Reading Roundup: December 2018

Happy entire-week-off-because-I-work-at-a-university to me! Although the month is not yet over–and although I’m likely to finish another book sometime during the interminable airport waits between flights home–I am going to post my roundup before I enter…. the liminal space between winter holidays.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Although most of the books I acquire are serendipitous–discounted or used books I come across by chance–I’ve also started keeping a phone list of new books I’ve vetted and would like to buy from brick-and-mortar stores when I have the money and opportunity. Pachinko was the first book I bought from the brand-new bookstore in my neighborhood when they opened on December 1. It’s been on my wishlist since I heard of it: although I probably wouldn’t put the author’s previous book, Free Food for Millionaires, on my year-end lists of Books I Loved, I still think about it often: Casey’s dress-like-a-column advice, her tactile pleasure in creating hats, the titular scenes of Wall Street entitlement.
I think Pachinko will impress itself on me in much the same way. Like Free Food, it invents memorable characters and tells their stories in such a way that feels organic and original even as they carry out the novel’s elegantly simple theme. When it ended, I felt cheated for a moment–I’d been with the novel’s central family for several generations at that point, and it felt like their decades of struggle should have led up to a big boss conflict, a dramatic death or triumph. But a saga that opens with the line “History has failed us, but no matter” could not have tied up its narrative with a neat bow. The dramatic deaths and triumphs are scattered throughout, and both characters and readers are left to make sense of history on their own.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. A friend brought this to my house with the intent to lend it to me. This was a bold move for two reasons. For one, I don’t take reading recommendations well–a vestige of the year I spent compiling lists and reading 150+ books, some canon-approved and some not, for my qualifying exams. No one can tell me what to read now. Also, I am absolutely dreadful at taking care of books; few escape without stains and tears from their perilous journeys in my tote bag. But this book turned out to be a quick, delightful read and I’m glad she lent it to me.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? by Lee Israel. I coaxed a sizeable group of friends to see the recent Melissa McCarthy movie with me on a vague promise of literary crimes and vintage gay New York. Other than burying my face in my gentleman’s shoulder during any scene which endangered a cat’s life (a little too close to home!), I loved the film. Loved Lee’s pivotal friendship with the mysterious Jack Hock, loved the meticulous care with which Lee gently toasted old paper so that it appeared aged, and purchased vintage typewriters to achieve the correct typefaces for her forged letters. My friends were a little more ambivalent than I was, citing the bleakness of Lee’s self-imposed loneliness and writers’ block as well as the brutal grief of losing her cat.
Visiting New Hope for a writer’s retreat earlier in the month, I dropped into the splendid Farley’s Bookshop and picked up Lee’s memoir of her literary forgeries. It’s a frightfully slim book. Given the scarcity of the source material, the film was fairly faithful: some cats and booksellers were merged into composites for narrative simplicity, and the film made Hock present and complicit in some of Lee’s meanspirited pranks. Some of Lee’s best forgeries are reproduced in the book, along with her insights into famous writers’ idiosyncrasies of voice and type.

Elsewhere on the Internet

Not my usual link fare, but my mind was blown by this Smithsonian report on how much Confederate monuments cost taxpayers to protect and maintain.

Columbia Journalism Review, What’s behind a recent rise in books coverage?

I liked Earther’s coverage of Frankenstein and Dracula back when that was my beat, and I appreciate that the author picked up that thread and looked at climate change monsters in contemporary sci-fi books and movies.

Aw yissss, scathing book reviews! I had already read Andrea Long Chu’s delicious vivisection of Jill Soloway’s She Wants It, which is excerpted here. Chu has since somewhat fallen from favor with Literary Twitter because of her divisive New York Times op-ed about her impending sex reassignment surgery. I learned a great deal from the discourse that followed it, and have nothing consequential to add to it–but I think, regardless, that Chu’s precise takedown of Soloway’s particular brand is a public service.

Typing “delicious” in the context of a scathing review reminded me of a Daniel Ortberg’s delightful “It’s Every Character You Find in an 18th-Century Period Film,” which may just be the thing that gets me to willingly subscribe to an e-newsletter for the first time in my entire life.

Be-Lipsticked Fop Man Whose Feminine Presentation Belies Vicious Misogyny

always calling upsetting stuff “delicious,” definitely the first one to say anything after a painful or terrifying silence

In my profession, short and punchy sentences are valuable and effective. In my personal writing, I tend to unwind long and rambling sentences, and a great deal of my revision process entails breaking them apart like strands of spaghetti. But I feel emboldened by this lyrical paean to the long, musical sentence. I suppose the key is to write so the reader isn’t thinking about sentences at all.

A long sentence should exult in its own expansiveness, lovingly extending its line of thought while being always clearly moving to its close. It should create anticipation, not confusion, as it goes along. The hard part is telling the difference between the two.

In mid-December, I spent a lovely weekend in a cozy carriage house with my best friend from college; we were there to write, but we also cooked and poured ourselves whiskey and talked for hours. In talking one morning, we rambled from Mary Shelley to the Year Without A Summer to Persuasion, a novel Jane Austen wrote when the rainy Year Without A Summer kept her indoors. I leapt up and Googled Captain Wentworth’s smoldering letter to read aloud from my phone, reveling in the language. Later that morning, a procrastinatory Twitter check rewarded me with this JSTOR Daily article on Jane Austen’s Subtly Subversive Language, which is not only a crisply insightful piece in its own right but is absolutely rife with links to other JSTOR articles about Jane Austen, in case you are looking for a rabbithole to drop into.

Just because it’s Christmas:


Reading Roundup: November 2018

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. First, a story. At the beginning of the month I went on a hike with a dear friend. We ambled and looked at trees and ate pretzels and decided unanimously that one glorious trek up a low autumnal hill was enough for one day, and so we went to browse at a suburban Barnes and Noble. I went immediately to the J shelf in fiction and was surprised to see no copies of The Haunting of Hill House, so we went to the info desk to ask. “Oh gosh,” said the woman at the counter, “We definitely have it, and it is definitely not where it is supposed to be. Let me try to remember.” Then, looking warily at me: “Have you read any Shirley Jackson before?” Yes, I told her, I recently finished We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Her face creased into an all-over smile, and we both exclaimed about the joy of reading that book. “Okay, I remembered,” she said, and led me to the best-seller section up front. Chatting merrily to me about what she treasured in The Haunting of Hill House, her hand hovered over the newly reprinted edition (“now on Netflix!” with the lower half of a beautiful, melancholy woman’s face) before she handed me the classic Penguin edition next to it. I told her that she had made a good choice for me. I enjoyed that shared moment of bookish joy.

Like Castle, Hill House is alternately cozy and spooky. One minute its intrepid visitors are flirting and planning a picnic, and the next minute there is screaming–you know how it is. I wrote a little more about Hill House while writing about my own weird residence.

The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin. My Amazon First Read for November. This book is written in a very colloquial, YA-y voice that is not my usual jam, so it took me a few chapters to fall into step with it. Then, suddenly, I didn’t want to put it down. Narrator MG’s elaborately curated Quirky Gal vibe gives way to a love letter to geekdom, a breathless crush, an opening longing for female friendships. Not only does all this vulnerability make her more likeable–not that likeable is a requirement!–but her desire for connection helps the plot pick up speed and weight. It’s a frothy delight of a read, and–with due warning about the straight girl’s “insider” views of drag queen culture–I think some of my nerdy friends would enjoy the ride.

Galatea by Madeline Miller. I picked up this short read to get acquainted with the author, whose retellings of classical tales have been getting positive attention. On second thought, I’m not sure a Kindle Single is the best way to get to know a writer’s voice. But I did appreciate this reimagining of the Pygmalion myth, told from the perspective of the statue who finds herself magicked into being and simultaneously made a wife, mother, and prisoner.

Waiting by Ha Jin. At first, I was captivated by the book’s detailed rendering of its settings. Wherever the main characters go, whoever they speak with, the narrator trains a wide-angle lens on their scenery and makes note of what plants grow there, where the ambient sounds come from, whether there are ducks. The effect is to slow the pace of the story almost to a crawl–which is appropriate, given its title and decades-long timespan–but it was also pleasantly evocative, like experiencing the storytelling through little watercolor paintings. The setting is China after the Cultural Revolution; time moves very slowly in the rural village where one main character is from, and barely much faster in the dreary routine at the army hospital. Toward the end, the pacing began to grate on me as it grated on its characters. At one point I realized that the experience was similar to reading Anna Karenina: once the romance and urgency of the affair has given way to the unbearable everydayness of social shunning, it becomes a different reading experience. I have no doubt that the resemblance is intentional–Anna Karenina is mentioned by name several times when characters discuss books, although the Russian novel’s status is somewhat questionable in their era and the characters don’t go into depth on their thoughts or feelings about it.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. A quick aside. With some 30 under 30 list or another recently circulated, my social media feeds have been blowing up with the usual counterarguments: this famous author didn’t publish until they were x years old; that famous book was rejected by y publishers before it became a bestseller; etc. All good points! The most compelling response I’ve seen is this lovely Tumblr post enumerating all the years Terry Pratchett spent writing as a journalist and novelist before he penned his most beloved books. Discworld is not my bag–I’ve read one, maybe two of the novels–but it’s clear the man knew what he was about, and it softens my crusty post-academic heart to think of writing as a practice, of years spent writing commercially as just another way of developing a voice, of all my seemingly pointless blurbs and blogs sharpening me like a pencil.

This was very much on my mind as I finished Fates and Furies, a glossy, sweeping saga of a book that opens up two-thirds of the way through and expels a second, darker book, both dripping with flowery descriptions and ornamental set pieces. It’s ambitious and over the top and should not work, but it works and I couldn’t put it down. But I delayed reading this book for a long time because I deeply disliked the author’s first novel, which read like it was published too soon after an MFA program and would have benefited from languishing in a drawer for a few more years. But by Fates, a third novel, the author seems to have settled into her own voice, which is intimate and conversational, and while the story has its familiar themes (the life-after-college, the great-woman-behind-every-great-man) it is also surprising, weird, and great fun to read.

Elsewhere on the Internet

When I was skimming over my Twitter likes and retweets for last month’s roundup, I somehow skipped over this Buzzfeed reflection on Practical Magic, which is 20 years old this year. This was an error and a crime, because the article is beautifully written, has some stunning .gifs from the film, and of course it is extremely relevant to my interests. Only last year I read Alice Hoffman’s The Rules of Magic, a prequel to her earlier novel in which you find out more about the romantic tragedies that befell Aunts Jet and Frances (and Uncle Vincent, whose story only sort of explains why no one thought to mention him in the first book). I rewatched Practical Magic around the same time, and it remains an absolute delight: romance, revenge, sisterhood, mysterious and beautiful visual effects, everything you could want in a witchy film. It does surpass either book in terms of telling a good, tight story. On the other hand, the Magic books explore the themes of how trauma and power can travel through generations of a family–something a film doesn’t really have time to do–and it’s good sexy fun in any case, so I’m not not recommending a reread if you’re missing October’s witchy vibes.

Monique Truong, who wrote one of my favorite books of all time (The Book of Salt), was asked to write an essay to accompany travel photographs taken by museum curators. She wrote this, which the museum thought did not represent their curators in a positive light, so she published it elsewhere, and oh man is it gorgeously written and scathingly critical.

It is occasionally my duty to write pithy taglines–or at the very least, clickworthy email headers–and I do enjoy it, although I don’t believe it is my greatest talent. (As you know, my professional experience favors titles that tell you want they are!) I did like reading a little more about writing punchy copy from the lady who charges $960/hour for Instagram quotes and other services.

A celebration of Elizabeth Gaskell and female friendships? I’m already there.

I don’t like to give even indirect clicks to white male author intolerance, but non-intolerant white male author Chuck Wendig does such a delightful Twitter takedown of Ten Rules for Novelists that it’s well worth the scroll.

Elsewhere on the Internet: Summer of Love

I was just polishing up my next reading roundup, adding in a few links that I had to dig out of my Twitter feed, when I realized that I missed the old curated link roundups I used to post here and on my food blog. Who knows whether they interest anyone other than me? But I still refer back to these old posts when I am looking up sources or half-formed ideas on either blog. Now that I’m back in a job where I can keep up with Twitter throughout the day, the posts I read spark thoughts that turn into themes over the course of a few days. When I was dissertating, they might have become part of a chapter or a series on my old food blog. Now, I’m not sure, but I’d like to record them all the same.

Let’s start with a nice moment. My gentleman friend, who is always so good about supporting and encouraging his friends in their arts and their passions, tweeted me this link from Electric Literature: Why Women Should Do More Literary Manspreading. “Looking forward to reading your massive novel one day,” he added. I was startled–I received this message at work, where my editing responsibilities often involve gleefully cutting down bloated passages of academic text. I don’t think of myself as verbose. But at the same time, I was drafting the post that would become Some Lessons I Didn’t Know I Learned at Grad School, and I was cringing about the length and seeming disconnectedness of the stories. I wondered whether I should break it into more than one post, or just not post at all. But then I got this encouragement in the form of a link, and thought, to heck with it. Send post.

Speaking of Electric Literature, which is just on my Good List lately, they are doing a whole series of posts where contemporary female authors list their favorite books by people who are not men. As you might imagine, it is extremely my jam.

Sorry (not sorry) that this is turning into an Electric Literature fan blog, but I appreciate that they had the scoop on The Wife, a film adapted from a book I rather liked, starring Glenn Close who is not who I would have pictured in this role but who is so, so perfect for it.

Speaking of adaptations of Books I Love! I can’t believe there is going to be a film adaptation of Nella Larsen’s Passing! I can’t believe it will star Ruth Negga as Claire, which sounds incredible for many reasons including the way she looks in red lipstick, and Tessa Thompson as Irene, who is going to give this reticent character such a sensual and intelligent electricity. White lady director whose acting work I admired in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, please do this well.

One more surprising adaptation: the gorgeous puzzle game Monument Valley is also going to be a live action/CG hybrid movie?! (Via Paste, an excellent website for people who like books, movies, and video games.)

You’ve already read this because it’s so good, but Star Wars actor (and namesake of my Ryder) Kelly Marie Tran was in the New York Times talking about how she won’t let the haters bring her down.

Love well-put-together pieces on trends in book covers, book titles, etc.: Vanity Fair, How Publishing’s Floral-Print Trend Came to Rule the World’s Bookshelves

I adored The Westing Game as a child, even though I didn’t fully understand everything in it. That was often the way: as a ravenous reader in a school library that might not have had the most up-to-date selection (except in the American Girls collection), I devoured children’s books that were written in the 60s and 70s–recently enough that they didn’t feel “old” like Mary Poppins and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (which I also loved), but not so contemporary as the Babysitter’s Club or Saddle Club books. This piece at Public Books places The Westing Game in its context: bleak, skeptical bicentenntial America.

My favorite bookstore is Penn Book Center, an independent store that is now mere steps from my workplace. The storefront is unassuming, but inside is a treasure trove of literary fiction and poetry (and other things, but most of what I care about is at the front of the shop), gorgeous art books, and a clearance table full of surprising finds. Even if all I do is skim clearance and the carefully curated top shelf of each row, I find things I want and will love.

My love for PBC will never diminish, but I was very excited to learn that my own neighborhood will be acquiring a new bookstore–for what I think might be the first time! If you wish to give me the gift of local browsing and literary events and a growing TBR pile, you can contribute to their start-up costs here.

Elsewhere on the Internet: Summer Movies Matter

Where have I been these last few months? Writing. Cooking. Job-hunting (again). Updating my food blog. And watching a lot of new TV and movies.

I have not and probably will not read anything about Jurassic World I like more than this post by Michelle Vider, “Drink up that toxic masculinity”:

So I’m walking away from Jurassic World having enjoyed it an enormous amount, both for the spectacle it provided and for its view of toxic masculinity. It isn’t enough to consume media and check off the Y/N box next to IS THIS FEMINIST. That’s not how it works. Feminism is a lens through which we can mark the continued growth and evolution of gender roles, and that learning process should never be as easy as a Yes or No question.

That’s a pretty fair summary of my own response to this movie. I had a blast.Was it a good movie? Nah, I don’t think so. Can I recommend it? Probably only if you, like me, went to see Jurassic Park twelve times in the second-run theater when you were a kid. Yet I woke up thinking about the film for several days after, and there are very nearly enough Things I Love about this movie to make a list!

  1. So much homage to Jurassic Park. Jurassic World is basically a Jurassic Park fanvid. Some of the shots are framed exactly the same. JW characters revisit the location of a significant JP scene and it’s all lovingly recreated and covered with a layer of bones and dirt. A character wears a vintage JP tee.
  2. The movie’s twin villains are Big Corporate Entity and the Greedy General Public who forces Corporate Entity to churn out bigger and scarier attractions. This conflict is delivered without either irony or false earnestness, which is remarkable because of course churning out bigger and scarier attractions than JP is exactly what the movie itself does.
  3. The level of depth, dialogue, and character development was pretty much exactly what I expected when I saw the following bit in the trailer: 
  4. i.e. not very deep, not very developed. And yet! I was pleasantly surprised by this film more than once. Mostly by which characters were allowed to survive.
  5. My companions and I laughed so hard throughout the whole movie that a man across the theater yelled at us. That’s how much fun we were having.

I would never in a million years have gone to see Mad Max: Fury Road if not for Tumblr. I’m not familiar with the series, I’m not into vehicle-based action movies, and if you told me that the series centers around a lone wolf type who wanders around the desert, I would have politely declined. But instead I heard that the film centered around women. Not just one token female character, but lots of women. “Dodecabechdel test,” actually, was the line that hooked me. I couldn’t think of another film that featured twelve women all talking together. And talk about a movie that I think about for days after viewing it: I saw MM:FR in theaters nearly a month ago and not a day goes by that I don’t reflect on it at least a little.

There’s so much good writing about this movie online and, to be honest, some of my favorites are just the one-off posts on Tumblr that zero in on tiny character moment like Nux not knowing what a tree is or the implications of Max’s back tattoo. But here are a few longer pieces I liked:

  • From The Daily Dot: “Fury Road passes the Bechdel Test, of course; it also passes the Mako Mori Test, on at least seven different counts.Mad Max: Fury Road leaves those mediocre measurements of gender representation—which the vast majority of Hollywood films never even attempt to pass—so far behind that it seems almost silly even to use them as yardsticks in the wake of the strength of Fury Road‘s narrative. . .  Fury Road is every inch the high-testosterone, manly action movie of your dreams. And even when they show weakness, its female characters are still fully in charge of their own destinies.”
  • Tumblr user and fetal amputee Laura wrote about how incredible she felt seeing Imperator Furiosa kick ass onscreen with one hand. Then she created to write about it some more. Then she was interviewed by Nerdist.
  • In addition to having beautiful composition and dramatic use of color in each shot, this movie is remarkable in its use of center-framed shots to focus your eye on the action in the center of the screen. Tumblr user bonehandledknife digs into this a little further, comparing Fury Road to The Avengers: Age of Ultron and reframing shots from MM:FR to show how they would have looked if they had been framed in more traditional golden ratios. Conclusion: center-framing was crucial to portraying the female characters as people rather than decorations.
  • More Tumblr: here’s how the narrative would have gone if Mad Max got the conventional Movie Hero treatment.

I did watch the new season of Orange is the New Black. I probably won’t make a separate post–most of the Things I Love about the show still stand–but I did just want to say that I really enjoyed the season. Seasons 1 and 2 had unmistakable villains and high-stakes conflict; Season 3 stands out because those elements are much less clearly defined. On the other hand, S3 focused more on developing and deepening relationships–and showed that the ability to grow and connect is the defining trait of which characters become heroes or villains.

  1. Taystee, Poussey, Suzanne, Black Cindy, and Janae have to mend their relationships after Season 2’s big villain, Vee, tore them apart and left them wounded. Their process of making peace with themselves and each other is mostly private and internal, which is not something we’ve gotten to see much of in a show with a billion characters, most of whom don’t go in for long earnest talks.
    Taystee’s been a favorite of mine for a while, and her realization that she is effectively the new mother of the group was hilarious, touching, and wrenching all at the same time.
  2. Big Boo and Pennsatucky have both been villains of a sort in earlier seasons, but it’s impossible not to root for them in S3 because we watch them grow and confront some of their fears. I’ve always felt that Pennsatucky was a character not well understood by the show–one of the few in S1 who didn’t get a lot of depth or sympathy from the plot–but she certainly got her character development in 3.
  3. On the other hand, Piper seems not to have learned a thing. Like the New Corporate Overlords who take over management of Litchfield, her decisions generate a lot of pain and conflict and serve no one but herself. Arguably, she and they are the two Big Bads this season.
  4. Season 1 dropped the viewers right in the middle of an insular community with tensions and hierarchies firmly in place; we see through Piper’s eyes as she learns to navigate them. Season 2 shakes up those dynamics by introducing a rival queen. But in Season 3, we see a lot of the characters we’ve come to know either on their way up or down. The previous leaders have left, died, or stepped down; we’re seeing their followers attempt to step up and lead in their place. Even the subplot backstories for Chang and Norma, who are both typically treated as ciphers or jokes, have narratives about choosing to lead or follow. It may feel like a radical shift to see origin stories three seasons in, but as the series continues I think we’ll get a sense of the circular pattern of such shifts.

I am also watching Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and I have so many feelings about it, but since most of those feelings are “!!!!!!” I think I’ll have to wait until the series ends before I can gather my thoughts. But if you want to talk about it with me in comments, have at it.

Elsewhere on the Internet: Gallimaufry

I have half a dozen drafts sitting in my inbox on all kinds of topics–race representation in video games, The Last 5 Years, my confused feelings about the Wolf Hall BBC adaptation–and an equally mismatched collection of links in my bookmarks. And sometimes you have to just finish one thing, just so you can prove to yourself that you can finish anything, so this weekend the thing I can finish is a collection of unrelated links.

First and most importantly: you can now donate to support VIDA. I’ve written about what VIDA means to me before, but here is the elevator pitch: they provide empirical data about how many men and women are published or reviewed in literary magazines. Some argue that this is nit-picking or bean-counting, but the fact is that since VIDA began publishing its counts, many publications have taken steps to reach greater parity, and have been successful. Other publications have made it clear that gender parity is not a matter of interest or importance to them. It has been a revealing exercise.
I wasn’t able to donate enough to get any swag, but I was happy to be able to donate something. And if they ever make VIDA tote bags available for sale, I will probably buy one. I love tote bags.

The 6-minute Saving Mr. Marbles video is worth a full watch: it tells the story of one of the last currently operating marble manufacturers in Latin America, and it is a beautifully scored smorgasbord of lovely and weird vintage mechanics and many shots of gorgeous glass orbs, some still glowing from the furnace. It made me feel about ten years old: playing marbles was a thing of the past when I was a kid, but the marbles themselves were an inexpensive nostalgia item at many a flea market, and I would sometimes buy a bag after an afternoon of following my mom around a warehouse full of old furniture and salvage. I kept a jar of them and periodically sorted them by color, size, or type (purie, steely, swirly, and so on), like a dragon with its hoard.

Speaking of a love for beautiful but weird old-fashioned things: toile. So pretty, so classist and wrong.

An oral history of the last days of Mad Men.

I’ve already posted this to Tumblr, but “Lighten Up” is a gorgeous comic about coloring comics–the mechanics of creating shades of skin tone in different lights, and the politics of same.

I’ve been wondering how the Prado museum was going to make its Touch the Prado paintings for the visually impaired. Well, here they are: beautiful and amazing.


Gallimaufry, by the way, is an old-fashioned word for medley, or more literally a kind of stew. Says Wiktionary: “probably from a combination of Old French galer (‘to have fun, to enjoy oneself’) and Old Northern French mafrer (‘eat gluttonously’).” Awesome, definitely adding that to the food lexicon.

Elsewhere on the Internet: Jobhunting real talk

Career change the fourth (or third or fifth, it’s a little hard to keep track): I recently left my publishing job for a similar marketing position in another local nonprofit. I lucked out: the new job happened to be a good fit with the kind of work I want to do and the kind of schedule I need to have, the latter of which only became apparent to me about three months ago. Before that, I looked for jobs casually over the course of a year, looking primarily when I was feeling frustrated with my existing job, and primarily for jobs that offered greater compensation for greater responsibilities. (Ultimately I took a job with less compensation for greater responsibilities, but substantially more flexible hours–which is my most pressing need this year.)

Over the past year:
I sent approximately 50 applications
I was asked to submit additional materials (editing test, portfolio, etc.) 3 times
I was invited to 10 interviews (3 of which were on Skype or phone for various reasons)
I withdrew my application after 4 of these interviews
I had 2 second interviews
and was offered 1 job, which I accepted.

I like to be transparent about these numbers. I’ve been on the other side of the hiring process often enough: I interviewed candidates for my replacement when I was promoted, I’ve hired student workers and interns, I’ve reviewed resumes for potential new staff within my department. I’ve been involved in enough hiring processes, particularly with small companies and nonprofits, that I’m well aware what a crapshoot the whole procedure can  be; it’s easy to overlook strong candidates in a deluge of applications, it’s extremely common for two reviewers to have completely different impressions of the same  resume, and it’s very hard to judge from one or two interviews how well a candidate will perform and fit in. (Though I pride myself on making several very good calls in the last few years.)

But even with that experience, and even though I approach the interview process as though I am trying on the company for size instead of the reverse, there’s still a voice in my mind whispering that I must be doing something wrong, that I must make a poor impression or have glaring mistakes in my cover letters. And regarding the stats above: if I had estimated them rather than looking through my files for hard data, I would have guessed that I applied to “more than a hundred” jobs and interviewed for “several.” Being on the market felt a great deal more laborious and fruitless than it actually was.
I know that some of my dear friends are applying to jobs right now and grappling with these anxieties. So, jobhunters, my stats and the following links are for you.

Via The Billfold, a Medium piece about how the hiring process is broken. It opens with a story about the author’s participation in a hackathon, and then examines some stats that sound a lot more familiar to me (and probably also to you):

  • In 2005, a firm ran a “mystery shopper” experiment with more than 100 healthcare employers. Professionals posing as job candidates applied for work with tailored resumes showing skills that matched or exceeded the posted job requirements. Yet 88% of the candidates were rejected. Even perfect applicants don’t get interviews.

  • “Usually when people talk about hiring for fit or culture fit, it’s a shortcut for saying I want to like you,” says Ji-A Min, a research analyst for Ideal Candidate, a Toronto-based company that uses predictive analytics to help employers hire sales professionals. “That’s where hiring breaks down and all these biases are introduced.”

  • “Years ago, we did a study to determine whether anyone at Google is particularly good at hiring,” Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president for people operations, told a New York Times reporter in 2013. “We looked at tens of thousands of interviews, and everyone who had done the interviews and what they scored the candidate, and how that person ultimately performed in their job. We found zero relationship. It’s a complete random mess.”

I also really appreciate that the Medium author, Deborah Branscum, ultimately takes a more expansive view toward hiring success than “the best possible candidate was hired.” It’s clear she got a lot of good out of the hackathon; similarly, my feeling has been that no application and especially no interview is wasted, since each time you put yourself forward is an opportunity to learn something new.

This is an older column, but because Ask Polly is so good (and also because some of you need this): I Hate My Job and Feel Like a Fraud. What Should I Do?  Or if you aren’t sure why you hate your job or what kind of job you’d hate less, there are some good links in this old roundup.

By the way, Ask A Business Lady is there for you at The Toast.

Finally, if you’ve made it this far and want more sympathy and commiseration, feel free to share your Weird Hiring Stories in the comments. I don’t have any doozies from this go-round, but plenty of mild disappointments: the friendly, conversational interview that ended abruptly after I revealed that I didn’t have training in a field that wasn’t mentioned in the job listing; the hiring manager who asked me very little about my qualifications but grilled me (pardon the pun) about my food blog and where I get my CSA. And I found one sad Email chain in my files: a message containing my application, a brusque reply asking for my salary requirement, my reply containing a lowballed salary requirement (nonprofits, what can you do?), and then silence.