Is That a Hint? & THE List!

Since the roads are less ice-slick than the sidewalks, we decided to drive to Barnes and Noble.

Ahh, the smell of coffee!  I hadn’t been in a bookstore in three weeks.  And that had been a coffeeless bookstore.

“Do you want coffee?”  I asked.

“I have no money.”

“I have money.”

“You shouldn’t have coffee at night.”

“Why not?”

“It’s not good for you.”

Somebody has to end the senseless coffee war and make peace.  I will buy a huge coffee tomorrow.  Tonight I’ll concentrate on books.

In the fiction section I started laughing.

“I”m going to get you this,” I said, opening the cover of something by Stephen King.  “I think it’s a sequel to The Shining.”


We aren’t King fans.  If we want pop, we’ll read stylish pop.  I am repulsed by King’s style.

In the history section, I  flipped through a copy of Alberto Angela’s  Reach of Rome: A Journey Through the Lands of the Ancient Empire, Following a Coin.

“Is that a hint?” he asks.

“No, I don’t want the Christmas insanity to start.”

Upstairs in the fiction section, some of the authors’ names click in his brain.  “Did you know there’s a new Margaret Drabble?”

“Yes, I read it a couple of months ago.”

“There’s a new Jonathan Lethem,” he says.

“It’s on our Nook.”

“My reading!” he says with regret.

I consider an SF/fantasy novel, Scott Lynch’s The Republic of Thieves.

“Do you want that?”

“I’ll read a sample on the Nook.”

“But maybe you want the book.”

“No, let’s get something else if we’re getting a book.”

Finally we buy two books we both want to read, Dave Eggers’ The Circle and Jayne Anne Phillips’ Quiet Dell.

And so are these Christmas presents?

Yes, I think they are.

They are a compromise. Like everything else in life.

I have no idea why I’ve been planning a trip to London, when I clearly should go to an island with a nice beach, bag of books, and caffeinated beverages.

Since I’m still here in freezing winterland, I’ve made a great TOP 10 of New-Old-Literary-Classics-Lite-Pop Books of 2013 for anyone who wants a shopping list for the next few insane days.  (Note:  On my sidebar, you can read a different list, the Best NEW books of 2013, i.e., Peter Stothard’s Alexandria:  The Last Nights of Cleopatra, Karen E. Bender’s A Town of Empty Rooms, etc..)

So here’s my rattletrap list, in no particular order.

1.  Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior.  A novel about climate change, love and work

2.  Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  The anti-slavery blockbuster that helped promulgate Abolitionism and kick off the Civil War was praised by Abraham Lincoln and Dickens.

3.  Barbara Pym’s Some Tame Gazelle.  In Pym’s witty, beautifully-crafted first novel, Some Tame Gazelle, the fiftysomething heroine, Belinda Bede, wears “suitable” dresses and sensible shoes, while her younger sister Harriet reads Vogue and insists that Miss Prior, the village seamstress, make her fashionable dresses with the latest sleeves.  The Bede sisters live next door to the vicarage, and since their lives revolve around the church, they are always planning what to wear to church functions:  garden parties, concerts, and lectures.  Incredibly witty and sweet.

Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls.  A sad, witty, moving novel about a desolate housewife who falls in love with a monster.

5.  The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence.  A family saga, poetic, incandescent, and rich with adjective-and-adverb-heavy prose, Thomas Hardy on drugs.

6.  A Voice at the Door by Elizabeth Spencer.  This superb novel, set in Mississippi in the 1940s, is a gorgeously-written story of Southern politics, race, and romantic love triangles.  Although the Pulitzer Prize fiction jury recommended it for the prize in 1957, the board of directors chose not to grant the award that year. (Anyone who has read this astonishing novel knows how fatuous that decision was.)

Anna Karenina by Tolstoy.  The masterpiece:  everybody should read it.

8.  Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner.  A postmodern science fiction classic.

9.  A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley.  In this fictional memoir, published in 1968,  the hero, also called Frederick Exley, cannot hold a job.  Exley, an alcoholic, is in and out of mental hospitals, sponges off his parents, or lives at a bachelor friend’s apartment where flamboyant, sad characters drop in all day, including an Italian who sometimes believes he is a hit man.  A magnificent book.

10  The Four-Gated City by Doris Lessing.  In this dazzling, urgent, neglected masterpiece, Lessing maturely shapes the themes she explored in The Golden Notebook:  breakdown of personality, sex, politics, madness, raising children, and the almost random quality of thoughts in different times and political eras.

3 thoughts on “Is That a Hint? & THE List!

  1. Do you ever buy a book for the title alone? I did. Yes, the author’s name figured as well, but only because it fit so well with the title. This major contribution of Western Civ should figure on every end-of-the-year book list: Jack Handy’s The Stench of Honolulu.


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