End of the Year Book Round-Up: 2016

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Original art by ALICIA K. BROOKS.

Yeah, sure this year sucked. I agree. In fact, I bet I had a worse year than you. But 2016 was a great year for books and reading. I read a total of 52 books this year, and that’s not including the books I put down (Girl on the Train, What is Yours is Not Yours) because they were too stupid or too boring to finish. I fell in love with mystery writing from the 1930’s and 1940’s and decided that working at The Snobbiest Bookstore in Seattle was not all it was cracked up to be. Getting fired from that low paying, demeaning job was probably the best and worst thing to happen to me all year. So… thanks? But good riddance to bad rubbish. Good riddance to 2016!

This year, instead of writing about every book I read, I thought I’d break it down a little differently. Enjoy!  And please do some research about titles you are interested in reading. I didn’t write the authors name next to each book because I’m lazy.

Books are awesome! read!

Total Books Read: 52   Re-reads: 7

Total Fiction: 44      Total Non-Fiction: 8

Mystery or Horror: 15!

Favorites in Fiction: Swing Time, The Story of the Lost Child, Slammerkin, Rosemary’s Baby, Black Wings has my Angel, The Gap of Time, Ragtime, Desperate Characters, A Bloodsmoor Romance, Romie Futch… and many more!

Favorites in Non Fiction: Killing Pablo, In Other Words, Absolutely on Music, On Writing…

Least Favorites: Damed, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Boy Snow Bird, The Buried Giant

Oldest Book: Wuthering Heights, 1847 (I’ve read this book about once a year for the last twenty years. It’s one of my all time favorites.)

Biggest Surprises: Romie Futch, Desperate Characters, Little Tales of Misogyny, The Metaphysical Ukulele, Black Wings Has My Angel, Rabbit Back Literature Society, The Pets

 
    • Absolutely on Music by Haruki MurakamiSwing Time by Zadie SmithSlammerkin by Emma DonoghueOn Writing by Stephen KingZen in the Art of Writing by Ray BradburyShadow Show by Sam WellerYou Are a Cat in the Zombie Apocalypse by Sherwin Tjia'Salem's Lot by Stephen KingSlade House by David MitchellRosemary's Baby by Ira LevinSmoke by Dan VyletaLittle Tales of Misogyny by Patricia HighsmithLiberty Bar by Georges SimenonThe Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. KingThe Gap of Time by Jeanette WintersonKilling Pablo by Mark BowdenThe Complete Poems by Emily DickinsonBoy, Snow, Bird by Helen OyeyemiIn Other Words by Jhumpa LahiriThe Carter of 'La Providence' by Georges SimenonMe Talk Pretty One Day by David SedarisWild Nights! by Joyce Carol OatesThe First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire NorthRagtime by E.L. DoctorowThe Shining Girls by Lauren BeukesMiss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom RiggsThe Metaphysical Ukulele by Sean CarswellThe Four Agreements by Miguel RuizA New Earth by Eckhart TolleWuthering Heights by Emily BrontëGet in Trouble by Kelly LinkDamned by Chuck PalahniukThe Buried Giant by Kazuo IshiguroIndigo by Ron KoertgeThe Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari JääskeläinenThe Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen KingBlack Wings Has My Angel by Elliott ChazeThe Late Monsieur Gallet by Georges SimenonA Bloodsmoor Romance by Joyce Carol OatesSailing Alone Around the Room by Billy CollinsDesperate Characters by Paula FoxThe Pets by Bragi ÓlafssonRoom by Emma DonoghueThe Yellow Dog by Georges SimenonGateway to Paradise by Matthew VollmerHow To Be a Good Wife by Emma  ChapmanThe New and Improved Romie Futch by Julia  ElliottThe Girl in the Red Coat by Kate HamerThe Story of the Lost Child by Elena FerranteWuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

 

 

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SUMMER BOOK BINGO!

book20and20stonesIt’s summer! And that means it’s time to get reading! If you’re like me, reading is a year round activity. You don’t need time off to devour a book. But what you DO need is a fun way to pick out a book. And those library Bingo cards are pretty generic, if you ask me. So…

I have created my very own Summer Book Bingo! Yeah, I know the one in your town probably offers prizes for completion. This doesn’t offer any prizes, but it is way cooler. And you’ll feel good about yourself for finishing so many books!

Here is a link to a printable, nicer looking version. 

Happy reading! And please send pictures if you finish! I would love to know what you all read.

Alicia’s SUMMER BOOK  BINGO! 

Collection of short stories FEMALE AUTHOR NON-FICTION GRAPHIC NOVEL Written in the 1960’s
Written in the 1980’s One Word Title Takes place in Europe SCARY! A book which features a lot of  FOOD
A CHILDHOOD FAVORITE FUNNY!       FREE! ANY BOOK COUNTS! Your Dad’s favorite book A book which features a DRAGON
Book which became a movie Written the year you were born A book with a NUMBER in the title Set where you live Choose a book based on its COVER
A book which features a CAT Takes place in the SUMMER TIME TRAVEL TALKING ANIMALS Collection of Poetry

 

Books: Sunfire Romance Addict

imagecan trace my love of Sci-fi and Fantasy back to Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl and Madeleine L’Engle. Spaceships, scary monsters, brave kids having adventures and solving mysteries – these were my building blocks to Murakami, Atwood, Michel Faber and David Mitchell. My lifelong affair with Historical Romance, heck Romance novels in general, can be directly linked to the Sunfire Romance series I read as a kid.

While my friends were obsessed with Sweet Valley High and The Babysitters Club, I was devouring historical romance novels aimed at teen girls. And they were awesome. Each book was named for the heroine: Jessica, Veronica, Susannah, Cassandra, Roxie. She was showcased on the cover in period clothes from the time, (I particularly loved the glamorous Roxie, and the sassy suffragette Laura) and behind her would be the two hot guys she would eventually have to choose from. One part history and one part Romance. Perfection! And, unlike the aforementioned series, you didn’t have to read these “in order”. This was a “series” of stand-alone titles. LOVE!

The formula for each book was simple: A teenaged girl experiences an historical event in American history, first hand. At the same time, with very few exceptions, she is torn between two potential lovers. A bad boy, and a nice boy. And while “Romance” was a big part of it, it was not the only part. I actually learned things while reading these books. And not just how to snare a boyfriend or double-cross my twin.

imageThe Sunfire Girl was strong, smart and sassy. She wanted to learn! She wanted to travel! She wanted to work! These girls were seeking careers, looking for adventure, and choosing men who liked them not in spite of their spirit, but because of it. She often ended up the guy who valued her for her independence rather than her ability to be a good little wife and mother. Consider that this series was published in the 80’s during the rise of Conservatism, and you’ll find them to be pretty dang progressive. Sunfire Romance was diverse, feminist and inclusive long before those words became hashtags.

The challenges that the Sunfire Girl faces are big, real world problems. In Jennie, the heroine faces life or death as she struggles to survive The Johnstown Flood of 1889. And she doesn’t just “survive”. Jennie becomes a journalist and covers the horrid disaster which killed over 2,000 people. Total badass. In Laura, the title character chooses to work for Women’s Rights rather than pursue a more suitable career, like being a nurse. This decision ultimately gets her arrested, and she loses the respect of friends and family. Other Sunfire Girls faced challenges and found love during The Revolutionary War, The Salem Witch Trials, The Boston Potato Famine, Pearl Harbor, Labor Strikes, and even Pirates… the real pirate Jean Lafitte has a cameo!

As a young girl I noticed that “boy” books often had more action than “girl” books. There were no shortage of books about boys having adventures and changing history. Boys were inventors and detectives. Boys were stranded on islands. Boys fought dragons and journeyed to the far reaches of space. I never saw a series of books about twin boys who liked dating and clothes. Boys did things. Girls on the other hand were obsessive about boys and rarely had the same kind of adventures. At least not without consequence. Girls escaped from orphanages and found lost pets. Alice and Pipi, even Laura Ingalls were labeled as girls who misbehaved. Their actions often got them into trouble. And, most of these books were written for, and about little girls, not young women. Sunfire Romance set the stage for young women to star in their own adventures. Sunfire Girls didn’t care about what the world thought, they were going to have an impact on it. And get the guy along the way.

Sadly Sunfire Romance are out of print, but in their place are dozens upon dozens of YA books featuring strong, badass, FEMALE  characters. I like to think that the Sunfire Romance paved the way for The Hunger Games, and other books showcasing young women kicking ass, and taking names. Young women who did more than find the right dress for Prom. They saved the world.  

 

Books: Shelf-Talker Tuesday!

 

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I read this book back in my college days and loved it! Before Gregory Maquire, Helen Oyeyemi, Neil Gaiman and countless  YA writers others hopped on the “Reimagining of Fairy Tales” bandwagon, Marion Zimmer Bradley did it. And did it well. This book was published in 1982 and is still pretty freaking awesome. She takes everything you know about Arthurian myth (because… it IS a myth) and tells it from the point of view of Morgaine. It is a lot of fun and good reading.

“A retelling of Arthurian legend from a female POV. Lovely writing and required reading for feminists.”

Books: 16 Feminist Books For Women’s History Month!

CharlottePerkinsGilman_HerlandWomen’s History Month has always seemed like a consolation prize, or rather a participation trophy given to “women” as acknowledgement that we exist, and are important. An entire month of acknowledgement is supposed to somehow make us forget that MEN are systematically taking away our rights. Women’s History Month is only necessary because women are still being held down, and held back. I don’t see a “Men’s History Month”, and you know why? Because every month of every year since the dawn of time is Men’s History Month.

But I don’t want a month. I don’t want a “special” anything. The world should be a place where there isn’t a second thought about a woman running for president, or running a country. Where we don’t talk about a woman’s appearance before her accomplishments. Where women and men can work and live together without sexism getting in the way.

But that day isn’t here. They threw us a bone called “Women’s History Month” so I’ll take it and run. The following list is made up of some of my favorite books which I would consider Feminist. I didn’t put any of the famous books on the list because… who wants to read the same lists over and over? Hopefully you will find some new, interesting and favorites among these. And yes. There are books written by men on this list. I hope you are not so ignorant as to think men can’t be feminists.

ENJOY!

  1. Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  2. The Temple of my Familiar, by Alice Walker
  3. A Bloodsmoor Romance, By Joyce Carol Oates
  4. Spinster, by Kate Bolic
  5. Yes, Please, by Amy Poehler
  6. Around the World with Auntie Mame, by Patrick Dennis
  7. The Mists of Avalon, By Marion Zimmer Bradley
  8. Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler
  9. Men Explain Things to Me, by Rebecca Solnit
  10. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, by Tom Robbins
  11. Mildred Pierce, by James M. Cain
  12. The Hours, by Michael Cunningham
  13. The Robber Bride, by Margaret Atwood
  14. The World According to Garp, by John Irving
  15. I Feel Bad About My Neck, by Nora Ephron
  16. Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides

Books: Challenge Yourself

IMG_0209I’m not a fan of reading books for “bragging rights”. Making your way through “Infinite Jest” or “Finnegans Wake” just to say you did is silly. They don’t give out reading awards to people over the age of ten. You should be reading long or challenging books for the pleasure of reading them, not to seem cool. And reading DFW does the opposite of making you look cool.

So why read challenging books at all? Why not just read Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins, YA, and John Grisham? They have easy words, easy plots, and are quick and easy to digest. But… that doesn’t sound fun to me. Or stimulating. Reading only easy books will make your mind complacent and lazy. The more “candy” you take in, the harder it will be to digest “real” material. So why not challenge yourself with a book which has difficult vocabulary or themes? How about picking a book with an uncomfortable or difficult subject matter? Maybe challenge yourself by reading a book where the author plays with form and style? If you have never asked these questions of yourself, then I’d bet you are not challenging yourself as a reader. If you don’t consider form and style when you choose a book, or you don’t think about complex themes… ask yourself why not? Reading isn’t always comfortable, nor should it be. Growth hurts. It can be painful. But challenging yourself is the only way to grow.

The following books demand something from the reader. Nothing will be spoon-fed. No silly plot twists just for the sake of it. What you will find are rich and complicated storylines, beautiful, strange, or ugly language, uncomfortable themes and characters. And hopefully some new favorite books!

*As always, my lists are made up of ONLY first-hand knowledge. That means, no books appear on this list which I haven’t read. Sorry!

  1. A Bloodsmoor Romance, by Joyce Carol Oates – This is the book the prompted this entire post. I have read MANY books by JCO. I adore her. I could put any of her books on this list because she is an incredible writer. But this book is different. Almost like she is showing off. JCO writes the entire book in a Gothic style, and Victorian language! At 700+ pages, it is taking me forever to read, but it is SO GOOD! It’s like… Stephen King writes Little Women. Kind of. It defies categorization (yay!) and tackles racism, feminism, the golden age of invention, cross-dressing, spiritualism and… hell… just read it. If you dare. It isn’t easy, but it sure is fun. I really want Guillermo Del Toro to read it and make a movie of it, if that helps. 
  2. Bad Behavior, by Mary Gaitskill – Tough girls. Tough streets. Drugs. Sex. Violence. The short story which inspired the lovely film, Secretary can be found in this slim volume of stories. Gaitskill is a master of gritty and uncomfortable, and her writing is subtle and dotted with humor. A character in the story “Connection” has this to say about careers. “I want to work at Dunkin’ Donuts when I get out of school. I want to get fat. Or be addicted to heroin. I want to be a disaster.” How can you not want to read that?
  3. Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron – This book wrecked me. For weeks after I couldn’t pick up another book. So painfully vivid and raw, I dare you to read it without crying.
  4. Desperate Characters, by Paula Fox – 81lrmJgwuKLThis novel, written in 1970, took me completely by surprise. The novel follows Sophie and Otto, early Gentrifiers of New York in the late 1960’s, long before the word was a word. They are a childless couple caught up in a changing world: Too old for the rebellion, and too young not to feel tormented by it. Otto dwells on images of filth and disease, seems to hate the young and is on the verge of rage. But it is really Sophie who pushes the novel forward in an uncomfortable progression of bad choices. A simple cat bite makes for a compelling story. Sophie and Otto would be amazed to see the world today! The prose is economical, short and worthy of Faulkner or Tolstoy. “He wasn’t a seducer. He was remote. He was like a man preceded into a room by acrobats.”
  5. Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad – The horror! The horror! Dense, and layered with symbolism, challenging vocabulary and extensive literary devices, this slim little book is not as easy as it looks. An unsettling look at imperialism and the horrific human consequences of such savagery. 
  6. The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber – Mr. Faber doesn’t write the same book over and over again.He doesn’t even come close. All of his books are challenging, but The Book of Strange New Things is masterfully done. It’s a scifi book, but it is also very literary. Times reviewer Marcel Theroux calls it, “an imaginative visit to speculative realms that returns the reader more forcibly to the sad and beautiful facts of human existence.” There.
  7. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess – This book has a glossary in the back even though it is written in “english”. The nasty lads in this novel have their own slang, and it takes a while to get used to it. It’s a rough and exhausting little novel, but well worth the read. I showered like.. twice after.
  8. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke – This awesome book is a challenge on every level. The paperback weighs in at 1006 pages, and I’d say a hefty amount of those pages is dedicated to footnotes. This book is so much fun, but you have to put the work in. Magic has returned to London… or has it? The two magicians of the title are entwined in a battle for power (magical power!) and fairies and other magical beings are afoot.Clarke seamlessly blends fiction and reality to the point where you aren’t really sure if magic isn’t real.
  9. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison – I like to be in a locksongofsolomoned room with cushioned walls, and no distractions when I read Toni Morrison. She takes for granted that her readers are educated enough to understand the way she uses unconventional approaches to both plot and style. She mixes past and present in the form of different… persons. The narrator is present and an observer, but also able to see inside the characters. And, a cool bit of trivia about this book: The protagonist, Macon “Milkman” Dead III, was the inspiration for the band “The Dead Milkmen” to take their name. Toni Morrison thusly (partially) responsible for one of the greatest punk rock bands of all time.
  10. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy  by Jon Le Carre – I still have no idea what happened in this book. I even watched the film and it just made me more confused. The book is about spies, right? And all spies have code names, right? Right. And each agency has it’s own code-names. And double agents have double, code-names. Even places have code-names. Anyway, I read it and it was really hard. Really hard. Like, don’t read it on a bus, hard. I’ve read a few of his other books and found them very enjoyable, so I gave this one a second chance. It’s well worth the read if you like intrigue, but keep a cheat sheet of code names handy. Seriously. 

Books: Shelf-Talker Tuesday!

 

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This week I picked one of my all time favorite children’s books: Bunnicula – by Deborah & James Howe!

“This book is about a Vampire bunny who sucks juice from veggies. The story is told from the POV of the family dog Harold, who with the help of Chester the cat, tries to save his family and solve the mystery of… Bunnicula. Lot’s of fun!”

The sequels are even better titled with, “Howliday Inn” and “The Celery Stalks at Midnight”.

Books: Shelf Talker Tuesday!

IMG_0069I’ve tried counting all of the Shelf Talkers I have around the store, but I couldn’t do it. I read a lot! I have Shelf Talkers in quite a few sections of the store, and I have fun writing them. I like to talk about books, so I’ve decided to start a new feature on my Books page: Shelf Talker Tuesday! I’ll take one Shelf Talker a week and post it here, along with a picture (and the text) of said Shelf Talker. It’s real Indi-Bookstore experience right here on my little blog.

If a book looks good, head on over to your local Indi-Bookstore and grab a copy. Even order online! If you live overseas, (or even if you don’t) have no fear. You can get just about any book you want here: Better Word Books. They donate to Literacy programs around the world! They donate books new and used, all over the world! If you shop with fuckingAmazon, please watch THEY LIVE. It’s about you. You just don’t know it. 

Anyway, on to the first Shelf Talker! Enjoy!

First up is: Bellweather Rhapsody, by Kate Racculia (2015)

“This book reads like a Wes Anderson movie. And I mean that in the best way possible. A hotel hosts a music conference on the anniversary of a grizzly murder/suicide years earlier. A fun, funny, and clever mystery!”

What I’d add If I had more space: The murder suicide which takes place in the hotel at the beginning of the novel is very Agatha Christie inspired. The hotel is over 700 rooms, and you can’t help but think of The Shining, or any number of Poirot who-dun-its. The book cleverly mixes teen angst with a murder mystery, and even had me laughing along the way. It’s a charming, funny and exciting book which moves at a good clip, building suspense along the way.

End of the Year Book Round Up

I read a lot of good books this year. Participation in Seattle Library’s “Summer Book Bingo” helped me not only diversify my reading list, but helped me reach a whopping 47 books read this year. I set a goal of 33 and crushed it, even taking November off for NaNoWriMo.

So… here is what I’ve read, with a few descriptions of my favorites.

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From the top…

I absolutely hated Gillian Flynn’s utterly predictable Sharp Objects. I had the entire thing figured out at page 18. No lie. I circled it. Anyway, both of Stephen King’s available novels in the Bill Hodges Trilogy are a lot of fun. If you are not a fan of Mr. King’s gorey, scary horror novels, then maybe give these a try. These two novels (and a third to be released 2016) follow Detective Hodges the first, in search of a mass murderer who uses a Mercedes as his weapon, and the second is a cat and mouse game centering around a famous novelists lost, handwritten manuscripts. A lot of fun for a book nerd like myself.

Richard Adam’s Watership Down should be required reading. My only memory of it was the grizzly yet completely awesome cartoon. It scared the shit out of a generation. And rightly so. The novel is an allegory of war, and it was written for children. Who else should we teach the horrors of what war can bring? But, you know… in the form of adorable yet frightening bunny rabbits. It’s masterfully written, and beautiful, and go read it. Another novel about animals at war is the wonderfully weird MORT(e), by Robert Repino. See, the ants have taken over and declared war on the humans. They’ve enlisted the animals giving them the power to speak by helping them evolve. I know. It’s crazy. But it’s about a TALKING WARRIOR KITTY.

Gregory Maguire’s “After Alice” was wonderful. I wrote an email to him telling him so, and to my surprise, he responded. He was funny and gracious. His book is full of new characters and familiar friends from Wonderland. He seamlessly infuses reality with Wonderland. Along those lines we have the always delightful Jeanette Winterson and her novel about Napoleon and his love for chicken – The Passion. It’s so funny!

Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, is great. Do it as an audiobook for extra hilarity and extra celebrity cameos. Think Like a Freak is also an excellent choice for audiobook. Chop some onions and learn why David Lee Roth really demanded no green m&m’s in his dressing room.

Ok. I gotta speed this up…

My favorite book of the whole year was Anna Karenina. I read it in 24 days. Amazing. Lolita was also incredible and hilarious and so well written I had to put it down a few times. The short stories in both Trigger Warning and Bad Behavior were dark and creepy and scary… but for completely different reasons. The Muse and The Price of Salt were suburb (the later was the inspiration for Nabokov’s Lolita) and The Detective Magritte Mysteries by George Simenon are oodles of fun which you can devour in one sitting. John Irving (i love you) is back with some familiar themes in Avenue of Mysteries. I liked it, but if it’s gonna be your first outting with Mr. Irving, choose an older title. He’s way better than this book.

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Okay… Elena Ferrante and her pastel colored, Neapolitan Novels: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, The Story of a Lost Child. As I write this I am  pages away from completing Book Three. I could write 1,000 words or more on these books, but I’ll attempt to be brief. The vulgarly colored covers are a lie. A lie which is only revealed in the reading of the books. I wish I could convince more men to read these because they are full of politics and violence. Love and revenge and hate and war. Yes, it centers around the “friendship” of two females, but this book is not about two women who get cocktails and talk about men. These are more Joyce Carol Oates than Bridget Jones Diary. Anyway… go out and get them. And get all of them because you’ll finish the first one and be really, really mad if you don’t have that next book handy. So good!

Twyla Tharp: The Creative Habit, Steering the Craft by Ursula K. LeGuin, and Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury are seriously fantastic and should be a part of any creative person’s library. They each attack creativity in a different and compelling way. Also by the great Mr. Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes. Oh my gosh! It’s so good! So scary! The witch scene was particularly spooky. If you enjoyed the film, read the book. Also scary, more so even, was Don’t Look Now by Daphne Du Maurier. This collection of stories is thrilling, chilling and absorbing. Aside from the title story, the best is The Birds, from which the Hitchcock film was very loosely based. The story is far more frightening. The Turn of the Screw and Revival were also pretty terrifying. In a good way.

Erik Larson’s Dead Wake, about the sinking of the Lusitania, is eye opening and riveting. All of his books are.

I can’t say enough about Lauren Groff’s superbly written Fates and Furies. For this bookseller, it was far and away the best book (new 2015) I read this year. It played with style and language. It didn’t spoon feed anything to the reader. (Take note, Gillian Flynn.) And it was both touching and funny. The first half of the book is told by The Fates, the second by The Furies. They tell the story of one marriage from two perspectives. It’s perfect. If I could ever write a book even half as good as this one, I’ll die happy. Well done, Miss Groff!

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And finishing out the list… the prolific and insanely good, Joyce Carol Oates wrote The Sacrifice – a retelling of the Tawana Brawley case. And oh boy, does she go for it. If you don’t know what that is: Google it. I’ll wait. The racial climate hasn’t changed that much, and she shines a light on all of the ugliness – on both sides. It’s an intriguing read. If you want to laugh your ass off pick up Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck, and Ron Koetrge’s book of Flash Fiction, Sex World. 

Lastly, I encourage everyone to read The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber. All of his novels are incredible and very different from one another. He wrote Crimson Petal and the White (SO GREAT!) and Under the Skin (SO WEIRD!) He’s an incredibly talented writer, and sadly he says this would be his final book. If that’s true, he left us with a masterpiece. It’s about a man who travels to a distant planet to spread The Gospel to the “aliens” who live there. He has to leave his beloved wife and their cat. The book is about love and loss and distance and peace. It’s beautiful.

So there you have it. The best of what I read this year. And just because I don’t mention a title doesn’t mean it wasn’t good. I just don’t have all the time in the world for book reviews. I gotta read! And, I’ll have you note that my booklist was unintentionally diverse. I don’t choose books based on what the writer looks like, where they were born, or what their sexual preference is. I just read. That being said I read books from authors hailing from The Netherlands, Belgium, America, Russia, the UK and more. I read books by women and men, and I read graphic novels, nonfiction, and kids books. I covered everything.

And it was good.

Books: The Best Books For Writers

Emerald City Trapeze

Emerald City Trapeze

Hello Dear Reader, if you are in fact still out there. I know I’ve been off the map, but I tend to do that from time to time. And that’s okay. I am a vagabond. Sometimes you just need to go out and live life. And that’s what I’ve been doing. I took a class where I learned how to fly… well I learned how to climb “silks” and swing from them like Pink! does. I also learned doing that is really, really hard, and I am a total badass because I fucking did it. So there was that.

I’ve also been reading like crazy which is good since I am “literally” trying to pen a novel in long hand. Anyway, all great writers are great readers. Stephen King, or should I say NATIONAL MEDAL OF ARTS recipient, Stephen King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Margaret Atwood says, “Reading and writing, like everything else, improve with practice.

41VVy56lKJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Reading is fundamental to writing. If you want to be a writer you should be reading books. And not just books about writing. While those are valuable, you have to be careful or at least thrifty about what you read. Good advice and reading about other writers will only get you so far. Hell,  add “an MFA” and “a good Twitter account” to that list. Having a Twitter account doesn’t make you a good writer. It hardly qualifies you to put a sentence together. What you really need in order to improve is:
1. WRITE. WRITE. WRITE.
2. READ. READ. READ!
Every book you read is a learning experience. Reading Joyce Carol Oates is a Master Class in story, character and prose. Du Maurier is all about tension and building mystery. Different writers have different things to tell you. Some don’t have much to say at all, (Thank you Gillian Flynn) but at least you know what you don’t want to sound like. Read writers who inspire you and scare you. Read books with unusual language or style. Read books that make you read more books. Or… try these. These are just a few of the best I can think of. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, these books are on my personal short list for writers. Read these if you want to grow in the craft of writing. And they are just really good books.

  1. Steering the Craft, by Ursula LeGuin
    This is a revised edition of the same titled book she wrote in the 90’s. In the Introduction she states this “is not a book for beginners.” It’s for people who have already worked hard on their writing. That hooked me. A lot of writers today have the expectation of fame and fortune, of being published and Tweeted about, of possibly being the next big thing. But they don’t do the work. They’ve never read Twain or Dickens. They have heard of Shelley but don’t see the point in reading something so old or out of touch. Ms. LeGuin’s book is full of reasons why to read these books and what you can learn from them. It is also full of exercises for The Lone Writer or a Mutinous Crew (her term for a writing group) It’s a delightful and lovely book that just so happens to be about writing.
  2. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy I know. The last book you want to read as inspiration is “The Best Book Ever Written”. But it worked for me! I was not only inspired by Tolstoy and the story he was able to tell, but how economical he was with both word and emotion – considering how long that book is. And I guess I should add he was not so economical with his words when it came to hay. A good lesson to learn: Just because you find “hay” fascinating, doesn’t mean it deserves center stage. It’s a beautiful book about love and hate and marriage, gender roles, having kids, and being human.
  3. Don’t Look Now, Daphne Du Maurier and The Collected Stories, Grace Paley
    Two collections of short stories which I find to be the best. The first is fear, tension, sex and mystery. And also a sense of humor. You’ll read the short story called “The Birds” which Alfred Hitchcock changed from a terrifying tale of animals rising up against a small seaside fishing village to an odd romance where Tippi Hedren and Suzanne Pleshette eat more scenery than the birds do. Every story in this collection is fun and a lesson in how to write short fiction. And all writers should be readers in short stories. Grace Paley is the American Master of them. Haven’t heard of her? Run. Go now to the library or local independent bookstore and get her. If Raymond Carver is all you know, you don’t know much.
  4. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
    He is pretty much literary perfection. I’m not the first or last to say it. But read Lolita and not be transfixed and transplanted by his absolute dominance of the english language. And this from a non-native speaker! Of course, Nabokov wrote in english and Russian, but Lolita was his first novel written in english. Read it and think about that until you feel a little dumb. Then shake it off and get to work. Nabokov didn’t learn english overnight, he worked at it.
  5. The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson
    Oddly enough, this incredible true story of magic, murder and mayhem during the 1893 World’s Fair is the best example of a perfect narrative I can give you. All of his books are. This book is full of facts and true history, but you’d never know it. He takes old boring documents and turns them into a unputdownable narrative which keeps you on the edge of your seat. Not bad for non-fiction, eh? Any writer who says they “don’t read” non-fiction isn’t a writer I would read.
  6. On Writing, by Stephen King
    41cqe00ZzsL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Stephen King understands what it takes to write books. He’s written like, sixty books, not including his non fiction and short stories. Anyway, if you want an expert on the craft of writing, look no further. His book reads as part awesome writing coach and part memoir of America’s most prolific and beloved writers. If you are too snobby for Stephen King, read this and tell me he’s not good. The man knows how to tell a story and… he can scare the shit out of you USING ONLY WORDS. Anyway, here are a few tidbits of wisdom from the master.
    “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
    “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”
    And finally, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
  7. Joyce Carol Oates, anything you can get your hands on
    I am the only bookseller at my current bookstore who has read, and who currently reads, Joyce Carol Oates. This is a sad little travesty. Not only has she been producing work since 1962, that work is all really, really good. Okay, I haven’t read all of her work…. but I’m working on it! Now think of the volume of work she produces and now add to that she works IN LONG HAND. Yep she WRITES her really long and intricate stories. That is rad. She writes from 8am til 1pm and then again, two more hours, at night. And she still has time for The Wire. If Joyce Carol Oates can put out a memoir and three novels a year, I think you can finish that short story you’ve been working on.

Need more? Susan Sontag, Frank Stanford, Mark Twain, Margaret Atwood, Shakespeare, Charlotte Bronte, Shelley, Keats, Emerson, Murakami, Mary Gaitskill, Patricia Highsmith, James M. Caine, Jane Smiley…