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

 

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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

I, Memoir

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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.

 

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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?

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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.”

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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

April’s Reads – Why These Books?

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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).

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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!”

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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?

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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

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NSBCBC Founder