End of the Year Book Round Up

I read a lot of good books this year. Participation in Seattle Library’s “Summer Book Bingo” helped me not only diversify my reading list, but helped me reach a whopping 47 books read this year. I set a goal of 33 and crushed it, even taking November off for NaNoWriMo.

So… here is what I’ve read, with a few descriptions of my favorites.

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From the top…

I absolutely hated Gillian Flynn’s utterly predictable Sharp Objects. I had the entire thing figured out at page 18. No lie. I circled it. Anyway, both of Stephen King’s available novels in the Bill Hodges Trilogy are a lot of fun. If you are not a fan of Mr. King’s gorey, scary horror novels, then maybe give these a try. These two novels (and a third to be released 2016) follow Detective Hodges the first, in search of a mass murderer who uses a Mercedes as his weapon, and the second is a cat and mouse game centering around a famous novelists lost, handwritten manuscripts. A lot of fun for a book nerd like myself.

Richard Adam’s Watership Down should be required reading. My only memory of it was the grizzly yet completely awesome cartoon. It scared the shit out of a generation. And rightly so. The novel is an allegory of war, and it was written for children. Who else should we teach the horrors of what war can bring? But, you know… in the form of adorable yet frightening bunny rabbits. It’s masterfully written, and beautiful, and go read it. Another novel about animals at war is the wonderfully weird MORT(e), by Robert Repino. See, the ants have taken over and declared war on the humans. They’ve enlisted the animals giving them the power to speak by helping them evolve. I know. It’s crazy. But it’s about a TALKING WARRIOR KITTY.

Gregory Maguire’s “After Alice” was wonderful. I wrote an email to him telling him so, and to my surprise, he responded. He was funny and gracious. His book is full of new characters and familiar friends from Wonderland. He seamlessly infuses reality with Wonderland. Along those lines we have the always delightful Jeanette Winterson and her novel about Napoleon and his love for chicken – The Passion. It’s so funny!

Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, is great. Do it as an audiobook for extra hilarity and extra celebrity cameos. Think Like a Freak is also an excellent choice for audiobook. Chop some onions and learn why David Lee Roth really demanded no green m&m’s in his dressing room.

Ok. I gotta speed this up…

My favorite book of the whole year was Anna Karenina. I read it in 24 days. Amazing. Lolita was also incredible and hilarious and so well written I had to put it down a few times. The short stories in both Trigger Warning and Bad Behavior were dark and creepy and scary… but for completely different reasons. The Muse and The Price of Salt were suburb (the later was the inspiration for Nabokov’s Lolita) and The Detective Magritte Mysteries by George Simenon are oodles of fun which you can devour in one sitting. John Irving (i love you) is back with some familiar themes in Avenue of Mysteries. I liked it, but if it’s gonna be your first outting with Mr. Irving, choose an older title. He’s way better than this book.

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Okay… Elena Ferrante and her pastel colored, Neapolitan Novels: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, The Story of a Lost Child. As I write this I am  pages away from completing Book Three. I could write 1,000 words or more on these books, but I’ll attempt to be brief. The vulgarly colored covers are a lie. A lie which is only revealed in the reading of the books. I wish I could convince more men to read these because they are full of politics and violence. Love and revenge and hate and war. Yes, it centers around the “friendship” of two females, but this book is not about two women who get cocktails and talk about men. These are more Joyce Carol Oates than Bridget Jones Diary. Anyway… go out and get them. And get all of them because you’ll finish the first one and be really, really mad if you don’t have that next book handy. So good!

Twyla Tharp: The Creative Habit, Steering the Craft by Ursula K. LeGuin, and Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury are seriously fantastic and should be a part of any creative person’s library. They each attack creativity in a different and compelling way. Also by the great Mr. Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes. Oh my gosh! It’s so good! So scary! The witch scene was particularly spooky. If you enjoyed the film, read the book. Also scary, more so even, was Don’t Look Now by Daphne Du Maurier. This collection of stories is thrilling, chilling and absorbing. Aside from the title story, the best is The Birds, from which the Hitchcock film was very loosely based. The story is far more frightening. The Turn of the Screw and Revival were also pretty terrifying. In a good way.

Erik Larson’s Dead Wake, about the sinking of the Lusitania, is eye opening and riveting. All of his books are.

I can’t say enough about Lauren Groff’s superbly written Fates and Furies. For this bookseller, it was far and away the best book (new 2015) I read this year. It played with style and language. It didn’t spoon feed anything to the reader. (Take note, Gillian Flynn.) And it was both touching and funny. The first half of the book is told by The Fates, the second by The Furies. They tell the story of one marriage from two perspectives. It’s perfect. If I could ever write a book even half as good as this one, I’ll die happy. Well done, Miss Groff!

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And finishing out the list… the prolific and insanely good, Joyce Carol Oates wrote The Sacrifice – a retelling of the Tawana Brawley case. And oh boy, does she go for it. If you don’t know what that is: Google it. I’ll wait. The racial climate hasn’t changed that much, and she shines a light on all of the ugliness – on both sides. It’s an intriguing read. If you want to laugh your ass off pick up Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck, and Ron Koetrge’s book of Flash Fiction, Sex World. 

Lastly, I encourage everyone to read The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber. All of his novels are incredible and very different from one another. He wrote Crimson Petal and the White (SO GREAT!) and Under the Skin (SO WEIRD!) He’s an incredibly talented writer, and sadly he says this would be his final book. If that’s true, he left us with a masterpiece. It’s about a man who travels to a distant planet to spread The Gospel to the “aliens” who live there. He has to leave his beloved wife and their cat. The book is about love and loss and distance and peace. It’s beautiful.

So there you have it. The best of what I read this year. And just because I don’t mention a title doesn’t mean it wasn’t good. I just don’t have all the time in the world for book reviews. I gotta read! And, I’ll have you note that my booklist was unintentionally diverse. I don’t choose books based on what the writer looks like, where they were born, or what their sexual preference is. I just read. That being said I read books from authors hailing from The Netherlands, Belgium, America, Russia, the UK and more. I read books by women and men, and I read graphic novels, nonfiction, and kids books. I covered everything.

And it was good.

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Books: The Best Books For Writers

Emerald City Trapeze

Emerald City Trapeze

Hello Dear Reader, if you are in fact still out there. I know I’ve been off the map, but I tend to do that from time to time. And that’s okay. I am a vagabond. Sometimes you just need to go out and live life. And that’s what I’ve been doing. I took a class where I learned how to fly… well I learned how to climb “silks” and swing from them like Pink! does. I also learned doing that is really, really hard, and I am a total badass because I fucking did it. So there was that.

I’ve also been reading like crazy which is good since I am “literally” trying to pen a novel in long hand. Anyway, all great writers are great readers. Stephen King, or should I say NATIONAL MEDAL OF ARTS recipient, Stephen King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Margaret Atwood says, “Reading and writing, like everything else, improve with practice.

41VVy56lKJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Reading is fundamental to writing. If you want to be a writer you should be reading books. And not just books about writing. While those are valuable, you have to be careful or at least thrifty about what you read. Good advice and reading about other writers will only get you so far. Hell,  add “an MFA” and “a good Twitter account” to that list. Having a Twitter account doesn’t make you a good writer. It hardly qualifies you to put a sentence together. What you really need in order to improve is:
1. WRITE. WRITE. WRITE.
2. READ. READ. READ!
Every book you read is a learning experience. Reading Joyce Carol Oates is a Master Class in story, character and prose. Du Maurier is all about tension and building mystery. Different writers have different things to tell you. Some don’t have much to say at all, (Thank you Gillian Flynn) but at least you know what you don’t want to sound like. Read writers who inspire you and scare you. Read books with unusual language or style. Read books that make you read more books. Or… try these. These are just a few of the best I can think of. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, these books are on my personal short list for writers. Read these if you want to grow in the craft of writing. And they are just really good books.

  1. Steering the Craft, by Ursula LeGuin
    This is a revised edition of the same titled book she wrote in the 90’s. In the Introduction she states this “is not a book for beginners.” It’s for people who have already worked hard on their writing. That hooked me. A lot of writers today have the expectation of fame and fortune, of being published and Tweeted about, of possibly being the next big thing. But they don’t do the work. They’ve never read Twain or Dickens. They have heard of Shelley but don’t see the point in reading something so old or out of touch. Ms. LeGuin’s book is full of reasons why to read these books and what you can learn from them. It is also full of exercises for The Lone Writer or a Mutinous Crew (her term for a writing group) It’s a delightful and lovely book that just so happens to be about writing.
  2. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy I know. The last book you want to read as inspiration is “The Best Book Ever Written”. But it worked for me! I was not only inspired by Tolstoy and the story he was able to tell, but how economical he was with both word and emotion – considering how long that book is. And I guess I should add he was not so economical with his words when it came to hay. A good lesson to learn: Just because you find “hay” fascinating, doesn’t mean it deserves center stage. It’s a beautiful book about love and hate and marriage, gender roles, having kids, and being human.
  3. Don’t Look Now, Daphne Du Maurier and The Collected Stories, Grace Paley
    Two collections of short stories which I find to be the best. The first is fear, tension, sex and mystery. And also a sense of humor. You’ll read the short story called “The Birds” which Alfred Hitchcock changed from a terrifying tale of animals rising up against a small seaside fishing village to an odd romance where Tippi Hedren and Suzanne Pleshette eat more scenery than the birds do. Every story in this collection is fun and a lesson in how to write short fiction. And all writers should be readers in short stories. Grace Paley is the American Master of them. Haven’t heard of her? Run. Go now to the library or local independent bookstore and get her. If Raymond Carver is all you know, you don’t know much.
  4. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
    He is pretty much literary perfection. I’m not the first or last to say it. But read Lolita and not be transfixed and transplanted by his absolute dominance of the english language. And this from a non-native speaker! Of course, Nabokov wrote in english and Russian, but Lolita was his first novel written in english. Read it and think about that until you feel a little dumb. Then shake it off and get to work. Nabokov didn’t learn english overnight, he worked at it.
  5. The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson
    Oddly enough, this incredible true story of magic, murder and mayhem during the 1893 World’s Fair is the best example of a perfect narrative I can give you. All of his books are. This book is full of facts and true history, but you’d never know it. He takes old boring documents and turns them into a unputdownable narrative which keeps you on the edge of your seat. Not bad for non-fiction, eh? Any writer who says they “don’t read” non-fiction isn’t a writer I would read.
  6. On Writing, by Stephen King
    41cqe00ZzsL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Stephen King understands what it takes to write books. He’s written like, sixty books, not including his non fiction and short stories. Anyway, if you want an expert on the craft of writing, look no further. His book reads as part awesome writing coach and part memoir of America’s most prolific and beloved writers. If you are too snobby for Stephen King, read this and tell me he’s not good. The man knows how to tell a story and… he can scare the shit out of you USING ONLY WORDS. Anyway, here are a few tidbits of wisdom from the master.
    “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
    “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”
    And finally, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
  7. Joyce Carol Oates, anything you can get your hands on
    I am the only bookseller at my current bookstore who has read, and who currently reads, Joyce Carol Oates. This is a sad little travesty. Not only has she been producing work since 1962, that work is all really, really good. Okay, I haven’t read all of her work…. but I’m working on it! Now think of the volume of work she produces and now add to that she works IN LONG HAND. Yep she WRITES her really long and intricate stories. That is rad. She writes from 8am til 1pm and then again, two more hours, at night. And she still has time for The Wire. If Joyce Carol Oates can put out a memoir and three novels a year, I think you can finish that short story you’ve been working on.

Need more? Susan Sontag, Frank Stanford, Mark Twain, Margaret Atwood, Shakespeare, Charlotte Bronte, Shelley, Keats, Emerson, Murakami, Mary Gaitskill, Patricia Highsmith, James M. Caine, Jane Smiley…

By the Book: American Vagabond

AA131The writer, painter, bookseller, and perpetually underpaid artist opens up and answers the NY Times “By the Book questionnaire”. Because by the times she’s finally published, it might be too late. 

What books are currently on your nightstand?

My night stand is a stack of books. On top of that, precariously, are stacked more books. I just finished “The Sacrifice” by Joyce Carol Oates, and it was outstanding. Currently I am reading Ron Koertge’s “Sex World”-  a quick, clever book of flash fiction, and a new book called “Mort(e)” about a house cat turned warrior. 

Who is your favorite novelist of all time?

Haha. Nice try. Here are a few: Joyce Carol Oates, because of the breadth of her work. John Irving, because I never expect to read anything I love quite as much as “A Prayer for Owen Meany”. Tom Robbins because he is the absolute best at what he does. Also, Emily Bronte, Roald Dahl, Ray Bradbury… Is that enough?

Who are your favorite writers working today?

Didn’t I just answer that? Stephen King, Haruki Murakami, Michael Paterniti and Zadie Smith. Ron Rash is also amazing and I love Tom Perrotta. Nobody gets suburbia like Tom Perrotta.

What’s the best short fiction you’ve read recently?

Julia Elliott’s “The Wilds” was fantastic.  

What kinds of stories are you drawn to? And what do you tend to steer clear of?

I’ll read any type of story, as long as it is well written. I love ghost stories with all my heart. I also enjoy a good detective mystery from time to time. Aside from that, I’m drawn to stories about adventure, whether they are true or fiction. I’m drawn to writers who obviously take joy in what they do. I enjoy reading of fantastical places, talking cats, robots learning to love, families breaking apart, food and cooking, humor and of course style. I skip books like “Gone Girl” or “The Girl on the Train”. There is nothing new there for me, and I figure out the twist early on. I also shy away from heavily hyped books because I really like to form my own opinions and that is nearly impossible when “everyone” is talking about a book. I don’t care what a celebrity thinks of a book, or how much buzz it is generating. That’s the kind of nonsense I find dull and boring. 

 Who are your favorite fantasy and horror writers? Which books would you recommend to readers new to those genres?

Any new genre reader should begin with the master: Stephen King, of course. For as prolific as he is, he is underrated. “Salem’s Lot” is one of my favorite books ever. Joyce Carol Oates is another of my favorite horror writers, but she somehow avoided the “genre” designation. Tony Burgess “Pontypool Changes Everything” was a revelation. A zombie novel written in prose! Yes! John Connolly’s “The Book of Lost Things” was a lot of fun as far as fantasy goes, and Michel Faber’s “The Book of Strange New Things” is part scifi, part horror and just unputdownable. 

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?

“My Struggle: Book 1”. I found it in a sharing library so I guess I’ll have to read it now. I’m just not that interested in a seven part saga about a guy trying to write a book. I’ve lived that. But people I respect say it’s good, so I’ll give it a shot. Some day.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Your favorite book? Most beloved character?

I had parents who took me to the library once a week, and it was always an adventure. I still love wandering around in a nice library. Heck, it doesn’t have to be nice. I’ll wander around a crappy library. Anyway, I loved books of all kinds. I would often curl up on the couch and read for hours on end. I adored any type of mystery, and books with secret worlds. And I was obsessed with the Sunfire Romance series for young girls. My favorite books were “The Phantom Tollbooth”, “A Wrinkle in Time”, “The BFG”, “Watership Down” “Choose Your Own Adventure” books – which are sadly out of print, and “The Boxcar Children” series. I still have fantasies of living in a converted traincar. My favorite characters were Milo from “The Phantom Tollbooth”, Laura Ingalls, Scout, and Sophie from “The BFG”.

If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?

“Still Life With Woodpecker” by Tom Robbins.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?

Oh man, that’s tough. That feels like a lot of pressure. I get asked for recommendations every day, but choosing a book for the President is a tall order. The first book that springs to mind is Erik Larsen’s “In the Garden of Beasts”. It’s about the US Ambassador to Germany at the time of Hitler’s rise to power. I think the man in power should read a book showing how not to react when a lunatic is about to take control.

You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?

Tom Robbins, for sure. He’s hilarious. I had the opportunity to hear him speak last year, and he’s still sharp as ever. Mark Twain, and Dorothy Parker. I think that would be rad.

You could bring three books to a desert island. Which do you choose?

“Anna Karenina”, for sure. I’ve never read it and a desert island seems like the perfect place to do it. It would eat up a ton of my time, but in a good way. Next I’d toy with bringing a book about raft building but ultimately choose “A Prayer for Owen Meany” because I watch a lot of survival shows and I’m confident I could build a solid raft. After I finish Anna Karenina, of course. The third book would have to be “Still Life with Woodpecker” because I can’t imagine a life without that book.

What’s the funniest book you’ve ever read?

Oh man. I don’t know. I just read Nora Ephron’s “I Feel Bad About My Neck” and I laughed the entire way through it. Also everything David Sedaris has written. Oh! Can he crash my dinner party?

Any book you regretted reading?

I don’t know that I really “regret” anything I’ve read. I feel I’ve wasted my time and been totally annoyed with myself for reading “The Catcher in the Rye” and “The Fountainhead”.

Any book you couldn’t finish?

I put down “The Girl on the Train”. It was too gimmicky for me. Predictable. A far better new thriller is “Descent” by Tim Johnston. But I am pretty good at selecting books for myself, so I try to finish what I start.

What book do you think everyone should read before they die?

“To Kill a Mockingbird”, by Harper Lee.

Whom would you want to write your life story?

Me. Or David Sedaris.

What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?

I don’t know. I think you read the right book at the right time. Or at least, I do. I feel like this is the year for me to tackle “Anna Karenina”, but we’ll see. I’ve never read Moby Dick, but I just don’t want to. There are so many books that I DO want to read, and I guess … I’m fairly well read and I don’t embarrass easily.

What do you plan to read next?

I’ll have to see how I feel at the end of the book I’m reading now. But, On deck is “Werner Herzog: A guide for the perplexed”, or “Some Luck” by Jane Smiley. Or Walter Kirn’s “Blood Will Out”

The Most Detestable Ladies of Literature

urlI just finished reading Serena by Ron Rash and it rocked my world. The title character is a Scarlet O’Hara type, obsessed with land and willing to do anything to get it. She gets what she wants by any means necessary. I loved the book so much it lead me to think about all the other lecherous yet awesome females of literature, and how they are far more memorable than any princess will ever be.

In honor of Serena, here is my list of the most detestable ladies of literature. PS – This may include spoilers. No endings are given away, but I do let you know some of the more colorful aspects to these characters. 

  1. Serena (Serena by Ron Rash)- This lady makes Scarlet O’Hara look more like Melanie Wilkes. Serena is a take no shit woman who gets what she wants. No matter what the price. Oh and she also has a trained eagle she keeps with her. Like a boss. Jennifer Lawrence will be playing the role on the big screen (against Bradley Cooper, of course) in February, so you heard it here first. Read the book! I promise it won’t disappoint. Ron Rash is a fantastic writer and the Appalachian mountains come alive with his lovely style and prose. Oh, and guys! this is NOT some chick lit romance, so don’t let the cover fool you. It’s about timber loggers in the 1930’s and it has lots of death and killing and intrigue. You’ll dig it, I promise.
  2. gone-with-the-windScarlet O’Hara (Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell) – While Scarlet brings to mind thoughts of romance and swelling music, Scarlet O’Hara is not a nice person. She is admirable on one hand, doing what needs to be done, but on the other hand completely loathsome. I mean, Ashley Wilkes is a simple dullard so he almost deserves the treatment Scarlet forces him to endure. But she is horrid. She deliberately steals her sisters man. She deliberately hires convicts to work in her factory in order to save money. And she beats them. She is selfish and spoiled, rude and entitled. Yet we all love her for her spunk and tenacity. For me her drive and determination make all the rest seem okay. It’s not her fault she’s smarter and prettier than her sister.
  3. Beatrice Lacey (Wideacre by Philippa Gregory) – 61I7PIe1MLL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Like the two ladies on this list ahead of her, Beatrice Lacey is obsessed with her land and will stop at nothing to keep it. Adultery and murder are all in a days work for Beatrice Lacey. The things that Beatrice does in this book will make you slam it closed in horror only to open it again just as quick to see what happens next. It is so much fun! But be warned, this book is not for the faint of heart. Incest and bondage are just a few things to look forward to in this crazy book. The first in a trilogy that will have you hooked from beginning to end. If you can endure the crazy, that is.
  4. 230-MThe White Witch (The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis) This bitch killed Christmas. It doesn’t get much worse than that. She banished all sense of happiness and hope, and She turns her enemies into stone. That’s wicked cool. Pun totally intended. Whats more, she isn’t a nice person. She’s cold and dispassionate, cruel and mean. She uses her magic to terrorize anyone who crosses her. She’s alluring, proud, and cruel – a deadly combination when you take into account her army of demons and dark monsters. Seriously. She had dwarfs and giants working side by side with wraiths and minotaurs. MINOTAURS! It’s always winter and never Christmas, and you won’t be getting any gifts this year. I’m Tilda. Bitch.
  5. Annie Wilkes (Misery by Stephen King) – dreams-as-inspiration-stephen-king-185x300I’m a big fan of Stephen King, but I would never kidnap him and force him to write stories for my approval. Or would I? Come to think of it, that sounds kind of awesome. I mean I wouldn’t torture him or anything, just make him watch Thinner and Maximum Overdrive on replay until he makes up a better ending to Under the Dome. I think that is a just punishment. Anyway, Annie Wilkes subjects poor Paul Sheldon to psychological and physical torture for a really long time. And she kills people. Oh, and then we find out that she’s an infamous serial killer. She stabs a state trooper with a wooden cross and runs him over with a lawnmower, after having chopped Sheldon’s foot off with an axe, setting it alight with a blowtorch. See, I’m nice compared to Annie Wilkes.
  6. Rebecca-Baylay-CoverMrs. Danvers (Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier) – Mrs. Danvers is pretty much the scariest person I can imagine sharing time with in a creepy gothic mansion. She’s tall and gaunt and pointy looking. In the novel she is often described as having a white skull face. See? Creepy. She wears all black and she’s mean as they come. She’s like a vampire, all death and decay. She’s always creeping around some dark hallway, spying on someone with her ear to the door, or her eye to the key hole. She’s a sneaky manipulative bully and downright nasty. I won’t divulge any more because she’s a pretty fun part of the book, but just steer clear of any open windows when she’s around.
  7. Daisy Buchanan (The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald) – philipp-dornbierer-1Let me start by stating up front that I am not a huge fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his books about rich people problems. That being said, I rather liked The Great Gatsby. And I liked it largely in part to Daisy Buchanan. Although every single character in this novel deserves a punch in the face, Daisy deserves just a few extra ones for being such a coked-up, self-absorbed brat. Is there a more insufferable character in all of literature? Maybe, but I wouldn’t want to hang out with Daisy Buchanan any time soon. Sure she may not be as repugnant as her husband Tom, but if that is the best thing we can say about her, then there is an issue. Daisy embodies all of the garish shallowness of the 1920’s and flaunts it with pride and ease. I mean come on, anyone who says this deserves a punch in the face. “I hope she’ll be a fool. That’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”
  8. Gone-Girl-by-Gillian-Flynn-gone-girl-37441442-1181-1810Amy Dunne (Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn) – This is the only book on the list which I have not actually read. I did however see the movie and was told it stays pretty faithful. That being said, Amy Dunne is a bad, bad woman. She goes well beyond bitch, tackles bat shit crazy and goes for the title of all out psychopath. On the surface Amy Dunne is the quintessential, all American “Girl Next Door”. She’s beautiful, funny, smart, and people want to be around her. Some people. She was the inspiration for a (fictional) children’s book series Amazing Amy. She’s famous. But underneath the Amazing Amy exterior is a crumbling marriage hiding a multitude of secrets. While we might understand why Amy is a total head case, it doesn’t excuse the absolute cold manor in which she manipulates everyone around her. The most dangerous thing about Amy is that she will do absolutely anything- lie, cheat, steal, kill – to get her way.
  9. Veda Pierce (Mildred Piece by James M. Cain) – fee16efd06a6dc540df9d81dc27267c6If there is a worse child in all of literature than Veda Peirce, then I’d like to see them in a death match. And my money would be on Veda. Veda is annoying for starters. She wants to hang out with the cool, rich kids in Pasadena, but they live crappy, crappy Glendale. Thanks a lot, mom! (Having grown up in Pasadena, this part of the plot had me in stitches.) Veda blames her poor, workhorse of a mother for everything bad that happens in her life, then manipulates her with emotional blackmail. And that’s just for starters. Mildred tried to give her daughter everything; voice lessons, piano lessons, a piano, new clothes, but nothing was ever good enough for Veda. Her insatiable appetite was only matched by the pleasure she took in torturing her mother. Which is hard to endure as a reader. You just want to shake Mildred until she wakes up and sees Veda for what she is: a total nightmare. But Mildred is always forgiving, and that is exactly what Veda counts on. For Mildred, what other choice is there but to just get stinko?
  10. Little-WomenAmy March (Little Women by Louisa May Alcott) – Okay, this might be a little unconventional, but I stand by my choice. First off, Amy is the youngest child which makes her annoying by default. She is a beautiful little girl who grows into a beautiful young woman and she knows it. A blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty who is a little obsessed with her own good looks. Except for her nose. She would totally have a nose job if she were living today (#nosejob) Amy uses her feminine charms to her advantage, a stark contrast to her much cooler and more homely sister, Jo. She is also obsessed with all things upper crust. She is keen to move up in the world and marry well. (Yawn). As a young girl she gets in trouble at school and vows never to return. And doesn’t! She gets home schooled, which is exactly what she wants. Later, her sisters don’t invite her to play with them, so as revenge, she burns Jo’s manuscript! Burns it! No computer back ups. All hand written. Seriously, if you burn my manuscript I might just let you drown in that frozen pond. Brat. I’d like to see Amy, and Daisy and Veda living in a house together Real World style. I would totally watch that show.

Books: Book Snobbery

MisterBooksellerBooksellers are asked “What do you read?” on a daily basis. I am always happy to answer the question even if some people are not happy with my answer. But, I’m not a book snob. Not really. My rule of thumb is, I’ll read anything as long as it’s well writtenNow that may seem “Duh”, but you’d be surprised what passes as good these days. I’ll read sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, bio, history… you name it. But don’t bore me, and don’t use simple langue and have zero style. We elevate our intellect when we challenge ourselves while reading. I strongly believe that.

I’ve been a bookseller on and off since my teen years and never before have I encountered such blatant Book Snobbery. Maybe it’s the rise of self promotion tools like Twitter and FB. Maybe it has something to do with needing to feel important. I don’t know. But I hear people call books they like (or love!) “My book”, as if they had something to do with writing it or they were the only person to have ever read it. Here, I’ll use it in a sentence. Have you noticed that my book sold out? Again!? The speaker didn’t actually write the book, and they get no commission if it sells, and yet they take responsibility for both. Gross.

It’s hard. A bookstore can be a place of subtle, unspoken competition, and inflated egos. And I’m over it. Who has read the most books? Who’s staff recommendations have sold the most? Who read the new hot title first? It’s all pretty juvenile and silly. Taking ownership of someone elses work is absurd. Feeling a sense of pride when a stranger chooses a book you like is pretty weird. Judging a book by its popularity with your peers is silly. And it is all a form of Book Snobbery. Our job isn’t to get as many people as possible to read our favorite book. Our job is to help the customer find something they might enjoy.

And it all comes down to this: People should read. Reading is good. Books are good.

syntax-booksellerOne of the reasons people turn to satan Amazon is because of book snobbery. Nobody wants to walk into a bookstore and see the bookseller roll their eyes at their choices. Projecting a type of ownership over certain types of books but not others is just another form of snobbery. And I get it. Bookstores are inherently snobby places. It’s the same kind of snobbery says that jazz and pino grigio and golf and “locally sourced” anything are for me, but not you. Absurd! There is snobbery of “Literature” over genre, of adult books over YA fiction, of “serious” over “funny”, of “real life” over dragons and unicorns and wizards, of Haruki Murakami over Stephen King. And it is lame. And silly. And pretty stupid. If books ever die, snobbery would be standing nearby with a smoking gun in its hand, and a smile on its face.

So, I have a message for all of you book snobs – stop it. You are defeating the purpose. We want people to read, not feel bad about reading. When someone wants the latest Oprah Book club book, I’m happy. At least they are reading! And who am I to judge anyway? She has recommended plenty of great books. Try having an open mind and watch your world expand. But, if that doesn’t happen – here is a list of things you can tell the next book snob you encounter – whether it’s in a bookstore or in your own home.

  1. Many of the world’s greatest writers wrote books for children. So stop making fun of it.  (Louisa May Alcott, Madeleine L’Engle, Maurice Sendak, C.S. Lewis, Judy Bloom)
  2. People shouldn’t feel bad about what they choose to read. When they feel bad about what they read, they’ll stop reading.
  3. Matt Haig said it best, “Snobbery leads to worse books. Pretentious writing and pretentious reading. Books as exclusive members clubs. Narrow genres. No inter-breeding. All that fascist nonsense that leads commercial writers to think it is okay to be lazy with words and for literary writers to think it is okay to be lazy with story.” Yep. What he said.
  4. Don’t discount a book simply because it is a best seller. Lot’s of popular stuff is actually good. (ABBA. Bacon. Internet cat videos. Cupcakes. Harry Potter. Game of Thrones. Stephen King.)
  5. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Or its shelf talker. Or who happened to recommend it. The only way to accurately judge a book is by reading the words inside.
  6. Have an open mind. Murakami said, if you only read what other people are reading, you’ll only think what other people are thinking.
  7. Proudly proclaiming that you only read literary fiction makes you sound ignorant. Well rounded people want to know about the world around them and the people who shaped it. Knowing your past is part of knowing you.
  8. Snobbery is prejudice wrapped up in a better sounding name.
  9. Genre shaming is lame. Get over it. There are some great books just waiting to be found in Sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, and historical romance. I promise.
  10. You can have your opinions about books, but just remember having opinions isn’t the same as being right. 

The 20 Coolest Authors. Ever.

Truman CapoteEverybody has their idea of what cool is. It’s a vibe. A feeling you get from someone. Being cool requires one to have a rebellious attitude, be an underdog, or one of societies outliers. Think bikers, but bikers from the 1950’s, not bikers from today. Today’s biker seems violent and rude rather than cool. But you get the idea. Fonzie was cool. Jim Morrison was cool. Wanda Jackson and Peggy Lee were cool. Kermit the Frog is cool. Einstein was cool.

James Blunt is not cool. Kim Kardashian is not cool. Either is Morrissey or Kanye West. David Foster Wallace was not cool. Brent Easton Ellis isn’t either. Writing a “cool” book isn’t what makes you cool. Having the most Twitter followers doesn’t matter either. It’s how you live your life. And obviously how much you like cats.

What follows is a list of who I think are the 20 coolest authors. Ever. I have intentionally listed 10 dudes and 10 ladies because I’m tired of reading lists about literature that do not equally include women. And yes, I am aware that there are more than just twenty super cool authors, and maybe I didn’t pick yours, but these lists take time and effort to create, so I kept the number reasonable. Fee free to add your picks in the comments. Politely.

  1. Truman Capote – Because he gave zero shits about what people thought. He said what he wanted. Wrote what he wanted. Because In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Because he liked cats pre internet. Cool Quote: “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”
  2. 50459320Margaret Atwood – Because The Hand Maid’s Tale and Alias Grace. Because she went toe to toe with Norman Mailer on gender issues and came out on top. He said that men were intellectuals first, writers or poets second. Women were not. Atwood pointed out, in a speech, that she had herself attended Harvard, and therefore had “a smear of intellectualism.” Cool quote: “Another belief of mine; that everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.”
  3. Maurice Sendak – Because Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen. Because In the Night Kitchen was BANNED in America on account of the little boy in the book is naked and therefore inappropriate for children. ‘Merica! Because he was on The Colbert Report right before he died spreading the message for LGBT equality. Cool quote: “Fuck them is what I say. I hate those e-books. They cannot be the future. They may well be. I will be dead. I won’t give a shit.”
  4. Joyce Carol Oates – Because she has published over fifty novels exploring themes of gender, violence, race, monsters, and the darker elements of being alive and human. Because she’s been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize three times. Because she writes horror that will keep you sleepless. And because she kind of looks like Shelley Duval and Olive Oyl. Cool quote: “Homo sapiens is the species that invents symbols in which to invest passion and authority, then forgets that symbols are inventions.”
  5. ahem2Ernest Hemingway – Because Ernest once took a urinal from his favourite bar and moved it into his own home, arguing that he had “pissed away” so much of his money into the urinal that he owned it. Because he won the Nobel Prize in literature. Because he once caught seven Marlin in one day. Because he loved cats. Cool quote: “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”
  6. Mary Shelley – Because Frankenstein. Because she hung out with Lord Byron and had picnics with him. Because she wrote the seminal gothic novel. Cool quote: “I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.”
  7. Tom Robbins – Because he has lived an outlaw life. Because he met Charles Manson and told him he wasn’t up to snuff. Because Still Life with Woodpecker, Jitterbug Perfume, and Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates. Because he was suspected of being the Unibomber. Cool quote: “Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.”
  8. Patti Smith Because she’s as good on stage as she is on the page. Because she lived for many years at the epicenter of cool, the Hotel Chelsea in New York City. Because Horses. Because her nickname is “The Godmother of Punk.” Because she co-wrote a play with actor, playwright, and my fantasy Granddad, Sam Shepard. Cool quote: “To me, punk rock is the freedom to create, freedom to be successful, freedom to not be successful, freedom to be who you are. It’s freedom.”
  9. haruki murakami and kittenHaruki Murakami – Because he is 65 and he is a dedicated marathon running Iron Man. Because he loves cats. Because he writes food and music better than anyone else. Because he refuses to write blurbs for the back of novels. Because 1Q84, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, and Kafka on the Shore. Cool quote: “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
  10. Agatha Christie – Because she was “Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire”. I don’t know what that is, but it sounds pretty badass. Because she created the best detective ever, Hercule Poirot. Because she wrote over sixty mysteries and they are all fun. Cool quote: “Any woman can fool a man if she wants to and if he’s in love with her.”
  11. Roald Dahl – Because The BFG. That’s why. Because he didn’t pander to children. Because he wrote dark, funny books which may or may not have a happy ending. Because when I met him as a kid, he was indeed the Big, Friendly Giant. Cool quote: “So, please, oh please, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away, and in its place you can install, a lovely bookcase on the wall.” 
  12. Zadie Smith – Because she changed her name (as a teen) from Sadie to Zadie because it sounded more exotic, and Sadie means Princess – she didn’t like the association. Because On Beauty. Because she was in TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005 list. Not bad. Because she wears cool turbans. Because she is rumored to be working on a musical of Franz Kafka’s life. Cool quote: “An English Lit degree trains you to be a useless member of the modern world.”
  13. Stephen KingStephen King – Because more of his books have been adapted into films than any other author, so sayeth Guinness Book of Records. Because Salem’s Lot, The Shining, Lisey’s Story and On Writing. Because he survived a near fatal car accident and kept going. Because he writes NY Times book reviews. Because he was in a band called Rock Bottom Remainders with Amy Tan, Mitch Albom, Matt Groening, and Scott Turow. Cool quote: “Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.”
  14. Octavia E. Butler – Because she was the multiple recipient of both the Hugo and Nebula awards – the highest praise for science fiction writers. Because she was born and raised in Pasadena, California… just like other cool women like me and Julia Child. Because she attended my alma mater, Pasadena City College for her AA, and eventually moved to Seattle. Because she called herself a hermit, and because I met her and she was awesome. Because Parable of the Sower and Kindred. Cool quote: “Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.”
  15. John Waters – Duh. He is the epitome of cool. Cool quote: “You should never read just for ‘enjoyment.’ Read to make yourself smarter! Less judgmental. More apt to understand your friends’ insane behavior, or better yet, your own. Pick ‘hard books.’ Ones you have to concentrate on while reading. And for god’s sake, don’t let me ever hear you say, ‘I can’t read fiction. I only have time for the truth.’ Fiction is the truth, fool! Ever hear of ‘literature’? That means fiction, too, stupid.”
  16. George Elliot – Because she was a badass feminist in Victorian times. Because, like the Brontë sisters, Mary Ann Evans created a pen name so the sexist assholes of the times would take her seriously. Because Middlemarch. Because she had a twenty year-long relationship with a married man. Because she wrote what many say is the greatest novel in the english language. Cool quote: “You may try, but you cannot imagine what it is to have a man’s force of genius in you, and to suffer the slavery of being a girl.” 
  17. 251550_523966377619405_374295507_nMark Twain – Because he was a riverboat pilot. Because his BFF was Nikola Tesla. Because A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Because he loved cats, and played pool with them. Because the awesome Hal Holbrook did a one man show AS him. Cool quote: “One cannot have everything the way he would like it. A man has no business to be depressed by a disappointment, anyway; he ought to make up his mind to get even.”
  18. Ursula K. Le Guin – Because her first name is Ursula. Because she is considered to be the best science fiction writer alive. Because The Dispossessed.Because her books tackle complex subject such as alternative worlds, politics, natural environment, gender, religion, sexuality and ethnography. Because she submitted her first story for publication at age 11. Cool quote: “I talk about the gods, I am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth.”
  19. Alexandre Dumas – Because he wrote about the most badass dudes ever, namely The Three Musketeers, and The Count of Monte Cristo. Because he was a world traveler and a ladies man said to have fathered at least seven children from some forty affairs. Because he was a well liked dude of his times described as, “the most generous, large-hearted being in the world. He also was the most delightfully amusing and egotistical creature on the face of the earth. His tongue was like a windmill – once set in motion, you never knew when he would stop, especially if the theme was himself.” Cool quote: “Never fear quarrels, but seek hazardous adventures.”
  20. Susan Sontag – Because her nickname was “The Dark Lady”. Because she was admitted to college at age 16, and married her professor two weeks after meeting him. Because her book On Photography (1977) did not contain a single photograph – as specimen or illustration. Favorite quote: “I don’t like America enough to want to live anywhere else except Manhattan. And what I like about Manhattan is that it’s full of foreigners. The America I live in is the America of the cities. The rest is just drive-through.”

Scariest Books That Are Scary

scarystories1029291236With Halloween just around the corner, and me out of scary movies to recommend, I turn to the printed page. Scary books can be more frightening than any movie. Your imagination is a powerful weapon for fear. So, as the wind howls past your window on all Hallow’s Eve, why not curl up with one of these books, guaranteed to scare you worse than Tim Curry dressed up like a clown.

*As always, I do not put books, movies, anything on a list that I have not read/see/heard for myself. 

  1. The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty – You’ve seen the movie. It probably gave you nightmares. Well, the book is about one hundred times more frightening. I sat up one night and read it cover to cover. Shiver scale: 10
  2. Ghost Story, Peter Straub – Another well loved scary movie with a far scarier book. The idea of a group of old men sitting around telling horror stories doesn’t seem like much, but it is. Especially when those stories revolve around their real lives. Shiver Scale: 7
  3. The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson – This book is terrifying. Instead of relying on horror and gore, Jackson uses her characters psyches and terrifying events to give big time chills. Written in 1959, it remains the best of the “Haunted House” novels out there. Shiver Scale: 8
  4. The Shining, Stephen King – I decided to only put ONE King novel on the list. It was hard to choose, but I went with a classic. There is no denying that this book is scary. It takes what you know from the movie and goes deeper. You might want to read this one with the lights on. Shiver Scale: 10
  5. The October Country, Ray Bradbury2013-08-15-octobercountryballantineorigJMI shouldn’t need to explain this one, but this book contains some really scary shit. The story “The Crowd” made me never want to get in a car again. Shiver Scale: 10
  6. Dawn, by Octavia Buter – I had the pleasure of meeting Octavia Butler when I worked at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena. She was funny, clever, and beautiful. This book is all of those things. Except funny. It isn’t funny. Author Junet Diaz said, “This book still gives me nightmares and teaches you right quick that no trade is ever free.” Shiver Factor: 6
  7. The Girl Next Door, Jack Ketchum – My five favorite words in the english language might be “Based on a true story.” This book is one of those. Stephen King calls this guy the scariest man in America, and he’s Stephen King! Shiver Factor: 8
  8. American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis – Yes, the movie was good. But the book is awesome. It stands as one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read. Sure, the blood and violence are great, but the passages dedicated to Huey Lewis and the News are worth the cover price. Shiver Factor: 8
  9. Lord of the Flies, William Golding – Remembered mostly as a young adult classic, this novel still makes me cringe. For me, mob mentality is one of the scariest things in the world. Because it could totally happen. It HAS happened. Lord of the Flies reminds us that not all leaders should be followed.
  10. Bellefleur, Joyce Carol Oates – I know. I put JCO on just about every book list I make. But she’s awesome! And this book is regarded as one of her Masterpieces. It is haunting, disturbing, and scary as shit. It follows a family (as most of her books do) as it endures horror after horror. Shiver Factor: 10
  11. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Alvin Schwartz – The cover alone gave me nightmares for years. That deserves at least an honorable mention. The pictures in the original version of the book scared the pants off a generation of American kids. I’m going to pick up a copy of this for our upcoming camping trip. Camping is more fun with ghost stories! Shiver Factor: 7 Illustrations: 12