Yup, I Read Now

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler

9780345452009-lAs I’ve mentioned before, I purchased The Accidental Tourist because Nick Hornby said that Anne Tyler was the author who made him want to write; and because Nick Hornby’s work has had a similar impact on me, I thought it crucial to read something she’d written. At the risk of sounding completely ignorant and in the interest of full disclosure, I will admit to not knowing who Tyler was before Hornby brought her up at his book signing. This is especially embarrassing when you consider that she’s a Pulitzer Prize winner (she’s been nominated 3 times!). But you know, you live, you learn, you read The Accidental Tourist. That’s the circle of life. And it moves us all. Through despair and hope. Through faith and love, etc.

Last week, I plucked The Accidental Tourist out from my Stack O’ Books because I thought it would be fitting—I’m in Las Vegas at the moment—but I had no idea how fitting it would actually turn out to be. Macon Leary, the novel’s protagonist, is an anal-retentive travel guide writer—his books are all about low-impact travelling, showing business-types how to go on their business trips without having to engage with the cities they’re visiting. As it turned out, I spent the second day of this “vacation” in the hotel, never leaving, not even for food—I had a couple of Lunchables in the refrigerator.

(For some poorly thought out reason, I decided to tag along with my mother and grandmother on this Vegas trip; they came for an AARP convention. Being twenty-five years old, I do not meet the primary admission requirement for the American Association of Retired Persons, so I couldn’t go to any of their little events—not that I would have wanted to, anyway. And because we’re staying at an isolated resort, miles and miles away from the strip, I’ve been alternating between hotel confinement and doing granny things like eating at all you can eat buffets and sitting for hours at 1¢ slot machines.)

Though the days here have been lame for sure, the up-side is that I was able to finish the book without any distractions; and I’m glad that I read it (!) Tyler’s prose is unadorned but poignant, proof that plain language can be emotionally affecting (and win Pulitzer Prizes). There was a time when I thought that good writing was heavily poetic, sprinkled with bizarre metaphors and full of big, eruditey words. So in that way, there’s something refreshing about the book.

I’ve been waiting for a while to feel some investment, to actually care about a novel’s characters (!), and this is the first book that I’ve finished this past month that’s accomplished that. Macon begins an odd sort of relationship with this flighty, inarticulate dog trainer named Muriel—a character who was able to crawl so thoroughly under my skin that I really have to applaud Tyler’s skill.

The Accidental Tourist is about life, or I guess what it means to really live—as hackneyed as that sounds—and when a novel’s protagonist is a reserved man who cuts himself off from the outside world, you sort of expect him to find his redemption in some quirky woman with frizzy hair. But Tyler is able to create this very complicated and realistic internal life for Macon; there isn’t anything easy about his journey.

If I’d read this book ten years ago I don’t think that I would have said, “A-ha! Now I know what I’ll do with my life. I’ll become a writer!” But I can definitely see myself reading more of Tyler’s work.


Booking Through Thursday

btt2“If you could ask your favorite author (alive or dead) one question…who would you ask and what would that question be?”

You’d think that you’d be able to come up with an answer to this question immediately but that just isn’t the case, is it? I’ve had the opportunity to attend several book readings where authors I adore were standing only a few feet away from me and each time my brain seemed to stop functioning. A couple of weeks ago I was standing beside Nick Hornby and just couldn’t remember how to construct sentences. He actually had to ask me if I wanted to take a picture with him. “C’mon, Amber,” he said. “I’m not here that often.” So this question presupposes that, when face to face with my favorite author, I’d be able to speak, which is unlikely, but I’ll just try and go with it.

I think I’d ask Douglas Adams to write a sentence for me.

A sentence written by the man who said that the meaning of life, the universe, and everything is “42,” is bound to be both poignant, pithy, peculiar, and priceless.

The Accidental Tourist, Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, Then We Came to the End, Speaking with the Angel

the noobs (Red version)Why do I keep buying books when I haven’t finished the ones that I already have? It’s one of life’s greatest mysteries. At any rate, I bought four new books this past week. I got the Anne Tyler book because it was recommended by Nick Hornby; the Joshua Ferris book was purchased because I keep hearing about how awesome/overrated it is and I wanted to check it out for myself; Speaking with the Angel is pretty much a byproduct of all the Hornby madness that I currently seem to be experiencing; and Confessions of Georgia Nicolson by Louise Rennison is a YA novel (actually it’s the first two books in the Georgia Nicolson series compiled into one huge starter kit) that I bought  because I’m starting to get into YA fiction and felt that it would be something easy and fun to read after all of that exhausting Lethem stuff.

Oct. 10, 2009 noobs

The wild things are coming, Twilight is lampooned, Nick Hornby still rich
bookish blog title

*Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer, the author and illustrator of The Phantom Tollbooth, (which introduced me to words and phrases like “dodecahedron,” “doldrums,” and “awful din”) will re-team for The Odious Ogre, set for a fall 2010 release. Alliteration aficionados, activate ! (<—awful attempt at alliteration).

*Juliet, Naked debuts at #11 on the New York Times Best Sellers List, Nick Hornby = rich(er) man.

*Herta Müeller wins 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature. Is it horrible that I don’t really care? (But I do love those umlauts in her name.)

*Maurice Sendak doc, Tell Them Anything You Want airs October 14 on HBO. I would probably be more excited about this if I wasn’t so totally inundated with all of this Where the Wild Things Are stuff (like these clothes, which are actually kind of cool). I sense some backlash in the very near future. The movie comes out October 16.

*The wunderkinder over at the Harvard Lampoon set to release Twilight parody entitled Nightlight.

*Time Out New York (briefly) interviews John Krasinski of The Office fame about his adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and RZA of Wu-Tang Clan fame about his new book The Tao of Wu.

*San Francisco Litquake is in full effect.

Book Adventures-Nick Hornby Reading

adventures (super new)I just got home from the Nick Hornby book reading/signing/Q&A at the El Cerrito Plaza Barnes and Noble. It was fantastic and even though Dave Eggers is going to be accompanying Hornby on stage @ the Herbst Theater tomorrow night in the city (of course, it’s sold out), I definitely enjoyed the intimacy of tonight’s event. Hearing him read from Juliet, Naked changed some of my opinions of the book. There are subtle layers of humor that I may have overlooked or sped through when I was reading it on my own. Maybe in a few years I’ll read it again and be able to appreciate it on an entirely different level, which is an interesting thought considering the book’s plot.

Here’s the rundown:

-Hornby is v. proud of  An Education (he wrote the screenplay). I was under the impression that the source material was book length (something that I suppose could have been cleared up with a simple Google search), but apparently it was just a 10-page piece published in Granta. Like his novels (and I guess most British cinema), the film is dialogue heavy. I didn’t think that I could be any more excited about this movie than I already was, but tonight has put me on the brink of mind explosion. Peter Sarsgaard. Nick Hornby. This movie is going to be so awesome, I just know it (!) Thanks to the internet(s), there’s some Oscar buzz surrounding it and tonight while I was staring at Hornby, who seems to be a v. sweet guy, I was just thinking about how cool it would be if he were nominated for an Academy Award. Fingers crossed.

Here’s the trailer….

-His advise for writers=do 500 words a day, which doesn’t seem like much, but over three months you’ll have finished that novel, or at least reached a novely-length.

-He didn’t say anything bad about any of the films that have been adapted from his work (including the Farrelly Bros. helmed Fever Pitch). Like I said, he’s v. sweet.

-He’s short-ish.

-He’s a Dickens fan and says despite their length, the books have punch. As far as Dickens on film/TV goes, he recommends the recent adaptation of Bleak House starring Gillian Anderson.

-Anne Tyler is the writer who made him want to be a writer.

And in conclusion, yay for photos (or photo as the case may be).


Juliet, Naked


…was finished in two days. I suppose it wouldn’t have been too difficult to read in a day but I’d rented the Emmy-award winning Little Dorrit miniseries early last week and the pull of those first two discs was astonishingly strong. (My Nick Hornby fanaticism’s primary ingredient, it would seem, is weak sauce.) Andrew Davies is responsible for this incredible adaptation and after some light googling I discovered that he also adapted the Colin Firth, A&E version of Pride and Prejudice—which is, of course, the adaptation that all other Pride and Prejudice adaptations are measured against. Judging from the bit of Little Dorrit that I’ve just watched and the one other thing of his that I’ve seen, it would appear that Mr. Davies can do no wrong.

After watching the first half of the miniseries I turned back to Mr. Hornby’s book but all of those wonderful Dickens characters lingered in my mind. Although I was reading a decidedly modern novel wherein much of the conflict revolves around the internet(s), thoughts of all those soot covered Cockneys persisted.

Dickens appeals to my most primal entertainment needs, this very basic desire to experience a great story—one with twists, turns, romance, humor, and debtors’ prisons. Everything about his work takes me back to this really innocent place. For a start, my earliest contact with his world was via Oliver and Company and then in 9th grade when we did Great Expectations, much of it was read aloud in class.

No one reads aloud anymore!

I don’t know but for me at least, there’s just something very wholesome about reading aloud (even when what’s being read aloud involves elderly shut-ins catching on fire).

As I made my way through Juliet, Naked, I was already plotting my next read. Dickens(!) My plans were only solidified when one of the characters in the Hornby book turned out to be a Dickens fan.

So I finished the Hornby quickly. It was good. Not mind-blowing or anything, and definitely not as enjoyable as High Fidelity, but it wasn’t a total disappointment—my (dubious) allegiance to Hornby remains unaltered (or something). (I will say this, though: Because one of the three protagonists is a self-doubting artist type there were some meta undertones and I couldn’t help but think that Hornby was using this book as a way of preemptively justifying any of its shortcomings.)

Anyway, that was on Thursday and my next move was to purchase David Copperfield or Bleak House or whatever. But Jesus, those books are thick. With no grade on the line I don’t know that I’d have the motivation to finish one. I’m going to need a little time for mental preparation, to build up my reading endurance before I tackle one of those bad boys. Or maybe I’ll just chuck the idea all together, finish the last two discs of Little Dorrit, and then go see the new Jim Carrey 3D version of A Christmas Carol next month.


I’m currently reading Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem and I already like it more than The Fortress of Solitude. My initial impulse was to attribute this to its more traditional structure; it’s more straightforward and feels less ambitious than the other one, so it’s easier to get wrapped up in. But that’s not fair. I think it’s just as ambitious as Fortress but that ambition is less transparent.

Me and Mr. Hornby

iread (super new)My thing with Nick Hornby began senior year of high school when I read About a Boy. Up until then I’d only been reading the classics assigned to me in English class, and Hornby’s book was my first experience with adult contemporary fiction. Oscar Wilde was my favorite author at the time (mainly because I’d written the definitive 12-page-double-spaced-1-inch margined research paper on him and believed (though, I don’t think erroneously) that I was the preeminent 12th grade scholar on the man’s life and oeuvre); but after About a Boy it was clear that Hornby was making significant gains in the Amber’s-favorite-author department.

Years later, fresh out of college, I read High Fidelity. This initial reading prompted a second and I found myself underlining passages (this is something that I probably shouldn’t have done since it was a library copy (then again, I’d stolen the book so it was a perfectly all right thing to do)).

I read Fever Pitch, a book that I’d been resisting because of its non-fictiony-ness, while I was working on an autobiography project for grad school. I thought that it might help me figure out how to articulate my own “life story” and yes, it sort of did that, but really it’s noteworthy because it ended up being the book that cemented Hornby’s place in my heart. He discusses a subject that I know and care very little about—English football—and still, the book rates exceptionally high on the can’t-put-it-down-ability scale.

His writing is so fluid, so funny; he’s extremely clever but never opaque. He’s a celebrated author but admits to not being very well read. That brand of honesty is endearing. I also like the fact that he’s bald.

So I say that Nick Hornby is my favorite author but my own—hopefully endearing confession—is that I haven’t read everything he’s written. I didn’t read How to Be Good because I heard that it wasn’t, well, very good, I hadn’t touched any of the stuff he’d written for The Believer, and Slam, his young adult novel, was purchased but then sidelined when I entered grad school and no longer had time for casual reading. In anticipation for this, Juliet, Naked day (!), his appearance at the El Cerrito Barnes and Noble next week, and the release of An Education on October 16, I decided to attempt to fill in a few of these holes. I finished Slam in about a day. It was a pretty mellow read and I think the perfect follow-up to Lethem’s dense Fortress. After that I bought Housekeeping vs. The Dirt—also light, easily digestible, easily read at work with little to no subterfuge.

I’ve just spent the entire day walking around San Francisco—I am completely insane and walked up Lombard Street from Embarcadero and then down to Aquatic Park—so I am exhausted and don’t think I’ll be cracking open the new one tonight. Luckily, I have tomorrow off and have definitely fit enough exercise into this one day to last me until the weekend. Tomorrow is therefore the official start of Juliet, Naked Day.