Friday, September 30, 2011

Banned Books Week, Gianna's Take

If you are anything like me (I hope not), you turn to banned book lists to carve out your own personal reading in hopes of finding something truly filthy (never really happens) or a book you can agree is worth banning (Bridges of Madison County for example). Recently I found a list of books banned from prisons…it's an excellent list that includes Pulitzer and National Book Award winners, Nobel winners, and even Shakespeare. [Does anyone else think that Gianna's overly fixated on the prisons?]

Here is a list of my favorite books banned from prisons across this great country.

1. If you are in prison, you aren’t going to get a pop-up book. You just aren’t. You aren’t going to get Pirates of the Caribbean The Black Pearl, The Human Body, Graceland an Interactive Pop Up Tour, The Pop Up Book of Sex, Pixie Hollow Pop Up or my favorite…The Pop Up Book of Celebrity Meltdowns (it's very possible that my soul mate is in prison requesting this book!). If you love pop-up books…stay on the straight and narrow, my friends.

2. Easy Origami Fold a Day Calendar. I don’t know if this was requested by a female or not, but if it’s a dude; this being banned may have saved you from an ass beating. Blessing in disguise.

3. Law in America was banned because it had an uninspectable (prison word) front cover. I suspect the real reason is that no one likes a know-it-all on the outside, let alone in prison. Annoying.

4. Einstein: The Life of a Genius. This book apparently has glued documents throughout. I don’t know if the fear is getting high off glue (is it bad that was my first thought?) or if a naughty prisoner could hide things behind glued documents? [Physics is scary.]

5. Road Atlas. Yeah…Road Atlas. This was banned because it has a detailed map of Texas. Two thoughts because I live in Texas: was this banned from a Texas prison, or do all prisons ban this due to the map of Texas? Why must all criminals head this way? Is it Mexico? Because if so…they are on to you…head north when you escape. [Canada's prettier anyway.]

6. Sharing Lovers: Twice as Nice. No comment needed. [...I don't get it.]

7. Two Way Radios for Dummies and Ham Radios were both banned due to sexual content. Note to self… set up ham radio! [Gianna already has her handle--Undergarment Varmint rides again!]

8. Family Medical Guide. I assume that this was banned due to gross pictures you can’t help but look at over and over again.

9. Selma: The March that Changed the South. Banned due to racial content. When will somebody finally write a book about the struggle for racial equality and not get bogged down in racial content?

10. You love the arts? Too bad you dirty birdy. Art of Film, Art of Painting, Art of Photography, and How to Draw the Human Figure are all banned due to sexiness. Calm down. Penthouse Censored and Letters to Penthouse: Let’s Get this Party Started are no longer on the ban list! Yay!

Well that’s it, my top 10 favorite banned books in prisons …oh what is that? You’re a white supremacist and you gots to get your read on? No worries; white supremacist books are easy to come by, as is Mein Kampf.  [At least people are reading.  That's what's important, right?]

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Operation Chuck: Fight Club

Lemuria Books, Jackson, MS
Chuck Palahniuk has a new novel coming in October, a delightful book called Damned.  Better, Mr. Palahniuk is touring to one of my bookstores, Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi.  Lemuria has never hosted Chuck before and to say the least, they are a wee bit excited.  The store has made t-shirts and posters promoting the event.  They are planning a party with a band, and an art show, and they blog about Chuck every three days or so.  Their enthusiasm is what makes my job fun.  Nothing, seriously NOTHING, is better than an excited bookseller telling people about books they have to read (and buy).  Okay, so maybe chocolate is as good....and I'm sure that Gianna can suggest a few things to do with inmates, but occupationally, book excitement is the best.

I'm still not going to date a convict.  Moving on.

Bookseller Zita sporting
a Damned t-shirt.
So Lisa, the terrific bookseller and editor for Lemuria's blog, emailed me two days ago and asked if I'd write a Chuck-related blog piece for Lemuria since I'm such a big fan.  While I want to support my stores in any way possible, I was confused.  I actually had only ever read about a few samples of Chuck Palahniuk books (reps are supposed to read excerpts of books in order to obtain a taste of the writing and story).  I'm a little crazy, though, and sometimes I suggest ideas without thinking them through completely.  For example, let's say that I suggest that I read all of Chuck Palahniuk's books between now and the Lemuria event on October 20th and then I could write authoritatively about the man's writing.  Never mind that we're talking about, like, a dozen books in 22 days and I have a full time job.  (I don't have a social life...but no, I'm still not going to date a convict.)

I am Liz's Mental Illness and Blurry Eyes.

Chuck Palahniuk
One book down, started this morning, finished tonight.  I started with Fight Club because I saw the movie long, long ago...and I admit I didn't really like the movie much.  I'm not a Brad Pitt fan and the Marla character was one dimensional and the only sympathetic female character (Bob with the man boobs) is killed.

I appreciate that the book Fight Club is slightly different from the movie.  Marla is significantly more compelling in the book, for one thing.  The "twist" is more transparent and far more believable.  And while the idea of Fight Club is about male bonding and the definition of masculinity, there's enough satire to keep me from throwing the book across the room.

I am Liz's outraged Intro to Women's Studies curriculum.

Fight Club is juvenile.  It glories in the vulgar practical jokes and tiny acts of anarchy that pervade the service industries.  It shouldn't be taken as a textbook.  It's one of those books where I think most of the readers take it too seriously and consider it The Catcher in the Rye of the 90's.  The afterward is testament to the ridiculous responses this book has produced, and actually makes me think I might like this Chuck Palahniuk guy.  We'll see.  I have quite a few books to go.

I am Liz's inability to sleep.

I realize that I'm going to be reading a Chuck Palahniuk book about every day and a half for a couple of weeks, and that's on top of the reading I need to do to prepare for my next sales conference.  And that full time job.  (Still no to the convicts, though.)  I don't sleep much.  Filling my time and brain with the unladylike lit of Chuck Palahniuk could rot my brain, but I'll try to chronicle my mental collapse properly.

Next up: Survivor

Monday, September 26, 2011

10 Cool Things: Blue Willow Bookshop

Blue Willow Bookshop--A Houston Landmark
Sell like a champion!
To celebrate this, our 100th blog post, we're starting a new, semi-regular series profiling the booksellers and stores that make the world of independent bookselling great.  We're starting with Blue Willow Bookshop, located at the corner of Memorial and Dairy Ashford in West Houston.  Blue Willow proves that small bookstores can thrive, and owner Valerie Koehler is well known and respected in the bookselling world and among Houston retailers.  Blue Willow Bookshop is well worth a visit while in Houston.

10 Cool Things About Blue Willow Bookshop

1. Fantastic Author events.  Every visiting author signs the wall.  Hooray for literary graffiti!

2. Wonderful website and blog.

3. They have a suspicious off-site storage area that employees have been trapped in which really intrigues us. This may actually not be true but we like the drama idea of it.

Reading Groups Shop Here.

4. Great book club selection - you're in a book group? This is your store. No one knows book groups like the Blue Willow staff.

5. Insanely good kids and young adult shopping.  [Children are 3 for $1 after each story time, and according to Jonathan Swift, make great eating.  What?  Like you can tell me what the "meat" is in a tamale?]

6. Staff is widely read - and will actually be honest with you about books.

7. Staff is funny as hell...and seem to look past the fact that we are really strange.  [...I'm strange?]

8. Pretension-free zone.  You want a book with a pink dust jacket?  You got it. 

9. We love the wall quotes from books.  

10. We can sum up my love for Blue Willow in one word: Alice. We gots a major crush on Alice and we don't care who knows it!

That's Alice in action on the right.  Ahhh....Alice.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Gianna: What's New From UT

The biggest change for me moving from Random House to The University of Texas Press [besides losing the best colleague one could ever hope to have in a career, me] is the vast difference in the amount of books we publish each year.  Here at the University we publish about 200; at Random House I believe the number to be in the zillions.  A bigger adjustment is the fact that we publish really amazing international art and photography books and I know next to nothing (which really means absolutely nothing) about art and photography. Now at Random House I could get away with selling the occasional art book while being dense…it's harder here. Actually, it's just harder being dense working at an academic press; I like to imagine that my new colleagues haven’t realized just how … uninformed I am about what we publish, but I am sure it was made pretty clear in the first week. It would all be easier if I were at least pretty, but alas, I am dumb and not even easy on the eyes. [Wait, what?  You're the supermodel for this blog!  Our dozens of followers wouldn't disagree.] I know, why don’t I just go buy boobs and shut up? Well, they are too pricey on book money. [Unless you're Pamela Anderson on that short-lived sitcom about a bookstore, Stacked.]

I honestly don’t remember what I was going to write about.  Oh, I was going to let you know what is coming out this month from The University of Texas Press. And when I “write” about photography and art books – I will just fill the page with pretty pictures.

West of 98 Living and Writing the New American West by Lynn Stegner and Russell Rowland

One of my favorite books on our list this season is West of 98 (Stegner is the daughter in law of Wallace by the way),  a collection of essays (and some poetry) from writers who are from or living in the West. It is filled with new visions on familiar themes such as: Cowboys and Indians, nature, landscape and general western history. In short, the theme of the book is "What does it mean to be a Westerner?"  

 Here is a sample of what this beautiful book has to offer:

“I would be converted to a religion of grass. Sleep the winter away and rise headlong each spring. Sink deep roots. Conserve water. Respect and nourish your neighbors and never let trees gain the upper hand. Such are the tenets and dogmas. As for the practice – grow lush in order to be devoured or caressed, stiffen in sweet elegance, invent startling seeds – those also make sense. Bow beneath the arm of fire. Connect underground. Provide. Provide. Be lovely and do no harm.” Louise Erdrich

“If the mountains were actually ennobling I would have noticed it by now. Everyone who can read comics is aware of the truly indigenous people of the West. We came much later, led by the US Cavalry and the railroads. As the cranky old lady at the grocer’s said, ‘The West wasn’t settled by nice people.’” Jim Harrison

“The West is about dirt. Good dirt. Rich dirt. Thick dirt. Lots of dirt. Dirt defines me. I write dirty stories.
     My people came from places where dirt was used up, the land was too crowded, or there wasn’t enough. My grandfathers emigrated from rural Japan; they were second sons from small, struggling farms, and the property would not be passed on to them. So they searched for new dirt and found it in America’s West.” David Masumoto

Stirring it Up with Molly Ivins by Ellen Sweets

If you aren’t familiar with Molly you should know one thing off the bat….she was a badass. [Amen.] She was also a hilarious writer, a civil libertarian, a thorn in George W Bush’s side (she called him “shrub,” as in "little bush"), a rabble rouser (in the best sense of the word), and Molly, well she enjoyed a cocktail.

What is lesser known is that Molly Ivins was an excellent cook; she picked up most of her skills in France. This book is an insider’s look at the lesser-known Molly, the chef who lovingly prepared elaborate meals from scratch for her closest friends. The book gives you a seat at the table to learn about the woman behind the public figure.  As a very cool bonus the book contains over 30 of Molly’s favorite recipes.  This story is told by Ellen Sweets, who was a close friend of Molly’s for years and years.  She was often in the kitchen with Molly so this is a true behind the scenes look at this amazing, powerful woman.

We lost Molly to cancer in 2007, and I can’t help but wonder what she would be writing about as our Governor runs for President.  The thought of it really makes me smile. [It might be drafts of her citizenship denunciation.  I may be projecting.]

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Man Booker 2011

Now that we've finished the book challenge, it's time to turn back toward what's happening in the book business now.  It's award season again and the Man Booker Prize recently announced the shortlist of nominees for this year's prize.  Showing outstanding taste, three of the six finalists are Random House titles.  And showing excellent taste on my part, I'd already read all three.

Snowdrops by A.D. Miller is the dark horse on the list--a first novel from an unknown author that is as much a thriller as it is a literary work.  The story is told in the form of a long letter to a businessman's fiance on the eve of his wedding.  Nick wants to confess all...including his time spent in Moscow.  While working there, he comes in contact with two beautiful sisters, Masha and Katya and they convince him to intervene in acquiring an apartment for their aging aunt.  This is corrupt, dark, post-Soviet Russia, and a "snowdrop," so you know, refers to the bodies that surface after the snow melts with the first spring thaw.  Shady deals and complicated characters mark this auspicious debut.

Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch actually has a great shot of winning the prize; it's one of my favorite books this year.  This is a high seas adventure novel with a Dickensian flair, following a street urchin who finds his calling helping to tend the animals in a 19th Century menagerie.  This is the era in which rare animals are coming back to England from all over the world as explorers travel the globe, the era of Darwin and Moby-Dick.  When a rich collector asks Jamrach to acquire a dragon from the South Pacific, he sends Jaffy to locate and return with the beast.  Our young hero sets out on a whaler destined for the Pacific and author Carol Birch treats the reader to whaling adventures (I can't get enough of this period and these guys on the boats).  Jaffy finds his dragon, but is also his albatross.  I love this book.

Julian Barnes is the Susan Lucci of the Man Booker Prize, always a nominee, never yet a winner. His new novel, The Sense of an Ending, may just be the one to secure his first win.  Tony and Adrian are part of a group of school chums at an English boarding school.  While Tony is very much your good-but-unexceptional student, Adrian is brilliant, the genius of his class.  He also seems indifferent to emotional connections.  He is your average eccentric philosopher.  After school, Adrian goes to Oxford while Tony goes to a regular college, and Tony begins dating a girl who is stylish and sophisticated and rather out of his league. Eventually they split and after a time she begins dating Adrian.  And then Adrian commits suicide.  Thirty years later, Tony is left Adrian's journal in a will, but his ex-girlfriend won't give it up.  The tangled lives in this short, intense novel twist around each other, and this ending of The Sense of an Ending surprised me in a way that no book has in years.  Shocking would be a way to describe it.  Excellent would describe the book, and all of Julian Barnes's work (go read Arthur & George too).  This novel was supposed to come out later in the winter, but when Knopf found out it made the Man Booker shortlist they moved it to October.  This is good news for readers; it's a great book.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

30 More Days Book Challenge: Day 30

Really.  We made it again.

Day 30: Books That Give Us Hope for the Future


Well, this is it (really), we have blogged for 60 straight days [other than that week that I was away; couldn't be helped] and written about I don’t know how many books (counting is hard). But we need a little break…you know, to read. However, thanks to our good friend Emily Bruce we have a great topic for our last day: books that give us hope for the future [I'm digging through my euthanasia collection right now....].

1. Muhammad Yunus is what is what the educated call a "smarty pants." Yunus founded the Grameen Bank, which provides microcredit--also known as microloans--to poor people who do not have collateral. These people who otherwise would never be able to improve their lots in life become self-sufficient. In his book Banker to the Poor: Micro–Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty, he describes how lending works and how in the end it can change the world. Yunus won the Nobel Prize in 2006. Personally I love micro–lending and Kiva is the charity I am most involved with.  I have never had a loan not be paid back [except the ones to me], and of course once your money is paid back, you can roll it into another loan. It’s the best sort of addiction you can have. Here take a peek:

 2. “Women hold up half the sky” – Chinese proverb

Written by the dynamic duo Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. The authors argue that the equality of women is as paramount as ending slavery and should be addressed as such. This book is a call to action, after you’ve read it you are a witness, and to not become involved (and there are so many easy ways to become involved) is a crime. The book focuses on sexual violence including sex trafficking, girls education (this is key of course), maternal mortality, and microfinance (seriously, if you haven’t looked into microfinance please do, $25 gets you started). This is an important book, a beautifully written book, and most of all, it is a hopeful book. Check out their website here.  [If Gianna hadn't picked this book, I would have.]

 3. When Howard Dully was 12 years old, he received a transorbital lobotomy. A transorbital lobotomy is also known as an ice pick lobotomy, which is just as horrifying as it sounds. A long, sharp tool not unlike a chopstick is inserted through one or both eye sockets, just above the eyeball, until it hits the brain. Then the practitioner simply, and I mean simply…wiggles it. [Tasty! If you want diagrams, check out Joyce Carol Oates's novel based on Jeffrey Dahmer, Zombie.  I'm not kidding.] Dr. Walter Freeman made quite a living, and he put on quite a show out of the ice pick lobotomy – sometimes doing two at a time. Freeman, when pressed by Dully’s stepmother, diagnosed the boy as having schizophrenia and the lobotomy ensued. Dully did not need the procedure, of course, and it took him decades to recover so he could have a functional life. What this boy and ultimately man went through is nothing sort of heartbreaking. The fact that he has come out the other side the gentle forgiving man that he is, is miraculous. I think his book My Lobotomy belongs on this list because Dully is proof positive that the human spirit is an incredible thing.  Howard Dully gave a great interview on NPR and you can listen to that here:

4. Much like Howard Dully, Jean-Robert Cadet overcame incredible odds. Cadet was a "restavec," or one who stays – or to stay with. In Haiti, it is not uncommon for a child to be sent by their parents to work for a “host” family as a domestic servant, mainly because the family can not afford to keep the child. The term "restavec" is almost solely used to refer to children who are with host families and are abused. According to Cadet, the term for children staying with host families that are not abused is timoun ki rete kay moun (this is Kreyol for "who stays in a person’s house"). The number of restavecs in Haiti is astronomical and the UN considers restavec a modern form of slavery. According to research by the Pan American Development Foundation, there are 225,000 child slaves in Haiti. That report can be found here:

 Jean Robert Cadet was a restavec and has told his story in the 1998 book Restavec: From Haitian Slave Child to Middle Class American. The continuation of his story called My Stone of Hope: From Haitian Slave Child to Abolitionist will be published this October.  Cadet now spends his time fighting to end child slavery and here is how you can help him:

5.  Animal Liberation by Peter Singer belongs on this list for two reasons: it was the first of its kind, and because I say so and this is my list [...which I edit.  Ah, the power of the edit]. The main theme in this groundbreaking book first published in 1975 is that animals can experience suffering and we must treat them accordingly.  One of my favorite podcasts is Philosophy Bites; it's fantastic, plus if I die in a car accident people will think I am smart when they find it on my iPod. Which reminds me, I need to get rid of the hundreds of things that expose who I really am [Like that Charlene song]. Anyway, the theme that has come up over and over again on the podcast is ethical treatment of animals (and vegetarianism but I guess that’s implied).

Singer has another book called The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty. I love this book because it is filled with simple every day things we can do to end poverty. Imagine ending poverty in our lifetime; it really can be done [Send Lizzie your checks!]. Here is the website:


People sometimes wonder how it is that Gianna and I are pals, particularly when she offers me to the greater Texas inmate population for conjugal relations.  It's simple.  Gianna has the biggest heart of anyone I know.  She believes that the world can be a beautiful place and she actively works toward making it so.  The list she's compiled above is a testament to her compassion and generosity. 

Of Thee I Sing by Barack Obama, illustrations by Loren Long.  I admit it: this is an odd pick for me.  It's a children's picture book, for crying out loud.  But it's also beautifully illustrated and beautifully written.  Obama paints a portrait of inspiring models for his daughters and all of the children in the country.  From Jackie Robinson to Albert Einstein to Neil Armstrong to Sacajawea to Benjamin Franklin and on and on--these are the people who overcame adversity and changed the world for the better.  I would want every child in the country to find inspiration in these pages, and for that matter, every adult.  I should give a shout-out to my friend Elizabeth and her kid LJ, who insisted that we read this book before bedtime, by the way.  I don't normally read picture books unless they involve eating children or obstinate pigeons (I like to chase pigeons).

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder brought the work of Dr. Paul Farmer to the forefront.  Farmer is a hero, plain and simple.  Even before graduating from medical school he was spending time in impoverished places, particularly Haiti, and setting up clinics to help the less fortunate.  He's actively combating contagious diseases such as AIDS and tuberculosis in Haiti and places like the Russian prison system.  Farmer's group, Partners in Health, is a leader is global health initiatives, along with groups like Doctors Without Borders, and they deserve our support.  His work in Haiti is even more critical since the catastrophic earthquake, too.  You can find information about his organization here

The Bread of Angels by Stephanie Saldana isn't a "cause" book.  It's a memoir about a young woman who wins a Fulbright Scholarship on a whim and ends up spending time in Damascus, Syria.  While there she studies language and finds herself (as trite as that expression has become) when she takes a retreat to a monastery in the desert.  What I like about this book is that it's also a story of tolerance and resisting prejudice.  Syria is considered a potential hotbed of terrorism and appears on enemy lists, but the people who inhabit a country aren't the leaders.  These people with whom Saldana lives are compassionate, funny, and gentle souls.  They watch out for her.  They argue for the belief that humanity transcends cultural differences.  And this is a really well-written, shamefully overlooked memoir.

Speak Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who Are Changing Our World by Kerry Kennedy, photographs by Eddie Adams.  I know that Gianna is a huge fan of this book too, and has already written about it on our little blog.  I think it warrants revisiting.  This book is a stunning photo essay of people struggling for human rights worldwide, both the famous (Desmond Tutu, Elie Wiesel, the Dalai Lama) and the anonymous, everyday people who are battling for equality without the media attention.  It's gorgeous.

The Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam.  Mam was a 12 year-old Cambodian girl sold into sexual slavery by her grandfather.  She was repeatedly raped for years, shuttled from brothel to brothel, until she managed to escape when she was in her 20's.  Though she'd witnessed and experienced the worst atrocities, Mam made it her mission to return to Southeast Asia and fight for all of the other girls and women experiencing the same torture she suffered.  She is a crusader against sexual slavery, going into the brothels and saving girls from their captors.  She provides shelter and education for these women and children, and she gives them hope for a better future.  She deserves a Nobel Prize.  You can read more about and support her work here.  But read this memoir, too.  It's brutal, and it's one of the most inspiring books I've ever read. 

So there you go.  30 days of books, and then 30 more.  I hope we've added to your reading lists, made you laugh, made you cringe.  Thank you for reading, and keep following our blog (and Facebook page).  I'm sure Gianna has much more to say about my social life...and I'm blackmailing her with a certain camel toe picture.  Good times.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

30 More Days Book Challenge: Day 29

As we wrap up the book challenge, don't forget to check us out and "like" our Facebook page.  If we get to 500 fans, I'll post the picture of Gianna with the camel toe.  We post new, occasionally book related, material there every day.  We'll still be posting to the blog too, but we may take a few more days off.

Day 29: Books By or About Musicians.

Hell.  I don't really listen to music.  I would focus on Gianna's list for quality on this topic.  Most of my favorite songs were originally performed by Muppets.  I don't know what the hell I'm going to write about.


Look into my eyes...
...and my soul, like glass.
My favorite book about or by a musician is by icon and personal shero; Celine Dion. Celine Dion: My Story, My Dream; Your Nightmare. My mother lives in Las Vegas (retired showgirl) and I spent time… a lot of the Celine Dion gift shop. Mugs, champagne glasses, shirts, scarves…beautiful scarves (to hang one's self I assume), letter openers (not quite sharp enough to slit your wrist during a show), CD’s, books, perfume, watches (so you can literally see time fly during one of her shows…or seem like time is at a standstill), key chains, magnets, bracelets, charms, pins (almost sharp enough to poke your eyes out), hats, shorts (always keep an extra pair in case you shit yourself when she hits that high note) and photos! So many photos, Celine in every pose you can imagine, and if you are like me, you’ve imagined them all. The one thing they didn’t have….ear plugs. Now don’t be writing any hate mail, I am just kidding, she really is…something. [For the record, it's worth tracking down Celine's book for the truly excellent photo section in the middle.  She writes awesome captions; things like "This photo really captures my soul in its beauty."  I'm not kidding.]

Okay let me add a few more books to this blog – in fact let me make a top five list. I could do top ten easily but Liz gets mad when I steal her thunder.  [I have thunder?  I really have no ideas whatsoever for this blog.]

I am lucky enough to have seen Boy George. Yeah, that’s right, I said it. Saw him maybe 15 years ago in Miami and he was fantastic! I also got my copy of Take it Like a Man signed. Too many rock memoirs gloss over the bad bits…Boy takes the high road here and lays it all out – with much humor I might add. One of my favorite stories he tells is a sad/hilarious story about having a meal with Annie Lennox. Mid-way through the meal he passes out, which is bad, but when he wakes up he begins to sing one of Annie’s songs (very loudly). I believe the song was You Must be Talking to an Angel and I also believe Annie ended up walking out. Boy George also describes the punk scene in London during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s which is really fun.

I think the book that kept me off drugs is And I Don’t Want to Live This Life by Deborah Spungen, mother of Nancy. I read this book while in high school and found it absolutely mesmerizing. Again, it’s a great look at the music/punk scene during the 1970’s, but also a story about a lost girl obviously suffering from depression who becomes a horrible drug addict. Nothing good happens in this book by the way. Nothing. Sid and Nancy…. [I have never heard of any of these people.]

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop by Jeff Chang is, in my opinion, the best contribution on the early hip hop scene. Chang was criticized for leaving certain people out of the book (Eminem for one) and for glossing over others (Missy Eliot for example), but I think when you write a book like this there will always be griping.

Rat Girl by Kristen Hersh is an example of her pure genius. This memoir is taken from a year of Hersh’s diary when she was a teenager and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. You won't find a more beautifully written memoir by a musician – actually written by that musician. By the way, Kristen Hersh is hilarious' you should follow her on Twitter or Facebook. I could talk forever about Kristen so if you want to call, please do.

“Before you can make good music, you just have to shut up. Then the music can say what it has to say.” K Hersh

Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story by Chuck Klosterman. This is my favorite Klosterman book; nothing goes better with rock & roll than a road trip.

Okay so that’s my five but as a bonus I want to mention the 33 1/3 series. Writers or fellow musicians choose a band, singer, or an album to write an essay about; simple ideas are usually the best ideas and this series is fantastic. They even have a Celine one! So you are getting a top ten list within a top five list which is almost unheard of in list making. In no particular order:

  1.    Meat is Murder The Smiths 1985 by Joe Pernice
  2.    Sign O the Times Prince 1987 by Michaelangelo Matos (I love Prince BTW)
  3.    Born in the U.S.A. -Bruce Springsteen 1984 by Geoffrey Himes
  4.    It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back -Public Enemy 1988 by Christopher R. Wein
  5.    69 Love Songs-The Magnetic Fields 1999 by LD Beghtol
  6.    Court and Spark 1974 Joni Mitchell by Sean Nelson
  7.    Actung Baby U2 1991 by Stephen Catanzarite
  8.    XO Elliot Smith 1998 by Mathew Lemay
  9.    Rid of Me PJ Harvey 1993 by Kate Schatz
  10.    Bee Thousand Guided by Voices 1994 by Marc Woodworth


Crap.  Crap crap crap.  I've got nothing.  


Still thinking.....

(Taking a break to scour my shelves for anything at all that's related to music and wondering if Marcel Marceau's miming counts....)

OOH!  I found something.  I loved Rodney Crowell's memoir Chinaberry Sidewalks about growing up in East Texas.  And Crowell's a singer to boot.  He managed to turn a hardscrabble, honky tonk childhood into a successful songwriting career.  And he writes brilliantly.  I attended Crowell's performance and book signing at BookPeople in Austin earlier this year, and it was hands down the best author appearance I've ever seen.  I could have listened to him read, tell stories, and sing for hours.  This book will appear in my top ten list for the year.

Is Toni Morrison is a do-wop group?  No?  Okay, that's all I've got.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

30 More Days Book Challenge: Day 28

We are so close to the end.  What are we going to do with our time after the extra-special extended book challenge is over?  Gianna probably will go back to, uh, working the streets.  I will spend an unseemly amount of time pondering Zorro's thoughts and whims.  Any suggestions for our little blog?  I mean, other than more pictures of my cat?

Day 28: Places We're Inspired to Visit Because of Books We've Read


I don’t think my answer to this question will come as a surprise to anyone who knows me or reads our blog on a regular basis.  For me the town that just danced, that absolutely came alive on the page, that to this day I have fantasies about moving choice is gorgeous Eldorado, Texas which some refer to as the “Vienna of Texas."  I recently drove out West and passed this hidden gem – just 20 miles from Sonora, Texas (Sonora seems like a futuristic city compared to Eldorado by the way), but alas I didn’t have time to stop. Had I been lucky enough to build in an extra day or two into my travel plans and stopped by picturesque Eldorado, I am sure I would have found the hot bed of polygamy that Jon Krakauer describes in Under the Banner of Heaven. I just can’t imagine another town where I would be accepted for exactly who I am!

My second choice is Prague.  About a year ago I was shopping in a bookstore in Florida and I happened upon a book of essays by Ivan Klima called The Spirit of Prague and Other Essays. I don’t know why, but I have always been fascinated by and wanted to visit the Czech Republic; it's always been on my top five destinations list (before Alaska and after Eldorado). The highlights of the book are the opening essays about Klima’s childhood in a Nazi concentration camp and then an interview with Phillip Roth (he expresses his feelings about Vaclav Havel and Milan Kundera). There is a interesting essay about 1989’s Velvet Revolution. This is a really good primer for the Czech Republic, though I do think too much is packed into a few pages ( I mean, a non-violent overthrow of Communism…you really do want more). [Like some violence?]  If you want to be inspired, read about the Velvet Revolution.

So there it is, Prague and with any luck I hope to be there this year. 


I have a long list of destinations for travel, but for the sake of this blog post I'm going to rule out places I wanted to visit before reading about them.  My fascination with Russia is related to St. Basil's Cathedral pictures and an ongoing obsession with totalitarian regimes (Hello Mr. Stalin).  I love Canada in part because of artist Emily Carr's paintings.  Alaska?  The bears.  And the birds.  And the snow.  And Levi Johnston.  

As for book-inspired travel spots, I never really considered going to Niagara Falls until I read Joyce Carol Oates's The Falls.  A groom throws himself over the falls while on his honeymoon within the first few pages of the book?  I'm there.  It's no secret that I love Joyce Carol Oates, and one of the reasons for my super-fan worship is that her writing is so vivid that it makes me interested in topics.  The history of Niagara Falls (and for that matter, scenic Love Canal) is woven throughout the story of the bride whose hubby jumped moments after consummating their marriage.  It may be the ultimate tourist trap, and I doubt Gianna will take me or my sister wives there on our honeymoon, but dammit I want to go there.

My second choice is Beirut.  Really.  Read The Hakawati and ponder those pigeon wars and fantastic tales.

Monday, September 5, 2011

30 More Days Book Challenge: Day 27

Time to go to the movies.  After all, it's Labor Day.

Day 27: Favorite Book-to-Movie Adaptations


I hate to start this blog off with a devastating story, but it's topical.  Colleen Devine Ellis is a main character in this story and as you may know, those are always worth telling.  About six or so years ago, my house was burgled. Those sons a bitches took all of my DVDs, half of my CD collection (I will never alphabetize again, they took A-M), speakers, cameras--you know, the works. They also got into Colleen’s room and took some CDs and movies, even sort of ransacked her room.  [The way I heard the story, Colleen's room may actually have been straightened a bit by the thieves.] That wasn’t really the hard part for Colleen. What was really hard to process for poor old Devine was the fact that those bastards had the nerve to leave behind the BBC mini series of Pride and Prejudice. Her comment was (oh and I remember it clearly), “ Why would they leave this? Do you know how much I paid for this? This is the one with Colin Firth!” She was really pissed off. She printed out the cover of the DVD set and put it on our front door with a sign that said “Dear robbers, This is all we have left.”

We haven’t been burgled since.

 I pretty much have The Color Purple memorized…i'ts not annoying to watch that movie with me, not at all. Now having said that, I wouldn’t put this movie on my top 20 (or more) at all. It's not as bad as, say (oh, I hope I don’t open a can of worms here…), Girl Interrupted. Loved the book – truly hated the movie.

Pretty much any movie made from a E M Forster book has been good--magic touch, I guess.  Stephen King novels have been turned into some excellent films (some of which are also quote worthy… “You're just another lying ol' dirty birdy”), as were Affliction and The Sweet Hereafter by Russell Banks. Love those two. My mother accidentally took me to see Barry Lyndon when I was … well, too young; I think we left early (like just four hours in…).

Anyway, I think I will list my top five book-to-movie faves. Note – I did not put any film on the list in which I have not read the book. For example, The Wizard of Oz, Princess Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ( the original, Willy Wonka) , Drugstore Cowboy, In the Name of the Father, Year of Living Dangerously and  Full Metal Jacket – I love all these films but never did read the books.

Also did not list anything that had a book post film… in other words, my beloved Harold and Maude is not on this list.

I also did not include short stories that were made into films. For example, three of may favorite films are Brokeback Mountain (really excellent Annie Proulx story), In the Bedroom by Andre Dubus (great story and great film), and of course the beautiful story The Bear Came Over the Mountain by Alice Munro, which was made into a gorgeous film by Sarah Polley called Away from Her. [I love all of these stories and movies.]

And still, getting all that our of the way…the list was difficult to make:

Terms of Endearment
Larry McMurtry – Novel
James L Brooks – Screenplay and Director

I actually love this film more than the book…by a long shot.  This is one of those movies that I will always top on if its on television. I just can’t pass it up. [I agree; the movie is significantly different, and significantly better.  Can't beat Shirley MacLaine in the role of Aurora.]

It's past ten. My daughter is in pain. I don't understand why she has to have this pain. All she has to do is hold out until ten, and it’s past ten! My daughter is in pain, can't you understand that! Give my daughter the shot!”

 Silence of the Lambs
Thomas Harris – Novel
Ted Tally - Screenplay
Jonathan Demme – Director

 I read three Harris novels after seeing this film; Red Dragon (my favorite of his), Silence, and Hannibal.  The films sequels got bad quickly, didn’t they?

“You know what you look like to me, with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube. A well scrubbed, hustling rube with a little taste. Good nutrition's given you some length of bone, but you're not more than one generation from poor white trash, are you, Agent Starling? And that accent you've tried so desperately to shed: pure West Virginia. What is your father, dear? Is he a coal miner? Does he stink of the lamp? You know how quickly the boys found you... all those tedious sticky fumblings in the back seats of cars... while you could only dream of getting out... getting anywhere... getting all the way to the FBI.”

No Country for Old Men
Cormac McCarthy – Novel
Joel and Ethan Coen –  Screenplay and Directors

 I was pretty shocked when I read this book – and I am pretty sure I sat stunned watching this really excellent film as well.  This is one of those films you just can’t shake. It's also one of those films where you really don’t want to walk to your car alone in the theatre parking lot… yeah, I made the mistake of seeing this alone.

Whatcha got ain't nothin new. This country's hard on people, you can't stop what's coming, it ain't all waiting on you. That's vanity.”

Sense & Sensibility
Jane Austen – Novel
Emma Thompson – Screenplay
Ang Lee – Director
First of all…I love Jane Austen.  [That makes one of us.  I do like this version of the novel as a film, though.] I think Emma Thompson’s adaptation is phenomenal – it  really has everything.  And yes, Colleen, I would put it up against your precious Pride and Prejudice. While it doesn’t have Colin Firth, it does have Alan Rickman.  And, you know, nothing wrong with Emma and Kate either. Emma Thompson kept a journal during the making of the film; I HIGHLY recommend it.  Sense and Sensibility: The Screenplay and Diaries.

The Godfather
Mario Puzo – Novel
Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola – Screenplay
Francis Ford Coppola - Director

This is it for me. You can have your Goodfellas…I will always choose The Godfather (I and II I pretend III never happened).  One Saturday morning a few weeks ago I turned on the television to watch the news … I left the sofa about five hours later after watching both Godfather I and II, which some fantastic network was showing back to back the way God intended.  I read the book after seeing the movie by the way. Movie is much better.

Okay here it is…..

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”


I feel some pressure in compiling my list.  I think Gianna's is superb and I easily could have chosen any one of those books-to-films for my own list.  I have Terms of Endearment memorized; I've seen it so many times that I could tell you the name of the classical music piece playing on John Lithgow's radio when he runs into Emma (Debra Winger) in the parking lot.  I'm going to attempt to come up with five picks of my own, though.  There are lots to choose from, after all.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Stieg Larsson--Novel
Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg--Screenplay
Niels Arden Oplev--Director

I know that the American version of this book-to-movie adaptation will be the blockbuster movie of the fall, but I don't know how director David Fincher could possibly improve on the excellent Swedish version.  Neither book nor movie are for the faint of heart, but this movie is one of the most faithful adaptations I've ever seen and Noomi Rapace, the actor who played Lisbeth Salander, SHOULD have one an Oscar for her portrayal.  She's simply brilliant--both fragile and tougher than any other character in the movie, and so terribly, understandably damaged.  I love this character, and I love the screen version of this character.

Laurie Halse Anderson--Novel
Jessica Sharzer--Screenplay, Director

I don't even know if this movie was ever in the theater.  I stumbled across it one weekend afternoon when I was flipping channels and it looked like the better alternative to reruns of Fear Factor.  I think maybe it was on Showtime or something?  Anyway, I was surprised by how much I liked this movie.  Kristen Stewart, who decided to ruin her career with a few Twilight movies, is subtle and moving in the role of Melinda, a girl struggling through her first year of high school after being raped at a party at the beginning of the year.  (For the record, this movie is based on a young adult book, which I have actually read.  I am a snob most of the time about adults reading adult books, but I made an exception for this one after seeing the movie.)

"My English teacher has no face.  I call her Hairwoman."

The Hours
Michael Cunningham--Novel
David Hare--Screenplay
Stephen Daldry--Director

Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel should have been one of those books that it's impossible to adapt, but the film version proved outstanding.  Nicole Kidman is great at Virginia Woolf, and Julianne Moore is even better as a depressed, 1950's housewife.  There is one scene in the movie that differs wildly from the book, but otherwise it's a strong adaptation that should have won the Best Picture Oscar.  Oh, and it has a Phillip Glass soundtrack.  I love Glass.

"Dear Leonard. To look life in the face, always, to look life in the face and to know it for what it is. At last to know it, to love it for what it is, and then, to put it away. Leonard, always the years between us, always the years. Always the love. Always the hours."

Ian McEwan--Novel
Christopher Hampton--Screenplay
Joe Wright--Director

This story of innocence lost and the misinterpretation of childrens' eyes weaves together a tense night at an English manor with the horror of the war.  Briony is a 13 year-old girl who wants to be a writer, and one day  she observes an incident between her older sister and the son of a servant.  That night, when another girl is attacked at a party, Robbie, the servant's son, is accused of rape based on Briony's testimony.  Robbie and Cecilia's relationship then becomes the focus as Robbie is sent to war.

"Yes. I saw him. I saw him with my own eyes."

To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee--Novel
Horton Foote--Screenplay
Robert Mulligan--Director

Does this pick need explanation?  One of the best books ever, and one of the best movies.  The screenplay is by Horton Foote, for cryin' out loud.  Horton Foote, who wrote A Trip to Bountiful and Tender Mercies.  There's a reason that schools watch the movie along with reading the book, and I don't think it's entirely because the teachers are lazy.  Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch--who didn't want him as your father?

"Neighbors bring food with death, and flowers with sickness, and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a knife, and our lives."