Monthly Archives: January 2008

Off the Wagon

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How embarrassing.

I had been doing so well on giving up pleasure reading. I thought I had it out of my system. My turkey was cold.

During the first two weeks of the year, I’d read only one book, Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos, and that was for the staff book group. That doesn’t count, right?

It’s not like I was looking forward to group’s next selection, a romance.

Let’s us have a few words about why I don’t like romance novels. There are myriad reasons why I do not read romances, but here’s the real deal breaker: I don’t want to read about people falling in love. I mean, fine, if the two characters in a novel I’m reading happen to fall in love, I won’t fuss too much, as long as they’re otherwise occupied with solving murders or thwarting terrorists or scourging the earth from the plague of zombies. I can deal with that.

But I do not want their attraction, and inevitable resolution, to be the focus of the book. I just don’t. It’s not what I want to read.

Whyever not? Various reasons, I guess, but if I were forced to pick just one reason why I don’t like to read about people falling in love, I’d say it’s because it’s not realistic. Ridding the world of zombies, now—that I can sink my teeth into. That makes sense to me. Romance… romance I just don’t get.

Am I revealing too much about my psyche here? I see more truth in apocalyptic zombie wars than I do in everyday fallings-in-love. Hum.

Romance novels just don’t reflect real life, not in my experience. For one thing, they always involve attractive hetero couples. What about the ugly folks? What about the queers? (Annie Proulx’s “Brokeback Mountain,” featuring two gay cowboys—now that’s a good romance. Except that it’s actually a tragedy. Maybe that’s why I like it.) What about third parties, or being in love with two people at once, or being only moderately satisfied with a romantic partner? That’s what real romance is like.

“But romances are fantasies, really,” you might protest. If I want a fantasy I want dwarves and dragons and elves, by God.

And then there’s the sex. In almost any romance you read, except for the chaste Regency types, the two smitten attractive heteros get into bed and have fantastic sex and multiple orgasms.

Let’s be realistic. The first bout of sex between any two (or more) people is probably going to be a letdown. Impassioned, maybe, but not that great when you get into the mechanics of it. And the woman—let me explain this for my male readers, who may be slow to figure this out—the woman is not going to have an orgasm the first time.

“Yes she will!” I imagine you macho types protesting. “Women are always satisfied with me!”

They’re faking.

“But–”

No. Sorry. They’re faking. Women’s orgasms are a tricky, tricky thing, and you’re just not going to figure out how they work the first time you’re with any particular woman. After the relationship progresses a bit, perhaps, but not on the first go-round.

“Now wait just a durn minute,” some of you women may be saying. “I always have orgasms. It’s easy.”

I will say this gently: I despise you and your kind.

…That wasn’t very gentle, was it.

All right. Without encroaching into territory that will make everyone blush, let me try to set forth a few truths:

  • Men can almost always achieve an orgasm. This is horribly unfair.
  • A few women can almost always achieve an orgasm. This is horribly unfair.
  • Most women cannot achieve orgasm easily—and generally speaking, it won’t happen the first time they sleep with someone. It takes dedicated work between two (or more) people, over the course of time, to get her bits to respond enthusiastically.

I hope my sex education has enlightened everyone. I also hope that I’ve made my point about why romance novels irritate the hell out of me. They depict people enjoying earth-shattering sex the first time they sleep together, just because they happen to be in love. Love is all well and good, but it’s not sufficient for satisfying sex. Patience and dedication, that’s the ticket.

Funny how that lesson never comes across in porn flicks. Hence my objection to porn. If people enjoy watching others folks have sex on the telly or on the computer screen or on the glossy pages of a magazine, fine by me. But I truly object to the falsehoods that typical pornography revels in. Real people don’t look like that and real sex doesn’t happen like that.

If you’re capable of separating the porn you watch from the bed you make, bully for you. Most people aren’t capable, though. What’s worse, kids these days are learning about sex from online porn. And then they grow up to learn about sex from romance novels.

Which makes it really, really, really embarrassing that I fell off the reading wagon with a romance novel.

I read Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight under duress, as I said, in anticipation of the next meeting of the staff book group. Persepolis anticipated that I would hate it. I anticipated that I would hate it.

She neglected to tell me it was a vampire romance.

Goodbye, feminist objections to unrealistic romance novels! Goodbye, aesthetic objections to uninspired writing!

Hellooooooo, vampires.

And. Um.

Hellooooooo, werewolves.

Shall I mention that the werewolves don’t show up until the second book in the series? I read Twilight for the book group, a moderately justifiable course of action. It was for work.

Then the next night I read New Moon, the sequel. Not justifiable at all. But… but werewolves! And vampires! Fighting each other!

And. Um.

Tonight…? Well, I can proudly say that I did not read the third book in the series, though perhaps I should note that all the copies at the library are checked out. Not that I, uh, looked that up. And it’s not like I placed a hold on it. Except that I did.

But I didn’t read it tonight. Instead, I read a book about personal finance.

Four books! That’s four books this year, and while two of those were excusable, two of those were completely for personal enrichment.

I didn’t mean to read a book tonight, I really didn’t. But I was fretting over money today. I do this a lot, you know—fret over money. I understand it’s a popular pastime. Lots of people fret over money.

I was worrying about immediate money concerns (“Ack! Eighty-six dollars for a bra!”) and long-term money concerns (“Argh! Car loan! Student debt!”) and what-if concerns (“What if I’m never able to buy a house?”) and distant money concerns (“I don’t retire for another forty years, but should I be worried now? What about social security?”).

I can’t even recall what triggered it. I spend a lot of time worrying about money, but today’s anxiety was unusually acute. So I checked out a library book about controlling debt, and learned two things:

  • I really ought to start socking away money for retirement, present debts be damned, and
  • I’m never going to buy a house.

“You need a second income,” said a coworker for whom I don’t have a pseudonym, but here’s a hint: She has a lovely English accent.

Right. A second income. Sign me up.

I shouldn’t be whining, though. I have a roof over my head and I know where my next meal is c
oming from, thanks to my new refrigerator. (Former fridge died, right after I’d stocked it with $47.50 worth of perishables. Speaking of immediate money concerns.) I don’t work at Wal-Mart.

Oh crap I just remembered. It’s been five books this year. I wasn’t recalling Alan Moore’s graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, because I’d been sneaking it in bits and pieces, sort of like a dieter who sneaks an oreo now and again. Just one little chapter here or there isn’t really cheating.

Right! No more books from now on, I mean it! (Except for the third vampires-n-werewolves romance, I simply have to know what happens next.)

In parting, I would post a picture of my new hair, but I’m already in my jammies and my face is stressed from a day of worrying about money and feeling guilty about not writing the manuscript. Next time, though, I’ll see what I can manage. And it shouldn’t be too long to wait, since I will be writing furiously and my only conceivable option for a break will be to post something here. Right? Right.

Give me a head with hair

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Yesterday I was compared to a variety of people, including Cleopatra, Angelina Jolie in the movie Hackers,and 1920 silent film star Louise Brooks

Comparisons of this nature are acceptable, though I patiently waiting for someone to notice my resemblance to Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction.

Hairdresser Jeff, he is a genius. I’ll consider posting a photo soon, though I’ve noticed a glitch with my digital camera. It substitutes a similar but noticeably uglier model in my place. Must be defective. I’d ask for my money back but it was a gift.

Yesterday was notable not only for the sheer number of celebrity comparisons but because it marked my one year yoga anniversary. I’m naturally flexible, but with yoga practice, I am well on my way to becoming a human pretzel. Especially now that I am practicing yoga on my lunch breaks (no more reading at lunch, remember; no more reading till the manuscript is done), I am turning into a rubber band.

Yoga is about far more than contorting oneself into impossible positions, of course. It is also about meditation and relaxation and spiritual wellness. Unfortunately I haven’t got the hang of any of that yet. I don’t know that I ever will. I am not a laid-back person.

If you know me personally, you realize that is a stunning example of understatement in action. As a lifelong member of the Anxiety Disorder club, I am by nature fretful and high-strung. I do not know how to relax without either A) falling into a deep sleep or B) partaking of certain vegetables which are unfortunately illegal and therefore unavailable to me.

I can’t get the hang of meditation. Whenever Yoga Instructor Jennifer asks us to clear our thoughts I find my brain working overtime. I’ll be mentally composing a short story or doing the math to see if I can possibly pay off my student loans in this lifetime.

So yeah, I’m missing out on a big part of yoga, the breath control and the meditation and the relaxing. Typical Westerner, I am, ignoring the traditions of a 5000-year-old practice and focusing only on the physical exercises.

But that’s nothing to scoff at. It took me a quarter of a century to find an exercise I enjoy.

Well—I do enjoy other exercise, but only if I can dupe myself into thinking it’s not exercise proper. I love to go hiking, but there is a noticeable lack of mountains around here—a crying shame, and I wish somebody would do something about it. What do I pay taxes for, I ask you?

I love to go swimming, but I haven’t been in years. The problem with swimming is that it involves swimsuits. Swimsuits, for those of you who may not realize, are hideous garments made of skin-tight lycra that accentuate every embarrassing bulge on your body, while doing absolutely nothing to conceal the stretch marks that you may have acquired and enhanced through a year of yoga practice. Wearing them is a nightmare, while purchasing them is a mortifying, soul-searing exercise in making you despise your body, any resemblance to Uma Thurman notwithstanding.

What I really need is an estate on a private lake, preferably in the mountains because that’s prettier, where I could go swimming all by myself. (My birthday is in April. Hint, hint.)

No mountains around here, and no secluded water-front property in my name. Without yoga, I’d be completely stationary. Fortunately I can trick myself into forgetting that it is, in fact, exercise.

Off to work now, where I can look forward to a day of solving information needs, suggesting pleasure reading, and not-exercising-whatsoever-no-not-me during my yoga practice over dinner.

Hair-raising adventures

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I’ve been posting with more frequency than usual as of late. This is a very good sign. It means that I am more often seeking a break from book writing. Since I have very nearly given up on pleasure reading until the manuscript is complete, the only respite I have is blogging.

I am serious about not reading anymore. I have read only one book this year. We’re twelve days in, people, twelve days in. Can you believe that? Nearly two weeks, and only one book read! Cripes!

This reassures me. If I can give up reading, I can give up other addictions. For instance, if I ever start using heroin, I’ll be able to stop. I don’t intend to try, but it’s comforting to know, just in case.

So I keep getting your hopes up about my reflections on A Prayer for Owen Meany, and I keep letting you down. Like Charlie Brown with Lucy’s football, you keep coming back, hoping things will be different this time. They won’t.

I have a pretty good excuse for not writing about it this evening. John Irving’s novel has had such a very profound effect upon me that I want my write-up of the experience to be significant and well-crafted. “Well-crafted” is not something you’re going to get from me after I’ve had three glasses of wine, which I have. (Rough day, what can I say?) I’ll write about Owen Meany when I am a properly conscientious, sober frame of mind.

Besides, I write about novels too much as it is. This has come to my attention from… from… I don’t have a pseudonym for you yet, but you know who you are. One of my colleagues requested that I stop blathering on so much about novels and turn my attentions to something like he tends to read, i.e., a technical manual.

I do not have any technical manuals around here, but I do have an example of technical writing. Ahem:

The instructions for Nice’nEasy Color Blend Technology: Expert blend of 3 tones for natural color with highlights

A Review by Jessica Zellers

My hair has not been its natural color in six years. (It’s mousy brownish, if I remember correctly.) I have placed every color from the spectrum on my head, and I mean every color. Blonde, black, blue, green, red, purple, pink, and variations thereof—I’ve tried them all, even orange. The orange was a mistake, but still. I’ve done it all.

Because of my frequent intimacy with home hair coloring, I never read the instructions anymore. Perusing the instructions for Nice’nEasy hair coloring was like greeting an old friend, one whom I hadn’t thought of in years.

The instructions are printed on an extra-large sheet of newspaper-quality paper. It’s cheap and thin, but I appreciate the inexpensive material. It helps keep the cost of my hair dye down.

The sheet is printed on both sides. One side is in Spanish. I will not be reviewing this side, as I studied French in college.

The very top bit of the paper has a section called “Before you color: 48 hours in advance.” Apparently, you are supposed to test the dye on a sample strand before you color your whole head. “HAIR COLORANTS CAN CAUSE ALLERGIC REACTIONS,” says the instruction sheet, in all caps. Improper use of hair coloring can lead to orange hair, too, which I am sad to report is not mentioned at all, not in this section or anywhere in the instructions.

Does anybody every actually do the test in advance? I know I don’t. Let’s skip to the good part, starting with Get Ready to Color.

It says to use a smock or an old towel. That’s dumb. I just go about nekkers when I’m dying my hair. It all washes off in the shower.

Then we have Apply Color, wherein the instructions advise the user to part the hair into small, even sections. I never have the patience for this.

Next up is Time It. The instructions tell me to time for twenty-five minutes. I always just read a chapter of whatever I’m book I’m reading. Apparently my method of measuring elapsed time isn’t sophisticated enough for the folks at Clairol.

Finally, we have Rinse and Gloss, in which the colorist should add a “small amount of warm water and massage into a lather.” A small amount? Screw that. I just stand under the shower head and let the faucet do its work.

In conclusion, I have mixed feelings about this example of technical writing. While it may be good for novices, it does not acknowledge my needs or habits. The plot was predictable, easily summed up in two parts: 1.) Add hair dye. 2.) Change your color! The character development was practically nonexistent, and I could determine no appreciable setting or atmosphere. The syntax was choppy, with no dialogue to break the monotony. But the pace was good, with helpful bullets to guide the eye to the important steps.

And why do I have instructions for dying hair lying about? Because I am changing the color next week. I’ll add the mystery color next Friday afternoon, and then I’ll visit Hairdresser Jeff.

Hairdresser Jeff, who is probably my favorite person in all of Wilhelmsplatz, has been absent from my life for half a year, ever since that fateful day when I turned my hair pink. I am growing my hair out for a bit, but it has reached the point where it looks absolutely dreadful unless I put it in pigtails.

For those readers who do not have the pleasure of regularly seeing me in person, I direct you toward a photo taken by Bookish Jet this morning:


Critics might be tempted to make fun of my pigtails, as they are really short and insubstantial right now. I, however, think they have potential. Like a nine-year old’s erection, there’s not much there now, but there’s the promise of something more.

(Promise for the boy, I mean. I didn’t mean that pornographically. Ew.)

At any rate, I hope no one’s gotten too fond of the blond. A new color is on the horizons, but I’m not going to tell anyone what it is. Stay tuned!

Good v. Evil: Smackdown

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I’m sorry to disappoint everyone. Last time I had promised to talk about my reaction to A Prayer for Owen Meany, but I am temporarily reneging on my oath.

This is a huge blow, I know. Here you all were, waiting breathlessly for some quality literary criticism—you, whose lives suffer from a lack of fast-paced, high-impact, edge-of-your-seat LitCrit. You were so dearly anticipating a long discussion of my reaction to a novel you’ve probably never read, and here I have cruelly yanked the carrot from before your rabbity noses. Forgive me!

I have a good reason for procrastinating. I may, in fact—I do hope you’re sitting down, this is simply astonishing—I may, in fact, be seeing John Irving, IN PERSON, next week.

John Irving is current my favorite living author. Don’t worry, Neil Gaiman will probably rise back to the top of the pack, after my crush on Irving fades. But for the time being, I would totally jump Irving’s bones, in a literary sort of way. (I don’t think I actually want to sleep with him. Older men have their appeal, but he’s nearing 70. That’s a bit old, even for my liberal tastes. But never say never. But I think he’s married, so nevermind.)

Anyway, Irving is speaking at my alma mater in Greensboro next Thursday. It’s a four hour trip each way, something I really can’t justify for one person—fossil fuels and global warming, you know. Plus I have yoga that night. Plus I have a book to write.

But then again, Irving is the author of the book I just read that has ALREADY, in a few short weeks, changed my life more than any I’ve read since I read The Brothers Karamazov ten years ago.

Still, I had decided not to go, until I mentioned my decision in the presence of Death. (I’d forgotten he was even in the room. Honest.) Death is an even bigger fan of Irving than I am. When he heard that Irving is speaking a paltry four hours’ drive away, it was a no-brainer for him—provided that Mrs. Death agrees. (Apparently, having three kids and a spouse means that you can’t just drop everything willy-nilly to go hear an author speak in the next state.)

So now, everything is hanging on Mrs. Death. If she agrees, that means Death is going—and no way am I letting him drive down to hear Irving without me. Besides, that would assuage my guilt about burning all that gas.

So I swear I’ll deliver the literary criticism you’ve been salivating for, but only once I determine if I’ll be hearing the author himself.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank New Girl for her punning prowess. New Girl is no longer the newest employee at the library, not by a long shot, but I can’t really think of a pseudonym that encompasses “Scares me, but in a good way.” There are no good derivates of her name to work with, so she is stuck with being New Girl.

Most people, out of a finely developed sense of self-preservation, keenly hope that I do not write about them here. It is true that I write about some people for money (have I mentioned that John Irving is the subject of my next read-alike article?), but I do not go into many details about them. When I wrote about Neil Gaiman, for instance, I completely failed to mention his English accent, or his dreamy eyes, or the fact that he shook hands with me once (which I would have interpreted as a marriage proposal, except that he’s already married. These lousy authors, I swear: Who are they to take marriage vows without meeting me first?)

In this blog, of course, I may write about whomever I please, and say whatever I please, though I confess that I temper things in the interests of not getting A) stoned to death or B) fired, in that order. Despite my remarkable capacity for discretion, the people I know can get nervous. They can be on remarkably good behavior—and should they err, in comment or action, they always follow sensibly with “Don’t blog that or I’ll kill you.”

New Girl, however, has been pestering me to acknowledge, publicly, that she is a fine punner. Consider it done.

And now I shall relate to you the conversation that recently took place between Angel Jessica and Devil Jessica. I hasten to point out that this conversation transpired entirely in my own head—but, if you’re curious, I do talk aloud to myself, all the time. Walking to my car, hunting and gathering groceries, putzing about the house, puzzling through stuff at work—no matter the context, it is likely that I am carrying on a lively dialogue with myself. I do not apologize for this. I enjoy a good conversation.

Let’s do this in play form, because that’s more fun.

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

Angel Jessica, an advocate of staying in Wilhelmsplatz indefinitely
Devil Jessica, who suffers wanderlust

ANGEL: Wow! I love my job!

DEVIL: You’re adaptable. I bet you could love a job anyplace.

ANGEL: Didn’t love my last job so much.

DEVIL: You liked it fine, with certain exceptions.

ANGEL: But I love this job better.

DEVIL: You love working with books and helping people find stuff. You could do that in any library.

ANGEL: But this is one of the best libraries in the country.

DEVIL: Ah, but look at the location.

ANGEL: Wilhelmsplatz is… okay.

DEVIL: Is not.

ANGEL: Why would I move?

DEVIL: You don’t like the climate.

ANGEL: It’s too hot everywhere, and only going to get hotter.

DEVIL: You don’t like the political climate.

ANGEL: The last place was worse.

DEVIL: But you could move someplace cold! And liberal! Like Boston!

ANGEL: Could never afford it.

DEVIL: Then Vermont! I know you like Vermont. Or Maine!

ANGEL: Awfully far from Mom and Dad.

DEVIL: You could fly.

ANGEL: That just contributes to global warming.

DEVIL: So move back to Asheville, right near your parents.

ANGEL: No jobs there.

DEVIL: But you’d have friends there, people you knew back when.

ANGEL: They’ve probably all moved.

DEVIL: You’d make new friends.

ANGEL: Not necessarily.

DEVIL: …?

ANGEL: Oh let’s be honest here, I’m not the most extroverted bulb on the Christmas tree, am I?

DEVIL: So you’re a little shy.

ANGEL: I haven’t had sex in over a year.

DEVIL: Do you have to admit that to the whole bleeding internet? Christ.

ANGEL: I’m just saying.

DEVIL: But you have plenty of friends.

ANGEL: Only people I know through the library.

DEVIL: Is that so wrong?

ANGEL: It’s a bit insular.

DEVIL: You know your yoga instructor.

ANGEL: I pay her money to know her.

DEVIL: You know your hair stylist.

ANGEL: I pay him money, too. And I haven’t seen him in six months.

DEVIL: You made an appointment to see him next week. Don’t deny it. I heard you.

ANGEL: That still doesn’t make me Ms. Popularity.

DEVIL: Maybe a new haircut would help with that, heh heh heh.

ANGEL: Quit trying to distract me. I’m a fundamentally introverted, lonely, solitary person, and no change of hairstyle or geography is going to help that.

DEVIL: …That hurts me to hear you say that, it really hurts.

ANGEL: It’s true.

DEVIL: Well… well, you could USE the solitude, missy! You have a book to write!

ANGEL: Like I was saying. Think I’ll stay here.

DEVIL: …Oh. [pause]
I just lost, didn’t I?

ANGEL: Don’t worry, it fits the literary archetype for the devil to lose against a clever hero. It was predestined.

DEVIL: [abashed] Guess I’ll go write that back now.

ANGEL: Yeah, see ya there.

[Exeunt DEVIL and ANGEL].

Best books of 2007

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Typical exchange at the reference desk:

Me: Hi, how can I help you?

Patron: There’s nothing good on the new book shelf.

Me: Well, the new books are popular, so they’re often checked out. How about something older?

Patron: No, I want something new.

Me: Surprisingly, there are many good books to be found in the stacks.

Patron: No there aren’t.

Me: Are you looking for something medical? Something to do with science, maybe, or politics, or current affairs?

Patron: Nope. Just want a good novel. A good NEW novel.

Me: Neglecting, for the moment, such perennial classics as Shakespeare or Voltaire or Jack Kerouac, you can still avail yourself of the current popular literature that happens to be more than six months old. Books published in, say, 2006 might be of interest.

Patron: No, those books suck. [punches librarian]

Okay, I exaggerate. I’m never sardonic with a patron. Well—I am, but only on the outside. And no patron has ever punched me, though I suspect it’s only a matter of time.

But really, folks: It won’t kill you to read something older. Unless the book is nonfiction on a very timely topic, there’s no need to insist on the very latest.

But suit yourself. Sit on the hold list for ages while you wait for 80 gabillion people to read A Thousand Splendid Suns before you get your grubby paws on it.

 

Now that I have made fun of people who read current books, allow me to tell you about the current books I read last year. (Also let me tell you, briefly, about the music I listened to last year. There was a heavy dose of Tori Amos, Tom Waites, Modest Mouse, and Debussey. One of these artists is not current, at all, but I am not going to tell you which one.)

Some of the 2007 books were chosen because they were penned by a favorite author, to wit:

  • Dark of the Moon, by John Sandford—strikingly like the Prey series. I guess Lucas Davenport is getting too old to be sexy anymore, so Sandford went and created a character exactly like Davenport, only younger, to star in this new standalone. 
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling. I loved it, of course, though I am so bedazzled by the whole series that I’ve lost any capacity to critically analyze Rowling’s writing… This really doesn’t have anything to do with the book, but for the record, I dyed my hair pink and dressed up all punk so as to be Tonks for the release party. I’m still upset that I didn’t even get picked as a finalist for the crappy ol’ costume party at Barnes and Noble.
  • Making Money, by Terry Pratchett. I’ll agree with Mack, not one of his better ones—but I formed that opinion before I learned that Pterry has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Pterry is far and away one of my favorite writers, so I am taking this as terrible news. Besides feeling really bad for the man, I feel a horrible emptiness in realizing that Discworld is coming to an end. Several of my favorite authors died in 2007 (Lloyd Alexander, Kurt Vonnegut, and Madeleine L’Engle); I’m just praying now that Neil Gaiman is in perfect health, or I’ll be totally screwed.
  • Silence, by Thomas Perry: His standalones aren’t as good as his Jane Whitfield series. Sigh.
  • Sleeping Doll, by Jeffery Deaver: Deaver is always enjoyable, in his short stories or in his novels. Zippy plot twists, tight writing, fast pacing, and enjoyable characters are consistently to be found in Deaver’s writing. But it’s his Lincoln Rhyme series that I like best, which this book is not, alas, part of. I guess Deaver’s running out of ways to put a his quadriplegic title character in mortal danger. There just aren’t that many ways, realistically, that the guy is going to find himself facing down a gun—and even fewer ways he can rescue himself. I mean, he can’t even more his arms, ferchrissakes. That could be a problem for anybody.
  • The Woods, by Harlan Coben.  It was okay, I suppose. I can’t remember any specific details about it. I don’t think you’re supposed to. Coben’s thrillers are enjoyable, fluffy, and forgettable. It’s his Myron Bolitar mystery series that’s much more memorable.

So I read those six books because of author loyalty. The only other fiction published in 2007 that I read was Wizards, a collection of fantasy short stories. Come to think of it, that was partly based on author loyalty, because it included a short story by Neil Gaiman, the aforementioned favorite author whose health we should all be praying for daily.

The other 2007 books I read were nonfiction, three of which were timely and relevant, i.e., they might be dated in future years. Or not.

  • A Woman in Charge, by Carl Bernstein. Ya know, I just don’t think I like biographies. Memoirs, sure, but not biographies, not so much. I just don’t care about the whole life story of, er… of anybody. But I felt I should know more about Hillary Rodham Clinton, as I may be voting for later this year. I didn’t find the biography compelling, but that’s probably just my bias against biographies.
  • The Deserter’s Tale, by Joshua Key. Now THIS was an interesting life story. (And did I have to hear about all the boring details of his boring childhood? No!) It’s about a good ol’ boy from the Midwest, a real meat-n-potatoes red-blooded American patriot, who up and deserted from the Army. Put another way, this is not the type of fella you’d expect to desert—but he felt he could not stay in good conscience. VERY interesting book about what it’s really like in Iraq these days.
  • Owen and Mzee: The Language of Friendship, a sequel to the first Owen and Mzee book. It’s about a baby hippo who was orphaned in a tsunami and the ancient tortoise who adopted him. It’s a picture book and it makes me cry like a baby. I can’t read children’s animal books without bawling. And Owen and Mzee is a happy story—you should see the hysterics when I try to read Koko’s Kitten. (Spoiler alert: The kitten doesn’t make it.)

The final four books of 2007 came to me by various means:

  • A coworker foisted Deer Hunting with Jesus upon me. It explains the rationale behind conservative values in rural America, from the perspective of a Southern redneck. A Southern socialist redneck. Very interesting book (I love reading about class!), and one that I in turn have foisted upon a coworker.
  • Plain Secrets, by Joe MacKall, came to my attention because I liked a review I read. So I read it. It’s about the Amish.
  • These things ain’t gonna smoke themselves, by Emily Flake, came to my attention from a review I read over at Nonfiction Readers Anonymous. It’s a nonfiction graphic novel about smoking. Very quick read, and very good.
  • And finally, I read Stacked, by Susan Seligson, because it kept catching my eye every time I passed it on the New Book shelf. It’s about boobs. I could speak about it at length (and have done so) but I think it’s sufficient to tell you that it is about boobs.

The best books I read last year were published prior to 2007 (though, as discussed at the s
tart of this post, I realize that this will be impossible for some of you to comprehend). They were World War Z (about zombies), The Historian (about vampires), and A Prayer for Owen Meany, about Christ (who shares some interesting qualities with zombies and vampires both, though it is my understanding that most churches gloss over these fascinating similarities.)

A Prayer for Owen Meany caught me totally by surprise. I was reading it to refresh myself on the writing of John Irving, the subject of my next read-alike article for NoveList. I had no idea that it would turn out to be one of those life-altering books. More about it in the next post, in which I promise to stop boring you with half-assed reviews of books I’ve read.

 

Book rundown, 2007

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Weird. Even though I have been consumed this year by the chore of writing a reference book (and by killer sudoku  and hanjie), I actually read eleven more books than last year. Don’t expect the same high numbers next year; between now and my initial draft deadline in May, I will be spending every spare moment hacking away at the computer; though much of the preliminary work has been done, as American Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones famously said during a naval battle, “I have not yet begun to write!”

How’s that for revisionist history?

Don’t worry, I’ll still take time to blog next year, to give my faithful readers their weekly updates on my reading interests, yoga poses, and bizarre library interactions. (Dear faithful readers—don’t you have anything better to do? Not that I’m not complaining. But gee.)

Without further ado, let us discuss the books I read in 2007.

Total books read (not skimmed, mind you, but read from cover to cover):

  • 141, including six re-reads (you’d think I’d have the Harry Potter series memorized by now, the number of times I’ve read those books)
  • 24 of these were nonfiction. The other 117 were fiction.

Books that were published in 2007:

  • 18, I think, though I’ll have to double-check that by looking up some pub dates. However many there are, I’ll discuss these in more detail in my next post, along with a bit of narrative about the books I enjoyed most in 2007, regardless of publication year.

Authors:

  • Most read: Terry Pratchett, with nineteen Discworld books
  • Second-most read: Harlan Coben, with his Myron Bolitar series– though, honestly, this should only count as one title. All his books are the same: 1.) Person is brutally murdered. 2.) Likeable protagonist investigates the brutal murder, in the process discovering that 3.) Person was not really murdered, but has been living under an extraordinary disguise all these years.

Levels:

  • Adult: 118
  • YA: 12
  • Children’s: 11

Nonfiction genres:

  • 2 Biography
  • 2 True Crime
  • 1 Economics
  • 3 History
  • 7 Memoir
  • 2 Religion
  • 1 Sex Manual (damn waste of my time)
  • 3 Science
  • 3 Social Science
  • 1 Popular Culture
  • 1 Textual Criticism
  • 1 Women’s Nonfiction
  • 1 Humor
  • 1 I don’t know what to call it—is it a cookbook? An entertainment book? An absurdist satire? Whatever it is, I loved it. Thanks, Amy Sedaris, for I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence

Readers who, unlike me, are capable of simple addition, will notice that these numbers aren’t adding up. That’s because some books have more than one genre.

Fiction genres:

  • 42 Fantasy – yikes!
  • 1 Canon (In my own head, I distinguish between the literary canon and Literary Fiction. I could speak at length about this, though I won’t right at the moment. In any case, the book was Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita).
  • 10 Historical Fiction
  • 16 Horror
  • 11 Mystery
  • 14 Literary Fiction, Mainstream, or generically popular
  • 2 Science Fiction
  • 2 Superhero
  • 25 Suspense
  • 1 Urban Fiction
  • 1 Noir
  • 24 Humor

Miscellaneous:

My annual Fat Russian Novel: Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov
Graphic Novels: 17
Collections of short stories: 3
Plays: 1 (Sweeney Todd)
5 vampire books, 3 zombie books, and 3 ghost stories
Wordless graphic novel: 1 (The Arrival, by Shaun Tan)

Best and Worst
Best NF: I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, by Amy Sedaris
Worst NF: The Great Sex Secret, by Kim Marshall (why do I even bother trying to read these books?)
Best Adult Fiction: A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving, very closely followed by (tie) World War Z, by Max Brooks, and The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova
Worst Adult Fiction: Flyy Girl, by Omar Tyree
Best YA: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Worst YA: Gifted Touch, by Melinda Metz
Best NF Graphic Novel: These Things Ain’t Gonna Smoke Themselves: A Love Hate Love Hate Love Hate Love Letter to a Very Bad Habit, by Emily Flake
Best Fiction Graphic Novel: Fables: Legends in Exile, by Bill Willingham
Worst Graphic Novel: 30 Days of Night, by Steve Niles