On Other Writers

Many of you Blog Babies are also writers – either aspiring, accomplished, published, or retired.  The latter group doesn’t need this advice, but if I may offer a few words of wisdom to those of you who are working on manuscripts now, it would be this.  Do not ever gratuitously criticize another writer in public.  I’ve been asked to write book reviews for years and have always refused, because the only review I could write would be for a book about which I felt unqualified admiration and support.  The reviewing process is a divisive one, and writers should be the safety network for one another.  And the reviewing mechanism is, at (let’s just say) the largest scale, profoundly venal:  add those things together and you have a wide brush with which I would prefer not to be painted.

I was recently asked in an interview to choose between two contemporary authors, neither of whom I like, and my immediate response was to say, “I’m sorry, I’m not familiar enough with their work to answer that question.”  It was half-honest, half-an end-run, but it worked.  But the most important reason to be kind is because, as happened in our conversation about Jincy Willett, she magically appeared.  If I had been even slightly unkind about her I would been sick, particularly if I’d been snarky for the sake of it when in fact I love her books.  So remember that:  in the public arena, graciousness counts for a good deal. 

There are exceptions, such as when someone has committed a crime against literature or his readers – pathological liars and the like.  A friend of mine was trying to write an article for a major magazine about an author with a cult following, and he got the idea that she was going to publish private information about him (which she never would have done) and so he began threatening her viciously.  She eventually had to be hidden in the Conde Nast empire, and assigned guards.  The abuse with which he battered my friend was scary in the way that out-of-control, narcissistic bullies are always scary, and I have no intention of forgiving him.  I also would never speak of him.  And of course there’s James Frey. 

But really the best way to air your grievances is in a small party of trustworthy friends, like my Otters, who will let me rail against whoever is producing the most egregious mediocrity and being rewarded for it at the moment.  No one knows about it, no one is hurt.  In public it’s the better part of valor to discuss who you love, and why.  There ought to be far more people who are thrilling (at any given time) than the opposite. So I hope it’s a regular feature – the books and writers we love and for whom we must sing praises.  Because frankly, they are better writers and more deserving of our attention.  Let the false quantities slip away, as they are bound to do.

I’ll start with just a few of my canonized loves:

Gregory Maguire is a national treasure:  let that be said right away.  I had loved his books and found the depth with which he combined myth and fairy tales and historical figures to be astonishing, but with Wicked, and it’s sequal, Son of Witch, he stepped out into something altogether different:  the imaginative as free and wild, while also very grounded in the craft and narrative.  Wicked is one of the most important books, from an ethical standpoint, I’ve ever read.  Three cheers for Gregory Maguire, a great man and a great novelist.

Helen de Witt appeared with this tour de force novel and then faded from view.  She had issues, similar to those experienced by Spalding Gray; by which I mean, jumping into the Hudson and being saved at the last minute (as opposed to Spalding, who did not want to be saved, I think).  At base this is the story of a single mother trying to home-school a child genius.  Beyond that it is simply one of the best, most moving novels I’ve ever read.

Given the tragic loss of David Foster Wallace, I think it would behoove us to read the great and important books about depression, particularly depression and creativity.  Kay Redfield Jamison has two:  An Unquiet Mind (her own experience w/ bipolar illness), and Night Falls Fast, a study of suicide.  And then the first rate, chilling, Darkness Visible, by William Styron.  I would also recommend, rather idiosyncratically, the Eden Express, by Mark Vonnegut, a memoir of his descent into schizophrenia.  He’s such a good writer that you can actually feel the horror descend on him.  These are all frightening books, but important. 

I’ve never hidden my love for DeLillo, but after Underworld (robbed!  robbed of the National Book Award!) I couldn’t imagine him writing a gentle, heart-piercing novel of 9/11, but that’s exactly what he did in Falling Man.  Perfect, perfect.

All right – I would love to hear your take on national treasures, or whether as writers we ought to behave as colleagues (or if that’s something leftover from my small-town upbringing) and what books fall under the categories of greatness.

Published in: on September 23, 2008 at 11:29 pm  Comments (171)  


  1. “The World According to Garp” by John Irving. The first “adult” novel I ever read while in high school. (Either that or “Carrie”, I can’t remember which was first.) Loved it then, still love it. I know I may catch some flack for this, but I’ve attempted to read “A Prayer for Owen Meanie” numerous times, and I just can’t get into it… makes me crazy that I can’t.

  2. Oh, JimShue:

    “A Prayer for Owen Meany” is the first and only novel I have ever read back to back. As soon as I finished the last page, I immediately flipped to the beginning to re-read the entire thing–without skipping any chapters.

    But my nomination for national treasure is Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five.” I re-read it every four or five years, and I still laugh and cry in all the same places.

  3. My list may read a bit like AP English in the tenth grade, but, hey, I had good taste back then! I just need to progress a little. I appreciate posts like this…furiously taking notes…

    To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee still haunts me…perhaps the first Southern Gothic I have ever read (not sure if it is categorized this way, but it should be) and set the stage for many of my favorite books to come.

    All of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories are new to me every time I read them. I find them utterly absorbing and amazingly wrought in their detail, especially the nuances of personality.

    Shirley Jackson…my two favorite things, funny and scary, and sometimes both at the same time. Delicious.

    I love J.D. Salinger, especially Franny and Zooey, and I think The Catcher in the Rye is a sort of misunderstood book by the general populace. I’m glad it gets the props, but sometimes I think the props are incorrect.

    Jack Finney is my favorite fantasy writer…his 1950s everyman faced with extraordinary circumstances…always funny and tender and perfect.

    I like the short stories…what can I say?

    Oh yeah, A Confederacy of Dunces rules.

    Ok, now I am just going to listen I need to call the library and place 1 million holds…

    And yes, writers should be colleagues. Especially, you know, me and you.

  4. JL Kato:

    I know! I know! I just don’t know why I can’t get through it! As soon as I locate which box it’s in (we still have boxes left unpacked in closets & the garage since moving over the summer), I’ll try again.

    Sorry to everyone who loves that book.

  5. A Prayer For Owen Meany and To Kill A Mockingbird are hands down my favorite books to date. I was reading Owen Meany while traveling in Vietnam and never in my life has a piece of literature captured me so completely. I read it three times in a row.

    I really HAVE to read it again. i’m going to find it.

  6. Oh, yeah! I’m on board with “To Kill A Mockingbird”! Absolutely loved it.

    (Am I forgiven now?)

  7. some of my early/adolescent favorites: the Adrian Mole books by Sue Townsend, The Indian in the Cupboard…my 5th grade teacher read this aloud to the class each day for 45 mins…it was like heaven. my husband and i still read to each other. i love being read to. tangent.

    what else? “sucks to your ass-mar” from Lord of the Flies always hit me, as I am asthmatic. first read i may have missed a bit. poor piggy. of course all i could think of is “how does this relate to me…oh, i have asthma. totally get it”.

    Of Mice and Men (Steinbeck), On the Road (Kerouac), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Ken Kesey), Death of a Salesman (Arthur Miller)…

    what about kid’s books? i can go wild there

    still thinking.

  8. one more. The Bell Jar (Plath)

  9. JimShue — try it again. Try it every five to ten years until you get it, because it’s all right there, and it’s a doozy — life changing. Someday you’ll be trying it again and will stop and say, “Whew, Hoss.” Like that.

  10. The Alchemist. i’ll stop

  11. Steph, Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole Diaries are heaven in this heartless world. No books on this planet make me laugh so hard, and I’ve read them all many, many times. I love her like MAD.

  12. I was just a little kid…maybe eight or nine…when I pulled a copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith from my grandfather’s bookshelf and started reading it. An ambitious read for a kid, it opened its pages wide for me, gave my imagination a big old hug and pat on the back, opened my ears and eyes to a wholly dimension of place, time and language, gave me a peep at the world of other adults, filled me with images of a boy’s gallantry in winning a Christmas tree. It was the first real book I ever read, and frankly, the Hardy Boys were a real let-down after that.

    But then I discovered Kurt Vonnegut with Cat’s Cradle. From there, I read him backward. By the time I finished, Slaughterhouse-5 was just published. After that, I read everything he wrote in succession. I loved Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 when it came out, but then he wrote something even better, Something Happened.

    It was almost the same deal with Pat Conroy. I started him with his first book, The Water is Wide, but his crowning achievement to date is Prince of Tides. I think it is a darned perfect book in so many ways.

    I gotta go with Ragtime, by E.L Doctorow as being another National Treasure, along with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

    I loved Brokeback Mountain, but Annie Proulx’s Shipping News has to absolutely got to be on the list. Try writing a whole novel with very few verbs. Breathtaking!!!!

    And the greatest thing since slice bread is The Greatest Thing Since Slice Bread, by Don Robertson. It is the first of a wonderful trilogy featuring Morris Bird. Speaking of trilogies, what about Studs Lonigan, by James Farrell and U.S.A by Dos Passos? And let’s toss in quantro — the Rabbit books by Updike.

    I’m a guy, so I read about war and history. I don’t think there is anything of that genre much better than The Longest Day, by Cornelius Ryan. You couple that baby with the newest biography of Dwight Eisenhower, Ike. Might as well toss Killer Angels, by Michael Shara, and Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage in there, too.

    What about the new edition of Night by Elie Wiesel? That book ripped me apart. Then there’s The Road by Cormac McCarthy. If you liked that, try The Painted Birth, by Jerry Koscinski

    Egad, Haven…I haven’t even started and I agree with most everyone’s selection.

    I want to say to JimShue that I have not read Owen Meany either. I had trouble with Irving and I don’t know why. I have found one way to get to such a book is obliquely…through another book the author has written. So the route I am taking to Owen Meany is through Ciderhouse Rules.

    But I deeply believe that the best book ever is the one I haven’t read. Yet.

  13. The Painted BIRD, by Jerry Koscinski, and hey, sorry about the dropped letters on “Sliced” At least my mistake was consistent.

    Let’s face it…our ability to read is the GREATEST and most remarkable achievement we humans have ever accomplished.

    I do believe that if I couldn’t read, I wouldn’t want to live.

  14. I have to say “To Kill a Mockingbird” was the first book that just hit me, stayed with me, and caused me to think bigger thoughts than “and then what happens.” I force fed it to my little brother and sister (probably before they were ready) just to have people somewhat closer to my age to talk about it with. It made me think I wanted to be a lawyer, until I was sitting in my “pre-law” college courses and realised that our nation’s laws are not about right and wrong but about legal and illegal. It took me about three years to recover from that disillusionment. I still read it about once a year and get in touch with my more idealist self.

    For everything else, I read about a book a day, fiction and nonfiction without discrimination. I guess I’m open to anyone who has something to say, written well, even if I disagree. Sometimes, especially if I disagree.

    For fiction, John Irving has always been my favorite, except I’m sorry to say to this audience, A Prayer for Owen Meany. Maybe it was the all caps for Owen’s dialogue. I don’t know…visually it disrupted my ability to truly enter that story, that world.

    Stephen King. I don’t always care for his genre (I’m a big scaredy cat wuss), but oh my God, his ability to spin a story, to develop a character’s essence in one sentence or one line of dialogue is without parallel among today’s fiction writers. So what if some of his stories end with an alien space spider…that man can write!

    I have to pay homage to Kierkegaard, Paul Tillich, Bonhoeffer, and C.S. Lewis for reasoning with me, and against my best intentions, bringing me into the “Christian fold.” (I have to say Delonda’s statement in Zippy, “I just can’t help it,” applies to me as well.)

    And after that august roll call, I’ll admit my biggest guilty pleasure is Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. Yes, yes, overwritten , sexist stereotyping all over the place, but you know, any series that allows me to have book chats with my 15-year-old nephew can’t be too bad.

  15. …now I am thinking of books and authors I didn’t list…Laurence Durrell, Fitzgerald, o’Brien, O’Brian,

    MEMO TO HAVEN: on some future topic, let’s do poetry!

  16. A Christmas Carol
    Wicked, Son of A Witch
    She Got Up Off The Couch
    Something Rising, Light and Swift
    Magical Thinking
    A Confederacy of Dunces
    All of Simone de Beauvoir’s Fiction (The Woman Destroyed, The Mandarins, She Came To Stay, Les belles Image)
    Colette (Cheri and the Last of Cheri, The Pure andthe Impure, Claudine books especially)
    Youngblood hawke (Herman Wouk)
    South of the Big Four
    A Country Year
    Rabbit, Run, Rabbit Redux, Rabbit is Rich, Rabbit at Rest
    Seek My Face, The Witches of Eastwick, Villages, Marry Me, anything by Updike.
    Angle of Repose
    Crossing To Safety
    On The Road
    Blue highways
    Lord of the Rings anad The Hobbit
    The mists of Avalon
    Everything By Fay Weldon, esp.Puffball, The Hearts and Lives of Men, Mantrapped, Auto Da Fay, Lives/Loves ofa She Devil, Splitting, Worst Fears
    Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird,Joe Jones, All New People, Hard Laughter
    Oliver Twist
    Master of The Senate, The Path To Power, Means of Ascent (Robert Caro)
    The Wizard of Oz
    To The Lighthouse
    The Waves
    Mrs Dalloway
    The Hours
    The Corrections
    One Flew over the cukoos nest
    Flowers for Algernon
    My Antonia
    The Prince of Tides
    The Great Santini
    Terms of Endearment
    The Prince of Frogtown
    Ava’s Man
    All Over But The Shoutin’
    In Cold Blood
    Other Voices, Other Rooms
    The Rich Are Different
    White Noise
    To Kill A Mockingbird
    Their Eyes Were Watching God
    The Color Purple
    The Invisible Man
    Drown by Junot Diaz – a genius
    Pride and Prejudice
    Sense and Sensibilty
    Wuthering Heights
    Slaighterhouse Five
    Breakfast of Champions
    House of the Spirits
    A Hundred Years of Solitude
    Interview With The Vampire
    The Vampire Lestat
    A Thousand Acres
    The Curious Incident of the Dog inthe Nigttime
    Duma Keys
    The Stand
    The Shining
    The Dead Zone
    Treasure Island
    The Confessions of Nat Turner
    Uncle Tom’s Cabin
    Gone With The Wind
    The Grapes of Wrath
    East of Eden
    Cannery Row
    Ellen Foster
    Talk Before Sleep
    The Book of Merlin
    The Once And Future King
    really all of Elizabeth Berg, really. yes.
    allof Ray Bradbury but esp The Martian Chronicles
    The Senator’s Wife
    Diary of a Mad Housewife
    Postcards From the Edge
    all of Roald Dahl for children
    Catcher in the Rye
    The Joyous Season
    Auntie Mame
    The Shipping News
    The World Accoding To Garp
    The Unquiet Mind
    Darkness Visible
    The Noonday Demon
    Jane Eyre
    The Elements of Style
    The Stone Diaries
    Bel Canto
    The Odyssey
    The Iliad
    The Exorcist
    Memoirs of A Geisha
    I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
    The Three Muskateers
    Why I Live at the PO and other stories
    The Ponder Heart
    Conversations With Eudora Welty
    Cold Mountain
    The River of Doubt
    The Only Dance There Is
    Grist For The Mill
    Catch 22
    Huckleberry Finn
    Tom Sawyer
    Naked Lunch
    The Sweet Hereafter
    Lady Oracle
    Cat’s Eye
    The Philosophy of Andy Warhol
    Crazy Salad
    The Bell Jar
    The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

  17. I come here for my reading list, and your and your commenters’ picks are quick becoming top of my list of favorites (finished Ms. Jincy Willet’s “Winner” last night, good god).

    So: Infinite Jest, every footnote, every quadruple-named character; Owen Meany, but also Cider House Rules (I even like Irving’s wrestling stories). I found Maguire two years ago when Wicked was a “choice read” at the library, and read everything else he’d written in the two months following (esp. liked Son of A Witch and Stepsister). (Wicked was at the top of my list to see when I went to NYC last fall; sadly, it bore scant resemblance to the novel. Save your money, see Spring Awakening. Minute 2:25 on YouTube of their 2007 Tony performance — the hairs on the back of my neck never fail to rise… I digress.)

    If a book has time travel as a plot point, even if only peripheral, I’ll read it. Ditto for magic. Carter Beats the Devil (Glen David Gold), Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (Susanna Clarke). All the Jack Finney books (right Kate?). Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass trilogy. I was very enamored of Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible, but then I like anything that puts me in a world and allows me to reclaim it at will for years afterward.

    David Rakoff’s Don’t Get Too Comfortable makes milk come out my nose. Sarah Vowell, too, though Assassination Vacation made me just hollow in places. (Her full-circle detail makes her the Larry David of history buffs.) I covet P.G. Wodehouse’s use of language — no matter how slim the frame of plot, and it was always the same plot, he’s always dryly, roaringly funny. Twain — I think Connecticut Yankee holds my record for re-reads: 15 times and counting. Jane Eyre (thank you Charlotte) and Jane Austen, all six of ’em.

    I bought ten copies of Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance to give away last Christmas, but that’s not fiction.

    Haven, your policy assures you of a long, happy career. Plus you look all elegant and gracious when you refuse to make snarky remarks (with notable exceptions, of course). I used to be far more loose with said comments re: certain musicians. Now, even if sorely tempted by a soprano sax, I say nothing. Partly because someone is energized, or comforted, or nourished, or opened up emotionally, — transported — by that music, or it wouldn’t have an audience. But mostly, because that musician just plays what pleases his or her own self. Just gravy that listeners like it, too.

  18. oh yes, of course (thank you George!): Memoirs of a Geisha, Mists of Avalon, Shipping News.

  19. Damn Suzanne. That’s a LIST!!!

  20. Damn, my eyes are crossing…I inadvertently thanked George when I meant Suzanne. yes of course, THANK YOU SUZANNE! Memoirs, Mists, et al. Half of those books are my favorites too, so I think it behoooooves me to read the other half on the quick.

  21. …and one that simply wrecked me: A Wolf at the Table. I loved everything Augusten Burroughs has written, but that one…I’m still putting the pieces back together.

    Can you believe I thought it went without saying Zippy and Couch are at the top of that list, and, even though I’m only half through — Solace (with a bullet)? and Otherwise Engaged? Next month, Something Rising, The Used World, Iodine, Zygote, Split will join.

  22. Hi everyone
    I just discovered Haven last week and have already read two.
    Can I just suggest Tim Winton my favourite Australian writer: Cloudstreet, That Eye the Sky, The Turning, Dirt Music and The Riders. . There is a new one out but I haven’t read it yet I think it is called Breath
    I suspect some or all of you would really like him.

  23. Every book ever written by Lee Smith, with my favorite being Fair and Tender Ladies. Over the years I have come up with several theories about why I love her writing so much….
    I did not grow up around extended families and we moved a lot. So, stories of extended families, especially involving several generations of women (hmmm, Delonda, Haven, Kat…..)are especially dear to me. I was born in New Jersey and then outside of Philly but moved to Tennessee when I was 26 and have been here ever since. Not that I think of Lee’s stories as just southern, they strike me as more rural and Appalachian, but the pictures they have painted in my mind and my heart helped me assimilate easier to this place way back when. Others affect me this way too (although Lee Smith remains tops) such as Elizabeth Berg, Jill McCorkle (Tending to Virginia), Bobbie Ann Mason, Kaye Gibbons, and in a slightly different way, Jane Smiley. But, I occasionally a man can write a book that affects me this way too and I can think of two who have done this- Fred Chappell (Farewell, I’m Bound to Leave You) and Wendell Berry.

    But, I must say, that Haven is the first author in recent years to affect me in the same way.

    I am not a writer nor a critic. Gosh, sometimes I am barely an adequate reader, but I know when something touches my heart when characters walk around with me and become a part of my own history.

  24. I have to admit, I’m guilty of being “snarky” a time or two on my lit blog. I get snarky when I comment right away after reading something that gives me the creeps or leaves me frustrated. If I give it time I usually write nothing, which is usually the case.

    I didn’t read much when I was a lid. We had no books in our house. But there was one I check out of the library and kept “forgetting” to take it back, A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck. I read it over and over. I tried to get my kid to read it, but she didn’t “get” the language.

    I have a long list and people have listed many of them. A few more:
    Everything by Barbara Kingsolver
    Middlesex – Jeffery Eugenides
    Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
    Fall on Your Knees by Ann Marie McDonald is a must read.

    Or, on the funny side, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

  25. To whomever mentioned “Fall on Your Knees” – woooeee, now there’s a novel to sink your teeth into.

    As stated in a prior missive, “A Prayer for Owen Meany” is magic.

    George gushed about Conroy’s “A Prince of Tides” and I have to throw my shoulder behind that boulder & PUSH it towards the light. Please, do not confuse the insipid film with this glorious piece of modern southern gothic literature.

    From a true literary standpoint, I admit to the foibles of Ayn Rand. But I will proudly admit that “Atlas Shrugged” is a novel I return to, gleefully.

    David Foster Wallace? Of him I am devoid at the moment. “Infinite Jest” changed my life ten years ago. In every way for the better.

    I adore Tom Robbins.

    I think this post began as a “national treasure” sort of thing so perhaps I’m not allowed to mention my hopeless love for Murakami & Garcia Marquez? Or “Anna Karanina”?

    Well cripes, I guess that means Jeannette Winterson is out of the mix. And Martin Amis. His “London Fields” just laid me out.

    It goes without saying that “To Kill A Mockingbird” is the novel I have read the most. It’s perfect in every way. When people exclaim, “I can’t believe it’s the only book Harper Lee ever wrote!” I HAVE TO jump in & say – “Hey! It’s not the only book she ever wrote! It’s the only book she ever *published*.” Because I wholeheartedly believe her gift would not allow her to not write. I pray that some day she allows the world to be privy to a trunkful of musings she has worked on over the years.

    DeLillo. God yes.

    I’m very smitten with “Geek Love” by Katherine Dunn.

    I’ll wrap up this babbling with one more contemporary work that I eagerly came home early to get into bed with: “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz. This book touched me inside in a very vulnerable, pinkly soft & tender place. I wept copiously when I finished it. When I met him, he looked up at me (he’s a little guy) with those soft brown eyes & took my hand. I opened my mouth to say something, anything, and I burst into tears. He smiled so knowingly & took his two books from my hands and asked me to whom I should inscribe them. I told him “Drown” was for my partner. He closed the flap & looked up at me, again, straight in the eyes & said “Do you love her?” and I sputtered “of course, she is my salvation in every way.” He wrote in the book and then signed “Oscar Wao”. When I left the venue, I slowly opened “Drown” to see what he had written to my partner. He wrote simply: “To Jill, A Love Supreme” and signed his name.

    This is why books are more important to me than just about anything else.

  26. For pure beauty of the way the words are put together I love Mark Helprin’s ‘A Winter’s Tale’ and for a giant complicated movie in my head, I like Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver Trilogy, although I am still at the beginning of the second book but I’m having fun with it. My husband, who trusts me to recommend good reads to him, finds these two unreadable, so I gleefully have them all to myself.

  27. Soldier’s Joy by Madison Smartt Bell!

    Simply the best book I’ve ever read about the contemporary South. I buy copies of this book on EBAY and give them away – it is that important to me.

  28. (not so) Private to Suzanne: *thank you* for including “The Mists of Avalon”. It is, I think, Zimmer Bradley’s crowning achievement. I love novels that entertain & enlighten & educate. A rare feat.

    Also, after reading your gargantuan list (and really, can a lover of words ever have a list smaller than yours?) I noticed “In Cold Blood” and “The Color Purple”. Both perfect. Both important American books, but for entirely different reasons.

    Which brings me to my point – there are writers who are national treasures even if their entire oeuvre is less than perfect. To whit: Alice Walker. Some of her works are life-changing, some are sort of “meh” as if her tremendous gifts & talents were not fully engaged. I think “Possessing the Secret of Joy” should be part of every young woman’s essential reading. (and isn’t it just sort of an “ah! but of course!” moment to know that she & Tracy Chapman are partners & live together in San Francisco?)

    Also, Toni Morrison. “Song of Solomon” and “The Bluest Eye” tugged me, unwillingly, into some dark places.

    And finally, David Sedaris. What he does, he does with the skill of a journeyman. I laugh so hard reading his essays that I see stars. Is he great literature? No. Is he a national treasure? Yes.

  29. David Sedaris is definitely a treasure. there is not one of his books i haven’t read. laughter is good for your soul and he has had me laughing to tears many, many times.

    i keep coming back to Owen Meany. the CAPS distracted me at first, but they stopped getting in the way and starting working as a literary tool. if i had to pick one book–just one–it would be Owen. give it another shot (i have been pleading this case with my husband for years). it is incredible.

  30. I’m a fan of Owen Meany as well–somehow I couldn’t put it down. I think I read it on my honeymoon (so I guess I did put it down a time or two.) I also couldn’t put down The House of Sand and Fog. Did anyone else love that one? Brilliant use of three distinct voices/perspectives.

    I’m afraid I couldn’t make it through A Winter’s Tale but my friend insists it’s worth it.

    Thanks for the fabulous ideas…we should all have plenty of reading material for the next year.

    p.s. I’m reading Solace right now…love it!

  31. The criticism question is an interesting one for me, since I’m expected (under the ‘service to the profession’ rubric) to regularly evaluate the work of internationally-known writers. But since the context is scientific research, not fiction, there’s an expectation that we are evaluating *ideas* and *methods*, not linguistic choices and storytelling ability. (Although these in moderation can help make the ‘story’ you’re telling more coherent and compelling.) In fact, rhetorical flourishes are viewed with suspicion – at best you are guilty of hubris; at worst, of trying to cover up bad science.

    So, this is quite different from fiction reviewing, where the closest similarity may be in assessing verisimilitude, but the focus (in literary fiction, at least) is on attributes such as the craft of language, the depiction of people, and the primacy of story. (Literary criticism ruined reading for me, and it took years to recover.)

    In both cases, we struggle to read the document as an artifact independent of its author, and not let our belief that he is a mean drunk who spends his free time kicking puppies bias our interpretation of his work. (The fact that I almost got into a fistfight at the Regulator with an author who *is* a mean drunk, and who has a character in one of his stories who kicks puppies with terrific verisimilitude may have something to do with this example.) The MFA workshop and the scientific journal club seminar may both look similar on the surface, but are vastly different in detail.

  32. Now let us praise not so famous men (and women):

    Karen Joy Fowler, Sister Noon
    Kelly Link, Stranger Things Happen
    Andy Duncan, Beluthahatchie and other stories
    Elliot Perlman, Seven Types of Ambiguity
    Laurence Naumoff, Taller Women : A Cautionary Tale
    Gioia Timpanelli, Sometimes the Soul : Two Novellas of Sicily
    Steven Sherrill, The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break
    Martha Witt, Broken as Things Are
    Fred Chappell, I Am One of You Forever

    (Yay to Linda for noting Fred Chappel earlier!)

  33. Shelly and Suzanne: I bet if you looked at our bookshelves, the only significant difference would be the type of wood or metal they are made from. (Shelly, your personal story of the autograph darn near made me cry it was so touching.)So, yes, I’d have to lobby for Mark Helprin’s Winter Tale…and, more to my taste because of how he plumbed the depths of character is his Soldier of the Great War.

    Someone mentioned Lamb…that was the milk-comes-gushing-out-of-nose book for me and I don’t even drink milk! Jill McCorkle’s writing enchants me, as does Bobby Ann Mason…it’s as if I have immediate recognition of those characters…same with Sue Monk Kidd’s people….


    And you know what really, really honks me off about all this.

    I am a damed slow reader! Takes me forever to knock out even a medium-sized book. I will never be able to get through what I want and need to read while in the meantime people like Haven will just keeping piling it on. Someone here, maybe Shelly, said she reads a book a day. I totally envy that ability.

  34. …did someone mention House of Sand and Fog. I agree, the structure was mind-blowing. Then there is The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. I don’t even have words to describe the complexities of plot, character, pacing and structure embodied by these works.

  35. Mine have all been hit above and like many of you I was moved by A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and To Kill a Mockingbird at an early age. Those books solidified my lifelong love of literature. The Autobiography of Malcolm X changed me in many ways including inspiring me to finally start on my own writing journey at age twenty five. The man and the book were both excellent and I only wonder how he would’ve continued to develop and grow had he not been killed before the book (and his natural life) were finished.

  36. Oh George, thank you. I wish I could read a book a day. I almost did over the summer. It was glorious. I had the summer off & plowed through “Crime & Punishment”, “The Elementary Particles”, “A Disorder Particular to the Country”, Augusten’s “Dry”, “White Noise”, “The Great Gatsby”, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, “The Swimming-Pool Library”, “Catch-22”, “Valencia”, “Absurdistan”, “A Long Way Down”, “A Fine Balance” and “Pride & Prejudice”. Some were new to me. Some were re-reads. All touched me in ways. Some left bruises, some only the faintest of touches.

    And from what I have read of your posts (and Suzanne’s) I wholeheartedly agree – our bookshelves are likely full to over-flowing with identical tomes. I hug books & can not let them go. They are precious to me.

    And thanks to all of you – I have added titles to my ever-growing list of things to read. I don’t take book recommendations lightly. But if you also love HV, you are a kindred spirit & deserve to be heard.

    And how utterly random & strange that I, too, have read “Lamb”. I may be misquoting, so please forgive. But I recall laughing out loud when Jesus was writing his beatitudes & asked Biff if he could say “blessed be the dumbfucks”.

    So, thank you.

  37. Oh, about the public vs. private comments thing – yes, Haven. It undermines community support and ultimately makes the negative commenter appear very unattractive. I make an exception for circumstances such as public amazon reviews where we rely on each other to recommend products.

  38. Yes, I LOVED House of Sand and Fog. Read it with a book club but they thought it was too depressing. I found it fascinating. The Kite Runner was good but painful–I put it down once then got the courage to pick it back up for the kite running scene.

    How about Vonnegut’s Slapstick?

  39. i have been reading everyone’s lists and find myself thinking, oh yeah, i loved that one (except for a few, which i either haven’t read or didn’t like). a short story compilation i have left out is Omnibus by Roald Dahl. I LOVE short stories and this one is full of zingers. then there is his other stuff: The BFG, James and the Giant Peach, and i cannot leave out Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. i like his twist and spook

  40. George Stuteville: if I didn’t already know it from your other comments here at Haven’s place, you are — well, I want to say a genius, but then I realize that I’m really just trying to say you ALWAYS say things that knock me out, especially because I agree with ’em, and then I think no, you can’t call somebody a genius because you agree with them. Anyhow: I adore Catch-22, have adored it since my first reading at age 12. BUT I have always told people that Something Happened was a much better book. I once closed a bar (along with The Missus and a friend) with Heller, Vonnegut, and Styron; although Heller didn’t say so in so many words, I believe it would be fair to say that the shadow which Catch-22 cast on his later work (especially Something Happened) broke his heart. Even if he DID eventually get used to it.

    National treasure nominees: Mockingbird, yes. Also… hmm… Just about anything by Chabon. Jeffrey Eumenides’s Middlesex I think is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Edward Gorey. Elmore Leonard. (Sorry, I’m just listing writers instead of individual titles.)

  41. P.S. Re: comments on other authors… I do occasional reviews for the BookBook blog. I read a lot of books but it seems like life is too short to review those which, for some reason, I have “issues” with.

  42. Ah Bouy, am I in trouble for being snarky?. I’m sorry Stori Telling does not deserve to be number one on the best sellers list, but who am i to judge, I’m dyslexic and punctuation seems like a strange language to me. Really I was just trying to make you laugh, it’s good medicine. As punishment you can send your dog get goobers and slobber all over everything. I promise not to keep him.
    I just got up and don’t have any brains left after the alien incident, but here are some of my favorites.
    A Thousand Splendid Suns, Name all of the Animals,anything Haven, anything about animals, and nerdy science stuff. I can’t remember more at the moment.More coffee.
    Susan G, Oregon

  43. Isn’t anyone else going to list their guilty reading pleasures?

  44. Oh my…any gossipy bio would fall into that category nicely. I am also obsessed with mummification, circus freaks, and anything in the Ripley’s Believe it Or Not category.

  45. Sandra – guilty pleasure? I’d sure like to know what our beloved authoress considers her guilty pleasures. George S. & Suzanne as well.

    I take pleasure & feel no guilt for:
    Chuck Palahniuk

    Dan Savage

    George Saunders

    Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy

    Neal Stephenson, “Diamond Age” in particular but “Cryptonomicon” is thisclose behind it.

    Neal Barrett Jr.

    “Ishmael” (I know, I know)

    “Cosmic Banditos”

    Sarah Waters

    Various & sundry comic books, “Penthouse Letters”, “Bitch” magazine, “Wired” magazine & the “Chicago Reader” every Thursday morning.

  46. Jamesland by Michelle Huneven.
    Body and Soul by Frank Conroy.

  47. I like your choices-I will add The Last Samurai to my Amazon wish list.

    When I finished Hegi’s Stones From the River I said, “I wish I had written this” OUT LOUD.

    Jane Hamilton, Paula Sharp and my beloved Laurie Colwin inspire similar moans. Also (jeez I can’t stop myself) Wallace Stegner and Reynold’s Price. Ack and Francine Prose.

    This is my version of Sophie’s Choice!

  48. Vanessa, A WINTER’S TALE is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever, ever read. I can even re-read it knowing Helprin became a Republican. GORGEOUS.

    And I’ve never met a group of people (besides myself) who loved SOMETHING HAPPENED as much if not more than CATCH-22. You’re a weird bunch, but I love you.

    Surrounded by the Southern Mafia, I’ll tell you my favorite contemporary southern novels: FAIR & TENDER LADIES, and ORAL HISTORY by Lee Smith; OLDEST LIVING CONFEDERATE WIDOW TELLS ALL, by Allen Gurganus, pretty much anything by Clyde Edgerton, many, many books and short stories by Reynolds Price, the incredibly gifted Fred Chappell. I’ll have to get back to this list.

    When I look at my shelves and see the author’s by whom I own virtually everything? It’s alarming.

    Yes, I’ll do a post for poetry, then order everything I haven’t read! That’s like a hobby, isn’t it?

  49. Laurie Colwin’s death upset me very much. I was reading HAPPY ALL THE TIME when I was in labor for my daughter, and FAMILY HAPPINESS when I was in labor for O. She’s my go-to writer for forgetting unholy pain.

  50. ok haven…are you taunting me with the all caps? Fine, fine, I will attempt A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANEY again.

  51. And how could I forget Sue Grafton? Pure addiction on my part to her Aphabet series. All thanks to our HK for that one! Also, “The Princess Bride” by William Goldman. Do people even know it was a novel before the movie?

  52. Love many, many of the ones listed here and wanted to add Tim Sandlin (Sorrow Floats, Sex and Sunsets, etc.) to the list of authors to read. Characters are great and so funny!

  53. This is so weird how certain books strike you at certain moments in your life. Clyde’s book, Raney, nearly brought me to tears by how it brought up some things from a love I once had. It is interesting, too, the parallel that goes from that book, to another one by Betty Smith that I did not mention, Joy in the Morning.

    We are a weird bunch, it seems, but incredibly well-read!

    The only GUILTY reads I have — and this is a comment on how boring my life is — are 1st edition golf instructional books. I have quite a collection. I also love golf fiction, and if you want a delightful, fun read that is something in realm of Lamb, then go get Golfing With God. Wonderful. Richard Merullo wrote it and another one called Breakfast With Buddha. Excellent stuff. I also love books about bicycling and have quite a solid collection of them. One of the boldest feminist tracts I have ever read is by Francis Willard and entitled, How I Learned to Ride The Bicycle. I love, love, love this book, also Around the World on a Bicycle by Thomas Stevens (1888) and an incredibly wonderful read, Miles From Nowhere. It is a late 60s book about a couple’s trip around the world, but it is also about how two people learn to live with each other in the world. The author, Barbara Savage, was killed in a bike accident shortly after completing that epic ride.

  54. And…started rereading Owen Meany again a couple of nights ago. After reading comments here, just HAD to have another dose — love it!

  55. As much as George seems to like golf instruction books, I love cook books. Before children (oh, like 17 years ago….) I cooked a lot and made wonderful complicated (and some not so complicated) recipes. The only time I am ever jealous to the point of being evil is when I visit a new friend’s home and find a luxurious kitchen. I have one such friend. She has one of those big marble islands (that island is bigger than my entire kitchen), a professional gas stove (I have the crappiest electric stove ever- the handle broke off of it so it is nearly impossible to even open the damn thing without burning myself), and big beautiful windows that fill the room with light. Come to think of it, I hate her. Ok, I don’t, but if I did it would be because I am jealous of her kitchen.

  56. I have lots of dog training books , that never seem to get used. Here’s something I really love, because the cats spell better than me. Hot off the press

    I can has Cheezburger book -http://lulzftw.com/

    http://icanhascheezburger.com/ -web page

    Susan G

  57. PLEASE TAKE NOTE: Read everything by Kevin Brockmeier. Here, I shall list them for you:

    Things That Fall From the Sky
    The Truth About Celia
    A Brief History of the Dead
    The View from the Seventh Layer

    Thank you.

  58. guilty pleasures: sort of, but i loved these and i am not a tween…very fast reads for a day at the beach. truth be told, i love gossipy stuff. there, so what? i said it. i have been known to haunt the pages of perezhilton.com i can’t believe i admitted this. anyway:

    Smashed by Koren Zailckas
    Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
    The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank
    The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin
    Posh by Lucy Jackson

  59. I have absolutely no trouble naming Stephen King as a national treasure. The man taught me everything I know about writing, and what I didn’t learn from him I learned from Leonard Cohen.

    Which brings to the (all hail!) Ray Bradbury. Good lord: The Martian Chronicles, Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes. Masterpieces.

    I forget who said Sarah Waters is a guilty pleasure, but I feel no guilt about her novels at all. She’s a genius. Affinity is one of the most complicated, disorienting novels I’ve ever read.

  60. JohnM, thanks for mentioning Lawrence Naumoff. He is so good that I find myself saying to J. frequently, “I’ll bet Lawrence would see this situation very clearly,” or “Now there’s a Lawrence kind of protagonist.” It’s like he invented a new genre. He’s a genius.

  61. Stephen King is amazing

  62. Kurt Vonnegut totally blew me away with Breakfast of Champions and Cats Cradle. I was as an adolescent I had been reading young people’s sci fi and it was like going from the partridge family records to The Rolling Stones. I have read all his works.

    My life changed once again when I was about 43 (I am 46 now) due to reading. When I read A Girl Named Zippy by someone named Haven Kimmel I found a lost happiness for which I will be grateful for the rest of my life.

    Is there any order in which to read Kevin Brockmeier?

  63. Lewis Nordan!! Sharpshooter Blues! All the others as well. Lewis Nordan!!

  64. Michael T., you flatterer, you.

    I would start with The Truth About Celia. That will give you a sense of what he’s up to. Good LORD that’s a good book — they all are.

  65. I like Stephen King.
    The stand was great to say the least.
    He can be hard tho he is very descriptive of his characters to the point where I have lost interest at times.
    I like Dean Kuntz very much, and James Patterson’s Maximum Ride is a must for young and adults. Flying Kids with avian DNA (sweet)

  66. I fess up. I’m the one who said Sarah Waters was a guilty pleasure.

    I did so because I’ve been browbeaten into thinking her works are not the literary mindbenders I feel them to be.

    She keeps getting better & better with each successive novel. As good as “Affinity” is – and IT IS. I think “Night Watch” is even better. Strip away the Martin-Amis-telling-the-story-backwards gimmick & it’s still beautiful.

    Also, Ms. HV your original post included this query: “All right – I would love to hear your take on national treasures, or whether as writers we ought to behave as colleagues” and few of us have addressed the second part of your question.

    Perhaps it’s also my small-town upbringing but I believe that unless you have something good to say, keep your cakehole closed.

    Unless you’re Michiko Kakutani. She can rail all she wants & no one ever seems to mind.

    To me it boils down to karma. And the adage “first do no harm”.

  67. Duma Key by Stephen King was unbelievable and he really changed up the location–Florida is certainly not some cold, scary New England town. But man, scary for sure. That guy has had me for ages. Plus, he loves the Red Sox, so that is an extra check in the pro column

  68. Linda, I read FAIR AND TENDER LADIES so long ago but remember falling in love. And wanting to name a future daughter Sylvaney one day. Which I never did.

    Great book.

  69. Okay, you all, I just freaked out my office printer by printing out all your comments so I wouldn’t get hand cramp writing down all the books I hadn’t read (at least half of them OMG!!) And I thought I was a prolific reader! I love this blog…xxxooo to you all.

  70. What about Margaret Atwood- any
    Irene Nemirovsky Suite Francais
    Vikram Seth a Suitable Boy
    Robert Dessaix Night Letters
    Brian Keenan an Evil Cradling
    Deborah Daw Heffernan An Arrow through the Heart Alistair McCleod No Great Mischief

    Thank you all so much it is great getting all these names of authors- I have read many but now have a whole new lot to try

  71. Duma Key was just first rate. I have a galley of his new short story collection but I can’t bring myself to read it because then I’ll be done with it before it’s even published. The Stand is obviously an American masterpiece. I also adore The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.

    And Shelly, I spend a lot of time with other writers, and I don’t know anyone in publishing more despised than Michiko Kakutani. No one. I was at a conference with a very famous, very respected novelist last year; her name came up and I thought he was going to have a stroke. I’ll leave it at that.

  72. Please note, Iris, that I myself did not say a word against Michiko. Thanks.

  73. I forgot I meant to include
    Neil Gaiman American Gods

  74. …Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys.

    Thank you thank you THANK YOU to everyone for your recommendations, thank you Haven for asking the question. Love all of you —

  75. ooh, spooky, Helen!

  76. Of course we can name British writers — they’re national treasures, too. Where would be without Martin Amis or Jeannette Winterson or Jonathan Coe or Fay Weldon?!? Lost and BORED.

  77. Oooh, Carrie and Helen!

  78. If we can include out of towners then has anyone read SHANTARAM by Gregory David Roberts?? An amazing almost unbelievable semi-autobiographical novel and then I found his website:

  79. okay, one more and I’m cutting myself off: Lord Breaulove Swells Whimsy’s The Affected Provincial’s Companion (on the back: “the reader shall bear witness to: FEATS OF SARTORIAL CUNNING! JAUNTY VERSE! DEFTLY RENDERED TURNS OF PHRASE! WITTICISMS! UNBRIDLED PEDANTRY! DUST MOTES! ICY HAUTEUR! WELL-MUSCLED HINDQUARTERS! Take to your breast this artifact of GRACE and BEAUTY! (With the exception of the mercantile excrescence below, of course.”) [referring to the UPC]).

  80. Oh yes…Love Stephen King, especially his short stories. Skeleton Crew!

  81. Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. This book was the chip in the iceberg of a lifetime of fundamentalist Christianity and I am still mourning her death. Next to that: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard and also The Maytrees. Two very different, very perfect books.

  82. Hrmm I would definitely have to start with:

    In Cold Blood: the way Capote writes stirs rage and jealousy.

    The Stand: Definitely a disturbing book by King, I love his style sometimes. As well as his very real characters.

    Naked: Sedaris’ humor and acerbic writing always force me to grin.

    Golf In the Kingdom: I just personally love this book.

    The Gift of Nothing: I can’t remember the author; it’s a “childrens” book my father purchased for me. It’s absolutely the most beautiful moment that can exist for humans.

    His Dark Materials series: By Pullman are a great imagined world that draw you in.

    It’s not about the bike: Armstrong…if you want to know about personal strength Lance’s book is the way to go.

    I haven’t been able to read anything but music in the past couple years, so I’m a little behind. =/


  83. I learned to read at around 5 years old I learned in the hosp while getting my tonsils out back then you stayed for couple days. sorry had to share that
    I read Cat in the Hat it was my first book I read by myself. After my stay in the hosp came home and read my second book.
    Something by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn I believe
    possibly V kruge pervom but not sure.

  84. Um – I hope you know that I am still working on the list for “10 things you would take to a desert island” – so I can’t fully answer this one.

    However, I will be begin at the beginning-

    I had dyslexia and went to special ed in 2nd grade (back when that is when you learned to read), I had had no trouble with writing (other than my maiden name which WAS – hold your sides – CREEKBAUM). My kindergarten report card states “Sher’s difficult last name makes it hard for her to learn” – like I was DOOMED FOREVER.

    Anyway, back to special ed (I might, also, have ADD)?

    So they taught me to use a see-through ruler with a yellow line on it that isolated letters/words so that you can focus only on the one to be read. (prior to that, my eye would only follow the spaces between the words down the “river” of the page . . . try looking at a page and focus on just the white space patterns . . . it’s a doozy).

    It was like CLICK and then in two weeks I checked out David Copperfield from the library (I needed special permission as it was so big) . . . and read it in a week.

    I backtracked a bit after that and read:

    LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE – all (I still read these when I have the flu or am bedridden


    A DIAMOND IN THE WINDOW (I checked that out like 5 MILLION TIMES).



    Then moved on to: Steven King (god) and Edgar Allen Poe and True Crime

    Also really read a lot of poetry

    GUILTY PLEASURE: – Barbara Cartland – still grade school

    A Lantern in Her Hand (no idea on the author)

    The Mirror by Marly Millhiser (started my time travel philia) – the scariest book I have ever read is her NELLA WAITS, lets just say, I can’t look at a black bird without shuddering and I didn’t even list that as a phobia)

    High School also saw me reading VC ANDREWS (NO COMMENT FROM THE PEANUT GALLERY).

    Obviously – I am a bit more sophisticated now (i.e., HK and many more) – I am going through my lit books from college and investigating some of my favorites from there.

    I can’t handle the pressure of my grown-up reading/hero list – still recouperating from 3 deadlines this week/no sleep/diet/work outs – TIP: Do NOT decide to start a diet, workout, on the same week you QUIT CAFFEINE and have 3 deadlines . . . (now in the background you would hear the circus/clown music . . . doo doo doodoo doo doo . . . ).

    So, I am so glad Haven survived her “incident” with animal – I’m still confused but it sounds intriguing.

    I am ashamed that I have discussed my negative reaction to a book of a living author (but I keep thinking it wasn’t the author, but the humanness of her characters which caused my strong reaction) – she was a great writer and made me believe in those characters . . . so I humbly apologize to the universe and the author (who I can’t remember the name and never said it anyway), and hope that karma doesn’t get me for that bit of honesty . . . and hope that all my positiveness outweighs my stupidity . . .

    I will now rejoin my abandoned family . . . I continue to say “I’m working” when I am reading this blog . . . I’m definately growing my book wish list and growing my heart and mind with y’all’s erudite interaction.

  85. Oh man…V.C. Andrews was once a very guilty pleasure of mine. SICK! My Sweet Audrina? Heaven??

  86. Has Ray Boltz seen this blog as of September 14?

  87. Kate –

    Yes – very intriguing for a pre-teen – all that incest and flesh and roiling “emotion” – but this is perilously close to snarky I think, and she is still alive, so I think we have to leave it at that – Flowers in the Attic FREAKED me out totally!

    ALL y’ALL: I think we CAP ON because we can’t bold or italicize in this comment area . . . is that acceptable???? – I become nervous with too many rules . . . I might pee my pants . . .

  88. Dude, V.C. Andrews died in 1986!!! And I wasn’t being snarky I promise…I think she knew exactly what her audience was and what kind of books they were. My mom called them “trashy,” I believe. Hence guilty pleasure.

  89. George –

    House of Sand and Fog is a great example of one of those books that I just couldn’t put down. The depth of the characters was unfathomable.

    I loved the writing but the main character DROVE me crazy – I think that is what I was unsuccessfully eluding to earlier, that the power of the author to make us, the readers, REACT to a character PHYSICALLY even (LOL or throw the book or what have you) is the ultimate compliment.

    So I have now decided that my previously regretted comment about a certain book of an unnamed author no longer qualifies as snarky.

    I love to be made to think. In this life you can expect mediocrity (I have been disappointed too often in life) and I love that THE KIMMEL COVEN challenges my intellect and world view – it is always stimulating to greet someone who holds you to a higher standard.

    Gratzi Mille!

  90. Ok…now I have this perverse urge to go re-read all the V.C. Andrews from my pre-teen years…and go read all the ones I missed too…


  91. Only George fears the ALL CAPS. Look, I’m risking life and limb by employing them. I was this way as a child, too.

    Of course I read Flowers in the Attic. I was twelve (I think) when it came out, and my friend Jeanne Ann and I had a copy faster than you could say, ‘creepy incest book.’ Which is pretty fast. I love how the original author died and her books continued being written by a committee of, what, potted plants? Where was that committee when it took me five bloody years to write The Used World, I wonder??

    Okay, here’s an offshoot: our favorite horror writers:

    Stephen King
    Thomas Tryon
    Shirley Jackson
    Ramsey Campbell
    Peter Straub (I’ve only read a couple of his books, but they were fab)
    Edgar Allen Poe

    Having read King since I was a little girl, you’d think I would have developed a thicker skin or that he would have run out of ways to scare me but OH NO. In Lisey’s Story, when he refers to the thing in the dreamworld as the long boy, and describes it as having a pink, pie-bald side? Yep, he’s got it.

  92. Sherfick, in our house we call that ‘running against a faster horse.’ You automatically run faster yourself. It’s very important in life — it’s importance can’t be over-stressed.

    p.s. You aren’t our original Sher, are you?

  93. I’m fond of the horror story anthology, like the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series or these other random ones my parents had around the house…so I don’t know the names of authors of some of my favorite horror stories. It’s kind of sad.

    Hop-Frog is my favorite Poe story…it’s crazy…

    There is this amazing book on tape of Shirley Jackson stories…it’s read by the actress Maureen Stapleton and her voice is perfect. I’ll never forget the way she read the story “The Witch.”


    Charles Beaumont used to write for The Twilight Zone. His book of short stories, The Howling Man, is great. It’s also out of print.


  94. curious: how does everyone feel about Joyce Carol Oates?

  95. “Sherfick” is our original Sher. She is original, too!! 🙂

  96. The comments made about Jincy Willett on this blog were made by me. I made the same comments to Ms. Willett on her blog on September 21, and she replied. You may see what we wrote (comments #7-9) on Ms. Willet’s blog:


  97. Wow I just thought of this Mark Twain
    “The Mysterious Stranger”

    I was told not to read it by my dad when I was about 11 or so, well we all know what that did. This was a book about boys meeting Satan. It is about satan letting boys go back and make different choices he shows them how to go back and change the choices they make. When they do the outcome is worse and worse each time.
    I was thinking for days about everything I did and the path it took me on. Each instant of my life became a deeply thought out speck of time.
    Lordly that story messed me up

  98. truth: age 12, Flowers in the Attic, weeping at the end on my parent’s sofa. so creepy. it really messed with my mind for a long time. i can bring it back like a distinct smell it if i try hard enough. yek.

    also, and many will disagree, Moby Dick? ok, there is a chapter “The Whiteness of the Whale”…i get it. I MEAN, I DO, but still…there are a lot of pages about literally how white the effin whale is. after that chapter (42) i was convinced it was loaded with filler to get more money per word. still can’t shake that. don’t kill me, but Moby Dick is not my favorite Melville. Bartleby the Scrivener, Billy Budd and Omoo were much more enjoyable for me.

  99. Hmmmm….no one mentioned Brady Udall’s MIRACLE LIFE OF EDGAR MINT. It has the best first line of any book I’ve ever read.

    I also vote for:
    1. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
    Jonathan Safran Foer
    2. Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
    Kate DiCamillo
    3. Sidney and Norman
    Phil Vischer
    4. Diving Bell and Butterfly
    Jean Dominic-Bauby
    5. Naked
    David Sedaris

  100. Laura, I’d wanted to put Brady Udall on my list of under-appreciated writers, but it was getting kind of long.

    “If I could tell you only one thing about my life it would be this: when I was seven years old the mailman ran over my head.”

    Yep, hard to top that. 🙂

  101. The Good Earth Pearl Buck
    Anything by James Herriot
    The Jesus I Never Knew Phillip Yancey
    The Color of Water
    Night Elie Weisel

  102. Ohhhhh my heavens. Just when I think I can’t love this blog or you people any more…

    Since most of mine have been said, I’ll just say a few for good measure:
    Haven Kimmel is my number-one national treasure (I would say it on any other blog; in fact, I say it in life constantly. Ask any of my friends. My real-life friends, not you people.).
    Jeffrey Eugenides. To me, that’s a duh. Am I echoed by anyone?
    Nicole Krauss. The History of Love just absolutely floored me.
    The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I don’t care if it’s meant for teens, the sheer beauty and LIFE behind this book blew me away.

    A couple of essential repeats: Kate, thank you for loving Franny and Zooey the most out of Salinger’s work. That book changed my life, in the most sincere and un-melodramatic fashion. And I think you’re right — he is both the most underrated and overrated author I can think of. I suppose misinterpreted would be more accurate. But he’s a man of contradictions anyway, so there you go. National treasure, at any rate.
    Fitzgerald, anything. Even the crap years. The letters, everything.
    Mark Haddon. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime was a revelation to me.
    Roald Dahl, especially Matilda. Quick story — as a child, when you can bring in props to take spring pictures with, and most kids bring in basketballs or stuffed animals? I brought in my battered and dog-eared copy of Matilda. I feel like that was one of the defining choices of my life, as far as pinpointing when I started to become this way.

    Theatrically: Sarah Ruhl and Martin McDonough are two to be treasured and obsessed over as I do. Seriously, you people. I know that there is more literature out there than could possibly be consumed, but READ THESE BEAUTIFUL PLAYWRIGHTS.

    Just to note, I agree with sixty percent of what has been posted, and the other forty percent is already copy-pasted onto a Word document for future printing and ordering.

  103. ok do it make anyone else laugh that joyce carol oates is passed over as if she were AIR?


    okay. GUILTY PLEASURES. first of all, i never had a pleasure that was guilty, but ive done some mischief that caused guilt. not any i’d take back. it was Updike who said – i think it was in Self Consciousness, his autobio, that “if I had to take anything back, the last thing i would take is the fucking….” my god, that man can write like Jesus on CRACK.

    okay, and we use all caps, george, to annoy you. just so you know. you PERSONALLY. YOU GEORGE.

    okay ifi had any guilty pleasures they would be:

    a book called SEXODOUS that i read at 12. found it under my mom’s bed.

    the San Francisco Chronicle, which is garbage. no one knows why.

    JACKIE COLLINS: ONCE IS NOT ENOUGH. and so on. i know for a fact that im not the only one. i mean, mad augusten LOVES her. maybe. i think.


    ummmmmmmmm………..i dont feel guilty. still.

    oh! the sweet potato queen’s book of love CRACKED MY SPINE. LOVE her.

    THE HANDBOOK TO HIGHER CONSCIOUSNESS even writing that is embarrassing…

    INNUMERABLE SELF HELP BOOKS i bought but could not read during my divorce. the entire ghastly HARDCOVER (!) list is in “Split: A Memoir of Divorce.” genuinely and truly i thought each new self-help book held the Answer. i was wrong. my book also does not have the Answer.

    BARBARA TAYLOR BRADFORD. i forget the title? but it ROCKED.

    i sent haven a copy of THE RICH ARE DIFFERENT by susan howatch, but that is not a gulty pleasure. it;s fucking brilliant. it threads the stpory of a very rich man who is an epileptic, his mistress who is british and sort of chunky, and his wife who is a great wise woman/saint, and a whole bunch of majestic, epic scenes that if i could just have written ONE? i could die happy. HAVEN,READ IT NOW. seriouslty, i have to talk to someone about this novel, which iveread at least 4 times.

    the bible is,i believe, a slightly guilty pleasure. i dip.

  104. books i meant to add originally have been added by yall. thank you.



  107. mfk fisher.

  108. okay! peter mayle and frances mayes are both extraordinary.

  109. love Dianne Johnson as well. le marriage, le divorce. both good.

  110. The Tender Bar was superb.

  111. HI GEORGE!!!! HI DE HO!

  112. I HAVE hundreds of enails from augusten burroughs that have made me SCREAM with laughter. really, everything he writes is magic. it;s just astonishing. and A Wolf At The Table is a feast of grief.

  113. itgoes without saying that haven kimmel is a genius. i felt that way before and even more so,now. she is just getting warmed UP. i tell you. it’s just…well.i could die.

  114. i will bet you all any amount of money that right now, haven is warming up a poetry blog ALL-TIME LIST. i BET.

  115. oh. ADAPTATIONS was/is an amazing screenplay,. the only one i own.

  116. that and OUR OWN. o course.

  117. imeant OUR TOWN.

  118. okay but The Glass Menagerie is about alot of piddly shit. SORRY.

  119. Guilty pleasures I refuse to feel guilty about, and which are always fun to pick up and read again:
    Everything written by Jacqueline Suzanne, but esp. Valley of the Dolls and The Love Machine. She was brilliant and insightful in her own way, and that whole era was full of deliciously trashy books, of which hers were the trendsetting best. Have also always loved Peyton Place. Grace Metalious was WAY (sorry George) ahead of her time. One of my old fave re-readers is the novel (not the play) Pleasure Man by Mae West (it’s hard to find but there’s a copy on eBay right now for about $4.) I love Sellevision by Aug Burroughs because it has the same delightful tawdriness. Not a big fan of John Waters movies, but his books are great fun, esp Crackpot (the chapter on 101 things he hates is hilarious and makes me want him to move next door and be my best friend) and Shock Value.

  120. Guilty pleasures and horror writers in one blow: King for sure (I believe he’s earned every penny).

    Belatedly, I latched onto Dean Koontz. (Okay, strictly speaking not always a horror writer.) In a blog which I no longer maintain, he was I think the first subject of a weekly “Friday Guilty Pleasures Blogging” series I did. The entry included a Dean Koontz Starter Kit — a list of “the things you need to do if you want to undertake a Koontz reading blitz.” Sans discussion, the bullet points were: [you must] (1) like dogs, (2) like people, (3) be willing to be made uncomfortable, (4) be willing to be moved, (5) be a lefty, yes, but not too tight-assed about it, and (6) forgive DK’s rare writerly self-indulgence.

  121. to sherfick:

    still need to know about your other kitchen accidents. very funny, necessary things.

  122. Suzanne, west coast Suzanne still up?

    Have loved your discourse on words to consume.

    Just wanted to add, as I haven’t seen it yet:

    “Case Histories” by Kate Atkinson. eep!

    Am currently reading “Lolita”. sigh I believe it was our beloved HV who reminded us Nabakov, as a native Russian, wrote the book in English & it’s about a Parisian. Later he translated it into Russian. The insignificance I feel reading this book is tremendous. His gifts were extraordinary.

    btw, he & Flannery O’Connor did the short story better than anyone else.

  123. I am the original sher, I got sick of having a quiltblock head and uploaded an avatar on wordpress . . .

    The additional Kitchen Accidents are now on the “Carpe Haven” thread . . .

    My book wish list is now 2 pages long . . . my husband will regret that visa bill . . .

    Joyce Carol Oats – she’s still alive, I believe she is the unnamed, I need to confirm . . . yes she wrote WE WERE THE MULVANEYS . . . but as I re-nigged my snarky comment as I realized it was actually an Ode to her talent of making, even possibly weak humans so believable, SHE IS AMAZING. I have read several other works of hers and enjoyed them immensely.

    I read Irving’s “A Widow for One Year” while on my honeymoon . . . fabulous.

    I have a penchant for retrieving “lost” books – if there is one on the side of the road, I pull over and pick it up. That is how I found “Cider House Rules” – it fell, literally, from the sky.

    My brothers threw my Barbara Cartland novel out the back of our wood-paneled, olive green Country Squire Station Wagon while we were in the Black Hills of South Dakota . . . They yelled “Bye, Bye, Bawbwa Cawtland” as they cackled madly. We were all insane then: 8 kids, 2 parents, AM radio, nobody in seatbelts with suitcases tied to the roof . . . this is also when we thought it was funny to use our feet as microphones, sing Yankee Doodle replacing the first letter with others – obviously “F” was our favorite . . . love it when Epiphany does this same thing in the Solace . . .

    Flannery O’Connor, yes!

    Glanced at one bookshelf . . . I can add:

    Geraldine Brooks (A Year of Wonders, March, & People of the Book)

    Bobbie Ann Mason (Feather Crowns) – jeez, wow, oh man, loved that.


    A MANETTE ANSEY – went to a reading of hers at Davis Kidd – you must read LUCKY if nothing else. It made me re-evaluate my life. She has Triumphed.

    Just downloaded RUNNING WITH SCISSORS as audio – can’t wait to hear Augusten’s voice and I have read it like 5 times . . . find I can listen to books after I have read them, that way I can make notes during the reading, but then soak it in during the listening and I prefer if it is the author doing the reading.

    I also read some books out loud to myself. This gets a double whammy – and slows me down as I am a speed reader (now) and I find enunciating gives a deeper immersion. Poetry, must be read aloud.

    Went through a holocaust reading phase while in junior high/wiesel/anne frank/basically anything

    ken follett (when I read Pillars of the Earth YEARS ago, I wept for joy and sorrow). He has this little known book The Modigliani Scandal (1976) – art and intrigue.

    Jennifer Lauck (Blackbird/Still Waters)

    Janice Graham’s Firebird (almost time travel, haunting)

    Amy Tann

    Lisey’s Story/Bag of Bones of S. King are some of his “newer” books I have LOVED. The Stand is on a pedestal all its own and I freaked out on Green Mile – actually got my father-in-law reading King and he just loved the Green Mile.

    THE LAST SHIP William Brinkley

    TC Boyle (Riven Rock & ALL)

    Must stop, must work, must eat . . .

  124. You guys wore me out with your brilliance, literary insights and CAPITAL LETTERS yesterday, leaving me with no other option than to take to my bed early for some badly needed R&R (Respite and Reflux.)

    JES: Regarding your point about genius: takes one to know one.

    SAM: I’m glad you liked the book, it was nothing.

    SUZANNE: You give me whiplash…bet you’d like that, wouldn’t you, wouldn’t you, admit it.

    KATE: Can I have your print-out? Our machine is down?

    SHER: You need to quit spending your money on library fines and invest in an over door. On second thought, don’t. That door opens the way to some good stories.

    OK, signing off for now. I am up against the wall on a project at work.

  125. What about Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone?

  126. Suzanne, Handbook to Higher Consciousness? Really? SOUL SISTER! I KNEW I LOVED YOU! — this book was used as a textbook in a class I took at 15. I’ve gone through half a dozen copies since then, given away dozens more, all this while HIGHLY COGNIZANT that the writing is cringe-worthy. Oh, the drama queen I could have been if I hadn’t read early on, “you add suffering to the world as much when you take offense as when you give it.” Lots of tips in that book to make people act right. You’re the first person I’ve ever heard tell to even have heard of that book.

    And the Sweet Potato Queens — YES! I laugh, I laugh till I weep. Love the Queens.

    I read the Phantom Tollbooth just two weeks ago (!) (there’s more than a little synchronicity on this blog).

    (Whiplash! You said it George!)

    After reading Jincy Willet’s Winner of the National Book Award, I am memorizing page 207. In which Dorcas reminds us that adults do not presume to tell other adults how they should change. That speech is … well, flawless. Really. I’m memorizing it.

    I have to admit, I do love Jasper Fforde. His Nursery Crime series (The Fourth Bear, The Big Over Easy [re: the murder of Humpty Dumpty]), the Thursday Next series — I’ll read anything he writes.

    Thank you one and all — my reading life looking forward will be far less hit or miss, what with my new 7-page list.

  127. Why does George have a job? Does that bother anyone else the way it bothers me? I feel like he waltzed in here, made himself indispensable, became the Captain of the Ship, and then he just . . . what? What is his job? Lifting burning cars off pregnant women? Is he a foodtaster to the king? Does he defuse bombs?

    One Joyce Carol Oates novel that simply doesn’t get enough attention and is greatness through and through is Because It Is Bitter And Because It Is My Heart. There are many others, but for some reason that novel just left me slain. And let us never forget that she wrote one of the finest short stories in English: Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been. In addition to her myriad accomplishments, to write one flawless short story is worth gold.

    I slept a long time last night (this is unusual, and is partly the result of being drugged for various BRAINHOLE tests), and periodically I’d wake up and think, Whoops! Forgot to mention that book. So here is a partial compendium.

    A Fan’s Notes, Frederick Exley
    A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
    The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
    The Member of the Wedding, ditto
    The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, etc.
    You know my feelings for these:
    Little, Big, John Crowley
    The Aegypt series, Crowley
    Process & Reality, Alfred North Whitehead
    The Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead
    A Death in the Family, James Agee
    Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald
    Virtually everything by Margaret Drabble, but especially
    The Middle Ground
    The Radiant Way
    The Gates of Ivory
    (this is superlative)
    Everything by Augusten Burroughs
    Everything by Suzanne Finnamore
    Le Divorce & Le Marriage AND Le Affaire by Diane Johnson (how could they all three be so good? I do not know.)
    Everything, and I everything by Anne Tyler. Here is where I confess that for more than a dozen years I read The Accidental Tourist once a year in order to understand how one manages the sublime.

    In case you missed these mentions earlier, I’ll remind:
    Straight Man, Richard Russo
    Dream Children, and Father Melancholy’s Daughter, Gail Godwin (with a special shout-out to John M., who stood in line to have her sign a copy of FMD for me — one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten)
    Everything I’ve read by Hilary Mantel, particularly A Change of Climate

    Are there four greater novels than Updike’s Rabbit series? I think not:
    Rabbit, Run
    Rabbit Redux
    Rabbit is Rich
    Rabbit at Rest

    Seriously, fall on your knees. Also In The Beauty of the Lillies, and virtually every other Updike novel every written, sorry my deeply held love for him.

    Kelly Lynch is brilliant beyond measure.

    The world would be deeply impoverished without these novels by DeLillo:
    White Noise
    Mao II
    (just brilliant)
    Falling Man

    Paul Auster’s:
    New York Trilogy

    Lorrie Moore is so gifted she makes me want to slap someone. Not her.
    George Saunders. EEK.
    Let us not forget the brilliant
    The Bear Comes Home, by Rafi Zabor
    Gun With Occasional Music
    Motherless Brooklyn
    Fortress of Solitude
    , Jonathan Lethem

    I need to stop — I’m completely out of control here.

  128. More more more! You are IN control! This is brainhole physical therapy at its finest!

    I remember that I gave you the copy of FMD at the NC Literary Festival at Duke, after you and Lewis ‘Buddy’ Norden had your joint Q&A. It was like National Invalid Writer’s Day: You were walking around VERY gently since you were about 37 months pregnant with Gus, and Buddy was not entirely ambulatory himself. You both almost got mowed down by Reynolds Price in his dragster wheelchair, and there were crowds of blue-haired old ladies lurching about, starry-eyed and in their Sunday best. I think we all were afraid we’d have to roll you next door to the hospital.

    Gus: Let me OUT!
    Amanda: How do you feel about editors?
    Buddy: What?
    HK: I love her. My editor is my savior.
    Gus: LEMME OUT!
    Buddy: Don’t get me started on editors.
    Amanda: Thank you.
    Gus: I want a womb with a view!

    I remember standing with John and Leslie and Tim on the grass and we were all wearing black to a large degree and it was like a posse. And it was a beautiful dogwood-blooming blue sky North Carolina spring day.

  129. I’m afraid my god-given right to use italics has come back and bitten me, as you can see above.

  130. Do you see how JohnM breaks my heart? He was my constant companion, from Zippy on, and now he has left me.

    And John, remember that I not only was 9 months pregnant, I had a broken pelvis, and there was no way to climb the stairs to the venue without actually blacking out, but somehow I made it. But admit it: Once Buddy Nordan and I got in those rocking chairs in the chapel, we KICKED ASS. Poor Buddy, he was walking even more slowly than I was. I love him. Do you remember how he read those scenes about how he ended up in a drug-infested hooker hotel in New York, having run away from home, and he ended up in the bathroom with no clothes, so he tried to cover his wet naked body with tiny squares of toilet paper. Look, I’m going into labor just remembering it.

  131. I have always wanted to write a novel in which a woman was raised by wolves.

  132. Haven, I’ve never written here before, but I’m a huge fan of your books, especially “The Solace of Leaving Early.” I’ve read it several times. Amos is one of my favorite all time characters.

    Thank you for mentioning “Wicked.” I loved that book, but thought it was just me.

    Here are a few of my favorites, while we’re sharing:

    Fair and Tender Ladies, Lee Smith (mentioned numerous times already)

    Black Mountain Breakdown, Lee Smith

    Tending to Virginia, Jill McCorkle (actually anything by Jill McCorkle, including July 7th and The Cheerleader)

    The Secret History, Donna Tartt (guilty pleasure)

    Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl

    Wish You Were Here, and Last Night at the Lobster, Stewart O’Nan

    The Shadow Year, Jeffrey Ford (another guilty pleasure, reminded me of a cross between The Wonder Years and Halloween–I can’t wait to read this book again)

    Firefly Rain, Richard Dansky (mostly b/c it takes place in NC)

    The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski (Don’t know if anyone else has read this yet, but wow!)

  133. Ms. HV – I’d read that book, provided they were *taxidermied* wolves.

  134. I didn’t know if we could use the word ‘pelvis’ on here, so I left that part out.

    The toilet paper story was HILARIOUS. I would have snorted milk out my nose had I been drinking any.

    I also remember that you insisted on driving home, and John only paused *very briefly* before handing you the keys. See Saint, Patience of.

    Now all of you should go read ‘Wolf Whistle’ to see firsthand the subtle genius of Lewis Norden.

  135. I haven’t seen H.G Wells up here yet, I remember The War of The Worlds scaring me. The movie could never compare.

    Life of Pi: Yann Martel

    A visit to William Blakes Inn: Thank you Val

    And to stun all Fences by August Wilson is perhaps one of my favorite pieces of all time. I absolutely loved how he wrote this.

    ALERT TO ALL FROM INDIANA: Yesterday, if you haven’t heard, the Indianapolis skyline was changed forever when the famous RCA dome was deflated. The once proud Dome that dominated part of the skyline like a shield volcano was taken down to be sold and auctioned away into ebay history. The canvas roof will be sold as well as seats. Get yours today!


  136. Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks. how on god’s green earth am i supposed to remember all these books? more just jump into my head randomly.

    Gaily bedight,
    A gallant knight,
    In sunshine and in shadow,
    Had journeyed long,
    Singing a song,
    In search of Eldorado.

    But he grew old,
    This knight so bold,
    And o’er his heart a shadow,
    Fell as he found,
    No spot of ground,
    That looked like Eldorado.

    And, as his strength,
    Failed him at length,
    He met a pilgrim shadow;
    “Shadow,” said he,
    “Where can it be,
    This land of Eldorado?”

    “Over the mountains
    Of the moon,
    Down the Valley of the Shadow,
    Ride, boldly ride,”
    The shade replied,
    “If you seek for Eldorado!” Edagar Allen Poe

    i know we are not doing poems, but my dad FORCED me to memorize this one and to this day he will say to me “Ride, boldly ride” when i am being meh about something. this poem gives me goosebumps, the way a sick guitar solo can.

    and of course, The Tell-Tale Heart (EAP) which is a short story, but that counts.

    Love Story by Erich Segal has always had a sweet spot in my heart.

    Marley and Me may be dismissed, but I wept for ages. As a lover of all dogs and the owner of three, i can get swept away in the story as there is so much i can relate to. dogs are incredible and friends til the end, no matter what. there lives should be longer 😦

  137. OMG their not there. i can’t believe i did that

  138. Steph: Don’t apologize for Marley and Me. I also “wept for ages” toward the end of the book. Having to put down a dog for his own good was one of the most difficult experiences I’ve had as an adult. Six years later, I still get choked up thinking about our dog Maxx and how the vet was gracious enough to come to be our home to…

    i can’t even finish that sentence. But Maxx was at home. He was in my arms. He was a good dog.

  139. I am so computer illiterate it is not even funny. I tried to set up a WordPress blog here too so I could put up a tiny picture. Well, I did it but the picture is a closeup of the middle of my face. ahhhhhhh!!

  140. Ok, now it changed to the very nice picture I put up of me with my favorite Texas guy Pat Green who I have a huge crush on and LOVE. Did I mention that I LOVE HIM? 🙂 Of course, you can only appreciate how cute he is in the photo if you friend me on Facebook.

    Jules and George??

  141. I am undone with the synchrony of everyone’s tastes here with mine. (Well, with the ones I’ve read, anyway.)

    (If 7-Imp’s Jules and/or Eisha is reading this thread: you people over there are responsible for my landing over here in the first place. Grrrr.) (Not really.) (Er, not really on the “Grrrr” part I mean.)

    Somebody needs to stand up and say Stop! STOP! and insist that of the dozens of books which people have mentioned, which one book would you hang onto, while weeping bitterly as the others were carted away? (Sort of a Sophie’s Choice for hebephrenic bibliophiles.)

  142. JES- that is a great idea but, unfortunately, impossible for me. I have absolutely no self control in any area of my life, really. Unless, we can say this is for today only. If that is the case I would have to say Something Rising…by HK because I am in the middle of it and I refuse to give it up.

  143. JohnM i am fairly certain that we had not met yet at that awesome reading, but your description of it warms my heart on so many levels. i concur with haven that you have left us and it is not fair.

  144. Right, Amanda – we met shortly thereafter and shared laughs over the Stalker FanGirl who preceded you in the signing line. Hopefully she is not reading this, or at least has a good sense of humor.

  145. Did someone here mention loving graphic novels? (Our dear Suzanne perhaps?) Black Hole by Charles Burns was interesting, but my two faves are Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (the gal who writes the wonderful Dykes to Watch Out For comics) and The Complete Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman. Fun Home is about Alison’s coming to terms with her lesbianism while dealing with a closeted father who eventually killed himself. Maus is “mouse” in German. The author’s father was a concentration camp survivor and the author interviewed him to explore his war experiences and how they impacted his later life and their relationship. His mother, who was also a concentration camp survivor, committed suicide, probably because she couldn’t cope with having lost the author’s younger brother to the Nazis. Maus is told with all the characters being mice and cats rather than humans. These last two sound very droll but if you haven’t read graphic novels, please try these. They are incredibly poignant and it’s amazing how much emotion can be conveyed in simple comic-type art. (If you read Maus, be sure to read part I first, then read part II. They are sold separately or as a set but you should read part I first for sure. If you want to start with Black Hole, it’s about a group of kids in the 1970s-’80s and a bizarre STD that takes over the population. It’s fiction: The other two are non-.)

  146. okay. i also feel that whatever george’s “job” is, it should be abandoned with all due haste. george, why do you need to work? where have you gone wrong? what is it that you do that is so very important? i just can’t see it. unless you are in charge of Vonnegut’s ashes, please resign in some interesting way.

    ways to resign include:

    have a “Show” that happens in your office. I did this; it worked brilliantly.
    Move all office furniture out of your office, that’s first. no desks, no credenzas, no sliding fucking laptop tables. nothing. just two chairs and a standing ashtray.

    next, find two comfortable chairs, preferably modern with red seats. place those around the standing ashtray, facing the door of your office – never hide. this is your dais.

    your sound system should be small yet sonorous; choose a Theme Song (mine was ‘Jealous’, a rousing instrumental steel guitar tour de force by Billy Mure, who taught Paul Simon how to play guitar and is 95 now and still does live shows. ‘Peanut Vendor’ by Billy Mure was my Alternate Theme Song.)

    4. when anyone – especiallly your boss but anyone of even minor authority – walks into your office, start the theme song, and invite them to sit down.

    5. they are disoriented now. this is good. you own the room, you own your office, yet you are there and you are alert. it wont be long,now.

    6. Theme song should be just slightly louder than conversation indicates. if they are a good Guest, you can alwaystgrotle back the volume.

    7. Ask them with a big smile how tjey are, anbd thank them for coming.

    8. Steer the conversation with a firm hand. Ask about their children, how their commute was, or how they’re feeling after _____________. At no time shall any form of “work” be discussed.

    9. When the theme song ends – generally 2-4 minutes – thank them for stopping by and smile very big once more. Remember: if youre not genuinely pleased and are not enjoying your Show, they will become Oriented, and they may ask you to “work.” This is not just a short term setback; the whole Show disiontoigrates, and i cant be responsible for whatever tasks you may be asked to perform.

    10. Keep a firm eye on the clock. At 4:44, it’s time to start Wrapping it Up.

    11. If another authority figure or persistent co”worker” appears in your doorway, keep eye contact with your primary Guest. do not break character for any reason. I once kept the Show going during a fire alarm. It can be done, george. no excuses.

    12. Anyone can be on the Show. They will leave when the music stops, the majority of people are very predictable while “on air.” Maintain your host persona, which is thereal George, bny the way.

    13. You’re now getting paid to be your true self, and they will eventually let you go, but eeryone will have learned something.

    14. Ask questions oif your Guests. Random, fantastic or banal questions, but avoid thesubject of all “work.” I feel it;s best to avoid verbs while in the “workplace.”

    Allright, George.

  147. okay. i also feel that whatever george’s “job” is, it should be abandoned with all due haste. george, why do you need to work? where have you gone wrong? what is it that you do that is so very important? i just can’t see it. unless you are in charge of Vonnegut’s ashes, please resign in some interesting way.

    ways to resign include:

    have a “Show” that happens in your office. I did this; it worked brilliantly.
    Move all office furniture out of your office, that’s first. no desks, no credenzas, no sliding fucking laptop tables. nothing. just two chairs and a standing ashtray.

    next, find two comfortable chairs, preferably modern with red seats. place those around the standing ashtray, facing the door of your office – never hide. this is your dais.

    your sound system should be small yet sonorous; choose a Theme Song (mine was ‘Jealous’, a rousing instrumental steel guitar tour de force by Billy Mure, who taught Paul Simon how to play guitar and is 95 now and still does live shows. ‘Peanut Vendor’ by Billy Mure was my Alternate Theme Song.)

    4. when anyone – especiallly your boss but anyone of even minor authority – walks into your office, start the theme song, and invite them to sit down.

    5. they are disoriented now. this is good. you own the room, you own your office, yet you are there and you are alert. it wont be long,now.

    6. Theme song should be just slightly louder than conversation indicates. if they are a good Guest, you can alwaystgrotle back the volume.

    7. Ask them with a big smile how tjey are, anbd thank them for coming.

    8. Steer the conversation with a firm hand. Ask about their children, how their commute was, or how they’re feeling after _____________. At no time shall any form of “work” be discussed.

    9. When the theme song ends – generally 2-4 minutes – thank them for stopping by and smile very big once more. Remember: if youre not genuinely pleased and are not enjoying your Show, they will become Oriented, and they may ask you to “work.” This is not just a short term setback; the whole Show disiontoigrates, and i cant be responsible for whatever tasks you may be asked to perform.

    10. Keep a firm eye on the clock. At 4:44, it’s time to start Wrapping it Up.

    11. If another authority figure or persistent co”worker” appears in your doorway, keep eye contact with your primary Guest. do not break character for any reason. I once kept the Show going during a fire alarm. It can be done, george. no excuses.

    12. Anyone can be on the Show. They will leave when the music stops, the majority of people are very predictable while “on air.” Maintain your host persona, which is thereal George, bny the way.

    13. You’re now getting paid to be your true self, and they will eventually let you go, but eeryone will have learned something.

    14. Ask questions oif your Guests. Random, fantastic or banal questions, but avoid thesubject of all “work.” I feel it;s best to avoid verbs while in the “workplace.” Always thank everyone for stopping by and coming to the Show. It doesn’t matter who they are or why they came to yuour office. It is of no consequence.

    Allright, George. Now go get yourself resigned. We need you here. That is all.

  148. JimShue: i have had the desolate feeling of the loss of a dog two times so far. last year we had to put kippy (kipling) down due to old age. the vet’s compassion helped, but i miss her more than i miss some people.

    graphic novel (halvsies–there are also words–but it is amazing) The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

  149. PS

    some of you may be wondering how long any company will put up with the Show. my experience validates Three Years. delete all company mails, unread, and do not answer your “work” phone. that’s fucking key. distribute your personal email addy and your cellphone # to a select delegate or two.nomore.

    if you do not have an office, you cannot have a Show. you must wheedle your way into gettingf your own office with a door. Then you can go ahead with this proven Resignation method, and commence the fall season.

    after this is over? you will collect unemployment; you didnt “quit.” you just began the season. you changed VENUES.


  150. haven-i’m reading THE EDEN EXPRESS. it’s beyond perfect.thank you.

    i’d also like to add DINNER AT THE HOMESICK RESTAURANT anne tyler, who updike calls “..a wickedly good novelist.”

  151. Steph, the Invention of Hugo Cabret is lying right beside me, right this second. Are we all … we are all members of some lost tribe?

  152. Oh JohnM, you will love this! When I went into labor for real with Baby Augusten, I woke John (who asked if he had time to take a shower and I said, “Oh sure,” ignoring the fact that I was in transition), and as we approached the car I handed John the keys and said, “You drive,” and all the blood drained from his face. He said he knew right then that something serious was afoot.

  153. Jim Shue, I remember when you lost your dear little dog. I lay awake at night just praying she would be returned to you somehow. But now you have so many blessings, I just hope she’s safe and someone loves her. I never underestimate the grief of losing a pet. Never.

  154. I’m back you all and what do I have before me? 150 some-odd (mostly odd) flashes of brilliance and lists of enough reading to last me until I am, say, 103.

    Haven, I totally agree that I really don’t need to be working. What I need to be doing is talking to my agent and lawyer and negotiating a big fat advance for a yet-to-be-published (and yet-to-be-written) Great American Novel that will make people laugh and cry and have multiple orgasms — simultaneously whether gay, straight, and bi — and work out some sort of movie deal at the same time. That’s the way it’s done, right?

    Until then, I am a maker of PowerPoints, an introducer of speakers at conferences, a writer of annual meeting scripts, a presenter of programs on energy efficiency, effective media relations, copper thefts at electric substations and line loss, an AV tech, a stange-hand, and a coffee runner for our administrative assistant.

    That’s what all my years in journalism prepared me for!

    But I am going to Miami this weekend where I’ll be lucky to get over to The News Cafe or Wolfies even once because most of the time I will be in the meeting rooms of the Lowe’s Hotel plugging electrical crap in, making sound checks and copying stuff onto my memory stick.

    So there you have it. This is what I am doing until I can become not just a writer, but a PAID AUTHOR. I already have my outfit picked out for that role. I am going with dark gray Dockers, a pressed denim workshirt, expensive German-made shoes that I got at Comfort Shoe World in Evansville and the very cool black leather biker’s jacket I picked up for $25 at the Goodwill in Bloomington, Ind. It’s a look, whaddayah think. Suzanne, you’re the arbiter of such authorly things…would this work for a reading at City Lights or should I authenticate it up a bit? Put my Hoosier on with Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls, a pocket watch, a pocket protector with a nice new Sharpie (for autographs) and a clean white Oxford shirt (Haven, what do think? You know all things Indiana!)

    Until then.. Suzanne, my office is pretty much as you describe except for the furniture and the ashtray. We’re a conservative place, non-smoking, of course, and no Mod red chairs. What I have is an austere cubicle with teal-colored fabric half-walls adorned with black and white pictures of places from Indiana and stop-action shots of Ben Hogan, the golfer, in 1957.

    So what else do I do at work? Let’s just say I watch shit happen. Behind my back, they call me Silvio, and that’s not because I look like the Sopranos’ Steve Van Zandt on sabbatical from Springsteen’s band neither.

    So, there you have it.

    Like I say, I’ll be in Miami on Saturday, but WTF, I guess I’ll be here until then.

    Oh, and does anyone need their computer plugged in or a PowerPoint? Just say the word, baby, say the freakin’ word.

  155. So…where’s everyone now?

    Sleepin’, right?

    Or reading.

    Well, go ahead. Sleep and read all you want.

    I’m writin’

    I’m a writin’ mofo.

    I’m writin’ right here in Haven’s blog.


  156. George, there’s a new post! Write some more! Also I’ve been contemplating some taxidermy on eBay. There are couple of things filling my heart with that old black devil COVET.

    Had a house full of people for dinner and it was great fun. Now it’s just Scott and me out in the barn. I’m petting Kitty Kitty and he’s doing work for me. We have the perfect friendship.

  157. Leslie Young — welcome and please stay! We will most certainly value anything you say.


  158. You’re in the middle of a sweet moment, that which lingers after friends have left. I’m up, sipping coffee, doing my thing. Just rescued my cat Zippy-boy from the rain and wind. Dogs, Sadie and Gus snoring at my feet, the oak scratching at the window, Patsy Cline in the earphone singing San Antonio Rose.

  159. You go, grrrl, for those stuffed critters. You deserve them after your trouble this week. And Just for you, Haven, just for you, I have a genuine coonskin cap I am honored to give you.

    Someday Soon by Judy Collins now up on the Ipod. I love, love, love these machines.

    You all got any hoot owls by the barn?

  160. I was at a business meeting and I had the hugest frappuccino ever…I am going to be up all night. I’d love to just stay here, but I have some floors to mop.

  161. i am so immune to coffee that i can, and often do, take a cup with me to bed and sip on it before i go off to sleep…in fact, i am finishing a cup now and yawn…there i go, headed for the stairs

  162. Haven, that was Bailey. We waited a full year to get him after having Maxx put down. Three months later he was stolen… awful, awful experience. We try to think that some child is enjoying Bailey’s completely un-terrier like demeanor. And hope that they never find out what an awful human being their parent is for stealing our dog.

    Maxx was one of a kind. He was rescued by a groomer, who when she went to go look at him told the owners that they didn’t deserve to have a dog and took him home with her. She originally planned just to see what kind of dog he was and place a notice in the shop where she worked. She took one look at him chained to a barn, covered in dirt and grease and that was it. She said he was so dirty that she didn’t even realize that he was a Westie until she started cleaning him up.

    He was malnourished and had lost most of his hair across his back. His right ear was broken and flopped over from apparently a very bad case of ear mites. The ear mites caused him to shake his head so violently that he developed a hematoma which when it finally healed caused the ear to flop.

    He was a character. We had him in our lives for a little over two years. When the vet came to our home to put him to sleep, he told us that the assistants were fighting over who would come to be with us that day. Days later, we dropped a thank you note and picture off at the vets office and one of the girls working there just burst into tears when she saw us.

    I know this is completely off topic… just had to, well when Steph brought up Marley and Me, I had to give Maxx his due. He was a very old dog when he came to us. I hope we made his last few years the best.

  163. My JimShue, believe me: there are stars in your crown for loving an old dog. It is truly selfless love, and as always I am so proud of your good heart.

  164. Haven, you mentioned two of my very favorite and most cherished writers: Anne Tyler and Tony Kushner. I’m ashamed and slightly repulsed at myself for not remembering them before. My favorite theatre professor and I have an ongoing argument about who Tony Kusher would hire as an assistant, between the two of us. Because I really would just like to spend my life with him in whatever capacity available to me.

  165. JimShue: what can I say…the goodness and hope in your story was a good reason for me to do whatever I do today. I thank you, sir.

  166. The Litte Prince – All the love life and death you need in one book.

    Restraint of the Beasts – Philosophy and humour

    Wuthering Heights – dark and intriguing…

  167. Augusten Borrough for teaching us how to see ourselves

    Running with Scissors
    Magical Thinking

    (I am in the mist of reading his latest)

  168. I have been reading this blog for a month, wanting to comment but getting caught up in other things or distracted by shiny things. But I just got back from a four day wilderness field trip with my 8th graders (I teach creative writing and literature to middle schoolers) and can’t tell you how glad I am to have this post waiting for me. A long, thoughtful reading list! How lovely!

    A few of my own:

    East of Eden (Steinbeck)
    A Good Man is Hard to Find (O’Connor)
    Fall On Your Knees (Ann Marie Macdonald)
    Tender is the Night (Fitzgerald)
    The Professor’s House (Willa Cather)
    The Tiny One (Eliza Minot)
    Bright Angel Time (Martha McPhee)

    and, it must be said, Haven’s The Solace of Leaving Early, which I read about twice a year, sometimes cover to cover, sometimes choosing random passages. I can’t think of a way to say this that will not sound trite, but it is a book that has changed the way I think and see and love and write, and I will be forever grateful for it’s tattered, taped-up existence in the drawer of my nightstand.

  169. well, yes, that’s what miss kimmel does. she changes people. there is no finer writer available at any price.

    i actually am hoarding IODINE and THE USED WORLD because i cant bear the thought of being w/o any haven kimmel in the house. it;s the same w/ food. i always – even before i was a mom – have fresh milk bread and food in the house. always. and i need me some fresh kimmel. i just need it. thas all. it;sthe same w/ augusten burroughs. i have hoarded RUNNING WITH SCISSORS for all these years. yes, i’m that fucked up.

  170. suzanne – ditto on hoarding, so why am I starving at 9 pm . . . after eating plain chicken and unseasoned vegetables for lunch…..

    must have more kimmel…..when hungry, read something . . . 1 chapter equals 1 sliced beef sandwich on french baguette from J. Alexander’s . . .

    but nothing can replace fried potatoes, cabbage and corned beef with carrots, or spaghetti WITH fried potatoes . . .

    starving (for Kimmel/food) in TN

  171. oh my goodness, I just found this blog and I’ve been obsessively reading all the posts. Thanks, Haven, for your books!

    And based on what you’ve posted here, I think you’d really enjoy WINTER’S BONE by Daniel Woodrell. Anyone read it?

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