Crack Books

Dave Eggers at BookPeople by Crack Books

Okay, seriously: What’s up with you Austinites and your wristbands? Apparently Dave Eggers, founder of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, is going to be in town doing a reading at local book-fave BookPeople on Wednesday, March 3, and only those with wristbands are allowed to join the book-signing line. To get a wristband, you must have purchased a copy of either The Wild Things or Zeitoun (his two latest releases) from BookPeople. Seems like a bit of a scam to me, but I guess Eggers is such a big deal that he simply cannot be bothered to sign any of that old rubbish he wrote, back in the day, like a humble little ol’ thing that launched his career called A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

Dave Eggers at the 2007 Brooklyn Book Festival (photo by David Shankbone, via Wikimedia)

The other reason I think this wristband-for-book-signing-privileges thing is kind of crappy? “Kicking off the event today will be Austin resident (and former BookPerson) Bill Cotter reading from his recently published McSweeney’s book Fever Chart.” Granted, I’d never heard of Bill Cotter until I read this sentence, from the BookPeople blog announcing the event, but shouldn’t this poor dude get a shot at having some books of his own signed? I mean, where’s the requirement that people need to have bought HIS book, in advance, to get a shot at having the big man sign? It’s not very egalitarian, is what I’m saying. Sure, everybody knows Eggers is this Literary Celebrity who requires the special Celebrity Treatment (i.e. picking out all the green M&Ms and only allowing Fiji water in his pre-reading dressing room and all manner of attendant nonsense), but would it kill ya to push a local, currently rather unknown author’s work equally hard? It just seems like the right thing to do, coming from a local bookstore that likes to trumpet its support for Austin-based authors.

So people, if you’re going to the Dave Eggers signing, grab a copy of Bill Cotter’s book too, and be nice enough to gush over it while you’re there, willya?

BookPeople is located at 603 N. Lamar Blvd, in Austin, Texas.


Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson by Crack Books

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A brilliant book by Jeanette Winterson, one of my favorite authors of all time. Whenever I worry that there’s no place for me in the literary world, I read one of Jeanette’s books and feel relieved to know that there are others out there writing successfully in an “avant garde” style that the masses actually “get”–and even celebrate!–rather than fear and loathe for her differences. She’s brilliant, is all, and I look forward to reading each of her new books as they appear in print.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is a great autobiographical tale of a young adopted girl growing up with über-religious parents, only to realize that she both rejects their religion and is a lesbian. I think I mostly love this character because of her shameless devotion to books and reading. She buys books and hides them under her mattress, until she practically has a second mattress made from books.

Equally so, I hate her mother for destroying the books she has managed to acquire and hide. Is there anything more horrifying than losing one’s precious books? (Okay, yes. There are plenty of things. But this is still pretty high up on the List Of Horrible Things That Could Happen To You.)

Love it. Read it. I’m going to re-read it again.

P.S. You must also read this great interview with Winterson (by Stuart Jeffries), as well as this great article of Winterson’s, “Down and out in Paris,” on Shakespeare and Company, both of which appeared in The Guardian (which is a brilliant source for all things literary that you should add to your bookmarks right now, btw).

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Chicago Poems by Carl Sandburg by Crack Books

Chicago Poems (Dover Thrift Editions) Chicago Poems by Carl Sandburg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
For “Chicago Poems” I guess I was expecting something more. The definition of this “City of Big Shoulders” and a mythology one could cling to, the way New Yorkers define themselves against the rest of the world.

Carl Sandburg was the namesake for the junior high school I attended, in a suburb of Chicago. There were two other middle schools in that suburb, one almost named after a famous English statesman (Winston Churchill; Churchville’s close, right?) and the other after… god knows whom (maybe William Jennings Bryan, the infamous lawyer in the Scopes Monkey Trial?). I just looked up my old school, and it’s got a website. Mrs. Beck is still teaching 7th grade social studies, but it looks like all the other names have changed. Mrs. Goodman, my favorite teacher ever, has passed on; I heard the news several years ago from a friend. It surprised me, but then again, our teachers–like ourselves–cannot live forever.

I had hoped she would see my success one day. That I could write and tell her I’d finally made it, the way she thought I would. Alas, I cannot.

So Carl, would you have written a poem for Mrs. G? You wrote one for every dogsbody in Chicago, but what about us kids from the suburbs? Would you spare a dime for us?

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Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem by Crack Books

Gun, with Occasional Music Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I don’t quite remember when I first read Jonathan Lethem’s Gun, with Occasional Music, but I do remember that it fascinated me. While his later work deals with more “serious” topics, Gun, with Occasional Music explores the world of the crime novel, complete with hardboiled detectives, hot broads (or are they dames?), and sci-fi aspects like a talking kangaroo.

Talking kangaroo? Oh yeah, and a gun that plays music when fired, hence the title.

It’s surrealist. It’s postmodern. It’s futuristic. It’s noir. It’s crazy. It’s an awesome good time. This and Motherless Brooklyn are, by far, my favorite Lethem novels. I’m working my way through Chronic City right now, and while it’s definitely fun (and funny), I really enjoy these earlier works for their pure sense of play. Too many modern novelists try too hard to write serious works, when they ought to revel in their freedom to play. Read Lethem to remember that it need not be Life And Death to make a few points.

I would love to see this as a movie, especially if someone could channel Humphrey Bogart to make it happen. Any takers?

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Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov by Crack Books

Lolita Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I re-read this in creating Black Heart Magazine‘s “Lolita issue,” and it’s still brilliant. Vanity Fair described it as “the world’s only true love story.” An odd description of a book that is, ultimately, about molesting a minor, and yet it’s also true. Humbert Humbert, the despicable and unreliable narrator, manages to convince us all that he loved the under-age Lolita, and that this book is his love letter to her. Definitely worth reading, whether you love language, a good moral quandary, or tales of lust and mayhem. It’s got it all.

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Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen by Crack Books
February 15, 2010, 3:35 PM
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Beautiful Losers Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Perfect. Dirty. Horrible. Beautiful. A runaway sex toy that devours all in its path. What can I say about this brilliant book, except… read it!

P.S. I re-read this book every year. It just gets better and better.

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Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky by Crack Books

Notes from Underground: with White Nights, The Dreams of a Ridiculous Man, and selections from The House of the Dead Notes from Underground: with White Nights, The Dreams of a Ridiculous Man, and selections from The House of the Dead by Fyodor Dostoevsky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Notes from Underground is obviously a classic; a tale of a tormented, sick man who knows exactly how screwed up he is, but refuses to do anything about it. Just the type of modern (or postmodern, at this point) malaise that we all suffer from, at one point or another. Unlike Underground Man, hopefully, we all pull out of it eventually, rather than submitting completely to this netherworld.

Just the type of thing I’d read, back when I was a NYC cellar dweller, peering remorsefully from my hobbit hole at the grey sky and cursing all of humanity. If I’d smoked, I could’ve been the perfect cliché. Thankfully I didn’t. I also moved on up to the second floor and left at least some of my cynicism behind, below ground.

Read it and weep. Then dust yourself off and get on with your life.

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