The Word "Notebook" Does Not Guarantee Academic

I'm of course very supportive of high school students reading full novels in class, as opposed to excerpts in anthologies, but while reading Vanity Fair today I discovered something very unsettling: students are being taught Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook. In fact, the novel has become so commonly taught that Cliff's Notes has created a teacher's edition and one of their infamous "read this so you can skip the novel" guides. Nicholas Sparks? As scholarly literature? What the hell is the world coming to?

I'm fine (well, as fine as I possibly could be about anyone reading Sparks) with students reading him on their own time; one of my students had a Chelsea Handler book she was reading the other day, and I was just psyched she was actually reading. And, for the record, I have read a book by Sparks- Message in a Bottle, and it was absolute crap (dear God of All Things Literary, please forgive me, I was in eighth or ninth grade). How can an actual English teacher encourage students to read him when there are thousands of other more substantial texts available? "You know, kids, forget that Fitzgerald and his stupid Gatsby, today we're going to analyze the devices Nicholas Sparks uses to nauseate his readers." The only time I can see this as appropriate is maybe for an advanced class where they're contrasting junk and quality, and even that's a stretch.

You know what, kids? Go ahead and get the Cliff's Notes version. And see the movie. Just please don't buy the book.

Why I Need to Go to New York City

I am prone to frequent bouts of massive cabin fever- due to the fact that this isn't a psychoanalysis blog I'll spare you my opinions regarding why. It is in fact a blog about books, which permits me to share why New York City seems like a great place for readers.

First up, obviously, is the famous bookstore, The Strand. Known for being emphatically independent, this huge bookstore supposedly houses more than
8 miles of books inside, both new, used, and rare. Interesting side note: interior decorators and set designers can rent "books by the foot" from this store, which will even customize the selection in case someone is looking closely.

Another stop, just to see what the place looks like up close is a coffee shop named D'Espresso, a place I recently saw featured in the style section of the New York Times
. The "books" are actually hand-painted tiles, the entire decor budget topping $500,000. The owner hopes to open more- maybe he'll put one in Riverside. I currently hate coffee, but I'm sure they have hot chocolate.

I'm enamored with Central Park in a way that I'm sure only tourists are (do locals love it? I don't know). To be honest, if I could only do one thing w
hile visiting it would be running- I'm tired of all these East Coasters raving about their Central Park runs in Runner's World. Anyway, reading would be a close second.

Saving the best for last, I would most definitely stay at t
he disgustingly expensive, but insanely awesome, The Library Hotel. Each floor and room is genre inspired, both with decor and books to peruse (biographies, new age, business, fairy tales, encyclopedias, classics, etc...).

Maybe next year.

Either Good Taste or Good Ass-Kissing

Today, in both of my sophomore English classes, we finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird (yes, I'm ignoring the anthology for now and teaching novels... in conjunction with the standards, of course) and some of my students actually clapped. When they came in most asked me if we were going to finish the book today because they wanted to "know how it ends." Yes, my students who think "hella sic" is an adjective, draw marijuana leaves on their folders, have odd piercings in their faces, and ask me every weekend if I'm "going to party," wanted to know if Scout and Jem survived their attack alive. I even heard a few "awwws" from the girls when Scout escorts Boo home. Either they have a shred of good taste or they're just good at ass-kissing.

Michael Cunningham, the LA Central Library, and Skid Row

Last week I made yet another trek out to LA to see an author read, this time for Michael Cunningham's newest novel By Nightfall. It's definitely quite a drive for a 60-90 minute presentation, but I enjoy hearing about different writers' writing processes, how they create characters, who they are currently are reading, etc... I love being around people that are interested in the same types of books as I am and actually give a damn about literature. It's inspiring, and these days, I sure as hell need it.

This particular reading was at the Los Angeles Central Library in the downtown area, which was a delightful treat at 6:30 on a weeknight. Once I was parked
and my sanity somewhat restored, I realized how awesome the location was- absolutely huge, with large windows running through the middle of the library allowing you to see rows and rows of books, as well as beautiful mosaics and light fixtures. Outside, the nighttime view was great; the library is tucked between several skyscrapers- a nice change from my current location.

Anyway, Cunningham did a terrible job reading his own novel- someone needs to teach the man to pause at punctuation, rather than in middle of sentences. Some actual inflection might be nice too. He redeemed himself, though, during the interview portion with a candid discussion of his sexuality and it's impact on his writing ("Admit it, there are some heterosexuals in the audience! Come out of the closet!"), Mad Men references, and an artful ability to be simultaneously both self-deprecating and snobbish.

What I loved most was his discussion, and appreciation, of how "no two readers read the exact same novel." It brought me back to my days as in college, listening to people debate symbolism or the significance of a minor character. The significance of every novel differs depending on the reader and their feelings, past experiences, and perceptions of the world. It takes an author that is secure in his craft, and his readers, to embrace this.

Then I left and got lost in Skid Row. I decided the juxtaposition between that and the Banana Republic Boys at the reading was extremely fitting.

No Books Were Harmed in the Making of These Ads

Actually, they probably were; I don't know much about them. Nonetheless, these promotional ads were done by the agency Kaspen to promote the Russian bookshop Anagram a few years ago- enjoy!

Getting My Pretentious Snob On

I don't make it a habit to usually review books on this blog, since I do that on Amazon, but I couldn't resist this one. Beware- there's a good chance I'm going to come off as a pretentious snob. Oh well.

Awhile ago I bought Stieg Larsson's The Girl who/with Blablablabla trilogy on a curious whim, accepting the fact it may be pulpy but desperately hoping that just maybe modern literature could welcome a quality mystery writer (they're so hard to come by these days). Unfortunately, after 465 pages, I wasn't terribly impressed.

It was definitely entertaining, and I even found myself slightly attached to feisty Lizbeth (you know, the girl with the dragon tattoo). It was a very quick read, straightforward, and set in Sweden, which was interesting setting. It made me want to keep reading in the same way Gossip Girl made my buy yet another season (and there goes my credibility).

Now I'm through being nice. The plot was incredibly predictable, the characters were flat, and the writing was barely mediocre. When I read a mystery novel I want to be tricked and teased- I figured out the major "ah ha" moment very early on, despite hoping to be wrong. The dialogue was forced, the exposition was sloppy, and the sex scenes were disappointingly awkward. The writing as a whole was barely mediocre, and while I'd like to blame the translator, I'm thinking that would be probably be unfair.

I should have known that after it hung out at the top of the bestseller lists for months, and when a billion people reviewed and loved it on Amazon, that I probably should have stayed away.
I know Larsson is dead, and while I sincerely hope he's frolicking in green fields with naked maidens, I think he could have done this story better. And that is why, as soon as I want a break from the types of books I usually read, I will read the others (mostly because I already bought them, thanks to Amazon's enticingly cheap bundle pack).

You've been warned.

Coffee Tables are for Books

I really want a coffee table. Sure, it would be nice for drinks (under coasters, of course), to centralize the remote situation, and store blankets underneath, but the real reason I want one is for coffee table books. They come in neat sizes, are beautifully photographed, and detail every topic known to man. I'd like to sit down on any give day and be able to visit Frank Lloyd Wright's homes, relive my adventures in Venice, or view Wassily Kandinsky's art. Coffee table books don't have to be read all at once, or from cover-to-cover; they're perfect for during commercials (no DVR for us), while waiting for friends to stop by, or when you're on the phone with someone that won't shut the hell up. There's no sense of urgency to get through a coffee table book- they're informative, visually stimulating, and patient.

I love the idea of someone sitting down at our coffee table and being able to get a better perspective of what we are interested in- yes, please, judge me by my coffee tables books! Alas, I refuse to get one due to the fact we live in an apartment just barely bigger than a box- but, someday soon, when we do have a house, I will most definitely go on a coffee table book binge.

Where I Like to Do It

Top ten places I like to do it:

10. While waiting (for the doctor, dentist, stylist, etc...)
9. In church (reason 563 why I'm going to hell- this got me through years there as a child, though)
8. At the beach (what else are you going to do there?)
7. On the train
6. By a fire (preferably one that's controlled)
5. Under the trees in my mom's front yard
4. My grandparents' gazebo
3. While getting a pedicure
2. UCLA (the Sculpture Garden, Janss Steps, Powell Library)
1. In bed

Relax- it's a reading blog.