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  • Brian Boone 2:00 pm on 2017/08/07 Permalink
    Tags: alison lurie, casey lewis, , donna tartt, dorm room essentials cookbook, , ethan trex, , , foreign affairs, free stuff guide for everyone, gina meyers, goodnight dorm room: all the advice I wish i got before going to college, harlan cohen, keith riegert, kingsley amix, knack dorm living, , , , on beauty, peter sander, , samuel kaplan, school daze, scott dikkers, , streeter seidell, the big u, the college humor guide to college, the idiot, the naked roommate, the pretty good jim's journal treasury, , , , wonder boys,   

    These 20 Books Are Absolute Dorm Room Essentials 

    So you’re headed off to college in the fall. Congratulations! It’s going to be both a lot of work and a tremendous karmic shift! You’ll be on your own, and also living in a very small dormitory room with a person who is, in all likelihood, a complete stranger. Regardless, books are both an escape and an olive branch—the books you’ll need to best understand, appreciate, and enhance the college-going experience.

    The Pretty Good Jim’s Journal Treasury, by Scott Dikkers
    Everyone who went to college remembers it as an exciting time of self-discovery, new friendships, and working really, really hard. We tend to forget about all of the downtime and boredom of college—class is only a few hours a day, after all. This is where the droll comic strip collection by Scott Dikkers, a founder of The Onion, traffics—a guy named Jim does all the boring, mundane stuff one does in college. Much of Dikkers’ “Jim’s Journal” (which ran in lots of college newspapers in the ’90s) concerned the protagonist’s low-stakes experience with higher education.

    Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis
    Countless authors, past and present, have also been college professors and academics. And as the old adage goes, you write what you know. The result is the subgenre of the campus novel, which details the unique experience of being in college, either for a few years or forever, including its unique politics, quirks, challenges, and maddening hypocrisies. Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim, published in 1954, is among the first major campus novels, and it’s a rightful classic of the genre, detailing the wryly humorous life of an academic who becomes a lecturer at an English university despite not really wanting the job.

    The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
    There are certain things in Donna Tartt’s breakout novel that are universal college experiences: arguing with professors to allow you to take their classes, finding your tribe of like-minded individuals, and looking up to the most charismatic students on campus.

    White Noise, by Don DeLillo
    Don DeLillo’s classic novel is told through the eyes of a contented professor and patriarch of a large, blended, technology-addicted family who leads a small northeastern college’s Hitler Studies program. While the themes of the novel deal with the omnipresence of chemicals in our food, air, and bodies, DeLillo also nails the day-to-day of college life, as well as how it feels to live in a university town, particularly how it’s both charmingly unchanging and always exciting due to the constant influx and outflux of new students and teachers.

    Free Stuff Guide for Everyone, by Peter Sander
    Almost everyone in college is poor. Tuition, books, and living expenses cost a lot of money, and 18-year-olds don’t have much of that, because they lack earning power due to being 18, not-yet-college-educated, and having to spend the majority of their time going to class and studying. To make it through with your health and happiness intact, you’re going to have to get a little scrappy and a little shameless and seek out deals and bargains wherever you can. A book like this one will clue you in to all sorts of free and discounted necessary items.

    Goodnight Dorm Room: All the Advice I Wish I Got Before Going to College, by Samuel Kaplan and Keith Riegert
    Not a parody of Goodnight, Moon, likely because the book Goodnight, Moon is larger than the average dorm room. Rather, this is a swift and funny advice guide to everything “they” won’t tell you about going to college. And it’s important stuff, too, from how to exploit the goodwill of TAs who want you to succeed, to what stuff you should definitely and not definitely bring with you to fill out your tiny, tiny dorm room.

    Dorm Room Essentials Cookbook, by Gina Meyers
    Man or woman cannot survive on cafeteria food and ramen alone. Also, most college dorms don’t allow hotplates. But you’ve gotta eat, and eat well, so you’ve got to get creative. This cookbook shows you how to use the tools at hand and affordable ingredients to prepare all kinds of snacks, meals, and desserts.

    Knack Dorm Living: Get the Room—and the Experience—You Want at College, by Casey Lewis
    That dorm room is small, but this book just might be a good investment of both limited space and money. Written by Lewis when she was a seen-it-all-in-college, done-it-all-in-college college senior, it’s full of easy-to-follow and crucial tips on what to take to college, what to buy when you get there, and how to effectively and efficiently organize what little time, space, and money you’ve got.

    The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College, by Harlan Cohen
    Not only are dorm rooms small, but they have to be shared with another person, who could not only be a stranger, but also literally quite strange. (Hence the title.) Cohen’s book offers pre-emptive advice on all sorts of challenges a naive, inexperienced-to-the-ways-of-the-world college freshman may experience, such as the times when it’s okay to shoot for a C, how to find a campus job, and how to navigate both long-term relationships and more “temporary” ones.

    The College Humor Guide to College, by Ethan Trex and Streeter Seidell
    Nobody these days does college humor better than, uh, College Humor. The comedy website publishes all manner of silly videos and ridiculous articles about the absurd notion of being a young person alive in the world, feeling their way around with almost zero preparation. In many ways, this droll parody of college prep books feels a lot more realistic than the real ones do. This is a good one to have in college if only as a way to share it with others and knowingly laugh at the relatable parts.

    A guidebook about the city where the college is located
    For many, college is the first time to be out there on one’s own. It’s tempting and perfectly acceptable to just kick around campus and the surrounding neighborhoods—there’s certainly plenty for freshmen to do and explore. Or, you can mingle with the townies and check out a bit more of the area that surrounds the college. Getting out there and trying new things is what college is all about, but with a safety net, which is what a guidebook about that college town totally is. It’s a guidebook to fun and adventure!

    Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell
    College isn’t all partying and making new BFFs. At least not for everybody. This marvelous novel by the author of Eleanor & Park is about the difficult segue from teenhood to college life. It’s about a University of Nebraska freshman named Cath with social anxiety disorder, which precludes a social butterfly life and encourages her to stay at home writing fan fiction about a boy wizard…until she realizes that college is the best place to exercise and hone her writing skills.

    On Beauty, by Zadie Smith
    Having a Zadie Smith book on your dorm room’s sole shelf is a great conversation starter, and it’s a clue to others about how cool you are, because you’ve read Zadie Smith. The novel itself is an enlightening look at college—it touches on sexual, identity, and class issues, as well as how professors aren’t always the sage geniuses one would assume they are. It’s also a college-level text, as On Beauty was inspired by the structure and some of the plot points of E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End.

    Wonder Boys, by Michael Chabon
    It’s set in Pittsburgh, as is usually the case with Chabon’s novels, which is a beautiful and perfect college town. That’s just one of the blessings protagonist Grady Tripp takes for granted. He’s essentially a lost college freshman, but all grown up: He’s an established writer and college professor, he smokes too much marijuana, is having relationship trouble, he’s got writer’s block so bad he can’t finish his next book, and he’s just a little bit jealous of the young talent coming up behind him. Chabon’s prose is crackling, and he’s a great place to start in the world of “grown-up” fiction.

    Joe College, by Tom Perrotta
    Ah, the joys of working your way through college. In this dark and yet surprisingly optimistic book from the author of Election and The Leftovers, a Yale student named Danny doesn’t get to go on a debauched Spring Break trip with his friends: He’s stuck driving his dad’s lunch truck in New Jersey. That’s a plot device to get the reader into Danny’s head, where lots of college issues humorously and dramatically wrestle for attention.

    Foreign Affairs, by Alison Lurie
    Time for the semester abroad! Well, at least it is for the two American professors at the heart of this charming, Pulitzer Prize winning campus novel-meets-fish-out-water tale. Vinnie leaves his Ivy League environs to study playground rhymes and winds up in a family tree-tracing project. Fred, meanwhile, abandons his studies of English poetry to pal around with an esteemed actress.

    The Idiot, by Elif Batuman
    This almost stream-of-consciousness novel is told from the point-of-view of a Turkish-American freshman from New Jersey who is extremely happy to be away from her dull home life and attending the glorious Harvard University. This one shows how overwhelming college and all of its assorted social and academic entanglements can be. But, you know, in a good way.

    The Big U, by Neal Stephenson
    No matter how complicated and overwhelming college life gets, it could always be worse. This first novel from sci-fi icon Neal Stephenson demonstrates that. It’s about a Remote Sensing professor named Bud who works at American Megaversity, an eight-tower complex which pretty much makes the college a bubbled world unto itself. Hey, that’s like real college, only real college has way fewer electromagnetic weapons and radioactive rats.

    A second copy of what you’re currently reading
    Talk about an icebreaker. “Hey, what’s that you’re reading,” a roommate, hallmate, classmate, or random person in “the Quad” asks. You tell them, you show them, you lend them your copy because it’s so good. Boom, friends for life.

    A copy of your favorite book from childhood
    For when you’re homesick.

    What books should every college student read?

    The post These 20 Books Are Absolute Dorm Room Essentials appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Brian Boone 3:00 pm on 2017/07/07 Permalink
    Tags: , donna tartt, reasons i've reread, , ,   

    5 Reasons I’ve Read “The Goldfinch” So Many Times 

    The rare Pulitzer Prize-winner that was also a smash commercial hit, Donna Tartt’s 2013 opus The Goldfinch is one for the ages. Almost a young adult novel for full-on adults, it’s the coming-of-age story of teenager Theo Decker, and how he’s basically alone in the world. (There’s a reason his charming degenerate friend Boris calls him “Potter.”) It starts with a terrorist attack at an art museum, and involves his safekeeping of the stolen masterpiece The Goldfinch by Dutch master Carol Fabritius. That secret, and the painting itself, follow Theo through profound grief, being shuttled around from home to home, and into adulthood. The Goldfinch is a perfect, dense, and extremely rich novel. It’s worth reading, of course, but it’s also worth re-reading. Here are some reasons why…or at least my reasons why.

    It’s a masterclass in fiction writing

    Writers should read as much as they can. Reading good books inspire writers to up their game, and if they’re read carefully and with a very critical eye, they can teach actual technical elements of writing. The Goldfinch is the kind of book that should be read by people who want to know how to write, and by writers who want to know how to write better. I don’t know how many times over the past three years when, struck by a case of writer’s block, or merely stuck somewhere in novel writing, I turned to The Goldfinch to absorb how proper fiction writing ought to be done. Particularly when it came to pacing—I would worry that some scenes that I really enjoyed writing went on for far too long, or didn’t advance the plot of my book in a meaningful way. Should I “kill my darlings,” as many literary icons have recommended? Or, should I take a lesson from The Goldfinch…and, you know, don’t? There are many, many scenes in this gargantuan novel that don’t actively or obviously move things along. But that’s okay. Not every book has to be tightly structured. It’s just fine, and extraordinarily pleasant, in the case of The Goldfinch, to just have long scenes devoted to setting, character building, or even quiet moments. Those parts do move things forward, in their own way, along with just allowing the reader to spend a little more time in the precious world of the book.

    Donna Tartt’s description of places

    Not only does Tartt fearlessly world-build, and create dozens of indelible characters, but her sense of place is positively delicious. The Goldfinch takes place primarily in two places. Young (and later older) Theo bops around various neighborhoods in New York City, and he has a long spell in Las Vegas. Both of these cities have been well-covered and romanticized throughout books and pop culture, but Tartt describes them like nobody else. For example, New York isn’t presented as per usual as a gritty, exciting, ever-changing entity. Instead, The Goldfinch longs for a dying New York, the one of Upper East Side old-money families, boarding school kids, and respected artisans (like furniture restorer Hobie) quietly plying their trade in the small shops they’ve occupied for decades. As for Las Vegas, the book rarely sees the famous Strip, but focuses instead on the empty houses and empty days of life in the sprawling exurbs in the desert outside of Sin City. These are places not recently or often covered in literature, and Tartt makes them both feel extremely real.

    Because the audiobook version is just as good

    Truth be told, the first time I “read” The Goldfinch, I didn’t technically “read it.” I did what a lot of people do when they say they read a book in that I listened to the audiobook version. But I loved the novel so much that I wanted to absorb it again, in a different way, and I totally got to because of the method by which I’d consumed it the first time. This is highly recommended when finding a book you love. No matter the order in which you do it—reading first, audiobook second, or in my case, audiobook first, reading second—you notice new things and get to experience the book with different parts of your brain. It also helps that The Goldfinch audiobook is an exceptional work of radio theater and performance. Reader David Pittu gives a stunning performance, concocting singular, separate voices for every character (and there are a lot of them in The Goldfinch) along with fully-fleshed out characterizations behind them.

    My wife told me I should

    Book recommendations are a powerful thing, and giving them to someone you care about is an act of true love. It’s flattering to be asked for suggestions on what to read next, and one that many of us take very seriously; matching up person to title. It’s pretty intimate. Conversely, to be recommended books without asking by someone you care about is akin to them saying “I love you and also this book so much that I want you to be together.” My wife got into The Goldfinch (and subsequently Tartt’s other novels, The Secret History and The Little Friend, which are also amazing, of course) and she got me into The Goldfinch. She said to read it, and I trust her implicitly, because she’s smart and she knows me well. Her book and music recommendations for me have never been wrong. When your partner tells you to read something, just do it.

    Because there’s stuff I missed

    I’m not the first person to define a classic novel as one that you can return to over and over again and find a new layer, or nuance, or something you missed every time. The Goldfinch is a classic novel. It’s also a very, very long novel—nearly 800 pages—so there’s a lot going on. Great works of art are impossible to absorb all at once, and therein lies the delight. You don’t have to read classic novels over and over again to get them into your system, you get to come back to them, hopefully at different stages of life, and ascertain more and more delights.

    How many times have you read The Goldfinch?

    The post 5 Reasons I’ve Read “The Goldfinch” So Many Times appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jenny Shank 6:10 pm on 2016/08/23 Permalink
    Tags: ali smith, , carole maso, claire messud, creative fiction, donna tartt, marianne wiggins   

    5 Terrific Novels About Art and Artists 

    Whenever I hear a novel is about art or artists, I gravitate toward it, because something about that focus on art seems to free fiction writers from their usual strictures. When writing about art, novelists aren’t afraid to experiment with structure, incorporate visual elements into their books, and otherwise remember that although they’re writers, they’re artists, too, and the possibilities for the printed page are endless. Here are five terrific novels that depict painters, sculptors, and photographers, and emulate the creativity of their subjects.

    The Art Lover by Carole Maso
    This exquisite experimental novel, first published in 1990, weaves images of paintings and drawings, snippets from art history texts, letters, newspaper clippings, photographs, and even fliers for lost pets into the story of a woman’s grief over her historian father’s death and the terminal illness of her friend. As the protagonist, Caroline, explains, “We loved each other so much we felt it necessary, in preparation, to say good-bye our whole lives.”

    How to Be Both by Ali Smith
    This playful, engaging novel was published in two different versions—one with the contemporary portion first, and one with the historical section first. Either way, the story dazzles. In one half of the book, we meet George—aka Georgia, a British teen—who is mourning her recently deceased mother. Her mother was enamored of the Italian Renaissance painter Francesco del Cossa, and once took her daughter to see his paintings in Italy. The other half of the book is narrated by Francesco—a real figure who, in Smith’s telling, is reimagined as a woman posing as a man so she’ll be at liberty to paint. We learn about Francesco’s life as her spirit floats through contemporary London, keeping an eye on George. This novel is a clever, moving, art-infused gender- and mind-bender.

    The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
    Tartt’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize–winning bestseller has at its heart a charming painting of a goldfinch that 13-year-old Theo Decker recovers from the debris after a terrorist bombing at an art museum kills his mother. Theo carries Dutch master Carel Fabritius’s painting with him wherever he goes on his motherless wanderings, from bunking in with a wealthy Manhattan family to his louche dad’s Las Vegas digs. As Theo realizes the value of the painting, the trouble he could be in when if reveals he has it, and that some scary gangsters are on his tail, this art-centered novel takes on the intensity of a Bruegel painting.

    The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
    Nora Eldridge, the narrator of Messud’s incandescent novel, once dreamed of being an artist, a wife, and a mother. Instead, due to caring for her aging parents and other concerns, she has ended up a single, middle-aged woman with a career as an elementary school teacher. Then she becomes enamored of the family of one of her students, Reza Shahid. His mother is Sirena, an Italian artist who invites Nora to share her studio space and return to her work as an artist, and his father is a Lebanese professor in Boston on a fellowship. Nora is drawn in, wanting to be a part of the Shahids’ lives, but finding Sirena respects no boundaries between art and life.

    The Shadow Catcher by Marianne Wiggins
    In this novel that seamlessly weaves together historical and contemporary fiction, a writer named Marianne Wiggins (who has some biographical overlap with the author) has written a book about Edward Curtis, the famed photographer of Native Americans and other inhabitants of the old West. Some disturbing news about her wayward father sends her on a roadtrip and gets her meditating on the life of Curtis. A section of the book is told from the perspective of Curtis’s frequently abandoned wife, Clara. Clara remembers what her dad told her about artists: “Talent, her father used to say, is more abundant than you think. You have to have the temperament to tolerate hard work. You have to flirt with luck. You have to take the chances that most people wouldn’t take.”

  • Jenny Shank 5:45 pm on 2015/10/22 Permalink
    Tags: , donna tartt, , skeletons and sweet tea,   

    Totally Mad for Southern Gothic? Five Books You’ve Got to Read. 

    I grew up in Colorado and went to college in Indiana, and yet somehow all of my favorite English teachers were from the South. They taught me to relish colorful storytelling, with dashes of gothic grotesque and decay, and dished me up heaping helpings of the good stuff, including plenty of Flannery O’Connor, Zora Neale Hurston, Eudora Welty, Alice Walker, and William Faulkner. So my literary education and my ongoing reading preferences have a distinctly Southern twinge, even though I never set foot on Southern soil until I was an adult. If you love a book with atmospheric Spanish moss, skeletons in closets, and mysterious relations, look no further than this mix of classic and contemporary fiction.

    Cane, by Jean Toomer
    You know the part in How The Grinch Stole Christmas when the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes? I felt like this book did that to me, but for my brain instead of my heart. This work of art from 1923 by a key figure of the Harlem Renaissance is a hybrid of short stories, poetry, and drama that follows African American characters from the South to the North and back again. Yes, there are secrets, untamed passions, and brawls, but it’s the sheer beauty of Jean Toomer’s language and the stark drama of the characters’ struggles that resounds. I can hear the words of Toomer’s poem “Evening Song” ringing in my head decades after I last read it.

    The Little Friend, by Donna Tartt
    Every time I see or hear a discussion of Donna Tartt’s published work, which consists almost entirely of three novels, it’s her second novel, The Little Friend, that gets the shaft. Everybody loves the Dionysian rites and murder among Latin-obsessed students at a Vermont liberal arts college in The Secret History, and the tale of a young man hiding his possession of a priceless artwork in The Goldfinch, but when I ask about The Little Friend, set in Mississippi where Tartt grew up, people say they haven’t read it. So I say: read it. It’s got a murder mystery, madness, a plucky child narrator, and charismatic snake handlers. Also there’s a generous variety of shady families in the small town where it’s set: “Little Ratliffs and Scurlees and Odums, these youngsters with their rheumy eyes and pinched faces, their glue-sniffing mothers, their tattooed, fornicating fathers.” What more could a Southern Gothic fan possibly want?

    The Ballad of The Sad Café and Other Stories, by Carson McCullers
    Carson McCullers stands tall in my personal pantheon of Southern literary divas. The first time I read the title story of this collection, I underlined, circled, or highlighted probably 85 percent of it. It tells the story of Miss Amelia Evans, a wealthy, “slightly cross-eyed,” six-foot-tall café owner who was married for only ten days before spending the rest of her life alone. She falls in love with “a weakly little hunchback reaching only to her waist” named Cousin Lymon. Their mismatched attraction fuels McCuller’s indelible writing about the nature of love.

    Provinces of Night, by William Gay
    William Gay was a brilliant writer from Tennessee who served in Vietnam, worked as a carpenter, house painter, and drywall hanger, and didn’t publish any of his fiction until he was 58 years old, even though he’d been working on his craft since he was a teenager. In Provinces of Night, it’s 1952 and Boyd Bloodworth’s wife runs off to Detroit with a salesman, leaving him and his teenage son to fend for themselves in a ramshackle house in the Tennessee countryside. Colorful characters, occult curses, and crazy family escapades ensue. James Franco has announced he’ll direct and produce a film version of Gay’s The Long Home, hopefully winning more readers for the terrific writer, who died in 2012.

    Welding with Children, By Tim Gautreaux
    I first came across Louisiana writer Tim Gautreaux in the Best American Short Stories anthology, which has featured his work several times, including “The Piano Turner,” which is hysterical, moving, and Southern Gothic as all get-out. In it a “strange lady,” the wealthy heiress of a Creole plantation family, summons Claude, the town’s piano tuner, to her mansion. “He knew that all she did was sit in a 150-year-old house and practice pop tunes on a moth-eaten George Steck upright.” As in many great Southern Gothic tales, there’s a fire involved in the denouement.

  • Heidi Fiedler 5:00 pm on 2015/05/28 Permalink
    Tags: , annie barrows, , , donna tartt, , , , , , mary ann shaffer, , , , sun and sand, the poisonwood bible   

    The Summer Beach Read IQ Test 

    The best beach reads feel like a cross between a drowsy nap after a champagne brunch with your girlfriends, and a galloping cross-continental bullet-train ride you don’t want to get off. A compelling plot and delicious details are the perfect treat to devour during a summer weekend, whether you’re away at the beach or taking a staycation in your backyard. But how much do you remember after reading these literary popcicles? Test your beach-read basics by identifying the quotes below. (Hint: They were all written by women!) If you get more than five right, you’re a sun goddess. While away another afternoon by the waves. Fewer than five? For shame! Skinny dipping awaits! (Wait, is that a penalty?)

    1. “Listen. Slide the weight from your shoulders and move forward. You are afraid you might forget, but you never will. You will forgive and remember.”

    2. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces.”

    3. “This is why you must love life: one day you’re offering up your social security number to the Russian Mafia; two weeks later you’re using the word calve as a verb.”

    4. “I’m beginning to think that maybe it’s not just how much you love someone. Maybe what matters is who you are when you’re with them.”

    5. “Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.”

    6. “I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.”

    7. “I’ve learned that some broken things stay broken, and I’ve learned that you can get through bad times and keep looking for better ones, as long as you have people who love you.”

    8. “Not everything has to have a point. Some things just are. ”

    9. “‘I can bear pain, myself,’ he said softly, ‘but I couldna bear yours. That would take more strength than I have.'”

    10. “It was good, and nothing good is truly lost. It stays part of a person, becomes part of their character. So part of you goes everywhere with me. And part of me is yours, forever.”



    1. The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver

    2. Bridget Jones’s Diary, by Helen Fielding

    3. Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, by Maria Semple

    4. The Accidental Tourist, by Anne Tyler

    5. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

    6. The Secret History, by Donna Tartt

    7. Good in Bed, by Jennifer Weiner

    8. Summer Sisters, by Judy Blume

    9. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon

    10. The Shell Seekers, by Rosamunde Pilcher

    How many did you get?

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