One of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon is to drive to the suburbs and skim the shelves of Half Priced Books. I usually go to the one in Apple Valley, MN because it’s closest to home, there’s ample parking, and it’s right around the corner from a pet store where I can stop and look at all of the adorable kittens that are up for adoption. My last trip there was in May, and I picked up a dozen books of all sorts. Some have been on my list for ages just waiting to be found, others were just pulled off of the shelf on a whim. My favorite experience in a bookstore is when I find a book I’ve been wanting to read and then – win! – I find the same one for a buck or two in the clearance section at the back of the store.
It happened on this trip with the book A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. I’m sorry to say that despite it coming highly recommended by more than one person, I believe that the book belonged on the clearance rack, and I was only able to make it half-way through it before abandoning it for a different one.
After absolutely devouring On Writing by Stephen King, which I have only the most excellent things to say about, I picked up A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs. I’ve read two of his other memoirs, Running with Scissors and Dry, so I thought that I knew what to expect. Though it was still written in his typical style of a young boy (or man) looking from the outside into a world of bleak, empty chaos, this book was much different in that it was focused primarily on his relationship with his father. Initially I was a little discouraged as I tore through the pages, but Burroughs has such skill in painting his adolescence in the cold, quiet, sepia tones, that by the end of the memoir I found myself an even bigger fan of his, awed by his ability to translate his childhood emotions and nearly unbelievable situations into such a seamlessly flowing narrative.
I took a break from my physical bookshelf and treated myself to the fun, fast-paced read of Roomies, written by none other than Secret Laboratory Editor Mr. John T. Schmitz. It’s the first novel I ever read cover to cover on a laptop – including my own work-in-progress. I think perhaps Roomies triggered the fun-loving, reckless youth that still hides deep within me, because it was around that time that I started to re-evaluate where I was in life, how I got here, and both what I’ve given up and managed to avoid along the way. I’m not going to give out any spoilers, but let me tell you, I was absolutely frantic towards the end of the novel as the story all came together.
Back into the sweet, used, paper pages I’ve grown to love so much, I decided to go for a light and upbeat book by the name of Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris. Boy, did I ever miscalculate that little book! I’d put David Sedaris in my top three all-time favorite authors, so of course I just had to try out his newest book, a collection of stories about anthropomorphized critters. It was both light-hearted and vulgar, much like what you’d expect the Grimm brother’s fables to sound like if they were written by a sardonic gay man in the year 2008. I had some of the weirdest dreams during those couple of weeks after reading them like bedtime stories.
Next on the list was Western Swing by Tim Sandlin. I discovered his book Rowdy in Paris by luck one day several years ago, and it’s become one of my favorite books to lend out and re-read. Western Swing was similar in that Tim Sandlin’s fascination of the west and romanticism of the poetic cowboy still rang throughout, but I found that this story had less raunchy humor and extravagance. However, this one had a lot more heart and real world issues that I, as a reader, could relate to more, and there was still plenty of romance and action, plus some real drama that wasn’t as far-fetched as a conspiracy by a rogue group in France to take down McDonalds.
I quickly read through my next book, The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave. I’ll be the first to admit that I had no idea who the author was when I purchased the book – in fact, I had mistaken him for Nick Flynn, author of a remarkable memoir titled Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. By the time I got home to compare the name on my new book to that of the old one it was too late, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Nick Cave is actually a rather famous musician originally from Australia but who’s worked with many groups, most notably Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. I don’t claim to know much about pop culture. Anyways, the book was a quick read, written in a style unlike any I’ve ever read, with sometimes vague sentences that ended with the line “or something” that left me either filling in the gaps or glazing past them. The main character, Bunny Munro, might have been either man or rabbit as far as I know, which is sad after having read all 278 pages. One thing that stuck out to me was the way in which he described the characters – often ignoring the important details of which species they were, but clearly describing what color of nail polish each of the women was wearing. Between the attention to that and to Avril Lavigne’s genitals, I feel like I have a pretty clear understanding of Nick Cave without needing to subject myself to his music. The book actually did have a pretty good story underneath it all, though, and was captivating and fun to read.
And that brought me to last night, when I had finished The Death of Bunny Munro and I slid my index finger across the shelves of books looking for my next read, and I happened upon Fraud by David Rakoff. My only knowledge of David Rakoff was from seeing the live broadcast of This American Life Live earlier this year, in fact, the day before I went to Half Priced Books. He read an essay and did a wonderful live performance which, along with the rest of the show, truly inspired me and my desire to embrace life and to create wonderful things. As I read the first few chapters in Fraud last night, I pictured him standing on that stage, his voice perfectly paced, smooth, and properly inflected. I was happy to have had that experience to deepen the weight of his truly poignant narrative. Then today, on Twitter of all places, I learned that David Rakoff passed away, after a long battle with cancer, at the too young age of 47. And though I mourn on behalf of the world and all of the lives he’s touched, I am even more grateful for the experience, to have heard his voice and to have seen him projected on a screen like that, and to have his words in my hands and in my head. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some reading to do.
Patti Lynn Henry was delivered in a blizzard in February of 1984 by a drunk doctor who nearly fainted at the sight of a baby with a disintegrated umbilical cord. She’s faced countless tragedies, both real and imaginary, ever since. She’s a hostage of her home town of Northfield, MN. When Patti isn’t busy writing, she’s dressing her cats up in costumes and burying the photographs in her garden. Email Patti at email@example.com Visit her website at pattilynnhenry.com