about bliss

Monday, May 04, 2009

daily bliss: book talk

This morning I rolled out of bed and for once didn't have a stack of papers to grade before heading to work. I deviated from my usual breakfast in order to use the tiny amount of milk left in the carton for my daily cafe au lait, only to make the weakest, sweetest, vilest coffee I've tasted in a long time.

I laced up my shoes and set out for a walk down by the lake, queued up Death Cab for Cutie singing "Bixby Canyon Bridge," and headed straight for a little coffee shop a few blocks away, to order my replacement cafe au lait. The woman working there told me I looked familiar, so I told her who I am and what I do, and suddenly, she started talking books. Turns out we have some favorites in common--character driven novels like Kaye Gibbons' Charms for the Easy Life, and Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain. She recommended Rachel Kadish's novel Tolstoy Lied, reviewed here by Michael Dirda of the WashPo, (including annoyingly trite assessment of certain popular genres of literature). I'm moving this one to the top of my must-read-after-the-semester-is-over-and-my-reading-is-sorta-my-own list.

Anyway, my point is that book talk can bring people together and create an interesting, immediate conversation. So often people respond to what I do with some kind of horror that I'm going to start correcting grammar and diagramming sentences. Anyone who knows me well can (hopefully) attest that beyond a few quirks--hatred of the word "got," a predilection for long sentences, and a tendency to use bigger vocabulary words in proportion to the number of drinks I have--I'm not a grammarian or a martinet. In fact, today I reviewed thesis statements with my students by creating the silliest pseudo-argumentative sentences ever, like : "Our University should have a beach party because it's awesome," which I then proceeded to read in a valley girl voice for dramatic effect. Their revision: "Our University should have a beach party to celebrate the end of the school year." Perfect.

Now, back to the original topic: what other books should I read this summer? I like books without too much suspense or violence (despite my current reading of vampire books for a class next fall). I love complex characters, rich prose, human drama. I'm not opposed to happy endings but don't expect them. I don't like literary posturing (I'm talking about you, Jonathan Franzen!)


  1. I'm reading this book American Rust right now. It's incredible - also a first novel by an author who just crawled out of the woodwork. It's one of those slow prose books that has a lot of intensity and drama. You should check it out.

    Also, best book hands down, is for young adults. Check out The Book Thief. It's a story about a German family who takes in a Jewish man during the war. It's narrated by Death. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

  2. I can relate to the look of horror people give you when they find out what you do. I am an English teacher, and I'm making a website all about sentence diagramming.

    Although I love grammar, I am in no way a grammar snoot. I just love sharing grammar with people... I still have to find a way to explain this to others so that they don't freeze up and stop talking!

    :) Elizabeth


    P.S. Coincidentally, I also have a friend who has an aversion to the word "got."

  3. Remind me to bring a pocket dictionary if I'm ever going to be around you when you've had three drinks. I mean two.


    (hahaaaa.) :O)

    Big fan of grammar and punctuation myself, although I think I know just enough to look smart 10 percent of the time, and almost smart the other 90 percent.

    I do kind of enjoy it when people catch me and call me on my grammar foibles, so by all means...bring it on! Heh.

    One of my pet peeves is when people incorrectly use contractions, such as, "There's a few different ways to look at this problem."

    Oh really? There is a few ways? Uh-huh.

    When drinking with your buddies around a campfire, that's all well and good. But I've seen plenty of writers use that in newspaper stories and direct quotes from sources. Yikes!

  4. MacDuff, both books sound fantastic. I'm ready to delve into an intense, slow novel. And I'm interested in reading more YA fiction. I'll add these to my list:)

    Thanks for stopping by, Elizabeth! Your website is fascinating, and will be so useful for many people.

    Gregg, those subject-verb agreement mistakes drive me crazy too when written. When spoken, well, I'm sure I make that mistake often enough:) Now, to be completely truthful the whole vocab level/drink ratio is unpredictable, given the fluctuating quality of my reading material AND my varying alcohol tolerance level:) lol.