Wednesday, May 25, 2005

My Book Shelf

Imagine I invited you over.

You ring the doorbell, noticing that the paint on my little porch looks like it has seen better days. I come to the door and let you in (being the gracious host that I am).

At that moment, the telephone rings, and I must leave the room to take the call, since it is an unidentified friend or relation having some sort of freak-out attack.

Having nothing else to do while waiting for me to finish the "listen, rephrase, sympathize, suggest alternatives to suicide/homicide/Krispy Kreme run" therapy cycle, you take a look at the book shelves in my living room. This isn't really snooping - the books are right there for anyone to look at, but you still feel a little snoopy, stooping over to read the titles. It's okay. I'll give you a head start now. Of course, that will give you little to do during my therapy cycle, but maybe you will be able to find the remote, or the National Geographic on the end table will catch your eye.

  • Dave Eggers' A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Genius. Maybe I run in rarefied circles, but isn't this book kind of like the Frampton Comes Alive of 2000? In other words, wasn't everyone pretty much required to buy a copy? In both cases, there is a reason why they appealed to us. They were a good time. Dave Eggers is funny, and can be heartbreaking, especially when he has the life experience to back it up.
  • Christopher Moore's Fluke. There comes a time in your author-reader relationship when you are so sure of his work that you show up at readings and buy hardbacks just because you know it will be worth the extra money not to wait for the paperback or even longer for your name to come up on the library wait list. Christopher Moore is one of those writers for me. Although Fluke wasn't necessarily my favorite. I like The Island of the Sequined Love Nun and Coyote Blue. Yes, I like funny.
  • A couple of John Irving books. Another author I buy in hardback now. Back when I was poor, I would buy paperbacks or borrow from the library. I wish I had a hardback copy of my favorite, A Prayer for Owen Meany. I destroyed my paperback copy from overuse. A masterpiece. I like Son of the Circus too.
  • Several Chuck Palahniuk books (when they are not lost in the horror that is my son's room). I not only buy Chucky in hardback and go to see him speak (when I can get in - he's a little too adored here in the Portland area nowadays - understandably) and watch DVDs of bad documentaries made in homage of his appearances at a writing workshop. He writes like no one else - dark, violent, self-loathing characters being placed in dark, violent, I-loath-you-right-back sort of situations, all with a certain blythe, pixyish, mischievousness that I just eat up. In person, he is so jolly and warm, it is hard to blend the written with the writer. It's just enchanting and so awfully entertaining. And his current fascination with his ability to gross people out is also somehow childlike and endearing, yet not without a little hidden malice? What's more seductive than that?
  • Mark Twain. I like all Mark Twain's stuff. I love his more autobiographical stuff. My favorites in order: First, Roughing It, about his trip out west in his younger days, riding in a stagecoach out to Nevada, testing out his writing chops at the Virginia City newspaper, and setting unintentional blazes (so he says) at Lake Tahoe. If you didn't think you could laugh out loud at a 130-year-old book, this one will change your mind. Second, The Innocents Abroad; about Mark Twain's trip to Europe with a bunch of fussy conservative Christian types (yes, they had them back then too). Funny and enlightening re: how things change, and how they stay the same. Third, A Tramp Abroad; his follow-up to The Innocents Abroad - more of the same.
  • A. A Milne, The World of Pooh. I've had it since I was six. Why get rid of it now? It's a classic that never ages. At least it wouldn't have if Disney had kept its greedy rodent paws off of it.
  • America, The Book (by Jon Stewart and the Daily Show gang). Amusing enough for a while. Don't buy it, I'll lend you mine.
  • Edgar Allen Poe. Like every other teenager who felt misunderstood, I was a huge Edgar Allen Poe fan. I still pick it up every once in a while, because the guy could write.
  • JFK, Profiles in Courage. It's JFK so it's got to be good. I'll read it eventually.
  • Gregory McDonald. He came to town last year to promote another in his Flynn series. I frankly didn't know he was still writing so I went to see him, and since I was one of about 15 there, I felt obligated to buy his new book. Mr. McDonald is a very good mystery writer (less so since he put his very good and very funny Fletch series to bed), but turns out he's a rather self-aggrandizing speaker.
  • John Steinbeck. Grapes of Wrath. Love Steinbeck. Love every Steinbeck work. He is the best American writer. I love East of Eden. I love, love Cannery Row. I love, love, love Tortilla Flat. Read Steinbeck.
  • Pearl S. Buck. The Good Earth. Good book. Left me with some much needed perspective. I believe highly in gaining perspective through the reading of superior books like this. And very readable, even though it is about a culture we don't really get.
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby. I bought this in hardback because I was thinking that if it was as great and life-changing as everyone said, I would want it on my shelf to re-read. I may re-read again, but only to find out what the big whoop is that I missed the first time. Some classics just seem to pass over my head. I will admit that.
  • Gunter Grass. The Tin Drum. I bought this around the time that Grass (finally, he says) won a Nobel prize. It was pretty freaky. Definitely dense with symbolism. Very surreal. I don't think I really understood it (not being from Germany where the collective guilt must be intense and the history would be more immediate and local), but I understood the impact that it must have had. Worth the trouble.
  • Herman Melville. Moby Dick. Another one that I bought because of the testimonials about how Melville is the bomb. Sorry, the prose is a little too purple for my short attention span. How long can you talk about whale whiteness, anyway?
  • David Sedaris. Me Talk Pretty Some Day. I love David Sedaris. In this era of cable TV coming out your ears, I bet you could write an episode of CSI or Still Standing in your sleep, but you could not replicate a Sedaris story. You can never really guess what Sedaris's next sentence will be. He can surprise me and make me laugh every time. I like his books, but his books on Audible for my Ipod are even better because his delivery is hilarious. Another best bet for your Ipod: Sarah Vowell, another This American Life (NPR) regular. Very funny, but with a sincere side that is charming and occasionally educational.
  • Fire Engines in North America. Coffee table book given to my husband because, well, he's a fire fighter, I guess. (Note to relatives of fire fighters: volunteer fire fighters love this stuff. However, very few career fire fighters are fire engine history buffs).
  • The Picture History of Painting. Garage sale coffee table book given to me by a dear friend. It's fun to pull out every once in a while, but the color plates are sometimes off a little.

There you have it. If I'm not back from my telephone call, make yourself at home with one of these books. I'll be right there.

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