SHINE SHINE SHINE and Self

St. Martin’s Press 2012

“Own it,” she said to herself. “Own the bald. Own the braided honey loaf. Own it. Your husband is Maxon Mann. Nobel Prize winner. Your mother is Emma Butcher. Fucking awesome lady. Own it.”

I have been reading glowing reviews on Shine Shine Shine from twitter for the past few months. Those lucky enough to get an ARC have been singing its praises. It sounded like a book I would really enjoy as well. It was. I fell in love with each of the characters with all their flaws and wished I could read more of them after I closed the book. That is the mark of a great book for me- characters must linger. I must be so engaged with the characters that the last page fills me with dread. I loved the turn around for Sunny Mann. I started off being upset with her but Netzer slowly unveils the depths of Sunny and you connect with her as a woman on so many levels. I understood her frustration and anger once I understood her whole story. I think that is a lesson that we could all remember sometimes: you don’t really know anyone’s motivations so stop judging them. I think I forget that occasionally. Here you are forced to face that fact when you realize what a struggle her whole life had been. Also, you forgive her when it becomes apparent that her anger comes from fear and ultimately from love. She does not mean to rage against Maxon but she is so afraid.

The love story between these two is wonderful as well. They are made for one another from the moment they meet. She has the patience to deal with his Asperger’s and he just loves her with the innocence of a child. After all, acceptance is really what Sunny needs. I fell in love with both of them. It was so nice to read a love story that made sense in the real world. I hate when a love story springs from nothing and is fueled by even less. This particular story did no such thing. You could easily see why they were so perfectly suited for each other right away.

In the end, I think this book dealt a lot with self realization. They all have struggles of where they fit in and who they fit with. Eventually they are lucky enough to figure it out before it is too late. What did you think the main point of the book was? Did you love the characters in the same way that I did? Or were you unable to forgive Sunny for being so angry?

If you would like to get into the mind of Maxon…

Mark Haddon

If the life of a person dealing with an Autistic related disease was intriguing try The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeThe narrator is a young man dealing with Autism and he witnesses an “incident” that his brain doesn’t quite understand so he goes on a journey to discover what really happened. It so imaginative and you’ll just love Christopher as much as Maxon. He’s so innocent and kind but yet a genius who can name all the countries in the world along with their capitals. A really brilliant novel that helps to humanize people that deal with Autism.

See you later, see you soon.

On Traveling with Books

Anchor 2010

I made the most important decision of my upcoming trip to Spain a few days ago- what book to bring. I go most places with a book in my bag. Heaven forbid you are caught somewhere with nothing to read. I think I have nightmares involving that scenario. So, I leave for Spain on Wednesday and tucked in my carry-on bag will be The Angel’s Game by my newest literary obsession Carlos Ruiz Zafón. It is the prequel to my favorite book of all time The Shadow of the Wind. It is set in Barcelona so I felt it was quite appropriate for the trip. It took me a long time though to decide. I also considered a few other books as well. For a while I had D.H. Lawrence‘s Women in Love in my mind but having never read The Rainbow I felt it was a bad choice. Then I shifted to wanting to bring a Neil Gaiman novel. I absolutely fell for American Gods (find my review here) so I thought he would be great to bring along. I read the back of all the novels I had on my shelf and decided he wasn’t quite right for my trip. Finally, a bulb went off over my head. I had purchased The Angel’s Game about a month ago and stuck it under my coffee table since I ran out of room on my bookshelves. It would be perfect. It has the right tone and I feel that since I know all the characters already I can jump in and out of it very easily. Whether or not I get a chance to finish it will not matter. I will certainly enjoy the detailed descriptions of Barcelona during the early half of the century. Maybe I’ll actually be able to visit some of the places he describes. I’m not entirely sure that where he discusses is real but maybe, just maybe.

What do you like to read on a trip? Do you plan for it like I do? Or is it just last minute? What was the last book you read on vacation? Or do you leave the books at home?

See you later, see you soon.

HERZOG and Neurosis

Fawcett Crest 1964

I have had several of Saul Bellow‘s books on my shelf for some time now. I finally got around to reading one this week. I decided to go with Herzog which seems to be the one that is most beloved by critics and fans alike. It seemed like a good place to start. I have been a great fan of Philip Roth and so many articles that I read have referenced Saul Bellow as his predecessor. So, I had high expectations for this novel and he certainly delivered. It was nervous and rambling and so funny! Exactly what I imagining. The main character was annoying but lovable, horny but romantic, masculine but needy. He was interesting and fully rounded. For me, I must have a strong reaction to the main character if I am going to enjoy a book and I was moved by Herzog often. He was struggling in a way that is not necessarily what I have gone through at times; but, he reacted in the same way I do when dealing with uncertainty. He just delves into the depths of his mind. I loved the idea of writing non-stop letters. Basically saying everything you have ever wanted to say to people who have had even a small impact on your life.

Since you spend most of the book inside of Herzog’s scattered mind the writing does get pretty dense in many places. A few times I skipped a paragraph just to get to the point. Admittedly, I’m a pretty impatient reader. But there were plenty of surprises to keep me glued to the book. In the end, I was satisfied by a ending that felt simultaneously open-ended and finished. The anger and confusion seem to have subsided for him but what actaully happens with his family is still unknown. Some people feel jilted when the story ends without a full wrap-up but I don’t mind terribly especially with this particular story. In fact, you’ve been inside of his head for the whole book so you have all the information you need to finish out the book in your own imagination. 

If you liked this neurotic writer, you may like…

Philip Roth

I’m going with the easy suggestion on this one. I think The Counterlife is one of the greatest books ever written but it also makes sense to read it along with some Bellow. I think Roth is all that Bellow wished he could be but was too afraid to be in the 1960s. There was only so much you could say without someone censoring you in those days. Today, Roth can be as dirty and raunchy as he wishes. Trust me, he takes full advantage of that. But he’s so fucking brilliant and funny that you won’t feel insulted in the least. This particular novel is so original that it will take a while for it to wear off and allow you to enjoy other novels. Everything will seem like trash for a bit. Don’t worry, it eventually fades.

If you only have read one author, which book is your favorite? If you have read both, which writer do you prefer?  Do you agree that Roth is far dirtier than Bellow?

See you later, see you soon.

On the Read-In at Bogart’s

 

 

 

I am doing a bit of shameless self-promotion this week. Sometimes it must be done. I read an article a few weeks ago about how to keep a small bookstore thriving. One of the many suggestions was to host literary events. I decided a read-in would be perfect for our little shop. You’ll have to sign in and sign out including which book you are going to read. After reading for at least 1 hour you’ll receive a coupon for a free USED book. You can immediately choose one to take with you or take the coupon to use at a later date. I am really looking forward to seeing how many people come out to read. I set up an event page on Bogart’s facebook which you can find here. Please sign up and make it out if you can! Also, feel free to invite as many people as you wish. Let’s make this a really big deal.

Have you ever participated in a read-in before? Or any literary event? Tell me all about it!

See you later, see you soon.

DEWEY and Storytelling

Grand Central Publishing 2008

There is something wonderful about a great audio book. While I read Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World in actual print first, I really fell in love with the story after listening to it on audio. Susan McInerney does the narrating for it but it sounds just how I imagined Vicki Myron’s voice. In other words, it sounds like your mother quietly telling you a story. It’s so familiar and soothing. And here’s the thing, it came to me at the perfect time. You see, I am a cat lady without a cat for the first time in more than 15 years. So, being able to share this story made me feel comforted. I believe a lot of that had to do with how well the story was written but also how well the story was read.  I don’t often listen to audio books. It seems I gravitate to non fiction stuff over a fiction tale. The first I ever bought was a lecture on Walt Whitman. I have listen to that one 3 times fully and numerous times just one or two lectures. But Dewey is by far my favorite.

If you have never read this lovely little book and you are a fan of any one of these: cats, libraries, small towns, farms, or stories of survival, this is a perfect book for you. Even if you only are interested in just one of those you will be surprised at how much you care about the others by the end of this tale. Vicki does such a seamless job of blending not only her personal life but also the life of a small town- a town that could exist anywhere in the States- with the story of a very special cat. The story takes place in the mid-80s for the most part and during the farming crisis in the middle of our country. Now I was born in 1986 so I don’t really remember it but she reveals how it affected people and I was moved. Then she stirs in her own crushing story of love, loss and serious illness. She battles breast cancer so valiantly all while being a single mom with a deadbeat drunkard ex-husband. In the end, she has a beautiful daughter and a fabulous job at her local library. Unless you have no heart this story will make you cry at some point.

What about you? Do you ever listen to audio books? Or would you like to and just haven’t known where to start? They can get pretty expensive but do you think it’s worth it if it makes the book even better? If you read Dewey, what were you most moved by? Dewey’s story? Vicki’s story? Or the story of the struggling small town?

If you liked this you may also like…

Sarah Vowell

I love this writer. She’s so funny and smart and just cool. I picked up Assassination Vacation used at Bogart’s because I loved her stuff and the list of guests seemed really cool. Truth be told if I see Jon Stewart’s name attached I pretty much buy it on the spot. But this is another case of blending in her own life along with the deaths of presidents. It sounds morbid and it is but it’s also brilliantly funny. She gives you little tidbits about each president that I never knew. And even some small coincidences that they had in common with their assassins. So, you come out smarter than you were before. Plus, she has a way of delivering her own lines that I think I would have missed had I read it in print.

See you later, see you soon.

On Non-fiction books

My favorite book on the mind

I think my obsession with non fiction began with biographies and histories but has since grown since I have matured. When I was younger I would go to the library to find biographies on the people that I was learning about in school. I believe this little habit came from the fact that my parents always took us to historical sites as kids so I grew up always loving to learn about people and places in depth. I also always got a book when we’d visit places so a good amount of my biographies came from visiting important places. For example, when we visited Ford’s Theater when I was 12 I got a biography of Lincoln. Or upon visiting Civil War battle sites (something my father was particularly fond of doing) I’d get a book that traced the battle from its causes to its outcomes. I loved these books. I was a history nerd in school because of them. When I was a senior in high school I took the AP history class and was the only person to pass the AP exam. (In a side note, the kid that grew up to become a history teacher did not pass. We were not friendly and I took great delight in rubbing his nose in it. HA!) My love of biographies eventually led to other things as well.

When I was in high school I broke my collar bone and had to spend my gym period doing other things. Being the “library girl” had its advantages at this point because instead of writing essays on gym related topics (what in god’s name could THAT have entailed?) I was given permission to “help” the librarians. Instead, I was able to sit in the library and read as much as I liked. It was then that I stumbled upon my great love for science books. I was reading a biography on the greatest scientist to ever live- Einstein! At the end it had a listing of further reading books that included Einstein’s book on relativity. I gobbled it up. I was hooked for life. It was exactly what I was looking for at that time in my life. Real, concrete discussions on the way that the whole damn universe works. Not the bullshit explanations that my catholic upbringing had fed to me for so many years. From the universe I moved to my current obsession which is far more complicated than the universe- the mind. If you have a similar interest do find it in your power to pick up anything written by Steven Pinker. The book you see above The Stuff of Thought is the first I read and still my favorite. I stumbled upon it by accident while I was wasting time in my university bookstore in between classes. I have read most of his other works as well bu this one stays as one of my favorite books of all time.

How do you feel about non-fiction? Do you stick to fiction? Do you stick to one genre in particular? If you read non-fiction, what topic interests you the most? Why did you pick up non-fiction?

See you later, see you soon.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and Acceptance

“You aren’t really a nigger-lover, then, are you?”

“I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody…”

And that is exactly what this book is about- trying to love everybody in equal parts. I haven’t had the pleasure of reading this classic since it was assigned in the ninth grade. I remember enjoying it then even if I forgot most of the details and I was still moved by it more than a decade later. I was totally jarred the first time she used “nigger” in the narrative but I understood why. I understood that the children were presented as ignorant and we were meant to be clicking our tongues at them. I also understood that in 1960 people were more than likely not as offended by the use of the word as I was and I took some comfort in that idea. I would like to think that there has been progress in the fight against racial prejudice even if it does not always feel that way.

The book itself is wonderful. Harper Lee never published anything else but this book stands as one of the greatest books in all of literature. Each character is interesting and fully developed, even if some are only touched upon briefly. I absolutely think that Atticus Finch is one of the greatest fictional characters of all time as well as the trio of Jem, Scout and Dill. They made mistakes in a way that was realistic but they were able to learn from them in a believable manner. Each grow from the beginning to the end of the narrative- even Atticus. The writing itself is smooth and infinitely enjoyable as it is both warm and funny. I forgot how funny it was, or maybe I didn’t get the jokes when I was 13. I have to admit that a lot of the message is very subtle. The separation of black and white culture is not always pointed out but must be picked up on by the reader if they choose to do so. Otherwise it is just a tale of an exciting trial in a sleepy southern town. The further message is deciphered by the reader or not.

Furthermore, the movie (the 50th anniversary is this year) is equally as engaging as the book which is often not the case. I had the pleasure of catching a showing on TCM the day that I finished the book in a bit of serendipitous luck. Gregory Peck is nearly flawless as Atticus and the Oscar is well deserved but I must admit that the cast of children are also wonderful. They are sensitive and charming just as the book describes them. And the one actor who plays Dill looks just how I imagine a young Truman Capote, who is famously the inspiration for the precocious youth. I highly recommend watching the film as a companion to the novel. Though my only complaint is that in Hollywood’s constant search for perfection the gentleman playing Boo Radley is far more handsome that the book describes. But it can be overlooked given the accuracy of the rest of the film.

If you want to read more on race relations in America…

Charles W. Chestnutt

The Marrow of Tradition is a fictionalization of the race riots that occurred in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898. It is fascinating as a discussion on race relations in America even if it is centralized in the south. The book does include commentary on the entirety of the human race and not only coming down on the idea that whites are bad or blacks are good but that we are all individuals who are capable of a broad spectrum of actions. I knew nothing about the riots which made the cultural edition that I read indispensable as it has other documents to help understand both the causes of as well as the impact on the society that the riots had. I believe it comes with the same message as To Kill A Mockingbird- love your fellow man despite any perceptible differences. 

See you later, see you soon.

On Why I Love Books

Borders will always be special to me– even if they had no soul

As I mentioned before on my bio page I have been thoroughly obsessed with books ever since I was a child. I have a very distinct memory of walking into a Border’s Bookstore for the first time and being amazed that I could own these books. I grew up in a very small town with no bookstores at all. But my parents were book people so we would take the 45 minute drive up to the closest book warehouse when I was younger. The earliest memory I have of going into a bookshop is at age 12 when I bought Angus, Things and Full Frontal Snogging because it sounded awesome instead of being recommended by the Scholastic Corporation. I read the whole series after that. It was funny and cool and not what my librarian would have stocked in our very tiny school library. You see, the vast majority of my reading came from my school library and while they tried very hard to have a wide variety a lot fell through the cracks. They were far more concerned with having the right academic research volumes than the latest Young Adult novels. Of course when I was able to drive I could make regular pilgrimages to my local county library to get a larger selection.

However, there is nothing quite like having your own library to choose from. So despite the weird smell and brightly buzzing fluorescent lights I loved Border’s Books most of all. I mean, they no longer exist so that should be proof enough of how truly awful they are. Not that Barnes & Noble Books is all that improved but at least they attempt to have some atmosphere. But to this book starved mind Border’s was a hub of intellectualism. I could get any fresh crisp new book that I wanted. It wasn’t until I was old enough to travel to Philadelphia and scour their small selection of independent bookshops that I realized how cheap and garish the new printings of books were. I remember what it was like to hold a printing of a classic book from the 60s or 70s. I would marvel at how beautiful and detailed the cover art was and thought how I had never seen anything like it on a new printing.

Don’t get me wrong- what matters the most to me are the words contained within that cover, not the actual cover. My real obsession stems from the world that books take me too. I become completely enraptured by a great novel. The world falls away and there is very little that can distract me. Take me to a rock concert and I could sit quietly with a book and never hear a sound. They envelop me in a place of magic and safety all at once. I can be placed in the middle of a great battle yet feel as though nothing could ever touch me. That is truly the best thing about being a reader and I think most will have to agree. We love nothing more than getting lost in the pages whether it is bound in this decade or any other. 

What about the rest of you? Why do you love books so much? What is it that draws us to them and makes us readers for life? Do you have specific editions or just whatever you are able to locate for a good price?

See you later, see you soon.

AMONG OTHERS and Curses

“There are some awful things in the world, it’s true, but there are also some great books.” (pg.52)

I have been wanting to read more science fiction for quite some time now but I never knew where-or I guess with whom- to start. It has been a genre that interested me but I always found kind of intimidating. There are authors that some people discuss in hushed tones. These are authors that have a cult following that few other genres could rival. A lot of these writers have been doing so for many years and have giant catalogues to show for their years of work. But I am conflicted since I have read the back of many titles but none have jumped out at me as something that I would like to read. Yet, I still have the desire to read at least one. Just to see what all the hype is about. Well, this book gave me a great list to work from. She talks about dozens of sci-fi (and some fantasy writers too) that all sounded like things that I would like to read very much. I even thought about taking a cue from Morwenna and begin from the letter A and just see what happens. It would not be unwise to start with Poul Anderson and slowly make my way down to Roger Zelazny.

However many sci-fi books are discussed does not make this a sci-fi novel though. It is far closer to a fantasy with all the fairies and magic that happens. Or does any magic actually happen? As Morwenna says herself, “You can almost always find chains of coincidence to disprove magic.” (pg.40) Since Morwenna is such an unreliable narrator we can’t even be sure that any of the fairies or ghosts that she claims to see actually exist either. Which I think is the best part of this book. It allows you to decide if you want to believe in the magic or not. You have to dig deep and really examine how you feel about the mystery of the world around us. I just really love the idea of fairies but I certainly don’t really believe that they exist. Jo Walton makes you feel comfortable giving in to the fantasy of seeing fairies or being able to say good bye to our loved ones one more time without forcing you to actually believe them in real life. Just relax and enjoy the journey with Morwenna who is infinitely interesting.

The book is worth a read just for all the wonderful things that Walton has to say about the book culture. Certainly most of us have nothing in common with Morwenna on a personal level. We don’t have a witch mother or a twin that died because of said witch mother. We aren’t in a boarding school being paid for by our rich but crazy aunts. We can’t make that connection but we all feel the same way she does about books. And as a future librarian I especially loved what she had to say about them:

Libraries really are wonderful. They’re better than bookshops, even. I mean bookshops make a profit on selling you books, but libraries just sit there lending you books out of the goodness of their hearts. (pg.59)

Is that not that best thing ever said on libraries? Well, it’s the best thing I ever read in a book about them. And how true it is too! As a bookseller I try to be honest and give the best advice and price to my customers. But I have to make money to keep the place running. Libraries have a big advantage with outside funding and they just let you browse and borrow until your heart is content. They’re good like that.

If you enjoy a good curse then you might like… 

Junot Díaz

I read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in college and totally enjoyed every character. It is set in New Jersey which is always good for me. There are places that I know of in it. I recently gave the book away to 20 lucky strangers for World Book Night back on April 23. Read about it here in The Press of Atlantic City. It was a lot of fun and a lot of people have come back and said that they really enjoyed the book. Even some people who aren’t big readers. This book mentions a lot of sci-fi and fantasy writers as well. And is about outcasts from society dealing with major tragedies. But that’s about as far as the commonalities go. The curse in this instance is from the Dominican Republic and is associated with luck more than fairies. The references also seem more current. The book is seriously good as well though.

On Underlining and Highlighting

Do you underline or highlight?

A few months ago one of my favorite bookish websites Bookriot.com ran a feature in their “Our Reading Lives” segment on writing in books. In it, guest contributor Paul Montgomery of iFanboy.com wrote about his inability to mark his own books. His fear was based on the idea that upon his death people would cull information about him from these highlighted pages and interpret him horribly, horribly wrong. When we mark our books we are leaving a bit of ourselves in the pages which can be intimidating. As Montgomery fears, “Because what if I write the wrong thing?” However, I think that there is no such thing. Often I have found notes in books that make me laugh out loud with their obvious observations or ridiculous interpretations. But it’s all worth reading for me. I like touching the past in some way. Who cares if the last person to read it was a dunce? In the end you just make the connection of reading the same book, whether it was last owned by Harold Bloom or Joe Schmoe.

The whole point of writing in my books is that it reminds me of the human element of reading. We read books alone but in this way we can share the experience.  As an avid collector of used books one of my favorite things is to read any old notes that the previous owner left. I especially adore a good inscription on the front flyleaf. I make it a point to write a note in any book that I give as a gift and I cherish any book given to me with a note in it. I want to make those connections from across time. I usually give books as gifts to all my friends and family so I have written a lot of inscriptions over the years, from the sentimental to “Red Sox suck”. Hopefully, many years from now some stranger will pick it up and it will make them laugh or maybe even cry. If they are anything like me they will try to conjure an image of giver or recipient. Or a happy accident will make sure that they have the same name as me or they are giving the same book to their own family member. We will have shared a special moment without ever meeting face to face. 

What about you? Do you share the same fears as Paul Montgomery? Or are you as fearless as I am? Do you underline in ink or use a highlighter?