Fat Books & Thin Women


30 Day Book Meme, Day 30

Your favorite book of all time:

Gosh, last day of the 30 Day Book Meme. I bet you thought this would never arrive!

Since it stands to reason that my favorite book by my favorite author is my favorite book overall, you already know that Nabokov’s Ada, or Ardor is my #1. I’ve offered so many repeats this month (posts on Harry Potter, posts on Nabokov, posts on stuff I read when I was a kid) that I don’t want to close this out by parroting something I wrote two weeks ago, as good a thematic fit as that might be.

Looking at Favorite Books Not Written by Nabokov, then, leaves us with a toss-up between Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. I am going to get a denar coin…

Well, a five denar coin.

Heads One Hundred Years of Solitude, tails The English Patient. I hope you are getting as anxious as me, wondering who will win this lamest of literary showdowns.

It’s heads! With apologies to Ondaatje, who I’m eventually going to write a post on, but it’s García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude declaring its domination of the literary arts today. You can read my scattered post on One Hundred Years here. While you’re doing that I’ll be laying down for a nap – it’s been a trying few minutes.

30 Day Book Meme:
Day 01 – The best book you read last year
Day 02 – A book that you’ve read more than three times
Day 03 – Your favorite series
Day 04 – Favorite book of your favorite series
Day 05 – A book that makes you happy
Day 06 – A book that makes you sad
Day 07 – Most underrated book
Day 08 – Most overrated book
Day 09 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving
Day 10 – Favorite classic book
Day 11 – A book you hated
Day 12 – A book you used to love but don’t anymore
Day 13 – Your favorite writer
Day 14 – Favorite book of your favorite writer
Day 15 – Favorite male character
Day 16 – Favorite female character
Day 17 – Favorite quote from your favorite book
Day 18 – A book that disappointed you
Day 19 – Favorite book turned into a movie
Day 20 – Favorite romance book
Day 21 – Favorite book from your childhood
Day 22 – Favorite book you own
Day 23 – A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t
Day 24 – A book that you wish more people have read
Day 25 – A character who you can relate to the most
Day 26 – A book that changed your opinion about something
Day 27 – The most surprising plot twist or ending
Day 28 – Favorite title
Day 29 – A book everyone hated but you liked
Day 30 – Your favorite book of all time

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30 Day Book Meme, Day 29
August 30, 2011, 5:17 pm
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A book everyone hated but you liked:

Special note: today is Bajram, my favorite day of the year in Macedonia. Really, one of my two favorite days of the year here, since there are two Bajrams – this is Ramadan Bajram, the next one is Kurban Bajram. Yesterday was the last day of Ramazan (known elsewhere as Ramadan), and today my family and I woke up early to eat ruchek, lunch, a little past seven. This is the fourth and last time I am celebrating Bajram with them, and it’s sad to think that I’ll never again be pulled out of my house by my six-year-old host sister to eat baklava right after the sun is up.

This has nothing to do with the book I’m writing about today, but I wanted to set the baklava scene simply because there are not many opportunities when a grown woman has the chance to eat baklava for breakfast.

Signs that Tom Wolfe’s I am Charlotte Simmons is widely despised by reader and critic alike: I bought my copy off the remainder table. It won an award for “bad sex in fiction.” Even most Tom Wolfe fans refuse to acknowledge this book.

But me? I loved it. Sure, Charlotte Simmons can be frustratingly naïve and Wolfe sometimes strives too hard to take in the whole of a college campus (it is hard not to think, “This man read some articles about campus hook-up culture while he was writing”), but there’s something joyful to this novel’s taking in of every college experience it can. Wolfe’s characters and situations verge on caricature, but this is the pleasure in the book: Charlotte’s year at college is recognizable, but exaggerated enough that you want to read this novel in great gulps to find out just what the hell is going to happen to her and Wolfe’s cast next. I am Charlotte Simmons is the literary equivalent of a soap opera, and if you are like me you won’t have a hard time ignoring Wolfe’s underlying message about the perverted view of education many college students have in favor of this novel’s voyeuristic pleasures.

30 Day Book Meme:
Day 01 – The best book you read last year
Day 02 – A book that you’ve read more than three times
Day 03 – Your favorite series
Day 04 – Favorite book of your favorite series
Day 05 – A book that makes you happy
Day 06 – A book that makes you sad
Day 07 – Most underrated book
Day 08 – Most overrated book
Day 09 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving
Day 10 – Favorite classic book
Day 11 – A book you hated
Day 12 – A book you used to love but don’t anymore
Day 13 – Your favorite writer
Day 14 – Favorite book of your favorite writer
Day 15 – Favorite male character
Day 16 – Favorite female character
Day 17 – Favorite quote from your favorite book
Day 18 – A book that disappointed you
Day 19 – Favorite book turned into a movie
Day 20 – Favorite romance book
Day 21 – Favorite book from your childhood
Day 22 – Favorite book you own
Day 23 – A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t
Day 24 – A book that you wish more people have read
Day 25 – A character who you can relate to the most
Day 26 – A book that changed your opinion about something
Day 27 – The most surprising plot twist or ending
Day 28 – Favorite title
Day 29 – A book everyone hated but you liked
Day 30 – Your favorite book of all time

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30 Day Book Meme, Day 28
August 29, 2011, 4:40 pm
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Favorite title:

Oh my god, I don’t know. Clearly I didn’t look too closely at these prompts before I decided to devote the month to farting on about my favorite books. But I do remember thinking, at times while reading, that the title of Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned was better than the rest of the book.

30 Day Book Meme:
Day 01 – The best book you read last year
Day 02 – A book that you’ve read more than three times
Day 03 – Your favorite series
Day 04 – Favorite book of your favorite series
Day 05 – A book that makes you happy
Day 06 – A book that makes you sad
Day 07 – Most underrated book
Day 08 – Most overrated book
Day 09 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving
Day 10 – Favorite classic book
Day 11 – A book you hated
Day 12 – A book you used to love but don’t anymore
Day 13 – Your favorite writer
Day 14 – Favorite book of your favorite writer
Day 15 – Favorite male character
Day 16 – Favorite female character
Day 17 – Favorite quote from your favorite book
Day 18 – A book that disappointed you
Day 19 – Favorite book turned into a movie
Day 20 – Favorite romance book
Day 21 – Favorite book from your childhood
Day 22 – Favorite book you own
Day 23 – A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t
Day 24 – A book that you wish more people have read
Day 25 – A character who you can relate to the most
Day 26 – A book that changed your opinion about something
Day 27 – The most surprising plot twist or ending
Day 28 – Favorite title
Day 29 – A book everyone hated but you liked
Day 30 – Your favorite book of all time

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30 Day Book Meme, Day 27
August 28, 2011, 9:04 pm
Filed under: 30 Day Book Meme | Tags: , , , ,

The most surprising plot twist or ending:

I’d like you to all have an image of me spending hours a day struggling to think of what to write on this blog, so let me start by saying: man, I really struggled over this one. As I went about my day (killing mice, doing dishes, walking to the store with my host sister, coloring with my host sister, doing laundry, talking with my host sister about baklava [Bajram {best holiday ever, end of Ramadan, lots of coffee and baklava and “sugar money”} is the day after tomorrow], making falafel [falafel mix, whatever I want to think now that I live in a country without falafel, will never come close to real falafel {which I’m too lazy to attempt to make}], moving mouse traps, discussing potential Bajram outfits with my sister [just picture her going through my closet saying, “no, no, no”]) the question of my favorite plot twist was ever on my mind.

I couldn’t think of a thing, not a single answer. Do I read novels with “plot twists”? Am I ever surprised at the end of a book? Have I been surprised by the end of the novel since I was twelve-years-old reading a Nancy Drew mystery, or can I just write about a disappointing ending and return to Harry Potter to discuss the lame close to the series?

There are books with stunning ends. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Nabokov’s Ada, to name just a few that have been on my mind recently. None of them have surprised me, though, and I can’t think of a book I’ve read that closes with a plot twist. This isn’t a bad thing; I think it says something positive about the books I’ve been reading (Dennis Lehane! Dennis Lehane! Dennis Lehane!) and the quality of the writing, because if you’re shocked by a plot twist at the end of a novel it’s probably more a sign that the author didn’t do his job when it came to characterization and not-ridiculous plotting. I swear, I can recall reading books and being surprised by the end – but there’s a reason I can’t remember what novels these were, because I’m always disappointed when the end is something so nuts that I had no chance of predicting it. Sometimes, it’s the feeling of being let down and realizing that the world you’ve been immersed in was nothing but the author toying with you for three hundred pages. What’s the fun of reading a novel, then learning it was a dream? What would be the fun in Harry Potter if we learned at the end that Harry had turned to the dark side? Do you ever want to read a mystery in which the least likely suspect turns out to have committed the crime, for the simple reason that he or she was the only character no reader could pin as the killer?

Dennis Lehane’s Gone, Baby, Gone has a pretty good twist, though the movie has probably crushed the “surprise” out of it for most of the American reading public. Can you forgive me for offering an answer after all that moaning about how I couldn’t give an answer?

30 Day Book Meme:
Day 01 – The best book you read last year
Day 02 – A book that you’ve read more than three times
Day 03 – Your favorite series
Day 04 – Favorite book of your favorite series
Day 05 – A book that makes you happy
Day 06 – A book that makes you sad
Day 07 – Most underrated book
Day 08 – Most overrated book
Day 09 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving
Day 10 – Favorite classic book
Day 11 – A book you hated
Day 12 – A book you used to love but don’t anymore
Day 13 – Your favorite writer
Day 14 – Favorite book of your favorite writer
Day 15 – Favorite male character
Day 16 – Favorite female character
Day 17 – Favorite quote from your favorite book
Day 18 – A book that disappointed you
Day 19 – Favorite book turned into a movie
Day 20 – Favorite romance book
Day 21 – Favorite book from your childhood
Day 22 – Favorite book you own
Day 23 – A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t
Day 24 – A book that you wish more people have read
Day 25 – A character who you can relate to the most
Day 26 – A book that changed your opinion about something
Day 27 – The most surprising plot twist or ending
Day 28 – Favorite title
Day 29 – A book everyone hated but you liked
Day 30 – Your favorite book of all time

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Story Sunday: Amy Hempel’s “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried”

Story Sundays is a weekly feature at Fat Books & Thin Women. Always short stories, always ones available online for free.

Amy Hempel’s “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” is a story steeped in the language of grief, although the narrator seems hardly capable of acknowledging that grief, or its accompanying guilt. Not just the guilt of not having done enough for her dying friend, but of not wanting to have done enough for her dying friend.

Hempel perfectly captures the feel of the hospital and the attempt to both accommodate the desires of the patient and normalize the situation, to act out a scene that does not have to happen in a hospital. When the narrator’s friend is hungry, she brings her ice cream and the pair act out a scene familiar to anyone who’s spent a night with a friend, though here it is tinted by what they used to be. Hempel never pushes for catharsis or attempts to point the reader to an appropriate emotion, but when she writes of the “men we used to think we wanted to sleep with” she captures in those few words the feeling of youth and of the loss of that youth, and communicates for just how long these two have been together and to what degree the narrator has failed her friend, in the months that have passed with no visit.

The story had made her hungry, she said—so I took the elevator down six floors to the cafeteria, and brought back all the ice cream she wanted. We lay side by side, adjustable beds cranked up for optimal TV-viewing, littering the sheets with Good Humor wrappers, picking toasted almonds out of the gauze. We were Lucy and Ethel, Mary and Rhoda in extremis. The blinds were closed to keep light off the screen.

We watched a movie starring men we used to think we wanted to sleep with. Hers was a tough cop out to stop mine, a vicious rapist who went after cocktail waitresses.

“This is a good movie,” she said when snipers felled them both.

I missed her already.

I can’t think of a story that more totally captures what is in grief, or what ties friends to one another even when they know themselves to be moving apart.

Read “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” online

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30 Day Book Meme, Day 26
August 27, 2011, 4:48 pm
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A book that changed your opinion about something:

My cooking used to be a sorry affair. When I first moved into a house, in college, I considered opening a jar of pasta sauce a major accomplishment, the result something that would impress any home cook. I ate cereal two meals a day and this seemed alright, since they were different types of cereal.

Then I became a vegetarian. (Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which I read around this time, was a close contender for today’s book. Pollan lost out simply because his book didn’t change my views – it simply solidified them.) This meant, first, that I no longer had to prod fearfully at a piece of a chicken, debating if it were done, and second, that I had even less idea how to cook than I had had before.

Enter Mark Bittman and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. If you’re wondering how a cookbook can change your view on something, you’ve probably never been the sort of person who approaches the kitchen fearfully, skims past recipe after recipe because the spice list is too confusing or you’re not sure what a certain instruction means or you’re missing one ingredient. Bittman’s book isn’t just a great cookbook, though it is. It’s a book that changed the way I think about cooking: it woke me to the fact that if you’re missing ingredients or spices or don’t really know what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter. It taught me that if you put a bunch of delicious things in a pot together with some olive oil and some salt it will taste pretty good, and that if you make something that doesn’t taste good you don’t have to eat it – you just add stuff to the pot until it tastes better. The parts of my Peace Corps service that have been in a kitchen have built on Bittmann’s book, as I’ve realized it’s not just ingredients you can fudge but the tools. When recipes say you need a blender, an immersion blender, a mixer, a rolling pin, a whisk, you don’t need these things. Everything you make in the kitchen can be adjusted based on what you have, your skills, your tastes, and I owe Mark Bittman for helping me to realize that.

30 Day Book Meme:
Day 01 – The best book you read last year
Day 02 – A book that you’ve read more than three times
Day 03 – Your favorite series
Day 04 – Favorite book of your favorite series
Day 05 – A book that makes you happy
Day 06 – A book that makes you sad
Day 07 – Most underrated book
Day 08 – Most overrated book
Day 09 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving
Day 10 – Favorite classic book
Day 11 – A book you hated
Day 12 – A book you used to love but don’t anymore
Day 13 – Your favorite writer
Day 14 – Favorite book of your favorite writer
Day 15 – Favorite male character
Day 16 – Favorite female character
Day 17 – Favorite quote from your favorite book
Day 18 – A book that disappointed you
Day 19 – Favorite book turned into a movie
Day 20 – Favorite romance book
Day 21 – Favorite book from your childhood
Day 22 – Favorite book you own
Day 23 – A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t
Day 24 – A book that you wish more people have read
Day 25 – A character who you can relate to the most
Day 26 – A book that changed your opinion about something
Day 27 – The most surprising plot twist or ending
Day 28 – Favorite title
Day 29 – A book everyone hated but you liked
Day 30 – Your favorite book of all time

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30 Day Book Meme, Day 25
August 26, 2011, 7:33 pm
Filed under: 30 Day Book Meme | Tags: , , , ,

A character who you can relate to the most:

I already kind of covered this, but to be more serious: I’ve always identified with Hermione Granger. (I know! Just when you thought I wouldn’t mention Harry Potter again.)

I’ve always been the sort of person who is always reading a book. At times it’s easy to feel persecuted for this, especially when you’re a kid (who should be playing soccer) or a Peace Corps Volunteer in a country where there isn’t much of a reading culture (who should be watching a dubbed soap opera). I’m sure Hermione has gotten questions like, “Why do you read so much?” or comments like “You know that it’s bad to read that much – stop, now!” and even in her more obnoxious moments in the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone I’ve felt for her. By the end of the series Hermione’s actions are the best defense of her reading – it’s because she reads that she’s able to do things neither Harry nor Ron can, not in spite of her love of the written word. It’s nice to see a female heroine, nicer to see one who reads as much as I do.

30 Day Book Meme:
Day 01 – The best book you read last year
Day 02 – A book that you’ve read more than three times
Day 03 – Your favorite series
Day 04 – Favorite book of your favorite series
Day 05 – A book that makes you happy
Day 06 – A book that makes you sad
Day 07 – Most underrated book
Day 08 – Most overrated book
Day 09 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving
Day 10 – Favorite classic book
Day 11 – A book you hated
Day 12 – A book you used to love but don’t anymore
Day 13 – Your favorite writer
Day 14 – Favorite book of your favorite writer
Day 15 – Favorite male character
Day 16 – Favorite female character
Day 17 – Favorite quote from your favorite book
Day 18 – A book that disappointed you
Day 19 – Favorite book turned into a movie
Day 20 – Favorite romance book
Day 21 – Favorite book from your childhood
Day 22 – Favorite book you own
Day 23 – A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t
Day 24 – A book that you wish more people have read
Day 25 – A character who you can relate to the most
Day 26 – A book that changed your opinion about something
Day 27 – The most surprising plot twist or ending
Day 28 – Favorite title
Day 29 – A book everyone hated but you liked
Day 30 – Your favorite book of all time

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