Friday, November 19, 2010

A List of Totally Unrelated, Somewhat Humorous (Hopefully) Book-Related Anecdotes

I've been at a conference for work most of the week, and as a result, today my brain feels like it resembles the approximate consistency of Southern fried grits. I've had little time to read, or even think about books. So, in lieu of any sort of intelligent, reasonably well-written post, here this instead: A Top 10 list of silly book-related stories. Enjoy! (And please try not to think less of me as a result of any of these.)

10. In college, my senior-year creative writer teacher was novelist A. Manette Ansay (author of the Oprah-selected Vinegar Hill). One of the stories I wrote for her class was so abysmally bad, she accused me of re-purposing an essay she thought I might've written for another class as a story for her class. Wasn't true, and so I managed to squeak by with a C. That debacle put my erstwhile promising fiction-writing career into long hiatus.

9. I once hit on a girl in a bar by asking her if she knew who Zadie Smith is, and that she looked exactly like her. Result: Swing-and-a-miss.

8. A few weeks ago, when in Boston, I visited Harvard and picked up a cheap bookmark at one of the Harvard bookstores. When I got home, I put the bookmark inside the cover of my copy of War and Peace. The rationale (of rather dubious logic) is that they're both "smart" things, so they go together nicely. And so when I read the book next year (it's my literary goal for 2011), because those two smart things are together, maybe I'll be extra smart, too. Right?

7. I've only finished an entire book in a single day on two occasions. The books: The Neon Bible, by John Kennedy Toole and The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom. I'm really, really not proud of the latter.

6. My favorite book when I was a kid was Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs. I picked it up recently as a gift for a friend's kid, and re-read it quickly before wrapping it. Did you know that the whole story's a simple metaphor for religious freedom and the Pilgrims?! How did I not pick up on that when I was five? 

5. My poorly chosen book for a drunken vacation with my buddies in Negril, Jamaica several years ago was The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexander Dumas. It's not exactly a difficult book, but it's not James Patterson either. And so let's just say my level of mental concentration was sorely lacking for what was required to derive any pleasure from the novel.

4. When I saw novelist and philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein sitting on a bench in Central Park this summer, I turned into the equivalent of a teenage girl who's just seen Justin Bieber. (Yeah, I know that's a recycled analogy. But it's still the best I can do — especially right now.) And I couldn't summon the courage to try to talk to her. Regret. 

3. I used to read a lot of non-fiction, but not so much anymore. The last non-fiction book I read was The Yankee Years, by Joe Torre. Which is odd, 'cause I friggin' hate the Yankees.

2. I just rejoined the Book of the Month Club (for about the 7th time), and this time instead of offering a crappy overnight bag or flimsy tote as the enrollment bonus, they're offering a free "surprise book." That's great, right? Well, yeah, until you discover the free book is Secrets of The Lost Symbol: The Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind The Da Vinci Code Sequel. Thanks, jerks. I already know The Lost Symbol's secret: It's friggin' terrible. Worst free gift ever.

1. The only book I've ever started but not finished is titled The Iron Wall, by some guy named Avi Shlaim. It's a non-fiction history book about Israel. I'm not Jewish, but I find Israel fascinating. Also, I have an obsessive compulsion to finish books I start, no matter how bad or painful they are. See recent experience with Gravity's Rainbow as evidence.

Your turn — what are your funny, embarrassing or just silly book-related anecdotes? Spill it!


  1. I actually read The Count of Monte Cristo under what I think were near perfect conditions. I was on co-op in the foothills of Tennessee in a completely isolated area. The people I was living with were off the grid - no electricity, no central heat, no hot running water. My room got cold enough that I frequently slept with the clothes I planned to wear in the morning so they'd already be warm, and ice crystals sometimes formed on the inside of the window. So most of my time with the novel was spent in a burrito blanket and reading by kerosene lantern. I think this worked well for the prison scenes and meshed well with the darkness of Dante's vengeance. PS: if you like anime Gankutsuo is a fascinating adaptation.

    I was recently hit on by a 16 year old over the summer with the line, "Do you like Twilight." Yeah...I'm 25, and you're awkward and underaged. Poor awkward kid, at least he reads.

  2. I can totally relate to the count of monte cisto one. I once picked up a Will Selfs Great Apes book along with The Wasp factory at the airport to take on hoiliday. Worst Holiday books ever LOL

  3. This is a fantastic post & too funny!
    How awesome that you were taught my A. Manaette Ansay though she sounds a bit mean! Sheesh!
    It would've been very cool if the woman in the bar was honored that you thought she looked like Zadie Smith and liked your pick-up line. Oh well! at least you have a funny story to tell! Awesome that you really saw Rebecca Goldstein in Central Park, & I think it's nice you just admired her from afar.
    The Count of Monte Cristo is a pretty bad book for a drunken holiday with friends! lol

    I've only read Confederacy of the Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, how was The Neon Bible?

    I agree, the book of the month's club Free book is the worst free gift ever. You'd think they could at least give you a choice of 2 or 3 books. Harumph...Maybe if you sent it back with a note about being somerwhat offended and annoyed they'll send you something else?!! lol

    Thanks for the great laughs!
    ~ Amy

  4. Good stories,Greg-I picked up the Count of Monte Cristo after seeing V for Vendetta(along with the original Alan Moore graphic novel)and still haven't finished it.

    It's pretty massive but not as much as my Penguin Classics copy of Clarissa by Samuel Richardson,which is about 1,536 pages! My main reason for getting it is because Richardson is an author that Jane Austen liked and was influenced by,only the Richardson novel that was Austen's favorite is hard to find.

    It's called Sir Charles Grandison and I've only seen very expensive copies of the book for sale. Sir Charles Grandison is sort of my Holy Grail of books;perhaps one day I'll stumble across a reasonably priced edition:)

  5. I had a similar experience in a college creative writing class. I suspect one of the main function of university level creative writing classes is to convince as many would be novelists as possible that they really should persue something else.

    I've been quite happy as a result, myself.

  6. OK, I really do love your blog. You crack me up but you're also a wonderfully eclectic reader.

    I was once on the author selection committee for the Southwest Florida Reading Festival ( While attending a library association conference in Atlanta, I was waiting in the lounge of a hotel for a friend to meet me.

    It seemed as if I was waiting for quite some time, having fun, people watching and one particular gentleman caught my eye. He too, was waiting and waiting for people who weren't showing up.

    We finally began to chat and he asked me why I was in Atlanta. I mentioned that I was on the prowl for "famous authors" to invite to our reading festival and he immediately countered that he, in fact, WAS a famous author.

    I had a good laugh over that pickup line until he handed me his card and he was actually David Morrell, author of Rambo and hundreds of other suspense novels. He ended up attending and loving our festival and has since sent several of his author friends to us as well.

  7. Hope you had a good trip to Boston! And I'm pretty sure 1 smart thing (War and Peace) + another smart thing (Harvard paraphernalia) = super smart person but admittedly I'm kind of bad at math.

  8. I laughed and laughed at that Book of the Month story. So they're giving away books they'd have to pay people to take?

    On another Dan Brown-related note, when I read The Da Vinci Code, I got so exasperated with that book (which I read for a book club) that I annotated my edition with pointers to good primary sources and notes on his flaws in logic. I then gave the book away, and I still take a perverse pleasure in knowing that it's out there in the world.

  9. I really, really like the Harvard bookmark in W&P story. I may try that myself as W&P is on the list for 2011. Now to get to Cambridge, MA for a bookmark...maybe online?

  10. I don't know if this is exactly a funny story, but I like to tell people I sustained the world's only reading injury. I fell asleep reading Margaret George's "Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles" (hardback, 880 pages). The book fell and hit me in the mouth, splitting my lip, which required three stitches. Now, if a book is longer than 350 pages, I get it on my Kindle!

  11. #2....LOL. Yep, that free book is one you want to feature somewhere noteworthy in your home, just so your friends see how classy and smart you are! They should say "free remaindered book" instead.

    I can't think of any funny stories, other than buying books that look great and finding their exact match at home already. Or the time I decided to spend days "cataloguing" my books with little round colored stickers to keep track of genres. Looked crappy, and the baby ended up pulling them all off and putting them on in random order. So much for that.

    How's the new puppy?

  12. Regarding comment (1), i just posted on The Blue Bookcase about the fact that I ALWAYS finish books I start, like you no matter how awful or painful they are. There have only been very few exceptions to this rule, one being Naked Lunch by William S Burroughs. But as I said in my post, I don't even consider it to be worthy of the title "book" so I can rationalise this. Sometimes, persevering with a book I have initially disliked has worked out well for me. When I first started Life Of Pi, I thought I was going to hate it as I am not into "talking animals literature", however, I now consider it to be one of my favourites. Was wondering whether you have any titles that you have had the same experience with?

  13. I love the idea of hitting on someone with any sort of literary reference!

    I've definitely missed my opportunity to talk to a handful of authors because of my own shyness which is rather unfortunate. As for vacation reads, I have a really bad habit of bringing along some chunkster which I promptly fall in love with and then spend inordinate amounts of time reading instead of exploring.... a wee bit pitiful. :)

  14. I felt excited that I already knew about number 8 thanks to your comment on my War and Peace post.

  15. Love the list. As always you made me smile.
    Not long after I moved to Nevada my door bell rang. It was two Jehovah Witnesses. After chatting for a few minutes one asked if I would read a small book on their religion. I excused myself, went to my bookshelf to grab one of my books on Buddhism. I came back and tried to hand it to her saying "I will read yours, if you read mine". She took one look and turned and fled down my driveway. I have never had them bother me again.

  16. I went to Daytona Beach with my college roommates and while we were unpacking our car we left a grocery bag of some of our belongings outside accidently after a long day and night of driving.

    Two days later after never discovering what happened to it, we walked into the convenient store connected to our shady hotel only to see all of the belongings in the bag being sold! These items were things like paper towels, bubbles and supplies for making a sand castle. Unfortunetly, due to bad packing the bag also contained my first and only copy of my favorite book, "The Giver". I had to re-buy it for $5. I'm never taking it anywhere again.

  17. @Amy - Those ARE optimal Dumas-reading conditions! I always associate long books with cold weather, and so bundling up with a doorstop like Monte Cristo is perfect. Your Twilight anecdote made me laugh, too. Poor kid. He's probably used to that line working (if he's used it on teenage girls!)...

    @Jessica - I've never read Will Self, but yeah, my impression is that it isn't exactly light, vacation-type reading!

    @Amy - Yeah, that Zadie Smith line (though I certainly wasn't thinking it at the time) was very high risk, but very high reward too. It'd be an even better story if it would've worked! Neon Bible is a slim novel Toole wrote as a teenager. It's not great.

    @lady T - Sir Charles Grandison, eh? I love the idea of a quest for that Holy Grail of books. I'll keep an eye out for ya! ;)

    @CB - Interesting theory - it definitely worked in my case. I've only written one short story in the ten years since college. This blog is way more fun than writing fiction, anyway!

    @Sallyb - Great story! Always funny to find out the person you've been pleasantly chatting up is famous - or in your case, exactly the type of person you were "on the prowl" for. ;)

    @Red - I love Boston - one of my favorite US cities! And thanks for helping to justify my War and Peace/Harvard bookmark logic!

    @Teresa - Your annotated Da Vinci Code is awesome! It gives me also a perverse pleasure knowing some sucker is picking it up and reading your notes on his poor logic. Nicely done!

  18. @JaneGS - I'm sure you could get one online, and thanks also for agreeing with my strange logic! ;)

    @2little - That actually is pretty funny! I'll keep that in mind as I start the massive The Instructions - Adam Levin's 1,000+ page brick of a book. Only read when wide awake!

    @Amy - Ah, yeah - stupid book duplication. I've done that many times as well. The dog's great - he's sleeping right next to me on the couch as I'm typing this. Thanks for asking!

    @Literary Nomad - Yeah, there's something soul-fulfilling about finishing a book you didn't initially like. I started out very skeptical with Daniel Quinn's Ishmael - for the same reason you were skeptical of Life of Pi - talking animals. And I didn't like it initially at all because it just seemed too gimmicky. But I kept at it, and love it, and it's my all-time favorite list!

    @Trisha - I think you've just hit on the true definition of a bibliophile - someone who'd rather be reading than enjoying a vacation! ;)

    @IngridLola - Yeah, that comment got the gears turning for this post. So, thanks for your help!

    @SariJ - That's freakin' hilarious! Apparently "what's good for the goose is good for the gander" doesn't apply to the Jehovah's Witnesses, eh? Sort of closed-minded, I'd say! ;)

    @Sarah - Ha! Good story! Definitely worth the $5 to re-buy your favorite book - and now it has even more sentimental value attached to it!

  19. As a kid, I was always kindof an outsider-quiet, teacher's pet. The kids used to pick on me relentlessly-except once a year during the all school reading contest. They knew that whatever class I was in would win, since I read more pages a year than most of my teachers probably did. They would actually search the libraries for the longest books they could find and bring them to me.

  20. I'm probably not the only teenager that has had this happen to them, but David Sedaris gave me my very first condom.

  21. I found this list really fun to read! About #2 - I would be pissed too. I'm not even sure that can be called a gift!

  22. I loved The Count of Monte Cristo - I have to read it again sometime.

    Nice Post Greg.

  23. You're among friends here; there is no shame. Thus, I'll reveal: I subscribe to Us Weekly.