Much like a cartoon duck in a top hat doing backstrokes through his subterranean gold stash, I have too many books.
"Too many." No, not a thing. My apologies. Let me reframe.
I love books. Always have. As a kid, I would go to the Buda Public Library book sale and purchase two plastic grocery bags for a few dollars. Possessed with the kind of curatorial greed only a childhood watching "Antiques Roadshow" can impart, I’d pack in Pauline Kael collections and Reader’s Digest anthologies until the bags split, the printed store logos stretching like they were laid out on a medieval torture rack.
I’d probably just read a couple of ’em.
It’s not that I don’t love reading as well as owning. The same imagination that draws me into a good book, though, has never really known how to stop. My mind comes across an idea on a page, and then it’s 13 miles down the road until it realizes it took the wrong exit.
That’s a flowery way of saying I’m a slow reader.
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In the past few years, as I started taking vacations in a way I never did growing up, I began to collect a book (or three) from each destination, as a souvenir. Primarily, because I ran out of room for more coffee mugs at home. Practically, because a book always reminds you of where you got it. And as John Waters says, "If you go home with somebody, and they don't have books, don't (expletive) them." I’m not filling in the blank, because I’d like to keep the job that helps me buy more books.
So here I am, with stacks of books I want to read but have never gotten around to opening. If you would remotely describe yourself as a book lover, you’re probably the same. Now, a lot of folks find themselves in unprecedented times of stillness. Sitting on the couch, suddenly, is our most precious civic duty. And at least at my place, the couch is right next to the bookshelf.
On behalf of Austin360, I’d like to propose a challenge. Post your stack of books to social media with the hashtag #austin360stacks and let us know about the reads you’re finally going to get to.
Here are a few books that are just sitting around looking pretty on my shelf. Will I get through all of them while we are sheltering in place, Austin? If this were elementary school and I were promised a pizza party upon completion, absolutely! Since I am a perpetually tired 30-something with a full-time job and a phone, I’ll say, "The answer’s not no!"
"The Art of Fielding" by Chad Harbach (Back Bay Books)
I already started this one before writing this story, so I am well on my way to decisive victory. You will all rue the day you doubted me, the man who already admitted he reads slowly! This 2011 book, which is far too thick to ensure my decisive victory, charts the courses of five people’s lives, all against the backdrop of college baseball. My main interest in college baseball before now has been finding the shortest nacho line at UFCU Disch-Falk Field. But my friend Ciara swears I’ll like "Fielding." I nabbed this one on the clearance shelf of the LGBT section of Unabridged Bookstore in Chicago, which is promising, as is the palpable sexual tension between the two main baseball players in the chapters I’ve read so far. (Don’t spoil it for me.)
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"How We Fight for Our Lives" by Saeed Jones (Simon and Schuster)
In case you missed Jones at last year’s Texas Book Festival, I am so sorry. He stole the show at both panels I saw him on, and he won the Kirkus Prize for nonfiction last year from the Austin-based literary organization. In "How We Fight for Our Lives," Jones gives a "haunted and haunting" account of growing up in the South. I’ve been a fan of his previous work, so it was a bummer (for me, not Jones) that the festival sold out of his memoir before I could grab one. Luckily, my friend Beth gave me a copy this Christmas.
"Strangers on a Train" by Patricia Highsmith (Norton)
This kid loved Hitchcock flicks, the black and white ones. "Lifeboat." "Rebecca." And of course, 1951’s "Strangers on a Train," about two men who strike a devil’s deal over a passing conversation. It’s based on a novel by Highsmith; I picked this one up at Books Are Magic in Brooklyn. Highsmith also wrote "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and "The Price of Salt," the source material for Todd Haynes’ film "Carol." "Strangers" oozes queer subtext, which only became known to me in college. What a thrill, to grow up and find ways that the things you loved weren’t meant for you, until they were.
"Face It" by Debbie Harry (Dey St.)
There is no greater joy in my small, stupid world than a good celebrity memoir with hot dish. Sometimes you’ve got Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe running into Andy Warhol and Jimi Hendrix in "Just Kids." Other times, you’ve got Elton John spouting off about David Bowie and Bob Dylan in "Me." Just flipping through Harry’s memoir is a name-dropper’s buffet, as your eyes pick up Janis Joplin, Joan Jett, Miles Davis, Giorgio Moroder … and that’s not even mentioning the gorgeous art and photographs of the Blondie singer peppered throughout.
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"Riders of the Purple Sage" by Zane Grey
My maternal grandfather was a smart man — he liked knowing things, and he was proud of me when I could answer one of his history questions on a pickup truck ride. He was an agriculture teacher in Round Rock who had a penchant for a good Western. Several years before he died, he gave me a huge cardboard box full of his old books. I regret to say that I am not sure what happened to that box, but I do remember it contained "Riders of the Purple Sage," a classic tale of gunslingers and ranchers in distress. I think a lot about how much I miss my grandpa, how hard it is to find someone who loves to know real, true things. I picked up a copy of Grey’s most popular book last year in Santa Fe, and I hope to read a loved one’s old favorite.
"Here for It" by R. Eric Thomas
Do you read Thomas’ tearjerking-but-from-laughs humor column for elle.com? No? Oh, poor soul. No one turns a phrase like Thomas, who in this essay collection explores faith, sexuality, race and "how to save your soul in America." A newer resident of my shelf, a birthday gift from my friend Gabby just a couple of weeks ago.
"Bury the Lede" (Boom Studios)
Had to slip a graphic novel in here. Picked this one up — about a scrappy cub reporter who stumbles upon a blood-soaked celebrity socialite at a crime scene, which happens to all of us at the newspaper in our first year — at Montreal’s famed Drawn and Quarterly bookstore. Written by Gaby Dunn, illustrated by Claire Roe with Miquel Muerto.
"Fates and Furies" (Riverhead Books)
Lauren Groff’s 2016 bestseller and National Book Award finalist doesn’t need a recommendation from me. My best friend Alyssa, who lives in Kansas City, Mo., thinks she just let me borrow it. She in fact she gave it to me, but I want to read this book and send it back so it’s not a thing. (Except by committing this to the public record. Petty!)
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