October Reads Part 1

IMG_4306It’s Friday, which means it’s time to talk about books. You might be wondering to yourself why I’m acting like this is a normal weekly occurrence when oftentimes the day of the week is sporadic and I didn’t even talk about what books I’ve been reading last week, and while those are both valid points, I’m going to try doing better going forward about making Friday the official book review day every week, to give a recommendation or two to get the weekend started off right for everyone whose idea of a perfect day off work involves being sitting in a big comfortable chair with a good book. As for why I didn’t do it last week, I was wanting to wait until I finished the current book I was reading, which ended up taking a lot longer than I’d intended, but more on that later. With Halloween being at the end of this month, for the entirety of October I’m going to be reading books that are spooky, scary, creepy, or Halloween themed, so today.

To get the Halloween season kicked off the right way, I read “Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore” by Matthew Sullivan, his debut novel. Not knowing much about the book, except that it was one of the bestsellers on Amazon’s new novel list at the time that I was browsing early last month, I took a chance, intrigued by the title, and the short description about a late night death in a bookstore, and it really paid off. The book starts with a suicide of a bookstore regular, found by one of the employees, one of a few people in the world that he trusted and would talk to. From there the book follows that employee, Lydia, on a journey to find out what pushed her friend over the edge. Guided by clues left behind by the deceased, Lydia learns all about his life, and discovers a lot about hers as well as she is forced to face some of the haunting demons from her past. A quick read with perfectly placed twists that will leave you frantically turning the pages to find out what happens next, “Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore” was thrilling, suspenseful, and at times very eerie, making it the perfect way to kick off October. This is definitely near the top of my list in terms of favorite books that came out this year and would recommend it for anyone looking for a thrill ride that might leave you gasping audibly in disbelief, which happened to me at least one time over the course of this exciting journey.

The second book I read, “The Halloween Tree” by Ray Bradbury, was more of a traditionally themed Halloween book, and in fact is actually set on the thirty-first of October. It’s a fun spirited fall tale that follows eight boys and a skeleton on a journey to find their friend who they can never seem to catch up to, and also to discover the history of Halloween. While I did enjoy reading it, I found myself a little bit lost and confused during certain parts, but I feel that was mainly my fault. It’s a fairly short book, and I think would be best read in one to two days so it flows cohesively all the way through, but my mistake was getting distracted too often and letting it stretch out for more than a week, breaking up the pace of the story too often so the only thing that stayed with me from day to day were fragmented parts of the story rather than keeping up with the big picture. Even though I messed it up this time and didn’t enjoy it to the fullest extent, I would still recommend checking it out if you want a fast paced, fun book to get you in the mood for Halloween, but I would definitely suggest trying to read it in one to two days, which is easily doable lest you get distracted like me.

Whether you read either of these books or you choose to read something else altogether, the important thing is that you read, even if only for a few minutes. Open your imagination up to all of the exciting worlds out there, and I guarantee, you won’t be disappointed.

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Theft by Finding: A Review

IMG_4280It’s Friday, so you know what time it is right? Yes, it’s time for the weekend and doing whatever you want since you don’t have to work for two whole days (I apologize for my insensitivity for those who do have to work on the weekend for my blasé  attitude of generalizing what the weekend is like for everyone), but it’s also time for my weekly book review, which let’s be honest, is the single greatest thing about Friday. In all seriousness, I can’t think of a better way to unwind after a week of work than curling up on the couch with a good book, and reading the night away. The book I’m writing about today is one I would highly recommend, and if you’re so inclined, I would definitely go pick up a copy at your local bookstore to devour this weekend. “Theft by Finding” the published diaries of David Sedaris is interesting and captivates the reader from the introduction, where Sedaris explains how he landed on the title, which is absolutely perfect. The diaries span the years 1977 to 2002, years in which he wrote daily, whether it be a lengthy entry or a sentence or two about something interesting he saw on the street that day, and he compiled all of his favorites into this five hundred page masterpiece that I did not want to put down.

Having been a fan of Sedaris for eight or nine years now, since a professor in my very first class my freshman year at community college introduced him to me in the form of one of his essays, I have read a lot of what he’s written, and I can say without any exception, that his books I’ve read have never left me disappointed or feeling anything other than glad that I read them, and “Theft by Finding” was no exception. I have never laughed harder out loud at anything I’ve read in my entire life harder than have while reading the words of David Sedaris and his newest book was definitely not a letdown. I’m pretty sure my wife thinks I’m crazy because of all the random laughs she heard while I was reading in another room, but it’s definitely worth trading off your appearance of sanity for the pleasure of reading these very funny words. What I loved about his diaries, besides of course the fact that it’s all first hand perspective of a life that I find fascinating and hilarious, is the fact that since I am familiar with a lot of his other writing, I get a glimpse of the moments as they happen that inspire an essay that he writes later. There are entries in the diary about working as a mall elf at Christmas, the stories of which he recounted in great detail in his book “Holidays on Ice”, but it’s just cool to see the raw moments as they happen, looking closely at a single day, without knowing or having any hindsight perspective about how everything turns out. That to me, makes the writing more real, to see the pure emotion as something takes place, and ultimately makes “Theft by Finding” a real treat to read.

On a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is the equivalent of reading “Great Expectations” my freshman year of high school and 10 is absolutely perfect, without a doubt in my mind and no hesitation I give “Theft by Finding” a 10. If you like Sedaris, then you will love this book, and if you aren’t familiar with Sedaris, this book is the perfect introduction that will have you eager to read everything else that he has written. Do yourself a favor and push all of your other nagging obligations to the side and go to your local bookstore to pick yourself up a copy of “Theft by Finding” the quickest five hundred page book that I’ve ever read. You will not be disappointed.

What I Read This Week

IMG_4263Last week I talked about how I’d gotten off track and fallen behind in my reading and said that I was going to try and do better going forward, and that’s exactly what I’ve done. My goal this year was to average reading one book a week for the entire year, but since I’ve fallen behind, it’s imperative that I up my game and read multiple books each week, which I have done in the past six days and am about halfway through another. It feels good to be reading again, not because I’m on track to meet a meaningless goal I set for myself, but because it’s just something that I genuinely love to do. If you’ll indulge me, or even if you won’t, I’m going to talk about what I’ve been reading and what out of those books that I would recommend to you. Let’s get started.

Last Wednesday I started reading “The Couple Next Door” by Shari Lapena. It was the first book from the enormous stack of books I got for my birthday that I started reading, due to the fact that I wouldn’t allow myself to start reading one of the new books until I finished the one I was currently reading, something about discipline or self control; I don’t really remember. Out of all my new books, this was one of the one’s that I was most excited about, because it’s relatively new, just came out last year, and it falls under the category of my new favorite genre, suspenseful thriller. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “Disclaimer,” and “Gone Girl” all really got me into that mystery/suspense genre that are fascinating in a way that few other kinds of books are to me. “The Couple Next Door” is about a married couple with a six month old baby. The story opens at a party in the house next door to their own, but the baby is not there. She is next door in the home, alone, but the parents feign responsibility by keeping a baby monitor with them at the party and going next door to check on her every half hour on the dot. The only problem is, when they arrive home at the end of the night, their front door is cracked open and the baby is gone. What ensues is a fast paced book full of plot twists that will have you turning the pages as quickly as your eyes can scan the page, because you just have to find out what happens next. The writing felt a little clunky at first and took some time to get used to, but once I did, I was inevitably swept up in the story which dominated my thoughts for most of my waking hours over the two days it took me to finish reading the book, trying desperately to solve the mystery of what happened to the baby. Out of 10, I give “The Couple Next Door” a rating of 8, due to the writing style that I didn’t care for and the way the book ended, which to me was really annoying, though I won’t spoil it for you by talking about it in detail. It doesn’t make or break the book, which I would highly recommend reading, but it definitely takes points away from perfection. The author has a new book out now, and after reading “The Couple Next Door” and being captivated by the story, I’m greatly looking forward to checking out her next novel, “A Stranger in the House.”

The other book I read in the last week was “Today Will be Different” by Maria Semple. Last year I read and recommended her last book, “Where’d you go Bernadette?”, which was the first of her books that I’d ever read and loved it so much that I was highly anticipating the release of her next book. While it definitely wasn’t as good as her last, “Today Will be Different” was fun in it’s own completely different way. This book is the story of a forty-nine year old mother whose life just isn’t what it used to be, and her attempt to get back on track, because she cannot stand the way she is living now, finding it completely unacceptable. The book takes place over the course of one day, which is phenomenal looking back at how much happened in the course of ten hours. While the story revolves around the mother, her husband and child are featured prominently throughout, and are really the main focal point of the mother, whose daily changes will significantly improve her relationships with both of them. It was well written, and like “The Couple Next Door”, I finished it in two days, and while it wasn’t as interesting a plot as her last novel, I did enjoy reading “Today Will be Different” and will continue to read the works of Maria Semple in the future. Out of 10 I’ll give it a 6. As far as recommendations go, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, but I wouldn’t not recommend it either. If you read “Bernadette” and enjoyed that one, then I think you would enjoy this one as too, but if you haven’t read that one, I would definitely start with it so you get a clearer sense of whether you like the style in which Maria Semple writes. Now that I’m back on track, reading more, I’ll plan on giving you a book review each week, so keep coming back to find out what you should be reading and what to avoid.

What I’ve Been Reading: September

IMG_4167When there are so many things that you want to do, it can sometimes be difficult to fit everything in as much as you might like, which is what has happened to me over these past few weeks. It started when football did, and basically all of my other priorities took a backseat to me sitting on the couch watching TV for hours at a time, which has been great, but has also been a little bit frustrating because there are so many other things that I want to do as well, like writing. I was making good progress working on my book daily, but since the start of football season I have pushed that project to the side and haven’t written in it a single time. The same could be said for reading. I was once on track to easily surpass my goal of reading a book per week for this entire year, but now, unfortunately, I have fallen so far behind that I don’t know if I will be able to catch back up, but that isn’t to say that I’m not trying, because I really do want to get back on track; I spent the majority of last night reading, and I’m planning to kick it back into high gear working on my book starting Monday after I get back from spending the weekend in Branson, MO. I say all this to explain why I haven’t written about what I’ve been reading in a little while, which is, simply, because I haven’t been reading much, but yesterday with the finishing of a book, I want to talk about that today along with other books I’ve read recently and what I would recommend.

Yesterday I finished reading “Shine Shine Shine” by Lydia Netzer, and although it took me a while to get through, it is one that I would definitely recommend you checking out if you haven’t read it already. It’s the story of a husband and wife and the history they’ve shared together from the time they were kids, growing up as neighbors, leading up to the moment with the husband in space, and the wife back at home, about ready to have their second child. It’s very well written and keeps you turning the pages to find out what happens next, especially once things, in both space and on earth, take unexpected turns that could ultimately lead to a disaster. The characters aren’t perfect, each with their own set of flaws, and while the reader may not be able to directly relate what either of them are going through, we can certainly all relate with trying to keep up appearances while things are falling apart internally. “Shine Shine Shine” is both heart warming and heart wrenching, the complete package on a journey that extends throughout the entire universe, so pick up this book and hang on for the ride, because you never know what might happen.

Before that I read a book called “Five Days Apart” by Chris Binchy, the aforementioned book if you are familiar with the blog that I got from the public library last month. The book stunk, literally it smelled terrible, the product of being touched by too many hands, but despite the fact that my nose objected each time I opened it up, it was actually a pretty enjoyable read. Written by an Irish author that I was previously unfamiliar with before stumbling across his book whose red spine had caught my attention in the library, “Five Days Apart” was pretty enjoyable and I look forward to reading some more of his work in the future. This book was the story of two best friends, one who sees a beautiful girl at a party and falls in love with her at first sight, and the other who actually ends up with her, leaving the other friend in the terrible position of having to be supportive and acting like nothing is bothering him as he becomes the tip in their triangle of friendship, while deep down he is harboring intense feelings for his best friend’s girlfriend. It is well written, funny at times, and you just find yourself rooting for the underdog, the inevitably cast third wheel, to end up with the girl.

As is the case with desert, I saved the best for last, a title I’m sure you’re all familiar with, but a book I bet most of you haven’t read. It’s the inspiration for the hit Netflix show, a book by the same title, “Orange is the New Black.” Written by Piper Kerman, it is her autobiographical look at her year inside a women’s prison, and to say it is fascinating would be an understatement. It has always intrigued me how people who spend a substantial chunk of time behind bars occupies their time and keeps from going crazy, so it was really cool to get an inside look at how she dealt with things personally. If you aren’t familiar with the story, Piper Kerman goes to federal prison on a ten year old drug smuggling charge, one she thought was safely in her past, but when it reappears, she tries to keep her head up and get through her time with as few setbacks as possible, which doesn’t always work out that way. Out of the three books, I would recommend this one higher than the others, and don’t worry if you’ve already watched the show, because it really is quite a bit different, and you will not be bored with it. Whichever books you decide to read, whether it be one of these or something else, the important thing is that you read, continuing to grow your mind and expand your horizons throughout the entire course of your life. I know it’s easy to let other things distract us, like for instance football for me, but I’ve never ever spent time reading and regretted it later, because reading always leaves me with a feeling of fulfillment and accomplishment, even if it’s only for a few minutes, so do yourself and your mind a favor, and just read.

Breakfast, Bookstores, and Birthdays

IMG_4176I don’t think there’s any better way to start a day than with a big breakfast, although I’m not sure that any productive day has started in this manner, because filling up on heavy breakfast foods makes me want to do nothing but go home and take a nap, but that’s exactly how I started my day today, the first day of being twenty-seven. I met my dad at the Blue Plate Cafe, a local breakfast spot that has varied between hit and miss in terms of quality during the course of my year living in Memphis, but luckily today was a good day, and the food was delicious. I got two eggs over easy, with two sausage patties and hash browns, with biscuits and gravy arriving at the table like chips and salsa at a Mexican restaurant, a nice bonus to go along with the meal. Everything was so good, but my favorite part of the breakfast was getting to spend time with my dad, whom offered encouraging words about all of the famous people who died at twenty-seven years of age, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Kurt Cobain. Needless to say, if I happen to die this year I will be in good company.

After breakfast I decided to check out the new book store down the street, the one that opened in the same spot as The Booksellers at Laurelwood, formerly Davis Kidd, that closed earlier this year. I love that in this era of mostly shopping for books online that there is still a local bookstore to go to when you want a new book, not a chain like Barnes & Noble, but a place that is unique to the city of Memphis, a place called Novel. I went in and it was rather uncrowded, hopefully because today is a Labor Day, a holiday, and it isn’t like this all the time, because if that is not the case I fear it will go the way of The Booksellers and have to close its doors due to declining business. It was a lot smaller than The Booksellers, but Novel maximizes its space, full of books in a nice and quaint environment. I browsed the new selections for a while, completely alone and unbothered by other shoppers I might be in the way of and found a couple of books to my liking that I purchased from the friendly checkout people at the register. I got a receipt and a Novel bookmark and I was on my way.

I got a lot of good books for my birthday, courtesy of my dad, and purchased a couple more at Novel, so I spent the rest of my day reading, trying to finish the book that I’m currently reading so that I can start on the new ones. I still have about two hundred pages to read, but hopefully I can finish that one either today or tomorrow so that I can start on the many new books that I have gotten over the past few days. The days is not over yet, but all signs indicate a great birthday, and although I don’t feel any differently today than I did yesterday at twenty-six, I am optimistic about the future and hope that twenty-seven will be a fantastic year. Keep reading the daily blog to find out how it goes.

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My Tumultuous Relationship With the Public Library

The relationship between myself and the public library has been a somewhat tumultuous one over the years, with many more negatives than positives, although this has been entirely my fault, and like a bad couple who seem to keep breaking up and getting back together, so it is with me and the library, thinking each new time will be different, but so far that has never been the case. There was the Little Rock Public library, the one I grew up visiting, a relationship that started off great as I spent summers throughout childhood checking out as many books as they would allow and returning back countless times for more, but as I got older things changed. I would check out books that seemed interesting at the time and then more often than not I would get distracted with something else and end up not reading them, which wouldn’t have been a problem at all had I remembered to return the books. By the time I left Arkansas to go to college in Minnesota I had racked up over seventy dollars in fees from the library, but my mom bailed me out, giving me a fresh start when I decided to venture into the world of checking out books again.

I stayed away from the library for a few years until I moved to Florida, but the allure of unlimited books drew me back in and I fell into my old habits once again. I didn’t accrue as many fines for not returning books, the total being less than five dollars, and I really did intend on doing the right and responsible thing of paying for my transgressions, but as it turned out, the Fort Pierce library didn’t accept debit cards, they were cash only, which posed a problem for me as I have never been one in adulthood to carry cash on me. A kind stranger overheard the dilemma as I stood at the counter explaining to the librarian that I would have to return to pay my fines after visiting an ATM, and the stranger intervened saying she would pay the fine for me. I had hit rock bottom. I tried to dissuade the generous woman from freeing me from my debt, but she wouldn’t hear of it, no matter how much I pleaded, and eventually, against my will, paid my fine. It was at that moment that I decided I was done with the public library system, preferring instead to purchase books so that I could read what I wanted on my own time, building a personal library that would allow me to choose whatever book interested me as soon as I was ready to read something new. Then I moved to Memphis and the library bug bit me again.

Within the first month of living here I got a library card, you know, just to have one, but I stuck to my guns and for more than a year I didn’t check out a single book. I had all but forgotten about my library card, that is until today. The bank I work at can be pretty slow in the middle of the week with the higher traffic days being Monday and Friday, so to pass the time I will often read until a customer enters the branch, which is what I was doing today, but unfortunately I finished my current book with more than five hours left in my shift, and the temptation to check out a book became to much to resist, so on my lunch break I walked across the parking lot to the library and began browsing the infinite selection of books. I did check out a book, but at least it was only one, telling myself that I would read it, then immediately return it before checking out another. Hopefully this time around I’ll be more responsible and my relationship with the public library will be better than ever before. Only time will tell.

What I’ve Been Reading: Late July/Early August

IMG_4066While the past week has been a little bit cooler than the unbearably hot temperatures that seem to be intent on ruining my life this summer, it has still been too miserable to spend any significant amount of time outside, so I’ve focused a lot of my time lately on doing one of my favorite indoor activities, cross-stitching. I hate to burst your bubble if you read that last sentence and were instantly excited by the prospect of me cross-stitching you something cool and unique to you for Christmas this year, but I was just joking about that, and reading is what was meant to end the last sentence, but at the last second I called an audible thinking that perhaps cross-stitching might provide a few laughs, but now that it’s written, I realize that it’s less funny than it was intended to be, and for that I am truly sorry. Anyway, what I’m trying to talk about is reading, and more specifically what I’ve been reading lately, so without further ado (distractions), I present to you the three books I’ve read over the past couple of weeks.

The first one, “A Visit From the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan, is a book that has traveled with me from Memphis to Florida and then back to Memphis again, always occupying a place on my bookshelf but never really catching and holding on to my interest until recently, and I think it has everything to do with the title, or more specifically the last two words, goon squad. When I hear the word goon my mind takes me back to a Batman television show that I have absolutely no recollection of aside from the fact that the villains were called goons, so in my mind I jumped to the conclusion that this book would be about unsavory characters who lived in a super hero universe, which didn’t seem all that appealing to me, but I finally gave it a chance and I’m very glad that I did because it turned out to be a pretty good read. It’s a story that centers around music and the music industry, jumping around in different time periods in the characters lives, focusing on different characters and then showing how they are all somehow connected. My only problem with the book was that it felt a little clunky to me, all of the jumping around and trying to figure out whether whatever is currently being talked about happened before or after something you’d read, chronologically speaking, but there wasn’t a second of the book that I found at all uninteresting, so if you’re looking for something that will keep your attention, this one is a good one to check out.

Next on the list is “The Other Side of Mulholland” by Stephen Randall, a book I picked up at a used bookstore last year and had no knowledge of what the novel was actually about. There wasn’t a plot summary on the back, but I like a goldfish I was intrigued by all of the pretty colors that decorated the cover, so I bough it anyway. It’s the story of two brothers trying to make it as writers in Los Angeles while their parents constantly worry about them through all of their ups and downs. It’s a decent enough book, but there was really nothing that kept me wanting to keep reading, nothing that insisted I turn the page to find out what happened next, which is the reason out of all three of these books, although the shortest in length it took me the longest to get through, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

Lastly I read “Dry”, another memoir by one of my new favorite authors, Augusten Burroughs, which I can’t seem to get enough of. Dry is the story of Augusten’s journey from alcoholism to sobriety, full of ups and downs, written by one of the funniest voices I’ve ever read. It’s like every book I read by Burroughs is another piece of the puzzle, revealing a completely different side of one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever read about. Seriously, it’s actually pretty amazing that after all he’s been through that he is still alive, so if you haven’t jumped on the Augusten Burroughs bandwagon yet, you are really missing out, because now I’ve read three of his memoirs, and all of them have been very funny, and have easily been the books that I’ve read the most quickly over the last year because of how smoothly they flow combined with the fact that you’re dying to find out what happens next. “Dry” is probably my least favorite book I’ve read by Augusten, but that’s not a condemnation about how bad it is, but rather praise at how good his other two books are, and while it has been my least favorite that I’ve read by him, it was my favorite out of the three books I’m writing about today and I would definitely recommend you checking it out.