Reading with David (Instead of Rocking with Rage)

I've basically gotten past skipping the Rage concert for the David Mitchell reading. I've gone through the grieving process, accepted the circumstances, and have moved on towards acceptance, which is good, considering David Mitchell and the Skylight Bookstore in Los Angeles definitely deserve some credit.

First, the bookstore. The Skylight is located in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles, an older, artsy-ish looking neighborhood really close to the Church of Scientology's Hollywood Headquarters (this isn't really relevant, I just get such a kick out of those people). The store is fairly small, yet they still find room to have a real tree growing in
the middle of the books, made possible, I'm guessing, by the giant skylights in the ceiling (hence the name). The staff was friendly and they gave out the vibe they actually care about books, which you can't always find in the larger chain stores. It was definitely too small of a venue for such an author as David Mitchell- the store ended up being packed. I wasn't too thrilled about standing for almost two hours, but it was worth it in the end. Oh, and bonus points for Skylight: Twilight was shelved in the appropriate section (young adult), with only four or five copies total. My heart did a happy skip when realizing there was no center table full of Robert Pattinson paraphernalia in the middle of the store. T.C. Boyle, on the other hand, deservingly took up a row and a half.

David Mitchell was humble, cheerful, and endearingly awkward. The winner of countless awards at barely forty years old, he deserves to have an enormous ego, but does not. He read a few experts from his newest novel, stopping to clarify cultural references and poke fun at himself and then answered audience questions. He talk about imagination, the writing process, and his travels through Japan, graciously humoring even the most annoying fans (there were a few). No matter what he was discussing, it was obvious that he is insanely intelligent and passionate about his work. Oh, and ladies, he has an Irish accent.

Rage vs. David Mitchell

Several months ago I learned that David Mitchell, author of such books as Number 9 Dream, Cloud Atlas and, his latest, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, would be reading at the Skylight Bookstore in Los Angeles. My husband is an even bigger fan than me, yet I still had to twist his arm to agree to go, as he's not quite the literary groupie that I am. Another reading on the calendar- awesome. That is until I heard about the last minute show Rage Against the Machine was doing on the same night, in support of those opposed to the whole Arizona immigration issue. I was torn- a reading with an extremely talented author, or going to what would be a great show with relevant political undertones?

My husband put the ball in my court, giving me the lowdown on the Palladium, the venue for the concert, and told me if I wanted to to go we could get tickets. I wasn't thrilled with the information- the concert would be standing room only, no preferred seating, and would probably sell out fast (it did). Given the political and social context it would be sure to be a pretty rough event, and considering it would be Rage's first Southern California show in years, the crowd would be pretty fired up. Ordinarily, I'd be fine with that, but given the fact that the entire floor would inevitably turn into a giant mosh pit I was definitely having second thoughts. I'm just not as young as I used to be. So, I decided to put on a shift dress and join LA's literati, instead of jeans and LA's grungies.

On the brighter side, I'm taking this as a sign that Rage is reuniting, which would mean more concerts in the future, preferably somewhere closer to home where I can pay eighty dollars for a comfy seat with a drink holder (Honda Center, perhaps).

Next time!

My Beef with Kindle

I'm not one to usually shy away from technology; I'd choose my iPhone over food, I have a playlist for each type of workout, time permitting I'd teach every lesson through PowerPoint, and my preferred mode of communication is generally through texting or email. Yet one techie gadget I refuse to even consider purchasing is an e-reader. First of all, there's the practical issues. I never have to charge my book, alleviating the annoying task of remembering to plug in before a day at the pool. I don't have to worry about breaking a book or having someone steal it (hell, if someone really wants my copy of The Confederacy of Dunces they can have it, as long as they promise to read it). There's no glare concerns with an actual book, and I'll never have to troubleshoot how to recover a lost file. Oh, and no matter how "safe" the downloading and storing process is for ereaders, I know for sure that my actual books will never randomly disappear. Books are simple- pick up, open, read.

It's difficult to adequately articulate the more abstract, sentimental reasons why Kindle, the Kobo, and the Nook can kiss my ass. A true book lover appreciates the form of a book, the way it feels in their hands, the process of seeing the progress made while reading from beginning to end. Once in awhile a quote may need be be underlined or an inscription written when giving it as a gift. While I may have issues with lending my books out, how do you let someone borrow your Empire Falls ebook? And for our more experimental writers, how do you get the true feel of the page layout when it matters on a little screen? There's something nostalgic and traditional about the act of reading a book made of paper, and I refuse to let technology take that away from me.

But wait, isn't she one of those liberal, "global warming is real" kind of girls? What about the environment? Hey, I recycle and we have a Brita Pitcher. I drive a fuel efficient car and I take fairly short showers. Plus, have we thought about the plastic and batteries that comprise an ereader? That's what I thought.

Have I mentioned there's just something about how an actual book feels?

No Breaking These

For those of you know me well, the fact that I have rules regarding reading won't be surprising. I can't help it, I like structure and organization! Sure, throw around the term control freak (a reference that I strongly feel has a completely unjust negative connotation, by the way), I don't particularly care. I'm not necessarily implying that these rules should be universal, but they're pretty damn good and work for me.

One book per genre at a time
While an English major there were weeks where I was reading four novels at a time for school, and I ended up not enjoying the process as much as I should have. I like to devote my energy to one story at time, while dabbling in other genres if necessary (currently I'm reading one novel, a textbook for possibly another credential, a book on teaching high school English, and then there's that poor Che biography by my bed that needs some attention).

Thou shall never fold pages
I don't care what the issue is, pages should not be folded. I swear, it causes the book pain (see blog posting on post its).

Books are alphabetized according to genre
How else would we find what we need?

Amateur reviews are only to be read after finishing the book
I really don't want my decision to buy to inadvertently be tainted by dumbass Joe Schmo's opinion, nor do I want to know what Jane Doe thinks about the ending (since most people decide a "review" means a summary... another day for that). A few trusted critics, possibly. And yes, I appreciate the irony (if you're being mean, hypocrisy) that I am an Amazon reviewer.

Book before movie
This 90% of the time ruins the movie for me, not just because I know the ending, but because I get really pissed at how the novel has been botched. I don't care that the novel was 500 pages and the movie is two hours, try harder! I'd rather have the movie ruined than the book, though.

Background checks for borrowers
Not everyone is allowed to borrow my books. There may be crumbs on the counter you'll lay my poor copy of A Hundred Years of Solitude on, or, worse yet, you may eat Cheetos while reading.

Books I haven't read yet may not be borrowed
So you past the inspection, now you're only allowed to borrow the book if I've read it. So, for the thirty or forty novels that I haven't read- you'll have to wait. Oh, and one at time. Luckily, no one really asks for a loan (I wonder why...).

Naked is best
Hardback copies are stripped of their jackets as soon I start reading to prevent the creasing, tearing, or staining of the covers.

Just mine first
I won't read my husband's books until I've read all of mine (he's the only person I borrow books from). This is problematic, as I never quit buying books and he has ten or twenty I'd like to read. I must admit that this is the one rule that I have been broken, but mostly because he buys it before I do.

No quitting
I've spent a large portion of my life learning how to select books that match my taste; if I screw up and choose a bad one then my punishment is finishing it. Plus, I get to lambaste the poor thing when I do my Amazon review later.

An Open Letter to Borders: Please Stop Fueling my Addiction

Dear Borders,

I'll be the first to admit I have a problem. Two, really. The first is buying books in excess- I have over forty unread texts on my bookcase (not counting those of my husband that I also want to read) and I keep buying more.The second is falling victim to coupons that offer a percentage-off discount- namely those you so religiously flood my inbox with every week. The self-control required to delete them is exhausting! Don't even get me started on the "save 40% off this weekend only" ones that I usually fall victim to. I'm running out of room- my shelves are almost full and I live in a one-bedroom apartment. Space is limited. The dog needs room to walk around. The DVDs need a home too. This constant enticement must stop.

To be honest, I don't even really like your store. You devote shelf after shelf to horrible authors and refuse to stock more than a few copies of more obscure, albeit quality, novels. Your live music nights remind me of American Idol rejects and I've actually seen your employees need to look up who wrote The Grapes of Wrath. Oh, and staff member Stephanie's recommendation card that says everyone should pick up a copy of Jennifer Weiner's newest book because she "really felt like the author understands what it's like to be a single girl" should be burned.

I know I'm the one that signed up for your stupid rewards program. And I'm the one that has chosen to not opt-out of the emails. But think about it. Are you going to sign an alcoholic up for the "Wine of the Month" club? I think not. Would a pothead decline a cheap bag of weed? I highly doubt it. As much as I hate your store I can always find some classic missing from my collection or the last copy of something that would never make it on the New York Times Bestsellers (of Mostly Crap) List.

I suppose an intervention may be in order. Or you could just intuitively stop sending me coupons since, in reality, I will make no effort to change anything.

I hate you people,

PS- I've enclosed a picture to illustrate the direness of the situation.

It Feels Like the First Time

I have a definite soft spot for first-time novelists. I appreciate the hard work that goes into finding an agent (that takes at least 20% of all meager hard-earned proceeds), staying positive while being rejected by publishers, and then accepting there will still be a day job while your book is ranked only 254,902 on Amazon's sales list (unless you're Jonathan Safran Foer). My real excitement comes from the possibility of someone new being an actual legitimate addition to a literary world full of some serious crap. And, just maybe, someday I'll be in their shoes hoping someone will notice my endeavors.

Here are a few firsts that keep hope alive, along with some concise persuasiveness:

A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz
1. Funny as hell, but in a well-written sort of way.
2. U
nconventional father-son relationship.
3. Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
1. The novel is set up like a intro to lit course, each chapter being named after a classic, complete with a "final exam" at the end.
2. The main character's name is Blue. And she's awesome.
3. STCP's website is very different from that of most books.

Going to See the Elephant by Rodes Fishburne
1. Interesting take on the struggling newspaper business.
2. Feels like it's set in the 1930s or 1940s, but is actually modern; the nostalgic feel is appropriate.
3. We all want to control the weather. Now learn how.

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
1. Oscar is, what one reviewer put best, a "ghetto nerd."
2. Interesting perspective of what it's like to be a Dominican immigrant.
3. At the center of the text is the "fuku curse." Need I say more?

Open Me by Sunshine O'Donnell
1. Unique concept- a look into the life of professional mourners.
2. The writing captures the traumatic and disturbing quality of the profession.
3. O'Donnell doesn't take sides on whether wailing should be legal.

Need more suggestions? There's sometimes an itty-bitty section by the new releases at Barnes and Noble or Borders that displays new authors (good luck finding them amidst the seventeen books Nicholas Sparks put out last month). Amazon features lesser known authors with potential on their site too.

Snarky Literary T-Shirts: Yes Please!

Why not wear a T-shirt that shamelessly promotes your cause?

Apparently, we literary folks love to wear blue things.

Stop Whining About Great Books

I love reading negative customer reviews of books I think are great- they're obviously the ones with the poor literary taste, and are therefore deserving of my ridicule. There are a few common "complaints" I particularly enjoy:

"There's no plot."
Translation: I'm used to Transformers movies and need a beginning, middle, and end.
Relax: Ever head of the term "character study?" Sometimes books don't have to be about anything, they can rely on talented writing and well-developed characters to convey the author's message. Come on, dig deeper, there's "more than meets the eye."

"It's too long."
Translation: I have a short attention span/I don't actually like to read/It's too heavy.
Shut the hell up: When reading a truly good book you should never want it to end (unless, of course, you have a potentially equally amazing book on deck). Stop being lazy, put in the time, and lift some weights to help with the muscle strain.

"The writer is too pretentious. He's always using big words."
Translation: I don't understand what this book is about and I have a limited vocabulary.
It's not him... it's you: Reread the confusing parts, search online for helpful reviews or message boards, or buy a damn dictionary. Even better, try reading a few pages before purchasing to see if you're up to it.

"It's too graphic. There's so much sex/swearing/violence!"
Translation: I'm a sheltered prude.
Welcome to reality: Please, life is much more interesting and fun when there's sex, swearing, and violence! You won't go to hell for reading a few four letter words or the part in House of the Spirits with the donkey (think Tijuana if you haven't read it).

"It was depressing."
Translation: I like things to be resolved as neatly as a Full House episode.
Life doesn't always have a laugh track: Sometimes, things suck. Men leave their wives for men, homes burn down, a daughter is really a son, and arms get chopped off. Don't fault the author for giving it to her readers straight.

Read a bad book? A truly horrible, terrible, eye-clawing out book? Go ahead and whine.

Bring. It. On.

And So it Began

The Christmas right after I turned five I received what would be one of the most influential gifts I would ever unwrap: a hardback copy of Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White. I was instantly hooked, taking the book with me to dinner later that afternoon at a family friend's house. While all the other kids were playing with their new, brightly colored plastic toys that would undoubtedly soon be broken or lost, I was holed up on the couch devouring a simple tale about a girl, her pig, and a beloved spider. The only other thing I remember from that night, besides Charlotte and Wilbur, was taking a cookie break, and being pretty damn pissed that I got a smudge of frosting on the book jacket (I have since learned to take those off before reading).

I finished Charlotte's Web by the end of Christmas Day, but had really just begun a lifelong passion that has made me more empathetic, critical, and knowledgeable. B
ooks have taught me to consider different perspectives and unique lifestyles. Books have been there for me during disagreements with friends, family, and significant others. Books have made me want to try new things and become more adventurous. Books have allowed me to escape when reality has been unbearable.

If someone told me I wasn't allowed to read anymore, I would smack them in the face. With a book.

Top 5 Reasons Why Post-Its Make Awesome Bookmarks

1. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
2. Much cheaper than the puppy and monkey ones by the Border's check out.
3. Easily replaced.
4. Good for writing down those insightful, reading-induced thoughts we all have.
5. After reading, they have other purposes:

Does Size Matter?

Admit it: sometimes, size really does matter... at least when we're talking about the cover design used for novels. And in this case, bigger isn't always better. Check out the covers on these three books, which I now must admit to owning (rest assured, they were purchased, read, and forgotten over a decade ago):

Now, these four:

I've always had a theory: the larger the author's name is, the more horrible the book. When the writer's name is more prominent than the name of the book, or takes up half the cover in some cases, publishers are clearly marketing the text based on a person's name, not the title and the novel it actually represents. John Grisham is no longer an ex-lawyer turned novelist- he's a brand (we'll save the ghost-writing allegations for a different day). The same is true for all of the other 100,000 first run authors like Nicholas Sparks, Danielle Steel, and Stephen King. I challenge one of them to use a pseudonym for their next book and see how well it sells- why not let your work speak for itself?

Of course, there are exceptions. Absolutely. There are horrible novels that include a microscopic reference to the author on the cover, and great books that scream the author's name on the front. It's just a theory. But remember, when you look at that next potential read: bigger isn't always better- it's what they do that counts.

Slighty Ashamed. Somewhat Excited.

For several years I have adamantly refused to even consider starting a blog (exception: one written from the perspective of my dog, mocking the wordy diatribes of everyone else). What the hell would I write about? Furthermore, who would care? Then, while working on some recent Amazon book reviews, I realized how much I enjoy writing about books, and doing so nicely bridges the expository writing I did for my master's to the creative writing I would like to pursue. And as for the second question- who cares?

And, so it begins. Inflicting my experiences and opinions about books, authors, and the literary world in general upon the bored/brave/curious people who take the time to read.

You're welcome. Or, I'm sorry.