In curating your ideal bookshelf, you are constructing an expression of yourself in that specific moment: what’s important to you right now? The contributors to My Ideal Bookshelf have different ideas of import. Some focus on reference, others on beloved texts, others on texts they haven’t read yet but want to or think they need to. As an editor at heart, curation comes naturally to me: my spring cleanings are more ruthless culls. With my birthday on Tuesday, I thought this would be a good time to start a new tradition: to celebrate my nativity each year, I will curate my ideal bookshelf, so that I may count my rings in the future. The rules? Ten books I would actually use as reference material. Commence shakedown.
I have been hitting thrift stores with a vengeance lately; I’m watching my money, it’s always an adventure, and you never know what you’ll find. For instance, one of my favorite t-shirts is a Duran Duran 2008 Red Carpet Massacre tour shirt, because every time I put it on to express some New Wave love, I wonder about who went to the concert, bought the shirt, and then donated it. Adorning the door to my room right now is a LP of She’s So Unusual, which I just had to buy because of both the cover art (I never realized Lauper was making such a serious face!) and because Sheba, the previous owner, has written her name on it. Every time I head out for the day, I wonder about how Sheba experienced the eighties and what lead her or her friends and family to donate the album. It’s questions like that that make me love used books and other books with stories.
The Letter Q edited by Sarah Moon
Obviously, it’s rather tempting to start off this review with a brief note to my younger self, mimicking the entire concept of The Letter Q, but you can’t fit a punch in the face in a letter, even a letter to the past. (Look, between a punch to the face and two years of Debate, I would have sprung for the punch in the face. It would have served the exact same function in my development.) I think I first heard of this collection via Malinda Lo, even though she’s not a contributor (EDIT: she is!), and I knew I wanted to read it—besides being a treasury of good advice, David Levithan, Gregory Maguire, and Erika Moen contributed pieces.
I’ve been lucky to have access to some amazing libraries throughout my life, especially in my home town—my high school library was pretty good, and my home town library, where I volunteer a lot, is part of the statewide system in Georgia, which means I get access to books from all across the state. But I didn’t donate to my home town library for Bochus Yule; I donated to the library system in the county I go to college.
The Georgia Center for the Book is awesome—it supports libraries in Georgia and literature in general, especially Georgia’s history of literature. They also bring authors to local free events, which brings us to yesterday, when I dashed off after a work meeting to go wait for Gregory Maguire at a library about ten minutes away. Now, I may have my issues with Gregory Maguire’s later novels, but Wicked remains one of my favorite novels, so I just had to go see him while he was out promoting Out of Oz, the last book in The Wicked Years.
In June, I was alerted by my fellow The Lord of the Rings fans to NPR’s call to nominate books for their Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books. Setting aside the problem of conflating the genres—I mean, I get it, but it does mean a lot of good books in both categories will fall by the wayside—I enjoyed looking through the comments for new recommendations and, of course, taking the opportunity to peddle Jacqueline Carey’s The Sundering like it’s my job. (If you read and liked The Lord of the Rings, you should read it. End of story.) The nominations were counted, the votes were tallied, and on Thursday, NPR unveiled the fruit of its labors—their top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books (circa Summer 2011). I’m not going to copy the list verbatim—you can find a printable version here if you so desire—but I am going to talk about some of the selections that made it, be they good or bad in my book.
What’s the first book that you ever read more than once? (I’m assuming there’s at least one.)
What book have you read the most times? And–how many?
I don’t know which was first and I don’t recall how many times, but the two books I’ve reread the most are Good Omens and Wicked. Nowadays, I don’t reread; there’s just so many new and wonderful things that I have to keep moving, like a shark, so I keep rereading limited to audiobooks.
But in high school, I used to reread those books all the time. There was a time when I would reread Wicked every three months, like clockwork. I discovered it in debate, actually—a friend of mine was reading it, I read half of it in our local Books-a-Million, and then bought it, which makes it one of the few good things that came out of my debate experience.
Wicked by Gregory Maguire
read by John McDonough
I’ve never seen The Wizard of Oz. Yes, that particular piece of Western pop culture and I have never crossed paths; I mean, I know most of it through cultural osmosis, but I never saw it as a child and, as an adult, I’m frankly not that interested. But the magical thing about L. Frank Baum’s creation is that it’s in the public domain, meaning that publishing The Wizard of Oz fanfiction is kosher. Which brings us to Wicked, one of my favorite books from high school, as well as one of my favorite examples of how fanfiction can deepen and correct a text. It’s a terrible shame that Gregory Maguire can never quite live up to his 1995 adult fiction debut—Son of a Witch is decent, but A Lion Among Men is just a frustrating detour from The Wicked Years’ main story. I’m still totally going to read Out of Oz when it comes out in November, though—I’ll just rent it instead of buying it.
And now for something a little different—a video rant about “literary fiction” and “genre fiction” (both literally meaningless labels). Emo!Ten, our cardboard cut-out of the Tenth Doctor (he survived a near collision between Sasha, the small Honda Civic, and a MARTA bus; his sadness attracts disaster), looms over my shoulder, Demora Pasha’s fan is really loud, and our window of dramatic lighting, well, lights dramatically.
Name a book or author that you truly wanted to love but left you disappointed. (And, of course, explain why.)
My God, there’s so many!
Well, books first, I guess. I quite wanted to enjoy Robin McKinley’s Beauty, because I enjoyed Sunshine so much, but it fell absolutely flat for me. All the praise for Maus made me want to read it and enjoy it, but the main conceit ruined it for me. I even wanted to like The Historian, my go-to example of a bloated novel where the author is showing off research more than story.
As far as authors go, Gregory Maguire sprung to mind. I love him for Wicked and Son of a Witch, but his other works are just terrible. I have no idea what happened there. And I don’t recall ever wanting to love Kurt Vonnegut, but reading Slaughterhouse-Five in high school has put me off him forever.
Basically, whenever a book fails me, I’m disappointed. In a perfect universe, every book I read would be good. (Also, there would be less romance in YA books with female heroines.) But sometimes that disappointment makes for writing fun reviews, and it’s also instructional–a big “DON’T DO THIS” sign for writers. No matter how disappointed you are, it’s still useful. (I still won’t shut up about The Historian!)