Book Fifteen: Shelf Discovery

Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading, Lizzie Skurnick

You're probably going to automatically love this book if you ever read any YA novels of the 70s or 80s. I mean, come on, we all grew up reading and loving this stuff, right? And Lizzie Skurnick's enthusiasm for the subject is quite infectious. She covers all the good stuff: all the Judy Blume, Lois Duncan, Madeleine L'Engle, Beverly Cleary, Paula Danziger, Paul Zindel, Katherine Paterson, Richard Peck, and, of course, V.C. Andrews.

The is essentially a collection of Skurnick's blog posts from her Fine Lines column on Jezebel. Which is great and a lovely column. However this book often feels like you're essentially reading a blog. (And really, shouldn't we put a moratorium on books made entirely from blogs? Especially when you don't even bother to correct any of the typos?) Her tone is insanely casual, peppered with frequent "omigod!"s and ALL CAPS WHEN SHE WANTS YOU TO KNOW HOW EXCITED SHE IS and way too many "Best. Book. Ever."s. Which shouldn't really take away from the joy of reliving these classics, but sometimes I expect just a little more from an actual book.

So perhaps I've grown up too much.

Book Fourteen: The Girl Who Played with Fire

The Girl Who Played with Fire, Stieg Larsson

Okay, I really love these books. But there were moments--mere moments--in this one where he kind of lost me. Like the entire page devoted to listing out Ikea purchases by name. That's kind of cool if you're an Ikea geek like me, or maybe if you're Swedish, but I wonder how many other people really want to read what is essentially an Ikea catalogue when they originally set out to read a thriller. And don't get me started on the big climactic scene. There's a certain amount of suspension of disbelief when you go into books like this, and yet the ending really, really, really requires you to suspend some major disbelief.

But anyhows, super entertaining, good read, great characters, good plot... can't wait to read the next one.

Book Thirteen: Autobiography of a Face

Autobiography of a Face, Lucy Grealy

This is the "companion book" to Ann Patchett's Truth & Beauty. However, it was written by Lucy Grealy before Ann Patchett probably ever conceived of her book. And while the two are so inherently linked in nature, they also feel like so very different, very separate book about very different subject matter. While Ann's book is about the nature of friendship, Lucy's book is about the struggles of identity and self-image and family and beauty.

I have to admit, I have complicated feelings about both of these books. While I was swept up in my emotional response to Ann's book, I found myself analyzing and overthinking Lucy's book. I'm not sure if that's simply because I read Ann's first, or because of something different about their writing styles. One of our book club members happened to have read them in the other order, and felt more strongly about Lucy's book, while I had a hard time connecting to this one.

And isn't it fascinating, the way we project our own "stuff' onto the books we read, and how our experiences--whether that be what books we read before or what our own life experience happened to be--play a major role in how we respond to these books.

Book Twelve: Truth & Beauty

Truth & Beauty, Ann Patchett

This book made me cry. It surprised me and delighted me and broke my heart. But any books that describe dreams in which dead friends come back to you to tell you everything will be alright will always, always strike a very personal chord with me.

Maybe I will try to be a little less dismissive of memoirs, especially if they are more like this.

Book Eleven: A Way of Life, Like Any Other

A Way of Life Like Any Other, Darcy O'Brien

Books like this are exactly the reason why I seek out NYRB editions. It's so clear that they work hard to find true lost classics and reissue them so us lazy folks don't have to look for them ourselves. I honestly never would have known about this (mostly autobiographical) novel had I not noticed its gorgeous, characteristically NYRB cover on the shelves of Powell's and given it a shot because (almost) all NYRB books rule.

The nameless narrator (we can assume this is probably a young Darcy O'Brien, though his father begins to call him Salty for no apparent reason later in the novel, which I love) is the son of two Hollywood stars who lives a charmed life early on. But that life becomes less sweet as his parents age, cease to be cinema darlings, divorce, and use him as a vehicle for their various neuroses. His mother is a depressed alcoholic who can't seem to find love, and his father moves in with his mother-in-law and becomes an eccentric recluse. The book follows him as he moves between his parents and friends, and while it is all so insane it must be true, it is equally parts hilarity and tragedy.

I hate to put this in the "coming-of-age" or "dysfunctional family" classes of books, because that seems too diminutive. While this book is simply the story of a boy growing up with crazy parents, it's also just a great, well-told story.

In fact, I can't wait to re-read it.