This week the Debs are going to talk about one of our most favorite topics, books!
I have been reading since the age of two, which may seem a bit ridiculous, but it’s true. I was never one for dolls as a child. I wanted to read, to explore the world through stories. Throughout my life, I have always sucked down books like they were candy. On average, I read about 800-1000 words a minute. It means that I can never have enough books. My life before having a Kindle was more complex, getting to and from libraries and bookstores and figuring out where on earth to put all the books I bought.
These days I don’t have the same kind of time to read as I did when I was younger, but I’m still working on trying to read 52-75 books a year if I can. I usually have about 4-5 books going at the same time. I even keep track of these books on a super insane spreadsheet of books I want to read, books I should read and books I read instead.
When David Bowie passed away earlier this year a list of his 100 favorite books started circulating on the Net. I started thinking, which books do I love the most? I put together that monster list here. But let’s dig deep into a five of my favorites:
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
This is a book that you simply cannot buy in eBook. It has to be one you can hold in your hands. There is nothing like the winding, moving, weaving descent into the center of the book that is House of Leaves. The book is like a set of nested dolls, curious and delirious, that you move backwards and forwards between. And all the while you wonder if you are ever going to figure out where the endless, dark hallway in the depths of the house goes. Haunting and fascinating. If you want a real treat, Danielewski’s sister, the artist Poe, has an album called Haunted that is a companion piece for the book. I had picked up her album independently of the novel and when I was listening to it I realized, wow, the content is eerily similar to the book and I was so delighted when I looked into it and found the connection.
Cellini was was a goldsmith who lived in Italy in the 1500s. If you have ever been to Florence you might recall his fantastic sculpture of Perseus with the head of Medusa in the Loggia dei Lanzi of the Piazza della Signoria, next to the Palazzo Vecchio. It’s also his bust that you see on the Ponte Vecchio. He was a contemporary of Michelangelo, Raphael and countless other Italian Renaissance figures. Wikipedia sums up his autobiography pretty well: “The autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini was started in the year 1558 at the age of 58 and ended abruptly just before his last trip to Pisa around the year 1563 when Cellini was approximately 63 years old. The memoirs give a detailed account of his singular career, as well as his loves, hatreds, passions, and delights, written in an energetic, direct, and racy style. They show a great self-regard and self-assertion, sometimes running into extravagances which are impossible to credit. He even writes in a complacent way of how he contemplated his murders before carrying them out.” Cellini was so full of himself, so over the top that reading his autobiography is a true delight. He tells you how he single-handedly saved the Pope during the Sack of Rome. He tells you of all his conquests with women yet conveniently leaves out all the times he was jailed for sodomy. How could I not include a bit of Cellini in the novel I’m currently writing, set in Renaissance Rome?
Herodotus was a Greek historian that many consider to be the father of history. He was the first author to look at history critically and to try and investigate sources and meanings behind how and why cultures and places came to be. Much of the book is surely factual, but he also blindly believed the accounts of individuals who told him that the gods may have instigated certain wars or created particular landmarks. He believes these things to be true but the reader knows them to be inaccurate or pure myth. He traveled the ancient world to create the history we have today and it’s one of the most fun, fantastical and interesting histories I have ever read.
The Art of Eating by MFK Fisher
Not long after I met my husband and after I started to be less of a picky eater and more open-minded about food, I began to read food histories and memoirs. My dear high school friend, Greg McCormick, who I once ran a literary magazine with and who is now in charge of events for the Toronto public library, gave me this book. I was hooked. I promptly read everything that M.F.K. ever wrote but this book will always sit with me as the first real source of inspiration when it comes to writing about food. “It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.” I think that really says everything for me.
Andy Warhol Diaries edited by Pat Hackett
If you want an incredible look into the past, look no further than this massive tome. From Wikipedia: “The 807-page book begins on November 24, 1976 and ends eleven years later on February 17, 1987, just five days before his death. It is a condensed version by Hackett of Warhol’s more than 20,000 page diary.” Yes, it’s a lot of minutiae but it’s also a who’s who for those eleven years. He describes meeting with countless celebrities, many of them at the earliest part of their careers (Robin Williams when he was Mork, Schwarzenegger as Conan); fashion icons such as Halston and Diana Vreeland; artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat; musicians such as Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, Liza Minelli and Debbie Harry; and even writers such as Truman Capote. He was someone who felt perpetually uncool and desperate to be cool and yet he was a magnet for everyone who was. While this is a big book, it is a diary, so you can read it in chunks and even if you read it out of order it’s still awesome. If you are a child of the 70s and 80s or a culture junkie for celeb at that time of life, it’s a must read.
In retrospect, it’s interesting to me that four of these are non-fiction. Herodotus and Cellini certainly have their fanciful embellishments, however, and Fisher was one of the people who really led the way in terms of creative non-fiction. All of them are stories that continue to sit with me, that I want to read again and again and have influenced me and my writing.