Yesterday, Rarely Likable proposed to memefy this New York Magazine feature wherein Colson Whitehead talks about five books chosen from his bookshelves by the interviewer. She says: If there’s no one nearby to choose books at random, figure out how your bookshelves/piles are divisible by five. Go to each one however many times as needed. Close eyes, spin around a couple of times (I’m totally serious about that part, it’s necessary) and touch a book. Be right back with my own results. (You can see her excellent results at the link above.)
This seemed like a great fun idea, so I made Christopher randomly choose some books for me. (Miraculously, he didn’t come up with all weird little nonfiction books.) And they are:
Goodbye, Little Rock and Roller by Marshall Chapman – I discovered Marshall Chapman by way of a Bob Edwards interview on Morning Edition. Which is geekily appropriate, since one of the things that defines Chapman’s cool is these flashes of nerdiness (some spirituality stuff) or bad taste (touring with Jimmy Buffett). But the thing is, Chapman herself is such a magnetic personality that you really don’t care if sometimes her songs get a little bit twee — the ones from the ’60s are hard core (see, er, hear "Rode Hard and Put Up Wet") and, in fact, I bet she could still set them up and knock them down with the best. Anyway, her anecdotes are fabulous and that’s what this book is, and what she was promoting on ME. But they’re actually funnier from her. So I’d recommend the book, sure, but only after you’ve listened to the interview (with outtakes) and heard her rap in Middle English. We went to see her read and play a few years ago and this is part of what I said then:
The guy who Marshall went out on her first date with at Vanderbilt showed up before the reading, got a book signed and left. He had on leather tassled loafers; freaky. Another couple in the audience had met Marshall in Switzerland in the late ’60s and had the pictures of her sleeping on the floor to prove it. Marshall asked them politely, "You know we had forged Eurail passes, right? They were forged. They caught up with us in Italy."
How can you not love this woman?
The Panic Hand by Jonathan Carroll – Ha. The first time I read Jonathan Carroll, I was in high school. I lucked onto a copy of Bones of the Moon (which I still think is the one of his novels you should read first) at our Usually Doesn’t Have a Great Selection of Fiction local miscellany/bookstore Sqecial Media. I had heard of Jonathan Carroll, had heard friends from far away talking about how wonderful his writing was. I spent the next few years combing bookstores, used and new, for Carroll scraps, without any more luck smiling on the search. I don’t know if Amazon didn’t quite exist yet or I just didn’t use it then; probably a little of both. I think I’d finally managed to find another of the novels remaindered (From the Teeth of Angels), but the short story collection, The Panic Hand, eluded me. Anyway, in college, I drove up to Chapel Hill for a weekend visit to my friend Blair. Blair was a VW mechanic, among other things, and had this excellent house and this excellent dog, Samantha, and it was a good weekend. The night I arrived, he talked me into town via cell phone, to the bar where he was. We proceeded to traverse streets and bars late into the night. When we got back to his house (by taxi), I discovered he was in possession of a number of our mutual friend John’s books (John had recently moved elsewhere). I dug around in the boxes, drunkenly, and found The Panic Hand. Oh happiness! I was so smashed I had to close one eye to make the lines stay steady while attempting to read it. Needless to say, I got a lot more out of it the next day, even with the terrible hangover. I eventually picked up a copy, probably at Dreamhaven or another specialty store. I had occasion to pull it out not too long ago and reread one of my favorite Carroll stories, "Friend’s Best Man," because someone in the writing class turned in a similar story. I also ended up rereading "Uh-Oh City" and "The Panic Hand." They held up beautifully. Oh, I love this collection.
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey – I love this novel quite a lot, but I don’t have as much to say about it. I picked this one up circa mid-90s when I was trying to read more mysteries (I also read a lot of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett that summer). The most vivid memory I have of reading it is being in my parents’ big jaccuzzi tub with some sort of really stiff clay face mask on (which did nothing except create a kabuki effect and dry out my skin). I read all her books that I could get my hands on in short order, but this one’s my favorite. (Man in the Queue was the only one that disappointed me. I should probably give it another try.)
A Hammock Beneath the Mangoes, edited by Thomas Colchie – I bought this at Hawley-Cooke Booksellers in Louisville on a "class" field trip when I was at Governor’s School for the Arts in 1993. It has a truly great TOC (do a find for Hammock). These stories were the genesis of my love affair with Latin American fiction, and even in a sideways fashion led me to Eduardo Galeano (author of what on many days is my favorite book in the world, The Book of Embraces). When we got home from GSA, I photocopied the second story, Julio Cortazar’s "Axolotl," and mailed it to several people from our class that I felt could not live another moment without reading it. That story still knocks me out. To say that this anthology changed who I was as a person, a reader and a writer would not be overstating it. One of my dirty little secrets as a reader of SF is that I started out reading wayyyyy more of it in translation from other parts of the world or from the "literature" section, labeled all respectable. I didn’t care about respectablility, that’s just how it happened. Every now and then I reread a story or two from Hammock and think about writing an essay about it. Or a review to try and bring it some rediscovery. I would be oh so happy if a bunch of people respond that they’ve already read it (but only if you LOVE it!!!).
True Thai by Victor Sodsook – Oh happiness, again. And a fitting fifth book. This book was a present to us from Richard and Barb, following the first magnificent Thai Thanksgiving, which necessitated us taking this book out from the library. Our Thanksgivings are all about our family of friends and the new trappings we’ve given the holiday. Mostly, this involves me (and Alan!) drinking and taking pictures of the action in the kitchen. The action in the kitchen starts way before the big meal, with the making of index cards for each ingredient and for each dish, detailing every step to perfection. The riot of cooking begins, with ingredients being handed off according to card, and more drinking. The result is always wonderful.