For my day job Reader, I am a literary publicist, and one of my clients this past year was the witty, wonderful Ruth Pennebaker. During a reading at BookPeople, she told the audience: "I can go a day or so without writing. Sure. But I can't go a single day without reading. If forced, I will read labels on the backs of shampoo bottles and tubes of toothpaste."
Preach sister friend! I thought. Because I am the exact same way. I'm one of those people who feels totally rudderless without a book. To put it in more desperate terms: I have been known to read at stoplights. To the horror of my fellow motorists.
Anyway, I'm reading five right now that I'm particularly jazzed about. Two of them were gifts, one is on loan, and two of them were Merry Christmas presents to me.
Big World // I met author Mary Miller at a bar, and we got to talking. She's a student right now at the super-prestigious Michener Center, and after our initial chat, we kept up through email. Mary was incredibly kind to me, and offered to read and give me feedback on a nonfiction piece I was writing. This is her collection of short stories, which she generously sent me in the mail. Each one is startling and dark, moving through roadside motels and cramped trailers and Tennessee bars. The characters, and they're mostly girls and women, are frank about their loneliness but funny about it, too. People have been comparing her to Mary Gaitskill and I think I agree.
Just Kids // Patti Smith's memoir, which won the National Book Award last year. I haven't started it yet, but two friends of mine, Lauren and Megan (the Megan who writes music reviews here) each had quasi-life-altering experiences reading it. I remember hearing Patti being interviewed on Fresh Air shortly after the book came out, and the perfectly lovely way she described seeing Robert Mapplethorpe for the second time in her life: "There he was, walking down the street, looking just like the summer of 1967."
The Book of Vice: Very Naughty Things and How to Do Them // My friend Gretchen and I trade books sometimes, and recently, she lent me this memoir by "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me" host Peter Sagal, he of the Harvard degree, the starched bow-ties, and one may assume up-to-date dental records and tax returns. This is his story of visiting swinger clubs, strip joints, and other dens of sin. I can hardly wait.
Love is a Mix Tape // My sister-in-law gave Ross and I this book for Christmas, and first of all, are you listening Rob Sheffield? Because your book should be turned into a movie. Really! I am floored it hasn't been yet! This is the true story of two kids in love in the 90s, young, foolish, broke, obsessed with music, written by the widowed husband. (Which is announced on the jacket so I'm not giving anything away here.) Rob is a longtime music writer and contributing editor at Rolling Stone, and this book is basically his love letter to Renee, structured in time by mix tapes they made for each other. This is such a treat for any music fan of the 90s, and not just grunge, but also that weird, wonderful pop that I know you secretly loved: "How Bizarre!" by OMC, "Nasty Girl" by Vanity 6, etc. etc. Plus lots of Prince and early Pavement. This book is sweet and funny and sad and exactly the way I want to write.
A Homemade Life // I'm such a fan of Molly Wizenberg and her food blog, Orangette. She's another writing inspiration for me, and even though we don't know each other, I've always felt such a kindred spirit sense of connection to her: Both grad school dropouts, both close to our fathers, both having shared a profound few days in Paris with those fathers. (I also find it so endearing that she's still on Blogspot). This is her story of getting over her father's passing by getting into the kitchen, peppered with homemade recipes. I have a feeling this one will be warm and cozy.
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So there you have it! My nightstand. And Reader, I don't know about you, but I just can't get behind the Kindle (or, any e-reader). I am proud in this way. Prejudiced. I like paper and cover art and bookmarks too much, and if I ever got a Kindle that would mean no more trips to Half-Price Books or BookPeople! And that would make me sad. It's the one area of life I'm a little Luddite about.