Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Okay, I know this is a book blog, and maybe a music list doesn't belong here. But I can't help but merge my loves now and again. They do oftentimes go hand in hand. Some novels remind me of the albums I was listening to over and over again while I read them. (Here's a sample: Tears For Fears' Songs from the Big Chair and Jesus & Mary Chain's Barbed Wire Kisses while reading the many tawdry "Flowers in the Attic" books; The Cure's Faith while reading Wolitzer's Sleepwalking; P J Harvey while reading Jane Austen in college, etc., etc.)

One more rationalization--I like many of the bands on this list for the same reasons I chose the books on the other top 50 list--for an amazing turn of phrase, for the mood they set or transport me to, for the naked truth of the emotion expressed.

So anyway--my husband, Stuart, and I made lists independent of one another, so I can't help but share his too. Lots of overlap (he influenced me, I influenced him, and we have simply long been fans of indie rock) between us--much like you know you've met a kindred spirit when you share a love for the same books or authors.

1. Fiona Apple: When The Pawn…
2. Arcade Fire: Funeral
3. The Bats: Daddy’s Highway
4. The Beautiful South: Welcome to the Beautiful South
5. Belle & Sebastian: If You’re Feeling Sinister
6. The Boo Radleys: Kingsize
7. David Bowie: Hunky Dory
8. Billy Bragg: Must I Paint You a Picture: The Essential Billy Bragg
9. John Cale: Paris 1919
10. Neko Case: Blacklisted
11. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: The Boatman’s Call
12. The Church: Starfish
13. The Cure: The Head on the Door
14. Nick Drake: Bryter Layter
15. Echo & the Bunnymen: Ocean Rain
16. The Go-Betweens: 16 Lover’s Lane
17. David Gray: The Century Ends
18. PJ Harvey: Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
19. Lauryn Hill: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
20. Robyn Hitchcock: Eye
21. Ida: I Know About You
22. The Magnetic Fields: 69 Love Songs
23. Paul & Linda McCartney: Ram
24. Modest Mouse: The Moon & Antarctica
25. Mojave 3: Ask Me Tomorrow
26. Moloko: Statues
27. Sinead O’Connor: I do not want what I haven’t got
28. The Pogues: If I Should Fall From Grace With God
29. Pulp: We Love Life
30. Radiohead: Kid A
31. REM: Life’s Rich Pageant
32. Rolling Stones: Let It Bleed
33. Saint Etienne: Good Humor
34. Seam: The problem with me
35. The Smiths: Louder Than Bombs
36. Elliott Smith: Roman Candle
37. Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation
38. Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros: Global A Go-Go
39. The Sundays: Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic
40. Tears for Fears: Songs From the Big Chair
41. The The: Mind Bomb
42. Tompaulin: Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt
43. Trembling Blue Stars: Her Handwriting
44. U2: Joshua Tree
45. Unrest: Imperial
46. The Waterboys: Fisherman’s Blues
47. The Wedding Present: Sea Monsters
48. Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
49. XTC: Skylarking
50. Yo La Tengo: And the Nothing Turned Itself Inside


1. Beach Boys Pet Sounds
2. Beck Sea Change
3. Beautiful South Welcome the Beautiful South
4. Belle & Sebastian If You’re Feeling Sinister
5. David Bowie Ziggy Stardust
6. Neko Case Blacklisted
7. Nick Cave The Boatman’s Call
8. The Charalambides Market Square
9. Leonard Cohen Songs of Leonard Cohen
10. Cornershop Woman’s Gotta Have It
11. Bob Dylan Desire
12. Echo & the Bunnymen Heaven Up Here
13. The Fall Grotesque
14. Felt Me, a Monkey & the Moon
15. Gang of Four Entertainment
16. The Go-Betweens 16 Lovers Lane
17. PJ Harvey To Bring You My Love
18. Husker Du New Day Rising
19. Ida I Know About You
20. It’s Jo and Danny Lank Haired Girl to Bearded Boy
21. The Jesus & Mary Chain Psychocandy
22. Low Christmas
23. Mark Kozelek Rock N Roll Singer
24. Marvin Gaye What’s Goin’ On
25. Massive Attack Blue Lines
26. Moloko Statues
27. My Bloody Valentine Loveless
28. New Order Power Corruption & Lies
29. Sinead O’Connor I Do Not Want What I Have Not
30. Prolapse Pointless Walks to Dismal Places
31. Pulp This Is Hardcore
32. REM Automatic for the People
33. The Replacements Let It Be
34. Saint Etienne Good Humor
35. Sleater-Kinney One Beat
36. Slowdive Pygmalion
37. Elliot Smith Figure 8
38. Sonic Youth Sister
39. Spacemen 3 The Perfect Prescription
40. Dusty Springfield Dusty in Memphis
41. Stereolab Peng! 33
42. The Stone Roses The Stone Roses
43. Throwing Muses Throwing Muses
44. Unrest Imperial FFRR
45. Rufus Wainwright Want One
46. The Waterboys Fisherman’s Blues
47. The Wedding Present Sea Monsters
48. Whale We Care
49. The Wolfhounds Attitude
50. Young Marble Giants Colossal Youth

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


I got this idea from a Kevin Brockmeier reading--apparently he hands out his top 50 (which he explains includes few classics because he's being entirely honest) books to the audience. Which is just brilliant, really. How many times are authors asked to cite their influences?

Not that anyone's asking, but here are mine. This month, week, moment, anyway. But I will refrain from changing and adapting it for at least 24 hours.

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes
Possession by A.S. Byatt
Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
The Ramona books by Beverly Cleary
Happy All the Time by Laurie Colwin
The Fifth Business by Robertson Davies
Break It Down by Lydia Davis
Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
Anything by George Eliot, Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda in particular
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer
China To Me by Emily Hahn
Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi
At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom by Amy Hempel
Oyster by Janette Turner Hospital
The Bone People by Keri Hulme
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Obasan by Joy Kogawa
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
Time Will Darken It by William Maxwell
Atonement by Ian McEwan
The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Sisters by Mary S. Lovell
The Pursuit of Love & Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
Birds of America by Lorrie Moore
Hopeful Monsters by Nicholas Mosley
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Iris Murdoch (everything I’ve read so far, which isn’t much considering how prolific she was)
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman
The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems Selected and New by Adrienne Rich
Empire Falls by Richard Russo
The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
The Way It Is: Poems by William Stafford
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Waterland by Graham Swift
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Slaughter-house 5 by Kurt Vonnegut
Sleepwalking by Meg Wolitzer
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult

I read this one really fast, but with much less enthusiasm and wonder than with My Sister’s Keeper. It’s about the Stone family in Maine: father Daniel is a stay-at-home dad who pens graphic novels, mother Laura is a college professor who specializes in Dante’s Inferno, and 14-year-old daughter Trixie is nursing a broken heart after her popular, older boyfriend Jason breaks up with her. We learn early on that Laura is cheating in her husband with a student, Daniel has a dark, violent past, and Trixie isn’t as sweet and innocent as her parents think she is. Everthing is up-ended when Trixie is raped by Jason at a party. The party also involves a lot of shock-value teen sex-play—the kind of stuff that may or may not actually be happening—“rainbow” and “daisy chain”—which felt like an of-the-moment, Oprah-session type of choice. The town blames Trixie and her family, because Jason is a beloved hockey star. While this isn’t as devastating as Joyce Carol Oates’ We Were the Mulvaneys, a novel in which a raped girl finds her family and the entire world turned against her (I wanted to throw this bleak, bleak book out the window), it’s also not as powerful. There are some graphic novel sections in here, which are fun if a little hokey. If you want to see what Picoult can do, read My Sister’s Keeper.
Drew Barrymore: The Biography by Lucy Ellis and Bryony Sutherland

I don’t generally read movie star biographies. Generally I get my fill from inane Entertainment Tonight-type programs and People magazine (well, and US Weekly and Entertainment Weekly). But Stuart’s Dad was in town and he always stops into Cinema Books, which is this amazing little store crammed to the gills with film related books, magazines and photo glossies. The woman who runs it also has an encyclopedic knowledge of film and her own organization scheme for the layers and stacks of books in the entire place. Cinema Books is a veritable treasure trove and it’s right down the street from Scarecrow Video. So when Stuart found the script for “The Apartment,” I felt we should buy one other thing, and I picked up the Drew bio. I can’t help but mention that I absolutely adore her; I can’t help it. I buy nearly every magazine she appears in, and Stuart often kids that he wonders where the shrine is hidden. The biography was an exquisite guilty pleasure. I’m not sure how good it is, but I did enjoy it.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice

This book was exactly what I was looking for—a combination of two of my favorite novels, Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle and Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love. What I love about many British novels, like those by Smith and Mitford, is that everyone’s just so proper—properly eccentric, that is. Rice’s American debut is also host to many eccentric, witty, and intriguing characters.

It’s 1954 in England, war rationing is still a reality, and life has yet to fully return to ‘normal.’ Penelope Wallace, whose father died in the war, lives at Milton Magna Hall, a once-grand mansion home that was requisitioned by soldiers during the war, with her beautiful mother and music-obsessed younger brother, Inigo. Penelope has lived a quiet, uneventful life in Magna until she meets a girl at the bus stop who invites her to hop in a cab with her and come to tea at her Aunt Clare’s. Charlotte is a spark, a girl with “a great gift for circumnavigating normal behavior,” with a winsome humor and style. Penelope has no idea why she has been called out: “She was the sort of person one reads about in novels yet rarely meets in real life, and if this was the beginning of the novel—well!” Charlotte brings Penelope out of her shell and opens her up to new experiences. Penelope and Charlotte form a real bond from their chance encounter, and Charlotte begins to bring Penelope out of her shell. As a result, Penelope gets quite mixed up with Aunt Clare’s aspiring magician son, Harry. Harry is in love with a wealthy American and he ropes Penelope into his attempts to break off the engagement. Penelope just might be falling for Harry in the process, but her real heartthrob is American singer, Johnnie Ray. This is a delightful, utterly charming coming-of-age novel that’s pure enjoyment. A perfect summer read.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Town That Forgot How to Breathe by Kenneth J. Harvey

This book starts out with the promise of John Crowley’s Little, Big: a woman who could once commune with spirits walks down a path, gathering lilacs, talking with her townspeople, telling stories and strange asides. It begins with a rich sense of magic and foreboding. Set in Newfoundland in the small fishing village of Bareneed, it is about a town that has all but lost its main industry—fishing cod has been outlawed because of they have started to die off. A fisheries officer and recent divorcee, Joseph Blackwood, and his young daughter, Robin, come to Bareneed for a summer break. But things get strange and spooky straight away. A young woman living next door’s dead daughter appears and disappears in windows and starts talking with and influencing Robin. And soon people of Bareneed become stricken with an illness that causes them to become violent and then stop breathing. And dead bodies from past generations start being pulled intact from the sea. Mythological sea creatures also start to appear.

I wanted to like this book, for its exquisite creepiness and for its writing—which is quite lush at times—but the story just got increasingly long and the premise just seemed too flimsy. It took me far too long to read and I was glad to be done with it when I finished. Somehow it can be more frustrating when you can see how much better a book could have been with some editing or more thought.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Girls by Lori Lansens

Rose and Ruby were born during a tornado in Canada in 1974. They were also born joined at the head, craniopagus twins. The nurse who assisted with their birth, Aunt Lovey, took them in as her own when their mother skipped town. Rose and Ruby are joined in such a way that they have never seen one another except through mirrors, but Rose says: “I know Ruby’s gestures as my own, through the movement of her muscles and bone> I love my sister as I love myself. I hate her that way too.”

Rose wants to be a writer and begins penning her memoir before their 30th birthday, with her sister, Ruby, adding her own chapters, when they are told they may not have long to live. Aunt Lovey and her husband, Uncle Stash, have always insisted that the girls have as normal a life as anyone else—Aunt Lovey never let anyone or anything stand in their way and made them both work through any physical limitations. She was also honest with Ruby and Rose about life and didn’t over-protect—I really found her a compelling figure in the novel for her strength and her love. Alternating between Rose and Ruby’s voices, in which they tell stories of their shared life, you realize how much they love each other and how very different they both are.

I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up this book—I thought the girls might be sheltered wallflowers or that a novel about two girls joined at the head might be a mere curiosity or exercise is sheer voyeurism. But Lansens brings real depth and emotion to all of her characters in this surprising, touching novel.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes

Twelve-year-old Martha Boyle’s life changes the moment she is given a page from Olive Barstow’s diary before summer vacation. Martha didn’t get to know Olive before she died, but it turns out they shared a secret: they both wanted to be writers. Martha’s family head to the Cape to visit her grandmother, Godbee, but Martha just can’t stop thinking about Olive, a girl she hardly knew. Martha and Godbee also have an agreement that they share something new about one another every day. (Godbee is such a cool grandma, too—I could have listened to her stories forever!) It’s a summer filled with pondering life, death, friendship and love. This sweet, subtle book was recommended to me by a girl who likes “sad books” (I wanted to squeeze her when she said that—so sweet). While it’s a little bit sad, it’s also a find--like a ocean-washed glass in your pocket.