Sunday, June 23, 2013

Things I Love, Things I Hate, Things In Between, Volume 5

It's been awhile. Time to vent.

Most people love this book.
It didn't work for me.
Thing I Hate: Reading Slumps
They shouldn't occur, but they do. Mother Teresa had her crisis of faith, and occasionally I get bogged down in books that don't inspire me. It's not entirely unexpected, as I've been traveling almost nonstop for the last two months and removed from my regular routine. I started reading Philipp Meyer's The Son, a new novel which is generating huge praise from booksellers and critics, and one which has been compared to both the works of Cormac McCarthy and Lonesome Dove. I loved American Rust, Meyer's first novel, but this one didn't work for me. Weirdly, I was bored and the characters seemed flat to me. It's obvious that Meyer did his homework (this is a novel spanning 150 years of Texas history), but the most interesting sections--the ones focused on the abduction of a white boy by Comanches--seem like barely fictional retellings of the more engagingly written history, Empire of the Summer Moon. Some of my bookseller friends claim that The Son should win the National Book Award or Pulitzer. They said the same thing about Yellow Birds last year.

Thing I Love: Breaking the Slump
I don't have any magic trick to breaking the reading slump except to keep reading and trying different books.  I am in between sales conferences for work, which means that I have more of an opportunity to explore (fewer homework books). I picked up a novel coming out in 2014--yes, we read way in advance--by Evie Wyld. I loved Wyld's first book, After the Fire, a Still Small Voice, a novel of fathers and sons set in rural Australia, about war and memory and family. Wyld is one of those up and coming writers, one of The Daily Telegraph's best British writers under 40, and After the Fire won several awards. Her new book is called All the Birds, Singing; when I picked it up, I had no idea what it was about. How does this sound? An Australian woman is living on a British island as a sheep farmer (rancher?). She is alone except for a dog named Dog. She has a past she's avoiding as much as she's avoiding the other residents of the island. And one by one, something is attacking her sheep. An animal? Something more sinister? I'm only about a quarter of the way through, but I'm hooked. The book has an eerie tone that's perfect for holding my interest.

Thing I Hate: Migraines
Yeah, so that's not saying much. Who loves a migraine? Gianna and I both suffer from them. I'm aware of my triggers (mostly flashing lights and fatigue), but too many early morning airport trips and a flickering bulb at the airport breakfast taco place created a monster two weeks ago. When I don't catch them in time, my headaches linger for a few days, and my nerves are shot. I drop things. Like my phone. Into the toilet. I had these grand plans of posting pictures from my travels this season, from snowy Colorado to swampy New Orleans to the majestic Grand Canyon, with lots and lots of bookstores mixed in, but that plan went down (into?) the toilet. Sigh. At least it was just water in the toilet, but I still lied to the woman at the cell phone store when I bought a replacement, saying that I dropped my dead phone in dishwater. I'm not ashamed. I'm not proud.

Thing I Love: Ice Cream
Gianna, it's your turn to bring me dessert. I think a waffle cone would be nice. Something chocolaty.

Thing In Between: Black Swan
This movie sort of stinks, but I like the soundtrack (perhaps because it's all just music from the ballet). It's the opposite of Titanic, which is only bearable if you mute it. It's too hot to go outside. I'm channel surfing as I work on this blog piece. Is it obvious? I met Natalie Portman once. She's about four feet tall.

Thing I Love: Cloud Atlas
I recently watched the film version of Cloud Atlas (see: hot, channel surfing) after holding out. Since I love the book so much, I hesitated to view a film version. Actors I love starred in it (Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Ben Whishaw who was Q in the last Bond movie, and my crush Jim Sturgess), but it also starred Tom Hanks. I don't dislike Tom Hanks, but when was the last time you were able to sever the "that's Tom Hanks" thought and just see a character? When Meryl Streep played Julia Child, you just saw Julia; that's what I want in a movie. That said, with the interwoven stories and having the same actors playing multiple characters, the Hanks factor was a non-issue. I was surprised how much I actually liked the movie, and it's an excellent echo of what makes the book so phenomenal--virtuoso storytelling and mind-blowing novelistic structure coming together to tell a story of freedom from oppression and finding hope. I love this book, and I appreciate the movie for reminding me of it.

Thing I LOVE: Postcard books filled with book covers
A few years ago, Penguin published a collection of their classic book covers as postcards. Just recently, New Directions did the same with the iconic covers of Alvin Lustig, one of the greatest book cover designers ever. I love these images. I hope that other publishers follow this trend. Pretty please?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

Liz and I met for lunch a couple of weeks ago just after finishing our 100 continuous days of posting. We knew we had to give the readers exactly what they didn’t want, frequent and consistent with posting. We stuffed ourselves silly, got really sleepy and then forgot all about the blog. Fast forward two weeks later and Liz reminded me that we have a blog. In short (too late), we’re lazy but Liz just had a baby and things are really crazy right now. [Huh. The things I learn while proofreading this blog.]

Oh joy, Curtis Sittenfeld has a new book! Super joy, it’s about twins!! Holy shit joy, it’s about twins with ESP!!! That my friends is the trifecta. You know Liz is a twin. [Dang. The bullets are flying at me today.] Explains several things, right? Anyway, turns out that what Sisterland is about really is family. Half the book is in Sittenfeld’s sweet spot, adolescence. Fans of Prep won’t be disappointed, and the readers of American Wife will love the storyline and really strong writer.

Set in St. Louis, Missouri (why doesn’t that happen more?) twins Vi and Daisy are the very best of friends growing up. [That's how you know it's fiction.] It becomes apparent at an early age that the girls have “senses."  As the girls enter high school, the personality differences in the sisters become sharp. Vi is the fearless one and Daisy yearns to be popular. As the girls turn into women, Daisy attempts to bury her abilities, while Vi becomes a medium for hire.

Things heat up when Vi publicly predicts that an earthquake will hit St. Louis in the weeks to come. The prediction turns their lives upside down. Is that a pun of some sort? I can’t decide.

If you haven’t read Curtis Sittenfeld yet (what is wrong with you?) and if you  like Chris Bohjalian, Meg Wolitzer, or Jonathan Tropper, you can’t go wrong with any of Sittenfeld’s work. Bring Sisterland  on vacation, it's the perfect book to travel with!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Book Nerd on Vacation: Los Angeles

I'm spending the weekend in Los Angeles, visiting book nerd friends. What do book nerds do on vacation? Sure it's LA, but I've taken four trips over the years to visit this particular friend, and we've never once ventured near Hollywood. Instead we've spent quality time at art museums and, of course, book stores. Today we drove downtown to check out The Last Bookstore, a mostly used store that's been in its current building for a couple of years. If you've read Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind and fell in love with the idea of the Cemetery of Lost Books, you will absolutely love this store.

The ground floor of the building features a nice assortment of used books--lots of literary fiction and space given to film, photography, art, design, etc--as well as a coffee shop and CD section. What makes the store special, though, are the details. In the nooks there are book sculptures and cool industrial touches; the light fixtures are bulbs hanging on bicycle rims, for example.

Looking down at the main floor. It's a mix of industrial touches, book art, and books.

Flying books decorating a window, and quirky found objects scattered around.
And then there's the space upstairs. Some of the upstairs features working artist studios, and there are interesting art pieces scattered around.

Book sculpture leading into the Labyrinth.
I think the artist is David Lovejoy.

And then there's the Labyrinth Above the Last Bookstore. All of the books upstairs sell for $1, and there isn't a whole lot of traditional organization beyond some general thematic groupings. The science fiction novels are hiding in an antique vault, for example. And there are book sculptures, and books shelved by color, and crazy crannies everywhere.

Book tunnel? Hell yes.
You get the feeling that there are treasures lurking for the adventurer with time to search.

The blue and green books on in the Labyrinth.

Color coding can be fun.

Really, though, for those of us who dream of living in an actual Book Land, The Last Bookstore comes pretty close to making it a reality. You don't go to The Last Bookstore with a specific title in mind and only five minutes to dart in and out. You go there to explore, play Indiana Jones among the stacks, and delight in the written word. That's a glorious feeling.

When you walk in and see the check-out desk, you know you're in for a treat.