Tall Drink of Nerd: Playing Favorites [BOOK WEEK]
a blogumn by Amy Robinson
When Ernessa announced BOOK WEEK on Fierce and Nerdy, I pondered for days over which book I should write about. I love so many books and suffer from a genetically inherited inability to make a decision, so I went zen and accepted my limitations. I’ll simply write about my top 8 absolute, must-read favorite books for all time. These are the books I get so excited about that I often give away my own copy just to share great writing. My list might match yours or give you some new ideas for your summer reads.
As not to play favorites among my favorites, I’ll list these in the order I read them. (If you’d like to order one of them, just click on the title.)
1. Go Dog Go: Even though there aren’t kids in my house, I recently purchased this book just because it’s awesome. Go Dog Go is simple enough for young readers, but so cleverly written it still cracks me up 30 years after my Mom first read it to me. Written by P.D. Eastman (He also wrote the genius Are You My Mother), it was published under the Dr. Seuss “I Can Read All By Myself” label. As a cool-meter, I still ask people if they like my hat. On occasion somebody will understand I’m not crazy and respond “No, I do not like your hat.”
2. Serendipity by Stephen Cosgrove: My first real memory is of the day my Mom took me to get my first library card. The librarian was chuckling because, at all of 5 yrs old, I was so excited but I could barely see over the counter. Serendipity was one of the books that I checked out over and over again. It’s a great book for kids who feel a little bit different, which I did. It is also one of my favorite words of all time. (And I’ve never lost that excitement to go to the library. Library visits make me happy!)
3. Immortal Poems of the English Language, Oscar Williams Ed.: As a teenager, I found a torn, dog-eared copy of this at a library sale and bought it for 10 cents. To me it was music and magic and I memorized dozens of the beauty and truths found in immortal poems. If you want to own the foundations of art, this is the one to have.
4. Anything Stephen King wrote in the 70’s or 80’s: Salem’s Lot terrified me into thinking that there were vampires in the giant lilac bushes that bordered my parents property; It made me scared to go to the bathroom; The Shining made me scared of hotels and The Stand gave me odd dreams. For awhile I was reluctant to let my love of King’s work be known to literary snobs, but come on, he is a prolific genius. If you don’t like the latest Stephen King novel, wait 4 months and his next one will be out. His writing style influenced the way I wanted to write, not necessarily the genre but by grounding everything in detail. His book On Writing, is possibly one of the easiest books about writing to relate to.
5. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn: Okay, this book rocks. The main character is a hunch-back albino dwarf who, as an adult, tells about her childhood in a family of circus freaks. Her siblings are all deformed in different ways, including Arturo, who becomes a cult leader as “Flipper Boy”. All the deformities came as a result of planned drug experimentation by her geek parents, but it’s surprisingly easy to relate to these people. I recommend this book to everyone I meet. The subject matter is something I hadn’t seen before or since. The plot is much, much more detailed than I can explain here. It’s weird and fresh and completely well written.
6. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer: I started listening to this book on Audible, but switched over to hardcover and boy was that a good decision! The book is written as a piece of art, but not in a pretentious or obnoxious way. The subject of the book is a 12 yr old boy whose father died on 9/11. Then the boy follows clues he believes his father left behind. Fair warning: I loved the book, but ended up crying for about 10 minutes as I closed the last page.
7. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: The narrator of this book is Death, who follows a pre-teen girl in Molching, Germany during WWII. After I read it, I found out that Zusak won an award for Young Adult fiction for this book. This is not YA in the traditional sense. Zusak so fully creates characters and place and handles the subject matter with delicacy and a touch of humor. This is right below Geek Love in the “What I Recommend To Everybody” category. Fair warning part deux: Great book, yup, cried like a baby at the end.
8. A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore: The narrator of this book discovers he is a grim reaper not long after his wife dies in childbirth. HONESTLY, I am not obsessed with books written from the point of view of Death! This was the Santa Monica Library book club pick for July of 2009, which was right after I moved to the Westside and wanted to meet people by joining groups.
So I read it; while I was in Colorado visiting my father who was in the hospital with Leukemia. This was a book that found me at exactly the perfect moment to profoundly touch me and change my response to all the illness and death that defined my life in 2009. A Dirty Job is a hilarious and tense story, based in San Francisco and populated with characters based on real-life people. Moore’s humor helps move the book along at an entertaining clip, but his tenderness and understanding of death and relationships was what captured me. There is a moment, when the main character is dealing with the final days of his own mother’s battle with cancer, that he counsels his sister on the matter. In a touch of reality and zen, he helps her understand her own reaction to the loss of a woman she was always at odds with. His words soothed me as I worked through the death of my father. I fully intend to write him a note someday to let him know how much he helped me during that time.
While I was grateful to the SM Library for bringing this book to me at the right point, I was a mess during the book club. Surrounded by people I didn’t know, when a few of them commented that it was written too lightly, I had to disagree by saying that if you had been affected by death, it spoke to you on a different level. Then I rambled on a bit too long, not mentioning details of my own life, but clearly emotional. Given the circumstances, I forgive myself for acting a bit nutty, but probably not going back to that particular book club. Suprisingly enough, given the turn of my life and the subject of the book, I didn’t cry when finishing this book, but actually laughed out loud.
That’s my book list, for now. I’ll probably add another one within the next week or so. I hear there is a phenomenal new author with a pretty, pink book coming out soon. I am really looking forward to book week so I can add many new suggestions and titles to my library queue!