Category Archives: Book Recommendations

T.G.I.Some-Somewhat-Related-Fun-Stuff-Day

“Words like “lavender,” “cinnamon” and “soap,”… elicit a response not only from the language-processing areas of our brains, but also those devoted to dealing with smells.”

See what Your Brain on Fiction looks like.

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Just when you think a phenomenon has gone and died forever, someone ends up in the hospital over a LITERARY ARGUMENT. Can’t wait to know what this was about. (“Tolstoy was the master!” “No, you ignorant scum, Turgenev is God!” “How dare you! [Punch]”)

Kidding aside, I hope the poor guy is okay.

However, I can’t say the same for this brilliant commenter who chose to type the following words at 3:37 pm on March 19:

“This is why I don’t read books. People who read tend to be anti-social and violent as we see here. Plus aren’t all great writers drunks? Probably rubs off on their fanbases.”

So right, yet so wrong.

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Books I can’t wait to read next week:

V.S. Ramachandran, the Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at UCSD: “In this elegant and provocative book, Sam Harris demonstrates—with great intellectual ferocity and panache—that free will is an inherently flawed and incoherent concept, even in subjective terms. If he is right, the book will radically change the way we view ourselves as human beings.”

Free Will, by Sam Harris

**

“A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe—and built her back up again.”

Listen to the NPR interview here.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed

**

“In When I Was a Child I Read Books [Marilynne Robinson] returns to and expands upon the themes which have preoccupied her work with renewed vigor.

In “Austerity as Ideology,” she tackles the global debt crisis, and the charged political and social political climate in this country that makes finding a solution to our financial troubles so challengin. In “Open Thy Hand Wide” she searches out the deeply embedded role of generosity in Christian faith. And in “When I Was a Child,” one of her most personal essays to date, an account of her childhood in Idaho becomes an exploration of individualism and the myth of the American West. Clear-eyed and forceful as ever, Robinson demonstrates once again why she is regarded as one of our essential writers.”

When I Was a Child I Read Books, by Marilynne Robinson

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Books I’m glad I read last week:

“Stunned to learn that her son, Sam, is about to become a father at nineteen, Lamott begins a journal about the first year of her grandson Jax’s life.”

For those of us who cherished Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year this is something wholly different, but still in possession of the same wit and tenderness.

A Journal of My Son’s First Son, by Anne Lamott with Sam Lamott

**

Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth: “Susan Cain is the definer of a new and valuable paradigm. In this moving and original argument, she makes the case that we are losing immense reserves of talent and vision because of our culture’s overvaluation of extroversion. A startling, important, and readable page-turner that will make quiet people see themselves in a whole new light.”

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain

**

“Julia Severn is a student at an elite institute for psychics. Her mentor, the legendary Madame Ackermann, afflicted by jealousy, refuses to pass the torch to her young disciple. Instead, she subjects Julia to the humiliation of reliving her mother’s suicide when Julia was an infant. As the two lock horns, and Julia gains power, Madame Ackermann launches a desperate psychic attack that leaves Julia the victim of a crippling ailment.”

Doesn’t that sound like loads of delicious fun? It was!

The Vanishers, by Heidi Julavits

Have a quiet, wonderful weekend, everyone. And happy reading!

-Aida

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Take me home!

Austin Kleon, of Newspaper Blackout fame, gives you permission to steal. He also tells you what’s good stealing and what’s stupid stealing. Also, why you’re stealing even if you don’t know you’re stealing. And, importantly, how to get out of your own way while stealing. In Steal Like an Artist, a tiny adorable book with lots o’ drawings, Kleon shares maxims, tips, quotes, anecdotes, rules… inspirations(!) for the creative person.  For those who need permission to screw up and write/paint/dream/grow/      insert creative verb here      drivel before they produce the masterpiece each of us is capable of (it’s okay, even I can’t tell if I’m being ironic here.)

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Here’s Ray Bradbury in 2008  for The Big Read, presented by the National Endowment for the Arts. Definitely worth eight minutes out of your life.

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The Guardian, inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, asked some authors for theirs. Here’s Geoff Dyer’s list. Click here for the rest.

1 Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project. That stuff is for agents and editors to fret over – or not. Conversation with my American publisher. Me: “I’m writing a book so boring, of such limited commercial appeal, that if you publish it, it will probably cost you your job.” Publisher: “That’s exactly what makes me want to stay in my job.”

2 Don’t write in public places. In the early 1990s I went to live in Paris. The usual writerly reasons: back then, if you were caught writing in a pub in England, you could get your head kicked in, whereas in Paris, dans les cafés . . . Since then I’ve developed an aversion to writing in public. I now think it should be done only in private, like any other lavatorial activity.

3 Don’t be one of those writers who sentence themselves to a lifetime of sucking up to Nabokov.

4 If you use a computer, constantly refine and expand your autocorrect settings. The only reason I stay loyal to my piece-of-shit computer is that I have invested so much ingenuity into building one of the great auto­correct files in literary history. Perfectly formed and spelt words emerge from a few brief keystrokes: “Niet” becomes “Nietzsche”, “phoy” becomes  ­”photography” and so on. ­Genius!

5 Keep a diary. The biggest regret of my writing life is that I have never kept a journal or a diary.

6 Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.

7 Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it’s a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It’s only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I ­always have to feel that I’m bunking off from something.

8 Beware of clichés. Not just the ­clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought – even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are ­clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation.

9 Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don’t follow it.

10 Never ride a bike with the brakes on. If something is proving too difficult, give up and do something else. Try to live without resort to per­severance. But writing is all about ­perseverance. You’ve got to stick at it. In my 30s I used to go to the gym even though I hated it. The purpose of ­going to the gym was to postpone the day when I would stop going. That’s what writing is to me: a way of ­postponing the day when I won’t do it any more, the day when I will sink into a depression so profound it will be indistinguishable from perfect bliss.

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From a section titled Daily Program:

Mornings: If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus.

If in fine fettle, write.

Evenings: See friends. Read in cafes.

Explore unfamiliar sections- on foot if wet, on bicycle if dry.

Write, if in mood, but only on Minor program.

Paint if empty or tired.

Make Notes. Make charts, plans. Make corrections of MS.

Note: Allow sufficient time during daylight to make an occasional visit to museums or an occasional sketch or an occasional bike ride…

Henry Miller’s Commandment #5:

When you can’t create you can work.

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Did you know that the most creative companies have centralized bathrooms? That brainstorming meetings are a terrible idea? That the color blue can help you double your creative output?

I didn’t. But I do now, because I read this book. And today I am one book smarter than I was two days ago. What is smart, anyway? This book answers that question, too. Pretty good book,  wouldn’t you say?

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In conclusion, watch this. Ideas are such funny little guys.

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Wile away the days While enlightening yourself in all kinds of new ways

In keeping with what I am right this minute dubbing the theme of the last two days, here are our favorite books to guide you through this weird, big city  of ours. Dinner, movie and a walk on the beach may be the way you go, but if you’ve been going that way ceaselessly for years, it may be time to check out some of our books on all things wacky and marvelous in Los Angeles.

“Did you know that the Ice Age occurred after Noah’s Ark landed on Mount Ararat, or that Neanderthal man was a descendent of Adam and Noah?…Just a short drive from San Diego State University there’s a museum that will illustrate how God…created the Earth and our universe in six twenty-four-hour days…”

The Museum of Creation, pg. 307

L.A. Bizarro: The All-new Insider’s Guide to the Obscure, the Absurd, and the Perverse in Los Angeles by Anthony Lovett & Matt Maranian

“Smack-dab in the middle of the megalopolis is a beautiful lake surrounded by lush semitropical vegetation and a perfect bicycling/running road. For more than half of its 3.25-mile length, the road is closed to motor traffic, and because so few people are aware of this gem, the nonmotorized traffic is pretty light, too.”

Lake Hollywood, pg 103

Short Bike Rides: Los Angeles, by Robert Winning

“This is a most spiritual walk, a hillside stroll without too many stairs through an area once dotted with temples, monasteries, retreats, and church buildings. The English novelist Christopher Isherwood studied meditation here; the Indian spiritualist Krishnamurti lived here; and the Dominican sisters still bake a mean pumpkin bread here.”

Walk #35, Temple Hill, pg. 193

Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles, by Charles Fleming

“…it’s tempting to use the place as a sort of home away from home at any time of day. Bring your laptop, order a cup of micro-roasted coffee or cinnnamon-fig tea, and work on that screenplay until you’ve got a passable draft. Or buy a Joan Didion novel in the adjacent [Portrait of a Bookstore] and read the afternoon away.”

Peaceful Place #4, Aroma Cafe, pg.7

Peaceful Places Los Angeles: 110 Tranquil Sites in the City of Angels and Neighboring Communities, by Laura Randall

 

“Begin in Brand Park, at the intersection of Mountain St. and Grandview Ave., where you can spend some time exploring the park and the Brand Library & Art Center. The unique and lovely structure combines elements of Spanish, Moorish, and Indian architecture. Stop in to peruse the library’s impressive art and music collections or to admire the latest exhibition in the adjacent gallery. While in the park, you may also want to visit the Whispering Pine Treehouse & Friendship Garden, a lovely little Japanese garden and pond, as well as the Victorian Doctor’s House Museum and Gazebo.”

Brand Park and Kenneth Village, pg. 153

Walking L.A., by Erin Mahoney Harris

 

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Love and Other Stories

Donna Recommends:

Valentine’s weekend, Art and Marion Fowler flee their Cleveland suburb for Niagara Falls, desperate to recoup their losses. Jobless, with their home approaching foreclosure and their marriage on the brink of collapse, Art and Marion liquidate their savings account and book a bridal suite at the Falls’ ritziest casino for a second honeymoon. While they sightsee like tourists during the day, at night they risk it all at the roulette wheel to fix their finances-and save their marriage. A tender yet honest exploration of faith, forgiveness and last chances, The Odds is a reminder that love, like life, is always a gamble.

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Aida Recommends:

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

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Lucia Recommends:

Hayat Shah is a young American in love for the first time. His normal life of school, baseball, and video games had previously been distinguished only by his Pakistani heritage and by the frequent chill between his parents, who fight over things he is too young to understand. Then Mina arrives, and everything changes.

Mina is Hayat’s mother’s oldest friend from Pakistan. She is independent, beautiful and intelligent, and arrives on the Shah’s doorstep when her disastrous marriage in Pakistan disintegrates. Even Hayat’s skeptical father can’t deny the liveliness and happiness that accompanies Mina into their home. Her deep spirituality brings the family’s Muslim faith to life in a way that resonates with Hayat as nothing has before. Studying the Quran by Mina’s side and basking in the glow of her attention, he feels an entirely new purpose mingled with a growing infatuation for his teacher.

When Mina meets and begins dating a man, Hayat is confused by his feelings of betrayal. His growing passions, both spiritual and romantic, force him to question all that he has come to believe is true. Just as Mina finds happiness, Hayat is compelled to act — with devastating consequences for all those he loves most.

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Aida Recommends this, too. Highly.

A terrible epidemic has struck the country and the sound of children’s speech has become lethal. Radio transmissions from strange sources indicate that people are going into hiding. All Sam and Claire need to do is look around the neighborhood: In the park, parents wither beneath the powerful screams of their children. At night, suburban side streets become routes of shameful escape for fathers trying to get outside the radius of affliction.

With Claire nearing collapse, it seems their only means of survival is to flee from their daughter, Esther, who laughs at her parents’ sickness, unaware that in just a few years she, too, will be susceptible to the language toxicity. But Sam and Claire find it isn’t so easy to leave the daughter they still love, even as they waste away from her malevolent speech. On the eve of their departure, Claire mysteriously disappears, and Sam, determined to find a cure for this new toxic language, presses on alone into a world beyond recognition.

Here’s James Fearnley’s new single, “Hey Ho”. Another beautiful love story.

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What do we do Great Barrymore?

What shall we do simple monk?

Going Home Books for the Holidays

Day Twenty-Four

In this small, luminous memoir, the National Book Award winner Patti Smith revisits the most sacred experiences of her early years, with truths so vivid they border on the surreal. The author entwines her childhood self and its “clear, unspeakable joy” with memories both real and envisioned from her twenties on New York’s MacDougal Street, the street of cafes.

Woolgathering was completed, in Michigan, on Patti Smith’s 45th birthday and originally published in a slim volume from Raymond Foye’s Hanuman Books. Twenty years later, New Directions is proud to present it in an augmented edition, featuring writing that was omitted from the book’s first printing, along with new photographs and illustrations.

This is a book you’ll keep well. One you’ll treasure. One you’ll save so that someone else will be able to treasure it, as well. It is a book you’ll want to share. Because it is a joyful book about joy, and it is so very generous.


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The Prince Who Became Buddha

Going Home Books for the Holidays

Day Twenty-Three

Behind the dramatic events in the life of Buddha that have been historically and culturally recorded lies the story of Siddhartha, a man overwhelmed by the tragedy of inevitable and universal human suffering. He set out to find a solution not only for his contemporaries and his civilization, but for all of humanity for eternity. This important two-part volume sheds new light on the life and teachings of this great man. The first section narrates the events in the life of Buddha, lavishly illustrated with spectacular works of art that provide the ideal complement to the meticulously researched text. The second section examines this great man’s sentiments and the nucleus of his doctrine. This portion of the book features a unique photographic recreation of the roads traveled by the Enlightened One, accompanied by quotations from traditional Buddhist writings.

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Made by Foot

Going Home Books for the Holidays

Day Twenty-Two

A chicken poncho. A painting of a corn dog. A clock made out of an old “mostly clean” cheese grater. All this and more await you in the pages of Regretsy, a veritable sideshow of handcrafts gone wrong. Based on the eponymous hit blog and arranged in categories such as Décor, Pet Humiliation, and Christmas, Regretsy showcases the best of the worst, ranging from the hilariously absurd to the purely horrifying. Each page of this jaw-dropping volume features the actual seller’s online listing with a light coat of snarky commentary to give it a good shellacking. So join us as we descend into handmade hell and gawk, gasp, and marvel at the disturbingly odd artifacts that Regretsy has collected for your viewing pleasure, proving that you can never have too much of a bad thing.

Uncontrollable laughter, anyone?

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