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.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 26

Day 26: Favorite Non-Fiction Book

Technically, non-fiction

I hate "non-fiction" as a category.  Are we really to assume that The Oxford English Dictionary and Penis Pokey belong in the same category?  And for that matter, isn't The Feminine Mystique non-fiction too? It's stupid.  (I hope Gianna didn't pick Penis Pokey.  I haven't looked at her choice yet.  I'm safe, right?....I should be safe, but she does love to be inappropriate.  Do you all understand how difficult it is to put together this little blog?)


This should come as no surprise but I am going to sort of cheat. Some of these questions if answered truthfully...well, you would repeat books and what fun is that? So in an effort not to repeat books, and also in order to talk about books that maybe don’t get talked about enough in my opinion, I am going to pick a really controversial book as my favorite non fiction book. [Crap.  It's Penis Pokey, isn't it?  And not Gianna is going to give me hell.] Let me say however this book is absolutely one of my favorite books.

The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison. Oh, how this book surprised me. I was working as a receiver at a bookstore when this book came in and I read the jacket copy, and you know, I am not made of stone…adult daughter has affair with father? Sold. I am going to read that book. Congratulations, you found your audience. But nothing could really have prepared me for that book. It is completely heartbreaking and it drains you. It is one of those books you don’t forget, and not because of the subject. Harrison is such a beautiful writer (if you haven’t read anything by her please pick this up, or Seal Wife or Exposure); this book very easily could have been a disaster. It is not. It is beautiful and terrible and hopeful.

I am surprised more people have not read this memoir. Random House just published a new addition so I hope to see it in more bookstores. Gail Caldwell wrote a really great review of The Kiss, and here is a small piece from it:

Harrison had the good sense to write The Kiss with the most bare-bones approach imaginable, letting the awful force of her story dictate its lean style. Devoid of prurient detail, it is a spare, painful book that saves its most dramatic words for the day she capitulates to her father's need, when ``God's heart bursts, it breaks. For me it does.'' How do you ever come back from a moment like that?

One more thing about Kathryn Harrison…balls o' steel. She was vilified in many places for writing this book, which as you can imagine pisses me off.


Penis Pokey.

Just kidding.

I listed a bunch of my favorite history books on the day we talked about books that turn us on, but in an effort to avoid repeats I'm going to pick another work of narrative history that's on par with those other favorites.  I don't know if this book officially is my favorite non-fiction title; I don't know that I have a favorite.  However, The River of Doubt by Candice Millard is pretty darn wonderful.

Millard tells the story of Theodore Roosevelt, former President who had lost his bid to return to the White House, and decides to engage his mid-to-late life crisis by traveling to the Amazon.  Teddy Roosevelt, jungle explorer.  TR puts together an expedition including his son Kermit and Brazil's most famous explorer of the time and they set off into the middle of the rain forest to chart the course of a previously unmapped river.  Roosevelt's hubris almost kills him, and the doomed expedition encounters piranhas, rapids, indigenous peoples, and any number of perils.  The River of Doubt rivals Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air as one of the greatest adventure books ever written, but what makes Millard's book special is that she creates such intensity and life for her story without the benefit of first hand experience.  She's a terrific storyteller and she brings to life a mostly forgotten period for one of this nation's favorite subjects.

Friday, July 29, 2011

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 9, 25

Day 25: The Favorite Book You Read in School

I'm going to just assume that this category means that we read the book for a class, and not that we just read the book in a class.  I mean, technically I read John Grisham's The Firm in a class, as I "borrowed" a copy left in my mother's classroom (she was the 11th grade English teacher at my high school) and read it during Chemistry while our teacher was off coaching the boys basketball team for two weeks as they made a run for state.  Ah, small town educational opportunities.  Anyway, here are our picks for day 25:


While I really stewed over the book question whose answer ended up being Carol Burnett, this question is very easy...William Faulkner.  When I was going to school in North Carolina I had a professor who may have been in love, SERIOUS LOVE, with William Faulkner, and I am forever grateful.  It was my introduction and immersion into the world of Yoknapatawpha County.  I read Faulkner and nearly only Faulkner for a year (which sort of makes it sound like I was either in love with my professor--who I assure you cared little for dental hygiene--or maybe I was in love with Faulkner...who had a lifelong fidelity and drinking if I were to lay odds knowing my romantic history I would say I was in love with Faulkner).  Anyway, I highly suggest that isolating yourself with Faulkner for a period of time (and then get in a car with Liz and drive to Oxford) [Sweet! Road trip companions! I can show you where Gianna's going to dump my body in the Atchafalaya Basin!].  Oh, and in case you care, Absalom, Absalom! is my favorite.


As I mentioned earlier, my mother was my high school English teacher, and to make matters worse, my twin sister was also in the class.  Imagine a whole year of every family feud waltzing right into second period Honors English to be enacted in front of the petty little assholes with whom I went to school for 12 years (another joy of rural education--you are in classes with the same 25 kids forever, so the bickering in seventh grade science could pop up as a very cold revenge in sophomore history).  It was a real hoot.  Also, throw in that Attila, my mother, admitted that she graded my work harder than others' and sent my sister to the assistant principal's office for kicking one of the little assholes in the shin (Can an asshole have a shin? Technically probably not....).  Yeah, maybe I hold onto my past a bit too tightly.  I always loved English, but there are some titans of American Literature that I simply don't like.  Hawthorne, for example.  And Twain--ugh.  I'm not so hot on Thoreau and Emerson and the proto-hippie Transcendentalists.  By the second semester of that endless year, I was rather disenchanted with the branch of literature my mother most loved, but then we came to The Great Gatsby.  Here was a story of the little assholes of another time, trapped in that time, and of their vagaries.  Here was an author consumed by his own passions and excesses and still able to define an era with one book.  Fitzgerald's sentences sang to me and I loved the characters and story.  Back in the day the Modern Library announced their greatest novels of the 20th Century.  They picked Gatsby at #2.  I would be willing to argue, though, that it is the greatest novel of that century and this nation. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 24

Day 24: Book That Contains Your Favorite Scene


This was a really tough question. I sat on this one for a few days, in fact, going back and forth on a few of my favorite books. I finally decided I would abandon all of those books and concentrate on what books really gave me joy or meant a lot to me more recently and I just kept coming back to one book that I find myself talking about often. It was also one of my favorite books of 2010. Of course now I would have to pick a favorite scene from this book that has many great scenes in it – so this too caused another issue. The book is This Time Together by sweet, sweet Carol Burnett. There are so many laugh out loud (seriously) moments in this book, but pages 57 -59 are my favorite. Carol is just hitting it big and her grandmother is in the hospital due to a heart attack. Burnett is told that her grandmother would be fine so she stays in NY and does not fly home to LA, but has asked her cousin (Cuz) to check in on “Nanny” in the hospital. Her cousin checks in on her every day. One day the cousin walks out of the elevator to see a long line of people waiting in the hall, some even in costumes and reading Hollywood trade magazines. The line went all the way to Nanny’s door.
From the book:

Cuz pushed through the crowd. “Excuse me! I’m her grand-daughter!” She eventually managed to reach the door and open it. There sat Nanny, propped up in bed, being entertained by a little girl in a tutu who was tap-dancing and doing some baton twirling, accompanied by her father on a harmonica playing “Dixie.” The child ended with a spectacular split and a great big “TA DA,” arms up in the air, the baton twirling on one finger.

Nanny said, “Thank you. I’ll tell Carol about you. Now send in the next one, please.”

Cuz looked at her dumbfounded. “Nanny, what in the world is all this about?”

Nanny shrugged and smiled. “I got bored.”

There are some other good Nanny stories in here but fake auditioning people is pretty great. Some people just dream of doing things like this… she actually did it.

Anyway, I just loved this book cover to cover.


I chose a scene from a book I've read more recently.  An early contender for my favorite book of 2011 is the novel Galore by Michael Crummey.  I LOVE this book about an isolated fishing village in Newfoundland that spans 200 years.  It's storytelling magic.  And I'm open about my Canada obsession, but I'd love this book if it were set on the coast of Argentina, or the coast of Italy, or the coast of a Japanese island.  It's an extra treat that it's Canadian.  I was supposed to read an excerpt of Galore for work and I dutifully picked it up before my sales conference and plunged in.  Because I had about 20 other books to read, though, I hadn't planned to read the whole book at that time; I just needed the flavor of it for conference.  There's a scene at the beginning of the book, though, that sold me whole hog and I neglected my other responsibilities for two days while I submerged myself into the world of some wonderful scenes and characters.  I love everything about this book.

Here's the scene--

At the beginning of Galore, a whale washes up on shore in the coastal village of Paradise Deep, and the townspeople gather around the whale to discuss what's to be done with the corpse.  Some of the fishermen begin to dismantle the body, but then they are shocked to discover a man--stinking of fish and naked--in the belly of the whale.  The villagers are appalled and fascinated...and cattily remarking upon the small penis size of the dead man in the whale.  I love this--I would totally be the one cracking wiener jokes at such a moment.  But then the dead man moves.  He's still breathing, and though the villagers don't know how to react to such a phenomenon, they dress him and try to talk to him, discover his story.  He's mute.  They have to call him something, though, and so the villagers settle on "Judah;" they only have half a Bible in Paradise Deep (the product of another belly-of-a-fish discovery) and no one can remember if it's Jonah or Judas found in the belly of the Biblical whale. 

I love this scene because it rings true to human nature, and it establishes a sense of the miraculous among the mundane, and it captures the underlying humor found everywhere.  It perfectly sets the tone for the book.  Of course I had to discover Judah's story and immerse myself in the lore of Paradise Deep.  I wish I were more artistic; I would draw the scenes from Michael Crummey's novel a la Rockwell Kent.  And seriously, you need to be reading Galore.  This won't be the last time I mention it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 23

Day 23: A Book You Say That You've Finished (but that's a big fat lie)

Well this should be fun.  Usually I'm pretty up front about my inability to finish a book (see: Confederacy of Dunces).  Gianna lies about everything, though.  I actually think she might be illiterate.

Well I may have “implied” to some people that I finished this book. But I want to stress that those people who it really mattered to--and you people know who you are--I never said I finished this book. In fact I was pretty  honest (i.e. incredibly honest) about this book. So not only did I not finish this book (and I want to say that I didn’t not finish it because I couldn’t, or because I had too many other things to read for work), I didn’t finish this book because I just really did not want to (I am being nice). But it was on my “must reads” for work so a bit of a charade went on (more of a don’t ask don’t tell).  So what I did, because I sort of did want to know how it ended, I made my friend Colleen Devine read it. I do that a lot. I say, “Colleen, taste this… it's horrible”, or “does this smell bad?”, or “does it hurt when I push this bruise?” We have that relationship. If you don’t have that friend, I urge you to drop what you are doing (Hey, wait a minute! Keep reading our blog! Your life depends on it!) and go get one; they are most excellent. Anyway, she did me a total solid and read it and filled me in on the latter half of the book...which she enjoyed as much as much as I had enjoyed the first half, by the way.  I feel bad naming the book so I won’t. Just kidding, you can’t like ‘em all so I don’t feel bad. Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel. I know… you all just loved it.


That "Infinite" certainly
sums it up well.
I lived in Austin, and I worked at the cool kids' bookstore, and I may have suggested to a few people that I finished Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.  But that period (the lying about it) only lasted for a couple of weeks.  I realized that I didn't care if I wasn't a pseudo hipster and that I have better things to do than read endless footnotes.  I don't hate David Foster Wallace, but he's definitely not my thing either.  I guess I don't understand the cultish DFW worship.  I'm fine with that, too.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 22


The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

If my two former co-workers can stop fighting over who will actually send me one of these, this is next on my reading list. Apparently it is some hardship for either of them to look up my address, which is still in the RH database by the way, not to mention my former boss lives 4 miles from my house. Oy. Also…I didn’t ask for this book, this was their idea to send me one. If this doesn’t come my way…I am going to read something by Glenn Beck. Then every evening I will leave Liz and Valerie a voice mail of my favorite passage from that day. Looking forward to reading Night Circus! [I have Gianna's address...I just don't really feel like going to the post office.  It's hot outside. Oh, and Gianna is supposed to make me brownies because her Cubs swept my Astros, so until I see those brownies I might avoid the post office indefinitely.  Bring on the Glenn Beck recitations!]


What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander
I'm currently reading for the Spring 2012 season and this collection of short stories is next on my list.  I'm a big fan of Nathan Englander's first two books (one story collection, one novel) and I've already read the title story for this new book.  It's outstanding.  Englander manages to balance hilarious and poignant moments in a few pages, and oh how I love his characters.  I am looking forward to finishing the rest of the book.  The rumor is that they're all excellent. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 21

Is this the home stretch yet?

Day 21: Favorite Picture Book


You know I want to say something deep here. I want to say some great book that molded me into a sort of moral lady person that you would all want to spend more than two or three minutes with, without regretting making eye contact with me, or answering your door, or waving me over, or God knows…that you didn’t run in the other direction.  Yeah, I wish I were about to announce that say, I don’t know, The Giving Tree was my favorite picture book as a child. But that’s not true. In fact, I didn’t even read that book until I worked at a bookstore about 15 years ago and honestly I found it boring and the relationship a little one-sided (I know,I know; some would say that book should have been a Bible of sorts and to them I say, “Hey you broke up with me and isn’t that enough?”) and is it even a picture book? Regardless, its not that book. I wish I could say it was a Winnie The Pooh book and I gathered some sort of philosophy from Winnie and Christopher Robin, or any – any Seuss books…. The Lorax, why couldn’t I fall in love with the book and not the TV movie?  Alas, that is not the case.  The book I really, truly could not get enough of was Put Me in the Zoo by Robert Lopshire. Here is the story, the heartwarming story, and I am familiar with it because I just started to re-read it to my little friend Eleanor before quickly putting it back on the shelf.  The leopard is desperately trying to get put in the zoo but the zoo rejects him. They say, “Why should you be in the zoo, what good are you?” Huh…"What good are you." Nice. Eventually, he realizes because he can change colors and juggle his spots he belongs in the circus and lives happily ever after. The circus. That is the picture book that I read over and over as a child. No Shel Silverstein for this little thinker!  Nope…a leopard who tries to get INTO the zoo but winds up happily in the circus. Perfect. [I think PETA holds the copyright on this classic.]


You will note that nowhere does this say "favorite children's picture book."  I don't have a lot of exposure to the kids' versions, other than what I've read/overheard at my breeder friends' homes as they read to their spawn.  I only heard the rumpus book (Maurice Sendak, you know the one) for the first time about a year ago.  I kind of like the pigeon books, but mostly because I like to chase pigeons.  Still, for my Day 21 selection I choose may i feel said he, poem by e.e.cummings, paintings by Marc Chagall.  "tiptop said he/don't stop said she/oh no said he/go slow said she..." It's a playful little poem about illicit love and some frisky groping, and the poem is paired with Marc Chagall artwork.  I love the Russians almost as much as I love the Canadians.  (They couldn't very well use Emily Carr paintings with this poem; trees and totems are phallic, I guess, but not whimsical enough for cumming's writing.  cumming....heh.  That's what she said...just beating Gianna to the punch here.) 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 20

Day 20: The Book You've Read the Most Number of Times


Beloved.  First I read it because I wanted to. Then I read it because I had to.  I read it again because I really needed to. And finally…. I read it because I had just seen the film. Flannery O’Connor is my favorite writer and should Flannery ever die, Toni Morrison will move up one notch and take over that position (don’t do it, just please stop yourself from emailing). We will talk more about Toni on Day 27, or if you ever want to call me we can talk about her (or we can talk about The Closer ending, which has me very upset. Why Kyra, why?!).


I am not a re-reader.  I often treat my books like a scrapbook history of my life--the book I was reading at a certain time and place and how its reading experience connected to that point.  Most of the books I have reread were because of school requirements.  I read The Great Gatsby a few times, as well as Moby-Dick and the loathsome Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.  Not counting the few children's books I reread for lack of fresh reading material (small town, no bookstore, too young to drive), I think the book I've read the greatest number of times is also by Toni Morrison.  Unlike Gianna's choice, though, I've read Sula more often.  I read it a couple of times for classes, but that was after I'd read it for pleasure in a period after I'd discovered Beloved and needed to read everything that Morrison had written.  I read it a couple of years after college to see if it held up for me (it did).  And I listened to the audio version on one of my road trips last year, if that counts.  It's definitely a desert island book for me even though it's short.  Sula not Morrison's best work according to the critics, but it's my favorite.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 19

Day 19: A Book That Turned You On


This is a total toss up and I simply refuse to choose so I am putting down both! Okay. And this is in no particular order...

1. Barbra Streisand My Passion For Design which is a beautifully written and just so sexy book about uh, Barbra's um, love of design. And as you can tell from the cover it is very assessable and timeless. And I understand you can get those dogs everywhere and since they are white they just go with everything!

2. I am so happy I came across this book, it completely changed the way I avoid making love: Women Can Win the Marriage Lottery: Share Your Man With Another Wife : (The Case for Plural Marriage). Ladies, if you are in a marriage with just a husband and zero other are wasting your life. You have GOT to get on this plural marriage train NOW before it's too late... like, you know, before all the great ladies are taken! I think this author needs to look up the word "lottery" in the dictionary.


Crap.  I should have looked at the categories.  I've already chosen the Pol Pot biography, so now I'm at a loss.  And really, Letters to Penthouse has become so predictable over the years.  I'm going to turn, therefore, to my nerdier obsessions.  I am a history nerd on top of being a literature snob, and there are certain people in history that, uh, stimulate my curiosity.  A few outstanding biographies, then, to illustrate what turns me on intellectually:

1. American Prometheus by Kai Bird, detailing the brilliance and tragic downfall of Robert Oppenheimer, designer of the atomic bomb.
2. Whittaker Chambers by Sam Tanenhaus, telling the story of the Cold War spy who brought down the more famous State Department spy Alger hiss.
3. Stalin: Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montifiore, chronicling the machinations and megalomania of the Soviet dictator.
4. A Clearing in the Distance by Witold Rybczynski, the biography of Frederick Law Olmsted, who revolutionized landscape architecture and designed Central Park and the Chicago World's Fair.

So my ideal seems to be someone with a brilliant scientific mind, a love of nature, Communist ties, no religious beliefs, and wears a uniform well.  Megalomania isn't a bad perk either. 

And yes, I'm still single.

Friday, July 22, 2011

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 18

Day 18: Book You're Most Embarrassed To Say You Like


I don't know that I am that embarrassed, but considering that I couldn't find the book on the author's website for a good bit I would say SHE IS.

....but Rita Mae Brown's Rubyfruit Jungle. What can I say? It's a lesbian right of passage and it's bad. It's bad. The main character "dates" a mother and daughter. It really makes you wonder about Rita Mae doesn't it? Oh and before you go judging me...there is more...I also read Sudden Death which is got it, a closeted lesbian tennis star (which I believe was written around the time Ms. Brown was dating Martina Navratilova...yes she was once in the closet). So gossipy this blog, right?! Anyway, they are terrible and I may re-read them again.  [For the record, Rubyfruit Jungle was included on the reading list for the comprehensive literature test I had to pass in order to graduate with an English degree.  I never considered it embarrassing...but now I'm questioning whether my degree is embarrassing.]


...I give up?  I scoured my library and either I don't embarrass easily or my books aren't embarrassing.  I don't read a lot of embarrassing = bad books, and usually I would agree that harshly reviewed books aren't any good.  I guess what I'm trying to say is that I've read some bad (embarrassing) books, but I didn't like them.  I guess we could approach this subject from the vantage of embarrassing = age inappropriate, in which case I choose Sarum by Edward Rutherfurd.  There's nothing wrong with this book; it's sweeping historical fiction spanning prehistory to contemporary times in England.  When I was in the sixth grade, my favorite teacher recognized how bored I was in the middle school library selections and loaned me some books.  I think she forgot that their were some sexy times (about six pages out of six hundred) in there.  My mother saw me reading this book, but she was never going to read it and I didn't worry about getting caught with a naughty book.  I didn't know about how the spines on mass markets crack at the places where they are opened the most, though.  In college my mother cleaned out my room to turn it into her sewing room and she found my never returned copy of Sarum...and the glorious scene of a large (wink) Flemish man visiting the town wench.  That was an awkward conversation.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 17

Continuing on the size theme...

Day 17: The Shortest Book You've Read


The Laramie Project

101 pages. Although this is a play, it counts because I say so. I remember the murder of Matthew Shepard very clearly and can say it still shocks me. This slim book is the culmination and dramatization of over 200 interviews in the town of Laramie following his brutal murder. I wanted to excerpt just a short section of Dennis Shepard reading a statement to the court after Aaron McKinney was found guilty of murdering Matthew. He is talking about his son being left alone to die:

You Mr. McKinney, with your friend Mr. Henderson left him out there by himself, but he wasn't alone. There were his lifelong friends with him, friends that he had grown up with. First he had the beautiful night sky and the same stars and moon that we used to see through a telescope. Then he had the daylight and the sun to shine on him. And through it all he was breathing in the scent of pine trees from the snowy range. He heard the wind, the ever-present Wyoming wind, for the last time. He had one more friend with him, he had God. And I feel better knowing he wasn't alone.

Dennis Shepard goes on to grant McKinney mercy by not asking for the death penalty.


First Love by Joyce Carol Oates, illustrated by Barry Moser

This lovely little book measures only 6 inches tall.  Normally I don't like short things (see: LaMorte, Gianna), but I do like both Oates and Moser, so I made an exception and added First Love to my collection.  It sort of gets lost on the shelf though, sandwiched between Faithless and Foxfire in the Joyce Carol Oates section of my bookshelves.  Like Gianna in a crowd...of nine year olds.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 16

Day 16:  The Longest Book You've Read

I'm not sure what the point of keeping up with this sort of statistic would be.  We're both of the opinion that quality is more important than quantity, and there are plenty of fat books that aren't particularly good.  So how do we determine the longest books we've read?  What counts?  Does an anthology count?  I've read The Riverside Shakespeare with its onion skin pages--does that count?


I read The Essential Plato for school (and that dude must not have had cable cuz man he wrote a lot!), but the longest book I read of my own free will (get it...philosophy theme?) is either Susan Faludi's Backlash or Stiffed. Both were around 600 or so pages I guess; I am really not sure.  (And man that woman must not have cable cuz she writes a lot ...). I highly recommend both of those books. She has a third book called The Terror Dream but it looks too long.


I've read some Tolstoy--both Anna Karenina and War and Peace--but I'm not really much of a fan.  I love my Russian classics but Tolstoy is too preachy for my tastes.  Instead, I'm picking a 575 page biography of one of the most interesting people in 20th Century history: Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare  by Philip Short.  If I'm going to read about totalitarian dictators responsible for mass murders, famine, re-education of the populace, and the removal of currency from an entire country, well, I want that tome to be hefty.  And you know I'm going to read that book.  I'm eagerly awaiting the 1,000 page definitive biography of Kim Jong Il.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 15

Dear God, we're only at the halfway point. 

Day 15: First Chapter Book You Can Remember Reading


I don’t know which one it was exactly...maybe Kiss the Girls, or Run Away Girls, or Kill Kill Kill Those Girls, but I can definitely tell you the author. It was James Patterson. I know, I know… technically he doesn’t write “chapter books,”  but his books contain nothing less than 200 chapters each. Some chapters are only a page long, which I think is really excellent because I love turning pages, so I will count this as the first (and only) chapter book I have ever read. This is dedicated to David Thompson.


I don't know that I understand what a "chapter book" is.  Gianna says they're those books like Captain Stinkypants that little kids read.  We both think that they didn't exist when we were kids.  Or maybe they did exist when I was a kid, but there weren't bookstores in Woodville, Texas, and also my mother wouldn't buy crap books.  Therefore, I'm going to pick a book that has chapters.  Also, it's not the first book I remember reading.  That was a book about Frog and Toad being friends, but I no longer believe in interspecies comingling.  The cat has convinced me that we should be isolationist in our politics.  On a related note, I'm looking for a home (doesn't have to be good) for a semi-violent, plus sized cat.  So my "chapter book" pick is The Westing Game. It's a fun, twisting book about a group of interconnected people who move into the same building and then discover that they are all potential heirs to the late Sam Westing's fortune if they can unravel the clues.  The main character, Turtle, is awesome (and she's just named Turtle, not a real turtle, so we're not violating those isolationist ideals).  Let me know if you want that cat.

Monday, July 18, 2011

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 14

Day 14: Main Character That You Want to Marry

Okay, let me just say that I hate this category.  We're not creating the categories.  We're stealing them from some FaceSpace list.  And obviously the creator wrote this one just so a zillion people (women) could sigh longingly and then expound upon Mr. Darcy and fucking Jane Austen.  I am not a Jane Austen fan.  Also, who reads books looking for potential spouse archetypes?  Oh, wait--the people who love Mr. Darcy.




You know, from Harold and Maude by Colin Higgins. I read the book, the play, and own the movie (2nd favorite movie). The movie is far and away the best. So maybe really it's Ruth Gordon I want to marry? Or more accurately who I have been wanting to marry since I’ve been, like, 12 years old (jeesh so judgmental!), but if not let me ask you this… who else has these …

Gianna loves Ruth Gordon. A lot.

Ruth Gordon--Gianna's ideal.

And yes I know – I talk about RG a lot. I love her (you look past the creep fest of Rosemary’s Baby) and you make it work. I mean if she were alive.


Augustus McCrae

Why I love Gus from Lonesome Dove: he's loyal, he's funny, he's willing to be a scoundrel but never compromises his sense of right.  And he's not above kicking an ornery pig once in awhile.  Sure, Gus visits the whores for a poke every now and again, but he also joined a fool-hardy cattle drive in order to see his lost love one more time. He's not afraid of being sappy, but he'll kill his horse if push comes to shove.  And he likes a woman with a little sass.  He's not Mr. Darcy.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 13

Lucky 13: A Book Whose Main Character Is Most Like You

This question really just annoys me so I will cheat a bit and use a mixture of “characters” and people from biographies I have read (and who says that is breaking the rules anyway? People are so judgmental – mostly me though).  So okay, part Lucy Grealy (Autobiography of a Face) because I was so, so uncomfortable in my own skin when I was younger (so unlike now…yeah), and a bit of Ann in the really wonderful novel by Mona Simpson Anywhere But Here (my mantra for Glenwood, Illinois, back in the day) and a tad of Sarah Silverman (I will leave it up to you to decide if it's her bed-wetting or inappropriateness – or both – that I identify with). Also… Peppermint Patty.


Gianna would answer for me that her imagined child version of me closely resembles Flavia from The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (she imagines that I was rather precocious and too smart for my own good).  If I were much older, I might be Iris, the main character in Margaret Atwood's Blind Assassin; I would walk to the bakery for sweets and ponder the graffiti in the public restroom stall.  As for what character most resembles my life now, I'm willing to listen to suggestions.  Is there a character in literature who's in her mid-30's, lives alone, is obsessed with books and her cat, and mostly dislikes people? 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 12

Day 12: The Book That Is Most Like Your Life


My Friendly Giraffe

This book was written in 1972. It was about a little girl named Gianna who one day met a giraffe and how they became friends. I loved this book and read it all the time. The reason its most like my life is because the girl lived at 508 Tulip Drive .... my address. Okay, this was a personalized computer book - and it may have been one of the first. I LOVED THIS BOOK! Everyone is in this book, man--my pets, my brothers, my bff (Joyce Ewers - hi Joyce!). The giraffe's name by the way is Annaig which I never loved and still can't pronounce.

[This thing is a true work of art (I LOVE the type writer look), but more importantly, it explains quite a bit about our friend Gianna.  I always wondered why she liked me and it turns out that she likes all things that remind her of her giraffe.  It's also why she calls me 'Annaig.']


The Liars' Club by Mary Karr

Back when I was in college I would recommend Karr's groundbreaking memoir as a means of explaining my background.  Sure, Karr is several decades older than me, and my childhood wasn't quite so hardscrabble, but no book has managed to capture Southeast Texas quite so well.  These are the people and towns I knew from a voice that could have been one of my friends'.  How do you explain to someone who grew up in an affluent suburb of Dallas or went to a private high school in Houston what it's like to live in a town where the first day of hunting season is a school holiday and the Tyler County Dogwood Festival is a bigger deal than any holiday except Christmas?  How do you explain spending weekends running through miles of woods with no supervision, or that the hot spot for high school parties was at the local auction barn on the catwalks above cattle pens that reeked of poo?  Karr gets it, and she also gets what it's like to be the literary kid in that environment.

Friday, July 15, 2011

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 11

Day 11: A Book by Your Favorite Author

The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor
It's important to know who your friends are. It's also important to know who your friends may not be before you even bother to try. So if someone says, "Oh, I don't like short stories," I think, "Well maybe they just haven't read a good one...or are even embarrassed to say they haven't read any." Now if someone says "I don't like Flannery O'Connor," I know right off that I won't be friends with that person. Lovers? Yeah, probably. But we will not be friends. I have pretty high standards (very low morals). This concludes my lesson in pre-judging people and before you ask...yes it's worked pretty well for me. I have two friends.[I'm her friend!  Not her lover.  I actually have a similar book/friend test, but it's a negative correlation: my close friends are the ones who loathe Confederacy of Dunces.  Unlike Gianna, though, I won't be sleeping with Dunce lovers either.  And yes, I'm still single.]


Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Yeah, I'm one of those people.  I'm fascinated by her life, and I love her writing, and she's one of the few authors I'll reread.  I know there are better reviewed, more academically revered works by Woolf, but Mrs. Dalloway is the book that sings to me, and it's the basis for one of my other favorite books, Michael Cunningham's The Hours.  Hell, I even like the movie version of Mrs. Dalloway.  There's a strong chance that I'll some day have a cat named either Clarissa or Septimus.  If I won the lottery, the first thing I'd do is purchase a signed first edition of Mrs. Dalloway.  As for Virginia Woolf, I admire her talent and her courage.  And she signed books with a purple-inked pen.  I love the purple.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 10

We're about at the point where we realize that we're only 1/3 of the way to the end and who's idea was this anyway?  What if I just picked the same book for every day for the rest of the challenge?  Character that most resembles me? Harold and the Purple Crayon.  Longest book I've ever read?  Harold and the Purple Crayon.  (I actually hate Harold and the Purple Crayon even though I love both crayons and the color purple.  I just hate Harold.)

Day 10: A Book That Changed Your Life


Dead Man Walking by Sister Helen Prejean

While my views did change on certain things as I got older and moved away from my small town in Illinois, the death penalty was difficult for me to let go. It wasn't until I read Dead Man Walking that I understood. The book is also about bravery and learning to do the right thing. You never really think about that, but you can learn to be brave.


Harold and the Purple Crayon

Just kidding.

Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier

I don't know that I have a particular book that changed my life, but I did have a class.  I'd always been a big reader and it was just sort of a given that I'd major in English when I got to college.  However, once there, I spent two years reading the works of masters that I should appreciate but which I didn't really enjoy.  I didn't care about Beowulf, and I actively loathed the 18th Century essayists.  I took the classes I was supposed to take in order to prepare for the comprehensive literature exam I'd have to pass in order to graduate with that major, but only in my junior year did I take a class that spoke to my love of a good story, engaging characters, and some dark and twisted atmosphere.  Contemporary Gothic Lit with Dr. Helene Meyers reminded me that reading can be both entertaining and a worthy scholarly pursuit, and Rebecca was the first book on the syllabus. Other books included The Collector by John Fowles, The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark, Dirty Weekend by Helen Zahavi, and American Appetites by Joyce Carol Oates.  It was a novel a week for a semester of darkness, disturbed people, and for me, a rediscovered love of reading.  That class is one of the reasons I was crazy enough to seek the book business after graduation.