Kristen Iskandrian

Kristen Iskandrian lives in Athens, Georgia. Much of her writing is Googleable.


BUMMER and other stories, by Janice Shapiro

I’m in the midst of a move, which has reminded me how much I hate moving, the constant sense of inventory, the where-should-this-go, the box that contains socks and a spatula and that really important piece of paper that I won’t find, ever. Almost all of my books are still boxed up, but I’ve been keeping in my purse, on my person, Janice Shapiro’s debut collection just out from Soft Skull. These stories have a narrative fluency I admire (reflecting, I’d wager, Shapiro’s screenwriting background). Overall, they’re sure-footed in both their pacing and their prose, and the book itself, as a collection, feels thematically and tonally right–a true collection, and not just an assemblage of work. Shapiro’s women, as subjects and objects, are likable and funny, and she handles their neuroses, compulsions, and heartaches with a deft hand. What I have appreciated most about Bummer this week is how it has entertained me, offered levity and tenderness without demanding anything more than that I grin and feel. This book shows up without showing off.


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November 2nd, 2010 / 11:06 am

Widows’ Work

This sentence–“David was a big sweater, and I just remember the sweat marks on his pillow when I changed the cases”–I just feel it in my gut. And then there was this, also from last week. Can the “artistic value” of the work of the widow, the work that specifically pertains to the widow’s widowhood, ever eclipse the grief itself, the heartbreak-response of the audience? Can such work ever obtain its own terms? No, it seems to me. Which is also sort of heartbreaking, or at least one tentacle of the heartbreak.

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October 14th, 2010 / 2:35 pm

Word Bigot

There are some words that, when I come across them in a work, make me unhappy, sometimes even upset. Maybe for all of us, this is true. We are accustomed to groaning over phrases (too cliche, too idiomatic), tropes, themes, etc., but it strikes me as peculiar, on this particular night, that individual words, taken individually, can also bring the cringe. They’re just words! And yet, certain ones seem dirty, cheap somehow–carrying more than their fair share, evoking too much, taking some of the onus off the writer and moving it onto some collective, anthological poetic consciousness. Too, is word-disdain the equivalent of that prevalent relationship theory–that when you dislike a certain person, you’re disliking the part of yourself you see in him or her? Are you, here, rejecting the part of yourself that secretly, shamefully, is prone to using the blacklisted words, or uses them still? For me, words that put me off  tend to be ones I cherished at some point, maybe when my expectations of language were different, but ones that I’ve since, I don’t know, outgrown? That’s not quite right. Can you grow out of words? Have you? Which ones? Let’s burn some up. Or, burn some sage and get a few back.

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October 4th, 2010 / 10:21 pm

“Please, sir, I want Pessoa.”

I was sick with flu and fever for a few days. In my state I hallucinated a tiny antique piano being fixed by a giant; his fingers were enormous pillows and he used them very delicately. The piano could be mine for fifty bucks. There was also a cartoon faucet that wouldn’t turn off. I wasn’t able to read or watch TV. When the grueling thing left my body, I sipped some mothermade gruel and convalesced not for the first time in The Book of Disquiet: READ MORE >

Excerpts / 18 Comments
September 20th, 2010 / 1:30 am

So is the published work the apotheosis of the work, or its death? Or both? Does it die to you the moment it lives for others? Or is it then born? Or reborn? When and where does the work best live? Oh I’m so tidbitty lately, so curious.

RIP, Frank Kermode. This was a deeply important book to me circa 2006-2007.

What you do consider a ‘love story’? What’s the last great one you read?

Splat in the Memory

From Strange-1's Flickr

This happened to my daughter, who is under 2, two weeks ago. She is still talking about it: “I-cream fell. I-cream. FELL. I. Cream. ISE. FELL.” When she wakes up, it’s one of the first things she says, and repeats, as though she’d relived the experience during her sleep. If something else falls, she mentions the ice cream fall again. It has become Something in her mind, an event, perhaps a trauma, certainly a point of reference. An image that has stayed.

It has been asked before, but it’s worthwhile to re-up: what is one image from a book that has become indelible in your mind?

And here’s the B-Side: do we put too much importance on “the memorable image,” or “memorability” in general, with regard to the books we read? Are the ones that stay with us automatically “better”? Because I’ve read plenty of books that have absorbed me fully in the reading, in the moment, but that seem to vaporize as soon as I’m done. Are such works somehow inferior? Which ones are you more likely to re-read, the ones that you remember, or the ones that you don’t? Is re-read value adequate for determining a book’s worth?

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August 5th, 2010 / 3:22 pm


Review This

I don’t write reviews. I don’t write reviews because I don’t like writing reviews. Maybe if I got paid to write reviews I would write them and eventually enjoy myself. But in general I’d rather write fan mail or get drunk with my friends and talk about the books I love or the ones that disappointed me. The process of writing a review feels a little like having sex with someone you barely know under the glare of a bare bulb on a hot afternoon in an apartment with no AC after having scarfed a bunch of Mexican food. You know, gross! Embarrassing. READ MORE >

July 15th, 2010 / 7:17 pm

What’s your favorite biography? Autobiography?

This should have thrilled, but rather bored. I think it’s the use of “luminaries”? More about the shop’s history than the actual festival? And the closing quote by Pullman? I’m grumpy?

Things & Stuff

There’s a deep and abiding chasm, I think, between materialism and consumerism. It has to do with the how and the why. And also, with shame. I have a fierce attachment to my things, and I’m frequently consumed by a desire for more things. I have walked into shops and trembled. I consider myself a materialist. I am also a consumer, vulnerable to marketing tactics, but when I give in to them, I feel embarrassed. There are certain objects that mean a lot to me, but probably wouldn’t mean much to anyone else. These objects are reifications of my experience, evidence that I exist: how would I or anyone know that I went to the bazaar, figuratively speaking, if I didn’t bring back the miniature tin kettle and cup and saucer, figuratively speaking, to prove it?

I like knowing that Walter Benjamin collected so many books, but didn’t read many of them. The collecting is greater than the book.

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June 1st, 2010 / 11:47 am

Reading (&) the Body

Courtesy of Penelope Illustration

I’m re-reading a little Peter Brooks in column A and in column B thinking a lot about reading and the body, reading as consumption, reading while eating, reading while shitting, reading while smoking, the frenetic idleness of reading finding its counterpoint in various bodily acts/needs/processes.

From Brooks’s Reading for the Plot:

Speaking reductively, without nuance, one might say that on the one hand narrative tends toward a thematics of the desired, potentially possessable body, and on the other toward a readerly experience of consuming, a having that, in an era of triumphant capitalism, is bound to take on commercial forms, giving to the commerce in narrative understandings a specifically commercial tinge.

What do you do when you read? Or do you just read?

Excerpts & Random / 25 Comments
May 26th, 2010 / 10:28 pm

“…so thieves, sirs, you are imbeciles, now return them.”

This, from the AP, via NPR:

A lone thief stole five paintings possibly worth more than half a billion dollars, including major works by Picasso and Matisse, in a brazen overnight heist at a Paris modern art museum, police and prosecutors said Thursday.


The director of the neighboring modern art museum Palais de Tokyo, Pierre Cornette de Saint-Cyr, called the thief or thieves “fools.”

“You cannot do anything with these paintings. All countries in the world are aware, and no collector is stupid enough to buy a painting that, one, he can’t show to other collectors, and two, risks sending him to prison,” he said on LCI television.

“In general, you find these paintings,” he said. “These five paintings are unsellable, so thieves, sirs, you are imbeciles, now return them.”

The assumption here, of course, is that the thieves would want to sell the work. Maybe they just wanted the paintings for their living room? Maybe they just wanted to steal them, to see if they could? Such an act of daring, commodified. Shame.

What’s your fantasy heist?

Random / 14 Comments
May 20th, 2010 / 11:28 am

An Open, Earnest Letter to People Who Like Gruesomeness in Books & Film

This is your brain on fear. As it turns out, Hippocampus isn't fat camp for Latin nerds.

Dear People,

I’m the pain in the ass who makes deciding on a movie en masse impossible. But is it violent? How violent is it, if it is? Do animals get murdered? Do children get murdered? Eventually we’ll decide on a bonehead comedy or a beautifully shot Icelandic film about rafts in the gloaming.


Blind Items & Film & Haut or not / 58 Comments
May 18th, 2010 / 11:54 am

Is anyone else sick of contests? I’m sick of contests. Why?

What’s the one story you keep writing over and over? I don’t mean revising. I mean the aesthetic or emotional or dream-fugue house that all of your stuff keeps trying to break into. What does it look like? What is its essence?

From BEWARE OF PITY by Stefan Zweig

He pities the fool who pities the fool.

But to my own astonishment I found the requisite strength again and again. In some mysterious way, once one has gained an insight into human nature, that insight grows from day to day, and he to whom it has been given to experience vicariously even one single form of earthly suffering, acquires, by reason of this tragic lesson, an understanding of all its forms, even those most foreign to him, and apparently abnormal. [...]

Excerpts / 2 Comments
May 1st, 2010 / 10:21 am

Batter my heart, third-person omniscient god

Unicorn Mask print by Matty8080

What is your preferred point of view? Your go-to voice when you write, if you write, or the one you’re happiest to see when you open a new book? Can you use second-person without feeling like a wanker? Do you love “I” for its accessibility, its steadfastness, its immediacy–the narrative fuzzy bedroom slippers ever  at the foot of your crafty little bed? Because I can be “me” but “not-me,” whereas you is always only you, and third-person, well, forget it. That actually starts to feel like work.


Craft Notes & Vicarious MFA / 41 Comments
April 30th, 2010 / 2:03 am