Sunday, December 14, 2014

Give This Book: Holiday Ideas 2014, Part 2

About a decade ago while out enjoying SXSW I received a phone call from my friend and then roommate that went something like this:

Me: Hello?
Friend: Hi. You have to come home; I think the house may have been robbed.
Me:  Why do you think the house may have been robbed?
Friend: Because the house was robbed.

Bless her heart; she was trying to do that thing where you break bad news in the most gentle of ways.

this song will now be
in your head
So, yeah my house was burgled and those little sons a bitches got a pretty good haul (relax book lovers, not one book was stolen so we can be pretty certain it wasn’t a gang of nerds). They took every ounce of booze in the house, my  old Minolta camera (which my mother tortured us with when were kids) and they cleared out over half my cd collection.  Like any civilized person my cds were alphabetized and A-O were stolen and yes, that included my Falco, Rock Me Amadeus extended mix single. Life just is not fair, I know that now.

I tell you this horrifically sad story for two reasons. First, teenagers simply can not be trusted. If you do trust them (and you should not!), prepare yourself for disappointment and fewer musical choices. Second, a day or two after the unfortunate incident, I actually felt a bit lighter which intrigued me. A few weeks later I found  a few of my rare cds at a used music shop here in town (I was doing the equivalent of looking for a lost dog and checking the pound every day).  I was told that I could buy the cds back at the store’s cost (if I produced my police report). Huh, buy my stolen goods back? It was the most tempting, most American thing ever, but I thought maybe I liked having fewer things and walked away.

Marie Kondo
From that incident on, I have made an effort to acquire less and get rid of more but it wasn’t until reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo that I was able to begin to turn the process of having fewer things into a life practice. I got rid of what I got rid of, some of it was easy (so long acid washed jeans with a rip at the knee, we were so good together once), some things were hard (can we work this out acid washed jean overalls with a rip at the knee). Other things were off the table and I think you know what I am talking about…the books. All the books, so many books, the books the books the books. Why didn’t those kids take these books? Rotten kids leaving me with all these

Marie Kondo prescribes holding each object in your hands, does this object, this thing, bring you joy? Obviously you cannot do this exercise if you’re drunk, holding a balled up pair of knee high striped socks with tears in your eyes and babbling something about Lollapalooza and 1998, it’s not helpful. And also, don’t ball up your socks anymore; there is a chapter on that in the book.

So, over a weeklong period I sat with a couple hundred books. I held each one, thanked the book, or in many cases wondered why I still had the book (lots of stinkers, let’s be honest), but I really had to meditate on what brought me joy. Was it the book, or was it the memory of the book, would I read the book again, did I need this physical book in my house? The answer was almost always, no and I began to purge nearly half my collection.

While there are certainly books that would painful for me to get rid of (my signed All Over But the Shoutin’ while not my favorite book, is very personal to me) and I know now that I can, I can get rid of any book in my house. Okay…that’s an overstatement but you see where I am going.

Most of us have too much, we do. We are drowning in it. So in this season of giving more stuff you can give the gift of letting go, having less, and moving on. This book helps you prioritize and rationalize why we keep things, why it’s so hard to let go, and why our lives are better with less clutter. And seriously, stop balling up those socks; they’ve been good to you.

Right now, both of my dogs are sitting at my feet and I just can’t help but think….is it one dog too many?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Give This Book: Holiday Ideas 2014, Part 1

It's about time for Gianna to begin thinking about what she wants to give me for Christmas. There's no reason you can't steal her ideas for your own gift giving needs. Also, remember to share your book giving ideas (or this blog) with the hashtag #GiveaBook. Penguin Random House is donating a children's book to Save the Children every time the hashtag is used on Twitter and Facebook (up to 25,000 books). Normally I avoid the children, but this is a cause even my Grinch-y heart can support.

Holiday Gift Ideas:


How to Be Both by Ali Smith.

Ali Smith is one of those writers that should be a mega-seller, a genius of the craft who never writes boring books. If you (or your special friend) likes Hilary Mantel, you'll like Smith. Like Mantel, she's a British writer who's been nominated for the Man Booker Prize multiple times, including for How to Be Both. Here's why this book is a great gift: 1. you don't have it yet. It just went on sale in the US, so you can be confident that it's something new. 2. It's the most inventive book of the year. This novel is actually two stories, one set in Renaissance Italy and one set in modern England. Some books are printed with the Italy story first, some with the contemporary story. It doesn't matter which way you read it, but how you read the one part influences your reading of the other. Allow me to quote Washington Post critic Ron Charles: "Playfully brilliant. . . . Fantastically complex and incredibly touching. . . . This gender-blending, genre-blurring story, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, bounces across centuries, tossing off profound reflections on art and grief, without getting tangled in its own postmodern wires. It’s the sort of death-defying storytelling acrobatics that don’t seem entirely possible. . . . [A] swirling, panoramic vision of two women’s lives, separated by more than 500 years, impossibly connected by their fascination with the mystery of existence." 3. While it's experimental fiction, it's also readable and funny and touching.

Pair this book with another book: Once you read one Ali Smith novel, there's the strong possibility that you'll want to read more. Check out Hotel World, a first rate ghost story about lost love. Another possibility is Virginia Woolf's Orlando, the benchmark for genre- and gender-bending fiction.

Pair this book with a treat: Stick with the half-and-half theme with some black-and-white cookies.

This book is perfect for: fans of literary fiction, the Man Booker Prize, and those who like to read books that aren't formulaic. Fans of art, as a Renaissance fresco is at the center of the novel.


All the Truth Is Out by Matt Bai.

Let's say that you have a politics junky on your list, but you don't really want to go there because nothing ruins Christmas dinner like your crotchety uncle expounding on Obama's administration. You can still make your politico pal happy. Just give him/her a book about a politician who's been out of the public eye for 25 years. Matt Bai's All the Truth Is Out is the Gary Hart politics book you never realized that you want to read. For those born after 1985 or so, Gary Hart was a front runner for the Democratic nomination in the 1988 election. During the campaign, though, it came out that he'd spent some quality sexy times with model Donna Rice (on a boat named "Monkey Business," no less). Hart's campaign was dead in a matter of weeks, Dukakis won the nomination, George H.W. Bush was elected President, and the nature of politics changed significantly. Obviously a ton of politicians had dabbled with the sexy ladies in the past. The difference with Gary Hart, though, was that with the advent of the 24 hour news channels, these stories moved from the grocery store checkout lane to network news. This book looks at that shift, telling the Gary Hart story like a thriller, with the reporters racing to pay phones every time Hart stepped outside, as well as the impact this shift has had on US politics since then. Can you say Lewinski? Think about it: can the country really get the leaders it needs to thrive if all politicians must live to standards that most people in positions of authority (and otherwise) don't maintain? The media freaks out over what the Obama girls are wearing for a photo op ceremony, and if this non-event is newsworthy, can you imagine how insane the Kennedy Presidency would have been in the age of nonstop media coverage? Or how about the Reagans and their fondness for consulting with psychics? This is juicy stuff, but with the benefit of some historical distance.

Pair this book with another book: Take a look at The American Vice Presidency by Jules Witcover. Is there a more entertaining political office that the Vice Presidency? From guys who were drunk at the inauguration to guys forced to resign to guys who shot other guys (sometimes accidentally), these guys are awesome.

Pair this book with a treat: If we're talking infidelities and politics, you need to stock up on the booze. Maybe you should sample some of the craft brews from Gary Hart's home state of Colorado. Here's a list to whet your whistle.

This book is perfect for: fans of The Daily Show, fans of Game Change, the people who don't complain about political rants on Facebook, the people who are endlessly fascinated by the circus of Fox News, etc.