THE BERMUDEZ TRIANGLE and Identity

I just finished my first taste of Maureen Johnson in a matter of hours. I was captivated from beginning to end. No lie. I have been a fan of Maureen Johnson on Twitter for many months now. She is the QUEEN OF TWITTER. Seriously. She is funny and smart and makes the rest of us Twits feel very amateur. So, I was very excited to actually read some of her fiction. I was impressed. The story is written from 3 different perspectives with no clear delineation but it never got confusing. That is no easy task. Some writers (like Jodi Picoult) have mastered the multiple perspective storytelling but usually employ different chapters, and even different fonts, to represent the varying voices. Not here. Yet, I could identify each speaker with ease. I tip my hat to you, Maureen.

The story deals with three best friends that have a difficult time regrouping after a summer of new experiences. The crux is that their friend Melanie has discovered that she is a lesbian and has done so with another member of the trio- Avery. The third, Nina, has been away a leadership camp held at Stanford University and was not privy to this information all summer long. This is not a spoiler since it says as much on the back cover. But how each girl deals with all the consequences from this revelation– along with a variety of other teenage dramas– is what is most intriguing; in that it is totally realistic and believable at every moment. I remember some of the struggles that they deal with. And while I am a heterosexual I can still relate to being so confused by my body and my feelings towards significant others. She does a great job of showing how gay teens deal with the world but maintaining a universality to allow for everyone to connect with these girls.

I highly recommend picking up this book no matter what age you are. It will take you through exploring who you are and what is the most important in your life. Absolutely wonderful!

If you still need to read more about identity crises…

Zadie Smith

I read On Beauty in college and have been giving it as a gift ever since. While it’s not an uplifting read, it’s an honest one. She dwells on how the world has preconceived notions of nearly everyone, from the overweight black woman to the white male professor at a prestigious university to the troubled but brilliant black teenager. You need not be any of these particular descriptions to feel the emotions of these characters. It is so well written that everyone, even a young white college student, can totally relate to feeling like an outsider. Also, that feeling of fulfilling a certain stereotype. There is a great scene with Kiki, the overweight black woman, who upon meeting with some white people goes into a head shaking finger wagging cocky black woman “routine”. As she is doing it, her inner monologue is appalled that she is conforming to this portrayal of a strong black female instead of being herself.  It is a situation that a lot of us have had to deal with at some point. We often give into stereotypes to be more pleasing to those around us.

See you later, see you soon.

On Investment Books

Longfellow’s Divine Comedy Looking Lovely in the Sunshine

Two of my most prized possessions were purchased at the same place around the same time. It was a small antique store run by two sisters that was right down the street from me. It was called Things Remembered. It has since closed down but I insist that they had the best selection at the best price of any antique store I’ve ever been in, and I go to a lot of them. I had found plenty of treasures in the many rooms of that over sized building over the years but two were especially important to me. The first is an antique necklace made of several strands of white and purple beads that I wear nearly everyday. I love purple. Obsessed, really. Most of my closet is filled with a variety of shades and tones of purple so when I found this necklace it was love at first sight. Though, I can not remember how much I paid for it but I am sure I got my money’s worth by now, some 6 years later. The other is a set of The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri as translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It was printed in 1876 bound in green leather with gold lettering. They are beautiful and I can still remember how they looked in the sunlight of the front room. It was priced out of my range but I had a good rapport with the owner by then so I approached her with a deal. The asking price was $50 but she agreed on $30. So, I walked out with the three huge volumes in my arms and a huge smile on my face.

I had a plan for those books. They would sit on my shelf for many years making me look like a genius and after a while I would sell them for thousands. I was around 20 at the time of the purchase and I was convinced that old books generated that kind of money just because they are old. Of course I am older and wiser so I know that is not necessarily true. In fact, I did my research and I believe my set is worth about $150. More than I paid but not quite the thousands that I had in mind. After doing research at Bogart’s for all the books that get donated I have a better idea of what types of books are of any worth or not. These are probably just mail ordered volumes that the wealthy would set on their shelves to show off their money and education. They’re nothing special. But a few features make them more desirable- namely the popularity of the title and the good condition of the books.

However, I no longer wish to sell them. They mean too much to me to let them go for any price. I realized how silly of an idea that it was to buy them as an investment but now I appreciate them for a different reason. They represent a moment in time in my life but they also symbolize every year that they were in existence. I can feel the weight of history trapped between the covers. I look at them as a moment in time when books were printed with the utmost care and the best materials. In an age of digital books and shoddily made paperbacks it feels nice to hold a book made with such love. These were made to last a long time and will do so in my company for many years. 

What are your investment books? Do you have a collection? What is the most amount of money you spent on a book? Feel free to send a picture of your favorite antique book.

See you later, see you soon.

THE SHADOW OF THE WIND and Sexuality

“Why are books burned? Through stupidity, ignorance, hatred… goodness only know.”

I had a tough time choosing what quote to start this post off with because I had underlined and dogeared so many. Though, towards the end, I was so caught up in the mystery that I stopped all together. Every word was poetry. I noted the comparison to Gabriel García Márquez, one of my all time favorite authors, on the back of my edition and I was skeptical, but Zafón delivered. It was as beautiful and sensual as anything that Márquez had written. The sexual tension throughout was taut and believable. No awkward fumbling. I actually believed that Zafón has had sex at some point. There are books (I won’t name names) that I could swear the author was a virgin. Not here. I felt myself blush but I was never offended. Romance writers should take a lesson from Zafón in the art of writing a sex scene that would send a whole nunnery into a titter. In a time when bawdy yet poorly written novels top the bestseller lists this novel stands apart with very graphic but beautifully handled sex scenes. Add in a truly romantic love story and you have the perfect novel to fill up those hot summer days.

Add in a fascinating mystery and you have a novel that you just can’t put down. I finished this book in only a few days. I read the entire final half while at the beach with my friends. I did not look up very many times. They finally gave up with trying to include me in the conversation. They will feel the same when I give them this book to read. Like I said, I was furiously underlining every sentence that caught my eye but as the mystery began to unravel my pen fell silent. While the solution was not anything groundbreaking, the way in which it unfolded was magical. Nothing was left unknown and all my questions were answered but not all at once. Just slowly the resolution leaked out as the novel concluded. I won’t spoil it here but we can talk more in the comments below.

There was not much I didn’t like about this book. In fact, I found some inspiration for my next tattoo within these pages. Among the many beautiful quotes rose this perfect description of books:  “Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you,” answered Julián(pg.209). This rings so true for me. My favorite books are those that I can relate to in a very deep way. I had never thought to describe this sensation as looking into a mirror before but now I know. I use the word “sensation” here because when I really connect with a book I feel in a a very visceral way. My heart flutters and I feel my blood pumping through every inch of my  body. Reading a great book is a total body experience. This book did all that and more. I hope to have this tattoo over xmas so I’ll post a picture as soon as it is made permanent.

If you liked this then try…

Diane Setterfield

If you loved the mystery of this story then please pick up The Thirteenth Tale immediately. It is the only book by this author which is very depressing but it is fabulous. Once again the mystery unfolds slowly and the characters are unforgettable. I honestly read it in one sitting. I just could not put it down once I started. It deals with a bookstore owner and a beloved writer just like in The Shadow of the Wind so if you really liked the bookseller hero- this is great. This is another book that I have recommended time after time at Bogart’s and most people come back just gushing over it. Even a customer that I had my doubts about came back in love with the book.

See you later, see you soon.

On Bookshelves

One of my two living room bookshelves

A few months ago I tried to run a contest in which people would post pictures of their bookshelves and the most interesting layout would win a gift certificate. It did not go over well. The above picture is my admission and I only received one other set of pictures. I was keenly disappointed. Not only because my AWESOME,WONDERFUL, FABULOUS idea had been ignored, but also because I was curious as all hell to see other people’s bookshelves. I can’t claim credit for the idea completely as the inspiration came from seeing famous people’s libraries in a variety of places. First, I had seen a book called Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books while shopping in a little bookshop in Philly. Then, a few weeks later I saw a series of blogs dedicated to old and new photographs of people in their libraries. I just loved the idea. For as readers are we not defined by our bookshelves? I certainly feel that way. And I do not mean how much you spent on them or if they are perfectly alphabetized. But rather, where we decide to display them and what we consider worthy of space on our shelves. I especially loved that the book included some up close shots so that you could read the spines. I recognized some of my own favorites on those shelves. It was amazing that nearly all the homes had books in a plethora of rooms. Not just one dedicated library like there used to be. Now, books are decorations.

Up close of one of my bookshelves

A good friend of mine made that observation a few days ago and it got my mind turning again about that failed contest. Like I said, a lot of my motivation for the contest was shear curiosity. We sell dozens and dozens of books everyday and I wanted to know where they end up. I take books very personally and I was hoping to recognize some of my old friends on the shelves of our customers. Maybe wave hello through the computer screen and know that they are safe. Ok, maybe not actually wave, but metaphorically say, “I’m glad you found a home.” That is one of the things I love as a bookseller. I get to put books into people’s hands and homes. I always get to see the book in hand but very rarely in home and I thought this would be a great opportunity. Alas, no one else wanted to let me into their homes.

Maybe if I just leave it for fun I can get some more people to join me. So you’ve seen mine, show me yours! Add a photo or two of your most representative books up on their shelves. Indulge my curiosity!

THE TRIAL OF HENRY KISSINGER and Disillusionment

Verso 2001

“A good liar must have a good memory: Kissinger is a stupendous liar with a remarkable memory”(pg.89)

The American government is whack. Seriously. If you need any further proof of this fact please read The Trial of Henry KissingerIt is written by one of the most profound journalists of the last two centuries. His death last year was truly a loss for the intelligent liberal class of Americans. His voice was important in both the political as well as the religious realms. This book is from the political side of his brilliant mind. He uses a litany of interviews and recently declassified documents to accuse Kissinger of a plethora of war crimes. They are as offensive as anything perpetrated by the worst of the despots. The scary realization is that Kissinger does these things while maintaining a front of working within democratic rules. He does not.

Hitchens is a wonderful writer. He brings humor and brevity into a topic that could be a dragging, boring, billion paged book that would get left on a shelf for years. Instead, it is an easily accessible argument that I was able to read and comprehend in just a few short days. I think it will stick with me for a long time though. It is terrifying that even with this book in print with all of its lucid points made about the guilt of Henry Kissinger; he still lives free. And is still being awarded for his work in humanities. Another terrifying point is how many of his personal papers are still classified. They sit in The Library of Congress, mocking our justice system with an arbitrary marking of “classified” by the very person who wrote them. It hurts my brain to contemplate that idea.

If you have no prior knowledge of many of the conflicts that Hitchens discusses, fret not. He has provided enough detail to clarify his arguments without drowning them in too many. I am interested in history but there were still many facts that I was unaware of before reading this. Any interest in the Vietnam war and the years following will surely make this a must read for you. It elucidates the covert operations that took place to justify that useless war as well as the years of turmoil that followed.

If you need to be angered any further please read…

Howard Zinn

His People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present relates the true history of our great country. It reveals that the creation of our country is not as pure of heart as our history books would have children believing. Forget all your classes and read this one. Then jump off a tall building because it depresses the hell out of you. If you are a graphic novel fan then try out A People’s History of American EmpireIt takes portions of the first book and under the guise of a lecture by Professor Zinn discusses the actions of America on a global scale. It includes chapters on Vietnam and the years following. Either is an excellent choice and I read both with equal interest. There is a whole list of political history books written by this author that I have not read so let me know if I should read anything immediately in the comments.

Let’s get angry together! 

See you later, see you soon.

On Graphic Novels

Persepolis

This argument begins about two years ago while in my Senior Literature course at Rowan University. My beloved professor assigned Persepolis and I think he still regrets it many years later. We were all graduating senior literature students so we were supposed to be able to control the conversation ourselves and focus it on parsing every sentence for meaning. It did not take long for the debate to just deteriorate into half the class decrying the use of graphic novels as legitimate literature. The other half unabashedly defending them as equally important to the literary world just in a new and different way. They seem to forget that the novel was only recently embraced as the primary mode of philosophizing. It was merely mindless medieval romances but grew to importance and slowly became included in serious academic studies. My comrades and I were arguing that soon graphic novels would have to be included.

I studied art before I became a literature major. I understand how powerful an image can be. In Persepolis there is a particularly moving image that is so simple but Satrapi conveys a variety of emotions with just one simple blacked out box. It comes after the discussion of her favorite uncle being taken away by the government never to return. Sometimes words can diminish a moment and that little black box said more than pages of sentimental words could ever attempt. The other students did not see it that way. They claimed that using cartoons to express an emotion is dumbing down literature and therefore ruining us as a culture. All I have to say is: “That’s ignorant.”  Visual art existed long before the written word as art. I just do not understand how you can separate the two mediums just because they are using cartoons instead of realistic renderings. How is it any different than the works of modern artists like Keith Haring or even Andy Warhol. Both of whom use very simple images to convey deeper messages. Did these two artists dumb down art? Or did they take in a new and necessary direction? I think the better argument is made for the latter.

So, how do you feel about graphic novels? Are they important to the literary lexicon or just childish rubbish best left to super heroes? For me, they are an important step in both art and literature. I hope that they can be added to a curriculum soon. And thank you Professor Plourde for including a graphic novel and allowing us to yell and stamp our feet without interruption. I will always be indebted to you for not admonishing me for calling that girl that I could not stand narrow minded. It felt so great.

84, CHARING CROSS ROAD and Strangers

Penguin 1990

“I personally can’t think of anything less sacrosanct than a bad book or even a mediocre book” (pg.54) 

I love books. So books on books are just like having hot fudge poured over chocolate ice cream. It is so satisfying. This is a short book – a mere 97 pages- so it takes just a few minutes to devour. But it will leave both bookseller as well as booklover satiated for days. I found myself daydreaming about having a relationship like this with some far off fellow book devotee while at the bookshop today. I imagined what it would be like to find the letters in the mail and begin searching for a book for many months, even years at one point. We do have a box of requests from people at the shop but it does not cultivate quite the relationship that Helene created with Mark’s and Co. Booksellers. Occasionally, I sift through the box and make a few phone calls. Those may yield a sale if I am lucky. Normally I just wind up returning the books to the shelf and ripping up the card. However, those rare occasions when I phone someone who has been looking for a book for a very long time and explain that I have located a copy are so much fun. We have a small connection for those brief moments when I am the bearer of wonderful news. There is usually disbelief followed by giddy laughter and a promise to stop by soon. Then, when I am lucky, I will see the person when they make it to the shop and we will be giddy again. I love it. It makes my job so enjoyable. I could relate to the staff as they wrote to Helene individually throughout the years. You love to get beautiful books into the hands of people that will treasure them. Certainly, Helene is one of those kind.

As a bookseller I am a bibliophile- obviously! You have to love books to do a proper job of selling books to people. It is just a requirement, end of story. So Helene’s constant search for books is so familiar. I sift through stacks of books every day at Bogart’s but there are still many holes in my collection. On many of my days off, I scour other used bookshops or consignment shops for the missing books from my shelves. I am now contemplating with which shop I will begin a long, romantic relationship sustained by intermittent letters requesting books. It seems like the dream situation for any serious reader. Also, I hereby encourage anyone to begin one with Bogart’s. Our address is 210 N. High St. Millville, NJ 08332. Seriously. Do it. We would all be so excited and honored to search out books for someone. 

In the end, I just really liked all the people as well. There are not many words exchanged but so much is revealed anyway. The fact that Helene sends gifts throughout is so sweet. She really helps these strangers though a tough time right after World War II because they were so kind to ship books to her. She felt a camaraderie from a shared love of books and they help each other for more than 2 decades. It did break my heart that they never met in person. But their connection was deeper than many people who see each other daily. Helene was just lovely. I felt I had so much in common with her. I quote a passage that I took great delight in writing “me too!” in the margins:

I wish you hadn’t been so over-courteous about putting the inscription on a card instead of on the flyleaf. It’s the bookseller coming out in you all, you were afraid you’d decrease its value. You would have increased it for the present owner. (And possibly for the future owner. I love inscriptions on flyleaves and notes in margins, I love the comradely sense of turning pages someone else turned, and reading passages some one long gone has called my attention to.) (pg.27)

Reading this post probably took about the same time as it does to read this tiny tome. Not really but sometimes hyperbole is necessary to make a point. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go to your nearest (preferably independently owned) neighborhood bookshop and find this book. Then, share it with others. It reminds me why I like books in the first place. They remind us that strangers just need find common ground to become friends.

If you liked this, then you may like…

Alice Calaprice

If you enjoyed reading charming letters from charming people then you should pick up Dear Professor Einstein: Albert Einstein’s Letter to and from ChildrenThis is the second post in a row that I mention Einstein so it should come as no surprise that in high school I was enamored by him. I still think he is the most enigmatic and complex celebrity of all time. And quite a celebrity he was. You might have thought only movie stars could command the amount of attention that Einstein received in the beginning of the 20th century. The people loved him, especially the children. This book collects the most memorable of his letters throughout the years. It is wonderful if you are already interested in Einstein but it reads just as entertaining if you know nothing of the man either. Einstein was a prolific letter writer so also search out any collection of his letters if you are interested in learning more about him.

John Dunning

I’ve gushed about John Dunning quite a few times (I swear this is the last time I’m going to recommend him so write his name down now. Go ahead. I’ll give you a minute… ok? Good.) You know that I love him. If you liked the discussion of rare or antique books then you will love the Cliff Janeway series of books that start with Booked to DieIt allows you to fantasize about being a bookseller with the extra enticement of danger. Everything is well researched so it educates you on the field as well as entertains you. Fantastic series.

See you later, see you soon.

On “Someday Books”

A Rage to Live looking gigantic among other books

What exactly is a “someday book”? For the purposes of this article, it means a book that is so overwhelming in size and content that it sits on a very high shelf and waits. It is the book that has to wait for your life to slow down. It is the book that you just do not have the time in your life to commit to reading it. Sometimes it is something that has been on your To Be Read list for a long time and you finally managed to find it in a bookstore. Or, it is a suggested read from a friend or another book. Now, it just sits in your To Be Read pile, patiently.

That book for me is A Rage to Live: A Biography of Richard and Isabel Burton by Mary S. Lovell. Even the title is a mouthful. It came on a recommended reading list at the end of The Bookman’s Promise by one of  my favorite mystery writers, John Dunning. I had only recently discovered Dunning at Bogart’s and was reading his books at a record pace. I read all 5 Cliff Janeway novels that are currently out in a mere handful of days. I was enthralled. In this particular adventure, he discusses at length some fictional lost diaries of Richard Burton that are so intriguing. By the end I was desperate to learn more about this fascinating historical figure. I am an avid biography reader so when I saw the title that also included his lovely wife that he was madly in love with, I knew I had to get it. Imagine my surprise when not 3 days later it was sitting on a pile of recently donated books when I opened the bookstore one morning. I nearly cried. It was fate! It was destiny! It was the biggest book I’ve ever seen that was not textbook related! So, I took my prize home and set it on the shelf. There it remains for some long distant time when I have the energy and time to devote to it.

There are many other “someday books” in my head but this one stares at me from its shelf, mocking my flighty attention. I will get to it eventually. I know I will. I have managed to get through some very dense biographies including Walter Isaacson’s Einstein: His Life and Universe and a cultural biography on Walt Whitman by David S. Reynolds called Walt Whitman’s America. Each was intense and very long but I enjoyed them immensely. I know I will feel the same about A Rage to Live in the end but the size has intimidated me into placing it in that unknown “someday” category. What books do you add to your “someday” book list? Are they thick like mine? Or are they just too philosophically hermetic? What makes us put these books on a far off timeline? Let’s discuss!

See you later, see you soon.

HERLAND and Feminism

“Herland” Pantheon 1979

We were not in the least “advanced” on the woman question, any of us, then.” (pg.9)

I had the pleasure of discovering this book by accident. As one of the many books that get donated to Bogart’s every day, I recognized the name Charlotte Perkins Gilman right away. In college I was lucky enough to read (and, thanks to the Gutenberg website, you can too ) “The Yellow Wallpaper”, a few times. Each reading left me with a new insight about the story and its writer. It’s a complicated short story written in a time when women’s health was left to doctors who, it seemed anyway, had never spoken to a woman about her health. Consequently, ridiculous “cures” were prescribed for quite a number of mental health issues that we have a somewhat better grasp on today. The fact that the main theme is sanity means that the story reads very jumbled and I believe many readings are necessary to get a grasp on what Gilman was really talking about. I also think she felt restrained by society on what she could really discuss about women and childbirth. No one was allowed to say that they were depressed by the arrival of a child. Motherhood was a joy alone. Certainly postpartum depression is only recently being studied and diagnosed. 

At the time of publication of Herland (1915) the discussion of “the women question” was still at its height. And let’s face it, the fact that there was even a “question” is so disturbing. Women in America had yet to get the vote and were still expected to stay happily indoors and never complain. This tiny novel, in no uncertain terms, bashed the idea that this is acceptable for all women. In fact, throughout the novel Gilman put a strong emphasis on vigorous outdoor living. Many of the similes and metaphors are nature related. For example, many of the young women are compared to a variety of wild birds, from parrots to hawks. And these attributes were mentioned with a positive connotation. Her position was that the realm of the household did not satisfy the needs of every woman. They needed more than the “social duties” and “hospitality, entertainment and various interests” (pg.97) that the men describe as the expectations for a woman of wealth. While she damns so many aspects of female roles, it is interesting that she still put such a significance on motherhood. A lot of her contemporaries were working to also remove motherhood from the definition of female and femininity. 

However, I do not think women were the only portion of the population that she was trying to improve the world for. She was trying to change all of society, from the education system to the prison systems. She wanted to do a total overhaul of the way that the States operated. Unfortunately, no one was willing to listen to a woman because her ideas were amazing. A lot of the points that she raised almost 100 years ago still ring true for the world that we live in today. Her diagnosis of the education especially intrigued me. The school system we have now is severely flawed as it works to punish children instead of helping them discover their own intelligence. We have forced them to believe that if one way of learning does not work that they are stupid and therefore incapable of learning. It is so absurd. Gilman presents a way of teaching that works with each child individually to create an open environment for asking questions and learning from mistakes.  If you are interested in teaching, or have a friend that is, I highly suggest reading this for the education theories, even if you can’t necessarily employ them in a normal academic setting just yet. In fact, many of the ideas presented are completely ridiculous and would never work in a real world setting. But exaggeration is necessary to make a valid point sometimes.

I really enjoyed the book, though, I’m not sure how successful I believe the novel is on just a literary basis. It is a little too overt for my taste. And most of the characters are only basic stereotypes as there was both a man that revered women and the kind that demean women. Of course, the narrator is *just* right, as if they were bowls of porridge before a little blonde girl. But the ideas are so interesting that I am willing to overlook the technical failure. If people are willing to discuss important subjects after reading this book then I think Gilman achieved the goal for which she was aiming. I appreciated that I was made to think about the greater world around me after I finished. 

If you liked this, then you might like…

Edith Wharton

Lily Bart from The House of Mirth is one of my favorite characters of all time. If Gilman’s novel fall short on a technical level then this novel will far exceed any expectations. It is beautifully crafted; every character is purposeful and complex. Lily exemplifies the idea that not every woman has to have a child to be fulfilled in life but the society around her would not allow that to happen. Most of Wharton’s novels deal with a similar theme but I feel that The House of Mirth is the most successful at exploring that particular issue. You’ll probably need a dictionary for most of her works because she’s totally brilliant and great at showing that off. But get through the difficult vocabulary and you’ll be rewarded with a moving portrait of the struggle against “the woman question.”

Laurie R. King

If you’re in the mood for something not so heavy handed try a little Mary Russell on for size. She’s the strong female hero in King’s series that continues the Sherlock Holmes saga. She’s young, feisty, naturally brilliant and can match wits with the great Sherlock. It wonderfully written by a talented mystery writer and I was hooked from book one, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. Mary makes you proud to be a part of the female sex as the other writers are far more bleak. They are filled with characters that can not really change their destinies while Mary would never dream of doing so. I really love how powerful she is portrayed even if the story is set in the same era as the other novels. 

Tell me your favorite feminine heroes! 

See you later, see you soon.

On Current Literature

I have only recently gotten back into reading current literature. I spent so many of my college years reading the classics that I failed to pick up the new releases. I dubbed them beneath me since I was reading the truly great works of art. I filled my head with all the “important” writers from the Western and American canon, from Beowulf to Virginia Woolf. I was living and breathing classics. I turned my nose up at all the contemporary authors- believing them to be redundant since all the great themes of life had been so thoroughly explored by the greats. What a snob, I know. I am so glad I came back to them.

When I was a teenager I soaked up what would be considered current at the time. I remember going to the bookstore and buying The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I fell in love with that cast of characters because I felt like they mirrored my life. That’s what I missed the most in reading the classics because they were from a different time. No amount of footnotes or time lines could truly sum up a moment in history. There are just some phrases that we can’t understand because the minutiae of life gets lost from generation to generation. I am currently reading Middlemarch for the book club that I run and, trust me, it gets lost in translation sometimes. I am pretty certain that I miss some of the satire because the lives of these 19th century is so different from my 21st century existence. The larger themes remain intact but the small attacks on the daily lives of people does not hold up across time and we should not expect it to.

The first current, or relatively current, author that I picked up in recent years is John Dunning. I was drawn in by the title of the first book, Booked to Die. His mysteries are so intriguing and exciting. The first was published in 1992 and have come out every few years since. I read the first and consequently bought out the rest of the collection. They deal with an ex-cop-turned-rare-book-dealer, Cliff Janeway and I can read them in a few short hours. But the twist is shocking and the crimes updated. While I love Edgar Allan Poe some of his crimes are quite out of date. I mean, an orangutan? Forensic science has made most of his “crimes” a little absurd. Oh, who am I kidding? They’re totally absurd.

Another author who saved me is John Green. I just finished The Fault in Our Stars a few weeks ago and I loved every word of it. It was as beautiful as anything written by Marquez or Fitzgerald. I was as moved by its tale of loss and love as any Shakespearean drama. However, it affected me in a different way since the language and setting were so realistic to me. I feel very removed from some of the tragedy in the classics because I could never live them. The world that Green creates is filled with technology and slang that I am very connected to. While I love Marquez or Fitzgerald, the love stories that they describe never feel tangible in the way that the story of Hazel and Augustus felt, even if I have never been sick or loved someone that was. Though, I suspect much of that success is due to the nearly flawless prose of John Green, but that is a post for another day.

So, I will always read the classics. I will always love the writers that created them. When I make suggestions a lot will still be classics. However, do not be surprised if a lot of what I review is more current. I am just getting back to my time period and it feels so good.

Tell me how you feel the classics fit into your life in the comments below. Maybe I’m alone in this but I suspect many feel the same way about our beloved classic writers.

See you later, see you soon.