It’s NATIONAL BOOK LOVER’S DAY

I like to think that books (like relationships) come to people at specific times.  And sometimes when you pick up a book you’re just not ready for it.  Sometimes it’s the perfect pairing of life drama and book plot.  Most of the time though, the ones that truly move us, push us forward with reading momentum, are books that were supposed to be put in our hands.  A bit of book fate, if you will.  (Humor me).  This list is those books.  I can remember when most of them came to me (not thieves in the night or anything), and I can place myself at the scene of the crhyme. (Is the corniness too far yet or should I keep going).  Below is the list of books that made me a book lover. You can just look at the list, steal a few recommendations. After that, I’ve strategically placed (for your CLEAR reading pleasure) how these books found me and what was happening in my life at the time.  Maybe we will have similar “plot twists” in our life and you can use one of these books to be changed. Let’s hope so. Please share with me any recommendations paired with life situations in the comments.  I haven’t yet made my September TBR and I need a few books.

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Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.24.38 AM1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz

This is actually the only book on the list that I don’t remember why I was reading it.  I believe I just liked the cover. Never in my life have I used google translate more. Or just google. To figure out all the ins and outs of the Dominican Republic’s political climate.  Oscar is also the narrator of the century, he’s completely endearing and wonderfully romantic (in the old fashioned literary sense, kind of like Manny on Modern Family).

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.25.13 AM2. God-Shaped Hole – Tiffanie DeBartolo

Holy tissue boxes, batman.  Just prepare yourself for this one.  DeBartolo was the first author that I actively stalked on social media.  I found her website.  I might have emailed her a few times.  I fangirled all over her Twitter account.  I was in a place in my life where I just wanted to be noticed.  I believe I read this sophomore year of college where I was in the intense heat of a creative writing program at NCSU and people were willing to metaphorically bleed out their best friends from five minutes before.  It was terrifying, overwhelming, and kept me on a teetering balance of critical and warm for the entire year (probably mostly critical).  Because when you critique in writing workshop it just floods into other parts of your life.  Thank goodness for my roommate, Christine, who loved me beyond this and still does.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.26.04 AM3. Eating Fire – Margaret Atwood

This is a collection of some Margaret Atwood poetry books.  She does write poetry. It is disturbing and thoughtful and everything you think it would be for Atwood.  This was the same time as God-Shaped Hole.  I was required to choose a poetry collection to use for my end of semester broadside and we were given a list and of course the professor said “You can choose off of this list, but I must approve it.” If you give me the option to be different, I’m going to choose the path less taken (which is truly probably the path everyone takes).  So, I read the entire dense collection.  I highlighted. I wanted to eat my own hands. I wrote little notes to myself that I hung on my bathroom mirror to remind me that my writing wasn’t good enough (I’m one of those self-loathers).  It was hard, but here I am, a better and more disturbed person thanks to Atwood.  She also taught me so much about American Lit that I can use in the classroom because she has a very distinct idea of what Americans and Canadians view differently about the wilderness.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.26.55 AM4. Head Off & Split – Nikki Finney

I teach her every single year to my students.  I think this is when I realized (I was a late bloomer) that poetry can be political.  Again, I was in college.  I had no idea that people could write with such anger and such hope at the same time.  I had no idea how large the divide was becoming of categorized people (i.e. black/white, happy/sad, today/tomorrow).

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.27.30 AM5. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

I don’t know. End of high school. I hadn’t read anything required of me except some of Gatsby (Sparknotes was still a viable thing then).  I didn’t like reading.  I had lost that profound sense of personhood that I somehow had in middle school (even after a terrible haircut and a backseat of the movie theater boyfriend).  This found me. I can’t even explain it.  Jane was what I was feeling, but she was in a different moment in time.  I realized that life is just a pattern of history.  And Jane was like me in another life.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.28.30 AM6. The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien

I was on Bald Head Island. This island is seriously so rich that they don’t even really drive cars, just golf carts and if they want to go ANYWHERE other than a very small grocery store, they have to ride  a ferry (or take their own boats).  It’s a wonderful place to visit and biking around it is one of my fondest memories.  However, the juxtaposition between Vietnam War memories and Bald Head Island was too great for me.  As soon as they kill the baby hippo, I was done.  I was a bit of a tear-jerk all week after that.  This book is so moving and as a woman who’s always circling the histories of war but never really allowed into the gory bits, this took me where I needed to go in order to better understand America’s war history and just the point of war and the aftermath of war.  It is a work of fiction, but it is a truth as well.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.29.13 AM7. Bee Season – Myla Goldberg

Weird. As. Hell. which is what I am.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.29.53 AM8. The BFG – Roald Dahl

This book is my favorite book in the entire universe.  I would have The BFG tattooed on my forearm right now if my father wouldn’t have a heart attack at the sight of it. I have my fifth grade copy (with highlights and notes to myself in my larger than life handwriting) and it’s everything to me.  If there was a fire, my copy of this book would definitely be searched for (leading me to die from smoke inhalation).  In tenth grade, I wrote a screen play of it, 100 pages, maybe the hardest assignment I was ever asked to do.  I adore this book.  It’s been with me through generations of hurt and happiness and I just want to cuddle it right now after typing this.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.30.34 AM9. Columbine – Dave Cullen

“She said yes” was given to me as a child.  It’s about the girl named Cassie who told one of the shooters that she believed in God before he shot her in the head.  At the time Columbine came out, investigators had recently found that she probably wasn’t the one in the library who said it and another student did.  I was also going through a religious null (still kind of finding my way) and so I read this to figure out the whole story.  It’s an unbelievable book.  Seriously, unbelievable.  And it taught me that nonfiction can be just as moving as fiction.  I still believe in that girl named Cassie who died kneeling under a library table.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.31.17 AM10. Lark & Termite – Jayne Anne Phillips

I fly through books. I often don’t remember what the plots are or the main characters names a few months after finishing.  If I pick the book up again then I will remember it suddenly, but usually it’s lost on me (because I hate rereading books).  This book has stayed with me. The characters, the plot, the moments of silence. I wasn’t the biggest fan of it while I was reading it, but when it was finished, I was moved to tears and change.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.31.55 AM11. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – Foer

This was my first introduction to Foer.  I had read his wife, Nicole Krauss, but not him.
This is a story of September 11th.
This made me want to read every single detail of that day.
This pushed me to read further.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.32.36 AM12. The Arrival – Shaun Tan

I found Shaun Tan when I lived in Australia.  I also found a library card and graphic novels.  I left for Australia the summer after I graduated from college.  I was definitely in a reading slump.  I hadn’t really read anything beyond what was required of me in class.  However, I walked to the library almost every day in Australia.  I worked in a college bookstore and a tea shop so I was often inundated with people reading. Seeing what they were reading, and having discussions about literature, led me back to the library, my second home.  That library was a safe haven for me in a time where my life was placed in a box (literally I lived in a room with my then boyfriend) and because I had no idea what my next step was even though I thought I had it all planned out. Shaun Tan is magic, everything he illustrates I own.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.35.28 AM13. An Empty Spoon – Sunny Decker

My Mom found this one for me at a consignment store.  It’s the book that actually led me into taking teaching classes and deciding that it was something I might want to do.  I was working at a teen center and I felt like I just had an epiphany.  My Mom has been there for every key moment of my life.  She can see the moments on my face even.  This was one of those where she just knew that I needed a little push I think.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.33.42 AM14. The Essential Etheridge Knight – Etheridge Knight

Or in other words when I learned the following things:

  1. People who go to jail are not idiots.
  2. Poetry can be raw inside the edges.
  3. Cuss words should only be used with severe meaning.
  4. Anyone can be a poet. And anyone can be good.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.34.24 AM15. Forth a Raven – Christina Davis

I just love this poetry collection.  It’s beautiful. I wasn’t reading poetry and this reminded me that I must.

Bee Season – Myla Goldberg (And Her Tights)

I think Myla Goldberg is one of the cutest authors I’ve ever set eyes on.  Her tights are right out of Sweeney Todd Halloween dress-up on the back cover of Bee Season, and so, when I saw it on the dollar shelf (how unfortunate) of Edward McKay’s I had to scoop it up.

Plus, the cover has that human skin feel to it, which I really think is sexy on a book (if you think I’m totally creepy please pick up this book and feel it in bookstores or pick up a copy of the Raleigh Review and give it a handle).

Another wonderful thing about Myla Goldberg is her name.  It rolls of the tongue with it’s ‘lalalalalala’ nature.  Last good thing (I’m sure there are more, but just the ones I want to share) is that she has a totally rad website which can be found here.  Okay last thing, I promise…she also did a Q&A with Powell books (which includes a question about a fictional character she’d most like to date) and that can be found here.  She’s hilarious, in probably a disturbing way because after reading Bee Season I couldn’t help but try and decipher who this woman was, who wrote this book.  I was fascinated by the kaleidoscopic of stolen property, and the wrecked-by-religion family.  Not to mention, a dad who is basically living inside of a study that should have been placed on another planet where everyone transcends their body and does yoga.  (I threw the yoga part in just for good mental images and for brain exercise/meditation).

After reading a few goodreads.com reviews that weren’t very flattering, I felt, as usual, that I need to throw my two cents in.  Now, I’m not the kind of reader that really likes best sellers.  I don’t pride myself on this, but usually if it makes the NY Times list, or if people around the world are raving about it, I can’t seem to get into it.  ESPECIALLY, if Oprah liked it.  (See:  The Help, Hector and the Search for Happiness, Harry Potter – post book four…hmmm all H titles).  So, I usually read strange books that everyone else has no interest in.  (See: How to Kill a Rockstar, Everything is Illuminated, Eating Animals, God-Shaped Hole).  Thus, Myla Goldberg is right up my alley.

I’d like to also take a moment to mention that she is a  Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers Award Winner, and I have never once gone wrong reading one of these hot off the shelf.  There was one that was a little so-so, but it was still a helluva read.  So, I definitely recommend seeking out your nearest B&N, getting a membership to save an extra ten percent and buying one of these books on a thirty percent price reduction.  They’re always good.  (See: The Adults – Alison Espach).

  Anyway, Bee Season is about a young girl,      Elly, who is average and not “academically    gifted” until she wins her school spelling bee,      and then continues to spell atrociously hard    words until she makes it to even higher  bee’s,  succeeding majority of the way.  I hope  that  wasn’t a spoiler…I tried to keep it light.  Anyway, her family is both very involved and  then dramatically uninvolved in her bee  winning.  Her mother is a total space cadet  because she is focusing on her life’s mission of  reaching what she calls “perfectimundo” and  her brother is dabbling in new religions that  may or may not turn into cult activity.  Her  father however, is obnoxious in his pursuit to  not only train Eliza (Elly) to win the National  Bee, but he is in hot pursuit of her reaching a  religious transcendence written about in ancient books (very focused on Kabbalah, ya know..that religion Madonna is really into, even though she isn’t Jewish).  While these characters sound blatantly ridiculous, and at points unbelievable, they also have stock character qualities.  The brother who never fits in, in any circle, even that of his own family.  A father who is living vicariously through his children.  And of course, the absent mother, who cleans well into the night because she is either nocturnal, or an insomniac.  I’d go with the latter if I were you.

A lot of people have reviewed this book saying it is utterly disturbing, and damaging.  However, I thought it was brilliant.  I read it in two days, got sucked into the religious aspect that somehow blends every family member together, and then sucked up into the voracious studying for the bee.  I’m not a stud of a speller, nor am I a great grammarian so it was definitely interesting.  Plus, I just recently watched the National Spelling Bee on ESPN (of all the channels they could put this on…really?) and that made me even more interested in this odd and forlorn family.

I don’t really even understand how people are so disturbed by this book.  We all have crazy family members (usually aunts or uncles that are wackadoodle) and we all have somehow dysfunctional families.  I know that no one out there has had a lifetime of just pure bliss.  Even though in one of my education classes a girl told me that the first time her mother ever raised her voice with her was her senior in high school, which sounds like an awfully boring house to me.  So, maybe there are some “good” families out there.  I think my family is dysfunctional, we have a lot of conversations about using the toilet (hence the blog title) but we are good to one another.  While this family isn’t a “Model American Family” straight out of a 1950’s Time Magazine, it was still really interesting to see a darkness that can envelope a semi-happy family.  It’s like watching Snapped on Investigation Discovery, or something.

I definitely plan on reading Myla Goldberg’s other ventures in writing and reviewing them as well.  I just wanted to let people know that they shouldn’t always look at how a book scored on goodreads.com or any other website, or under any other review before trying it out themselves.  Don’t judge a book by its dysfunctional family dynamics is all I’m sayin’.

Here are a few other reviews that you may find different &/or helpful to help make a decision if this book is worth your penny (plus shipping & handling) on Amazon.com:

Review #1

Review #2

Review #3

Review #4

Review # 5 (my personal favorite)

Also, there is a movie based on this book.  It stars Richard Gere. even though I felt the father was a much older man.  It didn’t get the best reviews, but if you’re not a reader, there are other options.

And just for the record:

Bee Season was a New York Times Notable Book for 2000, winner of the Borders New Voices Prize, and a finalist for the Hemingway Foundation/PEN award, the NYPL Young Lions award, and the Barnes & Noble Discover award.

I guess sometimes I do like best-ish-sellers.   Or, then again, maybe it just won awards…

Also (again) I think the people who write reviews only of “happy books” do not realize that every book must have a dark side.  While every cloud has a silver lining, it also has a lining of ugly mold from all the perspiration and condensation it holds in its clouded armpits.  I remember back in ’09 when I was taking a fiction workshop with Jill McCorkle at NCSU, and a girl in my class got really upset when she couldn’t write something happy, where everyone in the story was enjoying their life.  McCorkle ended up giving a whole discussion on how even our favorite characters must have unlovable qualities and our least favorite characters must have loving qualities (even the rotten Disney villains).   Personally, happy stories bore me to death.  Bring on the “depressionland” as this reviewer said on goodreads.com.

Hope you like this book as much as I do, or you just trust me enough to try it out.