[13 February 2008]
A few weeks back, we took a look at Bookworms With Ink, a literary blog book-obsessed tattoo enthusiasts where it’s hard to get cooler than this. It only gets better, that blog. Its growing community surprises me more and more with the varied quotes and illustrations people choose to have permanently etched on them. I’ve yet to come across anything quite as fascinating.
The other day, though, I found Lou Reads, a blog by a Louisville teacher that is basically a log of every book, well, that Lou reads. Each book is logged, dated, and reviewed. I’m loving this as much as the tattoo blog—Lou’s reviews are some of the sharpest and warmest I’ve ever read. Her taste spans Cormac McCarthy to Michael Chabon to Jennifer Crusie. She’s as spot on in her comments on pop trash as she is Pulitzer winners, and searching her archives is great fun when you start clicking random, dated tags wondering, “what will Lou read next!?”
Lou is fascinating in her own way. In her “About Us” section, she notes that she used to keep a log of all books she read, and she read a lot. Until Hurricane Katrina, when every book started was soon abandoned. In “the last six months or so” (from June 2007), she notes that she has again been able to read books to their ends, and so has re-started her logging.
Every book stirs a memory of a time and place in my life. I read the bulk of Love Warps the Mind a Little in the bed of the man that I thought I would spend the rest of my life with. I bought Lady Gregory’s Toothbrush in a small bookstore in Sligo, Ireland. The only books I was able to devour post-Katrina were genre pulp fiction like Tom Corcoran’s Gumbo Lindo and Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein ... Now that I’m reading again, I thought I would pick up where I left off—in a more public and more thorough form.
My favourite thing about Lou is a hear-me-roar honesty. Check out this exceprt from her review of Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld:
I was also a scholarship kid at a tony New England prep school (although it was a day school). I wasn’t as much of an outsider as Lee, but I was definitely in the “unpopular” clique. And shit happened to me too. And I changed and grew during the course of my four years there. At the end of the book (I don’t consider this a spoiler) when she nearly flunks out her senior year for giving up on her math exam, I couldn’t believe that she was the exact same train wreck that she was when she first came to Ault.
Not your average review, right? Yet, still an opinion both shocking and utterly relevant. These are the sorts of reviews I want to read.
On Cormac McCarthy’s The Road:
Ooof. It seems like the only way to properly describe the effect that this book had on me is to make unintelligible, grunty, despairing sounds. Oooof. Uuhhh. Shhhh. Ohhhhh. Insert long, deep, desperate sigh here ... I read the last chunk of the book in a single sitting in Starbucks. Huge mistake. Unwilling to sob in public as I turned the last few pages, I swallowed my despair and ended up haunted by it for days. Don’t take that comment lightly. Quite literally, I went home, made myself comfort food, and then curled on the couch, despondant, for the rest of the evening. Simply revisiting the book right now has hurled me into a funk.
I don’t think I’ve read a review of The Road yet that nails the books breathtaking effect as well as this. Her ability to grab at the heart of stories. their settings, and subtexts is just glorious.
One more great moment from Lou Reads, this one in reference to Ernest J Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying:
Tragic, heavy book ... one where it takes you clear ‘til the end to actually feel sympathy for any of the characters. But what an impact. I was stunned, disappointed, when I met with my seven ninth grade advisees this week and found out that they all thought it was b-o-r-i-n-g! But to my surprise (and honestly renewing my faith that 14-year-old girls are still GIRLS) they were way put off by the somewhat explicit sex scenes!
You won’t find that stuff in the New York Times.