Monday, December 20, 2010


2010 is the best year I've ever had - I saw Wilco, tried cheesecake, posed for the Bookrageous calendar, and visited Brooklyn, just to name a few of the awesome things I did. And thanks to all the lovely Twitter-people who made book recommendations, it also turned out to be my best reading year, too! I enjoyed more of the books I read than any other year I can remember. Here are some highlights, er, a lot of highlights:

TINKERS by Paul Harding Two words: Pulitzer winner.
THE PASSAGE by Justin Cronin Virals are the new black.
MATTERHORN by Karl Marlantes The Center for Fiction's 2010 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel winner.
BLOOD MERIDIAN by Cormac McCarthy The bleakest thing I've ever read. Loved it.
THE INFINITIES by John Banville I would take a bullet for John Banville.
FATHER OF THE RAIN by Lily King Never sobbed so much while reading - a fabulously cathartic experience.
SO LONG, SEE YOU TOMORROW by William Maxwell Beautiful 1982 National Book Award winner.
THE TIGER by John Vaillant Best nonfiction I've read in the last five years. RAWR!
ONE BLOODY THING AFTER ANOTHER by Joey Comeau Delightful disturbedness.
ANIMALS by Don LePan Soylent Green is people.
AWAIT YOUR REPLY by Dan Chaon Dark and lovely.
THE CANAL by Lee Rourke Doing nothing can prove to be chilling.
LONESOME DOVE by Larry McMurtry I didn't want this to end.
THE VAULTS by Toby Ball Delicious dystopia!
THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET by David Mitchell I am obsessed with David Mitchell.
TAROKO GORGE by Jacob Ritari "Picnic at Hanging Rock"-creepiness.
THE OTHER by Thomas Tryon Now I know where "The Wasp Factory" came from.
KINGS OF THE EARTH by Jon Clinch Unflinching brilliance.
MY NAME IS ASHER LEV by Chaim Potok Wish I had read this when I was little.
YOU WERE WRONG by Matthew Sharpe I am an unabashed Matthew Sharpe fangirl.
THE REAPERS ARE THE ANGELS by Alden Bell Zombie apocalypse, FTW!
NUMB by Sean Ferrell "And I don't feel a thing..." - Pedro the Lion, The Fleecing
BAD MARIE by Marcy Dermansky I want there to be a Marcy Dermansky Day.
AFTER CLAUDE by Iris Owens For anyone who ever wondered if they were the crazy one in the relationship.
SKIPPY DIES by Paul Murray I feel bad for parents of teenagers...
THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST, 1 & 2 by Rick Yancey Gooey, gory, scary, monsterlicious!
ELEGIES FOR THE BROKENHEARTED by Christie Hodgen Gorgeous - slipped under most radars.
THE REPORT by Jessica Kane Powerful account of a horrific tragedy.
THE ILLUMINATION by Kevin Brockmeier Brockmeier's writing swims in my blood.
PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ by A.S. King Being a teenager is hard - King makes reading about it easy.
UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand "Seabiscuit" author astounds again.
A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY by Laura Grodstein It's like Richard from "The Secret History" grew up and had a son.
BOUND by Antonia Nelson Are we still allowed to call books haunting? Well, it is.
THE ORANGE EATS CREEPS by Grace Krilanovich One of the year's 5 under 35 - she's *amazing*.
TRUE GRIT by Charles Portis Simply wonderful - love it.

There are 10 more days in December - I'll update this list if I read anything else I loved.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Structurally Sound

Every new year, I like to come up with one or two small goals I want to achieve. One year, I sat in a bathtub filled with Froot Loops and milk (see picture below). Another year, I went to see every movie they screened at the Music Hall. I never pick anything unrealistic, like 'climb Mount Everest' or 'read every book I own' (the more unachievable of those two, believe me). Just something fun. And it usually revolves around reading: last year's goal was to read more science fiction. This year's goal was simply to read more than I did last year. I like having a little bit of structure to follow. As 2011 approaches, I have been racking my brain for a goal - and yesterday, I finally hit on it: I want to read one book a week by someone I discovered through Twitter.

Now, while the Twitter haters still be hatin', let me say this: this year, I have read just under 100 books. Almost all of those books were recommendations made to me on Twitter, and this achievement was also significant in that I have enjoyed more of the books I have read this year than any other year I can remember. That says a lot to me. Also, 21 of them were books by people I met on Twitter.

I have 17 more books in my house I bought because I met the author on Twitter. For instance, I still have to read "Edinburgh" by Alexander Chee, one of my favorite human beings, both on the internet and in person. January will bring the release of the lovely Emma Straub's first book, "Other People We Married", which is sure to be wonderful. And I'm sure as the year goes by, I will acquire more.

In thinking about this all day, and now, while writing this post, I realized I am so excited to get going on this goal, I am going to start early - this week, in fact! For my first book, I have chosen "Into the Beautiful North", by Luis Alberto Urrea. I came across Luis on Twitter this spring, and then had the pleasure of hearing him speak at RiverRun this summer. He was fantastic - I believe there isn't a more charming storyteller out there. And his wife Cindy is wonderful, too.

All right, all right, enough talk already - I'm off to read. I'll try and post a blog about the book I choose each week. And please feel free to make suggestions - you have yet to steer me wrong, my Twitter lovelies.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gimme Fiction

"We need to make books cool again. If you go home with somebody and they don't have books, don't fuck them. " - John Waters

Ready for one of the most obvious statements of the century? Here it is: I love books. LOVE books. And not the candy, flowers, and i's-dotted-with-hearts kind of love. I'm talking the obsessive, unreasonable, warrants-a-restraining-order kind. I have hundreds and hundreds of books in my apartment. Books stacked from floor-to-ceiling. Bookcases with shelves buckling under the weight. Books piled on the kitchen table, on the counters, on my desk, on my nightstand. Books shoved under the bed, in closets, in drawers. Thank goodness I still have enough wits about me to know I need to go to work so I can afford to buy food and pay the rent. Otherwise, I would never leave the house - I would be in here day and night with all my books (my precioussssses!), wearing the same pajamas for weeks and ignoring the phone and the landlord's knocks at the door. I'd be reading books by candlelight because the power had been shut off and worrying that I may have eaten the cat, until I find the note from her, reminding me that she's rented an RV for the summer to follow Wilco around on tour.

This isn't a recent obsession of mine. It's not like those stories you hear about people who hit a certain age, and wake up with a driving need to collect Tiny Tim memorabilia or tea cozies made out of panda skins. No, my love of books goes way back, even before Joanie loved Chachi. My mother, also a raging bibliophile, taught me to read well before I entered nursery school, and she would bring my younger brother and I to the library at every available opportunity. Eventually, she got a job there, and from then on, all my free time was spent lounging on a yellow plastic whistle seat beside her desk, reading Hardy Boys mysteries and Choose Your Own Adventures. I had an unlimited number of books at my disposal, and the idea that I could amass a collection of my own had not yet occurred to me.

Years later, my mother left her position at the library for a job at the local bookstore. I would go there after school each day, and in return for unpacking boxes and straightening the shelves, the owner would let me choose a book to take home. Holy cats - I was allowed to pick out books to read and actually KEEP THEM! It was around this same time that I finally got a room of my own. Books quickly started piling up on the floor, so my parents bought me a bookcase. I spent night after night arranging my books in different ways - by author, by title, by publisher, by color. I bought book plates, and proudly marked each one as my own. I soon became so enamored with my library, I decided I didn't want anything else in my room *but* my books. I gave away my desk, my dresser and my bed, and began sleeping in my closet, so my books could have a space all to themselves. (My parents made no objections over this, probably finding a bit of bibliomania less worrying than boy-craziness or partying.)

When I graduated and moved out, I had a few hundred books of my own. This number quickly quadrupled. Left to my own devices, my mania raged. With no one to keep me in check, I began spending money for bills on books instead. (I once existed on peanut butter crackers and cans of vanilla frosting for two weeks, because I spent all my alloted grocery money buying $250 worth of Penguin classics.) I would read a book that I really enjoyed, and then go right out and purchase everything else the author had ever written. I would buy every book I could find on a subject that interested me. (Holy cats, there are a LOT of books about Lizzie Borden.) Though I was reading a book every day or two, my ability to keep up with the unread stacks spiraled out of control. Complaints about lack of living space were lodged, by boys and housecats alike. By the time I was 30, I owned 3,500 books. And then I found out I had to move again. (Insert 'Charlie Brown has just had the football pulled away again' noise here.)

Enter my savior, Tom Holbrook. I stopped in RiverRun Bookstore one day to ask if he knew of any place I could sell books. Instead, he mentioned that he was opening a used bookstore soon, and would be happy to take them. I spent the next few days culling my collection. I thought it would be difficult to choose, but I adopted a tough love stance when selecting. When SecondRun opened, it started out with 900 of my books on the shelves. I also donated another 35 boxes of paperbacks to Goodwill. This made moving so much easier. Of course, what I didn’t know at the time, is that Tom is actually the devil, because right after I made tons of space on my bookcases, he offered me a position working at the stores. This was like hiring Imelda Marcos to work at Steve Madden - I started putting my staff discount to use immediately, negating all my hard work. Clever man, that Tom.

Fast-forward four years - I find myself moving books just so I can set a plate down and shoving books aside so I have a spot to sleep in bed. Stacks regularly crash to the floor in the night, waking me in a panic, certain that Perry Smith is in the house. It takes longer and longer for me to find where the fur shark is hiding. (I'm told she has lost her hearing in her old age, but I think she just chooses to ignore me.) So, I've decided it's time to whittle away at the stacks again. In pulling books to bring to SecondRun, I realize I possess copies of books I still haven't read that I've owned longer than Justin Bieber has been alive. I love having tons of books - keeping them around gives me a cozy pancakes-for-dinner feeling. It would be great if I could read every book I owned, but realistically, even if I read one every day, it would still take me over three years to get through them. And, on top of that, I still buy one or two new books every day. So, I have thanked 400 of them for their years of service, packed them in boxes, and sent them on their way to SecondRun. There's an entire case devoted to the new batch of books I brought in - I hope you'll stop by and check it out. These are wonderful books in need of a more attentive parent than myself. Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time for some delicious peanut butter crackers.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Woah-oah, Here She Comes

In case you haven't heard me say it a million times already, I have the *best* job in the world. And one of the perks of this job is receiving advance reading copies. It's when publishers and authors send us copies of their books before they're released, in the hopes we will read them and get excited, and, in turn, get you excited to read them. And no other non-fiction book has gotten me so wound up in the last five years as John Vaillant's "The Tiger." It is a phenomenal book! I read it back in March and then had to wait *five* whole months before I could start selling it. But that didn't stop me from talking about it to everyone in a ten-mile radius. I talked about it so much that it was driving my coworkers crazy. "Please" said Tom, "please tell people about other books, too. Books we can actually sell right now." I conceded - a little. And in August, when "The Tiger" was released, my enthusiasm was validated! Not only did it get rave reviews, but many of you read it and loved it, too.

If you couldn't already tell from the title, the book is about, yes, a tiger. But not just any tiger - a badass Siberian tiger that decided to make Little Debbie snack cakes out of poachers in Russia in 1997. That's right - it's TRUE. The book follows Yuri Trush, the leader of a tiger conservation unit, whose job it was to find and stop the big cat. There are also appearances by the tiger itself, but Vaillant never over-anthropomorphizes the animal - you won't catch the tiger quoting Nietzsche or updating its Twitter feed. ("Hey, y'all! Just 8 a guy 4 breakfast. Was mostly gristle - for realz. Gave me a tummy ache, LOL. #rawr") But what I really loved about the book is that it isn't just about the tense events in 1997, it's also chock-full of knowledge, like the history of man/animal interactions, Russia, communism, and perestroika. And Vaillant makes everything he writes about, even pine nuts, seem fascinating. I also now have a new irrational fear - being mauled by a Siberian tiger. (Is it really that irrational? I'm awfully attached to my mortal coil.)

Now for EXTREMELY exciting news - John Vaillant is going to be at RiverRun on Monday, Oct. 18th at 7pm, to talk about "The Tiger"! I was thinking, in the spirit of the book, I'll dig a big pit in RiverRun and cover it with branches. Hope to see you there - I'm so excited for the reading, I can barely sit still. Someone had better bring a tranq gun.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Adderall That and a Bag of Chips

My brain is running around like an Adderall-snorting hamster in its enclosure tonight, but I'm still going to attempt to write a coherent-ish blog post, because I have been lazy and it has been three days since I last posted anything. I'd really like to make writing a daily thing, and I've heard that once you do something for 21 straight days, your brain considers it a habit, and it becomes easier to accomplish. This theory can be tested on all kinds of things, I'm sure. Like kissing someone, for instance. (Chiwetel Ejiofor- call me.)

Sooooooooo...where to start? I've had a fabulous couple of days. Yesterday, I got to go shopping for clothes for my new job. Fear not, my little monkeys of doom, I haven't left the bookstore - that will only happen if I were to expire or there is a restraining order involved. No, I took a second job so the fur shark could continue living the lifestyle to which she's accustomed. (Although, I refuse to buy her Silly Bandz. She's not a kitten anymore - she can live without mouse-shaped rubber bracelets. I don't care if all the other house cats have them.)

I hate shopping as a rule, especially for clothes, because the glamorous package that is me comes complete with serious body image issues. (I know - hating your body is so 1990s.) Regardless, I would rather pound nails into my skull* than try on clothing. I don't need fluorescent lighting and a large mirror to make myself cry - I can manage that just fine at home.** However, perhaps coasting on the excitement of starting my new job, or the fact that I was due to attend "Scott Pilgrim" in an hour, I gleefully snatched up armfuls of respectable-looking attire, and managed to walk away with several outfits, including a shiny little black-sequined number that isn't really work-appropriate, but I just HAD to have. (It was marked down from $90 to $20, and more importantly, it makes a sound like a heavy rainfall when you shake your tuckus. SCORE!)

Still with me? Okay, well, now would be the time to get up and stretch, get a snack from the fridge or go pee, because I still have a lot more ranting and raving to do.

After my successful clothing hunt, I went to see "Scott Pilgrim." I will be the first to say that I was initially angry that they were making the comics into a movie. I am fiercely protective of the things I love, and am repeatedly disappointed that the general population is very often introduced to a book by way of a lousy movie, because they usually end up changing so much. That said- zOMG! I HEART THE SCOTT PILGRIM MOVIE! SQUEEEEEEEE!

It was a really, really fun film. It was yummy to look at, the action was awesome, it (mostly) followed the comics and it was extremely funny. ("We are SexBob-Omb and we are here to make you think about death and get sad and stuff!") The only complaint I had was with Jason Schwartzman as the uber-charismatic Gideon. Now, I think "Hotel Chevalier", Schwartzman's short film with Natalie Portman, is one of the sexiest things ever recorded, and his brief sex scene in "The Darjeeling Limited" is crazy-hot. (I nearly fainted just now, thinking about him on the train, licking his hand.) But somehow, in "Scott Pilgrim", he failed to sell me on Gideon being utterly irresistible to the opposite sex. Still, it didn't detract from my viewing pleasure - I was teh happy! Looking forward to watching it again soon.

Okay, okay, I'm going to wrap this up, even though I'm super-awake and could go on for another 2,000 words. Maybe tomorrow, I'll tell you about today. And, maybe that will cause a rip in the space-time continuum! MWUAHAHAHAHA!

To give you an idea of how ADD I am this evening - while writing this post, I also:
- ate my weight in BBQ chips
- read 43 pages of a book
- tweeted 19 times
- answered 17 emails
- hulahooped
- perused the World of Warcraft boards on the Blizzard site (I have a level 42 paladin. I named her Sarah Paladin - I'm that cool)
- sang along with "Silent Sigh" by Badly Drawn Boy six times
- composed a list of recent favorite reads for @smartbitches
- got involved in a land war in Asia

I will leave you with a personal Learn From My Fail: no matter how long a bottle of Diet Sprite has been sitting, always open it carefully. Whether it's the chemicals it's made from, or because your town is on a Hellmouth, if you attempt to just normally open the bottle, the contents will spew out all over the front of your shirt with a violence usually only seen in erupting volcanoes and you will be left smelling like you just breastfed faeries.

And on that note, good night.

*Holla, @byseanferrell!

**This is what unreasonable self-loathing will get you: I am so unhappy with my figure, I don't even shower with the lights on, and last night, I managed to put apple-scented hand lotion in my hair instead of conditioner. Learn from my fail, ladies: subscribe to the belief that popular culture dictates how you should look, and you'll end up walking around with greasy hair that is scented like a Blow-Pop.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Touch Me, I'm Sick

I have a touch of bibliomania. At last count (which was this morning, starting at around 5am, because I couldn't sleep), I have 1,037 books in my house that I haven't read. Haven't. Read. I moved into this apartment three years ago with only 200 books I had read. Since then, I have been gathering books like a crazy little red book squirrel, apparently storing them for when I have years of free time to read. I admit I have a problem - and that problem is the most awesome problem you can have! *high five*

My apartment is now like a tiny bookstore. Every few weeks I introduce the newest books into the stacks, most likely to be forgotten for a while. My next read usually ends up being the last book I brought home. Many times, I have accidentally purchased a book I already own. But it's a delight to go over the shelves and look at all the shiny books, waiting to be picked. It's a great habit, if you can get it.

Some numbers, at a quick glance:
-1, 037 unread books
- 486 are nonfiction titles
- 297 are hardcover
- 187 are advanced reading copies
- 78 are for young readers
- 45 are by authors I met on Twitter
- 28 have the word 'murder' in the title
- 23 feature vampires
- 19 have cats on the cover
- 17 have the word 'girl' in the title
- 13 have the word 'city' in the title
- 7 have the word 'tattoo' in the title
- 7 feature zombies
- 6 feature Abraham Lincoln, in some capacity
- 5 I bought to impress @bookavore
- 4 feature superheroes
- 4 feature pirates
- 3 feature ninjas

Imagine how much reading I could have done in the time it took to count all that? Does anyone else have it this bad?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Zombies Made Me Cut My Hair

On Wednesday, I cut off five inches of my hair. (From the bottom, of course, duh.) Hair is really the only thing you would want to sever from your body - it would stink to remove five inches of, say, your arm. Or your intestines. (That's a real buzz kill.)

Speaking of removing intestines - I just read THE REAPERS ARE THE ANGELS by Alden Bell, and I loved it. I am such a fan of zombies (those tenacious little monkeys). Has the story of people trying to survive after a zombie apocalypse been done before? Many, many times. But, it's not what you say, but how you tell it that counts, and Bell does it up right. The characters are realistic, the plot never drags and there's tons of gore. Delightful!

Somewhat related: while I was reading REAPERS, I got to thinking - what if there really were zombies? What if, one day, I got up and went downstairs for some juice and - whoa! Zombies! In the book, as in most zombie lore, the monsters are slow moving and easily outmaneuvered. So why do so many people end up as snacks? I'm not even close to athletic and I can't run very fast, but I'm sure I can manage enough of a pace to keep away from them. Unless, of course, they manage to grab a fistful of my hair - MY HAIR! I cannot believe I am going to be brought down in the zombie apocalypse by my long, lovely locks! That settles it - if/when the zombies come, I'm going to chop all my hair off, right before I outfit myself with handguns and a flame thrower.

This thinking progressed into trying to remember the last time I had received a haircut. Which I realized was two years ago. And, so, this is how I came to be holding five inches of detached hair. Sometimes, when I find myself wondering "How did I end up naked in Fruit Loops?" or "Whose blood is this?" I walk myself backwards through the thought process. Inside my brain = SCARIER than a zombie apocalypse. Better hope they eat me first.