Monday, October 31, 2011

10 Cool Things: Brazos Bookstore

Brazos Bookstore has a long and storied history of serving the Houston literary community.  It's the place where Donald Barthelme and Larry McMurtry shopped for books back in the day.  Located in one of the "cool" areas of Houston--on Bissonnet between Kirby and Greenbriar and close to the West University, Rice Village, River Oaks, and Museum District areas--Brazos is a destination bookstore for anyone visiting the Bayou City.

Why do we love Brazos?

1. The store has a history of hosting great authors.  Like, Pulitzer Prize Winners and Nobel Laureates and Presidents.

2. Brazos carries a diverse selection of art, architecture, and photography books--one of the best selections in Texas.

3. Fantastic location for you hip kids and wealthy socialites.

4. Liz just lives a block away so you can visit her after your trip to Brazos. She hates this idea. Yep..I just doubled checked and she just hates this idea. Call for her address. [Do not call me.  I hate this idea.]

5. How often is a store known for having a great poetry section?  

Children's Books!
6. Under new management...and he's a ginger!

7. The Houston community loves Brazos.  When original Karl Killian was thinking about selling or closing the store, a group of passionate Brazos Bookstore fans came together to purchase the store and keep the tradition alive.

8. Two words: Open Bar.  [Not really.]
Gianna as Holden Caulfield, famous
literary whiner.

9. Did you know that Brazos has a Children's Book Section?  They do!  And they are focusing on the classic titles you want to give as gifts.  Truly beautiful books.
Liz as Ahab.  Arrrrrr!

10. The coolest Halloween idea we've seen--literary cut-outs created by one of their very talented booksellers!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Iconographic DS: 2-48

Continuing on with my pledge to read Danielle Steel’s entire works has really exhausted me! Plus, I realized that I didn’t give myself a deadline. I have given it much thought and since Danny doesn’t do signings like Chuck P [Chuck Palahniuk, from my legitimately undertaken reading challenge],  I thought a good deadline would be, say…by the time her next book is published. That should give me about three days.

Not to worry, in the past 48 hours I have finished Going Home, Passion's Promise, Now and forever, The Promise, Golden Moments, Season of Passion, Summer's End, The Ring, Palomino, To Love Again, Remembrance, Loving, Once in a Lifetime, Crossings, A Perfect Stranger, Thurston House, Changes, Full Circle, Family Album, Secrets, Wanderlust, Fine Things, Kaleidoscope, Zoya, Star, heartbeat, No Greater Love, Jewels, Mixed Blessings, Vanished, Accident, The Gift, Wings, Lightning, Five Days in Paris, Malice, Silent Honor, The Ranch, Special Delivery, The Ghost, The Long Road Home, The House, Honor Thyself, Southern Lights, Coming Out (less exciting than it sounds), Legacy, Miracle  and as promised from my previous Steel post, Message from Nam.

Damn paparazzi!
In these novels the main character’s life is shaken to the core, the character must choose between love past, or stay true to her husband of 87 years, and must overcome the desire to travel to Europe during WWII, even though her husband is cheating on her; he a Jewish writer and she a German socialite, and even though this young couple’s disapproving parents are against their marriage, these two are determined to get married in 1994 when cruel twist of fate threatens to separate them forever, when they board the Titanic.  Oh, and sometimes these end happy…other’s bittersweet.

So that’s it, I’ve read forty-eight Danielle Steel books in forty-eight hours. I’ve met so many amazing people. I’ve met several architects, a socialite, social worker, lots of movie stars, teachers, many artists, a daughter of privilege (possibly different than a socialite), photographer, lots of doctors (even one at Ellis Island!), a debutante (possibly different than a socialite and a daughter of privilege), a handful of lawyers, a New York City ADA, an accountant or three, a Nazi cook, a TV producer, a serial killer (different than a socialite, debutante and daughter of privilege), a personal trainer and a hotelier. I wouldn’t trade my time with these amazing people for the world. 

[While we poke fun at Danielle Steel, Gianna and I would like to make a point of stating that we support reading of all kinds, be it romance novel of the week or Jonathan Franzen novel of the decade.  We deliberately try to make this blog fun and, as one colleague told me, sassy, but we never lose sight of the fact that people like Danielle Steel entertain millions of readers, provide a sense of escape, and contribute to the culture of books around the world.  Danielle Steel has sold millions of books over the course of her career, and those are publishing and bookselling jobs saved.  In this age of publishing industry turbulence, that is no insignificant issue.]  

If we shadows have offended,
Don't hate us!
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend;
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck, 
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
--William Shakespeare

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Zombies Are Coming.....

Somehow I've managed to avoid zombie books even as they've swept across Book Land.  One must establish standards.  I don't read zombie books, I don't read romance novels, and I sure as hell don't read Nicholas Sparks.  I have to leave something for Gianna, right?

Hellooooooo Colson!
Then I faced a dilemma.  Colson Whitehead, as I've mentioned before, is my literary husband (no, he's not aware of this fact as far as I know).  I think he's a brilliant writer and John Henry Days is one of the great books of this century thus far.  I found out that there would be a new Colson Whitehead novel back in February, and immediately added it to my list to read.  (One crazy thing about working in the book business is that I am always reading books that won't actually go on sale for many months to come.  It throws off my internal calendar a bit; Texas is about to experience its first decent cold front of the fall and in my mind it's summer 2012.)  And then I found out that the brilliant Colson Whitehead's new book...was about the zombie apocalypse.  The horror!

So I read my first zombie book, not counting Joyce Carol Oates's Zombie, which is actually about a Jeffrey Dahmer-esque serial killer.  Zone One, Whitehead's new novel, takes place in New York City about the zombies have taken over.  The living (as opposed to the undead) set up a new government in Buffalo and launch an offensive in the Big Apple to attempt to set up a free zone for humans.  Soldiers have wiped out the aggressive, can't-be-stopped zombie hoards in zone one and mostly what remains are the anomalous zombies who just sort of short circuit and get stuck where they are when they become undead.  If they were at work Xeroxing reports, for example, they're just loitering by the copy machine.

No, not this Mark Spitz.
Zone One's hero is Mark Spitz, a member of the civilian sweeper crews sent to remove the zombie stragglers in lower Manhattan.  Yes, Mark Spitz is the name of a famous swimmer too.  It's intentional.  Mark Spitz is dealing with the threat of zombies, the Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder, and the memories of the life he lead before the zombie-creating virus.  Over the course of three days, Zone One increasingly builds in intensity and terror, punctuated with Whitehead's sophisticated wit.  If we've learned anything from Lost, it's that you cannot escape the island.

I love this book.  It's one of the best novels of the fall, and Whitehead's best book in years.  And normally I ignore the New York Times Bestseller List because I don't care for James Patterson or Nicholas Sparks, but to see that Zone One will debut on the list next week makes me happy.  Colson Whitehead deserves the critical and popular love granted to peers like David Mitchell, Zadie Smith, Jhumpa Lahiri, Jennifer Egan, and Dave Eggers.  And then he deserves the honor of becoming Mr. Liz Sullivan....awkward?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Iconographic DS


Wow, I have been in awe of my very own Liz Sullivan [Gianna's so possessive of me.  I need my space!] reading Chuck Palahniuk’s library (she stopped at 10 books but it should come as no surprise that she is a Class A Quitter…strictly my opinion and I don’t mean quitter in a bad way).  Anyway, I want to hitch my high-end wagon to Liz’s little star (although I feel in the end I will end up shining a bit brighter and soaring a bit higher…and I don’t mean that in a bad way). What complete works by an iconic author should I read? Like Liz it must be someone that I have not read. Icon…I need a good icon…think brain think. James Joyce? Robert Jordan? Jack Canfield? And then it hit me. If you are going to read an icon…read THE ICON.
Don't hate me because I'm beautiful....

I didn’t get an exact count but I believe my icon has written 178 books. Her books can be a little hard to find but I secured one about two hours and forty-five minutes ago. Yes, that’s right, I’ve finished my first Danielle Steel meal and it was delicious.

The Cottage was a perfect novel to fall into the abyss (and I mean that in a good way…if there is one) of Danny Steel (kids call her Danny and by kids I mean readers in their late fifties) because it contains a character (of the two dimensional type, Danny wasn’t the first to use this writing technique but I would guess she has perfected it), named Liz Sullivan. I know, it's perfect. [Really, Google it. There's a character named 'Liz Sullivan.'  It's my cross to bear.] In one scene Liz Sullivan who is completely heterosexual finds herself in line at an Indigo Girls concert reading the novel The Well of Loneliness--hilarious! Wait…no; sorry, that wasn’t in this book, that is an actual scene from this blog’s co-author. Apologies. [Apologies not accepted.  Humph.]

Nonetheless, this read was excellent. I turned down the corners of the pages that really got my “attention” and soon found that I had many turned down pages. Many. Let me set the plot up for you. An aging Hollywood star, he’s in his early seventies, enjoys dating twenty something ladies (god bless him!). By the way…and I wish I could say this is going to be the most homophobic thing this homo is ever going to write but, for a straight old man…he is incredibly…well, finicky about his clothing and the clothing of the ladies he “dates." I couldn’t get out of my head that at some point this senior citizen was going to come out of the closet. Spoiler alert…he doesn’t. Anyhow, turns out that this Hollywood star lives way beyond his means due to the tailor-made clothes, fancy food, and expensive cars. He ends up having to take in a couple of boarders. Here is the thing about this Hollywood feller…completely unlikable (and I mean that in a bad way).  In the end this spoiled, rich (actually broke) man falls in love with someone only 20 or 30 years his junior proving that people do change. People do change. Oh, by the way, she is rich so it’s a really sweet happy ending.

I really want to be clear about one thing: I couldn’t put this book down. Seriously. I get it.  You win Danny, you win.

Next up: Message from ‘Nam (spoiler alert…it’s ’Nam as in Vietnam)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Operation Chuck: The Damned Book Night

After reading ten Chuck Palahniuk books in under three weeks, on Thursday the actual Damned event d-day arrived.  I picked up Chuck and his publicist Todd at 8:45 Thursday morning and we joined Lemuria's blog goddess Lisa and my boss Valerie at the Eudora Welty House for a 9 o'clock tour.

Lisa, Liz, Valerie, Chuck, Todd, and
Eudora's niece Mary Alice
Welty house expert Karen Redhead and Eudora's niece Mary Alice White met us there and we received the VIP treatment.  If you're going to Jackson, the Welty House should be on your agenda.  It's close to my version of paradise; books are everywhere, the house is a quaint style with great windows and architectural lines, and there was even a cat out front.  The gardens are lovely too, but I'm sure that I'd just manage to kill the plants.  It didn't even have a shower; just a bath.  You should know by now that I love my soaks.  Also, Eudora's literary awards are under glass so you can't lift her Pulitzer.  Sorry.

Chuck in Eudora's garden.
Chuck seemed to really enjoy the tour.  He likes to view other writer's homes and writing spaces because it helps him connect to their writing.  He spent extra time in the gardens.  The Welty house was an excellent way to begin the day, a bit of quiet that would progressively amp up until the climax that night.

Helloooooooo Nurse!
From Eudora's place we drove to Lemuria Bookstore.  Chuck was treated like a celebrity upon entering the store.  How did this event happen?  Zita, one of the Lemuria booksellers, is the biggest Chuck Palahniuk fan I've ever met.  The first time I met her several years ago, she was reserved until I mentioned that there was a new Chuck book on the list I was selling, and she animated like Wakko Warner spotting Hello Nurse (yes, that's an Animaniacs reference.  I love the Animaniacs.)  When I sold Damned in the spring, John Evans, the buyer and store owner, mentioned that they'd never hosted Chuck.  Joe, the store events guy, added Chuck to their events requests and I talked to Todd, Chuck's publicist.  John and Joe talked up a Chuck event at BEA (Book Expo America), too. Todd thought it was a good opportunity and we set a date.  And then the Lemuria staff went to work.

Chuck books everywhere you
look at Lemuria...including the
Penguin Classics spinner.  Sweet.
Back to Zita.  She is a Chuck Palahniuk super-fan.  Her love of Chuck spread among the staff and when I next visited Lemuria to sell the spring list, it seemed like everyone there was reading and talking about Chuck.  They were talking about Madison, the protagonist for Damned, and they were talking about his older books.  We started talking about event ideas, and about making Damned one of the Lemuria first editions club picks.  When Chuck walked into Lemuria on Thursday, the hug Zita and Chuck shared was one of the best moments I've witnessed in Book Land.  It was perfect.

Damned print made for the big event.
One would have to have been blind to set foot in Lemuria and not to know about the Damned event (and why would a blind person spend a lot of time in a bookstore?).  Chuck books, Damned posters and bookmarks, Damned t-shirts--there was Damned stuff EVERYWHERE.  They featured a display of Chuck's favorite books and authors, you know, for some variety.  I take some secret joy in knowing that other publishers' reps have been walking into Lemuria to sell books and they've been staring at Chuck (and therefore Random House) endorsements for hours.  Yes, I am that competitive.

High School fan.
While at Lemuria, Zita acted as store hostess and helped Chuck sign books and meet-and-greet a class of high school students.  One kid wore a buffalo hat.  Yeah, he's definitely read a Chuck book or two in the past.

After making memories with some high schoolers (get your minds out of the gutter, pervs!), Chuck returned to the hotel, and Valerie, Todd, and I ate lunch and drove to Hal and Mal's, the venue for the evening event. Hal and Mal's is an old warehouse that's been converted into a restaurant and entertainment venue.  The space is huge, and almost all of it was dominated by the Chuck preparations.  Hal and Mal are Zita's uncle and father, and apparently she'd basically lived at the place for the last week decorating for the event.  The effort was obvious.  In addition to the book reading, Lemuria coordinated with other local businesses to make the night a huge JX RX (Jackson Rocks) event in support of local businesses.  From Hal and Mal's to Cathead Vodka, to local artists, to the Parlor Market restaurant, to bands, the community bonded over the event and helped spread the word.
Art show devil--very cool.

In one room at Hal and Mal's, an art show inspired by Damned covered the walls.  Devils and images of hell and violence covered the walls.  If I'd had $1,500 to spare, I would have purchased one of the pieces.  They were all very cool, and the art show was a great idea as a passive way to entertain people (and hopefully sell some local art) before the show started.

Stale popcorn ball.
And then there was the room where Chuck would be speaking.  It's HUGE.  And every part of it was decorated like the hell from Damned, no detail overlooked.  In Chuck's hell, stale popcorn balls and candy are the only foods, and Zita made popcorn balls and hung them from the ceiling.  In hell, The English Patient movie plays round-the-clock.  Done.  Light bulbs were switched for red lights.  Staffers and fans dressed in costumes.  While Chuck was still in the hotel giving phone interviews, Valerie and I took pictures of the empty space and ate a quick dinner in the restaurant at Hal and Mal's, and by the time we left to pick up Chuck and Todd from the hotel, the crowd was already building, two hours before the main event and over an hour before the doors opened.

Packed house in hell.
When we drove back to Hal and Mal's with the author and publicist in tow, we couldn't even find a parking space.  PACKED house.  Chuck and Todd went inside to set up while Valerie and I parked, and then we joined them backstage, where Todd was blowing up an inflatable skeleton and Chuck was inflating a brain.  Chuck likes to play games with his crowds.  I peeked around the curtain and indeed what I saw was my version of hell--hundreds of drinking, rowdy people anxiously crowding a stage to see their literary hero and have a good time.  (I don't like crowds).  John, the owner of Lemuria, introduced Zita, and then Zita introduced Chuck.

Chuck on stage with an inflated brain.
Chuck Palahniuk the performer is the consummate crowd manipulator.  It's fascinating to watch him push them into a raucous frenzy and then instantly calm them with an insight into humanity.  He told a graphic and disgustingly hilarious story about being a candystriper as a 13 year-old Catholic going through confirmation classes, and the lesson learned was both appropriate...and dirty (I'm not going to give it away since Chuck may be using the story at all of his events).  Then he threw out hundreds of inflatable brains to the crowd in a game and generated the hysteria...only to settle the crowd once more as he read an original story written for the tour.  Chuck spoke for over an hour, never letting up.  People pay $60+ for tickets to hear A-List comedians, yet Chuck's performance is so much more than that, and longer, and for the Jackson crowd on Thursday night, free.

Chuck with Madison from
Damned, aka Maggie.
So what's Chuck Palahniuk like in real life?  He's quiet and unassuming and highly intelligent.  He has a wicked sense of humor and a great appreciation for absurdity, but he's also sensitive to feelings and kind.  He's a generous donor for charities including animal no-kill shelters (he's recently donated the coffee table from the movie Fight Club to auction as a fundraiser for The Pixie Project) and he's a champion of other authors and their books.  I talked to him about the animal sex capitol of the world and a zombie convention while we were driving from Eudora Welty's house to Lemuria, but it was a totally normal conversation.  No, really, it was.  He reminded me of some of my most hilarious friends, the kind of guy you want to ask to dinner and the kind of guy who can tell a good fart story over dessert in the hotel after a huge event and long day.

Thank you to the Lemuria staff, the Jackson local businesses, Random House, and Chuck Palahniuk for making the Damned book night possible.  I'm glad that I was able to participate.  It was a great night to be a part of Book Land.
Thank you Chuck, and thank you Zita.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Operation Chuck: Snuff

It's Chuck Eve!  Tomorrow Chuck Palahniuk will take over Jackson, Mississippi, with Lemuria's big Damned book night, and since the World Series features two teams Gianna and I kinda hate (okay, really hate...a, we'd pay to hit Pujols in his pujols with some baseballs...and let the hate mail begin!), the Damned party is obviously the biggest event of the fall.  I arrived in Jackson 46 minutes ago, checked into the scenic Hilton Garden Inn, possibly glimpsed Chuck in the bar but needed to change into my jammies and didn't want to give Chuck fodder for a sequel to his book about hell, and ordered a room service burger and Diet Coke.  Too much detail?  Damn straight--let's talk about Snuff.

Perhaps it was inevitable that Chuck Palahniuk write a book that's explicitly about the filming of a porn video.  He's all about exposing people to the topics that make them uncomfortable, and I doubt that I'm the only one who's found his, uh, varied description of the male "essence" have perhaps made me celibate for the next ten years.  What other aspect of mass culture is so ubiquitous in private and yet publicly denounced?  I mean, besides the 2011 Gianna-In-Teddies Pin-Up Calendar.  I know that you all received these for your December holiday of choice last year too, right?  Right?

Snuff, just with the title, suggests that some one's dying in this here book about a porn film.  What Snuff is really about, though, is the quest for family, fame, and aging in a culture obsessed with youth and celebrity.  Cassie Wright is a porn goddess who's career is waning, and she agrees to make the, uh, group bonding flick to end all group bonding flicks, to the tune of one Cassie...and 600 dudes.  That's some serious chafing.  The action for the book actually transpires in the green room with the anxious and excited male participants waiting for their...close-ups.  Three gentlemen start as strangers and become intimately (but not in that way, you pervs) entangled as they wait.  One is fellow aging porn legend Branch Bacardi, one is a former TV series detective trying to counter rumors about his personal life, and one is the possible son of Ms. Cassie herself.  Awkward.

Do you know how hard it is to
find pictures to accompany
this book?  You're getting bunnies.
This book is not for the squeamish.  If you squirm when someone says "moist," this is not your book.  If you like to be challenged with your reading, though, Snuff is thought-provoking...and that there are boobs.  It's a decidedly unsexy book.  What were you expecting?  Porn?

As for my Operation Chuck quest, I didn't quite make it through all of his books, but let's face it, I probably read more books in the last three weeks than you did.  That whole job thing interrupted my reading marathon.  I'm sorry to disappoint those of you anxiously awaiting thoughts about Pygmy; you'll have to wait until after my sales conference in two weeks.

On a personal, un-Chuck-related note, Gianna and I would love for you to "like" our half-assed Facebook page at Liz and Gianna's Adventures in Book Land, and follow us on Twitter @AdvInBookLand.  Thanks.

Happy Chuck Eve everyone.  Come to the event tomorrow evening at Hal & Mal's in Jackson, meet Chuck, have a cocktail, look at some art, listen to the band, and hang out with the awesome Lemuria booksellers.

Next: Damned

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

10 Cool Things: Square Books

Square Books
Square Books is a centerpiece in the charming town of Oxford, Mississippi.  Perhaps no store identifies with its community so completely and to travel to Oxford (which is well worth the trip) means a trip to this iconic bookstore.  There's a lot to love there.  Square Books is owned by Richard Howorth.

Why we love Square Books:

1. Square Books is literally on the town square so you can't miss it - a big plus for Gianna and Liz as they are quite bad with directions. [If you're going straight, you're going North!]

Off Square Books
2. How to take over a town?  Don't have one building...have three.  Square Books, Off Square Books (more adult books and a great event space), and Square Books Jr., for the younger book fans.

3. Oxford is an insanely cool college town that rivals our own beloved Austin, Texas. In other words, if you happen to show up a bit late for your selling appointment because you were out late listening to a band and had one too many beers....well it's not really frowned upon.  [Not that we ever show up late to appointments.  In fact, Gianna may be Amish.  Liz is definitely a Puritan.]

4. You may run into John Grisham...we did. Liz almost accidentally knocked him down the stairs. [...This is true.]

5. Owner Richard Howorth was a multi-term mayor and in that time we could park wherever we wanted! This isn't true but we did feel less nerdy than normal.

Everybody loves
6. When you're with the Square Books crew--Cody, Lyn, Richard and Lisa, etc--and you're walking around Oxford, you are with local royalty.  Want to feel like a celebrity?  Hang out downtown with the Square folks.

7. Square Books has had more great book signings than one can imagine. Here is a taste of past and upcoming signings:  Jim Shepard, John Sayles, Ann Patchett, Andre Dubus III, Joe Hill, Michael Chabon, Jeffrey Eugenides, Paula Deen, Charles Frazier, Erin Morgenstern, Joshua Ferris, Mona Simpson, Rodney Crowell, Anchee Min, Karen Russell, Tea Obreht, Isabel Wilkerson, Joseph Ellis and Pat Conroy. 

8. The wood floor actually creaks when you walk on it...we love this. 

9. Square Books has a whole wing of their second floor dedicated to the Liz and Gianna Fan Club and they hold weekly meetings (this may be a future development...and we're willing to provide artwork.  Call us!)

Faulkner with his youngest fan.
10. One word: Faulkner.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Operation Chuck: Rant

Don't stop me now!  I'm a reading fool and I realized last night that I'd spent too much time immersed in Chuck Palahniuk books when I wasn't shocked by a rabid, time-traveling, possible god.  I was soaking in the tub (too much information?) and had the thought that I could drown there, and I'm pretty sure that thought was either Chuck-related too...or a cry for help.  In any case, the big Damned event at Lemuria in Jackson is this week!  The books arrived there today and the booksellers are planning their costumes for the party.  (I will be wearing...clothes.  I might wear clothes with buttons, though.  It depends on whether I do laundry tonight.)

Latest read in my quest to consume the Chuck Palahniuk oeuvre before Thursday: Rant.  Lots of people warned me about this book.  I think it's supposed to be shocking, but when it's your eighth Chuck book in 2 1/2 weeks, NOTHING is shocking.  I may be sitting here pulling the almonds off the tops of Almond Joy candy bars and calling the nut-free goodness Milky Mounds.  I think I've lost the capacity to feel my toes.

I hate snakes, so I went with another
biting creature. 
Rant is written as an oral history, a format I tend to like because it allows for multiple perspectives on a specific event or person.  The main character is Buster "Rant" Casey, and "rant" in this case is a synonym for barf.  Rant   is a larger-than-life figure akin to those Saturday Night Live "Bill Brasky" sketches (I think that was the name of that character).  He's the crazy kid who considered rattlesnake bites just a rite of passage.  He repeatedly developed rabies.  And he didn't see anything wrong with spreading rabies to his romantic conquests.

After making a name for himself in his hometown, Rant moves to the city.  There are day people and night people here, with curfews enforced.  There's a theme of population control running throughout Rant and the day vs. night tactics are meant to ease excessive growth and traffic.  Rant takes up with nighttimers including a girl named Echo Lawrence.  Echo drives a car in what amounts to a nightly demolition derby, and Rant is a lookout in her cars.  At some point Rant and company discover that time travel is possible and that instead of erasing yourself by interfering with your ancestors in the past a la Back to the Future, one could discover a way to live outside of time in a liminal zone by destroying the grandparents, parents, etc.  You're still alive, but because you have no past you're on a separate plain and basically a god.  (...This is probably a spoiler.  Sorry.)

Rant is a weird book.  I don't like snakes, so I didn't bother to sleep the day/night that I read it.  I feel strange.

Next: Snuff

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Operation Chuck: Haunted

Finished books on the left,
Books to go on the right.
Alien in the middle.
Lemuria's Damned event is on Thursday and I have several books to go before meeting Chuck Palahniuk, partying with the Lemuria staff (to the extent that I "party" as a verb...which is not much), and finishing my quest to read a whole lotta Chuck books.

Most recently completed: Haunted.  This one's a bit writer's workshop from hell, a bit Canterbury Tales, a bit critique on the pursuit of fame in America.  The framing story involves a bunch of nicknamed characters (Comrade Snarky, Saint Gut-Free, Director Denial) gathering for a writer's retreat that lasts three months.  The writers are locked in an old theater and tasked with writing their masterpieces in seclusion from the outside world.  The whole thing goes rather Lord of the Flies, though, and the situation becomes a survival of the Hollywood-savviest as writers vie for the most potential screen time in what they imagine will be the movie made of their ordeal.

Along with the framing story, Haunted weaves in poems about characters (again, think Canterbury Tales) and the short stories written by the participants.  Some are harrowing, some are vulgar, and one is the most disgusting story I've ever read.  If you've heard the tales of people fainting at Chuck Palahniuk's public readings, the story that triggered such strong reactions is "Guts."  I didn't faint, but I also didn't want to eat dinner either.  On the other hand, "Guts" is also darkly hilarious.  And nauseating.  This is not your father's Philip Roth masturbation story.

Glow in the dark.  Not good
for bedside tables at 3 am.
Another creepy thing I didn't realize about Haunted: the cover glows in the dark.  That's an image you don't want to see in the middle of the night when you already have sleep difficulties.

I think Haunted is my favorite Chuck book so far.

Next: Rant

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Operation Chuck: Choke

Come to the Damned event
at Lemuria!
We're less than a week away from the big Damned event hosted by Lemuria Bookstore in Jackson!  ....And I'm a bit behind in my reading.  I'm picking up the pace in this home stretch.  The books are piled on my coffee table, Zorro's in my lap and his furry little behind makes a great book rest, and I'm cross-eyed and cussing like a Tourettic sailor.  Go ahead, question my sanity.  I'm learning many, many ways to kill people.

The newest addition to the "finished" pile is Choke, arguably Chuck Palahniuk's second most famous book, after Fight Club.  It's the story of Victor Mancini, sex addict, son of a crazy anarchist and (possibly) the big J.C., and habitual choking victim.  Victor is a scoundrel, but rather likable.  He's Sam Rockwell in the movie version.

Choke is a morality tale debating what it means to be a good person, a productive member of society.  On the one hand, Victor scams his restaurant saviors by falsely taking their sympathy and accepting gifts after their near-death interactions.  On the other, he allows these people to feel better about their lives, making them heroes.  Likewise Victor allows all of the old ladies in the nursing home to use him as a target for all the wrongs in their lives.  Molested by a brother seventy years earlier?  Victor will accept responsibility as that brother for the addled lady in the wheelchair.  It's his Christian duty.

Some genuinely funny scenes occur in Choke.  Victor's mother is paranoid about avoiding disasters and peppered throughout the book are codes for fires, deaths, disasters, etc, at stores and hospitals and such.  How to avoid a hijacked plane?  Know the code words.  Gianna and I have a safe word, but it's not exactly the same thing.

I also hereby name Choke the best novel liberally using "Dude" in guy dialogue.

Next: Haunted.  Five days until the event.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Operation Chuck: Diary

We're a week away from the Lemuria Bookstore event for Chuck Palahniuk, and I'm about....too many books from succeeding in my quest to read all of Chuck's works.  Guess what I'm doing this weekend?  I mean, besides watching baseball playoffs, of course.

I finished Diary a few days ago but was too lazy to post it immediately (and we wanted to post the hilarious bookseller profile for Chris Hoyt--you really should read it if you haven't), and now I'm catching up.  The problem, of course, is that I'm about 250 pages into the next Chuck book and am starting to get Palahniukitis, where all of the characters and plots blend into one twenty-something dude's scatological wet dream.

Here's what I remember:

  • Diary is a horror novel in a classic sense, full of deception and psychological terror.  The main character lives on an island and had aspirations of being an artist but instead was working at the local inn.  Her husband, who didn't love her, is in a coma.
  • Misty, the main character, is isolated, and the villagers keep bullying her to paint.
  • The island was home to two previous great artists, and one of them has left "run before they get you"-type messages all over the place.
  • Misty, stupidly, doesn't run.
  • There's some kidnapping and torture.
  • One must suffer to create art.  Based on this theme, I expect to be the next great pop artist, specializing in portraits of my abusive cat.  Zorro is my blue dog.
  • Diary is more subtle and less humorous than the other Chuck books I've read to this point.  It was a nice break from some of the absurdity.
Ah, Sam.  Love you.
Next: Choke.  I know that Sam Rockwell is in the movie version, and I love him.  Also, I will read any book that involves the holy foreskin.  It's my favorite relic.