07 December 2014

My bookish but not so bookish Thanksgiving

It’s well known I love choosing books to take on trips. As I contemplated our Thanksgiving trip out to San Francisco (the East Bay) my joy was somewhat dampened by the fact that I was going to have to do some work on the trip, not to mention the fact that our time was going to be pretty busy with family and friends and trips to Loard’s for Peppermint Stick ice cream. Still, I popped three books in my bag: The Dinner by Herman Koch, Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut, and Cold Light by Jenn Ashworth. But then, even with all these great things to read, I was distracted by two things: 1) Our plane had about 50 movies to choose from. I ended up watching American Hustle and Saving Mr. Banks, and 2) John bought The Andy Cohen Diaries at the bookshop at Dulles which immediately made me want to read something really fun like that. I ended up being rather bored by the flashback scenes in Saving Mr. Banks so I read bits from the Andy Cohen book while I waited for Emma Thompson to come back on the screen. (By that time John had put the book down to watch Boyhood.)

Despite being pretty busy once we landed I did manage to finish The Dinner by Herman Koch. It was quite disturbing for sure, but I loved it. Apparently it is often mentioned in the same breath as Gone Girl and indeed Gillian Flynn has a blurb on the front cover of the paperback. I understand why people make the connection but the Koch book is so much better written and provides way more food for thought than Gone Girl. I was smitten enough with Koch to buy his latest book Summer House with Swimming Pool at Book Passage in the Ferry Terminal on Small Business Saturday. I wasn’t sure I would necessarily like other work by him but a quick read of the opening paragraph had me instantly hooked. I also ended up buying Richard Flanagan’s Booker Prize winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Normally I wouldn’t buy a Booker winner in hardcover, but Simon has had so much good to say about it that I couldn't resist. And since he was the one who put The Dinner in my hands when he visited in August, I thought I might be able to trust him. At least this once.

Although I wasn't really in the market for any books and only bought two on this trip, I did poke my head into three book stores.  In addition to the above mentioned Book Passage, I also had a look at Mrs. Dalloway’s in Berkeley and Bell’s Books in Palo Alto.

I couldn't go to Alcatraz without getting a picture or two of the space that used to house the prison library.

Looking at the scale model of Alcatraz while we waited for the ferry.

On our last day in the Bay Area we visited friends who I don’t get to see more than once a year. John has been friends with his friend John since they were about three, and with John’s wife Pamela since they were all students at Berkeley in the mid-80s. Of course it was fun to catch up and share some laughs, but I also had the unexpected pleasure of being able to sit down and have a good chat about books with Pamela who is an avid reader. Now, I know you all have had those holiday visits where you come across another reader who automatically starts recommending books willy-nilly—most of which you know you will hate. But with Pamela this was not the case. In fact, now that I think of it, I might have been the one who was recommending more than I should have. During the course of our conversation she pulled out a magazine called Bookmarks. Yes, an actual, printed, hold in your hand and turn the pages, kind of magazine. And it’s all about books. How have I never heard of this magazine? From what I could see it takes a lot of cues from its readers in terms of what it covers and how it compiles various lists of what to read next. One thing that particularly interested me was a feature on science fiction. Kind of a beginner’s guide to exploring the genre. As most of you know sci-fi isn’t necessarily my thing, but my recent reading of The Sparrow piqued my interest, so that kind of quick guide was just the ticket.

After all this book chat with Pamela, and right after I pronounce my dislike for Joseph Conrad, I find out that not only was John an English major, but he wrote his thesis on Conrad. That’s me, always putting my foot in it. Thankfully John hasn’t devoted his life to the study of Conrad so I don’t think the (paper)cut went too deep.