"With the certitude of a true believer, Vellya Paapen had assured the twins that there was no such thing in the world as a black cat. He said that there were only black, cat-shaped holes in the universe."
-- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Love Affair With Books: The Next 10 Books of 2013

I love books.  Real books with pages and ink and spines and jackets that can be removed to (sometimes) reveal more treasure underneath.  I love books with a hands-on intensity, the way some people might love a meatball sub or a really old sweatshirt.

And because I love books the way I do, you really should not loan me yours because soon I will forget the book belongs to you and begin treating it like mine. 

I will write in it—a tiny pencil note in the margin, if you're lucky, something I can erase upon remembering.  (A.R., I am certain you will never find the remnants of the marks I made in your copy of On Writing.) 

I will take it to a Chinese restaurant and spill homestyle tofu delight on page 73 (as I did with L.L.'s copy of Horns, sorry). 

I will leave it on the floor for the cat to use as a hairball-catcher.  (I apologize, E.H., but that issue of The Sun was just not salvageable at all.) 

Or, as in the case of the book that I borrowed from my husband's boss's wife, I will remember that it does not belong to me and that it does in fact belong to an individual who I would like to think well of me, and I will be very extra careful with the well-loved paperback and will go to great lengths to protect it from harm.  Yet still, inexplicably, it will sever the corners of its own front cover mid-flight between Baltimore and Dallas.  I blame the cramped conditions of Spirit Airlines for that one.  (And I ask forgiveness, again, from B.L.)

You are welcomed to borrow books from me, just know that they will come with bent corners and Chinese food stains and photos of my dog tucked inside and notes in the margins that I have forgotten I wrote and which I will later be embarrassed to discover that you read.  Oh, and if you borrow a poetry book, know that I often read those in the bathroom.

But still, my shelves are your shelves.  Borrow away.  (And then give them back, please, Chinese food stains and all.)

What I’ve Been Reading:  The Second Ten Books of 2013

11.  Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made, by Alan Eisenstock

In the 1980s, two kids in Mississippi decided to make a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  And they did it.  It took them eight years and they nearly killed themselves in the process, but they did it.  The snakes, the fiery bar scene, the submarine, and yes, the BOULDER.  They did it.  The boys grew up while making this movie; they experienced parent divorces, first kisses, and trips to the emergency room, all while filming their masterpiece.  And the final movie?  It’s awesome.  This book is the story of those boys, their movie, and how all the magic happened.

I saw their movie before reading the book, and I loved them both.  To read my more detailed and very enthusiastic review of the book on Goodreads, click here.

To see a trailer of their movie, click here.

And to see the entire movie, come over and bring some beer or chocolate to share.  I happen to own a DVD of the full film (it was a gift—I asked no questions about how it was obtained) and I would be more than happy to host a screening for interested parties.

12.  The Liberation of Gabriel King, by K.L. Going

This young adult book about the summer of 1976 in Georgia tackles the big issue of racism in a pretty tame and endearing way.  It was a good, quick read, and Going has a real knack for capturing childhood fears.  Her description of Gabriel’s first heart-thumping leap off the high tree branch onto the rope swing above the bullies at the pond (pages 90-93) is spot on.

13.  Writing Down the Bones:  Freeing the Writer Within, by Natalie Goldberg

This book was so good that it turned me into a criminal.  (Click here to read about my crime.)  I highly recommend it to writers, but in this case, I will not loan out my own copy.  I treated the book like a journal as I read it, scrawling all sorts of personal notes and drafts in the margins and blank spaces.  It’s now too intimate to hand over.  Plus, you need your own blank copy to do the same. 

To show you just how helpful this book was to me, watch this short video I made.

14.  The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield

The day I bought The Thirteenth Tale, I had been writing for hours at Epoch coffee shop on North Loop, sitting at a table outside that overlooked the parking lot and, beyond, a large field with a few scattered headstones sticking out of the ground in no particular order or arrangement.  A cemetery, no doubt, but an odd one.  From the moment I noticed it, I wanted to take a closer look—it was fenced, but I hoped to find a gate or at least a better view—but I was so caught up in my writing that day that I kept putting off my curiosity until the sun set lower and lower and lower and finally it was the onset of dusk and here I was, the classic vampire hunter in the old movie, just now setting out to visit the graveyard. I'd had all day to do it—it was no one's fault but my own if I got bit.

I found no gate and, darkness being what it was, probably would not have entered at that point even if I had, but I did find a sign:  The Austin State Hospital Cemetery.  (After reading about it online, I know there must be ghosts there.)  When I stopped to peer through the chain-link, I found I was not the only curious soul prowling the park that night.  Two cats, an orange one and a calico, were hanging out inside like they owned the place.  The calico sauntered amongst the tombstones, while the orange tom glared at me from a few feet beyond the fence, his eyes glowing with the reflection of the streetlights. 

The whole scene was a poem, and I tried to capture it in my head as I walked on, not toward my car, but toward the strip of shops down the street a bit, my laptop and all my writing implements strapped snuggly to my back and out of reach.  Still reciting the few lines of verse in my head, I wandered into a place called Monkey Wrench Books. 

I would describe the place as a bookstore if that description did not seem so alien. Although the small store was full of books, when I walked in I felt like I was interrupting something.  The few people in the place stopped to look at me for a moment, seemingly alarmed at my presence.  I briefly wondered if the store was closed, but since the lights were on, the door open, I continued inside.  There were new books and used books and many books on political reform, labor unions, and history, but there were other books too—one whole shelf contained modern texts of random genres, possibly used but seemingly new (in good condition anyway) and all for $1 each.  That's where I found The Thirteenth Tale.  It's title alone seemed appropriate for the odd evening I was having, so I made my choice and was ready to check out and leave. 

There were people moving furniture and talking in low voices and I suddenly felt as if I had stumbled into the middle of a revolutionary plot.  I wanted to get back out again before I discovered what we were revolting against.  I stood at the counter near the cash register and smiled at anyone who would look at me.  No response.  A girl walked by and I asked, "Do you work here?" She said yes.  I said, "Can I buy this?" and held up the book.  She said, "Uh, ask him," and waved her arm in the general direction of the guys ignoring me.  When I got the attention of the correct “him” and asked again (more timidly this time because I was truly beginning to feel like I was in the wrong place—like someone who had wandered onto the set of a play and was asking one of the actors if they could purchase a novel being used as a prop) he seemed confused/annoyed/inconvenienced, but he did work the cash register and sell me the book.  I also bought, at the last moment, a Monkey Wrench sticker, so that I could both mark the occasion and also to try to let him know that I was on his side, whatever side that might be.  Then I skedaddled. 

On the way to my car, as I walked again past the cemetery with the feline sentinels, I scribbled the first draft of the poem in my head on the blank page at the back of the book, making this perhaps the first book I have ever written in before reading a single page.

If you enjoyed my tale of odd characters and graveyards and mysterious books and possible ghosts, then you will love The Thirteenth Tale.  It kept me entertained from the first page to the last.

15.  Homer & Langley, by E.L. Doctorow

This novel, which I read for my book club, is loosely based on the real Collyer brothers, Homer and Langley, who were famous in New York in the 30s and 40s for their eccentric personalities and compulsive hoarding. They both died in their massively cluttered and booby-trapped brownstone on Fifth Avenue in 1947.  The book was extremely well-written, touching at times and amusing at others, but once I learned that the characters were based off of real people, I found the true story to be even more interesting.  I suggest doing some exploring on Wikipedia.

16.  Carrie, by Stephen King

I’m late to the game on this one.  I just now got around to reading Stephen King’s first iconic novel.  It was definitely worth my time.  To see my full review of it on Goodreads, click here.

17.  Isaac’s Storm, by Erik Larson

This nonfiction account of the 1900 Galveston hurricane (which I read for another book club) could have been much shorter.  While it did paint a very vivid picture of the horror that storm created, the reader has to wade through a lot of scientific history to get there, and for me the first one hundred pages dragged.  


18.  Crossing the Trestle, by Jim Meirose

I picked up this tiny book (only fifty small pages) for free from Write By Night. I hate to say this, because I too am a new, struggling writer, and I want to be supportive, but it wasn't very good.  The introduction was the best part.  The three stories inside were... odd.  The first was extremely short and seemingly pointless.  The second and third had good overall ideas but were tedious to read, partly due to the many (in my opinion) unforgivable typos.  I am actually surprised (and confused) about that.  The copyright page asserts that all three stories were previously published in various journals.  Putting aside my feelings about the content (maybe I am wrong and these stories are brilliant) I do not understand how such poorly edited stories could make it to print.  Examples of errors include (but are certainly not limited to):  "but" for "buy", Ford (car) not being capitalized, and questions not ending in question marks.  I am puzzled as to why these reviews would publish work with so many errors.  And if they didn’t print them that way, then why did the author revert to sub-par work when publishing his little book?  I wanted to like Crossing the Trestle. I truly enjoyed the story in the introduction about the father carrying the dogs over the trestle time and time again, but I did not like the stories inside.  Two of them were on the verge of being… something… but they never quite got there, and the glaring mistakes were too distracting for me to get past.

19.  Transfer, by Naomi Shihab Nye

Although Nye is one of my all-time favorite poets, this was not my favorite book by her.  Still, it contained some wonderful words within its pages.  To see my full review on Goodreads, click here.

20.  Ghost Story, by Peter Straub

This was a good book, very creepy in places, and one night I actually had nightmares after reading it.  I enjoyed the first half much more than the last, but then again I’ve always thought that ghost stories are scarier before you know for sure what the thing is that you’re dealing with—once something has a face, a name, a purpose, no matter how ugly it is, some of the terror is gone.  The end was a little confusing to me, but I also had a fever when I read it.

Be on the lookout for these titles in the next 10 books of 2013:


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