My All-Time Favorite Things: May. | Home | 2006.

1 Jun 2006

Nota Bibliotum: June is Book Month.

Written by sally @ 8:33 pm — Section:

1. I took a creative writing class in college that terrified me, and so by week two I stopped going (I seriously never went back — but I still got an A). In one of the handful of classes I attended, my professor was talking about Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and that in one of his books there was a character who was so beautiful she floated up to heaven. I could buy that. I knew I wasn’t ready for One Hundred Years of Solitude, so I swiped my stepmother’s copy of Love in the Time of Cholera — it had that really beautiful, lush, green cover — and promptly fell in love. (Later, my stepmother would say she never read the book. But I distinctly remember her reading it and crying while in the hammock in the backyard.) One of my favorite themes in anything — books, songs, notes found in the hallway at school — is unrequited love. And there is, hands down, no better book dealing with unrequited love, ever, than Love in the Time of Cholera. It also has the most beautiful opening sentence of all time:
It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.
If you are not intrigued by that sentence and not compelled to read further, I pretty much have no use for you in this world.

2. Ellen Gilchrist’s The Annunciation is one of my all-time favorite books and one of the few novels that I return to every few years. I love all Ellen Gilchrist books anyway (ok, except for Anabasis, but that one doesn’t count), but instead of the usual Rhoda antics or Nora Jane sadness, The Annuciation deals with a different crop of Gilchristians, people who are rich and passionate and weird and impulsive. And Southern. Please do not forget Southern.

3. It is very difficult, I think, to move someone to tears via the written word. And so it is that The House of Mirth is the only book that I can recall (uh, except several Harry Potter books) that has made me cry. Oh, Lily Barth, your scheming still disappoints me. I have read nearly all Edith Wharton’s novels, even the ones that made me cringe, and while The Age of Innocence and The Custom of the Country (underrated!) are up there, The House of Mirth is the one that made a more lasting impression on me. I remember where I was when I read the last pages (in my bedroom in St. Louis), what the copy I read looked like (black cloth cover, crusty, pencil-marked library pages), and how I read those last pages over and over, hoping for a different ending.

4. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon is pretty much a perfect book. I don’t really have anything else to add.

5. Perhaps not the most challenging book I ever read, but one that brings me great enjoyment, is Nora Ephron’s Heartburn. Funny + recipes = a damn good read. I have a severe crush on Nora Ephron. I don’t care what you say: she can do no wrong. If she has anything to do with the apartment decorations in any of her movies, I feel certain we could be best friends. I pine for Meg Ryan’s apartment in Sleepless in Seattle. PINE. I am also fond of Meg Ryan’s apartment in You’ve Got Mail. Fond of, but not pining for. There’s a difference. Anyway, go read Heartburn.

6. I have read Camilla by Madeleine L’Engle oh, about 800 times. It’s a teenybopper book, so don’t go read it and then email me all mad. Camilla is 15 and her parents have problems. Her best friend is horrible and she finds innocent, yet intellectually stimulating, romance with her horrible best friend’s brother Frank. Frank is serious all the time. Frank and Camilla eat hamburgers and milkshakes and their meal totals $1 or something because it is 1960. Certain books from your childhood stick with you; this is one of them.

7. One of my favorite collections of short stories is Amy Bloom’s Come to Me. The stories are all quiet and familiar and it is one of the few books I foist onto people and force them to read. Consider this a foisting!

8. Do you know the genius that is Lynda Barry? Hilarious, sad cartoons that end up making you feel weird. I love her so. The Greatest of Marlys hits all the high spots from Ernie Pook’s Comeek. If you love stuff that makes you mope around the house and then cry bitterly into your pillow, you’ll love Lynda Barry.

9. I have raved and raved and raved still some more about Brad Watson’s The Heaven of Mercury, so by now you must realize that I am serious. Go read it!

10. If you haven’t already, you should go read Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair. And then you should go rent the movie and watch Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore get it on. Raowr! Seriously, this is one of the greatest love stories ever.

11. Charlie Smith is my favorite poet; if you haven’t read him, I recommend Before and After or Heroin or Indistinguishable from the Darkness or The Palms.

12. I generally love John Irving — and I say “generally” because sometimes I am not exactly in love with his books, but they’re still so much better than a lot of people’s books — but my two favorites are The World According to Garp and A Widow for One Year. I’m electing Widow to be the book of the day because it needs some fluffing after they made that movie out of part of it. That’s not even the good part of the book, y’all!

13. For awhile there I was pretty much convinced that I was going to be a journalist, until I realized that perhaps the fact that I liked to write the quotes before people actually said things was going to be a problem. During this time of pseudojournalistic fervor I fell in with some columnists, and that is where I met Bob Greene. One of the sweetest, most delightful books I have ever read is his diary of his 16th year. It’s called Be True to Your School, and I promise you will love it.

14. Do you like gory pictures of dead celebrities? Why, then you’ll love Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger! If you come to my house, I’ll let you look at my copy. It’s divine…if by “divine” you mean “gross and disturbing, yet intriguing.”

15. Lightning Song by Lewis Nordan contains all of the things I require in a perfect book: weirdness, hilarity, abject sadness. There is also the most hilarious passage EVER in which a little boy sees a Playboy for the first time and thinks that poor girl with her pants unzipped and pulled half-off is a little retarded.

16. Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier is an unassuming little book with one of the best, bizarre narration schemes. You know how actual people, not narrators in books, tend to forget things, maybe make them up, change their stories? The narrator of this book does that. I love it.

17. Someone gave me How to Draw a Radish and Other Fun Things to Do at Work when I graduated from college. It is a funny little book with directions on how to fold a dollar bill into a little shirt, how to make earrings out of a xeroxed picture of your favorite colleague, and many, many drawing lessons. I have enjoyed it immensely as a time killer. I have found in my various jobs that as long as you look busy, and have lots of papers strewn about, everyone will leave you alone. This is why my office always looks like shit.

18. I stole my friend Jeremy’s copy of They Went That-a-Way: How the Famous, the Infamous, and the Great Died by Malcolm Forbes in 1991 or so because I couldn’t imagine living another day without being able to immediately summon how Cole Porter or Isadora Duncan died. (I have a special fondness for Isadora Duncan, by the way, because when I was in ballet — a huge part of my life that I never talk about — my teacher said I reminded her of Isadora Duncan. I think it was the plastered on smile we were forced to have, and not my penchant for long, flowy scarves that would wrap around the wheels of my convertible and drag me to my death.)

19. Bill Bryson’s The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way is my favorite type of non-fiction: it totally tricks you into learning. Without this book, I would have been screwed, screwed I tell you, when I unexpectedly had to start teaching an honors early British literature class, which included the evolution of the English language as part of the class. So to Bill Bryson, I say: thank you for saving my ass, and for giving me so many funny tidbits to share with the kids, like that whole chapter on swearing, where I learned that “tidbit” used to be “titbit.”

20. I love Nicholson Baker. Yeah, yeah, Vox and The Fermata and all that, but look: he’s a really good writer, no matter the subject. I haven’t read anything of his that I haven’t liked, but one of my favorites is The Size of Thoughts, a collection of essays. Oh, one in particular has brought me much joy: “Leading with the Grumper.” It’s a review of J.E. Lighter’s Historical Dictionary of American Slang, and you know that’s a good time.

21. I found this book called Dear Deedee by Dori Schaffer at Goodwill when I was in high school. It’s the actual diary of a girl in the 50s (the first entry is December 1, 1953, when Dori is 15; the last is December 24, 1963) who is smart and passionate about causes and a great writer. The reader sees Dori as she struggles through high school and college and marriage and depression and then, she makes five suicide attempts. The last one worked. Man. What a great book.

22. I had no idea that Tennessee Williams had the power to affect me until I had to teach The Glass Menagerie in a comp II class and got all choked up. My poor students were embarrassed and had to avert their eyes until the crisis was averted. Tom’s desire to escape his mother’s stifling, delusional world comes at the cost of leaving his sister Laura, and it’s the part at the very end that gets me, when Tom says, “Perhaps I am walking along a street at night, in some strange city…The window is filled with pieces of colored glass, tiny transparent bottles in delicate colors, like bits of a shattered rainbow. Then all at once my sister touches my shoulder. I turn around and look into her eyes…Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!” Try reading that passage in front of 25 apathetic freshmen and see if you don’t cry, too.

23. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, but only when I was 14-17. I tried reading it again when I was 18 and was like, omg this book sucks. I was so deeply in love with Holden, though — whose middle name in other stories is Morrisey, btw — that I owe it to him to try again.

24. Shame by Salman Rushdie. I started this book with dread, but if all you know about Rushdie is the kerfuffle regarding The Satanic Verses — death threats, kerfuffle, whatever — then you don’t know that he is wonderful and strange and magical.

25. The Man who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks. I am intrigued with neuropsychology, and it is all Oliver Sacks’s fault. The brain is a fascinating thing, and while I do not have one that would allow me to poke and prod other brains with anything other than drooling caveman curiosity — hey, what does that do? (mashes on brain) — I rely on Sacks to fill me in on the specifics.

26. If you are at all into astrology, and are into it merely for romantic reasons, you should probably check out Linda Goodman’s Love Signs. It is a 70s wunderkind of bad spiritual poems about each sign, broad generalizations, and snappy lingo. The best part is that not only does it predict success or failure with each combination of sign, it also gets more specific and discusses each possible male-female combo in detail. For example, I am a Leo, so if I meet a swinging Sagitarius I would go read the Leo-Sag chapter, but would pay special attention to the Leo Woman-Sagitarius Man section. BONUS: it includes details on your sexual compatibility as well. Rowr! I bought this book at Goodwill in high school and have used it many, many times over the years. It feels sort of stupid to include it in my all-time favorite books, but it’s been a constant companion and deserves a shout-out.

27. I think Naked was the first David Sedaris book I read, and as I was unemployed and living in Birmingham at the time, I considered it a gift from the universe.

28. When I was at my mother’s house a few years ago, I started reading a teenybopper book I found in my closet called The Real Me by Betty Miles. I was astounded to discover that I had stolen huge portions of the book and incorporated them into my personality. I guess it’s good I found out about how deeply a book about how a girl gets a paper route affected me then instead of much later.

29. The Raymond Carver collection All of Us contains all of his poems; there aren’t many books I own that are peppered with post-its, but this one is. A permanent post-it lives at the poem called “Summer.”

30. I haven’t read much by Ian McEwan that I wasn’t totally blown away by, but Enduring Love, I think, blew me away the farthest. Damn! What a good book. Atonement and Saturday ain’t too shabby, either. But if you can get past the cruddy title — and the association of an 80s Brooke Shields movie — you are in for the startling way McEwan strings you along.

2 Responses to “Nota Bibliotum: June is Book Month.”

  1. Lucy said:

    I bought LitToC this weekend b/c of its appearance on the May list of favorite things. June’s list is going to provide me with LOTS of summer reading. Yay!

  2. Ramona said:

    Kavalier and Clay really is perfect – the go-to book when someone you don’t know well wants a recommendation. Also, Michael Chabon is a hottie. Author crushes are fun – the cute author/good writing combo makes me swoon. See Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close for another example.