Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I was just telling Ray, yesterday, that I need a good book to read. I have been reading crap* and working too hard and feeling stressed. I have minimal control over the working and the stress, but I control what I read and I feel better about everything else if I can occasionally escape into a good read. I am one of those people who must have a book to read at all times. Truly, I can't imagine not reading before going to sleep, or when I need a break from everything else. It is just part of my everyday life. I read a lot of fiction, but I am picky. I don't read romance novels and very few mystery novels.

The other day I was browsing a yard sale, when the proprietor, a man about my age in a tank top and baggy shorts, with a cigar stuck in his face, said, "Hey, I think this box of romance novels has your name on it. I'll make you a deal!" I was stunned. I physically recoiled. Do I look like someone who reads romance novels?! I turned on my heel, went straight to my car and drove away as quickly as I could.

Old Friends

Coincidentally, last night I was reading blogs and Diane Perin Hock, who always has great book recommendations, had this meme about books on her blog. I thought I'd give it a shot.

One book that changed your life: Life-changing is a tall order for a book, but one book that stands out in my mind as really affecting me was Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger. It was probably because of my age and my place in life, when I read it. I was in college and I wasn't going through the existential crisis that Franny was, but I could feel what she was feeling and knew those people she was so tired of—"the haters"—the snobbish, the intellectually superior. I understood her need for escape, for turning inward and lolling and indulging. And then, in the second story, her brother Zooey tells her stories and points out the obvious, yet not so obvious truth that in her search for religion and meaning she is missing the holy all around her. "You don't even have sense enough to drink when somebody brings you a cup of consecrated chicken soup--which is the only kind of chicken soup Bessie ever brings to anybody around this madhouse."

I read this book again every few years. I own a worn hardcover copy and it has dried leaves and notes tucked into it. At the end I feel as Franny does. It leaves me peaceful, smiling at the ceiling.

One book you’ve read more than once or twice: Franny and Zooey, (see above). Another book I have read several times and am probably due to read again soon is The World According to Garp, by John Irving. It is funny, tragic, sad, bizarre, but the characters are moving and human and make you care so much for them. When Garp chases down cars that speed through his neighborhood to lecture the drivers on safety and the danger to his children, anyone with children will identify with that irrational fear and hyper awareness of how dangerous the world can be.

One book you’d want on a desert island: Oh, this is just too hard. If I had only one book, I'd probably read it and then walk into the ocean.

One book that made you laugh: Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris. Actually, anything by David Sedaris makes me laugh.

One book that made you cry: Beloved, by Toni Morrison, really brought home the inhumanity of slavery in such personal terms.

One book you wish had never been written: Well, anything with a message of hate. Mein Kampf comes to mind, though I've never read it.

One book you’re currently reading: Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O'Keefe, by Laurie Lisle. I am slogging through this book. I am interested in Georgia O'Keefe, but this seems a very dull, dry biography. It is also a poorly printed book and irritating to read because the type is ugly and blotchy looking.

One book you’ve been meaning to read: The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon. It's on my nightstand. I started reading it, but my mind wandered. I couldn't focus. But it has gotten rave reviews and sounds quirky and funny, so I am going to give it another go. Maybe it's a book for a long airline flight or a stormy day.

*And that "crap" that I have been reading? The Notebook, by Nicholas Sparks. Pure schmaltz. This book was a big bestseller, but it is so gaggishly romantic and goopy and poorly written I was embarrassed for the author. Yech. If you want it I'll send it to you—don't pay money for it—but honestly, you don't want it.


  1. Anonymous12:18 PM

    "the notebook" A case where the movie was better (if that is possible) than the book.

  2. Have you read Michael Chabon's Kavalier and Clay? That was wonderful! I can lend you my copy, if you'd like. Ditto Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides; definitely NOT your typical romance novel!

    I have so many books lined up to read, but it seems lately that I hear about something that sounds interesting, put it on my Hold list at the library, and bam, it's ready for pickup and due in three weeks. I've been reading a lot of non-fiction for that reason.

  3. I read the O'Keeffe biography and really liked it. I do recall that there were places that were slow moving, so I think if you stick with it, you'll enjoy it overall. I can recommend without any reservations Duchamp by Calvin Tomkins. Fascinating stuff!

    I love biographies. :)

  4. Franny and Zooey is one of my all time favorite reads. I read the Yiddish Policemans Union and thought it was an o.k. read but didnt get the great praise that was heaped on it. My recomendation for a really fun quick read is the books by Colin Cotterill that center around the life of a seventy year old coroner in Laos. Politcally interesting and parts that make you just snort out loud in mirth. Cotterill knows of what he writes as he has been living in and around Laos and Thiland. Oh, the books are The Coroners Lunch, Thirty three teeth,and Curse of the Pogo stick.

  5. Anonymous10:55 AM

    Thanks Terry, I thought I was the only one in the world who thought The Notebook was utter dreck.

    I think it's time for me to re-read Franny and Zooey, the quote about the chicken soup brought it all back.


  6. Anonymous10:57 AM

    Have you read the Harry Potter books? They are absolutely fantastic! And not just for kids, either.

  7. If you enjoyed Garp you might also like A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving. Right now I am reading The 13th Tale by Diane Setterfield and find it engrossing. I find it hard to believe that there are so many people who read romance novels. Bleechh! I would have been insulted too by the garage sale man.

  8. I'm so glad you posted this, Terry! I loved reading about your book choices. I really tried to read Chabon's Cavallier & Clay and simply couldn't get into it. I have it on my shelf, thinking to try again, because everyone raves about it. Sounds like we were both deeply affected by Beloved, too.

  9. Oh! And I forgot to add that I just adore "Me Talk Pretty One Day." Have you heard Sedaris read the piece about his french class and talking about Easter? It makes me laugh so hard I cry every time I hear it.

  10. Hi Terry, this meme is a great idea. I wish there were more hours in a day to fit in all the books I'd like to read. Are you into sci-fi at all?

    Happy New House too!