03 November 2010

Books I Love

My friend Vicky posted a new Facebook profile pic of herself and I could swear it's Audrey Hepburn. Not that she looks alot like Audrey Hepburn, but it's a neat pic and she looks shy and coltish. She is wearing a yellow dress and holding a gauze umbrella and wearing cowboy boots (?!), standing with her back to some pretty fall trees. She doesn’t look like a girl who knows all the words to Jay-Z. I had to send her a note telling her how much I liked the pic and, knowing that she's always looking for books to read/music to listen to/and (especially) films to watch, I recommended the book Winter's Bone to her. It got me thinking about some other books she might like to read, which again got me thinking about my favorite books to recommend to friends. These are books that I buy over and over again, just in case I want pass one along. I like books and books that I really like, I like to horde. That sounds like a sentence from Dr. Seuss. Anyways, here they are.

                                                    Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell

Ree Dolly is sixteen and lives with her family in a part of Missouri and the Ozark mountains where people don't care to keep up with the times. If not for the references to Ipods and crystal meth, you might think that it's set in the Depression. Ree is the head of the family, caring for her mentally absent mother and her two younger brothers. She chops wood and kills squirrels for sustenance. She dreams of joining the Army, where there is order and people need to keep things neat and clean. A visit from The Authorities brings Ree a dilemma: her crystal meth-making father put their house up for bond to get released from jail and, if he doesn't show to court, Ree and her family will be put out on the street or, in the case of this part of Missouri, she'll have to live in a cave like a dog. Ree must confront distant family members that are clannish and closed off and who think nothing of knocking a teenage girl on her ass, or worse, if she starts asking the wrong questions. Woodrell brings Missouri to life in a way that is captivating, fascinating, and revealing.  Ree Dolly reminded me of Lisbeth Salandar from The Girl Who... series by Stieg Larsson. Mr. Woodrell builds suspense while creating a world I did not suspect still existed. His style has the skeleton of a thriller told with the words of a poet. I hope I can read about Ree Dolly again.

                                        The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter S. Thompson

This is a classic collection of essays and whatnot by the great Hunter S. Thompson. Although he received alot of attention for his drug, alcohol and weirdness consumption, Hunter was above all else a compelling writer. His "serious" pieces on Peru or Hemingway or Kerouac and the Beats are interesting as straight reporting. His later "Gonzo" pieces are pure entertainment for entertainment's sake. The rest of his work splits the middle, with humorous asides and serious analysis, without a false word. The neat thing about this collection is the time and events and cultural shifts that Thompson covers. I must have read a paragraph he wrote about breakfast about a thousand times. He writes about Watergate, Jimmy Carter, Muhammad Ali, Jean Claude-Killy, and this book also includes his classic piece "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved" and notes on the genesis of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I carried this book everywhere I went for years.

                                                 To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I know it's cliche but I love this book. I read it every summer. It takes me back to the summer nights that Scout and Jem and Dill spent running around the neighborhood. You know what's going to happen but who cares? This is Harper Lee's only book. Talk about a one-hit wonder. If you really like this book, then read Mockingbird by Charles J. Shields, a history of the book's genesis and a biography of Harper Lee.

                                            Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Critics have called him a modern day Mark Twain. This collection by David Sedaris exposes the humor of a guy who just kept writing despite a crystal meth addiction and various shitty jobs. Sedaris' essay ("Go Carolina") chronicling the battle with his 4th grade speech teacher is funny but, like the rest of his work, hints at something below the surface. In this case it is the indoctrination of might-be-gay fourth graders into the Straight world. There is another hilarious piece about his sister Amy Sedaris, who wears a fat suit home to fool her dad, another in which she is featured in a New York magazine as one of the most eligible bachelorettes of Manhattan (at the photo shoot: "Make it look like somebody beat the crap out of me") and yet another about Big Boy, a "party favor" that won't flush. I gave this one to a waitress at my favorite diner and haven't gotten it back yet. And that was six years ago.

                                                        The Liar's Club by Mary Karr

I don't know what to say about this book. It's the best book I've read since the 1980's.  I fell in love with the twelve year old Mary Karr when she ambushed her neighbor with a bb gun as they were coming home from church. Mary's father had the high cheekbones of a Cherokee, fought in WWII and worked the oil rigs off the coast of Texas. Her mother was a would-be artist who nearly killed the whole family at one point or another. Both drank full-time. Mary's recollections are all true and all hotter than a Texas August afternoon. I am not kidding when I say you should read this book immediately. It's available everywhere, but if you can't find a copy email me. I always keep a spare on hand for just such an occasion.

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