Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Cat's Out of the Bag: Bill Willingham's Down the Mysterly River, Pamela Erens' The Virgins, and Lucy Grealy's Autobiography of a Face

I might've started a series like this before, in blatant imitation of Nick Hornby's Stuff I've Been Reading column for The Believer, but hey -- between all those 5ks I've been running, orphaned kittens I've been pulling out of trees, and novellas I've been penning, it's pretty hard to find the time.

Just kidding. I totally forgot about this thing.

So like the still-newly-minted college graduate that I am, I'm going to pick up where I left off, only under a completely new title and following a slightly different format. Come along for the ride!

This feature will highlight what might be generously called my compulsive book buying habit, aided and abetted by Flyleaf's employee discount and my obstinate belief that toppling piles of book can really make a house feel like a home. My guests should either agree or leave me alone with my cats and books, where I am very happy thank-you-very-much.

ISBN-10: 1935639625
ISBN-13: 9781935639626
Published: Tin House Books, 08/01/2013
Pages: 288
Language: English
Today I went with three selections from three entirely different sections of the bookstore. While some might deem it erratic taste, I like to call my inclinations "eccentric," so this week, I'll be taking home Pamela Erens' The Virgins (a new literary fiction title whose cover blurb had me at "the next James Salter," or some such praise), Lucy Grealy's Autobiography of a Face (Grealy's memoir about her childhood battle with cancer and the way in which it irrevocably changed her face), and Bill Willingham's children's novel Down the Mysterly River, which appears to have some talking animals and lots of adventure.

I first caught wind of The Virgins via Twitter. Author Leigh Stein, who did a fantastic reading at the store several months ago, had posted a link to her review for the Los Angeles Review of Books (worth a read, if you're hunkering down with the internet for a minute or two). I read the piece, remembered how much I liked Stein's prose, noticed the understated and aptly-designed cover, and filed the title away under "I should check that out sometime." When it came time to shelve the paperback this morning, I decided to take it home. The plot centers on two young lovers at an elite Northeastern boarding school, and Stein's review clued me in to the fact that its narration takes an unconventional tact. We learn about protagonists Aviva and Seung through the perspective of privileged, indecisive Bruce, whose feelings towards Aviva waver between disgust and borderline obsession. This roundabout delivery -- mostly speculative -- seemed to bother Stein a little bit, but I'm trying it for the Salter comparison and the evocation of bougie boarding school politics, a world I can only access through fiction.

ISBN-10: 0060569662
ISBN-13: 9780060569662
Published: Harper Perennial, 03/01/2003
Pages: 256
Language: English
Grealy's Autobiography of a Face was recommended to me by my coworker Erica, an established author herself who has steered me towards interesting fare many times before. After babbling for weeks about Mary Karr's The Liars' Club and Ann Patchett's The Magician's Assistant, which I read in that order, she said I ought to try this one, which would coalesce the best of those two worlds -- striking nonfiction from Patchett's own bosom buddy. Though I don't know quite as much about this one, its premise is compelling without too much adornment or praise. Grealy's bout with cancer as a child left her face permanently marred, and its effect on her lives both inner and outer -- as a public person and a writer -- seem like perfect memoir material.

ISBN-10: 0765366347
ISBN-13: 9780765366344
Published: Starscape, 09/25/2012
Pages: 336
Language: English
Finally, Willingham's Down the Mysterly River will be my way of escaping the world of Fables, the graphic novel series he penned with which I've been unhealthily obsessed these last few weeks. I figure I can taper off by moving towards something written with the same blend of fantasy and humor, only minus the pictures. While it's targeted towards middle school readers, I've always been of the mindset that well-written fiction is well-written fiction, and if his work with Fables is any indication, Willingham could make the pebble caught in your shoe into a tragic hero. I'm also attracted to the idea of finishing a book quickly, because the historical epic I recently took up has required every ounce of concentration. Worth it, but we all deserve to reward ourselves with lighter fare.

That's it for now. Check back soon -- I'll try to keep the habit at bay until next week.

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