I’m Not Comfortable Feeling Uncomfortable (The Reason Why I Almost Threw Out My Copy of The First Bad Man)

Miranda July

Here is author Miranda July, looking like a real-life version of SNL’s Gilly. “Sorry!”

I’ve never really considered myself to be a sensitive person (and I don’t mean that in the emotional way. In that case, then yes. Yes I’m very sensitive.) What I mean is, I always thought I was hard to gross out. I mean, I watch ‘Tim and Eric’ without any hesitation and I’ve always had a strange spot in my heart for toilet humor. One would assume, I could handle some weird and uncomfortable stuff. But then came Miranda July’s book, The First Bad Man and all that changed.

I have never in my life found a book that hit all my triggers quite like this book did. And I don’t mean that in a positive way.

Trigger #1. Real Violence

For all the weird stuff I can handle, violence has always made me feel queasy, and that’s no exaggeration. I literally get nauseous if I see a person punch another person. Oddly enough, movie violence doesn’t have the same effect. I can handle that. My mind knows that it’s pretend. But if I see footage on the news of people fighting, that’s it. I’m nauseous.

When I started this book, I had no idea what it was about. Man, was I surprised when this book took a hard left turn into weird lady-fight-club land! Although the violence is fiction, it was written in a way that felt realistic. And clearly it was too realistic for me because with every punch, I felt the waves of nausea crash against me.

Trigger #2. Feet Smell

I have a particularly sensitive sense of smell. For example, I have been known to sniff out minor gas leaks and identify the colognes of strangers passing by. If I love a smell, I love it with all my heart. But if I hate a smell, my brain will not allow me to get used to it. Instead, it will torture me to the point that it’s the only thing I can think about. Even if it’s a phantom smell. Let me explain…

When we are first introduced to one of the characters, the narrator decides to mention how bad the person’s feet smell. The description was so vivid, I felt like I could smell those stinky feet too. It grossed me the hell out. However, I decided to forge on with the hope that the description would be a one time occurrence. To my dismay, the feet were mentioned again. And then again and again. And to make it worse, the author decided to mention the stinky feet smell during a scene where the narrator was describing one of her sexual fantasies. The combination was so horrific that I found myself completely balled up on the couch, concerned that I was going to be sick.

Trigger #3. Very Unsexy Dirty Talk

I know calling oneself a prude is not flattering. No one wants to be a prude. Unfortunately for me, deep down, I shamefully have prude-ish qualities. I think these qualities stem from a watching a lot of music videos on VH1 at a very young age.

For a brief time when I was very young, I was was mildly obsessed with labeling things as “too sexy.” During this time, I became really great at censoring myself on behalf of my parents (who by the way, had no idea I was doing this). If a music video came on that was romantic or sexual in any way, I would think “this is not age appropriate for me” and deem it “too sexy.” I would then turn it off because in my mind I thought “I bet my parents will appreciate this.” You’re welcome mom and dad.

I would shy away from videos like Brian Adams’ “Have You Ever Loved a Woman,” Bon Jovi’s “Always,” and “Wicked Game” by Chris Issack (which in all honesty, I still think is way too sexy). I even had issues with this tape of French pop music I owned, which was all sung in French (a language I didn’t understand then and still don’t understand now). By tone alone, I declared that the duet, “Joue Pas” sounded “too sexy,” and felt I needed to turn that mysterious French smut off. Essentially, I was the Tipper Gore of my elementary school, slapping Parental Advisory stickers on everything I could get my 7-year old hands on.

Always_BonJovi

Please note: If you have not seen the Bon Jovi music video for “Always,” stop what you’re doing and watch it right now. This video has everything. Keri Russell with full-blown Felicity hair!! The jerk guy from Hocus Pocus! And betrayal, art, and a jealous lover who blows up million dollar apartment for no reason whatsoever! It’s a real A+ music video.

Anyway, as an adult I like to think that much of that prude-ness has worn off, but I suppose some of it still must live deep down within me. Case in point, this book. When the character starts with the dirty talk (which by the way felt so unbearably forced and unnatural for the character) I couldn’t handle it. The overt pornographic descriptions were not sexy or funny. They were just…uncomfortable.

With that, all three of my triggers were hit. Violence, feet, AND bad dirty talk?!

I found myself barely able to hold the book upright. I was so nervous about what was to come, I found myself reading through squinted eyes (as if squinting them would protect me from reading any more gross detail). As I continued to read, I could feel the pains in my back getting stronger and stronger. I was cringing. My entire body was literally cringing. And page by page, it got worse. More violence. More feet. More awkward sex.

So at page 120, I slammed the book shut. I decided right then and there, it was OK for me to abandon the book.

poppins

An accurate portrayal of me at page 120

Although I was pissed at myself for not finishing, I realized that reading is about having fun, and I wasn’t having fun with this book. Although I celebrate feeling new things through literature, I realized that it’s OK to not want to feel everything. Sadness? Sure! Bring it! New points of view? Humor? Fear? Ok, Yea! Let’s do this! But discomfort? No thanks. I’ll pass.

However, I did see a lot of positive reviews about this book on the Internet. So, I ask those of you who read Miranda July’s The First Bad Man, what do you think of this book? Were any of you able to power through? What did you think of the story? Share your comments below!

And if you haven’t read this one, have you ever had a book that made you so uncomfortable you had to abandon it? Tell us all about it in our comments section!

July’s Reads—Why These Books?

 

The July Reads for The Not So Book Club Book Club!

The July Reads for The Not So Book Club Book Club!

Greetings from Las Vegas, friends!

Currently, I am writing from my hotel’s lobby because my poor hubby desperately needs his beauty rest. The poor guy has been working night after night, clocking in 12 hours shifts in order to break down the massive structures he built for this weekend’s EDC festival. He’s been getting out of work around 6 AM every day, looking as dirty and dusty as if he just stepped right out of The Grapes of Wrath. Anyway, his boss took pity on him (as it is the week of his birthday) and decided to fly me out for support. So, here I am in Vegas, acting as a doting wife (but I guess not doting nearly enough because well… I’m in a lobby writing to all of you). Whatever, he understands–I have book club responsibilities!

I hope this month’s books have been treating you as well as they have been treating me. If you follow the @notsobookclub twitter account, I’m sure you saw that I devoured The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy in basically 24 hours. What a fun book! However, I did hear from one of our NSBCBC members that she was not having as much luck in the speedy reading department. Turns out, she accidentally picked up the version that has all 5 books of the series, compact into one. So sorry, Lauren! I wish I had known about that beforehand. I would have written a warning. But power to you, girl! Keep on reading!

On the plane here I finished Whistling Past the Graveyard and I look forward to chatting with those of you who read it. It was a bit difficult to get through, as history at times is a tough pill to swallow. I still can’t believe there was ever a time where that kind of prejudice existed. However, we all know that sadly it still exists in many places and probably will continue to exist for years to come. Maybe we should drop a copy of Whisting in the mailbox of every racist jerk in America so they can read about how stupid their ridiculous prejudices are… if they can even read.

I also just cracked into Night Film and already I’m hooked. Don’t let the 500+ pages scare you away from tackling this one. Trust me, it moves fast! The interjection of computer screenshots and photos break it up nicely and keeps it very fast paced! In only 40 minutes, I got about 50 pages in. For me, that’s impressive because I’m a really slow reader.

And lastly, for some side “reading,” I’ve been listening to J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy as a book on CD, and let me tell you… it’s anything but Harry Potter. Very adult. Like, rated R adult. Lot’s of sexy talk and cursing, which was something that was very much absent from our beautiful little Hogwarts. I mean, for all the drama that goes down in the world of Harry Potter, it’s amazing that Harry never stood up and shouted “Ya know what assholes?! I’m done with this shit!” Anyway, it’s really great and it is clear that she truly is a fantastic writer worthy of all the accolades she has received throughout her career.

 

The only curses you can find in the Harry Potter series are the kind that kill you. Damn you Voldemort! You dick!

The only curses you can find in the Harry Potter series are the kind that kill you. Damn you Voldemort! Why you gotta be such a dick?!

I also decided to read the Locke and Key graphic novel series, as recommended to me by Michael Ragosta on episode 3 of the Not So Book Club Podcast (The Runaway Comic Train). I’m on the second to last volume and he was definitely right in his description. I can easily imagine it as a Steven Spielberg film, however be warned–its violence is comparable to that of Saving Private Ryan. Little old E.T. would be scared shitness if he found himself in Lovecraft, that’s for sure.

And with that long-winded intro, let’s get to why you’re really here! I present to you the July Not So Book Club Book Club Reads!

 

1.  China Dolls by Lisa See

I have had a mild obsession with Lisa See ever since I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan almost 8 years ago. But that obsession has only grown, and it came to its peak when I got to meet her at the Huntington Book Revue last week. She was there doing a book signing and lucky for us fans she spoke for about an hour on the writing process of her latest book, China Dolls.

Here I am, meeting Lisa See, and fan-girling hard. Love her!

Here I am, meeting Lisa See at the Huntington Book Revue on June 18th, and fan-girling hard. Love her!

The book follows the friendship of 3 best friends, as they perform as showgirls in San Francisco’s exclusive ‘Oriental’ nightclub, the Forbidden City, during the 1940’s. For those interested in history, the Forbidden City was a real nightclub located in San Francisco and was the first Chinese/American nightclub located outside of San Frans’ busy China Town. The club was host to thousands of American servicemen, with acts such as “The Chinese Ginger Rogers!” and “The Chinese Frank Sinatra!”

The book also explores the always-changing dynamics of friendship, while painting a picture of the pre-and post-WWII view of Chinese and Japanese citizens living in the United States.

To prepare for this book, See spent 3 years compiling research for this book. She traveled around the country interviewing people (many of whom were in their late 80’s and early 90’s) who were present at these nightclubs during the 40’s. The best interview she had was with a performer named Mai Thai Sing (who professionally went by the name Mai Thai). Mai Thai (who is 91 years old now and apparently still very much a wise-cracking, foul-mouthed lady) was a very well-known performer during those times and according to See, had numerous affairs with many of Hollywood’s biggest leading men. You go, Mai Thai!

The beautiful Mai Thai Sing, performing at The Forbidden City nightclub in the early 1940's.

The beautiful Mai Thai Sing, performing at The Forbidden City nightclub in the early 1940’s.

For more information on China Dolls, and the performers of the Forbidden City, visit See’s website, here: http://www.lisasee.com/insidechinadolls/

2. Lost for Words by Edward St. Aubryn

I first saw this book while I was bookstore hopping in NYC. Honestly, I was drawn to the cover. Something about the font drew me in. And then when I read the synopsis, I thought it was a fun world that we haven’t really jumped into quite yet with the book club. So it made the list.

Lost for Words explored the comically dramatic and surprisingly competitive world of professional writers. This satire tells the story of a hand-full of writers, all competing for the Elysian Prize for Literature (aka, the prize that crowns the “best book of the year”). The story begins when the publisher of “brilliant writer and serial heartbreaker” Katherine Burns accidentally submits a cookbook in place of her novel for her entry into the competition. From there, all hell breaks loose and we as readers have a good laugh.

This is kinda what the description of the competition for the Elysian Prize reminded me of. The film Drop Dead Gorgeous, a fantastic satire about the dirty world of small-town beauty pageants. A true classic.

This is kinda what the description of the competition for the Elysian Prize reminded me of—the film Drop Dead Gorgeous—a fantastic satire about the dirty world of small-town beauty pageants. A true classic.

3. Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life by Tom Robbins

Can you believe it? Despite all the junk I spouted about comedic memoirs, here I am again. I guess despite all my belly aching, I still am drawn to these things with the hope that I will get a laugh out of it. Actually, it was the back cover that got me interested in this one. Writer Tom Robbins starts out right away by acknowledging that he is in fact undeserving of writing and publishing a memoir. He does however make a plea to the reader, saying that although he is a remarkably unremarkable individual, he does a great job making sure all the stories within are humorous and worthy of your attention.

I’ve always been a sucker for modesty (and no, not the kind of modesty that comes from a 15 year old beautiful toothpick of a teenager complaining about “how fat!” she is). I’m talkin’ real, self-aware modesty. And his odd mixture of modesty and confidence was enough to make me intrigued.

A little background on the author—Tom Robbins is an internationally bestselling American novelist, and has written such “wonderfully weird” books including Still Life With Woodpecker, Jitterbug Perfume, and Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates.

So I’ve got my fingers crossed. Perhaps this will be the memoir that will make me sweet on them again.

 

And with that, my friends, are your July Reads!

Stay tuned in the coming weeks as I will have information on how you can get your very own FREE Not So Book Club Book Club book mark! They are currently being printed in the great state of California and I couldn’t be more excited about their coming arrival.

A little preview of the book marks. How cool are these? ........(crickets)...... Whatever guys... I think they're cool!

A little (albeit blurry) preview of the book marks. How cool are these? ……..(crickets)…… Whatever guys… I think they’re cool!

Also, stay tuned for Episode 4 of the Not So Book Club Podcast! Recording had to be postponed due to my unexpected adventure to Las Vegas, but I promise it will be posted in the next 10ish days.

Tons of love and Happy Reading Book Clubbers!

– Nina Sclafani

Founder of the Not So Book Club Book Club

 

The Ultimate Book Day and Why You Should Do This Too

I have lived on Long Island almost my entire life and as of right now, I have no plans to ever move away. Aside from this past years’ brutal winter, not much has ever made me want to leave it either. This island has beautiful beaches, adorable tree-filled neighborhoods, wineries, great shopping spots, and it’s close to New York City. But for a place that is home to over seven and a half million people, our independent book store number is a little low. Sure, we have the mecca of all independent bookstores on this island—Huntington’s Book Revue—and a few other gems, like Book Hampton in Mattituck and Dolphin Bookstore in Port Washington, but I wanted to see something new.

With the desire to expand my bookstore horizons, I did a search for the best bookstores near me and a fantastic list popped up. The list was filled with independent bookstores all located within Brooklyn and NYC, so with that, this past Saturday I decided to make a day of it.

My first stop was to the East Village, where I finally got to experience the amazing food of Gabrielle Hamilton, author of Blood, Bones, and Butter (one of the first NSBCBC reads from November of 2013).

It was such an amazing feeling, seeing the actual restaurant that she wrote about creating in her book. Just as she described, the miniature bistro was filled to the brim with her essence. The style of her writing mirrored the style of the decor—whimsical, exciting, and lovely. And the food…. oh man… the food. Comforting yet experimental. Beautiful yet approachable. Fresh and crisp and everything I knew it would be because it was just as she described it in her book. It was a delicious dining experience and a great way to continue my love affair with this book. I truly cannot wait to go back.

Image

Top Left: I was not above bringing my book in for a picture. Top Right: My husband Andrew trying out our bizzare Bloody Mary choices (mine included beef bullion!) Bottom Right: Posing with the signage. Not touristy whatsoever. Bottom Left: Our incredible meals. Spicy chic peas for me, fried Monte Cristo for Andrew. Happy diners all around.

From there, my hubby and I parted ways and I went on a solo mission to Prince Street’s McNally Jackson Bookstore and Cafe. This is the kind of store that has a very cool vibe, yet it didn’t feel too cool for me to be there. With its very own working printing press, and a cafe that serves everything from fresh scones to sparkling rose water, McNally Jackson has enough to keep even a browser occupied for hours. I decided to spend my time in the graphic novel corner, with my drink from the cafe and the latest volume of Saga. For a half hour, I sat uninterrupted by staff or fellow patrons and read. It was the kind of place where nobody cared that I didn’t buy the book or occupied the seat. They were just happy to have people in there, reading and enjoying their space.

Image

Top Left: The store front. Spot any NSBCBC reads? Top Right: The cafe, with its awesome hanging book fixtures. Bottom Right: Saga, Vol. 3. Oh, The Will! He’s just so tortured! Bottom Left: The impressive printing press.

Next up, I was joined by fellow NSBCBCer Daryl, and together we went to Housing Works Bookstore located on Crosby Street. Here is where I think I found my favorite bookstore in the world. This beautiful store is completely stocked with donated books and run almost entirely by volunteers. Not to mention, 100% of their proceeds go towards Housing Works—an advocacy group whose mission is to help end the “duel crisis of AIDS and homelessness” by providing lifesaving services to those in need. I mean REALLY… do I need to say anymore? No… but I will.

The store was easily the most aesthetically pleasing space of all the stores I visited throughout the day, and the selection was surprisingly vast. Even when the book we wanted wasn’t on the shelf, the shop keepers happily went out of their way to help us find what we were looking for. And the icing on the cake—right when I walked in there was a table completely filled with David Sedaris books. When I grabbed a copy of Let’s Discuss Diabetes with Owls (an NSBCBC April 2014 read) I was delighted to find the entire stack was signed by David himself. Apparently he had been there earlier in the week and stayed until midnight chatting with each and every person that came to see him. I happily bought two copies and made a vow to visit that store whenever I’m nearby.

Image

I’d live here if it weren’t weird to live in a public store.

Up next was the biggest of the 4 (Perhaps the biggest in the world? At least it felt like that) The Strand, located right by Union Square. This store, boasting its 18 miles of books, can be summed up in one word—overwhelming. Packed with hundreds of patrons, this maze of a place will surely have any book you’ve ever wanted; just be prepared to search for miles and miles to find it. In all honesty, my fragile self couldn’t take the mayhem for too long. I like my bookstores to be calming and although this place was impressive, it was anything but relaxing. We probably spent a total of 10 minutes there before deciding we didn’t need to see any more. We got the gist, and the gist was hectic.

Image

Daryl’s face in the top picture perfectly depicts just how overwhelming the store really is.

The last stop on our great bookstore tour was 192 books, located on 10th and 21st. Talk about the complete polar opposite of The Strand. This shop was about the size of my living room and was so quiet that it felt almost inappropriate for my friend and I to discuss our love of the children’s classic, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile (even in a volume that was just above a whisper). Although it was adorable, it wasn’t necessarily welcoming, but that was probably due to its overly calming setting.

Image

Teeny Tiny, absolutely adorable, and a little awkward.

My overall verdict of the stores:  If this were a Goldilocks situation, The Strand was too much, and 192 books was too little, but McNally Jackson and Housing Works were juuuuuuuust right. And was it worth all the walking? You bet your buns it was.

So Why Do I Think You Should Go On a Bookstore Journey Too? 

At the end of the day, I was so happy I got to visit these places, not just because I got to be surrounded by things I love, but because I was surrounded by hundreds of readers just like me. So often I hear on the news that bookstores are going out of style, and that e-readers and Amazon are wiping away the need for traditional bookstores. But my experience shows otherwise. People still love these brick and mortars and it’s not because they must physically see the book before they buy it. It’s so they can be surrounded by the vibe of the bookstore. Here, you can chat with other people about the books and stumble upon books you may not ever find otherwise. You can sit and enjoy a coffee and flip through a book without pressure. And the best part—you’d be supporting the world of books and the activity of reading just by being present. Who doesn’t love that?

So be present. Visit your local bookstores, venture to new bookstores, and help keep the bookstore alive. Happy reading everyone!

– Nina Sclafani

Bookstore Junkie, Founder of The Not So Book Club Book Club

 P.S. – Episode 3  of The Not So Book Club Podcast has been posted! Check it out at NSBCBC.PODBEAN.COM, and listen to the gang discuss comics, children’s books, and more!  

June’s Reads—Why These Books?

Allow me to present.... your JUNE READS! (And then explain why you should be reading these books with me).

Allow me to present…. your JUNE READS! (And then explain why you should be reading these books with me).

Well hello there NSBCBC readers!

It’s been a little while so let me catch you up on the recent news. I got writers block and didn’t know what to write about, I sorta-conquered the writers block and am finally getting my creative groove back, I organized a fun panel of guests for this month’s NSBCBC podcast (which is being recorded this Sunday, and posted on Monday!), and I picked out June’s books, which I am really excited about!

However, before I get into the June Reads, I’d like to ask for your help yet again. Like I said, we will be recording a new episode of the podcast on Sunday and I’d like to encourage all you wonderful people to send us some questions or topics you’d like to hear about. Whether it’s questions or opinions about books we’ve read, books you’d like to recommend, general book/lit topics, book-related movies/tv… or whatever, we’d love to hear from you!

This month, I’ll be introducing two new exciting guests to our panel—Michael Ragosta, singer of This Good Robot and diehard comic-fiend (@thisgoodidiot), and comic enthusiast/writer/artist, Eastin Deverna (@EastinDeverna). We will be discussing comics for beginners along with some other comic-related topics, so feel free to weigh in by tweeting us at @notsobookclub, or posting on our facebook page (facebook.com/nsbcbc).

Image

Michael Ragosta (@thisgoodidiot), and Eastin Deverna (@EastinDeverna) will be joining us for a special comic seqment of this month’s NSBCBC Podcast!

 

And now, let’s talk June Reads!

1. Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

Every time I read a new book, I try to post it on Goodreads.com. For those of you who are unfamiliar with that website, let me enlighten you (and yes, you can thank me later). Goodreads is an awesome website where you can track your reading, create lists of books you want to or have already read, rate the books you’ve read, see book reviews written by fellow readers, and snoop around to see what your friends are reading. But perhaps my favorite feature of this site is that it makes personalized recommendations based on books you’ve read and reviewed. This month, Goodreads told me I may enjoy this book based on my previous reading, and who am I to argue with the Goodreads people?

Image

Find me on Goodreads.com! I’d love to connect with you all and see what else you’ve been reading!

Whistling Past the Graveyard takes place in Mississippi during summer of 1963, and follows the story of Starla (a runaway teenager) and her unlikely travel companions—Eula, a black woman, and the white baby she has with her. Together, the trio encounters the harsh realities of southern segregation, and form a companionship that defies the prejudices of those around them.

2. Night Film by Marisha Pessl

My best friend (and fellow NSBCBC podcast panelist) Kimmy works at Barnes and Noble. Day in and day out, she chats with the public and over time can figure out what the next big books are going to be. Last month, she told me that Night Film was starting to fly off the shelves and that people couldn’t stop talking about this mysterious book. Because I like to be in the loop for all things pop culture, it made its way onto our list.

Image

And for those who’d like to see what a book junkie’s goodreads account looks like, check out NSBCBC podcast panelist Kimberly Manley’s goodreads page! Also, see some of her excellent photography at Kimberlymanley.com

Night Film opens with the death of a beautiful young woman in a Manhattan warehouse. Although her death is ruled as a suicide, an investigative journalist realizes that this death may not be as clear cut as it seems. He discovers that woman’s father is in fact a notorious and legendary horror film maker, and her death feels eerily similar to another within the family. Throughout the story, the investigative journalist delves deep into the dark world of the film maker, and puts his career and life on the line in order to solve this mystery.

I love me some spooky mysteries!

3. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

For years, this is one of those books that I’ve always heard about, along with the film adaptation that that came out in 2005 starring Bilbo Baggins (aka Martin Freeman… my newest obsession due to FX’s Fargo). And despite all its praise, it never was something I was terribly curious about.

Image

This guy just can’t stop having adventures. Oh Martin…

Then came December when I tried to read An Astronaut’s Guide to Life On Earth and I realized it wasn’t the space program I wanted to read about. I wanted to read about space. And by space, I mean the fun inventive version of space that sci-fi writers have been creating and building upon for years. So with that desire, it finally became time for me to bite the bullet and jump around the galaxy with these characters.

Now, unlike previous months, I couldn’t help myself with this one and the second I got the book in the mail, I started reading it. Now 2 days later, I’m just about done and it’s great. I can honestly say it’s as clever and fun as people have told me for years and I kinda wish I read it sooner. And the best part—it’s a quick read! (Last month’s The Forgiven took me a solid 2 weeks to get through, so this… this is like a dream come true.)

Image

Apparently having a towel in outer space is a VERY big deal. Oh, the things you learn when you read.

 

And with that, those are your June Reads!  Each of these should be fairly easy to get a hold of at the library (except maybe Night Film if Kimmy’s prediction is right). And for those of you with Amazon Prime, I was able to buy all three books this month under $20 (Heck yea free shipping!).

To wrap it up, don’t forget to tweet us @notsobookclub or post on our facebook page (facebook.com/nsbcbc) with your podcast recommendation topics! Check back in on Monday to listen to the latest podcast, and if you missed either of the first two episodes, stream them for free here! (nsbcbc.podbean.com)

 

Happy reading!

– Nina Sclafani

Founder of The Not So Book Club Book Club

Is This Cheating? (…Cause This Feels Like Cheating)

Image

Audiobooks Vs. Actual Books. Does it still count as reading the book if you never actually read the book?

Back when I was in high school, I worked at my town’s local library. Looking back at the job, it was probably one of the best (if not the best) jobs I’ve ever had. I say that because retrospectively, no other job allowed me to flip through interesting books all day (even though I suppose I did that on the sly). I would spend my afternoons organizing shelves, checking out what books patrons were taking out, and covering (or re-covering) books with plastic so that they always looked and felt fresh (but that’s where it ended, because no matter how many times you cover a book in new plastic, you could never cover up that old-book stink).

Of all the things I did at the library, my favorite days were the ones I’d spend in the back room, creating art for the windows. I don’t remember how I earned that job, or how often I was tasked with a new window, but I do remember spending hours in that back room—piecing together construction paper, lining my work with thick black sharpie, and blowing through glue stick after glue stick as I organized the shapes like a puzzle in order to create different scenes. And for all the time I spent alone working on these murals, the time felt like it flew by. This could have been because of amount of fun I had creating these pieces, but I also think it was what I listened to while I worked, that made it fly. Because this was a library, I had complete access to the CDs and DVDs that were in stock, and I used that unlimited access to monopolize the Harry Potter audiobooks.

Image

The only remaining picture of my brief career as an 18 year old construction paper artist.

Every shift, I would place one of the disks into the little boom box we kept in the back and get completely wrapped up in the wizarding world. In his slightly-Americanized English accent, the melodic voice of Harry Potter narrator Jim Dale would quietly guide me through the books, chapter after chapter, shift after shift.

But for all the hours I spent listening to these books over and over, I never felt as though I were reading the stories. When I talk about the series with friends (and yes, I roll with a crowd where this conversation comes up at least once a year), I never count the times I’ve listened to the stories when someone asks how many times I’ve read the books. I mean, why would I? My eyes never saw a single word of Rowling’s writing, my mind never gave voice to the words of the characters, and I never exhausted my eyes to the point where I’d fall asleep mid chapter.

But with that said, it never felt right to not include my listening sessions because so much of my listening experience was the same as my reading experience. Just as if I were reading the books myself, I experienced every word of Rowling’s writing and I watched every scene play out in my mind. Just like reading, I felt emotional during the exciting parts and nervous during the finale scenes. Essentially, I felt all the same things I would have, had I been reading the book.

So should it count as reading the book? Or am I cheating the book? 

A few years ago, this question came up when I tried to read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Trying to read that book was an epic failure. With too much time spent on only three chapters worth of progress, I turned to the audiobook—and it helped… significantly. Although I experienced her language through my earbuds instead of on the page, it was fulfilling. For a while there, I even felt influenced by her writing style, as I found myself mimicking a certain type of grace in my work emails that had not been there prior (which was… awkward, but only because I was emailing people that clearly had no time for grace or beauty in their writing. They were NYS Medicare employees and they refused to read anything over 5 sentences long). I got all the positive side effects of reading a beautiful classic book, without having to actually read it.

Image

This popped up in my Google search for “Jane Austen writing” and I can’t help but wish this were a real line from Pride and Prejudice.

This month, under the insistence of NSBCBC podcast panelist Amanda, I dipped my foot in the audiobook pool yet again, in order to “read” David Sedaris’ Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. (Side note: I tried to illegally download it because I didn’t want to wait for the library copy to arrive, and I didn’t want to pay the $20 it cost on i tunes. However, my foray into small time crime didn’t pay because I immediately downloaded a virus that took days to get out of my computer. Oy… never again.) Anyway, the experience thus far has been pretty great (aside from that virus business) and it has me thinking—perhaps this is the way some authors need to be absorbed. For example, a friend of mine tried to read this book and didn’t love it, but now that I’ve heard the audiobook, maybe she would have enjoyed it had she heard the author’s delivery of the text instead. His voice, his pauses, his pronunciation—it all adds so much to the stories that I’m not sure they’d be as rewarding without him.

Image

Here is David Sedaris, cracking up John Stewart on The Daily Show. See, John knows what I mean about David’s delivery. Amanda was so right about this.

But it this reading? Technically, no. But am I experiencing the story? Absolutely! I’m absorbing every word, learning new things, and experiencing feelings with every page that passes. And isn’t that what reading is all about? Whichever way you decide to take in a story, it is still a rewarding experience.

So the next time someone asks how many times I’ve read the Harry Potter stories, I’ll include the times I’ve listened, because really, shouldn’t the question actually be, “how many times have you experienced the story?”

– Nina Sclafani

New NSBCBC Podcast has been posted!

New NSBCBC Podcast has been posted!

In this month’s episode “Kickin’ the Clydesdale,” the gang tackles the future of publishing, our troubles with memoirs, and answers a selection of challenging questions from Chuck Klosterman’s “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs.” This month’s panel includes: Nina Sclafani (Founder … Continue reading

May’s Reads—Why These Books?

Image

Hello Not So Book Clubbers!

Are you seeing what I’m seeing right now? Sunshine, people! Real, beautiful, Spring sunshine! I’m so excited my eyes are welling up with tears (sure, this may be 100% due to allergies but I will pretend otherwise).  So excuse me if this post seems hastily written. I’m dying to go sit outside and bask in it before Mother Nature tries to take another dump on my head. Oh Spring!

This month I kept my eyes and ears open, waiting for the books to present themselves to me. I didn’t want to force this selection, so I stayed away from my usual “must read” lists  and decided to go based on those magical moments when people sell you on a book through natural conversation. Although I was sweating about this until I finally found my third on Easter, I’m glad the list came to be this way, and I can honestly say I am really excited for all three books this month!

1. Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls – David Sedaris

My good friend (and NSBCBC Podcast contributor, Amanda) told me about this one. Actually, she’s been trying to make a Sedaris book an NSBCBC Read for months! She truly loves David Sedaris and I can absolutely see why. This girl has got so many hilarious stories about growing up that I think she and David could be kindred spirits.

Image

One of Amanda’s stories includes this terrifying ventriloquist dummy named Charlie McCarthy. Recently he appeared at one of our hangouts and naturally we used him to scare the dogs. Today, when I texted her asking for the name of her “puppet,” she didn’t know who I was talking about because she refers to him as “her friend.”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with David Sedaris, he is a writer who typically pens comedic memoirs. Now I know last week I went a little crazy bashing books of this genre, but it’s important to remember—Sedaris is a writer before anything. He’s no celebrity taking a crack at writing because… you know, someone said “I’ll pay you lots of money to yammer on about your life!” He does this because this is true talent.

Anyway, where were we? Right! David and Amanda are kindred spirits, and here is why. With Amanda’s stories, it’s all about the delivery. When listening to her stories, she adds so much of her personality to the tale, it’s no longer just about the words— it’s the word emphasis, the dramatic pauses, and the character voices. These are what truly bring her stories to life. And upon her request, this is how we should consume our Sedaris books because (as her kindred spirit) he delivers his stories in the same fashion that she does.  

Image

Self explanatory.

Ask anyone who listens to NPR around the holidays and they’ll agree. (The reading of his Crumpet the Elf  story from The Santaland Diaries is the perfect example of David’s delivery. His dry tone tells all.) So, for this collection of hopefully-hilarious Sedaris essays, I will do my best to consume majority of it via audio book, and apparently you should as well.

 

2. The Forgiven – Lawrence Osborne

Last weekend, while strolling around NY’s lower west side (killing time before heading to a brunch where I dove into a pit of bottomless mimosas), I stumbled upon a tiny shop that emphasized everything I love about bookstores. The warm mahogany bookshelves were filled with copies of literature from past and present, my fellow patrons appeared to have deep interest in the books they were sifting through, and the staff was genuinely enthusiastic to talk books with me. While I was checking out, one employee noticed me glancing at a new release from an author I had never heard of. When I asked about the book he said that it was good, however the author’s previous book was adored by the entire staff and that it was their favorite book of that year.

Image

And here is said bookstore!—Three Lives and Company. Find more information about this perfect little shop here, at threelives.com

He brought me over to Lawrence Osbornes’ The Forgiven and said if I was looking for something thrilling, dark, and exciting this was the book for me. He apparently read it in just a few days (as did the rest of the staff), and he insisted that if I were to start this book, I too would tear through it in no time.

The story, described as “haunting,” takes place in Moroccan desert, and shows how a seemingly random accident can either tear apart or bring together people from vastly different cultures.

To learn more about it, or to pick up a copy (in cause your local library doesn’t have it available), you can find it here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Forgiven-Novel-Lawrence-Osborne/dp/0307889041

3. The Dovekeepers – Alice Hoffman

My aunt Rhonda has impeccable taste. Her house looks like it should be in Martha Stewart Living, her clothes are always fabulously unique items from little boutiques, and everything she ever recommended to me (from bronzers to books) have been real winners. So, when she told me about Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers, I listened.

First thing I will say, ignore the cover because from what I heard, it’s so much more interesting than what that cover depicts. (I’ve said this before, but I do think covers play into my desire to read a book. I would have never picked this up off the shelf unless I had someone tell me I should.)

Image

Always a sucker for a good pun…

The story’s synopsis is so much more powerful than that image. Hoffman’s story takes place “nearly two thousand years ago” when “nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived.” (Amazon.com)

My aunt emphasized that this book is “truly beautiful,” so I’m excited to jump into this one. I’ll just have to make sure I have a box of tissues handy because typically when someone describes something as “truly beautiful,” all I hear is “you gonna cry, girl.”

 

And those my friends are your May NSBCBC Reads! Hope you’ve enjoyed April’s and hope you’re ready for May!

And get ready for a new NSBCBC Podcast (which can be found at NSBCBC.podbean.com)! We are recording this Sunday, so if you have any book-related topics you’d like to hear discussed, shoot them our way! Post your suggestions on the facebook wall (https://www.facebook.com/nsbcbc), tweet us @notsobookclub, or post them right here on the wordpress!

 

Happy reading!

– Nina Sclafani

Founder of The Not So Book Club Book Club

Image

Haven’t heard last months’ podcast yet? Check it out here at NSBCBC.PODBEAN.COM!

 

I, Memoir

Image

Welcome to the memoir factory. Same story told 5,000,000 different times.

When I sat down to read Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson, I was pretty excited. My friend (and Not So Book Club Podcast guest) Alison, had recommended it to me and I tend to not take her suggestions lightly. 9 times out of 10, our tastes perfectly sync. The story of how we became friends even reflects that. (She approached me because I was wearing a “Hey Brother” Buster Bluth t-shirt. She was sporting a Mr. Banana Grabber tote bag. And if you don’t understand why that was important, perhaps this is the reason why you and I don’t share as strong a connection as me and Al.) Anyway, she swore by this book and said it made her laugh so much that she was exiled from her home and forced to read it (noisily) at her local Starbucks instead. But when I cracked open the book, I didn’t have quite the same reaction. I chuckled here and there at a few odd stories about the author’s taxidermy-obsessed father and her mother’s ingenious solutions for their poverty-stricken home, but aside from that, I felt slightly annoyed. I kept thinking “why is this important? Why tell me this story? What should I get out of this?” And these are questions that have plagued me about the memoir genre for years.

 

Image

My feelings expressed perfectly by Shania Twain.

It all started a few summers ago when I went on a celebrity memoir binge. I first read Russell Brands My Booky Wook and absolutely loved it. His writing style perfectly reflected his speaking style—chaotic, fast-paced, and saturated with enough beautiful vocabulary words that I had to keep my Merriam-Webster handy at all times. Next was Tina Fey’s Bossypants. I had always been a fan of Tina and liked to pretend that if my life were to ever be made into a movie, it’d be Tina who would play me despite our age difference. Needless to say, I was almost pre-programmed to enjoy this one as well. Then I read Sarah Silverman’s The Bedwetter, and although I enjoyed it, I started to see some similarities with these books. By Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me it was clear. I had read the same book 4 times. They all had loving parents. They all grew up middle class. They all went through awkward fazes (and included pictures to prove it). All (with the exception of Russell’s heroin and prostitution addiction) shared the same basic plot points, and by the end I was wondering what possessed me to read their books in the first place?

Image

See, I wasn’t lying. Each of their memoirs included at least one picture of them flaunting their childhood awkwardness. (Top left going clockwise – Russell Brand, Tina Fey, Sarah Silverman, and Mindy Kaling)

Perhaps it was voyeurism that made me pick up the books. These were books written by people I respected and watched on my television on daily basis. Perhaps, I thought, I just wanted a glimpse into their lives so maybe I could see how they reached such success, and maybe learn a thing or two so I could emulate that in my own life. But no. There wasn’t much of that. These memoirs were just mainly ugly duckling stories (i.e. I once was a loser at summer camp but now I’m a fantastically witty, albeit still nerdy-cool celebrity!)

And now a few years later, these stories make even less of an impact now that we live in an age where almost everything we do is posted on the Internet for others to see. With this new culture of oversharing, it has become so very clear—we all believe what we do is unique but in the grand scheme of things… most of the time it’s not. And as far as your typical memoir topics go, most of them have been beaten to death. As eloquently stated by New York Times writer Neil Genzlinger,

“Memoirs have been disgorged by virtually every­one who has ever had cancer, been anorexic, battled depression, lost weight. By anyone who has ever taught an underprivileged child, adopted an under­privileged child or been an under­privileged child. By anyone who was raised in the ’60s, ’70s or ’80s, not to mention the ’50s, ’40s or ’30s. Owned a dog. Run a marathon. Found religion. Held a job.”

Reading Genzlinger’s 2011 article (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/books/review/Genzlinger-t.html?pagewanted=all) I couldn’t stop thinking about the people I know who have traveled the across America—many of whom want to write a book about their experience, and I cringe because I think of On the Road, or Into the Wild, or this year’s best seller Wild. We love sharing our experiences because 1. We believe they are unique and 2. Because it’s a less flashy way to tell the world you’ve done something you think is interesting,  but we fail to recognize that perhaps the experience is only truly unique or interesting to us and in the end, it comes off as self serving. Even in my own writing, I struggle to find the balance between “hoping to inspire others” and “hoping others will see me as fabulous.”

Image

Yes, Hannah. We all do.

So how can this genre be saved? How can I learn to love the memoir genre again? And for those of us who write, what is the best way for us to tell our stories so that they are in their most genuine/purest form?

I’m not sure if I have the answer for that. I feel the war of the memoir wage within me. The positive Nina loves the idea that writing can bring people together so that we all have a shared human experience. But the negative Nina despises writers who think they’re so important that even their ordinary and mundane lives deserve book deals.

So this week, I need your help. Since I can’t seem to find an answer on my own right now, I’d like to pose the question to you, my Not So Book Clubbers. What do you think about the genre of memoir, and what do you think should be done to improve it? Share your thoughts on the Facebook page (www.facebook.com/nsbcbc) or in the comments section below. I’d love to hear what you have to say on the subject.

– Nina Sclafani

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

Image

Blog title and photo will make sense right after the following paragraphs! Stay tuned!

Yesterday I realized it was April 1st, and that it is just under one month until my 28th birthday. Realizing that gave me sort of mixed feelings. 27 was a year filled with incredible highs—I started a great new job, got married to an incredible man, went on an amazing Thailand honeymoon, and started this book club. But it also had its lows—losing said “great new job” and struggling to pay for the little luxuries that I thoroughly enjoy. (Fear not parents. We are still eating. I’m only bitching about the fact that currently my roots make it look like I’m wearing a dark brown yarmulke made of hair on top of my blonde highlights.) Anyway, because of this mishmosh of life events, I will remember 27 as a year of learning.

Back in November, I had so much pent-up energy from unemployed life, if I didn’t channel it into something positive FAST, I’d be forever trapped watching TV in my pajamas, wrapped in blankets of self-pity. But once I chose to start this book club, something changed. I learned to love reading again. I learned new ways to fight boredom. And I slowly learned how to build something from scratch.

Now, building something from scratch had always felt foreign to me. For example, when I was in high school, I desperately wanted to be a famous musician (I mean really, who didn’t?), which eventually led to me going to the Berklee College of Music. But once I was there I quickly became discouraged. Not only was everyone more talented than me, they were also way more motivated than me. They were in the process of building up their musical personas and perfecting their skills, while I just wanted to be “discovered” on a street corner or something ridiculous. I wanted to go from A-Z without hitting all the letters in between. Needless to say, I didn’t make it through music school.

Image

Music school dropout.
I can’t help but feel a little gipped because when I dropped out, no Frankie Avalon person came to sing to me. The nerve.

My husband on the other hand, pursued his passion for music in the complete opposite way. He had been in bands since he was about 15 years old and in 2009, he joined a band called This Good Robot. Now I know this may sound biased, but they are ridiculously awesome and watching them play live is one of my favorite things to do. I adore them and all the hard work they put into the band, and I am forever flowing with pride whenever I see kids screaming along to all their songs. Anyway, this band didn’t always have a following. They earned that with hours of practice, long trips to hole-in-the-wall venues, and enough sweat to fill an olympic-size swimming pool (seriously, after shows they are drenched and it is disgusting). They worked hard to slowly build their success from scratch.

Image

TGR power stances all the way.
If you’re curious, my man is the fella performing a half-squat with a guitar on the far left.                    Photo credit: Hingwa Moy

The same thing goes for the characters in the books I love to read. I think about Eli Brown’s “Cinnamon and Gunpowder” (a NSBCBC January read), and the character of Owen Wedgwood. To remind you, Owen gets kidnapped by a wild group of pirates and over the course of the story learned to slowly adapt to pirate life. The character of Owen learned to prevail in this new lifestyle, but he had to earn that with hard work. He pushed himself to grow and take risks and eventually he learned to fight when he would previously cower. In Gabrielle Hamilton’s “Blood, Bones, and Butter”(a November NSBCBC read) Gabrielle pushed herself to open her own restaurant even though she didn’t have experience owning or operating a business. Starting with nothing but her love of food, she learned how to run a business and she worked tirelessly to make it happen. Hell, even Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter series is an inspiration to me! He was a completely average boy who decided to work hard by putting his fears aside and pushing himself to bravely challenge the evils around him.

Image

The evolution of Ron Weasley. From little scared (albeit adorable) boy, to total dark lord-fighting bad ass. Only took 7 books but hey, he too had to build himself up from scratch! You go Ronny!

In all of these situations, all of these people (my husband’s band included) did something amazing. They were ordinary people who chose to do something extraordinary, and they did it by building it themselves.

And so, I envy them. But instead of being jealous, I choose to use them as motivation. I want this book club to grow. I want more people to participate. I want to keep on writing in this blog, and I cannot wait to record next month’s podcast! I believe that even ordinary Me can do something extraordinary with this club.

I know we started this book club from scratch, and I know we have a long way to go. But I can’t help but feel that with all this motivation in my back pocket, and the great inspiration I see from the people and characters that surround me, this coming year is gonna be even better than the last. 

So, thank you for supporting this while we build it up.

– Nina Sclafani

P.S. - For those of you who missed it, this past Sunday we recorded our first Not So Book Club Podcast. Joined by a group of fantastic teachers, we had a great time recording it.  Stream it here for free at: nsbcbc.podbean.com

P.S. – For those of you who missed it, this past Sunday we recorded our first Not So Book Club Podcast. Joined by a group of fantastic teachers, we had a great time recording it.
Stream it here for free at: nsbcbc.podbean.com

April’s Reads – Why These Books?

Image

Our NSBCBC April reads, as selected by you fantastic people.

Last week I asked for some help. I wanted to bring the Not So Book Club Book Club to not only a wider audience, but also I wanted the audience I already had to help me make this club even better. I asked for suggestions on how to increase participation and I asked for suggestions on what we should read next. Man, you did not disappoint. You sent in really wonderful suggestions and in doing so, you got me all sorts of pumped up for the future of this book club.

Over the past couple of months, I have had numerous people tell me that because of the book club they want to read more. They may not be reading the NSBCBC reads within the span of the month, (Hell, they may not even be reading any of the NSBCBC reads!), but they are reading. This victory, however small it may be, shows that what we’re doing together is working. We’re starting the conversations about literature and we are motivating others to share in the stories we are diving into every month. I don’t know about you, but for me that is just the best, and it makes me want to do even more.

So with that said, I’m happy to announce that this weekend we will be recording our first Not So Book Club Podcast episode! On the podcast (which will be available free to stream on nsbcbc.podbean.com) we will be discussing an array of literature-centered topics. And fear not! You do not have to read the books in order to enjoy the podcast! Anyone who enjoys reading, pop culture, technology, ect. will be able to enjoy this. I’ll post more about the upcoming podcast later this week on our facebook page (facebook.com/nsbcbc), twitter account (@notsobookclub), and instagram hashtag (#nsbcbc).

Image

The Not So Book Club Podcast- Just like Delicious Dish, but with even more sexual innuendo! Impossible you say? We shall see…

 

And now, without further ado, your April reads.

 

1. “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson

From what I have heard, Jenny Lawson (aka “The Bloggess”) is a pretty funny lady. Actually, I read her autobiography paragraph on her blog (http://thebloggess.com/about/) and it’s true. She is funny. And what do we desperately need as we slowly emerge out of the hell that has been this never ending winter? Some humor. Actually, I’m going to let my lovely friend Alison sell you on this book, as she did me. She happily pushed me over the edge with this comment:

“My first recommendation is the quasi-autobiographical/hilarious book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess). I cry a lot when I’m reading a great story but this one had me crying of laughter. John kicked me out of the apt for laughing too loud and the patrons of Starbucks were none too pleased by my presence.”

So there you have it. Let’s laugh inappropriately in public together, gang.

 

2. “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto” by Chuck Klosterman

My husband doesn’t read all that much, but when he does he tends to read books that have an air of cool around them—cool books that I thought I was not cool enough to get. Anyway, a few years back he read this “too cool for me” book (as did pretty much all of my male friends), and I thought they read it based on the title. Of course these fellas would be attracted to a book titled “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs.” It’s like their altered lyric version to the von Trapp children’s “My Favorite Things!”

Image

The books I choose to read, vs. the books my husband chooses to read, as represented Steve Urkel and Stefan Urkel.

When it was suggested, I was skeptical. I didn’t think that even all these years later, I’d be cool enough for this book. But then I read the synopsis, and teeny part of a single sentence sealed the deal for me.

“Whether deconstructing Saved by the Bell episodes…”

Pause. Yes. Done deal. We’re reading it. I’m cool enough. Or it’s not that cool. Whatever. I’m in.

The rest of the sentence went like this,

“…or the artistic legacy of Billy Joel, the symbolic importance of The Empire Strikes Back or the Celtics/Lakers rivalry, Chuck will make you think, he’ll make you laugh, and he’ll drive you insane — usually all at once.”

And so, it was chosen.

 

3. “Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Lawson

This was suggested by a NSBCBCer who reads a lot. She seems to have read every book that has ever been popular, ever.  I’ve gazed upon her book collection and have felt the tinge of jealousy that she has somehow over the years, despite her insane schedule, managed to read what seems to be every book to have topped the literary world. So, when she suggested this, I took it seriously.

I’ve considered putting this book on our list for a few months. It found it’s way onto many Best Of lists from 2013, and that always is a pretty good start. It takes place in Italy and everything about the cover screams “warmth!” to me. Perhaps this is so vitally important because currently I’m wearing two sweatshirts, am hiding under a down comforter with a micro fleece blanket on top of that, and when I accidentally poured scalding hot coffee on my own hands this morning, I felt more relief than pain. Have I mentioned yet that I’m over winter?

Image

Here is a candid picture of me from this morning, as I wrote this blog post.

Anyway, I’m not describing this story with any justice. I think my brain is frozen. Read the synopsis here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11447921-beautiful-ruins?from_search=true

I think you’ll dig it.

 

With that, this already too long post must conclude.

Happy reading book clubbers! I look forward to another great month of reading with you!

And thank you everyone who sent in suggestions! Every book felt like it would have been great, so stay tuned. You never know if your suggestion will be a part of May’s list!

 

– Nina Sclafani

Image

NSBCBC Founder