Friday, August 26, 2016

The Ridiculous Side of Lists

Anyone who reads knows the value of a list. The personal book list—a list of what you’ve read and of what you want to read—is a map. It can be practical, keeping you from going back to the same place twice (or inspiring you to go back to the same place twice), and helping you on to your next destination. It can also just be fun to make and talk about.

For the past five years an editor at the Observer newspaper has been conducting a giant and provocative experiment in list-making. In 2011 Robert McCrum (author of the fantastic biography Wodehouse) began to list the 100 best novels written in English.

There was no ranking inside the list; it developed chronologically, from 1678—The Pilgrim’s Progress—to a working cut-off point of 2000—True History of the Kelly Gang. The rules were few—only one novel per author—and sometimes vague: what, after all, is a classic? or even a novel? And rather than release the list all at once, each of the 100 selections was announced weekly with a short essay. For two years readers around the world could cheer or balk at the choices, and, when it was all done, wonder how such-and-such a book could possibly be passed over.

The task was, as the Irish Times put it, like “running naked into no-man’s-land with a target painted on your chest and a kick-me sign pinned to your back.” But McCrum embraced all controversy. The Observer invited readers to vent their disagreement with the list, compiled an alternative list based on reader suggestions, and published an essay critiquing the lack of female authors in the list. As McCrum himself wrote, “like all lists, ours is intended to sponsor discussion.”

The list of greatest novels reached it’s 100th novel last year, but in January of this year a new, more Quixotic list began: the 100 best nonfiction books of all time. Some of the rules stayed the same—in English, arranged chronologically—but others only got looser, perhaps to provoke more readers, perhaps to introduce more variety. Instead of restricting itself to one form, like the novel, this list looks at all “essential works of philosophy, drama, history, science and popular culture.” 

So far the Observer has named 30 books on the list, this time working backwards from 2014. Some of them can be a little head-scratching—how is Waiting for Godot nonfiction?—but McCrum isn’t looking for uniformity, nor to mirror your opinions, nor to give an objective view of the literary landscape. “Every thoughtful person must concede that any list is bound to have its ridiculous side,” he writes. 

I think of the word “best” in these lists as a dare and a half-joke. The list serves as an aid for other lists: yours. Already the 30 choices in the nonfiction list have reminded me of things I’ve read and loved (Against Interpretation) and of things I’ve long planned to read (No Logo) and suggested to me fascinating things I’ve never heard of (A Book of Mediterranean Food). So follow along with the Observer with your own book list close-by—on Library Thing or Good Reads or scrawled on a scrap of paper like a recipe. Follow along if you don’t yet have a book list. Follow along only if you want to carpet bomb the Observer with emails about your favorite book. Lists are useful, but they’re also ridiculous and fun.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Hot August Reads

I just finished Dave Eggers' latest, Heroes of the Frontier, and I was inspired, both by the book and by the current temperature, to post about other novels featuring fire. That theme swiftly fell apart when I couldn't think of any fiery novels I hadn't already written about (see Bill Clegg's Did You Ever Have a Family, Joe Hill's latest, that one by Evie Wyld, etc), except for Jesse Ball's How to Set a Fire and Why (which is super good so far but I haven't finished it yet). Anyway, I still want to tell you about Heroes of the Frontier, so theme-schmeme. The family at the center of the story is on the run from a lot of things, one of which is a wildfire sweeping across Alaska. Not gonna lie--Eggers is one of my top ten favorite authors and I'll read everything he comes out with, ignoring all reviews to the contrary. Josie and her two children, Paul and Ana, are spending the summer fleeing Josie's life--her dental practice, her failed marriage to loser Carl, bad memories of her parents--by driving all over Alaska in a used RV with her kids. They encounter the sort of oddballs one generally encounters in the Alaska of novels (perhaps Alaska is really an oddball magnet, but I've only experienced the state through books), as Josie runs into, and then quickly away from, mostly self-inflicted trouble and also a raging wildfire.

Josie is the best kind of protagonist--and one that Eggers excels at creating: self-effacing, flawed, honest, and my new literary best friend. I really and truly want to join Josie with a bottle (or three) of wine and hang out for hours. When one meets a new LBF, it's hard to part with them at the end of the book. There was a moment there when I got hung up on the last 4 pages, afraid to finish the book and let go.

I'll miss you Josie, you and your weird, funny kids.

Speaking of weirdness and besties...Don't you just love quirky horror novelist Grady Hendrix? Well, you should. If his cheeky, and unusually scary, Horrorstor, done in the style of an Ikea catalog, didn't ring your bell, then the cheeky yearbook-style 80s teen horror parody, My Best Friend's Exorcism, maybe won't be your thing either. If "cheeky, yearbook-style 80s teen horror parody" makes your mouth water, than you are probably me, and you will enjoy the heck out of it. Especially enjoyable: the Teen Magazine style personality quiz snippets. Also, P.S. for you fans of adult coloring books--there are coloring pages to download over at the Quirk Books site. You're welcome, world.

And speaking of "too much fun"--you need The Regional Office is Under Attack by Manuel Gonzales in your life. Chock full of awesomely witty, tough, fighting female characters who may or may not have robotic arms, and non-stop action, The Regional Office may not be the best book you've ever read, but I promise you won't regret it*.

*I can't promise that.
"U mad, bro?"

Friday, August 12, 2016

HP strikes again!

A new, gold and shiny read arrived in a card board box, waiting to be opened. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child had arrived. A book written by Jack Thorne based on the original story by J.K Rowling. I didn't wait in a long line around midnight at the local bookstore to get it. Working at a library has its perks, I was able to snatch it up before the hundreds of holds were filled.

It has been about 9 years since the last Harry Potter book was released. If you're a fan like me, you just hoped that the series didn't end. I still watch the first few movies like I've never seen them before. Rowling is a master at creating life with words and so much vivid detail. The theme parks and multitude of Hogwarts accouterments keep the world of Harry Potter so popular today A true sense of nostalgia with every line of text. I read the book just as fast as I had in grade school.

Now at first look I saw that it was actually in script format; I wasn't too sure about reading it like that. However, once I started, it felt like old times. The terrific trio is back, but with some added extras. We follow their children on an adventure with interesting twists and turns as expected.

Without giving it away, I'd have to say my favorite character in this book was Malfoy's son. Now I know that you're thinking, Malfoy was one of the less desirable characters throughout the Harry Potter series. Many times I wished he'd get his mouth glued shut with a freezing charm. He has a softer side in the this edition and that was pretty intriguing to see.

Overall I think this was a great addition that also added some contrast to the ever changing Harry Potter world. I'd recommend this for my HP fans, but I'm sure they don't need much persuasion. You do need a bit of background on the characters so don't make this your first Harry Potter encounter. Job well done Thorne and Rowling!

Friday, August 05, 2016

Judge a book by its cover and discover the found poetry of stacked book spines

Have you ever noticed that a stack of books can read like accidental poetic magic? Forget your magnetic poetry set--try creating some book spine poetry.
Here's how:  Browse the shelves for inspiring titles. Stack the books up and switch them around until your poem speaks to you.

Pro-tip: Young adult titles yield some of the moodiest poems. Give it a try!

"Cosmic fallen angels,
warm bodies shiver.

How I live now:
through the woods,
a step from heaven,
out of reach.

The missing piece--
this is not
what they found.

I was here,
under the mesquite.
Shadows front and center."

--By Natalie and Arabia--


"This just in...
Beautiful warrior,
Forbidden fruit.
An African princess
from head to toe."

--By Arabia Z. Earth--

"The sun, the sea, a touch of the wind.

Unbreakable: a love ballad.

Our first love--
things fall apart,
old habits die hard.

Truth be told,
Life is short but wide.

A lesson before dying."

By Nideria Brown

Not feeling quite like yourself? Try on a bookface. The challenge: Judge a book by its cover and then  become the cover.
Go ahead, get creative with your summer reading goals.  Happy Friday from your friends at the library!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Who knows you better than YOU?

A few days ago I stumbled upon a book called Love Louder: 33 ways to amplify your life by Preston Smiles. Being the self-help fanatic that I am, I indulged. Now I'm only about half of the way through the book but I already feel myself being lifted into a new. I've done some research on this guy Preston and he seems like someone I should know personally. He's an advocate of taking control of your life, challenging yourself and building a better you. As I was reading I definitely could relate to many situations. If you need a wake up call check this book out it will have you reevaluating things!

The ever so popular TV producer, Shonda Rhimes wrote Year of Yes which is a fun read. I grabbed the audio book version, narrated by Ms. Rhimes herself and she is hilarious! It's a bio about her life and trials as mother, sister, friend and powerful black woman in the world of television. She has fears and makes mistakes just like the rest of us. She states sometimes we need wine more than food. She unapologetically puts herself out there and I respect her for it. Instead of being what you think people want you to be, why not I don't know, BE YOURSELF. I've never watched Grey's Anatomy or could keep up with the many seasons of Scandal or How To Get Away With Murder, but she is definitely owning Thursday night TV.