Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Nobodies Album

Carolyn Parkhurst wrote The Dogs of Babel, and Lost and Found, about people in an Amazing Race kind of television show. This, The Nobodies Album, is her latest.

            The Dogs of Babel : A Novel     The Nobodies Album     Lost and Found: A Novel

In this book, Octavia Frost is a semi-popular author who narrates the story...

"There are some stories no one wants to hear. Some stories, once told, won't let you go so easily. I'm not talking about the tedious, the pointless, the disgusting: the bugs in your bag of flour; your hour on the phone with the insurance people; the unexplained blood in your urine. I'm talking about narratives of tragedy and pathos so painful, so compelling, that they seem to catch inside you on a tiny hook you didn't even know you'd hung. You wish for a way to pull the story back out; you grow resentful of the very breath that pushed those words into the air. Stories like this have become a specialty of mine."

As the story unfolds, we find that her estranged son, a popular rock star, is accused of murdering his girlfriend. Also, her husband and daughter have been dead for years and we don't know why. In addition, Octavia is submitting her latest writing project, The Nobodies Album, to her publisher.

While she's telling the story of her son and the murder, she talks about this project, which is a collection of new endings for her previously published books, and whether or not one should change endings in established books.

  "I've always said that the ending of a novel should feel inevitable. You, the reader, shouldn't be able to see what's coming, but you should put the book down feeling satisfied that there's no other way it could have gone.
  "And yet, as I paged through the story I'd settled on, I could see the traces of the hundred different stories I'd rejected. Here I'd made a choice, and here, and here."

Interspersed in Octavia's narrative are the endings of the novels she wrote, the original endings, and then the revised endings she's submitting to the publisher.

So many things were going on in this book, the murder, the estrangement from her son, the deaths of her husband and daughter, Octavia's feelings about being a mother, how her life is (or isn't) part of all of her novels, the ending chapters of her previous novels...and it was all woven together brilliantly.

Carolyn Parkhurst is a creative and interesting writer. The Dogs of Babel was an compelling (if disturbing) story about trying to get dogs to talk, Lost and Found used a reality television show to bring out her characters, and here she uses writing and the process of writing to illuminate the story. This definitely qualifies as a Very Good Read, and I'm looking forward to see what she does next.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

John Dies @ The End

         John Dies at the End

E. is 23, is in college, and he's read it three times since January. He told P. and M. about the book and they started reading it. P. and M. told me. "Horror," they said, "and comedy."

Really? Yes, really.

In this book David Wong tells his own story - he and his friend, John (of the title), encounter some pretty mind bending, universe altering s**t. At a party they come in contact with soy sauce (not the Chinese food kind), which changes time and space. And various people end up dead. Or changed (person in the body of a dog, just as a for instance). There are monsters and battles and blood and slimy crawly things and friendships and even a little love. Some of the scenes are quite gory and violent; there is plenty of horror for any fan of the genre. And...there is humor.

David talks about getting something out of his emergency kit in his Bronco...

"This is my emergency kit. It contained a roll of duct tape, a spare pair of pants, an envelope with two hundred dollars, two bags of dried fruit, two packages of beef jerky, three bottles of water, a small metal pipe - just right for cracking a skull with - and a fake beard. Look, you never know."

Well, right.

This is a wild ride...David and John encounter soy sauce, which is going to disrupt, and probably destroy, the universe (and not in a good way). They try to stop it, hopefully minimizing the body count along the way. Existential questions are posed, some people die, and you'll probably laugh out loud. What's not to like?

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Customers 13

An older man, white hair, neatly clipped white mustache, wearing a powder blue pullover sweater, approached the information counter.

"Do you have any books about learning how to type?", he asked with a slight British accent. "I used to know how, but it's been a while, and now I'm back to hunt and peck."

"Let me see," I said. "I don't think we have anything in the store, but let me look up and see what might be available." I check the computer and there are a few available to order. I read him the titles, and he wants to order one.

"That would be great if you could order it," he said. "I am doing some writing and I really need to relearn how to type."

"What are you writing?", I ask.

"My memoirs. I am 91, and nobody has told the story. I was there to get Queen Wilhelmina out of the Netherlands before the Nazis invaded. I was on a train on my way to leave and they pulled me off to go get the Queen. We got her out just before the Nazis invaded. No one has told this story from the point of view of someone who has been there! I was there! And if I don't tell the story...well, there's no one left!", he said with a smile.

"It sounds like quite a story," I said.

"I was born in Cardiff, Wales. Ah, and we were poor. My father was unemployed and he'd drink on the week-ends." He shook his head. "It was rough." He paused. "I'm sorry, I live alone. I know I can talk a lot."

"Well it seems as though you've been through a lot. It sounds like a good idea to get it written down."

"Yes, well, I really need to figure out how to type again. Hunting and pecking isn't working while I try to get all this down."

"Right." I get his contact information for the order. "So we'll call you when the book comes in," I said.

"Thank you, I really appreciate it," he said.


A man, in about his 30's, unshaven, t-shirt, jeans, came up with two items to purchase. One was a hardcover bargain book, Paul of Dune, by Brian Herbert. The other was a magazine, Women's Health.

"I'm kind of embarrassed to even be buying this," he said, pointing to the cover of the magazine, which had a picture of a blond woman in a black bikini and the main headline was "The Hot Body Issue". "It's not for me," he said, "I swear it isn't. It's for my sister. She just had a baby."

"Would you like a bag?", I asked, figuring if he was embarrassed, perhaps a bag would be appropriate.

He thought about it for a moment, and smiled. "Nah. I guess I can just carry it out."

"You can use the book to hide it, if you want. Just an idea." I said.

"It's really for my sister. I'm just taking it to her."

"You don't have to explain to ME," I said, laughing. "Have a good day!"

You can send email to: 2of3RsATgmailDOTcom

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Wave

Susan Casey, author of The Devil's Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America's Great White Sharks (which I now want to read), writes The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean. It is, you guessed it, about waves - rogue waves, monster waves, tsunamis - waves that wreak havoc. The point? Waves are getting bigger. Waves are hard to predict.

Scientists haven't been studying ocean waves for all that long. It's difficult to determine, let alone monitor all the factors that go into creating waves. Scientists have been building models to try and predict huge freak waves.

Surfers also try to predict waves, though for different reasons. They want to ride them.

Casey spent time with extreme surfers and their quest for great waves as the framework for exploring waves and their immensity, power, and unpredictability. Laird Hamilton, Brett Lickle, Dave Kalama and other surfing greats feature prominently here. She also spent time with scientists who are trying to figure out how to predict waves as well as why they seem to be getting bigger. Scientists such as Penny Holliday, who travels on ships with monitoring devices to try to determine the cause of large waves. Nicholas Sloane lives in South Africa right off the Wild Coast, where ships have to deal with the Agulhas Current, some of the most treacherous water anywhere in the world.

Waves have been increasing in height and severity, causing more damage to ships and coastal areas. Scientists are trying to determine why waves are getting wilder, and how they can predict when and where they'll hit.

She shares some facts about waves that are mind-boggling and sobering...

"Tsunamis, waves caused by sudden lurchings of the earth's crust, are the ocean's speed champions. Their wavelengths can be more than one hundred miles long, and they can travel faster than jets."

"To his shock, he found that two hundred yards below the ship, gargantuan underwater waves more than six hundred feet high and ten miles long were rumbling by at the speed of four knots."

"...twenty seven vessels along with 654 people were lost during a four-month period in the winter of 1997-1998. Oil tankers slipped from the radar, leaving only black slicks to show they'd ever existed; rescuers responding to emergency calls arrived at the coordinates and found, instead of the vessel, mangled bits of debris. 'In some cases ships had simply broken apart like a snapped pencil,' an IMO report read."

"'Tsunamis are no ordinary waves,' McGuire said with understatement. 'They are walls of water that just keep coming in. If it's one hundred feet high, it's going to be one hundred feet high for five minutes.'"

"'Wave heights around the U.K. have increase by about a third in the last few decades' - McGuire emphasized that climate change has additional wave-generating effects that few people are aware of.' If you start to see meter-scale (3.3 foot) rises in sea level, then that load starts to bend the [earth's] crust, and that would promote magma reaching the surface. That will give you a massive increase in volcanic activity. It'll activate faults to create earthquakes, submarine landslides, tsunamis, the whole lot.' As bizarre as this sounds, history - and other scientists - back up his theory."

                     The Devil's Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America's Great White Sharks

The book has some stunning photographs, some of surfers riding ridiculously high waves, some of huge waves crashing over ships, some of devastation waves have caused. I found myself going back to them repeatedly as I read.

I really liked the science she presented about waves. Chapters like the one on the devastation caused in Lituya Bay in Alaska, where extreme waves have scoured the shoreline. Or the one on Penny Holliday and her research trip on the ship Discovery, which had to be cut short - because of severe weather battering the ship. Perhaps if I were a surfer, perhaps I would have had more appreciation for the chapters about surfers surfing.

I came away from this book with an enormous appreciation of the waves themselves, their ferocity, their unpredictability, their strength, and their beauty.

"...I stared at Jaws (the name given to a surfing site and the waves it produces in Hawaii). At about forty feet, this wasn't the biggest day on record, but somehow that diminished nothing. The wave was breathtaking. As it rose, its face opened up to the cliffs and its lip curled over a full-bellied barrel. Except for luminous glints of turquoise at its peak, the wave was sapphire blue, gin clear, and flecked with white. If heaven were a color, it would be tinted like this. You could fall into this water and happily never come out and you could see it forever and never get tired of looking. Jaws did not permit its spectators to dream about being someplace else, to feel bored or irritated or jaded. Watching it was an instant antidote to petty problems. There could be no confusion about who called the shots out here, at this gorgeous, haunted, heavy, lush, primordial place, with all its unnameable blues and its abillity to nourish you and kill you at the same time. There was unspeakable power at Jaws, but it was the beauty that got me."

You can email me, Bibliophile, at 2of3Rs@gmailDOTcom.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Right Book for Right Now

I have quite a few books in my To Be Read pile. They are books I really do want to read, books I've been meaning to read for...well, let's just say quite a while. Quite often when I'm finishing with one book, I'll choose a book for my next read from the TBR pile.

Sometimes, though, when I come to the end of what I'm currently reading, as I mentally go over my TBR (To Be Read) pile in my mind, none of the book in the pile appeal to me at that particular time. I want to read them, I just don't want to read them right NOW. It may be a mood thing, or a length thing, or a subject of interest thing.

If I'm lucky, I'll find a book to read that I hadn't been looking at before, and it is the right book for right now. It's a book that suits my mood, my energy level, my interest at that moment in time.

That is what happened with Room.


I picked this up as an unknown. I didn't know of Emma Donoghue, hadn't read Slammerkin (one of her previous books), hadn't heard anything about this book, I hadn't even read the back cover or inside flap of this book (unusual for me).

I just started reading it. Jack narrates. Jack, who is five years old and lives in Room with his mother. He sleeps in Bed, plays on and under Table, lies on Rug. Why are all these things proper names? Is it just a quirky five year old's view of the world? Well, perhaps.

Jack shares his world in his five year old voice, sharing his day to day life, and slowly, we learn why he and his mother live in Room, how they got there, why his mother wants to get out, and what happens when they do.

Jack is completely believable and engaging, sharing his observations...

"Lunch is bean salad, my second worst favorite. After nap we do Scream every day but not Saturdays or Sundays. We clear our throats and climb up on Table to be nearer to Skylight, holding hands not to fall. We say, 'On your mark, get set, go,' then we open wide our teeth and shout holler howl yowl shriek screech scream the loudest possible. Today I'm the most loudest ever because my lungs are stretched from being five."

Jack describes his world, his world in Room, with Ma, is all he's ever known and he describes it like a child does, telling it like it IS, not how it should be, or might be, because living in Room is all he's ever experienced.

Like Curious Incident of Dog in the Nighttime, or The Art of Racing in the Rain, Jack as narrator has a unique voice and take on the world. Brilliantly done, Donoghue captures the tenor of just being five years old. More than that, through Jack's observations and musings, she reveals Jack and Ma's completely out of the ordinary life.

I don't want to share more of the plot, in case you, like me, haven't heard much about Room. I'm glad I got to read it as an unknown. It was a delightful surprise. Highly recommended.

You can send email to: 2of3RsATgmailDOTcom.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Comics and Alzheimers

A slender woman, short brown hair, maybe in her 50's, came up to me and asked where the books like Gary Larson's Far Side books are. I showed her a few Gary Larson books we have in the bargain (i.e. cheaper) section, and then showed her the section in Humor with all the rest of the comics are, Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield, etc. She sort of stood there for a moment, thinking.

"Let me tell you what I'm looking for, maybe you can help me," she said. "My dad has early Alzheimer's, and he really likes comic strips in the paper, but he gets easily distracted, so..."

"Ah. In a lot of these books the comics are jammed in there, the pages are pretty crowded. It sounds as though he needs some that have maybe one comic on a page, or just a few. The Far Side is good for that, here are some of his that just have a few on a page. We also have a few with comics from The New Yorker, those have just one on a page. Calvin and Hobbes, Zits, a lot of them are really busy, so much crammed on each page." I showed her The New Yorker cartoon book.

"He's been having my mom make larger copies of comics from the paper and put them on the wall. I thought a book might be good, they are larger and that way he can look at as many as he wants and then be done with them. He gets overwhelmed easily," she said.

"My mom had Alzheimer's and she if something overwhelmed her, she'd just be done with it, she would be too frustrated and she'd just give up. Having lots of white space on a page is a good idea. My mom also had a stroke, and after the stroke, she found some things funny that she never would have found funny before. It's as though some of her sense of humor changed after the stroke. But hey, she was laughing, laughing is good."

"Absolutely," she said. "I want to give my dad what he likes while he can still enjoy it. Thanks for all your help, I'll keep looking here."

"You're welcome," I said. "Good luck with everything."

                         Tequila Mockingbird : A Book of Animal Cartoons

You can email me, Bibliophile, at 2of3Rs@gmailDOTcom.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Etgar Keret - Obscure? Sure...

The Nimrod Flipout: Stories        Jetlag: Five Graphic Novellas

A co-worker introduced me to this author...Etgar Keret, from Israel. He writes stories that are kind of strange, sometimes sad, sometimes very touching and sweet, and often leaving the reader (or at least me) with questions or observations to ponder.

I read The Nimrod Flipout. Many of the stories are super short, less than two pages. Sometimes there is something unusual...a talking fish, shrinking parents, a couple who gives birth to a horse...and sometimes not, sometimes regular life things with Keret's own twist.

One of my favorite stories was Surprise Egg, where a woman gets killed in a suicide bombing, which is of course very sad. But when they do the autopsy, they find she's filled with tumors, she was actually near death with this undiagnosed cancer. The pathologist struggled with whether or not to tell the husband when he came to identify the body, "look, your wife was going to die anyway".

A Good-Looking Couple has a man and a woman having sex for the first time in his apartment. The story is from his point of view, and hers. And the cat has an opinion. So does the door. The television gets to put in its two cents as well.

In the first story, Fatso, a man meets a beautiful woman, they get involved. The only strange thing is that at night, she changes into an ugly, fat, boorish man. This does affect the relationship a bit, though not as much as you might think.

Other times Keret will use a kiss. Or being naked. Or one word a baby won't say to bring something poignant or just interesting to the surface.

I really liked these stories.

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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Death and Dying and NOT Airy-Fairy

A woman with long gray hair tied up on her head asked me if we had any books by David Kessler.

"On death and dying?", she said. "I'd like to see anything by him."

I took her over to the death and grieving section and showed her his books. She looked at them for a few moments and then said, "I don't want this. Why would someone suggest THIS to me? This isn't what I wanted at ALL."

Life Lessons: Two Experts on Death and Dying Teach Us About the Mysteries of Life and Living

A man came up to her and said, "How's it going?"

"I'm grumbling," she said.

"I can see that," he said, smiling. They got up and walked away. A few minutes later, she came up to me and said, "Okay, maybe you can help me find what I'm looking for. I want to know about the physical part of the dying process, what happens to the body when it's dying. I don't want that airy-fairy stuff."

"Ah," I said. "Right, the death and dying section doesn't really deal with the physical part. We have a medical reference section over here, here is a section on specific diseases or conditions, then here's medical reference, these are pretty technical, though" (and I'm thinking as I'm walking and talking) "I'm not sure there will be anything specifically on dying. Over here, on the other side, there are some books about aging, these actually might have something about dying."

"Let me tell you what's going on," she said. "My mother is in hospice, she's dying. Right, well, that's why she's in hospice. She's living with us. And I want to know what's happening to her, I want to be able to help her and I want to know. Some doctor recommended that Kessler guy, that's not what I wanted at all."

I knelt down to look at the Aging section (with which I am quite familiar). "There are several about caring for aging parents, a lot of them are dealing with people just starting to think about when parents having to move out of their homes, and into a care facility and all the ramifications of that, and you're beyond all that (she's nodding the whole time). However, at the end of these books many of them deal with the end stages of life. There are quite a few about Alzheimer's..."

"She has dementia," she said. "And she's getting close to the end, she hasn't been able to drink anything for a few days now."

"Ah. Well, this one is excellent." I point to The 36 Hour Day. It does start with early diagnosis and so on, but it does also talk about the very end. And this one by Gail Sheehy is about being a caregiver, she talks about how it is for YOU. It also might talk about the end stages. There are several others here that are about caring for aging parents, and they go through a lot of situations, and up until the end." I pull several books off the shelf and hand them to her.


"This is great, this is just what I'm looking for," she said. "I really appreciate all the time you've taken with me, this is just what I needed. Thank you so much."

"You're welcome. Good luck with everything."

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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Customers 12

A customer was checking out with her purchases. There were three booksellers close by.

She said, "I'm looking for a book, it starts with the letter "C".

"The book starts with "C" or the author starts with "C"?, one of us asked.

"The author starts with "C". He has a new book out.", she said.

"Clive Cussler?", I asked?

"No, not him," she said.

"Do you know any titles of any of his books?"

"No, I don't know any titles of his books. But he's very good looking, he and his wife are a lovely couple. He has sort of a partial beard," she said.

This is not helping.

"He died today," she said.

That's better, but it's still not coming up for any of us. We were trying.

"Tony Curtis died yesterday, I know he's more of an actor, but...," said a bookseller.

"Oh no," she said disgustedly. "It's not Tony Curtis, I don't care about him."

Finally one of the booksellers surreptitiously pulled out her cell phone that had access to the internet.

"Stephen Cannell died today, is it him?", the bookseller said.

"Yes! That's it! Oh he was a wonderful writer, he was in his 60's. How did you ever come up with his name?"


"Do you have a restroom in here?", a customer asked.

"We sure do. There's a green sign on the wall just over there." I gestured toward the direction of the restroom.

"And the sign says restroom?," she asked.

"Um, yep, that's what it says," I said.

(I wanted to say, "No, the sign actually says Free Hot dogs". But I didn't.)

You can email me, Bibliophile, at 2of3Rs@gmailDOTcom.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Some Sadness and Some Dogs

A woman came up to me by the information desk. She was mid 50's-ish, short, high-lighted hair, very tan, and wearing one of those long ragged edged sweatshirts that are supposed to look cheap but are actually really expensive. She seemed almost frantic. She asked if we had a novel in which the main character is dealing with recovery and drug use.

"Hmm, well, this isn't a novel, but what about Beautiful Boy and Tweak?", I said. "I'm not exactly sure what you're looking for, but this is about drug use and the first one is from the dad's point of view and the Tweak is from his son, the user's point of view."

"I thought of those, but he relapses after the book. That's not good. My daughter is in recovery and I don't want that for her. She's read all the books that are specifically about addiction...Melody Beattie, etc., she's read all that. Committed it to memory, pretty much. My daughter is in recovery but she keeps getting involved with men and then gets sidetracked from what she needs to be doing for her recovery. I want to get her something to read where someone is dealing with their recovery."

"Has she read James Frey's A Million Little Pieces? In that book he's in recovery..."

"She LOVED that, that was great."

Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction          A Million Little Pieces

"Oh wait...again, this isn't a novel, but what about Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp? I just finished reading that. She's an alcoholic and keeps getting involved with men and she can't see how her alcohol addiction is getting in the way of her relationships."

"Hmm, I don't know...does she get out of it?"

"Yep", I said confidently. "By the end of the book she stops living with men because she realizes she has to get herself together and work on her recovery before she can be involved with men."

"That sounds perfect." She stopped, "except my daughter used meth, not alcohol. Where is it?" I took her to the Biography section and handed her a copy.

                         Drinking: A Love Story

When I told Therapist about it later, she suggested that I could have given her Caroline Knapp's next book, Pack of Two, where the author is in recovery and realizes that she can't even be in a relationship with people, so she gets a dog. I haven't read that one yet. It's on my list.



An older couple brought up The Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds.

                         Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds

"Are you looking for a new dog? Or do you have a dog...?", I asked.

"We just lost our dog. A King Charles Spaniel. And we're trying to decide whether to stick with the same breed for our next dog, or get a different breed this time."

"They are nice dogs," I said. "We're getting a springer spaniel next week", I told them.

"Oh, that's great. The King Charles spaniels are great dogs. He was so wonderful."

"How old was he when he died?" I asked.

"He was 10. That breed is known for heart problems. We're lucky to have the time we did with him."

"It's hard to lose a dog, even if you know it's coming," I said. "I'm sorry you lost him...and good luck with your search!"