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Reading With Sea

A book club on your own time

Category Archives: Sea's Reads

Last year, I started going through literary and music criticism and I read Rob Sheffield’s Love as a Mixtape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time.  Prior to cracking its cover I had positive anticipations, but I found I had to coarse myself along to the finish line.  It is Rob Sheffield I am talking about here.  Contributing editor of Rolling freakin’ Stone and he is writing his love story through the songs on his mixtapes.  How could that have gone sour, but it did – for me at least.  I have heard people raving about this book and normally I enjoy Sheffield’s work, but not on this occasion.  I found this book void.  The subject matter was deeply emotional, yet I found a disconnect in the relationship between his writing and the subject.  Space existed; dissonance resounded.  I do not know if this is a product of the difficulty of that which he wrote about.

If Neko Case, Jolie Holland, the collective units of The Eastern Sea, States of Mate or The Choir of Young Believers ever came out with a book like this I would be all over it.  Better yet, if Melissa Febos writes a book like this I am certain I would have nothing but praise to offer as I would willingly bet money that her taste in music is of parallel achievement to her writing.  I’d also be interested in Denis Johnson collection of mixtapes and Jon Cotner’s.  I have read Nick Hornby’s music criticism and I will stick to enjoying his literary criticism.  It wasn’t expansive enough.

I do not mind when and in fact enjoy an author who chews on an idea throughout their career since we all have ideas/feelings/pursuits weaved within our cores that we are constantly searching out.  What I am getting at is that I get carried away with authors who are sweeping.  I want an author who is moved by more than one particular thing, or in this case type of music.  I have nothing against Billy Joel and happen to listen to hims myself, but is there more?  By George, there is.  Give me someone who can write about Jonsi’s new solo album, Go then move on to The Capitols’ Wild Thing, then Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan’s Shotgun Blues and back to the Tune-Yard’s Hatari. At that point I will be interested.  I want to hear about someone who has an ear for a great song regardless if it’s rock, blues, indie-rock, hip-hop, or worldly.


Today I have been a veritable menial reader.  Thus far I have been successful only in avoiding a trip to the post office and rocking out ten times in a row to The Darkness’ I Believe in a Thing Called Love with my six year old niece.   I managed a meager 20 pages between the 3 books.  I plan on staggering a stupendous amount of time and energy across the evening’s landscape and gaining some ground.  Or at least finishing Tokyo Vice.


Reading can be exhausting and on this Monday afternoon when the sky is actually blue in Seattle (rare) I am fighting the urge to take a nap.  I should be putting on my running shoes and hitting the pavement.  I am on page 165 of The Savage Detectives, page 48 of Franny and Zooey, which doesn’t count since I have read it up-teem times, page 160 of Tokyo Vice.  I keep starring at a postcard of Joan Didion and John Dunne.  This photo was taken in 1983 the year I was born and I am wondering who is the Joan Didion of my generation? Dreaming of being back in New York.  I miss my second home.  June: come quickly.

Ok, I cannot put off exercise any longer.

Read on,

One thing that I hate about reading is having to skip over some books while selecting others.  I love books and I love the idea of books. Even before I read I bought.  I dislike having to choose one over the other.  And thank you, but I don’t need reassurance:  I live under this vain idea that everything has got something to offer.  I realize some authors are better writers and some plots are more creative and all of these types of things.  But these facts do not alter or lift the guilt I feel for not giving some the attention and time I wish to.

There are stacks and stacks that I have yet to even begin making my way through.  There are books in these teetering piles that have been living inside these heaps and on my shelves for months and others still for years.  Titles that at one point in time inspired me to bring it home; at one point convinced me that I had a need for it.  Books that had aspirations to assimilate into my intellect and my life and I once had an eagerness to let them yet now I keep them guarded by other books who are equally zealous and not about to let some other book jump the line.  I have so many books in what some people call a TBR (To be read) mound that my nightstand pile has turned into my actual nightstand.  I had to move the furniture piece (the ACTUAL nightstand) out of the way and now have stacks of books on the floor, against the wall holding my bedside lamp.  Books are replacing furniture.  If you are wondering if this scenario is making me happy wonder no longer: it does.  It does.

Being an inquisitive person is constructive to everything but my pocketbook.  Even after I picked up a handsome pile of hardbacks on Saturday morning for dirt cheap, I found myself arriving at a book store Sunday evening.  In this particular store, biographies live upstairs while essays, criticism and poetry live downstairs.  In between my lingering in isles I created my own step class and might have even burned a few calories.  I have this innate tendency to completely engulf myself into intellectual searches.  I soon found myself sifting through biographies and when I would come across names and titles of works that interest me and I hop downstairs to look at the original works which inevitably introduce yet another author’s name to me and back upstairs I head.  This continues for the better part of an hour and I leave with postcards – a completely unforeseen conclusion to my impromptu inquisition.  The only disappointment rests in my original goal’s dead end.  At the outset, I had intended to pick up a history of Uruguay and found every other South American country represented with one exception – Uruguay.

Nick Hornby once wrote that “reading begets reading.”  This thought jumbled in my mind brings me to wonder how my reading begot my reading would trace back through its lineage.  What would be the essence or the original text that was responsible for splitting in two, then four, then eight and now a number too large to count and forever in need of reorganizing and dusting.  My recent trends of curiosity have prompted me to stockpile essays on the subject of reading as well as works written by A.M. Homes, and an attempt to find more collections of letters.  Where did I originally decide to love collections of letters?  Where did this desire originate?  I cannot remember now.

March was a total bomb.  Or maybe it was a bum.  A bummer.  A bummer bomb.  Bomb bummer.  It doesn’t matter.  Basically I purchased a lot and read practically nothing.  A bust month.  Oh, March, where did we go wrong?  Let’s retrace.

It started out ambitious as ever with a scan over the calendar and a steady, long look at those beautiful and open 31 whole days.  Looking over my lists the tallies come to 13 books purchased and a whopping 2 books read.  The reading began with Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem.  The thing I love about Lethem books is that multiple reads deliver multiple realities.  There are so many freakin’ layers to his stories and characters that I am constantly regaining a grasp on what is actually going on.  I found this similarity in all of the books I have read by Lethem with the exception of Motherless Brooklyn which I found slightly easier to follow.  In Amnesia Moon the lines of reality and dreaming (if I could call it dreaming) were so intangibly blurred I was not sure which characters were real and what to count on.  Lethem is famous for invisible foundations that somehow manage to still provide footing.  In Chronic City Lethem followed suit to the tee.  Chase, the leading complexion, carries on for most of the book carefully tucked inside his little bite of world when suddenly unleashed on the reader is something I can only consider a monster, which tears the walls down of Chase’s own little Truman Show to reveal that his life is made-up.  What?  Lethem!  Made-up?  You didn’t!  You sly cookie.  Again!  Lethem always catches me with my pants down, literaturely speaking, of course.

After having my brain dissolved and rearranged by Lethem, I lock away his tentacles between the two hard bound covers and shelve it only to pull down American Rust. I had never been acquainted with any of Philipp Meyer’s writing, but what could go wrong with a Philipp who spells his name with two p’s at the end?  Most Phillips go with the normal two l’s, but not Meyer, not Meyer.  I thought – what is a rebel like this going to do with a story about five characters out of the back country in Pennsylvania?  Come to find out, not much or in the very least, not enough.  Two weeks later after the initial christening I found myself avoiding the book like a relationship gone sour.  I found myself sneaking around my bedroom quietly hoping the book wouldn’t notice I was choosing to spend my free time without it.  I had made it through enough of the chapters to be introduced to all five of the main characters, but had no desire to meet them again.  Luckily for me, I get an email from my friend, Drenning, to meet him at a reading.  And alas, my first introduction to Melissa Febos commenced.  And yeah to Drenning.  Three cheers for him because Melissa Febos’ writing style was just what I wanted and needed.

As I wrote about earlier, when I went to her reading I was not intending to buy her book.  Not for any desire to be unsupportive, but simply because I had already bought a crap load of books for the month and was the very embodiment of a poor excuse for a reader.  I was already feeling defeated in my reading accomplishments for what I previously thought would be 31 beautiful days of reading.  Blah.  I was down and out and felt buying another book that most likely would not be read would really drop me lower.  I didn’t want to feel worse than a shmuck.  How did a serious intention of not coming home with another book turn into freshly shaved legs and hiding under the covers at midnight with Whip Smart?  Melissa Febos is just that good.  The moment she walked on that stage with her striped polo dress and gray knee high boots and I heard what came out of her mouth that so few writers have: a good reading voice, I was sold.  Simply sold.  It turned out I was not disappointed in the least bit by her wit, but her writing even continued to grow on me.

When I was through with Whip Smart, which took not as long as I would have hoped, I was still refusing to return to American Rust, so I read Whip Smart a second time.   Thus ending the month with 2 books read, 1 twice read and 13 books bought.  On one hand a very unproductive reading month.  One the flip side, I read a new book by one of my favorite authors, Jonathan Lethem and discovered a new favorite author, Melissa Febos.  I believe I described Febos’ writing as expansive and limitless.  How could it get any better than that?  Even if it was entirely an unproductive month it was a lucky month.

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Today, I attended the semi-annual Friends of the Library Book Sale in Seattle.  These sales run twice a year for three days each.  The first day, Friday is a members only sort of sneak peak where there is a 25 book purchase limit.  Saturday is the real grand opening of the weekend where hardbacks are $1.00 and paperbacks are $0.50.  Sundays are half price days meaning hardbacks are $0.50 and paperbacks are $0.25.  Imagine, spending $100 at the sale on a Sunday – it’s basically better than Christmas.  This event is crazy both times of years.

It’s like a penny candy store for the normal reader and book buyer so imagine how it would be for the used book store owners.  They come in prepared and they steamroll you if you don’t have your feet grounded steady and your balance prepared.  They run through the doors the moment they are open and they have electronic scanners and they are relentless.  One one hand I hate them for being there and on the other hand if I owned a used book store I would be doing the same thing.  I don’t blame them for being smart I just get pissy when they get in my way.

In any case, attending this even takes planning.  One must have strategy knowing that within 20 minutes of opening it is going to be extremely difficult to move around.  This is how I spend my Saturday morning.  I dislike being in large crowds but this is one of the two times a year that I willingly place myself in the scenario.  There are over 75,000 books to choose from in every genre and category you can think of both that the libraries in the county have discharged and that have been donated.

Usually I spend hours there and often go both Saturday and Sunday.  I pack lunches and I plan routes for both days.  Today I only spend an hour looking and felt satisfied enough to go home after adding the first full bag to the truck of the car.  Here is what I walked away with today for a whopping $13.00 (I even over paid a $1):

The Gravedigger by Peter Grandbois
The Best American Short Stories 1994 edited by Tobias Wolff
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
The Preservationist by David Maine
The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud
Killing Che by Chuck Pearrer
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco
Already Dead: A California Gothic by Denis Johnson
This Book Will Kill You by A.M. Homes
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
London by Edward Rutherfurd
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanne Clarke

Not bad, right?



You work with what you are given,
the red clay of grief,
the black clay of stubbornness going on after.
Clay that tastes of care or carelessness,
clay that smells of the bottoms of rivers or dust.
Each thought is a life you have lived or failed to live,
each world is a dish you have eaten or left on the table.
There are honeys so bitter
no one would willingly choose to take them.
The clay takes them: honey of weariness, honey of vanity,
honey of cruelty, fear.
This rebus – slip and stubbornness,
bottom of river, my own consumed life –
when will I learn to read it
plainly, slowly, uncolored by hope or desire?
Not to understand it, only to see.
As water given sugar sweetens, given salt grows salty,
we become our choices.
Each yes, each no continues,
this one a ladder, that one an anvil or cup.
The ladder leans into its darkness.
The anvil leans into its silence.
The cup sits empty.
How can I enter this question the clay has asked?”

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I know, I know it’s April.

I am just behind on writing for the group.  I finally updated the Sea’s Reads page, which always feels funny to do as I am always surprised how many people are interested.  I realized that out of all the books I purchased last month I only read one full length novel. Of the other two books I read – one was abandoned and the other was experienced only in portions.  March was not productive.  March was not a good reading month.

This month, though short in days, holds wonderful promise.  I have a small stack of books being read simultaneously and half will be through soon.  Last month was a reading struggle.  This month only enjoyable.