Book Love! All Involved

This book absolutely wrecked me. All Involved is a stunning novel set during the 1992 L.A. riots. It’s timely, gripping, beautifully crafted, intense, and important. It kept me up at night and it shifted my perspective in surprising ways. It seems sadly appropriate to recommend this book right now while riots are happening in Baltimore. We Are Not All Having the Same Experience.

A Recommended Reading List for the Random Guy Caught Having Phone Sex in my Bookstore Bathroom

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller. Miller’s novel, originally intended to be titled Crazy Cock according to the author, was banned in the U.S. for 27 years and became known as much for its fight for freedom of expression as for its expression of sexual freedom. Now hailed as an American classic, this story—part memoir, part fiction—is wholly bawdy.

Vox by Nicholson Baker. The titillating concept: A fictional transcription of a conversation between two people who meet over a phone sex call-in line. Satisfyingly voyeuristic.

Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. Sigh. Not a lot of sex but a whole lot of sexy by the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda.

Story of O by Pauline Réage. Love, dominance, and submission. This was the original Fifty Shades of Grey, the X version to Fifty’s PG-13. Not for the politically correct or easily offended.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. Prague in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Four tangled up characters/lovers. Existential themes. Lyrical writing. And, of course, sex.

In the Cut by Susanna Moore. Moore’s novel is a sexy trinity of literature, erotica, and thriller that will titillate you long after the final page.

Delta of Venus by Anaïs Nin. A stunning collection of erotic short stories and sexual encounters applauded by sex-positive feminists.

Create Your Own Erotic Fantasy series. Remember the Choose Your Own Adventure series of your childhood? Well, they’re all grown up now. These sexy novellas have interactive plots that engage the reader by allowing them to choose which page to turn to next. “Our friend Kimmie will be there; I think you’d like her. And I think she’d like you. A lot. (If you accept their offer, please turn to page 128. If you turn it down, please turn to page 173.)”

None of the choices the reader is offered have you ending up having phone sex in the public bathroom of an independent bookstore though. I’m just sayin’.

“There’s something kind of heroic about being  a bookseller.”

My Five Favorite Books About Booksellers

  1. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. A bighearted novel that won booksellers’ hearts. (See above quote)
  2. 84, Charing Cross Road. A customer first recommended this jewel of a book to me. She couldn’t remember the name of it and when I reached out to colleagues to try to figure it out, I discovered that my fellow booksellers not only knew the book (and the title), but had all along loved this unlikely 20-year correspondence between a New York writer and a London bookseller.
  3. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Protagonist Clay Jannon comes to bookselling like most booksellers–not by plan. Thus begins this spirited novel with a mystery and a bookstore at its center.
  4. The King’s English. Betsy Burton, author of this charming book and owner of the bookstore of the same name, has written a wonderful account of her 30 years running one of the most well respected independent bookstores in the country. Betsy is one of my favorite booksellers and reading her book is like spending a perfect afternoon with a lovely, well read host who has great stories about authors and the inner workings of a bookstore.
  5. Blind Submission. I’m partial to this one because the bookseller character is based on me. (According to author Debra Ginsberg, “Elise” is a composite of me and two other booksellers: Adrian Newell of Warwick’s and Carole Carden, formerly of Esmerelda Books.) But I’m also partial to anything Debra writes. Whether she’s writing a memoir about her days waiting tables, novels, mysteries, or a book about her son, Debra is just a great storyteller and a solid writer. She also happens to be way cool.

I just returned home from an extraordinary (and very Los Angeles) yoga class–a fundraiser for  Project Heal ; a friendly group of Silver Lakers; skylights filling the room with SoCal sunshine; indie rock music; and a very talented teacher. Gotta love a yoga instructor who blends quotes from Cheryl Strand’s   Tiny Beautiful Things   with hatha yoga and a
rad soundtrack. I haven’t been to a yoga class in so long that I gave myself a gold
star for even showing up today, but I worked hard, focusing on my core,
pulling my shoulder blades down my back, remembering to breathe. Then halfway
through class, I was lying on my back one knee pulled toward my chest, the other leg
crossed on top of the other, and the teacher, Jillian, came along and gently took hold of the base of my head
with her hands. My head can be very heavy some days. The thinking, and trying, and figuring out, and striving, and “doing the
work.“ Instead of opening, and accepting, and welcoming, and
easing–words that by their very nature allow for breath and space and all the
things that we actually need to live and to grow.  As she took my head in her hands, releasing me of its weight, I was reminded of how much easier life is when we let go.   So today, no lists, no reviews, just these offerings… Beginning with the above first few lines of Mary Oliver’s ” Wild Geese ,“ a poem that will change your life if you allow it to. And ending with one of my favorite mindfulness writers, Jon Kabat-Zinn: “If we are not careful, it is all too easy to fall into becoming more of a human doing than a human being, and forget who is doing all the 
doing, and why.” (  Mindfulness for Beginners  )   Remember, as T.S. Eliot says in "Burnt Norton”, Number 1 of hi s Four Quartets :     “ Except for the point, the still point, 
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

I just returned home from an extraordinary (and very Los Angeles) yoga class–a fundraiser for Project Heal; a friendly group of Silver Lakers; skylights filling the room with SoCal sunshine; indie rock music; and a very talented teacher. Gotta love a yoga instructor who blends quotes from Cheryl Strand’s Tiny Beautiful Things with hatha yoga and a rad soundtrack. I haven’t been to a yoga class in so long that I gave myself a gold star for even showing up today, but I worked hard, focusing on my core, pulling my shoulder blades down my back, remembering to breathe. Then halfway through class, I was lying on my back one knee pulled toward my chest, the other leg crossed on top of the other, and the teacher, Jillian, came along and gently took hold of the base of my head with her hands. My head can be very heavy some days. The thinking, and trying, and figuring out, and striving, and “doing the work.“ Instead of opening, and accepting, and welcoming, and easing–words that by their very nature allow for breath and space and all the things that we actually need to live and to grow.  As she took my head in her hands, releasing me of its weight, I was reminded of how much easier life is when we let go. 

So today, no lists, no reviews, just these offerings… Beginning with the above first few lines of Mary Oliver’s ”Wild Geese,“ a poem that will change your life if you allow it to. And ending with one of my favorite mindfulness writers, Jon Kabat-Zinn: “If we are not careful, it is all too easy to fall into becoming more of a human doing than a human being, and forget who is doing all the doing, and why.” (Mindfulness for Beginners)

Remember, as T.S. Eliot says in "Burnt Norton”, Number 1 of his Four Quartets:

Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

Eat your heart out, New York

“Many of Los Angeles’ best restaurants are located in strip malls. L.A.’s publishing scene is equally hidden and surprising; most people don’t even know it exists.

Although New York is known to be the center of the book publishing world, Los Angeles’ contribution is growing. And when it comes to publishing, New York may be a banquet for 100 people but L.A. is a scintillating, intimate dinner party.”

You’re invited to attend, via my newest column for the Los Angeles News Group.

Printed Matter's L.A. Art Book Fair 2015

My favorite parts of the L.A. Art Book Fair! (in no particular order)

1) THE THING! Reminiscent of Visionaire, the visionary press that challenges our definitions of “art” and “book” by creating regular 3-dimensional art projects for readers, The Thing is an equally undefinable object-based publication produced quarterly by visual artists Jonn Herschend and Will Rogan, each conceived of by a different contributor (L.A.-based graphic designer, Brian Roettinger, for example).

2) The Ice Plant. This small L.A. Publishing house publishes the eccentric, eclectic, creative, and memorable. Their unique and lovely sensibility infuses every project. From Bad Luck, Hot Rocks: Conscience Letters and Photographs from the Petrified Forest (letters sent to The Petrified Forest National Park which protects one of the largest deposits of petrified wood in the world, by folks who stole rocks then later returned them out of guilt) and their exquisite five-year diaries, to (their now out of print) Retrieved (portraits of the surviving 9/11 search dogs) to co-founder, Mike Slack’s haunting Polaroids in OK OK OK, among others.

3) Dogtown Dogs Food Truck. We didn’t have any hot dogs but, damn, the tater tots were good.

4) People Watching. From the girls dressed in their Hello Kitty-inspired attire in honor of “Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty” the exhibit now  at the Japanese American National Museum, just next to the art fair at the Geffen, and local artists in their obvious element; to east side hipsters and west side art/book collectors, the parade of people was a celebration of L.A.’s creative spirit and diversity.

5) The Zines! The passion of zine authors for their projects is, arguably, unsurpassed. Some were still breathless from the final pen strokes and stapling, and subject matters, in some cases, bordered on fetish and obsession.

6) RedFoxPress. All the way from Ireland, these folks seemed to be there to share their art rather than sell their merchandise. Letterpress. Artists’ books. Handprinted editions. Limited edition prints. Frottages. Their table was an explosion of color, collaboration, and creativity.

The Unreliable

Ah, the seduction of the unreliable narrator. The inescapable charm of the despicable Tom Ripley in the fantastic psychological thriller, The Talented Mr Ripley. The beautiful inconsistencies of the three narratives in the extraordinary and uncatgorizable House of Leaves. The teenage angst that colors Holden Caulfield’s world view in Catcher in the Rye. Humbert Humbert’s self-delusion in Lolita.  The unnamed narrator and ambiguous “ghost” story of The Turn of the Screw. The secrets and sins of omission in Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

Even in nonfiction: Susan Bergman’s poetic memoir, Anonymity, and her sister, Anne Heche’s very different version of their shared childhood in her memoir, Call Me Crazy. One, if not both, of these “narrators” would appear to be unreliable and the result, when read together, is delicious.

Recently I’ve read a few books applauded for their unreliable narrators. An unreliable narrator can be an effective and fascinating literary device. But the narrator must be developed and the tool utilized.  An unreliable narrator is not an excuse for lazy writing.

The following are a) not acceptable as literary devices and b) are still not acceptable literary devices just because they are coupled with an unreliable narrator:

1) Surprise! It was all a dream.

2) The only witness can’t remember what happened, but then–surprise!–she does remember what happened.

3) Surprise! The narrator has been lying the whole time and the reader finds out because they’re told that the narrator has been lying the whole time.

Give me hints, clues, realizations, discoveries. I’m willing to work when I read; I expect writers to work when they write.

The dreamy Librairie Albertine Reparue in New York

bookmania:

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If Paris has the beautiful Shakespeare and Company bookshop, New York rather has the dreamy Librairie Albertine Reparue.

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Photo by Jewel Samad New Yorker/AFP/GETTY

On the second floor of the shop, the ceiling is decorated with a night sky and a zodiac motif inspired by…

La La Land

I just picked up my bonsai plant from the bonsai babysitter. I am officially an Angeleno.

Five of my Favorite La La Land Books

1) The Starter Wife and The After Wife. Gigi Levangie Grazer knows of what she writes in these Hollywood insider novels that may look like dessert but actually have some real meat to their keen observations about day to day life in the city of angels, and devils.

2) The Barbarian Nurseries. The premise may sound absurd: A couple has a fight and both walk out thinking the other is still at home, effectively abandoning their two small children with the nanny for days. But don’t underestimate this powerful social novel by Pulitzer-Prize winner Hector Tobar.

3) Bright Shiny Morning. When I first moved to Los Angeles, I met someone at a baby shower and was subsequently invited to their “place” for a “get together.” The place turned out to be a mansion in the hills. And the gathering turned out to be an intimate dinner party for 300 people. The pool side extravaganza included belly dancers, flame throwers, college students. A list and B list movie stars and rockers, famous white collar crime criminals, anonymous drug dealers, high end criminals, low end drug dealers and some really, really weird exchanges. This book has the same cast of L.A. characters. 

4) Less Than Zero Sex and drugs in ‘80s L.A. Need I say more?

5) The Kid Stays in the Picture An outrageous Hollywood insider memoir by American film producer and former studio executive, the legendary Robert Evans. The AMAZING audio book version is read by Evans himself and should be required “reading” for everyone in “the industry.”

Recommended Reading for Hipsters & Hamsters (or Are You a Man or a Mouse?)