When I was in San Francisco last month, I gathered my nearest and dearest of the west for dinner, and I felt like I was backstroking in gold dust (I know I keep saying this, bear with me) because I have had such great friends in so many places over the years.

What really struck me, at this meal, was that I could just sort of sit back quietly and they all kept saying funny sweet things, for hours.

I noticed a quality that each friend--vastly different, from a serious fiction writer to an ayurvedic analyst to an IT guru-lady, just for starters--possesses: my friends smile and almost laugh, often, more instances than not, before speaking. Not just amused at their own encounters or silly foibles or missteps or general endeavors, but more generally, with humans and human nature. This quality of generous humor, physically embedded in their faces. Gold dust, I tell you.

Anyway, this kind of sweet, thoughtful, almost-jaded but too big-hearted actually to be jaded humor at the base of it all is something I just came across in the first few pages of Emily Raboteau's novel The Professor's Daughter. I have had about four minutes since February began, but as soon as I get to ride the subway without doing work again I am going to seriously hang out with this book.

At first, the title subconsciously registered as kinda NPR to me, which is so not what this book is. (It's amazing how the publishing industry fits things into specific categories and leaves certain funkiness out of the sales pitch, no? Well this is why I have to start the Demimonde.) But don't let the title fool you, my Cupcakes. What I've read of this novel so far is lovely. Here, check out the beginning:
My big brother Bernard took great pains to learn how to talk Black. Street Black. Prophet Black. Angry Black. Which wasn't something you heard a lot of where we grew up. It started when his voice suddenly changed. One day, he spoke in the smooth tenor treble of a choir-boy angel, and the next he possessed the devilish bass of Barry White. Once he was blessed with that depth, Bernie culled some of the diction from our father's brilliant friend, Professor Lester Wright, and pulled the rest from Public Enemy. The result was stunning.

It pissed off our mom. "Talk like yourself, Bernie. Please," she'd say. If he was in a good mood, he'd touch the fingertips of one hand against the fingertips of the other and answer, "Mother Lynn, I am nobody but myself. Do I make you uneasy? Let's examine your fear." Pure Professor Lester. Perfector of charm. If he was in a bad mood, he'd just snarl, "Step off, bitch," and Mom would lean over the kitchen sink and cry into a dishrag. He shaved his head like Michael Jordan. He was a teenager. He had transformed.
Just gorgeous. Check her out, she's fabulous.


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