels, okay?

3. Arts and Crafts Projects

You can buy pretty much any physical item you want or need, but having a creative hobby is a fun outlet. Knitting, or refurbishing furniture, or drawing, or whatever strikes your fancy — when you’re a kid, you don’t feel like you have to be “good at it” to justify spending your time on art or craft projects. Don’t put off drawing or another artistic outlet because you feel like, as an adult, it’s only worthwhile spending your time on those pursuits if you’re very, very good at them and can somehow win accolades or put them on display or turn it into a career. You’re not being graded, and no one even has to see your creations if you don’t want them to. So don’t be that person with a dusty art kit in the corner who says, “I used to draw all the time in high school — I wish I did now.”


4. Building Pillow Forts

You own your stuff. It doesn’t own you. Is your couch telling you you can’t set its cushions up as walls and drape them as a blanket? Have I just not been listening carefully enough?

Besides being fun, here’s a grown-up reason for building pillow forts: because you can. Because if you’ve ever felt trapped by your surroundings, or stuck in a rut, or just bored, you can take control of your situation (and your furniture) and do something completely different and unconventional with it. And then you realize: you’re free. You just have to stop listening to your furniture and start listening to possibility.

I don’t have a boatload of statistics to prove, definitively, that these activities will indeed make you “happier, healthier, and smarter.” But I do have common sense and a bit of creative thinking:

Doctors are now recommending that people work out in short bursts throughout the day, rather than saving it all for one concentrated hour of exercise. What better way to do this than to play like a child?

Countless productivity studies have shown that people work more efficiently and focus better when they have moments of rest or non-work recreation throughout the day. You know who’s good at daytime moments of rest and non-work recreation? Kids.

There’s your healthier and smarter. As for happier? You’ll just have to try it to find out.

9. July 17, 2013: Bad Advice: Slaying Facebook Trolls

How to silence people who refuse to be defriended.


Dear Bad Advice,

Recently I cleared out my Facebook friends list. It was getting out of control and I wasn’t seeing updates from people I cared about, because my newsfeed was so clogged up with people I haven’t seen in years and don’t really care about. The weird thing is, even though Facebook doesn’t notify you when you’ve been deleted by someone (at least, as far as I’m aware) a surprising number of the people I’d removed from my friends list noticed, and sent me angry or surprised messages asking me why I’d removed them! I barely interact with these people on FB or away from it, and I have no idea how they managed to notice so quickly, or why they seem to care so much. Any advice on how to respond to them?

– Tired of Facebook Fiends

This is going to sound like bad advice, but sometimes you just have to give someone the cold shoulder.

I don’t know about you, but I use Facebook to maintain a connection with people on the periphery of my life — people that I’d still like to be able to get in touch with, but with whom I don’t have a strong, deep, ongoing friendship with. Sure, I sometimes post on a good friend’s wall and often like my mom’s posts, but Facebook isn’t my primary means of staying in touch with them or the other people who are really important to me. I write to, or call, or spend time with, or even send letters in the mail to the people who are really important to me. In general, I keep a big list of friends on Facebook just so I can reach out to any one of them when the mood strikes me — not because I regularly want to keep up with any of them. What I’m getting at, is that for me to defriend someone, they have to be a really marginal figure in my life, because Facebook “friendship” doesn’t hold a lot of value for me in the first place.

So I’m going to assume that you, too, defriended people who had grown so far apart from you that it seemed silly to maintain even that much of a meaningless and effortless connection to them. Good for you. Not everyone you encounter in your life is going to be someone you want to maintain a connection with for the rest of your life, and acknowledging that also frees you up to dedicate more time and effort to the real and lasting relationships in your life — the ones that matter to you offline, too. Facebook friendship isn’t actually friendship, or a relationship of any kind — it’s a bookmark for a person in your life, reminding you, “Oh, if I go here, I can reconnect with Xena again. Cool. If I ever want to rekindle our friendship, I know where to find her.” Likewise, terminating a Facebook friendship (especially with someone you barely know or speak to) isn’t terminating a relationship, it’s just acknowledging what is probably already reality: that you barely know this person anymore, and don’t see yourself growing close to them again in the near future.

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That sounds like it could be pretty painful for someone to find out from a friend. But if the above situation is really the case, then the other person should have noticed you weren’t really friends anymore long before you terminated the Facebook connection. It’s not a personal attack (it doesn’t sound like you’re defriending people in anger or retribution, like an angsty teenager), though it might carry some of the bittersweetness of making you (and your former FB friend) realize how quickly time flies and how much people change. That’s natural. What’s not healthy is for that person to then throw a tantrum about it.


What your disgrunted former FB friends don’t understand are what I think of as the fundamental rules for any rational, mature adult using FB to keep in touch with people from their past and present:

1) Facebook “friendship” does not equal real friendship. Real friendship requires time, effort, and personal, private communication. Facebook “friendship” is just a placeholder for that.

2) The lack of a Facebook “friendship” does not indicate the lack of real friendship. One of my very dear friends of nearly ten years doesn’t have a Facebook account, but we’ve remained friends long after we were no longer geographically close. The same can hold true even if both people have FB accounts. My boyfriend and I dated for nearly a year before we became Facebook friends. It wasn’t because we didn’t care for each other. It was just because neither of us puts a lot of stock in Facebook “friendship.”

3) The end of a Facebook “friendship” doesn’t necessarily signal the end of a real friendship. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the person hates you, dislikes you, or never wants to be your friend again in the future. The only thing defriending someone on Facebook means, at face value, is that the other person doesn’t feel like seeing your Facebook updates in their newsfeed anymore, and doesn’t see you two reconnecting any time soon enough to be worth holding on to that “bookmark.”

So, if someone that you barely know or speak to anymore gets upset that you defriended her on Facebook, just hold the course you’ve already set: don’t respond to her. When you break up a long-term relationship or friendship in real life, you owe someone an explanation. But when you quietly disappear from the newsfeed of someone you barely know and haven’t personally spoken with in ages, you don’t owe them any explanation…it’s just the natural conclusion of a pattern that must have been obvious to them for a long time. If ghosting them sounds too mean, you can respond to the complainers with something rote like “Hey there! Nothing personal — I was just clearing out my seriously too-long friends list. We hadn’t spoken in ages, but you still have my email address if you ever want to get back in touch!” That’s a good response because it calls the other person’s bluff — if she sincerely wishes to rekindle the connection between you, it’s up to her now to do the work of starting it. My bet is most people wouldn’t bother sending you an email after that. There are lots of people who will get affronted over losing you as a Facebook friend because of how much they care about Facebook, not how much they care about you.

But at the end of the day, I don’t think you owe those people any response at all. It just feeds the impression that Facebook friendships are somehow much more meaningful than they are. In my eyes, Facebook is useful, but not meaningful. It’s useful in keeping tabs on people with little effort; useful in letting people share and promote their work (ps please “like’ this column); useful in letting families and circles of friends share photos, events, and other things that are important to them. But it’s not Facebook that makes a relationship meaningful. It’s what both parties put into it, on and offline. Don’t succumb to a guilt trip over ending an entirely empty Facebook “friendship.” If some of your former FB friends are juvenile enough to get affronted (and confrontational) about it, I can begin to see why you’re no longer friends.

10. March 15, 2014: Five Secret Emotions Only E-Reader Addicts Understand

Diagnose your affliction; seek support in fellow sufferers.


I love my Kindle, and my Kindle cloud account, which allows me to read books I’ve purchased on any device (for the times when I forget my Kindle, have to take an unexpected Metro ride, or carry a ridiculously small purse to match my outfit). I used to be that person who never went anywhere without a book. I still am that person — but instead of having to tote around a paperback, reading the same book I read at home, from the same page I left off, is as simple as whipping out my phone. My name is Hannah Sternberg and I’m an eReader Addict.

You, too, may be an eReader Addict, if you’ve experienced one or more of the following:


5) Frustration, when you tap a word to call up its definition, only to remember that you’re reading a print book today.


4) Annoyance, when you hear, “Print books are superior because they never run out of batteries.” Sure…but they can also lose pages when the binding gets old, get smudged in the rain, break in half at the spine, get discolored with age, and attract bugs. Everything has strengths and weaknesses. If the fact that I have to recharge my Kindle once a month is the best criticism you’ve got, I don’t think that makes it inferior.DSC00529_large_verge_medium_landscape


3)  Exhilaration, when you discover that one of your favorite authors has started releasing (in digital form) short stories, novellas, and tie-ins to their previous works that would never have made it through the gamut of traditional publishing.


2) Furtive delight, when you realize no one is above reading something racy or silly on public transportation when you’re protected from cover-peeking snoopers. Additionally: smug amusement when you put on a serious, contemplative face while reading Sh!t My Dad Says on the Metro. Why yes, sir, this is my second time through Proust.

1) Waves of gratitude and joy, when you realize the world is just a little bit closer to every book being available anywhere. The world is my library, and while I may never have time to read it all, the barriers to accessing whatever literature my heart desires are growing smaller and smaller.