The Stack of Books Next to My Bed

stack-of-books2016-8

I read a lot, and keep a massive stack of books next to my bed that I’ve bought, found, or been given. I’ve got two main principles when it comes to reading:

  1. Reading should be fun.
  2. There’s a whole lot of different books out there to check out.

I write about each book I read in 99 words or less. Here’s hoping you find something you like.


The Flowers of Evil (Vol. 1-11), by Shuzo Oshimi (2012-2014)

Kasuga, a shy middle-schooler obsessed with Baudelaire, impulsively steals his crush’s gym clothes only to be spotted by the class outcast and labeled a pervert, but is he really a pervert, or just looking to form a normal relationship?  Powerful stories never fail to make you care about their characters, and Oshimi pulls this off incredibly—his explorations of courtship, friendship, surviving adolescence, and fitting in capture his characters at their most vulnerable.  The series’ driving question is whether Kasuga will cave in to the adult world like a shitbug or find his own path—whatever that might mean.

Rating

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse (1963)

No one understood social class like the 20th century British writers, and P.G. Wodehouse’s fiction feels more insightful than ever in the post-Occupy age.  Wodehouse wrote some 45 novels and stories about inept young millionaire Bertie Wooster, who’s constantly being bailed out of trouble by his astute butler Jeeves.  This book’s simple (albeit labyrinthine) plot consists mostly of comical misunderstandings, cowardly dives behind sofas, and threats that poor Bertie might actually have to get married, told through Wodehouse’s laugh-out-loud funny prose.  As such, the novel can be forgiven for its hackneyed setups, since the end result is pure fun.

Rating

The Big Book of Porn, by Seth Grahame-Smith (2005)

This coffee table book would have worked a lot better had it focused solely on a detailed guide to classic ‘70s and early ‘80s porn, since that section is filled with history, insights into the industry, and a ton of cool ‘70s movie posters.  The rest of the book, though, is eye-rollingly uneven, alternating between genuinely enlightening info and some seriously lame jokes.  The lowlight of these extras is an overly detailed discussion of fetish porn, while the highlight is a hilarious list of porn title spoofs (Genital Hospital, Hump Up the Volume, etc.) that had me in stitches.

Rating

The Best American Essays 2013, edited by Cheryl Strayed

In general, I enjoy collections (short stories or essays) less than novels because the act of repeatedly beginning anew is less fulfilling than starting a single story and following it to the end. That said, 2013 was a good year for essays, and Strayed’s selections are astute. My favorite ones (about a tour through a Nazi storehouse, a highway serial killer cold case from the 1980s, and a new mother watching her neighbor’s infant through a crossed baby monitor signal) hit hard, with raw, succinct power. There are some losers here, but the good ones far outweigh the bad.

Rating

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis (1950)

Do children’s classics still hold up when read by adults?  I never read the Narnia books when I was younger, but I did read The Screwtape Letters a few years ago and liked its sinister plot and epistolary storytelling.  Similarly, this book’s heavy Christian undertones fall just short of eye-rolling at times, though the themes of temptation, redemption, and righteousness enhance the plot so effectively that without them the book would have been forgotten as just another kid’s adventure.  A final plus is that the fantasy world feels real enough to immerse readers but not enough to overwhelm them.

Rating

Sputnik Sweetheart, by Haruki Murakami (2001)

An aloof college student falls in love with his best friend, a wannabe writer beatnik—the only catch is that she’s also in love with a businesswoman seventeen years older than her.  Sumire’s an outgoing, speaks-her-mind girl in classic Murakami fashion (she reminded me of Midori in Norwegian Wood) who gives life to much of the novel, which Murakami tells in short spurts between section breaks.  While a lot of Murakami’s subject matter feels familiar, the story’s compactness keeps it moving, with the ending evoking an uncertain stillness that makes the whole novel seem more whole.

Rating

Flighty Lyrical Literary Novel, by Anonymous (2013)

Believe me when I say that great lyrical writing can be some of the most stirring writing there is—I loved Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, for instance. This novel, though, felt like a poor man’s version, with a heavy emphasis on style and very little in the way of a plot (which was inspired by historical events in Europe a hundred or so years ago, and may have been part of the problem). The passages that flowed well didn’t go anywhere, and the ones that didn’t felt pretentious and masturbatory—with far too many of them.

Rating

Shakespeare Wrote For Money, by Nick Hornby (2008)

I love Nick Hornby’s Stuff I’ve Been Reading column (which he’s written on and off for The Believer since the 2000s, and perhaps will again when the magazine finally makes its return??) because he talks about books like a real person, avoids pretentious review-speak, and jokes about how Americans don’t understand British football.  Though this review collection’s in the same vein as his others, I missed the more stylized jacket flaps and the book excerpts that came with the first two collections, which made finding new books for my own towering To-Read stack that much easier.

Rating

Four Major Plays, Volume II, by Henrik Ibsen (1881-1896)

Prior to this I’d only read Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler, and while these four plays are less significant, they built off of the other Ibsen I’d read while covering more thematic ground.  Ibsen was a progressive decades ahead of his time, and today these plays seem more relevant than ever, covering environmental protection, the place of women in society, the dangers of populism, parents wielding control over children, and choosing money over love.  I enjoyed the denser John Gabriel Borkman much less due to its heavy exposition, but maybe also because I haven’t gotten old yet.

Rating

Ghosts 

An Enemy of the People  

The Lady From the Sea  

John Gabriel Borkman  

Fight Scenes, by Greg Bottoms (2008)

Fight Scenes is about growing up in the 1980s with your friend whose dad keeps naked pictures of women he’s slept with under his bed; it’s about dealing with bullies and looking at porn with girls you like and sitting in front of the 7-Eleven and smoking pot in the woods and fending off crazy racists at the local Popeye’s.  Bottoms shows us these moments in a series of vignettes that all say more than they seem to at first glance, so that the book shows us both his ridiculous middle-school adventures and how fucked up life can be.

Rating

Where I Got It

A 2016 Christmas gift from the same friend who got me Rose of No Man’s Land, which is also pretty rad.

Atonement, by Ian McEwan (2001)

In 1935 Britain, a thirteen-year-old girl’s overactive imagination and accidental brush with the c-word lead her to send an innocent man to prison for a sex crime.  While the first half covers the misunderstanding, the second deals with the grim early days of World War II, both on the French front and in the hospitals.  Everything about this book feels like it shouldn’t work (historical fiction, child narrator, loaded politics) but it does, which speaks to McEwan’s skill as a storyteller.  Though the prose is often slow, there are enough hard-hitting dramatic moments to make this an intense read.

Rating

Where I Got It

From a friend who was getting rid of books in the summer of 2015. I have mixed feelings about movie cover tie-ins, but this one pulls it off quite well.

Lichtenstein, by Janis Hendrickson (1988, 2012)

This picture-filled guide to Roy Lichtenstein’s career covers both his paintings of starry-eyed comic-book heroines (an example of which graces the cover), his images of everyday objects like washing machines and golf balls, and his later, more abstract paintings.  There’s also a close technical and thematic look at the Benday dots used in so many of his works.  Though I was most interested in Lichtenstein’s Pop Art images, the book covers much more, though the latter half goes into more depth than I was looking for.  Still, a solid introduction to Lichtenstein’s life and work with cool pictures.

Rating

Where I Got It

At a bookstore in the Germantown section of Columbus, Ohio in summer 2015.  I’d been interested in Lichtenstein’s Pop Art works for a while (one of my teachers had a large “I’d Rather Sink Than Call Brad For Help” print on his office door in college, below), and buying this book was my reminder to actually learn more about him.