The Reason To Tip The Bouncer

There are a lot of books I have not read. Most of them, in fact. (That is if my math is correct. My math is very dicey because I usually forget to carry the 2, but let’s assume my calculations are close.) Like the weekend crowd hoping to get past the velvet rope, my ‘to be read’ list is perpetually in flux. I’m shallow and easily distracted by younger, shiny new books, and I feel a little guilty when something jumps in front of my eyeballs ahead of other titles on my list that are languishing on the sidewalk, waiting for me to notice them.  The guilt intensifies when I reserve a spot at the top of the list for books that technically don’t exist, the yet-to-be-published books by my favorite authors.  But this week, I don’t feel guilty at all. This week, I don’t care how long the other books have been waiting to get into the club because Lyndsay Faye’s new one, Jane Steele, is out and she gets to go to the front of the line.
Book 1: we’ve been waiting on this sidewalk forever
Book 2: And that PYT just waltzes right in
Book 1: I knew I should have worn my tube top

‘Lyndsay Faye’ is probably translated from the German “kickass pixie who writes yummy books”.  Her books are vivid, meticulously researched, flashpoint smart and explosively fun to read. Her Gods of Gotham trilogy, about the birth of the New York police force in 1845, centers on brothers Timothy and Valentine Wilde.  Timothy and Valentine are pivotal players as the fledgling, fragile police force attempts to protect the fledgling, fragile idea of equal treatment under the law for everyone in the city, not just the privileged wealthy. Lyndsay Faye’s characters are refreshingly complex and her stories are electrically entertaining, and normally I’d make you borrow my copies to read for yourself but mine are autographed by the actual Lyndsay Faye so you can look at them but only if I hold them. Since I first found Gods of Gotham, I have devoured everything Lyndsay Faye’s written and I’ve been waiting for Jane Steele forever.
Book 1: …so to be clear this is about a book she hasn’t read?
Book 2: Yup. Should call the blog NoBookReasons. BWAHAHAHAHA
Book 1: No wonder the bouncer won’t let us in

In Neanderthal times, the only way to get a just-released book was to take your 4-wheel-mastodon to the Neanderthals bookstore. If you survived the trip, it was highly likely that the new release you were so excited about was sold out. There you were, at the Bookstore Cave, with no copies of the final book in the Vampire Pterodactyl series to be had.  Now, lining up to get the Next Big Literary Thing is as easy as clicking the pre-order button in your Amazon account, and BOOM-the book shows up on release day, guaranteed. It’s almost too easy, actually. Periodically, I’ll check on my open orders to ensure I have not pre-ordered the same book twice in an anticipatory frenzy. In fact, I heard a story once about someone who ordered three copies of the fifth Harry Potter book because she forgot she’d already ordered it and no it was NOT me it was a friend ok?
Book 1: you get that it’s her that did that right
Book 2: (sings) You got three copies of Book Five and allll you need is Book Six
Book 1: Not so loud
Book 1: We are never getting in this club


Luxury model.

Considering how fickle I am, I think it’s time to admit some of the books on my TBR list are never getting past the velvet rope. I hate to think there are books I will never read, but there are other, better clubs waiting for these topics:

Anything spiders Spider histories. Non-fiction spider anthologies. Fictional spiders. This includes Charlotte’s Web, which I read once and absolutely would have skipped if I had known I was going to have to look at a picture of a spider every 5 pages. Wasn’t Wilbur worried that when he went to sleep Charlotte was going to crawl all over his face? I WAS.

Artillery manuals I know what you are thinking: “But what about your future best-selling book? Won’t it have artillery in it?” Yes! It will! I am too lazy to actually research artillery, so here is an exclusive preview of how that part of the book is handled:
“She went to the artillery store, but she could not stay because of her severe artillery allergy.”

Steig Larsson I know. You read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and loved it and loved the movie then you read all the other ones and you loved them too. Believe me, I am jealous. I tried, twice, but I could not get through it. It’s embarrassing and I blame all the artificial sweetener I had in the 90s.

It’s time to fire up my Kindle and find my reading spot. It’s safe to assume that I am going to love Jane Steele. It’s a reimagining of Jane Eyre, with Jane as a heroine serial killer. I am SO in. I can get you in too. I know the bouncer.


Action Items
Find all things Lyndsay Faye here. In addition to the Wilde brothers trilogy, she wrote Dust And Shadow, which any Sherlock Holmes fan should snatch up immediately.

The Reason I’m Not Invited

Shopping at bookstores is something I can do for a long time. I’m not gloating about my superior concentration abilities. I can do it for a long time because I like to do it. When I have to do something I don’t like to do, I’m not going to do it for a long time and I am going to fake an ankle injury to get out of doing whatever the non-like thing is. But bookstores are my creampuff-filled universe, and I prefer going alone. (It’s not that I don’t like you. I really do – in fact, I think you are amazing.) But the thing about being at the bookstore with you is this: When you are ready to go, I am not. When you give me another twenty minutes, thinking I am wrapping things up,  I am still not ready to go. When you are REALLY ready to go, I am very much not ready to go. When I don’t invite you to the bookstore with me, I’m not snubbing you. I’m sparing you an afternoon of watching someone giggle and cry while picking out books to purchase. To understand the real craft of social snubbing, go no further than Edith Wharton.
You: I’m ready to go
Me: I can’t, I hurt my ankle
You: I need to take you to the ER
Me: I can’t, I hurt my ankle
You: you can’t fake an injury to get out of having a fake injury

Edith Wharton was born in 1862 with the bluest of blood into one of the oldest of the Old New York families. As a young lady of gentle birth and privilege, all that was expected of her was to marry well. Instead, she became an accomplished author, publishing novels, poetry, short stories, and non-fiction and was the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Her work chronicles America’s Gilded Age. If F. Scott Fitzgerald defined what it was like as an outsider to long for acceptance by America’s wealthy elite, Edith Wharton was the ultimate insider, telling the stories of proper people doing things properly and not so properly. She knew all about trying to sit at the cool kids table, when the cool kids table was in a formal dining room, seated thirty-two people, and had  20-piece place settings that included finger bowls.
Society: so just get married and do lady stuff ok
Edith Wharton: I can’t, I have this ankle injury
Society: then be an old maid
Edith Wharton: oh I would but this dang ankle

The Age of Innocence is the best known of Wharton’s novels, but I have a soft spot for The Buccaneers. It tells the story of trying to crack social codes in that most stressful of situations: when you and your sister have to sail across the Atlantic Ocean to find husbands in the English aristocracy because your family money is too new to entice anyone of quality in New York. That is hard-core snubbing-when your whole home state of dudes won’t look at you twice because you’re not American long enough, and none of the women in England will give you the time of day because you are so very American. Wharton perfectly captures all the cringe-worthy interactions that result from perpetual social rejection. The rules are, you don’t know the rules because no one is going to tell you the rules but no matter what don’t be yourself, ever, but it’s really irrelevant how you act because nobody will like you. It’s hard not to imagine myself trying and miserably failing to win friends and influence people while talking about my interests with turn-of-the-century British peerage.  There are endless opportunities for embarrassment. Choosing the wrong fork at dinner. Accidentally using profanity. And then, there’s trying to explain why I take tap dancing lessons.
Me: I take tap!
Lord British: uh-huh
Me: This finger bowl soup is delicious
Lord British: Please excuse me, I have this nagging ankle injury

I swear, taking tap was not my idea, but not not taking it was my idea. It’s not like I studied dance for years as a child and then took it back up just to keep my skills fresh. It’s not that I wanted to be able to utter that most mature of phrases “Hey, you want to come to my dance recital”? It’s not like I wanted to wear sequined dresses and false eyelashes while desperately trying to remember if I’m supposed to be doing a cramp roll or a drawback. (I am 100% lying about the false eyelashes.) (Okay and the sequins.)

You know what’s adorable? Little kids dancing. Little butterball toddlers in tutus turning around on their tiptoes. 8-year-olds, defying gravity as they jeté from corner to corner. Long-limbed, long-necked adolescents, executing ever more complex choreography with grace and speed. Ok, now take all that adorableness, set it on fire, throw it in a gas station dumpster, and you get the idea of what it’s like to watch a fully formed adult person with zero dance experience learn how to tap dance. It. Is. Painful. I know exactly how you feel, because I have had to see my reflection in the studio mirror shuffle-ball-changing for the past four years. Honestly, I have no excuse. I just keep showing up in the hopes that Glinda the Good Witch  will be there at dance class one day, granting Magic Feet wishes.
Glinda: I’ll grant you your heart’s desire
Me: Please make me good at tap dancing
Glinda: GAH my ankle


This is a metaphor.

There is no place in Edith Wharton’s tasteful universe for my brand of awkward. Maybe I’m just fooling myself, but I don’t want to hang out with those snobby drags anyway. The cool kids might have an oyster fork, but I’ve learned most of the Maxie Ford (a tap step so mean it will pinch you just to make you cry). I know I am definitely not invited to dinner, but you know what? They are not invited to my recital.


Action Items
The Buccaneers was in progress at the time of Edith Wharton’s death in 1937.  It was completed by Wharton scholar Marion Mainwaring and published in 1993.



The Reason For The Breakdown

Recently, I accidentally attended a one-man show put on by a Physics Clown. (My laptop wanted to autocorrect that to Psychic Clown. Is that a thing? And what would a psychic clown predict? Future Cirque du Soleil show themes?) He did exactly what you would expect a Physics Clown would do, demonstrating all manner of science principles while wearing a clown-themed tie-dyed shirt and using colorful props. He had a Chinese yo-yo, a balance board, a unicycle…you know. Science clown stuff. In the interest of clown transparency, prior to each demonstration, he would explain how long it actually took him to learn to juggle, or manipulate gravity sticks, or use the Kendama toy. The story was consistent across the board—it takes a long time to master all of those skills . Depending on the trick, it was years to many years. There is a process, with time invested in making sure what you’re doing is not only done well but that it’s worth watching. It’s the kind of dedicated, focused attention that turns a person into a successful Physics Clown – or into Steve Martin.
Psychic Clown: I predict where you’re going here
Me: You’re good

Steve Martin is a stand-up comedian, actor, film director, dancer, art collector, playwright, musician, and author. I’m not sure why he does all that stuff. Honestly, just one or two of those things would be in good taste. I’m not a psychiatrist or anything, but to keep piling like that on probably speaks to a desperate need for validation. Despite the fact that I think I’m contributing to his narcissism, I am a big fan of his writing. He’s written fiction (Shopgirl, Cruel Shoes), memoir (Born Standing Up), plays (Picasso At The Lapin Agile The Underpants), and he is a regular contributor to publications like The New Yorker (some of the New Yorker pieces are published as a collection in Pure Drivel). While I was composing this paragraph, he published a technical manual on operating DVRs and the world’s most insightful Trader Joe’s shopping list. He has been consistently funny, consistently smart, and consistently entertaining in all of the mediums. He makes it look easy, and you don’t make anything easy without working incredibly hard.

As much as I love his books, my favorite Steve Martin piece is an essay called “Banjo” he wrote for the 1999 Oxford American magazine’s annual music issue. In it, he describes his love for the five-string banjo and details how he taught himself how to play, breaking down the songs on his bluegrass records to tortuously slow speeds and practicing in his car to spare the ears of everyone around him. Chord by chord, he developed his musicianship and proficiency, working his way up to that coveted banjo trophy: the breakdown, those blisteringly fast picking solos that define the five-string banjo in bluegrass music. The essay is joyful in that way that indulging yourself in discussing your favorite topic is joyful. It’s a banjo lovefest geekout. If you’ve ever seen Steve Martin play banjo, you see that same joy. He loves to do it and it’s fun to see, unlike, say, sitting in a chair tapping away at a laptop. There’s no such thing as a flashy typing solo.
Physics Clown: you should add some science
Me: how
Physics Clown: ride a unicycle while you’re writing
Me: my insurance company says I can’t do that anymore


Cannot show entire cover due to unauthorized status, but I can confirm that is Steve Martin’s neck

The act of writing is not in and of itself very interesting to watch. It’s a person and a keyboard and endless hours of hilarious Vines used to procrastinate to avoid actually writing. (Okay, that person is me, but if you think I’m not going to watch a cat get its head stuck in a Kleenex box, you’re crazy.) It’s very intense and dramatic internally. Externally, it’s watching paint dry, but with more profanity. It’s not the kind of activity that will draw a live audience, but there are some instances where a cheering section would come in handy. Like when I pick the perfect verb or use the Oxford comma.
Physics Clown: Just you and a laptop? That’s it?
Me: Yup
Physics Clown: Does the keyboard explode?
Psychic Clown: No
Physics Clown: (sigh)

Since I’m writing this stuff anyway, I may as well throw my own high-five parties.  Like all of my problems, I am solving this one with books. When I’m draggy and unmotivated, it’s all about creative inspiration. I’m no Physics Clown, but I like to read, and reading Steve Martin is a master class in, um, smart people who use words right and good. It gets me fired up. Stand back, because I am about to rock this place with a 10-minute air banjo breakdown. Pay attention, because I’m getting better all the time.
Me: Ask me that again
Physics Clown: Does the keyboard explode?
Physics Clown: (sigh)


Action Items
The Oxford American’s music issue is amazing. Check out how to get it.
Steve Martin does a bunch of stuff and he brags about all of it.
“Banjo” is included in The Oxford American Book Of Great Music Writing.




The Reason It’s Personal

I am a hopeless memoir addict. I’d like to attribute this to some erudite factor. However, I have no erudites to give. In further proof of my superficiality, I love memoir because I am nosy as hell. I want all the details and all the particulars, so it’s safe to say that memoirs are the book version of my favorite kind of conversation. Here are three that I love, so if you’re looking to pick up a book this week, maybe one of these might do you.

The House On Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper

Helene Cooper’s life in Liberia was ended in a violent military coup that criminalized her heritage, turning her into a hunted enemy in her home country. In escaping to America, she had to leave people she loved behind. There are larger questions examined in this book about the fragility of populations of a nation in crisis, the brutal truth of being considered human collateral damage, and the struggles to stabilize a chaotic geography. What stays with me, though, is the profound way McDonald’s displacement affects her and the longing for home that echoes through the whole book.

Memior 1

The World’s Largest Man by Harrison Scott Key

This book offended me because there are so many perfect sentences in it and 85% of them are belly-laughing hilarious. Why can’t I write a book like that? Then, in the acknowledgements, there is a word search puzzle filled with the names of the people Harrison Scott Key wants to thank, and when I found THAT I had a rage stroke of envy and now I can barely look at you when I am telling you to read this extremely funny, extremely moving book about growing up in rural Mississippi when you really should have grown up somewhere like downtown Toronto. Or maybe the greater DC area. Anyway go read it. I’ll just sit here and fume.

memior 3

The Tender Bar: A Memoir by JR Moehringer

J.R. Moehringer’s book about the men in his life who step in to fill the void left by an absent father and the family bar which served as the grounded center of his childhood universe utterly astounded me. I have recommended it over and over, and of course had to replace my copy because I gave it away. The Tender Bar is also the only book that has ever gaslighted me because when I read Open by Andre Agassi, I had no idea that J.R. Moehringer had served as Agassi’s co-writer, and I spent the whole book freaked out at how much it reminded me of The Tender Bar.  So, what I’m saying when you are reading other books be careful because The Tender Bar is probably watching you.

Memior 2


Action Items
Happy reading.