Book #25: Murder, Buttons, Justice.

I wouldn't have picked up Book #25 yet, not if the student who lent it to me didn't need it back ASAP, because I was going to read all my James Patterson books together.

By my last count I had 6 books by this popular author, and I was going to make a romp of it, later, after reading more non-fiction and more books that didn't have "shoe" in the title.

My next set of books was supposed to be by people who were on Saturday Night Live, followed by war memoirs, non-fiction advice, then books with "witches in the title."  Oh well.

Book #25, The 5th Horseman, is narrated by a female cop who is faced with a plague of murders (can there be a plague of murders?) and first has to untangle if they are all related.

An hour into reading the book I'm turning pages faster than I could eat popcorn and I can't put the book down.  Her friend's Mom dies, then a child dies, then ohhhhhhh a girl gets roofied and killed and is found wearing damn cute clothes.Who's doing all this?

Chapter by chapter we find out who is killing people in cars, who is killing them in hospitals AND who is putting crazy buttons on the face of the dead people.

Three hours and over 100 chapters later I finish the book quite satisfied.

All the bad people are caught and brought to justice.

All the survivors of trauma grew stronger.

The end. Yay.

There's a reason people buy and read James Patterson - he knows how to spin a fast, complex, smart book that doesn't go tooooo deep and keeps the story moving.  I can't promise you that I will remember this book and its plot and characters very well at the end of my reading adventure, but I will remember the writer that created them.

The 5th Horseman, James Patterson

Book #24 - New Old Best Cool Friend

Book #24 hooks me with it's title ("shoe" is in it....) the cover (a shopping bag!) and a tagline about how all women have a secret.. but not all women know how far will they go to make sure their secret stays secret. Love it!

Book #23 was about puzzles and patterns and how the best place to hide something is in plain sight. This book takes the reader along the same line, but in a lower tech less intense journey.

I wasn't supposed to read this book yet; one of my international students checked a book out from the library since he had none of his favorites here in town. The book is due in two days, and I promised to finish it by then.

Still, I pick this one up first. If I were at Target or Barnes and Noble and wanted to grab a book I know I would love, this book would be it.

 I'd take it on a plane (wait, I never go on planes) or to the beach (wait wait if I read my kids might drown) or anywhere I'd like the company of a funny smart chick-lit romp.   If this book were a TV series it would be in the same genre as Desperate Housewives, Greys Anatomy, Girls, and Sex and the City.  Light, smart, hip, fun.

The premise is something like this.

 Four friends mess up on a trip to Vegas.  Not as bad as the guys in the Hangover, but they do enough damage each in their own way that they need to come together and find a solution.

My favorite character was the one who accidentally slept with a prostitute and then had to act cool when the money came due; but also I enjoyed the one who accidentally took cash advances from the "WRONG CARD" and well, you'll see because this is the kind of book someone will pass to you sooner later.  Not to ruin the surprise ending, but they find a way to make money and solve their problems by using their natural talents. The start a business as phone sex operators and make plenty of money, and then when it almost falls apart, they stick together against the mean girl.

It took me less than 3 hours to read this book, and I would definitely seek out the author and read the rest of her books and if this were my book I'd pass it on to someone who needs a fun story they can lose themselves in for a little while.

Secrets of a Shoe Addict by Beth Harbison

Book #23: The Right Book Always Arrives at Exactly the Right Time.

I like to put books in an order that's meaningful to me, and so far I've grouped the 100ish books assigned to me into the following sub-groups.

  • Books that have Book in the title.
  • Books that have been made into a movie/TV series.
  • Books that have Shoe, Shop, Fun in the title and/or are bright pink-yellow-peach and/or have a woman shopping on the cover.
  • Books by people who have been on Saturday Night Live.
  • Books by James Patterson (fat ones).
  • Books by James Patterson (not as fat ones).
  • Books with Witch, Wizard and/or Magic in the Title.
  • Books by Nicholas Sparks.
  • Books by the guy who wrote "The Fault in Our Stars."
  • Books with Zombie and/or Galaxy in the title.
  • Books by John Grisham and/or Stephen King. 
  • Books with cryptic titles that look a little intimidating.
I pick book #23 to read after #22 for two reasons.

1) Both books were brought to me by people who aren't in my class, who had no reason to give me a book other than the sheer joy of book-sharing.

2) Both books had "book" in the title.

If you liked Da Vinci code, if you like computer code, if you like books that fold you into a puzzle and take you through a maze, you'll love this book.

"Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore" (by Robin Sloan) didn't make me cry. It didn't make me laugh. No one died, there was no rape, no abortion, no Holocaust.  

Page by page I followed the calm detective narrator through carefully constructed labyrinth from unemployment through deciphering a century-old riddle. 

At the end of his spiritual, physical, magical knowledge-seeking journey he comes to a realization. All books, all people, all stories fade from our mind, from our lives.  In between that the right book, the right person, the right lesson always arrives at exactly the right time.

Lovely, smart, wise, fun. As satisfying as the Alchemist, but in a different, Google connected world populated with crypto-nerds who effortlessly command minions of computers.

Definitely a book I am thankful for and would read again when I have the time to tackle it with a highlighter and take notes on delicious quotes. 

After finishing this book I want to read the next one in my stack, but I don't. I have papers to grade, laundry to do, and a lot of books and stories to remember and forget.

Book #22: Amazingly Delicately Bravely Perfect

All day Tuesday I can't put book #22 down, and I can't stop talking about it.

It's so amazingly creatively emotionally historically wonderful that I could've easily finished 500 pages in one day but I forced myself to slow down and make the story last another day.

On Wednesday I announce to my classes that I'm reading The Book Thief and PLEASE do not tell me who dies but I just know there will be death.

Only a few of my students admit to having read this book and I beg them to NOT tell me who dies, but I know there will be death because.... well, you'll see.

Some students take my cue and write - or at least respectfully pretend to write - the title in their notebook.

A few text something and I'm sure one wrote "yep she's still ranting about books lmao." 

A girl in one of the higher rows holds her phone at a weird angle and I ask if she just took a selfie and she looks down.

Then I lecture. Today is the Bonus Army, the Bonus March. The hour goes fast.

Later I find a window of time to read 200 pages while Zoe is being tutored by Denise at Starbucks.  A 70ish man sits next to them and hits on them, and I keep still, like a bear trap, quiet until it snaps.  Soon enough he walks away. Smart man.

When they finish tutoring I have 10 pages left in the book.

Zack is at home; he hasn't done his homework yet because his backpack was in my car.

Fine, I get his backpack and he says he needs my help.

Ugh. What help?

He says he has to write sentences with "Tortilla, amigo, mesa, curandera, and fiesta."

I ask if the sentences are in English or Spanish, or if they're teaching Spanglish officially now. He didn't laugh. Tortillas and fiestas are serious words in his life.  We tackle that and I sit back on the sofa with the Book Thief.

9 pages left, I start crying so hard my breath comes out in sobs.

8 pages left, I'm sobbing and now wiping hot fat tears off my face.

It's beautiful. Painful, poetic, kind.

5 pages left, my sobs are audible.

Zoe puts her arm around me and questions whether she wants to read this book. I tell her yes, yes, and back off so I can finish.

I blow my nose, clean my face.

4 pages left. Oh, it's perfect. Perfect. So amazingly delicately bravely perfect.

3, 2 pages left, I hold my breath in awe, trusting this author to land me in a safe place at the end of this roller coaster.

The last words haunt me, and sew my broken heart back together.

I need a tiny break before Book #23 to grieve this world, to remember it and let it go so I can walk into a new sky castle of a story and be equally enchanted.


Book #21 and Part of Book #22: All Quiet (God Help Me)

 Friday February 14 is the deadline for students, colleagues, ex- students and innocent bystanders to assign me books for this project.

I get a book with cute shoes on the cover and shoes in the title in curly font. #Love.

I get a book by Ron Burgundy. #jackpot

I get another copy of a book on surviving zombies. #pattern?

More James Patterson, more Nicholas Sparks.

My brother gives me that I couldn't believe even existed and will treasure forever. #youfurnishthebook

Then book #100 rolls itself poetically into place and I'm ready to dive back into reading.

Last week was hard, it was beautiful but it was hard. It was "Abuelo's Last Birthday Again."

He is old. He has been tired since Castro took his dream house, stole his business, and tore his family apart. Now, at 94, he doesn't complain so much about what he lost, he just lets it show in his wistfulness, his aches and restless stiffness.

 I didn't read a single book all weekend, didn't let myself disappear down the rabbit hole of a story, and I definitely came back with stories, not all the kind that would fit neatly here, now.

OK, one story.

I may or may not have extorted my poor protesting Abuelo to go on a boat ride on my brother's boat by saying, "When will you EVER ride a boat again? With the TWO of us? This is IT, now or never." 

He did it, he got on the boat, and as you can tell, he had a fabulous time and will thank me for it, forever.

As soon as I got to work on Monday I knew which book I'd read next.

The one assigned to me by the Dean.

The cover of the book proclaims in capital letters "THE GREATEST WAR NOVEL OF ALL TIME" and below the title it says "....on a threshold of life, they faced an abyss of death."

These statements sound like they're from a Fabio-covered romance, and I worry immediately the book is all sizzle and no steak.

I was wrong. This book is amazing before it even really starts.  The dedication blows me away.

 I'm hooked.

Dedication -- Book #21
For the rest of the day, waiting here and there, and before and after this and that, I follow a teenager into the trenches of WW1. I see what he sees, what he hides, what he faces.

Even though the names are foreign, the humanity is familiar.

 The men he fights with and against could be the same that come through my classroom, haunted, lucky, tired, changed.

When I finish the book I am shell shocked, tired, satisfied, thankful.

My students need to read this book. They need to read a few books, really, and I'm thinking seriously about revising that part of my syllabus because books like this take students places that textbooks and lectures and movies just can't bring them.

Thankfully, reading all of Book #21 in one day exhausts me enough that I fall asleep quickly.

The next morning all the tears come.

 I wasn't sure if my trip was the real, true goodbye to Abuelo. Maybe. Could be.

The thought filled me with such a heavy sadness that I had no choice but escape into another book.

Again, I expected it to suck.  I'm not a snob, I just like to be open minded, and part of that is to have NO expectations. So I'm ready for YAWN and UGH and tolerating a story.

Book #22 *should* be good, though, because it was hand delivered by someone not in my classes who said I would love it, LOVE IT, and she's got a good eye for good things. I trust her.

The back cover proclaims this is the kind of the book that can be life changing.

 Egad. No, please don't change my life, I answer back, I wouldn't know what to do.

I want to fall out of my head and into another world and the first page takes me there. It is amazing, more amazing than I could have expected. This book, set in Germany during WW2 fits like a puzzle piece into book #1. I would assign them both. I might, I just might. They tie together so beautifully they SHOULD be read together. I can't believe my luck at having these stories come across my life.

Hundreds of pages later I call my Mom to catch up on this and that and ask her if the boat ride killed Abuelo (it didn't) and also if she's read the book I'm reading because this book is amazing.

We are getting off the phone when she says, "I got it, I'm looking on Kindle to get it RIGHT NOW."

I hadn't told her the title. That was weird. "What book, Mom?"

"Do you think I haven't been listening? The book you want me to read is "God Help Me" and it's so good I need it right now."

No, no Mom, I say laughing so hard I can't explain what's funny.

Book #22 is The Book Thief. (This book is too good to keep secret; if you haven't read it, go get it, go borrow it, go download it, there is a reason it was a bestseller and will be a movie) I just keep saying "God Help Me" because it's that kind of a week.

We laugh, hard, hard enough to keep us going for the rest of the day.

Somehow I manage to wrestle  myself away from the book and write this up for you but I have to go, I have to finish it, I only have a few hundred more pages to go and don't you dare tell me how it ends.

Book #20: The One the Lady Next to Me Keeps Peeking At....

I read Book #20 slowly.

I didn't want finish it, I was sure it would have a sad ending (WHY DO YOU KEEP SENDING ME SAD ENDINGS??) and I wanted to stay in the bubble of the story, in the before, in the innocence.

I take the book with me, to keep me company, to the place I hate going and didn't want to be at.

It was crowded (what's the opposite of "bonus"?) and the guy next to me seemed to have a nose growing out of his nose and it took everything I had to not look and not seem like I was not looking while trying to sneak a peak.

With 10 pages left I find myself  not wanting to turn pages, praying for my name to be called so I would still have a bit of this book left, a perfect serving, like a hershey kiss.

They don't call my name.

The call her, and him, and the guy whose been standing awkwardly even though there are chairs open and that makes me think something is wrong with his ass and he can't sit.

They haven't called  the people who belong to the kid that keeps banging that thing that should NOT be in this room much less banged on. They also don't call the person I can't see whose phone won't stop chiming saccharine notification dings.

To my right is a lady with a gorgeous purse (I'm thinking Chanel, but I was distracted) who keeps looking over at me and then away and kicking her leg and looking around.

I wonder if she recognizes my book and wants to ask something. I wonder if she's read it?

I posted a piece of this book's cover online and people who recognized it knew it RIGHT away.

This book is a love story, but more. It is a growing up story, but more. It is more, and it is the kind of love story that has two women on the cover and I think the woman next to me was looking at that and trying NOT to, but that's OK because I was very busy watching her not watch me, and also still trying to not see the guy next to me.

They call her name and as she gets up I whisper "Good luck!" and she laughs so hard she coughs and almost trips. Awesome.

I go back to my book, trying to not finish it, not finish it, not finish, but I can't help myself the pages keep turning.

Someone calls my name.

 have one page left. I'm tempted to tell her to wait to hang on please not NOW but I hate this place so I hug the book with me and soldier on.

I could've read the book afterwards, right away.

 I could've read the book in the car, on the side of the road, in the garage, whatever.

But I didn't want to finish it so I did awesome things like Algebra homework and making spaghetti.

Hours pass, the kitchen is clean, homework is done, a moment of silence finds me. I'm ready to see how horribly tragic this books ends.

And THANK YOU HOORAY FOR THE UNIVERSE it doesn't end with death or cancer and ostracism or rape or finding out something that unravelled everything. It ends very neatly, very well.

There isn't a fairy tale ending, but a good one, a real one about courage, friendship, freedom and the price of keeping secrets.

I wish I'd read this book sooner, I wish I'd even known it exists.

 If you like Nicholas Sparks (but less sad, and less "men" in the story) and you like stories where real people make hard choices, you'll love this book.

Book #19: Stairway to Heaven

The first page of this book is filled with great reviews and praise. I try not to read any of it.

 The second page lists the awards this book had won at the time of publication - ten.  Wow.

I try to not think about them or that, I try to let go of the last book (Zoe is still asleep, we can have that talk about Book #18 when the right time comes, I'm strategic like that).
The first page grabs me by the ankle and holds me planted to a sunny spot for most of the day on Sunday. Dishes can wait. Laundry can wait. Watching ice skating can wait.

This book, told in 13 vignettes and two narrators, is haunting, spellbinding, transfixing, sad and beautiful.

Did you like Black Swan, where you weren't quite sure how .... mad?... Natalie Portman was then at the end, and then when you did you saw it was ugly and beautiful and sad?

 Did you like the Sixth Sense where you didn't see something about Bruce Willis then you suddenly did and your stomach hurt?

This book is something like that.  Different but the same.

Piece by piece the narrator seems to be slipping away into the desert of her mind, deciding she has no choice but to kill herself, but before she does she makes a series of tapes on which she explains  13 reasons why she simply had no other choice but die. I'm ruining nothing for you; her suicide is how the book starts.

This is and isn't a mystery.
It it is and isn't about bullying and the cost of not speaking up, of doing nothing. 
It is and isn't a love story. 
It is and isn't the story of rape and survival.

This book successfully combines two narrators whose stories unfold asynchronously. One of the main characters is reading Catcher in the Rye, the same classic that the narrator in Book #18 loved and gave as gifts. Perhaps this isn't too huge of a coincidence considering these books are both fundamentally coming-of-age books where a teenager grapples with tragedy and allows themselves to be changed.

When I finish the last page I feel like I have watched someone drive themselves off a cliff, and I think the author did that on purpose.

I am moved, I am changed, I will learn the lesson this book teaches, and when you read it (you should!)  you will also want to stand up and DO something. You'll see.

I would assign this to a book club of people who wanted to discuss mental illness, allies, advocacy and suicide prevention.

 I would send this book to my Mom (sorry Mom, this book belongs to Cailyn M) and share it with my friends.

 But before all that, I'm lending it to Zoe to read ASAP. It's THAT good.

Before I pick up Book #20, or even decide which book to read next, I have to tackle the dishes, the laundry, the pile of history exams that have been patiently waiting their turn for my attention.

Book #18: Dirtier than all the Harry Potter, Breaking Dawn and Hunger Games books, combined*

I love books about books and books about writers. I love good stories. Book #18 just became one of my favorite books of all time. This book is everything, this book is amazing.

 It is candid and raw and smart and the one year it covers is perfectly measured in letter sized increments.  If I could put the book down (which I couldn't, I just couldn't) I would've gotten a pen and made a list of my favorite quotes.

But I didn't, because that would mean putting the book down, stopping the story, getting off the train, and I couldn't.

 This book had more sex and drugs than all the first 17 books I read combined, dirtier than all the Harry Potter, Breaking Dawn and Hunger Games books, combined.

There was marijuana, alcohol, LSD, abortion, molestation, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

And it worked, it just all worked because it was the honest brave experience of a sixteen year old boy making sense of  love, friendship and death.

I finished the book while Zoe was still asleep but when she wakes up,  we're going to have quite a talk.

Book #17: The Work of a Master Storyteller

I remember the call, where I was, what I was wearing.

 It was late morning in Spring 1996, I had woken up, taken the dog for a walk, come home and curled up with a book that turned out to be tedious and slow.

The phone jarred me awake.

Hello, Melissa.

I sat up straight and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes.

 It was my major professor, and now that I had finished all my PhD comps and language requirements it was time to get that dissertation done.

I'd spent weeks not committing to a dissertation topic.

 I stared at the stars on inky black nights and waited for some cue, some inspiration. Nothing.

 I took long walks on the beach at Alligator Point. I saw crabs and dolphins and rednecks working on skin cancer, but no clue on what to write a dissertation on.

Hence this phone call.

I had a great Advisor, someone whose students graduated, wrote important interesting things and got Jobs.

 The only good dissertation is a done dissertation,  he reminded me, so you need to write about what's available, what's interesting, what hasn't been done yet.

He proceeded to tell me about Cuban bankers and banking in Miami and I remember scratching my dog under the chin and saying, "Well, OK, that's something to think about..."

His voice got a little firmer. This is a GOOD topic, one that combines ethnic and urban history, and you need to get started on it.

So I did. I mean I did a few weeks later.  I liked it.

Over the course of the next year I interviewed interesting important people, and -- even better -- collected six boxes of papers from "failed" banks, the ones whose principals all landed in jail for RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) violations.  Hour after I hour I read memos and files and examiner reports, piecing together where the money seemed to come from and where it leaked out to.

 Good times.

 I finished the dissertation and lived happily ever after without turning it into a book. Over the years all the men I'd written about had quietly been released from jail and I wasn't in any hurry to publish what probably was better left in history. Not yet, at least. Bad karma. Maybe as fiction?

If I did write it as fiction I could only hope to come near the pace, scope, detail and wisdom of Book #17. This made me remember how much I love money laundering, racketeering, corrupt lawyers, and bumbling US Marshalls.

I couldn't put it down.

The author, a master storyteller and national treasure by any measure, walked me through over three hundred pages of snappy character development, dummy corporations, red herrings and a Jamaican jail.

I loved this book, loved the topic, loved that it didn't make me cry (and wasn't pornographic), and I'm glad my students assigned me two more books by this author.

I finish the book on Saturday evening, the show Zoe the stack of books I've brought home to read. She looks at one, the other, another and picks one out. It's small, thin, about the size of Tuesdays with Morrie.

What's it about? Will I like it?

She covers her mouth and nods her head.

Read it, read it now, she commands me.

 I'm one to be swayed by passionate advocacy, so I agree.

Before I walk away she tells me to finish it FAST so we can watch the movie together on Sunday, the one with Hermione playing someone else.

I'm intrigued, and even though Book #17 was one of the best stories I've ever read, I mentally folded it up and made room in my mind for Book #18.