You know the feeling: you discover a new writer, you devour their work and wonder how can it be that in all your reading you’ve never come across them before. You fight the urge to feel gypped and take comfort in the fact that you’ve seen the light and found a kindred spirit. You finish the book, favorite quotes/passages underlined, and add the book to a shelf of “can’t live without” books.
A few years back when my grandpa passed away I not only lost my last grandparent, but the world lost one cool cat; a man who not only played trombone in the Sooner band, but married his college sweetheart who was, in his words, “the prettiest girl in Norman,” and he had a penchant for saying, “Dear Gussie!” in his measured Midwestern lilt whenever you impressed or shocked him, which delighted me to no end. He was known as a man who had a way with words and he could spin a tale that kept the rapt attention of all his grandkids, especially me.
When the extended Graves family got together to say good-bye to Daniel Maloy Graves II we each took turns sharing a favorite memory. My dad shared several memories, but one in particular made a lasting impression, “He had the best vocabulary and a system to improve it. When he would come across a word he didn’t know, he’d look it up and write down the definition. He would then make a point of using that word in conversation at least three times the next day to commit it to memory. I always admired that.”
Yeah, yeah. I know.
I’m about a decade late to the Dave Eggers party. What can I say? I’ve already explained my extensive “to read” list of books—on my nightstand, the Kindle, the electronic list that grows exponentially and on and on.
Reading “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” is just that. Genius. Eggers’ stream-of-consciousness prose reminds me of “On the Road” and I find myself getting thoroughly absorbed in its pages.This passage made me stop in my tracks, dog ear the bottom right corner, grab a pencil and underline:
“…we’re putting something together that will smash all these misconceptions about us, how it’ll help us all to throw off the shackles of our supposed obligations, our fruitless career tracks, how we will force, at least urge, millions to live more exceptional lives, to [standing up for effect] do extraordinary things, to travel the world, to help people and start things and end things and build things…”
I stopped reading altogether to consider the tug we often feel as we go through our lives. This is a common question that I often find I wrestle with—are we doing what we should be doing with our lives? Is there something bigger, different from the norm, off the beaten path that we should be exploring? Something radically different that we should be doing with our lives if we would only be still and heed the call.
The first time I was introduced to Mike Birbiglia, I was sitting on a NJ Transit bound train, listening to This American Life. The episode? First Contact, which delved into first time experiences with unknown beings. Mike’s story had to do with his first kiss and the rite of passage that is making out with girls. Listening to this grown man recount the story of taking Lisa Bizetti to a carnival and the ensuing hilarity that comes with being a 12-year old boy made me laugh. Out loud. On a crowded train during the morning commute to NYC. Simply put, it was brilliant — rife with the awkwardness that only adolescence can offer with a dash of self-deprecating wit that made me an instant fan. Carnival salsa is all I’m going to say – take a listen, you’ll thank me later.
I think it started when I was young, say kindergarten, and turned into a full-blown issue at age seven or eight. I don’t know whether my parents were worried that I would ruin my eyesight or relieved that it wasn’t something worse.
Whether I was sprawled out on my bed or curled up on our rust-hued, floral print sofa, I always had my nose tucked in a book. I have memories of running away with Claudia and her little brother Jamie from E.L. Konigsberg’s The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, finding my voice with Louis from E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan and consoling Peter while I dealt with my own Fudge in Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. I’d scour the Scholastic Book Club flyers tagging my selections with the hope my mom would cave and buy me the latest book du jour. Rainy afternoons spent at the public library, breathing in the scent of old books, walking up to the counter with a stack of books tucked under my chin, promising my mom I’d read every last one before the return date while she had to bargain with my brother to select just one book to read.