Let’s Book It

Petey had a doctor’s appointment the other day.  We were waiting in the exam room, and I was reading a library book.  When the doctor walked in, she noticed my book, and said, “I love seeing people reading an actual, physical book.”And, that’s the point of the piece this week: old school books.

It all starts with where you get them.  I am operating under the assumption that you have a library card and are a frequent visitor.  If not, please don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.  Just go, right now, I beg you, and get yourself a card.

Bookstores, both new and used.  If you don’t already patronize them, I strongly encourage finding a few independent booksellers of both types and making them your first resource.

The Kid and I discovered Scuppernong Books in Greensboro recently.  They.Have.A.Bar.

Booksellers love to talk to readers.  And, they’re experts at recommending books you’ll like, based on the kinds of things you’ve read.

My favorite job (except for writing) was bookseller.  I worked for my friend, Bosco.  Bosco was a former English teacher and had a slightly dented sense of humor, just like me.  We laughed for the better part of each day.  But what I appreciate most was he elevated my reading.

Durham’s iconic bookseller.

Since learning to read, I’ve been the kind of reader that got nervous if there was nothing on deck for when I finished my current book.  But Bosco introduced me to better writers, which maybe, in turn, made me a better writer.

So, to honor my book Yoda, Bosco, I’d like to recommend a few books that are a little more challenging than Danielle Steele or James Patterson, but still really entertaining.A Confederacy of Dunces, by James Kennedy Toole.  The story of the book’s publication is almost as compelling as the plot of the novel itself.  Eleven years before the book was published, the author committed suicide in part because of his inability to interest any publishers in his life’s work.  After his death his mother found a copy of the manuscript and made it her mission to introduce her son’s book to the world.  It was finally published by LSU Press in 1980 and won the Pulitzer Prize.The story is about Ignatius Jacques Reilly, a clueless babe in the woods, and his misadventures in his home of New Orleans.  It’s funny, and touching, and the easiest Pulitzer winner you’ll ever read.

The great Nick Offerman played Ignatius on stage.  Straight-up genius casting.

A Prayer For Owen Meany, by John Irving.  It’s the story of an unusual young man who’s convinced he was born for a special purpose, and every step of his life is in furtherance of his mission.  I love this book because Irving is a genius of character construction.  No matter in what position characters find themselves, it’s believable, because they are believable.  A movie, Simon Burch was made that is loosely based on Owen Meany.  Don’t be tempted, it’s dreadful.

The same edition as mine, but this one’s way more shiny and pretty.  Keep walking past the open windows.

I am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe.  Tom Wolfe has the unique ability to make me angry but keep me coming back for his next one.  Charlotte Simmons is the novel that resulted from deep, lengthy, talked about research into Duke’s basketball program.  It’s also fascinating, and hard to put down.  The ending as written would have been a happy ending written by any other author.  Filtered through Wolfe’s lens, it becomes a tragedy.  The book also gave the world the terms, Sarc 1, 2, and 3. If you’re on vacation, stuck in a car, or hiding from the heat, pick up a book that you might not normally try—maybe one of these.  And if it stinks, go talk to a bookseller.  Preferably one of the independent persuasion.  Or, go to the library; they’re cool, and librarians adore talking books, too.

I know she’s carrying a clutch and not a real book.  But the pic is just so damn gorgeous…

Thanks for your time.

Get in My Good Books

So, I’ve been feeling kind of overwhelmed lately.  

There’s lots of shopping.  The Kid and I are making tons of gifts from the kitchen, and I’m making my only child two pretty involved presents.

But, I’ve been reading a library book every spare second I can shave off something else.   It’s a special book, and it’s got to go back.

My local library has a new program.  It’s called “Lucky Day”.  The titles are brand new releases which are out of regular rotation.  They can’t be held or renewed, and are only loaned for seven days.  With this collection, you can score a new release without weeks of waiting in a queue.This year, I’ve discovered two new authors from this program.  Their writing is very different, but shares one trait that I love.

They’re both capable of delivering big surprises.

The first is The Nest, by first-time novelist, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney.  It was named best book of 2016 by People, the Washington Post, and NPR, among others.  So, when I saw it amongst the lucky days, I grabbed it.I’m so glad I did.  On the surface, it’s just another story about an upper-middle-class dysfunctional family in New York City fighting over an inheritance.  But it is in no way formulaic.  The characters are interesting, and infuriating, and unexpected.  It is not a neat little story, with a neat little ending.  Normally I like my stories wrapped up in a tidy bow, but this story is so skillfully told, the only disappointment is that the story ended.

The second book’s The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware.  This is actually her second book.  The first was, In a Dark, Dark Wood and her newest is The Lying Game, the lucky day book I was scrambling to finish yesterday before the library police came to my house.These books are mystery/suspense, and oodles of fun.  They are told in first person by a woman who finds her voice and strength, and eventually accepts and understands her weaknesses.  There are buried secrets, love gone awry, betrayal, and cosmic justice.  Just when you think you’ve got one thread figured out, a loose end crops up that unravels everything.  These British books are all full of scenes that take place in a cold rain, frigid bodies of water, or snow.  They’re put on your softest flannel pj’s, grab a warm blanket, a hot drink, and snuggle in kind of books.My last book is a new book by an old friend, To Be Where You Are, by Jan Karon, another lucky day title.

I’ve been reading Jan Karon since she started writing her Mitford books in 2005.  When I read her first, At Home In Mitford, Ms. Karon was living in Blowing Rock.  Mitford is loosely based on that High Country village.

Her books are gentle and charming.  It’s like spending the weekend at your grandmother’s house and being tucked in by her under a faded quilt.  It’s familiar, but not home; where you’re especially welcome, fussed over, and made to feel very special.There is a term I’ve heard, “self-care”.  It sounds kind of new age-y and annoying.  But it just means to take care of yourself.  When the demands on you are making you so crazy you find yourself hating the season—stop.

Take a break, get comfortable, and read a book.

Unless you’re not a big reader.

Then come back next week, and I’ll suggest a movie or two you might like.  But for now, take a breath, and have a happy, happy holiday.Thanks for your time.