Sunday, July 31, 2011

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 27

Day 27: Favorite Fiction Book


In my quest not to repeat, I won’t pick O’Connor or Toni Morrison here (but forced to pick I would have to say that Beloved is my favorite novel; we will stretch the meaning of this question as always). Too many great books to really pick, so I again thought of something I couldn’t let go of in recent memory.  I came up with Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply. I still get a bit giddy when I get to talk about this book. It is so delicious, beginning to end, that it makes me sad that I will never get to read it again for the first time. It is a book that at the end you say “son of a bitch!” and then if you are anything like me, you start backtracking. In a word, the novel is about identity, but it is oh so…chilling. Here are the first few lines, and if you can move on with your life without wanting to read more…well…I don’t know if Liz wants to be friends with you.  [In general I probably don't want to be friends with you, but I do love this book too.]

We are on our way to the hospital, Ryan’s father says.

Listen to me, Son:

You are not going to bleed to death.

Ryan is still aware enough that his father’s words come in through the edges, like sunlight on the borders of a window shade. His eyes are shut tight and his body is shaking and he is trying to hold up his left arm, to keep it elevated. We are on our way to the hospital, his father says, and Ryan’s teeth are chattering, he clenches and unclenches them, and a series of wavering colored lights – greens, indigos – plays along the surface of his closed eyelids.

On he seat beside him, in between him and his father, Ryan’s severed hand is resting on a bed of ice in an eight-quart Styrofoam cooler.

The hand weighs less than a pound. The nails are trimmed and there are calluses on the tips of the fingers from guitar playing. The skin is now bluish in color.

This is about three A.M. on a Thursday morning in May in rural Michigan. Ryan doesn’t have any idea how far away the hospital might be but he repeats with his father we are on the way to the hospital we are on the way to the hospital and he wants to believe so badly that it’s true, that it’s not just one of those things that you tell people to keep them calm. But he’s not sure. Gazing out all he can see is the night trees leaning over the road, the car pursuing its pool of headlight, and darkness, no towns, no buildings ahead, darkness, road, moon.

So yeah….Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon is my favorite fiction book of 2009 and certainly makes the list of all time.


Listen. Allow me to be your god.  Let me take you on a journey beyond imagining.  Let me tell you a story.

As I read the opening lines of The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine I knew I would be in the assured hands of a master storyteller, and I knew that this novel would hold a special spot among the many great books I've read.  "Hakawati" means storyteller, the traditional storyteller who, like Scheherazade, spins stories ending with a cliff hanger each day to lure back listeners, and Alameddine's book is a splendid weaving together of multiple tales and the history of a modern Lebanese family.  Here are tales of the Arabian Nights and genies and great warriors and cunning princesses given a modern flavor as they relate to the story of a young man returning to his native Beirut to help with his dying father.  Here are stories of the wars in Lebanon and the great pigeon wars that take place over the buildings of Beirut and of princes and demons and magic carpets.  I was mesmerized.

I had really just started at Random House when I read The Hakawati, with the company only about a year.  I had stumbled across Rabih Alameddine's earlier novel, I, the Divine years earlier when I was a bookseller and loved it (that book is the story of a woman's life told through her multiple attempts to write her autobiography but she only ever writes the first chapter), so when I learned that Knopf would publish his new novel I dove right in.  The Hakawati was my favorite book I read that year, one of my desert island book picks, and the book that helped me realize what the most rewarding part of my job of a sales rep is.  I have the power to discover incredible books and then spread that love to the right booksellers.  The pleasure of working with the books I most love makes my job, for all of the frustration I sometimes feel, magical.  Booksellers at BookPeople in Austin, Brazos Bookstore in Houston, and Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi, in particular, all shared my passion for The Hakawati, and through their efforts numerous readers across my territory discovered themselves the genius of The Hakawati.


  1. Both of these are excellent picks. I've gone with O'Connor too, so let's go with The Brothers Karamazov. Brilliant. Love Dostoevsky in general and this one most of all.

  2. I LOVED Await Your Reply!!