Thursday, June 25, 2009

How I'll Spend My Summer Vacation Epilogue

or, I Have a Crush on Lauren Winner

I have a little crush on Lauren F. Winner, and it's not just because I wish I was raised Jewish. I don't think I understood right away—when I first picked up Mudhouse Sabbath last summer, at the behest of the INN University Ministries staff—just how wonderful a mind and writer Lauren Winner is. No, not until Girl Meets God did I realize what an elegant command of language Winner has, in addition to her wealth of knowledge on her subjects. By all appearances, come to think of it, my crush on Lauren Winner is grounded in the same basic appreciations as I have toward Chuck Klosterman's body of work. I suppose that's the usefulness of the term man crush; I just never thought I'd be the one to use it.

ANYWAY, since reading Girl Meets God, I've devoured volume after volume of excellent fiction and nonfiction alike. The bookshelf above my bed began to sag precariously the other day, so, to prevent a midnight clobbering in the event of a Pacific Northwest earthquake, I moved the ones I was less attached to out to the bookshelf in the living room. Sometimes I fear people tire of my constant, insatiable reading habit, but when I discovered a copy of Lauren Winner's book Real Sex—provocative!—The Naked Truth about Chastity—yet traditional!—in a box of free books, I took it for my never-ending reading queue anyway. I'd never seen a picture of her on any of her other books, but there she was on the inside jacket, a modest black and white portrait, horn-rimmed glasses and everything. Her marital status aside, her geek chic sensibilities confirmed for me that the two of us are meant to be together. (An aside: Some will be able to attest that this isn't the first time I've made declarations to this effect regarding women whose work I admire, including in no particular order: Audrey Tautou, Zooey Deschanel, Alison Sudol, Sloane Crosley, Tina Fey, that one barista at Avellino, Gertrude Chandler Warner, and Cosette. This, however, in no way diminishes my feelings for Lauren.) But none of this is really my point.

Perhaps the greatest dovetailing between Lauren Winner's life and mine is her own voracious capacity for reading. In one section of Girl Meets God she discusses the enormity of her bookshelf, the tremendous stack of books she's dying to read, and the agony it was to abstain from literature for the duration of one Lent. I remember being flabbergasted at even the notion of such a task at first, but lately I've been wondering if it might not be such a bad thing for me. So often I hole up in my bedroom with my nose in a book. When I'm not there, chances are I'm at a coffee shop with a book. Even when I'm spending a day in the park with friends, my instinct is to sprawl on a blanket and read without stopping until we leave. I blame my work. I blame the fact that I employed by a bookstore and need to know what I'm selling; I blame the fact that I want to write books for a living and, ipso facto, must read them in order to do so properly. All these things are true—having books to recommend is necessary in bookselling, reading other writers' books helps craft how I will write my own—but what's to say about moderation?

I suppose it's easy to live life in books—those already written, mind you; it's a hard thing to put your own life in a book. All the events are already planned out, set in unwavering motion, and I just get to kick back and watch them play, an existence of mere observation without personally experiencing the consequences therein. Significantly more difficult is to actually live in the moment of one's own life, even for those of us who don't tear through used bookstores like toddlers in a candy shop. We look ahead to the future, living in moments yet to come in a list of and thens that detail prospective career paths and vacations and retirement. We relive whatever golden years we can think of—college, high school, before Ross and Rachel broke up, before Michael Jackson died, when the Sonics were still in Seattle, our own infancies—and forget about the potential of the present. I'm guilty of just as many of these (except maybe the bit about the Sonics—or the break-up for that matter). Unlike Lauren Winner, I won't be taking hiatus from my summer reading—the list is much too long to quit—but I think I'm going to try and be a bit more relaxed when it comes to actually achieving my literary goals in favor of enjoying the opportunity these months afford me to connect and spend time with friends. Friends that, I hope, will forgive my gracelessness at conversing over anything besides books.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How I'll Spend My Summer Vacation

You should know that since graduating college in December, I've been reading with a similar compulsion to two-packs-a-day oral fixation (cigarettes, gum, toothpicks), so this summer, I've decided to lay down some parameters: fiction. I'm planning to get current with a lot of fiction—so, actually, I've decided to lay down a parameter. Some time ago, I fell in love with nonfiction—memoir, personal essays, and the edu-tainment of Mary Roach. Until last fall, when I read Myla Goldberg's Bee Season, I hadn't read a novel since...let's move on. After spending a considerable amount of time contemplating the shelves at Village Books, I've put together a list of 15 or so books I hope to read this summer. Really, the project began as sort of an acquainting—afternoon tea, really—with novelists I'd never read, most specifically Nick Hornby and Neil Gaiman, but then it spiraled out of control from there. And now, I know you're thinking that if my idea of getting current with fiction means acquainting myself with Nick Hornby and Neil Gaiman, then I've really got my work cut out for me. I'll concede there, but, to be fair, I just saw Good Will Hunting for the first time two months ago. I've always figured I was a little behind the rest of the class.

What I wasn't expecting was the godsmack delivered by Hornby's How to Be Good, like Hornby had read my mind and scripted it directly into the mental interior of an adulterous doctor, married to the very definition of Type A Personality, mothering children like night and day, housing a spiritual revolutionary, and, I imagine, resembling a pre-Seastories Minnie Driver. So, those specific details that aren't like my life at all aside, I'd like to think that How to Be Good is about me. Both Dr. Infidelity and I struggle with what it means to truly have a positive influence on the world around us; we sometimes get tired of the people in our lives; and, we get right beastly with ourselves over it all. Eventually, it drives us both to church, Dr. Mom and I getting rather varied results. While she resolves by settling on a sort of good enough, I manage what I can and hope there's someone bigger than me picking up my slack. I think, in practice, it looks very similar; the contrast lies in our mentality—and, boy, have I got mentality to spare.

Now I'm nearly finished with Gaiman's recently awarded Graveyard Book, but that's a story for another time. I'm still thinking a lot about Hornby and am planning to revisit his catalog later in the summer for A Long Way Down, the suicide-jump comedy. What I'm still rolling over is the idea of the novelist who explores a point, or way of thinking, without seeming pushy or one-dimensional. Perhaps encountering benevolence and philanthropy from the perspective of the skeptic—the irritable, unbelieving martyr for sensibility—lends merit to a story that could so easily succumb to lecturing if left in the wrong hands. As a writer, reader, and person of faith, I'm still figuring out how to blend conviction and well-crafted story-telling, but Hornby gives me hope, not that I can attest to any specific beliefs held by Hornby himself. No, what I see in How to Be Good is the complement to what I felt in Leif Enger's Peace Like a River—where spirituality was the backdrop for a beautiful story of family. I like them apples. These books make me excited about writing, reminding me that my voice is worth raising in whatever way I can manage. They also make me excited about reading: after I finish The Graveyard Book, I'm thinking I might reestablish my ardor for Myla Goldberg with Wickett's Remedy, or press on into the unfamiliar with Peter H√łeg's History of Danish Dreams. All I know is that this summer my bookshelf is All Fiction All the Time, except for the occasional essay collection. I just can't give them up cold turkey.