NYU administration to look at providing free menstrual hygiene productions to students

Last month, a student group at New York University petitioned the administration to fund a pilot program looking to provide students with free menstrual hygiene products. St petition garnered over 3,000 signatures, and this week Students for Sexual Respect at NYU reported that the NYU administration has agreed to fund the pilot program, which will report to the administration by the end of the semester.

It seems reasonable to me that NYU should look at providing pads and/or tampons for free in public bathrooms and in residence halls, in much the same way that they stock condoms at no cost to students. Having sex is arguably more of an opt-in activity than having your period.

I’m exceptionally proud of the college activists who pushed for change on this one — it’s a big achievement to get the university to move on it. I know Josy from around NYU, and I’m very proud of the work she’s doing. Can’t wait to see where this goes.

Books, books, books…

The GoodReads website tells me that I’ve reached my goal of reading 50 books in one year. Someone linked Eva Gabrielsson’s book to me (where she discusses her life with Stieg Larsson and the disputes over the Millennium trilogy since his death) and I read it in one sitting on my flight.

I’ve built up a stack of books as research for my own book — if I get through them all in the next two-and-a-third months (and I need to), that’ll firmly put me over the line of 70 books. As a reminder, I keep a list of books I read here.

Letter from Ireland


John dressing for the wedding.

107 and counting.

My cousin got married on Friday, a rather efficient excuse to see all my mum’s side of the family in one fell swoop. John came back for the ceremony and it was, by all accounts, an excellent day. Cousins ought to get married more often.

For now, I’m back in Sligo for a few days, working on the book. Working on the overview and the annotated table of contents last week was useful in terms of cementing my plan for what the book ought to be. Now it’s back to working on the early chapters, which I’ll send as samples when the book’s ready to be submitted to publishers.

My fall break at NYU started on Friday. I was originally planning on flying to Morocco for three days this week, but I’m postponing the trip until a later date so that I can have uninterrupted time to work. As I mentioned, it’s nice to be able to devote three or four hours to writing and editing without distractions.

I have a little over two months left in Israel, and then onto the next big adventure.


I’m back home in Ireland for ten days, first for a funeral and then for a cousin’s wedding, and then for the first half of my mid-semester break.

Back in Limerick for the first time in 2.5 years.

The trip is a nice mix of time spent seeing friends and family and getting some uninterrupted time to write. I’m about three days’ solid work away from submitting my trade book proposal to publishers. I always assumed that nonfiction would be the same as fiction, in that you’re not really anywhere until you have a finished first draft. But no, publishers will say yea or nay to you on a proposal of some 20-30 pages of summary and an annotated table of contents.

As I write this, it’s a chilly October morning and I have a fire lit. The house is quiet, with innumerable nooks and crannies to fold yourself up in and write. I’m reminded of Stephen King’s descriptions of idyllic fiction retreats and artists’ workshops, where a group of writers gather together, writing in the morning/afternoon and critiquing one another in the evening. He doesn’t come down for or against them in any big way, but I can’t imagine daily writing critiques being useful — good writing probably requires more time to tweak and get just right and, from experience, editing long pieces is very difficult if you don’t have a chunk of time to sit with the piece.

He also criticized them for being a silver bullet, saying that writers rarely have such perfect conditions and that you should write around your distractions, accepting that your environment and materials are never perfect. I agree with that notion but am glad to be home in Sligo for a few quiet days right now. I have a chapter and a book proposal that will be both in good shape if I can grab a handful of 3-hour writing blocks to hunker down and finish them.

And on that note…


In Memorium

I just arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport. I’ll fly through the night to Zurich, and catch an early-morning flight onto Dublin. From there, I’ll drive down to Limerick to attend the funeral of Martin Wallace, my principal from secondary school.

I originally had a flight booked to Ireland on Friday morning, flying home just in time for a wedding. It’s funny how life turns like this. I called Swiss Air and got my flight changed. I’ll miss two days of class, but I felt better once I decided to go to the funeral. It felt like I was doing something.

He was an early example in my life of someone who embodies the overlooked notion that niceness is underrated. He was a fantastic principal in the sense that he was encouraging and kind, but even more than that, he was a nice person. He was never anything less than exceedingly pleasant with me and everyone he came in contact with.

Patrick said it best:

Martin Wallace always took us seriously. While we tried to figure out how to adult, with our moody and recalcitrant swings along the way, he maintained a steady interest in who we actually were, what we actually wanted to do, and held unflaggingly high standards in what he thought we could become. When it worked out — when his students succeeded in any kind of academic, sporting, or artistic endeavour — he was endlessly proud of us and of the school community at large, inevitably taking to the intercom in cheery tones to recount the good news. (And it cut both ways. When Martin Wallace was disappointed in you — you really felt it.)


I look back on my time at Castletroy College very fondly. As Daniel said, you’d just hope your kid would have the chance to go to a school like that. With thousands of us now having shuffled through the hallways, there’s a quite sizable contingent of us who owe a significant, character-shaping debt to the man who built it.


All Hallows’ Read

The ALL HALLOWS READ campaign came across my Twitter today, and I wanted to share it. I’ve become a bit of an evangelist for reading fiction recently, and this is a perfect excuse to read more.

Poster by

Poster by “Introverted Wife” for the All Hallows Read campaign. <http://intbride.blogspot.co.il/2016/09/all-hallows-read-posters-2016.html>

The concept behind the campaign is straightforward: there aren’t enough traditions which involve giving people books. And so ALL HALLOWS READ involves giving someone a Scary Book that you think they might like.

That’s it! To paraphrase Neil Gaiman — you give a child a Scary Book for children, you give adults a Scary Book that adults would like, and if you have friends, you give your friends Scary Books that friends would like.

Books were —and very much still are— my favorite gifts to both give and receive. In fact, I know and love Neil Gaiman because an ex gave me a special edition of Good Omens.

I’m a big proponent of giving people books, whether it’s buying one for them or taking it out from the library or sending it to them on their Kindle. Whatever puts the written material into their hands.

Here are some quick recommendations:

  • Get a child in your life Lord Loss by Darren Shan (Amazon) and/or Shadow of the Minotaur by Alan Gibbons (Amazon second-hand page — the book appears to be out of print, but libraries might still have it.)
  • Get an adult in your life Misery by Stephen King (Amazon).

There are other recommendations here. Otherwise, librarians and booksellers love to give recommendations, and are usually my first port of call it comes to buying books for other people.

The waitress at this café on Milano Street in Tel Aviv gave me a little chocolate coconut sweet thing this morning as she handed me my second cup of coffee, with much the same expression as though a cat had just shown up on their doorstep for the third day in a row.

The dull ache of my back has lessened somewhat in the last day or so, and it’s especially better when I’m writing. I missed one day of writing this week — I spent Monday shuffling painfully between the GP and the medical supply store and had was in too much pain to write. Happily, I met the goal Tuesday, Wednesday, and today, and writing changed from being too much work to a welcome diversion for two hours, in which I forgot for a bit that I had injured my back at all.

I’m under strict orders to rest this week, which is totally fine by me. Each morning, I’ve gone down for my morning constitutional (coffee…) to one of two cafés which are side-by-side on Milano Street — the GP specifically said that bed-rest and sitting for too long hinders recovery, and the 500 metre schlep there and back has been good for stretching me out. A ginger on crutches is somewhat memorable, so the staff tend to remember me when I come by.

Onward toward recovery, I suppose.

By The Book

One of my favorite part of the New York Times is called “By The Book,” which they describe as a section on “writers on literature and the literary life.” I love people talk about their favorite books, and especially love the opportunity to talk about books I love. I’m afraid that I’ll never be cool enough to be one of the people featured in “By The Book,” I’ve stolen some of their common questions and answered them here. Some of my favorites: Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Lin-Manual MirandaSiddhartha Mukherjee.

What books are currently on your night stand?

My bedside locker in New York currently belongs to a subletter, but back when it was mine, it was occupied by the last three volumes of Scott Pilgrim, a graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley which I never got around to reading, and Season of Migration to the North, a book by Tayeb Salih which I kept there in the hope that friends who crashed in my bed would pick it up out of curiosity — it’s a terrific book.

Here in Tel Aviv, I have a copy of Schindler’s Ark, by Thomas Keneally. On my digital nightstand, aka my Kindle, I’m currently reading My Name is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok, and Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, a history of the hip-hop movement by Jeff Chang.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Your favorite book? Most beloved character?

The standout books from my childhood are Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, The Witches, by Roald Dahl, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling. Lyra, from Northern Lights, is probably my favorite literary character — she was adventurous and determined and everything I wanted to be. I love the Harry Potter series in part because Dad read the first four books to me, a chapter a night, as bedtime stories, and I loved them.

I dipped into Stephen King as a teenager, reading Salem’s Lot or Pet Semetary first, I think. I remember scaring myself silly on a holiday in the south of France. By that time I was 11 or 12, but it was Stephen King that cemented the idea that reading fiction was a pastime in the way that watching 5 hours of TV was a pastime for the average American. I read a lot for college, but even now that I’m writing a non-fiction book, I try to keep a ratio of 1:3 fiction to nonfiction ratio going in my read pile.

Have you ever gotten in trouble for reading a book?

I have a very distinct memory of my childhood reading habits. I was so engrossed in the autobiography of the director of the early James Bond movies, Albert R. Broccoli, that my mum wouldn’t let me bring the book to school with me for fear of not paying attention. It was probably a founded fear, although I should say that my parents were nothing but encouraging of my reading habits, and introduced me to many of my favorite books.

What’s the last book that made you laugh?

I read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz in two sittings (on a plane to and from Minneapolis) in May and then thrust a copy into my mum’s hands (as I said — the book swapping is a two-way street). It’s monumentally funny, and Diaz is one of the best storytellers writing today.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?

Dirty Wars by Jeremy Scahill if we’re using this opportunity to try and convince him (or, hopefully, her) to change some governmental policy. Being There, by Jerzy Kosinski, if he/she just wants a fun short book to get his/her mind off the fact that Donald Trump exists.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

I started The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins on my flight to Israel, and was astounded by how bad it was. This is a book that Audible and Amazon have been putting front and centre of my recommendations, and I couldn’t make it past the first hour or two of the audiobook. I read Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore when it came out and found that it got painful toward the end.

I try to finish everything I start, though, and am successful maybe 9 times out 10. Not finishing a book feels like being in the wrong in a particularly messy breakup.

What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?

I just read Stephen King’s On Writing for a second time. I read it first in September 2012, the last time I started a long writing project, which I guess means it’s a habit now.

I also just finished a reread of the Harry Potter series, but working from the seventh down to the first. Before this year I hadn’t read the books in maybe 6 or 7 years, and I found myself noticing a lot of new things that went over my head the first time.

I tend to read sections of my favorite fiction book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, every so often. I went back to check a detail in it over the summer and ended up reading around a hundred pages in an afternoon.

What do you plan to read next?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a reader who already has a stack of six books will still find time to slink into a bookstore and pick up six more. Those 12 books notwithstanding, enough people have sung the praises of Katherine Boo’s Beyond The Beautiful Forevers that I feel sufficiently guilty not having read it yet, and will probably bump it to the top of my list.

Campaign Launches Urging Obama to Pardon Edward Snowden

I love the smell of a good activist campaign in the morning.

Prez Obama has some 120 days left in the Oval Office, and a new campaign launched this week is calling for him to pardon Edward Snowden, the American whistleblower who exposed NSA domestic surveillance programs which extended beyond the bounds of the Constitution. He catapulted the issue into the public conscienceless and is currently living in Russia.

Thanks to his act of conscience, America’s surveillance programs have been subjected to democratic scrutiny, the NSA’s surveillance powers were reined in for the first time in decades, and technology companies around the world are newly invigorated to protect their customers and strengthen our communications infrastructure.

Snowden should be hailed as a hero. Instead, he is exiled in Moscow, and faces decades in prison under World War One-era charges that treat him like a spy. Ed stood up for us, and it’s time for us to stand up for him. Urge President Obama to pardon Edward Snowden, and let him come home with dignity.

Quite proud of this notion, and of my friends involved in the campaign.

I’ve signed on, and you should too.

Thorny moments on the record

Being a journalist is a fairly thankless job, owing to the fact that everyone has an opinion of your work and nobody is shy when it comes to sharing it. So on one hand I can understand why the New York Times got its back up this week and went fully into defensive we-did-nothing-wrong mode this week.

A journalist for the NYT quoted an author badmouthing other authors in an article about a festival in Australia. The quoted comments didn’t occur during an interview — just a conversation during “what was billed by the conference hosts as an “artist-only” private conversation over cocktails.” The journalist was there in the room, but made no mention that he was writing a story.

The author, Suki Kim, is understandably furious. The NYT’s public editor, Liz Spayd, acting in her capacity as an independent journalist who muses each week on the paper’s thorny ethical quandaries, weighed in and, shock of shocks, came down heavily on the side of the journalist who quoted the author. Spayd goes on to quote the standards editor, who says there was nothing untoward about what happened —but maybe it was “unfortunate,” as if it were a rain shower— and goes on to say that since Kim was in a room full of journalists, she had no reasonable expectation of privacy.

I don’t buy this explanation, and I think the idea that any interactions with journalists are automatically on the record to be unreasonable and shitty. Ordinary folks —non-journalists— should not have to go around and be on the record during their every waking moment. It makes potential sources cagey, and does none of us any favors at a time when public perceptions of journalists are tanking.

From my perspective, what’ll happen at the next writing festival is that known journalists won’t be invited to the informal “artist-only” private events. Someone will kick up a stink about closing out the journalists, but you can very much understand the thinking behind the decision, can’t you?

Despite saying in the public editor article that the quote wouldn’t be removed, I can’t see it in the original linked article. I hope I’m right, and that the Times reverted on their decision to let the quote stand just because they didn’t go through the is-this-off-the-record dance with everyone who attended the thing.