Monday, November 19, 2012

Reading Round-Up -- Yee Haw!

Hey everyone!  Yes, I'm busy Accomplishing all sorts of things, just not on the list.  For example, I did FOUR loads of laundry and mopped the bathroom floor.   I know, STEP BACK!  I'm a powerhouse MACHINE!

Anyhoo, it's almost time for one of my favorite holidays:  SMALL BUSINESS SATURDAY.  On November 24th, the day after "Black Friday" and right before "Cyber Monday," people are encouraged to shop their local independent brick and mortar stores, and help their communities thrive.  Did you know that for every $100 spent at a locally-owned, independent business, $68 stays in the local economy compared to only $43 if spent at a national chain?  And I don't know what the stats are for online (I should), but I know it's much worse.

This is actually sponsored by AMEX, and you can get credit for spending at participating local stores.  I don't know that much about it (I don't have an AMEX card), but I found a link to a blog that has more info:   And then, of course there is the 3/50 Project which I love and is still gaining traction:  pick 3 shops you want to support, spend $50.  If that's too much, just do what you can.  More info on their facebook page:

As you all know, I'm a big fan of independent bookstores, so I'll be spending part of my Small Business Saturday at one or two of them and showing them some love. And since I've been asked lately to do another "round-up" of book recommendations, here's a list you can bring with you to your local indie and show them some love, too!

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  Oh.  My.  God.  Of any book I've read this year, this one had me the most HOOKED.  I could not put it down.  And, apparently, neither could nearly everyone else I knew who has read it.  I was on an airplane, and the flight attendant stopped her drink orders and said, "OH MY GOD.  WHAT PART ARE YOU ON?"  "I just finished the part where ---- --- -- --- ----" and she said, "JUST WAIT.  OH MY GOD, JUST WAIT."  Considering most flight attendants just ignore me or sullenly hand me my Diet Coke, I took this as a sign.  THIS BOOK WAS GENIUS.  And that is all I'm going to say -- you need to get this for yourself.  (Pick up her others as well, especially if you've read Gone Girl already.)

Lamb by Christopher Moore.  Okay, I lied.  Gone Girl wasn't the only book that had me hooked in the past few months -- this one did, too.  And what's funny -- this book had been recommended to me for years, but I always avoided it.  I didn't really know what it was about, but I didn't want to read anything that was overtly religious, and even worse, gratuitously sacrilegious.  I was SO wrong, SO SO wrong.  My boyfriend said the night before I was leaving for a trip to NYC, "Look, I love this book.  Take this on your trip and try it."  I sighed, resigned, and agreed.  And I read it the whole way there.  And that night, with Manhattan twinkling below my hotel room and beckoning me to be a part of it, I stayed in and ordered room service and read.  Happily.  It's brilliant and hysterical and I LOVED it.  And shhhh... this may be sacrilegious in itself, but it rivals Owen Meany for me.  (And we all know how much I love Owen Meany.)

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple.  And still on the funny theme... This is what I loved about this book:  I never knew where it was going to go.  Having been a creative writing major, I'm pretty good at getting into the craft of novels -- formulas and twists and all that.  I even guessed the twists of "The Usual Suspects" AND "The Crying Game," so I'm kind of a pro.  (And kind of annoying.)  There are laugh-out-loud scenes, and she captures the Seattle lifestyle well, from what I gather.  I gobbled this one up, and you will, too.

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks.  On the same day I got Bernadette, I stopped in at one of my favorite bookstores in the country, Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN.  Oh, I love that store.  It's bright and warm and cheery and being in there elevates your mood 1000%.  And oh, that heavenly smell of new books...  Why can't they bottle that scent?  Anyway, I was talking to one of the fantastic booksellers there, and asked her if she had any recommendations.  She led me to the shelf, picked up this book, and hugged it to her chest, professing her love for it.  OKAY, SOLD.  Any book that a passionate bookseller hugs is good with me.  (And I would know -- I did the same thing back in my bookseller days.)  I read it in my hotel room and cried.  It's pretty sentimental (I can see Pixar making the movie), but sometimes that's just what the bookseller ordered.  The cover's not pretty, but don't judge.  Well, this one, anyway. (See below.  I do it, too.)

 The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett.  Okay, remember that bookstore I was talking about above?  Parnassus?  Yeah, this is the co-owner of that bookstore.  And she's incredible.  I had a professor in grad school that I didn't like, and she was a big Ann Patchett fan.  So, since I didn't like this professor, I didn't read Ann Patchett.  My God, what a huge mistake.  (The reading Ann Patchett part.  I still don't care for this professor.)  I feel like I missed out, but at the same time, I feel like I've discovered a "new" author and am looking forward to more.  I love that feeling!  I started off with this, her debut novel.  It's one of the most beautiful first novels I've ever read.  Sigh.  To be that talented and to be THIS AWESOME: Ann Patchett on The Colbert Report ... She is leading the way in the fight for brick-and-mortar bookstores, which makes her my absolute hero.

Eli the Good by Silas House.  Other heroes of mine are our sales reps to independent bookstores -- I value their judgement completely, and I know if they recommend a book, it's going to be good.  Especially our Southern territory reps -- they know that I love Southern literature, so when they tell me they love something after aaaaalll they have to read for all their publishers, I know it's something special.  Eli the Good is exactly that.  Set in 1976, this book evokes that time and the summer of the bicentennial but not in a nostalgic, campy way, but a real and true heartbreaking way.  It's being marketed as a Young Adult book, but I wholly disagree.  While Eli is a 10-year-old narrator, the themes are sophisticated.  NOT that YA books can't be sophisticated, but this book beautifully breaks the golden rules of the YA formula.  I feel the same way when I read that To Kill a Mockingbird is considered YA because Scout is a child protagonist -- NO. Eli the Good shouldn't be pigeonholed into the YA genre (and I am NOT in any way disparaging that genre because I love it) -- this book is for all ages.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly.  Ahhh... Speaking of YA, here is a YA novel that I really loved.  There's a lot more to teen books than vampires and dystopian futures and bitchy girls in private schools, and this is a shining example of why Young Adult Fiction RULES.  It's the story of entwined lives in modern day and during The French Revolution...  And it works.  The feelings and language are so real and captivating, and to use that old cliche -- it's a page turner.  I loved this book so much that I'm going to share a kind of embarrassing story:  Right after I got this book, I was out running errands and it was in my car.  I was hungry, so I decided to just go through a drive-through, eat quickly, and finish everything I had to do that day.  So I got my food, opened the book to read while I was eating...  And two hours later I looked up and realized what had happened.  I sat in the stupid Wendy's parking lot for 2 hours, completely enthralled, and never got my errands done.  And you know what?  It was totally worth it.  I loved it so much that I wanted to write the author an email to tell her, but I never did.  But I LIKED her on Facebook, so there's that.

The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure.  Okay, this is an author I did email to tell her how much I loved her book.  I wasn't even finished with it yet and I had to tell her that I kept squealing, "YES!" as I read.  I was a HUGE fan of the Little House books growing up -- I read them over and over again (well, not Farmer Boy -- that was about a BOY) and would stare and stare at the Garth Williams illustrations.  The pig bladder balloon!  The maple syrup candy on pans of ice!  The little cave house on the banks of Plum Creek!  BLIND MARY AND A KITTEN!  My God, I wanted to wear a bonnet, churn butter, and slap a bear on the nose.  And so did Wendy McClure (longtime BUST "Pop Tart" columnist), and she took a pilgrimage to all of Laura Ingalls Wilder's homes and sites.  I loved it.  So when I had a chance to meet her at a book convention, I gushed like a creepy stalker fan.  But instead of calling the cops, we shared lunch, and when she came to California I got to see her and go to her reading and wear a bonnet.  She's awesome, and so is this and her first book, I'm Not the New Me.  Get them both.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.  Another one I loved when I was younger, and for some reason I've been thinking so much about Francie and Neeley and Johnny and Kate lately.  I guess it's my reality check -- when I'm distressed about money, lamenting about how broke I am, I think of this book and it puts things in perspective, and how this family persevered.  Yeah, yeah, it's one of those "triumph of the human spirit" books, but it's so good. The coffee scene has always stayed with me, and I still get a small thrill when I think of it.  And whenever I hear The Pogues' "Fairytale of New York" I think of this book, too.  A definite classic, and we all need to read more classics, right?  Start with this one.

 The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami.  Another classic, or destined to be.  (If you haven't read this or Lolita by Nabokov by now, you really have to.)  I must admit, I didn't read this book for YEARS.  Remember when Friendster (R.I.P) was all popular, and you could list your books you liked?  This book was the most popular hipster book on there.  Every single hipster that had ever logged into the internet loved this book (or claimed to).  So me, being the jerk who sniffs at things like that, steadfastly refused to read any Murakami.  (There seems to be a theme of this with this Round-Up:  "Books Karen Avoided and Was REALLY, REALLY Stupid for Doing So.")  But when Jon and I moved, all my books were packed away and his weren't, and I was desperate for something to read.  I pulled Murakami off his shelf, admired the pretty cover, and started reading.  And didn't stop until I had read nearly all of Murakami's books.  This one was my favorite (of course), and long story short:  maybe I should take hipsters a little more seriously.  Ha.  Ha. 

Life of Pi by Yann Martel.  Here's another one I saw in the bookstores forever and never picked up.  But a few months ago, I got really sick.  I never get sick, and this sick sucked.  But do you know what doesn't suck about being sick?  Having beloved friends drop off bags of their beloved books (and soup and hot toddies) at your house to keep you entertained and on the mend.  I read some great books while I was sick, and some not so great but definitely lurid (hello, Full Service by Scotty Bowers), but this book, Life of Pi, was my favorite.  When I finished it, I wasn't just blowing my nose and wiping my eyes because I had the flu, let's just put it that way. I can't imagine how it will work as a movie, but I can't wait to see it.  And read it now before the movie comes out!

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.  Okay, this is not a book that I avoided -- my God, LOOK at that cover.  It's gorgeous!  TOTALLY and ABSOLUTELY historically inaccurate and wrong for the time in which the book is set, but still.  And if you know me at all, you know I love Paris in the 1920's and all the ex-pats, and I've always been fascinated with poor Hadley Hemingway, the starter wife of that jerk, Ernest.  (And mother to Bumby.  BUMBY!)  And I wasn't disappointed -- I enjoyed it.  And sadly, I could relate a lot to poor Hadley.  But this book truly captures the time period... And my God.  LOOK at that cover!

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty.  Okay, fine, this is another one I bought for the cover.  Hello, Louise Brooks?  You can put Louise Brooks on a packet of headcheese and I'd eat it.  But it was good!  I mean, any time an author appropriates the history of a famous person's life there's bound to be skepticism and a bit of cheeze, but I do think that Ms. Moriarty did her homework.  And Louise Brooks isn't the star per se -- the main character is, indeed, her chaperone on a trip to New York, Cora Carlisle.  On the surface she seems like a proper Kansas City matron, when in fact she has secrets of her own.  And actually, a budding early feminist.  If you want to read more about Louise Brooks, read her well written and sassy memoir Lulu in Hollywood, or the excellent biography by Barry Paris.  But if you want a terrific read, perfect for vacation and the holidays, The Chaperone is a great choice.  (And people will admire the cover as you read.  Can't get that experience on an e-reader!)

How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran.  I have a kind of silly criteria, but one in which I firmly believe:  I tend to judge famous people on whether or not I would like to have dinner with them.  As for Caitlin Moran, I want to sit next to her at a dinner party, talking about people's outfits, music, books, and stealing sips from a hidden flask.  So, basically, I LOVE HER.  I'd heard about this book and was excited to read it, and after I got past the very British colloquialisms and slang, I plowed through it, loving the ride.  She is so refreshing, and a new voice for feminism which I think is so desperately needed.  After all the election brouhaha, and seeing many young women in the past few years claim that they aren't feminists, it has been making me (and my friends) think that there needs to be a bit of an overhaul for the movement -- we can't have scary, angry women frightening these young women away.  The anger is good, but it's time for change.  (Cue Peter Brady.)  Caitlin Moran puts it simply: “Do you have a vagina?” she writes. “Do you want to be in charge of it?” If you said yes to both, “Congratulations! You’re a feminist.” She's fun, she's funny, and totally herself.  And what I loved was that she doesn't cry "sisterhood" -- she says that you don't HAVE to like someone because they're a woman.  THANK YOU.  (And I'm hoping that she will be responsible for the decrease in Brazilian waxes.)  In any case, I loved this book and her, so please, check it out.  (Men, too!)

Better Than Fiction by Lonely Planet.  Okay, yes, I'm a bit biased.  But this anthology is fantastic!  Joyce Carole Oates, Isabelle Allende, Tea Obrecht, Alexander McCall Smith...  Top notch fiction writers writing about a favorite subject: travel.  I love anthologies, and this is a great one to read on vacation or for giving to the jetsetter in your life.  Perfect for reading in short spurts or cover to cover.  And pssst...  Lonely Planet has a lot of great books out this season.  Don't overlook the Travel section in your bookstore -- there are wonderful treasures to be found, and tons of inspiration to be had!

So, there's my list.  (And there's this list and this list, too.)  I hope you all will be able to use it, and see something you like.  Every single time I go into a bookstore or record store, all my thoughts of what I want fly straight out of my head.  (It happened to me while writing this blog entry, too -- I know I read many more fantastic books this year, but I drew some blanks.  Though I think I got enough in this post, hmmm?)  So having a list makes it easier, but keep yourself open to browsing, too.  Sometimes that's how you find the true gems... And listen to those booksellers.  THEY ARE TRAINED PROFESSIONALS.

And please, send me YOUR recommendations, because I need to know what to get next Saturday, too!  Anything you've read and loved lately?

So next Saturday, please frequent your local independent bookseller, and your mom and pop/ small business stores in your town.  And I beg you, implore you, get on my knees to plead with you: please reconsider buying things from Amazon.  Yes, they're cheap.  Yes, it's great to be lazy and shop from bed.  Yes, it's all right there.  And you know what won't be?  Your local stores.  Welcome to Walmart-ville.  Look, I understand, and maybe you can't find everything locally, and you need Amazon to get those hard to find gifts.  If you must do that, okay, but please think of Amazon as a last resort.  Together we can help to strengthen our communities, but we have to leave the house to do it.  That's easy, right?  Right?  RIGHT!  And if you don't want to or can't leave the house, here is a fantastic site where you CAN shop from your local indie bookseller from the comfort of your own couch:

But!  If you love your e-reader, (or was looking to buy one), let me recommend this -- The Kobo..  It will work with independent stores' platforms, so you can give them some love instead of the Amazon with The Kindle.  Plus it's supposed to be fantastic.  Maybe even someday I might break down and buy one, but I'm not ready yet.  I just had to clear out and condense an entire bookcase and my heart was being ripped in two...  But it healed again nicely when I gave all those books to friends and saw how happy they were.  I love lending and giving books, and I can't do that with an e-reader.

So anyway, have a wonderful holiday, and may you get lots Accomplished and lots read!  I have a lot to be thankful for, and independent booksellers and all of YOU are on that list.  Gobble gobble!