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.

14 comments:

  1. Hope you had a good visit to my neighborhood! I work at the public library a block away from Mrs. Dalloway's.

    It's nice Mrs. D's is thriving.

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    1. Oh how fun. Like two ships passing in the night. Hope your area of Berkeley didn't suffer any riot damage.

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  2. You've never seen Bookmarks? I love that magazine (it may be the only actual magazine I subscribe to after letting The New Yorker go) and have had a subscriptions for years. It was my primary source for bookish news and recommendations before book blogs.

    Can't wait to hear what you think of Summer House with Swimming Pool. The Dinner was so disturbing, yet I couldn't stop reading it... devoured the whole thing in just over 24 hours.

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    1. The Dinner was indeed disturbing. Why did you let The New Yorker go. I used to read it religiously, but then I felt like it was getting in the way of reading novels. It's probably been 7 years now.

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    2. Same here... if I kept up with The New Yorker, I'd never have time to read a novel!

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  3. I'm so excited to hear you enjoyed The Dinner. I absolutely loved the slow burn and find it surprising that so many people seem to have such an intense distaste for it. I'll be very curious to see how you think Summer House compares, since I have a copy but haven't picked it up yet.

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    1. I had an intense distaste for the characters but found the book fascinating. I thought the opening page of Summer House was so compelling.

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  4. I disagree with the comparison between Gone Girl and The Dinner. I thought Gone Girl offered plenty of food for thought (in particular about female roles in U.S. society) and it didn’t have to rely on a made up genetic defect to make its point. But it is really just perspective and individual reader’s taste that make one book stand out more than the other, I think. And Simon loved both books, so there you go. From what I have heard, if you liked The Dinner, you will like The Summer House with Swimming Pool and isn’t it great to find an author you like?

    I am going to “have” to read The Narrow Road to the Deep North for the Tournament of Books in 2015 but despite all the rave reviews, I really don’t want to due to the violence and pain…

    Bookmarks sounds really neat. I had never heard of it either. I am going to look into it. And what fun to find someone (in person) to seriously discuss books with!

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    1. Ruth, while I still think The Dinner is a better book, you are absolutely right about the made up genetic defect. I can't believe I pushed that out of my head when I wrote this post. It really annoyed me that Koch did that. It seemed too weird and unbelievable. And I'm not sure why he felt the need to do that, so many other more interesting possibilities I think.

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  5. I am glad you had such a good trip. My sister lives in that area in California and I love visiting her. She has not taken me to these two bookstores but I have noted them for future visits. We went to Green Apple and City Lights and I loved both of those shops. I can't believe you have not heard of Bookmarks. It is a magazine which I am subscribed to here in Tasmania. How funny is that. I really like it. Australia has an equal to it in Good Reading. Reading recommendations and articles for the everyday reader and not to hoity toity to the literature circle. I love a non high brow magazine about reading and books. Looking forward to you moving into your new home. So gorgeous. Will be fun to share your adventures. (and Lucy's of course)

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    1. Both of them are well outside the city and Berkeley is far more cute and interesting than Palo Alto. Next time tell her you want lunch at Chez Panisse (the more informal cafe) and then a visit to Mrs D's. Definitely a car-oriented adventure.

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  6. Jealous. Love Mrs. Dalloway's! I grew up in the Bay Area and love it. I'm an East Bay girl (Livermore) and I've spend a lot more time in the Berkeley area than Palo Alto. I love The City though. It's been quite a few years since I've been back, but I need to make a trip.

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  7. I think I figured out how to comment on your blog....I enjoy Bookmarks magazine every other month. I am jealous of your bookstore wanderings. Although I technically and tax-wise live in New York City I don't have any cool bookstores near me. They all require a trip and commitment, so I more often visit bookstores on vacation in other parts of the country.

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  8. Mrs. Dalloway's is one of my favorites for new books. The staionary store around the corner called Three Bags, I think, is where the Obama's once shopped for Christmas presents for their daughters. It's a fun little shop, too.

    I agree with you on The Dinner vs. Gone Girl though neither book is really all that deep.

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