Coffee Tomorrow

Alex Kalamaroff's Writings

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Read Indie Books – 4 great Publishers

Originally published by Thought Catalog on February 13, 2013.

            Even if the word’s used to describe just about everything these days, “indie” still has cachet. When my friends describe the music they like or movies they want to see, indie is often one of the first adjectives they say. Sure, indie-ness has been killed a bit by over-use, but it’s something my friends value because at least it means they’re not chowing down on the latest mainstream garbage like Bruno Mars, PF Chang’s, or the sequel to the prequel to The Amazing Spider-Man. And that’s fantastic.

            Indie music, indie movies, indie fashion, indie food. But what about indie books? Are indie books even on the radar? As an avid reader and somebody with a ferociously enthusiastic plus somewhat badgering personality, I bother everyone I know into reading more books. Forget the new series on Netflix, your yoga class, and tonight’s OKCupid date, what you should be doing—I scream—is reading! And reading indie books at that.

            Just like how a lot of the best music isn’t on the Billboard Hot 100 or being released by Atlantic Records, a lot of the best books aren’t NYTimes bestsellers or published by Random House. Instead they’re published by much smaller presses you might not have heard of, which is good news. Now your “List of Books to Read” is going to grow by six or seven shelves at least.

            4 great publishers you might not have heard of but whose books you ought to read asap

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People Are Like Cats: Indoor or Outdoor

Originally published by Thought Catalog on February 11, 2013.

            People are like cats. And like cats, they can be split into two groups, outdoor versus indoor. This is an important division, one we should make note of. Cause except in rare cases, outdoor and indoor cats don’t mesh. Don’t buy into the Disney dream of falling in love with an adventurous back-scratching tom if you’re a prissy, milk-sipping Maine Coon. The love won’t jive, not in the long run. Understanding this division of outdoor vs. indoor will save you a lot of time and trouble in your personal life.

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A Novel to Read in Times Like These: Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest

Originally published by HTML Giant on February 8, 2013.           

            We’re finished with another election cycle and it’s all same old, same old. For months we’ve been overrun by the expected crap, the lies, corruption, false promises, and general deception. While it might be nice to escape into something delightful, something by Eric Kraft or an imaginative dance like Italo Calvino’s The Baron In The Trees, if you want to read a book that stabs into the thick of the American political scene, then Dashiell Hammett’s first novel is what you need to get your claws on asap. It’s a novel that reminds you how unpleasant politics has always been. Plus, it’s got a lot of great zingers.

            There’s a point when Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest stops being a detective story and turns into a blood bath.

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The Joys of Oral History

Published by HTML Giant on January 23, 2013.

             Life is not organized, logical, or factually accurate. Yet we require this of our history books, which must contain names, dates, verifiable pieces of evidence, and claims about cause-and-effect. Event A leads to Event B. Event C happened on December 15th, 1910. Person X was at Place Y During The Conflict of Z. It can all get rather drab and unrealistic. There is something particularly dulling about reading a list of dates and proper nouns and thinking these alone compose our lives. Where’s the hilarity, hurt, daily bafflement, and sense of fun? History books miss out on a lot, particularly the general pell-mell-ness that pervades life, where cause-and-effect is displaced by the indecipherable and happenstance forces that influence our actions and beliefs. This is why oral histories rule.

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Filed under Books Book Review Non-fiction

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Ways to Make Dining Out More Exciting

Published by Thought Catalog on January 15, 2013.

            Whether you’re out with old friends, on a first date, or your parents came into the city and want to take you some place nice but not too expensive (meaning the Cheesecake Factory), there are always ways to make meal time more exciting by doing weird stuff.

            For starters – Lie about your party size to get a bigger table. It’s an old Orson Welles trick. Fat, vivacious, post-Touch of Evil Orson Welles, who ate at Ma Maison every day, performed magic tricks for children, and said, “If it’s for two, never admit that. It’s always three or four.” Otherwise you’ll end with one of those awful two-seaters, which are always too close together and forgotten amidst the busboy traffic. Like hell no!

            Get grandiose by grabbing an enormous table, that one in the back next to the de Kooning print. Don’t ask. Just insist. People at snobby restaurants respect pretentious authority. Trust me.

            Cellphone stack – This is a nifty game. Before sitting down, everyone has to put their cellphones in the center of the table, in a tower formation. Then the loser, whoever reaches for his or her cellphone first, has to foot the entire bill. To increase difficulty, leave the cellphones on vibrate.

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Filed under Life Culture Non-fiction

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Gamify Your Life: A Guide To Incentivizing Everything

Published by Lifehacker on January 12, 2013. This article has almost 800 Likes on Facebook and inspired a lot of strangers from the Internet to email me asking for gamification advice. 

           Going to the gym for an hour is 2 red points. Calling my mom is 1 blue point while calling Aunt Deborah is 5 blue points because, honestly, Aunt Deb’s sort of a pain to talk to and sometimes she says crazy inappropriate things. Cleaning the bathroom is 15 red points. Otherwise I would never do it.

           This is the plan to gamify my life, to relate everything I do to a point-based game. It’s a self-designed system that operates along a daily exchange of productivity and reward.  The basic idea is that I fill my life with incentives to make me do the crap I usually don’t want to do. So far it’s working out splendidly.  

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Filed under Life Technology Non-fiction

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The Weave and Werve of Words in William Gass’s On Being Blue

Published by HTML Giant on November 12, 2012.

Monday is a good day to think about William Gass’s On Being Blue because Mondays often are. The color blue, Gass’s muse, is, in this slim book, organized, discussed, described, pondered, and psychoanalyzed; the first page is a list of just a few things that could be blue—stockings, movies, laws—and the last page is a fading away, these wild words all we have left, as  “everything is gray.” From blue to gray to yellow and green and wherever in between, On Being Blue is a hopscotch around the rainbow. It infects you with synesthesia. There’s the “disapproving purse to pink”, “violet’s rapid sexual shudder,” and “the rolled-down sound in brown.” There are also lots of curse words and fucking.

(Some form of the word blue appears 412 times, according to my count.)

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Filed under Books Book Review Non-fiction

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Death By Subtitle: How Extravagantly Fallacious Subtitles Are Ruining Books

Published by HTML Giant on October 3rd, 2012.         

            1959: The Year Everything Changed

            Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life

            Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World

            And now there’s Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve: How The World Become Modern, a book which, while very good, doesn’t live up to its subtitle. None of these books do. They can’t. Their subtitles are overly ambitious, promising that everything the reader has ever wondered about will be explicated in grand, enriching, yet academic detail over the course of the next 300 pages. Except this doesn’t happen and reader disappointment ensues. These books are all overpowered by their subtitles.

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Filed under Books Book Review Non-fiction

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The Foppishness of Praise-by-attack in Jonathan Franzen’s Farther Away

Published by HTML Giant on September 14, 2012.        

           There’s a tendency in writing about fiction to praise one novel by attacking others, assuming that, if these other novels are bad, the novel under consideration must be good. This approach is seen with unsurprising frequency in Jonathan Franzen’s 2012 collection Farther Away.  Assessing the stories and novels of Alice Munro, Paula Fox, Christina Stead, and James Purdy, Franzen is categorically unable to praise the writers he cherishes without insulting somebody else.

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Filed under Book Review Books Non-fiction

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Just Freaking Call Me

 Published by Lifehacker on September 10, 2012.           

           This is the confession of a serial texter. I text all the time. I send off rapid-fire zingers, hit up my entire contact list to see what people’s poppin’ weekend plans are, and screw around figuring out what’s the weirdest word I can spell with the number 8. Friends who don’t have unlimited plans ignore me, or else they know they’ll get barraged. For a long time I’ve dreamed of a world where everything could be taken care of via text. Whether it’s scheduling a doctor’s appointment, managing job responsibilities, or ordering late-night delivery, I wish I could send a text for whatever I needed, receive a personalized confirmation, and not be bothered anymore. Dealing with stuff over the telephone takes forever. You have to call back, repeat yourself, spend time on hold, then make sure they get your zip code right. It’s the worst. Making phone calls is just so laborious.

            It was an afternoon like any other, when my friend Stephanie and I were trying to coordinate our plans for dinner—you know, some place close, but reasonably-priced, but not Italian, definitely a place with waiters, not a drab joint like Chili’s. I wasn’t sure what time and didn’t care about outdoor seating. Yeh, the place better serve booze. There were too many variables and we kept texting back and forth. My cellphone was vibrating so much it’s like it had the shakes. My thumbs were starting to bleed.

            Then Stephanie texted: Just call me.

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Filed under Technology Life Non-fiction