Monday, May 18, 2009

You Must Read This Book. Now.

There was a time in my life, 100 years ago, when I was a reader. As a small child, I would read for 30 minutes every night before going to bed. In fact, I couldn't fall asleep unless I read. And my Mom is a reader. And so is Dad. And even my brother. And so there were always books lying around the house in giant stacks just waiting to be picked up and read.

And I had time to read at one point in my life. The best thing about NYC commutes? 45 minutes on a train/bus/ferry with nothing to do but READ. The best thing about a 2-week Caribbean vacation? Lying on the beach all day with nothing to do but read. Ok – so maybe that’s not the best thing about a 2-week Caribbean vacation. But it's up there.

Well, these days, I do very little reading. Something about driving on average 350 miles/week and spending 2+ hours in the car almost daily makes it tough. And yes, I am fully aware of books on tape. And no, I am not interested. I like to read, not to listen.

If a book comes out that I am absolutely cuckoo for, I will absolutely drop everything and read it. Like when Harry Potter 7 came out 2 summers ago and Marty and I were up in the mountains for a romantic weekend and that Friday night I dragged him to the local Wal-Mart at 11pm, made him wait in line for an hour until the book went on sale, and then I spent the next 36 hours toting that book with me everywhere and wouldn't put it down unless absolutely necessary. For 2 nights, Marty got to cuddle up to me and Harry. So much for romance.

So my point is, that really, other than Harry Potter during romantic weekend getaways I don't do a lot of reading these days. But when I do find the time to read, and when I do read something amazing, I feel compelled to share it.

So once again, it was a Facebook thing. Kinda-sorta. I was home one night and utterly bored and I resorted to taking some of those totally addictive really stupid quizzes on Facebook. (Yes. I hear you. You are saying – but Country Girl – is this not a PERFECT time for READING A BOOK? And yes. It probably is. Only I'd forgotten all about reading and was still smoking Facebook crack. But don’t worry because this story has a totally happy ending.)

So a bunch of people had recently taken the “What Are your 5 All-Time Favorite Books?” quiz and it seemed like a quasi-intellectual stupid Facebook quiz to take as opposed to the “How Are You Going to Die Quiz?” (Really Facebook – am I going to die trying to be the first person to mail myself around the world. WTF?) or the “Which Deadly Sin is Yours?” quiz (Yes – I took this. No – I don't remember the answer. I think it was Wrath. Which given some recent road rage issues kind of makes sense although it didn't at the time.) or the “What Color Easter Egg Are You” quiz (You have got to be freaking kidding me – right?).

So the first 2 choices were clearly obvious. And by the way, this was BEFORE March 31st so anyone wanting to know why there are only 2 Lomax & Biggs books up there instead of 3 can just kiss my…Oh wait. We're not there yet.

And then I really wanted to put The Faux Gourmet by Juli Huss because it is one of my all time favorite books and I re-read it about once a year and my version is so worn down and battered and utterly loved…Alas, none of the other 8 billion people on Facebook have read this book and so it wasn't one of the choices and I didn't know how to add it manually.

So then I added one of the Harry Potter books. 6 maybe. Or 7. Because I really do love Harry Potter. And because it seemed fair to Marty. I mean, we spent a romantic weekend with a giant 800-page book wedged between us. Seems like it ought to at least make the Top 5.

And then my mind started mentally scanning my bookshelf downstairs (because I was too lazy to get off my duff and go downstairs and actually LOOK) trying to remember books that I absolutely loved. That I could not live without. Books that had been life-changing. Or mind-blowing. Or both. Books that I held onto and re-read over and over, year after year, because they are just that good. That's when I came to #4 – The Sixteen Pleasures by Robert Hellenega. Just look at my copy to know how much I love this book.

I struggled on #5. There was nothing that was jumping out at me and despite the fact that this was a stupid Facebook quiz I was really taking my choices seriously. And then came some moment of weird, divine, Facebook intervention. A book that I had only read once, many years ago, popped into my head. A book which I no longer had a copy of because I had passed it onto a friend and encouraged her to do the same. A book which I had, oddly enough, looked up a few months earlier because a friend of mine loves reading travel books and I had remembered this one to be particularly good.

So after completing my quiz on Facebook, I hopped right over to Barnes & Noble dot com and ordered An Italian Affair by Laura Fraser and as soon as it arrived 2 days later, I devoured it.

There is much to love about this book. The thing I love most about it – and the thing that I always remembered about it – she writes it in the second person. I know – you readers out there are like: But wait. How does she do that? And how does it work? So suddenly it's not “I board a plane for Italy” or “She boarded a plane for Italy.” It's YOU board a plane to Italy and it's all written in the present tense and it's like the story is being narrated in your head and you are living it real-time and it's the coolest thing ever and OMG excuse me while I go write a book in the second person.

Ok. I am back.

So I will tell you. In ways, this is not the happiest book. It's a memoir and Laura Fraser was a young writer living in San Francisco when her husband of only a few years left her for his high school sweetheart. Crushed, she goes to visit friends in Italy, finds herself randomly on the island of Ischia, and begins this rather torrid and extraordinary affair with a French aesthetics professor whom she only calls “M.” The book covers about 2 years of her life and while she writes about many painful subjects, it's also all about her healing and recovery and learning to love and trust again. And because she is a travel writer and because she lives in San Fran and M lives in Paris – they meet at these exotic locations like the Aeolian Islands and Morocco and she writes deftly about the sites and the meals and the hotels and again – it's all second person so you feel like you are having these amazing experiences. And when you are done reading this book you will probably want to book a ticket to Italy pronto! At least I did.

And so I just went back and re-read what I wrote and I am not sure I am fully doing this book justice and I guess this is why I don't review books for a living. But I will tell you that after I was done reading it, I promptly thrust it into the hands of my girlfriend Sarah Marie and about 2 or 3 chapters in she texted me and was like: Best book ever.

So trust me people – if you like a) memoirs b) travel books c) Italy or d) really well-written books by talented writers then go out and buy An Italian Affair by Laura Fraser and read it.

So I am curious lambs. What are you reading now that you absolutely cannot put down and what should I read next?

Because I really don't want to have to resort to taking another stupid Facebook quiz like “What Kind of Farm Animal Would You Be?” or “Which Country Singer Would You Be?” or “What's Your Redneck Name?”

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your…


Shelly Overlook said...

Oooh, this sounds great. I'm adding it to my "to read" list now. Thanks!

I just read "Love Walked In" by Marisa de los Santos. Wasn't sure I was going to like it at first, then ended up loving it. There is another book with some of the same characters but not necessarily a sequel.

kyooty said...

I like learning that there are people that love to read this much, it helps me understand my oldest son, he is currently reading Harry Potter the OOP and up to all hours of the night to do so. I just had to tellhim if he wants to read he has to go down to his room 30minutes before bed time because he totally loses all sense of time. I open a book read 3 pages and ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ I'm done. :) if I'm in bed

deb said...

OOOHHH, a subject near and dear to my heart this weekend. I wrote a debut book review over on my myspace blog.

Also, I just read all the Lomax and Biggs books, 3 Patterson books, 1 Jenniger Weiner, 1 Jodi Piccolout, 1 book I can't remember the author, the book is Please stop laughing at me.

After reading the books about bullying etc, I am having total self-esteem issues. I even accused my darling 10 yr old of constant criticism, oh wait she's 10 that is reality not made up.

I adored Eat, Pray, Love and passed it on, also really love the books by Jenn Lancster and Karyn Bosnak. Check them out if you get a chance.

Nancy said...

I love to read. My mother was a crazy big reader, we always had books all over the house and we read whatever we laid our hands on (is The Godfather inappropriate for a 12 year old?).
My favorite book that I've read about six times and may head upstairs to start it again is Replay by Ken Grimwood. It came out in 1987 or so and my copy got passed around so many times and was eventually lost that I went out and bought another.
It's about a middle-aged man, going through a divorce who has a heart attack one afternoon. BUT he wakes up and he's 18 again and in his college dorm.
Imagine! Being about to start over - would you live it the same? or would you do something different? Well, he gets the chance to decide that a few times.
It's totally fascinating.
But probably the first book that really registered to me as being a fantastic book was Gone With The Wind. That was also in my mother's bookcase and I remember reading and thinking "oh my God, this book is fabulous!" - again in that 12 year old or so range.