The Reason To Take It Easy

Happy Fall! Bookreasons has pressed ‘pause’ and is on a fall break this week. If you’d like to see what is keeping me occupied, follow me on Instagram @bookreasons. It’s Bookreasons: Free Range Edition!



Crate training Dickens.


Upcoming, we’ll be talking about ragereading, sexy Presidential history, and how I am terrible at poetry . In the meantime, tell me in the comments what you’re reading right now!



The Reason It’s An Emergency

Have you seen me? I will save you some time. No, you have not seen me, because I have recently been taken hostage. Not that any of you have noticed my crisis literary situation. What, exactly, does it take to create a sense of urgency here? I need to be rescued before it’s too late. Since nobody understands how dangerous this situation is, I am taking matters into my own hands and executing a really flashy rescue operation. Like, Kiefer Sutherland combined with Agent Carter levels of flashy. FLASHY.

Why is all this necessary? Well, a few weeks ago, I obtained the book The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters. I bought it accidentally (and lest you think I am repeating myself, I am. I also told this story here. Pipe down. This is MY rescue operation and it requires exposition.) The Last Policeman, as I soon discovered, is both a science fiction book and the first book in a trilogy. Seriously, I was pissed. I don’t SciFi and I didn’t have time to indulge my book OCD with a trilogy because I am very busy and important. I figured I had a hateread on my hands because I always know everything. Like Grace Kelly pumping her own gas, I decided to rise to the occasion, plaster a smile on my face and read it.

I could not put down The Last Policeman. I hid from people so I could finish it uninterrupted. Subsequently, I picked up the next book in the trilogy…then the third book…and I was through the looking glass, people. It is Bookreason’s policy to never negotiate with novelists, but I have no choice. I’m never getting out of here otherwise. Here is a rundown of my Ben H. Winters takeover.

The Last Policeman  The gateway book. Police officer Henry Palace is promoted to detective in his small New Hampshire town at the same time it’s determined an asteroid is on a direct collision path with Earth.

Countdown City The asteroid gets closer. There’s less time on everyone’s clock. Henry Palace agrees to help a friend search for her missing husband.

World Of Trouble Time has almost run out. Henry Palace attempts to hold on to his only family by trying to save his headstrong, reckless sister from herself.

One of the enjoyable, almost comfortable aspects of reading a series – crime series in particular – is getting to know a particular set of characters as they navigate through different circumstances. The settings for the character roster change; the behavior of the characters does not. There is always a definite cast of folks you expect popping up in each book. The wise, world-weary mentor, the hot mess best friend, the crazy but insightful neighbor…you get the idea. Ben H. Winters, however, does not. Ben H. Winters gives no fucks about making you feel comfortable or familiar with recurring characters in The Last Policeman series. Instead, he threads this series together by asking the same question of the main character over and over: How do you live your life when the apocalypse is no longer abstract, but has a precise date and time? Henry Palace is left to navigate his new world in surprising, subtle, subversive ways. These books just flat refuse to be predictable.

After finishing  The Last Policeman series, I figured I was done with Ben H. Winters and moved on to my next book. Turns out it wasn’t my decision any more. Not even reading Elena Ferrante (My Brilliant Friend, for the record) could knock World Of Trouble out of my head. I had checked into the Hotel Ben-ifornia. I can check out anytime I like, but I can’t never leave.

Underground Airlines What if the United States never fought the Civil War? What if slavery were legal today, right now? This book imagines that grim alternate outcome in an America hard divided by a Mason-Dixon line that’s a border with checkpoints. Underground Airlines is a gut punch. Ben H. Winter’s worldbuilding is frighteningly specific, laying out a whole history that begins with the Lincoln administration, Supreme Court rulings that cement slavery into the identity of the U.S., and a present-day culture of complacency, enforcement, and protest. The Underground Airline is the escape route out of states where slavery is legal, and the story centers around a US Marshals agent,Victor, whose job it is to track down and return escaped slaves. The reason Victor has this job, and how he goes about doing it, makes for a riveting, thoughtful, revolutionary look at the soul-killing compromises we as humans accept to make the unthinkable normal.

Bedbugs After I finished Underground Airlines, I grabbed Bedbugs. Because at this point, I have Stockholm Syndrome, and if it’s not a Ben H. Winters book I don’t know how to read it. The moral of the Bedbugs story is, if you find an amazingly great apartment in Brooklyn, it’s only because those Rosemary’s Baby people couldn’t afford Manhattan anymore and had to set up in an outer borough. It’s a trap, people. Settle for the 1BR basement place that smells like cabbage. You will be better off. This book is seriously creepy and a perfect read for Halloween season. Also, if you don’t like bug stuff, stay the hell away from this book. I don’t like bug stuff, but Ben H. Winters doesn’t care. I had to read it anyway. Because that is how it goes when you’re a literary hostage.


You know what, y’all? He’s not really that sorry.


Using all my copies of Ben H. Winters books, I have managed to spell out S O S so when the search planes fly over, they’ll be able to spot me. I’ve also managed to untie my hands so I can tap out a signal on the window in hopes someone will hear me (which is an actual thing that happens in one of the books listed here. EASTER EGG, BITCHES)


Action Items
Read Underground Airlines. Seriously. Like right now.

The Reason For Full Disclosure

Out of all the things that make me really uncomfortable (spiders, tax forms, Hiddleswift), nothing induces as much squirming as the thought of navigating the complex landscape of real estate. I’m not really the detail-oriented type who can’t wait to purchase a house. It feels like a system set up to make me fail. I marvel at the intrepid homebuyers on HGTV. They aren’t afraid of anything. They just march into house after house, joyfully embracing discussions about open floor plans and masters on the main and common areas. I’m always baffled when the production-driven nitpicking starts. The doorways are too big or the floor is too shiny or the bathtub isn’t big enough to bathe the family llama. These places look great to me when they apparently are actual landfills filled with medical waste and the tears of interior decorators. Since I’m missing all the flaws that are painfully obvious to even the most novice HGTV homebuyers, I’m probably unqualified to successfully find a domicile in real life. Then, there is my fear that I would accidentally buy a haunted house. That is a real fear. It happened to those people in Amityville. I read all about it.

The Amityville Horror tells the Very True (cough, cough, ahem) story of the Lutz family, who purchased the most pig-haunted, hostile-fly-infested, demon-y house available in Amityville, Long Island, in December 1975. The house was the site of six horrific murders in November 1974,  only 13 months prior to the Lutz family moving in.  After enduring 28 days of torment at the hands of vengeful, disturbed ghosts, the Lutzes abandoned the house, leaving their possessions and fleeing in the middle of the night. They did not “move out” so much as escape. The book about their reported experience was published in 1977, was a sensational bestseller, and spawned a series of informative movies about how to live in a haunted house. The debate about whether or not the haunting was real, if the family actually experienced genuine ghost harassment, continues today. I have an entirely different theory, however. I might be alone here, but I am pretty sure The Amityville Horror isn’t about demons crossing back over to play with human emotions. It’s about real estate anxiety. A LOT of real estate anxiety.
Real Estate Agent: This room could be used as an office
Me: Nice
Real Estate Agent: Or to talk to the dead
Me: What?
Real Estate Agent: Nothing

I read the book at a very impressionable age, by which I mean when I was in fifth grade I stole it out of a stack of paperbacks that belonged to my parents. (The undeniable allure of the Forbidden Grown-Up Book Stack is also responsible for my reading The Godfather, but we’ll talk about that book and my propensity for petty book theft another day.) Even to my juvenile eyes, the book was pretty lurid. I comprehended that it was dumb to believe that a house was being haunted by an evil pig named Jodie, but I was very concerned about the possibility that my personal house might be targeted by red-eyed evil Jodie haunting pigs just because I’d read the book. How can you even tell if an evil pig is loitering in a potential home purchase? Or any home, for that matter? I’m fine with chihuahuas or urban chickens or komodo dragons, but I am drawing the line at unfriendly bacon with an agenda. Had my parents failed to do their research when buying the house we were in? I couldn’t ask them because no way was I going to confess that I’d pilfered a book from the forbidden zone. I was just going to have to be on permanent, hyperalert guard for disembodied voices telling us to “get out”.
Real Estate Agent: Look at this lovely open floor plan
Me: What does that mean exactly
Real Estate Agent: You can fit a lot of evil ghost pigs on this floor
Me: Ah

Everyone likes a bargain, and everyone wants to get the most house for the least money. But if the house you are buying is a crazy deal because people were recently murdered there, then maybe it’s not the best time to enter the housing market. Sadly, the Lutzes did not heed this advice. Sidebar question: does this advice seem unreasonable to anyone? From where I sit “don’t get the murder house” doesn’t seem controversial or even provocative, but apparently the only response to “Maybe get a different house than that recent crime scene one” is “HOW DARE YOU EVEN SUGGEST I NOT BUY THAT HOUSE” (throw money at real estate agent). It’s a homebuying shortcut that I am not willing to entertain.


This is a good start but I have some follow-up questions

The Amityville Horror is a worst case real estate scenario, second only perhaps to that vampire castle in Romania. The Lutzes were only trying to find a place to raise a newly blended family. Finding a place to live is hard, and finding a demon-free place that you think you might like is just an invitation for the universe to be a jerk by: 1. Make everything in your new place break, often simultaneously and 2. Make you hate everything in your place, often simultaneously, requiring expensive and endless renovations. Either way, you’re under attack by otherworldly forces trying to steal your soul. It’s enough to make staying in your parents’ basement look appealing forever.
Contractor: We’re here to tear up the floor
Me: (screams in terror)
Contractor: I get that a lot

The universe is a jerk when it comes to reading stolen books, too. About halfway through the chunky paperback of The Amityville Horror, I was reading about how the family was plagued by swarms of flies inside the house. The haunted drama created by the menacing Amityville fly gangs had me totally transfixed. I was therefore unprepared when I turned a page only to find that at some point an actual fly had become trapped in the book and entombed, completely flattened out like a creepy fly zombie bookmark. I threw that book across the room so fast it would have registered on a radar gun, grabbed my shoes, and fled my house for the sunny, safe outside. I get you, Lutzes. Bookreasons OUT.
Contractor: Question about interior paint
Me: Ok
Contractor: Should the color match the red of the blood dripping down the walls?
Me: YES. I love holistic design


Action Items
If you like haunted house novels that are actual fiction, I recommend Slade House by David Mitchell. It’s 100% fly free.





The Reason To Polish My Trophy Case

For a very long time, it did not occur to me not to read any book I started cover to cover.  I didn’t know I didn’t have to finish. Never giving myself permission to put a book down means I’ve done some serious hatereading. (Hatereading is my least favorite kind of reading. It ranks below carsickreading and interruptedreading.) It’s not like I’m going to qualify for the ‘Always Finishes The Book’ Prize because it doesn’t exist and there’s no scoreboard for it anyway. No one is keeping book scores except for the unreasonable compulsive asshole who lives in my head, and she should shut up. Letting meanless scorekeeping sabotage my Main Fun Thing by sucking all the fun out of it is somewhat shortsighted.  Reluctantly, but necessarily, I have given myself an out in some specific instances when it becomes clear and a book and I are not compatible. Even though the breakups are handled gently and with respect – I always take the book out for coffee, and I NEVER give the bad news over a text message -there is a little part of me that feels like I let the book down. Please join me as we twirl around like happy autumn leaves in a mini tour of my Hall of Shame.

The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo I tried with this book. Twice. I still can’t believe I could not finish it. TWICE. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo has all of my Basic Crime Fiction requirements: down-on-his-luck grizzled male narrator, badass female protagonist, and a film adaptation starring Daniel Craig. When I first picked it up it seemed Smilla’s Sense of Snow-ish, and I was down with that because I loved that book. When I could not get into it, I figured I was just was not in the mood in that moment to feel Swedish so I put it aside. Then suddenly everyone I knew had read it and then the movie was announced then everyone had read the second book in the series I was all, ok, what the hell am I missing here? I hunted up my copy, took it with me on a vacation, and I cracked it poolside. It was slow going but I kept telling myself it was going to get better! Any page now! After I’d been at it about half an hour, the friend I was with said “OH MY GOD WHAT IS WRONG YOU KEEP MAKING SIGHING NOISES EVERY FIVE MINUTES STOP IT RIGHT NOW OR ELSE.” My involuntary breathing hated the book as much as I did, and my friend hated my exasperated sighing. It was time to bail. Sorry, Dragon Tattoo. I wanted it to work out as much as you did.

The Hunt For Red October Like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Tom Clancy books qualify on paper as something I would really enjoy. (pause to hold for laughter at my awesome play-on-words-paper joke) But I bailed on The Hunt For Red October in the middle of a 3-page description of…omg, something about sonar? I leave these books for the gearheads who can truly appreciate the magic of a dimly lit submarine full of gauges, each requiring their own lovingly detailed description of detail-y details. Gauge on, my gearheads.

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea Ok, you got me. I did not bail on this book. I’m just here to say I am never ever going to read it ever. This book has a giant squid in it, and I don’t read about spiders. I know a squid is not a spider but it’s close enough because 8 legs and squids are WORSE because suction cups all over the legs. The only book I have ever read about a spider was It and that is only because I DID NOT KNOW Stephen King was going to go all giant town-eating spider on my ass and by the time I figured it out I was too far into the book to stop. That is the last time I let Stephen King bait me with a serial killer clown and switch me to a sewer-dwelling Charlotte with a gland problem. In fact, consider this whole paragraph my official request that bookstores have an Octopod/Arachnid section where all books even remotely related to spiders or squids are shelved. This will make it convenient for me to never get near that section.

Eat, Pray, Love  I know. You loved it. Your friends loved it. Everybody everywhere loved it. I tried. I really did. I’m dead inside. I donated my copy to the library so everyone can continue to love it.

A Brief History Of Time Shut up. You didn’t finish it either.



Thanks for playing.

It can be difficult to tell when it’s not working out with a book because sometimes my best reads are the ones that made me work a little. When I find myself fantasizing about accidentally dropping a book off a roof, I know it’s time to break up. It’s ok. We can’t make it across the finish line every time! I’ll pick up my participation trophy on the way out.


Action Items
Book breakups are hard. Give yourself time to grieve.

Image courtesy Creative Commons