The Book's Lover

The Book's Lover
Damiano Cali

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Watchers, and the watched...:Naomi

I have sometimes been accused of being a book snob.  I would like to protest that that is only mostly true.  I do not insist on “highbrow” reading.  I do not read only Shakespeare, and theory, and dry textbooks.  I AM FUN, DAMMIT.  In fact, I dislike theory quite a lot (the theory-head is Hermia, weird little freak that she is).  And I do love Shakespeare, but I love him for his ridiculous plots and his bawdy jokes as much as for his poetry and his polish. 

But, lest I protest too much (Hamlet joke: nudge, nudge, wink, wink), let me continue.  I like all kinds of books.  I read horror, sci fi, fantasy, mysteries, even some non-fiction.  I have very few rules, but here they are:

1) The book must be well-written.  If the plot is good, I can forgive substandard prose, but if the plot and the prose are poor, I get cranky.

2) If the book has a genre precedent, it must be acknowledged, even if it’s then rejected.  For example, I think Twilight is awful.  Both because it violates Rule #1, and because it never adequately explains why Myers’ vampires don’t fit the vampire prototype.  Now don’t get me wrong, Gentle Readers.  Not all vampires need to be Dracula-esque.  Some of my favorite vampires are totally different types.  But the good books acknowledge the previous stereotypes, explain the unique twist given, and extrapolate from there.  A good book is aware of its place in literary history, even if the book only aspires to be a pot-boiler.  

3) If I am going to cry, I like to be warned.  I don’t need to know what horrible thing will happen, but I like to know that I need tissues.  And usually I like to read crying-books while wearing my contacts, so my glasses don’t get all foggy.  (So I’m a neat-freak.  So what?)

That’s pretty much it.  I will read just about anything.  So I find it amusing to be called a book snob.  Frankly, I’m a bit more of a book whore.  I’m rather indiscriminate with my favors, and I will do it anywhere.  *ahem*  Moving on…

This whole conversation (Monologue? Rant?) is preamble to one of my favorite books.  It’s a Dean Koontz thriller.  Dean-o usually falls into the grey area described in Rule #1 above.  His plots usually get me through the rough prose patches, but I have to read him sparingly.  He is, however, a fantastic airplane read.

But one of the “Masters of Modern Horror” owns, and loves, golden retrievers.  (awwwww.)  His golden retriever Trixie even wrote a few books before she passed away.  See her webpage here:   Yeah, yeah, yeah…corny.  I know.  Koontz’s A Big Little Life is still worth reading for all dog lovers, though (bring tissues). 

So, back to…Watchers.

There are two books being written here.  One is a dog book.  If you don’t like dogs, firstly you won’t care for this book.  Secondly, why are we friends, Gentle Reader?  I mean, really.  What do we have in common?  Anyway, the other book is a science fiction genetic-mutation-runs-amok story, which is one of my favorite sub-genres. The great thing about Watchers is that these two halves feel organic.  And not in a genetic-mutation sort of way. 

Amoral scientists who have been tempted by power, money, and fame have come together somewhere in California to make super-genetic-hybrid-spy-soldier (SGHSS) things.  Then, as these things tend to do, the SGHSSes get loose.  There are, of course, two of them.  The good one, who looks like a golden retriever, and the bad one, who eats people’s faces and looks like hellspawn.  The bad one is jealous of the good one (sibling rivalry with fangs), and hunts it.  It does eat people’s faces along the way: Jekyll & Hyde, with fur. 

But the good SGHSS adopts a person.  And since it is, physically, a dog, the SGHSS cannot speak.  Which is where the book gets really fun.  Our friend Dean writes dog behavior beautifully.  Anyone who has ever been owned by a dog knows that his or her dog is obviously super-smart.  Smarter than most people.  Certainly smarter than I am.  This SGHSS dog is the apex of my-dog-is-amazingly-smart.  Because, you know, it is.  Genetically modified and all.  There is some seriously good dog-owner wish-fulfillment going on in this book.  Plus, you know, faces being eaten.  And chase scenes. 

Some of the book is silly.  There’s a girl-being-stalked subplot that is just shoved in there, but serves to get the romantic leads together.  Frankly, it’s superfluous.  Some of the plotting needs a nudge, and it is not beautifully written.  BUT THE DOG HAS A PEOPLE-BRAIN.  So it all works out. 

It's pretty tightly-plotted, and the faint of heart ought not to read it alone in the dark.  Read it amongst friends, in a brightly-lit coffee shop in the middle of a sunny afternoon.  You'll still bite your nails. 

And yes, it made me cry.  By the end I even cried for the bad SGHSS.  It is not his fault, after all, that the amoral scientists made him “wrong.”  And he’s still a puppy.  In spite of the face-eating. 

Here is the B&N link, but you can find it cheaply on any book site.  It was, after all, first published in 1987.  My paperback is beat all to hell, and I am actually considering finding a hardback edition that I don't have to hold together with rubber bands and spit.  Or you could vist your local library, otherwise known as my happy place.  

[NOTA BENE: Koontz also wrote The Darkest Evening of the Year, another book with golden retrievers.  It’s a total waste of time.]

Thursday, May 16, 2013

BOOM. Love: Naomi

Have you ever fallen in love with someone’s bookshelves?
In the world of Book Geeks, Gentle Readers, bookshelves are very important.  When I enter your house, I will socialize.  I will small-talk.  But eventually you will leave to room to freshen your drink, or check on dinner, or powder your nose.  And I will find your bookshelves. 
And I will judge you.
It’s not pretty, but it’s true.  I will peruse your books, and I will make vast, sweeping generalizations about what sort of person you are.  Do your books all match, as though you bought them for décor alone?  Are your shelves full of self-help books and dieting tomes?  Do you own Twilight?  Judgment is swift and merciless. 
Then there are those moments when I realize that I am in the home of a fellow Book Geek.  Books are well-loved (read: beat to shit), with receipts and business cards acting as bookmarks.  If it’s the bookshelf of a teacher or a grad student, there might be multiple copies of one text, as though the owner can’t bear to lose one footnote of one edition.  Spines are cracked, perhaps a paperback is held together with a rubber band, dustcovers are tattered.  These books are loved.  The funny thing is, I don’t even have to like your taste in books to recognize a kindred spirit.  I can respect you as a Book Geek even if you are an 18th-centuriest.  Or (gasp) an Americanist.
The very, very best moments are those when I recognize that you are a kindred spirit, a soul-twin.  Every book on the shelf is one I own…or one I’ve wanted to read.  At those moments, my heart swells and I get giddy.  You will return from your momentary absence and find me grinning like a fool, dancing on the balls of my feet, eager to ask you where you got this book or what you thought of that one.  I have accepted you into my bosom and even if you object, you are now my friend.  
This whole post began because I was thinking of an ex-boyfriend, and how our first dates were perfectly lovely, but I truly and deeply fell in love with him when I saw his bookshelves.  The collection was small, but well-curated.  A few beat-up Shakespeare plays, an as-yet unread Watchmen, a Donald Barthelme or two, Octavia Butler, Italo Calvino.  And then I saw it.  Lorrie Moore.
Lorrie Moore is a genius writer who has a wicked sense of humor and a wry way of seeing the world.  Her short stories are polished moonstones, easy to overlook in their deceptive simplicity, but rich with hidden colors and facets of light.  And then she smacks you over the head with a two-by-four of a line like “it came out wrong, like a lizard with a little hat on.”
As this boyfriend is an ex-, Gentle Readers, you know we are no longer together.  He is now a writer himself, and will publish a book later this year (see link below).  I am insanely excited for him, and I will buy his book and I will urge everyone I know to buy it.  But sometimes it still bugs me that another woman is running her fingers across his bookshelf.  Such are the perils of love-by-literature.
Herein please find a link to said ex-boyfriend's book, available for pre-order.  (Anonymity is hereby temporarily suspended for purposes of supporting talented young author):

Also, Lorrie Moore's "You're Ugly, Too

[NOTA BENE: Ann Fadiman’s Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader has a brilliant chapter on combining libraries.  When two Book Geeks marry, whose dog-eared copy of House of Leaves do you keep?  Whose marginalia is more important?  Her recounting of the negotiations is wonderful, and very, very funny.  Read the below excerpt, Gentle Readers, and get hooked!] 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Hagiograffiti: Naomi

The other night, I used the word “hagiography” in a sentence, and everyone looked at me as if I had sprouted an extra head.  Apparently, knowing that a hagiography is a book of saints’ lives is not common knowledge.  Who knew?  My mother, whom I adore, misheard me, and asked what on earth hagiograffiti meant. 
Ever since, I have had these delightful mental images of the possibilities.  Puns like Saint Lucy is watching adorning dilapidated buildings (Lucy’s eyes were cut out).  Saint Juliana’s dragon stylized on an overpass.  Saint Agatha against breast cancer tagged on a subway car (Dear Aggie had her ta-tas cut off). If Andre the Giant’s face can become a street-art phenom, I don’t see why we can’t class up the joint a little with some hagiograffiti. 
And in the roundabout, scattershot way that my brain functions, I began to consider the merits of hagiography haiku.  I think I started playing with the sound of hagiography, and it became haiku-ography, but the “hagio” stayed in there…but I can’t swear to it.  I’ve tried to retrace my mental steps; I got lost.  Newly fascinated with the idea of hagiographical haiku, I did a web search which yielded this gem, from The Diary of a Wimpy Catholic (
To Francis de Sales
Of all Saints Francis,
You’re by far the most obscure.
Does that piss you off?

And I discovered a new game!  In honor of my alma mater, Old St. Lawrence:
St. Lawrence, grilling,
Lightly tells his tormenters
“Turn me over, fool!”

This could keep me entertained for days.  And no, I’m not even Catholic.  I just have a ridiculous vocabulary and a love for word games.  Anybody else want to play?