Friday, January 09, 2009


The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon, Random House Inc, 2000, 636 pp

Because I read for so many different reasons and projects (research for my memoir, research for my novel, reading for the bookstore and the 5 reading groups I attend), I sometimes read many books before I find one to love unconditionally. I've always planned to read Chabon and grabbed this one on a whim one day at the library. He won the Pulitzer for this one, so by a stretch, it fits into My Big Fat Reading Project, but it is about cartoonists from the 1940s and I've never been into cartoons. (I found out why in the book.) Anyway, it was great, absorbing, heart wrenching and I did not want it to end.

The writing is beautiful, muscular, full of words and images that put me deeply into both places and people's hearts. The stories of Kavalier, refugee from Prague, student of magic and artist extraordinaire, who can escape from anywhere and anything except his survivor's guilt; and of his cousin Sammy Clay, who can spin stories 24 hours a day, who loves men and women and children but not himself and takes the concept of loyalty to a new dimension; these stories go on and on. Every story is larger than life, like the superheroes they created, composed of feats of overcoming adversity, massive creativity, heights of triumph and sloughs of despair, all tied together by dogged perseverance and hard work.

Meanwhile, the reader learns about the rise and fall of the Golden Age of superhero comics, Brooklyn and Jews from just before World War II into the 1950s. Since this is the period I've been reading through for the past six years, it was another view for me, one I had only glimpsed in a few books so far.

This amazing author has moved right up to the top of the queue of authors whose entire oeuvre of novels I must read and I am off to the library to get The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. I was never into baseball either but I am sure it won't bother me.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


My Name is Will, Jess Winfield, Hachette Book Group, 2008, 288 pp

The subtitle of this mildly entertaining story is "A Novel of Sex, Drugs and Shakespeare." There is plenty of sex, drugs are in abundance and there are two Shakespeares. A young William Shakespeare is coming of age, learning about persecution (his family is Catholic) and wenching, while he writes his first poetry and hangs out with wannabe actors and playwrights.

Simultaneously runs the story of Will Shakespeare Greenburg, slacker grad student at UC Santa Cruz, who gets himself involved with too many women, certain drug deals which play out at a Renasissance Faire near Berkeley, CA and tries to write a masters thesis on his namesake.

The author attempts a comparison of the religious troubles in 16th century England with the War on Drugs in 1980s USA. He comes up with many zany characters who are the highlight of the book. The female characters are all strong and wise to the ways of men and the world.

Winfield spent his early adult years with the Reduced Shakespeare Company, who abridge Shakespeare and other writers, turning them into comedy. (There is an example of this in the book.) He went on to write and produce cartoons for Disney. This career path is evident in My Name is Will and if nothing else, he makes the infamous bard accessible.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins, Scholastic Press, 2008, 407 pp

I have mentioned before how the bookstore where I work is located in a community just outside of Los Angeles where family values, reading, education and being involved in one's childrens' upbringing are important issues. In a word: conservative. As Young Adult literature gets edgier by the month, I am called upon as a bookseller to pronounce on "appropriate reading" when parents inquire.

It is a tricky proposition and almost always bothers me, since I consider myself an optimistic anarchist and from that philosophical position, feel that people (including kids) should read what they want to read.

So, The Hunger Games has violence. It has children killing children. It has abuse of children by an evil, repressive government. But it also has a heroine who epitomizes intelligence, bravery, loyalty and survival for all, not just herself. If I had a teenage daughter at this time in history, I would want her to read The Hunger Games.

Katniss Everdeen is 16 years old and lives each day to provide food and safety for her mother and young sister. They live in a poor outer district of a country made up of the ruins of what used to be North America. Part of the harsh control exercised by the government is an annual televised event, the "Hunger Games", in which each district must send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen, who will fight to the death of all but one survivor. When Katniss' sister gets picked by lottery, Katniss volunteers to take her place.

The rest of the story plays out in a combination of reality TV, Roman gladiator games and the Greek myth of Theseus, the Labyrinth and the Minotaur. It is a breathlessly exciting page turner and in my opinion beats Twilight hands down.

Monday, January 05, 2009


Books, Larry McMurtry, Simon & Schuster, 2008, 259 pp

It turns out that I'd only read three of McMurtry's books before reading Books, which is odd because I feel like I know this author very well. Of course I've seen the movie versions of The Last Picture Show and Terms of Endearment. I read Evening Star (1992) and disliked it intensely all the way through but suddenly, inexplicably liked it at the very end. I read Lonesome Dove (1985) for which he won the Pulitzer Prize and loved every paragraph. On the strength of that book alone, I fell in love with McMurtry.

I always planned to read more of his fiction but so far have not. I read his memoir of driving the interstates (Roads, 2000) and that was great for me because I was doing a lot of travel on the interstates myself at the time.

I like McMurtry because he clearly likes people, both men and women, and he revels in quirkiness; he doesn't judge; he doesn't expect everyone to be just like everyone else. He may be the Mark Twain of the 20th century.

Books is a memoir of his life as a book dealer. I have long wanted to visit his vast bookstore in Archer, TX. In Books we learn the story of how that store came to be. McMurtry is now 72 years old and he writes Books like an old man telling stories. It is sketchy, full of people no one outside the world of rare books and book collecting would know. The book men are some the quirkiest people ever. It is almost as if McMurtry is reminiscing for his own pleasure more than anything else.

But I liked it. It put me into that world. It is a niche, like Americana music or comic book collecting. Near the end he talks a bit about the fate of publishing, books, bookstores and book readers. He becomes a bit sentimental ( I mean, he IS Larry McMurtry), but he is no fool. Kind of like his characters.

Thursday, January 01, 2009


Happy New Year 2009!

This past year I read 127 books, up from 124 the year before. Once again I had a bit of trouble narrowing down the list of favorites to only 20.

Because of my job at the Oldest Children's Bookstore in America (named as such by Publisher's Weekly), I branched out to reading books for readers aged 8-12 as well as Young Adult, so I could be helpful to all the grandmothers, moms, dads, aunts and uncles who come in needing recommendations. We also sell books for adults and so I read to keep up on some current releases.

Also in 2008, I read books for My Big Fat Reading Project and covered 1954 through 1955.

All the books I read have been or will be soon reviewed here on the blog. As usual, I am highly interested in knowing what books you enjoyed in your year of reading, especially because I may have missed some good books. You can comment below this post. The easiest way is to choose "anonymous" from the list of ways to post your comments because then you don't have to fill in any other information.

Here is the list:

All About Lulu, Jonathan Evison
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon
Ghostwalk, Rebecca Stott
The God of Animals, Aryn Kyle
Highwire Moon, Susan Straight
The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
The Importance of Music to Girls, Lavinia Greenlaw
Loving Frank, Nancy Horan
The Master Butcher's Singing Club, Louise Erdrich
A Mercy, Toni Morrison
Peony in Love, Lisa See
People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks
Quicksilver, Neal Stephenson
Reservation Nation, David Fuller Cook
The Senator's Wife, Sue Miller
The Shadow Catcher, Marianne Wiggins
The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell
Three Little Words, Ashley Courter-Rhodes
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, Maggie O'Farrell