I’ve been snuggled up with Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch for the past week. Now that I’ve gotten into it, I don’t/can’t/won’t put it down. The best part about the book is its reminder of how much I love reading and books and stories. Books like this make me love books everywhere.
Once I finish The Goldfinch (and I’ll be sad to put it down), here are a few that I want to follow up with:
- Pulphead, John Jeremiah Sullivan
- Night Film, Marisha Pessl
- Men We Reaped, Jesmyn Ward
- Building Stories, Chris Ware
- Keepers Cookbook, Kathry Brennan and Caroline Campion
- Treasured Recipes from the Charleston Cake Lady, Teresa Pregnall
*The last two are wild cards for me. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not much of a cook. I love to bake, I just never do it anymore. But I really love reading cookbooks. And lately, when I can’t sleep, I page through recipes or browse baking blogs. One day, when I have a little more money and lot more time and a roomy kitchen, I’ll make use of all this food data I’ve been storing up.
A few weeks ago, my friend Sam posted a beautiful picture of her bookshelves on Instagram with the caption “A house that has a library in it has a soul.” I commented on her picture three times, writing about how out of sorts I feel being so far away from my books. I’ve been out of my apartment for about ten months now, and couch surfing has its ups, it has its downs. A definite no-no, poopie bummer is not being able to have access to my books. I wish I could be someone who has little to no attachment to material things, but I’m so sentimental about some of my stuff. I can look at an item of clothing and be reminded of where and when I bought it, how drunk I got while wearing it the first time, what vacations I’ve taken it on. My books are like little time machines– they remind me of my past, call to mind old obsessions and concerns, make me remember how captured I felt while reading them. I miss poking through my stacks of books, I miss remembering a passage and finding the book and re-reading an entire chapter, I miss going through pages and seeing paragraphs I’d underlined and pages I’d dogeared. Eventually I will get an apartment again. I’ll settle down and buy sheets and dishes and bookshelves. I’ll be reunited with my boxes of books, my old buddies, and I won’t leave my house for three weeks.
I have been a terrible blogger! Nearly two weeks since my last post. I’ve been training at a second restaurant and I’m only now starting to crawl out from under a mountain of scrambled eggs and decaf lattes and dressing on the side orders. And I’ve been meaning to post about my newest obsession– audio books! (Or “books on tape,” as I keep calling them, even though tapes haven’t been around since Melrose Place.) A few weeks ago, my friend Tracy emailed and asked if she could send me Tough Shit— a book on tape written and narrated by Kevin Smith (writer and director of Clerks, Chasing Amy, Dogma). She said it was motivating and inspiring and thought it would be a good kick in the ass for me. I got it in the mail a few days later, and I’ll thank Tracy forever. Dear friend, you’ve introduced me to the wonderful pleasure of books on tape! I’m driving all over this city, and I’m grateful for my satellite radio and the 70’s station is fun and NPR is great, but I was starting to get a little restless in the car. And now I can travel and make a dent in my “reading”! It doesn’t feel like actual reading, because well, I guess it isn’t. But it’s something. And the one thing I miss about subway commuting is the daily hour and a half opportunity to sit with a book.
Tough Shit was just the best. Smith discusses his father’s death, his white hot love for his wife, his weight, his adoration and respect for George Carlin, Tracy Morgan, Quentin Tarantino, his confusion over Bruce Willis and Harvey Weinstein. He talks about his insecurities and fears, how wringing and exhilarating life can be. And I’m making it sound totally cheesy and dumb, but I swear it’s rich and moving, and it was wonderful to hear as I hit day 63 of “Oh no, what the heck am I doing?” feelings.
Next up for the rental car stereo: Maureen Dowd’s Are Men Necessary? and Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded.
Thank you, Tracy!
When I was coming up with my Ideal Bookshelf, I didn’t include Alice Munro. It could be because it is simply too hard to choose one favorite from her many story collections. Or it could have something to do with an untouchable quality she has– I find her work so affecting that I hesitate to qualify or quantify its importance. Suffice it to say that each time I encounter one of her stories, I am mesmerized and transfixed and I fall in love. I found this link to one of my favorites– “An Ounce of Cure” (a teenage girl gets dumped and gets drunk)– but there are so many good ones, and any collection offers writing that is necessary and wild and tame and elliptical and growing and full of so much recognizable life.
So I know that it’s wrong to lie and make stuff up and attempt to pass off fiction as fact and only bad people do these things and if good people do these things, they should expect to be openly humiliated, publicly punished, we’ll call for hara-kiri. I know that culturally, “truth” is paramount, that’s how things work, we appeal to it in order to keep people in line, it’s how we can have at the very least the semblance of accountability. I know these things should be true, but I can’t help wrinkling my nose whenever there is another Jayson Blair/Stephen Glass/James Frey occurrence.
Jonah Lehrer published Imagine: How Creativity Works in 2012. It was a work of nonfiction dealing with the science of creativity. It shot to the top of bestseller lists, Malcolm Gladwell was an enthusiastic fan and revered Lehrer’s mastery of language and scientific principles, Lehrer was destined to be a star. Forever. And then a few journalists pointed out discrepancies in his work and it turned out that he had doctored some Bob Dylan quotes, plagiarized some of his earlier work, misrepresented data, used false information, the list goes on. Lehrer resigned from his staff position at The New Yorker, publishers recalled all unsold copies of Imagine, and Lehrer will probably never write again. People now discuss him in hushed tones as though his crime were pedophilia.
Oh, I love this book. It’s totally caught me by surprise (I tried to tackle it when I was 18, and tossed it aside after the first few pages), but the language, the scope, the ideas– I’m a huge fan. And I’ll be sad to leave St. Petersburg and Moscow when I’m finished. I rarely do books that are this long (my translation is 736 pages). I’ve read “It” and “The Stand,” both by Stephen King (and each of those suckers are over 1000 pages), but those were about blood and creepy crawlies and clowns with teeth and severed limbs and bloated corpses, so you know, the pages kinda fly. But those books are also about love and the pain of being alive and trying to find yourself and your purpose, and so is “Anna Karenina,” and I just can’t put it down.
It’s full of all the throbbing questions that I am constantly rolling over– who am I? What’s my purpose? What is the real power of love? Is there any point to living? Should I just drink more vodka? Does the pain go away? And the language. I know I’m reading a translation, but there are some passages that are too beautiful. I’m just over halfway through and I want it last and last.
“All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.”
This is just. The best thing. The Ideal Bookshelf project features portraits of book spines. Painter Jane Mount and writer Thessaly La Force have published a book with interviews and bookshelf paintings from 100 writers, actors, chefs, musicians, designers, artists, and directors. My favorite thing to do when I first meet someone is browse through their books– I love peeking at new bookshelves packed with books I recognize, love, can’t wait to read, have never heard of– and the Ideal Bookshelf is like a really great Suggested Reading list. Above is David Sedaris’s ideal shelf.
It’s funny. Sometimes I have a hard time seeing myself or understanding how others see me. I’ve always used books as a way to help me recognize myself a little more. I read and my identity feels less shifting, I feel tethered to my own experience in a new way. Which seems paradoxical– I need something outside of myself to keep me attached to what’s inside of me– but there is something about the bond between writer and reader, something about the recognition of the same thing across time and space that makes me feel less lonely, more at home. Some books, some stories, some words just stick, become a part of me, make me find myself in a whole new way. Yay. I love that books have the power to do that. Here is what my ideal bookshelf might look like (for now– it’s always kind of changing, huh?). These are some of the books I keep coming back to, that I think of long after I’ve put them down, that I can see echos of in my own life.
My Ideal Bookshelf
- The Known World, Edward P. Jones
- It, Stephen King
- The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcolm
- The Color Purple, Alice Walker
- Consider the Lobster, David Foster Wallace
- Demonology, Rick Moody
- After Henry, Joan Didion
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling
- What I Loved, Siri Hustvedt
- The Secret History, Donna Tartt
- The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton