O Captain! My Captain! Remembering Robin Williams

Like many people around the worldrobin-williams-by-Samerry[206123], I grew up watching Robin Williams. I watched him go from Mork on Happy Days to becoming an Oscar winner. He was one of the funniest men to ever live, and a great actor. He was quick, biting, clever and still had the ability to make us all feel. He was a human before he was a movie star. And it showed on screen. His movies taught me about life and love and joy and being able to laugh even when things are bad.

The only way I have of honouring his life is to talk about it here. I can honestly say that everything I need to know in life, I learned from one of the greatest. These are ten of my personal favorite Robin Williams films, what they meant to me, and what they taught me.

  1. Popeye (1980) – When I was just six years old, I managed to win tickets to the premeire of Popeye. No one in my family seemed quite as excited as me, but it was my fantastic coloring work that won those tickets. There was a red carpet and cameras and Robin Williams. It was something. The movie got panned, but I still remember that night and that movie. Even though you hate spinach, you gotta eat it. “I hates spinach!”
  2. The World According to Garp (1982) - The John Irving novel is one of my favorite books. I read the book before I saw the movie, so of course I hated the movie. And I hated it for a while. I re-watched the film some years later and I fell in love. Robin Williams played the role of Garp perfectly, quietly and gave life to him. The movie gave me hope as a fellow writer who has a crazy family of her own. “You know, everybody dies. My parents died. Your father died. Everybody dies. I’m going to die too. So will you. The thing is, to have a life before we die. It can be a real adventure having a life.”
  3. Good Morning Vietnam (1987) - vietnamI pretty much had this movie memorised. It was the first of Robin Williams as Teacher roles, and I ate it up. I wanted to have a teacher like him! But of course, there aren’t a lot of teachers that can do really great John Wayne impressions. It was also one of the first times we see him as activist. Standing up for what’s right no matter what the consequence. The lesson: “Okay, if someone is not telling the truth, you say that they are full of… (Vietnamese Class: Shit!) If someone has made you angry or angrier, they have…(Vietnamese Class: Pissed me off!)
  4. Dead Poets Society (1989) - o-captainIn what way did this movie not change the way I look at life? I was fifteen years old when this came out and I wished, prayed and tried to figure out a way to go to boarding school. In the 50’s. I know, I know. Impossible. But even as a smart ass kid, I understood the message – Carpe diem, boys. Rip up the instructions, fuck the rules, and live life! Suck the marrow from the bone! And, “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” I still believe that. And I’m standing on my desk for you.
  5. The Fisher King (1991) - TheFisherKingRobinWilliamsPTSonyPicturesStill one of his greatest films. And the life lesson here is pretty simple. “There’s three things in this world that you need: Respect for all kinds of life, a nice bowel movement on a regular basis, and a navy blazer.”
  6. The Birdcage (1996) - For me this movie was the perfect storm of awesome. You get Robin Williams being hilarious yet holding back because you just have to hold back when you are next to Nathan Lane. And you also get Gene Hackman, who can do no wrong. Together they gave this movie just what it needed to work: heart. “Yes, I wear foundation. Yes, I live with a man. Yes, I’m a middle- aged fag. But I know who I am, Val. It took me twenty years to get here, and I’m not gonna let some idiot senator destroy that. Fuck the senator, I don’t give a damn what he thinks.”
  7. Good Will Hunting (1997) - This movie is filled with so much greatness, and most of it is due to Robin Williams. When he says, “It’s not your fault”. You believe it. And you keep believing it. “So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that. If I ask you about women, you’d probably give me a syllabus about your personal favorites. You may have even been laid a few times. anigif_enhanced-buzz-13392-1384973721-10_previewBut you can’t tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You’re a tough kid. And I’d ask you about war, you’d probably throw Shakespeare at me, right, “once more unto the breach dear friends.” But you’ve never been near one. You’ve never held your best friend’s head in your lap, watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help. I’d ask you about love, you’d probably quote me a sonnet. But you’ve never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone that could level you with her eyes, feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you. Who could rescue you from the depths of hell. And you wouldn’t know what it’s like to be her angel, to have that love for her, be there forever, through anything, through cancer. And you wouldn’t know about sleeping sitting up in the hospital room for two months, holding her hand, because the doctors could see in your eyes, that the terms “visiting hours” don’t apply to you. You don’t know about real loss, ’cause it only occurs when you’ve loved something more than you love yourself. And I doubt you’ve ever dared to love anybody that much. And look at you… I don’t see an intelligent, confident man… I see a cocky, scared shitless kid. But you’re a genius Will. No one denies that. No one could possibly understand the depths of you. But you presume to know everything about me because you saw a painting of mine, and you ripped my fucking life apart.”
  8. Death to Smoochy (2002) - I think this movie is fantastic and totally underrated. You can have your Jumanji and your Patch Adams. I’ll take a little movie that’s really about making kids happy. And you know what I learned? “Even when you’re squeaky clean, you can still fall in the mud.” Oh, and I also learned that every movie is better with an iceskating dance number at the end. I love you Rainbow Randall. 
  9. One Hour Photo (2002) - I loved creepy Robin Williams. I was happy that he (mostly) stopped doing half assed comedies and did more dark stuff. He was good at dark. His character in this film was sad and frightening. “Family photos depict smiling faces… births, weddings, holidays, children’s birthday parties. People take pictures of the happy moments in their lives. Someone looking through our photo album would conclude that we had led a joyous, leisurely existence free of tragedy. No one ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget.”
  10. World’s Greatest Dad (2009) - I bet you haven’t seen this one. It was fantastic and completely overlooked. It was directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. It’s a little hard to look at now, seeing the way that Robin Williams took his own life. But I’ll never forget the scene at the end when he jumps in the pool. I hope he found the freedom he was looking for. This is how I’ll remember you. “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone.” *Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t seen this film, then don’t watch this clip. It’s awesome, but also a huge spoiler. You have been warned. * 

Movies: 10 Best Food Movies

big-nightI just saw John Favreau’s new film Chef. While it was fun and enjoyable to watch, it wasn’t anything special. Here is a film that had every opportunity to say something about food, food culture in America, “food bloggers” and other dilettantes in the industry. But instead of taking a stand they took us on a road trip… in a food truck. Eh. In the end it was just a pretty movie filled with missed opportunities. I was disappointed. Here are ten that hit the mark and made me hungry.

  1. Big Night (1996) – Stanley Tucci co-wrote, co-directed (with Campbell Scott!), and starred in this beautifully crafted, delectable little film about two restaurateurs who hope Louis Prima will save their family business. Aside from Stanley Tucci being an all around badass, this movie makes italian food look so good, so delicious, that’ll you leave wanting to eat like an Italian, drink like an Italian, and just BE Italian. My brother saw this back in 1996 and he’s been pretending to be Italian ever since. I’m so not kidding.
  2. Chocolat (2000) – armandes-party3Take the beautiful and talented Juliette Binoche, (as a single mother who moves to a tiny French village in the 1960s) add a pinch of Johnny Depp, (as a sexy riverboat-dwelling drifter) stir in a little Alfred Molina (as the towns moral compass), and of course a certain sweet, cacao-based quintessence that will open the closed hearts of the suffocating villagers. The cast is full of greats like Lena Olin, Carrie-Anne Moss, and the great Leslie Caron. Oh, and Dame Judi Dench as a grumpy grandmother who curses and tells gore filled stories to little kids. It’s a charming movie that will make you happy and hungry in equal measure.
  3. Ratatouille (2007) - imagesThis movie captures the Foodie attitude perfectly. An adorable rat (who loves to prepare and eat good food) enters the human world where good tasting food is only for those who can afford it. Yes, fine dining with a rat. I can’t think of a better way to give the finger to food snobs than this sweet little movie. Good food should be for everyone, not just industry professionals and foodies. Oh, and an evil food critic named Anton Ego, voiced by Peter O’Toole. Yes please!
  4. Like Water For Chocolate – (1992) 3112406_origSex and food. Love and Death. These are the things that make life worth living. And these are the things worth living for in this delightfully sensuous Mexican film based on the novel by Laura Esquivel.  (Directed by her husband Alfonso Arau.) This movie is an aphrodisiac. It’s hot and spicy, sweet and salty. It’s the perfect balance of food and story.
  5. Eat, Drink, Man, Woman (1994) – Ang Lee draws from his own life as he tells the story of Chinese master Chef Mr. Chu, his three daughters and their Sunday night dinners. It’s a heart warming movie that looks at generational clashes and how families grow apart as they grow older. And the food? Wow. Just… wow.
  6. Julie & Julia (2009) – julie and julia2Meryl Streep as Julia Child. Stanley Tucci as Paul Child. Jane Lynch as Julia’s sister, Dorothy. Directed by the late, great Nora Ephron, this movie tells the story of a struggling writer who decides to cook the entire French Cooking cookbook that Julia Child wrote. The movie weaves in and out of present day NY and 1960’s France seamlessly. And Meryl Streep is a joy to watch. Even when she’s just chopping onions.
  7. Food, Inc. (2008) – This movie blew the lid off of corporate farming in America. It shows viewers the reality of processed foods and how those foods are made. Not only is it ruining life for animals, it is harming the humans who farm them. It is an eye-opening film that deserves to been seen by anyone who eats. Yes, that means you.
  8. Mid August Lunch (2008) – static.squarespaceThis movie is about a guy who doesn’t have to do much. He’s a slacker who loves food. His only real responsibility is taking care of his mother. When his friends ask him to look out for their mothers over a long weekend, we get treated to great laughs and fantastic looking food. Four italian mothers at one dinner table = greatness.
  9. Hot Coffee (2011) – In 1994 Stella Liebeck filed a lawsuit against McDonald’s after spilling a hot cup of coffee on her lap. She was an elderly woman when it happened, and the case quickly became a joke for every late-night talk show. But the facts surrounding the case are not as frivolous as they sound. In this movie you get to see the photographic evidence of the injuries she sustained. And it’s bad. If this was YOUR grandma, you’d be pissed. Director Susan Saladoff offers a glimpse at the PR machine a fast-food behemoth like McDonald’s has at its disposal to maintain a positive public image. (Amazon, does this sound familiar? Hmmm?)
  10. The Trip (2010) – The-Trip-007Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon star in the hilarious movie as fictionalised versions of themselves on a restaurant tour of northern England. As is the case in most road movies, the trip becomes an occasion for philosophizing, and talking about real life. It’s a journey inward and out as the friends banter and joust – improvising and entertaining each other. We are even treated to Coogan’s hilarious, spot on imitations of Michael Caine and Sean Connery. They also eat. They eat often and they eat well. They dine in restaurants with incredible views and service, and in places where the dishes are extravagantly conceptualized and prepared.

Books: Book Snobbery

MisterBooksellerBooksellers are asked “What do you read?” on a daily basis. I am always happy to answer the question even if some people are not happy with my answer. But, I’m not a book snob. Not really. My rule of thumb is, I’ll read anything as long as it’s well writtenNow that may seem “Duh”, but you’d be surprised what passes as good these days. I’ll read sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, bio, history… you name it. But don’t bore me, and don’t use simple langue and have zero style. We elevate our intellect when we challenge ourselves while reading. I strongly believe that.

I’ve been a bookseller on and off since my teen years and never before have I encountered such blatant Book Snobbery. Maybe it’s the rise of self promotion tools like Twitter and FB. Maybe it has something to do with needing to feel important. I don’t know. But I hear people call books they like (or love!) “My book”, as if they had something to do with writing it or they were the only person to have ever read it. Here, I’ll use it in a sentence. Have you noticed that my book sold out? Again!? The speaker didn’t actually write the book, and they get no commission if it sells, and yet they take responsibility for both. Gross.

It’s hard. A bookstore can be a place of subtle, unspoken competition, and inflated egos. And I’m over it. Who has read the most books? Who’s staff recommendations have sold the most? Who read the new hot title first? It’s all pretty juvenile and silly. Taking ownership of someone elses work is absurd. Feeling a sense of pride when a stranger chooses a book you like is pretty weird. Judging a book by its popularity with your peers is silly. And it is all a form of Book Snobbery. Our job isn’t to get as many people as possible to read our favorite book. Our job is to help the customer find something they might enjoy.

And it all comes down to this: People should read. Reading is good. Books are good.

syntax-booksellerOne of the reasons people turn to satan Amazon is because of book snobbery. Nobody wants to walk into a bookstore and see the bookseller roll their eyes at their choices. Projecting a type of ownership over certain types of books but not others is just another form of snobbery. And I get it. Bookstores are inherently snobby places. It’s the same kind of snobbery says that jazz and pino grigio and golf and “locally sourced” anything are for me, but not you. Absurd! There is snobbery of “Literature” over genre, of adult books over YA fiction, of “serious” over “funny”, of “real life” over dragons and unicorns and wizards, of Haruki Murakami over Stephen King. And it is lame. And silly. And pretty stupid. If books ever die, snobbery would be standing nearby with a smoking gun in its hand, and a smile on its face.

So, I have a message for all of you book snobs – stop it. You are defeating the purpose. We want people to read, not feel bad about reading. When someone wants the latest Oprah Book club book, I’m happy. At least they are reading! And who am I to judge anyway? She has recommended plenty of great books. Try having an open mind and watch your world expand. But, if that doesn’t happen – here is a list of things you can tell the next book snob you encounter – whether it’s in a bookstore or in your own home.

  1. Many of the world’s greatest writers wrote books for children. So stop making fun of it.  (Louisa May Alcott, Madeleine L’Engle, Maurice Sendak, C.S. Lewis, Judy Bloom)
  2. People shouldn’t feel bad about what they choose to read. When they feel bad about what they read, they’ll stop reading.
  3. Matt Haig said it best, “Snobbery leads to worse books. Pretentious writing and pretentious reading. Books as exclusive members clubs. Narrow genres. No inter-breeding. All that fascist nonsense that leads commercial writers to think it is okay to be lazy with words and for literary writers to think it is okay to be lazy with story.” Yep. What he said.
  4. Don’t discount a book simply because it is a best seller. Lot’s of popular stuff is actually good. (ABBA. Bacon. Internet cat videos. Cupcakes. Harry Potter. Game of Thrones. Stephen King.)
  5. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Or its shelf talker. Or who happened to recommend it. The only way to accurately judge a book is by reading the words inside.
  6. Have an open mind. Murakami said, if you only read what other people are reading, you’ll only think what other people are thinking.
  7. Proudly proclaiming that you only read literary fiction makes you sound ignorant. Well rounded people want to know about the world around them and the people who shaped it. Knowing your past is part of knowing you.
  8. Snobbery is prejudice wrapped up in a better sounding name.
  9. Genre shaming is lame. Get over it. There are some great books just waiting to be found in Sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, and historical romance. I promise.
  10. You can have your opinions about books, but just remember having opinions isn’t the same as being right. 

Minimalist Living: How to Start Today

messIf you’ve ever thought about chucking it all in and selling most of what you own, then you might be ready for a Minimalist lifestyle. But it’s more than less is more, and decluttering. Living a minimalist life allows you simple freedoms that you can’t have when you are drowning in possessions.

When I left Europe two years ago I worried that I would have trouble maintaining the lifestyle I had become accustom to in Prague. In my seven years there I didn’t buy any furniture, television, phone, car or major appliance. I never wanted for anything. I had hand-me-down furniture, and it suited me just fine. Minimalism isn’t really about stark, empty rooms with hardly anything to sit on. It’s more about removing from your life anything that is unnecessary or distracting. Finding alternatives to spending. It is about getting rid of excess and living with only essentials. *Essentials will vary from person to person.

I find television excessive. And expensive. So I choose not to own one. And I would never, ever have more than one. I’ve been in homes (mostly stateside) where I have seen multiple televisions. One in the living-room. One in the bedroom. One in the kitchen? Aside from the abundance of televisions, I found a desktop computer with an oversized monitor which the kids seemed to use as yet another source of televised entertainment. While some of you may think I’m old-fashioned, let me explain a few things. When you don’t own a television (or a car or a house or…) you are not only saving money on the purchase price of the item, but also on its upkeep. I don’t pay cable bills. I don’t have a mortgage. I don’t pay for gas or car maintenance. Living a Minimalist lifestyle allows me to be mindful about what I own, what I buy, and how I spend my time and money. Basically it boils down to this – My life is about experiences, not possessions.

Minimalism hasn’t really caught on here in the US, and I’m not surprised. After 9/11 our (then) President (the glorious Mr. Bush) chose not to mobilize the country or summon his fellow citizens to economic sacrifice, but rather he told us to … go shopping. Spend money. That’ll help! And we (as a country) did. And we still are. Americans seem to think it is their solemn duty to spend money on shit they don’t really need. It’s difficult to live a minimalist lifestyle in a country that doesn’t support it. But it is possible. You’ll have more time, more money, and more joy. How is that a bad thing?

  • What you need to do: Mentally prepare. This is a commitment. It doesn’t do you any good to get rid of things and then replace them with new versions a few months down the road. The idea is to take stock of your life. Go room by room and make a decision for each thing you own. Not only will you realize exactly how much “stuff” you have, you’ll realize how much time, money and energy each item requires of you.

    It won’t happen over night. It will take time, and it should take time.You’ll want to say goodbye to those ugly plates Aunt Grandma left you, and the hand me down bed your Uncle built that’s so short your feet hang off. Getting rid of things that hold sentimental value is difficult until you realize you can remember people, places and the good times without the tangible evidence. It’s kind of hard to live in the present when you are surrounded of memories from the past.

  • First step: Put a box in every room. When you come across something you haven’t used in the last six months (seasonal clothing not included) or ever, toss it in the box. Think with your brain, not with your heart. I always ask myself three questions: Do I need this? Is it usable, in good shape? When is the last time I used this? If my answers to these questions come up wanting, I toss it. No matter what it is.

    toomuchstuffIt can be overwhelming at first since, let’s face it, we like our “stuff”. But when you begin to look at your stuff not as stock-plied treasure, but in terms of time, energy and money, it becomes much easier to let go. That big house you have full of things takes time, money and energy to keep clean and maintained. Why not make it easier for yourself? Look at an item and think about how many hours you had to work, or will have to work, to pay for it. Every piece you own is a chance to regain time and/or money if you sell it or give it away. Once you’re ready to start purging, you’ll feel truly liberated.

  • Dig in: Now that you’ve thrown a few things in the box its time to step it up. Is there a closet you are afraid to open because the contents might fall out and suffocate you? How about that junk drawer that lives up to its name? Pinpoint these areas and deal with them first. No use putting it off. The time is now. Once these dragons have been slain, you’ll feel momentum to move forward. Nice clothes, household items are great choices for eBay… I hear. I don’t have the time or patience for that so I just give my things away. Yard sales are another great idea. It’s absolutely incredible the things folks will buy at a yard sale. Half a tube of toothpaste for .50? You got it!

    If this seems too scary, then start small. Keep those boxes for six months and then give them away. Another trick is to set a timer for fifteen minutes, and de-clutter until it goes off. Get rid of the easy things first, like your notebooks from Chem class… in high School. Ugly gifts you’ve received and kept “to be nice”. List those TV’s on Craigslist and sell that juicer you bought but never used. Having intent isn’t the same as doing.

  • Save for later: Once you’ve started to de-clutter, you’ll get to start on the fun part: Thinking about what to do with all of that free space, time, and money. I read of one couple that was able to pay off their home in less than seven years, and quit their days jobs in order to pursue writing full-time – all thanks to a Minimalist lifestyle. My fella and I have been able to travel across America thanks to a Minimalist lifestyle. When you don’t fritter money away on junk, you have more to put toward the essentials — and experiences.

    canuimaginedouglasfriedmanYou’ll also want to be smart about your future purchases. Let impulse buys be a thing of the past. You are better than that. Stop shopping at huge warehouse stores. Nobody needs that much of anything all at once. Shopping shouldn’t be something you do for fun or entertainment. It isn’t something “to do” like go to the movies. It is something you do when you actually need something.  Shop for multi-purpose, utility items. If you need to, inventory your home before you go to a store. Knowing that you have six black shirts at home will hopefully stop you from buying a seventh.

  • Remember it is an ongoing process: It’s not a one time purge. This is a commitment. The awesome rewards of this lifestyle only come to fruition if you stick with it. That means de-cluttering is an ongoing process. I have a one in, one out rule. For each new thing I bring in, one old thing has to go. That way I keep my personal mass of stuff to a minimum. I take books to a little sharing library. I give clothes to Goodwill.

    I’ve been doing this for two years in America and I’m super comfortable with it. Looking around my flat you’ll see dozens of books in stacks on the floor. And that’s about it. Everything else is either to sleep on, wear, or cook with. No excess. And it feels great. We live in a smaller flat than ever before and we are pretty happy. Downsizing isn’t easy, but having less space to put things definitely keeps you from buying things. And the things we do have actually matter. Each and every thing.

  • You are not your neighbor. Everyone knows that playing “Keeping Up With the Joneses” is a losing battle. But that never stopped anyone from comparing themselves to their cool friend or neighbor. Try to avoid doing this. It doesn’t help, and chances are the person you are comparing yourself with has different goals and values than you do. Make yourself happy and you win. If your friend just brought home a new flat screen TV, a new pair of shoes, and a patio set – don’t feel jealous or lacking. That’s a lot of cash to drop on non-necessery items. Use that money for a trip, or move someplace new. Or save it. Purchase art supplies or interesting ingredients to cook with. Try to infuse your daily life with your passions and hobbies and spend your money there.

    If your passion or hobby is shopping, then you’ve got bigger problems than clutter.

Books: What Book Should I Read?

Dougs-booksI often have strangers ask me for a book recommendation. They walk right up to me and say something like, “Can you tell me what book to buy? Because, I have trouble thinking for myself so I figured I’d ask you. You work in a bookstore.” Where that might be a good idea in theory, it isn’t a good way to find a book. For starters, you might end up asking the bookseller who is super into dry historical non-fiction, or worse YA fiction. You’ll get talked into reading a book about a seventeen year old girl in love with outter-space vampires who are dying of cancer. Which kind of sounds awesome now that I think about it… But how are we supposed to know what you like? You might as well ask me to pick out a gift for your wife and kids.

You should be able to give the bookseller something to work with. Tell them the last book you really liked, or an author you love. Tell them what themes you are interested in and if you are open to non-fiction. Do a little research before asking someone to choose for you. If you can’t be bothered to do even that, here are a few books that you definitely should read.

  • You should read the book that you hear two booksellers arguing about while in the bookstore. Whatever it is, it was good enough to garner debate.
  • You should read the book that you see someone reading on the bus, trying to hide that they’re laughing. Or crying. Or both.
  • You should read the book you find at a yard sale with the inscription which says, “Happy Birthday! I hope this book has brought you as much joy as it has brought me. Love Grandma Jolene. 1949″
  • You should read the book that you find in the airplane seat pocket, on a park bench, on the bus, at a restaurant, or in a hotel room, or in a Book Sharing Library. Free books are the best, especially when they are found books.
  • BeFunky_Zarsthors_Bane_1983_95491-X.jpgYou should read the book that you find on the library’s free cart with the best or most outrageous cover. I found a copy of Zarsthor’s Bane (1978) and couldn’t believe no one had snatched it up before me. Just look at that cover! PS – It has illustrations inside, and cats. Lots of cats.
  • You should read the book that everyone claims to have read, but hasn’t.
  • You should read the book you avoided reading in High School because you thought it looked boring.
  • You should read your favorite book from when your were in high school. Reading it as an adult will be a whole new experience.
  • You should read the book about a place or time that makes you uneasy. Broaden your horizons.
  • You should read prize-winners, bestsellers, beach reads, book club picks, and classics, when you feel like it. Mix it up!
  • 1959452_10152154561902496_1939943964569190439_nYou should read the book that is the polar opposite of the book you just finished.
  • You should read a book by a man if you just finished a book by a woman. (Or Vice Versa)
  • You should read the book that your favorite author says is her favorite book.
  • You should read the book that Jon Stewart can’t stop talking about.
  • You should read the book that your girlfriend just finished so you can talk about it with her. Chicks dig that.
  • You should read the book that your dad, teacher, friend or bookseller offhandedly says, “…which was a great book by the way…”
  • You should read the book before you see the movie.
  • You should read the book on the Staff Recommendations display of your local indie bookstore. The one with the funny blurb, not the one exuding exultations.
  • You should read the book about your city and its history that was written by someone who grew up there.
  • You should read the book set in the place you are about to travel to.
  • tumblr_lqswn2tC5r1qd9gmoYou should read a book from a genre you don’t normally read. Try a mystery or a science fiction novel if you normally go for literary fiction. You might be surprised!
  • You should read the book that your boyfriend says is his favorite.
  • You should read the book with characters you might not like.
  • You should read the book you’ve started a few times and keep meaning to finish.
  • You should read books about places you have lived or traveled to. See if your perceptions and memories match up.
  • You should read books about historical events you don’t know anything about.
  • You should read books about things you already know a little about and learn more.
  • You should read the book with an adorable kitten on the cover.
  • You should read the book you’ve never heard of before.
  • You should read the book that everyone is talking about. After they’ve stopped talking about it.
  • You should read books mentioned in other books.
  • You should read the book you feel drawn to.
  • You should read the book you feel like reading.
  • You should just read.

The 20 Coolest Authors. Ever.

Truman CapoteEverybody has their idea of what cool is. It’s a vibe. A feeling you get from someone. Being cool requires one to have a rebellious attitude, be an underdog, or one of societies outliers. Think bikers, but bikers from the 1950’s, not bikers from today. Today’s biker seems violent and rude rather than cool. But you get the idea. Fonzie was cool. Jim Morrison was cool. Wanda Jackson and Peggy Lee were cool. Kermit the Frog is cool. Einstein was cool.

James Blunt is not cool. Kim Kardashian is not cool. Either is Morrissey or Kanye West. David Foster Wallace was not cool. Brent Easton Ellis isn’t either. Writing a “cool” book isn’t what makes you cool. Having the most Twitter followers doesn’t matter either. It’s how you live your life. And obviously how much you like cats.

What follows is a list of who I think are the 20 coolest authors. Ever. I have intentionally listed 10 dudes and 10 ladies because I’m tired of reading lists about literature that do not equally include women. And yes, I am aware that there are more than just twenty super cool authors, and maybe I didn’t pick yours, but these lists take time and effort to create, so I kept the number reasonable. Fee free to add your picks in the comments. Politely.

  1. Truman Capote – Because he gave zero shits about what people thought. He said what he wanted. Wrote what he wanted. Because In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Because he liked cats pre internet. Cool Quote: “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”
  2. 50459320Margaret Atwood - Because The Hand Maid’s Tale and Alias Grace. Because she went toe to toe with Norman Mailer on gender issues and came out on top. He said that men were intellectuals first, writers or poets second. Women were not. Atwood pointed out, in a speech, that she had herself attended Harvard, and therefore had “a smear of intellectualism.” Cool quote: “Another belief of mine; that everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.”
  3. Maurice Sendak - Because Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen. Because In the Night Kitchen was BANNED in America on account of the little boy in the book is naked and therefore inappropriate for children. ‘Merica! Because he was on The Colbert Report right before he died spreading the message for LGBT equality. Cool quote: “Fuck them is what I say. I hate those e-books. They cannot be the future. They may well be. I will be dead. I won’t give a shit.”
  4. Joyce Carol Oates – Because she has published over fifty novels exploring themes of gender, violence, race, monsters, and the darker elements of being alive and human. Because she’s been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize three times. Because she writes horror that will keep you sleepless. And because she kind of looks like Shelley Duval and Olive Oyl. Cool quote: “Homo sapiens is the species that invents symbols in which to invest passion and authority, then forgets that symbols are inventions.”
  5. ahem2Ernest Hemingway – Because Ernest once took a urinal from his favourite bar and moved it into his own home, arguing that he had “pissed away” so much of his money into the urinal that he owned it. Because he won the Nobel Prize in literature. Because he once caught seven Marlin in one day. Because he loved cats. Cool quote: “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”
  6. Mary Shelley – Because Frankenstein. Because she hung out with Lord Byron and had picnics with him. Because she wrote the seminal gothic novel. Cool quote: “I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.”
  7. Tom Robbins – Because he has lived an outlaw life. Because he met Charles Manson and told him he wasn’t up to snuff. Because Still Life with Woodpecker, Jitterbug Perfume, and Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates. Because he was suspected of being the Unibomber. Cool quote: “Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.”
  8. Patti Smith - Because she’s as good on stage as she is on the page. Because she lived for many years at the epicenter of cool, the Hotel Chelsea in New York City. Because Horses. Because her nickname is “The Godmother of Punk.” Because she co-wrote a play with actor, playwright, and my fantasy Granddad, Sam Shepard. Cool quote: “To me, punk rock is the freedom to create, freedom to be successful, freedom to not be successful, freedom to be who you are. It’s freedom.”
  9. haruki murakami and kittenHaruki Murakami – Because he is 65 and he is a dedicated marathon running Iron Man. Because he loves cats. Because he writes food and music better than anyone else. Because he refuses to write blurbs for the back of novels. Because 1Q84, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, and Kafka on the Shore. Cool quote: “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
  10. Agatha Christie – Because she was “Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire”. I don’t know what that is, but it sounds pretty badass. Because she created the best detective ever, Hercule Poirot. Because she wrote over sixty mysteries and they are all fun. Cool quote: “Any woman can fool a man if she wants to and if he’s in love with her.”
  11. Roald Dahl – Because The BFG. That’s why. Because he didn’t pander to children. Because he wrote dark, funny books which may or may not have a happy ending. Because when I met him as a kid, he was indeed the Big, Friendly Giant. Cool quote: “So, please, oh please, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away, and in its place you can install, a lovely bookcase on the wall.” 
  12. Zadie Smith - Because she changed her name (as a teen) from Sadie to Zadie because it sounded more exotic, and Sadie means Princess - she didn’t like the association. Because On Beauty. Because she was in TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005 list. Not bad. Because she wears cool turbans. Because she is rumored to be working on a musical of Franz Kafka’s life. Cool quote: “An English Lit degree trains you to be a useless member of the modern world.”
  13. Stephen KingStephen King - Because more of his books have been adapted into films than any other author, so sayeth Guinness Book of Records. Because Salem’s Lot, The Shining, Lisey’s Story and On Writing. Because he survived a near fatal car accident and kept going. Because he writes NY Times book reviews. Because he was in a band called Rock Bottom Remainders with Amy Tan, Mitch Albom, Matt Groening, and Scott Turow. Cool quote: “Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.”
  14. Octavia E. Butler - Because she was the multiple recipient of both the Hugo and Nebula awards – the highest praise for science fiction writers. Because she was born and raised in Pasadena, California… just like other cool women like me and Julia Child. Because she attended my alma mater, Pasadena City College for her AA, and eventually moved to Seattle. Because she called herself a hermit, and because I met her and she was awesome. Because Parable of the Sower and Kindred. Cool quote: “Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.”
  15. John Waters – Duh. He is the epitome of cool. Cool quote: “You should never read just for ‘enjoyment.’ Read to make yourself smarter! Less judgmental. More apt to understand your friends’ insane behavior, or better yet, your own. Pick ‘hard books.’ Ones you have to concentrate on while reading. And for god’s sake, don’t let me ever hear you say, ‘I can’t read fiction. I only have time for the truth.’ Fiction is the truth, fool! Ever hear of ‘literature’? That means fiction, too, stupid.”
  16. George Elliot - Because she was a badass feminist in Victorian times. Because, like the Brontë sisters, Mary Ann Evans created a pen name so the sexist assholes of the times would take her seriously. Because Middlemarch. Because she had a twenty year-long relationship with a married man. Because she wrote what many say is the greatest novel in the english language. Cool quote: “You may try, but you cannot imagine what it is to have a man’s force of genius in you, and to suffer the slavery of being a girl.” 
  17. 251550_523966377619405_374295507_nMark Twain - Because he was a riverboat pilot. Because his BFF was Nikola Tesla. Because A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Because he loved cats, and played pool with them. Because the awesome Hal Holbrook did a one man show AS him. Cool quote: “One cannot have everything the way he would like it. A man has no business to be depressed by a disappointment, anyway; he ought to make up his mind to get even.”
  18. Ursula K. Le Guin - Because her first name is Ursula. Because she is considered to be the best science fiction writer alive. Because The Dispossessed.Because her books tackle complex subject such as alternative worlds, politics, natural environment, gender, religion, sexuality and ethnography. Because she submitted her first story for publication at age 11. Cool quote: “I talk about the gods, I am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth.”
  19. Alexandre Dumas – Because he wrote about the most badass dudes ever, namely The Three Musketeers, and The Count of Monte Cristo. Because he was a world traveler and a ladies man said to have fathered at least seven children from some forty affairs. Because he was a well liked dude of his times described as, “the most generous, large-hearted being in the world. He also was the most delightfully amusing and egotistical creature on the face of the earth. His tongue was like a windmill – once set in motion, you never knew when he would stop, especially if the theme was himself.” Cool quote: “Never fear quarrels, but seek hazardous adventures.”
  20. Susan Sontag - Because her nickname was “The Dark Lady”. Because she was admitted to college at age 16, and married her professor two weeks after meeting him. Because her book On Photography (1977) did not contain a single photograph – as specimen or illustration. Favorite quote: “I don’t like America enough to want to live anywhere else except Manhattan. And what I like about Manhattan is that it’s full of foreigners. The America I live in is the America of the cities. The rest is just drive-through.”