Thursday, July 07, 2011

Even More Summer Reading

I've continued nicely with my voracious reading thanks to the miracle known as the Kindle App for iPhone (it's free no less!). This makes it possible for me to wake up in the middle of the night and read my books on my phone in pitch darkness while I nurse the baby or suffer from insomnia. It's amazing. Somehow the Kindle and the phone sync up so both devices always know which page I'm on so I can seamlessly switch back and forth. It's incredible I tell you. I feel like I'm living in The Jetsons. I may as well have a flying car.

Anyway, I've been reading a lot and I have four books to recommend. Now, a note here. I read more books than I recommend, so if you just read my blog posts you'd probably get the idea that I love every single book I read. Not the case. I don't bring up the books I don't like. I figure there's no point in me telling you about books that aren't worth reading and I don't want to hurt the feelings of any authors who have google alerts set up on themselves.

Summer reading for a lot of people consists of fun books that often don't require a great intellectual investment. Other times we want to indulge in something a little trashier or flashier. For me, I always want to read something sordid and I hadn't in a while so I decided it was finally time to read Diablo Cody's memoir Candy Girl, about her year as a stripper/ sex worker in Minneapolis. You might remember Diablo Cody when she won her much deserved Oscar for Juno. She also writes the TV show the United States of Tara. Juno was an exceptionally well written and beautifully thought out movie and that quality of writing is present in Cody's memoir as well, although the subject matter is considerably and delightfully less wholesome. Let me be honest - this book is totally nasty in the best possible way and I loved every second of it. Cody starts out working a dull office job and becomes a stripper on a lark to ease her boredom, get a thrill and make some extra money. Of all people, I understand. I wanted to read this book to see if her experiences in a strip club were anything like mine and the answer is, well, kinda. She was braver than I was and strapped on the lucite platforms without a second thought, whereas I managed to stay behind a cash register calling cabs for drunks, cashing out dancers and snipping cigars. Cody immersed herself in the world of strippers, while I remained a peripheral observer. Her stories are better than mine, but after all, she got her degree from the University of Iowa and I just went to the summer program. I kind of see her as me, but on metaphorical steroids. Therefore, if you like my strip club stories, you will freaking LOVE Diablo Cody's. I certainly did. And can I just get all English major-y? This girl has a way with language. You can hear it in the dialogue in Juno, but I think her writing really shines when you can read her exposition. The metaphors, the connections and comparisons. Hot damn. I'm jealous. I think I'd like to make out with her. I hope she writes more non-fiction books.

My next book is My Korean Deli by Ben Ryder Howe, and is another memoir ( I'm sorry but I just prefer the true stories). Howe is a self-described WASP from Boston who went to boarding school and edits at the very prestigious and quirky Paris Review under George Plimpton. Howe has married into a traditional Korean family and his ambitious and fabulously educated lawyer wife wants to repay her family's sacrifices for her by helping her mother open a Korean deli in Brooklyn. The premise sold me immediately and the fact that the book is literary and hilarious at the same time kept me hooked. This book is fantastic and just darling. It's a well rounded piece of writing, with Howe switching back and forth between the two opposite worlds he inhabits - the Paris Review and the deli. What I loved about My Korean Deli was the way Howe wrote kindly of those around him when he so easily could have diminished everyone into caricatures and stereotypes. Yes the people in his world are funny and strange and often exasperating, but they are also real human beings and full of complexity. Howe has a talent for making his reader love and empathize with every single character he describes and he is an expert with dialogue. I especially loved reading the dialogue he wrote for George Plimpton, a man who has never been ineloquent, if that is even a word. It had never occurred to me that I might find the ins and outs of running a Korean deli at all interesting, but a good writer like Howe can make any topic riveting. If you like when Margaret Cho makes fun of her mother, you will appreciate this memoir. If you like the Paris Review you will also enjoy it. If you just like a good, light hearted, fresh read you will love My Korean Deli as much as I did. I'd also like to add that if I were a TV executive, which I am not possibly because I actually have a clue of what people would like to see on television, I'd be optioning this one as fast as I could. It would make a delightful sit-com, that is if they didn't change everything and ruin it like TV people always do.

I was super excited to read the next book I'm recommending for summer reading this week. Having been a Laura Ingalls Wilder obsessed pre-adolescent, I was all over The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure, who shared my exact ardor for the Little House and my exact hatred for anything related to that blasphemous TV show. See above where I state that TV shows ruin everything and never get it right (some kind named Albert addicted to Dr. Baker's morphine? Gag). Apparently my pioneer dreams were in good company and I was not the only little girl who longed to soak her toes in Plum Creek and let her sun bonnet dangle down her back. As an adult and another Iowa grad, McClure seeks to understand and rediscover Laura Ingalls Wilder, both the fictional heroine and the real woman. The book is at once a personal quest, a partial biography and a literary and social criticism of the Little House phenomenon. It's serious writing, but with definite funny parts. Other parts are sad or reflective and all of The Wilder Life is compelling. I read it in two days but ithout a baby, I would have read it in an afternoon because I found it just that informative and entertaining. Still, when I finished I was left wanting more. Although I really loved this book, had it been mine I would have fleshed it out more and taken it further. Though I understand it wasn't feasible for this author, I would have really enjoyed a more crazy experiment type of memoir, a la AJ Jacobs, where the writer maybe would have tried to really live the pioneer life. I know I'm not about to do something like that, but damn I know I'd read a book where someone did. I love crazy experiment memoirs. Are you surprised that I was a serious fan of Frontier House? I was actually kind of surprised that McClure never mentioned the show as she surely would have been into it as much as I was.  If you loved the Little House book (not the god damned show) as much as I did and if you were left wondering about the inconsistencies and missing years in the book, you too will love The Wilder Life.

Yes! I actually read fiction once in a while. I love reading fiction, just not writing it. My cousin Bella asked for a historical fiction book for her birthday, which is today, and I knew just the book for her. Hannah Tinti's The Good Thief was recommended to me by my friend Emma who loved it so much she ended up interviewing the author. It's creepy, gothic and has a great mystery. I don't want to spoil any of it, so I'll just say that it's well written and involves an orphan with an unknown past. Just get it. You'll love it. I think Bella will too and I've instructed her to give it to my grandmother when she finishes the book I sent to her.

And Husband is reading...

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey. It's about how great exercise is for curing all that ails your mind. Exercise will make you smarter and fix your ADD. Now if only running could hold my attention. Hmm.


Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. I told him to read this. It's about memory and those people who can memorize ridiculous amounts of information and then win memory competitions. I find this sort of thing fascinating and I tried some of the techniques in this book. Unfortunately they didn't work for me because I have the attention span of a puppy. I have an extraordinary memory but it's fickle and my mind will only remember what it wants, which is why studying has always been a useless and boring waste of my time. That said, I still liked this book, which I heard about by listening to an interview with Foer on NPR.

Hope I've given you some good reads to keep you busy. Any suggestions for me for next time?


Erica said...

I'm pretty sure someone has already suggested this one, but I finally got around to reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks a few weeks ago. Full disclosure, I'm a research scientist, so this one hit home for me in a way that it may not for other people. But I thought the writing was very thoughtful, the story was incredibly compelling, and there were many parts that left me with my jaw on the floor, just totally devastated. I haven't been moved like that by a book in my adult life. So for those of you with scientific inclinations or who are in the life sciences or medicine professionally, please please read this book if you haven't already.

Sunny said...

I read a review of My Korean Deli this weekend and it was going to be my next book. I really want to read it now! I just finished Townie. Even though it dragged sometimes and seemed a bit over-indulgent, by the end I found I had really enjoyed it. Bad childhoods scar, but the adult result can go so many different ways. While reading it, I was constantly wondering what you would think of it. I agree; a good memoir over fiction any day.

Sinclair said...

WL: Thanks for your suggestions. Just finished "A Girl Named Zippy" and loved it so much now I'm reading the next book about her mom.

Now, this is not a book, but when I read it I thought about you and had to share it

I have questions. Life / baby questions. Private though. How can I reach you? Are you still reading your FB messages? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I remember reading Diablo Cody's blog back in the day! It was fascinating. I didn't realize she has a book - I'll have to check it out. My mom got me into an Alan Bradley series that I have *loved* so far - - cute, quirky mysteries narrated by a British schoolgirl ca. 1950. I also loved Special Topics in Calamity Physics - you've probably already read that one, though. It. was. phenomenal.

Wide Lawns said...

Sinclair, you should email me at

Anonymous said...

Try the book of essays Notes From No Man's Land by Eula Biss. She'll be reading at FAU in March. And I second Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks which is one of the best nonfiction books I've read in the past few years --Papatya

Shannon Culver said...

Dirty Secret - memoir of a hoarder's daughter (did you tell me about this book? If so, LOVED it! If not, read it!)

Whip Smart, Melissa Febos. Memoir of a Manhattan dominatrix.

Hope you can fix your RSS. I'm WAY behind due to not getting your posts in my reader. Super happy to know you're writing though. I miss your posts when you don't!

Anonymous said...

For some reason, I'm really into autobiographies right now. I read Melissa Gilbert's (I know, I know.. but it was good); Carol Burnett's; Ashley Judd's; and some others. I like other books, it's just a thing right now.

Miss Kitty said...

WL, those are some excellent suggestions! As an ADDer myself, I really should check out Ratey's book. Exercise may be the "missing link" in my treatment plan. And as a former exotic dancer myself, I should probably also read Diablo Cody's book...and get the hell to work on my own stripper memoir. And I've read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. OMG, what an amazing book. Erica's right; it will leave you speechless.

By the way: the Ask Mom™ edition of "Kinda-Sorta Nasty-Assed Recipes" is up on E&P. I linked to your latest "NAR" post from this one, and I hope you'll stop in and leave your own question for Mom. Or at least comment on the gross dishes she does get around to discussing. The URL is

(((hugs))) to you, Mr. Lawns, Baby Lawns, and all your critters.

Jean said...

My love for Michael Landon was effective extinguished as I watched the first episode of "Little House". WTF????? Who is the idiot that sold the rights to the morons that ruined the spirit of those magical books??????

You know - maybe the time is ripe for another series of LH - TRUE to the storyline, with appropriate casting, and ending when Laura passes away. Or maybe a fabulous movie, not the drivel that the studios tried to pass off as LH. Hmmmm. What if it were a collaborative effort among a group of equally fervent LH fans that fancy themselves writers? What do you think? We could pass the screenplay among us, each adding parts in the storyline and editing each other.

I had the chance to visit Lake Pepin 10-15 years ago and gathered up a small handful of smooth pebbles. They live proudly in a pretty jar on my bookcase. I've been asked what they were many times. Most of the people I told stared at me blankly with and ''re a freak' look on their faces. But a few opened the jar reverently and poured them into their palm. One friend even put them into her pocket to feel their weight hanging there. I remember wishing her pocket would tear and she would cry...

Think about it - it might be a million dollar idea waiting to happen...

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