Crack Books

Birds of America by Lorrie Moore by Crack Books

Birds of America: Stories Birds of America: Stories by Lorrie Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If I ever take it upon myself to do something insane like spending another 30 grand to get an MFA in Creative Writing, I’d want Lorrie Moore to be my thesis advisor and writing mentor. Ever since I first read her short story “How to Become A Writer,” I knew we were literary soulmates. Her cheeky tone, her sarcastic and bitterly black humor, her characters stuck in stupid Midwestern towns bearing unironic newspaper headlines like “Normal Man Marries Oblong Woman”… these were all somehow familiar to me, yet so unexpected from a writer who is considered part of the “literary” genre of fiction. Can you really write cuss words in your fiction? Can crazy people really be heros? Yes and yes, says Lorrie Moore. And goddamn if those things won’t take you to the top, too. Fuck the naysayers.

Birds of America is an excellent collection of short fiction by an unconventional writer. They’re all about modern forms of insanity which, really, are signs of sanity in an insane world. At least that’s how I’d describe them. I’m sure the literary types are shaking their snoots and dipping their piggy tails in ink to scribble some nonsense right now about some highfalutin’ themes and messages and other such dreck, but screw ’em.

Who needs an MFA from an accredited university when you’ve already majored in Life at L’Ecole aux Frappes Dures?


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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What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell by Crack Books

What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Okay, to be totally fair, I didn’t get to finish this book before I had to return it to the library (someone else had put a hold on it), but the articles I read were enough to make me give it 4 stars. I’m sure, had I finished the volume, that I would’ve given it the full 5 stars, because Malcolm Gladwell is one of those rare brilliant writers who make me want to read everything he’s ever written.

Well, okay, I’m still not that excited to be reading about sports, but other than that, everything ELSE.

I definitely want to finish reading the rest of these essays, at some point, but I’ve got The Tipping Point and others in the Gladwell collection on my to-read list, so I’ll be back for more.

Also? LOVE the title article on the “dog whisperer.” It’s great to know that even the man who loves dogs will not put a dog before a human family member. (You may be the leader of the pack, but you still have to know when to be a human animal.)

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The Way of Silence: The Prose and Poestry of Basho by Richard Lewis by Crack Books

The Way of Silence: The Prose and Poetry of Basho by Richard Lewis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Great book of haiku by the master (or perhaps the originator) of the form, Basho.

In lieu of a review, here are some of my favorites:

-The first winter rain,
And my name shall be called
“Traveller.” (47)

-Winter desolation;
In a world of one color
The sound of the wind. (57)

-The Way of Haiku arises from concentration and lack of distraction.
Look well within yourself. (70)

-I do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old;
I seek the things they sought. (82)

Also, love the photos by Helen Buttfield, though that’s a most unfortunate name for a photographer (or anyone, really).

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I Was A Teenage Dominatrix by Shawna Kenney by Crack Books
January 11, 2010, 8:56 PM
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I Was a Teenage Dominatrix: A Memoir I Was a Teenage Dominatrix: A Memoir by Shawna Kenney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Great memoir from a “teenage” dominatrix, explaining how she got into this unusual line of work, what it was really like, and why she eventually left. No sob stories, no stories of abuse, no excuses, just a realistic depiction of a really interesting part-time job. Highly recommended to anyone curious about the biz!

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Sleep Toward Heaven by Amanda Eyre Ward by Crack Books
January 9, 2010, 1:18 PM
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Sleep Toward Heaven: A Novel Sleep Toward Heaven: A Novel by Amanda Eyre Ward

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
My first “Texan” book, i.e. a book by a Texan (and Austin-based) writer. This was a good one! I enjoyed the changing POV, the characters, the way the Death Row women were complex and not just caricatures of “bad girls.” I would definitely check out more by this author. Sorry so short, but sometimes you’ve just got to read ’em to see for yourself!

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