Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
For a very long time, I hated Kurt Vonnegut. More specifically, I hated Slaughterhouse-Five. It was assigned to me during my first or second year of high school, so I was still doing debate and still in the throes of what I like to call “The Wombat Years”—a bad period spanning most of my adolescence that featured bangs, rabid femmephobia, and constant, quiet anger. That last one had a hair trigger, and Vonnegut tripped it by, in my memory, calling Billy’s daughter “a bitch”. (This may or may not actually happen in the book.) I finished the book, since it was for school, but I scowled more than usual all the way. I am no longer a wombat, but that loathing remained. I did know I’d have to revisit this eventually for Reading by Ear—I just didn’t read that much as a kid, y’all!—but I was expecting the worst. And all I’ve got to say is praise and hallejulah, the Wombat Years are behind us.
Fashioning Teenagers by Kelley Massoni
When I was what is technically considered a teenage girl, I was far too busy reading fanfiction, scheming to get my hands on Velvet Goldmine, and being a femmephobic little terror to even realize what mainstream teenage culture was. In my understanding, it was something to do with Saved By the Bell, which I couldn’t watch without my mother darkly muttering about how it gave my brother unrealistic expectations of high school. It’s both a blessing and a curse: I never felt like I was chained to a script, but mostly because I had no idea that the script existed. Thus, I was pretty blind to Seventeen magazine until I read an article that cited this book, which pointed out both Seventeen’s age and its origin story as a women’s service magazine. I had to investigate.
Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst
I’d never heard of Sarah Beth Durst before Michael Ann Dobbs reviewed her latest novel, Vessel, for io9. While I do end up reading a lot of young adult fiction, I don’t especially pay attention to that market, electing instead to float around speculative fiction spaces and fellow omnivorous book bloggers online, so something like Drink Slay Love was way off my radar. But Dobbs’ review made me immediately add it to the spreadsheet—not so much because of glowing praise, but because of that premise. Somewhere in time, child Clare is throwing a tantrum and claiming that Durst stole her idea (from an awful fantasy manuscript squirreled away on a long-dead computer? Shut up, child Clare). I, as an adult and actual person, merely appreciate what Durst did with a concept I’ve always found intriguing.
What It Is by Lynda Barry
Part of my evolution as a writer over the last year has been realizing that I am much more of an editor or a literary critic than a creative writer. I mean, I’m still a creative writer to some degree. I’m not Paul Collins, who thinks the idea of characters escaping their writers is preposterous, because I’ve had characters decimate entire plot outlines by being smarter than I am. But there is a reason I’m an English Literature major, not a Creative Writing major. So why would I pick up a book pretty clearly aimed at a more traditional creative writer? Well, I’m trying to get my mother to write her memoirs and she does not subscribe to her daughter’s blunt way of leaping blind into new hobbies, so I’m vetting writing resources for her. Plus, I’ve heard a lot about Lynda Barry, so I thought it was time to get acquainted.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
based on the novel by Ian Fleming
As a seasoned fan of Doctor Who (albeit not as seasoned as any of the old-schoolers to whom I tip my metaphorical hat), I have to admit—I really look forward to regenerations. I realize I’m spoiled, as they happen quickly on the new series, but there’s something exciting about seeing an actor’s take on a character who, despite his variations, manages to remain archetypical. So when it came time for George Lazenby’s crack at the man with the golden gun in my Bondathon, I was excited. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is usually only remembered for its last five minutes by casual fans, but I think deserves a bit of a better reputation.
The Art of The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull
Of my various stupid human tricks (lactose intolerance, short hamstrings, that thing where I can bend my thumb behind my hand…), I’m usually most fond of my browsing sense. An urge to get up and go browse somewhere usually means that there’s gold in them there hills (hills being, of course, thrift stores, libraries, and, occasionally, curbs), and I often return with, say, a copy of The Cake Doctor or a Wonder Woman t-shirt from my adventures. Such an urge gripped me while at the library for the Jessica Hagy event, and, afterwards, I meandered upstairs to find a copy of The Art of The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, one of my long-shot books to read, just lying there in the new books. Oh yeah.
Segregation by Robert Penn Warren
I was about to mention that, for whatever reason, I have a hard time imagining Warren as male, but it has recently been brought to my attention that his name is, in fact, Robert Penn Warren, not Robin Penn Warren. I imagine this oversight occurred because my professor’s first name is Robin and I have an uncontrollable urge to gender-flip everything. (Thus why Jailbreak the Patriarchy is my jam.) I also don’t know that much about Warren, beyond the fact a film version of All the King’s Men was released several years back. But, of course, that’s why I’m taking this class on Southern history: to fill in my (considerable) blank spots.
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
read by Michael Page
I’m pretty sure I read The Scarlet Pimpernel once. I think. I’m not sure how much of my mediocre memory is me and how much of it is my ability to repress anything at will (developed by child Clare, who you should always picture as a wombat with awful bangs and a perpetual scowl), but the fact remains: there are great, big, honking holes in my reading record. Given how much effort I’ve been putting into maintaining my reading record since coming of age, I really wish I’d written down more. All I remember about this possible reading of The Scarlet Pimpernel is rolling my eyes at Marguerite for not realizing who the Scarlet Pimpernel was. Oh, adolescence. That’s half the reason I do this feature, you know; to revisit texts I read while clearly out of my mind.
Fire in a Canebrake by Laura Wexler
Part of the reason I’m taking this class on Southern history is because, all things considered, I’m probably going to leave the South at some point in my pursuit of publishing glory. This will mean negotiating different standards of manners (I never realized how Southern I was until I spent five minutes in Boston). It also means that, being Southern (well, because of my accent, revealing I’m Southern) is going to get me some looks from Yankees, and I want to be prepared to talk frankly about the South’s painful, problematic past when I’m asked. Thus this class, and thus books like this.
My Ideal Bookshelf by Jane Mount and Thessaly La Force
Every bibliophile knows the surreptitious joy of peeking at other people’s well-curated bookshelves. (Curation is important: haphazard piles of dusty books make me sad, unless I’m a potential buyer.) The books that are so important to you they stay with you move after move, culling after culling… those are the ones you can count the rings on your soul with. This is exactly what artist Jane Mount was tapping into when she started the Ideal Bookshelf Project in 2007, painting people’s idealized bookshelves. The spectacularly named Thessaly La Force joined forces with her and added interviews to Mount’s pieces, resulting in My Ideal Bookshelf.