Category Archives: Reading

I like a book about werewolves.

That title is a lie. I love this book. It’s self-aware and self-deprecating without an ounce of self-mocking. It is serious and urgent. It does that thing that you hear about in all undergrad literature classes — teaches us about the unmentionable monsters in ourselves by creating a tangible monster we can bear to look at. Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf is smart, and has made me second guess all of the other books I’ve overlooked because of that innate snobbery that comes with an expensive English degree. (Not for too long, don’t worry.)

All jokes aside, it’s a great reminder that topic and genre really have nothing to do with the quality of a book. It’s the writer’s capacity for life, for imagination, and for language. And let me tell you, Duncan’s capacity exceeds expectation.

What books have broken stereotypes or lived beyond your expectations lately?

Update: After posting this link to Facebook, a friend shared a link to this article — How Zombies and Superheroes Conquered Highbrow Fiction.

Photo via


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Review: The Grief of Others

I’ll be honest – it was the cover of Leah Hager Cohen’s The Grief of Others that made me pick it up off the library display table. It looked like the cover on some movie, which is usually a deterrent, but there was something eerie but welcoming about this one. I mean look at it, you want to enter but you know there’s a chance you might never leave.

Having read the book now, it’s funny that that was my initial reaction. Characters are drawn to this house, as I was to its image. As though Lady Liberty herself stood on their front lawn, the Ryries’ house draws suffering to it. Whether Cohen is saying that misery does indeed love company, or it is only by empathizing and witnessing the suffering of others that we can truly heal, she does so with a light pen.
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Is there a difference between morbid & inspirational?

I love books. I love reading them, writing about them, talking about them, thinking about them, smelling them, looking at them on shelves and in piles and stuffed into bags. I want to write them, and send them out into the world to inspire a new generation of reading, writing, talking, thinking, smelling, and looking. Most days I think about how to make this passion into a living. I find time to do at least one of these things, usually in the inbetween areas of my life: on the train, before bed, while waiting for a meeting to begin. Then I come across quotes like this and wonder if I’m just not trying hard enough:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

— Steve Jobs, at a Stanford University commencement ceremony in 2005

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Notes on: The Grief of Others

Lately my train rides have passed without complaint, thanks to Leah Hager Cohen’s The Grief of Others. I’ve managed to keep up my late night and I-wish-my-commute-was-longer reading sessions from Perrotta’s The Leftovers on into this next book.

I’m a little over halfway through, and I anticipate having a review ready and up in the next couple weeks, but in the meantime I thought I’d drop a few tasty morsels that I jotted down hurriedly yesterday afternoon.

The vast spearmint distance she felt between herself and everyone — everything — else was almost, she imagined, what royals must feel, and forevermore Ricky would link mourning with royalty, and royalty with mourning; for the rest of her days, the words king and queen would remind her of deep sorrow.

The Grief of Others, page 135

And, possible spoiler alert! Continue reading

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Come on baby, light my fire.

I haven’t yet jumped onto the eReader bandwagon. It’s not because I want to defend physical books to the death. Nor do I subscribe to some conspiracy theory about how, once physical books are replaced by digital books, our history of knowledge will be unpluggable. (Did that make sense? It’s a scary thought, and one someone should write a book about — Margaret Atwood busy these days? — and one I don’t care to flesh out in my mind.) The real reason is that I don’t have the money — not only for the physical eReader, but for all of the digital goodies thereafter. I’m a library rat, and I think strong partnerships between publishers and libraries is necessary to equalize the digital consumer market (and usher it into public right rather than commodity). Until I can easily borrow a book from my local library and load it onto my (affordable) eReader, I don’t see myself making the investment.

Enter the Kindle Fire, Continue reading

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A World Unrecognizable: The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

Did you grow up religious? I was raised in a cocktail of Catholicism (my mom) and Southern Baptism (my dad’s side), so whether or not I consider myself either of these things, my perspective and ideas of the world are colored by my experiences with both. Perhaps this is why books with premises like The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta are particularly fascinating to me. Most Christians believe in God and Jesus as the one way to Heaven, the one true belief. Possibilities such as the botched Rapture that occurs in Perrotta’s novel may well be considered blasphemous, propaganda from an unbelieving public.

As I read, I slipped back and forth between the two perspectives. I wondered what my family would think of this book, what my childhood pastors would say about my reading this type of fiction. And I realized that perhaps it is this type of fiction, this type of reaction that fuels my love for the art. Sure, non-fiction causes all kinds of controversy these days, but fiction allows us to live out lives we can never know. It allows us to flesh out ideas, theories about our beliefs, our experiences, our flickers of thought. We can anticipate human reactions to horrible situations without actually having to live through an apocalypse or a Rapture. We can process our real lives in a realm that is safe, a petri dish of imagination.
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Top Ten Books I Feel As Though Everyone Has Read But Me

You know the list. The should-I-nod-and-pretend-I’ve-read-it-because-what-kind-of-bibliophile-am-I-if-I-haven’t list. The list of books you’ve started and stopped, or simply haven’t started. The list of books that you are certain would land you in the “poser” pile if anyone found out. Just know, we’re not alone.

But I have never done my voracious reading to plan, and there are terrible holes in my literary knowledge that I dread will be accidentally revealed. 

– Suzanne Lipsett, Surviving a Writer’s Life

  1. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov. I started this book once, while on vacation with my family. I was about halfway through the first chapter when my grandmother asked me what I was reading. I haven’t picked it up since.
  2. Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace. To be honest, I didn’t become a fan of DFW until after his death. I was so curious about this man who moved so many of my peers, only to realize that I had read one of his stories long ago without having realized it. I’ve only read his essays and short stories, and this chunk of his work is on my to-read list, hopefully this fall with a group of others. Until then, I console myself with the realization that the majority of those who say they’ve read it are lying.
  3. 1984: I have two copies of this, but I have yet to sit down and get through either of them.
  4. Catch-22: Another book I should’ve been assigned as a high-schooler and wasn’t. I’ve read the first chapter then abandoned it.
  5. East of Eden: Confession: I was halfway through this just a couple weeks ago, when the library asked for it back. I promise that I tried to find another copy, but when I failed, I moved onto Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers.
  6. Any novel by Stephen King: I want to read Salem’s Lot, mostly due to a comment one of the guys in my writing group made last week. My dad’s a huge fan, and I loved On Writing and the short stories I read while at a hostel in Costa Rica.
  7. Gone with the Wind: Okay, so maybe not everyone has read this, but those close to me have, and I just wanna! I also haven’t seen the movie, so the whole story is still a mystery to me.
  8. Jane Eyre: Mrs. Bilon would be disappointed in me, but I never finished it.
  9. Invisible Man: I’ve started it twice (both assignments) and abandoned it so close to the end twice. This exercise is turning into a session of introspection I did not anticipate.
  10. Anything by Jane Austen: I’ve started them, yes. I love the idea of reading Jane Austen, a cup of hot tea next to me, the sound of wood crackling in a fire. But when it comes down to it, I haven’t made it much farther than the first few chapters of Pride and Prejudice. Such a shame because that opening line gets me every time.

Your turn! What books do you always shamefully admit you haven’t gotten to yet? Let me know in the comments or send me the link to your own blog list. (Then link up at the original list at The Broke and Bookish.)

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Don’t judge a cover by its book.

This morning I started reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It’s about to be released (is released?) as a movie, and it’s on my list to see. My roommate Meg came home with the book about a week ago and has been raving ever since. We have a little bit of different taste in books – which I realized during the Book Thief recommendation of 2010 – but this one seems to be down both our alleys. Stockett’s opening narrator, Aibilene, is lovable, funny, and complex. I look forward to meeting the other narrators and finishing this book as quickly as Meg did.

What are you reading these days?

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The Year We Left Home

It seems like forever since I read a book, and that’s probably because it has been. The last book I finished was Joyce Carol Oates’s memoir, A Widow’s Story, oh, a month and a half ago. I’ve been frequenting the library like old times lately, and I picked up Jean Thompson’s The Year We Left Home. She’s written familiar books such as Do Not Deny Me and Throw Like a Girl. It was on display on the New Books table and because of it’s interesting cover (so sue me!), I picked it up. Don’t you love the lack of consequences when you impulse grab things at the library? Me too.

Thompson’s novel is structured by year and character. Throughout the novel, we travel to different parts of the country, getting good clues as to the political and economic climate of the country as well as the family that the novel chronicles. Thompson is strongest when she’s in the characters’ minds. Each section is written in third person limited, and the outcome is beautiful. Set in a rural farmtown in Iowa, the story starts out in 1973, mostly between Ryan and his cousin Chip, recently returned from Vietnam. Their exchange in Ryan’s truck, smoking weed, takes place as much in what Ryan doesn’t say as in what the two do say to one another. This introduction to both characters sets up an understanding of the family they come from that is essential to the novel.

My favorite part about the novel’s structure was the way it dipped in and out of each character’s life, showed us glimpses that we return to later in the book, decades later. The first half of the novel’s sections end cliffhanger style. There’s a build-up of suspense that creates a sort of sigh of relief sensation when you realize you’ve reached the half of the book that ties up those loose endings. But there is nothing particularly neat about Thompson’s ties. There are lives forever changed by tragedy that we get to see once the initial support of the community dies down and the family is left to fend for itself. We are not present for every character’s trajectory of growth, and so it seems that it’s the circumstances rather than the journey that Thompson wanted us to focus on. Once history begins, there is no changing it until you are on the other side of it, still alive.

I read this book in less than two weeks. It wasn’t too demanding as far as focus, so it’d make a good beach or commute read. Up next is Harold Bloom’s The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life. Guh, doesn’t the title just give you goosebumps?!

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A confession.

I’ve been reading a book that I haven’t told you about. It’s called My So-Called Freelance Life by Michelle Goodman. I’m only about 25 pages in, so this isn’t a review, but it is a completely new type of book for me. Since I graduated college in December 2008, I’ve been trying to figure out what I want to do with my life. Let’s face it, we all think we don’t have our shit together in college, but it’s not until we’re in the real world that we realize the possibilities are even more endless than they tell us. I’m infamous for my indecision, my desire to do everything that often paralyzes me into doing absolutely nothing.

Lately I’ve been doing research into other options for myself, and this is the most recent. I’ve also checked out Craft, Inc. and Creative, Inc. from the library, and I recently received a review copy of Plug-In CSS 100 Power Solutions in hopes of learning how to build a better blog. So this is a bit of a warning that I may be venturing out of my fiction comfort zone, and I do hope you’ll join me.

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