Posts tagged books books books
Posts tagged books books books
This time last year, I had never seen a Woody Allen film (on purpose) nor read a book by Philip Roth (also on purpose). Now I have done both (Manhattan, Zelig, Sleeper, Annie Hall, Deconstructing Harry, Husbands and Wives, The Front (does that count?)); American Pastoral.) I guess living in New York really does change a person.
At the moment I prefer Roth to Allen, even though talking about Woody Allen is much more likely to land you a conversation with a boy who might buy you a drink than talking about Philip Roth is. Or perhaps because of that.
This is the only trenchant observation I have to make about Anna Karenina, which I finished last night. If only Anna had known the guiding light that is “no emotional fuckwittage.” How different things might have been.
AK was my first Russian novel, and though I liked it, I really hope the rest of the year is a little less of a soap opera. Next up: The Master and Margarita.
Sometimes I wonder if part of the eager reception of the print-media-is-dead trend juggernaut ouroboros, aside from the obvious, is how much certain people who like books like to be the only person they know who likes books, or the person who loves books the most. They have a persona and they’re sticking to it and they seem to like how much the news confirms that their persona more special by the day.
I feel like I hear a lot in conversation, after a person learns I am a bookseller, a variation on the following: “Well, I personally just love books, especially, you know, the feel of the paper under my fingers, but nobody else seems to want those things. People don’t even read anymore. What can you do?”
And then he shrugs, or even laughs, as though he is not talking about me losing my job, or as though it doesn’t bother him that he thinks that people don’t read. Which is an understandable conclusion to come to, I guess, from general media coverage, so I always make the mistake of thinking he’ll be happy to hear another part of the conversation, a happier one.
But if I present actual data about ebook sales, or poll data, he does not care. If I mention that my bookstore and hundreds of others sell ebooks, and that many people are enjoying books in various formats instead of buying a Kindle and then setting their libraries on fire (let alone that at present the majority of book sales are still physical ones), she does not care. If I talk about places where bookstores have opened, or Waldens employees trying to open their own stores in the spaces their old company vacated, or communities raising money to help bring a bookstore into their lives, he does not care. Her eyes glaze over like hams if I reply to her with anything short of total agreement that bookstores and books are fucked. I get to the end of an optimistically-oriented sentence and see that I am just The Girl Who Doesn’t Want To Lose Her Job And Is Spitting Into The Wind to he, The Person Who Really Truly Loves Books And The Way They Smell, and I couldn’t possibly understand.
(Not that these are the only sorts or even most of the sorts of people I talk to, of course. I did start the post with sometimes for a reason. Just spitballing on a rainy Sunday evening.)
I told her about the kiss thingy.
She looked at me like I was the cat’s pajamas and said, “You have kissed a boy. In person.”
I said, “Yeppity doo dah.”
Vaisey said, “And what was it like?”
I said, “Well, um, it was a bit like being attacked by a jelly, and then having a little bat trapped in your mouth.”
Vaisey said, “Was it nice? Did you like it? Did he like it?”
And I said, “Well, he shook my hand at the end.”
—-page 150, Withering Tights by Louise Rennison, first book in a new series by the author of Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging (yay!) (have you read Angus? have you? why haven’t you? you poor duck), out in July; may I never stop loving British YA, ever ever ever, world without end, for it will probably mean I no longer have a soul.
Oh, where does one begin? Does one start by saying “it’s not as bad as people say,” a backhanded insult both true and defensive? Does one mention that one laughed; can one reject the fear that whatever one says about the Snooki book says more about the reader than the book? Is it possible to even begin a valuable conversation about the gender politics of this book without bleeding from the eyeballs? How to address the simultaneous embrace and recoil from the main character, and is it too much to include and compare one’s initial reactions to Philip Roth?
Perhaps it is best to say this:
I was not having a good day, yesterday—not a bad day, but not a good one. You know the sort of day I mean. I got in a fight I shouldn’t gotten into and I was wrong. I wore the wrong pants for the second day in a row, and my hair looked really stupid. When I finally left work, in the middle of a windy thundersnowstorm, I trudged home for twenty minutes before I realized that I had left my keys on the front counter. If yesterday was Monday, I could have blamed it all on it being Monday, but it was Wednesday.
But I didn’t go to bed sad, and it’s because I read A Shore Thing by Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi while I ate dinner. And it wasn’t the best book I read this year, or even this week, but I laughed a lot and it read fast. You’re welcome to my copy. I won’t be re-reading it. But I recommend it.
(Oh, okay, except to note that, for all the passages people mocked in this book and for all its insanity, and boy oh boy are some of the plot twists insanity, the voice of this book was more interesting than half the YA fiction I’ve been sent from the spring lists. The ghostwriter of this book deserves a lot of credit. There is some genuinely good shit lurking in this book. I am happy to put books down when they suck and often do; never considered it when reading this one.)
(Oh and as to all the people who thought and perhaps still do think that this book signals the death of literature: I found myself wondering over and over as I read this book just how weak you all think literature is. Literature has Jane Austen. Literature has MOBY-FREAKIN’-DICK. Literature has patron saints up to its eyeballs and many of them are handy with firearms. It can withstand one more goofy fluff book, I am sure.)
(And finally as to those who thought and perhaps still do think that this book signals the death of standards in publishing: hahahahahaha! Haha. Hahahahaha, ha!)
I’m not much for best-of lists. My memory is not good enough for them and I don’t find them very useful when other people write them, and so am too lazy to bother. I did, for the first time, keep a fairly accurate list of what I read this year. Was 367 books. I liked the vast majority of them, so it would feel wrong to only list ten or so, and to list more than that would defeat the purpose of a best-of list.
At least half of what I read this year came out before 2000. It was almost uniformly good (in contrast to the new stuff, which was more like 60/40). Which is another reason a best-of list would be unhelpful. You have undoubtedly already read many of my favorite reads from this year. I spend a lot of time bemoaning my youth and wishing I was sixty already, but one advantage to being young is that there are still piles of good books I haven’t had time to read yet.
Anyway, I will make one list, in honor of the year I decided not to be scared of long books anymore: My Top Five Books Over 500 Pages of 2010 (Even Though Only Two Came Out in 2010). These would all make the hypothetical best-of list. Do you think it’s that long books are more likely to be satisfying? Or do you think that one is more likely to want long books to be satisfying to justify the time one spent reading them, so they have an unfair advantage? Whatever, I loved all these books and feel unnaturally driven to proselytize them.
So there you go. If you’re looking for a great book that you won’t be able to travel or commute with and won’t want to hold for more than half an hour at a time because your arms will start to go numb, please consult this list.
(Oh, and a quick shout-out to Stoner by John Williams, which I, like a jerk, keep giving to people for presents because I am that girl, the one who foists books on you that SHE wants you to read, not that YOU want to read. Except that Stoner is so good that it has been met with a 100% approval rate from those receiving it. So there! Stoner: buy it for yourself today, or risk being unsurprised when I give it to you for your birthday.)
(FYI: All donuts mentioned are Krispy Kremes.)
In that case, friends, I recommend Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America by Matt Taibbi. I have nothing coherent to say about it, except that I have read some reviewers claim that they think Taibbi’s writing is a little too over-the-top and loose with the cursewords to be taken seriously, and would just like to observe that I think anybody who actually understands the shit that’s going down at the highest levels of government and business and who is NOT using the phrase “motherfucking cocksuckers” from time to time is probably not taking it seriously enough.
If, on the other hand, you would like to read about the darkly humorous side of the financial world, in a (somehow) more innocent time, I recommend one of my favorite novels of all time, Bombardiers by Po Bronson.
We are starting a classics book club at WORD (motto: “finally reading the books you pretended to read in high school”) and I think we’re going to make 2011 Year Of The Russians, with three months each devoted to four (undoubtedly lengthy) books. The book club members I’ve talked to seem psyched about such an undertaking, so I don’t think they’ll be scared off. I am looking forward to this except for one thing:
I know nothing about Russian novels. I have never read a single one. It is a very sad state of affairs for a bookseller, I know, there is no need to tell me as much.
So I need some advice. I would definitely like to read Anna Karenina, and would like each book to be by a different author. Given those conditions, which four classic Russian novels (or even just one or two) would you recommend we read?