Give me an afternoon to wander a bookstore and browse the shelves, and I am perfectly happy. Time stands still as I wander from shelf to shelf, category to category and peruse whatever catches my eye. But what books do I really pull off the shelves? Or better, take home to be read? For me, it is often a catchy title that helps make that final decision. But in trying to appropriately describe those titles, I explored several adjectives. Odd? Too dismissive. Curious? Too strange—or odd. Quirky? Too lighthearted. Silly? Well, just, too. . . silly.
I settled on fascinating, suggesting an ability to engage one’s interest for a variety of reasons. I then started looking over my own shelves to see what books I could offer as examples, books where the titles are part of what landed them on my shelves to begin with. Most were bought; some were gifts. All have been read. I will list thirteen titles here, in no special order, with a little commentary on each. I am hopeful some of my readers will also have books/titles to share!
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows present a delightful novel set just after WWII that offers an historical view of that difficult time in the lives of the civilians living in Europe during the conflict. It offers wit and wisdom as well as tender insights and much humor as the characters interact with each other through letters and telegrams. Its literary device and subject matter and time frame are reminiscent of 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanf. That novel also looks to life during the war through the correspondence between two of the main characters. I recently read Guernsey from my list of books-to-read, so I can officially claim to be making some progress on one of the goals I set myself to complete before January 2012.
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven. Sherman Alexie writes a compelling novel full of gritty realism and dark humor that delineates life of Native Americans in and around Seattle. You laugh a lot, at times to keep from crying. He shows the strength and grim details surrounding life for many on and off the reservation.
Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America. Firoozeh Dumas gives a heartwarming account of her family and life as she grew up in an America that became more and more wary of strangers. Her honesty and humor make the book a great read. This book was used in many classes on a community college campus, when the author came to speak, and the students loved it!
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Judith Vorst eloquently captures Alexander’s youthful angst as he fusses and fumes through a terrible day. We all have these days—and it is fun to laugh along with Alexander’s struggles. I love kids’ books that meet adult needs as well. Other children’s lit favorites for me are Animalia and The Phantom Tollbooth, but those titles do not really qualify for this list. I have not yet read Go the Fuck to Sleep!
Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism. Temple Grandin is a remarkable woman who has helped shed some much needed light on living with Autism. Her scientific understanding is phenomenal, and she shares her insights about life with openness and honesty. HBO recently made a movie about the author that won some good reviews and awards.
Bimbos & Zombies. Sharyn McCrumb stumbled onto science fiction writing as a struggling graduate student who entered a contest with a delightful title and then went on to write a novel worthy of the title. And it went on to some critical as well as popular acclaim. This tome is actually an anthology of two shorter works: Bimbos of the Death Sun and Zombies of the Gene Pool. These offer a fun, witty escape!
Beware the Naked Man Who Offers You His Shirt. Harvey Mackay does offer a sub-title that helps show this book is full of tips about managing and surviving in the business world: “Do What You Love, Love What You do, and Deliver More Than You Promise.” His advice is direct, honest, and often applicable. The title was reminiscent of Sheldon B. Kopp’s If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! Friends recommended that book in the past, but I never read it—but I love the title!
The No Asshole Rule: Building A Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. Robert J. Sutton wrote this book almost on a dare to use the title. When discussing life in the business world, all agreed that assholes were around, but rarely did the articles and books written offering business advice share such direct insights. His analysis and conclusions seem to truly understand office dynamics and how to maneuver in them without getting beaten or becoming an asshole yourself.
High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never. I first appreciated Barbara Kingsolver from her novels Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven. But this title caught my eye—and indeed proved to be about a crab’s attempt to keep to the high tide schedule as if it existed in the desert, once he was carried home from a vacation to the shore by the author’s little girl. I like the science, the observations, and the musings the incident generated.
Mutant Message Down Under. Marlo Morgan offers a story that she claims is based on reality. She tells of an American woman who accepts an invitation to go on a 4-month walk-about with an Aboriginal tribe in Australia. As she conquers the physical and spiritual challenges, she learns great lessons about life and ancestry and the human connection that might help us all preserve ourselves and our world.
“. . . and then we’ll get him!” This collection of Gahan Wilson’s macabre cartoons is a real treat. It shows his frightening but funny world in action. The title is from one cartoon that shows the childhood toys discarded over the years, waiting in the attic for the owner to come and reminisce and “. . .then we’ll get him!” His work is wonderfully common place, creepy and unexpected!
Titters: The First Collection of Humor by Women. Deanne Stillman and Annie Beatts edited this collection of raw, gritty humor in 1976. It offers a fun compendium of humor from a woman’s perspective. Some of the content was considered racy at the time! It includes work by women such as Phyllis Diller, Erma Bombeck and Gilda Radner as well as such entries as “Clampax Instruction Booklet” and a “Male Nude Centerfold.”
The Dictionary of Imaginary Places. Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi edited my expanded edition dictionary back in 1987. Its pages help the reader explore many destinations, such as Ursula LeGuin’s Iffish, Borges’ City of the Immortals, Tolkien’s Imaginary Island, and Juster’s Mountains of Ignorance—and these are just from a 2-page spread. It is always fun to scan these pages and visit these locales, especially on a rainy afternoon. I expect later editions (such as what is pictured) would help transport someone to Rowling’s Hogwarts too!
So, what titles fascinate you? Or what other books can you suggest?
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“The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.” Mark Twain
“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside a dog, it’s too dark to read.” Groucho Marx
“Five years from now you will pretty much be the same as you are today except for two things: the books you read and the people you get close to.” Charles Jones